My original query letter for “The Ardent Admirer” was a nice start, but a query letter is the only chance you get to attract an agent’s attention….much like when you send in a resume for a shot at a job (not that I’ve had much luck with that either as of late). The letter needs to be assured, intriguing, and persuasive. Merely saying “it’s a good and interesting book” won’t get you any more attention than saying “It’s the greatest book ever” and if you’re a first time published writer it’s not like you have any other work point to in order to convince an agent to give your manuscript a try. The letter has to sell, sell, sell!
I like to say I write with a cinematic style–most apropos for someone who uses Silent movies as the plot origin for most of his work–so I figured why not sell it like a movie. There’s a cliche that says that to sell a movie you have to describe the plot as “a hit film meets this hit film and uses the dramatic context of this other hit film.” In other words, while it may be an original idea, it still contains characteristics of tried and true plot and characters that they know will sell. Same goes for books.
As I’ve mentioned before, there’s always the dreaded question: what do you write? I always have a problem with that question because I can’t/won’t pigeonhole myself into a category. Agents, however, want it so that can know in 30 seconds what they’re getting into. “The Ardent Admirer,” for me, is difficult to categorize because while it incorporates elements of suspense, crime, and historical fiction, I can’t really say if’s really any of those things in toto. As a result, you wind up having to use “literary fiction” as a catch-all even though it usually assumes something a bit snobby and pretentious. But hey, what else you gonna do?
So taking all this in account, here’s the way to structure a query letter:
- Synopsis: what is your novel about? You need to highlight the highlights—the most obviously commercial bits of your plot. Don’t, however, give away the ending, particularly if it contains a surprise twist. I structure my highlights like a movie trailer. If I had less than a minute to convince myself to read this book, what would I want to know about it.
- Structure: how long is your book? Word count? Pages? At this point it’s worth your while to compare your manuscripts to other titles or authors in order to give an agent the sense of where you’re going with this. Drops some names if it makes you feel better. You will also need to identify your target readership. Who’s going to read the damn thing? Cast a wide net–an agent, of course, isn’t going to represent a book that he doesn’t think he can sell.
- Something about yourself: Do you believe in yourself as a writer? SAY IT OUT LOUD, I’M A WRITER AND I’M PROUD! If you’ve got a track record, hype it! If not, tell them what drew you to the subject and why you think it makes a good book. Don’t be tentative. The best weapon you’ve got here is confidence. On the other hand, don’t be delusional either.
So after that rant and rave, here’s my idea what a query letter looks like:
Benton Dembow, the protagonist of “The Ardent Admirer” is a drama critic in 1920 New York in search of information concerning an unknown actress whose revelatory performance in a foreign movie leads him to obsession and madness. In his pursuit of the enigmatic Pola Negri, he deliberately lies to his insufferable wife and betrays his journalistic ethics and integrity. As the truth about her gradually develops, finds himself the cause of unintentional death of each of his rival critics, forcing him to lie further to cover-up his involvement. To add to his mounting troubles, he finds himself the unlikely focal point for scheming blackmailers, backstabbers, murderous psychopaths, vicious gangsters, and a wronged woman’s vengeance. The story recounts the time during the 1920’s when film cemented its hold on our culture and publicity—true or not— created movie stars overnight. When it appears his actress will be imported to America to make pictures in Hollywood, Dembow fears his consuming obsession over her might require one more death to ensure her success: his own. Nothing, however, is what it seems. With scandal threatening ruin and a dogged investigator convinced of his authorship of the growing number of corpses left behind in her rise to the top, will he outwit fate? Well, read the book!
Now completed, the book is 95,648 words-long (404 pages). This unique work of literary fiction is a twisting and turning roller-coaster ride to delight readers who like a healthy dose of dark humor laced with a sparking frisson of intrigue, danger, and real-life historical characters and settings. Take a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, throw in the plot machinations of a James Ellroy novel and strain it through the twisted sensibilities of Charles Addams or Edward Gorey and you have this book. It will be of interest to film lovers for its historical documentation, fans of the Jazz Age for its Broadway setting, and anyone with a heh-heh sense of the absurd.
This is the first novel in my “Silent Movie Stories” series of which three more novels have been written in the mystery/thriller genre and with two more are the works. I have a deal for a non-fiction biography to be published in the summer of 2016 by McFarland Books. I also write on my own Word Press and Facebook sites to promote my novels and fiction writing in general. The Ardent Admirer is worthy of both a hard copy and an E-book edition in my opinion.
May I send it to you to read? I think you’ll find it quite worth your time.
We’ll in a rather short time how well this works. Could be I’m a way off the mark. Nah!*