Pub Rants

Category: pitch blurbs

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.

Megan Crewe’s Query Letter

STATUS: As you can imagine, since I’ve been out of the office pretty much since December 18, I’m a little behind on work. Sorry for the blog lapse.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DECEMBER, 1963 (OH WHAT A NIGHT) by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

As we launch the new year, I imagine that many a blog reader is getting back into the query game. What better time than to tackle another successful client’s original query and what caught my interest.

Maybe it will shed a little light on how you can tackle your own query letter as you jump into your agent search.

Next up is Megan Crewe—a lovely Canadian writer whose debut GIVE UP THE GHOST hit shelves last fall.

In fun news, Holt Children’s has been doing some great co-op in Barnes & Noble. I shot this pic while on holiday. Funny enough, you can see two of my authors prominently displayed on the main shelf in the YA section of BN. Gotta love that.

But this entry is really about Megan’s debut—a YA with a really different paranormal element that is worth picking up. In my mind, not every YA needs to be an angsty romance. I really enjoy stories that delve into the darker side of being a teen and learning that revenge never can take the place of human compassion—which is what our narrator comes to understand in GIVE UP THE GHOST.

I have to say that Megan’s query immediately caught my attention as she had a whole different take on utilizing ghosts that I’ve never seen before. Besides, I like complex narrators. It’s not what is hitting the NYT list right now but I still find these stories super compelling.


Original query without annotation:

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I am seeking representation for my completed 62,000 word young adult novel, IN MEMORY OF.

Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don’t lie or judge, and they’re way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students’ deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.

When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim’s part of Danielle’s crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don’t know. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn’t counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim’s actually an okay guy. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming a ghost himself.

Told in Cass’ distinctive voice, at turns sarcastic and sensitive, IN MEMORY OF will appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld and Annette Curtis Klause.

My short fiction has appeared in Brutarian Quarterly and On Spec. I maintain the Toronto Speculative Fiction Writers Group, and I’ve worked with children and teens as a recreational programmer and behavioral therapist for several years.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Megan Crewe

Now the query with my comments:

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I am seeking representation for my completed 62,000 word young adult novel, IN MEMORY OF.
Since the novel is called GIVE UP THE GHOST, it’s obvious that Holt Children’s and Megan decided to change the title. There were too many other novels with the title Giving Up The Ghost so we truncated a bit to make it stand out.

Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don’t lie or judge, and they’re way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade.
The opening of this query is simply back story. In order to understand the hook, we need to know the previous history of the narrator Cass in order to have a context. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students’ deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.
Call me a rebel but I love the idea of knocking down the poseurs a peg or two. Wasn’t that always the secret fantasy of any teen who was an outsider to the status quo? But the main thing that caught my attention here is the idea of using ghosts as a secret army of spies. If ghosts can be anywhere, of course they would see/hear all the dirt and be able to report it. That’s brilliant. Of course that’s how a person who can see ghosts would actually use them. Such a twist on the whole ghost story idea. This had my attention immediately.

When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim’s part of Danielle’s crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don’t know.
Ah, we aren’t suger-coating Cass’s initial motivation. I like novels that are honest. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn’t counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim’s actually an okay guy. And here’s the redemption. If Cass is lumping all other teens into one clique fitting mold as they do her—does that make her any better? I’m thinking this novel is about Cass realizing that. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming a ghost himself. Such a clincher here. Cass has been living with the dead in the form of ghosts. What does she risk if she reconnects with the living? Something she is going to have to do if she overcomes her stereotype of Tim, learn compassion, and perhaps keep him from joining the ghosts that surround her. I’m so interested!

Told in Cass’ distinctive voice, at turns sarcastic and sensitive, IN MEMORY OF will appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld and Annette Curtis Klause.
Excellent comparison. It shows that Megan understands her novel’s place in the market. Notice she doesn’t say her novel is as good as these huge successes—just that the voice will appeal to the fans who enjoy these two other authors.

