Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Seekerville Query Letter Workshop Part 2

Thanks for joining us for Part 2 of the Seekerville Query Letter Workshop. You can catch up on what you missed yesterday here.

Query Letter Dos & Don'ts:

From TIPS FROM THE SLUSH PILE by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency: " When composing a query letter, remember that it should be professional. Think of your letter as your introduction to the agent and not unlike a written job interview. "

Janet Reid, FinePrint Literary Management, provides a list of don'ts including: "The old standby "fiction novel." This is INSTANT rejection and I don't care what else is on the page. If you don't know why this is just wrong (ie not a mistake, not a typo) you need to quit querying and enroll in Grammar 101."

"Do include the fact that you are working on another book in your query letter. This will indicate that you are committed to writing and that you have many stories to tell. However, you may not want to say that you are working on too many manuscripts at once—this may signal to the editor that you can't finish a project and do not give each one enough attention. " From the eHarlequin . com -Top 10 Submitting Dos and Don'ts.

Paige Wheeler, of Folio Literary Agency: "Have you finished your manuscript? Most agents/editors only want to see material if it has been completed. There are some instances in which this is not the case, but it's generally accepted that you should only query if your material is complete."

"Certain kinds of email address names are really not appropriate for professional correspondence. (But sometimes they make me laugh. Or cry. And, no, they don't determine whether I ask for pages. I just notice some of the really outlandish ones when I'm drafting replies.)" Jennifer Jackson, Agent, Letters from the Query Wars.

Nathan Bransford, How to Find a Literary Agent: Step 6: "Query widely. Don't blanket the town with your query unless you want to end up on Gawker, but agents assume you are going out there trying to find an agent. Also, you should limit your query to one agent per agency. After you've heard back, it's usually ok to re-query another agent at the agency if their submission guidelines don't suggest otherwise, but wait a couple of months."

And lastly, a few fiery words on query letters from non other than my hero--Miss Snark

“Pictographs on your query letter- aka inkwells, pens, tablets, open books, or dog forbid, the authoress herself looking pensive --this is a 100% reliable indicator of bad writing. Why? Cause the writer is so busy announcing "I'm a writer" they forget the words are what count.”

“Here are the things that should follow "my novel is"1. word count 2. genre 3. finished.”

“A query letter is like a job interview: put your best foot forward.”

“I get at least one query a week from someone who has missed the "industry standards" part of the tutorial at Query School.”

Resources for More Information on Query Letters:

  • Are you ready to swim in the shark infested waters? Check out Query Shark, one of several blogs by Janet Reid (rumored to be Miss Snark in her last life), of FinePrint Literary Management. Janet will give you a brutally honest query critique on her blog...if you are ready for the truth.

  • If you need help with your hook, or presentation of your facts try out Cathy Carmichael's Story Pitch Generator.

And now for those much anticipated Seeker Query Letters:

Example 1:

REF: GOLDEN HEART FINALIST: Submission Request for A Chasing after the Wind

Dear XX:

Nine out of ten women nationwide (90%) consider themselves to be Christian.* Yet, it is rare to find a novel that merges romantic passion and spirituality with an intensity that will appeal to the ever-broadening ranks of the Christian community. Newsweek magazine stated in its July 16, 2001 cover article that “Christian entertainment has emerged from its sheltered infancy and has begun to straddle two worlds: the religious one that created it and the secular one it was designed to avoid.” There is a vast market of women who believe in God, but possess romantic ideals that are sophisticated and 21st century. This is the market for which A Chasing after the Wind was written, a market similar to that of Francine River’s Redeeming Love. My target publishers are Warner Books, Dorchester, Pock Books, Revell, WestBow Publishing, RiverOak Publishing, Multnomah, WaterBrook Press and Bethany House.

A Chasing after the Wind is a completed, 110,000-word, character-driven inspirational romance, the first in a series about an Irish family in Boston, Massachusetts in 1916. Rival sisters with strong faith—one in God, the other in herself—turn the head of a heartbreaker who proposes to one and falls in love with the other. When WWI explodes on the scene, this close-knit family is suddenly ravaged by war … both in Europe and in the lives of the two sisters.

