Pub Rants

Gail Carriger’s Query Letter—Part II

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STATUS: Uh, I have 310 emails in my inbox and I handled at least 50 today. More came in. Oh boy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OPERATOR by Jim Croce
(listening to some of Dad’s favs)

One of the reasons why I approached this query letter a little differently than previous discussions was to show blog readers that a variety of approaches in a pitch blurb can work.

There isn’t just one way to write that paragraph and have it work. I know y’all want the silver bullet that will assure your query letter the attention it deserves but as you can see from the list of comments left on yesterday’s entry, readers had different opinions on which one worked best for them.

And in actuality, both are good, strong pitches—but in different ways. So let me talk about that.

When I wrote my pitch paragraph, I remember that I didn’t have Gail’s original query handy. She resent it to me later so that I could have it on file. Since time was of the essence for the submission, I went ahead and created my paragraph from scratch.

Usually I take the author’s original query pitch as the genesis—the jumping off point for creating my pitch. That way I’m doing a blending of the author’s tone and approach with my own. I didn’t have that for this letter and I wanted to point that out.

For me, I wish I had the line “It is a romantic romp through the streets of Victorian London, from high society to the steam punk laboratories of Frankenstein-like scientists” for my letter. I think it’s the perfect sentence to establish the tone.

Alas… I didn’t so I went to my fall back (which a commenter pointed out) which was to describe the inciting incident that starts the novel. This also has the added benefit of allowing me to describe the world without having to do a lot of telling.

“When avowed spinster Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attacked by a vampire at a private ball, she’s simply appalled. No vampire worth his salt would ever jeopardize his rank in society by attacking her so vulgarly in a public place.”

Without my saying so, the reader gets immediately that vampires are accepted and simply a part of the society in this world. An attack at a ball would be an oddity. See what I’m doing here?

Then I jump into back story because the key to understanding this novel is Alexia’s unique character element of being soulless.

“Not to mention, every vampire knows that she’s soulless and therefore contact with her will negate all supernatural ability. Poof! No more immortality. Vampires know to avoid her like the plague.”

This allows me to highlight even more why this vampire attack is strange.

Now in Gail’s query, she starts with Alexia’s soulless state—which also works.

“Alexia Tarabotti was born without a soul. This affliction could be considered a good thing, for in England those with too much soul can be turned into vampires, werewolves, or ghosts.”

She’s setting up how the world works. Then she hits on the conflict.

“Unfortunately, when unregistered vampires start to mysteriously appear in London, everyone thinks she’s to blame, including the Queen’s official investigator, Lord Maccon.”

Ah, folks think Alexia is responsible. That’s a problem. Notice that Gail didn’t really explain why Alexia’s soulless state is an issue (because it negates the supernatural). I, however, did in my pitch because I thought that info would be key to understanding the world. On the flip side, I didn’t mention in my pitch that Alexia is presumed to be to blame (and looking back, I should have).

Now Gail tackles the light tone and sets up for some romantic tension in next line:

“In such a situation, what’s a young lady to do but grab her parasol and find out what’s really going on? Of course Lord Maccon might object, but Alexia doesn’t give a fig for the opinion of a werewolf, or does she?”

Gail does a great job of lightly eluding to a possible romantic entangle. I didn’t touch on that at all in my pitch—mainly because I wanted this manuscript be seen as steampunk fantasy—even though it leans paranormal romance a bit. I focused solely on Alexia for that reason. I only wanted to tease the editor enough to be intrigued and read on. My wrap up keeps the storyline deliberately vague.

“Which means that this is no society vampire and since no vampires can be made without the proper paperwork, this vampire is a rogue. No simpering miss, Alexia is delighted to try to find out the particulars but she just may get more than she bargained for.”

Now rereading this, I probably should have phrased that second line “this is a rogue vampire.” Oh well, I’m not perfect. Grin.

As for the last line “If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it,” I included it because that’s exactly how this novel struck me.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies had not been released yet. I didn’t know a thing about that novel and how successful it would be, but Austen stuff has been hot for a while and since this had that feel, I wanted to highlight it as a selling point. Thus the last line.

It worked! And anybody who reads SOULLESS knows exactly what I’m talking about.
So there you have it—anatomy of two pitch blurbs.

TGIF! I’m out.

20 Responses

  1. Myrna Foster said:

    I didn’t comment yesterday. I didn’t have anything to say that hadn’t already been said. I do appreciate your going over this query and pitch with us though. I haven’t read SOULLESS yet, and they both made me want to pick it up.

