I would trade all the query letter guides, manuals, and help books for a set of query letters that actually worked. Nothing is better for polishing your query letter than seeing actual letters that made an agent say “Send it.”
A couple of writer buddies of mine have just heard those two magic words, so I asked them for permission to post their letters here. I’m also posting the responses from the agents, although I’ll change their names to the names of Star Trek characters.
Dear Captain Kirk,
I stalked you at the PNWA conference last weekend but when I finally had a chance to talk to you, you had to leave to make another appointment. You told me to send you my query electronically. I particularly wanted to talk to you because your Web site says you are interested in Latino/Latina works.
If Clive Cussler had written Ugly Betty, it would be The Inside Passage. The Inside Passage is a ninety-five thousand word thriller about a group of terrorists plotting to blow up an American cruise ship, but the story is really about a young Latino man coming of age in an Anglo world.
Ted Higuera is the brash, goofy son of illegal immigrants from Mexico. An unlikely football scholarship was his ticket out of the barrio. Now he is graduating from the University of Washington and the well-to-do father of his college roommate and best friend, Chris Hardwick, offers the boys the use of his sailboat for a summer cruise up the Inside Passage.
When Ted and his friends stumble upon an al-Qaeda plot to blow up a cruise ship, the clock starts ticking.
The Inside Passage could be in the headlines today. It will appeal to readers of thrillers in general, but also be marketable to sailors and the yachting set. More importantly, it should find an audience among the country’s forty-five million Latinos. The Latino segment of the population is the country’s largest minority. By 2030, they’ll be the largest single demographic group in the country with buying power of over a trillion dollars.
There are virtually no Latino heroes in American popular culture. The Latino population is hungry for a hero of our own. Ted could be that hero.
My grandparents emigrated from Mexico. I have lived Ted Higuera’s life. I am a life-long sailor, a Security + certified security expert, a graduate of the University of Oregon with an MBA from City University of Seattle. I’ve been on the board of directors for the Write on the Sound writers conference in Edmonds, Washington for three years. I’m the treasurer of Los Norteños, a group of Latino writers in the Puget Sound area, and a member of two writers critique groups. Stories of my sailing adventures have been published in Nor’Westing and Good Old Boat magazines, several of my recipes have been published in KCTS Cooks and I’ve sold short stories to Voices of Lung Cancer and Potpourri. I have done readings at the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon, for the Seattle Latino Heritage Festival, at Los Norteños’ Day of the Dead celebration and my work has appeared at the Sustainability/Sostenibilidad exhibit at the Benham Gallery.
I am including the first chapter of my manuscript. Also included is the plot synopsis. If you would like to read the entire manuscript, please respond to this e-mail.
Thank you for your consideration. I know that you are very busy and I appreciate you taking the time to look at my work. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Here’s the response from the agent. I’m including it so you can see the sort of detailed instructions you may be asked to follow when submitting.
Thank you for your query; we greatly appreciate your interest in our agency, even the stalking!
We’d love to take a look at some pages. Please send the following information as a package:
• A one-page synopsis, including in it the essential dilemma represented in the work, and word count. A copy of your query will do, if it covers these basics.
• A brief outline, by chapter — simply a few sentences per chapter that will give us a feel for pacing, plot, and flow.
• The first 50 pages in standard 12pt font, double-spaced format, single sided, with pages numbered.
• An author bio, including published works and relevant info. If the manuscript has been represented by another agent, previously in print form, or seen by any publisher, we need to know that up front.
We do not request the above items lightly. Please do not send without them, as they are vital to the decision making process and things you will likely need to have to find representation/publication, regardless. It’s fine if it takes you a while to complete them.
Do not send by email. Please mark the package “Requested Material -September.” Do not send by anything that requires a signature and/or a special trip to the Post Office. If you’d like any of the material returned to you, please include the appropriate SASE.
Partials are running four to six weeks at this time. If you have any comments or questions in the meantime you are always welcome to contact me via email.
Thanks again for your time and for the chance to view your work. We very much look forward to seeing it.
Now, here’s another successful query letter. You’ll notice similarities – both of these writers went to the PNWA conference and tried to get together with a number of agents they had researched – but be careful not to miss differences in style and format.
Dear Mr. Spock:
I attended PNWA as a speaker and a worker at the Mystery Writers of America table but was not able to connect with you at that event. I’d like to ask you to review my mystery novel, Death Policy.
Death Policy is a 71,000 word humorous mystery novel featuring Kaitlyn Willis, a 38-year-old, triple D-chested, blond Code Enforcement Officer for the City of Cedar Grove, Washington. While investigating a nuisance complaint, Kaitlyn stumbles on more than rusty cars and piles of trash. She finds a sad case of animal hording—and a dead body.
Readers of other light mysteries by authors like Elaine Viets, Stephanie Bond, Laura Childs, Victoria Laurie, and Kate Collins will enjoy this book.
Kaitlyn Willis has just come off a nasty divorce followed by a lonely dry spell and the first guy she’s interested in is investigating her for murder.
Kaitlyn is pulled into investigating the murder to stay off the suspect list and protect her friends. All the while she’s helping her best friend through a bad break up, trying to repair a bank account sucked dry by her ex-husband, dealing with a homeless cat who has decided to adopt her–and falling for the police detective on the case. Kaitlyn’s “week from hell” ends with fear for her job, wondering which of her co-workers she can trust, and coming face-to-face with the killer.
I have written eight novels and have published numerous nonfiction articles. I teach fiction writing to beginners at Cascadia Community College. I’ve won several writing contests, including the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and am a regular speaker there and at Willamette Writers Conference and Write On The Sound. You can find out a little more about me and my commitment to writing on my website, www.leslieadkins.com.
A short synopsis and 10 sample pages are pasted below. On your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript of Death Policy. Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work.
And here is the agent’s reply. The standards – and styles – among agents vary wildly.
Sorry we didn’t connect. I’d be happy to take a look at DEATH POLICY. Kindly send a copy along for my prompt review—a Word attachment is most preferable if possible.
You can go ahead and read the manuals, but your learning curve on queries will be steeper if you just model your stuff on what works.