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Help with my Query Letter

Greetings all, I've been active on these boards discussing my novel "Call Numbers" and I would like some observations on my Query Letter...

Dear (NAME OF THE AGENT), 

I am seeking representation for CALL NUMBERS, a 106,769 word Adult Literary Fiction Novel that will appeal to the fans of FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler and THE LESSER BOHEMIANS by Eimear Mcbride. 

Eighteen-year-old Robin Walker has recently transferred to the 58th Street branch library and finds himself at the mercy of a senior clerk Sonyai Yi, who promised his position to Janelle Simms. Robin tries his best to manage the situation, while noticing that there are numerous political feuds going on within the branch. 

Head librarian Augustus Chavez has his authority threatened when Heywood Learner attempts to push his conservative agenda. Meanwhile library clerk Gerry Coltraine confides with Ethel Jenkins his concerns over Sonyai’s mistreatment of Robin and how he plans to act on his objections. 

Young page Janelle Simms deals with losing her promotion and keeping her pregnancy a secret with the help of the other branch pages, including Lakeshia Seabrooke, who is torn between alliances when she develops feelings for Robin. 

Faced with his grandfather’s failing health, social misadventures and missed opportunities, Robin seeks the affections an elusive, mysterious student while also dealing with Lakeshia’s infatuation. Finding his place within a hostile work environment, Robin Walker must navigate carefully, among the shelves. 

With a clear demand for books within this genre, I believe that it will appeal to a wide audience who will identify strongly with the characters in the story.

Call Numbers started as a TV Treatment, with the pilot script being a finalist for the Scriptapalooza Television Writing Competition. It was withdrawn from the competition when stipulations at the time of the contest required me to surrender rights to the work whether it was produced or not. 

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in anticipation, 

Syntell Smith

Comments

  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited September 3
    Pretty good, but I would suggest tightening it up considerably. The synopsis could be half as long. There are certainly far too many character names. A query letter should not be more than a single typewritten page in its entirety. 

    What is going to make your book sound interesting to a potential reader? What sets your book apart from others? What makes it unique? Who do you see as the potential market (be as specific as you can here)? You need to make the agent or editor want to read your MS.

    I would also delete the second sentence in the paragraph about the novel’s origin. That information is irrelevant.

    A brief sentence about yourself might be a good idea, especially if you have any publishing experience at all. Even if you don’t, tell them who you are.

    Finally, make dead certain that spelling, punctuation and grammar are perfect: this letter is going to be the first example of your writing an editor or agent is going to see.

    Writer’s Market has a lot of good advice about query letters. You might start here http://blog.writersmarket.com/whats-new/query-letters-101-how-to-write-a-query-letter-and-get-published
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • See, that's the thing, I have no professional writing experience, I blogged, I wrote reviews of things like movies and music, but I'm self-taught. I studied screenwriting, read books, but never did any classes or workshops, I have no personal information to put in that would impress anyone.

    As for the second sentence, I did that to explain what happened and why, even as a finalist, the project never took off. But I guess I can leave it out.

    I mentioned most of the core characters to explain that the novel is not just about Robin, it's about the staff as a whole, all their personal lives, like an ensemble drama.
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    One method is to write very small descriptions of every chapter, naming the chapter of course (If they do have names. Many of mine do not! Use numbers I suppose.)

    I would get rid of this >>   "I am seeking representation for CALL NUMBERS, a 106,769 word Adult Literary Fiction Novel that will appeal to the fans of FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler and THE LESSER BOHEMIANS by Eimear Mcbride."

    That instantly sums the potential book up as not being original, and originality is usually something agents and publishers get interested in.

    And, it is interesting what can be found on line >>   http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/fifteen_tips

  • SyntellSmithSyntellSmith Writer
    edited September 4

    One method is to write very small descriptions of every chapter, naming the chapter of course (If they do have names. Many of mine do not! Use numbers I suppose.)

    I would get rid of this >>   "I am seeking representation for CALL NUMBERS, a 106,769 word Adult Literary Fiction Novel that will appeal to the fans of FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler and THE LESSER BOHEMIANS by Eimear Mcbride."

    That instantly sums the potential book up as not being original, and originality is usually something agents and publishers get interested in.

