How to Write a Query Letter Part II: Write one with me!

Hands down, the most popular post I’ve ever written on this blog is the one where I shared the actual query letter that landed me my literary agent (the incomparable Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency). I completely understand why this post is more popular than, say, reading about what I ate on my book tour in Richmond (har har). Writing a good query is a daunting task. Selling yourself and your work is hard. How can you fit everything about your precious novel in one page? And how do you write a synopsis? What’s the difference between a simple synopsis and a detailed one? How do you decide who to query, and how many agents should you approach at a time? Do you really have to follow the guidelines on their websites? (Spoiler alert: YES.) What’s #MSWL? #Pitmad? What if an agent asks for an exclusive read? How long do you have to wait before nudging them??!!

These were all questions I grappled with as I approached my agent submission process.

I’m here to tell you there was no talent or luck involved in my agent search process. I had the good fortune of having once read queries, hundreds per week, for a Manhattan literary agency. Writing a novel is art, but putting together your submission package is a cold science, and in that field I was well studied.

So, dear reader, onto the news: I will be teaching a six-week online course through Grub Street on how to write a query, craft your synopsis, map out your agent submission strategy and much more! The class is called Get Submission Ready, it begins June 19, and if you’re finished your novel (or still #amwriting) and on the hunt for a literary agent, I’d love to e-meet you there.

Get Submission Ready - Online.png

You can sign up for the class here, on Grub Street’s website. Here’s their description of the course:

Congratulations—you’ve finished your novel! Now it’s time to find the agent who can get you the book deal of your dreams. But where to begin? There are hundreds of reputable literary agents in the publishing scene, all of whose inboxes are full of queries. Get Submission Ready will prepare you to make the most polished pitch possible to grab that agent’s interest. You will leave this six week course with (a) a dynamic query letter with a killer hook, (b) a simple synopsis of your work, (c) the best darn first five pages of your novel that we can muster, and (d) a template for creating your agent submission timeline, including who you will query and in what order, and what each agent requests in a submission. We will also discuss query etiquette including when and how to follow up, exclusive read requests, making the most of rejection notes, how to “revise and resubmit,” and more, so that you can dive into your agent search with a confident strategy. This course is best suited for students with a completed or nearly complete fiction manuscript, or those who want to get a head start on strategizing their agent search for a novel-in-progress.

Sounds great, right? I can’t wait to dive in. In the meantime, I’ll be here if you have any questions. And here’s my original post where I share my query letter. We’ll dig into how I crafted that and the actual list of agents I approached (many of whom rejected me) before I landed a good one. No shame here! It’s a lonely and often demoralizing process—I’m here to lend a helping hand.

As always, thanks for visiting and happy writing!

Book Club "Usie"

Tuesday's book club meeting--over FaceTime with a group of teachers and CrossFit friends from southern Delaware--was such a wonderful time! I've Skyped, FaceTimed, and met in person with a lot of book clubs, but this was the first time they gathered around my silly grinning face on the screen to take a group photo. I love it!


I've found every group follows a different format for discussion. Sometimes we focus more on the process of creating and publishing the book, sometimes we discuss the plot, characters, and historical background at length. 

This group decided to answer every single question in my Questions for Discussion (on my book club guide)--possibly because they are teachers! They'd discuss and debate in front of me, and then they'd ask for my take. I love that they made such good use of my guide. 

I hope to visit (perhaps virtually) at least one of your classrooms soon! Hope to "see" you again, ladies! 

Slečna M. love in the Czech Republic

Ahoj! Fraulein M. hit the Czech Republic this spring under her Czech title, Slečna M. Isn't that cover beautiful? I would say the most exciting part of this, for me, has been seeing my own name translated to Caroline Woodsová (which I think makes me sound much sexier than I actually am). 

But truly the best part has been watching Czech readers encounter and enjoy the book in their language. So far, the book has been a hit with Czech book bloggers, many of whom have styled the cover in the most beautiful posts on social media: 

Thanks to the timing of the book's release, Slecna M. has even appeared with the Easter bunny, even though, from what I've learned, it's more traditional in the CR to bake a cake in the shape of a lamb...


Slecna M.'s Czech publisher is Fragment, a division of Albatros Media, the largest book publisher in the country. The interesting thing is that Fragment is typically a young adult publisher, and in the US and UK the book is considered an adult title. But I can see how it would work either way--Berni and Grete begin the book as preteens, and most of the action takes place before either of them turns 25. 

Děkuji for the love, Czech readers! Anytime you want me to hop a plane to Prague, I'll be there :)

Summer Book Tour: Delaware Beaches and the OBX

Just a few photo highlights from my summer bookstore stops at Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, Delaware; Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; and the Island Bookstores in Corolla and Duck, Outer Banks, NC! I had an amazing time meeting readers (and obviously eating very well...)

My Summer Reading List

There's a Japanese word that's been making the rounds on social media: Tsundoku. It means the condition of buying too many new books to keep up with, resulting in huge piles of unread paperbacks and hardcovers. I'm sure this is a familiar word to many of us authors and bibliophiles. Here's a photo of my nightstand:

Guilty as charged.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we're planning a big move to Chicago this summer, so I have to pare down my book collection. Many of the books that, sadly, I know I will never get to will be headed for a donation pile or Little Free Library. It does my heart good to know they might actually be read by someone else instead of gathering dust with me. And I think clearing space on your shelves helps you prioritize what to read next, rather than viewing it all as an unconquerable mess. 

And I have to get reading. I committed to twenty-five books via the 2017 Goodreads Challenge. Other than research for my next novel (which I don't count for the challenge), so far I've read only eight books for pleasure this year--one behind schedule! If I can get through seven by August 31, I'll be back on track. What do you plan to read this summer? Do you choose warm-weather, beachy books, or will you read about winter in the Alps while on vaca in Rehoboth? 

