Successful Queries: Agent Rebecca Strauss and "Stay" by Allie Larkin

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!).
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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 f(ormerly of McIntosh & Otis and now at DeFiore & Company as of 2013)and her author, Allie Larkin, for the women's fiction novel, Stay (which was just published this week by Dutton!).

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Dear Ms. Strauss,

What happens when you find love and he finds your best friend instead?

If you're Savannah Leone, you tear off your orange satin maid-of-honor gown, get drunk on Kool-Aid and vodka, and buy a German Shepherd from Slovakia off of the Internet.

In Stay, Savannah, "Van," struggles with the marriage of her best friend to the man she's secretly in love with, the loss of her mother to cancer, and all the confusion that goes along with the "now what" stage of twenty-something life. She's lost her sense of which end is up, so she's acting on impulses that lead her to love, strength, and a ninety-five pound dog named Joe.

Her inexperience with dogs leads her to consult Dr. Alex Brandt, a vet with floppy blond hair and a winning smile. But just as things are starting to heat up with Alex, the newlyweds come home from their honeymoon, forcing Van to decide between past relationships and the promise of new ones.

Stay is women's fiction and is approximately 80,000 words. I've also written an outline for a sequel.

I live in upstate New York with my 95-pound German Shepherd, (who is from the Catskills, not Slovakia), and write AlliesAnswers.com, a daily eco-friendly blog. My short story, "Bathtub Mary," will appear in the March 2008 issue of The Summerset Review.

I've enclosed the first two chapters and a synopsis. Thank you for taking the time to review my materials.

Best regard,

Allie Larkin
Commentary from Rebecca

So, what grabbed my attention? Well, in addition to doing everything right in terms of process (she spelled my name correctly and wrote in a professional manner), Allie looked at my submission guidelines—and followed them. Huge points! She did her research; she saw which genres I represented and what materials I requested. This set Allie's letter apart from many others. I know, I know. This all sounds so simple and you've heard it before, but it makes a difference.

Next, Allie's done a great job of giving me what we call "an elevator pitch" for her novel. She was able to sum up the major plot of the book succinctly and with charm. Agents have to pitch to editors, just like authors pitch to agents; and, we need to encapsulate a project simply and quickly. What's the hook? What's the major conflict? Who are the central characters? Why would readers care?

Allie also successfully painted vivid characters and illustrated the main tension in just a few paragraphs. By using only a handful of details, she created a fully realized snapshot of the work. How can you not hiccup with laughter after reading: "If you're Savannah Leone, you tear off your orange satin maid-of-honor gown, get drunk on Kool-Aid and vodka, and buy a German Shepherd from Slovakia off of the Internet"? And, with a few brush strokes, "floppy blond hair and a winning smile," I definitely wanted to know more about this Alex. Sounds cute! And, I quickly learned about the conflict: Van is in love with her best friend's husband. So, Allie swiftly told me that this wasn't a generic project: Van is struggling with serious issues re: love, loss, and friendship. I asked the question I always ask myself when reading a query: Could I imagine an audience for this? My answer? A resounding yes. Not only is the character dealing with major conflict in an intriguing love triangle, but there's a dog involved?! I'm in.

Allie wrapped it all up with the vital stats of genre and word count. She didn't say that she'd written the next 17 books in the series, but that she had an outline for a sequel. Smart. If the first book needed major work, why invest so much in a sequel that's going to need overhauling? Finally, Allie showed that she's devoted to writing. She pursued publication in literary magazines. This is not a necessity, but it does demonstrate tenacity, persistence and professionalism. And, if you're here, reading these posts and working hard on your projects, you have these characteristics and you're already setting yourself apart!

And Now for the Contest!

In honor of Stay's publication week, I'm offering to critique a query letter and the first two pages of a manuscript for one writer.

To enter, leave a comment on this post. For three more chances to win, leave a comment on the below links. One comment per person per post, please. You don't have to have a finished manuscript to enter, although if you do, all the better.

1. http://allielarkin.blogspot.com/
2. http://www.corinnebowen.com/2010/06/stay-by-allie-larkin-query-contest/
3. http://wendypinkstoncebula.blogspot.com/2010/06/stay-debut-and-query-contest.html

If your commenting profile doesn't link to an e-mail address where we can reach you if you win, make sure to either leave your e-mail address in comments, or e-mail (info[at]allielarkinwrites[dot]com) after you leave a comment on Allie's blog, with Query Contest in the subject line and your comment name in the body of the e-mail.

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