    And, it is interesting what can be found on line >>   http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/fifteen_tips

    I've been told it's always good to have comparisons to what kind of book you're pitching, you can be original and still reference other works. I've even seen the question on Submissions forms.
  • See, that's the thing, I have no professional writing experience, I blogged, I wrote reviews of things like movies and music, but I'm self-taught. I studied screenwriting, read books, but never did any classes or workshops, I have no personal information to put in that would impress anyone.

    As for the second sentence, I did that to explain what happened and why, even as a finalist, the project never took off. But I guess I can leave it out.

    I mentioned most of the core characters to explain that the novel is not just about Robin, it's about the staff as a whole, all their personal lives, like an ensemble drama.
    It’s too much. There is no need to go into so much detail. And it all sounds very disconnected. I think you need more suggestion of a plot or story than you have. Whatever you do, it all needs to be much shorter.

    Regarding bio information, you should still say a word or two about yourself.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited September 4

    One method is to write very small descriptions of every chapter, naming the chapter of course (If they do have names. Many of mine do not! Use numbers I suppose.)

    I would get rid of this >>   "I am seeking representation for CALL NUMBERS, a 106,769 word Adult Literary Fiction Novel that will appeal to the fans of FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, I SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler and THE LESSER BOHEMIANS by Eimear Mcbride."

    That instantly sums the potential book up as not being original, and originality is usually something agents and publishers get interested in.

    And, it is interesting what can be found on line >>   http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/fifteen_tips

    I've been told it's always good to have comparisons to what kind of book you're pitching, you can be original and still reference other works. I've even seen the question on Submissions forms.
    I would take Kevin’s advice and not mention other titles.

    For one thing, you want to sound original, not as though you are jumping on a bandwagon. For another, the agent or editor can make their own comparisons. And there is always the off chance they are not familiar with your examples...or, worse, are familiar with them and have some problem with them.

    Let your book stand on its own merits.

    I am reminded of the time when I was working for an advertising art agency. When people would bring by their portfolios, I would usually be the one to take the first look, performing a kind of triage so that the art directors didn’t have to be bothered by everyone who showed up. One fellow came in and gave me his portfolio to look at. It was filled with tear sheets from magazines and all of them were examples of work by really famous illustrators. “Do you like those?” he asked, to which I replied, “Well, yes, of course!” “I do work just like that,” he said.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • One method is to write very small descriptions of every chapter, naming the chapter of course (If they do have names. Many of mine do not! Use numbers I suppose.)

    That would be too much for a query letter. I would save it for when you are asked for an outline, which you will be if someone is interested in your book.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    That would be too much for a query letter. I would save it for when you are asked for an outline, which you will be if someone is interested in your book.

    Not as such. It's actually an old method of starting a chapter (at times still used to day in 'retro' novels.) Often just one line, but no more than three, saying what is in the following chapter. So it would not add up to many lines in total.

    BTW, do you click our links to useful advice?

  • My thoughts, FWTW:

    Dear (NAME OF THE AGENT),

    I am seeking representation for CALL NUMBERS, a 106,769 word Adult Literary Fiction Novel that will appeal to the fans of FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler and THE LESSER BOHEMIANS by Eimear Mcbride.

    Who would have suspected that a library might be a hotbed of intrigue, passion, and dissension? Eighteen-year-old Robin Walker has recently transferred to the 58th Street branch library and finds himself at the mercy of a senior clerk Sonyai Yi, who promised his position to Janelle Simms. Robin tries his best to manage the situation, while noticing that there are numerous political feuds going on within the branch.  who becomes his arch nemesis as he fights to avoid being drawn into the ongoing war between the traditionalists, the elitists, and the other partisans within the library. Dodgy alliances and half-baked schemes, and his grandfather's failing health lie as pitfalls for a part-time library clerk whose only wish is to support his education with a steady income.

    Head librarian ... shelves.


    With a clear demand for books within this genre, I believe that it will appeal to a wide audience who will identify strongly with the characters in the story.

    Call Numbers started as a TV Treatment, with the pilot script being a finalist for the Scriptapalooza Television Writing Competition. It was withdrawn from the competition when stipulations at the time of the contest required me to surrender rights to the work whether it was produced or not.