Here are the seven I plan to read this summer. I like plot-driven, faster-paced books in the warmer months. I wouldn't say they're all summer-themed, but I did rule out chillier scenery for the most part (The Snow Child is high on my list, but it feels right to wait till fall.)

The Mothers: A Novel
By Brit Bennett
Cottonmouths: A Novel
By Kelly J. Ford
Welcome to Braggsville: A Novel
By T. Geronimo Johnson
Are You Sleeping: A Novel
By Kathleen Barber

Happy summer reading, everyone! 

Massive book tour update: Part I

I'm going to dedicate my next couple of posts to finally updating you all on the tail end of my book tour. I've gotten to visit family and close friends, see my agent, Shannon Hassan (who lives in Boulder, CO)--all in the name of celebrating Fraulein M.'s release. Pinch me. Also forgive me--these posts are long overdue. In the midst of all of this, my mother got married, my daughter turned two, and my husband and I began planning a big move. It's been a whirlwind, to say the least, but a good one. 

So, the book tour, which I arranged for the most part, took me to seven states, a dozen bookstores, and countless book clubs. I've been on television in Cincinnati and Richmond, and I just gave a radio interview in Boulder (more on that soon). It's been exhausting and glow-y. I'm going to take a break from travel for a little while and nest. By "nest," I really mean "finally get back to work on the book I started last year." I can't WAIT. 

I know many people will wonder if the book tour was worth it. It certainly would have been easier to sit at home and run ads directing people to online retailers, and I have done a lot of that, too. But I'm going to agree with my friends at Grub Street that the traditional book tour is not dead. Or at least it can still exist in a modified form--perhaps writers and publishers shouldn't plan a cross-country, couple-dozen-city bonanza anymore, but I'm a strong advocate for visiting at least a few bookstores in different cities. Nothing replicates the experience of meeting booksellers and librarians face-to-face. These are the tastemakers of the industry, and they can give readers a far more compelling pitch for your novel than can an online algorithm. So by all means, if you have a book coming out, try to make that book visible online. But I also highly suggest getting out there, engaging local news outlets, and connecting with independent bookstores. Some--myself included--even view visiting independent bookstores as an act of political resistance. 

Also, a book tour is a great excuse to visit far-flung family and friends :)

In March, my little family took a long trip across the country to San Diego, where I gave a reading at a fabulous independent bookstore--the Warwick's in La Jolla. I was in good company that week:

Acacia, a bookseller at Warwick's, gave me a fantastic introduction before I spoke to a crowd of thirty or so people, which included my dad (who lives in Encinitas) and one of my best friends, who brought friends of her own, one of whom had a very well-behaved baby in tow!

With my dad after the reading.

With my dad after the reading.

And voila: my Warwick's event landed me on the San Diego Union-Tribune Warwick's bestseller list the following week. Here's hard proof that events and indie bookstores matter!

I hadn't been to La Jolla before. It is an amazing place. My daughter was delighted to see the seals and sea lions in coves along the coast. It was pupping season!!

Before the reading, my husband, daughter, dad, and dad's girlfriend and I had dinner on the ocean terrace at George's, which was surprisingly kid-friendly. It's way up on the cliff overlooking La Jolla Cove and offered an awesome sunset view.

Encinitas is also a lovely coastal town. We had fish tacos more places than I can count, but our favorites were at the Encinitas Fish Shop:

My daughter's grandpa treated her to a trip to Legoland California, which our little builder loved. Every morning we had coffee at Better Buzz Cafe, and then we'd walk on the beach. My daughter and I even got in a little light reading:

That's The Vegetarian in my hand--my author gift from my visit to Anderson's La Grange. I know blogs can be misleading, so I'll keep it real here. This mother-daughter reading session lasted no more than a minute before she was off chasing pigeons. But it was nice to imagine reading sessions to come. 

And speaking of author gifts, the good people at Warwick's sent me home with this, which I got to enjoy on a snowy evening back in Boston. 

They're the only bookstore I know of who have their own vintage. It was delicious. Talk about author swag.

A few nights after I enjoyed this wine, I received something even better: an email from a man I'd met at the reading I gave in La Jolla. He said, in part:

"My wife and I has the pleasure of meeting you at Warwick's Books in La Jolla. Just finished your book. I literally could not put it down. Now, it's my wife's turn. I know she will love it as well."

It was amazing to hear from this couple, who I of course remembered speaking to at the reading. They were delightful. I've heard from other readers as well, and I've even become Facebook friends with a few of the readers I've met along the way. These genuine connections definitely makes the travel feel worth it. 

So, those are my thoughts on book tours in general, and La Jolla in particular. If you have a book coming out, I highly suggest traveling at least a little, if you can, especially to places where you have close family and friends. Readers, if there's an author you'd like to meet, tell your bookseller. There's a good chance that author would love to come in for a reading.

Fort Myers, Florida: "Booked For Lunch"

Immediately after Chicago, my daughter and I flew down to Fort Myers, Florida, to meet my mother and my aunt for a "Booked for Lunch" book club event. In the thick of this long winter, we were ready for some sunshine, pool time, and the chance to see manatees (my daughter was impressed that there are such things as "sea cows") and alligators. We lucked out; the weather was perfect for swimming. 

In Fort Myers I have a beloved aunt and cousins who I don't see nearly as often as I'd like; my aunt is the one who organized the luncheon with her book club. Our first morning there, she took us to Manatee Park, a water refuge for Florida Manatees (non-captive ones). It was a little too windy to see much more of the manatees beyond their shapes under the surface, but we did enjoy the butterfly garden, some winding paths through mangroves, and a very realistic-looking alligator. 

