Tuesday, March 04, 2008

That Query Letter

By Amy MacKinnon

It's happening more and more now. Friends are calling to see if I'll talk to their mother's contractor because he's written a book and wants to know how to get an agent. Or a friend's real estate agent has a sister who's written a book and needs to know the next step. My father's neighbor has a memoir in him and he wants to know if I can introduce him to my agent. For now, I talk to all of them because I know what it's like to wander alone in the dark.

So many consider the query letter an obstacle rather than an opportunity. Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford blogged yesterday that the quality of the queries he's seen in recent months has nosedived. People, you're over-thinking it. Relax, it's your book. You know what it's about, the themes you chose to explore. You can do it. All it takes is 15-20 minutes. Really.

I did a post some time back, laying out the template for the easy-peasy query letter, but I didn't show you my own. Well, here it is. And refer back to the easy-peasy if you don't yet have publishing credits to include in the third paragraph. It's not a deal breaker for fiction.

So, here it is:

Dear Ms. Sweeney,

Knowing of your interest in gardening, matters of faith, and literary suspense, I hope you’ll consider my novel, Tethered.

Clara Marsh is an undertaker who doesn’t believe in God. She spends her solitary life among the dead, preparing their last baths, bidding them farewell with a bouquet from her own garden: for a beloved mother, something appropriate like morning-glories (affection upon departure) or, for the man known to pummel his wife, marigolds (cruelty in love). Clara’s carefully structured life shifts when she discovers a neglected little girl, Trecie, playing in the funeral parlor, desperate for a friend. And it tilts still more when Brockton Detective Mike Sullivan haunts Clara in her basement workspace. He questions her about a body she prepared three years ago, an unidentified girl found murdered in a nearby strip of woods. Unclaimed by family, the community christened her Precious Doe. When Clara and Mike learn Trecie may be involved with the same people who killed Precious Doe, Clara must choose between the steadfast existence of loneliness and the perils of binding one’s life to another.

My essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, Sacramento Bee, Patriot Ledger, Boston Herald, and on National Public Radio. Additionally, I’m a member of Boston’s Grub Street
where I helped to found a satellite location for suburban writers interested in learning more about the craft of writing. We’ve hosted such literati as Jennifer Haigh, Amanda Eyre Ward, and Hallie Ephron. I’m also a fiction reader for Post Road Magazine, and a member of PEN/New England.

Per your request, I’ve enclosed the first ten pages of my 73,000-word manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to read my submission. I look forward to hearing from you.


See? It's not perfect, I want to take a red pen to it now, but it did the job. This was the very first query I sent to the agent I most wanted and thankfully she now represents me.

If you tried my method and it doesn't work for you, head on over to Aprilynne Pike's blog and read her query workshop. One of her blog readers used her advice and snagged himself an agent. Three cheers for Aprilynne who remembers what it's like to wander alone in the dark and chose to light the way for someone else. Brava!

For those of you querying out there, I'd love to hear your progress. As hard as it is, know you're not alone.


Anonymous said...

Amy, Thanks for posting your query. Now I know what Tethered is about. I've always wondered.

Larramie said...

We know the Tethered brief synopsis which now has me wondering where Amy "met" Clara?

Lisa said...

I'm with Usman and Larramie. Although I'm definitely filing this post in my "We Shall See" folder (wonder where I got that folder name?), I am really pleased to finally get a preview of what TETHERED is about and I'm captivated. Waiting for the publication date is definitely going to try my patience :)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Usman, you just had to ask!

Larramie, I met Clara in my uncle's basement: http://writersgroupblog.blogspot.com/2006/11/world-beyond.html

Lisa, aw thanks so much. I so appreciate your enthusiasm and support.


Larramie said...

Now that you mention the location, Amy, I do remember that post.

Officially six months and counting...

Carleen Brice said...

Definitely makes me want to read Tethered, but then how could I resist a character who gives specific bouquets to the dead? How could anybody?!

Eileen said...

Your post made me laugh. While I was on tour one person came up and talked for at least 20 minutes wanting advice on being published. Then I offered to sign a book for her and she said "nah- I hate books like that- nothing personal." I just about laughed out loud.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Carleen, and how could I resist a book where Nina Simone shares her pearls? It's on my bookcae, waiting for me to finish Eileen's book.

Eileen, now I've heard it all when it comes to tour. I can't wait to read your post all about it! BTW, reading UNPREDICTABLE and I LOVE it!


Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Amy, I cannot wait to buy your book! And now you have given me such a taste for it! And the query is very intriguing. I see why ti worked.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Ello. BTW, that bellicose pig of yours always makes me laugh.


PS- And just to emphasize, folks, because some people have asked, though each of us has friends in the writing community, none of us garnered our agents through a referral or any other contact. We each went through the slush pile. Isn't that hopeful?

muebles huesca said...

It won't have effect in actual fact, that's what I suppose.