Successful Queries: Agent Dan Lazar and "The Bells"

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 42nd installment in this series is with agent Dan Lazar (Writers House) and his author, Richard Harvell, for his historical novel, The Bells, which came out this week (Sept. 14, 2010) from Crown. Booklist said this of the book: "Harvell has fashioned an engrossing first novel ringing with sounds; a musical and literary treat."
Author:
Publish date:

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 42nd installment in this series is with agent Dan Lazar (Writers House) and his author, Richard Harvell, for his historical novel, The Bells, which came out this week (Sept. 14, 2010) from Crown. Booklist said this of the book: "Harvell has fashioned an engrossing first novel ringing with sounds; a musical and literary treat."


Image placeholder title

Dear Mr. Lazar,

I have recently completed a historical novel, and read in several interviews that you enjoy historical fiction and distinct characters. I am hoping that you would find all this and more in my novel, THE BELLS.

"God gave me everything I ever needed, except for that which He took away," Il Svizzero—the last great castrato—writes this in 1806, when he is finally ready to tell the secrets of his life. From his birth in a belfry high in the Alps to his appearance on Europe’s greatest stages., THE BELLS is the confession of a killer, a kidnapper, and a lover who had no right to love. It is the recollection of the boy with a supernatural sense of hearing—with ears that heard a deaf mother’s cries, the hateful gurgle of a father’s throat, and the beating of a lover’s heart.

History mixes with fantasy in the story of Il Svizzero’s life: from Uri, Switzerland to the Abbey of St. Gall and finally to Vienna, where, in 1762, he hides beneath the greatest stage in Europe for the premiere of Willibald Gluck’s "Orfeo ed Euridice"—the opera that would change him and music forever.

Born and raised in New Hampshire, I live in Switzerland now, where I teach and write. In the past two years, I’ve published half a dozen stories in American literary journals, most recently in The Massachusetts Review (Fall 2007) and in artisan, a journal of craft (Winter 2007). I’m twenty-nine.

As you request on your PublishersMarketplace bio, the first five pages of THE BELLS appear below. The completed novel is 100,000 words and is ready to be sent at your request.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours,

Richard Harvell
Commentary from Dan:

As the agent reading this letter, I was instantly drawn to Richard's novel simply because his letter was bursting with specific and evocative details. One of the most important elements of great historical fiction is the author's ability to transport the reader into the sights, smells, sounds and atmosphere of a different time and world. And already in this letter, I could see—and especially, hear!—little bits of Richard's novel popping off the page. My gut told me if I could already sense—in just a few lines of his letter—the drama of an opera stage, the sense of mystery and secrets long kept, the tension of a broken family, and the grief and love of his main character's life, then the pages of the manuscript would transport me even further. Plus, I found it interesting that Richard had set his novel in the Swiss Alps—a setting I had never encountered before—and that he was an American living abroad there, so he clearly was mixing his imagination of history with a real, rich sense of place. That's a very tempting offer in a novel. And true to form, the manuscript I sensed in the letter lived up to all this promise, and offered untold more. I was not disappointed!

When I was ready to pitch Richard's novel, I used his letter as a springboard (I feel my best pitch letters are often inspired by the author's query letter)—but I did adjust a few elements that I thought made a stronger case. I felt Richard's original letter was a bit heavy on the opera details. They're an important part of the novel, but I'm not an opera junkie, and yet I loved this book. The heart of THE BELLS is Richard's main character—a boy who will break your heart, and who grows into a man both deeply passionate and, despite his challenges in life, unapologetically heroic. So I tried to emphasize those aspects of Richard's story, as well as making some comparisons to other successful novels I felt were great touchstones to THE BELLS, so editors would be excited to start reading, and also start to envision , as I did, the widest possible audience for this book. So in the end, my description of Richard's novel looked like this:

"A cross between Perfume and Cry to Heaven, THE BELLS is the confession of a thief, kidnapper and lover who had no right to love. 'God gave me everything I ever needed, except for that which He took away,' Moses writes, the boy with a most exquisite sense of hearing that becomes his life's greatest blessing and darkest curse. Recounting his birth in the 1700s in a belfry high in the Alps, to his appearance on Europe’s greatest stages, this epic novel is the story of the greatest ears on earth—from a deaf mother’s cries, to the beating of a forbidden lover’s heart, to the arias of Vienna's greatest opera house, and the deadly booming of the world's loudest, most glorious bells."

Ready to send out your query? Get a critique!

Image placeholder title

Are you done writing and revising your manuscript or nonfiction book proposal? Then you’re ready to write a query letter. In order to ensure you make the best impression on literary agents and acquisitions editors, we recommend getting a 2nd Draft Query Letter Critique.

Whether you are an experienced writer looking to improve the elements within your query letter or a new writer looking for pointers on how to write a query letter, our 2nd Draft Query Letter Critique Service provides the advice and feedback you need to improve your query.

Click to continue.

Amir

The “Secret Sauce” Necessary to Succeed at a 30-Day Writing Challenge

In this article, author and writing coach Nina Amir lays out her top tips to master your mindset and complete a 30-day writing challenge.

Kane2

Crashing Into New Worlds: Writing About the Unfamiliar

Award-winning crime author Stephanie Kane explains how she builds characters unlike herself and navigates their worlds to create vivid and realistic stories.

plot_twist_story_prompts_without_a_trace_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Without a Trace

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave without a trace.

WDVintage_10_29

Vintage WD: The Truth about True Crime

In this article from July 2000, true crime novelist and former New York Times correspondent Lisa Beth Pulitzer shares with us some key insights for breaking into the true crime genre.

new_agent_alert_barb_roose_books_such_literary_services_adult_christian_fiction_and_nonfiction

New Agent Alert: Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

Grinnell_10:28

Evoking Emotion in Fiction: Seven Pragmatic Ways to Make Readers Give a Damn

Evoking emotion on the page begins with the man or woman at the keyboard. Dustin Grinnell serves up seven straightforward tactics for writing tear-jerking stories that make your readers empathize with your characters.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 546

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a spooky poem.

Richard_Shadowlands

Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.