Pub Rants

Kicking Off The New Year–Courtney Milan’s Query

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STATUS: And what a way to begin. I read some sample pages over the weekend and today I requested a full manuscript. Just like that. Let the yearly tally begin!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ANGEL by Simply Red

And what better way to start the New Year then by helping y’all with that strange and frustrating (but sometimes wonderful) thing called the query letter.

In the past, I’ve done numerous blog entries on the original query letters sent to me by authors who became my clients. [See the side bar: Agent Kristin’s Queries—An Inside Scoop.]

I haven’t done that in quite a while and voila, what better way to kick off the year. So first up is Courtney Milan. Let me give you a little history since this query letter came through via a recommendation from my current client Sherry Thomas.

Basically Sherry had read the opening chapters, loved them, and then sent me an email that I needed to check out Courtney’s work asap. Funny enough, I had gotten the email from Sherry right before a conference where Courtney had already scheduled to meet me in person to give her pitch.

This is pretty rare but based on Sherry’s recommendations and Courtney’s wonderful in-person pitch, I requested the full manuscript right then and there. When she sent us her novel, here is the letter she sent along with it.

I’m sharing because had she simply sent me a query letter with this same info, I would have asked for sample pages and now I’m going to share the ‘why’ of it with you.

My comments in blue.

Dear Ms. Megibow:
I met Ms. Nelson this last weekend at a pitch appointment at the Chicago Spring Fling conference. She had spoken with Sherry Thomas earlier about my historical romance, PROOF BY SEDUCTION. Ms. Nelson asked me to send you the full, which is now attached.

As one of London’s premier fortune tellers, Jenny Keeble knows all about lies. After all, the fastest way to make money is to tell people what they want to hear. [Okay, at first I thought the whole fortune teller angle was a little contrived but she puts a different spin on it with her insight of how well it works in terms of telling people what they want to hear. It struck me right away that this author might be using this plot set up for a different purpose. I was right.] It works–until Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, vows to prove what he and Jenny both know: that Jenny is a fraud. [Loved this!]

Gareth only wants to extricate 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. [I’m completely won over here. Courtney does a great job of outlining the opening plot catalyst that launches the story (removing the heir from her clutches), of giving character insight (rigidly scientific marquis), and adding an amusing touch with the wardrobe malfunction line. I sense this work is going to be witty and it doesn’t disappoint.] But she enrages him. She tempts him. She causes him to lose his head entirely and offer a prediction of his own: He’ll have her in bed before the month is out. The battle lines are drawn. Jenny can’t lose her livelihood, Gareth won’t abandon logic, and neither is prepared to accept love. [The crux of the conflict neatly explained. Also, her use of the words “enrages,” and “tempts” leads me to think it will be sexy and I kind of like that in historicals.]

I am a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart competition for unpublished romance. I currently work as a lawyer …[bio info deleted by Courtney’s request] My romance writing interests may seem rather different from my daily writing, where I focus on law issues. But all good lawyers are, at heart, just story tellers, and I find the two writing practices balance each other.Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions, and thank you for taking the time to consider my manuscript.

Courtney Milan

This novel plus a second book sold for six figures to Harlequin at auction. Tomorrow I’ll share the submission letter I sent to editors so you’ll see my pitch for this novel. I find that can also lend some insight into the query process.

17 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Congrats on the big sale and big congrats to the author!

    I don’t read romance, which might be very evident by what I’m about to say: this read like a Three Stooges comedy sketch to me — as in, unbelievable. No emotional pull. The line, “He’ll have her in bed before the month is out,” especially conjures up the very old Kristy McNichol movie, “Little Foxes,” in which she and her friend vow to lose their virginity by the end of summer camp.

    So, maybe this isn’t for me, BUT I like the drama of good YA or literary fiction, so there you go. Something for everyone here on the Nelson blog.


  2. Jess said:

    Congrats Kristin and congrats, too, Ms. Milan!! And welcome back to the blogosphere. Great way to open the new year.

    I’m not a historical romance fan but this sounds fun – definitely a successful query. (That and I don’t know anybody who DIDN’T like Sherry Thomas’s debut, so if she likes it, you’re probably golden. *G*)

  3. Jenn Johansson said:

    Congrats to you both! How exciting. It is funny, the letter was very visual. It had me picturing Courtney like Superwoman – yes, flowing cape and all. She’s a lawyer by day and a sexy romance novelist by night! Watch out world! LOL

    Thanks for sharing, both of you. It was very enlightening.

  4. Anonymous said:

    I’m honestly not really impressed by the queries featured on the blog. The query is such a subjective manner of acquiring an agent I find it hard to understand what a “stellar” query is when one receives different responses from many different agents on the same three paragraphs. I am however, very interested in what an agent sends an editor–after all, it’s the editor (and marketing dept) who have to be sold on a book for it to reach a hoped-for conclusion (great advance! good print run! wonderful cover! et al).

    But congrats to Ms Milan and Agent Kristen.

  5. Beth said:

    Congrats to Courtney (and Kristin)!

    I am astonished at the six-figure deal, though. Last I heard, a debut romance author would normally be offered less than 10K. Has romance become such a high-dollar genre?

  6. Jess said:

    Beth, I think most debut authors still only get around $5-10k but the point here is … Ms. Milan is that good (or, at least, Harlequin thinks so). Correct me if I’m wrong, Kristin, but an advance is a sort of statement of faith on the part of the publisher. They believe the book will sell enough to recoup their investment. That’s why it’s actually called an “advance against royalties“, no?

  7. Anonymous said:

    Congratulations to Courtney and Kristin. That letter is terrific.

    I do, however, wonder what is original (sorry…) here… ? Kristin, you and I and everyone who has ever read a romance knows that this type of Regency/Emma-esque plot isn’t fresh (Avon anyone?), so I never understand why such novels are touted by agents as the new big thing. This is not to disparage the author; I’m just sayin’. Much good luck to Courtney in her publishing journey. It IS nice to see a debut romance author get a six figure deal.

  8. Anonymous said:

    Great post, Kristin, and great query letter. Congrats to the debut author.

    Kristin — I see this happened sometime before Aug 08. Would you be able to get the same deal for her today?

  9. Donna said:

    It’s hearing things like this that remind me that my writing dreams are very real, and very attainable. I love it when you post queries, Kristin! I know there isn’t an exact formula but it helps me to see what type of thing works. Thanks!

  10. Anonymous said:

    Kristin — I see this happened sometime before Aug 08. Would you be able to get the same deal for her today?

    That’s another VERY interesting question. I’m sure Ms Milan recieved her big advance because of the combination of her good writing and the book’s marketability, and Kristen Nelson’s post Sherry Thomas representation, but will newly acquired Romance Author X get the same deal today?