In preparation for this post, I read query letters until my brain went numb. I looked for the letters marked “successful” — those that garnered agent’s attention. After days of reading, certain constants emerged.
A successful query often includes a combo of:
- A strong voice
- Delightful characters
- References (to known authors or one’s own experience)
- Clarity and concision.
To use this post, simply search the page for the type of query letter you’re looking for. For instance, hit Command F (Mac) or Control F (Microsoft) and search for “Romance Query” or “YA Query.”
The queries are linked and organized by genre. I also highlighted each query letter’s strength with a subheading called, “point of interest.” This way, you can diagnose and treat bumpier moments in your queries.
- If you’ve got a complicated plot to fit into the space of one paragraph, look below for a linked example.
- If your bio is lackluster, there are query examples below with stunning biography segments.
- If you received a personalized rejection from an agent two years ago, and you want to try again with the same agent after substantial revisions, there’s a query for that, too.
- Confused about how to include comp titles? Look below!
Boiling your novel down to just a few compelling sentences is tough. But do not fret, future query writers. Bookfox has the solution for you.
Science Fiction Query Letters
Author: Jason M. Hough
Title: The Darwin Elevator
Point of interest: This query was sent to one agent one time, and that agent took on the project. Then the book became a bestseller. It helps that its 300 words read like sci-fi, thriller flash.
Dear Ms. Megibow,
From your profile on Publisher’s Marketplace, I see that we share a love for John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. I am contacting you for representation of my science fiction novel, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR. The manuscript is complete at 130,000 words, and can stand alone or become a series.
Skyler is immune to a disease that has wiped out most of humanity. Only one place on Earth is safe for those not immune: Darwin, Australia, where a space elevator of alien origin suppresses the disease. Trapped in the city, the ragged citizens of Darwin rely on food grown aboard orbiting space stations to survive. They rely on scavengers like Skyler for everything else.
With a small crew of fellow ‘immunes’, Skyler leads missions into the dangerous world beyond Darwin’s safe-zone, searching for the useful relics of old Earth. Spare parts, ammunition, books — for a price, Skyler will find it. When a reviled political leader hires him to retrieve information from a long-abandoned telescope, and smuggle the data to scientists living in orbit, Skyler is thrust into the middle of a conspiracy.
The telescope data proves another alien ship is approaching Earth. While trying to keep the discovery secret, Skyler’s employer sparks a bloody coup, led by a faction hell-bent on total control of the Darwin Elevator. As the uprising spirals into all-out war, and the alien ship nears Earth, Skyler must risk everything to protect a secret he barely understands.
I learned the art of creating fictional worlds while designing sci-fi video games, such as Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction and Metal Fatigue. These titles featured intricate stories and complex characters. I feel this experience, and my lifetime passion for the genre, has transferred well to the medium of the novel.
Author: Christopher Steinsvold
Title: The Book of Ralph
Point of interest: Steinsvold has truly invented an original story: Extraterrestrials deliver a dark warning to the White House while also demonstrating their obsession with pop art icon, Andy Warhol… It’s hard to ignore this query.
A message appears on the moon. It is legible from Earth, and almost no one knows how it was created. Markus West leads the government’s investigation to find the creator.
The message is simple and familiar. But those three words, written in blazing crimson letters on the lunar surface, will foster the strangest revolution humankind has ever endured, and make Markus West wish he was never involved.
The message is ‘Drink Diet Coke.’
When Coca-Cola denies responsibility, mass annoyance becomes worldwide indignation. And when his investigation confirms Coca-Cola’s innocence, Markus West becomes one of the most hated men on Earth.
Later, five miles above the White House, a cylinder is discovered floating in the night. It is 400 feet tall, 250 feet in diameter, and exactly resembles a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup. Nearly everyone thinks the cylinder is a promotional stunt gone wrong, just like the lunar advertisement. And this is exactly what the alien in the cylinder wants people to think.
Ralph, an eccentric extraterrestrial who’s been hiding on the moon, needs Markus’s help to personally deliver a dark warning to the White House. Ralph has a big heart, a fetish for Andy Warhol, and a dangerous plan to save the world.
At 78,000 words, THE BOOK OF RALPH is an uncanny adventure of upmarket fiction. It uses humor, philosophy, and an alien invasion to explore the down to Earth concept of humility.
Author: Valerie Valdes
Title: Chilling Effect
Point of interest: This voice-driven query clenches agent attention immediately with its code switching from Spanish to English, and it features an intergalactic heroine with conflicts galore: a hoard of psychic cats, ransom debts, and romantic feelings (wanted and unwanted).
In space, no one can hear you cagando en la mierda.
Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy agency that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva struggles through one unpleasant, dangerous mission after another to pay the ransom debt. To make things worse, she’s stuck with a hold full of psychic cats, a fish-faced emperor wants her dead for rejecting his advances, and her ship’s sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. Qué jodienda.
“Chilling Effect,” humorous science fiction that parodies pop culture and video games, is complete at 115,000 words but has series potential. My fiction is published in Nightmare Magazine and She Walks in Shadows, and I am a graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop.
Author: Michael Mammay
Point of interest: In his query, Mammay crafts an attention-grabbing protagonist: he’s a washed-up, whiskey drinking, desk-jockeying intergalactic colonel who uncovers a genetic conspiracy that spans the galaxy.
Colonel Carl Butler has won battles throughout the galaxy, but now rides out the end of his career at a desk with a bottle of whiskey in the drawer. When an old friend and boss calls with one last mission, Carl finds himself flying across the galaxy into the Cappan war zone in search of a politician’s missing son.
He reaches the military base orbiting the planet Cappa, but before he can even start his investigation someone tampers with critical surveillance data in a secure network and a key witness disappears. The career-oriented base commander seems more interested in damage control than helping out, and everyone Butler questions repeats the same rehearsed lies. When a superhuman assailant tries to end Carl’s investigation for good, the evidence points toward his supposed allies.
Butler’s boss pushes for a quick conclusion to the investigation, and with no leads the missing person, Butler leads a group of soldiers into the war zone planetside to find answers. There, Carl must risk his life to uncover a genetic conspiracy that could threaten the entire galaxy.
PLANETSIDE is an adult Science Fiction novel complete at 81,000 words. This is a stand-alone work with the potential for other books set in the same world.
Author: Mike Chen
Title: Here And Now And Then
Point of interest: Chen nails the comps paragraph, telling agents to think of his novel as, “The Time Traveler’s Wife as written by Nick Hornby with a dash of Torchwood.”
Kin Stewart thought parenting a teen couldn’t get any harder, but then he got separated from his daughter — by a century.
Before that, he was a normal family man, working and parenting teenage Miranda — a far cry from his old job as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142. Stranded in suburbia since the 1990s because of a botched mission, he’d spent the last 17 years thinking about soccer practices and family vacations instead of temporal fugitives.
But when his rescue team suddenly arrives, Kin is forced to abandon his family and return to 2142, where everyone — including his fiancee, who’s unaware of time travel — thinks he’s only been gone weeks, not years. Ordered to cut all contact with the past, Kin defies his superiors and attempts to raise his daughter from the future. Until one day he discovers that Miranda’s being erased from history…and it might be his fault.
With time running out, Miranda’s very existence depends upon Kin taking a final trip across time, no matter the cost. Break time-travel rules, tell his fiancee about Miranda and his secret family, even put his own life on the line; those are risks Kin will take because there’s only one thing more important than the past and the future: doing right by his daughter.
HERE AND NOW AND THEN (90,000 words) is science fiction for people who hate science fiction. An intimate character-driven look at how far people will go for the ones they love, I believe the blend of sci-fi elements and traditional themes can go beyond genre readers and into the mainstream. Think The Time Traveler’s Wife as written by Nick Hornby with a dash of Torchwood.
A lifelong writer, my published credits include contributions to Thirsty? San Francisco, Fox Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, NYTimes.com, Maple Street Press, and various local arts magazines. I also run a freelance writing business.
May I send you the complete manuscript? Or can my corgi (who is snoring at my feet right now) deliver the completed manuscript to your corgi?
Author: Ann Leckie
Title: Justice of Toren
Point of interest: This query wins agent’s attention by clearly describing the conflict: a protagonist, that once inhabited hundreds of bodies through artificial intelligence, must learn to inhabit just one body.
Once Breq had hundreds of bodies, her artificial intelligence animating a ship and thousands of ancillary units in the service of the Radch, the colonialist empire that built her.
That’s all gone. Destroyed. Now she has only a single, limited human body. And she has only one goal–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal, ruler of the Radch.
A long time ago, Seivarden had been a lieutenant on Justice of Toren, the ship Breq used to be. Now Seivarden is lying in the street on an icy backwater planet, naked and unconscious, battered into insensibility from months of too many drugs and too little food. Breq knows she should leave Seivarden to rot where she found her. Breq isn’t responsible for Seivarden, not anymore. Besides, Seivarden was never one of Breq’s favorite people.
But Breq can’t walk away, can’t abandon a former officer. Even though she knows that it’s a possibly fatal distraction from her one, true aim. Even though she knows that in the complex politics of the Radch, Seivarden would side with the faction that Breq implacably opposes. The faction that has already destroyed her once.
JUSTICE OF TOREN is a Cherryh-flavored space opera complete at 101,000 words.
I am a graduate of Clarion West. My short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, Subterranean Magazine, and three volumes of Rich Horton’s best of the year anthologies. I am also the editor of the webzine GigaNotoSaurus.
Author: Olivia Chadha
Title: Rise of the Red Hand
Point of interest: Chadha gives a perfect Twitter pitch, and then delivers her Twitter promises when agents requested a longer query for her sci-fi-fi novel.
I’m writing to you because of your #MSWL tweet about wanting to see more brown people in sci-fi. Perhaps my novel A GIRL WITHOUT will interest you. It’s an accessible YA sci-fi thriller set in a locale based on a future Mumbai, and would appeal to fans of Marie Lu, Cindy Pon, Marissa Meyer, and Axie Oh.
212 N.E., South Asian Province – Ashiva’s world is divided into those who will survive, and those who didn’t make the cut. Uplanders and Downlanders, those with freewill and those implanted with a neural-synch. Heat and disease have made it impossible to save the entire subcontinent. Most of the population has succumbed to rising sea levels. Because rations are in short supply, the Ministers of the Central District in the S.A. District relinquish control to a program, Solace, to make the hardest decisions. Solace’s algorithms decide who will live inside the city and who will be left to fend for themselves in the Unsanctioned Territories.
Ashiva is a cyborg smuggler who works for the Laal Haath, the Red Hand, a gang of revolutionaries. Her most important parcels are children discarded from the Uplanders. Kids who didn’t pass the tests, children like her. With her mentor and savior, Masiji, she helps rebuild them, care for them. Ashiva’s world turns upside down when her shanty town is emptied for the Fifth Pandemic by armed guardians who take all of the children to an off-site containment facility. Alone and desperate, Ashiva must work with a person she hates the most, an Uplander boy named Riz-Ali, to hack Solace and fight to free her family before it’s too late.
