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 32nd installment in this series is with agent Ayesha Pande (Collins Literary) and her author, Justin Kramon, for the literary fiction novel, Finny (set for release July 2010). Justin keeps a blog of free resources for writers looking to publish their work at justinkramon.wordpress.com.
Dear Ms. Collins: (co-agent of Ayesha)
I am writing because I’m currently looking for an agent to represent my novel and short story collection, and I met you a few years ago when you came to visit the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I just really liked talking with you in our meeting, and you seemed interested in the work I was doing, so I thought I’d get in touch to see if you might be interested in seeing some of my writing. I’ve heard that the writers from the Workshop who have worked with you have been really happy.
Let me tell you a little about myself. I’m twenty-seven years old, a 2004 graduate of the Workshop with an M.F.A. in fiction. The collection I’ve finished was awarded the Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, and I’ve received several other fellowships, including a Sun Valley Writers’ Fellowship and a BookHampton Fellowship. I’ve published about half the stories in my collection in literary magazines, including Glimmer Train, Fence, Story Quarterly, and Boulevard. A story published last year (“Shel” in Glimmer Train) was selected by the most recent Best American Short Stories as one of their “100 Distinguished Stories.”
The novel that I’ve just finished is a love story, told in third person, from the point of view of a woman named Finny Short. It begins when the main character is fifteen, and it moves across twenty years of her life, ending when she’s thirty-five. In addition to being a love story, it’s a story about a young woman embarking upon the adventures of growing up, adventures in which she meets many lively and eccentric characters, including a seductive heiress named Judith Turngate, a domineering-but-kindhearted mother figure named Poplan with a love of exotic Asian fruits and Irish fiddle music, and a narcoleptic piano teacher named Menalcus Henckel whose mysterious past turns out to bear on Finny’s future. My aim was for the book to be a densely plotted Dickensian adventure in which a young person emerges into the world. But instead of having it be a young man, such as David Copperfield or Augie March or T.S. Garp, I wanted to write a World According to Garp about a woman, navigating the hilarious and treacherous and heartbreaking paths of adult life.
I have enclosed an S.A.S.E. for reply, or you can contact me by email or phone – whatever’s best. I would love to send you work from the collection and the novel, if you think these books might be of interest to you. Also, two mentors – the writers Ethan Canin and Bob Shacochis – have said that I should mention they are fans. Thanks so much for your time.
Commentary from Ayesha
The letter is personable, well written, and makes mention of a past meeting or personal connection—something that is much more likely to evoke a response. A sad reality is that publishing is just like any other industry: knowing people helps. Justin mention other clients that Nina represents, which means he's done his research and knows his work would be the kind of thing she’d be interested in.
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop establishes credentials, but more so do the fellowships and publications in literary journals and the fact that he completed a novel. Many aspiring authors query too early and short stories are extremely difficult to place.
Justin mentions having the support of Bob Shacochis and Ethan Canin. Again, letting me know that he'll be able to get support by established writers, whether in the form of blurbs or joint readings or nominations for awards—that’s really important and helpful. I frequently ask debut authors to request a blurb to send out with the submission—it can help editors when they’re pitching to their editorial board.
The description of the novel is succinct and makes comparisons to other books. “Comps” are so important—they give us a way to place the novel within a literary context.
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