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 77th installment in this series is with agent Sarah Yake (Francis Collins Literary) for Nadine Darling's contemporary women's fiction novel, She Came From Beyond! (2015, Overlook Press). Booklist writes that “Darling entertains with a dry, witty humor that results in an amusing and zany romp.”
About Nadine: Nadine Darling (@darling_nadine) was born in San Francisco, CA, and really enjoys going on and on about how much the nineties sucked/were awesome. She currently resides in Boston, MA, with her family and too few dogs. She Came From Beyond! is her first novel.
Subject: Query, Fiction, She Came From Beyond
Dear Ms. Yake,
In the span of one winter, Easy Hardwick, hostess of the popular public access sci-fi parody show "It Came From Beyond" discovers two things, that her new boyfriend, Harrison, has a wife and two children, and that she is pregnant with his twins. By summer, this accidental homewrecker is sharing her own nest with Harrison and his entire family, including Joan, his brilliant, fresh-from-the-sanitarium wife.
In this skewered ballad of the Chick-lit anti-heroine, Easy is forced to face the awkward and often humorous reality of her new life just as her TV show is picked up by the SYFY Network. She is hopelessly in love, overcome with guilt, slightly morning sick, and desperately, desperately determined to set things right in the end.
She Came From Beyond is complete at 85,000 words and ready for your consideration.
In addition to winning some rich-but-obscure prizes, I've been nominated for the Pushcart five times and published widely in many online and print journals, including Frigg, Night Train, Salt Flats Annual and Timothy McSweeny's Online Tendency.
Commentary from Sarah Yake
Nadine’s query arrived via our general queries email address and we had no prior connection, so my positive response was generated purely by her four short paragraphs. She jumped right in, introducing her “anti-heroine” in an intriguing way. Her description of Easy as an “accidental homewrecker,” indicated that she would be a unique character and not a stereotype, the “Other Woman” with a conscience, and that is reinforced in the second paragraph where Nadine expands on Easy’s mindset.
The tone of the query is fresh and fun and hopeful despite the dramatic situation and it’s well-constructed without being overwrought. I felt compelled to ask for the whole “skewered ballad” to find out more about the “often humorous reality” of Easy’s life. It is extremely difficult to sustain humor in novels, particularly literary fiction, and I’m always on the lookout for the next Maria Semple-type manuscript. The fact that Easy is the host of a sci-fi parody show, a public access show no less, conjured associations in my mind from Wayne’s World to Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a million black-and-white B movies from decades ago, and suggests a rich vein of material. Nadine would never have known that back in college two friends and I conducted an independent study on just such films—“Plan 9 from Outer Space,” anyone?—serendipity plays a larger role in publishing than one might expect!
I loved the title, She Came From Beyond (we included the “!” later; a well-placed “!” is everything), and the way that played on Easy’s TV show and the concept of the other woman. Her word count is spot on for the genre and Nadine’s publication list is modest but solid, proving that she has a sense of the marketplace and where her work fits within it, demonstrates her commitment to her craft.
This succinct, self-confident query was an accurate introduction to Nadine’s work, which exceeded my expectations. I have read SCFB! many times now, from a Word doc on a Kindle in a diner to a copy of the ARC on the steps of the Whitney Museum after BEA in New York, from the hardcover edition in 2015 in the office and, just the other day, the stunning new paperback edition in my dining room, and every time I pick up a copy and flip it open, I still get sucked in for at least a chapter. And THAT is what I’m looking for, always: the work that I will love reading and talking about five or ten or twenty years from now just as much as I did the first time I read it.