Successful Queries: Agent Laney Katz Becker and ‘Simply From Scratch’

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 letter worked. 

The 27th installment in this series is with agent Laney Katz Becker (Markson Thoma Literary Agency) and her author, Alicia Bessette, for her upmarket women’s fiction book, Simply From Scratch.

 

Dear Ms. Katz Becker,

Please consider representing my upmarket women’s novel, Simply From Scratch.

Her husband died more than a year ago, yet 34-year-old medical illustrator Rosellen Roy still feels raw and a bit undone. Her reticent widowhood is disrupted when she forms an unlikely friendship with a spirited nine-year-old, Ingrid, who insists that celebrity chef Polly Pinch is her real mother. The pair aims to win a high-stakes Polly Pinch baking contest, donating the winnings. But when Ingrid disappears in a blizzard, Rosellen’s fear of love lost is reawakened.

Simply From Scratch is set in Wippamunk, a fictional New England town where the locals are quirky as the foothills are wild. The story was loosely inspired by my work at a small-town newspaper in my native Massachusetts. I’m a staff writer for the alumnae magazine of Bryn Mawr College.

I live outside Philadelphia with my husband Matthew Quick (author of The Silver Linings Playbook, FSG/Sarah Crichton Books) and our greyhound, a retired racer.

Thank you for taking the time to review my query. My 85,000-word manuscript is available for consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Alicia Bessette

Commentary from Laney

True confession time: When queries for fiction don’t include the first few pages of the novel, I typically just pass. I like to be able to just scroll down and check out the author’s writing style before I ask for more material. BUTWhen Alicia Bessette’s query for first came to me, I knew it was something I wanted to take a look at.

The query opening is not the most creative, but it identifies the project, so at least I know it’s the kind of novel I represent.

After reading the pitch, I’m loving this because it all sounds so fresh. You can literally go through each sentence and not come up with another novel that features the same thing. For instance, can you name another book where the protagonist is a medical illustrator? How about a story where a young girl and an adult woman (who aren’t related) form some special bond? And a celebrity chef?! It all just sounds like a
story I haven’t read before—and I really like that.

She says the characters are quirky. I’m not a big fan of quirky, but she’s got me hooked. I’m definitely asking for the first 50 pages. Her credentials don’t knock my socks off,
but I always like it when first-time authors have some writing experience. The fact that her hubby’s an author is also good because she will likely have realistic expectations. Lastly, bless her heart—at 85,000 words, it’s a perfect length for this type of fiction.

I immediately read her 50 pages and then the entire manuscript. And then … what happened? Alicia writes about it (and more) on the Sept. 30, 2009 entry on The Debutante Ball website, where she blogs each Wednesday. Simply From Scratch comes out Aug. 10, 2010. (If you’re in a reading group or just love upmarket women’s fiction, you can mark your calendars NOW, because this is a novel you won’t want to miss!)


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3 thoughts on “Successful Queries: Agent Laney Katz Becker and ‘Simply From Scratch’

  1. bconklin

    Thanks for the sample query, Laney. I now feel like I’m on track with my own queries. I was surprised the first sentence was such a simple hook, but it sounds honest and sincere. I know sometimes gimmicky and humorous can be an instant turn-off. You nailed it with the primary ingredient: “fresh.” I’m still working on making my opening pages less “talky,” as you’ve recommended to me with a couple past submissions.

  2. Kristan

    Thanks so much for sharing this sample query! It’s refreshing to see one that lacks agent personalization, crazy writing creds, or "voice" – not because any of those things are bad, but because this is a clean, well-written query that doesn’t follow those "rules" and yet it still succeeded!

    In fact, there’s something very straightforward and "clean" about this query that appeals to me more than some of the others have. But of course, it’s all about taste in this biz.

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