However, the main reason for today's blog is to tell you of my experience with Dystel & Goderich's Slush Pile Week. I submitted one of my earlier queries for SAVAGE MOUNTAIN, before I changed the title to THE BEAR AND THE DARKNESS, and D&G picked it as one to review for February. Admittedly, it was not a great query letter, but it was the best one I had written out of about fifty. I was very excited to see it, not because I wanted see this particular piece of my writing on the Internet, but because, even though it was not an actual submission, I got real criticism from Jane Dystel, rather than the generic form rejections I have gotten from prior submissions. I now know much better what turns an agent's mind on or off when it comes to queries, just from this one experience. I am going to copy and paste it here so that any of you who have had the same frustrations as I have can learn from it also. I will enclose her comments in quotes:
Dear (Agent’s name):
I am seeking representation for my romantic suspense novel, SAVAGE MOUNTAIN, complete at 100,000 words.
"Don’t begin a letter with “I.” It suggests a certain amount of self-involvement and perhaps a bit of lazy writing. In this case I would suggest you say something about knowing from looking at the website etc that I am interested in romantic suspense and as a result you would like to interest me in your novel currently entitled...."
When Dan and Kay Logan find the body of the young woman in the woods, their lives change forever. Moving from the city to the sparsely populated Warner Mountains of California, the two are excited about their new life style and look forward to living full-time in the wild, rugged country where they have enjoyed vacationing for years. But mysterious dead bodies have a way of interfering with happy plans and memories.
The sheriff barely arrives before the killer strikes again; this time the victims are the rancher and his wife who befriended Dan and sold him his small ranch. The murdered man had told Dan weeks ago that a shiftless hunting guide, Pat Riley, was jealous of Dan, held a grudge against them both, and mentally was “not quite right.”
Riley’s known by the locals to be a nasty piece of work. Dan suspects he is the killer, and that he and Kay could be next in line, but running from trouble has never been the Logans’ style, and they are not about to change now. They prepare themselves and stay to face the threat, be it from Riley or someone else.
The authorities investigate in their slow and meticulous way, while Dan and Kay attempt a normal life, hoping the killer will be apprehended, but expecting an attack at any time. SAVAGE MOUNTAIN is the classic story of two people in love, who face adversity and danger the old-fashioned way – on their own.
"Rather than providing the narrow details of the story, I would prefer you describe it in more general terms. You’re summarizing too much without giving a larger sense of what this story is. You should compare your work to other bestselling suspense novels. You might also want to describe the potential audience in this letter.
You can say how excited you are about sending it and then ask if I would like to read it."
Thank you for your time and consideration,
"I like this closing--it is sincere and respectful.
All of this sounds familiar, and if I were only to have this, I admit that I would turn it down. You need to work on distinguishing what is unique and exciting about your novel rather than running through the whole story.
Thanks for submitting!"