Sunday, April 23, 2006

THE SUREFIRE QUERY LETTER IS HERE!!

Okay...so enough of you have asked me about my patented (well, not really) 4-step plan to a Surefire Query Letter! You've also asked me to share my letter which went out to 12 agents. 22 responded within 3 weeks (many within days), each asking for exclusives. I ultimately went with an agent who never saw the letter.

It worked for me...good luck and tell me if it works for you - jennifer@jennifersolow.com

In any case, here are the 4 steps:

1. Make your first sentence STUNning. Remember that agents get 100's of these letters each day. Grab them by the gullet from the very beginning.

2. Synopsize your book in a quick and compelling way. Find a way to describe your book succinctly. You'll use that description gain and again at every juncture.

3. Offer up a reason why there is a market for your book (even for fiction). In other words, why will your manuscript be sellable. Do this in an uncoventional and tonally appropriate way.

4. Make a connection between the agent and you.
This could take networking and/or creativity. Research your choice agents to death - read their authors, find out where they went to highschool, find some way of making it feel like they're THE ONLY agent for your book. Because why? Tell them.

Everything else is up for grabs. I wrote 2 pages with a LOT of white space (most people write one, crowded page) and didn't send a writing sample. I put it in a big bright orange envelope and printed it out on heavy, expensive paper. I sent to 12 with 12 back-ups in the wings.

Here is my letter to Bill Clegg (now with William Morris). Despite the breezy tone, this was draft 36 and 3 months of revision. Bill responded with within 24 hours.

Bill,

I’d like to profess that stealing a box of Golden Life Henna in the 7th grade was the end of my illustrious shoplifting career, but if we’re getting down to the short hairs here, I also stole a tube of organic toothpaste from Whole Foods less than a year ago.
$12.95! For toothpaste! I mean, c’mon. Gift with purchase, I like to say.

Actually, I wouldn’t mine stealing something right now.

Christ, it’d be easier than writing this letter. Three years of work down to a page, page and a half. The pressure to be charming here is enormous, you must know.

Maybe this afternoon. When I finish the letter.

So my book’s called The Booster and our heroine is not that different from me. Or possibly a more fabulous me. The Carrie Bradshaw I am in my imagination.

Here’s what I say when people inevitably ask me, “so, what’s your book about?”
Upper East Side Jewish American Princess kleptomaniac living the seemingly quintessential Manhattan life, loses job, loses boyfriend, loses housekeeper and winds up (long story short) joining a Peruvian Shoplifting Ring.

It is here our klepto learns what’s truly important in her life. Ahf tsores aside, it’s a happy ending kind of story.

For our 29-year old heroine, shoplifting* is better than orgasms:

“… Her breath pounds out in heaves. Her teeth chatter, droplets of sweat trickle down her side sending out a rank perfume, her nipples harden. She swallows a mouthful of saliva, the gulp of it echoing in her head. A quick slide off with a nimble hand and poof…it is gone.”

Pulizer Prize winning author, Alison Lurie singled out The Booster for praise as “an emerging work” at Sewanee Writer’s Conference, characterizing it as “lively writing, true to the female experience.”

Bill, Augusten Burrows, author and friend, simply insisted (as is his way) that, “Haven Kimmel loves Bill Clegg,” and that I should send you a query. That was good enough for me.

Please send the enclosed postcard if you’d like to see a sample of The Booster.

Thank you for your consideration and time,

Jennifer Solow

*9 million American women shoplift. ‘Shoplifting’ is the new ‘Bulimia’. 9 million dirty little secrets sell a lot of books. And magazines. And t-shirts. And action figures.

--------
TO READ AN EXCERPT OF THE MANUSCRIPT HE SAW CLICK HERE.

19 comments:

kathie said...

Thanks doing the interview and posting on my site, Jennifer. You have so much to offer, substantial concrete advice for all of us trying to break in to the literary world.

jamie ford said...

I love the query! Not for everyone, but for the type of agent that would "get you" it's perfect. Did I mention that I love the query?

How was Sewanee? (Aside from the great plug on the book or course which is well worth the price of admission) Did you submit a partial of the current book or something else entirely?

jennifer solow said...

I got into Sewanee with a passage from The Booster. I actually prefer the vibe at Breadloaf and would go every year if I could. Sewanee is great if you love southern writers and sensibilities. I'm more a northern gal.

I got into Breadloaf with the beginnings of something else I'd like to finish one day. It was my first year writing. I got in by the skin of my teeth.

I think my point in sharing the query is that you should write something that is very YOU. I was so close to being really lame-o in my query and decided instead to go for it.

My friend, author and former ad geek, Suzanne Finnamore shared her letter with me and it was really inspiring - fresh and spunky.

The sheer rule-breaking tone of mine attracted everyone. Bill Clegg, the one to whom the example letter is addressed, preferred my letter to my manuscript!

Great luck, Jamie. Are you working on a query?

Pam said...

Jennifer, you are what I'm not; daring and bold and don't seem to be afraid of anything, ya got guts and write like it!

jennifer solow said...

