Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Att: Janet Reid
FinePrint Literary Management
240 West 35th Street, Suite 500
New York, NY 10001

DON'T EVER START an email query with the address of the person you're sending to.  It just wastes space. 

Dear QueryShark:

I read on the FinePrint website you represent fiction and thought my manuscript may interest you. FOUR SEASONS is a 100,000 word Women's Fiction manuscript about loyalty – and explores whether sacrificing close relationships in order to pursue personal happiness is worth the anguish. Readers of Marian Keyes and Emily Barr may find FOUR SEASONS appealing.

This isn't a hook, it's a description. Opinions vary on whether a rhetorical question is the best way to start a query letter (some agents hate them, I like them), but you want to start with something that hooks our interest, not a description.

When Katherine "The Dependable" McKenzie has an extra-marital affair, she puts her future in jeopardy and strains relationships to breaking point. Her long-standing friendships with Bel, Naomi and Stace are rocked by her indiscretion, pushing the women into confronting their own inadequacies when it comes to loyalty - romantic, self, friendship and family. Told over the course of a year, the women's prejudices are challenged and reflected by each change of season.

Again, here's more description. You haven't given us any sense of conflict, or what the consequences might be. You call Katherine dependable (telling not showing) so we're supposed to get the idea that she's not the kind of person who would ever do such a thing. Well, why did she? Was she blackmailed into it? Enticed by an undercover celebrity? Tired of her husband?

Soon after Katherine learns she's pregnant, she disappears. Has she left to start a new life, determined to keep the identity of her child's father a secret? Or is she the victim of foul play, with a scorned husband and ex-lover bent on revenge as prime suspects? Complicating matters, Bel is pursuing the man of her dreams, who happens to be Katherine's estranged husband. Should she be faithful to herself or her friendship? Naomi believes her mother is cheating on her recently deceased father with a man twenty years her junior. Her staunch belief in monogamy could destroy the relationships with her mother and Katherine if she doesn't find a way to forgive. Stace receives a job offer to work in Argentina and wonders if her friends are right. Is she planning to run away and escape dealing with her emotions and her friends' crises? If she leaves, it could endanger Katherine's life. Each woman must overcome their individual challenges by facing conflict and betrayal in order to save Katherine. Four friends. Four betrayals. Four seasons.

Who is the main character? I thought it was Katherine after reading the second paragraph. You're swamping us with names and details when what I'm really looking for here is a sense of what the book is about and why I'd want to read it. You'd actually be better off with Each woman must overcome individual challenges by facing conflict and betrayal in order to save Katherine when she disappears after learning she's pregnant as the first sentence in this paragraph.

The full manuscript has recently been requested by XXXXXX, Editor, XXXX books and XXXXX, Senior Editor at XXXXX. I am a PRO Member of RWA and belong to the RWA XXXXX Chapter. I have included the first two chapters, brief synopsis and an SASE as per the directions of your website. Thank you for your time and consideration.

I get these "has been requested by Editor" things all the time. I actually kid the editors about it when I talk to them because I know what happens at writing conferences. They ask for everything -particularly editors who only take agented stuff. Heck, we all do mostly cause it's almost impossible to say no to someone's face. And that's exactly what I assume this means. Thus if this is NOT what happened, you'd be advised to give particulars. "Editor X requested this after reading my short story in Publication Q" is MUCH more persuasive than "she requested this at a conference".


Revise, resend!


Kyler said...

Great that you're doing this, Janet. Interesting to hear that you like rhetorical questions in queries. I don't use one, but what do you think about starting a novel that way? My latest revision uses one and I think it works, leading to the second sentence. Would love to know your opinion.

Alli Sinclair said...

Thank you so much, Janet. Your comments are extremely helpful and your time is greatly appreciated. So what would you say if an editor requested MS 1 at a conference, liked it, but ultimately didn't make an offer (due to their line changing) but requeted to see more of your material (ie the new MS the writer is querying about)?

Chandler Craig said...

Thank you for taking the time to critique queries! I am very excited to hear more of your insights.

How often will you be doing this? Is it the weekly thing you mentioned on your blog?

Jamie Hall said...

The third paragraph seems like the author tried to stuff an entire synopsis in there: too much information, too fast.

If that paragraph were fixed, I think the rest would hang together better.