Pub Rants

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Shanna Swendson’s Query)

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STATUS: Today was definitely better than yesterday but it didn’t take much to make that happen. If you are wondering what happens when a line like Bombshell folds, hop on over to my fellow agent Nephele Tempest’s blog where she goes into a little more detail about that.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? BLUE by The Jayhawks

Yesterday I pinpointed that Jennifer’s B#1 was a very different type of chick lit. Well, today’s query is for a great book that has all the “typical” chick lit elements—set in New York City, a young 20-something, an evil boss, a new job, a possible Mr. Right, and yes there’s shopping but all with a big, big, big, big magical twist.

Yep, you guessed it. What’s up next is the original query for Shanna Swendson’s ENCHANTED, INC. In fact, whether this is simply a different kind of urban fantasy or chick lit is still up for debate.

As you’ll probably notice right away from the query, the title was changed (as often happens). Ballantine published this book in May 2005. The sequel, ONCE UPON STILETTOS, hit shelves a year later (or should I say hit shelves and then immediately disappeared in non-magical ways because this book has sold very strong).

The third in the series will be released in May 2007 (so mark you calendars) and it, too, has a wonderful title DAMSEL UNDER STRESS.

And here’s the great query that started a four book series.

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I am the author of five published short contemporary romance novels, and as I prepare to make the leap into the single title world, I am seeking representation. Aha, this author has already published. Usually I prefer that the query writer include the publisher right away so I don’t have to wonder who it is but Shanna ends up including that in her last paragraph. Also, she highlights her career goal—to move to single title after a career in category. Your list of genres and sub-genres that you represent matches nicely with what I write, and your philosophy on the role of an agent (as described on your web site) matches what I’m looking for in an agent. Works for me.

My most recently completed manuscript is a 100,000 word contemporary fantasy with a chick-lit style — think Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter. Sometimes the movie reference works—as long as the book really matches the description. In this case, I loved the comparison and the book didn’t disappoint. The comparison has to make sense though. I once got a query that used ANNE OF GREEN GABLES meets THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Huh? I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around that one. MAGIC, SPELLS and ILLUSIONS, INC. is the story of an ordinary young woman who gets a job at a company that turns out to be essentially Magic, Inc., and who finds herself in the middle of a brewing magical war that’s really going to complicate her dating life. This is fun. Shanna incorporates the fun tone of the book in the query. Katie Chandler always thought she was ordinary, but then she learns that she’s a special kind of ordinary, so non-magical that she’s entirely immune to magic. OMG!!! How cool is this? A heroine whose super power is that she is ordinary!! I love it. So original. Great hook and right here I was sold on seeing this project. I didn’t even have to read any more of the query. I knew this book was right up my alley. She can see through any illusion, which makes her extremely valuable to her company, which is facing competition from a former employee who has no qualms about producing spells designed to harm people. Now Katie has to balance her top-secret professional life with her personal life while helping find real-world solutions to magical problems. Dating in New York was hard enough before she had magical co-workers meddling in her life and a job she can’t discuss when her date asks, “So, what do you do?” Shanna includes a bunch of fun details to highlight the conflict of this magical job for the heroine—she’s detailing the chick lit elements in her magical world.

This project is currently under consideration by Luna Books, after editor Kate Paice (from the UK office) requested it based on a conversation I had with her when the book was only in idea form. Nice. Shows that editors also like the hook. I’m hearing about chick-lit houses incorporating paranormal elements, so I believe there could be even more potential markets for this story. Shanna shows she’s market savvy and a client I would want to work with. It’s the first book in an open-ended series, and I have story ideas for at least three more books. And funny enough, we sold all those books.

I had two books published in Silhouette’s now-defunct Yours Truly line, one of which was a finalist for the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award for best Yours Truly. Prior to that, I had three books published by Avalon books. Ah, here’s the publisher info that I wish she had included in paragraph one. She probably could have combined this. I have twice won the science fiction/fantasy/horror category of the Greater Dallas Writers Association contest, but have not published yet in that genre. Nice. She’s gotten some fantasy recognition, which she includes because all her published works were in romance.

Although I have fairly good publishing industry contacts, I’m not a good negotiator and I am concerned about making sure my projects end up at the right house, with the right editor so I can build a career instead of just selling books wherever I can. Those are areas where I believe an agent would be a beneficial partner in my writing endeavors. Her goals. Not necessary but it certainly doesn’t hurt her query.

Would you like to see sample chapters of MAGIC, SPELLS AND ILLUSIONS, INC.? Yes, yes, yes!

Thank you for your consideration of my work.

Shanna Swendson

And for fun, here is the back cover copy Ballantine created for the book:


Katie Chandler had always heard that New York was a weird and wonderful place, but this small-town Texas gal had no idea just how weird it was until she moved to the Big Apple. Everywhere she goes, she sees something worth gawking at. It makes her feel like such a hick, and her dead-end job working for a real ogre of a boss doesn’t help. She’s afraid she’s a little too normal and ordinary to make a splash in the big city.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Katie gets a mysterious job offer from Magic, Spells and Illusions, Inc. – a company that sells charms, spells and tricks of the trade to wizards and others in the magic community. To them, Katie’s ordinariness is an asset. Lacking any bit of magic, she can easily spot a fake spell, catch hidden clauses in customers’ contracts or detect magically disguised intruders. Suddenly, average Katie is very special, indeed, and her life is anything but normal.