We also ate well in Fort Myers. I had one of the best burgers (freshly ground in-house) that I've had in a while at Fat Katz Sports Bistro. But the main purpose of our visit was a "Booked for Lunch" event that my aunt, her book club, and several other local book clubs held at The Plantation Golf and Country Club, featuring Fraulein M. 

Here's one of the tables set before lunch. I think this was the first time my bookmarks had ever seen palm trees. 

I've said it before, but meeting book clubs has been really wonderful. Writing is such a solitary experience, but publishing a book certainly is not. It is a joy to be on this side of things, able to discuss the process of writing and publishing my debut novel with enthusiastic readers. I've found I'm always eager to get to the Q&A; answering readers' questions makes for a much livelier discussion than listening to my monologue. 

The Cigarette Girl was just about to come out in the UK when I was in Fort Myers, and we had a great discussion about the differing covers and titles and how interesting it is to see what different publishing teams do with the same story. 

Because this was Florida, there were women at the luncheon who originated all over the country. I met several women from Massachusetts, including one who used to live in Porter Square (where I live now). I also met Linda Sebastian, author of two books about postpartum depression, who is now writing a novel about the experience of living in a Floridian gated community! And I learned that, because of a Fort Myers connection, a book club in Minnesota would also be reading Fraulein M. 

Thank you, Aunt Noreen, for inviting me to speak with your book club and giving me the chance to meet so many interesting women. We had a fantastic time! 

Book clubs everywhere, if you're reading, I'd love to meet or Skype with you. Please find my book club guide here, and don't hesitate to contact me if you and your group are reading Fraulein M. 'Twould be an honor to have the chance to discuss! 

Book Tour stop at Anderson's LG

Last month, my book tour brought me to beloved Anderson's Bookshop's new location in La Grange, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago where my brother-in-law and his family live. Anderson's is known as a a must-stop for any author visiting Chicago; they also have stores in Naperville (the flagship store) and Downers Grove. 

The people at Anderson's, and the readers of La Grange, were unbelievably kind and welcoming to me. I've said it before and am ever more convinced that the best part of publishing a book is meeting booksellers and readers. Having a chance to connect and discuss books with the people I met in La Grange (one of whom drove all the way from Joliet!) was a highlight of my tour so far. 

The store gave Fräulein M. great placement, right in the front window:

(You can see my photographer/husband in the glass.)

(You can see my photographer/husband in the glass.)

For my talk, I read a section from Chapter Two, the scene in which Berni and Grete visit the perfume counter. Then I discussed the book's journey from idea to printing before I took questions from the audience.

"So I says to him, I says..."

"So I says to him, I says..."

As an added bonus, I got to meet another Tyrus Books author, Brandon S. Graham, who lives in Downers Grove. His novel, Missing People, is a mystery about the disappearance of a 17-year-old in Chicago. Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, says Graham's "work makes us painfully aware of our human follies and acknowledges our lovely humanity.” Click the cover below for more:

I also had a chance to meet Anderson's bookseller Mary O'Malley, who gave me a lovely introduction. She read Fräulein M. ahead of time and called it an "amazing read." You can follow Mary to read her recommendations on twitter at @marycaroltweets.  

The La Grange location of Anderson's may be new, but they've already started some fun traditions. Mary asked me to choose any pillar in the store and sign it. I chose this one next to Jessica Brockmole, author of Letters from Skye (which my mother-in-law and I both loved) and the brand-new At the Edge of Summer, and my agency sister Marci Jefferson, author of Enchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King's Court.

There are other names on here, too, which I couldn't make out. Is that Beatriz Williams? Helen somebody? Good to see I'm not the only author with an illegible signature. (I've been told mine looks like it says Carl Weathers.) I tried to be as clear as I could, but I don't know if people will be able to recognize mine. It's below the words BUY LOCAL. 

Also, seeing my book in this display pretty much made my life. Here I am beside Roxane Gay and Malala Yousafzai. This IS what a feminist looks like. 

As if that weren't enough, I was allowed to choose any book in the store to take home as an author gift! I asked the booksellers for their recommendation and went with it--Han Kang's Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Vegetarian. It was unlike any book I've ever read--disturbing, violent, yet somehow transcendent and airy. I highly recommend this one. 

If you're in the Chicago area, please visit any of the three Anderson's locations; signed copies of my book (in hardcover and paperback) are on the shelves in all three stores

Thank you, Anderson's, for treating me so well. I'll be back the next chance I get!

Book tour in the Queen City

I've been negligent lately in keeping up my book tour blog entries! This week I'll catch you up on my stops in Chicago and Fort Myers, Florida, but I'll start with the last trip I took in January, to a place close to my sister (Stephanie Woods)'s heart: Cincinnati.

Stephanie spent two years in Cincinnati on the morning news team at Fox 25, WXIX. If you haven't visited, Cincinnati is a gorgeous place to go, with some really breathtaking views of the Ohio River, interesting neighborhoods, and great restaurants. I stayed with my stepbrother's girlfriend near Mt. Adams, which reminded me of a kind of eastern San Francisco. Check it out in this old postcard:

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

The impetus to visit Cincinnati was an invitation to do an interview on the air with the lovely Sheila Gray, Stephanie's mentor and former co-worker. Sheila is now a morning anchor on Good Morning Cincinnati (Local 12/WKRC), and she had wonderful questions about Fräulein M., the writing process, and my inspiration for the book.  Here's a still shot of us chatting in the studio. You can view the full interview here!

