Monday, May 19, 2008

Have Query, Will Travel

My novella, Wickedly Ever After, will be released this Friday by Cobblestone Press and be available for purchase from them for the next six months. (Hurry and buy, lol!) After that, the rights will revert to me, and then I'll turn them over to Kensington Books, which will publish this novella and two others in a single author anthology to be released in early summer 2009.

I've told my "call" story already, but one thing I didn't talk much about is the query process. I've queried other projects in the past and never got past the polite, "Thanks but no thanks" form rejection. I know this is a huge frustration for a lot of writers. You have a book that you just know is worthy of publication, but you can't get agents or editors to give you the time of day because your query is falling flat.

So, how do you get the people at the other end of your query letter to sit up and pay attention? Again, this is something a lot of agents and editors blog about (Kristen Nelson did just an extensive workshop series on her blog, in fact), so it's hard for me to claim I have "the answer," but I will share with you the three things that I think made my query for Wickedly successful where my past queries failed.


  1. The opening paragraph provided the agent/editor with the story's genre (historical), heat level (erotic) and word count, and explained why I thought it would appeal to that agent/editor.
  2. My query blurb clearly identified the story's plot catalyst (see Kristen's blog for more on that), described the conflict between the characters (what's going to keep them apart), and left the reader with a hook (something to hint at how the conflict will escalate).
  3. I sent my query to the right people and got lucky. You can control the first part of this one to some extent (make sure you're not sending a genre romance to someone who only represents mysteries and thrillers, etc.), but the second half of it is just plain hitting the right person on the right day at the right time with a letter that has elements 1 and 2.

Okay, so what did my query letter actually look like? Well, I'll show you the letter I sent to John Scognamiglio at Kensington Books. This query resulted in a request for the full within a few hours of sending it.

I am seeking publication for my erotic historical 27,500 word novella, WICKEDLY EVER AFTER, which I believe would be a perfect fit for Kensington's Aphrodisia line. Set in the late Regency era, WICKEDLY EVER AFTER is the first in a planned three novella series tied together by characters who appear in this story and by an exclusive London bordello.

Eleanor Palmer is relieved when her fiancé cries off to marry another woman, but horrified when he suggests the dissolute Marquess of Grenville as his replacement. Eleanor may claim descent from the lusty King Charles II, but this proper English lady has no interest in pleasures of the flesh--she'd rather read the Classics.

Nathaniel St. Claire is infamous for his wicked ways--drinking, gambling, and fornicating-but he's willing to give up all but one of his vices to initiate the lovely Miss Palmer into the joys of lust. Maybe a little dirty Latin poetry will aid his cause...

I am a member of RWA and my erotic short story, CARNALLY EVER AFTER, was released by Cobblestone Press in August of 2007 under the pseudonym Jackie Barbosa. In addition, several of my manuscripts have finaled in or won RWA Chapter contests.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

In my experience, the hardest thing about getting the query letter right is the blurb. Especially if you're writing your blurb after you've finished writing the whole book, it can be tough to distill all the plot elements into 250 words or less that all connect to each other. I've read (and written!) a lot of blurbs that were a series of disjointed sentences hitting on multiple plot points but that failed to make it clear how those points related to each other, and worse, didn't explain how those points would cause conflict between the hero and heroine.

One trick I've started to employ is to write my query blurb before I actually write the whole book. Sometimes, I don't write it before I write ANYTHING of the book, but I rarely get as far as the first 50 pages before I write the blurb. And that works in part because the hook (as opposed to the synopsis) usually doesn't need to reveal any plot elements or conflict that occurs in the story past about the first hundred pages. What you want to do is hook the reader of your query to want to find out the answer to the question, "What happens next." And if you reveal too much of the story in your blurb, you reduce the reader's interest in getting the answer to that question.

In honor of my successful query and release this week, I'm giving away query critiques to two lucky blog commenters. I'll draw the winners at random from all interested commenters next Monday. And as a bonus, I'm throwing in a free, signed copy of Brenda Novak's Dead Giveaway to one random commenter who posts but doesn't want a critique.

Hop on board!

15 comments:

beverley said...

