Thursday, August 10, 2006

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Jana DeLeon’s Query)

STATUS: I actually spent the day avoiding the phone and emails so I could get some reading done. And I plan to work late tonight. I’m committed to catching up.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND by Sting

I actually find this exercise a little interesting because for the most part, I don’t analyze queries received. I either like it or not and simply ask for sample pages if it works for me.

Next up, Jana DeLeon’s query (and I’m having trouble typing because I’m sitting on my couch and Chutney is insisting on laying her head on the laptop keyboard so I apologize for any uncaught typos etc.).

This project sold to Dorchester and will be coming out in October of 2006. The title remained the same (because it’s a great title and don’t underestimate the value of a good title to win your query some attention). Bland titles are an instant turn off and if I end up thinking, “what a yucky title,” that can be a strike against you—although I’ll still give the query a look.

November 8, 2004

Kristin Nelson
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC
1020 15th Street
Suite 26L
Denver, CO 80202

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I have recently completed a 93,000-word humorous romantic suspense novel entitled Rumble on the Bayou, and I hope you might consider me for your list.
Of course I wouldn’t have known that when I read the query but Jana is definitely a straight-to-the-point kind of gal and this opening sentence would indicate that. Why beat around the bush when you can go straight to the story blurb. I know enough to orient me.

The only suggestion I would add is this: it might have been nice if Jana mentioned that her work was not unlike Stephanie Bond’s stuff because it is and the comparison would have benefited her.

Secrets have been buried in Gator Bait, Louisiana for over thirty years, but someone is about to blow the lid off of them and rock this sleepy little town. How can you not love a town named Gator Bait? Right off I found this little tidbit so fun and interesting. Not to mention, she cut right to the secret that’s about to upset a small town. I know something is going to happen. Now I’m expecting, in the next few sentences, that she’ll elaborate on what and I’m not disappointed. Dorie Berenger likes her life just the way it is—simple, easy, relaxed. Serving as both Game Warden and Deputy in her hometown of Gator Bait meets her needs nicely, until DEA agent Richard Starke shows up—abrupt, demanding and far too attractive for this one-horse town. Soon he’s complicating everything, from her job to her self-imposed ban on relationships, and Dorie wants him out of her hair as soon as possible. I love the focus on the sexual tension between these two characters. Now I can assume that DEA agent Starke is coming to town because of the secret that is unfolding and she really actually doesn’t reveal too much about it. But remember when I mentioned yesterday that a query letter doesn’t have to be perfect to win a look. There’s a good spark here so I asked for sample pages because I liked the idea of something set in Louisiana and the tone she’s captured in the query.

Rumble on the Bayou is a humorous look at what happens when big city crime visits small town mentality. This solidifies it for me. I love when there is an external conflict to layer on the relationship conflict and this one is certainly one to create more sparks flying. It received an Honorable Mention in the 2004 Daphne du Maurier contest and second place in the 2004 TARA First Impressions Contest. Always good to know that it drew some notice.

I am a member of Romance Writers of America, Dallas Area Romance Authors, and Sisters in Crime. I spent the first twenty-one years of my life among the bayous and marshes of southwest Louisiana. I love this last tidbit. Louisiana is a special place and not just anybody can write about it well. Jana highlights that she knows the territory intimately because she grew up there. She has creditability. That detail wins her extra points in my book.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Jana DeLeon

I thought it might be fun to include the back cover copy for RUMBLE so you can see some details that might have made Jana’s original query stronger if she had included it. It still got my attention but I think if you are reading this blog and trying to learn the art of a query, it might be helpful if I point some stuff out.

Deputy Dorie Berenger knew it was going to be a rough day when the alligator she found in the town drunk’s swimming pool turned out to be stoned. On heroin. Now she has some big-shot city slicker from the DEA trying to take over her turf. And Agent Richard Starke is everything she’d feared—brash, demanding and way too handsome for his own good. Or hers.

The folks of Gator Bait, Louisiana, may know everything about each other, but they’re sure not going to share it with an outsider. Richard wouldn’t be able to catch a catfish, much less a drug smuggler, without Dorie’s help. But some secrets—and some desires—are buried so deep that bringing them to the surface will take a major

If you notice, the first paragraph of the back cover copy basically makes it clear why DEA agent Richard Starke is coming to town. Not only that, but it gives us some nuances about the quirky little town of Gator Bait. There’s a gator in a swimming pool of the town drunk. And the gator’s stoned. Hilarious.

The second paragraph really sets up the externally conflict nicely. It’s Gator Bait against the brash outsider and you know these two are going to have to knock heads, hearts, and their libidos, to get anything accomplished.

How fun is that.

The mention of the secret is saved till last. It’s an extra enticement.

And that’s what I recommend to folks writing queries. Really capture the essence of your story in one or two short paragraphs—not unlike the back cover copy of a novel. After all, that copy is designed to snag a reader in the bookstore so it can serve the same function for an agent who is trying to envision this work in a bookstore.