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A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Jana DeLeon’s Query)

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STATUS: I actually spent the day avoiding the phone and emails so I could get some reading done. And I plan to work late tonight. I’m committed to catching up.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND by Sting

I actually find this exercise a little interesting because for the most part, I don’t analyze queries received. I either like it or not and simply ask for sample pages if it works for me.

Next up, Jana DeLeon’s query (and I’m having trouble typing because I’m sitting on my couch and Chutney is insisting on laying her head on the laptop keyboard so I apologize for any uncaught typos etc.).

This project sold to Dorchester and will be coming out in October of 2006. The title remained the same (because it’s a great title and don’t underestimate the value of a good title to win your query some attention). Bland titles are an instant turn off and if I end up thinking, “what a yucky title,” that can be a strike against you—although I’ll still give the query a look.

November 8, 2004

Kristin Nelson
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC
1020 15th Street
Suite 26L
Denver, CO 80202

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I have recently completed a 93,000-word humorous romantic suspense novel entitled Rumble on the Bayou, and I hope you might consider me for your list.
Of course I wouldn’t have known that when I read the query but Jana is definitely a straight-to-the-point kind of gal and this opening sentence would indicate that. Why beat around the bush when you can go straight to the story blurb. I know enough to orient me.

The only suggestion I would add is this: it might have been nice if Jana mentioned that her work was not unlike Stephanie Bond’s stuff because it is and the comparison would have benefited her.

Secrets have been buried in Gator Bait, Louisiana for over thirty years, but someone is about to blow the lid off of them and rock this sleepy little town. How can you not love a town named Gator Bait? Right off I found this little tidbit so fun and interesting. Not to mention, she cut right to the secret that’s about to upset a small town. I know something is going to happen. Now I’m expecting, in the next few sentences, that she’ll elaborate on what and I’m not disappointed. Dorie Berenger likes her life just the way it is—simple, easy, relaxed. Serving as both Game Warden and Deputy in her hometown of Gator Bait meets her needs nicely, until DEA agent Richard Starke shows up—abrupt, demanding and far too attractive for this one-horse town. Soon he’s complicating everything, from her job to her self-imposed ban on relationships, and Dorie wants him out of her hair as soon as possible. I love the focus on the sexual tension between these two characters. Now I can assume that DEA agent Starke is coming to town because of the secret that is unfolding and she really actually doesn’t reveal too much about it. But remember when I mentioned yesterday that a query letter doesn’t have to be perfect to win a look. There’s a good spark here so I asked for sample pages because I liked the idea of something set in Louisiana and the tone she’s captured in the query.

Rumble on the Bayou is a humorous look at what happens when big city crime visits small town mentality. This solidifies it for me. I love when there is an external conflict to layer on the relationship conflict and this one is certainly one to create more sparks flying. It received an Honorable Mention in the 2004 Daphne du Maurier contest and second place in the 2004 TARA First Impressions Contest. Always good to know that it drew some notice.

I am a member of Romance Writers of America, Dallas Area Romance Authors, and Sisters in Crime. I spent the first twenty-one years of my life among the bayous and marshes of southwest Louisiana. I love this last tidbit. Louisiana is a special place and not just anybody can write about it well. Jana highlights that she knows the territory intimately because she grew up there. She has creditability. That detail wins her extra points in my book.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Jana DeLeon

I thought it might be fun to include the back cover copy for RUMBLE so you can see some details that might have made Jana’s original query stronger if she had included it. It still got my attention but I think if you are reading this blog and trying to learn the art of a query, it might be helpful if I point some stuff out.

GATOR AID
Deputy Dorie Berenger knew it was going to be a rough day when the alligator she found in the town drunk’s swimming pool turned out to be stoned. On heroin. Now she has some big-shot city slicker from the DEA trying to take over her turf. And Agent Richard Starke is everything she’d feared—brash, demanding and way too handsome for his own good. Or hers.

The folks of Gator Bait, Louisiana, may know everything about each other, but they’re sure not going to share it with an outsider. Richard wouldn’t be able to catch a catfish, much less a drug smuggler, without Dorie’s help. But some secrets—and some desires—are buried so deep that bringing them to the surface will take a major
RUMBLE ON THE BAYOU

If you notice, the first paragraph of the back cover copy basically makes it clear why DEA agent Richard Starke is coming to town. Not only that, but it gives us some nuances about the quirky little town of Gator Bait. There’s a gator in a swimming pool of the town drunk. And the gator’s stoned. Hilarious.