The novel is approximately 60,000 words and will be the first in a duology or a trilogy. I received a Ph.D. from Binghamton University’s creative writing program, and am an instructor at CU Boulder where I teach writing, graphic memoir, and mythology and fairy tales. I began my writing career with a stint in Los Angeles writing comic book scripts for Fathom Comics. BALANCE OF FRAGILE THINGS is my first novel, and some of my other works have appeared in Pinyon, Damselfly Press, and Every Day Fiction. I am an active member of SCBWI. I am first generation Punjabi Sikh/Latvian.
Author: Jeremy Szal
Title: The Rogue Galaxy
Point of interest: The stakes are clearly defined in two quick sentences: “He’ll have to decide between saving his sister and uncovering a terrible secret that’s been decades in the making. A secret he might just be part of.”
Accused mass murderer Kira Vijov used to be a respected Rogueman, enforcing the law across the Intergalactic Sprawl. Now, stripped of his rank, he’s just another exiled gun for hire and only his sister Ashby believes he didn’t massacre all those people. Still a Rogueman at heart, all Kira remembers is waking up inside an impenetrable vault among blood and bodies, with the memory of a colossal ship in the sky.
When that same ship appears on the other side of the galaxy and people start to vanish, including his sister, the Sprawl comes to Kira for help. He agrees to hunt down the killers who destroyed his life and took Ashby. But the locals make their own rules on the edge of the galaxy, and Kira is going to need dangerous allies to survive. Even if it means getting his hands dirtier than a Rogueman ever should. As the mystery unfolds and his past with it, Kira starts to question his own innocence. He’ll have to decide between saving his sister and uncovering a terrible secret that’s been decades in the making. A secret he might just be part of.
THE ROGUE GALAXY is 104,000 words and is SEVEN meets LEVIATHAN WAKES with a dash of MASS EFFECT. My dozens of fiction publications have appeared in Nature (Macmillan), Abyss & Apex, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and my nonfiction in Strange Horizons, Tor.com, and Lightspeed’s PoC Destroy SF. I’m the fiction editor of Hugo-winning podcast StarShipSofa where I’ve worked with George R. R. Martin, William Gibson, Joe Lansdale, among others. I’ve lived on three continents and have a BA in Film Studies and Creative Writing.
Author: Joseph Sidari
Title: Little Green Men
Point of interest: Sidari is masterful at creating memorable characters in the space of a query letter: A man with Tourette’s Syndrome unwittingly uncovers his emerging psychic abilities and teams up with a few other unlikely heroes (an over plasticized news anchor, his elderly, psychic landlady, and a tree hugging biology teacher) to save the world from the colonization of little green men.
Author: Toby Tate
Point of interest: This query sounds like the novel it represents; it’s a story, not a business memo.
Author: Christine Ellis
Title: Between Stars of Fire and Gold
Point of interest: Ellis shows how to illustrate sci-fi character arc within the confines of a query letter. Ellis’s protagonist evolves from ineffectual Martian to deadly cyborg in the space of just three paragraphs.
Author: JD Baker
Title: Horizon Falling
Point of interest: Baker’s biography paragraph, revealing his experience as a war veteran, adds credibility to his combat sci-fi story.
Fantasy Query Letters
Author: Adalyn Grace
Point of interest: Grace’s opening line pumps us full of anticipation:
Seventeen-year-old Analeigh Hampton would rather rip out her eyes than visit the Donor Center, the corporation that implanted them. But when she and her father are invited to stay at Donor as a publicity stuntfor his political campaign, there’s no way to escape. After all, everyone wants to see America’s once-blind sweetheart support thecorporation that granted her vision.
B24301, more commonly known as Black, is a donor. As he and his twin sister near their eighteenth birthday, they eagerly await their Dismissal: the promised life outside the Donor Center they’ve been prepping for since birth. They take classes to keep their minds active, eat well to protect their body, and go about life with the belief this will allow them to exist in the outside world. But Dismissal is only an illusion to keep the donors obedient. When a
donor turns eighteen, their body is chopped up and harvested for the next buyer. What no one on the Outside knows, however, is the donors are not the lab-grown specimens they’ve been led to believe. They’re human.
As Analeigh and Black meet and realize the dark truths of the Donor Center, Analeigh is left with a choice: ensure the Donor-dependent society remains healthy and thriving by keeping her mouth shut, or risk life as she knows it to protect her unsuspecting new friends.
Neal Shusterman’s UNWIND meets THE ISLAND in DONOR, a 77,000 word
young adult sci-fi.
I earned my BA in English Literature and studied storytelling as an intern on The Legend of Korra at Nickelodeon Animation. I also worked as the managing editor for a nonprofit newspaper while reviewing young adult ARCs for Little, Brown.
Author: Rhiannon Thomas
Title: A Wicked Thing
Point of interest: This query for a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty finds innovative ways into a new storyline; Aurora is a tradition-bucking princess who doesn’t exactly plan to play by the Kingdom’s rules after she wakes from her century-long nap.
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.
Author: Marissa Meyer
Point of interest: Meyer recasts Cinderella as a cyborg, putting a dystopian twist on the classic fairytale.
Dear Ms. Grinberg,
I’m seeking representation for Cinder, an 85,000-word futuristic young adult novel and a re-envisioning of the classic Cinderella story. I’m submitting to you because Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series was hugely inspirational in the writing of this novel, and I hope my futuristic world will capture your interest as well.
Sixteen-year-old Cinder is a cyborg, considered a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother. Being cyborg does have its benefits, though—Cinder’s brain interface has given her an uncanny ability to fix things (robots, hovers, her own malfunctioning parts), making her the best mechanic in New Beijing. This reputation brings the prince himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball. He jokingly calls it a matter of national security, but Cinder suspects it’s more serious than he’s letting on.
Although eager to impress the prince, Cinder’s intentions are derailed when her younger stepsister, and only human friend, is infected with the fatal plague that’s been devastating Earth for a decade. Blaming Cinder for her daughter’s illness, Cinder’s stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an “honor” that no one has survived.
But it doesn’t take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig. The surgeons who turned Cinder into a cyborg had been hiding something. Something valuable.
Something others would kill for.
I’ve had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (Cats Curious Press, 2007), and am a member of the Romance Writers of America. I hold an MS in Publishing and a BA in Creative Writing, emphasis on children’s literature. My bi-monthly writing newsletter reaches over 450 subscribers.
Author: Lisa Shearin
Title: Thief of Souls
Point of interest: Shearin infuses a modern, quirky voice into an intricate fantasy synopsis, creating a winning balance.
Dear Ms. Nelson,
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.
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?
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. 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. 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.
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. And when she tries to take the amulet off, the amulet tries to take her out. 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. I’m an editor at an advertising agency, with prior experience in corporate communications and marketing.
Author: Sam Hawke
Title: City of Lies
Point of interest: Hawke’s hook does its job with a nimble turn of phrase: “Protect the family. Preserve your honor. Guard your secrets. For two centuries, these rules have bound Jovan’s family; in a few short weeks, he will break them all.”
Dear [Excellent Agent]
Protect the family. Preserve your honour. Guard your secrets. For two centuries these rules have bound Jovan’s family; in a few short weeks, he will break them all.
Jovan wears two faces. To his peers he is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, Jovan is a ‘proofer’: a food taster trained by his uncle to protect the Chancellor’s family from poison and treachery. His duty defines his life and his loyalty to the Heir is absolute.
When his uncle and the Chancellor succumb to an unknown poison and a rebel army lays siege to the city, Jovan’s structured world unravels. Trapped and desperate, unsure whom to trust, he must protect the Heir from both threats. But as he hunts the poisoner, Jovan discovers his country has two faces as well; behind the beauty and sophistication is an ugly past built on oppression. His enemies aren’t who he thought they were, and a traitor on the Council is manipulating them all.
Betrayed by the Chancellor and the Council, the rebels reject attempts to broker peace, leaving Jovan in an impossible position. Defeating the rebels means perpetuating a terrible injustice, but if the city falls he may lose the things he’s always valued most — family, honour, and his only real friend.
PROOF is a fantasy novel of 160,000 words.
Influenced by my early diet of classic fantasy and old spy thrillers, I have always loved both the transportive nature of fantasy and the tension of a good mystery. PROOF is aimed at readers who enjoy novels which combine elements of these genres, such as Robert Jackson Bennett’s CITY OF STAIRS.
Author: Scott Hawkins
Title: The Library at Mt. Char
Point of interest: After a two-year hiatus and a personalized rejection from this agent, Hawkins shows us how to query again.
A couple of years ago I queried you about Blacktail, a dark fantasy about wolves. You passed, but included a nice note asking me to query you on my next project. I really appreciated the encouragement, so you’re the very first agent I’m approaching with my latest.
The Library at Mt. Char (125,000 words) is a dark fantasy set in the modern world.
Once, when they were small, Carolyn wondered out loud if the man she and the other librarians called ‘Father’ might secretly be God? She was kidding—well, mostly—but no one laughed. By then they had all seen things.
Father sometimes raised the dead. He could call light out of darkness. Twenty thousand years ago he crumbled a mountain range to dust with a single word.
Surely such a man cannot be killed?
Perhaps not. But as Father’s absence stretches out–first weeks, then months and now seasons–it is clear that something is wrong. The sun is missing. Tigers speak now in human voices. Tonight CNN will air a special report on why you must never, ever touch the silver things that slither down the interstates toward the lights of the city.
But these are just distractions. If God truly is dead, the only thing in all of creation that matters is who will inherit His library.
It might be any of them.
David is fierce. Margaret cannot be killed—at least, not for very long. Rachel’s ghost children can whisper any secret ever kept into her ear, if only she thinks to ask. Michael speaks to the forest and, sometimes, it speaks back. Alone or in alliance any of them could seize Father’s Library and, with it, absolute power over all creation.
Carolyn has considered all of this. She herself was taught no such tricks.
But Carolyn is very clever.
I live in Atlanta with my wife, seven dogs (really) and one nervous cat. My day job is software engineering at [Company]. I’ve published five computer books and a couple of articles. I’m a graduate of the Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox writing workshops. Mt. Char is my fourth novel.
Author: Scott Drakeford
Point of interest: Drakeford aptly characterizes his fantasy protagonist in one line: “Emrael Ire is a young man of many ambitions, despite being so poor that his boots are more hole than leather.”
Dear [Favorite Agent],
[Insert paragraph personalized for each specific agent. If you can’t put your reason for querying that individual into words, I wouldn’t bother querying them. For Matt, I mentioned that I met him at a convention and that I had done homework on his work with other authors and appreciated his work on their behalf.] Please consider my fantasy novel IRE, complete at 162,000 words:
Emrael Ire is a young man of many ambitions, despite being so poor that his boots are more hole than leather. He and his genius brother Ban work hard to build themselves a better life at the Citadel, a school that teaches Infusion crafting and military arts. Emrael may lack his brother’s ability with Infusion crafting, but that doesn’t stop him from finding a way to succeed as the most dangerous warrior in the school.
He is well on his way to earning the title of Master of War and the inevitable wealth it commands when the power hungry Lord Governor of a neighboring Province attacks the Citadel. Emrael narrowly escapes, but Ban and other Citadel students are captured and enslaved for their talent as Infusion crafters. A desperate struggle to rescue Ban turns into a conflict that threatens to tear Emrael’s world apart.
