Query 101

I’m a little bit of a Query Nerd. For some reason I love, love, love editing queries. I think it’s because it appeals to my journalism training – boiling something down into a small chunk of crucial information.

If you’d like my query coaching services please email me at kristibelcamino@gmail.com
I charge $50 through paypal and usually can turn around the first draft of the query in less than a day.
After that I’ll do two more revisions within a week.
The coaching comes with a digital copy of my book on queries and getting an agent: Crush Your Query.

Here are what some people have said:

“I just wanted to acknowledge how much Kristi helped me with my query. My current agent actually asked for a full manuscript based only on the query pitch absent any sample pages.

Kristi read my original pitch and by asking a few simple questions helped me clarify the most salient points, punch it up with words that would get more attention and reduced the word count to get the most bang for my query buck. Additionally, she was a comfort as I started the nerve-wracking query process reminding me that we all start at the beginning and sharing personal anecdotes.” -Aimee Hix

queryhelpblurb

Here is another post from Ariel that made me super happy: http://katrinaariel.com/reviews-of-freelance-editors/

 

Kristi Belcamino @KristiBelcamino

Now, remember, going in to the process with Kristi my query was really close. But it was complicated, had too many names. My story is intricate, epic, and has a large cast of characters, including well known gods. There’s a double love story, a family saga, and the main plot of saving the world. How could I get across its beauty without drowning the essence of it in too many details?

I liked this woman from the get-go. She’s encouraging, spunky, and sharp as a dagger. Here’s her blog post on queries.

Kristi told me I was really close, then sent a file with a ton of notes. 🙂 Immediately, another layer of blur pulled away from my eyes, and I saw the query I’d read 9000 times in a different light. The beautiful thing was finding out that Kristi and I speak the same language. By that I mean her feedback made perfect sense to me, and I understood her suggestions without the slightest furrow of my brow.

And, lo and behold, she sent me another example! Like the gals from Manufixed, Kristi rearranged, cut, and finessed the thing until the overload of details had dropped away. There it was, the essence of my story, in my own words. A few minor word changes to make sure it was still 100% me, and finito, it was done!

 

AND …………..

Here are a few articles I’ve written about the query process:

Query Letters 101
By Kristi Belcamino
From Do Some Damage

I consider myself a bit of an expert on query letters.

If you think I’m being arrogant, yeah, maybe a little, but the reason I consider myself somewhat of an expert is that I’ve queried around 100 agents and fine-tuned my query letter as I went.
I want to share with you my query letter that nabbed me the most kick butt rock star agent around, Stacey Glick, of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (If you somehow haven’t heard of them, let’s just say that along with repping me, they also represent the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.) No, I’m not biased. Ha!

So here is my query, after much massaging:

Dear KICK BUTT AGENT:

I am seeking representation for my crime fiction novel, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD. This novel was inspired by a story I covered as a crime reporter and my own efforts to get a serial killer to confess to taking and killing a little girl. When the man died in prison two years ago, I was called for a comment, so I guess I’m considered an “expert” on him now.
Gabriella Giovanni has never met a man more exciting than a murder.

Her big Italian-American family can’t understand why Gabriella chooses her adrenaline-pumping career as a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter over being married with little bambinos running around. Instead, Gabriella spends her days flitting in and out of other people’s nightmares and then walking away unscathed, like a teenager exiting the haunted house at the fair. That’s partly because for twenty years Gabriella’s managed to avoid confronting her own dark childhood memories: her sister’s kidnapping and murder.

That changes when a little girl disappears on the way to the school bus stop.
Gabriella’s quest for justice and a front-page story leads her to a convicted kidnapper who reels her in with tales of his exploits as a longtime serial killer and his promises to reveal his secrets to her alone. Editors warn Gabriella she is in danger of losing her job when the biggest newspaper in town keeps scooping her on the story. Believing that the fate of her beloved job and solving the mystery of her sister’s disappearance both lie in the hands of a serial killer, Gabriella risks her life to meet him when he is sprung from jail on a technicality.

The novel is complete at 88,000 words and took first place in the mystery category of The 2011 Sandy Writing Contest. The final judge, an editor at Simon and Schuster, said this about it:
“I liked Gabriella and wanted to spend time with her. I also thought the author did a good job establishing character, plot, AND building suspense within a short period of time. This reminded me of Sue Grafton or Jan Burke.”

I am a member of Sisters in Crime, polished my manuscript in a master class on the novel at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, and am involved in three writing critique groups. I am a freelance writer and maintain two blogs.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I have included the first chapter so you can get a feel for my voice.

Sincerely,

Kristi Belcamino

Let’s break it down:

1st paragraph

Introduces you. So, I know Janet Reid (Query Shark) hates that introductory paragraph, but I say unless you are querying JANET REID, keep it in. It’s polite.