I am a commercial writer for Maritz Travel Company, a published poet, and a member of Romance Writers of America, in which I have PRO status. I am a member of Faith, Hope and Love and American Christian Fiction Writers, and am heavily involved in several critique groups. I have attended the last two ACFW conferences and have taken several fiction-writing classes and seminars. A Chasing after the Wind is a 2005 Golden Heart Finalist in the Inspirational Category and a finalist in seven 2004 contests, including the Maggie, Stepping Stone, Jasmine and Connections contests. It also has been accepted by The Writer’s Edge.

Thank you for your time in considering A Chasing after the Wind for publication. Per your guidelines, I am advising that this is a multiple submission. I look forward to receiving your response. I have enclosed a synopsis, the first five pages of my manuscript, and an SASE.


*American Religious Identification Survey conducted by the Barna Group, http://www.barna.org/.


Example 2:

Dear Agent X,

I am very happy to announce that two of my manuscripts, Marrying Mariah, an inspirational historical romance, and The Missionary and the Mercenary, an inspirational romantic suspense, are finalists in the inspirational category of the 2004 Golden Heart contest.

The Missionary and the Mercenary is completed and is 65,000 words. After their crippled plane crashes in the South American jungle, a jaded mercenary with secrets and an adventurous nurse/missionary must survive while battling the jungle and the gunrunners on their trail. As Cash Murphy and Lauren Cabaret learn to depend on each other and ultimately fall in love, Cash has to come to terms with his past and his anger at God, while Lauren comes to realize that she is useful to God and that her trip to Colombia is in His will.

I am searching for an agent to help focus my writing. My goals are to make sure that my manuscripts are the best they can possibly be and to present my work in a professional manner to CBA publishers of inspirational romantic suspense and historical romance, including Steeple Hill, the ABA division of Harlequin/Silhouette.

I am a member of RWA's Pro program, FHL, and American Christian Romance Writers. I have numerous contest wins to my credit, including being a three-time Golden Heart finalist, a Maggie finalist, and winner of ACRW's Noble Theme and FHL's Touched by Love contests.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you. A SASE is included for your convenience.


Example 3:

Dear XX,

XX encouraged me to email you and submit my proposal.
I have completed an 85,000 word contemporary Asian Chick-Lit romance
set in the San Francisco Bay Area, entitled THE CORINTHIAN RULES.

Lonely, single career woman Trish reads 1st and 2nd Corinthians and
devises three rules that she thinks will make her whole-heartedly
devotion to God, and stop desiring a boyfriend: 1) Stop looking at
guys, 2) Only date Christian guys, and 3) Persevere in hardship by
relying on God. But she's suddenly surrounded by hunky temptations
and harrowing hardships, plus her cynical, non-Christian coworker
Spenser is determined to make her fail.

With the Asian humor of Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club" and Ang Lee's
"Eat Drink Man Woman," but circling around the theme of Christian
singleness as in Kristin Billerbeck's "What a Girl Wants," THE
CORINTHIAN RULES blends Asian culture with Chick-Lit sassiness for a
contemporary Christian female audience.

This novel explores the the fast pace and urban lifestyle of the
Silicon Valley professional, as well as the northern California Asian
culture I have been immersed in for the past fourteen years. I belong
to several writers' groups and critique groups including American
Christian Romance Writers and Christian Writers' Group. My short
stories have won various Writing.com contests, and I am also an editor
for RubyZine, a Christian ezine for teenaged girls. I have been
published in Write To Inspire newsletter, WordPraize multicultural
e-zine, and Universal Personality e-zine. I have a feature article
that will appear in the fall edition of Nikkei Heritage journal,
published by the National Japanese American Historical Society, and a
short story appearing next year in Arabella Magazine.

