A Query Letter That Worked

Filed in Author Life — July 3, 2024

Originally published in 2014: I published this blog post ten years ago; it was easily the most popular and most searched post on my now defunct blog. Dusting it off now because I still get emails asking if I’ll reshare it!

In 2012, I was in one of the most gut-wrenching phases of a writer’s life: the querying stage. I learned pretty quickly that there was a right way and a wrong way to write letters. I devoured the Query Shark and dozens of other agent websites to figure out what they hated and what they liked.

However, for all of the great querying advice on the internet, there is a woeful dearth of actual query letters that led to representation. I always told myself that if I “made it,” I would do my bit to fix that, no matter how painful it was to stick the ol’ query letter up there for the world to see.

When I double checked with my agent (Nicole Resciniti) to see if she’d mind me putting my letter on my blog, she did me one better and offered to provide commentary.

You know what’s more useful than an author posting a query letter that worked? An agent explaining why it worked.

So here it is…the ACTUAL letter that landed me representation. Commentary from Nicole is in bold. (Also, for reference, The Seymour Agency requests the first five pages of the manuscript in addition to the letter, although I’m not posting those here. You’ll have to buy the book 😉

Here is Lauren Layne’s actual query letter, with her agent’s commentary in bold:

Dear Ms. Resciniti, (yea! She spelled my name right )

Getting mistaken for a prostitute is not part of Sophie Dalton’s life plan. (great opening hook—immediately had my attention! I remember smiling as I read)

Not that Sophie even has a life plan. She’s perfectly happy being everyone’s favorite party girl. But then a Las Vegas bachelorette party goes awry, and an uptight businessman gives Sophie a new label: hooker. Swearing off her thigh-high boots forever, Sophie slinks back to Seattle with damaged pride and the gold medal of hangovers. (there is humor here, paired with vital plot/character information. First thought: very talented. Thoughtful execution)

But what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there. (I hit this line, and my reaction was “she gets it.” Writing is an art, but that art must sell. Loglines like this are commercial, marketable, and fantastic hooks. I was already itching to make the request…)

When the same jerk who mistook her for a prostitute shows up as Sophie’s new boss and her perfect sister’s new boyfriend, Sophie’s carefree existence is turned upside down. Grayson Wyatt may have infiltrated family dinners and her professional world, but Sophie’s not about to let a judgmental prude anywhere near her personal life. But as Gray’s icy stares give way to quiet smiles, Sophie realizes that the one man she’s been so desperate to get away from just might be the one she wants to keep around forever. (One thing Laur does brilliantly is hooks, and this one is no exception. Also, she conveys the tropes that are suited to the genre, while emphasizing the conflicts.)

[WORKING TITLE] is a contemporary romance, complete at 81,000 words. (vital info, the word count. Agents and editors always want this. For romance, 50-100k is the target range, if one is looking to do category and/or single-title respectively. With single title comprising books of approximately 80k words or more.)

The first five pages are included at the end of this email for your consideration. Followed directions from my submission guidelines—nice.

Thank you for your time.

[LL’s signature]

Everything below is further commentary from Lauren’s Agent on the above letter: 

Now here’s the part where I was saying thank you! First, it’s pretty friggin’ awesome and the book sounded fantastic—I couldn’t wait to read. But then, when I actually got a taste of the pages—whoa!—I loved it! Lauren has an exceptional voice and a great sense of humor. I found myself connecting completely with Sophie, and her first meet with Gray was simultaneously disastrous and amusing. It made me want to read more.

Most agents and editors can decide on a project within the first couple of pages. That’s how important a first impression is. When I read the first pages of this –which was only facilitated because of this killer query—I knew that this was an author I wanted to work with. This was an insanely talented person who-go me!!!—decided to send her manuscript my way.

We’ve landed two deals for Lauren in a very short time period, both to major publishing houses—Grand Central and Random House. What’s more, Lauren has the type of talent that will one day make her a household name. Yeah, she’s THAT good. And it all began with one little query letter.

Do you want to have the same success? Here are some tips:

–Keep it short. Education and qualifications are great, but avoid divulging too much personal information.

–Treat your query like a resume. The same way you likely wouldn’t go on a job interview and when asked why you’re applying, respond with “Cause my mom/boyfriend/bff/spouse/Cousin Bob said I’d be good at it.” So too should you keep personal information like that out of your query. I know _ (insert family or friend name) loved your book, and I’m glad to hear that, but they are supposed to. That’s why they are your friend/family. ☺ Also, if you paid to have it professionally edited, again, you don’t need to say that. While it is great that you made that kind of investment (although a critique partner would’ve done it for free!!!) it conveys to the agent/editor that you don’t know how to edit for yourself.

–Do list affiliations with writers groups (if you don’t belong to one, you should. They can offer critiques, advice, support and camaraderie, networking, etc.), contest wins, pertinent prior publications, if any.

–Do proofread. A lot of typos in a query will suggest that your manuscript may be equally unpolished.

–Do make sure that the agent your targeting reps what you write.

–Do include the ‘back cover copy’ or ‘blurb’ like you would see if your book was in print. Write that short summary, ending on a hook, and make that the body of your query letter. If an agent or editor is going to imagine your book on a shelf, make that ‘blurb’ one that would make us want to buy your book. *This is probably the best advice I can give. A great 2-3 paragraph pitch/blurb can have the most impact.*

–Do submit the queries in small batches. If you receive a lot of rejections, then rework your query before trying again.

A closing note from Lauren:

I sent Nic this query letter in 2012, and we signed a contract later that year. She’s still my agent 12 years later. In fact, we just had lunch last week (Summer 2024)! Happily-ever-afters are real!

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