Apr 15, 2009

QUERY- First Degree Innocence

Dear (Agent Name):

Carrie Lang’s sheltered life ends with a prison sentence when she’s wrongfully convicted for involvement in a bank robbery. Her arrest comes on the day she’s called in sick and stayed inside, so she has no explanation why an eye-witness describes her in great detail, right down to the make and model of her car.

Someone’s made a terrible mistake, but her continued plea of innocence falls on deaf ears, even among her fellow inmates. Her woes increase when the prison bully sets her sights on Carrie as a cellmate. There's a plan for retribution brewing, and naïve Carrie finds herself smack dab in the middle of it. Her ten year sentence seems mild when death becomes a very real option for refusing to participate.

First Degree Innocence, my women's fiction/romantic suspense, is nearing completion at a length suitable for mainstream publishing. This story of a woman wrongly incarcerated is not for the faint of heart, even when a handsome male guard enters the picture. I'm sure readers will sense the terror, isolation and cold gray interior of prison life while walking in my heroine's shoes.

I’ve researched your website, admire what I see, and have read positive feedback from those you represent. Like most authors, I aspire to bigger and better things and I would love to team with you. I write in the genres you seek and am an award nominated, multi-published author already contracted with several small houses. I’ve recently sold two short stories to a new romance magazine.

My love for writing and past experience in creating and editing forms/publications for my position at the University of California nurtured my desire to be an author. Aside from a personal website featuring excerpts from my published work, I maintain a very active blog and membership to a multitude of author/reader groups and promotional sites. I also participate in two critique groups that have been very helpful. I can be reached at (redacted)if you have questions, or I respond very well to email at (redacted)

I realize you are very busy, so I thank you for your time and attention. I hope my query has piqued your curiosity about Carrie’s claim of First Degree Innocence.

6 comments:

The Screaming Guppy said...

I hope I don't sound too harsh, but here goes:

Since you cannot submit a work of fiction until it's complete, you have two options. Rewrite the query as if you are in a place to submit (aka - finished, edited, polished manuscript) or revisit this website when finish your manuscript.

Rick has put together a number of links on the side of the blog that go to websites with valuable information about what does and does not go in a query letter. These links go to blogs that also have a number of other tips and information about the publishing industry and the query process as a whole. It sounds like you need to get familiar with the business before you're ready to proceed.

You have a lot of stuff here that agents explicitly say not to do. In fact, most of this falls into the no-no zone - aside from your first two paragraphs.

I don't intend to sound mean and sorry if I do, but I think if you want some serious feedback from the followers of this site, you should do a little research, rework this query, and then repost it.

Good luck with your revisions and your manuscript.

Alexandra Green said...

There is a break in the flow at the third paragraph because you start talking title and length, then mention another plot point. The plot and hook need to come first. Also, from what I know of agents, you have far too much personal information on here, at least in proportion to your blurb.

Most agents don't want to see anything until it's finished. You have other things published and maybe with the ability to see your work or talk to people you've worked with, that would change but for the most part, they want it DONE.

-Like most authors, I aspire to bigger and better things and I would love to team with you.

This is unnecessary as the agent will assume as much and you need every word and line to count. The less scrolling of the page the agent has to do, the better. Also, you only need to mention your published and sold credentials, not helpful critique groups (though that is great! Congrats on finding that)

A simple "Thank you for your time I look forward to hearing from you." is probably best to sign off. When each word counts, we have to omit the ones the agent can assume by seeing you've put the effort into writing the book and query.

I hope that was helpful. Good luck!

Rick Daley said...

I agree with The Screaming Guppy that you do not want to query for a novel until the manuscript is complete. With non-fiction it's OK, but not for a novel.

Pay very close attention to every word and its meaning:

"death becomes a very real option for refusing to participate."

Death would be a result of refusing to participate, not an option (choice / motivation) to refuse.

Little things like this can have a big impact. If there are misused words in a query, the agent will assume they are in the manuscript, too.

