Writer’s Corner: A Query Letter for Jane Austen

I always seem to be overtaken by a feeling of apprehension whenever I begin to consider the idea of contacting agents and publishers again. To begin with, it’s not like I feel like I am “selling out” myself or my books, but I am definitely doing something that makes me feel a little dirty.

See, when you are writing a book you have all of the best intentions. You want to tell a great story, maybe do something groundbreaking or new in your artform; but when you start to contact agents and publishers you have to forget all of that. The best intentions are fine for writing tables; agents and publishers, typically, want to know the bottom line.

Could this book sell?

More established authors have their name to help sell a new work, but when you are unknown you are a member of the ever-growing faceless mass. And by that I mean, the daily struggling army of want-to-be authors that fight in query letters and e-mails for attention for their work. And that army is growing each year as more and more people graduate from English programs and writing programs, or simply decide they want to write a book… growing and growing…

Are you starting to see why I have the feeling of apprehension? Because each negative response (and even the form letters) can be quite an ego attack, even though there is a lot going against your work from the start; and you can keep reminding yourself of that fact, but it probably won’t help. It doesn’t for me. This is the uphill struggle that each new author needs to be aware of if they want their book to go beyond the cultish world of self-publishing. Writing is fun, but everything else can be a humiliating and torturous pain to the point that it makes you wonder why you wanted to write in the first place.

OK… Deep sigh…Smile and continue…

So I created a query letter for A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM. After the warm reception it got on the internet from it being serialized on greenspotblue.com (You can find links to the installments via the A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM page), the time felt ripe for trying to send out the work again.

I have tried querying the work before and had some nice reactions, but nothing really materialized. Maybe people felt overwhelmed by things related to Jane Austen? I had a few say it sounded a little too much like Jane, which felt like a compliment before I realized that is why they were saying no.

To spruce up my query letter, I sent out a request to readers of the work for reviews. I got a handful back and decided to include two in the query letter. I chose them because they are from some of the more influential Jane Austen fans out there on the Web. If you know the Jane Austen fan community, chances are you follow them on twitter.

Besides the query letter (which I will share below), I will include a short synopsis and a sample from the work. This will be done over e-mail and mail. I already ordered a pile of Mark Twain stamps (for luck), so I just need to start my next step in preparing.

The Database

I recommend writers create a database. Excel is great for this. Fill it with agents and publishers, their contact info, and the dates you reached out to them and how.  It is a great way to track who is looking at what and for how long. When you are doing a mailing, it can get easy (especially for those of in the arts) to forget or misremember something you shouldn’t.

I have even been known to use a color scheme in my database. Yellow means they asked to see more, green they are reading the book, and red (shivers) they declined or worse, read a sample and hated it. Ever since I have started the color scheme it has been harder and harder for me to wear the color red, true story. So make sure to choose a color you don’t mind losing.

The Query Letter

It is best to keep a query letter under a page. Not always easy to do, and keep it to the facts, but in a way that would want them to read more; in other words, hint at dollar signs, but don’t go overboard. Tell the plot, but don’t give all of it away (But you need to give some away, like mine does below, since my twist is such a post-modern surprise). Sell yourself, but don’t make it all about you… OK, I need to stop there or I am going to sound like Polonius from Hamlet.

Here is my new query letter:

Greetings.

My name is Scott D. Southard and I am writing in regards to my novel, A Jane Austen Daydream.  It is a re-imagining of Jane Austen’s life as if it was one of her novels, a literary romantic-comedy.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s own work and “partially” by her life story, this is Jane’s life reinvented in fiction.  Filled with references to her works and characters and many new literary twists (including the unique and surprising appearance of a dashing suitor named… Scott D. Southard), Jane experiences the adventure her mind and spirit deserved and the love she always wished she could find.

In 2011, A Jane Austen Daydream was selected by Green Spot Blue, a new literary Web site, to be shared in installments over the course of the year. The book generated quite a response and following among the Jane Austen communities, with the novel being sponsored (including interviews, links, reviews, and samples) by four different international Austen Web sites.  Here are responses from two leaders in the Jane Austen fan community, proving that there is a waiting audience for the book’s release:

“When so much has been written, there is still a new angle!… [the author] cleverly extracted her emotions enabling him to spin happy, romantic developments around what we know of her life, at the same time incorporating a most unexpected twist…. Both newbies and dedicated Austen readers will be captivated by this imaginative new take on her life.” @ Period Dramas

The story is not a sequel but a very endearing look into Jane Austen and her family’s thoughts and their world. I especially enjoyed the story lines that incorporated characters that Jane would later write about in her famous novels. The story is humorous, dramatic and original! Janeites, Austenites and those who are first reading Austen will thoroughly love it! @JaneAustenLIVES

I received my MFA in Writing from the University of Southern California. In the last few years, two of my novels (Megan and My Problem With Doors) were honored in an international novel writing competition and because of it were published by a new independent press out of Canada. My screenplays have each been honored in national competitions. More information on my other work and biography is available upon request.

If you would be interested in reading A Jane Austen Daydream, please do not hesitate to respond. I have included a brief synopsis of the novel with this query as well as a sample from chapter__. A SASE envelope has also been included

I look forward to hearing from you.

Wish me luck…

…my stomach hurts now.

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7 responses

  1. Scott, I thought your query letter was well done and should, hopefully, get you a positive response. I assume you will not say “Greetings” however, and that you will say Dear Jane Doe, meaning her name. Also I’d delete the first sentence of your last paragraph. She’s in the business, she knows she should not hesitate to respond if she’s interested. However nowhere in the query have you indicated you are seeking representation – particularly from her. You have described your book and yourself and some reviews, but agents (I’m told) expect us to tell them what we are writing for. Namely, their representation. Wish you success. Share with us the general response to this query

  2. Pingback: Finding That Right Literary Agent: Five Things to Consider « The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

  3. Pingback: That Damn Blank Piece of Paper: A May Writing Update « The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

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