Pub Rants

Category: Agent Kristin’s Queries

Q to the twitter and FB brain trust: Why in the world am I receiving queries addressed to Kristen Callihan?

When it first started happening, we all laughed and brushed it off as someone simply misreading the site and since Kristen’s client bio pops up first on the client page, the reader simply confused her name with mine.

But now it’s happening dozens of times a week. I have to think that the contact must simply be listed wrong on some site that references Nelson Literary Agency. I’d love to track it down and get it corrected if my blog readers have any info.

Kristen is greatly flattered that folks think she is a literary agent but she’s definitely not reading our query inbox and so has no reply to offer!

To celebrate just having spent the day in York with Rhiannon, here is her original query for A WICKED THING that landed me as her agent.

Dear Kristin Nelson:

One hundred years after falling asleep, Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she, and the kingdom, should be living happily ever after.

But her family are long dead. Her “true love” is a stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by strangers while she slept. Aurora wants space to make her own choices, but she cannot risk losing the favor of the prince or the people and ending up penniless, homeless and, worst of all, alone. With rebellion stirring in the backstreets of the city and everyone expecting Aurora’s promised goodness to save them, she must marry the prince and play the sweet, smiling savior that everyone expects, or the kingdom will tear itself — and Aurora — apart.

When Aurora befriends a young rebel, she begins to doubt that the kingdom deserves saving. As the rebellion begins in force, and her wedding day hurtles ever closer, Aurora must decide whether she is willing to sacrifice her freedom to save this new world from burning, or whether she should be the one to light the flame.

AFTER is a young adult fantasy that will appeal to fans of Malinda Lo and Gail Carson Levine. It is complete at 70,000 words.

I graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English Literature in 2011 and work as a freelance writer and academic editor. AFTER is my first novel.

I am submitting this novel for your consideration because I read that you love fantasy YA and are a fan of Malinda Lo’s Ash, which is also one of my all-time favorite books.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Rhiannon Thomas

What did I like about her query pitch? First off, it’s very well written. Even the pitch has a narrative voice to it. But a couple more things:

* I love the turning-on-its-head opening premise of the first sentence. She should be living happily ever after means she probably won’t be. I want to find out why.

* I’ve never seen a Sleeping Beauty retelling where the princess wakes up 100 years later. Wow. She might as well be on another planet. Everything she knows is dead and long gone. I can’t imagine what that would be like. This story is going to be intriguing on that aspect alone.

* The pitch is wonderfully written and the conflict is clear. Should she marry the prince? Is that truly her destiny or what is best for her people?

* The author comparisons used are apt for this work.

It’s a shoo-in for me to ask for sample pages.

Happy Release Day Stacey Lee! UNDER A PAINTED SKY is now in bookstores.

Since I’ve been doing nothing but blogging about queries for the last week, what better way to celebrate the release of her debut novel than to share Stacey’s original query letter (with permission of course!)

Dear Ms. Nelson,

I am seeking representation for my 77K-word YA historical romance novel, GOLDEN BOYS.  Arthur Levine selected GOLDEN BOYS for the 2012 Golden Gate Award at the recently held SCBWI Asilomar Conference. GOLDEN BOYS is also a finalist in the Chicago North Romance Writers of America Fire and Ice Contest, results to be announced in April.

When fifteen-year-old orphan Samantha Young kills the richest man in Missouri in self-defense, she disguises herself as a boy and flees to the unknown frontier.  She knows the law in 1849 will not side with the daughter of a Chinaman. Along with a runaway slave, also disguised as a boy, “Sammy” joins a band of young cowboys headed for the California gold rush.

The trail poses far more hazards than the demure violinist imagined, not just from pursuing lawmen, but from Sammy’s own heart when she falls in love with one of the cowboys, West Pepper, who doesn’t know she’s a girl.  Sammy can’t reveal her true identity for fear of losing the cowboys’ protection.  But when West’s confusion over his feelings threatens to tear them apart, Sammy has to choose between her love for West and her own survival.

I wrote GOLDEN BOYS because I often wondered how a Chinese girl born in the U.S. during its expansion west would have fared.  My great great grandfather was one of the first Chinese to come to California at the time of the gold rush.

Thank you so much for your consideration,

Stacey H. Lee

So what inspired me to request sample pages? The terrific writing and the sheer originality of the premise. A Chinese girl violinist on the run via the Oregon Trail? I’m in. To me, it was a story that needed to be told and when I fell in love with the manuscript, I offered representation.

It certainly wasn’t because cross-dressing young adult historical westerns were all the rage in 2013. Talk about swimming against the current trends then….

The novel, after several revisions, transformed away from the historical romance to an enduring story of Sammy and Andy’s deepening friendship. And that is the story of UNDER A PAINTED SKY that readers get to enjoy starting today.

And as further celebration, my original pitch letter to editors when this work was on submission. A couple of things to note:

1) As my letter reveals, UNDER A PAINTED SKY was not the original title. We have Stacey’s estimable editor Shauna to thank for that! It was a great suggestion and way more evocative than Golden Boys. LOL Titles can be tough. As an agent, I either come up with a terrific one right away for the submit or it doesn’t happen until after the book is sold etc. But editors trust me so I know they’ll read the manuscript even if the title isn’t 100% golden. Pun intended.

2) This novel has received a lot of accolades and two STARRED reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Over the last two weeks,  several editors have reached out to me with congratulations and a request for me to keep them in mind for future stories like this. Given how wonderfully this title is coming out of the gate, it’s easy to assume this might have been a slam dunk of a sale when on submission.

It was not.

Putnam really took a chance and with Shauna’s (and Jen Besser’s) wonderful editorial guidance and vision, Stacey worked hard to perfect the story of Sammy and Andy for the novel you get to read today. My fingers are crossed that this is a sleeper hit in the making.

 

Hello EDITOR NAME REDACTED

It was so lovely to see you while I was in New York. As promised after BEA, I’m sending along GOLDEN BOYS by Stacey Lee, a  young adult historical western a la True Grit.

After I had offered rep and Stacey accepted, I dug in to do the slow read. I was worried that my lack of sleep caused by staying up to read the manuscript had impaired by judgment when offering rep. *grin*

Lucky for me, it was just as good, if not better, than the first time I read it! I love love love it! Get ready to hold on to your saddle because I think you are going to love it as much as I do.

After a suspicious fire burns down her father’s dry goods store with him in it, newly orphaned Young San-Li, who goes by Samantha Young, confronts the landlord she suspects of setting the fire. When she accidentally kills him in self-defense, her only option is to hit the Oregon Trail. She knows the law in 1849 will not side with the daughter of a Chinaman.

With a whip-smart runaway house slave at her side, “Sammy” and “Andy” disguise themselves as boys and join a band of young seasoned cowboys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy must evade bounty hunters and hunt down Mr. Trask, the man entrusted with her dead mother’s treasured jade bracelet. When she also falls for West Pepper, a cowboy with no tolerance for greenhorn boys let alone girls, Sammy is convinced that the trail poses more hazards than a demure violinist can handle. 

When the wild West doesn’t prove big enough to hide her, Sammy must choose–avenge her father, forsake the memory of her mother, or embrace a new identity forged in the frontier and forever lose her history. 

Stacey Lee wrote her debut novel GOLDEN BOYS because her great great grandfather was one of the first Chinese to come to California at the time of the gold rush. She wondered how a Chinese girl born in the U.S. during its expansion west would have fared.  This novel won the 2012 Golden Gate award at SCBWI Asilomar Conference. This work is also a finalist in the Chicago North Romance Writers of America Fire and Ice Contest.

Enjoy!

All Best,

Kristin

Not a very original title for a blog post but it certainly conveys the message adequately! I’ve been on a bit of a reading binge lately. There’s just nothing like that excitement of finding a story that makes all your fingers and toes tingle.

I swear, it might be an addiction and why Literary Agents do the job we do!

And I’ve been reading lots of good stuff as of late. But nothing that is quite tipping me into the “must have” realm as yet. Part of what makes this job so fun is that the right manuscript could hit the inbox at any moment.

Adult Steampunk fantasy: PASS – good concept, solid world building, interesting opening scene. And these are the hardest letters for me to write, the story just didn’t spark for me. So not helpful for that hard-working writer but it’s true.

Young Adult SF: PASS – another interesting world, set on a ship, with a nice opening scene. No spark. Argh.
Adult Literary fiction: PASS – Writer has terrific background in journalism. Cool premise. Solid writing. Just couldn’t quite fall into the story and have it keep my attention. My focus kept wandering so I know this one is not for me.
Young Adult contemporary: PASS – Too gritty for me and I worried that the main character, his nature, was too dark and grim potentially for the YA market. I could be totally wrong but it’s a sign it’s not right for me.
Young adult contemporary SF: PASS – Another sample with good, solid writing. Interesting story concept. Author had an agent previously.  I should be game for it but the narrative just didn’t spark for me.
Adult Commercial mainstream: PASS – Loved the premise. Solid writing but I actually wanted the writing to be more literary than what it was because the concept hook was so commercial. And for me, that was the way to really make the story stand out.
Fantasy Young Adult: PASS – was a bit on the fence with this one. Nice writing. Interesting fantasy world. Gave it a second read and found I wasn’t feeling passionate about wanting to commit to reading a full manuscript.
Adult SF: PASS – a funny science fiction narrative that works! (so rare.) Good writing. Charming and inventive. Just wasn’t quite right for me but I definitely see another agent taking this one on and selling it.
Young Adult contemporary: PASS – Such a great premise dealing with contemporary YA themes but writing was really uneven and a little too much force on “this is the theme of my novel.”
Adult historical: PASS – Author has great background with winning some accolades. Really liked the time period so sad with this one a bit and reread it. In the end, I felt like I should love it but didn’t actually love it.
Young adult historical: PASS – One of my fav genres and is a popular tale re-telling. Writing felt too stiff and formal (the emotion didn’t match the scene) I couldn’t quite lose myself in the story.
Middle Grade contemporary: PASS – I really wanted to like this one as concept was terrific. Voice didn’t quite nail it for middle grade. Read a bit too adult.
Adult Fantasy: PASS – Really interesting premise for the anti-hero who is main protagonist of the story. Too many fantasy tropes in the opening without enough of a distinctive voice to really make the opening stand out.
Middle grade fantasy: PASS – narrative voice was too adult for the MG audience. World building was a bit heavy in the opening as well. Thought maybe it could work for adult market but it as in the deadly gray area without it being firmly to one audience or the other.
Young adult contemporary: PASS – loved the multicultural aspect of the story. Author has great background as well. This one I just didn’t fall in love with the story and the narrative voice.

Gail Carriger’s Query Letter—Part II

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.

Gail Carriger’s Query Letter

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.

Janice Hardy’s Query Pitch Blurb

STATUS: I spent most of today on the phone. Some days are just like that. Now that it’s after 4, I’m going to now tackle my TO DO list.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TAINTED LOVE by Soft Cell

This morning I realized it’s been a while since I spotlighted a client’s query. I always find it interesting to talk about what caught my interest and hopefully it’s a good learning tool for blog readers as you revise your own query letters.

Today’s story is a little different as Janice didn’t query me by email per se. I actually met Janice at the Surrey International Writers Conference that is held in Vancouver, British Columbia. And no, Janice is not Canadian; she actually hails from Georgia. She just happened to be at the conference.

She had signed up for a 10-minute pitch session with me so she “queried” me via a verbal one-on-one pitch.

I have to say, that the first thing that caught my interest was the title: THE PAIN MERCHANTS. What’s even more interesting is that the publisher ended up not going with this title. See the cover I’ve included below. Go figure. I found the title immediately interesting and I knew that I wanted to read the sample pages she was going to submit after the conference. In fact, I emailed Sara to be on the lookout for them.

For some reason, I don’t have the original letter she sent with the sample pages but I did save her pitch paragraph from that letter. Since that’s the crucial part, I’m including it here. Tomorrow I’ll share the letter I sent to editors when I submitted this work.

From Janice’s cover letter:
Seventeen-year-old Nya couldn’t find good luck in an empty pail. As one of the city’s many orphans, she survives on odd jobs and optimism — finding both in short supply in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. Then a bungled egg theft, a stupid act of compassion and boys unable to keep their mouths shut, expose her secret to the two most powerful groups in Geveg: the pain merchants and the Healer’s League. They discover Nya is a Taker, a healer who can pull pain and injury from others. Trouble is, unlike normal Takers she can’t dump that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person to person, a so far useless skill that’s never once paid for her breakfast.

When an accident floods the city with injured and Takers start disappearing from the Healer’s League, Nya’s talent is suddenly in demand. But what she’s asked to do with her healing ability feels as wrong as fish with feet. That is, until her sister Tali goes missing — then walking fish don’t sound so bad after all. Because finding Tali means taking on the League, and to do something that stupid she’ll need what only her “useless skill” can get her. As her papa used to say, principles are a bargain at any price, but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?

Janice’s pitch blurb annotated:
Seventeen-year-old Nya couldn’t find good luck in an empty pail. As one of the city’s many orphans, she survives on odd jobs and optimism — finding both in short supply in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. KN: I’m caught by Janice’s voice in the opening lines. “Couldn’t find good luck in an empty pail” and “surviving on optimism.” I’m looking forward to reading on. Then a bungled egg theft, a stupid act of compassion and boys unable to keep their mouths shut, expose her secret to the two most powerful groups in Geveg: the pain merchants and the Healer’s League. KN: I knew I was right to ask for sample pages. There is the contrast between the theft and the act of compassion that makes me interested in this character. Not to mention had the “uh-oh” moment that a secret revealed to powerful people can only be trouble. They discover Nya is a Taker, a healer who can pull pain and injury from others. Trouble is, unlike normal Takers she can’t dump that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person to person, a so far useless skill that’s never once paid for her breakfast. KN: Here I have to understand the world and Nya’s power so Janice explains. But then she hints at the issue. This is a “useless skill” that I’m now assuming is not going to be considered useless by these powerful people. Intriguing.

When an accident floods the city with injured and Takers start disappearing from the Healer’s League, Nya’s talent is suddenly in demand. But what she’s asked to do with her healing ability feels as wrong as fish with feet. KN: Plot catalyst that starts the story. I don’t know what is as wrong as fish feet but I still love the voice and I’m thinking the story is going to tell me if I start reading. Also, That is, until her sister Tali goes missing — then walking fish don’t sound so bad after all. KN: Ah, this situation is going to put our character in a compromising situation. Now her sister is at stake. What is she willing to do? Good set up of conflict. Because finding Tali means taking on the League, and to do something that stupid she’ll need what only her “useless skill” can get her. KN: I have to read this now! As her papa used to say, principles are a bargain at any price, but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?
KN: This last line just nailed it for me. I like stories where the character might have to grapple with moral ambiguity.

Kicking Off The New Year–Courtney Milan’s Query

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.

Sincerely,
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.

Jamie Ford’s Query for HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET

STATUS: I’m not sure what I think about my day. I’m still here at the office going on 7 p.m., which is never the desired thing. I guess I’ll leave it at that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DREAMING by Blondie

As promised and with Jamie’s permission, here is the query he sent me for his manuscript which was originally entitled THE PANAMA HOTEL.

For me, that title didn’t really capture the essence of the manuscript so we spent a lot of time kicking around alternatives before we went out on submission. It was quite a process but after sharing several forerunner titles with a variety of reliable sources, we agreed to HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET.

One of the fun things about this submission is that many editors loved the title and couldn’t imagine the novel being called anything else.

That means we did a good job. Random House hasn’t mentioned changing it so as far as we know, this will be the title for the book.

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I must admit I hate Asian stereotypes. You know the ones. Good at math. Hardworking. We all look alike. Come to think of it, that last one might hold water. After all, my father once wore a button that read “I am Chinese,” while growing up in Seattle’s Chinatown during WWII. It was the only thing that separated him from the Japanese, at least in the eyes of his Caucasian neighbors.

Sad, but true. Which is probably why my novel has a little to do with that particular piece of history.

I was really caught by his personal connection to the history he plans to explore. I’ve never heard of the “I am Chinese” buttons, which is kind of fascinating.

Anyway, the working title is The Panama Hotel, and when people ask me what the heck it’s all about I usually tell them this:
“It’s the story of the Japanese internment in Seattle, seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old Chinese boy, who is sent to an all-white private school, where he falls in love with a 12-year-old Japanese girl.”

I’ve never seen a novel about a Chinese boy falling in love with a Japanese girl during such a volatile time period. I have to say that I was pretty much hooked by this story concept. Simple but there’s a lot of weight behind it. I did happen to know that the Chinese and the Japanese had long been at war before the advent of WWII so I knew of the general animosity between the countries–but I knew nothing of how that might have played out on American soil.

But it’s more complicated than that. It’s a bittersweet tale about racism, commitment and enduring hope––a noble romantic journey set in 1942, and later in 1986 when the belongings of 37 Japanese families were discovered in the basement of a condemned hotel.

At this point, I knew I was going to ask for sample pages but I have to admit that this paragraph made me pause. Dual narratives are tricky and extremely hard to pull off. I would only know if the author succeeded by asking for sample pages. I was struck by the belongings being discovered in an old hotel. This ends up being a true story and was part of what sparked Jamie to write the novel. I didn’t find out this info until later and I must say that if included, it could have added power to the query letter.

This historical fiction novel is based on my Glimmer Train story, I Am Chinese, which was a Top 25 Finalist in their Fall 2006 Short-Story Competition For New Writers. An excerpt was also published in the Picolata Review.

Nice. It always helps to know there has been some previous recognition.

Think Amy Tan, but with a sweeter aftertaste. I was already thinking Amy Tan but a male version…

Thank you for your consideration and time,
Jamie Ford

The Panama Hotel
Historical Fiction 86,000 words / 353 pages

About the author: James “Jamie” Ford grew up near Seattle’s Chinatown and is busy writing his next novel, Rabbit Years. In addition to his Glimmer Train accolades, he took 1st Place in the 2006 Clarity of Night Short Fiction Contest. Jamie is also an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Nice. Some more literary creds. I would have asked for sample pages without the mention though.

He hangs out at www.jamieford.com and has been known to eat jellyfish, sea cucumber and chicken feet on occasion.

This made me smile and that’s never a bad thing.

Now here’s what’s interesting. As I mentioned on a previous blog, an agent friend of mine received the same query and it didn’t spark his interest at all. Now he freely admits that he was in a time crunch at the time he received it. That can change our response. If he hadn’t been, he might have paid a little closer attention but for the most part, this query didn’t float his boat much.

And that just highlights the subjective tastes of agents.