I have ties to the local Asian community to promote this novel, and
there are several libraries and bookstores in San Jose that are
supportive of local authors. I intend to do booksignings wherever
possible. I also have ties to romance readers websites and online
discussion groups, and I hope to sponsor contests on my own author

Bethany House Publishers, WestBow Press and RiverOak Publishing
reviewed this manuscript at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's
Conference this past April. RiverOak requested the full manuscript,
and Bethany House requested the proposal once it is further revised.

I have enclosed a synopsis, comparative title analysis, and the first
three chapters of this story in the body of this email. I can also
email a Microsoft Word document or Rich Text Format document if you
prefer. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


Example 4:

Dear Ms.XX,

I am writing to inquire about Dorchester Publishing’s soon to be announced Inspirational Line. I have been writing contemporary inspirational romances for several years and would appreciate any information on guidelines.

Currently I have a completed 70 thousand word contemporary inspirational romance called A Place Called Home, which I hope you will be interested in. Nurse Annie Harris has returned to Tulsa to recover from a mission trip gone wrong—home to Sullivan Ranch, Will Sullivan and housekeeper Maggie O’Shea, the only family Annie has ever known. Rancher Will Sullivan is dealing with the fifty-fifty odds he may have Huntington’s disease. Annie and Will begin a journey of learning to face the future and trusting God s unconditional love .

As a former RN, I lived seventeen years in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I have been writing for several years and have sold dozens of short romantic stories to Dorchester’s True Story, and True Love magazines. I am a member of RWA and several local chapters. This year I am a 2005 Golden Heart Finalist in the Inspirational Category. In 2004 A Place Called Home won first place in the 2004 Heart of the Rockies Contest and the Smoky Mountain Laurie. A Place Called Home is one of several completed inspirational manuscripts. I am currently working on the follow-up to this manuscript, called Promises to Keep, which is secondary character, veterinarian Ryan Jones’ story.

I am happy to send you a partial or the complete of A Place Called Home. Enclosed is a SASE for your convenience. Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.



Cathy S. said...

You've really packed this post with information. The examples are especially helpful. I'm surprised at how different they are.

Did they all land requests?

Thanks for all you do!

Tina M. Russo said...

Two landed sales and the other three requests.

Good morning, by the way!!

I need coffee, badly. Leaded please.

Pass the toast.

Pam Hillman said...

Hi Tina & Cathy! Checking in early. Once my day job starts, it's hard to find time to visit.

Cathy, my thoughts exactly. Every query was different, but each had that blurb about the BOOK smack-dab in the middle.

Even though we work really hard to put together a perfect intro. paragraph and closing paragraph (as we should), I'm going to take a wild guess that editors and agents sorta "skim" the opening paragraphs, then dig in when they get to the part about the book itself.

If the blurb catches their eye, then they'll read the rest more thoroughly. This is just my opinion, of course, and not based on any comment or anything from professionals!

But it's what I would do. For instance, I would read Ex. 1's intro and think, hmmm, nice opening, but when I read the part about the rival sisters, both in love with the same guy, then I would read the opening more carefully. I would also read the closing paragraphs more closely and see that the book was a GH finalist (among other awards).

Another thing that seems small, but is important. We need to do our very best not to have any typos or grammar errors in that query letter.

I still have the first query letter I ever wrote (typos and all! Ugh!) years ago. The editor asked to see more of my work, but I was so green, it was pathetic.

I've reviewed applications for secretarial/office positions before and I just couldn't get enthused about the ones with typos, so can you imagine how and editor or agent feels about that in a query letter?

PS. Obviously, such things will slip by us, but take the time for that last little read-through or have someone else look over it just to be sure.

What's for breakfast?

While we're waiting for the REAL cooks to show up, I'll run out and grab some Starbucks and Beagle Bagle Cafe muffins. In the words of the immortal Ruthy, they're "to die for"!

Melanie Dickerson said...

I liked to put the short blurb at the very beginning, first sentence.

