Saturday, June 2, 2012


Dear Query Shark:

She's short, round, and pushing forty, but Julia Kalas is a damned good criminal. For seventeen years she renovated historic California buildings as a laundry front for her husband's illegal arms business. Then the Aryan Brotherhood made her a widow, and witness protection shipped her off to the tiny town of Azula, Texas. Also known as the Middle of Nowhere.

My attention is engaged from the very first sentence. I love love love the contrast of "short, round and pushing forty" and "damned good criminal."  This paragraph does EXACTLY what a good query should do: entice me to read more.

The Lone Star sticks are lousy with vintage architecture begging to be rehabbed, so Julia figures she'll just pick up where she left off, but she's got a federal watchdog now: Azula's hard-nosed police chief Teresa Hallstedt, who is none too happy to have another felon in her jurisdiction. Teresa wants Julia where she can keep an eye on her, which turns out to be behind the bar at the local watering hole. The bar's owner, retired fighter Hector Guerra, catches Julia's eye, so she takes the job. Before he can catch any more of her, they find Teresa dead on the bar's roof.

"The Lone Star sticks are lousy with vintage architecture begging to be rehabbed" makes me weak at the knees with joy. This is exactly the kind of sentence that SHOWS the writer is in command of her craft.

This continues to engage my interest because the diction is energetic and full of vim and vigor: "begging to be rehabbed" "federal watchdog" "local watering hole."  

Enter taciturn county sheriff John Maines, who begins trying to pin the murder on Hector for reasons that Julia soon discovers are both personal and nefarious. 

Nefarious! oh you have my heart at nefarious. But you have it because it's exactly the right word, not just popped in to a sentence for show.  

Unfortunately, the evidence cooperates, (oh yes this is a perfect phrase!) but Julia's finely-honed bullshit detector tells her Hector isn't a killer. She risks reconnecting with the outlaw underground to prove it, and learns the hard way that she's not nearly as tough -- or as right -- as she thinks she is.

And there's the choice that sets up the plot.  Oh yes, I am primed for pages at this point.

NINE DAYS is complete and runs 80,000 words. I hope to feature Julia Kalas in a continuing series, and am currently at work on a sequel, SOUTH OF NOWHERE. I currently make my living as a licensed architect specializing in the renovation of vintage Texas houses, and have been writing creatively for my own enjoyment since I was a pre-teen. Two of my short stories, (title 1) and (title 2), were recently published online by (press)

Your time and attention are greatly appreciated.

This is exactly the kind of query letter that makes me reach for pages. It's energetic. There's not a word out of place. It's got plot.  It's got an interesting, and unusual set up.

And for the blog readers, if you read this and want to pick at nits, remember that my purpose in reading queries is NOT to pick nits. It's to find energetic writing.  I'm not looking for mistakes. I'm looking for novels.

So, is this query perfect? No. But it does EXACTLY what it is supposed to do: make me want to read more. This gets a request for a full manuscript by return email. 


Anonymous said...

Good for you, writer! I want to read it! Thanks for another brilliant example of what TO do!!

Zan Marie said...

No nits from me! I want to read this one.

madiflies said...


Veronica Sicoe said...

Just. Juicy. I'm in love.

Fade said...

Wow. I want to read it! And this is completely outside the genres I usually read in, too. The first sentence caught me, and the rest pulled me right along.

I was hoping for a lot more interaction between the two female characters who show up first, because there is a sore lack of exciting books with such stuff. Turns out it's one woman dealing with a lot of men yet again. But I still like the premise enough that I'd love to read the whole thing.

Sarah W said...

I usually bookmark the good queries instead of commenting, but please, someone accept and publish this book soon so I can read it---and wishful dibs on an ARC for pre-review, too!

Eileen said...

Add me to the list of who would read this- I loved the voice and also the ex-criminal as the amateur sleuth.

Lauren B. said...

I don't normally even read this genre, but I found this query sharply written and engaging enough that I'd definitely request pages (were I an agent), or read through the first few in a bookstore. Well done!

GSMarlene said...

Not my genre either, but I'd be all over reading this. Hope you update us when this hits the press!

journeytogao said...

I guess the only nit I'd pick is the inclusion of Julia's attempt to revive her career of rehabbing houses, since it goes nowhere. I'd get her straight behind the bar at the point of Teresa's badge.

I must say, I was shocked when Teresa turned up dead! That's probably a great jolt in the novel itself.

Anonymous said...

This isn't my usual genre for reading, but I agree that the writing is snappy and has a lot of character. I think I'd like this book! Good luck to you, writer!

Stijn Hommes said...

Yep, a nice and juicy query. If I was an agent or publisher, I'd request pages. The only thing that tripped me up was the number of names. When you mentioned Teresa's dead body on the roof I thought for a moment you had killed your protagonist.

Other than that, I'm very happy to see a good example grace the QS blog once more.

Rachel6 said...

YOW, that was good! That first sentence might be my favorite, just for sheer snappy spunk. And oh, I am just dying to learn what happened to poor Teresa!

Please tell me you'll give us a heads-up when this hits stores.

Rebecca Einstein Schorr said...

I'm hooked! This introduction makes me want to meet the characters and see what happens next. I'd read it!!

Kim (YA Asylum) said...

This isn't the type of book I would usually read, but the energy and zest of this writing would totally make me pick this book up. I don't even seen any imperfections. Just wow. This is going to be one hell of a book, I'll be looking out for it.

Colin Smith said...

Janet doesn't need an "Amen" from know-nothing me, but I'm going to give it anyway. This query sings, and it's singing "Read Me!" I hope the novel lives up to the promise.