Of course, that's why I started this blog and why we all spend so much time revising our queries. Better to get feedback here than a form rejection from your favorite agent!

"I write in the genres you seek and am an award nominated, multi-published author already contracted with several small houses. I’ve recently sold two short stories to a new romance magazine."

- Mention the specific awards and the specific publications in which your works have been published, but only if you think the agent will think "wow!" when reading it, otherwise, you want the focus to be on the story.

You will also want to revise this to include the ending. Is she released? Do we find out why she was framed? I know you haven't finished the manuscript, but I assume you know how the story will be resolved. The agent will want to know that, too.

Anonymous said...

I realize I cannot submit until complete and I would certainly change that portion of the query when that times come. I was hoping to submit this for some positive feedback in the meantime. I suppose I shouldn't have assumed you would know that. Believe it or not, I followed the guidelines for an agent I wish to query, and this was information he stated should be included. thank you all for your input.

Rick Daley said...

Anon,

It definitely seems like you're doing your homework, and that constitutes several steps in the right direction.

Researching your target agents and tailoring your query to their preferences is key.

Good luck!

The Screaming Guppy said...

Good to know you're aware of the complete fiction only rule.

Even with some things that a specific agent might want, here's what I would tweak.

I'm sure readers will sense the terror, isolation and cold gray interior of prison life while walking in my heroine's shoes.

I would cut this line. Or rework it to be a hook instead of what you believe a reader wants in your pitch of the idea. Better to let the story present these ideas than you.

Like most authors, I aspire to bigger and better things and I would love to team with you.Saying this is something I've never seen any agent suggest. This is an understood - all writers want to be better, and you wouldn't query this agent unless you wanted to team with them, right?

I write in the genres you seek and am an award nominated, multi-published author already contracted with several small houses. I’ve recently sold two short stories to a new romance magazine.Stating the genre of your novel in the letter covers that you write in the genre of your agent. You don't need to repeat it. If you mention awards, publishing houses and presses you are contract with, you are required to say where, what, and when. Agents need details so they can verify your claim and/or look into more about if they're interested.

My love for writing and past experience in creating and editing forms/publications for my position at the University of California nurtured my desire to be an author. Aside from a personal website featuring excerpts from my published work, I maintain a very active blog and membership to a multitude of author/reader groups and promotional sites. I also participate in two critique groups that have been very helpful. I can be reached at (redacted)if you have questions, or I respond very well to email at (redacted)Does your job relate to fiction writing? If not, it shouldn't be included in the query. (I took out my own job reference from my query, even though I actively utilize a creative writing degree, since technically, I write creative non-fiction and my query was for fiction.)

Unless the agent specifically asked to know what inspired you to write, it should be cut. Every writer loves writing, and has something that inspired them to do it. But what matters to the agent is if they like your novel, not your personal story. Unless, of course, you write a memoir or an autobiography. ;)

Also, crit groups don’t need to be included - unless the agent asked directly if you do crit groups?

As for your web and blog, if suggested by the agent to include it, do so in a short concise way. Just state what it is, that you have samples up, and give the website/blog site. The sites will speak for themselves. (I understand that you might intend to put the address in later, but even with that consideration, the idea is to keep it as simple as possible here.) Memberships and communities aren't really something that should be included either. (Unless the agent asked specifically what groups you are in and, again, if they are widely known, you should site where the agent can find them. Again, only if directly asked.)

As for the closing, the very busy thing is something I've seen every agent I've ever looked at say don't. A thank you and even the hopes for interest in the manuscript is okay, but an agent’s job is to read queries, and sounding like you feel that you are wasting their time by querying is a turn off.

Again, I haven't looked at every agent, and perhaps the one you are querying does have some query expectations that are not consistent with the agents I've researched. So this is only based on what I know.

I hope this comment provides you with the feedback you were looking for. My goal is the same as Rick’s when he set this forum up – to help. For me, the best help is brutal honesty, so that’s how I try to help others.

:)