I recently signed a contract for representation with The Seymour Literary Agency, and am thrilled to be working with the agent, Julie Gwinn. Already she has altered the dynamic of my days; once the contract was signed we accepted an offer from Firefly Southern Fiction for the June, 2018 publication of my third novel, Mourning Dove. I like to keep my posts here streamlined and to a helpful point. In the spirit of this, I will get right to it and share the query letter I sent to Julie Gwinn last November. This query letter went through many revisions, in my attempt at succinctly portraying the arc of the story. I queried many agencies, in spaced rounds of eight at a time, and adjusted as responses came to me. I found that the most difficult task in writing my query was to get to the crux of the story as clearly and briefly as possible. One does not have the luxury of rambling in a query letter, and I’ve heard it said that the first paragraph is crucial; that one needs to open with title, word count, and genre then segue to a hook, followed by an author bio.
Below is the query from which I received multiple requests for my manuscript. Each agency has its own requirements of what they’d like to see: synopsis; first ten pages; first twenty five; first three chapters, whathaveyou. It is imperative to follow each agency’s guidelines to the letter.
For those of you seeking representation, I hope you find my query letter informative. There are many ways to construct an effective query; this was mine!
I am seeking representation for my third novel, MOURNING DOVE, which is an 83,000 word, literary fiction story set in the opulent South, where everything glitters, but is not gold. MOURNING DOVE is told in the voice of younger sister Millie Crossan, as she reminisces about growing up in the Deep South with her charismatic brother, Finley, in post-civil rights Memphis, where society inexorably clings to its deep-seated nuances, while times are changing around them. Millie’s sanguine mother, Posey, is the queen of denial. She is of the era many view as the last of the Southern belles, and her devotion to upper class appearances keeps a tight lid on the cauldron of family turmoil as it seethes and suppresses expression through the events that lead to Finley’s death. Millie leads the reader through the ways of the South: its private schools, debuts, and relationship with the domestic help. It portrays a bond between siblings and a common family dynamic that is experienced individually by characters with admirable intent, but who are subject to their own culturally influenced hubris.
I know well of which I write, for I grew up in Memphis and have maintained a life-long love affair with its complexities, which I brought to the commitment of writing MOURNING DOVE. I am the author of two books: A Portal in Time, and Dancing to an Irish Reel, which is a 2016 Readers’ Favorite and a 2016 finalist in the Kindle Book Awards. Both books were published by Vinspire Publishing. I have invested joyously and heavily in my author platform via book signing appearances, public speaking engagements, and social media. I am a consistent contributor to magazines, including The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Southern Writers Magazine and Celtic Life International, and my first person narratives are published regularly on the online Irish community, The Wild Geese. Five times, I have contributed to the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. In 2013, my short story entry won the runner-up position in the San Francisco Writers Conference’s contest, and it is this piece that I turned into MOURNING DOVE. I was a finalist in the conferences’ 2014 contest, and the epilogue of MOURNING DOVE was published as a short story in Southern Writers Magazine’s Best Short Fiction 2015 edition. Currently, I am writing my fourth novel, which is contemporary fiction set in the South. As for my future goals, I intend to write contemporary and literary fiction as best as I can, for as long as I can. It is my hope that you will be interested in reviewing the full manuscript of MOURNING DOVE, and I thank you so much for your time.
12 thoughts on “The Query that Got me my Agent”
Thanks for posting your letter, Claire. Interesting that it’s a lot longer than the three short paragraph page model we are constantly told to use.
You have a great point, Jane! Mine came to two paragraphs. My aim was to simply say 1. This is what this book is about, and 2. This is where I’ve been published. Thank you so much for commenting. So nice to know you’re out there!
I’m out there, all right. I’m beginning to think I’m so out there I’m never going to get back in 🙂
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Howling over this! I can relate! I’ve been a writer in my cave for so long, it no longer bothers me!
I’d like to sell some books though.
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Claire, thank you for posting your successful query. It’s full of the most important information, written straightforwardly, and shows your expertise as well as the crux of the story without giving much away – just enough to pique the interest of your agent. In a later blog post, I’d be interested in the most valuable rejections that you might have gotten.
You just stimulated me to really work on my own query, which is my biggest writing bugaboo.
And finally, congratulations and best wishes on your newest writing venture.
Thank you, Sharon, and you’ve asked a great question about the rejections I received. I think I should tell y’all in another post about the ones I received for each of my three novels. The bottom line is to look for a really good fit: do your homework on exactly who it is that is open to what you have written. In the case of Mourning Dove, I combed the universe looking for an agent interested in Southern fiction. It’s not everybody that gravitates to this, yet for those that do, they like it for a particular reason, and know where to send it. You’ve given me a great next post idea, and for this I am grateful. My aim is to share worthwhile information!
That is a brilliant query letter, Claire. Thanks for sharing. It’s a great example of how to do it well enough to succeed.
Congratulations! That’s so exciting. And I love myself a book that takes place in the South. Can’t wait to see it out!!
Thank you, Brandilyn. I also love any book set in the South, where I grew up. I’m getting my e-mail list together for when Mourning Dove comes out in 2018. If you’d like to be on it, please send me word at email@example.com!
Claire, thank you for sharing your letter and discussing the results. While I’m not looking for an agent, it is valuable for me to see how it’s done. Wishing you continued success. Hugs.