Well done, author! :)

Joanne Phillips said...

What I most like about this premise is the way it uses a criminal as protaganist. Hard to pull off, but it sounds like this author has managed it with knobs on!

Theresa Milstein said...

Man, I wish I could like a query like this.

The only problem that glared at me was the second "currently". We can get what your job is as current without saying it. This way you don't have it to sentences in a row.

Good luck with this query. I bet you get lots of requests.

Stephsco said...

I really appreciate this blog, and the comment that while it's not a perfect query (is there one? I say no since everyone's tastes are subjective). But overall, this is a query that reflects a book that's sounds fully fleshed out. I wish the author success~

Colin Smith said...

Theresa: That caught my eye too, but I think this speaks to something Janet said here and has said elsewhere: the perfect query is not always the query that is syntactically and grammatically the most precise. It's the one that grabs the agent by the collar and screams "read me!!" Like this one. :)

Jo-Ann said...

Glad to see you back, Janet!

I'm going to join in the chorus of approval here and say it sounds like a well written, fast paced read.

John said...

If I caught this one on a forum, I suspect I'd say it's wordy and convoluted.

It's got a lot of good writing in it, but it's lousy with long sentences. There's too many details and characters. I got lost. (Some of that comes from reading it first with Janet's comments.)

I suspect it's often a matter of taste, but sometimes the "Yes!" queries (here and elsewhere) boggle me.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm late to the party but want to say that this query intrigues me despite the fact that I never read this genre. Fantastic job at showing command of craft, an interesting voice, and the right amount of plot.

Unknown said...

Heck, send me the book now! Too long to wait for a publishing contract!

arsenio ball said...

wow. i want to read the hell out of this.

Anonymous said...

This query letter is more than just a good letter. Its secret is its pace. It drips juicy bits of information at a constant rate that's perfectly timed.

That can't happen by accident. Not with a story this complex. And that's the best part of the letter: It does more than just scream "Read me!"

It screams, "If you think I'm in perfect control of the flow of this letter, just think what I can do with this novel."

It screams competence.

Unknown said...

I really want to read this! I hope it gets published.

Todd Edwin Van Dell said...

I really liked this. I hope the author reads these comments because I'd say she's already building a great platform...and her audience. I also look forward to seeing this published...hopefully very soon.

After all the times I've read that it's not always a good idea to say up front that you're planning a series when querying...when I read that the author is already hard at work on her second one (and has another great title for it already as well), I was glad she took that leap of faith in herself and threw that extra hat in the ring with her first hat. I can honestly say I look forward to seeing both these novels on the shelves...and soon.

I for one suspect Janet will wind up with a bidding war on her hands for this one. And really...that's a win-win-win for everyone (for the author, for the agent, for the publisher who wins that bidding war). And really...isn't that what we aspiring authors aspire to?

GunDiva said...

I want to read this book!

Paulina. said...

Umm... holy shit. Awesome.

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

That IS a great query! Hell, I want to read that book. What a great example.

SWP said...

This is amazing. Thank you Janet for sharing this, I truly hope this is a successful publication

Todd Edwin Van Dell said...

I commented previously on this post but after reading it again and the comments, especially the nitpicky ones that, I feel, aren't focused on the attention-grabbing quality of this query, I feel the need to add a follow-up.

This query isn't perfect. True. Janet points that out at the end in her comments section. She also points out what she is *not* looking for...and what she *is* looking for. She's not looking for nits to pick. I'd say, memorize those statements. Maybe the paragraph. If you remember *nothing* else, remember she's looking for vigorous writing. This is that. And:

Janet "is not looking for mistakes." She's "looking for a novel."

This query made Janet want to read more. Made her request the full manuscript.

Whether it's a genre you would normally not read or not. Or, even if *you* don't get it...Janet got it. It worked *for her*.

I suspect that those for whom this was horrible and don't understand why Janet would jump on this? Need to really read the blog. Read the archives. And the really *dreadful* queries. Especially the dreadful ones that she ultimately rejects. Because the rejects will help understand this one. your own query. And then re-read this and you will see why this worked. For Janet. Whether you get it or not.

(I suspect those who don't get it? Won't understand why *their* query keeps getting rejected.)

Both times when I read this query, I imagined myself reading the published book and looking forward to reading the follow-up the author says she is already hard at work on.

That's what you want as an author. You want your potential agent to want to read your completed manuscript.

Maybe equally as important? You want that agent to also be begging for another book.

Because if the agent is already begging for a follow-up? When the finished book hits the store bookshelves, you can bet anyone who buys the book and reads it, will get to the end and will want the next book. Already.

(If you're not sure about this, read Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels. There are nineteen in the series and five between the numbers novels and novellas. And, literally, as soon as a new Stephanie Plum book gets published? All her hardcore fans have devoured the book and are already clamoring for the next one. They also probably have read her other titles in the other series she writes: the Lizzie & Deisel series and the Barnaby & Hooker series.)

This query is definitely competent. It definitely says she knows what she's doing. The query says: if you like my query? You will love my book. The query is a small sample of my skill. I am in command of my abilities.

But it's more. It's compelling. It compels the reader to want to read more. And that is what we as writers want.

Yes, perfection is lovely. But when I get to the querying stage? I want the agent reading my query to want to read my manuscript. I want her to love the story enough to want to represent it. Whether it's "technically" perfect or not.

Anonymous said...

This is terrific! However, I have a question after thoroughly browsing the site and all the samples: aren't these synopses instead of queries? I understand queries to be one, quick marketing paragraph or so that reads sort of like a movie trailer tease or tv guide write-up. Thoughts?