The Query Letter that Snagged Me a 3-Book Contract

On March 8, 2017 I received a three-book offer from Kensington Press for my Regency Era romance trilogy, The Outcasts.

Here is a bit of background on my query letter. I started writing in 2013 and finished my first novel that December. And then I started another and another and another. Over the next three years I sent out a total of three query letters. All three letters received a polite “no thank you.”

Needless to say, I did not spend much time querying. It was not until I had entered a dozen contests, and either won or was a finalist in several of them, that my husband and beta readers pressured me to begin querying in earnest. In the Fall of 2016 I promised I would begin querying in the new year.

Hello 2017.

Not until late February did I get my act together and begin the agonizing process of writing a query, a horrific ordeal I had endured again and again over the prior 3.5 years. Each time I began a letter I’d end up overwhelmed and, ultimately, put the letter aside. I had tried writing queries for at least five of the books I’d written, thinking it might be easier with a different book. Nope.

And I wasn’t attempting these letters without doing my research, either. I read and re-read every damned entry on The Query Shark. While I didn’t submit a letter to The Shark I DID learn a lot from reading her comments. I highly recommend going to her website and doing what she tells you to do.

But the person who really gave me the kick in the pants I needed was Sherry Thomas. Ms. Thomas posted two real-live query letters back in 2006–two successful query letters.

Her letters were punchy and gripping. I don’t know if it helped me because I had read both books in her queries (I suspect it might have), but reading those letters was a serious light bulb moment.

Anyhow, it took me a good two weeks of writing and re-writing and critiques from three people I trust (huge thanks to Brantly, George, & Marla, my patient critique/beta readers) before I produced something I liked.

Here is my letter with comments following:


Dear Ms. Editor:

I was thrilled to see Kensington and Lyrical are both looking for historical romances with unique settings and unusual characters.

Dangerous is part of my Regency Era series, The Outcasts, which features non-traditional protagonists. I believe Dangerous would appeal to readers who enjoy the uncommon heroes/heroines of Sherry Thomas, Lisa Kleypas, and Elizabeth Hoyt.

Lady Euphemia Marlington hasn’t made her own decisions since she was captured by Corsairs and sold into Babba Hassan’s harem. Now the sultan is dead and every decision Mia makes leads to another, and another—until she ends up back in London facing her first Season at the age of thirty-two.

Dangerous opens with Mia’s father, the Duke of Carlisle, forcing her to make yet another decision: marry a man of his choosing or spend the rest of her life on a secluded rural estate.

After Adam de Courtney’s first two wives die under mysterious circumstances there isn’t a peer in England willing to let his daughter marry a man the ton calls The Murderous Marquess.

Nobody except the desperate Duke of Carlisle.

The two outcasts strike a deal neither intends to honor: Mia will get a marriage free of traditional restraints and Adam will get an heir. But deceit takes a back seat to desire and the scheming lovers learn that what they bargained for wasn’t what they wanted at all. They’re on the brink of leaving past disappointments behind them and embracing a future together when Mia’s biggest secret surfaces and threatens to tear them apart.

Now they must make the most dangerous decision of all: When to trust their own hearts.

In 2016 Dangerous and The Outcasts books won or placed in the following:

RWA 2016 Hearts Through History Contest:
1st Dangerous
2nd Scandalous
3rd Barbarous

RWA 2016 Beau Monde
2nd Dangerous

RWA 2016 Hot Prospect Contest
2nd Dangerous

RWA 2016 Windy City Contest
1st Dangerous Moonlight
3rd Dangerous

RWA 2016 Beacon
1st Dangerous Moonlight
3rd Dangerous

RWA 2016 Joyce Henderson Contest
1st Scandalous
3rd Dangerous Moonlight

RWA 2016 Fool for Love
1st Scandalous

RWA 2016 Houston, The Emily Contest
3rd Dangerous Moonlight

Thank you for taking the time to read about my book and please let me know if I can provide any other information.


First off, (and I know you’ve read this before ) do your research before querying. I had been researching for at least a year and Kensington Press was my top pick (yes, “go big or go home” is my motto).

I decided I would send off query letters in five-letter batches. In my first batch I sent one to an editor and four to agents. I am disorganized in many ways, so I made a calendar so I wouldn’t end up embarrassing myself a year down the line by re-querying the same person twice.

