Pub Rants

Editor Letter for Proof By Seduction

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STATUS: It’s pretty early in the day so right now, everything is going quite smoothly.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CLOCKS by Coldplay

I’m totally chuckling after reading Courtney’s blog from yesterday where she shares the query letter outtakes. The moral of the story is this: If you find yourself unable to write a decent query letter, hire Sherry!

Seriously though. Sometimes it is difficult for a writer to write his or her own query. The writer is very close to the material and can’t often see the forest for the trees. If you’ve struggled with the query writing process, I don’t think it’s playing unfair to have another person write the query on your behalf, or with you, or revise it for you. As long as you end up with a strong letter that you believe fully represents your work, I, as the agent, will not ask if you wrote your own query letter. It can be your own deep, dark secret.

The point of the query is to win an agent’s attention and get a request for sample pages. Now, your sample pages have to hold up. The greatest query letter in the world is not going to compensate for unready sample pages.

And if somebody else ends up writing your query, make sure they are good at it!

As promised from yesterday, here’s the letter I sent to Courtney’s editor at Harlequin. As you all may or may not know, agents pitch editors as well. Now Ann Leslie has known me for years so to be quite honest, she would read anything I wanted to submit to her (besides my grocery list that is!).

Still, call me old-fashioned. I never send an editor a project without formally asking if it is okay to do so and I think it’s helpful to have a pitch that orients the editor as he or she begins the read.

So, in this sense, I always pitch editors and as an agent, I have to nail that pitch paragraph just like you have to do in your query letter. Noticed that I lifted several elements from the query that Sherry (ahem, Courtney) had written.

Hello Ann Leslie,

I can hardly believe it myself but I haven’t taken on a romance author in over a year –until now. In fact, I haven’t taken on a historical romance author since Sherry Thomas and oddly enough, it was Sherry who discovered Courtney Milan and sent her my way.

Courtney had won a contest that Sherry was sponsoring on her website and the prize was the reading of her first 30 pages by Sherry. Being the great client she is, Sherry immediately emailed me and said, “You’ve got to look at this author.”

Within a day, I had read and signed Courtney for PROOF BY SEDUCTION and I’m just beyond excited to share this manuscript with you. And yes, I know you are going to kill me because I’m sending you this email right before RWA but hey, both Courtney and I will be there so let me know if you want to meet up.

Set in 1836 London, PROOF BY SEDUCTION is an emotionally complex and beautifully written story (very Sherry Thomas who, by the way, is happy to offer a blurb for the novel’s release). As the outcast bastard daughter of some unknown nobleman, Jenny Keeble earns her living by being one of London’s premier fortune tellers. In this role, she certainly knows all about lies. After all, the fastest way to make money is to tell people what they want to hear. It works–until Gareth Carhart, the Marquis of Blakely, vows to prove what he and Jenny both know: that Jenny is a fraud.

Gareth only wants to extricate Ned, his naïve young cousin and heir, from an unhealthy influence. The last thing the rigidly scientific marquis expects is his visceral reaction to the intelligent, tenacious, and–as revealed by a wardrobe malfunction–very desirable fortune teller. But she enrages him by her “prediction” of his own pending nuptials as a way to prove her ability. She tempts him to look beyond his coldly logical view of the world. She causes him to lose his head entirely and offer a prediction of his own: He’ll have her in his bed before the month is out. The battle lines are drawn. Jenny can’t lose her livelihood or her long-time friendship with young Ned; Gareth won’t abandon scientific logic.

Neither is prepared to accept love.

Courtney Milan is a … [Bio deliberately removed. It was a solid paragraph long.] She is a finalist in the 2008 Golden Heart competition (but not for this manuscript and I’m happy to explain if you are interested).

May I send this your way?

All Best,
Kristin Nelson

23 Responses

  1. DebraLSchubert said:

    Kristen, I have one word for these past two posts: fascinating. Of course, being a writer, I could no sooner stop at one word than I could stop eating chocolate. So, here are two more: thank you. (I lied again. Here are four more: Best of luck, Courtney!)

  2. Lisa Dez said:

    I confess that I’d never read a romance novel until last week when I picked up Private Arrangements. I write YA and am working toward more emotional complexity in my novels, so I thought what better example of that than romance. I ate that thing alive! Sherry definitely has a way with words. I’m sure if she’s a fan of Courtney’s I’ll be just as impressed with her.

    Good luck Courtney!

  3. Anonymous said:

    I shudder to think of the writers right now that can’t get agents, or agents that have trouble selling a book, because of the query.

    Ugh, there ought to be a law.

    When everything is so subjective and there’s no right or wrong, there’s only this editor might not like THIS wording and that editor might not like THAT wording (in all honesty, neither this nor the last query was interesting to me — which does not mean the book won’t be).