    I am a 35-year-old former librarian with a passion for books and the Dewey Decimal System. I am a lifelong New Yorker, and support my book habit by working as a ... with a large ... firm. In my spare time, I grow roses, play chess, and write novels.

    Thank you very much for your time and consideration. [omit paragraph] I look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours in anticipation,

    Syntell Smith

    This is intended to suggest a style. It's not a template. But some principles that I have used:

    1. Unless you're writing erotica, don't say "adult." People tend to think that this is code for "erotica." It's their error, but we have to deal with it, and first impressions, etc. etc.

    2. As others have suggested, much shorter plot blurb. The blurb that you intend to use for the book could work here also. Just hook 'em.

    3. Brevity is the soul of wit. This is a balance, even so: You want to give enough information to get the agent/publisher's interest without sending the entire outline. That can follow.

    4. As Ron said, put in some sort of bio. I picked a random age, random interests, and a random occupation. Add your own details as appropriate. Keep it simple, but give enough info to set the hook. No explanations, no details, no clarifications. Just hook 'em.

    If you possibly can without changing the formatting, make it a one-pager. Ask yourself, "If I were an agent looking at a query letter, what would I want to see? What would be too much info? What do I definitely NOT want to see?"

    Hope that helps.
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited September 4

    That would be too much for a query letter. I would save it for when you are asked for an outline, which you will be if someone is interested in your book.

    Not as such. It's actually an old method of starting a chapter (at times still used to day in 'retro' novels.) Often just one line, but no more than three, saying what is in the following chapter. So it would not add up to many lines in total.

    BTW, do you click our links to useful advice?

    Yes, that is indeed a way a great many old novels headed their chapters (and I did so in my own novel, The Iron Tempest)...I just would not do that in a query letter.

    And I, too, have the same question regarding the links you and I have provided.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited September 4
    Skoob_ym’s suggestions about your query letter are excellent.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    I do often wonder if some people are wary of clicking links, because they have often been warned not to. However, that the link has been found and clicked on anyway by the poster of it, is surely a clue that the site is safe?
  • I have been checking the links provided, yes...all your advice has been very helpful, I'm researching publishers and lit agents. 

    This revised query letter sounds brief, and almost soap-opera-ish for some I'm portraying as a serious drama but I'll try it out. You weren't that far off, guessing my age (I turn 43 at the end of this month.) and I AM a copy center worker in a prestigious Detroit law firm (Left new york in 2008), but I'll change growing roses to something else.

    As for mentioning "Adult" in the genre, I really stress that fact in fear of them changing the novel for the YA crowd. Take out the sex, the violence, then turn Robin into some Katniss, Bella, etc....
  • You retain creative control. If the editors want you to do something bizarre, just say no.
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited September 5
    I have been checking the links provided, yes...all your advice has been very helpful, I'm researching publishers and lit agents. 

    This revised query letter sounds brief, and almost soap-opera-ish for some I'm portraying as a serious drama but I'll try it out. You weren't that far off, guessing my age (I turn 43 at the end of this month.) and I AM a copy center worker in a prestigious Detroit law firm (Left new york in 2008), but I'll change growing roses to something else.

    As for mentioning "Adult" in the genre, I really stress that fact in fear of them changing the novel for the YA crowd. Take out the sex, the violence, then turn Robin into some Katniss, Bella, etc....
    A. No one will change or rewrite your novel. I thought that I had already made that perfectly clear. Let me see if I can be even more explicit.

    If a publisher is interested in your book but wants to see fundamental changes made to it, you would hear about this before a contract would be offered. You could agree to these or pass...that is entirely up to you. Let me give you an example from my own experience. Many years ago I submitted a novel to Berkeley/Ace. The editor liked the story but had two requests before offering a contract. The first was that I consider making the novel a trilogy rather than a single book. This was fine by me, even if it did entail a little rewriting. After all, three books is better than one, especially since I would be paid for three instead of one. But the second request was tougher. I was asked if I would consider changing my heroine to a hero. This I was unwilling to do and said so and the books were published with my character unchanged. No one took it upon themselves to change the books into something different.

    No legitimate publisher will take it upon themselves to change an author’s work. If for no other reason than that their editors have better things to do than rewrite books.