Perhaps because Sheila knows my sister, she was the first journalist to ask how having a sister affected my decision to write about orphan sisters in Berlin and the way that informed my characters' relationship. I was really glad to get this question. Truthfully, I didn't put much initial thought into the decision to write about sisters; it just came naturally. My sister is one of the closest people to me in the world, and we're blessed with a close relationship. Berni and Grete, the sisters at the heart of Fräulein M., aren't so lucky. I think the love I feel for my sister and brother--and the tendency we all have to worry about the people we love, even if their lives aren't necessarily dangerous--gave my story the emotional weight it needed. Having siblings allowed me to imagine how terrified and devastated I'd be if I saw them making decisions that horrified me and that put them in real danger.

The day before I went on the air, I gave a book signing at the Barnes & Noble at Newport on the Levee, a huge entertainment and shopping complex on the Kentucky side of the river across from Cincinnati. Newport on the Levee is home to the Newport Aquarium, a bowling alley, movie theater, and lots of shops and restaurants. Before my signing, I had some delicious mole enchiladas at Redondo Taqueria. The weather was fantastic for January, bringing lots of shoppers outside.

I had some fantastic conversations with shoppers as I signed books, especially with some aspiring writers who happened to come by. I love speaking with people about the writing process and sharing my path to publication. When I was in the querying and submitting phase, I was hungry to hear other writers' success stories, so I'm happy to share mine now. 

The staff at Barnes & Noble were also incredibly kind and enthusiastic, and after I signed books for a few hours, we put together this display of signed books before I left (complete with bookmarks!). If you're in Ohio or Kentucky, stop by and pick one up before they're gone! You can tweet at the store at @BNNewportLevee to find out if copies are still available. 

That evening, my hostess for the weekend and I went to dinner at Metropole, a restaurant in downtown Cincinnati in the 21c Museum Hotel. I had a Manhattan and a perfect dinner of pan-seared salmon, plus the best burnt carrot salad appetizer I've ever had. Metropole shares a space with an art gallery in the lobby of the hotel, so we got to peek at some interesting sculpture while we were waiting for our food. 

Metropole also has a tradition of parking a giant yellow penguin next to diners who are new to the restaurant. Here's mine. 

I should mention that Cincinnati has a significant German population. On a previous visit I had a fantastic, authentic Bavarian dinner at the Hofbrauhaus in Newport. The sauerbraten that Berni gives Grete in the book--and that I attempted to replicate for my mother's book club dinner--is based on a meal I had at the Hofbrauhaus.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Cincinnati is also home to "America's Oktoberfest," Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, a weekend-long beer, brats, and entertainment extravaganza held every September. 

Running of the wieners. Photo courtesy 

Running of the wieners. Photo courtesy 

For German culture aficionados, Cincinnati is a must-stop within the U.S. 

A Tale of Two Book Covers

A couple of months ago, my writing group and I went to a literary trivia pub night hosted by WBUR (we came in second!). One of the best questions, in my opinion, was a matching game; we were given a sheet of US book covers, then a sheet of corresponding UK covers--all without titles--and had to find the ones that went together.

Well, now I get to do that with my own book. Here's Fräulein M.'s British twin, The Cigarette Girl!

Isn't it great? If you've read the book, who do you think that blonde woman is? I have a specific character in mind, and it might not be who you think. Would love to hear your thoughts, readers. 

(The Cigarette Girl will be released on February 23 as an ebook from HQ Stories, a division of HarperCollins UK. It's available for pre-order now wherever ebooks are sold, and it's on NetGalley!)

Back to the dueling covers and the book cover process in general. The good people at Tyrus gave me a lot of input on my cover. First, I made a Pinterest board, which you can see here (, highlighting book covers I love and other inspiration images. It's actually a good place to check out some of the visuals that helped inspire the book, such as this photograph Marianne Breslauer took of Annemarie Schwarzenbach:

The above is how I pictured Berni, one of my main characters, would dress and style her hair.

Also, this was one of my favorite book covers from the last several years, for Amy Stewart's Girl Waits With Gun:

After I made my Pinterest board, the artists at Tyrus's then-parent company, F+W, got to work, and during the process they sent images and fonts and cover concepts for my consideration, giving me quite a bit of veto power. The end result felt like something we made together, which was unexpected and felt very nice. 

My experience with my UK book cover has been quite different--the new title and the cover were both entirely brainchildren of my editors there--they came to me for approval, but both were a surprise. And you know what? That feels okay, too! Opening the email with my new cover in it was like receiving a present. It was really interesting to see what a different team of people in a different part of the world wanted to wrap around the same story. Also, perhaps because I'd already had such input in my first cover, I was willing to take a back seat here and wait for the finished product.  

One thing I'm happy about, regarding both covers, is the fact that you can see the cover ladies' faces. A few years ago, I read a piece in the New York Times ("Show Some Spine," June 23, 2013, which happened to be my thirtieth birthday) about the plethora of books featuring a woman's back on the cover--"probably the largest swath of skin," the author posited, "that can be exposed without setting off the censors."

It may also be true that a faceless--or, often, headless--cover model allows for a bit of mystery and eliminates the possibility that the author or fans will feel the designers didn't get the character right. But I've never been a big fan of faceless women on books, the same way I'm not crazy about the blank-eyed look a lot of background dancers take on in male music videos. Let a woman smile, wink, laugh at the camera, and she has agency. She becomes human.

Hence, my US book's cover. POW! She's looking right at you. 

It's funny, the Times piece goes on to say that "if feminists were scrutinizing book covers, I imagine it’s stilettos, shiny lips and fishnet stockings that they would object to." I believe our Fräulein all three of those boxes here. (She may be wearing fishnets, hard to tell.) It goes to show how subjective this sort of thing is; to me, it's her gaze that matters most.

To me, she's saying, "I just spent a long night selling champagne and cigarettes in this cabaret, and I need to put my feet up to rest. What's it to you?"