She quickly learns that she only thought her previous boss was an ogre, that bad blind dates can be even worse when magic gets into the mix and that there are much, much worse places to meet men than singles bars. Then there’s Katie’s office crush on Owen, the sexy, shy, ultrapowerful (and probably unattainable) head of magical R&D. And to make matters worse, there’s an evil competitor threatening to sell black magic on the streets. Now, it’s up to Katie to pull off the impossible: save the world and—hopefully—live a little happily ever after.

13 Responses

  1. Lexie Ward said:

    Once again, love the song! Glad today was better, but ugh, I feel sick to my stomach on behalf of you and your Bombshell writers. I wonder how solid MIRA is? Does Harlequin make these kinds of major changes in its line on a regular basis?

  2. Shanna Swendson said:

    Harlequin these days is doing the “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” approach to new lines. They often start up category lines based on current market trends, and then stop them just as rapidly if they don’t succeed.

    A partial list of the graveyard:
    Signature Selects — designed to be a stepping stone for category authors to go to single title
    Flipside — chick lit in category romance form
    Duets — romantic comedy sold as two volumes per book
    Love and Laughter — romantic comedy
    Yours Truly — lighter, more contemporary romance, initially with a “written word” hook and later with no clear identity (which is why it folded quickly)
    Silhouette Shadows — contemporary gothic/soft horror/paranormal

    Then recently they’ve ended the longstanding Temptation line (except for in foreign markets), as well as consolidating and changing the old Harlequin and Silhouette Romance lines.

    You’ve got to be good at adapting to really have a long-term career in category romance, unless you’re lucky enough to land in one of the big-selling lines. Some of my friends joke about being “line killers” because they’ve been with so many lines that subsequently folded. I only helped kill one.

    Mira is pretty solid, but they’re not marketing that on the category model, so it’s different. It’s bought and sold book-by-book instead of under any kind of line identity or guidelines.

  3. Robin L. said:

    Once again – my Amazon account is getting a workout. Good thing I have Prime. I’m sure it isn’t your intention to market the books here – but it sure is working. LOL!

  4. Remodeling Repartee said:

    robin l.,

    Ditto on that Amazon account thing. Once Upon Stilettos was still on my wish list, but this post promtped me to get it off there and into my hot little hands. Anyone reading this, if you haven’t checked out Shanna’s Enchanted, Inc., it’s just as delightful as Kristin says it is. Buy and read the first two books in the series now, so you can enjoy that sweet salivation while waiting for the last two. Looking forward to an author like Shanna’s next works brightens my life.

    Jodi Fitzpatrick

  5. Christine said:

    This is a general question, spurred by your understably favorably reaction to the query. For those of us who have never been published, what are the chances an agent will actually look at our manuscript? Should I mention in my queries that Tom Clancy is my second cousin? Although I haven’t seen him since I was four, so the bond doesn’t exactly go deep (and that ploy seems so pathetically disingenuous).


  6. Shanna Swendson said:

    Yes, lexie, Red Dress Ink is the Harlequin chick lit imprint, as opposed to a category line. It isn’t sold into stores in quite the same way that category books are (category books are sold more like magazines — the stores just have a standing monthly order for all books in a line, while single title books are sold more on a book-by-book basis). They also don’t have quite the same line requirements, like exact word count, very specific story parameters, and the like (though they do sometimes, in my opinion, seem to take a line mentality there when they talk about the kinds of books they want instead of truly just looking at each individual book).

    I don’t know about the future of RDI, but they are tightening up, and I have heard of some of their existing (and fairly successful) authors being given their walking papers. They’ve even cancelled publication of books they’ve already bought, which is very sad. I guess my book-buying habit alone wasn’t enough to keep them in business, in spite of my overflowing bookcases. 🙂

  7. Catja (green_knight) said:

    And here was I thinking that ‘the magical skill is that the character nullifies magic’ was a pretty clicheed idea…

    The pitch sounds great, though, because it takes that idea and applies it in an interesting setting. The dating problem is one that most undercover spies/mages/whatevers never seem to encounter…

  8. Lexie Ward said:

    Thank you, Shanna, for the RDI info!

    I’ve got some of those overflowing bookcases myself. Or maybe I should describe them as “sagging” under the weight of too many books! But then, can you really have too many books?

  9. Anonymous said:

    I don’t usually read romance, but this query certainly got my attention. I’m glad it worked out for her.

  10. Dorothy said:

    Shanna is an excellent author. I know her from the chick lit group, but I’ve read excerpts of her books. Quite a promoter, too. Miss you in TWL Author Talks, Kristin…this is the sort of thing you did in there and we all loved it!

  11. La Fleur said:

    Although this post is over four years old, I LOVE the premise for this book! I am surprise that it has not book has not been turned into a great prime time series. I have not even read it, but based on the query alone, if properly scripted, writers can glean a minimum of 5 seasons from this. It like ‘Ugly Betty’ of the magical world.

    I will pick this one up.


    Jan 2010