IRE is the tale of a man who will stop at nothing to protect his family and achieve his dreams, even when suspiciously coordinated disasters leave Emrael with no choice but to try to save his brother on his own – no matter the price.
IRE will appeal to lovers of fast-paced fantasy series like The Dresden Files and The First Law. It is the first novel for which I am seeking publication, and I am currently working on the next book in the series.
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Title: The Night Circus
Point of interest: Morgenstern reels in agents by showcasing the mysterious, mesmerizing circus tents she built in her debut novel.
One tent holds dozens of acrobats suspended high above their audience, performing extraordinary feats with a distinct lack of safety nets. Another contains a garden made entirely of ice. A third is piled with jars full of stories that can be inhaled like perfume. There are countless tents, each striped in black and white. There is no color to be seen in this circus, and it is only open at night.
Welcome to le Cirque des Rêves.
Created in 1884 by theatrical producer Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre and a team of singularly talented associates, le Cirque des Rêves is something more than just a show. It is an immersive entertainment experience. But as the years go by and the circus travels from country to country, it begins to take on a life of its own. There are tents that do not appear on any of the original blueprints. There are wonders to be seen that cannot possibly be illusions or tricks of the light. None of the performers save for the twins born on opening night seem to age.
And even Chandresh himself is not certain who, exactly, is pulling the strings.
THE NIGHT CIRCUS is a literary fantasy dusted with mystery. It chronicles twenty years of the history of the circus in a series of vignettes, interspersed with a second-person tour through the circus itself. The circus is best experienced firsthand, after all. It is complete at 90,000 words.
Author: Michelle Ruiz Keil
Title: All of Us with Wings
Point of interest: Keil uses terminology from an agent’s blog as a calling card, and her “myth punk” novel lands the agent.
Author: Alythia Brown
Title: Heartbreaker for Hire
Point of interest: Brown’s opening line sets the momentum for her query: “Twenty-year-old Kaia Featherfoot is a professional heartbreaker.”
Author: James Pray
Title: Winds of a Lost Winter
Point of interest: Pray writes a compelling query letter to an agent who is looking for novels focused on the past’s effect on the present. There are plagues. And land yachts!
Author: Sunyi Dean
Point of interest: Dean’s query harnesses the power of contrast.
Author: Noah Beit-Aharon
Title: The Kingmakers
Point of interest: Beit-Aharon’s characters clenched it for me: a prince whose kingdom is against him and a soldier who cannot lie or break promises.
Author: Gina X. Grant
Title: Scythe Does Matter
Point of interest: Grant’s synopsis paragraphs are a quirky interpretation of Dante’s Inferno. The following correspondence, with agents and publishers, is also worth a look.
Thriller Query Letters
Author: Andrea Bartz
Title: The Lost Night
Point of interest: Bartz slays the thriller synopsis, leaving agents with the perfect measure of anticipation and interest.
Dear Ms. Machinist,
Based on your interest in Gillian-Flynn- and Megan-Abbott-esque suspense, I’m excited to share with you my character-driven psychological thriller, THE LOST NIGHT.
Lindsay is content with her life: She has a solid magazine job, a devoted best friend, and her own Brooklyn apartment, complete with a fully stocked (and frequently used) liquor cabinet. She’s certainly moved on from the bizarre night ten years earlier when she got blackout drunk and her frenemy, Edie, committed suicide. Until Lindsay discovers an unsettling video that forces her to ask if Edie was actually murdered—and if Lindsay herself was involved. As she races to untangle what really happened, Lindsay must face the demons of her own violent history—and bring the truth to light before she, too, suffers Edie’s fate.
THE LOST NIGHT is THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN meets HBO’s GIRLS, a 95,000-word literary mystery that explores friendship, identity, and obsession against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s raw and ever-changing Bushwick neighborhood.
I’m a Brooklyn-based journalist and co-author of the blog-turned-book STUFF HIPSTERS HATE (Ulysses Press, 2010), which The New Yorker called “depressingly astute.” My work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Martha Stewart Living, Redbook, Elle, and many other outlets, and I’ve held editorial positions at Glamour, Psychology Today, and Self, among other titles.
Author: Stephanie Worbel
Title: Mother May I
Point of interest: Worbel writes a compelling (but snappy) thriller query about a volatile mother-daughter duo. And, she leaves readers dangling with a tantalizing phrase: “Only one Watts can get her way.”
Dear [Agent’s First Name, Last Name],
Rose Gold Watts believed she was sick for eighteen years. She thought she needed the feeding tube, the surgeries, the wheelchair.
Turns out her mom, Patty, is a really good liar.
After five years in prison, Patty gets out. Mother and daughter agree to move in together and let go of old grievances. Patty says all she wants is to reconcile with Rose Gold and care for her infant grandson.
But Rose Gold knows her mother. She won’t rest until she has Rose Gold back under her thumb. Which is a smidge inconvenient, because Rose Gold wants to be free of Patty forever.
Only one Watts can get her way.
MOTHER MAY I (87,000 words) is a suspense novel told from both Patty’s and Rose Gold’s points of view, in two timelines. My book would appeal to readers of Ali Land’s GOOD ME, BAD ME and Gillian Flynn’s SHARP OBJECTS, if the story were told from Amma’s and Adora’s points of view.
My short fiction has been published in Bellevue Literary Review and was nominated for the 2018 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. I’m an MFA Candidate at Emerson College.
Author: Adam Sass
Title: Surrender Your Sons
Point of interest: Sass shows us how to query again after massive revisions. On his second try, with this compelling story about conversion camps and hate crime cover ups, Sass lands his agent.
Author: Libby Cudmore
Title: The Big Rewind
Point of interest: The pitch lines of this query capture the clever premise of The Big Rewind: a murder mystery solved through clues in a mixed tape.
Author: Nikki Stuckwisch
Point of interest: It’s a concise thriller query beginning with this zinger: Blood spills all the time in the ER — but usually not the doctor’s.
Author: Layne Fargo
Point of interest: From Fargo’s query, it’s clear strong characters drive the plot of this thriller about a megalomaniac theatre director and his leading ladies.
Author: Dan Lawton
Title: Plum Springs
Point of interest: In this query, Lawton shows us how to build interesting characters from the get-go. Agents are left desperate to know how two boys under 10 survive in the Kentucky wilderness.
Crime and Mystery Query Letters
Author: Kristi Belcamino
Title: Blessed are Those Who Mourn
Point of interest: Belcamino provides a stunning example of how to use real-life experience to inform your work. Belcamino’s former job as a crime reporter, heavily embedded in a murder case, makes her the perfect person to write a crime series about a serial killer.
Dear Ms. Glick,
I am seeking representation for my crime fiction novel, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD. This novel was inspired by a story I covered as a crime reporter and my own efforts to get a serial killer to confess to taking and killing a little girl. When the man died in prison two years ago, I was called for a comment, so I guess I’m considered an “expert” on him now.
Gabriella Giovanni has never met a man more exciting than a murder.
Her big Italian-American family can’t understand why Gabriella chooses her adrenaline-pumping career as a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter over being married with little bambinos running around. Instead, Gabriella spends her days flitting in and out of other people’s nightmares and then walking away unscathed, like a teenager exiting the haunted house at the fair. That’s partly because for twenty years Gabriella’s managed to avoid confronting her own dark childhood memories: her sister’s kidnapping and murder.
That changes when a little girl disappears on the way to the school bus stop.
Gabriella’s quest for justice and a front-page story leads her to a convicted kidnapper who reels her in with tales of his exploits as a longtime serial killer and his promises to reveal his secrets to her alone. Editors warn Gabriella she is in danger of losing her job when the biggest newspaper in town keeps scooping her on the story. Believing that the fate of her beloved job and solving the mystery of her sister’s disappearance both lie in the hands of a serial killer, Gabriella risks her life to meet him when he is sprung from jail on a technicality.
The novel is complete at 88,000 words and took first place in the mystery category of The 2011 Sandy Writing Contest. The final judge, an editor at Simon and Schuster, said this about it:
“I liked Gabriella and wanted to spend time with her. I also thought the author did a good job establishing character, plot, AND building suspense within a short period of time. This reminded me of Sue Grafton or Jan Burke.”
I am a member of Sisters in Crime, polished my manuscript in a master class on the novel at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, and am involved in three writing critique groups. I am a freelance writer and maintain two blogs.
Author: Karen Swartz MacInerney
Title: Murder on the Rocks
Point of interest: MacInerney’s cozy mystery query uses active verbs to make the blurb for Murder on the Rocks come alive.
Dear Ms. Faust,
I enjoyed meeting you at the conference in Austin this past weekend. As I mentioned, I have had my eye on BookEnds for quite some time; when I discovered you would be at the conference, I knew I had to attend. We met during the final pitch session and discussed how the series I am working on might fit in with your current line of mystery series. Per your request, I have enclosed a synopsis and first three chapters of Murder on the Rocks, and 80,000-word cozy mystery that was a finalist in this year’s Writers’ League of Texas manuscript contest and includes several bed-and-breakfast recipes.
Thirty-eight-year-old Natalie Barnes has quit her job, sold her house and gambled everything she has on the Gray Whale Inn on Cranberry Island, Maine. But she’s barely fired up the stove when portly developer Bernard Katz rolls into town and starts mowing through her morning glory muffins. Natalie needs the booking, but Katz is hard to stomach—especially when he unveils his plan to build an oversized golf resort on top of the endangered tern colony next door. When the town board approves the new development not only do the terns face extinction, but Natalie’s Inn might just follow along. Just when Natalie thinks she can’t face more trouble, she discovers Katz’s body at the base of the cliff and becomes the number one suspect in the police’s search for a murderer. If Natalie doesn’t find the killer fast she stands to lose everything—maybe even her life.
I am a former pubic relations writer, a graduate of Rice University, a member of the Writers’ League of Texas, and founder of the Austin Mystery Writers critique group. I have spent many summers in fishing communities in Maine and Newfoundland, and escape to Maine as often as possible. The second Gray Whale Inn mystery, Dead and Berried, is currently in the computer.
Author: Rochelle Staab
Title: Hollywood Hoodoo
Point of interest: This voodoo-mystery query is as short as a query can be! But, that’s what Staab’s agent liked about it. Concision is key!
Dear Ms. Witthohn,
I am pleased to submit for your consideration, Hollywood Hoodoo, a witty murder mystery with a voodoo curse, set in contemporary Los Angeles. It’s complete at 71,000 words.
In Hollywood Hoodoo, mysterious tarot cards, a cursed voodoo spell book, and the falsely accused team of L.A. Clinical Psychologist Liz Cooper and Religious Philosophy Professor Nick Garfield come together in the hunt for the real killer of a voodoo initiate.
Hollywood Hoodoo is the first of a series of supernatural themed murder mysteries, featuring Liz—the pragmatic shrink, and Nick—the broad-minded occult expert.
My professional background includes Top 40 radio station programming and 28 years of executive marketing positions at Warner Bros. Records where I remain a consultant. Writing one-line headlines is fun. Writing novels is bliss. [Some personal info here was removed.]