What about you--do you like book covers without faces on them, for the mystery? Do you, like me, prefer to look into a character's eyes? Do book covers matter to you, or is it all about jacket copy? Penny (tuppence?) for your thoughts...

How to Write a Query Letter

Update: I’m teaching an online agent submission course beginning June 19, 2019! Find out more here.

Today I'm going to take a detour from my book tour updates to discuss a very important topic: writing the perfect query.

I'm a member of a debut novelist group called '17 Scribes. On Monday we did a Twitter chat all about the query process, taking questions from aspiring writers as well as our moderator. The chat ended with a challenge, which I accepted--post the query that landed your agent! 

First, let's rewind, in case you're asking, what's a query? 

A query is the cover letter a writer sends to a literary agent in hopes of finding representation. Agents are entirely necessary if you plan to approach traditional publishers, even smaller indie presses--none of them will look at unsolicited manuscripts. Submissions must come from agents. And to land an agent, you write a query letter. Typically, the query includes your book's hook, a brief teaser paragraph (what you might call "cover jacket copy"), a bit about why you'd like this particular agent, and a brief author bio. They're usually sent by email.

I used to read queries for an agency, actually; before I moved to Boston to get my MFA from BU, I lived in New York and worked for Sheree Bykofsky Associates, Inc. Part of my job was to read about 800 to a thousand queries each week, rejecting almost all of them. This was incredibly demoralizing for an aspiring writer, and I couldn't do it for long, but it did help me when the time came to write my own query. 

Without further ado, here's the query that landed my agent, Shannon Hassan at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. This letter led to a request for the full manuscript, which led to a life-changing phone call with Shannon. I will admit I pared it down just a bit to eliminate spoilers in the pitch paragraph (and warning, there are still a few spoiler-y details), but this is essentially what I sent:

Dear Ms. Hassan,

I’m very impressed with your agency’s client list and would love to have you as my agent. Thank you for considering my historical novel, FRÄULEIN M., which I believe will appeal to fans of Jennifer Robson or Renée Rosen.

After the Nuremberg Laws pass in 1935, a young woman named Anita—the eponymous FRÄULEIN M.—flees Germany with three Jewish children, posing as their tutor.

Thirty-five years later a mysterious letter arrives for Anita at her South Carolina home, but it is intercepted by her teenage daughter, Janeen, who is pregnant and planning to run away with her draft-dodging boyfriend. Through the letter—and later, her mother’s memories—Janeen learns of Anita and Berni, free-spirited, androgynous cigarette sellers, as well as Grete, a hearing-impaired housemaid to a Nazi family, with whose son she forms a complicated bond. Janeen and Anita must navigate the past in order to heal their relationship in the present, and ultimately, after a former SS officer resurfaces in America, they must travel to find Grete in search of justice.

FRÄULEIN M. abounds with hidden identities and family secrets. With its vivid descriptions of Weimar cabaret culture and lush Southern landscapes, this novel is designed to attract readers of both literary and commercial fiction.

I teach fiction writing and freshman composition at Boston University and the Boston Conservatory, and I have an MFA in Creative Writing from BU. My fiction has been published in Slice Magazine (the editors of which nominated me for a Pushcart Prize), LEMON, and 236, BU Creative Writing’s Literary Journal. I also served as editor-in-chief of 236 for issues 3, 4, and 5. As a teenager I published a book of ghost stories, Haunted Delaware, which received praise as a self-publishing success story in The Village Voice, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. Haunted Delaware taught me a great deal about author-driven book promotion, which I look forward to doing with gusto throughout my career.

Thank you again for considering my work. I would be happy to send you my manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you!


Caroline Woods

It was interesting for me to return to this letter. It's like opening a time capsule. The book I describe here is somewhat different from the one that was published last month, especially the line, "her teenage daughter, Janeen, who is pregnant and planning to run away with her draft-dodging boyfriend." You'll know if you've read the book that Janeen is not pregnant and that there is no mention of a boyfriend. My Janeen subplot, at the suggestion of several editors we pitched the book to, was significantly reduced from about a third of the book to a frame story. You can tell from this letter that Janeen's story used to be closer to the center of the plot. The query pitch kind of revolves around her. But in the end, I think it was definitely the right decision to shift the focus. The heart of the book was always in Germany. 

Also, did you notice the line "FRÄULEIN M. abounds with hidden identities and family secrets?" That one made it all the way to the back cover of the finished book! See tip #4 below to find out why I find this such a satisfying victory. 

Now that I've shared my letter, I'll offer a few general tips on writing the best query letter for your project. 

1. If you have a personal connection to this agent, lead with that. You may have friends who are already represented by literary agents. By all means, ask them if you can drop their names when you query, and don't bury this information. Begin your first paragraph with, "[Author name] speaks very highly of you and suggested I contact you about my novel..." et cetera. Remember that whoever is sorting through these emails first is reading dozens at a time. If you make it clear that you have a mutual acquaintance, it's much more likely your query will receive further consideration and a prompt reply. 

2. Follow the agent's instructions. I can't stress this one enough. Almost every agency includes detailed querying instructions on their website; follow these to a T. Sometimes they even vary for the different agents in the office. Some will want the first five pages of the manuscript pasted in the body of the email; some will want an attachment. Some will want only the query. If the agency will only take snail mail queries, do not hunt down an email address and email them anyway. And by all means, do NOT call to "discuss" your book. You wouldn't call a potential employer to discuss your career options. You'd send a cover letter asking for an interview, then wait. That's what the querying process is: your letter lets them decide whether they want to request the manuscript, and their review of the manuscript is the equivalent of the interview. 