The second paragraph really sets up the externally conflict nicely. It’s Gator Bait against the brash outsider and you know these two are going to have to knock heads, hearts, and their libidos, to get anything accomplished.

How fun is that.

The mention of the secret is saved till last. It’s an extra enticement.

And that’s what I recommend to folks writing queries. Really capture the essence of your story in one or two short paragraphs—not unlike the back cover copy of a novel. After all, that copy is designed to snag a reader in the bookstore so it can serve the same function for an agent who is trying to envision this work in a bookstore.


27 Responses

  1. Working on my Query said:

    Kristin, this is the most useful thing you’ve done yet, and you have done a LOT of useful things on your blog. Thank you so much.

  2. leann said:

    Okay…I’m hooked. Definitely going to read this when it comes out.

    The advice helps out a lot – the query is a big mystery to me, and I will definitely be coming back to re-read when I’m polishing mine up! Thanks!

  3. Sherri said:

    This series is coming along at just the right time for me. I’m definitely taking notes.

    You are the sun that warms the blogosphere. Thanks so much!

  4. Ryan Field said:

    This the perfect query, for any agent, at any time. There’s nothing subjective about it (in format)and it’s a wonderful example to copy as an industry standard. I want to read the book, too.

  5. Maprilynne said:

    I think it’s really interesting for you to post both the query and the blurb on the back of the book. I have read the blurb before and it hooked me. The query (no offense Jana) was less attention piquing in my opinion. The stoned alligator was all I needed to know I wanted to read this book. Very interesting comparison; thanks!

  6. Anonymous said:

    I (hopefully) wrote a great query letter… I just need to check and re-check for fat-fingered typos. Thanks for being human and requesting partials from we underlings who can write, but can’t type.

  7. Jana DeLeon said:

    lol maprilynne – no offense taken at all. I’ve come miles in my writing education since penning that query, although I’ll admit, I’m still hoping to never have to write another. If I could just figure a way out of the synopsis, life would be perfect.

    Thanks to all of you who want to read Rumble. I hope you enjoy!

  8. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Maprilynne, the stoned alligator was all I needed to READ of this book to know it was “it” when I first read it in a contest. Too funny for words!

    Now, of course, I’m good friends with Jana, and I still think that opening scene is among the best I’ve read in a novel anywhere.

  9. DL Havlin said:

    Reading your explanation defining what appealed to you in Jana Deleon’s query letter was very insighful and is of great value to all “wantabes.” It will help me. Thanks for a great job of defining what and how an agent wants in a query letter.

  10. Anonymous said:

    This is quite useful information. After reading through a few agents web sites about what to put into a query letter I spent days and 220 e-mails sending out a poorly written letter. Now I have polished the future e-mail into a tight cohesive letter that really gives the agent an overview of the complexities of the novel.
    Thank you once again,
    Scott Klingaman – future author

  11. Moira said:

    I’ve just discovered this blog, and am so grateful. Talk about knowledge sharing! You’ve gifted me with the insight and direction I need to polish my query letter with confidence. Tonight I’ll devour the rest of the blog.

    Noodle and I are destined for publication. My thanks again for showing me the path, by way of your postings!

    Moira

  12. shawnawks said:

    I received my very first rejection letter from you just a few days ago, and now have accidently stumbled upon this blog. I have to say I was sad, but now reading this great query, I am taking mine and throwing it in the garbage! Thank you for posting this. Your input with it was very helpful.

  13. Signs_of_life said:

    Hi I am a first time author and have just completed my novel. I have sent out only a handful of query letters and received some rejection letters. I cant quite understand what agents are looking for. Last time i checked it was supposed to be the writers who had the talent. I feel a little embarrassed, trying so hard to sell what I think is gonna be the next Lord of the rings trilogy. But I want to comend you for putting forth this infromation to help new writers like myself. Any help that you can offer is appreciated. Please feel free to critique my hook line.

    Fall of Man

    Depicts a fallen angel, who under the grace of god finds redemption on earth. Formless and empty, darkness takes a hold of him. Fighting his inner desires he vows to claim vengeance against heavenly crusaders and bears witness to the power of humanity.

