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

Gail Carriger’s Query Letter

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STATUS: Only 341 emails in the inbox and counting…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? POEMS, PRAYERS, & PROMISES by John Denver

For this entry, I thought I would do a different spin on annotating the query letter. Gail had a unique situation when she sent me her email. She already had an editor interested in the novel, which rather give her letter a leg up.

She contacted me specifically because several years prior, I had looked at an earlier novel from her. I hadn’t offered rep but I had given her a revision letter. She ended up scrapping that novel altogether but she kept my letter and decided I was the first agent she would contact with this editor interest.

So here’s her letter in the original form.

Dear Ms. Nelson:
XXXX editor is interested in publishing my 81,000 word paranormal novel, SOULLESS, and I am seeking representation. It is a romantic romp through the streets of Victorian London, from high society to the steam punk laboratories of Frankenstein-like scientists.

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

My previous professional sales include various shorts stories and two mid-grade readers through Harcourt Education. I can be reached by email at XXXXX or phone at XXXX if you would like to see the manuscript. I understand you are very busy, and am grateful for your time and attention.

Sincerely,
Gail Carriger

Now I thought I would share the pitch blurb I created when I contacted editors about the project.

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. 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.

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.

If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it.

Instead of my doing all the work, I’m going to let you folks take first shot at it.

What’s different about these two pitches?

What’s similar?

In looking at both in retrospect, I think each have different strengths. What do you like from Gail’s pitch that didn’t make it into mine and maybe should have? Vice Versa?

Give me your thoughts and I’ll talk more about this tomorrow.


41 Responses

  1. Kristin Laughtin said:

    This is the book I’m reading right now! I love the twist of vampires having too much soul and our human heroine having none, as well as all the social conventions vampires follow and the registration they must go through.

    I really like that your pitch captures the voice of Carriger’s novel, and the allusion to Jane Austen. I’m not sure if PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES was out at the time you contacted editors, but that’s a title that would have made a good comparison (although that one seems aimed at both genders and this one more than women). Speaking of aiming toward women, I think her query illustrates that more by mentioning the Alexia-Maccon relationship.

  2. josephrobertlewis said:

    It’s interesting. I found the author’s letter very business-like and plot-focused with just a bit of her unique voice. However, your letter is much more atmospheric with a much stronger voice. It feels like she is selling a book and you are selling a story, if that makes sense.

  3. Natalie Hatch said:

    I think Gail’s query gives you more of a feel for the times she’s set it in. And she includes the link to Lord Maccon(hedgehogs excluded).
    Your pitch looks more at the question of rogue vampires, the main drive behind the novel.

  4. Zita said:

    What’s different is that you don’t mention the romance aspect but Gail alludes to it regarding Lord Maccon. Also, you don’t mention werewolves or mad scientists.
    What’s similar is that it’s very much Alexia’s story and both you and Gail are clear that she is central.
    Gail’s seems to promise more action, while yours feels more lady-like. I would read the story based on either blurb. Both appealed to me. IMO Gail’s was stronger because of the mad scientists and the promise of romance.

  5. Taylor Taylor said:

    After reading your blog post about Soulless a few months ago, I read it (and loved it!). Not only is it a fresh take on the vampire/werewolf genre, Ms. Carriger writes with wit and cunning befitting her protagonist.

    In my opinion, the story is less about how afraid society is of Alexia, and more about her adventures – for that reason I think the pitch blurb has more in common with my reaction to the novel.

    On the other hand, the pitch blurb is more concerned with other elements of the story and not as much about Alexia. In this instance, I think the query is superior.

    I hope that made sense. In any case, it was a kick-butt book.

  6. KP said:

    Ooh, intriguing.Thanks for sharing this – what a great insight. I’ll be really interested to see tomorrow’s post. Here, I’ll stick my neck out (no pun intended)!

    From the query letter I see more details of the storyline. It’s more factual, less PR.

    From the tone of your blurb I get more of a flavour of the style and setting, fewer details of the plot. It hints at adventure more lightheartedly than the query. The Jane Austen mention means you think it is of real quality and a good strong closer.

    The query letter tells you plainly it is romantic steam punk – the blurb lets me know that from the content. The Jane Austen link signals romantic in an historical setting, although to be really picky you could dispute the Victorian era was later, so I like that the query states it simply.