I’m a member of MWA, RWA, SinC, and KOD. Hollywood Hoodoo has been submitted in the 2010 RWA Golden Heart contest. I understand the value of marketing and am motivated and ready to focus my efforts.
Author: Melissa Bourbon
Title: Living the Vida Lola
Point of interest: This no-frills query about a burgeoning, female PI garnered a ton of page requests.
Dolores Cruz is willing to risk all in order to become a detective.
After a year and a half as an underling at Camacho and Associates, Lola is finally assigned her first big case: solving the mysterious disappearance of Emily Diggs. But will she be able to handle it with all the distractions facing her? As if the shifts at her family’s Mexican restaurant and her cousin’s quinceañera aren’t enough, her brother’s old high school friend Jack Callaghan is back in town—demanding her attention.
When Emily turns up dead in the Sacramento River, the pressure’s on to find the killer. Lola’s search for answers turns deadly when she becomes the killer’s next target.
Living the Vida Lola, A Lola PI Novel is the first book in a Latina Chick Lit Mystery series. The second installment, Dead Girl Walking, is also complete. The third book in the series, Bare Naked Ladies, is in process.
I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English at the University of California, Davis and am a former middle school Language Arts teacher. I am a member of RWA and have published a children’s book entitled The Flight of the Sunflower. I was previously represented by Agent X of the Agent X Literary Agency, however she has gone into semi-retirement thus I am seeking new representation.
Author: Judith Gonda
Title: Fright On
Point of interest: Gonda demonstrates how to follow up on an agent’s interest in her brilliant Twitter pitch (also in the opening lines of her formal query):
Dear Mrs. Dowdle,
Thank you for starring my #PitMad pitch yesterday on Twitter: LAPD volunteer sets out to clear her dean husband when he’s accused of murder but the trail leads back to him GONE GIRL+CASTLE #PitMad #A #M.
Anxiety-prone psychologist Kendra Madison thinks she has the perfect plan to combat her midlife crisis. The pun-loving empty nester volunteers for LAPD’s Crisis Response Team so she can help victims at crime scenes while at the same time gather material for her mystery novel—all from the safety of the sidelines. But when a terrorist’s car bomb explodes right after she drops off her hot-tempered husband Mark, a USC dean, at LAX, so does her plan for avoiding danger.
While Mark is safe, Kendra’s relief soon turns to horror when she learns he’s arrested for the murder of another USC dean killed in the explosion. With Mark claiming a set-up and the authorities convinced of his guilt, Kendra sets out to find the real killer. Clues lead her to uncover an apparent terrorist plot, academic intrigue, and secret love triangles. Plus, she finds no one is who he or she appears to be, including her husband. As Kendra gets closer to finding the truth, the body count grows. And so does her dread. She fears for her own safety, but she also fears Mark might be the real killer.
FRIGHT ON (the title is a play on USC’s slogan: Fight on!) is a mystery set in Los Angeles. It is the first book in a planned series of academic mysteries featuring the Pac-12 Athletic Conference and is inspired by Pamela Thomas-Graham’s Ivy League Mystery series. I am currently plotting the second book in the series, TROUBLE BRUIN, featuring UCLA. Readers who enjoy Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone mysteries and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels might also like Kendra Madison mysteries.
My professional background includes academia and litigation consulting. My PhD in educational psychology with an emphasis on adult development and aging is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While at USC I worked as a postdoctoral fellow, a research associate, and an instructor. I’ve published in both academic journals and professional legal magazines. And like Kendra, I’m married to a former USC dean.
I’ve taken several courses at UCLA Extension Writer’s Program and I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and Guppies.
FRIGHT ON is first person POV, has diverse characters, and is complete at 73,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request.
Humorous Fiction Query Letters
Author: Ramsey Hootman
Title: Courting Greta
Point of interest: Hootman’s brand of humor shines through his query with phrases like: “This is not a romance” and “Greta is no beauty – not even on the inside.”
This is not a romance.
Samuel is no alpha male, or even a beta. He’s the cripple with crutches; the nerdy programmer every woman on the planet feels compelled to mother.
Greta is no beauty – not even on the inside. She’s the bitter, sarcastic gym coach with two bad knees and no sense of humor. The teacher no kid would dare mock. At least not within hearing.
This is barely even a love story.
Samuel only asks Greta out to prove he’s got the guts. When she accepts, he’s out of his depth. All he knows is that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her as long as he can. Pretend he’s got his class under control? Easy. Attend sporting events? Sure. Humiliate himself in front of six hundred teenagers? Uh… yeah. No problem.
Be vulnerable enough to admit why he ditched his programming career for teaching? Um, no. That would require honesty. And if there’s one thing Samuel can’t exist without, it’s the lies he tells himself.
Courting Greta, complete at 116,000 words, is set in the California wine-country town of Healdsburg, where the mistakes you make as a teenager follow you to your grave. It is a book about what happens when two people who don’t believe in romance give love half a chance. It is about sports and disability and, most of all, the freedom that comes with letting go of every single last scrap of pride.
Author: Scott G. Browne
Point of interest: Browne shows how to market a story in a saturated market, take zombies for instance…
Dear Michelle Brower:
“I spent two days in a cage at the SPCA until my parents finally came to pick me up. The stigma of bringing your undead son home to live with you can wreak havoc on your social status, so I can’t exactly blame my parents for not rushing out to claim me. But one more day and I would have been donated to a research facility.”
Andy Warner is a zombie.
After reanimating from a car accident that killed his wife, Andy is resented by his parents, abandoned by his friends, and vilified by society. Seeking comfort and camaraderie in Undead Anonymous, a support group for zombies, Andy finds kindred souls in Rita, a recent suicide who has a taste for consuming formaldehyde in cosmetic products, and Jerry, a twenty-one-year-old car crash victim with an artistic flair for Renaissance pornography.
With the help of his new friends and a rogue zombie named Ray, Andy embarks on a journey of personal freedom and self-discovery that will take him from his own casket to the SPCA to a media-driven, class-action lawsuit for the civil rights of all zombies. And along the way, he’ll even devour a few Breathers.
Breathers is a contemporary dark comedy about life, or undeath, through the eyes of an ordinary zombie. In addition to Breathers, I’ve written three other novels and more than four dozen short stories – a dozen of which have appeared in small press publications. Currently, I’m working on my fifth novel, also a dark comedy, about Fate.
Author: Angie Fox Gwinner
Title: The Accidental Demon Slayer
Point of interest: Here, an agent forgives lengthy paragraphs because Gwinner’s voice is so hilarious, and her story idea is compelling:
Dear Ms. Faust,
Straight-laced preschool teacher, Lizzie Brown, never lies, never cusses, and doesn’t really care much for surprises. When her long lost Grandma Gertie shows up on her doorstep riding a neon pink Harley Davidson wearing a “kiss my asphalt” t-shirt and hauling a carpet bag full of Smuckers jars filled with road kill magic, Lizzie doesn’t think her life could get any stranger. That is, until her hyper-active terrier starts talking and an ancient demon decides to kill her from his perch on the back of her toilet.
Lizzie learns she’s a demon slayer, fated to square off with the devil’s top minion in, oh about two weeks. Sadly, she’s untrained, unfit and under attack. Grandma’s gang of fifty-something biker witches promises to whip Lizzie into shape, as long as she joins them out on the road. But Lizzie wants nothing to do with all this craziness. She simply wants her normal life back. When she accidentally botches the spell meant to protect her, she only has one choice – trust the utterly delicious but secretive man who claims to be her protector.
Dimitri Kallinikos has had enough. Cursed by a demon centuries ago, his formerly prominent clan has dwindled down to himself and his younger twin sisters, both of whom are now in the coma that precedes certain death. To break the curse, he must kill the demon behind it. Dimitri needs a slayer. At long last, he’s found Lizzie. But how do you talk a girl you’ve never met into going straight to Hell? Lie (and hope she forgives you). Dimitri decides to pass himself off as Lizzie’s fated protector in order to gain her trust and guide her towards this crucial mission. But will his choice to deceive her cost them their lives, or simply their hearts?
The Accidental Demon Slayer is an 85,000 word humorous paranormal. I’m a member of RWA and the partial manuscript placed first in the Windy City RWA’s Four Seasons contest. The judge for that contest, Leah Hultenschmidt of Dorchester Publishing, has just requested the full. As an advertising writer, I’ve won multiple awards for my work in radio dialogue.
Author: Sarah Pinneo
Title: Julia’s Child
Point of interest: Pinneo’s query has a humorous tone and a fresh conflict: what happens when a toddler mom starts an organic business designed to nourish tots, but she runs into every possible mompreneur obstacle possible?
Historical Fiction Query Letters
Author: Stacey Lee
Title: Under A Painted Sky
Point of interest: Tell the story your agent hasn’t heard: a Chinese girl fugitive disguises herself as a boy to escape her Missouri hometown (where she killed a man in self defense). She ends up on the Oregon Trail, on a quest for gold, and instead finds romance.
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.
Author: Richard Harvell
Title: The Bells
Point of interest: Harvell’s query opens with a quote — without sounding cheesy or trite. “God gave me everything I ever needed, except for that which He took away,” Il Svizzero—the last great castrato—writes this in 1806, when he is finally ready to tell the secrets of his life.”
Dear Mr. Lazar,
I have recently completed a historical novel, and read in several interviews that you enjoy historical fiction and distinct characters. I am hoping that you would find all this and more in my novel, THE BELLS.
“God gave me everything I ever needed, except for that which He took away,” Il Svizzero—the last great castrato—writes this in 1806, when he is finally ready to tell the secrets of his life. From his birth in a belfry high in the Alps to his appearance on Europe’s greatest stages., THE BELLS is the confession of a killer, a kidnapper, and a lover who had no right to love. It is the recollection of the boy with a supernatural sense of hearing—with ears that heard a deaf mother’s cries, the hateful gurgle of a father’s throat, and the beating of a lover’s heart.
History mixes with fantasy in the story of Il Svizzero’s life: from Uri, Switzerland to the Abbey of St. Gall and finally to Vienna, where, in 1762, he hides beneath the greatest stage in Europe for the premiere of Willibald Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice”—the opera that would change him and music forever.
Born and raised in New Hampshire, I live in Switzerland now, where I teach and write. In the past two years, I’ve published half a dozen stories in American literary journals, most recently in The Massachusetts Review (Fall 2007) and in artisan, a journal of craft (Winter 2007). I’m twenty-nine.
As you request on your PublishersMarketplace bio, the first five pages of THE BELLS appear below. The completed novel is 100,000 words and is ready to be sent at your request.
Author: Amanda Skenandore
Title: Aspen’s Way
Point of interest: Skenandore shows us how to follow up an in-person pitch with a stellar query letter. Here’s her query for Aspen’s Way, a historical tale of a wrongfully accused Ojibwe Indian.
It was a pleasure to meet you at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference. Not only did I learn a lot, but left steadfast and inspired. Thank you for sitting down with me to hear the pitch for my historical novel ASPEN’S WAY. I’ve attached the first thirty-five pages as you requested and included the query below. I look forward to hearing from you.