  14. Anonymous said:

    to signs of life. it’s kind of cheesy and a bit too dramatic. you might want to tone it down a little bit so readers don’t think it’s going to be depressing and overly dramatic. Please don’t take offense by this.
    A Writer

  15. Anonymous said:

    This helps me a lot. Everyone thinks I’m a great writer and I should try to get my book published (what do they think I’m doing?), but there are two things standing in my way: I can’t come up with any ideas(even though I’m already more than half way through the book), and people say things like: “You’re too young”, “You’re only eleven”, and my least favorite: “You have to focus on school.” I do. I write during my free time. I’ll see what the people here think of the description.

    Scarlet

    When a young Hellhound named Scarlet meet her father for the first time, finds that she has a half sister, and descovers that her best friend has been lying to her since the day they met, her world is turned upside down. And, worst of all, the Griffins are becoming stonger by the minute. Then Faolan, a mysterious transforming Hellhound saves Scarlet’s life, she realizes something: the fate of the world rests in their paws.

  16. Anonymous said:

    ugh! have you ever done something, then realized you forgot to put something in it?…or a lot of somethings?

    When a young Hhellhound named Scarlet meets her fater for the first time, finds she has a half sister, and descovers her best friend has been lying to her scince the day they met, her world turns upside down. And, worst of all, the Griffins are getting stronger by the minute. Then Faolan, a mysterious transforming Hellhound, saves Scarlet’s life. Just as she begins to think things will get better, everything goes wrong. Again. And this time Scarlet knows something else: the fate of the world rests in her paws.

  17. Jami Montgomery said:

    I have a question. I am a writer interested in this agency, and I actually have a name of an agent to contact, but I am a little stuck on the query.
    I am a member of a few writer’s websites, and I was wondering if accomplishments on these sites should go into the writer’s bio. For instance, if my book were to make it to the top 5 and be reviewed by an editing house as the result, would that be something worth mentioning in a query?
    Thanks for taking the time to consider answering. The query is so much harder to write than the novel!

  18. Fancher said:

    Months after finishing my first novel (and after an annoyingly loving amount of prodding by my friends) I have been studying and trying to demystify the art of the query letter for weeks now. Your blog is wonderful and the best piece of information I have found. Thank you so much,I think it answered the last of my questions! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  19. WhiteWolf said:

    Do I have to have something good in my writer’s bio? Because i really haven’t won any awards or anything like that. please let me know! this is urgent!

  20. Anonymous said:

    Thank you for adding examples and your feedback, it makes a world of difference!

    My question is on memoir writing, using the first person pov. Would an author be better off to use the third person pov in the query, or use the voice of the story? I guess I’m a little less than confident of the query letter activity. This is something that has become a rode block to my career.

    I wrote my first draft with different character names using the third person POV to make re-telling the story easier. It contains a lot of traumatic events. Once that draft was completed, I had to start over using my own narrative voice, which to me was a lot more direct, less descriptive and over all, better in terms of revealing theme, yet not as good when compared to traditional fiction stories.

    Hmmm.

    I have a lot of questions.
    Most have to do with this fear of submitting the query letter.

    Thank you for providing such useful information.

  21. Amanda O. said:

    This breakdown of a real live query letter is very useful for a first-timer like me, its really answered some questions that i couldn’t find answers for anywhere else.
    THANKS for everything, this site has been a true help.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I have been working on a novel for forty years—life kept getting in the way. Friends, who are not unlike most of the characters in the book, continued to urge me to finish it. Now that I am unable to work, I did just that, but had no idea how to find an agent or stir an interest. I found your agency in Writer’s Digest and your blog attached to the agency. Thanks to your Query Workshop I am almost ready to submit. I feel certain the next few books I have been toying with for years will come at a faster pace. You will be the first to receive a submission and I hope you are as impressed with my book as I am with your site.

  23. Pingback: 12 Query-Writing Resources - Author-Zone

  24. Connie Terpack said:

    I am taking the James Patterson writing course and your site was one of the ones recommended to have a good query letter. After reading it, I can understand why he recommended you.
    Writing the query letter is scary, at least for me. Does it matter if I don’t know which author to compare my book to? I am writing in the Christian series. I have read books in the Harlequin Inspired series and some on-line from Amazon, but don’t remember authors.

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