Submitting Work to Agents/Publications: Workshop with Dede Cummings, April 1, 2014

•April 2, 2014 • 3 Comments
Writer, literary agent, publisher, Dede Cummings. Photo by Jeff Woodward at

Writer, literary agent, publisher, Dede Cummings. Photo by Jeff Woodward.

Writing a novel or a non-fiction or poetry collection is one thing, but once the hard part of writing is done, do you want to know how to actually submit your work? Green Writers Press publisher and literary agent Dede Cummings runs workshops throughout the US on creating successful book proposals and query letters, with strategies on how to get your foot in the door with an agent or publishing house, how to follow up, and what to do if you have multiple offers (it does happen!).

1.) General Principles

2.) Process

3.) What I have found that works

4.) Specific examples to support general principles


1.) How to Write a Query Letter
Query letters help you land an agent
“A query letter is a single page cover letter, introducing you and your book….[It] has three concise paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography. Don’t stray from this format. You won’t catch an agent’s attention by inventing a creative new query format. You’ll just alienate your chances of being taken seriously as a professional writer. A query letter is meant to elicit an invitation to send sample chapters or even the whole manuscript to the agent.” See the samples from Dede’s writers. Queries should include the following three elements:

  • Something about the book — enough to make the agent want more (this can be “creative” if you are writing fiction, or a log-line that is perfect)
  • Something about you — that is tailored as appropriate for your book
  • Something to read — You can just send a query letter and at the end ask them to respond if they want to see the manuscript or full proposal (for non-fiction) with sample chapters; or, you can include the first 3 to 5 pages of the manuscript pasted right into the email — some agents’ websites have firewalls preventing attachments, so do not initially send attachments. Plus, think about how busy an agent is—imagine yourself swamped with queries in your inbox and no time to resounds or read: How would you like to receive material?

2. Tips for a great query:
It starts with a few sentences designed to make the agent want to read your book. To figure out how to do this, read the back-cover-copy or flap copy of your favorite books. The goal is to write something interesting and captivating, so they will want to read more. Author bio for non-fiction: Include some information about yourself, specifically why YOU are uniquely qualified to write this book. What are your qualifications? Are you a published author? What’s the most important thing to know about your platform?  Remember Dede’s example of The Widow & The Hijacker on Author bio for fiction: Don’t worry about platform and don’t stress about your bio. If you have traditionally published fiction before, tell them a bit about your publishing history (example, “I was a Glimmer Train finalist.”). If not, don’t worry about this part of the letter; just say you’re a first-time novelist. Be truthful! If you like, you can indicate that you’re a blogger and you’are active on Twitter and Facebook so the agent sees you’re aware of the importance of social networking for authors, which sometimes helps build your case. Poets and short fiction writers should join Poets & Writers and start getting work published! (Easy for me to say, having been writing poetry and trying to egg published for the last thirty years…but keep at it, and eventually you will find a zine or a print journal!) Note: A few questions arose about publishing excerpts from your work. Here is a quote from an interview with Linda Swanson-Davis, one of the editors of Glimmer Train:

There’s nothing inherently wrong with popping your stories up on Amazon or anywhere else. (It might be wise to read any fine print, make sure that you still hold the copyright and can, for instance, include the story in your own collection at a later date.)

Keep your query letter short: one type-written page, about 3 to 6 paragraphs (not including the sample pages). For non-fiction books, where platform is crucial, you may need to make it a little longer, include the marketing points, audience, any media. This is a LETTER—it’s best if the query is addressed to the recipient by name, and it should not only give your pitch and your personal information, it should be structured as a letter. MAKE THE LEAD PERSONAL.

Don’t say “Dear Agent.” Say, “Dear Ms. Cummings, I saw your write-up by Kathy Temean, and I congratulate you on your new agency.”

MOST DO NOT ACCEPT SNAIL MAIL QUERIES. Include the genre and word count. Do your research—how many words does a YA historical novel usually have? (80,000 is a good number.) Check the submission guidelines of each agent and/or publisher you’re querying. Note: some as for the first 3 to 5 pages of the manuscript pasted into the email; others don’t say, so use your best judgement. Let them know a full book proposal is ready to send should they want to see more. A completed manuscript is also ready and complete. An author bio (create your own One Sheet at Dede’s suggestion) is helpful to have, too.
NOTE: Upublished novelists must have a completed manuscript before querying. No attachments, unless specifically requested. Don’t ask them to click on a link, such as a link to your website or blog, but list it under your closing with your name/address/email.

3.) If you have a query letter you are ready to submit to an agent that is great, but here is a checklist:

  • Is this manuscript in the best possible shape for fiction/poetry
  • Is the full proposal (for non-fiction) edited and tight with a strong marketing analysis?
  • Is my query letter perfect and proofed?
  • Does your work fit the guidelines of the kinds of books the agent or agency represents?