It’s 1906 and Askuwheteu, an Ojibwe Indian, stands trial for the murder of a white man. The shadows of Little Big Horn, Pine Ridge, and subsequent policy of forced assimilation loom over the courtroom. Alma Mitchell, a friend and former classmate of the defendant, travels hundreds of miles from her home to prove him innocent. Her fledgling investigation brings her face-to-face with the destructive legacy of the “savage-taming” boarding school run by her father that she once called home. To discover the truth behind her friend’s arrest, Alma must first reckon with the past; with love, racism, and betrayal; and with the seemingly impassable divide between their cultures.
Told in an interwoven narrative, ASPEN’S WAY is a work of upmarket historical fiction complete at 99,000 words. The story was a finalist in the 2014 Pitch Wars competition.
My short fiction appears in Writer’s Bloc IV (2012) and VI (2015) under the pen name A. R. Shenandoah. I am an officer in the Henderson Writers’ Group. My mother-in-law, a Lac Courte Oreille Ojibwe, sparked my interest in Native American history. Her struggles at an Indian boarding school in the 1950s and campaign to recognize the inherited trauma still haunting the Native American community are the genesis of my story.
Author: Caroline Woods
Title: Fraulein M.
Point of interest: This query tantalizes with generations of family secrets spurred by the Nuremberg Laws.
Dear Ms. Hassan,
I’m very impressed with your agency’s client list and would love to have you as my agent. Thank you for considering my historical novel, FRÄULEIN M., which I believe will appeal to fans of Jennifer Robson or Renée Rosen.
After the Nuremberg Laws pass in 1935, a young woman named Anita—the eponymous FRÄULEIN M.—flees Germany with three Jewish children, posing as their tutor.
Thirty-five years later a mysterious letter arrives for Anita at her South Carolina home, but it is intercepted by her teenage daughter, Janeen, who is pregnant and planning to run away with her draft-dodging boyfriend. Through the letter—and later, her mother’s memories—Janeen learns of Anita and Berni, free-spirited, androgynous cigarette sellers, as well as Grete, a hearing-impaired housemaid to a Nazi family, with whose son she forms a complicated bond. Janeen and Anita must navigate the past in order to heal their relationship in the present, and ultimately, after a former SS officer resurfaces in America, they must travel to find Grete in search of justice.
FRÄULEIN M. abounds with hidden identities and family secrets. With its vivid descriptions of Weimar cabaret culture and lush Southern landscapes, this novel is designed to attract readers of both literary and commercial fiction.
I teach fiction writing and freshman composition at Boston University and the Boston Conservatory, and I have an MFA in Creative Writing from BU. My fiction has been published in Slice Magazine (the editors of which nominated me for a Pushcart Prize), LEMON, and 236, BU Creative Writing’s Literary Journal. I also served as editor-in-chief of 236 for issues 3, 4, and 5. As a teenager I published a book of ghost stories, Haunted Delaware, which received praise as a self-publishing success story in The Village Voice, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. Haunted Delaware taught me a great deal about author-driven book promotion, which I look forward to doing with gusto throughout my career.
Author: Erin Lindsay McCabe
Title: There Will I Be Buried
Point of interest: McCabe gives agents a slice of her unmistakable voice in this successful query describing protagonist, Rosetta, a woman who disguises herself as a man to fight in the Civil War.
Dear Mr. Lazar:
Throughout the summer of 1861, Jeremiah Wakefield courts farm-girl Rosetta Edwards, his childhood friend. But when he comes to church one morning with a Union Army recruiting handbill, Rosetta is mad enough to kick shins. Instead, she demands he make her his widow if he plans to go off and die. After their honeymoon, Rosetta lights on an idea to stay together and earn more money to buy their dream farm. Ignoring Jeremiah’s objections and her own fears, Rosetta does a fool-headed thing, something no woman she knows would dare: she becomes Ross Stone. Marching alongside Jeremiah in the 97th New York State Volunteers, Rosetta struggles with being wife and soldier, liar and straight-shooter, daughter and disappointment. Then the battle of Antietam forces grief-stricken Rosetta to decide whether there is more freedom in remaining secret or becoming known, whether going home would sacrifice everything she’s dreamed or be the only way to hold onto it.
Inspired by true accounts of the more than 400 women who disguised as men and fought in the Civil War, There Will I Be Buried is 138,239 words of voice-driven historical fiction that is both tender love story and hard examination of war. While Rosetta would keep company with the likes of Mattie from Charles Portis’ True Grit, Ellen from Kaye Gibbons’ Ellen Foster, and Lydia from Molly Gloss’ The Jump-off Creek, she must answer for herself whether freedom can be gained through disguise and bloodshed, and if the resulting stain can ever be washed clean.
I completed an MFA at Saint Mary’s College of California in May 2010. In March 2010, I read an excerpt of There Will I Be Buried for the monthly San Francisco reading series Quiet Lightning. My short story “Interview with a Union Soldier, Recently Dead” was published in the September 2009 online issue of Hobart. There Will I Be Buried is my first novel. I have pasted the first five pages below. Upon your request I will happily send the complete manuscript.
Author: Jamie Ford
Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Point of interest: When a true story inspires historical fiction, magic follows. In the query for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, we see how to use personal details to grab an agent’s attention:
Author: Erin Popelka
Point of interest: Popelka’s historical, dystopian setting is beautifully rendered. Popelka paints a 1985 where, alongside Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and The Aids Epidemic, women are given the choice to remove their reproductive organs before puberty, thereby lessening their chance of incurring cancer later in life.
Author: M.W. Brooke
Title: Wax Engine Parade
Point of interest: Brooke explores what wasn’t clear in the past. This 90’s grunge band/road novel examines the complexities of queerness and mental illness in a decade when these identities were heavily stigmatized.
Author: Samuel Thomas
Title: Bloody Newes from York
Point of interest: Thomas’s successful query letter is full of conflict — accusations of murder, death sentences on burning stakes, knife fights in dark alleys — what else could go wrong for this group of midwifes in the 1644 city of York?
Literary Fiction Query Letters
Author: Erica Boyce
Title: The Fifteen Wonders of Daniel Green
Point of interest: Though Boyce’s novel has a complex cast of characters and an alternating point of view, she manages to deliver an easy-to-comprehend snapshot of the novel in three short paragraphs.
Dear Mr. Smith:
I’m seeking representation for my 82,000-word novel, Circles. It is an upmarket novel similar in tone and subject to Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. It’s very much based in reality, but with a speculative twist.
Daniel makes crop circles. As a member of a secret organization of circle makers, he travels across the country responding to requests from farmers and making strange works of art that leave communities awestruck and mystified. It is quiet, solitary work that he has enjoyed for several years, but after the death of his girlfriend and fellow circle-maker, his dedication is faltering. He’s hoping to get one last good project under his belt—his fifteenth circle, which will grant him special status in the group—before retiring to a more ordinary life.
But when Sam, a Vermont farmer who’s dying of cancer, hires Daniel in a last-ditch effort to bring publicity and new farmers to the town he loves, Daniel finds himself drawn into a family struggling to stitch itself back together before it’s too late. There’s Molly, Sam’s wife, who’s haunted by a mistake she made early in their marriage and the secrets she still keeps, including the dreams she’s shelved while caring for Sam. There’s Charlie, Sam’s son, who is estranged from his parents and the farming life and lives with his husband in California. And finally, there’s Nessa, Sam’s magnetic daughter, who wants nothing more than to bring Charlie home, but who has to grapple with her own mental illness in the meantime.
When Nessa convinces Daniel to join her in trying to get Charlie back, Daniel slowly begins to realize that life on his own may not be what he wants, after all. Written from three alternating perspectives, Circles is a story of loss, family, and community.
I began this novel as a Creative Writing and Environmental Studies student at Dartmouth College and recently completed it after a few years’ hiatus during which I earned a law degree and worked for a fishermen’s nonprofit. The lifestyles and struggles faced by farmers and fishermen are very similar, and I believe my time working closely with fishermen, as well as living with the same mental illness Nessa faces, makes me the right person to tell these characters’ stories.
Author: Alison Stine
Title: The Grower (Retitled Road out of Winter)
Point of interest: Stine teaches us how to infuse bio and make the story you wish to tell more credible.
Dear Eric Smith,
I’ve come to you through Twitter, where I’ve become a huge fan of your work and the work you champion. I’m a partially deaf, bisexual single mom in Appalachia. I have a new manuscript, and I wonder if you’d be interested in taking a look?
The book is called THE GROWER. It’s adult fiction, in the ilk of Edan Lepucki’s California, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and Emma Cline’s The Girls. Here’s a brief synopsis:
A woman marijuana farmer has to rescue a teen mom and her daughter from the leader of an anarchist skateboarding cult in a rural, West Virginia ravaged by climate change.
I’m the author of two books of fiction: The Protectors (Little A, 2016), an illustrated novella about graffiti artists in rural Appalachia, and Supervision (2015), which won the Digital First Contest from HarperVoyagerUK, as well as three books of poems, most recently Wait (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011). An NEA Fellow and former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, my writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, The Paris Review, Tin House, Poetry, The Toast, The Kenyon Review, and many others. I live with my young son in the rural, Ohio foothills of Appalachia, and work as a social justice reporter.
Author: Michele Young-Stone
Title: The Handbook for Lightening Strike Survivors
Point of interest: Young-Stone’s title immediately alerted agents to her inventive plot.
Dear Ms. Brower:
Please consider representing my novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.
A literary novel, The Handbook… spans nineteen years in the lives of the two main characters (Becca, born into privilege in 1969, and Buckley, born into poverty in 1959), and suggests that people, however disparate, are linked. The 400-page narrative encompasses multiple themes, but ultimately the book is a story of redemption.
Buckley, whose mother is struck dead by lightning, writes a nonfiction handbook, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, excerpts of which appear throughout the novel. Becca, a repeat lightning strike survivor, buys Buckley’s Handbook through an ad in the back pages of a magazine. Becca and Buckley, destined to collide, meet during a massive electrical storm where there is a surprising reversal of fortune.
Structurally, the novel tells Becca’s story, then Buckley’s—the tension mounting until the two meet.
I am a thirty-four year old MFA fiction graduate My screenplay Spotting Normal was a 2003 semi-finalist for the Chesterfield Writers Film Project Award and a 2004 finalist for the CineStory screenwriting award. My story “Cop Drag” was a finalist in the First Annual Lewis Nordan Fiction Contest sponsored by Algonquin Books. My second screenplay, Paint Spain With Bart, was a finalist in the 2006 Screenplay Festival Contest sponsored by InkTip. I am currently halfway through my second novel.
Author: Kim Hooper
Title: People Who Knew Me
Point of interest: Hooper’s query is a lesson in how to convey conflict without over-explaining elements of plot.
I am seeking representation for my novel, People Who Knew Me, and wanted to reach out to see if you’d be interested in taking a look.
On September 11, Emily Morris is lazing in the bed of her lover, playing hooky while he goes to work at the World Trade Center office they share. When the towers collapse–along with the affair she’s been using to escape her unhappy marriage–she sees an opportunity. By September 12, everyone in her life thinks she is dead. By the next week, she is living a new life in California, pregnant and alone.
People Who Knew Me weaves back and forth between the present–fourteen years after 9/11–and the past. When Emily is faced with a devastating diagnosis, she must revisit the past and make peace not just with those in her current life, but with the people who knew her in the life left behind.