    Both mention the core of the novel that Alexia Tarabotti was born without a soul which is something different and therefore a selling point.

    The strength of the female protagonist comes through in both.

    I like the more direct hint of romance with the Queen’s official investigator, Lord Maccon in the query. It gives me an idea there is royal intrigue, which is appealing and not mentioned in the blurb.

    The query also adds some further info to pitch you the author, the blurb focuses exclusively on pitching the book.

    This may have been one of the most useful things I’ve read recently in trying to really be shown rather than told, what’s key in a query and what’s different about a pitch.

  7. Kelly Bryson said:

    I’ve been laboring over my own query, so this sort of thing has been on my mind.

    The author’s query mentions several issues- rogue vampires, werewolf investigators, the advantages to not having a soul, and that the MC is under suspicion of creating the rogues. That’s a lot to take in.

    The editor pitch focuses on a single question- who is making the rogue vampires.

    Both sound like books I’d like to read, but I prefer the first because of how the MC’s voice comes through in the phrases ‘doesn’t give a fig’ and ‘grab her parasol’.

    How’s that?

  8. Judith Mercado said:

    I have not read the novel so I’m just going by the QL and your pitch. The QL immediately communicated to me a feeling for the writer’s style, something I found engaging. The pitch almost felt like it was for a different book; well written, yes, but with details that somehow did not have the same “spirit” as the QL. Since the book was picked up, your pitch was obviously excellent and did its job, but I have to say that I came away with a totally different feeling about this book after reading the two versions.

  9. faye said:

    This is really interesting! (Especially as I am already a fan of Soulless).

    You really adopted Gail’s language and tone for the first two paragraphs of your pitch, which matches the one throughout the novel itself–rhetorical, proper and gently hilarious. Both of the ‘summary’ bits of your pitches give off this flavour. The main difference I see is that Gail is querying with the focus on herself as an author: listing her previous professional sales, and telling you some basic details about the novel like word count and genre, so you know which editors to get in touch with.

    Meanwhile, your pitch to editors focus on the manuscript more than the author. You don’t mention genre or word count (this was sent to editors whose tastes you were familiar with?). You add the line about “if Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel”–which targets a specific market, readers who like Jane Austen, and readers who like vampires.

    One thing that I really liked about Gail’s query is that, though I see some of Jane Austen’s influence in Soulless, she doesn’t mention Jane Austen anywhere in her query. The focus is on HER. When I interned for an agent I would get really bothered by queries where the writer compared themselves as “the next John Grisham” and that their novel was “lyrical” or “captivating.” I know they’re marketing buzzwords, but in a query to an agent it feels so much like tooting your own horn–it’s much more acceptable if an agent or the jacket flap says it instead. (But what do I know, lol.)

    Thanks for the exercise!

  10. DebraLSchubert said:

    Love, love, love your last line, “If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it.” Brilliant, and a line an agent can get away with in a pitch letter, but I don’t believe would be wise for a debut author to include in a query. (Too presumptuous.)

    Also, I loved Gail’s use of, “It is a romantic romp through the streets of Victorian London, from high society to the steam punk laboratories of Frankenstein-like scientists.” It brings us directly into the time and place and feel of the story. I’d be curious as to why you didn’t use this. I’m assuming you didn’t think it was necessary and chose, instead, to jump headfirst into the story.

    (And, please don’t get me wrong. I think your pitch letter rocks!)

  11. Jennifer Shirk said:

    Yours definitely had more of the “voice” of the Jane Austen era which read more fun. Yours also seemed to focus more on the mystery of the rogue vampire.

    But I did like that Gail’s blurb promised some romantic tension between the MC and Lord Maccon–and that he’s a werewolf.

  12. Anonymous said:

    This book is on my bookshelf too. I found out about it thanks to your blog. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Your description is more action packed. Words like “attacked,” “appalled,” “jeopardize” suggest there is a lot at stake – emotion, action… things are happening!

    Gail’s query begins with more description and has a softer tone. It sounds much more hypothetical with phrases such as “could be considered” and “can be.” It also sets up the conflict, but the readers aren’t in the middle of it yet.

  13. Krista G. said:

    Will you be upset, Kristin, if I say I like Ms. Carriger’s query better? 🙂 It really captures the tone of the novel.

