My First Attempts at a Query Letter, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I finished my book. My friend Mark read the last chapter and made many comments (though overall he liked it) and this week, I will work on polishing it. Next, I’ll send the chapter to my Four Readers. But in the mean time, I’m moving on to the next major step, and that is to find a publisher for my book.

I’ve never written a book for publication before, so even though I have attended a workshop on how to write a query letter, and two of my friends have shared their query letters with me, this is a new and somewhat scary process. Over the years, I have learned some good lessons. The first is that I am more of a reviser then a writer. I get better with each draft, so multiple drafts of a piece actually buoy me as a writer rather than discourage me. No matter how bad the initial draft, I know that I can make it better.

The other lesson I’ve learned is to get help in the form of feedback and models for whatever I am doing. Today, I am going to write my query letter and post the crappy and incomplete draft on the blog. When I write the final version of the query letter, I will have the correct stats and email addresses and such (information that is difficult for me to reach today). On Tuesday, I am meeting with two good friends, Casey Daniels (AKA Kylie Logan) and Shelley Costa (AKA Shelley Costa Bloomfield). These are both talented, multi-published, and founding mothers of the North East Ohio Sisters in Crime. I’m taking them to lunch and sharing with them my query letter. I fully expect them to take it apart and make strong suggestions as to changes and additions. I am so looking forward to their expertise. I want my book to be published, and without a good query letter, that’s not going to happen.

So, I will share my crappy version of the letter today, and after my meeting with them, I will tell you what they liked and what they didn’t like, and then I will share their suggestions for changes. After much debate with myself, I’ve decided to leave in all the awful sentences poorly stated and seemingly badly thought out. I want this to be a real crappy draft. I promise I’ll make it better for real. After the newest and best version is done, I’ll share that with you, Dear Reader.

Note–In the actual query letter, I won’t have bolded subheadings. At the end of this crappy draft, I do have some remarks for things I’ve learned and questions I have just in the initial writing of this draft.

Query Letter

April 10, 2016

Re: Query about What Is a Cozy?

Dear _________:

Lead Paragraph–The Essence of the Book

I would like to submit a proposal that is a discussion about the history and exploration of the overall success of the cozy up to the present day. In five chapters and an introduction (my book runs approximately 175 pages) I explain the value of the much maligned cozy subgenre to the mystery, its checkered history, which continues somewhat to this day. I’ve found when talking to groups of mystery writers and readers that most people who love the mystery genre, will read anything, and that includes the sweetest and gentlest cozy to darkest noir. Even readers who prefer the harder edged books will read cozies as a palette cleanser. And, even with so many cozy lines being shut down recently, cozies are among the best-selling and most popularly loved subgenres. When Penguin announced the cutting of several series, immediately a Facebook group was formed called “Save Our Cozies” which in a manner of days had over 1000 members, all of whom pledged to buy more cozies, ask libraries to order more, and to write to the various publishers. My book explores the passion of the cozy readers and why this has been such a successful subgenre.¬† (Also, in THIS WOULD GO SOMEWHERE IN FIRST PARAGRAPH. THE VALUE OF CATEGORIZATION AND TONE)

Paragraph 2–Round out initial description. Can be longer than lead par.

Chapter 1 does, Chapter 2 does, etc.

Paragraph 3–The Market for the Book

The market for this book is manifold (word choice). I distributed a survey for the dissertation and received over 700 responses to a 50 question survey. The information is gold. One of the questions I asked was if I could contact the survey taker again. X percent said yes. I also conducted Y number of focus groups in three states over several years, and I interviewed z number of book store owners and librarians.¬† When my dissertation was finished, it was made electronic, as all dissertation were made at CWRU after x. Over y number of people have downloaded my dissertation. This number is unheard of. People tend not to read dissertations, so I think this is an indication that this is a topic people are interested in. I have also been to mystery conferences, including Malice Domestic which has thousands of attendees to find panelists quoting from my dissertation. I see this primarily as a book for mystery writers who want to and need to understand what a subgenre is, and how to write a successful cozy. To the groups that I’ve spoken to, this is something that is often misunderstood. This is also for mystery readers. In the years since I started doing my research for my dissertation, I have seen mystery readers become far more sophisticated in their understanding of subgenre. I’ve had readers ask me what they should read and how to know what they’ll like. When I’ve taught subgenre, writers and readers a like have said this was a valuable tool. I interviewed many bookstore owners and librarians in preparation for the dissertation, and they contributed to the value of categorization. Also, I could see this used in the college English class, both for fiction and and non-fiction as a book which explains subgenre simply with examples. The book has been completed except for an introduction and a preface.

Paragraph 4–Qualifications and Platform

I received my Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, OH in 2008. In order to write my dissertation, I was the first person in the English department required to participate and follow IRB guidelines since I was doing interviews, focus groups, and surveys. I have been asked to speak about my research to numerous groups including Sisters in Crime, Bouchercon, the two Popular Culture Association National Conferences, and CWRU research conference (get name). I have been a reader for Poisoned Pen Press, and I have assisted in organizing mystery conferences. I have designed and taught courses on the mystery genre as well as other topics that are closely related, and in teaching these courses have been nominated for teaching awards. I have a blog in which I discuss the mystery genre and writing in general at mysteryphd.com, and I have a weekly podcast about Buffy, the Vampire Slayer at clevelandhellmouth.org. I am a founding mother of NeoSinC and a founding board member of Literary Cleveland, a new literary arts organization in Cleveland.

Paragraph 5–Thank you

Thank you for your time in considering this query. I would be happy to send a book proposal  or additional information.

Sincerely,

Paragraph 6–Contact info

Katherine Clark, Ph.D.

address, email address, phone numbers

Query Letter comments from me:

Oops as to lead paragraph. The book I’m looking at Authors 101 Bestselling Book Proposals says that first paragraph should only be 3 -4 sentences. OK.

Also, the second paragraph is supposed to be other important info about the book. It is not to be a break down by chapter. Uh oh. At this moment, I’m guessing that some of what should go in paragraph 2 is information currently found in the lead paragraph.

I don’t know the numbers, statistics, percentages off the top of my head, and technological problems and lack of knowledge force me to wait for help from computer genius Mark to get access. Obviously, before Tuesday and before mailing this letter out, I will have that information in the letter. I fully expect my friends to point out that much of this can be cut, and that I should be including information that hasn’t even occurred to me.

Before I see Shelley and Casey, I plan on rereading my five chapters, just so I can better state what the book is about. Here are some questions for them: Should I name the courses I’ve taught, mystery and related? Do I need to explain what the IRB is? Do you think they will be put off by my constant use of the word subgenre? I want this to be a book for laypeople, not academics, and that is how I wrote the book. I’m afraid I come across as too wonky, sort of.

Of course, while I was writing this draft, a great question occurred to me to ask them, and I’ve forgotten it. Oy. I will be copying and pasting this into a Word document so I can keep playing with it before Tuesday. I know this is pretty terrible, but I’m excited. I’ve got a draft. I’ve got an organizational structure, of sorts, and I already know some of the major things that are wrong with it. I have 2 days to fix it and make it so much better. These are kind women and professional writers–they will help me succeed. I can do this. I really can do this. (I hope.)

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