Hmm, I just got some great help with my current query so I'm good for now.... I could always use more books though.

Anastasia said...

LOL, isn't Bev generous? ;-) First of all a huge congratulations Jackie on your contract with Kensington. I'm very much looking forward to reading your anthology.

Your query is fantastic. You really have it down to an art. You should consider doing a workshop. ;-)

BTW, I'll let Bev have the book. I'll take the query. Just kidding. LOL!

Best of luck with the release, here is to selling them like ice creams at a ball park! :-)

Lara Lee said...

Thanks, Jackie. I love seeing examples of successful queries. I've just started working on mine and have to admit that it intimidates me. Unfortunately, they are are fact of life in this business and I want to have one that will positively catch the attention of editors. So, please enter me in your drawing.

Congratulations on your contract with Kensington. I remember you from the Avon FanLit contest and I'm happy to see that you are doing so well!

Stephie Smith said...

Hey, Jackie!

I just sent out my first query for a Regency historical romance manuscript that's finaled in 5 out of 7 contests I recently entered. And I've already gotten back the thanks but no thanks rejection letter (from Kristin Nelson:-). I didn't have a good feeling about the query letter, but I've been working on it for about a year, so at some point I just had to go for it. Now, however, I'm afraid to send it out again until I rewrite it.

Yours is great and I'm going to use it to try my hand at another one. Wish me luck and put me in that drawing!

Vicki said...

Major congrats on both Cobblestone Press and Kensington Books. That is awesome!!

Thank you for sharing your query letter with us. :D

I've just finished the synopsis for AT&B and I'm working on the query letter now, so I'd love to be entered into the contest.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Congratulations on the release, Jackie, and thanks for showing your query letter. Those things drive me nuts, so if I can win your contest, I'd love to have you look mine over.

Tessa Dare said...

Congrats on your release, Jackie! And again on The Call. You don't have to enter me for a prize, I'm just saying hi. :)

Great query. You know, I think brevity is also key - these editors and agents read SO many of them, they appreciate a clear, concise speech. Also, when it comes to distilling your book to few sentences, I've found CPs are invaluable - because an outside person has an easier time cutting to the heart of the story than the author, because we always feel *everything* is important!

Renee said...

Jackie, I've already congratulated you on your recent accomplishments, but I'll say it again. Congratulations.

I have a query letter and although it's not bad, I'm not sure it's enough to 'draw' the kind of attention I want.

I love the will aid his cause...

Renee

Sindee Sexton said...

I'm all about the query critiques. I think my query is rockin', but who knows?

BTW, congrats on all your recent successes!

Sindee

skirbo said...

Congratulations on both Cobblestone and The Call. Yay! I've been left behind in the dust by so many of you, but I'm trying to get back in the swing again. I'm nowhere near ready for a crit though, so unless the prize can wait six months or so, don't enter me in the contest.

Congratulations again, I'm so tickled for you!

Sarah

Kris Eton said...

Well, you know how excited I am for you and your sale to Kensington!!!! I totally agree with you on the query...but you'd probably laugh to see how plain jane mine was. I didn't mention which line it would work for, didn't do any marketing talk. Just a basic intro, the blurb, and the basics on my publishing experience.

When I look back at it, I have to sort of laugh at how empty it was of anything but my blurb!

Anyway, missy, I have tagged your for a meme. Check it out:

http://kriseton.com/more-random-things

Melinda said...

Congrats on all your success!

I would like to be entered for the query critique.

Darcy Burke said...

Congrats, Jackie! Boy, we've sure sweated over blurbs, haven't we? This one is just fantastic. I think I'm learning that marketing/packaging your book/series/whatever is really key for us at every level of this game. We have to sell our project to an agent and/or an editor, they have to sell it to the next person, and so on. Yes, you need a great ms to back it up, but the right hook can mean the difference between The Call and rejection.

Back to Cobblestone to see if I can buy the book now...

Bunny B said...

Again, congrats Jackie! :) Wheee!!

I would love to win a copy of the book :) Thank you for the chance!

Jane said...

Congrats, Jackie. I'm not a writer, I would love to be entered for the book giveaway. Thanks.