    P.S. Your comparison to Jane Austen is spot-on. And didn’t that sentence make it all the way to the cover copy, or am I just remembering an earlier post of yours about SOULLESS?

  14. Donna Gambale said:

    I LOVED Soulless, and I’m so glad I had a chance to read the query and the pitch!

    As per the differences between your take on the work and Gail’s…
    Yours seemed to have a much more narrow focus — the one rogue vampire attack that sets off the action. You also mention how Gail’s soullessness sets her apart, which is very important. But yours didn’t include any creatures besides vampires (including Lord Maccon), so it doesn’t set up that part of Alexia’s world, and I wish it would.

    Gail’s query first sets the scene, building her world before getting to the action. She also mentions Lord Maccon and the romantic prospects. The one thing I noticed is that she never explains WHY everyone thinks Alexia’s to blame for the unregistered vamps — or the significance of soullessness.

    Both are written in the tone of the novel, with phrases like “doesn’t give a fig” and “no simpering miss” — and they both capture Alexia’s personality very well.

    I prefer Gail’s take on Alexia’s involvement: The “What’s a young lady to do…?” versus your “Alexia is delighted to…”

    However, your general description (the Jane Austen line) is more immediately recognizable than Gail’s “romantic romp” sentence, which seems overly complicated. Your line places Soulless in a larger context.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  15. Rebecca Knight said:

    Ooh, now I’m putting this book on my To Read list! 😀

    I felt like Gail’s had more detail (which I liked), and yours had more of the character’s voice (which I also liked!) I feel you both tailered the pitches based on your audiences.

    Fascinating to compare the two!

  16. Beth said:

    Soulless was one of my favorite reads last year, so I’m quite excited to see the query.

    I definitely agree that your blurb captured the voice of the novel best, but it’s not that the query letter is weak. It’s just a tad formal. I do think the pitch blurb would have been a bit better if it alluded to the romantic elements of the plot as the query letter does. (I didn’t expect the romance within the book – not normally my thing – but I loved the chemistry between Alexia and Maccon.)

  17. Melissa Pearl said:

    I found your pitch gave me a better taste of what the novel was about. Your tone made the heroine sound much more spunky and daring.
    I would be more inclined to chose the book from your pitch than Mrs. Carriger’s.

    However, I do like the way Mrs. Carriger’s pitch has included the character of Lord Maccon.

  18. magolla said:

    YAY!! I LOVED THIS BOOK! I’ve been bragging about it everywhere!.
    I wondered when you would post Gail’s query, considering it is a Victorian steampunk paranormal romance, but was shelved under Fantasy with Horror on the spine. 🙂 SOULLESS happened to be turned out when I wandered through my local B & N. I remembered it on your blog and opened it to read the first page…WHAM! I was entranced with Gail’s ‘voice’ Wowzers!
    Gail’s voice is so distinct and lovely, it reminded of Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody. Love, love, love it! And yes, CHANGELESS is on my to buy list!

  19. A. Shelton said:

    You know, instead of making me want to compare/contrast the different synopses, you’ve made me want to go out and get this book, and I’m out of spending money for the month. Shame on you! :p

  20. Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I had some interest in my novel, too– and I’m going to enter it in the ABNA. It’s good to see the progression of a successful query letter to a agent’s pitch.

    Nice!

  21. Vicky said:

    I immediately noticed that Kristen started with the Inciting Incident while Gail’s initial focus concentrated on the protagonist’s lack of soul. Both work, though I slightly favor Gail’s approach b/c the protag’s lack of soul is what makes the work high concept. Just my humble opinion. 🙂

  22. Arabella said:

    Comparing a Victorian novel to Jane Austen is a big turn-off for me (though I think the Victorian part was mentioned in the query, rather than the pitch). The Regency time period just had a lighter feel to it than the Victorian. Plus, Jane Austen-styled novels have become so cliche. You can hardly turn around in a book store w/o running into one.

  23. Lea Ryan said:

    I loved both pitches! I will say that I liked the author’s pitch slightly better. It gives the reader a sense of the setting and plot, both of which are very interesting, by the way.

    Your pitch is more of a close-up on the protagonist. We see more of her personality and the tone of voice in which the book is written.

    Very nice.

