Friday, April 2, 2010


Today we’re going to do something new and fun: a Guest Blogger with a positive query experience!

Here is a query letter from my friend and fellow blogger Justine Dell that found success, at least at the first level. That’s what this blog is about anyway.

Please visit Justine’s blog: Justine Dell, and follow her. She is a great writer, fun blogger and an awesome person. I will be doing a guest post for her next week, Tuesday or Thursday, so make sure to return for that as well.

So without further ado, on to the query. Original text will be plain, her thoughts will be in blue and mine will be in red.

Original Query:


I’m seeking representation for BROKEN TIES THAT BIND, a romantic suspense novel that is complete at 81,000 words.

Genre/Word Count/Title was included at the top because this agent specifically stated in their blog that they wanted an “introduction”.

She did her research and the proof was in the pudding. Good work Justine. I also love that title. It’s like that word game they play on NPR where you have to put two different movie titles together.

Thirty-year-old attorney Jamie Hill has never lost a case, but she’s afraid of losing her marriage. New lawyer in the firm, Elliott Moffat, showers her with attention, determined to reignite their past love. Temptation like that is hard to resist with a husband who’s forgotten how to say I love you.

I like this paragraph, I think is shows good conflict from the get-go.

Great hook/pitch opening sentence. Short but sweet, but more importantly it worked. This post is not meant to be a critique of Justine’s query – there are other places for that – but I will just say that I really like that last sentence. Not only is it obviously true in real life, but it clearly and succinctly sets up the conflict that is probably the gist of the entire novel.

Elliott’s attention draws Jaimie closer, even as she holds tight to her fading marriage. After an unexpected legal faceoff, her husband Jason files for divorce. Adding insult to injury, Jaimie discovers he has a mistress – Andy, her old frienemy from high school. Free of her vows, Jaimie allows herself to fall back in love with Elliott.

More Conflict!! YAY!!

According to Google, it’s Frenemy without the “i”. He obviously got it and since it’s not a real word I don’t think it matters, but it is fun to look up what Urban Dictionary has to say about such things.

Then the threats begin. The one-dozen beheaded roses, the rock through her glass front door, a dead bird on her car windshield. With each frightful delivery, Jaimie fears for her safety. Her new-found happiness with Elliott is also in doubt since he failed to disclose that Andy is his ex-wife. Jamie’s trust is tested further as she witnesses an ugly fistfight between Elliott and Jason.

I like this paragraph because I think it’s what sets my story apart from other romantic suspense novels. That’s what agents want, right? They want to know what makes your story different from others.

Disclaimer: I don’t read romance (except when it occurs in YA) so I can’t speak to what Justine is saying, but I will say that the scenes she describes do a great job of building the tension for me. I’m guessing the agent liked them too.

Jamie struggles to get her personal life back under control when the bottom drops out - Jason is found murdered and Elliott pinned as the jealous lover. Now Jaimie faces a wrenching decision: is Elliott the man of her dreams or a murderer?

Dun...Dun...Dun...the hook. Pretty darn good if I may say so myself. And it worked, at least this time. Yes, you’ll notice that I ended my query with a rhetorical question. I could have done it both ways, with the same impact. You see, I’ve could have said: Now Jaimie must decide if Elliott is the man of her dreams or a murderer. But, I like the question. And Nathan, the agent of ALL agents, said it’s okay to end the query on a question, just don’t start with one. However, there are some agents who don’t like questions at all. This wasn’t one of the agents.

This is a great twist on the plot it seems to me. I mean maybe this kind of thing might be expected in this kind of novel, but even so it really raises the stakes concerning her decisions. It also ties the whole query together with a great kind of punch at the end. Excellent wording. I have also read Nathan’s posts about the questions but this one is not rhetorical and it works at the end.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

After the closing and my contact info, the first 10 pages of the novel were included. This is something the agent asked for along with the query.

All in all it’s a very good query; short and to the point, concise. And of course it did its job which is the important thing and why it’s up here.

Agents Response after exactly 2 days:

Dear Ms. Dell,

I like everything but the flashback. If you might agree to do something about that, I’d like to take a look at the rest of the novel. Please let me know.


So, short, sweet, to the point. This was my VERY first request, so I darn near had a heart attack. And then, when I read the email again, I was like WHOA! The flashbacks are a serious part of the story (and he would have read one of the flashbacks in the first ten pages he received…that’s what he didn’t like). There are three total. Then I thought “he’s going to hate it”. URGH! What do I do?

I’m not going to speak to this part of the process for Justine because it is all very subjective and my specialty is really more along the lines of sucking at query writing. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below though!