My short fiction has appeared in Brutarian Quarterly and On Spec. I maintain the Toronto Speculative Fiction Writers Group, and I’ve worked with children and teens as a recreational programmer and behavioral therapist for several years.
Relevant bio but she doesn’t have too much background in writing so she keeps it short and sweet. Fiction can stand on its own so bio is helpful but blog readers need to know that a lack of background is not a deal breaker; however, she does have experience with teens and makes sure to include that. That never hurts.

Thank you for your time. I always appreciate a thank you here.

Sincerely,

Megan Crewe

All in all a really strong query. She uses back story and character insight (both things I highlight in my Query Pitch online blog workshop (see left side bar) to build a great pitch around her hook.

Editor Letter For The Pain Merchants

STATUS: Just survived my first crushing London rush hour Tube commute on the Piccadilly line. Talk about being up close and personal with my UK compatriots…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WAKE UP CALL by Maroon 5

I’m having lunch all week with different UK editors—some in the children’s world and some in the adult world. I’ll start blogging about any interesting tidbits I discover tomorrow. I didn’t want there to be too much distance between when I discussed Janice’s original query and the letter I submitted to Donna. We had actually talked about this project a month or two before I submitted it. If memory serves, I was sitting at Donna’s table at Book Expo when I first pitched her this project.

As you can see from my letter below, I always like to pull out what is the most interesting facet to me. How I think this work is different from the multitude of fantasy titles already in existence. For this novel, it’s grappling with the question of whether the ends justifies the means that really stands out for me. So often, middle grade doesn’t focus on that gray area much and I think it’s handled beautifully here.

Also notice that I pulled in some pieces from Janice’s original pitch blurb—especially sentences that I thought captured the tone/voice of the story.

Hello Donna,

As promised, I’m finally submitting to you THE PAIN MERCHANTS by Janice Hardy. What I love most is the ethical question at the core of this novel. At the most basic level, this novel is about whether the ends justify the means and the main character Nya is more than willing to sacrifice a principle or two in order to save her sister.

But then where does one draw the line? Nya is already pushing the boundaries of what could be considered the “gray” area between right and wrong. Is it possible to slide across that line and down a path that will have too many consequences to allow a return to goodness?

That’s at the heart of this children’s fantasy. Here’s a peek at the storyline:

Fifteen-year-old Nya is one of Geveg’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 two eyewitnesses unable to keep their mouths shut expose her secret to the two most powerful groups in city: 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 her sister Tali and the other normal Takers who become league apprentices, 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 useless skill that’s kept her out of the league and has never once paid for her breakfast.

When a brutal ferry accident floods the city with injured and the already overwhelmed 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 is beyond wrong and she refuses until her sister Tali goes missing. Finding her sister 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?

The author Janice Hardy is a member of the Georgia Writer’s Association and is active in several workshops and critique groups. Her fiction has appeared in Dimensions (A local lifestyle magazine), Predictions (a local genre magazine) and Air Currents (The In-flight magazine for Continental Connection). She’s also an instructor with Writer’s Online Workshops—teaching Essentials of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing and Fundamentals of Fiction. Besides being a writer, she also has seventeen years of experience as an editor. Currently, she’s the editor of The Bahama Out Islands Destination Guide, and works closely with editors and authors on a variety of travel and lifestyle publications.

Enjoy!

All Best
Kristin

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.

Pitch Alternative Recap

STATUS: Busy Monday as I connect with my foreign rights person to debrief Bologna.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONESTAR by Norah Jones

Thank you all for the many varied responses to my blogs about Pitch Alternatives. I’m actually going to share these blog links with various conference organizers so this was not for naught.

So I can do so, I want to recap some of the options that I think will work most effectively.

The problem, for me anyway, in allowing non-ready writers to pitch unfinished projects is the expectation that is often in place before the pitch. I know that these writers actually still expect an agent to request the material—even if the work isn’t complete.

And I’m very serious about this. I’ve gotten shocked responses from pitchers when I’ve started the session with “Is your manuscript complete” and then when given a “no” reply, they were stunned that they couldn’t just send it a year later when it was ready.

Folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up so what I’m saying is that if we allow folks to just pitch at will, it puts too much expectation on the agent and then we feel like the bad guy by saying, no, you can’t send the partial you have; or, no, you can’t send it a year later when it’s finally finished.

This is what I’m trying to avoid. So here are my ideas. This is working off the assumption that the pitch appointments will be screened and only writers with finished projects will be allowed to “formally” pitch.

For all unfinished projects, here are some viable alternatives. These would all include a fee, above and beyond the conference fee, for the participant to attend. That way the conference is not sacrificing revenue for these alternate ideas.

1. A morning practice pitch session that is advertised as such. In other words, any writer with an unfinished project can pitch an agent or editor but they go in with the expectation that the agent/editor will not be asking for sample pages. This is solely for fun and practice. I suggest that the conference organizers ask the attending agents/editors if they are open to being faculty for this kind of session. I wouldn’t mind doing it and then the pressure is off me completely because the expectation is clear upfront to both parties participating.

2. A social event with an agent (or editor but I’m not going to retype that each time), limited to 6 participants and held at an off-site location (to avoid interruptions), that’s a roundtable discussion that allows writers to simply have sit-down Q&A with agent. This isn’t a practice pitch session per se but it might end up there if the agent directs it that way. Event to be held in a bar or restaurant so food and drinks are available. Expectation is that participants pay to attend and then also have to pay for their own food and everyone there pitches in to pay for the agent. (Trust me, we won’t eat or drink so much to make this cost prohibitive. Or we shouldn’t anyway!)

3. Coffee Klatch: Morning session in a classroom where participants pay to attend and the fee also includes coffee, tea, and pastries. Hey, I think events don’t work as well if food isn’t there. The conference can set the price appropriately for how much it would cost for the food/beverage service. Or, cheaper yet, the session moderator brings the bagels or donuts (but the session fee still pays for the bringing in of yummies). A similar idea could be done with a special lunch in smaller rooms with smaller tables that are more private (so you don’t get the overwhelming loudness). Participants can pay to have a special lunch with an agent. Limit the number to 5 or 6. Maybe have the event off-site at various restaurants so the Conference does not have to pay to reserve these rooms. Or, utilize the same rooms already reserved and have food brought in. That way the Conference can control cost and make sure the fee covers the expense.

4. Small roundtable query workshop and or opening pages—limited to 6 people. I’m not opposed to this but I just wanted to point out that it’s a lot of work on the agent’s part to prepare for this. At Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, they do this on the Friday before the conference begins, I spend a good two hours easy on reading and commenting on the submissions so I’m prepared. I know you don’t realize it, but it’s asking a lot from agents. I have so very little free time as I easily work 10 or 13 hour days on average just to keep up so I have to get this preparation done in my spare time and to be honest, when I have spare time, I really want to do something fun like hang with Chutney and my hubby. I often don’t feel like taking 2 hours to read opening pages. Just being honest here. I do it but it’s a commitment.

The Pitch Alternative?

STATUS: TGIF!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY by Donna Summer

What I’m looking for is a pitch alternative.

Hum… the problem is this. Most conferences charge a fee for a participant to do a pitch session with an agent or editor above and beyond the fee to attend the conference. This is often how conferences generate revenue to run the programs.

So right now, most conferences allow anyone who wants to sign up for pitch appointment to do so. There really is no monitoring of whether the writers have a finish project or even if their project fits with the agent they are pitching.

Most conferences assume that those interested in pitch appts. are doing their homework to sign up with the right person. We’d all like to think that writers would be in tune enough do that.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. Examining the conferences I’ve done just in the last year, which was actually a lot because I freakishly agreed to something like 9 conferences last year, I can tell you this. On average, more than 60% of the conference attendees who pitched me were not ready to pitch as they didn’t even have a complete manuscript.

At one conference I did last year, I’d say that the percentage rate was higher. More than 80% of the people I had pitch appointments with didn’t have an even close to finished manuscript for me to look at.