The next three paragraphs:

The summary of your novel. This is what you want to appear on the back cover copy of your book. It’s fun to write and summarize in this way.

The next paragraph or two: Facts about you and your novel/your credentials. (It’s 80,000 words. I’m a Sisters in Crime member. My manuscript won an award.)

Closing paragraph:

Thank you and HEY I’ve included the first five pages (or first chapter) so you can get a feel for my voice!

Okay. So a few things to point out. I always, always, always included that last line. I either included five pages or an entire chapter. My thought was if the query had interested them, but they were on the fence, they could read further to see if my writing was something they liked. I really recommend doing this unless someone specifically says “QUERY ONLY.”

In addition, only include it in the email. If you attach it, an agent will probably never look at it. Attachments are a big no-no in the query process unless they ask you to attach a word doc.
I knew my query was working because I had dozens of requests to read my full manuscript. And, then I also came across this article by Literary Agent Jill Marr on how to query agents. And lo, and behold, as I read her article, I saw this in an article she wrote on queries:

There are also several ways to stand out in a good way. Here are a few examples of some first lines that have caught my eye recently:
….

Gabriella has never met a man more exciting than a murder. (Again, this one works because the author is showing me so much, but in a new and different way. This character is a loner and someone who deals with death and murders. I already like her!)
So, Jill liked it, too. The reason I even have the gumption to offer up my query in the hopes that it will help is because when I first sat down to write my query letter, I had a stack of query letters from other authors that I used as inspiration.

I hope by me sharing this and you reading it you can get some ideas or inspiration about writing query letters.

 

 

Successful Queries: Agent Stacey Glick and “Blessed are Those Who Mourn”


Successful Queries: Agent Stacey Glick and “Blessed are Those Who Mourn”
By: Chuck Sambuchino | October 2, 2015

This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 73rd installment in this series is with Stacey Glick (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) for Kristi Belcamino‘s mystery, BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN (ebook releases September 29, 2015, Witness Impulse). The novel is hailed as “tense, disturbing and smart” by Edgar award-winning author Alex Marwood and critics declare that Belcamino is an author to watch for.

Kristi Belcamino is a writer, crime reporter, and Italian-American mama who makes a tasty biscotti. As a reporter, she flew in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, and attended barbecues at the morgue. Her first book, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, based on her dealings with a serial killer, is nominated for the 2015 Anthony and Macavity awards. Find her on Twitter.

Dear Ms. Glick,

I am seeking representation for my crime fiction novel, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD. This novel was inspired by a story I covered as a crime reporter and my own efforts to get a serial killer to confess to taking and killing a little girl. When the man died in prison two years ago, I was called for a comment, so I guess I’m considered an “expert” on him now.

Gabriella Giovanni has never met a man more exciting than a murder.

Her big Italian-American family can’t understand why Gabriella chooses her adrenaline-pumping career as a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter over being married with little bambinos running around. Instead, Gabriella spends her days flitting in and out of other people’s nightmares and then walking away unscathed, like a teenager exiting the haunted house at the fair. That’s partly because for twenty years Gabriella’s managed to avoid confronting her own dark childhood memories: her sister’s kidnapping and murder.

That changes when a little girl disappears on the way to the school bus stop.

Gabriella’s quest for justice and a front-page story leads her to a convicted kidnapper who reels her in with tales of his exploits as a longtime serial killer and his promises to reveal his secrets to her alone. Editors warn Gabriella she is in danger of losing her job when the biggest newspaper in town keeps scooping her on the story. Believing that the fate of her beloved job and solving the mystery of her sister’s disappearance both lie in the hands of a serial killer, Gabriella risks her life to meet him when he is sprung from jail on a technicality.

The novel is complete at 88,000 words and took first place in the mystery category of The 2011 Sandy Writing Contest. The final judge, an editor at Simon and Schuster, said this about it:

“I liked Gabriella and wanted to spend time with her. I also thought the author did a good job establishing character, plot, AND building suspense within a short period of time. This reminded me of Sue Grafton or Jan Burke.”

I am a member of Sisters in Crime, polished my manuscript in a master class on the novel at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, and am involved in three writing critique groups. I am a freelance writer and maintain two blogs.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I have included the first chapter so you can get a feel for my voice.

Sincerely,

Kristi Belcamino

COMMENTARY FROM AGENT STACEY GLICK:

The opening where Kristi shares information on her background is so intriguing. Not many female crime reporters out there. Immediately made me want to read more. I’m also a sucker for fiction based on true events, so that made it even more enticing.

Then there’s the great first line about the book and her protagonist. Draws the reader right in. “Gabriella Giovanni has never met a man more exciting than a murder.” How could you not be intrigued by that sentence? It says so much with so little. She goes on to clearly and concisely (I can’t tell you how often I suggest to others that their pitches be clear and concise) describe in just a few words Gabriella’s job, personal life, and family.