I am a 34-year-old novelist residing in Southern California. After completing the Masters of Professional Writing program at USC, I went into a career in advertising, writing fiction in my off hours. I have been a contributor to DimeStories, was selected for the America’s Next Author anthology, and was a featured author at the West Hollywood Book Fair. You can learn more at: www.KimHooperWrites.com.
Author: Justin Kramon
Point of interest: Use it if ya got it: Justin Kramon has an MFA from Iowa Writer’s Workshop and references from established authors. These connections attracted Kramon’s agent because she knows he has blurbs and nominations in the bag. Also, his story pitch is interesting, too!
Author: Garth Stein
Title: The Art of Racing in the Rain
Point of interest: Stein’s query is a study on how to make an agent salivate over a novel others have rejected. Tenacity + demonstrated audience interest + clean copy = magic.
Author: Sean Ferrell
Point of interest: Ferrell delivers an ingenious one sentence summary of the novel. “In summary: Numb is a man who cannot feel physical pain.”
Author: Michael Landweber
Point of interest: Landweber lands an agent by describing a protagonist who hops into the consciousness of his younger self in an attempt to prevent a heinous crime.
Romance Query Letters
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Title: The Notebook
Point of interest: Sparks seamlessly pitches his novel while conveying its vast audience. The Notebook is an incendiary romance between two ordinary people who are later affected by the gutting tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease. How many people want romance? How many people are touched by dementia?
Dear Mr. or Ms. Agent,
I would like to introduce you to my second book and first novel entitled, The Notebook.
My first book, Wokini, in which I collaborated with Billy Mills, was published by Orion Books, a division of Random House in 1994. An inspirational work, it was characterized by Al Neuharth, a founder and former chairman of USA TODAY, as a “powerful picture of the meaning of life,” while Peter Ueberroth called it “overwhelming and insightful.” A moderate commercial success, by May 1995, it had sold over 56,000 copies.
This novel, The Notebook, is a love story inspired by two special people that recently passed away after sixty years of marriage. They were no one you would know, but there was a grand romance between them, an underlying passion and understanding that had taken a lifetime to develop. In this day and age, the unconditional love they felt for one another makes for a wonderful story, one that is all too rare and much too beautiful to let die without being told.
Like Romeo and Juliet or The Bridges of Madison County, however, all great love stories need tragedy and separation, as well as love, to fully touch the reader, and their story was no exception. Alzheimer’s became part of their lives during their final years together and my most vivid memories are those of my grandfather sitting by a bedside and reading to his wife of sixty years, a woman who no longer remembered him. Seeing them this way nearly broke my heart, but never once did he bemoan his plight. “In my mind,” he used to tell me, “she’s the young woman I married long ago and nothing will ever change that.” This story is their story, a story of love, the most faithful love I’ve ever seen.
The Notebook is a tender novel set in the Deep South, a love story written in lyric prose. Like most Southern novels, The Notebook envelopes all that is special about the region and its people: tradition, loyalty, kindness, love and remembrance. Yet this novel stands alone in two important ways. First, it is one of the few passionate stories written about the elderly and it reveals a rare but dignified portrait of a couple struggling with the ultimate reality that their lives will be ending soon. Even more importantly however, The Notebook is the first novel that describes the heart-wrenching effects of Alzheimer’s disease on two people who had loved each other all their lives. The result is a moving eulogy to old age itself—a story of love and grief that pretty much sums up the notable context of most people’s lives.
As a young writer in the South, I am looking for an agent based in New York City. Your experience as a lawyer is very impressive, and it would be an honor to work with you on this novel.
I have included a brief synopsis and biography for your review. The novel is 52,000 words and fully complete. May I send you a copy of the completed manuscript?
P.S. Because 22% of the people in this country (40+ million) are over 52 years old and 4.5 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s, this book is unique and marketable to a wide audience. In addition, at 52,000 words, it is short enough not to be cost-prohibitive to most publishing houses.
Author: William S. Kirby
Point of interest: A year after writing his romance-with-a-murder-twist query, Kirby re-read his query; he says his voice is the reason his query was picked from the pile.
Elite fashion model Justine Am has more than anyone could want. She has delusions that wooden manikins are moving. She has a murdered boyfriend in the bathroom. She has a one night stand with a gawky savant named Vienna. You know it’s bad news when lifeless lovers and shifting statues aren’t as disturbing as who you wake up next to.
As for Vienna, life is looking up. After years spent in a haze of eidetic memory, she has found someone who will actually talk to her. True, Justine is a lying, self-centered harlot, but you have to make allowances for Americans. That is, until everyone around them starts dying.
VIENNA is my new romantic mystery, running 80,000 words. The story traces a series of murders set off by a lost heirloom of the Habsburg Empire. Moving through Brussels, London, Reykjavik, and Vienna, Justine Am races to uncover a secret that leaves her unscathed while killing those around her. Her accidental companion, Vienna, appears to be little more than a collection of tantrums and tangles. Not worth losing sleep over, or so Justine tells herself as midnight slips by. Vienna may be faster to the truth than Justine, assuming she can derail her chaotic thought patterns long enough to jury-rig a coherent picture of reality. How fortunate that Justine Am is annoying enough to sidetrack a typhoon.
Author: Allie Therin
Point of interest: Pay attention to Therin’s quick-and-dirty three sentence synopsis and the opener pinging her agent’s twitter activity.
Thank you for taking the time to read and like my #CarinaPitch tweet! I’m excited to query you with my adult historical fantasy male/male romance, SPELLBOUND (68,000 words). I hope you find it matches many items on your wishlist, including an opposites-attract couple with a virgin hero in an intricate fantasy world.
It’s 1925 in Prohibition-ruled Manhattan and Rory Brodigan is hiding in Hell’s Kitchen. Afraid his volatile power to see objects’ histories will trap his mind in someone else’s past—or worse, his own past might find him—Rory isolates himself as he scrapes out a living in a fake antiques appraisal shop. At least, until the big timer with the rush job shows up.
Seven years ago, Arthur Kenzie was an Ivy League quarterback who quit to enlist in the Great War. Now he still protects the world, recovering dangerous magical relics before they fall into the wrong hands. It’s risky business for magic-less Arthur, but at least it keeps him abroad where his illegal attraction to men can’t hurt his political family. Except now he’s back in New York, chasing a lead: an antiques shop in Hell’s Kitchen with suspiciously accurate appraisals.
It’s a rocky start when mistaken identity leads Arthur to trigger Rory’s magic in a Harlem speakeasy. But when a mysterious relic that controls the tide arrives in the Port of New York, Arthur will need Rory’s help to steal it before it’s sold to a telepathic German baron who will weaponize it. Facing Rory’s unpredictable magic and Arthur’s treacherous enemies, they must find a way to save each other, because it’s going to take them both to save Manhattan.
SPELLBOUND is a standalone novel with series potential. The novel’s diverse cast includes half-Italian Rory, an immigrant’s son navigating the charged politics of the Twenties. Of mixed Latinx-American heritage and a first-generation American myself, I currently work as an attorney.
Author: Jana DeLeon
Title: Rumble on the Bayou
Point of interest: DeLeon snags an agent by writing a query where external conflict builds on romantic conflict (both of which involve steamy DEA Agent, Richard Starke).
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.
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. 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.
Rumble on the Bayou is a humorous look at what happens when big city crime visits small town mentality. It received an Honorable Mention in the 2004 Daphne du Maurier contest and second place in the 2004 TARA First Impressions Contest.
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.
Author: Sherry Thomas
Title: Schemes of Love
Point of interest: Thomas secures her agent with this line: “Gigi has petitioned for divorce in order to remarry. Camden returns to England and sets the condition for her freedom: an heir.”
Dear Ms. Nelson,
I’m a faithful reader of your blog. I admire your enthusiasm, your humor, and your candor. 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.
Gigi’s marriage is doomed from the moment she decides that she must have Camden, by fair means or foul. 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.
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. She wants a divorce. He wants a child. Despite the years and the sea of bad blood, the physical attraction between them remains as ferocious as ever. 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.
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. 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.
Schemes of Love recently placed first in its category at the Merritt Contest, organized by San Antonio Romance AuthorsChris Keeslar at Dorchester has requested the full. 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.
Author: Courtney Milan
Title: Proof by Seduction
Point of interest: This agent cannot resist Milan’s neatly explained conflict, wit, and hint at a few sexy moments… “But she enrages him. She tempts him.”
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. It works–until Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, vows to prove what he and Jenny both know: that Jenny is a fraud.
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. 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
I am a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart competition for unpublished romance.
I currently work as a lawyer. 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.
Author: Laura Heffernan
Title: I was a Summer Reality Star
Point of interest: Heffernan shows how to illustrate stakes in this line from her query: “When Jen discovers that she’s on the verge of elimination, she must decide whether to sacrifice the money, her chance at love, or herself.”
Life after college isn’t as advertised: Jen’s low-paying job is uninspiring, her apartment is tiny, and her boyfriend works all the time. When she finds an ad seeking intelligent, adventurous 21-25 year-olds for a new competition-based reality show, Jen is ready for the challenge.
Things go quickly downhill when Jen’s apartment building converts to condominiums, her employer lays off her department, and she meets the wife she didn’t know her boyfriend had. With little to keep her home, Jen leaps into the competition, solving puzzles, exploring mazes, and having the time of her life. Things change when Jen finds herself embroiled in a love triangle, battling another woman for the attention of fellow contestant Justin. As the show progresses, she struggles to win viewer votes while trying to tell what’s real and what’s part of the show. It’s a tricky balancing act, and one that’s hard to manage without lying, cheating, or backstabbing. When Jen discovers that she’s on the verge of elimination, she must decide whether to sacrifice the money, her chance at love, or herself.
My book is called I WAS A SUMMER REALITY STAR. It is women’s fiction, in the vein of Emily Giffin meets Big Brother.
Author: A.J. Pine
Title: One Night
Point of interest: By expanding Save the Cat’s log line into three paragraphs, Pine crafts a query with every story element agents wish to see.
Twenty-one-year old Jess used to be that girl. You know, in a sorority with the perfect boyfriend, her future all mapped out, until one night that should have been magical–that was magical–wound up shattering everything.
Now one night is all Jess thinks she’s worth. Her not-so-perfect ex taught her that. Since no guy could want her beyond a night in her bed, that’s how long she gives them. For one night she can have someone’s arms wrapped around her and not wake up alone. For one night she can pretend that she’s still that girl, that the arms around her are still his.
But when Jess’s physical therapy internship introduces her to Adam Carson, star of the university basketball team recovering from knee surgery, he reminds her how much more she has to offer. Maybe she can resist his chocolate brown eyes and witty charm, but his beautiful heart is no contest. He’s not like the other guys. He’ll take her any way he can get her, even if she draws the line at friends. But crossing the line unleashes Jess’s secret of what happened little more than a year ago. Jess cares about him too much to keep up the lie, but the truth breaks her heart wide open again…and Adam’s too. For any chance at happiness, Jess must let go of her past, stop blaming others for what she lost, and believe in a future of more than one-night-stands.