    As I explained earlier, if a publisher wants substantial changes to your book, or something different in kind than what you submitted, you will hear about those long before you are offered a contract. In short, if someone thinks your book would be better as a young adult novel and you don’t agree, say “No, thank you,” and move on.

    B. And, yes, Skoob_ym’s description of your book is brief. The query letter is not the place to put a detailed synopsis. This is something emphasized by all of the references, links and examples you have been provided as well as by many of contributors to this thread. The main thing you need to get across is that you have some sort of story—and one that is interesting and original. Your original description didn’t even come close to doing this.

    The original back cover blurb of Stephen King’s The Stand is a good example of exactly what the description of a book in a query letter should sound like. And this is for a book that has a complex plot and a great many characters...
     
    “One man escapes from a biological weapon facility after an accident, carrying with him the deadly virus known as Captain Tripps, a rapidly mutating flu that - in the ensuing weeks - wipes out most of the world's population. In the aftermath, survivors choose between following an elderly black woman to Boulder or the dark man, Randall Flagg, who has set up his command post in Las Vegas. The two factions prepare for a confrontation between the forces of good and evil.”

    You want to hook the agent or editor into wanting to know more about your book. If you can’t do that you are going to have trouble doing the same thing with readers.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    If a publisher sees that many changes need to be made, in their opinion, it's possible they will not take it on anyway. But I would also say that in order to become published, some writers will do an almost total rewrite. It without doubt happens in TV and film. There is actually a publisher who publishes Writer's Preferred Versions of fiction, ones that have previously been published, and often sold a lot, but surely must have once been changed from the original manuscript, but of course with the writer's permission.
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    Advertising copywriters are often the best people to employ to grab the attention of agents or publishers, as long as they can be stopped fabricating the truth!
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited September 5
    If a publisher sees that many changes need to be made, in their opinion, it's possible they will not take it on anyway. But I would also say that in order to become published, some writers will do an almost total rewrite. It without doubt happens in TV and film. There is actually a publisher who publishes Writer's Preferred Versions of fiction, ones that have previously been published, and often sold a lot, but surely must have once been changed from the original manuscript, but of course with the writer's permission.
    Kevin is right in saying that if a publisher wants something very different from your book they probably won’t take it in the first place.

    Again, let me emphasize the fact that publishers do not rewrite books. That if there are any really serious issues, these are discussed and agreed upon before a contract is signed. And that any later editorial changes, corrections or revisions are made by the author. And by the latter I mean those things normally done in the course of readying a book for publication...not making the book into something different.

    Frankly, too many authors leap into self publishing for fear of having their books rewritten or losing creative control...and as a result they miss out on one of the major benefits of traditional publishing: professional objective editing. And free professional objective editing, I might add.

    There is nothing wrong with taking the route of self-publishing, but I think it needs to be done for the right reasons and it needs to be done properly. This means in large part having things done by independent, objective experts—or at least knowledgeable people—and having things done in the right order. As I have said innumerable times, if one is planning to offer a product for sale to the public, there is an obligation to provide a product that is as equal as possible to a professionally created one.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

     As I have said innumerable times, if one is planning to offer a product for sale to the public, there is an obligation to provide a product that is as equal as possible to a professionally created one.

    And we have all said it a lot, and in the forums, but at one time many people did use the forums to see it said, and often said about samples they pasted in, which they often objected to the comments! Few bother with the forums now.

    In the old days where only paid for Vanity Publishing was available, the big sums of cash asked for often did include Pro services, however, one would assume that anyone who could afford such large sums of cash to get the book published (and often not also distributed) could at least write decent English.

    Now, with the likes of Lulu, where it's possible to create a book at just its POD cost (and still the same price if an ISBN is used to literally publish it, too, for the statutory Proof) anyone with a few dollars can publish a book. But with some who do, one has to wonder if they have ever opened and read a book, and if so, bothered to compare it with theirs.

    One also has to wonder what they have written it in. Most Word Processors will hi-lite a typo or bad spelling for some action to be taken on it. (Even a full grammar check if that's turned on!) Granted it's not a good way of checking a document, but if half the words have a red line under them, even when typing away,  it must surely be a clue that something is amiss that needs to be sorted out?  I just hope they don't work packing parachutes, while thinking > feck it, that will do.


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