And yet, the agent/editor appts. are the biggest money generators for the conference. I get the necessity of that.

I’m just trying to find some other way to accommodate writers without finished projects to have time with an agent/editor.

Jessica suggested more social events planned for the participants and the faculty. I’m certainly not opposed to that but those events usually are not something that will generate the much needed revenue the conference organizers need.

Not only that but at social functions, agents and editors often like to hang together (because we like catching up with each other as well) and very few attendees feel confident enough to break that “inner circle” grouping. Hey, I’ve been guilty of that and I’m willing to ‘fess up to it. It just happens because we have so much to talk about. The participant interaction is probably not as high as it should be at these mixers.
Now the Pikes Peak conference does an interesting thing with their agent/editor hosted table at the lunch hour (which is free) but the tables are too big and the room is often too noisy to really work well except for the few attendees lucky enough to sit closest to the agent or editor.

So I’m trying to find some kind of happy medium that could work, and I’m open to suggestions.

So bring it on. How could we solve this problem?

Editor Letter for Real Life & Liars

STATUS: Getting ready for ALA Midwinter Conference which is happening here in Denver. I have a packed weekend ahead of me but it should be fun.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I’M YOURS by Jason Mraz

Because I think my blog readers find the agent-editor interaction fascinating, here’s the submission letter for this project.

Here are two interesting things to note about this letter. Kristina’s novel had a unique POV structure. One narrative is written from first person POV and the three children are written from a third person POV. I decided that I didn’t want an editor to be surprised by what is a complicated narrative structure so I actually highlighted it in my submit letter. I also highlighted that I thought the unique narrative was strength—thus (hopefully) setting the editors perception before they began reading.

By the way, this narrative structure is almost impossible to pull off. It takes a lot of talent—which is how I pitched it in the letter.

I also spent a bit more time talking about how this novel impacted me personally. I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t “just another cancer” story. That what we had here was an insightful novel about family relationships and how complicated they can be.

I guess I succeeded as several editors agreed with me and Lucia Macro at HarperCollins won this novel at auction.

Hello Lucia,

I hate to be the agent who says this every time I send out a project but I do think that this time, I’ve found the perfect novel for you (and if I haven’t, you have permission to snub me). First off, the writing is just top-notch. This story, REAL LIFE & LIARS seamlessly shifts between the first person POV of Mira, the sixty-something hippie mother who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and has decided not to fight it, and the three third person POVs of her three, very different children. This would be a mess in the hands of a writer with less talent.

But here’s the other reason why I’m so passionate about this story (besides the fact that I just couldn’t put it down). Even though the Zielinski family is nothing like my own, I just felt like Kristina had tapped into the essential truth of my own family’s dynamics, despite the fact that my mother never has had cancer and my brother is the oldest and not the middle child etc. She has tapped into the core truth of how all families interrelate. How siblings treat each other as adults (our worn and familiar view of each other) as well as all the possibilities that emerge when we realize our love and loyalty. It’s also a very piercing look at the relationship parents have with adult children. And even though the novel is unflinching in its exploration, the reader is left with nothing but optimism that despite our personal failings, our families really do form our core.

So here’s the story: As a wilted flower child, Mira Zielinski has never been one to follow orders. Not from her husband, not from her boss – not even from her oncologist. Mira has her own idea about handling her newly diagnosed breast cancer, and it does not involve hopping up on the operating table. Her grown children will no doubt object — when she gets around to telling them.

As they come home for the weekend of Mira and Max’s thirty-fifth wedding anniversary party, her kids harbor some secret trials. Middle child Ivan’s lifelong desire to be a songwriter is withering on the vine after years of futility and his dating haplessness is so familiar, it’s almost a family joke. The impulsive and very young youngest child Irina will walk in the door with a surprise groom, though she’s already looking for the escape hatch in her shiny new marriage. As for the oldest, Katya, let’s just say that it would be a relief if her husband’s big secret were just the affair she suspects he’s having. As these trials unfold, certain family truths come to light but will they shake Mira’s resolve?

