Query letter sample

I don’t normally do this, get all self-indulgent with post after post about my work, but I had an idea today which I really need to pass by someone. I’m sitting in a cafe wracking my brains to come up with a query letter to literary agents and can’t get beyond the boring standard method of approach. You know the old routine: ‘I’m looking for representation and I saw your website and read about how you’re looking for a fresh voice and strong storytelling…’

Bearing in mind the fact that literary agents might not actually read beyond the first line of a query letter I had a moment of brilliance/madness (delete after you’ve read this post) and I’d like an independent opinion. Without saying any more this is what I thought of using as my query letter: (Let’s assume the agent’s name is Jane Smith.)

Dear Ms Smith

Writing this query letter is harder than writing a novel, so I’ve abandoned the idea and decided to let the novel’s protagonist Frieda Schoenhofer pitch it to you on my behalf. I hope you don’t mind.

Hello Jane

I’m a little more forthcoming than Chris and don’t have much time for the contradictory niceties I know you literary types love so much. I’m a business woman in Bamberg, a very successful business woman, but what happened to me one night in Rotterdam left my world upside down and my parents grief stricken.

I have every right to feel aggrieved about the events in Rotterdam and one day I’ll find the bastard who murdered me, but for now I have a more urgent issue to deal with. My father collected film memorabilia and when he heard of my death he threw it all away. The memories contained in the collection were just too painful for him.

But I’m not dead. I’m not alive either and this is the story of how I find that film collection and bring it home. It’s also a story of redemption and my attempts, not always successful, to make amends for a previous life of wickedness. I’m not sure my parents will appreciate what I was, but I’m certain they won’t like what I’ve become and they must never find out.

However, that isn’t something you need to worry about, Jane. To be honest I’m not too worried about Chris’s attempts to sell this novel. He doesn’t write for teenagers who seem to gobble up this kind of paranormal stuff, and he makes life difficult for himself by including this novel in a wider series of stories that seems to go on forever. (It all sounds over-complex if you ask me.)

I’d love to stay longer, but a friend has asked me to reverse the effects of an exorcism. What fascinating times we live in, don’t you think, Jane?

Frieda Schoenhofer
October 2015

The One Rule of Magic is 60 000 words. Please find attached a synopsis and the opening three chapters. I hope to hear from you soon.

Yours sincerely
Chris Harrison

Am I on to something here or shooting myself in the foot?

Promise to talk about something different in the next post on Friday. (You’ll like that one!)


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28 thoughts on “Query letter sample

  1. I’m late to this party, Chris, but for what it’s worth, I’d like to be singularly unhelpful and say that it’s a moot point asking other writers this question, because the only ones who can answer it are the agents themselves. It strikes me however that they’ll either love it or hate this idea, which means it’s polarising, so 50% of your targets may not read past the first 2 lines – whereas a plain old ordinary query letter with a 1- or 2-line hook might at least lead them to read part of your submission (where you could mess around with voice if so inclined).

    Every writing seminar I’ve ever been to – including ones with participating agents – has advised that agents want query letters to be brief and free from quirks. After all, they want to find books that will sell: it’s their bread and butter. I believe this translates into them at least scanning first chapters/synopses, unless of course they’re superstar agents who aren’t taking on any new authors anyway, or you’re targeting a children’s fiction agent with an erotic horror novel. Just my 678 cents worth, sorry for going on at length.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Length is good. Shortness is Twitter and we all know what that means.

      The reason for taking this route – and as others have suggested, it’s probably not something to try with every agent – is that a standard query letter doesn’t work anyway. I’ve written literally hundreds over the years (first one around 1997ish) and I’ve reached the point where I don’t trust agents’ advice.

      Some say be brief, but I’ve seen successful query letters that were far from brief. I am totally at a loss and trying not to swear about it, but after this approach my next round of query letters will be tied to bricks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, but just a thought – are you sure success or failure is all down to the query letter? Is it not more dependent on the hook/synopsis etc? It doesn’t matter how long or smart your query letter is, the description of the plot is what has to lead to further reading.

        The problem is that whether you trust agents’ advice or not, they still have the power in a situation where we’re asking them to read our stuff, so their advice is all we have. This reminds me actually that a friend of mine once got praise for a gimmicky letter she wrote to an agent. He said it caught his attention. However, he didn’t take her on, and other agents hated it, so in the end she had to revert back to standard format anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. My starting point was the agent who said a judgement is made after the first sentence of the letter. No matter how good the sample material was it won’t be seen at if the agent doesn’t get past that first sentence.

          I don’t believe every agent has that approach, and I know some agents don’t even read the letters, their assistants do. But I’m winging it on this one. If the whole letter was ‘written by the character’ I’d understand the caution, but I think limiting it to the blurb element is acceptible.

