Query Letter Outtakes

Over on Kristin Nelson‘s blog, she is analyzing the query letter that I sent her.  Admittedly, at the time she had already requested the full, so it wasn’t a query query letter, but she does say she would have requested based on those pages.

This might give you the impression that I am actually capable of writing a good query letter.  That impression would be . . . insanely offbase.  If you’ve been following me, you know that Sherry Thomas wrote my query letter.

My own query letters for the book…. they sucked.  So I’m posting the outtakes on this blog.

Query Letter number one:

The last person a scientifically-minded lord wants to consult is a fortune-teller. And yet Gareth Carhart, marquess of Blakely, finds himself doing exactly that in order to prove to his
gullible cousin that “Madame Esmerelda” cannot see the future.

Madame Esmerelda—otherwise known as Jenny Keeble—doesn’t need special powers to know scientific tests are bad for business. But just because Jenny’s a fraud doesn’t mean she’ll surrender. She decides to subject Gareth’s scientific mind to more illogic than it can bear. And so she predicts that the marquess will marry another woman, but only if he completes tasks.  Humiliating tasks. He’ll have to hand-make gifts. Sing in public. The only way he can disprove her predictions is to perform at her command, and she’s sure he’ll give up first.

Tasks or no tasks, Gareth won’t capitulate. There’s another way he can demonstrate Madame Esmerelda isn’t an otherworldly, metaphysical oracle. He’ll show she’s more than susceptible to his very worldly, very physical charms. But neither science nor séance can foretell the risk seduction poses to Gareth’s heart.

Sherry’s comment on this query letter was something like, gee, I see no internal conflict here.

So here’s my second attempt at a query letter, which also sucks:

Propriety usually consigns well-educated women who lack family and fortune to the depths of governessing.  But Jenny Keeble has never let a little thing like the crushing weight of society’s expectations stop her.  Instead, she earns a living pretending to consult spirits.  Business flourishes until Gareth Carhart, the scientifically-minded Marquess of Blakely, vows to prove she’s faking.

Just because Jenny’s a fraud doesn’t mean she’ll give up without a fight.  And so she tailors her predictions to challenge Gareth’s insular nature.  She expects he’ll retreat rather than give up his isolation.  When she discovers his cold, logical attitude is as much a facade as her gypsy clothing, though, victory slips from her grasp.  Because neither science nor séance has prepared her to grasp the intimacy she craves while holding onto the independence she’s earned.

My critique partner was like, “what are the depths of governessing, and what do they have to do with your book?”  My response:  They are like the depths of hell, except deeper.  When you are trying to explain the jokes in your query letter to your own critique partner, it’s probably a sign that it is not a funny joke.

Sherry said to this one:  You know, this isn’t very deep conflict.  Can you tell me more about what’s emotionally at stake?

I think I sent her about five pages of rambling, and then tried to sum up with this query paragraph:

Jenny Keeble’s talents as a fortune teller have brought her the respect and financial independence she craves.  The only problem is, she knows that respect is as false as her fraudulent prophesies.  And so when the coldly logical Marquess of Blakely confronts her with scientific proof of her fraud, she must choose between losing the social position she’s fought for, and earning the esteem of the one man who sees who she really is.

I think this is about the point where my critique partner said, “There is nothing about love in your query letter.  Where’s the romance?  You’re supposed to be writing a romance novel.”  At this point, I may have turned into a raging lunatic.  Query letters do that to me.  Sherry was also not really into this and asked me a number of questions about my secondary character, about Gareth.  And then she asked me the kicker:  “So, where’s the hot?”

That prompted me to write this:

Baseborn Jenny Keeble has won a measure of independence by pretending to tell the future.  So when Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, threatens to prove she is a fraud, she won’t surrender.  Instead, she foretells that the coldly logical Marquess will fall prey to the emotions he scorns.  Gareth responds with a prediction of his own:  She’ll bed him before the month is up.  To her dismay, she finds herself increasingly attracted to the only man that can see through the web of lies she’s built.  But no matter how compelling Gareth’s counter-hypothesis is, Jenny’s not about to give up her hard-won independence for a man who is unable to postulate love.

At this point, Sherry gave up on my being able to construct a viable query on my own with help from her, so she read my pags and threw together in what seemed like a few minutes something that looks substantially like what Kristin posted on her blog.  So there you are–I suck at queries.  Yay for me!

Out of the whole query process though, I did get three good words.  As I was struggling to be clever in a very small amount of space, I kept trying to work in phrases.  You can see the “science or seance” thing earlier on, which eventually got ditched because it just didn’t work (and besides, the word “seance” had not entered the English language at the time when my book is set, so it is anachronistic).  As I was struggling the fifth time around, the phrase I kept trying to work in was “seduction by induction”–another one of those jokes that I think is funny and everyone else says, “WTF?”  At some point, I realized that this shortened very nicely into “Proof by Seduction.”  That is the title I used to pitch, and the title of the book when it went on submission.  It might even be the title of the book when it goes on the shelves–we shall see!