The author, Kristina Riggle, is a freelance journalist and published short story writer. Her credits include Cimarron Review, Net Author’s E2K and Espresso Fiction. She is also the co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama, named one of Forbes’ “Best of the Web.” Kristina was also a judge for the 2007 Carrie McCray Literary Awards in the short fiction category. Since she is connected to the writing community, she has already lined up blurbs from published authors such as Kristy Kiernan (CATCHING GENIUS) and Carrie Kabak (COVER THE BUTTER, A Book Sense pick June 2005).

May I send this novel your way?
All Best,
Kristin

Kristina Riggle’s Query

STATUS: Tech troubles yesterday. Sorry for the blog silence. I left the office thinking I’d do it from home. Internet was down.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME? By Culture Club
(okay, I can never hear this song without thinking about the Adam Sandler movie The Wedding Singer)

Don’t worry! I hadn’t lost sight of lending a hand with queries. As promised, here is yet another original query letter from one of my clients. Kristina was a current client referral so certainly had a leg up in terms of my attention. However, she also sent a darn good query letter, and so there isn’t any controversy, she did not have Sherry Thomas’s help in the writing of [at least not that I’m aware of].

Here’s the letter without comments for your reading pleasure:

Dear Ms. Nelson,

I’m a friend of the hilarious and fun Becky Motew, and she suggested I contact you about my novel, REAL LIFE AND LIARS. Here’s a brief description.

As a wilted flower child, Mira Zielinski has never been one to follow orders. Not from her husband, not from her boss – not even from her oncologist. Mira has her own idea about handling her newly diagnosed breast cancer, and it does not involve hopping up on the operating table. Her grown children will no doubt object — when she gets around to telling them.

As they come home for the big anniversary party, her kids harbor some secret trials. Ivan’s lifelong desire to be a songwriter is withering on the vine after years of futility, and youngest child Irina will walk in the door with a surprise groom, though she’s already looking for the escape hatch in her shiny new marriage. As for Katya — let’s just say that it would be a relief if her husband’s big secret were just the affair she suspects. As these secrets come to light, will they shake Mira’s resolve?

I’d love to send part or all of REAL LIFE AND LIARS, complete at 83,000 words. I’m a freelance journalist and published short story writer, plus I’m the co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama, named one of Forbes’ “Best of the Web”. My short story credits include Cimarron Review, Net Author’s E2K and Espresso Fiction. I served as a judge for the 2007 Carrie McCray Literary Awards in the short fiction category.

Besides your blog and Becky’s recommendation, I’m also familiar with you as a member of Backspace, where I post (not as frequently as I’d like) as simply “Kris.” I’ll paste my opening few pages below. Thanks for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Kristina Riggle

The commented version:

Dear Ms. Nelson,

I’m a friend of the hilarious and fun Becky Motew, and she suggested I contact you about my novel, REAL LIFE AND LIARS. Here’s a brief description.

As a wilted flower child, Mira Zielinski has never been one to follow orders. I just love the line “wilted flower child” so just that turn of phrase has caught my interest. I’m really paying attention. Not from her husband, not from her boss – not even from her oncologist. A women who doesn’t take orders. I’ve got good insight into this character and the ‘oncologist’ at the end there is an attention grabber. Mira has her own idea about handling her newly diagnosed breast cancer, and it does not involve hopping up on the operating table. Interesting! Her grown children will no doubt object — when she gets around to telling them. This is a unique twist on the conflict. Why wouldn’t she tell them is my first thought. And then I like the phrasing again, “around to telling them.” There’s a certain relaxness that’s unexpected here given the cancer diagnosis. I’m intrigued with the character of Mira.

