Yesterday I posted a blog about query letters, and aside from a handful of comments posted here I got something along the lines of eight hundred emails. Yowzah! It’s great to hear from so many folks.
I promised to post a couple of query letter samples, and I’m going to do that today and tomorrow.
Today I’m posting a query for a novel. It’s actually the query I used to pitch my first novel, Ghost Road Blues, to a bunch of New York agents. I pitched it to the ten agents whose track-record and connections I felt would give my book the best chance. In another blog I’ll discuss how I found an agent (it’s not as hard as it sounds).
For today though, let’s look at the basic query:
PO Box 84
Southampton PA 18966
August 22, 2004
The Big Literary Agency
100 Success Street
New York, NY 10000
Dear Mr. Bloggs,
Pine Deep, PA has always had a reputation for being ‘the most haunted town in America’; they’ve even built their tourism around it –with the nation’s largest haunted hayride and other spooky attractions. The problem is that Pine Deep really is the most haunted town in America, and that’s not going to be such a good thing for the folks that live there. Halloween is coming early to Pine Deep and things are about to get truly spooky.
Ghost Road Blues is a supernatural thriller in which ordinary people face extraordinary events, and how they deal with those events will forever change their lives. Or end their lives. This is a story of people confronting darkness –the darkness without, or within—in which we see some embrace that darkness, lured by its promise of power; and others take a stand against it, even at the risk of losing everything they love.
The novel kicks off with a hunt for a brutal serial killer and then turns left into the creepy backroads that cut through the darkened cornfields of rural America. As the hunt intensifies other forces come into play, turning Ghost Road Blues into a collision of natural –and unnatural—forces.
Ghost Road Blues will appeal to the readers of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, and the novels of Robert McCammon, Dan Simmons and Bentley Little. It’s a mainstream thriller with a supernatural bite. The book is 140,000 words and is ready for immediate mailing. I would be happy to send a synopsis, sample chapters (or the complete ms.) along with a competitive analysis that clearly shows how strong and active this genre is, and has been.
Your own remarkable track record with thrillers of every stripe is impressive, and you’ve done so well with best-sellers as well as first-time authors such as Joe Schmoe, Jane Doe and Iver Biggun that it’s clear you get this genre. I look forward to hearing from via email.
So...the query has a number of significant points. The first paragraph opens with a hook and then builds on the hook’s premise, exploring it in a way that promises that the book will be fun to read (no matter what the subject matter). The second paragraph gives the title and establishes the genre, but also describes the ‘essence’ of the book. The third paragraph suggests the format of the book, discussing the way in which the story unfolds.
None of these paragraphs bogs down with too much plot. You have to intrigue and entice with a book that will fit into a known genre/subgenre. If that works then the agent or editor will ask to see chapters (for style) and a synopsis (for plot/story).
Paragraph four reinforces the market position of the book by citing other authors whose books define and drive the genre/subgenre. This paragraph also provides details such as word count, and then offers deliverables (chapters, complete manuscript, etc.). Notice that it’s worded not to ask whether these can be sent but rather offers choices to allow the agent/editor to pick. That’s a much better sales strategy. The paragraph also wraps with a subtle reminder that we all know that we’re talking about a marketable and potentially moneymaking product (rather than an enduring work of art). Art is crucial, sure, but this is a business sales letter. Stay focused on that point and save the art for when you’re dealing with readers and interviewers.
The final paragraph establishes why you’re pitching to a specific agent or editor. Do your homework. Don’t shoot in the dark and send it to just anyone who handles fiction. Use resources like PublishersMarketplace and others (more on this in the agent blog). Bottom line: let this person know that you’ve picked them because they are positioned and experienced in your genre.
End on a firm and positive note, not a plea. Don’t apologize for being a newbie or for ‘bothering’ them (as I’ve seen in queries); and don’t use overly formal language. Write conversationally but with a business message threaded throughout. Confidence is crucial (but don’t use crap like ‘this is the best book you’ll ever read’ or other over-selling stuff).
And, if you have a sense of fun in your tone that’s appealing. Desperation isn’t.
Hope this helps. If you don’t want to post a comment or question, feel free to hit me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Writers Corner USA