Mark Terry

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Literary Agents, Part 2--The Query Letter

March 28, 2007
There's a really terrific post from March 21 on BookEnds Literary Agency blog (they're not my agent, but I like their blog). And you should read--every writer, published or not--this because it's an important post.

So what is one of the biggest problems I see in query letters? Lack of
conflict. And for those of you who are published or have an agent and think this
post isn’t for you, think again. The same blurb you used to pitch your agent is
the same type of blurb you should be writing to pitch your editor a new book
idea, give cover art and text suggestions, or grab a reader through your Web
site or advertising.

So here's a sample query letter:

Mark Terry, writer

1234 Alphabet Lane

Oxford, MI 48371

March 28, 2007

Ms. Big Advance

Big Deal Literary Agency

Dear Ms. Advance,

I have written a thriller called THE SERPENT'S KISS, featuring terrorism troubleshooter Dr. Derek Stillwater. When a terrorist calling himself the Serpent kills over 50 people in Detroit, Derek is sent to investigate. Before the bodies have even been identified, the Serpent contacts the media demanding a $3 million ransom or he will strike again at noon. Derek, teaming with FBI Agent Jill Church, must race to identify and stop the Serpent before he can strike again. But the Serpent is one step of law enforcement and has laid deadly, explosive booby-traps for anyone trying to track him down. Derek and Jill must form a reluctant partnership just to survive the day. It soon becomes clear that the Serpent has inside knowledge of the government's responses to terrorism attacks and the first attacks are only the opening salvo in a number of increasingly escalating terror disasters that only Derek and Jill can stop.

I am a fulltime freelance writer, editor and novelist. I have published three previous novels, CATFISH GURU (iUniverse, 2002), DIRTY DEEDS (High Country Publishers, 2004), THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK (Midnight Ink/Llewellyn Worldwide, 2006), and two short stories. The short stories are "Just As Dead", published in Orchard Press Mysteries (2002) and "Murder at the Heartbreak Hotel" published in SHOW BUSINESS IS MURDER, an anthology published by Berkley Books (2005). I am an active member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Inc., and the Association of Health Care Journalists. My website is

Enclosed is a one-page synopsis of THE SERPENT'S KISS, the first 50 pages, and an SASE. I look forward to hearing from you.


Mark Terry

Now, a couple points.

1. I didn't tweak or make this shine. You need to. Treat the query letter like you would your manuscript.

2. I tend to err on the business-like rather than the advertisement pitch. That's me, but if you're comfortable with more heightened language, go for it. Just be careful of sounding like a used-car salesman on speed.

3. What if you don't have any publication credits? If you have some experience relevant to the book--ie., you're a forensic expert writing about a forensic expert, you're a music teacher writing about a music teacher who solves crimes, etc., then by all means mention it. Otherwise, it's largely irrelevant, so minimize it.

4. No more than one page.

5. Shorter is better.

6. I didn't include a closer, but it doesn't hurt to end with something like: I am seeking representation for this manuscript and any others I plan to write.

7. If you chose this agent for a reason--I know you represent so-and-so, whose books are similar to mine; my good buddy Harlan Coben told me I should contact you; we met at the bar at Bouchercon and I have photographs of you dancing naked on the tabletop to prove it--then put that at the front. If you drew their name at random because they handle the types of books you write, keep that to yourself.

8. Don't sound like an idiot, stalker or egomaniac.

9. Don't say you'll be the next bestseller.

10. Keep it professional.


Mark Terry


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