3. Personalize your letter. Why are you approaching this agent? Is it because she represents authors of historical fiction and you think you'd be a good fit for her list? Does she represent authors you admire? Did you just love the welcoming message on her website? Say why you're querying him or her, and make sure you get the name at the top of your email correct. Mass emails or cookie-cutter messages labeled "Dear Agent" will get you nowhere. An exception to this is contained in my second tip: there will be a few agents who don't want you to waste any time, who specifically say they only want to hear about your book and you, no fluff. There aren't many who say this, though, and I think it's best to generally personalize your letter. 

4. Read the backs of your favorite books to help you shape your pitch. Professional book designers and editors know exactly how to draw customers in with a few salacious lines. This is exactly what you need to do to get an agent's attention. Go back to your favorite books, or the ones that took you from the New Releases table to the checkout line in Barnes & Noble, and carefully dissect the copy on the front and back covers and inside flaps. Then try to replicate the same kind of language about your book. Still stuck? Ask a friend who is familiar with your work to help you boil it down to the essentials, the few details that make your work unique and would leave an agent wanting more. 

I could probably keep going, but I'll leave it there. I am always happy to hear from writers and will take query questions (is that redundant) anytime on Facebook, Twitter, or the contact page of this website. 

Good luck with your query! 

Book tour part one: Delaware and Virginia

Here we go...blogging the book tour! (A warning: this part of the blog will divert from book talk frequently into food and travel territory.)

After an incredible release party at 8th & Union Kitchen in Wilmington, I stayed in Delaware for a week (with a quick sojourn to Richmond, VA for two nights) to meet with three book clubs and speak at a Rotary Club meeting. 

The first book club I visited was at a private home, in the beautiful Highlands neighborhood in Wilmington. Quite fittingly, we were only a few blocks from Highlands Elementary School, where I spent grades one to three. Fraulein M. had only been officially released that very day, but everyone there had read it and came with her own enthusiasm and interpretation of the characters' actions and motives. There was one character in particular who sparked a serious debate about civilians' culpability in wartime. I won't reveal who it was for those of you who haven't read the book yet, but it was thrilling to witness my characters not only become real in other people's minds, but also to realize how they will live different lives inside different imaginations. 

I did not get a photo of the group, but I did get one of this scrumptious black forest brownie. Our hostess served a traditional German meal: bratwurst, sauerkraut, gherkins, radishes. for dessert we had strudel and these babies:

Here's a similar recipe if you'd like to replicate that gooey goodness. 

My next stop was The Summit, a brand-new retirement community in my hometown of Hockessin. I spoke a little and answered questions from a large group of wonderful people, many of whom had memories of their own from WWII to share. 

My final stop before heading down to Virginia was my friend and former swim captain (and my brother's former swim coach) rotary club meeting at Harry's Savoy Grill. The group meets for breakfast once a week before work and consists mostly of leaders from the business community. Speaking with them was really interesting, as they had different questions than I'd answered at book club meetings, mostly about the business side of publishing and the process of finding an agent and publisher. 

That same day, I took an Amtrak down to Richmond, Virginia. I chose Richmond as a stop on my book tour because I received my bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia, a fact which Cheryl Miller mentioned straight away when she interviewed me on CBS6's Virginia This Morning:

I had expected live TV to be really difficult, but I surprisingly found it much easier than speaking to a group in person. Cheryl Miller was sweet and relaxed--and asked fantastic leading questions that made it really easy for me to speak about the book. Everyone on the set seemed so calm, you'd never have known we were live on the air. It was an awesome experience. 

That night I gave a reading and signed books at Chop Suey Books, a hip independent bookstore in Carytown that sells both new and used books. The management and staff there were wonderful and even kept the store open a little late for me when my event ran over. Thank you, Chop Suey! 

Far and away, the highlight of my trip to Richmond was getting to see so many friends. My soon-to-be stepbrother lives in Richmond, and he, a friend of my husband's from college, and TEN lovely women from my sorority at UVA (Delta Gamma) came out to support me.

Just look at these smiling faces!

Afterward almost all of us went to The Daily for scrumptious cocktails and organic, local, healthy food. It was one of the best nights I've had in a long time. Thank you so much, girls. 

Before I move on to my final stop in Delaware, here are a few more things I did in Virginia. I had a latte and pastry at Can Can Brasserie in Carytown:

And for lunch on the day of the signing, a grilled cheese and tomato soup (which would be my death row meal), at a magical restaurant and bar that specializes in such, Home Sweet Home

Next to Home Sweet Home, I even found a gift shop specializing in German figurines, so that I could bring a German gift home to my mother as a thank-you for watching my daughter. 

I stayed in an Airbnb in Carytown, and I should add that everything I've mentioned except for the CBS station was within walking distance of my room. I highly recommend Carytown in Richmond if you're looking for a walkable, vibrant place to visit. 

Finally it was time to head home and meet with my mother's book club in Hockessin. Here's her cozy setup, complete with champagne. Doesn't this just make you want to dive right in and start discussing literature? 

For dinner, we made sauerbraten using this recipe, which we served with spaetzle, sauerkraut, pickles, and various German sides brought by members of the book club (such as green beans and beet salad). My soon-to-be stepfather's sister brought an exceptionally fudgy German chocolate cake. On the book club page of my website, I offer a menu centered around schnitzel--which is based on a meal Sonje and Berni share on Unter den Linden--but sauerbraten also makes an appearance in the book. I may add it to the book club page, as it turned out really good and wasn't terribly hard to make. 

A display of the gorgeous bookmarks my husband designed for me.

A display of the gorgeous bookmarks my husband designed for me.

That about wraps it up for the mid-Atlantic leg of my little book tour. Up next: Cincinnati...

