An author with strong credentials sent the following successful query letter to agents for her novel. The author omitted names of editors, topics, other projects, and titles, and I've inserted facetious substitutes to help it read more smoothly.
The author reports that the letter "got me my current agent and numerous offers to look at the complete MS." Following the letter are her thoughts on why it worked.
Dear Agent Name,
I'm writing to you in hopes that you'll have a look at my novel, Heckuva Story. I've enclosed a summary and the first couple of pages for you to read. I'm not sure if you remember, but we met a number of years ago about a book proposal of mine
--how to climb large apples --that I never ended up doing. Anyway, I remembered your insightful comments about that proposal, and wanted to get back in touch.
Heckuva Story is my first fiction for adults; I'm the author of the nonfiction How to Knit Kittens plus two children's books. I left my agency about eight months ago, and I'm seeking representation for this new project, which combines my interest in canoes with my interest in executions.
There are three editors I'm confident would be interested to see the novel: Rilly Picky at Putnam; Genre Maven at Little, Brown; Big Advances at Pocket. Plus, more tentatively, Happy Endings, Lilly Loveslunch and Sloe Reader.
How to Knit Kittens earned out, and I'm happy to send you copies of print reviews if you'd like to see them. Some of that kind of thing, plus links to articles I've written, can be found on the web at www.anonauthoress.com.
Thanks in advance for looking at the material. I sincerely look forward to hearing what you think.
Encl: summary/pitch (2 paragraphs) and five pages from chapter 1
Here are the author's thoughts on why the query netted an agent.
I think the letter works because:
- it's very much to the point in first sentence and also very brief.
- I stuck to facts and used no adjectives about my project. (R: excellent!)
- I flattered her in a realistic way.
- I was able to identify people who might be interested in seeing my work, based on conversations I'd had with them.
- I had some credentials, although none as a novelist. (R: yes, but they say "pro")
- My website was in decent shape and she could read a number of my magazine articles on it. (R: having your own site is a good tool. And they're relatively inexpensive to host [$5/month] and not hard to create with the tools some hosts offer or software such as NetObjects Fusion. I design websites for others and myself even though I'm in no way a geek.)
- I made it sound like my first book had done well, and it did earn out
--but it earned out a miniscule advance and was actually considered a disappointment by my publisher.
- I took a single sentence to explain "why me to write this book?"
--("it combines my interest in canoes with my interest in executions --both of which topics I had publishing experience in), which is a question I think relatively new authors are often asked.
- I included the pitch but not so much unasked-for material that it would clog up her desk.
The author's rationales make sense to me. When an agent is faced with hundreds of query letters, this one's brevity would shine. So would, it seems to me, the author's credentials.
The idea of putting the brief synopsis/pitch on a separate document rather than in the letter is new to me. Hey, whatever works. If an agent senses salability from the query letter, then she'll turn to the next page. If not, she'll pass. Or is that really true? I have to wonder if there's not a risk in this approach in that a writer's credentials and the other query facts might not resonate with an agent but the story related in the pitch might.
The personalization the author used in her opening is, of course, a key element. I'm assuming that this "met you" lead applies only to this one agent and not the others who also requested the MS.
Thank you, anonauthoress, for sharing this.
Any more out there?
Free edit in exchange for posting permission. You send a sample that you have questions about and of which you'd like an edit. I won't post it without your permission.
Tip Jar: visitors have asked for a way to lay a dime or two on me and, I'll confess, it would be helpful. So if you want to chip in, click here. And many thanks.
© 2005 Ray Rhamey