Successful Queries: Agent Barbara Poelle and ‘A Bad Day For Sorry’

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 11th installment in this series is with agent Barbara Poelle (Irene Goodman Literary) and her author, Sophie Littlefield, for her crime book, A Bad Day For Sorry.

Dear Ms. Poelle:

I am seeking representaton for my 75,000-word thriller, A Bad Day for Sorry.

Three years ago, rural Missouri housewife Stella Hardesty stopped her wife-beating husband in his tracks for good.  After being acquitted of his murder, Stella launched a career helping other abused women put an end to their problems.  When Stella’s on the job, abusive husbands and boyfriends disappear – sometimes to the far side of town, and sometimes forever.

When young mother Chrissy Shaw asks Stella for help with her no-good husband, it seems like a straightforward case.  Until Roy Dean Shaw disappears with Chrissy’s 2-year-old son from a previous relationship.  Now Stella and Chrissy must battle two-bit crooks and deadly Kansas City mafia to get the boy back – all the while staying one step ahead of the law.

I have written professionally for 10 years, publishing articles in computing, parenting, and women’s magazines, and most recently working as a copywriter and editor for C&T Publishing.  My short story, “Anything for You,” was a runner-up for the Crime Writers’ Association’s 2007 Fish-Knife Award.  Other short stories will appear in upcoming issues of Thuglit and Pulp Pusher.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.  My first 10 pages and synopsis follow.  Upon your request, I would be happy to provide the complete manuscript.

Sophie Littlefield

Commentary From Barbara

This query is an interesting one for me as far as, at first glance, it isn’t terribly extraordinary.  But when broken down, you can see why the request for further materials was a no-brainer.  First, I like the simple opening line explaining the genre and word count.  I know exactly what I’m getting and I am absolutely on the hunt for thrillers, and very public about it, so she’s got me pegged already.

The pitch begins and it taps into the synopsis – and at this point, I realized what appeared to be a standard straightforward query holds a wildly unique and extremely concise plot, as well as an original female protagonist.  Now she has me.  That is why I am using this query as an example.  In the end, it should be the plot that gets me, not the mechanics of the query itself.

The next paragraph is a real corker, and not for the reasons you may think.  The articles are excellent, and I could certainly request a full list of publications, but it was her technical writing experience juxtaposed against her publications in Thuglit and Pulp Pusher that flicked the light from yellow to green.  Here you have someone who clearly works within the realm of proper narrative and technical execution at her day job, but is also in forums where gritty, pulpy stories are ripe with violence and sass.  At this point, I had to take a peek.  (The first 10 pages were attached, and they were very, very, very good.)  After I read the full, I told Sophie I would “get into a monkey knife fight” to represent her.

In the end, what works here is the concise query telling me the hook, the book and the cook.  It opens introducing the hook: A formerly abused housewife “helps” other women in need.  The book: a brief two-paragraph look at the story.  And the cook: Littlefield and her writing credits.



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