Monday, June 16, 2008

A Great Query Letter

I’ve often been asked, what do you do after you’ve finished your novel? After enjoying that wonderful feeling of accomplishment, I usually put the manuscript away for a few weeks and work on something else. Then I dig it out of whatever file I’ve buried it in and read it with a fresh perspective. The following edit takes weeks or months to complete and even then I’m never truly satisfied that the work is the best it can be. It can always be better. However, I know I must stop the editing cycle at some point and get on with it.

Getting on with it is submitting it. At first it was the hardest thing I’d ever done in regards to my writing. Well, there were a lot of hardests to contend with when I first started writing fiction. Trying to finish my first novel, my first edit, showing my work to others for critique… the list was long. But, I confess that the first time I sent a manuscript out was by far the most unnerving.

A few years ago I stumbled onto a great query letter example and wished I’d been able to lay my eyes on it before sending out my first query. I want to thank Jenny Bent, a literary agent and Vice President with the Trident Media Group, and Karin Gillespie, the letter’s author, for allowing me to reprint it here.

Jenny Bent’s comments are in italics.

Dear Ms. Bent:

Yay! She got my name right. You'd be surprised how many people don't. Although honestly, I don't hold it against them, but I know many agents who do.

My novel Who's My Daddy? took first place in the Sandhills Writers Conference in 2001 and one of the judges, Robert Bausch (author of A Hole in the Earth), called it "brilliant and original." I've read on your Web site that you handle women's fiction.

Good opening. I know Robert Bausch is a respected writer, and so if he liked it, that does mean something. Also, she demonstrates that she has done her research-I do indeed handle women's fiction.

Who's My Daddy? is a farcical Southern novel about Elizabeth Polk, a hairdresser who works at a beauty parlor for elderly ladies called the Cozy Cut. Everything in Elizabeth's life is "cattywampus." Her fiancé Clip Jenkins recently shoved a "Dear Jane" letter under the windshield wiper of her Geo Metro; she's embarrassed by her redneck daddy who blows up ottomans on TV in order to promote his rent-to-own furniture business; and her half-brother Lanier continually gets arrested for stealing lawn ornaments.

This is just plain funny. The only word I would have removed is "farcical," because farces are very tough to sell, but it would be hard for anyone outside of the business to know that.

Given her circumstances, Elizabeth can't understand why one of Augusta, Georgia's wealthiest matriarchs, Gracie Tobias, takes such a keen interest in her. Gracie introduces Elizabeth to her grandson Timothy who's just returned from a Buddhist monastery in California. When a romance between Elizabeth and Timothy develops, Elizabeth is plagued by insecurities regarding her lowly, family background.

Here, she's demonstrating that this novel does have conflict and hence a plot. Plots are good things. Agents and editors like them.

Who's My Daddy? crackles with more secrets than a middle-school slumber party. Elizabeth discovers a diary that raises questions about the identity of her daddy; Timothy refuses to discuss a trauma that made him abandon his life ten years ago; and Gracie Tobias knows a truth about Elizabeth's birthright that will change her life.

Again, she's demonstrating plot, plus, that first sentence is so fabulous and shows me that she's a good, creative writer.

Would you like to see a few sample chapters? I am the editor of The Metro-Augusta Parent a regional parenting publication and have received national awards (Parenting Publications of America) for my nonfiction writing.

Good. A very short bio that sums up her experience. Of course, I would have liked to see more awards, etc. for creative writing, but at this point I've already decided I want to see the book. She was smart to put her most significant writing award at the beginning of the letter and then put the rest, less significant experience here at the end.

Thank you for your consideration and time. An SASE is enclosed for your reply.

Short, sweet, and polite closing, plus a SASE. Who could ask for more?

Karin Gillespie

No comments: