Pub Rants

Category: Agent Kristin’s Queries


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 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.

Query For Demon’s Lexicon That Landed Me As The Agent

STATUS: TGIF and might get out of here before 6 p.m. …

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SAVE A PRAYER by Duran Duran

Since I just announced my two recent auctions, I thought it might be fun to share the original query letters with my blog readers.

First up is Sarah Rees Brennan and with her permission, the original query letter that was sent by email and that made us request 30 sample pages.

Dear Ms. Nelson and Ms. Megibow:

I am a big fan of Ms Nelson’s blog and the dedication and positive attitude obvious in every post. I would like you to consider THE DEMON’S LEXICON, my YA urban fantasy set in modern-day England. The manuscript is complete at 75, 000 words.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for flattery! Seriously, it’s a very straightforward introduction. All the necessary information is given.

What would be the first word to come to mind about the runaway romance between a beautiful, headstrong woman and a darkly fascinating magician?

For Nick, it’s ’embarrassing’, since said beautiful, headstrong woman was his mum. 16 year old Nick has been brought up on the run from the darkly fascinating magician after things really didn’t work out between him and Nick’s mother. He resents his mother for the predicament they’re in, and he was mostly raised by his older brother, Alan.

The answer wasn’t what I expected, and I love how she taps into exactly what a 16 year old would think about his mother and a romance. She has my full attention.

Nick has also been brought up knowing that there are certain people who have limited magical abilities. Some of them, the magicians, increase these magical abilities by summoning demons who give them more power – in return for the magicians giving them people to possess. The other magically gifted people have considerably less power and rely on magical trinkets and information, exchanged every month at a ‘goblin market.’ As the only people who know about the magicians and their victims, they do try to control things, but it’s an endeavour that is not going well.

This is a quick explanation of the world she has created. Notice it doesn’t take pages and pages. One brief paragraph. I expect the next paragraph to give me more of the conflict that is going to unfold with the character of Nick that she has introduced.

Nick, who can summon demons and is pretty handy with a sword, is mostly concerned with just getting by, but his life is greatly complicated by the advent of his brother’s latest crush. Not only is she a little too attractive for Nick’s peace of mind, but she has a boy in tow who bears the marks of demon possession. Added to that the fact that Nick has started to suspect that Alan, the only person in his life who he trusts, has been lying to him about a few very serious things, and not only Nick, but everybody else, are in for some surprises.

And here’s the conflict. I’m intrigued. Two brothers on the run. One is lying. Hum… I think I need to see more.

I have a popular online blog, some contacts in the writing and publishing world. I want to move ahead on this with an agent, and I also want an agent for the long term, for negotiation and guidance – in fact, everything it says on the tin – that is to say, your website.

I’m still wondering what a “tin” is and if it’s a Irish/British saying… but what the heck, I’m interested enough to read sample pages.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sarah Rees Brennan

On Monday, I’ll share with you the letter I wrote to the editors that started all the excitement about this very special novel. Until then…

I’m out.

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Sherry Thomas’s Query)

STATUS: Sara and I were work machines today. I still have a long way before catching up (mostly reading client materials at the moment). But there is a flicker of light in the tunnel.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? YOU’RE SO VAIN by Carly Simon (That’s a classic and what a great song!)

Since it really was Sherry’s blog that started this whole query rant, it’s time for her query to go up to bat.

A little info that I’ve already posted previously but hey, I’ll repeat myself here. From the arrival of the first query to reading sample pages to reading the full to offering representation to selling Sherry’s novel: 25 days.

It sold in a pre-empt to Bantam in a good deal (Pub lunch terms) and will be released in fall 2007.

Without further ado, here is what I was thinking when I read Sherry’s query.

Dear Ms. Nelson,

I’m a faithful reader of your blog. I admire your enthusiasm, your humor, and your candor. She reads my blog! Okay, I really shouldn’t be swayed by such flattery but hey, I’m human. Since you represent all subgenres of romance, I’d like you to consider Schemes of Love, my historical romance set in late Victorian England. The manuscript is complete at 100,000 words. Nice orientation to her novel.

Gigi’s marriage is doomed from the moment she decides that she must have Camden, by fair means or foul. How can I resist? Right off we know the fall our main heroine is going to take. Talk about flawed and therefore, immediately interesting. Camden, who has come to adore Gigi, discovers her deceit on the eve of their wedding. Shattered, he responds in kind, gives her a tender, unforgettable wedding night, then coldly leaves her in the morning, devastating her. Ah yes, two souls who have now done two wrongs. It’s a romance; I must know how they will make this right. Seriously though, this is such an intriguing set up and combined with the paragraph below, it’s something I’ve never seen before and folks, I read a lot of romance queries and sample pages. It’s hard to find something wholly original and fresh.

As the story opens, it is ten years later. Gigi has petitioned for divorce in order to remarry. Camden returns to England and sets the condition for her freedom: an heir. I’m sold. Didn’t even need to read more. She wants a divorce. He wants a child. Hum… sounds like an intense conflict to me. Despite the years and the sea of bad blood, the physical attraction between them remains as ferocious as ever. Big hint this work is going to be sensual and boy, is it—in very different ways. There’s a sex scene in the novel (and I can’t give it away) unlike anything I’ve ever read anywhere. That’s saying something. Though they each vow to make the act of procreation a cold, clinical one, the overwhelming pleasure of their marriage bed soon makes it apparent that the enterprise is fraught with emotional peril, for both of them. Oops. Two characters who think they don’t like each other but have great sex. What more could I want? Seriously, notice the wonderful cadence of Sherry’s language here: “Though they each vow to make the act of procreation a cold, clinical one, the overwhelming pleasure of their marriage bed soon makes it apparent that the enterprise is fraught with emotional peril, for both of them.” That’s some gorgeous writing and it’s only her query letter I’m reading. If you notice, the whole query is like that, and the novel doesn’t disappoint either.

In an atmosphere thick with mistrust, desire, and incipient hope, they are torn between the need to safeguard their hearts and the yearning to reach out across the chasm of ancient mistakes. May favorite kind of construct. As they rediscover the easy rapport they’d once shared, they must decide whether to let the bygones rule the future, or to love despite their painful past and forge a new life together. I don’t know about you but I’m totally rooting for them to let bygones be bygones.

Schemes of Love recently placed first in its category at the Merritt Contest, organized by San Antonio Romance Authors. Excellent. It has received recognition. Chris Keeslar at Dorchester has requested the full. And editor interest! This actually isn’t a big deal for me because it seems like editors request everything but hey, it doesn’t hurt. Another one of my manuscripts has won the Romantic Elements category of the 2005 On the Far Side contest, hosted by the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Chapter of the RWA. Some other credentials and shows a little diversity from just the Historical stuff.

Thank you for your time. I hope very much to work with you and look forward to hearing from you. And she did, quite quickly. Big smile here.

Sherry Thomas

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Jana DeLeon’s Query)

STATUS: I actually spent the day avoiding the phone and emails so I could get some reading done. And I plan to work late tonight. I’m committed to catching up.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND by Sting

I actually find this exercise a little interesting because for the most part, I don’t analyze queries received. I either like it or not and simply ask for sample pages if it works for me.

Next up, Jana DeLeon’s query (and I’m having trouble typing because I’m sitting on my couch and Chutney is insisting on laying her head on the laptop keyboard so I apologize for any uncaught typos etc.).

This project sold to Dorchester and will be coming out in October of 2006. The title remained the same (because it’s a great title and don’t underestimate the value of a good title to win your query some attention). Bland titles are an instant turn off and if I end up thinking, “what a yucky title,” that can be a strike against you—although I’ll still give the query a look.

November 8, 2004

Kristin Nelson
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC
1020 15th Street
Suite 26L
Denver, CO 80202

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I have recently completed a 93,000-word humorous romantic suspense novel entitled Rumble on the Bayou, and I hope you might consider me for your list.
Of course I wouldn’t have known that when I read the query but Jana is definitely a straight-to-the-point kind of gal and this opening sentence would indicate that. Why beat around the bush when you can go straight to the story blurb. I know enough to orient me.

The only suggestion I would add is this: it might have been nice if Jana mentioned that her work was not unlike Stephanie Bond’s stuff because it is and the comparison would have benefited her.

Secrets have been buried in Gator Bait, Louisiana for over thirty years, but someone is about to blow the lid off of them and rock this sleepy little town. How can you not love a town named Gator Bait? Right off I found this little tidbit so fun and interesting. Not to mention, she cut right to the secret that’s about to upset a small town. I know something is going to happen. Now I’m expecting, in the next few sentences, that she’ll elaborate on what and I’m not disappointed. Dorie Berenger likes her life just the way it is—simple, easy, relaxed. Serving as both Game Warden and Deputy in her hometown of Gator Bait meets her needs nicely, until DEA agent Richard Starke shows up—abrupt, demanding and far too attractive for this one-horse town. Soon he’s complicating everything, from her job to her self-imposed ban on relationships, and Dorie wants him out of her hair as soon as possible. I love the focus on the sexual tension between these two characters. Now I can assume that DEA agent Starke is coming to town because of the secret that is unfolding and she really actually doesn’t reveal too much about it. But remember when I mentioned yesterday that a query letter doesn’t have to be perfect to win a look. There’s a good spark here so I asked for sample pages because I liked the idea of something set in Louisiana and the tone she’s captured in the query.

Rumble on the Bayou is a humorous look at what happens when big city crime visits small town mentality. This solidifies it for me. I love when there is an external conflict to layer on the relationship conflict and this one is certainly one to create more sparks flying. It received an Honorable Mention in the 2004 Daphne du Maurier contest and second place in the 2004 TARA First Impressions Contest. Always good to know that it drew some notice.

I am a member of Romance Writers of America, Dallas Area Romance Authors, and Sisters in Crime. I spent the first twenty-one years of my life among the bayous and marshes of southwest Louisiana. I love this last tidbit. Louisiana is a special place and not just anybody can write about it well. Jana highlights that she knows the territory intimately because she grew up there. She has creditability. That detail wins her extra points in my book.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Jana DeLeon

I thought it might be fun to include the back cover copy for RUMBLE so you can see some details that might have made Jana’s original query stronger if she had included it. It still got my attention but I think if you are reading this blog and trying to learn the art of a query, it might be helpful if I point some stuff out.

Deputy Dorie Berenger knew it was going to be a rough day when the alligator she found in the town drunk’s swimming pool turned out to be stoned. On heroin. Now she has some big-shot city slicker from the DEA trying to take over her turf. And Agent Richard Starke is everything she’d feared—brash, demanding and way too handsome for his own good. Or hers.

The folks of Gator Bait, Louisiana, may know everything about each other, but they’re sure not going to share it with an outsider. Richard wouldn’t be able to catch a catfish, much less a drug smuggler, without Dorie’s help. But some secrets—and some desires—are buried so deep that bringing them to the surface will take a major

If you notice, the first paragraph of the back cover copy basically makes it clear why DEA agent Richard Starke is coming to town. Not only that, but it gives us some nuances about the quirky little town of Gator Bait. There’s a gator in a swimming pool of the town drunk. And the gator’s stoned. Hilarious.

The second paragraph really sets up the externally conflict nicely. It’s Gator Bait against the brash outsider and you know these two are going to have to knock heads, hearts, and their libidos, to get anything accomplished.

How fun is that.

The mention of the secret is saved till last. It’s an extra enticement.

And that’s what I recommend to folks writing queries. Really capture the essence of your story in one or two short paragraphs—not unlike the back cover copy of a novel. After all, that copy is designed to snag a reader in the bookstore so it can serve the same function for an agent who is trying to envision this work in a bookstore.

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Lisa Shearin’s Query)

STATUS: It’s a very good day because I after much work, a project sold and my client is just thrilled to pieces and that’s the best part of this job.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? PAPER MOON by Natalie Cole

At the risk of infringing on Evil Editor’s territory, it occurred to me that I could, with permission, post some of my clients’ query letters and really give y’all a rundown of what worked for me.

The good majority of my authors had never published before I took them on and sold their first book. It happens quite often. And even though I teach a query workshop that gives good tips on how to write a good pitch paragraph blurb about your work, there are no hard and fast rules of what will absolutely make an agent request sample pages.

I think most aspiring writers are looking for some sort of golden key. If I do XYZ, I’ll get a that request and hey, that’s the first step to getting a full manuscript request and on from there.

If there is a golden key, it’s this: write a really good query letter and then follow that up with a lot of writing talent in your manuscript.

So what makes a good one?

Tough question.

So, I’m just going to jump in and show you the actual queries my clients’ sent and I’ll give you some commentary on how I responded to them. Take what you will out of that and apply it to your query. If nothing else, you’ll learn something from the process (or I flatter myself you will) of watching my brain in action while I read a query. And I’m just one agent. Another agent might not have liked this query at all. So subjective. However, even if an agent didn’t respond to this query, they would probably acknowledge that it was well done.

Just to be clear. These are the actual query letters received via email. I didn’t gussy them up or anything. It’s exactly what each client wrote to me. As I share over the next few days, I want you to notice that no letter is perfect. As agents, we aren’t looking for perfection. We’re looking for connection, a spark that this interests us, and that’s hard to define.

So first up is Lisa Shearin’s query for THIEF OF SOULS. This project sold to Ace Books (which is a fantasy imprint at Penguin Group publishing). This novel is coming out next year in June 2007 and was renamed MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND.

Dear Ms. Nelson,
Hooray, she got my name right. I get a lot of queries that say Dear Mr. Nelson or better yet, Dear Jenny Bent.

I read on Publishers Marketplace that you’re interested in female-oriented fantasy. I think that Thief of Souls, the first novel in my fantasy detective series, might interest you.
Short and sweet but shows she did, at least, a little bit of research about me and what I’m looking for.

What if you suddenly have a largely unknown, potentially unlimited power? What if that power just might eat your soul for breakfast, lunch and dinner? What if every magical mobster and sicko sorcerer in town wants that power? And what if you can’t get rid of it?
Normally I’m not a big fan of what I call the “what if” questions starting the query but let me tell you what got me in this letter. I just loved the tone. The power might eat my soul for breakfast? Mobster, sicko? These are fun terms to be kicking around for a fantasy novel. I perked up immediately. Right away it felt different to me, and I was ready for the longer pitch blurb that’s just about to follow.

That’s Raine Benares’ problem. She’s a Seeker — a finder of things lost and people missing. Most of what she’s hired to find doesn’t get lost by itself. It has help. Dependable help. I’m so tickled. I love the phrase “most of what she’s hired to find doesn’t get lost by itself.” Help she can depend on to use blades or bolts or magical means to keep what they went to all the trouble to get. Perfect fun tone (which matches the novel she wrote). I know this isn’t epic fantasy. It has an urban, lighter feel yet I’m getting all the necessary information about the main character and the role she is going to play in the story. When her sometime partner steals an amulet from a local necromancer, Raine ends up with the amulet and the trouble that’s hot on its heels. What looks like a plain silver disk turns out to be a lodestone to an ancient soul-stealing stone, a stone that seemingly every magical mobster in the city wants — as well as a few heavy-hitters from out-of-town: goblins of the Khrynsani Order, their sadistic high priest, Guardians of the Conclave of Sorcerers, the goblin king and his renegade brother, and an elven spellsinger of dubious motives. Here’s the conflict and I love how she sums up the people who are looking for it as a way of clarifying the problem of being in possession of this amulet and how the plot will unfold. People Raine doesn’t want to have notice her, let alone have to outrun or outwit. She likes attention as much as the next girl, but this is the kind she can do without. “She likes attention as much as the next girl!” I know I’m getting a modern voice with this fantasy blend. It’s subtle and well done.

Then there’s what the amulet is doing to her. New and improved magical abilities sound good in theory, but Raine thinks her soul is a little much to pay for resume enhancement. More story conflict info but notice Lisa sticks with the tone she adopted. It’s not repetitive yet adds some depth to the story. And when she tries to take the amulet off, the amulet tries to take her out. Very hard-boiled sounding Soon Raine starts to wonder if her spells, steel and street smarts will keep her alive long enough to find a way to get rid of the amulet before it, or anyone else, gets rid of her. And the worst part? She isn’t even getting paid. It’s enough to make a girl consider a career change.

Thief of Souls is my first novel. Done. There’s no lamenting that she’s never been published. She has no other credentials to offer so she doesn’t. I loved the query so far so I really don’t mind the lack here. I’m an editor at an advertising agency, with prior experience in corporate communications and marketing. A little tidbit about her that personalizes a little but since it doesn’t really relate to her novel, she keeps it brief and that’s fine.

I’d be glad to send you my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Professional wrap- up. I want to see 30 pages without having to think too hard about it. I’m sold on her tone that I know will be mirrored in her writing.


Lisa Shearin