As they come home for the big anniversary party, her kids harbor some secret trials. Ah…. Mira’s issue is going to be further conflicted by what’s happening in the family. I’m a sucker for family stories. Ivan’s lifelong desire to be a songwriter is withering on the vine after years of futility, and youngest child Irina will walk in the door with a surprise groom, though she’s already looking for the escape hatch in her shiny new marriage. “escape hatch in her shiny new marriage” Dang, that’s intriguing writing so I’m going to be asking for the full—no doubt. As for Katya — let’s just say that it would be a relief if her husband’s big secret were just the affair she suspects. I’m hooked. Let me see it! What could be worse than an affair? And interesting that the announcement of an affair would be a relief to this Katya character. As these secrets come to light, will they shake Mira’s resolve? Hey, I want to know!

I’d love to send part or all of REAL LIFE AND LIARS, complete at 83,000 words. I’m a freelance journalist and published short story writer, plus I’m the co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama, named one of Forbes’ “Best of the Web”. My short story credits include Cimarron Review, Net Author’s E2K and Espresso Fiction. I served as a judge for the 2007 Carrie McCray Literary Awards in the short fiction category. Nice tight bio. Kept to the details that would be important to her career as a writer.

Besides your blog and Becky’s recommendation, I’m also familiar with you as a member of Backspace, where I post. Thanks for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Kristina Riggle

Writing That Dang Query

STATUS: I have to say that it’s 7 pm on a Friday night and I’m rather ready to go home.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MAN IN A SUITCASE by The Police

I have to say that Courtney Milan and her query sparked quite a debate, which took place over at Nathan’s blog. I think battle lines were drawn.

So it seemed like a good idea to highlight a few more thoughts on the query letter and who should be writing it.

Do I think that you should write your own query letter? Yes. Quite simply, I think the writer of the novel should be the writer for the query because hands down, that’s the best person for the job. Voice and all that (which was discussed at length over in the comments section of the debate so no need to add more comment here).

But whether I think this or not is moot because I’m not going to know whether you wrote your own query or not and I’m probably not ever going to ask (unless it suspiciously reads like something that Sherry Thomas would write….)

I do think both Sherry and Courtney brought up some good points. First off, Sherry took a stab at writing it to show Courtney the rhythm of it and what to include for plot points or conflict. And then she quite firmly said that Courtney should use her attempt as a guide only. That really it was better for the pitch to be in Courtney’s voice.

Courtney also chimed in to say that the experience of struggling with the pitch in her query letter was well worth it because it gave her a lot of insight into the manuscript and what may or may not need to be revised in the opening.

I actually heartily agree with is. You know why? Because I’ve given my query pitch workshop at numerous conferences and as you all know, I beat that already dead horse to death again by nattering on about the plot catalyst that starts your novel and how that should be the centerpiece of your pitch.

And you know what I’ve discovered? When workshop participants are forced to figure out what that catalyst is and take a stab at their pitch blurb in the workshop itself, some epiphanies have happened.

For example, in the last workshop I gave (which was at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers I think), one participant realized (to his dismay) that his plot catalyst was near page 100. Now I don’t know for sure (because I didn’t read his chapters right then and there) but my guess is that he had a lot of backstory that was filling up the opening chapters. Story that a writer needs in his head but probably doesn’t need to be there on the page.

See what I mean? So there is real value in the struggle to write the pitch.

But then here’s an interesting take on this. I know some agents who have their authors write the pitch blurb that the agent will then use in the letter to the editor.

I’ve never done that. I have always written my own pitch blurbs. Now, I certainly do ask for the author to take first stab at it because I want to see what the author perceives as the crux of the story.

If this is a debut author, then the pitch blurb has already been done in the query and I often lift elements from what the author wrote originally when crafting my own letter. You can see this in the Courtney Milan example as I lifted “wardrobe malfunction” straight from the query. That totally made me laugh and I thought an editor would find it funny as well—to have this super contemporary phrasing in a letter about a historical romance novel.

However, if you take a look at Jamie Ford’s original query letter and then my pitch letter to editors [see links in sidebar], wow, quite different.

And yet, in the debate, the emphasis on the author’s voice was really highlighted as being of the utmost of importance as to why the writer should write it him/herself.

Interesting.

Copyeditors at the publishing houses often write their own cover copy for the work—taking nothing from the agent’s pitch letter and they certainly haven’t seen the author’s original query.

