A Terrific Query Letter
By Jenny Bent
The Bent Agency blog
Every time I’m on a panel on the topic of “Writing the Perfect Query,” I seem to disagree with all the other panelists. I like catchy openings, gimmicky hooks, quirky descriptions—anything that makes me laugh or think or wonder. The letter below is probably my favorite of all the query letters I’ve received. Its author is Karin Gillespie, and I sold the novel she’s describing to Simon and Schuster. I’m reproducing it here with Karin’s permission. Of course, I can’t guarantee that all agents will respond to a letter like this, but I certainly did.
I should note that if you’ve read other sections of my website, you may find this a bit contradictory because although Karin is a wonderful writer and had won a contest with this book, she didn’t really have a great many literary awards and publications. I think that’s another reason I should reproduce her letter here. Even though she couldn’t present me with a long list of literary accomplishments, her letter was so good that she convinced me to read her book anyway.
I’m going to comment on each paragraph in italics in an attempt to show why it was so effective.
Dear Ms. Bent:
Yay! She got my name right. You’d be surprised how many people don’t. Although honestly, I don’t hold it against them, but I know many agents who do.
My novel Who’s My Daddy? took first place in the Sandhills Writers Conference in 2001, and one of the judges, Robert Bausch (author of A Hole in the Earth), called it “brilliant and original.” I’ve read on your Web site that you handle women’s fiction.
Good opening. I know Robert Bausch is a respected writer, and so if he liked it, that does mean something. Also, she demonstrates that she has done her research. I do indeed handle women’s fiction.
Who’s My Daddy? is a farcical Southern novel about Elizabeth Polk, a hairdresser who works at a beauty parlor for elderly ladies called the Cozy Cut. Everything in Elizabeth’s life is “cattywampus.” Her fiancé Clip Jenkins recently shoved a “Dear Jane” letter under the windshield wiper of her Geo Metro; she’s embarrassed by her redneck daddy, who blows up ottomans on TV in order to promote his rent-to-own furniture business; and her half-brother Lanier continually gets arrested for stealing lawn ornaments.
This is just plain funny. The only word I would have removed is “farcical,” because farces are very tough to sell, but it would be hard for anyone outside of the business to know that.
Given her circumstances, Elizabeth can’t understand why one of Augusta, Georgia’s wealthiest matriarchs, Gracie Tobias, takes such a keen interest in her. Gracie introduces Elizabeth to her grandson Timothy who’s just returned from a Buddhist monastery in California. When a romance between Elizabeth and Timothy develops, Elizabeth is plagued by insecurities regarding her lowly family background.
Here she’s demonstrating that this novel does have conflict and hence a plot. Plots are good things. Agents and editors like them.
Who’s My Daddy? crackles with more secrets than a middle-school slumber party. Elizabeth discovers a diary that raises questions about the identity of her daddy; Timothy refuses to discuss a trauma that made him abandon his life ten years ago; and Gracie Tobias knows a truth about Elizabeth’s birthright that will change her life.
Again, she’s demonstrating plot, plus, that first sentence is so fabulous and shows me that she’s a good, creative writer.
Would you like to see a few sample chapters? I am the editor of The Metro-Augusta Parent a regional parenting publication and have received national awards (Parenting Publications of America) for my nonfiction writing.
Good. A very short bio that sums up her experience. Of course, I would have liked to see more awards, etc. for creative writing, but at this point I’ve already decided I want to see the book. She was smart to put her most significant writing award at the beginning of the letter and then put the rest, less significant experience here at the end.
Thank you for your consideration and time. An SASE is enclosed for your reply.
Short, sweet, and polite closing, plus an SASE. Who could ask for more?
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