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Successful Queries: Agent Elisabeth Weed and “The Arrivals”

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Literary Fiction, Successful Queries.

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

The 54th installment in this series is with agent Elisabeth Weed (Weed Literary) for Meg Mitchell Moore’s debut novel, The Arrivals (May 25, 2011; Reagan Arthur Books). Learn more at megmitchellmoore.com, or through Meg’s Twitter.

 

 

Dear Ms. Weed:

My name is Meg Moore, and I’m writing to you to see if you’d be interested in taking a look at my first novel.

The novel, THE ARRIVALS, tells the story of Ginny and William Owen, retired parents of three grown children, who lead a peaceful life in Burlington, Vermont. But one summer, when their oldest daughter Lillian brings her two young children to her parents’ house to escape her crumbling marriage, things start to get complicated. It’s not just Lillian turning to Ginny and William for help. Lillian’s younger brother Stephen is preparing for fatherhood with his successful, ambitious and misunderstood wife Jane when pregnancy complications extend a weekend visit to his parents into a weeks-long bed rest. Rachel, the youngest Owen sibling, who is trying to forge an independent life in New York City, needs help of a different sort: money, and lots of it.

As Lillian embarks on a friendship with a young priest, tension builds between Ginny and William over how much to allow the lives of their children to intrude into theirs, and between the siblings as they realize that even as adults they are competing for their parents’ help and attention. By the end of the summer, each character has had to learn how to negotiate the precarious landscape of family love and loyalty. Each has had to re-examine his or her assumptions about balancing professional success and parenting. And everyone has discovered, in his own way, that a parent never stops being a parent.

One reader has compared the novel’s themes to those of Heidi Pitlor’s THE BIRTHDAYS, and I think it will find an audience in readers of that novel as well as novels by Joanna Trollope or Carol Shields—writers who use domestic settings to illuminate universal themes.

I work as a freelance writer in Newburyport, Mass., where I live with my husband and my three little girls. I have published work in a variety of lifestyle and business magazines, including Yankee, Women’s Health, Advertising Age, Continental and many others. In 2005 I attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where I studied with Claire Messud.

Thank you for your time and your consideration. I am including the first few pages in this email.

Sincerely,

Meg Mitchell Moore

Comments from Elisabeth

The first thing that jumped out at me was that she studied with Claire Messud. I had just read and loved The Emperor’s Children, so that resonated for sure. And when she used Heidi Pitlor’s The Birthdays as a comp, I knew I had to read it. I happen to know Heidi through publishing and thought her novel was wonderful. And, it turned out, it was an appropriate comp title for Meg’s debut.

I am a sucker for domestic novels and the more honest, the better. I think Meg articulated that this was not a fairy tale version of family life, but one in which very real relationships rear their ugly heads. I think the lines here that really stuck with me were these: “By the end of the summer, each character has had to learn how to negotiate the precarious landscape of family love and loyalty. Each has had to re-examine his or her assumptions about balancing professional success and parenting. And everyone has discovered, in his own way, that a parent never stops being a parent.”

I learned later that Meg had signed up to meet with me at Grub St.’s Muse & the Marketplace conference the following month but after she read the description of what I was looking for she queried me ahead of that. We didn’t need the meeting—I had signed her by that point!

I think I pitched the book by asking the question, “What happens when adult siblings return to their childhood home, with their grownup problems in tow?” I submitted it to publishers and we sold it very quickly, in a pre-empt and a two-book deal to Reagan Arthur at RAB/Little, Brown. The Arrivals comes out on May 25, 2011.

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2 Responses to Successful Queries: Agent Elisabeth Weed and “The Arrivals”

  1. Judith Marshall says:

    This is so confusing. Everything I’ve read about query letters tells you not to compare your work to anyone else. Also the beginning paragraphs read more like a synopsis. I’m at a loss.

  2. Kristan says:

    What’s interesting to me is that this is a very densely written query, but the parts that really stuck out for Ms. Weed were the comp titles and the author that Meg had studied with. I think it shows that you can balance your letter — dense parts with simple information, narrative voice with plain old facts.

    I love Ms. Weed’s pitch question, actually! That, to me, is a perfect one-liner for this story.

    Thanks for sharing!

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