  24. Polenth said:

    I like Gail’s better I think. The idea of her being born without a soul, and vampires having lots of soul, is the thing that stands out as different. In the second, I’d assume Alexia was some other supernatural critter and the vampires were normal vampires.

    I also liked the detail of grabbing her parasol as she goes to investigate.

  25. Emma said:

    I haven’t read this novel, although it looks excellent, so I have only the query and pitch to go on. I seem to be in the minority here, but I preferred the pitch. The query gave me a intriguing feel for the novel, but having Lord Maccon be such a part of the query made it seem, for lack of a better word, dull. I have not read the book so I have no idea I’d it’s really a compelling and important aspect of the book, but there are so many romance novels and this relationship seemed to fit the romance formula, that if that was the main part of the book jacket description I would’ve put it back. Your pitch put more empathis on the steampunk world and the vampires, which was the original aspect of the story.

    Great exercise, and two great pieces of business writing!

  26. Laurel said:

    Like both pitches and only wanted to add that I first heard about this book here on your blog, bought it promptly, have reread it and talked several friends into getting their own copy!

    Hats off to both you and Ms. Carriger.

  27. The Zuccini said:

    To me, the differences is plot.

    In the first the plot is only kind of there. I mean it’s a good query, but I have no idea what motivates the MC, though there are several fun facts that make me want to read it.

    The second is all plot. Every detail provided tells the reader what is driving the story. The editor doesn’t have to read it to find out.

  28. Anonymous said:

    I thought both did a great job of capturing the voice of the novel.

    The query letter focused more on the world building aspects and hinted at the romance.

    The editor pitch was more focused on the main character and the plot. You also were able to compare the author to Jane Austin, which would have been a little arrogant for the author to do.

    I found both of them compelling.

  29. Anonymous said:

    They sound like they’re pitches for two different books so I’ll be intrested to see what your thoughts are…

    Hers is factual, straight forward, and gives a sense of obstacles and plot — Lord Maccon being a werewolf, unregistered vampires appearing, the fact that Miss Alexia has to “find out what is going on…”

    Yours focuses almost entirely on the premise. There is no mention of Lord Maccon (an exclusion I don’t agree with). Instead, it’s more chatty and girlie. I had to read the first sentence (of the second para) twice to understand that the vamp was rogue. It was worded awkwardly.

    For ME, I’d prefer the first, but it reads like the book has a plot. But if your audience is primarily women then the latter, I suppose, since paints the MC as a fiesty broad. (?)

  30. Kristen Joy Wilks said:

    The author gives more details, but your pitch set me right down into the story. I felt like I had begun to read it and then someone snatched the book away. Made me want to wrestle the book back and finish it.

  31. Vivi Anna said:

    I LOVED this book. It was one of my fave reads of 2009.

    I liked both of your pitches, but I think Kristen totally sells it with the Victorian voice and what’s hot, vampires.

  32. Abby Stevens said:

    You frame it in a completely different way than the author does. I actually prefer your pitch because it is more concise and pops. The author plays up the genre more.

    I love the main character’s name. I think I am going to check this book out.

  33. Hetal Patel said:

    Thanks for the interesting query posts. As an aspiring author myself, its interesting to get the agent perspective.

    I also wanted you to know that I am passing on a Kreativ Blogger Award to you for the oodles of information and entertainment you provide us. If you’d like the badge, please feel free to stop by my blog and pick it up. See you around! 🙂

  34. Kathleen said:

    yay, I’d been hoping you’d post about Soulless. And a very interesting post it is.

    your pitch doesn’t contain any mention of the romance between Alexia and Lord Maccon, which is a very significant part of the book.
    your pitch does convey more of the details of the plot set-up.
    I think both do a nice job capturing the voice.

  35. Susan said:

    While you did a fine job capturing the essence of Gail’s story, Kristen, you left out the very huge plot point of a werewolf lover. I LOVED this part of the book the best, and was always awaiting the next time they were alone with a wingbacked chair. :o)

    Also, there was no mention of the steampunk angle. If an editor was tired of the paranormal genre, they would have had no idea that steampunk was setting this story apart from the rest.

    -Susan

  36. Jenny said:

    I ran across this book randomly on Amazon and after reading the blurb I knew I had to have it. Almost as soon as it arrived on my doorstep I devoured the novel and am now eagerly awaiting Gail’s next projects!

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