16 thoughts on “Query Letter Outtakes

  1. >I think this is about the point where my critique partner said, “There is nothing about love in your query letter. Where’s the romance? You’re supposed to be writing a romance novel.” At this point, I may have turned into a raging lunatic.

    You may not have been the only one… 🙂
    Ah, yes. Fun times.

  2. First of all, you are very brave to post those. Not because they’re bad, but because i sure as heck wouldn’t post mine!

    And yes, i hate query letters and the synopsis. Every time I entered a contest that judged the query letter or synosis, it’d bring my score down so low, I stopped entering them!

  3. Lori, you’re giving me too much credit. It’s easy to be brave when it doesn’t matter. At this point, it’s kind of a funny story–ha ha, look at the little author, she can’t write a query for shi–um, for the life of her. This story has a happy ending, and so the clumsy fumblings of the author herself are just grist for the mill.

    I don’t think I’m very good at the super-short form of writing. One paragraph? It’s hard for me to do anything with one paragraph. Some people can really get it right, and I have tremendous respect for those people, but I sure as heck can’t.

  4. Courtney, these are hilarious! And at the same time, I completely understand. There are so many ways we could say it — but to find that one, perfect way? Perhaps this is why I rewrite my manuscript beginnings so many times. *sigh*

    I wish there were a better way, but there doesn’t seem to be. And I sold without a query, so what’s that say about my ability to write them? If I hadn’t won the Harlequin contest, I’d probably still be fussing around with queries.

  5. Heh.

    I, on the other hand, had the opposite problem. I used to write exquisite query letters for totally sucky manuscripts. It was a while before my stories lived up to the potential of their queries. I think at heart I’m more a copywriter than a novelist. 🙂

    And as for esoteric references, how about that n+1?

  6. I need a Sherry too! I finally settled on query attempt #15, I think, and synopsis #22, only because I WAS turning into a raging lunatic and probably scaring small children with the fire-breathing and all.

    You had me laughing because I stopped letting anyone critique them after that because it was like “where’s the romance?” and then I’d do that and I’d get “it’s all about romance, where’s the conflict?” so I’d do that and then get “it’s too serious, lighten it up”. Any guess on what the next one was? Yep. Too fluffy. So call it denial, but I just finally went with it and now have all my fingers crossed that someone will bite.

    Because I swear, if I have to go back in that hell, my husband will leave me! 🙂

  7. Sharia,

    Writing a query is a little bit like whack-a-mole, isn’t it? It’s enough to drive you completely nuts. And Jessica, I’m glad to offer myself up as amusement. 🙂

  8. Thanks for posting. I picked this up on Nathan’s blog. I can’t believe that anyone would have a problem with it. But obviously some do. I for one applaud you. And I’ve decided to post my query letter on my blog. And I’m not even agented yet. Maybe someone can point out what’s wrong with it. 🙂
    Oh and Sherry, feel free to stop by and offer your opinion!


  9. Heh, that’s great you can share those, Courtney! 😀 Thanks for the laughs–though I can totally sympathize. I’m not quite at the querying point but my attempts so far have utterly sucked. 😛 I’m waiting a bit to unleash mind-numbing horror on my crit partners by asking them to take another look at new query versions later. 😉

    Thanks for sharing,


  10. Courtney-
    I love that you’ve shared all this, so thank you. It makes me realize that not everyone can just whip out a decent query, and that really, that fact doesn’t reflect on their writing in general. Best of luck…and congratulations! I’m with Sarah, maybe I should post mine on my blog as well and see if anyone will pick it apart! We’ll see!

  11. Loved this post – I just discovered your blog via Jenn Jackson to Kristin Nelson. Thanks so much for sharing the process.

    Like Sherry, I am good at queries. And titles! I have helped a number of friends with both titles and queries. And of course I tend to come up with my hot titles and irresistible query letters LONG before I’ve written more than a few chapters.

    Maybe I should go into that business.

    Congrats from another lawyer/writer.

  12. Thanks for posting these! I thought querying was going to be so easy, because hey, you’re just summing up the characters and conflict in a catchy way, how could that be harder than completing a whole manuscript? Now the manuscript had its trials, but as soon as I wrote my first draft of my query letter I sort of sat back in my chair, a little pale, and thought, “Oh no.”

    It was actually really interesting to read Sherry’s feedback on yours. I’m mostly doing mine by looking at examples on Query Shark and trying to find elements that work or don’t work by comparison, but it was enlightening to see someone ask the obvious questions. I’m now going to jump back to my latest query attempt (I think this one’s try 1,000,013) and see if it answers those great questions.

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