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11:00 pm: Query Project
Over at the group sfnovelists, Joshua Palmatier suggested we post our own successful query letters on our blogs along with comments, and provide links to the other blogs that are doing the same.

I don’t think mine will be much help to anyone, because I was in an unusual position, being a previously published author who had taken a long break, but it might be of some interest anyway.

So here it is – with the other blog links at the bottom of the post.:

Agent X
Bigtime Agency
666 West 66th Street, Suite 666
New York, NY 10000

Dear Agent,

I am a previously published mystery writer. (Carnivores, St. Martin’s Press, 1989 and Signet/NAL, 1990; Ten Of Swords, St. Martin’s Press, 1991) My editor at St. Martin’s was Ruth Cavin. Publishers Weekly reviewed Carnivores as “...a rave-worthy mystery.” Stephen King wrote a blurb for the paperback, calling it “...a fast-moving, compulsive read...a writer to watch.”

(This seems to break the first rule of query letter writing – hook the agent in the first paragraph; don’t talk about yourself. But it doesn’t really – I just had an unusual hook – the fact that I was legitimately published in genre, although not specifically uf. My idea was that after reading this, a prospective agent would say, “okay, here’s someone worth taking a look at.” Mentioning the Stephan King blurb is obvious, and Ruth Cavin is a legendary editor in the mystery field.)

After a long hiatus, taken for boring and irrelevant reasons, I have just completed a new novel. It is a light fantasy set in contemporary San Francisco. My former agent, Knox Burger, has retired due to age and health issues, and I am looking for new representation.

(I felt I had to mention my long break from writing – if I just pretended it didn’t exist, agents might wonder about lt. My former agent was also legendary, and in fact mentioning his name did get me a request for a full by an agent who had known him and trusted his taste in books and authors.)

This novel, Dog Days, is narrated in first person by Mason, a jazz musician and reluctant magical practitioner. He finds himself under magical attack by unknown persons, and the book follows his efforts to solve the mystery, aided by various friends and colleagues. Although he does encounter, among other things, some quite unpleasant supernatural creatures, this is not a book that features elves, dwarves, goblins, or high-fantasy speech. It does have a semi-magical dog–don’t be put off; it’s not as hokey as it sounds.

(Here’s where I could have done better. There’s nothing to distinguish this book from a thousand others. But, I’d made the decision to emphasize my credentials as a writer, and there wasn’t much space left to talk about the book, esp since I wanted to keep the letter short.

Also, the book wasn’t that easy to catagorize, except as urban fantasy. There’s no obvious hook for it -- like a police detective who is also a vampire or debutante whose boyfriend is a werewolf, or a secret magical society bent on word domination.)

At 95,000 words, this is the first of a projected series. Although the plot is occasionally dark, the style is basically light in tone, humorous but not tongue-in-cheek, and is meant above all to be readable and entertaining.

(Again, giving my own description of what the book is like is not usually the best strategy. But I actually wanted to weed out agents who wouldn’t be interested in this type of book. Why waste everyone’s time? The advisability of saying that your book is part of a series is often debated, but I think in urban fantasy specifically, it is a plus.)


If this sounds like something you might have an interest in, please let me know and I can send you sample chapters and a synopsis or whatever you would like. Thanks for your time and consideration.

Cordially,


John Levitt

So, was this query successful? Well, yes, because I ended up with a great agent. And yes, because I got many requests for partials and even a for a few fulls later on, right off the query letter..

But not as successful as it should have been, given my advantage of being previously published.. It took quite a while for me to get my agent. I had plenty of form rejections. And the very first agent I queried, the one who I felt I had the best chance with considering the other authors she repped, sent a polite rejection saying that although my credentials were impressive, she just wasn’t grabbed by my description of the book. Certainly if I'd had some advice from experienced authors back then I could have done better.

Anyway,  I hope this was of interest to those of you looking for an agent -- and check out those other author letters.







Comments

From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 12th, 2008 06:59 am (UTC)

Question

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Where or how do we send you these successful query letters. I do have one.

Yours,

Chris Stevenson

stevenson_333@msn.com
[User Picture]
From:johnlevitt
Date:September 12th, 2008 03:34 pm (UTC)

Re: Question

(Link)
Joshua set this up through the sfnovelists group. (http://www.sfnovelists.com/) It was a one time project for members of the group, as far as I know.
[User Picture]
From:bearmountain
Date:September 21st, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
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Just based on the fact that Ruth Cavin edited your books I would read them!!!! I think she was a fabulous editor and was bummed when she retired.

(I also read Dog Days and loved it, of course.)

I'm looking forward to the latest book as well!!!!!

Maria
www.BearMountainBooks.com
[User Picture]
From:johnlevitt
Date:September 21st, 2008 09:11 pm (UTC)
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Well, thanks.

Ruth Cavin was a wonderful woman. All correspondence back then was through actual letters. I wish I'd saved them, but at the time I had no idea what an icon she was -- I was clueless about all aspects of publishing.

I'm not much for saving stuff anyway -- even when I mean to, I lose whatever it is sooner or later.
[User Picture]
From:bearmountain
Date:September 21st, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
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You're welcome! :>)

You should send Ruth Cavin a note if you can find her. I bet she'd love to hear from you. Shoot, send her your lovely Dog Days. I bet she'd love it!!

Tell her for me that I loved the stuff she edited.

Write on! I'll be watching for the stories!

Maria

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