Thanks Kim.
That was great to hear at the moment. I'm working on book 2 and once again I feel...let's say...challenged in the security department. I appreciate the reminder to be a bad ass. I forget so quickly.
xxx

jamie ford said...

Thanks for the scoop on Sewanee. I had that same thought regarding the whole "south of the Mason Dixon" thing.

I finished the latest draft of my first book and should be crafting my queries but it's conference deadline time. I'm chopping up something for Sewanee and rewriting something to send to Squaw Valley.

Just curious, were you a writer in your agency life or did you come from the art side? (If you say media or account service I'm gonna freak out.)

jennifer solow said...

No, I was not a suit.I was an art director. I became a creative director and then managing partner. I went to Rhode Island School of Design. I was a painter and a graphic designer. I also published a magazine in New York. Writing was a hobby.

jamie ford said...

Ah, Kirshenbaum right? It's all making sense now.

:::flashbulbs going off in my brain:::

Did you work with Scott MacDonald? He was an ACD I knew in Hawaii. I thought he ended up at KB&P.

That just makes your story even better. Agency life is a cool gig. It's fun, you make $$$, but it still doesn't quite mask that fact that you're writing campaigns for health insurance or processed cheese products.

I was a partner in Hawaii, and chucked it all for a 25-person shop in Montana. Came from the art side to be CD, then "management".

Agency peeps becoming authors just seems natural. The CD of our Billings office just signed a 2-book deal. And a former ACD moved to Mississipi (that southern thing again) to finish his book.

Cess said...

Hi Jennifer!

In between combating braxton hicks, and preparing for my little pricess the Q&A we did is finally up!

I wish you all the best with your book! You've got a fan in us for life!

To not have, read, and love "The Booster" is a serious fashion faux pas!

jennifer solow said...

Cess!! Hey lady!

What's the link to the Q & A...I want to read.

Also a plea to my peoples---my Amazon numbers are waaaaayyyyy down. I'm trying to do some happy chatting there...anyone who can add comments...get buzz going...tell their friends to as well!

I'm in The New York Times on Friday!! and I want my Amazon page to be buzzzzzzzing.
mmmmmm.
YAY! I love my peoples!

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kathie said...

Hey Jennifer, I'm throwing out a devil's advocate question. What's your take on someone like me (no flash at all) sending out queries like yours. YOur letter fits you. It says, YOU! I would feel like a fraud being so off-beat. Like my ex-school teacher vibe would ooze from my words. I don't mean I'm not confident or don't believe in my work...am I just being a wimp? I have an agent already, but I'm putting the question out there for everyone like me...

jennifer solow said...

My response to you Kathie---
DON'T send out a query like mine. Send out a query that fits you!

Think of your agent as 'your future husband' and your query as 'the courtship.' If during the courtship you pretend to be something you're not just to attract attention and you dye your hair and wear different clothes...you may get guys interested...but they're not interested in YOU truly, they're interested in the fantasy version of you that was projected. You won't attract your perfect mate!

My MAIN advice is be as much yourself as you can be. You're trying to court someone so it should be fun and you should feel self-expressed...but don't make your hair blonde, wear high heels you can't walk in, and pretend you don't love to chow down on pizza...y'know. Be who you are.

Anonymous said...

The query letter is far too long. Also - you spelled Augusten Burroughs incorrectly. A huge blunder, especially when name dropping.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I've been working on queries for a long time. I read what you wrote and like it a lot. Mine is way formal. I see that you say 'be yourself' etc. I'm not sure I can be as breezy and funny as you were in your query-- and if the book that I wrote is appropriate to that tone. The question is to what extent do you hold on to a formal style if that's what you feel comfortable with and going the full-out flirtatious and stunning route? And here's one-- would you be willing to look at a query letter and give suggestions? (I'd be willing to pay you!)

jennifer solow said...

Hey anonymous---i just got an email that you sent this to me---but for some reason it wouldn't let me publish it:
(write me at jennifer@jennifersolow.com and i'll help you out. xx)

Jennifer, I've been working on queries for a long time. I read what you wrote and like it a lot. Mine is way formal. I see that you say 'be yourself' etc. I'm not sure I can be as breezy and funny as you were in your query-- and if the book that I wrote is appropriate to that tone. The question is to what extent do you hold on to a formal style if that's what you feel comfortable with and going the full-out flirtatious and stunning route? And here's one-- would you be willing to look at a query letter and give suggestions? (I'd be willing to pay you!)

Ox said...

The genius in this letter of introduction is exhibited in the power of wit to capture the reader which is well done.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, did the query letter that you sent to Bill CLegg include all the typos, as posted here?
Just curious.

jennifer solow said...

Hey, Anonymous--
I'm not sure if all the typos got fixed before it went out (it's been a while now!) but I do hope the typo fairy sprinkles magic dust on your letter and you have no typos. They don't do you (me) any good, that's for sure...and my mom continuously catches them!

Good luck with all. My new book's coming out in September, THE ARISTOBRATS. (Spelled correctly)

xx
Jennifer