So I sent him the following email:


Thank you for your timely reply to my query. I would be more than happy to send you the rest of the novel, as I am willing to make changes regarding the flashback. There are two other flashbacks in the story, and I am flexible with them as well. If you like the rest of the novel, I can work on removing/changing them in a way that suits the story best.

With that being said; I can send it to you as-is to see if it is something you are interested in working with. Please let me know how you would like for me to send it to you.

Thank you for your time.


Justine Dell

I wasn’t sure at the time how I felt about removing the flash backs, but I wanted him to know that I was open to changing the story if needed. After all, aren’t agents supposed to know what’s good/bad/ugly? If he likes the story but not the flash backs, then BAM! out with the flash backs. But, at the time I didn’t know if he wanted me to remove them before sending the full MS or not. That would have taken some serious work because I would have had to plug-in the flashback information somewhere else in the story.

His reply was once again short and sweet:

Dear Ms. Dell,

Please do send the complete novel to me as an email attachment to this address. Thanks.


I got this email on the 20th of February. I sent the MS out on the 21st. So then I wait…and wait. Before I continue, I will say that right after I sent out the query, I got the most awesome beta reader in the world. She started to read my story, and I found out very quickly that it wasn’t ready to be seen by an agent. It had been read before, by five people to be exact, and none of them noticed the plot problems my beta did. Bummer….so when I got the agents reply, eleven days after I sent the MS, I didn’t even need to open the email to know what it said. It took me a long time to actually open it anyway. I didn’t want to feel the crush of rejection. But I finally opened it.

This is what it said:

Dear Ms. Dell,

Thanks you so much for sharing your work with me. I have read and pondered my decision and have decided not to go further with this. I sincerely wish I could represent everyone who sends me their work, but you and I know that this is impossible. I won't go into great detail as to what I found wrong with your work, because that is not my function as an author's representative. Please understand that what I did find is only my opinion and not necessarily that of any other agents or that of the publishing industry. I wish you God's speed in finding adequate representation and eventual publication.



So, a dead-end to my publishing journey. I wish I would have had my beta sooner. I’m almost certain if I did that this would have had a different outcome. My story has changed dramatically, grown in size (by 10K) and really is better. Now, I’m my own worst critic, so yeah – it’s better, but not by any means the greatest story ever told. The queries have since stopped on this story as the rewrite is still under way. I’m almost done and hoping to be querying within the next few weeks or so. The query letter will change slightly, as the arc of the story has changed a bit. Hopefully, I’ll get another agent like this who wants to see the new, improved story.


First off I want to thank Justine for her intense courage. It is one thing for me to put myself out there for all to see on my own blog, where I have total control, but for her to take that leap of faith is commendable.

I think it’s clear she has a compelling story here with an interesting twist on a romance premise. She is already further down the road to query success than many of us so let’s wish her the best in her revisions and future luck in obtaining representation.

Don’t forget to visit her blog, comment and follow. I’ll be doing a guest post there next week.

P.S. Justine would like to thank some of the users over at Nathan Bransford's forums for their assistance with revising her query. In particular she would like to thank: Ghost in the Machine, Jaime, and Tycoon.

She would also like to thank Christi for all her help.


JustineDell said...

Oh, I forgot to mention Christi too. She helped!! And, she's awesome too ;-)

Piedmont Writer said...

Nice post, both of you. Thanks Justine for sharing your story. My first query got 3 requests for partials, I'm still waiting for one to come back. It's a nerve wracking experience and I'm sure I'll be involved with tons of rewrites as well..

Thanks Matthew for hosting this interview. Really nice job.

Matthew Rush said...

Justine, I'll add Christi to the post, and thanks again for sharing this with us all.

Piedmont that's exciting! Good luck with earning a request. Oh and your welcome and thanks.

Michelle McLean said...

Thanks for the post! :) It's always interesting to see how other writers navigate the road to publication. I wouldn't take the rejection too hard. You know you've now got a better, stronger story and if one agent was interested, another will also. And it only takes one to love it :) Congrats on your request and may there be many others in your near future!

sarahjayne smythe said...

Thank you so much for posting this. It's great to see this play out and to know that rejection isn't the dead end so many people fear. Justine has done a great service here by allowing us to see this. I'm grateful.

Oh, and btw, I'm over here now following you from Mia's blog.

Slushpile Slut said...

What a great post!! Bravo to you Justine for sharing your experience and I gotta say my hats off to you for sending the manuscript without taking the flashbacks out...That took some balls and the way you worded it in your reply was perfect and just telling the agent if they were interested further you would then be willing to change it...I'm impressed!! And Matt Thx for posting this :)

Christi Goddard said...

I saw the title of the post and I was all "Hey, that's Justine's story, what's Matt doing with it?" Then I remembered the planned guest blog. Hey, I'm pre-caffeine at the moment.

Matthew Rush said...

