Monday, April 21, 2014

The Query Letter Revisited

by Susan J. Berger

Last Sunday I attended my first meeting of LARA, Los Angeles Romance Writers.

The speaker was Anne Cleeland and the topic was 8 questions to ask yourself before querying. Anne has four published novels and is a member of RWA,
Anne has her own style of querying. It’s direct and ignores many of the given rules. Anne’s background is in the legal field. I thinks her suggestions are clever and logical. I asked Anne for permission to share and she granted it.

Define your book.
Be specific. Genre and sub Genre, Editors are trying to fit slots in a publishing line. Make it easy for them.

Kind of book: Picture book, Easy reader, Early Chapter book, Mid-Grade, YA

Fiction or Non Fiction?

Is your story Contemporary? Speculative Fiction? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Realistic Fiction? Historical Fiction? Graphic Novel?

This link to a GCSU course syllabus give great examples of types of children's literature.

Have a short pithy hook.
It should indicate the sub genre. You are not TELLING your story. You are trying to get someone to OPEN your story.

Example of a tried and true hook:

When [event] happens,[main character] must confront [conflict] and triumph [describe how]

Variations: Give era and/or ;location if this is of interest: “Set in the Barrios of Los Angeles”

Start with an intriguing fact “Following a school lockout. . .”

Or try to tie in to a pop culture phenomena.

Anne gave the following examples. Tainted Angel is a Regency Version of Mr.& Mrs. Smith.”
"In Murder in Thrall, Sherlock Holmes is Breaking Bad."

Who Do You Query?
Subscribe to Publishers Market Place. (Join for one Month. It’s 25.00. Make your list of top agents and deals in your field. Look for the top 100 Deals.

Here’s a link to how one author used this method and sold her book. The site is Miss Snark. and the post is on the meaning of deal terms. Look for Maya’s comment. It's the second one down.

Other places to research agents: and Literary Rambles. Casey has a huge data base of agent interviews which you can search by age category they represent. I recommend checking t the agents' websites before querying.

Before writing your query, know the buzz words. Then Use Them.
Project = book, Mss, literary vs. commercial, hook, trending, character driven vs plot driven, external conflict vs. internal conflict.

Anne created her own version of the query letter. She got lots of requests using this format.

Dear Ms. [Agent:]
I see that you sold [name of project] to [name of editor] and I was thinking my historical series might be a good fit for the same line.

The first book, Tainted Angel, is a Regency version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. One of the most beautiful courtesans in England is actually a spy working for the crown. Or  is she working for the enemy? The hero is a fellow spy who must choose between love and allegiance.
The completed project is 85,000 words. Please let me know if you would like to see a partial manuscript.
Thank you for you time and attention.
Very truly yours,

Anne Cleeland
Chapter One
[Anne pasted chapter one into the letter.]

I think that’s a great idea. Maya Reynolds in her comment on Miss Snark spoke of doing the same thing.
You’ve just saved you and the agent time and money. If she doesn’t like your writing, that’s the end of it.
Note the signature. She has a website and she has a twitter. I think that’s professional credibility. If the query and chapter interest the editor, she can look up Anne’s bio.

The other taboos Anne broke:
She sends multiple queries on the same book to different agents. Obviously they are personalized for each agent since she mentions deals they have made. Many panned out.

She pasted the first chapter in the body of the letter. (NEVER send an attachment.)

She re-queried the same agent after receiving a rejection. She sent her a different book.  

(I did that too. Allyn Johnston rejected my first Ms, The Undertoads, and I immediately sent her Log on Log. I sent it as a thank you joke. I never dreamed she’d accept it.)

She didn’t respect an agent’s stated request for no new clients or no emails.

If you want to query someone and you cannot find the email go to this site: 

Best time to query?
Avoid querying at conference times. Everyone is overwhelmed. Anne said, "Do go to the conferences. Volunteer, pitch, Glad-hand and be friendly. Dress for business. Have a card and hand it out like candy." Then you get to put "Requested submission" as your header when you do pitch. But avoid querying the month before and after a conference. Anne mentioned that Tuesday evenings are good times to send your queries. Probably Wednesday as well. (I think this is sound advice. But you'd have to look up all the conferences in your field to make this feasible as a strategy.. I wonder how many days would end up as viable query times?)
Did it work for her?



     Tainted Angel                                                                              Murder in Thrall
I can’t wait to try it myself.

Write on!
Visit Anne at
You also might be interested in this post on Query by Jane Friedman


  1. Great tips on the query. And I loved seeing her example. Thanks for the shout out for Literary Rambles.

    1. You guys have a wonderful blog with great information. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I'll try again. Autocorrect got the best of me.

      I love this post and advice. My debut novel is under contract, but I'll have to try this with another ms. I'd love to share this on my blog. Thank you for all the good info!

    2. Share away. I agree that Anne gave great info. Thanks for stopping by,

  3. Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing :)

    1. You're welcome Joanne. Thanks for commenting.

  4. I appreciate this good info. That's why we attend conferences -- to get good ideas and information on strategies that work. Many thanks!

    1. You're welcome, Penny. I used to query right after conference. No more! Blessings.


We love hearing from you.