Successful Queries: Anna Quinn & 'The Night Child'

This article is part of a series called Successful Queries. It features actual query letter examples to literary agents that were successful for authors. Today’s features Anna Quinn and her agent Gordon Warnock (Fuse Literary).
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This article is part of a series called Successful Queries. It features actual query letter examples to literary agents that were successful for authors. In addition to the successful query letter, you’ll also see the thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked. Today’s features Anna Quinn's letter to her agent Gordon Warnock (Fuse Literary) about her novel The Night Child, formerly titled Split.

Anna Quinn is a writer, teacher, and the owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, Wash. She is a published poet and essayist with 26 years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Anna’s first novel, The Night Child, published by Blackstone Publishing, will be released on January 30, 2018.

Gordon Warnock is a founding partner at Fuse Literary, serving as a literary agent and Editorial Director of Short Fuse Publishing. He brings years of experience as a senior agent, marketing director, editor for independent publishers, publishing consultant, and author coach. He frequently teaches workshops and gives keynote speeches at conferences and MFA programs nationwide. He is an honors graduate of CSUS with a B.A. in Creative and Professional Writing.

(Online Course: Craft the perfect Query Letter in 14 Days with Jack Adler)

Anna’s Query:

Subject: Referrals: Lidia Yuknavitch [1]

Dear Gordon Warnock,

I am submitting my [2] literary fiction [3] novel, SPLIT [4], to you upon the recommendation of Lidia Yuknavitch, author of "The Chronology of Water" [5]. When Lidia finished reading my novel she said, “I’m going to say this as clearly and strongly as I can: I love your book. I entered your book and lost myself and exited your book changed. I will do ANYTHING (the caps are Lidia’s) to help you. This is a REAL BOOK all the way through and readers will LOVE it. You are playing with the big dogs here. You must put it into the world." [6] Also, when I read that one of your favorite books is Junot Diaz's, This Is How You Lose Her[7], I thought we might be a good fit [8], as that book, like SPLIT, is deeply personal with its purpose, imagery and intimate voice. [9]

SPLIT is the story of thirty-eight-year-old NORA BROWN, an ordinary woman who teaches high-school English and lives a quiet life with her husband and daughter in Seattle [10]. However [11], when she hallucinates a child's face hovering over the desks of her students, her past explodes into her present, and she is thrown into a psychological upheaval so raw she lands in a psychiatric hospital [12] and is forced to fight for her daughter, her identity and her equilibrium [13].

A story told in the spirit of The Glass Castle [14] and The Bell Jar [15], SPLIT is evocative and compelling [16] for people who are not carrying secrets (if there are any) [17] and it’s deeply affecting for those who are. SPLIT is a daringly hopeful story of the phenomenal power of the mind and body to save itself [18]. It is about what cannot be said, but must be said [19].

I am a lover of stories and [20] the owner of the Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore [21] in Port Townsend, Washington [22]. When I’m not running the bookstore, teaching [23] or kayaking [24], I’m writing my second novel, Confidante [25]. I’ve published in Literature Circles and Response, Instructor Magazine and IS Literary Magazine [26].

SPLIT is a complete manuscript at 55,000 words [27] and is immediately available upon request [28]. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Anna Quinn
206-697-9661
annaquinn@writersworkshoppe.com
www.writersworkshoppe.com[29]

Commentary from Literary Agent Gordon Warnock:

[1] The subject line piqued my interest before I’d even opened the email. Mention early on if we met at a conference or you have a special referral, and your query will stand out.

[2] You usually don’t have to mention in a submission that you’re submitting (I’ll assume so), but here it’s part of the referral.

[3] Giving me the genre early, especially when it matches the referral, gives me plenty of context, and gives a strong feeling of what I’m about to read.

[4] SPLIT became THE NIGHT CHILD when the book sold just prior to a rather unfortunate film release of the same title.

[5] I loved this book and likely said so on social media around that time.

[6] This is much longer than necessary to get the point across, but it worked. Having endorsements either lined up or on hand can provide a nice boost to the submission.

[7] This is on my website, a great indication that she did her homework and wants to submit it to me, rather than to just any agent. Just as I specifically choose the author, I like them to specifically choose me.

[8] This is another line that doesn’t need to be explicitly stated. Going back to the old adage of “show, don’t tell,” she’s clearly shown this already.

[9] She takes it one step further and explains how her manuscript functions like one of my favorite books. Most authors don’t do this.

[10] Here she sets up the normal before introducing the inciting incident. It’s longer than usual, which is risky, given the lack of tension, but she’s already piqued my interest with the previous paragraph.

[11] This is about the midpoint of a typical fiction query. Waiting this long to get to the inciting incident can convey that the author is overly verbose, requires a lot of editing, or is not organized in their thoughts. Thankfully, once I read the manuscript, this proved to be untrue.

[12] Here I see not just the plot but further shades of my favorite authors and some potentially fun ways that she could approach the story. That's big for me, especially in literary fiction. The reading experience must deliver as well as the story.

[13] We’re not saving the world here, but we’re saving the world of this character, which is vital.

[14] This is another favorite that was at the time listed on my website. I've since had to remove it because it's so overused as a comp title.

[15] And though I didn’t explicitly mention this title, I’d expressed a love for the classics, and this one, in particular, is very appropriate. She’s running a major risk in listing two comps this old and this ubiquitous. If I hadn’t expressed these loves, it likely would have been a poor choice. Most agents want recently published comps.

[16] This on its own would be the common trap of passing judgment on your own work, but thankfully, she incorporates it into functional descriptions of theme and audience.

[17] A fun little twist. I’ve also tweeted that I like novels about secrets.

[18] This helps add an Act 3 to the arc without spoiling the ending, which is difficult to do in a query.

[19] Tension, and a good, catchy line that I ended up using in my own pitch to publishers. This point in the query is essentially the final impression of the book itself, and she hits it home here.

[20] Though the author bio isn’t as vital in fiction as it is in nonfiction, this is a rough start, like padding to make it seem longer. It’s better to leave something like this out.

[21] This is a much stronger detail, of course.

[22] It’s a fairly small town, and we have some prolific clients there. She likely knows them and stocks their books, which is a nice bonus.

[23] Another good detail that conveys knowledge of the world of the protagonist.

[24] This kind of detail is effectively useless to me, but I know folks are allowed to have interests.

[25] Excellent. I want an author who wants a writing career, rather than just one book published. This also shows that she wisely uses the natural waiting time in the submissions process and has a preference for one-word titles.

[26] These aren’t the biggest or most prestigious outlets, but it shows that she is submitting, and I’ve seen small, local publications win massive awards, so that isn’t vital.

[27] Barely made it. 55k is my listed cutoff for novel submissions. Though some of my favorite books are around this range, I almost never work with something this short.

[28] This should be a given, especially after expressing that the manuscript is complete.

[29] Professional and useful, though I technically don’t need her email address here, given that it was an emailed submission. A good substitute for that would be her Twitter handle.

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