ONE NIGHT is a New Adult contemporary romance, complete at 69,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Cora Carmack’s FAKING IT and Brooklyn Skye’s STRIPPED.
Author: Farah Heron
Title: Chai, Beards, and Harmony
Point of interest: Heron’s query, tackling interracial love and islamophobia, caught agent’s attention with its culturally relevant subject matter.
On the April 26th DVPit twitter pitch event, you hearted one of my pitches indicating you would like to see my query. As such, I present to you CHAI, BEARDS, & HARMONY, a 55,000 word interracial own-voices romantic comedy.
Amira Khan is too old for her noisy dorm, and exhausted from reporters’ constant calls for her personal ‘hot take’ on Islamophobia. She needs peace and quiet, and intends to get it by leaving grad school early to finish her thesis at her Grandmother’s house. But it turns out, her grandmother rented the basement to a Barbershop Quartet. What? Amira needs silence; they need to rehearse for an upcoming competition, and the overgrown garden-gnome of a baritone is making her absolutely crazy.
For the sake of his family, Duncan Galahad has to stay in the tiny town he calls home. But he needs big-city cred even for small town gigs these days, and winning this competition might give him top billing, so he can’t let an outspoken, overbearing engineer like Amira get in his way. Even if outspoken, overbearing women are his exact catnip, Duncan knows women like that have no time for redneck singers with no steady pay-check. And Amira might be way too much… even for his tastes.
Inexplicably, Amira finds a harmonious friendship with the misfit singers. And soon enough, she finds that clashes with Duncan outside bedroom only means hitting all the right notes between the sheets, as they both find exactly what they crave.
Their differences are only skin deep, literally, but Duncan comes from a world that sees Amira as nothing more than a cautionary tale against multiculturalism. And Amira long ago decided that only someone like her, could understand her. To make it work, they both have to not only accept their differences, but fight for them.
This novel tackles Islamophobia and homophobia in the diverse city of Toronto. As a South-Asian, Muslim woman, I have drawn on my own experiences living and learning in this vibrant city. I am a member of the RWA and Toronto Romance writers.
Author: Michelle Hazen
Title: A Cruel Kind of Beautiful
Point of interest: Hazen captures her agent’s attention with an unlikely romance where sexual dysfunction takes center stage.
Dear Naomi Davis,
I was excited to see that you’re open to submissions again. I think my current project might be a good match for your wish list for adult romance and touch on some of your interest in publishing nonfiction memoirs about living with disabilities as well. The problem my character deals with isn’t a disability per say, but it’s an issue close to the hearts of thousands of American women and yet has been ignored by the romance industry.
In A Cruel Kind of Beautiful, fairy tale romance comes down to earth when a hard-rock drummer finds love, but not a cure for her sexual dysfunction.
Jera McKnight loves music, adores beautiful men, and sucks at sex. Her perfect storm arrives in the form of pun-loving nude model Jacob Tate, who has a heart as big as his record collection. Unwilling to sentence him to a mediocre sex life, Jera quashes her attraction and hides behind her drum kit. One unforgettable show leads to a record deal offer, but the fine print has them playing more like Taylor Swift than Led Zeppelin.
Before Jera can decide between rock nobody or pop star, Jacob distracts her with a deal of his own: if she can’t climax, he won’t either. She’s too much of a sucker for his romantic spreadsheets to refuse and soon Jacob and Amp Records are vying for her attention. Just like Amp, Jacob seems like a catch-22 in a pretty package: he drops out of touch for weeks at a time and one room in his apartment is off-limits.
It’s time to make some major decisions, but Jera frankly doesn’t know if her music is good enough to attract a better record deal. Worse, she’s not sure love will be enough to keep Jacob coming around if they can’t fix her issues between the sheets. But if this rocker girl is too afraid to bet on herself, she might just end up playing to an empty house.
A Cruel Kind of Beautiful is an Adult Contemporary Romance, complete at 99,000 words. It can be marketed as a stand-alone novel, but is also part of a planned trilogy called Sex, Love, and Rock and Roll, which follows Jera’s bandmates as the secrets of their sex lives begin to mirror the battles of their music careers.
I am the independent author of Becoming Katelyn and the #1 Kindle Worlds bestselling author of eight titles. A Cruel Kind of Beautiful is currently a finalist in the 2015 NTRWA Great Expectations Contest, and my post-apocalyptic manuscript, Forsworn, was recognized as a Quarter-Finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. I’ve been a permanent traveler for several years now, and most of my books were written with solar power from remote corners of the wilderness.
Author: Nadine Darling
Title: She Came from Beyond
Point of interest: Darling yanks agents out of their mid-afternoon slump with this romance: An unintentional home wrecker (impregnated with twins during the affair) moves into The Other Woman’s house. The Other Woman happens to be newly home from the sanatorium. What could go wrong?
Author: Elizabeth Otto
Title: Whiskey November
Point of interest: Otto captures her book’s inciting incident in the first two sentences of her romance query letter: “Breathe, rest, awaken aren’t just three little words. They are the mantra of emotional healing for a mother after the death of her child.”
Author: Angela Quarles
Title: Must Love Breeches
Point of interest: Quarels gives us the conflict of her steampunk romance in the opening sentence: “Isabelle Rochon, a thoroughly modern American working at the British Museum, has finally met the man of her dreams. There’s one problem: he lives in another century.
Author: Kristina McMorris
Title: Letters from Home
Point of interest: McMorris’s query describes an epistolary romance, based on her grandparents’ correspondence during WWII, and it leaves agents curious about an unexplained family secret.
Author: Shelly Bell
Title: White Collared
Point of interest: Bell shows how to develop insane tension in a whip-quick query proving she did her research.
Author: Laura Brown
Point of interest: Brown’s romance about acknowledging and embracing hearing impairment rings true because Brown, like her protagonist, wears two hearing aids.
Author: May Bridges
Title: Killing June
Point of interest: Bridges’s query describes a protagonist caught between two worlds: one includes pecan pies and Sunday service, the other is full of dark, kinky spaces where a riding crop is a must-have accessory. This dichotomy is eye catching.
Author: Jennifer Blackwood
Point of interest: In 287 words, Blackwood’s query manages to braid a romance around a hot topic: is physician assisted suicide murder?
Young Adult Query Letters
Author: Kim Chance
Point of interest: Kim does a wonderful job summarizing her plot and writing a bio that shows off her marketing skills.
Good Afternoon! I’m hoping to interest you in my YA contemporary fantasy, KEEPER. Considering our mutual love of magic, Harry Potter, and Kristen Cashore’s Graceling, I would love the opportunity to know/work with you! Plus, given that you are a fellow writer, I believe you are the perfect person to make KEEPER shine! I have included sample chapters and a synopsis below my query. Thank you for your consideration!
Magic always leaves a mark. When the ghost of a 200-year-old witch attacks her on the road, sixteen-year-old bookworm Lainey Styles is determined to find a logical explanation. But even with the impossible staring her in the face, Lainey refuses to buy in to all that “hocus pocus nonsense”—until she finds a photograph linking the witch to her dead mother. After the library archives and even Google come up empty, Lainey gives in and consults a psychic. There she discovers that, like her mother, she’s a Keeper: a witch with the exclusive ability to unlock and wield the Grimoire, a dangerous spell book. But the Grimoire is missing, stolen years ago by a malevolent warlock known as the Master. Now that Lainey’s true heritage has been uncovered, she’s the Master’s only hope in opening the Grimoire, where a powerful spell is locked inside—a spell that would allow him to siphon away the world’s magic. In an effort to force her hand, the Master kidnaps Lainey’s uncle and offers a trade: the spell for his life. With the help of her comic-book-loving, adventure-hungry best friend and an enigmatic but admittedly handsome street fighter, Lainey must leave behind her life of books and studying to prepare for the biggest test of all. She must steal back the book…before her uncle and the entire supernatural race pay the Master’s price.
KEEPER is a young adult contemporary fantasy, complete at 92,000 words. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in education. I currently work as a high school English teacher in the public school system where I work closely with my target audience. I enjoy vlogging about writing and have a growing YouTube channel with over 75,000 views and 3,000+ subscribers. When I’m not writing, I’m busy wrangling my 4-year-old twin daughters, binge watching shows on Netflix, and making death-by-cheese casseroles. My sincerest thanks in advance for your time and consideration.
See the original post and the whole query.
Author: Jill Baguchinsky
Point of interest: Baguchinsky’s list of comparable novels is a stunner: “MAMMOTH puts a paleo spin on a DUMPLIN’-style young adult contemporary narrative — it’s ELEANOR AND PARK meets JURASSIC PARK, just without the gene splicing and marauding velociraptors.”
Dear Eric Smith:
The summer before her junior year, paleontology geek Natalie Page lands a coveted internship at an Ice Age dig site near Austin. Natalie, who’s also a plus-size fashion blogger, depends on the retro style and persona she developed to shield herself from her former bullies, but vintage dresses and perfect lipstick aren’t compatible with prospecting for fossils in the Texas heat.
When Natalie’s paleontologist hero steals the credit for one of her accomplishments, Nat has to unearth the confidence she needs to stand out in a field dominated by dudes. To do this, she’ll have to let her true self shine, even if that means defying the rules and risking her life for the sake of a major discovery.
Then there’s Chase the intern, who’s seriously cute, and Cody, a local boy who’d be even cuter if he were less of a grouch — Natalie’s got more than just mammoths on her mind this summer.
MAMMOTH puts a paleo spin on a DUMPLIN’-style young adult contemporary narrative — it’s ELEANOR AND PARK meets JURASSIC PARK, just without the gene splicing and marauding velociraptors. Natalie’s battle to reclaim her self-image will appeal to plus-size teens and any readers who struggle with being themselves, and the dig-site setting will engage anyone who geeks out about science. MAMMOTH is complete at 68,000 words.
MAMMOTH is a story about discovering and appreciating your strengths at any size. It’s a great fit for the body positivity movement that’s going strong on social media — there’s a YA readership out there that’s eager for greater diversity in terms of body type. Also, young readers need to see more female characters excelling in scientific fields — stories like HIDDEN FIGURES inspire girls to consider science-based careers, and the paleontology content in MAMMOTH plays into that. While drafting MAMMOTH, I worked with with several paleontologists and trained in fossil excavation and prospecting at the Waco Mammoth National Monument. My contacts at the Waco site are excited to help promote MAMMOTH as soon as it finds a publisher.
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Title: Not a Drop to Drink
Point of interest: In her query, McGinnis creates an apocalyptic landscape where, at nine years old, the protagonist guarded a watering hole with her life. This query shows us how to ratchet the stakes so no agent can look away.
Dear Ms. Ranta:
Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond. Seven years later, violence is her native tongue in a time when an ounce of fresh water is worth more than gold and firewood equals life during bitter rural winters. Death wanders the countryside in many forms: thirst, cholera, coyotes, and the guns of strangers.
Mother and Lynn survive in a lawless land, where their once comfortable home serves as stronghold and lookout. Their basement is a lonely fortress; Father disappeared fighting the Canadians for possession of Lake Erie, the last clean body of water in an overpopulated land. The roof offers a sniper’s view of their precious water source – the pond. Ever vigilant, they defend against those who stream from the sprawling cities once they can no longer pay the steep prices for water. Mother’s strenuous code of self-sufficiency and survival leaves no room for trust or friendships; those wishing for water from the pond are delivered from their thirst not by a drink, but a bullet. Even their closest neighbor is a stranger who Lynn has only seen through her crosshairs.
