Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent Calender Day 17: Agent Melissa Jeglinski and the Query Letter

More work than fun today as I have my fabulous agent, Melissa Jeglinski of the Knight Agency, as a guest. Melissa has kindly agreed to share a few pointers on what she looks for in a query letter. I've also posted the snaggle-toothed beastie that I originally sent her and mustn't have been too bad as she took me on.

 Welcome Melissa

Ah, the dreaded How to Write a Query Letter blog.  I’m sure you’ve seen hundreds.  And perhaps they all say the same thing; or perhaps they are giving out different information which leads to even more confusion.  I hope this offers some helpful information. 

As an agent I get numerous queries per day.  I’m also the gatekeeper of The Knight Agency’s submissions box where we average three hundred queries per week.   So I’ve seen everything from the sublime to the ridiculous.  True, your letter is one amidst hundreds.  But to stand out in a crowd you do not need to query with a wickedly fun font or address me as Madame Guardian of the Dreaded Query Gate.  Just tell me your story, but do so in a professional way. 

I personally prefer the three paragraph method.  Short and sweet (that’s me.)  Here’s my recommendation on what to place in each section.  

Paragraph One: 

Let the introductions begin.  State the title and word count of your finished project.  Note the genre (paranormal romance, contemporary women’s fiction, historical young adult, middle grade, etc.) and a one sentence set up.  I like when writers give a comparison such as:  Jane Eyre meets CSI.  Immediately I get the idea that this is a historical mystery with a possible medical twist.  You can compare your work to a movie, other books, TV show, etc.  It’s giving that point of reference that works for me.  This is also where you note if it’s first person or in a different format (diary, email, etc.)or if it’s the first book in a projected series.  Let me know what to expect.

Paragraph Two:  

Show me the story.  This is where you provide a brief synopsis.  By brief, well, yes I do mean just one paragraph.  It’s possible to collapse a 90,000 word novel into four sentences. It really is.  And practicing such a thing can really fine tune your writing skills.  Take out unnecessary adjectives and other descriptions and get to the heart of your story.  Not every detail needs to be noted, just the set up and crux of the conflict.  You want me wanting more.  Remember, this is only to entice the reader to ask for more of your project.  Later on, when you are asked to submit  a full synopsis, that’s where all the adjectives and conflict resolutions belong. 

Paragraph Three: 

It’s all about you.  Here is where you provide a short bio including writing credits, organizations you belong to and other relevant information.  Remember to keep the query businesslike.  Although you may have wonderful things to say about your family life, this is not the place to share them.   I find it odd when I receive glowing reviews about a person’s writing...from their aunt Dorothy.  If you have a quote from a published author—one who writes in the same genre as the project you are currently querying—yes, by all means, include it.  But do think about whether something is truly pertinent. 

So, three paragraphs in total.  Short and to the point.  Use enticing language, really work on pinpointing the most exciting aspects of your book.  Think of it as a movie trailer and you have sixty seconds to make me want to spend those twelve dollars to see more. 

Should you be interested in querying myself or another agent at The Knight Agency, first take a look at our submission guidelines located on our website:  You’ll find lots of helpful hints there as well.  Query letters should be sent only to submissions (at) knightagency (dot) net where they will be responded to within two weeks. 

Madelynne's Original Query Letter:

Dear Ms Jeglinski:

Dutiful, dependable and desperate…

Fortuna Allenthorpe is so repulsed by the man to whom her parents have engaged her that she takes the only available way out, and flees into the night with notorious rakehell, Giles Dovecote. Giles is a vocal advocate of free love, and he and his debauched friends the Darleston twins, are soon vying for Fortuna’s attention while introducing her to all manner of sexual delights.

Convinced that her tattered reputation will prompt her fiancĂ© to call off the engagement, Fortuna is troubled to learn that Sir Hector is still set upon their marriage. It seems he’s more interested in her impressive inheritance, a ruby necklace known as the Star of Fortune, than he is in her errant virtue. What’s more, he’s prepared to destroy her family to ensure he gets exactly what he wants.

Suddenly, Fortuna’s only means of escape is to make a more agreeable match. How difficult can that be, when she’s head over heels for Giles, and he’s already sworn to help her? There’s just one problem—Giles’s deep-rooted belief that marriage is nothing more than social slavery. Past mistakes weight heavily on his conscience, but can he really sit back and condemn the woman he loves to a hellish match?

Fortuna is a 90,000 word character-driven erotic romance, set in Georgian London. My five previous novels, two of which are also Georgian set and share characters in common with Fortuna, are currently available from Virgin, Black Lace. My short stories have featured in anthologies published by Virgin, Thunder’s Mouth Press, Seal Press and Cleis. I am a member of RWA special interest chapters Passionate Ink and the Beau Monde as well as being a regular contributor to the Lust Bites blog, and a long-time member of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association.

Should you be interested in reading Fortuna, I’d be happy to forward you sample chapters and a synopsis, or the completed manuscript.

Thank you very much for your time.


Madelynne Ellis


Anonymous said...

Thank you Melissa and Madelynne for taking the time to post this helpful advice. By knowing what's needed and wanted, both the writer and agent benefit. Again, thank you.

Lilah Rune

Carolyn Rosewood said...

This is fabulous. Thank you so much for taking time to do this.

Madelynne Ellis said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment.

Carly Carson said...

Thanks for the guidelines. It's always good to hear right from the source. (Happy to see that Madelynne did not do a movie comparison as I'm hopeless at those.)