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  1. #1
    Parry Milkvetch

    Query letter help?

    So I've been struggling with the query letter for an embarrasingly long time, and I still kind of despise it, and I'd like to get some feedback. If anyone has suggestions, it will be much appreciated!

    (And if, on the basis of the query letter, you think the story itself is no good, or I need to go back to step 1 and learn how to write-- hey, you're entitled to that opinion, but please do not tell me. I'm looking for criticism only on the query as such. Thank you.)

    - - - - - - - -

    [my contact information]


    [agent's contact information]

    Dear [Agent],

    I’ve read that you are interested in [relevant genres that this agent handles], and I thought that you might be interested in my novel, Sleeping With Elijah. The completed manuscript is 79,000 words.

    It’s a love story, of sorts, between three people. Hannah is a lesbian. Her partner Laurie is bisexual, innocent and shameless. And her longtime friend Elijah is lavishly self-destructive, with a mother who could destroy him well enough without his help, and with cancer in his lungs.

    Hannah has known Elijah since the summer before eighth grade. She knows that his mother keeps a spotless house and seems to view Elijah as a spot on it. She lived with him for three years in college—and they didn’t quite kill each other, even when Elijah made out with Laurie as a way of getting Hannah’s attention.

    After college, Hannah and Laurie have settled down and are trying to start a family. Laurie doesn’t want the father to be Elijah; she’s wary of the bond that Elijah and Hannah already have. Then—shattered by his mother again, and recovering from surgery to try to stop the tumor spreading in his lung—Elijah ends up on their living room couch. Hannah wants him there, though she would never admit it to him. And Laurie can be jealous in the abstract, but not in person. Besides, they find that they need Elijah almost as much as Elijah needs them.

    I am a student at Oberlin College, where a portion of the novel takes place. I have a piece of nature writing set to appear next year in a book about the local ecology.

    May I send you the manuscript? Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.


    - - - - - - - - - -

    One more thing-- you would be doing me a huge favor if you could help me figure out what genre to call this. Is it women's fiction? (After all it's written by a woman, and the narrator is a woman, and it's largely about relationships.) Is it literary? Is it mainstream?

    Again, many thanks to anyone who feels like helping me out.

  2. #2
    john palmer

    Re: Query letter help?

    I would like to have more of a feel for the point of the story, see that right up front, and then get the details.

    Are you sending a synopsis and sample chapters first? That's kind of standard.

  3. #3
    Harley *

    Re: Query letter help?

    Although there's been some discussion about it lately, more people do post query letters under the literary agents section than this one, probably because more people read that section.

    As for the post above, I don't know who that's standard for, obviously you will have chapters and synopsis ready upon request....the majority of agents just want the query letter and that's why it has to be so good.

    The good news is it's short, you don't have lots of pointless info to wade through and cut. The bad news is that I have very little feel for your story. If you have a hook, then that's what you should start with- as in what makes this relationship story different and exciting. A standard hook might follow the goal/motivation/conflict type format like- Hannah wants to help her friend Elijah get his crazy life on track, but Elijah's flirtation with Hannah's lover Laurie makes Hannah distrust his reasons for constantly wanting to sleep on their couch. Obviously that is awkward and innacurate but it might help a little as you consider where to go next.

    If you don't have a standard hook, and this is more a quiet relationship book, then it would definitely help to have a strong dose of the narrative voice. In fact that would help regardless.

    Remember specifics are good. They need him as much as he needs them sounds cliche and not specific enough, you might want to rewrite to focus on specifics of your story.

  4. #4
    john palmer

    Re: Query letter help?

    Writers Market and a couple of books (The Marshall Plan and another one whose name I forget, written by a top agency) recommend sending a synopsis and sample chapters. Most of the publishers there ask for it.

    For what it's worth.

  5. #5
    Harley *

    Re: Query letter help?

    I know some people like Miss Snark reccomend sending the first 3-5 pages. I don't know anyone who reccomends a synopsis, cause they usually suck. Out of the 15 requests I had, only one asked for a synopsis, for which I was quite thankful.

    I got all of my info from Agent Query and individual agent's websites/submission guidelines.

  6. #6
    john palmer

    Re: Query letter help?


    Individuals may, of course, differ.

  7. #7
    Harley *

    Re: Query letter help?

    You know the link you provided is for a non-fiction proposal, right? The original poster is writing a query for a work of fiction.

  8. #8
    john palmer

    Re: Query letter help?


    Yes, you're quite right. That's what I get from trying to do something in a hurry.

    And I've loaned someone my copy of The Marshall Plan, so I can't quote from that.

    I'm going back to my writing.

    I hope the sloppiness doesn't spill over into that.


  9. #9
    gulliver h

    Re: Query letter help?

    sorry, but I found it paralyzing hard to keep all these names and relationships straight...so I began to zone out. You need to define all this much more succintly and more engagingly.

    And at the moment, it's hard to tell quite what it is, genre-wise, for me.

    (and while I think there are moments of cleverness, some feel a little off. A spot on it, for example. A spot ON a house? The roof? In it, would be better right? Or on the couch, or the wall, something.

    Take this: And her longtime friend Elijah is lavishly self-destructive, with a mother who could destroy him well enough without his help, and with cancer in his lungs.

    If you read that again, you'll see that your last clause doesn't make sense referentially. It makes it sound like the mother does, except for the pronoun. It's just awkward and off.

    That's not unimportant stuff, actually.

  10. #10
    nom de plume

    Re: Query letter help?

    Every love story is a love story "of sorts", isn't it?
    Your adjectives confuse. "bisexual, innocent, and shameless". Innocent? "Lavishly"? self-destructive.

    The pronoun helped me in figuring out who had cancer. I'm not sure who lived with him for three years. His mother or Hannah?

    In your postscript you mention that the narrator is a woman. Presumably that is Hannah. I suggest you write the query from her POV. It will make it easier to "keep all these names and relationships straight".

    " Besides, they find that they need Elijah almost as much as Elijah needs them". I guess this is the "hook" of the novel. You might want to strengthen this to make the story more engaging.

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