Camy's was very good because it had several sentences about marketing and would catch an agent or editor's attention, I would think, because it tells them exactly how they would pitch the book to booksellers. Me, I was (and still am) clueless about how to compare my books to other books out there, or how to make them sound marketable.

Julie Lessman said...

Wow, Tina, how fun to see other Seeker queries!! Great finish to a wonderful workshop!

One thing that someone stressed to me is that you should always advise the editor as to who your market is, like Camy did in hers as well as give a comparison novel that carries some weight (also like Camy did). And it's essential to give the editor as much positive info about you as you can, which all the queries letter did nicely.


Sandra Leesmith said...

Great observation Cathy about how different the query letters are. It shows what Tina was saying about getting the voice of the individual writer into the query. I could just picture each one of the authors when I read what they wrote.

Hmm, I'm at the Apple store getting ready for another one to one lesson. But I can run out and grab some bagels with different flavored cream cheeses. Do you all have Einsteins? Its here in Arizona and I love their coffee and bagels. I think I'll take some of the Chocolate Velvet coffee from my thermos though because that's my favorite. But Einsteins has a nice mild brew and a strong brew for those of you who need to open those eyes.

Happy writing and submitting.

lynnrush said...

GREAT post! Very helpful. I love to see the different examples. I find that many sites have differing opinions on how to draft a letter.

It seems we just have to let our voice and our writing shine through, huh?

Thanks for the post.

Jessica said...

This was cool to see. And I love Miss Snark!

Audra Harders said...

Mornin' Tina : ) Great post. Thanks for all the time and research you put into it! Since I came in WAY late yesterday, I wanted to make sure I started the day off with the Seekers!

I loved comparing Seeker queries side by side. Amazing, the different flavors among them. I loved the queries that gave market research as part of their pitch. The competition is so tight, I think any tidbid you can offer the agent or editor to tickle their brains for marketing placement is a plus.

Great resources for query tips, too.

Thanks so much, Tina!!

Tina M. Russo said...

Totally right, Lynn. I noted Ms. Snark (Janet Reid) has long closings on queries. Just the facts Ma'am.

So I am thinking some of you are able to identify the query owners. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Excellent, Tina (and Seekers who wrote the examples).

One thing I noticed is the market info. I never included that in a cover/query to an editor but did use that for agents who asked for it. So you might want to take that into consideration. Of course, I was targeting Steeple Hill, so you don't really need any market info for them because they have a very specific market.


Walt Mussell said...

I particularly love the comment that some people would use odd e-mail addresses. Simple and concise would seem to be obvious.

Tina M. Russo said...

So I am thinking LoveBug at gmail dot com is what she means..lol.

Janet Dean said...

Another post crammed full of excellent information, Tina. Thanks!

I enjoyed reading Seeker queries. Receiving two sales and three requests is impressive. Great job ladies!


vince said...

Hello Tina:

Great Post! The examples are very powerful and so individualized. Example 1 speaks the language of the reader with marketing facts. If I’m a publisher, I’m very impressed. The author knows the market, knows what she is talking about, and is thinking from my POV, (this could be a profitable venture for me). I would very quickly decide I wanted to see this author’s work. Example 3 is also very good in positioning the author within a context of other known authors in a meaningful way. (It wouldn’t do to say you write just like Nora Roberts, only a little better.) . If I could use or need an author in this category, I would actually feel I would have a duty to review her work. After reading the examples I wondered, ‘what’s the problem? These things are great’.

I just love great examples. (Isn’t that the old ‘show me how to do it; don’t tell me”?)



Mary Connealy said...

Wow, I'd go for all those proposals. :)

I couldn't find one of mine. I wonder what happened to them. Some gremlin name Bill Gates snatched them away.

The thing that jumps out at me in these letters is,
ONE the writing is solid and entertaining. Even in the letter, I wanted to read on.
TWO the accomplishments, contests, organizations, work experience, education, published works.

If you are querying agents and editors and you don't have any published works GET SOME. Start subbing short form writing, even to unpaid ezines, anything to get SOMETHING on that resume to separate yourself from the pack.
Chances are, you've already got them, make sure and mention them.

