Successful Queries: Agent Jim McCarthy and "The Big Rewind"

The 72nd installment in the Successful Queries series is with agent Jim McCarthy (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) for Libby Cudmore's mystery/thriller, THE BIG REWIND (February 2, 2016, William Morrow).
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This series is called “Successful Queries,” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer's literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 72nd installment in this series is with agent Jim McCarthy (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) for Libby Cudmore's mystery, The Big Rewind (February 2, 2016, William Morrow), titled in her query as No Awkward Goodbyes. Her book has been highly praised in anticipation of its release by Kristi Belcamino, Anthony and Macavity award-nominated author of Blessed are the Dead.

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Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore's work has appeared in The Stoneslide Corrective, PANK, The Big Click, Big Lucks, and the forthcoming Hanzai Japan anthology. She lives in Upstate New York, where she is a plucky reporter for the Hometown Oneonta and the Freeman's Journal. You can find her on her blog or on Twitter.

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The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore

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Dear Mr. McCarthy,

There's no feeling quite so thrilling as getting a mix tape from a crush. In No Awkward Goodbyes, that carefully-compiled selection of songs isn’t just a way to express a secret adoration—it’s a clue to a murder.

When a mix tape destined for her friend KitKat accidentally arrives in Jett Bennett’s mailbox, she doesn’t think twice about it—even in the age of iTunes and Spotify, the hipster residents of the Barter Street district of Brooklyn are in a constant competition to see who can be the most retro. But when she finds KitKat dead on her kitchen floor, Jett suspects the tape might be more than just a quirky collection of lovelorn ballads. And when KitKat’s boyfriend Bronco is arrested for her murder, Jett sets out to discover the real killer on an epic urban quest through strip joints and record stores, vegan bakeries and basement nightclubs.

No Awkward Goodbyes combines the melancholy noir of Raymond Chandler with the musical fiction of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, populated with characters reminiscent of Lena Dunham’s award-winning Girls. No Awkward Goodbyes is my first novel, at just over 58,000 words. I’ve written several pieces of music journalism that have seen national attention; quotes from my review of Eric Stuart’s In The County Of Kings were used in his press kit, and my essays on Wham, Morrissey, karaoke and mix CD have been published in XOJane, Pop Matters, Celebrities in Disgrace and The Battered Suitcase. Additionally, my stories have been published in Pank, Chamber Four, Big Lucks, The Big Click, Hardboiled, Connotation Press and others. I was recently named a finalist for the 2013 American Fiction prize from New Rivers Press and will be published in the subsequent anthology, and I’m currently blogging my year-long life by vintage beauty and dating guides at www.geekgirlgoesglam.com.

I would be delighted to send a sample or full mss at your request. Thank you for reading, and I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best,

Libby Cudmore

Commentary From Agent Jim McCarthy

When people ask me what “high concept fiction” is, I should just read them the opening sentence of this query. A mixtape as a clue to a murder? Sounds fresh. Definitely intriguing.

Beyond that, the remainder of Libby’s query is so clear and concise, which is great, but what sets it apart is that in such a short space she has conveyed a vividly realized setting and hinted at a strong sense of humor without resorting to one-liners or out-of-context jokes. She also manages to tease the breadth of the story without overwhelming us with detail. Only three characters are mentioned and one is the murder victim, so she’s keeping the focus very tight. Plus, we get the set-up of the murder, with a quick indication of where this goes—“Jett sets out to discover the real killer.” It’s amazing how many people choose the wrong details to share. We either get bogged down in info, or we read random facts that condensed together read like a jumbled mess. Writers don’t have to capture everything in their novel in one paragraph. This book is so much more than what is stated here. Of course it is—it’s a whole novel, and this is about 150 words. But Libby gave me a bite-sized piece that made me want to read more. That’s a lot more than I usually get.

Libby’s background in music journalism was also super intriguing since it would surely lend some authenticity to the subject matter. And it’s so nice to see someone write a novel influenced by their background, but not about their background. If this was a novel about a music journalist by a music journalist, I would likely have rolled my eyes. But taking something in your background and using it as the inspiration for something different and exciting? That gets me.

Every piece of this query made me want to read more. And because this is a success story, we know that the material itself delivered. A great query is lovely to find. A great novel is a joy and a challenge. I’m very proud of this book, and I can’t wait for readers to discover it.

Ready to send out your query? Get a critique!

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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.

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