Successful Queries: Agent Barbara Poelle and “Untold Damage” (Mystery)

This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 60th installment in this series is with agent Barbara Poelle (Irene Goodman Literary) for Robert Lewis’s 2013 debut mystery, UNTOLD DAMAGE (Midnight Ink, April 2013). The author, Bay Area resident Robert K. Lewis, is a contributor to Macmillan’s crime fiction fansite, Criminal Element. Lewis is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the International Thriller Writers, and the Crime Writers Association.

(How should you discuss a book’s series potential in a query letter?)





Dear Ms. Poelle,

I’d like to tell you about my latest mystery novel, UNTOLD DAMAGE (73,685 words). Genre and word count right away. Good.

Mark Mallen had been a great cop, before he succumbed to the needle. Driven from the narcotics division and run off the force, Mallen’s been surviving day-to-day in the gritty world of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Atmospheric locale, if done well. I know the Tenderloin will be both the setting AND a character in its own right. But just as if it looks like his life will end in addiction, Mallen learns that his best friend from his police days, Eric Russ, has been murdered and Mallen himself named as the prime suspect. The man hidden deep inside the addict is prompted to action, as Mallen sees an opportunity to redeem himself and re-emerge. I am a fan of the unlikely hero.

However, staying clean turns out to be the least of his problems. As Mallen struggles to find Eric’s killer, a couple of enforcers from his undercover days come after his head, along with a growing number of people that seem to want him dead the deeper he dives into the tangled threads of the investigation. When he finally comes close to unraveling it all, he discovers at its center something more dark than anything he could’ve ever imagined: the murder trail leads directly back to an ugly secret Eric never wanted anyone to know. I am a big fan of ugly secrets. I knew I had to read the book.

I am writing to you because I read on that you were passionate about mysteries. I am hoping that mine is one you could also feel passionate about. My short fiction has been published in various online literary journals, including Pindeldyboz, Cherry Bleeds, and Word Riot. His work has been deemed publishable already, so I know he has the basic grasp of craft. I am also a produced screenwriter with another script currently under option. Without the names of the production companies, I can be wary, but this also generally lends itself to the idea that I can expect to see a very pace-y, tight narrative.

Thank you for your time.

Best wishes,

Robert Lewis

After reading Robert’s manuscript, I loved it so much that I called to offer representation. He wasn’t home, so I talked to his wife and demanded that she make him let me represent his work … I never said I played fair!


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