And if you don't have any work experience with words LOOK CLOSER. you probably do. Your church newsletter, your school PTA newsletter. People who love to write, tend to write, so find out what you're writing and mention it. And if you're not writing anything except books then START.

Mary Connealy said...

The weird emails reminds me of one of my friends email addresses.
It's superspunk.
I have no idea why.

She's a lovely woman, but when I visit with her, superspunk doesn't exactly come to mind.

So, creating a new email address, something simple like
myname @ hotmail.com
is very, very easy and probably worth it.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Great querie letters and great article, Tina.


Myra Johnson said...

Nothing to add to this exceptional advice and wonderful examples! Great work, Tina!

And that line about "fiction novel" made me laugh. It's a running joke between me and my crit partner, Carla Stewart.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Tina, this is a very thorough and wonderful post. No wonder you need coffee. And food, no doubt. I've got your back, girlfriend.

I brought a full coffee service of hazelnut, chocolate velvet and vanilla spice. Help yourself. There's regular right alongside. No espresso, though. Couldn't get the blend just right.

And chocolate. When a group like this discusses queries, proposals, contests, etc...

Chocolate's the way to go. Helps settle the nerves. I've brought homemade brownies, studded with nuts and caramel and a BIG box of Russel Stover Reserve. Pretty solid stuff.

I love a good query letter. I cringe when I remember my early ones. No doubt those editors cringed right alongside. They may be sporting permanent facial wrinkles to this day, LOL!

My Peninsula Pitch final last winter was a fun letter to write. Since Detecting Delia is a snarky book, I designed the letter to reflect that. Lots of fun to write. Now if I'd written that same letter while approaching editors about Running on Empty, it would have fallen flat. Different book, different query.

And different pub houses, of course.

And since the book is now sitting in HQ's Toronto office, where a very cool Wanda Ottewell will read it, I figure it was a pretty solid pitch.

I'm also not afraid to e-mail my pitch letters to Tina or Mary or Sandra or other Seekers, asking advice. That quick, cold read is a good thing so we don't overlook something OBVIOUS like word count, finished and genre, LOL!


Avily Jerome said...

Wow, thanks!

Examples of how to do it right are much more helpful to me than how to do it wrong. I've been doing it wrong just fine on my own! :)

Thanks for the helpful hints!

Arianna said...

Haha, the 'fictional novel' made me laugh. It drives me crazy when people say that, but me being the nice person I am, I keep my mouth shut ;) LOL. This was just as helpful as part one. I always learn so much from you Seekers ;)

Tina M. Russo said...

Avily you are a hoot.

Pam Hillman said...

What's wrong with reading fiction novels?

I personally like them!



Tina M. Russo said...

Don't you just love technology? I am getting my hair cut at the moment and wanted to thank all our guests and the seekers who shared their queries!

Debby Giusti said...

HI Tina,
Great, as usual! Loved the Seeker letters. Felt like it was contest time. I was matching faces with queries! Congrats to all!

Thanks for sharing.

Camy Tang said...

Great post, Tina!

Mary mentioned something that not enough writers do--publishing credits. If you don't have any, get some--articles or short stories. Ezines, church newsletters, local papers are all great.

And target some that pertain to your novel--like Julie could have submitted several articles to a Boston (or East coast) historical ezine to get some publishing credits that pertained to her story.

I am of Miss Snark's opinion--short and sweet. A long query letter makes me skim. Short paragraphs are more likely to be read. I've read a lot of query letters for my critique service, and the best ones are those that get to the point right away:

I have a completed 85,000 word romantic suspense manuscript about a serial killer in downtown Tokyo who is targeting Christians.

I like the first step of Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method because he has you write a 15-word blurb about your book, which can be used in the opening line of your query letter: a serial killer in downtown Tokyo is targeting Christians.

It catches the editor's attention right away and lets him/her know exactly what your book is about.