Smoke rises from the east, where a starving group of city refugees are encamped by the stream. A matching spire of smoke can be seen in the south, where a band of outlaws are building a dam to manipulate what little water is left.
When Mother dies in a horrific accident, Lynn faces a choice – defend her pond alone or band together with her crippled neighbor, a pregnant woman, a filthy orphan, and Finn – the teenage boy who awakens feelings she can’t figure out.
NOT A DROP TO DRINK (69,000 words) is a post-apoc survival YA. I have been a YA librarian in the public school system for seven years, allowing me to spend forty hours a week with my target audience. The first three chapters are in the body of this email, per your submission guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Author: Stefanie Gaither
Title: Falls the Shadow
Point of interest: Gaither delivers a haunting hook: “When Cate Benson was twelve, her sister died. Two hours after the funeral, they picked up Violet’s replacement, and the family made it home in time for dinner.”
Author: Jessica Conoley
Title: The Color Eater
Point of interest: Conoley shows her ability to craft vivid detail in her query. Who can resist a protagonist who finds out she is a color eater, one who is capable of draining the life from someone one color at time?
Author: TE Carter
Title: I Stop Somewhere
Point of interest: Carter’s setting is ultra-original — a town ravaged by the mortgage crisis with scads of homes left vacant. With so many forgotten spaces, it’s hard to know where to look for a missing person.
Author: Dannie M. Olguin’s
Title: Between Safe and Real
Point of interest: Olguin’s query for a YA novel about domestic abuse is a stunning exemplar to illustrate complex, shifting POV in three paragraphs.
Author: Stephanie Elliot
Title: Sad Perfect
Point of interest: Elliot seamlessly ushers agents into the book’s second-person point of view while unraveling a tension-filled synopsis.
Author: Makiia Lucier
Title: A Death Struck Year
Point of interest: Historical YA is a tough sell. But, this query manages to keep the stakes high and interest piqued with a story about the deadly Spanish Influenza years.
Author: Ashley Elston
Title: The Rules for Disappearing
Point of interest: Elston’s unique query structure —conveying a character who’s moved from one witness protection placement to the next — shows her ability to create tension, momentum and high stakes.
Author: Gia Cribbs
Title: The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan
Point of interest: In her query, Cribbs gives us a steady burn — action stacks on action — until suddenly we realize the main character’s safety is precarious at best. See the original post (plus agent commentary) on Writer’s Digest.
Magical Realism Query Letters
Author: Susan Crispell
Title: Wishes to Nowhere
Point of interest: Crispell scores an agent with this query, describing the dangers of wish granting.
Dear Ms. Nelson,
Rachel Monroe, 26, can make wishes come true just by thinking about them. But it’s a gift that has caused more harm than good. And after her mother’s death, which Rachel blames herself for, she decides it’s time to leave her hometown—and her past—behind.
But when Rachel gets stranded in small-town Nowhere, NC—also known as the town of “Lost and Found”—she realizes she can’t escape her past, or her gift. In Nowhere Rachel is taken in by a spit-fire old woman, Catch, who binds the townspeople’s secrets by baking them into pies, and who has an uncanny ability to see exactly what Rachel is trying to hide. She also meets Ashe, Catch’s neighbor with southern charm and a complicated past, who makes her want to believe in happily-ever-after.
As she settles into the small town, she hopes her own secrets will stay hidden—especially the one about how she wished her little brother out of existence when they were kids. But starting over is harder than she thought, and when her wish-granting secret is revealed, the town people’s wishes begin popping out of thin air everywhere she goes. Scared the wishes will go wrong like in the past, she tries to ignore them, which only makes the wishes more determined to get her attention. Then when Rachel is forced to confront the truth about her brother, she must accept her magical ability or risk losing those she has come to love—and a chance at happiness—all over again.
My magical realism novel, WISHES TO NOWHERE, is complete at 83,500 words and will appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman. I earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. Swoon Romance published my magical realism novel, LOVE AND CUPCAKES, in January 2014. For the past eleven years, I have worked as a marketing copywriter and proposal editor.
Author: Cindy Baldwin
Title: Where the Watermelons Grow
Point of interest: Baldwin’s query shows us how to hook agents with a compelling scene: a mother slices watermelon seeds — one at a time — out of the fruit, and her daughter looks on bewildered. Both reckon with the effects of mental illness.
Twelve-year-old Della Kelly vividly remembers the last time her schizophrenic mama had a break with reality that put her into the mental hospital for three long months. But Mama’s on a new medication, and things have been better—until the night Della comes into the kitchen to find Mama obsessively cutting the seeds out of a watermelon, convinced they’ll get into her kids’ tummies and make them sick.
Panicked, Della resolves to do anything in her power to fix Mama’s broken brain. But when Mama’s delusions turn dangerous and an ambulance takes her away to the mental hospital an hour north, Della must work up the courage to seek help from the town’s resident eccentric, who claims to have a jar of magical honey that will help solve Della’s problems… even if it’s a solution that has more to do with healing Della’s heart than healing Mama’s brain.
If the honey works, Della might have a chance to finally let go of her own guilt—spurred by the deep-down knowledge that it was Della’s birth that brought the schizophrenia on in the first place—and learn to truly love her mama, sickness and all.
A SNICKER OF MAGIC meets THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH in this Southern-flavored magical realism, which is a standalone with the potential for at least one companion novel. Although I don’t have schizophrenia myself, many of the themes in the novel are inspired by my lifelong struggle with serious illness (and my frustration with the number of people who have been certain they knew just what it would take to “cure” me!).
Complete at 42,000 words, WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW won third place in middle grade division of the First Chapter contest at the LDStorymakers 2015 conference. My poetry and prose have been featured in several print and online publications, a complete list of which can be found at my website.
Fun tidbit: This was the third novel I’d queried, and shelving the first two had been really tough! For a few weeks, I was tempted to give up on writing altogether. Once I pulled myself out of the slump, though, my querying process for WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW was quite quick (likely thanks to a good bit of success in the first #DVPit contest)! The query for this book didn’t change tremendously from first draft to last, mostly because I’d had a fair bit of practice already with the two books I’d queried before.
Author: Stephanie Knipper
Point of interest: Knipper snaps up an agent with a compelling juxtaposition of ability and disability. In Broken, protagonist Antoinette Martin can’t speak, but she can temporarily heal anything — from decaying plants to her mother with cancer.
Women’s Fiction Query Letters
Author: Kate Boudreaux Strawther
Point of interest: This query has a lot going for it: stakes, conflict, a specific, believable setting, but what convinced me this East Texas swamp story would work was the information included in the author bio. Strawther is descended from 148 years of backwater Texans.
Dear Agent X,
I hope you will be interested in my first novel, BACKWATER. Set in the swampy river bottom separating Texas and Louisiana, BACKWATER is an 82,000-word work of women’s fiction that explores the idea of trading worldly success for the unexpected joy of the path less traveled. The manuscript recently received an honorable mention in the 2016 William Faulkner Literary Competition.
Small-town girl Sunday Frederick has finally escaped her backwater roots. Thanks to Houston entrepreneur, Jeffrey Frost, Sunday has a sparkling diamond ring and big dreams for her family’s large, rural estate. However, Sunday’s plans are interrupted when she is called away on a special work assignment. Not only is she plunged into the swampy, mosquito-infested river bottom of East Texas, she has to live among the poor souls of Devil’s Pocket.
To make matters worse, hometown rebel, Eli LeBlanc, is tasked to host Sunday at his dilapidated houseboat. With his crude manners and outlaw ways, Eli hasn’t changed a bit since high school and Sunday has better things to do than answer his prying questions about her personal affairs.
But as the days pass and the balmy night air is filled with the sound of crickets and softly rushing water, there’s a stillness and freedom to river life that can alter a girl’s priorities and open her heart. With her wedding to Jeffrey only weeks away, and the future of her family’s estate resting on her shoulders, Sunday finds herself torn between everything she thought she wanted and everything she can’t live without.
Told in an authentic Southern voice, BACKWATER draws from my family’s generational experiences of thriving in the woods of East Texas for the past 148 years. I grew up sitting around the campfire absorbing tales of hunting, fishing, working, and struggling to carve out a life in a place where nothing comes easily. With eccentricities ranging from humorous to gritty, East Texans are a unique blend of cowboy and Cajun culture. Through my book, I hope to share these unforgettable characters with the world.
Author: Terri L. Weiss
Title: Client Relations
Point of interest: It’s hard to look away when a custody lawyer takes her client into the bedroom.
Dear Ms. _________,
I am seeking literary representation for my novel, CLIENT RELATIONS (89,500 words, women’s fiction). I understand you are interested in legal themes.
CLIENT RELATIONS is about an attorney who faces personal and professional ruin after getting involved with her client in a high profile child custody case. My target audience includes fans of ‘Damages’ and ‘The Good Wife.’
Litigator Casey Lang has never hustled for business. But without a good-paying client, she’ll lose her freshly minted partnership position at a large Manhattan firm within months. Celebrity chef John Zambelli, unjustly kicked out of his house and barred from his children, hires Casey to represent him. As the case escalates into a full-blown custody battle, Case and John’s attorney-client relationship heads into the bedroom. With Casey’s personal life in tatters and her professional life about to collapse, the future of John’s children lies in her hands, while their past points the way to her salvation.
No prominent matrimonial lawyer has written a novel that delves into the inner workings of custody litigation and BigLaw politics on the scale of CLIENT RELATIONS. I believe I am in a unique position to do so, as a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, listed in Best Lawyers in America. A graduate of Georgetown University and Georgetown Law School, I am the author of numerous professional articles. One of my short stories appears in the Monadnock Writers Group journal, ‘Shadow and Light — A literary Anthology on Memory’ (November 2011). Another of my short stories was a prizewinner in the 2012 Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest. I blog at www.bedroom-to-courtroom.blogspot.com ad Huffington Post Divorce.
Author: Kelly Duran
Title: Can’t Take It Back
Point of interest: Duran’s query manages to pack it all in: friendship, infidelity, deadly conquests, small town drama manifested through the kids’ kindergarten class — without miring her query readers in plot-event sludge.
Author: Meg Mitchell Moore
Title: The Arrivals
Point of interest: Moore’s honest depictions of family relationships show her ability to craft authentic characters – in her query and in her novel.
Author: Eleanor Brown
Title: The Weird Sisters
Point of interest: Brown’s query for The Weird Sisters gives agents a chance to root for the underdog, and the letter expertly develops four characters in under 350 words.
Author: Allison Winn Scotch
Title: The Department of Lost and Found
Point of interest: Want to be funny and voicey in your query without being kitschy and ridiculous? Want to talk about tiny, boring penises and plot points? Try Scotch’s query.
Author: Kristen Bonardi Rapp
Title: This is Always
Point of interest: Rapp’s interesting plot line is worth a look. Who can ignore three points of view that intersect at forbidden love?
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