Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Query Letter by Gail Oust

By now you should all know that because of a number of requests, you are reading the short series I’m doing on query letters that helped my clients get my attention and eventually representation. Next in line is Gail Oust. Gail is one of my newer clients. As you can see from the letter she only queried me in early 2008, so her first book (part of a three-book deal) isn’t published yet. However, Whack 'N’ Roll is scheduled for August 2009, and we’re very excited. So here’s the letter that launched our relationship, and it had some strange twists and turns.

February 15, 2008

Jessica Faust
BookEnds, LLC
136 Long Hill Road
Gillette, NJ 07933

Dear Ms. Faust,

Enclosed is my proposal for Somewhere in Serenity which you requested in response to my email query of February 11. Somewhere in Serenity, an amateur sleuth mystery of approx 85,000 words, is the first of a proposed series set in a community of baby boomers who have retired early to enjoy a milder climate and explore new interests.

Serenity Cove Estates, a retirement community for ‘active’ adults, is anything but serene after Kate McCall and three of her Red Hat buddies find a severed arm in a Wal-Mart bag while playing golf. Kate, a died-in-the-wool crime and punishment junkie, jumps at the chance to perform her civic duty. Armed with Forensics for Dummies, she sets out to help solve the crime – much to the chagrin of Sheriff Sumter Wiggins.

I’ve previously had nine historical romances published under the pseudonym Elizabeth Turner. I’m a longstanding member of Romance Writers of America, Greater Detroit Romance Writers of America, and Novelists, Inc. Somewhere in Serenity is currently a work-in-progress and not a complete manuscript. I am seeking representation and hope my novel will meet your high standards.


Gail Oust
Phone Number

I think this letter is a good example of how really simple query letters can be and still work. This isn’t a long letter, in fact it doesn’t even fill a page, but it very clearly gives me all of the details that I need to know to be interested in this book.

The first paragraph gives me the basics, title, genre, word count, a one-line blurb, and of course she reminds me that this is requested material. What many of you might find interesting about this letter is that it’s far from perfect, however it still works. Let’s start with the title. Somewhere in Serenity sounds very much like women’s fiction to me, and never in a million years would I have thought it a mystery. It’s fine since I usually don’t try to get caught up in titles at this stage of the game, but there is no way I would send this book to editors with this title. When looking at titles I would advise you to take a look at books in your genre to see if you see a thread. Most cozies fall along the lines of, A Serene Murder, Death in Serenity, or A Murderous Hat. The second piece of the first paragraph that I feel needs to be looked at more carefully is the hook line. Gail pitched this as a retirement community mystery when really the hook that grabs is the Red Hat mention in the second paragraph. This is an example of really looking closely at your book to see what makes it distinct.

The second paragraph is what really grabs my attention, and this is because this is where the hook comes in. Unfortunately, BookEnds had once tried to sell a Red Hat mystery with no success. So why would I ask to see more of this anyway? A couple of reasons. The first was a line from this paragraph, “Kate, a died-in-the-wool crime and punishment junkie, jumps at the chance to perform her civic duty. Armed with Forensics for Dummies, she sets out to help solve the crime – much to the chagrin of Sheriff Sumter Wiggins.” I thought the vision of this retiree with Forensics for Dummies was hysterical. The writing grabbed me, and of course the third paragraph grabbed me too. This is an author with great experience and a publishing background.

And of course, Gail included all her pertinent contact information, which really helped out later.

This is an instance where I was so charmed by the voice that I thought maybe there were more hooks in the book that the author had overlooked and maybe, if the book was great, I could dig them out and see what we found.

Book Note: After reading the proposal I sadly rejected it. I had a lot of fun reading it and really liked the voice, but just felt that I wouldn’t be able to sell it based on the Red Hat hook. I sent a really nice letter telling her how much I loved it, but would need to see something with a stronger hook. Well, about two or three days later I was reminded that I had once come up with the idea for a Bunco series that I still hadn’t found an author to write, so I quickly picked up the phone, pulled out Gail’s letter, and called to explain my thought. Could we make these Red Hat ladies Bunco players? Ironically, Gail was a Bunco player herself, and it wasn’t more than a few weeks after submitting the revised proposal that we made a three-book deal with NAL for the Bunco Babes mysteries.