          We can only try. Thing is, because they only reply using standard forms of rejection I won’t know if they hate the sample chapters or hate the letter. Maybe one will get so irate they’ll spill the beans.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Fair enough on the agent’s comment, but I have to say I don’t believe that for a second. Any agent who judges on the first line of a letter is either not looking for new talent full stop, or has a pathological hatred of certain genres. They should only be approached wearing full body armour and carrying sage. Or not at all.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with Rupert on this one. Try it once and see what happens. It’s tricky when you’re querying in character. Some agents don’t have time to fool around and will toss it without answering. You’ll have to query the right agent. I gotta tell ya, though, it’s an absolutely brilliant idea, Chris! Best of luck! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t word the whole query in character, but the query letter should include the book’s blurb, which I thought would sound different presented ‘in person.’

      I’m in no position to be choosy trying to get an agent, but if one can’t see the irony in this approach I don’t think they’d be the right agent for me.

      But I do need to check the agents and find the ones who might be the most receptive to this kind of approach.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Definitely worth a try, if only with one or 2 agents. And I agree with Jane Dougherty — focus on the positive. You might consider removing the bit about “contradictory niceties” in one of the early paragraphs and changing the second-to-last one so it sounds less complaining. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be tweaking the words a bit to make sure my ‘voice’ remains different to that of Frieda’s. The negatives have come out, but I’ll be leaving in the ‘contradictory niceties’ phrase. It sounds like an insult the agents won’t want to hear, but it typifies Frieda’s ‘voice.’ If they understand the irony they’ll understand the book; if they don’t get it, then maybe they’re not the right agent for me… The whole idea is risky, so who dares wins and all that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It could be that risk-taking will generate interest. Voice is so important in fiction that demonstrating your ability to create a distinctive one should impress. BTW, I prefer to consider these efforts as “offerings” rather than “submissions.” Writers presenting their polished creations should not feel submissive.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. For what it’s worth, I found it interesting; so far as practical usage, however, I think it depends on the agent in question. It might fly at a smaller house or one focused on more unique projects… And ultimately, I think that an agent who appreciates the humor and style of this letter is one who will be more inclined to work better and harder with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure there wil lbe some who are ‘rubbed up the wrong way’ by this approach. Hopefully they’ll understand what I’m trying to do and that the irony isn’t lost on them. (ie It really isn’t me making the comment about ‘contradictory niceties;’ that really is the character’s style.)

      But I’ve overestimated people’s intelligence before! Certainly if an agent does get it, we’ll get on like a house on fire. Assuming they like the rest of the novel of course.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. No, I think you’re closer to the rabbit hole than you think. Much of what I’ve learned about interviews, applications, and the whole “getting employed” process is how to stand out and get people’s attention, even if you don’t make yourself look perfect, because it’s not about being the “perfect candidate” — it’s about getting noticed. And to do that you have to be creative and assertive.

    Short of knowing people in the business (i.e. connections), I would explore this alternate route and see where this takes you. Certainly can’t hurt. I’m not terribly familiar with the publishing business, but to me this seems like an efficient way of selling your story and yourself at the same time. Plus, it’s funny and *memorable* to be addressed by a fictional character.

    Think outside the box, I say. There are lots of smart, talented people out there who don’t know how to stand out from the crowd. Why not go against the grain?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A rejection is a rejection, whatever the initial query letter is like, so I can’t lose anything by giving it a try. My approach is in response to the many contradictions that are out there masquerading as advice. But as you say, getting noticed is the whole point. Some use the term ‘discoverability.’

      I think it conveys the tone of the novel, and presents the ‘blurb’ that is expected in a query. I probably need to make my own presence felt a little more in order to make the character stand out more. In fact, there’s a correlation with your reply in the comments on your own blog about film makers and their messages: style over substance. In a query letter that might just work!

      Thanks for the comment.


  6. I wish I had some sure fire advice to give, Chris, but as I am the writer with what must be the lowest response rate to queries in the business, if I did have, I’d have already acted upon it and got an agent. Agents, I believe, aren’t looking for originality. Nor do they want to read more than a couple of sentences. They like a short, snappy hook. More a TV advert than a book blurb. If you do use this idea, and it might work, I’d make it shorter, and cut out the negative stuff at the end. Smile at her. Don’t say who won’t like it or how crap you are at writing query letters. Positive thinking. Pretend you’re an American. If it works will you write one for me please?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If it works, I’ll definitely write one for you. In fact I might write a How To… book and milk it for all it’s worth.

      I’ve also tried everything over the course of ten years. This is the only approach I haven’t tried. I’ll have another look at the negative elements.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s better than: ‘my name is [name] my job is [a job] I have been writing for [X] years and I enjoy [a predictable hobby] this story is [good but I’m shit at marketing so please forgive my lacklustre summary] please employ me’.

    Try it with at least one agent and see what happens. If you’re only approaching one agent then try it anyway. G’luck!

    Liked by 1 person

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