LOL Christi. It happens.

L.J. Boldyrev said...

Great query! Thank you both for sharing. It is especially helpful with the notes! Good luck, Justine!

I tweeted for you. Thanks again!

Elizabeth Poole said...

I followed your blog through both Mia and Justine (it's getting to be a nice small blogging world ;) ) and I just wanted to thank you for the great blog, and Justine for the awesome courage to post her query letter. I like how you both added your thoughts on the matter, too, something I wish other sites would do.

Justine, you rock, and I know you're going to make it. (so do you for that matter Christi)

And Matthew, thanks for the great blog. Also, I love 20 minutes south of Atlanta! What a small world this is!

JustineDell said...

Thanks everyone. I'm really glad you enjoyed this post. I really enjoyed working with Matt - he's pretty awesome too :-)

Small blogging world indeed, Elizabeth. But I'll bet we get bigger ;-)


Matthew Rush said...

L.J. Thanks for the tweet and for visiting, we definitely agree about the notes!

Elizabeth, thanks to you for stopping by as well. I agree Justine is very brave. That's crazy how close we live to each other, would that be Clayton County? Small world indeed either way.

Kittie Howard said...

Matthew, I read your nicely worded request among comments on Jen's blog and decided to stop by. Glad I did. First, a thank you to all participants. It's nice to know that honesty can be both civil and encouraging. I don't have a WIP, except my blog, stories about growing up on a farm in South Louisiana that I took a break from and blogged a series, What Seven Remarkable People Wanted. Followers and readers responded to this series with cries to publish. I hadn't thought of this going into the series, but, obviously, since I'm reading your blog with interest, the idea germinates for a self-help, inspirational book. I guess the best way to describe where I am now is to say I feel like a little bird lost in a tree. Anyway, Happy Easter to you and yours!

MeganRebekah said...

Matthew, I'm glad I followed up on your "shameless promtion" comment! Great post!

Summer said...

Great guest post! It's nice to read good queries, and I like seeing the author's thoughts mixed in there. I'm glad you found a Beta reader and are moving onwards and upwards!

Matthew Rush said...

Haha, thanks Rebekah, I'm glad you did too.

And Kittie, thanks for stopping by.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

(Thanks for stopping by my blog. See, your shameless plug worked on me.) Love all the commentary on the query and journey. I've definitely been there. My first novel I had a number of full and partial requests, but it wasn't ready to be seen at the time (and I didn't know any better).

My second novel I joined a killer crit group and currently have my full with my top choice publisher--so I'm biting my nails through the wait. If anyone wants to see the body of both of my queries, you can click here. The bio paragraphs aren't present but the story summaries I used are there. (see my own shameless plug back at ya ;) )

Falen said...

what i liked the most about this story was what happened after she got the response to her query. That's the side of querying we rarely see, the kind of back and forth, give and take stuff.

Matthew Rush said...

Hey Roni, thanks for coming by (and biting on the plug). Your queries are really sharp! I love how you employ your voice and yet say everything about the plot that needs to be said. I don't even read romance and I want to take a look at Wanderlust now.

Falen, yes I agree, that was sort of the point behind the idea for this blog too ... an inside look at real examples of correspondence between agents/editors and aspiring writers.

Crimey said...

I don't read romance either, but you don't have to read romance to see that this is a query that is clearly written and concisely shows the nuts and bolts of the story. I like that the query shows all the 'twists' that are reflective of the plot. Good job,Justine!

Crimey said...

Also, Matthew, thanks for stopping by my blog.

beth said...

Very cool. Thanks for sharing!

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Great post and great query! Nice work both of you ;)

Matthew Rush said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And you're all welcome. But the credit is really all Justine's. Please stop by her blog and follow it too.

Happy Friday!

Josin L. McQuein said...

First off, kudos to Justine for having the guts to post not only your query, but the responses to it as well. It's not easy to expose yourself like that. And Matt did a great job of giving his own thoughts along with the author's.

Now I get mean. ;-P

I'll be honest and tell you this is the kind of query my Red Pen of Doom (Dooooooooom!!!) would love to pick apart. The kind that's "almost" there, but something's off with it.

I crit A LOT of queries, and I don't pull punches, so I want to say straight off that this is not meant as discouragement. (I've also had several of my own shredded and had to learn some battleground triage to keep my ego from bleeding out on the spot.) The core of the query is very good. Some of the dressing, however, needs help.

Some of the "off" is due to little things that can have a big impact. You mention that your MS has grown longer. Well, in that case, you want an exceptionally tight query to illustrate to your prospective agent that you don't waste words. In this case, you can cut "that is" from the very 1st sentence. "That" is a major offender in the "bloat" category.