Book release update

Whew! Yesterday, January 10, was Fräulein M.'s official book birthday. Thank you so much to everyone who shared, liked, reviewed, purchased, or showed my book some love yesterday! My lovely colleagues in the '17 Scribes Facebook group (which you should absolutely check out--full of exciting new books coming out this year) created this graphic for me to celebrate this momentous occasion:

Official release dates for books are somewhat arbitrary. Amazon started shipping paperbacks a few days after Christmas, hardcovers a bit later, and ebook pre-orders automatically delivered on January 1. We've also hosted two parties to celebrate the book's birthday: a solstice cabaret in the Boston area pre-holidays, and a release party in Wilmington, DE (my hometown) last Friday night. 

Our solstice cabaret happened at Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, MA on, you guessed it, December 21. (The longest night of the year is a good time to party.) Johnny Blazes and the Pretty Boys' "genre-bending, gender-bending, tongue-in-cheek" performance brought the house down and perfectly complemented the theme of our evening and the brief reading I gave from the book: 

I was thrilled to see two '17 Scribes there, Kelly Ford (author of COTTONMOUTHS, out in June from Skyhorse) and Crystal King (author of FEAST OF SORROW, out in April from Touchstone/Simon & Schuster). 

Three smiling '17 debutantes

Three smiling '17 debutantes

After the new year I flew down to Delaware to celebrate the book's release in my hometown of Wilmington. I think the best part of publishing a book is going to be seeing friends I haven't had much chance to see in a long time. I was deeply touched by how many of the people I grew up with--and their parents!--came to help me celebrate at 8th & Union Kitchen last Friday night. There's no place like home.  

The executive chef at 8th & Union, Brian Ashby, is a high school classmate and friend of mine. After signing books I was starving, and his pork dumplings hit the spot. Delicious. 

The past few weeks have been really exciting. I've begun to hear feedback from readers--many friends and family, but also some strangers, which is a surreal feeling. Berni and Grete, who lived for so long as characters in my head (and in an MS Word doc on my computer) are now living in other people's minds. From what I hear, they've even been popping up in some dreams. 

I'm still in Delaware and visited my first book club last night! Later this week and throughout the winter, I plan to blog my book tour, highlighting my favorite stops in each city I'm visiting. This week I have one more book club to visit and a rotary club meeting here in Wilmington, and then I'm headed to Richmond for a few days. I'm also going to Cincinnati, DC, Chicago, Fort Myers, San Diego, Boulder, and Providence. (You can view the full schedule of events here.) 

Thank you for all the love on my #bookbirthday, and happy new year! 

Free Sample of Fräulein M. available online now

I'm so excited to announce that 236, the alumni literary magazine of BU Creative Writing, has published the first chapter of Fräulein M. online! I hope you enjoy the excerpt, available here:

This is an especially happy occasion for me because, as many of you know, I worked as the Administrative Coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at BU for nearly four years and was the managing editor of 236 for issues 3, 4, and 5. 

Issue #7 is the New Books Issue--this is an exciting time for BU alums and professors! The New Books issue includes: 

-an excerpt from National Book Award-winning writer Ha Jin's latest novel, The Boat Rocker (Knopf 2016)

--an excerpt from Julia Johnson's Be Frank With Me (William Morrow 2016)

--an excerpt from Weike Wang's novel Chemistry, forthcoming from Knopf in May 2017

--Fiction and poetry from new works by Dariel Suarez, Lisa Hiton, Maggie Dietz, and more. 

Congratulations, all!

On Ordering a Genealogy Test

For my mother's birthday last year, my sister and I bought her a genealogy test. My mother's ancestors, as far as we knew, were 100% Italian--every single one who came here emigrated from Italy. If you know my mom, you also know this comes as a surprise to many people; she has red-blonde hair, green eyes, and freckles. When she was little and would wear green on St. Patrick's Day, the women who worked in her school's cafeteria fawned over her and her red pigtails, calling her a "sweet little Irish girl." 

We weren't sure if there would be a surprise in her DNA. There are, after all, blond- and red-haired Italians. Case in point:

(Bronzino's portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, currently on display in the Uffizi Gallery. She bears more than a passing resemblance to  mia madre .) 

(Bronzino's portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, currently on display in the Uffizi Gallery. She bears more than a passing resemblance to mia madre.) it turns out, my mother is one of those redheaded Italians. 86% of her DNA is from the boot, and the rest is largely Mediterranean. Rivendicazione! Now it's my turn to test my DNA, and the question guiding my search is--am I German? 

It's many people's first question when they find out I've written a novel about Germany. Little do they know, I wonder the same thing. We never identified as German growing up. Based on our great-grandparents' nationalities, my siblings and I identified as three-quarters Italian, one-eighth Irish, and one-eighth Hungarian. Therefore I didn't begin writing about Germany because I felt a descendant's claim to the story. (There is some family lore that helped shape Fraulein M.; the two sisters at the heart of the story grow up in a Catholic orphanage, and one of my great-grandmothers lived in one after her mother died of Spanish Flu. More on that in a future post.) The inspiration to write about Germany came from art, not family history. A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Glitter and Doom" exhibit of Weimar portraiture in 2007 is what led me to begin exploring Weimar Berlin's freedom, decadence, and violence. (More on that soon, too.) 

I didn't realize until I was well into writing the book that I may in fact have some German blood. My Irish/Hungarian grandfather has been very dedicated in his work to fill in the branches of our family tree, and in the process he has found some hidden Germans on both his Irish and his Hungarian sides. He and I have wondered if the reason we hadn't heard much about these German ancestors was that in the first half of the 20th century wasn't a good time to be German in the United States. 

I'll post again when I get the results of my genealogy test. What about you--have you had your DNA tested? Were you at all surprised by the results? 

My favorite historical fiction

Recently I lay awake at night pondering such important questions as, "How much would Lieutenant Dan and Forrest's Apple stock be worth today?" (Turns out: a lot.) Fortunately my thoughts soon drifted to material more relevant to this blog: what were the books that made me want to write historical fiction? 

