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Query Project - Chris Dolley's Journal

About Query Project

Previous Entry Query Project Sep. 12th, 2008 @ 11:08 am Next Entry
Fellow SF Novelist Joshua Palmatier has organised a Query Project for today, September 12th. He asked a number of published authors to post the actual query letter that led them to getting a publisher or agent, and comment on the esoteric art of The Query Letter.

Here’s mine from February 2001 to literary agent Juri Gabriel in London.

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Dear Juri Gabriel,

I enclose a synopsis, SAE and the first three chapters of my book NOUS SOMMES ANGLAIS, an unfortunately true account of our first eight months in France.

I realise there will be inevitable comparisons with A Year in Provence but one glimpse at the synopsis should tell you that this is something very different - more like Gerald Durrell invites Miss Marple for eight months in the Pyrenees. And it's all true. We have the police records to prove it.

I believe this to be a very marketable proposition as it contains three of the most enduring ingredients for a good read: other peoples' misfortunes, animals behaving badly and a real life whodunit.

Throw in an exotic location, an ageing ‘boy’ detective, an eighty year-old sidekick, a puppy who is half greyhound and half crocodile, and you have Nous Sommes Anglais.

As for myself, I freelanced for many years in the computer industry – analysing, designing and managing mainframe computer projects all over the UK - until I made enough money to buy a farm and concentrate on my writing. I've been short-listed twice for the Ian St. James Awards and won the Del Rey editors’ choice award twice. My first book, SHIFT, was taken on by a literary agent in 1994 and Harper Collins were interested in publishing it. However, they had problems classifying it and dropped out; then my agent changed jobs and found she could no longer represent me. This all happened as I was moving to France.

I am now writing full-time again and once more looking for an agent.

I also have enough material for a sequel to Nous Sommes Anglais.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Dolley

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Now the commentary:

First, read the submission guidelines. Each agent/publisher has their own requirements. Stick to them. I have several query letters for each book in the same way that I have several synopses. It’s part of the ‘fun’ of being a writer.

Second, be professional. The agent/publisher is looking for a person they can work with.

Third, professional doesn’t mean boring. Agents/publishers receive hundreds of queries per day. Why should they pick yours? My advice to make your query stand out is to imagine how you’d pitch your novel to a stranger in less than x words (where x is around 100 depending on the submission guidelines, and the stranger is looking at their watch and ready to move on to the next prospective author)

This is the difficult bit. Many people when writing queries or synopses start off with the novel then try to condense it. Wrong. That’s the way to write a boring infodump of all the salient facts. Start with one sentence that describes your book - e.g. A Year in Provence with Gerald Durrell and Miss Marple – and expand from there. And try to reflect the style of your book. If you’re writing comedy, be amusing. If you’re writing mystery, highlight that mystery. The query letter is a pitch to make the agent/publisher want to read more.

Fourth, pitch yourself. What makes you a person to take a risk on? This is where you mention your credentials. If you don’t have any writing credentials, don’t worry. I’ve successfully pitched to agents without any short story sales. Unless you have an amazing short story track record, agents are far more interested in the novel you’re pitching. The important bit is to come across as professional and confident, someone who’s serious about their writing and ready to make a career out of it.

Fifth, tell them what they are getting. I always begin with a paragraph that mentions the title of the book, its genre and usually its length as well.

Sixth, there’s more than one way to write a query. What works with one agent might fall flat with another and vice versa. Plus agents have differing requirements, they might not be actively looking for novels in your subgenre or they might be having a bad day. So don’t throw away a query letter if it fails with one agent. If it fails with several agents that’s another matter.

Other authors participating

Paul Crilley
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Gregory Frost
Simon Haynes
Jackie Kessler
Glenda Larke
John Levitt
Joshua Palmatier
Janni Lee Simner
Maria V. Snyder
Jennifer Stevenson
Edward Willett
David J. Williams
Leave a comment
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From:burger_eater
Date:September 12th, 2008 05:43 pm (UTC)
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I've been avoiding work cruising through all the query posts this morning, and I have to say that this is the best query of all of them.

It's not even the sort of book I read, but it's really well done and the book sounds great.
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From:chrisdolley
Date:September 13th, 2008 07:28 am (UTC)
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Thanks, I thought, with a dozen or so fellow SF/F authors posting their queries, I'd use my true crime memoir query as a counterpoint.
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From:reality967
Date:September 13th, 2008 07:07 am (UTC)
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Thanks for sharing this. Couple of questions:

1) This query is so different from what is advised on forums; even what agent blogs say. What sold it? Your being a recepient of an award, the synospsis or the query.

2) I am writing a literary novel. The tone of that novel is serious. How do you word a serious query, make it interesting.

Thanks.
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From:chrisdolley
Date:September 13th, 2008 07:45 am (UTC)
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I don't think it's that different. The purpose of a query letter is to pitch a project. Note that, in common with submissions requirements for most UK agents, this query letter was accompanied by a synopsis and the first three chapters. So the query was page one of a package.

As for what sold the project, it was a combination of the query, synopsis and the promise contained in the opening chapters combined with the agent's belief that I was writing a book he could sell. The writing awards/credentials were secondary.

When I'm writing a query for my mystery/thrillers I think 'back cover blurb.' So, how would you envisage the two or three paragraphs on the back cover of your prospective book? Remember those two or three paras are there to hook the prospective reader and sell your book to him/her.
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From:reality967
Date:September 13th, 2008 10:24 am (UTC)
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Thanks Chris.
I have been 'studying' back cover blurbs. Your answer was helpful.
From:kimzim
Date:September 26th, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)
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This sounded so great I ran over to Amazon to try to find it. Is it not out yet?

Kim
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From:chrisdolley
Date:September 27th, 2008 07:37 am (UTC)
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Unfortunately, back in 2001, UK publishers' lists were full of expat memoirs and they decided the bubble was about to burst and didn't want any more - even with true crime in it. So, to the agent's surprise, the book never saw the light of the day.

Every now and again I think about sending it out again but, in the meantime, the first 8 chapters can be read online here
From:kimzim
Date:September 27th, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
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Dang. I hope they change their minds some day. In any case, thanks for the eight chapters!

Kim
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 6th, 2008 01:12 am (UTC)

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From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 12th, 2008 09:08 am (UTC)

Wannabe Writer

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Writing a book is always something that I have aspired to but never done, although I have started a few times decided it was rubbish and scrapped it. Quite nice to find a few guidelines on how to submit to a publisher although I am a million miles from being able to right now http://www.squidoo.com/Destination_France
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 21st, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)

Update? Pretty please?

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It's been over a month. Can we have a snippet of an update? Like, are you finished with the first draft of the new book?

Lisa S. in Seattle
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From:chrisdolley
Date:October 21st, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)

Re: Update? Pretty please?

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As of five minutes ago, I'm 85.5k words into the new book. The book was supposed to be in the 80-90k range but, as books do, it's been insisting on growing. I'm hoping to keep it below 95k and have the first draft done by mid Nov. The second draft by end Nov.

What happens beyond that is in the lap of the publisher gods:)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 23rd, 2008 03:09 pm (UTC)

Re: Update? Pretty please?

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Thanks!

Lisa S. in Seattle (aka Seaboe)
From:yadvocacy
Date:October 31st, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
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