By the end of that very brief paragraph which is chock full of good information, we learn that her sister was kidnapped and murdered as a child and now we’re set up for a very intense psychological drama, which I’m a big fan of. The rest of the plot description describes a high stakes story with a series of suspenseful twists.

Following the solid pitch, Kristi then goes on to give brief but compelling feedback from an editor at a major house who compares her work to two bestselling authors, which is impressive. In addition, it’s clear from the way she talks about the book and its development that she is professional, actively involved in the writing community, and that the book has been carefully written and edited, all big selling points. Overall, I’d say this query letter gets an A+!

I’m so pleased that Kristi thought of me with this book, and even more pleased that we are four books in to this fantastic series. She has created a wonderful world with memorable characters and suspenseful storylines that follow through on her promise in her very solid pitch letter.

Don’t Give Up Until You’ve Queried 80 Agents or More

Don’t Give Up Until You’ve Queried 80 Agents or More
Writers Digest | January 29, 2014

The other day, a writer friend asked for my advice in dealing with all pesky rejections in the query stage. I asked how many agents she had queried. “Forty,” she said.

“Well, then you’re halfway there.”

I wasn’t trying to be flippant, but if you are serious about getting published, then don’t even think about giving up until you’ve queried at least one hundred agents. Really. But there are a lot of caveats attached to that advice…

First, let me point out that some people send out that first query and bam — agent. Bam — book deal. From what I’ve seen in my limited time in the trenches, this applies to about one percent of the writers out there — or maybe .000001 percent. Not sure. One or the other.

But don’t let me be a downer, go ahead and dream of being that minority and more power to you if you fall into that scenario. The rest of you doomed sorts can join me as I slog through the publishing quagmire I call “Building my Career.”

Luckily, there are many signs along the road that will help guide you in the right direction. Before you begin, you might want to make sure you’re stocked for the trip.

Here are four things you’ll need to pack for your journey:

1. Perseverance. Be stubborn and refuse to ever give up.

2. Work. Cultivate a constant desire to improve as a writer. This means putting words, lots and lots of words, on paper. This also involves studying the craft of writing and reading as much as you can as often as possible.

3. Teflon-Mentality. Develop a force field to deflect ego-smashing rejections. It is crucial to have the ability to effectively handle rejection, letting them bounce off you, and not allowing them to stop you from plugging away. (See #2 Work.) Get used to it. You think after you get an agent that the rejection is over. HAHAHAHAHAHA. (Sorry.)

4. Patience. Here’s a little secret — the world of publishing runs on a completely alternate universe concept of time. Tired of waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher or editor? Grab a beer and put your feet up. In other words, get used to it.

If you have those four tools in your trunk during your trip, you’ll eventually make it to your destination.

Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not in one year. Maybe not even in ten years. But one day. If you are always working to improve as a writer and refuse to give up, one day you will be successful.

Sound easy?

It’s not. But it can happen.

Let’s talk more about that road to publication. Luckily for you, this road is marked with helpful road signs that let you know you are heading the right way.

So, let’s get back to my friend’s 40 queries.
I asked for even more information. Is she getting requests for manuscripts? Yep, no problem there, she said. Well, that tells me that her query is solid. It’s working.

That’s a mile marker she’s passed on her journey.

My next question for her: When she did get a manuscript rejected was it a form rejection or an encouraging, specific rejection with lots of feedback?

Form rejections could mean a detour. Exit and go consult a developmental editor. Feedback with specific rejections could mean revising and resubmitting, especially when more than one agent says basically the same thing needs to be fixed.

If you are getting feedback that takes up the entire page, jump up and down with joy — you are getting close. That road sign says your exit is ahead.

Do the revisions and massage that manuscript even more, if necessary.

Do not give up.

Look for more signs that you are nearing your exit. I remember the day I knew I was close. I was taking a writing class at a local literary center. The teacher said he’d never snagged an agent with his novel. One agent had told him, “It just didn’t make me want to miss my subway stop.”

I practically did a cartwheel in class that day because an agent had called me the day before telling me this:

She’d started reading my manuscript on her phone on the train home and had intended to stop and read the rest on her iPad or computer once she got to her apartment. Instead, she finished reading my book, sitting on her living room couch with her jacket still on.

Although, she never did make an offer of representation, when she told me that story and then I heard my writing teacher tell his, I knew I was close.

Then one day, the ultimate road sign appears: Exit now.

An email in your inbox or a phone call! Yay! An offer of representation.

Congratulations! Go celebrate! I did. I had a helping of bacon ice cream and a shot of vodka. You might prefer a kale shake and a slice of tofu — whatever guns your motor. The point is to take a minute to enjoy this milestone. You’ve made it. So far. We’ll talk about getting that book deal in another post! For now, enjoy your success.

 

Also on the hunt for an agent:

How I Got My Literary Agent: Kristi Belcamino