    I often wonder how anything gets published. Though I’m happy for Courtney (and K. Nelson) that they got this wonderful deal, I’m always perplexed by how “saleablility” is pegged by how interesting the back jacket copy will be, as opposed to (IMO) the writing.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Glad to have you back, Kristin! Thanks for sharing this query letter. I refer to your blog for query help on a frequent basis, so it’s nice to have another one to look at 🙂

    I urge people to write their own query letters, though. Seek help from other writers, but write it yourself. Every writer has his own style, so it seems like a bad idea to have someone else represent your work in a letter and for you to sign it in your own name.

    It hardly mattered here, though, since Courtney was talented enough to catch Sherry’s eye and get that oh-so-coveted client recommendation! Congrats Courtney!

  5. Courtney Milan said:


    I actually urge people to at least struggle to write their own query letters themselves, too. Even though none of my horrible attempts were used, writing them, talking about them, and thinking about why they were (and were not) working really helped me nail down in my head what my book was about, what my characters arcs were like, and how I presented them to the reader.

    The last few revision passes I made on the manuscript before sending it to Kristin (and depending on how you count them, there were something like 13 in total) were about getting the all-important characterization consistent and right and believable, and if I hadn’t made myself go through the exercise of trying to capture what it was I was trying to do, I don’t know if I would have had as coherent a story.

    That being said, I think that in this business you should take any chance you can to get people pay attention to your pages. If that means that someone else writes your final query letter, so be it. There’s a lot of luck that goes into publication, enough that it will make you crazy if you think about it. Never be too proud to pass up a single piece of luck that happens to float your way.

  6. Madison said:

    I’m so happy to see an agent’s “query” if you will. This sounds like a query should: professional and doesn’t hide the writer’s personality. No wonder you know what it takes to write a good query, Ms. Nelson. You’re very good at it!

    I wish PROOF BY SEDUCTION, it’s author, agent, editor, and everyone else who bears a strong impact on the story success with it. And congrats on the author being discovered by one of your clients. Talk about a great stroke of luck on your part! 😀

  7. Sherry Thomas said:

    You know that removed graf from Courtney’s bio, I feel like such an underachiever every time I see it! 🙂 Girlfriend has some impressive credentials.

  8. Sandy said:

    I don’t often read historical romances, but I have to have this book! Does it have a release date yet?

    Be sure to remind us when it comes out. 🙂

  9. clindsay said:

    I also ask an editor before sending a manuscript, especially in this day of primarily electronic submissions. And most editors have thanked me for taking the extra step. I just remembered what it felt like when I was on the other end of that email, working in publicity, coming back from a long weekend to find that all my email had bounced back because someone had decided to send me a gigantic PowerPoint presentation without asking. Oy!

    Verification word = ranchums. Doesn’t that sound like a tasty crunchy snack food?

  10. Anita said:

    A friend of mine recently had a book published featuring more query examples from Kristin. I just reviewed the book on my blog, if anyone’s interested.

  11. Kim Kasch said:

    Thanks for sharing this info. It’s nice to know we writer-folk aren’t the only ones pitching our projects 😉

    And Courtney’s story sounds exciting.

  12. James Buchanan said:

    From reading the two posts on Milan’s query there are a few important factors that led to her success and that should be the lessons taken from the posts (I have also blogged about some of these at:

    The first is that you have to write a strong query letter that even if an agent doesn’t want to represent your book would admit that the query letter is well written and does what it needs to do.

    The second, and this is related to the first, you need to do your homework as best you can to find agents to pitch your work to that have an interest in publishing the type of story you are writing. A strong query letter about historical romance will not sell to an agent who is interested in historical nonfiction no matter how good the query letter or manuscript is.

    The third is that it helps to have some experience and recognition that you can add to the query in order to give it credibility. No query letter is going to be perfect. You may interest an agent, but they also want to have some sense that you can do the writing and have been recognized for the quality of your work.

    The fourth, and very key element, is find a talented and well connected agent. Reading that Kristen had a very strong relationship with the editor means a lot. If anyone has wondered why a lot of bad writing gets published, well, there you go.

    So it seems to be a mix of talent, good sales instincts and quite a bit of luck.

    Thanks for a good set of blog posts.

    James Buchanan

  13. Crimogenic said:

    I’ve never read a historical romance, or at least I don’t think I have, but I must say I think that both query letters were damn good. I think an author has to work at the query, but I think he/she has to work even harder at the manuscript foremost. That being said, let me get back to doing both.

  14. Kathleen said:

    I’m curious to know, Kristen, if you would have requested at least a partial based off of one of Courtney’s other queries, if that had been the only information you had to go on.

  15. penryn said:

    Must. Read. This. Book!

    That’s the trouble with reading writers/agents/editors blogs. You hear about great books months or years before you get to read them!