Friday, May 29, 2009

Query letter #4: Theresa L

Dear Agent,

I have written a 75,000 word,
[don't put a comma here] soft crime novel, Six Minutes [but you do need one here] which is currently being read by one of the big Australian publishing houses (details upon request) [this doesn't actually mean anything apart from telling me that you've potentially closed off one submission avenue for me]. The Commissioning Editor, Books for Adults [there's only one publisher who has a division with this name, and as far as I know they don't have 'the' commissioning editor - they have some publishers and some editors who also commission - be very careful when using titles of people you're dealing with as someone in the industry can immediately spot when it's not right and they may then think you're fibbing], requested that I send her the novel when finished [again, this doesn't mean anything - you shouldn't lead with any of this information about someone reading it because that's not what will get my attention. I want to know about the STORY - so put this other stuff near the end of the letter]. Presently, I am seeking the services of an agent. [I know that - you've written me a query letter.] Immediately it would be to assist with any negotiations that might eventuate with this publisher [Here's where I'd stop reading - you're telling me what my job will be, when actually it should be to find you the BEST publisher, not necessarily THIS publisher], but primarily to represent me in the broader market place [and how can I do that if you've already decided you just want to negotiate with this publisher?]. The novel has not been seen by any other house. A synopsis and sample chapter follow.

I write about lawyers … because I am one, or was one, until I turned from the dark side.
[Good, funny.] The characters of Six Minutes were born of extreme boredom, on the back of a never-ending list of exhibits, during the longest (and possibly, most excruciating) Supreme Court trial in Queensland’s history. Somewhere in between noting details of cheque-but [you're missing a T on that word] number 193 and 1500, the whole plot took shape. [It's nice to include this sort of information, to lead me into the story.]

Hennessy Clark has just fired three of its best litigators for something they didn’t do. They weren’t friends before;
[semi-colon not needed - use a comma instead] but they are now. Sandra Jeeves, the pug-like, binge-drinking, sex-obsessed senior associate [Cool! I like the sound of her], had dedicated her life to the Brisbane law firm. She had nothing else—no man, no kids, no pets. What’s a girl to do? And didn’t their night together [Whose night together?] mean anything? Frances Mackay, employment law expert, is the exact opposite. [colon, lower-case S on 'secure'] Secure, restrained, refined, Hepburnesque. But again, the firm was her life. What nasty thing did she do in the middle of a school-night to warrant this? Andrea Toohey, the managing partner’s former extra-marital squeeze, started it all by getting pregnant to him. [WHO IS 'HIM'??? This paragraph is confusing. The only part I liked was the description of the pug-like Sandra. Where is the crime? Why is it 'soft crime'? I just don't know what's going on.]

I’ve been writing for love and laundry money for well over a decade. I am finally completing a PhD in Philosophy (by research, part time, external) on the quest to turn out a believable, authentic novel, beyond what basic advice is available
[awkward - 'beyond the basic advice that is available ...' would be better] in how-to and how-I manuals and writing memoirs. There is a gap in the market for books on advanced writing techniques. [How is this relevant to your novel?] I have been a presenter at writing conferences, tutored in writing and been a guest speaker at my local law faculty. I have also written: published book reviews, dental/medical patient education and marketing material, web content, legal briefs, policies, procedures and technical training manuals. In subtle ways, these experiences all flavour my favourite work: novel writing. [You have a lot of experience - so why can't you pitch yourself better?]

Thank you for considering this proposal. I look forward to your feedback.
[By this point I'm cross. I can see that this writer has some talent but she's tripping herself up trying to tell me how much experience she has at other kinds of writing - she's spent more time establishing her bona fides (the book is being read at a publishing house, I have writing experience at this and that) than telling me what her story is and why I should read it.]

Kind regards,

Theresa L
Status: REJECTED with regret - this author can do better.
By this stage you can probably tell that I nitpick query letters - because I see a lot of them, small points of comparison (like punctuation) have larger meaning. It really doesn't take much for me to get to 'no' - the default position is 'no' simply because the volume of submissions is so great and I've been doing this long enough to know that, statistically, there won't be many great queries.
Remember, the query letter is your first way in to an agent or publisher and first impressions definitely count. A badly punctuated letter is equivalent to turning up to a job interview with messy hair and buttons missing. A letter that doesn't tell me why I should read the manuscript is the same as sitting in that interview and not talking about your experience or why you should be hired. How can you then be surprised if you don't get the job?


TL said...

Dear Agent Sydney,

Thanks for the constructive feedback and useful insights into the industry.

I hope lots of authors learn from my pain! It was generous of you to give that much detail, particularly as I'd managed to make you "cross" on a Friday night!

It seems I was lucky to have been noticed by an Associate Publisher, because there aren't enough expletives to describe my query-writing!

Sincerest apologies,


*she says, with a bell around her neck*

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Experience letter

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