Without overthinking it, I compiled my favorites, and came up with a list of six. It was only when I sat down to write this post that I noticed these books are all, with the exception of Year of Wonders, twentieth century stories. Many of them are also told from multiple points of view and jump back and forth from the present to the past. So many times, while I was trying to figure out the puzzle that was Fräulein M.--multiple POVs, settings in the '30s and the '70s--I asked myself, why, oh why, am I doing this? Turns out it's because that's my favorite kind of book to read. 

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

I'm cheating a little, because this one isn't entirely historical, but it's the first book I recommend to friends. Alma, a young girl, and Leo, an old man, live in modern-day New York; Alma misses her father and struggles to connect with her mother, and Leo just wants anyone to notice he's still alive. The sections that occur in the Poland of Leo Gursky's youth--where he wrote a book, also titled The History of Love--are so vivid and romantic. Nicole Krauss receives a lot of praise for her richly textured prose, but it was her sense of humor that really stood out to me in this novel. 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon

Comics! Superheroes! A scene at the top of the Empire State Building! I love everything Michael Chabon has written, especially this epic saga of a Jewish teenager with Houdini-level skills who escapes from Prague to build a comic book empire with his American cousin. The geek in me especially loves the voice Chabon uses in this novel's footnotes. 

A Very Long Engagement, Sebastien Japrisot

This is one of the few books I return to over and over again. After World War I, Mathilde, a young Frenchwoman, learns her fiance was tossed over the barbed wire by his own superiors as punishment for shooting himself in the hand. A bleak beginning, for sure, but after Mathilde (a plucky, delightful heroine) learns he might have survived, what follows is as compelling a mystery as I've read. 

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood

"Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." Best opening line ever? I've never read anything quite like The Blind Assassin's blend of history, romance, sci-fi, and mystery. Admittedly I grew weary sometimes in the middle of Atwood's classic, but this book's ending is so devastatingly perfect, shedding light on every page that came before. 

Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks

The wonderful Geraldine Brooks's debut. Year of Wonders is a bit of an outlier on this list--as noted, it's not a twentieth-century novel. It takes place during the plague of 1666, in an English hamlet that chooses to isolate itself rather than spread the disease. Anna, the novel's heroine, is one of the few in her town who doesn't descend into violence, drink, or witch-hunting, and her fortitude in the face of such disaster is quite inspiring. 

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

Anyone who's read this book knows how heartbreaking and frustrating it is. The tale of Stevens, an English butler in post-war Britain, coming to terms with the knowledge that his longtime employer--whom Stevens served with utter devotion--was a Nazi sympathizer. The book asks important questions about the nature of dignity and service, and the role small personal decisions can play on the world stage. 


Those are my favorites, or at least the ones I can think of at the moment. What historical fiction do you love? Tales of Tudor succession? Civil War epics? Jane Austen retakes? 

Parenting and Publishing

More than a week ago, on a calm Sunday evening, I casually mentioned to my husband that I'd started a blog. "Yeah, I'm going to write something every Monday," I said. "Even if it's brief, I think it's important to write something regularly." 

Well, here we are, over a week later, on a Tuesday. My daughter is napping alone in her crib for the first time in several days. She's had a lot to deal with this past week--teething, illness, a harsh antibiotic--and we spent most of Labor Day weekend just trying to keep her comfortable. This morning she finally seemed like her normal, happy self, which is such a relief for all of us. 

Dan Chiasson told me once that his work improved after he had kids. I think the way he described it is that all of a sudden his free time took on greater value, and he was less likely to waste it. I think I've noticed that, too. Even before I had my daughter, the urgency of her imminent arrival pushed me to finish my last big revision of Fräulein M. just four days before she was born. I think some of the best scenes in the novel were created at the end of that snowy winter of 2015. I wasn't done yet, though--my agent and I did one final round of revisions that following summer, creating the version of the book that finally won a publisher's heart. That was accomplished in four two-hour babysitting sessions. I laugh when I think about the hour I used to waste when I first sat down at my computer at a library or coffee shop. I actually did that--I planned to waste the first hour, checking every email and social media account I had.

Still, it is pretty darn difficult to write when you have a toddler. Your writer self, like so many of your past selves (the one who showered daily, for instance) can easily be tossed aside for weeks, months, years if you're not careful. Something that has helped me is author Cari Luna's series Writer, With Kids. It's so reassuring to read that other writer-parents struggle in the same way and reassuring to hear how they've managed to create space for their work. Peter Ho Davies, for example, apparently wrote much of The Welsh Girl in 20-minute increments while his kid napped. 



This week, I'm working on copyedits for my forthcoming novel, Fräulein M. 

It is a bit thrilling. Not only has a stranger, someone I've never met, read my book, but she's paid attention to it in painstaking detail. Along with the copyedited manuscript, I received a style sheet which included a list of all proper names included in the book. It feels a bit like having someone go through your dresser drawers and catalog every single item inside, but it also inspires a sense of pride: look at all this stuff that exists in the tiny universe I created! 

Here's the list for letter M:


Magnus Hirschfeld, Dr.

makeup [n.]

Margo Lion (cabaret singer)


Marlene Dietrich

Marlo Thomas


Mauser C96

May Day

Mein Kampf

Medvedev, the (bar)

Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby)


Mozart (The Magic Flute)


Mutti (n., “mom”)


Most of these refer to actual people or places, and a few, like the Medvedev, I made up. It's funny to see "Margo Lion" next to "Marlo Thomas"; this little list is like a microcosm of the book itself. Cabaret singers, makeup, a pistol. 

I can't wait until more people I've never met have had a chance to read.