With the exception of shoe size and the fact that I don’t do floors, Cinderella and I are basically twins separated at birth. My stepsisters, Query and Rejection, had been hounding me for months and I was starting to lose hope, when one magical day I received a phone call from an editor—suddenly my editor—telling me that I’d won the St. Martin’s Minotaur/ Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition and that my manuscript was going to be published. It was the greatest day of my life—with the possible, though not absolute, exception of the births of my kids (and please don’t tell them I said that). Guest column by Janice Hamrick, author of Death on Tour (2011, Minotaur), the winner of the 2010 St. Martin’s Minotaur/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition.
I am looking for brilliant new historical fiction, and am holding a pitch contest to find those hidden pearls. I currently represent historical fiction authors Sharyn McCrumb, Diane Haeger, Carrie Bebris, Amanda Elyot, newcomers Anne Barnhill and Juliet Grey, and many other New York Times bestselling authors.
1. I look for something that jumps out at me in an original way. So many thriller queries sound the same that they all start to blur. I lean toward things that have a romanticized air to them, such as finding Noah's Ark or chasing down some ancient legend or artifact. But so much of that has been done that you need to be careful. Try for something that is fresh and appealing without being too off the mark. 2. So many thrillers are male-driven. No matter how smartass the obligatory female character may be, if she always needs to be rescued, it's a drag.
Urban fantasy has become a catchall phrase for contemporary-set fantasy and magical realism. It draws on many traditions of fantasy, horror, hardboiled crime fiction and even romance, blending them together in differing degrees to give us new stories with old tropes. It first really broke out with Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series in the 90s and has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since, cross-pollinating additional genres as it goes, including of course young adult. By this point, it’s a mature subgenre and very crowded. So can a new author still hope to break out? Of course! Here are a few things to keep in mind as you go about breaking out.
This new 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 37th installment in this series is with agent Rebecca Strauss (McIntosh & Otis) and her author, Allie Larkin, for the women's fiction novel, Stay (which was just published this week by Dutton!).
There are lots of dos and don’ts list out there (and I’ve added to that pile), but overall, it’s an approach that agents and agents’ assistants look for: 1. A professional style and format that says, "I am a writer, I take this seriously, I understand that how I write, structure, and format a query letter (shocker!) affects how people view my writing as a whole." 2. Stay formal, specific and direct. Definitely mention why you’re querying this agent/agency (e.g., an interview you read with them, titles they represent) so it shows you’ve done your research and aren’t just sending this into the stratosphere hoping for a reply.
1. Write down questions to ask the agent. Some debut authors are nervous about taking up an agent’s time so they will not communicate concerns or questions upon an offer on representation. After the initial rush and excitement of the offer, there will most definitely be questions, but oftentimes, the mind will go blank when you are actually on the phone. Make sure you take some time to mull over any questions you may have at this step in the process, so that you are prepared when the offer comes in! 2. Make sure the agent has all your info. Make sure, after signing, that the agent has all of your contact information, and also ask what promotional materials they might need for their website (a jpeg of an author photo, the link to your website, etc).
1. They try to throw too much into the story, thinking it will appeal to more people that way...