    Good luck wading through the queries!

  2. Amanda J. said:

    I love reading your blog, especially when you break things down like that. I’m thinking about becoming an agent when I graduate and seeing how things work and how you do them is incredibly interesting. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  3. Jonathon Arntson said:

    The insight you provide, is somewhat like a royal telling all. The world of authors vs agents, ahem, authors and agents, I mean, is scary and full of trials and tribulations.

    For you to take time to break down so many details in a query letter, one of the most important things us aspiring authors will ever right, is just plain awesome.

    I read your post yesterday and understood the differences between the two queries, but I had a hard time thinking of the two from the position of an agent. Well, your post today provided the light I needed and I have to admit, the shoes are quite comfy.

    I am favoriting this right away and I plan to reference your blog on a weekly basis.

  4. Laer Carroll said:

    At her blog the author says two sequels are scheduled. Blameless and Changeless come out in spring and fall.


    The same artist is used for both books. The covers look great, so we’ll have little trouble finding the books.

  5. Kristen said:

    SOULLESS was definitely enjoyable! I would’ve liked some warning as to how detailed the “romantic romp” got though. It’s awkward to run into that sort of reading while at work!

    Thankfully my coworker was also a fan of romance and just asked me for the book’s name and author after she saw my blushing, 😛

  6. Margaret South said:

    Must add to your excellent post by saying that when you create a protagonist who’s been unjustly accused, you’ve hooked your readers already. Definitely put that in your lead-in.

  7. Shelby said:

    “… drink scotch whiskey all night long.. they got a name for all the winners in the world.. they call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call me Deacon Blues…”

    that’s what I’m listening to.


  8. Donna Gambale said:

    It’s intriguing to see your reasoning behind what you included. It’s actually made me rethink some of my initial comments on the pitch.

    I’m making the same decisions now (what to keep, how to phrase) in my query letter, and it’s helpful to see an agent’s thought processes. Once again, thanks so much!

  9. Anonymous said:

    Just wanted to say that I finished Soulless this weekend. What a fun book! The tone is so unique. I love the mix of adventure/romance/humor. It’s a very smart book and enjoyable too.

  10. Dan said:

    First off, I am so sorry to hear about your father’s passing. My thoughts are with you.

    Your blog is so useful and full of good information. I enjoy reading your book recommendations and tips on how to write a query. Also, I love how you include a link to the song you are currently listening to.

    What a great site!

  11. D. Antone said:

    I’m so pleased to have discovered your blog! This particular subject has been on my mind lately. Your post really helped clear things up.

    I’ve felt for some time now that my query and synopsis needed some work. I’ve got a great story but I’m having a hard time getting my vision across in the query. This post really helped. Thanks!

  12. C.R. Evers said:

    Thank you for posting these. I feel lost in the world of queries, and any inside info helps! I feel more comfortable writing an entire novel than a query, but what good is a novel if the query doesn’t make the editor/agent want to read it? You’re posts are like mini-author-wannabe 101 courses!

    Thnx again!

  13. Anonymous said:

    Awful lot of cliches in this pitch…”worth his salt,” “avoided like the plague.” Ugh.

  14. dhansen said:

    chiming in a bit late but I have to say I enjoyed these two post very much. I listened to Gail Carriger’s interview on Mighty Mur’s podcast last week and she (Gail) was so engaging and fun I had to run out and buy the book. Not my typical genre but the book was so fun I couldn’t put it down. Now my wife is chewing through it.

    The two pitches both do a great job of delivering the novel, but I have to say – even with a great pitch there is no substitute for a good book.

    Great eye catching Gail, she is a rising star IMHO.

  15. Barry said:

    Good evening ladies and gent.
    This post of yours is indeed helpful.
    I came across your blog by accident.

    You know the old saying, welcome to the world of writing.
    And someone yells “now get back to writing!!!!”
    A man got to write something out of his system.
    Even though I don’t write romance, chick lit or Young Adult.
    But I know someone who does. she doesn’t prefer to be placed in labels.
    She has written a plenty of fics but no one is taking her.

    It’s hard to say that you would like what I write.
    Let’s just say the atmosphere of one of those projects is dark. I am not sure that it would be tetralogy.

    To quote a Texan friend of mine who happen to be a sweet old lady. You gotta cut the caffeine intake Barry or you’ll hit the dirt faster.
    Coming from a guy who drinks two pots of coffee in the morning.

    Sorry about your loss, life has interesting ways in dealing with people whether it biting one in the rear end or throwing one in to the ditch and so forth.