Now I have had copyeditors lift direct lines from the copy I’ve written (which really flatters me! I give good copy!) and put it into the back cover or flap copy. Most of the times, not. What they created is wholly new.

No real point here. Just food for thought.

No matter what, I do think you should begin by writing your own pitch blurb as you will learn about your own novel in the process of doing so. Where it goes from there is ultimately up to you but whatever you do, just don’t make it generic.

Editor Letter for Proof By Seduction

STATUS: It’s pretty early in the day so right now, everything is going quite smoothly.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CLOCKS by Coldplay

I’m totally chuckling after reading Courtney’s blog from yesterday where she shares the query letter outtakes. The moral of the story is this: If you find yourself unable to write a decent query letter, hire Sherry!

Seriously though. Sometimes it is difficult for a writer to write his or her own query. The writer is very close to the material and can’t often see the forest for the trees. If you’ve struggled with the query writing process, I don’t think it’s playing unfair to have another person write the query on your behalf, or with you, or revise it for you. As long as you end up with a strong letter that you believe fully represents your work, I, as the agent, will not ask if you wrote your own query letter. It can be your own deep, dark secret.

The point of the query is to win an agent’s attention and get a request for sample pages. Now, your sample pages have to hold up. The greatest query letter in the world is not going to compensate for unready sample pages.

And if somebody else ends up writing your query, make sure they are good at it!

As promised from yesterday, here’s the letter I sent to Courtney’s editor at Harlequin. As you all may or may not know, agents pitch editors as well. Now Ann Leslie has known me for years so to be quite honest, she would read anything I wanted to submit to her (besides my grocery list that is!).

Still, call me old-fashioned. I never send an editor a project without formally asking if it is okay to do so and I think it’s helpful to have a pitch that orients the editor as he or she begins the read.

So, in this sense, I always pitch editors and as an agent, I have to nail that pitch paragraph just like you have to do in your query letter. Noticed that I lifted several elements from the query that Sherry (ahem, Courtney) had written.

Hello Ann Leslie,

I can hardly believe it myself but I haven’t taken on a romance author in over a year –until now. In fact, I haven’t taken on a historical romance author since Sherry Thomas and oddly enough, it was Sherry who discovered Courtney Milan and sent her my way.

Courtney had won a contest that Sherry was sponsoring on her website and the prize was the reading of her first 30 pages by Sherry. Being the great client she is, Sherry immediately emailed me and said, “You’ve got to look at this author.”

Within a day, I had read and signed Courtney for PROOF BY SEDUCTION and I’m just beyond excited to share this manuscript with you. And yes, I know you are going to kill me because I’m sending you this email right before RWA but hey, both Courtney and I will be there so let me know if you want to meet up.

Set in 1836 London, PROOF BY SEDUCTION is an emotionally complex and beautifully written story (very Sherry Thomas who, by the way, is happy to offer a blurb for the novel’s release). As the outcast bastard daughter of some unknown nobleman, Jenny Keeble earns her living by being one of London’s premier fortune tellers. In this role, she certainly knows all about lies. After all, the fastest way to make money is to tell people what they want to hear. It works–until Gareth Carhart, the Marquis of Blakely, vows to prove what he and Jenny both know: that Jenny is a fraud.

Gareth only wants to extricate Ned, 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. But she enrages him by her “prediction” of his own pending nuptials as a way to prove her ability. She tempts him to look beyond his coldly logical view of the world. She causes him to lose his head entirely and offer a prediction of his own: He’ll have her in his bed before the month is out. The battle lines are drawn. Jenny can’t lose her livelihood or her long-time friendship with young Ned; Gareth won’t abandon scientific logic.

Neither is prepared to accept love.

Courtney Milan is a … [Bio deliberately removed. It was a solid paragraph long.] She is a finalist in the 2008 Golden Heart competition (but not for this manuscript and I’m happy to explain if you are interested).

May I send this your way?

All Best,
Kristin Nelson