In the past three weeks, I’ve sent an e-query on The Reluctant Spy to four agents, but received no responses. Along with three of those e-queries I sent several manuscript pages. The not hearing means, of course, that my query or those pages didn’t kindle any agent’s interest.
A Gutenberg letter press from the 15th century—one way of getting published! (Wikipedia)
In tailoring the four e-queries I’ve sent, I scrutinized each agent’s web site to discover two things: Does the agency represent any authors I especially enjoy reading and what topics are of special interest to the individual agents? What I’ve read about queries is that being able to mention something about those two things in the query letter may capture an agent’s attention.
Here’s the generic e-query I’m sending out, minus the tailoring, which I always put in an opening paragraph:
Within the fast-paced, yet character-driven pages of the historical novel The Reluctant Spy, Ephraim must save an old enemy . . . or betray him. There’s no doubt this first-century scribe can destroy his archrival. After all, just a few months ago his spying led to the beheading of another man—and all because of that Bethany woman.
Who knew his chance encounter with her would end in blackmail? Who knew that this man who dearly loves his wife and child and will do anything to relieve their ills would be forced to accept such disreputable work?
One man holds the key that can unlock the prison Ephraim’s made of his life. But that one man is his sworn enemy. Caught in web of dishonor, Ephraim stumbles. Will he despair or will he discover a way to help his family and redeem his good name?
Blackmail, adultery, intrigue, and a crisis of faith—these four themes of The Reluctant Spy remain as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago. Moreover, the manuscript fits into a perennially popular niche: books based on Gospel characters. One example of this mushrooming trend is The Testament of Mary, which The New York Times picked as one of the 100 notable books of 2012.
Just as it portrays the mother of Jesus in a new way, so the characterization of the Nazarene and the Pharisee in The Reluctant Spy differs from the usual Christian understanding of them. In truth, its portrayal of the two main characters may both intrigue and enlighten readers.
As to my publishing history: Crown published A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story in 1992. It sold 14,000 hardcover copies and was then published in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Germany. Wayman Publishing published A Cat’s Legacy: Dulcy’s Story in 2012, and in between, Capstone Press published twenty children’s books I’ve written.
The Reluctant Spy is a completed manuscript of 122,000 words. I’d be happy to send you a sample or the entire manuscript if this e-mail’s pitch has piqued your interest. Thank you for your consideration.
That’s the generic query I’ve tailored, tweaked, and sent out to agents who represent historical novels. However, I’m looking for agents who also represent at least two of the following genres: fantasy, memoir, and picture books. Why? Because I’m working on or have completed at least one example of each of these genres.
In the Writer’s Digest book 2013 Guide to Literary Agents, I’ve found seventeen agencies that represent a combination of these genres. I’ve now queried four with no results. So in the upcoming weeks, I’ll query the remaining thirteen. Any thoughts?
The traditional way of erasing and adding material to a manuscript. (Wikipedia)
My own final thought concerns the manuscript itself. In the writing of it, I’ve often thought that its beginning limps. Numerous times I’ve crafted a new first chapter, but a suspenseful scene eludes me. Given that a writer must grab a reader’s interest in the first sentence or paragraph, I wonder if the beginning chapters I paste into the e-query may
simply be B-O-R-I-N-G!