If you can answer yes to all of the above, then please do the following: First choose which agent to whom you want to submit. Study the guidelines above as to what each one is looking for. Here is an example from an agent: Email a query letter and the first ten pages, along with a synopsis (3-5 paragraphs) and bio, in the body of an email to the agent of your choice. DO NOT submit to more than one agent in a specific agency. If your query is of interest, the agent to whom you submitted may choose to pass it on to another agent.

4.) An example to make you laugh and how one writer was able to “break the rules”…. I thought this query was attention-grabbing (!) and I am reading his ms. now. Some agents might not like this—remember, everyone is different… The book is simply called—HUT— and here is what he wrote in his email (which was longer!): My pitch is the recovery aisle: divorced guy moves into hut, practices yoga, blue collar, gets better. Writes his weather and land book. No sex. The end.”  He attached his website:


If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying! Someone out there might really respond, but if you get 24 agents passing, it might be time to rethink your novel or proposal, and try a new approach in your writing. If you are lucky, you may get a response and an agent will offer suggestions and want to see more, or future manuscripts. Dede’s mantra: “Don’t give up hope!”


Contact Dede at if you’d like her to do a workshop. Here’s what a few participants had to say about the last one:

Martin Hirchfeld
Very impressive!

Mabakoena Sekano
Extremely informative.

Wholly overwhelming for someone who is just scratching the surface into trying to get published, but oh so super informative and inspiring. Dede is a delight!

William Munk
Once again, many kudos and hearty thanks to Dede! So much information and insight shared; so much to ponder. Terrific workshop.

Cynthia Close
Dede provided non-stop energy, a wealth of information, and encouragement!

Catherine Bodnar
Dede shares a wealth of information — a huge gift to the BWW community!

So grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this lovely, lively workshop discussion. Thank you Dede for your delightful guidance, insights, humor, and authenticity — what a joy!

When Death Doth Us Part: Widowhood and Printing Presses

•March 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Dede Cummings:

A fascinating article on women in the letterpress. I studied with Sam Hamill, Tree Swensen, Michael McCurdy, and David R. Godine. I taught a few workshops with Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari, who,is the focus of this wonderful article, reblogged.

Originally posted on Designtraveler:

Women’s History Month 2014
Featuring: Julia Ferrari of the Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press

 Date of Visit: February 21, 2014

 1. David Walter Master Craft Gallery
The Whole Art of Language, Julia Ferrari & Dan Carr’s Presses at Golgonooza
81 Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

2. Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press
Box 111
25-30 Main Street
Ashuelot, New Hampshire
Julia Front 2

In mid-2012 Julia Ferrari became the sole proprietor of the Golgonooza Letter Foundry and Press after 30 years of partnership with her husband, Daniel Carr. The premature death of Carr two years ago deprived Julia of both her life partner and her business partner, a double loss from which she is now beginning to emerge with renewed purpose. It has not been easy but she is determined to continue the press, or some incarnation of it, on her own.

Julia is not alone in her situation, in fact she is…

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The Way to Create Great Writing (hint: it doesn’t have to be hard!)

•March 4, 2014 • 3 Comments


Guest post by author/editor Suzanne Kingsbury

Sometimes when you least expect it, magic happens. And that magic almost always starts with intention.

This weekend eight incredible women took the step forward to make space for a little luxury, some pampering and tons and tons of creativity. On Friday afternoon, I walked into literary agent and publisher, Dede Cummings’, light-filled post and beam house in the hills of Vermont, and felt everything in me exhale. A fire burned in the fireplace, the house smelled of fresh fruit, and, as the dusk sky turned a magnificent ochre, my beautiful retreat women started piling in.

Continue reading ‘The Way to Create Great Writing (hint: it doesn’t have to be hard!)’

A Valentine’s Day Love Story

•February 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Working as a book agent is a third job for me—I’m a professional book designer and production editor, also a writer/publisher/editor. Why so many jobs you may ask? Living in Vermont is wonderful, especially when we have 14 inches of fresh beautiful ,powder (see photo!) and I can go cross-country skiing out my back door. I love living in a place that has four seasons, a place of beauty and environmental/conservation awareness.  So, that explains the three jobs—it is important to “make ends meet,” to live in a place I love, and do work that is inspiring, and well, fun!

As a literary agent, I review manuscripts, and work with the author to get them in great shape for review by an editor in a publishing house, most of my clients-writers come to me with great proposals via editor, Suzanne Kingsbury. I’m lucky to work with someone like Suzanne, whose high caliber editing and proposal writing is legendary, and the editors in New York really appreciate Suzanne’s work.

My client, Kathleen Murray, is one such referral from Suzanne Kingsbury (, and I am thrilled to feature her post — a shortened excerpt from her memoir—for Valentine’s Day.

To loose a loved one, is something many of us have experienced, but Kathleen’s story is especially poignant and universal in this era of terrorism and upheaval. She writes with eloquence and skill, but with an honestly I find compelling. Thanks for helping her build a writer’s platform by sharing this blog and her wonderful piece in Salon.

