Thursday, August 17, 2006

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Hank Ryan’s Query)

STATUS: Today was devoted to royalty statements. And they say an agent’s job is glamorous. Snort.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? ELSEWHERE by Sarah McLachlan

This query will be fun because it’s for my most recent sale. This project, PRIME TIME, just sold to Harlequin last week and will be coming out in June 2007.

Hank is a well known TV personality in Boston but this work is her debut novel. (If you are a Boston resident, flip on your telly to the NBC affiliate, which I think is channel 7. You can’t miss her!)

Dear Ms. Nelson:

Think that annoying SPAM clogging your computer is just so much cyber-junk? Top-notch TV reporter Charlotte McNally suspects some of it may be much more than that--in fact, she's certain it carries secret big-money messages to a powerful inner circle of executives who possess the key to its code. Okay, hidden messages in spam might be a common plot construct but I’d never heard of it. Right off I thought this quite clever.

Turns out--as Charlotte discovers--the last outsider who deciphered the SPAM's hidden clues now resides in the local morgue. Sinister. Was his car accident really a car accident? Charlotte's spidey-sense for news may have put her on the trail of the biggest story of her life or the one that may end it. I love this. It’s either the career-making story or the one that will cash in her chips. Yet, there’s a fun tone to the query so it’s not like I think this is some “serious” mystery.

PRIME TIME introduces Charlotte McNally, a hip and attractive fifty-something journalist who's facing some life-changing challenges. This doesn’t have anything to do with the query per se but it’s an interesting tidbit. We ended up making Charlie forty-something (47 to be exact) because she was single, never married, and this would go over better with the editors. Charlie's smart, successful and devoted to Italian clothing designers--but she's worried her news director is about to replace her with a younger model. Love this. Even though she's won a row of Emmys for her investigative reporting, she's convinced that unless she digs up another blockbuster in time for the next ratings book, she may be fired from the job she loves. It’s a double layer of conflict. The unexplained car accident and the fact that Charlie’s job might be on the line because our society values youth—especially in this career.

Charlie's got too many pairs of shoes, too many graying hairs, and even a hot flash or two-but she puts her life on the line for a story, and her heart on the line for a guy. That sums it up!

PRIME TIME--approximately 95,000 words--is a mystery in a lady lit voice. This might have worked a little better at the start of the query but the nice thing is it does confirm what I was thinking the genre of this work might be. It's an action-filled page-turner, with humor, romance and a stock market scheme so timely and innovative you'll wonder why someone hasn't tried it. A twist of an ending will have readers going back to the beginning to check for all the clues they missed. Hank could have deleted these two sentences. In truth, they don’t really add anything to what is a good query. The information is too general and if it’s a mystery, then I’ll assume there should be a twist ending but hey, letters don’t have to be perfect.

It's also a look from inside at the world of television news: its ambition, cynicism, tyrannical managers, clothing allowances, ratings wars, power struggles, and even a few devoted journalists. She can nix this too.

On a personal note-my 22nd year of reporting at WHDH-TV (NBC/Boston) has been a terrific one so far. I won two more Emmys for my investigative and consumer stories (that makes 23), and three more Edward R. Murrow Awards, including the one for best writing. Aha, now this will perk my interest. Hank has been in the biz for a long time. She knows this world inside and out and can bring that perspective to telling a good story.

After all my years in journalism and affiliation with Investigative Reporters and Editors, I have lots of pals in local TV and newspapers across the country, as well as at all the networks. So I figure, add those publicity and blurb resources to the millions of TV viewers who already recognize my name and we could have a ready-made marketing platform. You blog readers should know by now that agents love tidbits like this. It really helps us to fall in love with the project.
For experienced and savvy women who are weary of reading about chick lit chicks swilling Cosmos (not that there's anything wrong with that), PRIME TIME is a satisfying selection for beach, book club or curling up with a cup of tea. And they'll never look at SPAM the same way again. Hank could nix this. It doesn’t add anything. What could have been more interesting if she highlighted the dearth of titles in this genre for the “older” set.

What happens next to Charlie, her career and her future with a dishy professor? I'm currently working on the next in the series, FACE TIME, where Charlie contemplates cosmetic surgery to stave off on-the-air aging, and uncovers a series of murders in a luxury hospital. Hank’s letting me know, in a fun way, that this work is the first in a series. I like it.

You don't say on your website whether your interest in chick-lit mysteries extends to chic but older chicks-I hope it does. True, my website doesn’t but I don’t practice age-ism. May I send you the completed manuscript? Thanks so much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. You sure can!

Hank (Harriet Ann) Phillippi Ryan