Another nitpick -- watch your spelling. Your MC is Jamie, but more than once you call her Jaimie, adding an extra "I" in the middle. It's a small thing, but something an agent will likely notice. They also notice cliched phrases like "insult to injury".

The other 2 things, are:

Jaime's 30, which means she's only been out of high school for 12 years, and most likely already had at least on reunion. Yet, she had no idea her "frienemy" was married to her current hubby? The logic doesn't hold.

And then the use of "decision" with regards to Jamie's stakes. It's and awkward way to say it; it's not up to her to decide if Elliott offed her 'ex'. It would flow better with the rest of the query if you said she was determined to discover if he did it or not.

I hope, now that you've got a beta-approved MS, you'll have many more requests and land the best possible agent for you.

Shelley Sly said...

Thank you, Justine and Matthew, for sharing.

Justine, I know I've said it before, as a loyal commenter of yours, but I wish you the absolute best of luck in finding an agent. Your query is fantastic! Sounds like an incredible story. :)

Matthew, I look forward to your guest post next week.

Rachele Alpine said...

Hi Matthew....This is a great post! I love how you featured the query and your comments. If you're still looking for people to "donate" queries that landed agents, please let me know. I'd be happy to share mine!

I'm also up to featuring you as a guest blogger. My blog focuses around YA literature, but if you have other ideas let me know. :)

Matthew Rush said...

Thanks Josin, I must say honesty in critiques is an oft overlooked blessing but I for one certainly appreciate it. We all want our writing to be the VERY best possible, and how else to get there without brutally honest feedback a la Simon Cowell?

I'll let Justine speak to her own query and MS, but I do know this is an old example and she has already updated it since then.

Shelley, you're welcome. Look for my post on Justine's blog next Tuesday or Thursday, we still haven't decided yet.

Angie said...

Definitely a great query letter. Sounds like an interesting book. (I'd want to read it if I were an agent.) Thanks Justine and Matthew for sharing that.

JustineDell said...

Thanks for the feedback Josin. I always appreciate it. It is an old query, and the new one is still a wip. The story got bigger because more characters where added and the arc of the story changed. My beta is big on "bloat" words, so we are working on that. And, the MC's name is Jaimie, with the extra "i", so it's actually wrong if I wrote Jamie. My

Thanks to everyone else for checking out the blog and your kind words!

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I'm no where near the querying stage but I really enjoyed this peak into the process and Justine's journey. Kudos for her courage and her conviction, in the name of helping aspiring authors with their work. Matthew, thanks for posting this. Justine, you rock! Good luck finding an agent and selling your book.

Ted Cross said...
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Ted Cross said...
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Jen said...

Justine rocks and this just proves it! What a process but what a great learning experience as well!!!

Thank you for the guest blog Matthew! Justine is awesome and of course I already follow her blog :)

Krista V. said...

Thanks for sharing this, Justine. And Josin, great feedback. I've been lurking around your blog for a while. Maybe I should just follow the darn thing already... :)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Yay, after technical hitches I finally found your blog :) Now happy to be a follower of you and Justine. Cool post too, it's always helpful to see how others work :)

Wendy aka Quillfeather. said...

Justine, you are an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing your tale and giving us a peep into your writing world.

Thank you also to, Mathew. Excellent post. Definitely worthy of a gold star in Google Reader :)

maybe genius said...

Thanks for posting the breakdown, Matthew. Justine is great :)

Matthew Rush said...

Thank you so much everyone for stopping by and commenting. As writers we are all in this thing together!

Ink said...

Nicely done, Matt and Justine. It's nice to see the different experiences out there. And I really loved Justine's responses to the agent. Very professional, very well handled. I thought she hit the right note, being confident while still having questions.

Will the new query hit the forums when the time comes?


JustineDell said...

Of course, Ink. You know we can't stay away from Bransforums. ;-)

Thanks for checking out the post! And your kind words about my query.


Mia said...

I read this yesterday but couldn't think of what to write cause I felt all bleh (I'm ill, I think almost EVERYONE knows that now since I do like to moan :P ). Anyway, I've had a cup of Tea and now wish to tell you that this is a great blog and this post was really helpful.

Thank you for sharing this with us Justine! :~D I'm no where near querying yet but I get the feeling this blog will really help when the time comes so I will be lurking from now on!

Elizabeth Poole said...

Matt: Nope, I'm in Fayette County, but close to Clayton! Great blog! It's so neat to meet someone I live nearby!

Lisa and Laura said...

It is fascinating to see the process unfold in this way. Thank you so much for sharing! I think the moral of the story is that this business is incredibly subjective. What works for one person won't work for another and vice versa. Great post!

FantasticFiction said...

Thanks for sharing the query Justine, OMG, I haven't been ofn that forum for forever but hope to hop on there sometime. Cheers and good luck!