A Valentine’s Day Love Story.

Book Excerpt: Meeting My Husband’s Killer, from

•January 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hello Friends/Readers/Clients . . . 

On the subject of how proud I am of the writers I work with . . . I have exciting news today regarding a proposal from my agency—Kathleen Murray’s book excerpt in Salon took off and the comments (which are varied and many heartfelt) show that this book will have a large audience.

This true story is about two women and a strange relationship that ensues after a terrorist bomb explodes.

Here is the link to the article Kathleen wrote that was accepted by, and featured as the lead story on January 21, 2014 with comments and traffic far exceeding expectations.

Kathleen Murray_SALON piece Jan 21

A video of Kathleen positions her as a real person for her readers, an eloquent voice of someone who has risen above and beyond the sheer brutality of a bomb exploding and blowing up her husband.

Comment from Sarah Hepola, Life Editor,

I did an edit on the piece, which actually required very little.
The writing was so tight, and it’s such an amazing tale.

~ What can you do, dear reader?  PLEASE HELP US SPREAD THE WORD . . . Link to the article, and share it widely. I have four editors locking at the proposal now, and the list is growing daily!

Thanks to Kathleen for sticking with me and my agency!

Growing Old Gracefully

•January 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Originally posted on Cardy Raper's Blog:


I had five older brothers and four sisters-in-law. They’re all gone, dead, passed on, recycled—save one: my younger brother’s wife, Grace. Grace is one hundred going on one-oh-one. She can’t see; can’t walk, can’t hear very well, but Grace is lucid, sweet, smart, and beloved. She’s grown old gracefully, just as my mother said we should all try to do. Grace has 10 years, 8 months, 18 days on me. I can see, smell, taste, walk, even play tennis, but—thinking of Grace—can’t help contemplate my future. Will I, can I, grow old gracefully?

But I shall not think anymore about that today. Instead, I will make myself a sinful breakfast of bacon and buttered waffles amply laced with Vermont maple syrup; I shall read the newspaper; the New Yorker—maybe finish Archer Mayor’s Paradise City—take a walk; watch a bit of the Australian Open and, after that, catch the

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Another Writers’ Workshop by Dede

•January 4, 2014 • 2 Comments

I am excited to report that the Burlington Writers Workshop has asked me to run this workshop for them in February… Here are the details:

Once you’ve written your book, what’s the best way to submit it for publication? Green Writers Press publisher and literary agent Dede Cummings will show examples of successful book proposals and query letters. She’ll also discuss how you can get your foot in the door with an agent or publishing house, how to follow up, and what to do if you have multiple offers (it does happen!). Come with questions!

Got a book proposal that could use some editing, and live too far to take the class? Contact Dede and she’ll find a way to help you.

About Dede Cummings
Green Writers Press publisher and literary agent Dede Cummings went to Middlebury College back in the late 1970s. In 1991, she received an award to study with Hayden Carruth at the Bennington Writers’ Workshop. Dede has had her poetry published in Mademoiselle magazine and She is at work on a collection of her poetry, along with her day job in publishing. Throughout the 1980s, Dede worked in publishing at Little, Brown & Company, rising to Senior Book Designer. When the company was bought by Time/Warner and moved to New York, Dede headed north with her husband and young son to return to Vermont and start freelancing as a designer. She has designed many award-winning books by such authors as Thomas Pynchon, Mary Oliver, William Shirer, Andre Dubus, and is a five-time winner of the new England Book Award, including 2 additional awards for “best in show” for Sorochintzy Fair by Nikolai Gogol, and World Alone/Mundo a Solas by Nobel Prize Winner, Vincente Alexandro.

In 2013 she started The Dede Cummings Literary Agency, signing her first book, Brave Parenting by Vermont author, Krissy Pozatek, which was sold in 24 hours to Wisdom Publications in Boston. The agency has grown since then, including a book auction for Shannon Galpin’s story: Mountain to Mountain: An Adventurer’s Journey for the Women of Afghanistan, and other titles. When one title—a children’s alphabet book called The Bird Book—didn’t sell, Dede decided to publish it herself, and The Bird Book came out in October 2013, to much acclaim. The new publishing company, Green Writers Press (, has signed nine books so far, including the noteworthy So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis, edited by Cummings, scheduled for release on February 11, 2014 (the book has a Foreword by Vermont nature writer John Elder, and an Envoy by Bill McKibben, with a percentage of sales going to 350-Vermont).

According to Publisher’s Weekly, it is “a book of eloquent testimony, in poetry and image, to the mystery and beauty imminent in nature, now so desperately imperiled. Like all art, it asks that we look up and see.”

Dede is a public radio commentator for Vermont Public Radio, and she lives next to an apple orchard on a dirt road in West Brattleboro, Vermont with her family.



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