The part of Ms. Thomas’s letter I liked the most was the structure. It seemed a lot more useful to impart a bit of background and then tell where the book actually began.

I didn’t include my word count because I was using an online submitting program that already gathered that kind of information. Because I feel brevity is the key to getting a foot in the door, I felt I could create a little more white space by leaving it out.

I dithered and dithered about listing my contests. I finally decided to list all my historical romance placements, but leave out my spec fiction. The list looks a bit unwieldy, but my contests were the only writing-related credits I had.

So, there you have it. I hope this helps somebody out there as much as Ms. Thomas’s query letter helped me.

LERA, dirty/spicy prizes, and new friends!

This past weekend I attended my first meeting of the Land of Enchantment Romance Authors (LERA) meeting. . . and it was fantastic.

New Mexico might be a tiny state, but we are big on talent. LERA is the only chapter of the The Romance Writers of America (RWA), in New Mexico. I have postponed joining the organization because it is a six hour round-trip to go to Albuquerque. But now that I’ve gone once, I’m hooked. This will be a drive I will gladly make again and again.

The current president of the club, Jeffe Kennedy, could not have been more welcoming and generous with her time and information. Ms. Kennedy is not only a well-known fantasy and contemporary romance author, but she is a 2017 RITA nominee in the Paranormal Romance category with her book The Pages of the Mind.

FYI, the RITA is to romance novels (the BIGGEST fiction genre, earning over $1.2 billion annually) what the Oscar is to film. So, this is a big, fat hairy deal. Hugantic. Colossal. Yeah, and she belongs to MY RWA chapter!

The group has a broad base of writers–from new aspirants to those who have made it to the top of their craft. In addition to Ms. Kennedy, other noteworthy authors include Regency and Georgian Era romance author, Louise Bergin and contemporary romance author Robin Perini, among others. Check out the above link to LERA to read more about our impressive authors.

The meeting was packed with helpful info, from editing tips to self-pubbing to presentations on craft and style.

There was also a raffle and I WON! I WON! I WON! Wait, wasn’t that Sally Fields’ acceptance speech. . . (dating myself badly).

Anyhow, I won a dirty girl gift bag created by Jeffe Kennedy. In addition to a nifty tote there were BOOKS! Also some gardening supplies and stuff to go out and get dirty. Here is a picture…

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I have already dug in (get it?) to The Mark of the Tala and it has cut down on my productivity big time. I highly recommend it to lovers of fantasy. Great world building and characters you can cheer for, as well as lots of high politics and intrigue. Oh, and smokin’ romance, too…. Also tucked in the bag is The Edge of the Blade, which I am not allowed to open until I finish my monthly word quota.

 

 

March 24-26, 2017: Los Angeles RWA California Dreamin’ Conference

The conference was the ostensible reason for the bike journey (but really it was to meet George and Marla, my fabulous beta readers!!)

After collecting my name tag and bag-o-swag I headed off to find and meet my internet pal, Marla.

Here I am with a goodie bag:

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Marla and I finally met that first night and she was just as wonderful as I’d suspected she’d be! Sorry, no pictures of that emotional first meeting…

Anyhow, she brought her wonderful husband Murph along with her and I’m already trying to figure out ways to get them to move to New Mexico!

Here we are Saturday morning drinking coffee and discussing our plans for the day (Brantly is the camera man):

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I finally got to wear the skirt that took 400 hours of my life to crochet, so here is a close up below…

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The question I was asked most often was where I bought it. Right after that came, “What are you wearing under it?”

Yoga pants. Nothing more exciting than yoga pants.

The conference had a lot of interesting speakers and workshops, but my two favorite parts, hands down, were California Readin’ and getting to dress up in period clothing!

Marla scored tickets to the California Readin’ event, which was apparently a first at the conference. Both attendees and fans purchased tickets and were seated at tables with seven others, two of whom were published authors.

The event was billed as reader appreciation and they weren’t kidding. There were 60 authors total and each gave out a gift basket. The tables themselves were loaded with cool swag and we got to play. . . BINGO!

No, I didn’t win, but Marla scored a huge basket of romance novels and an ice cream maker. Also lots of candy and desserts everywhere. . . Tons of fun.

Not only that, but afterward was a monster book signing sponsored by the Ripped Bodice book store. I got to meet one of my favorite historical romance authors, Tessa Dare, as well as contemporary romance queen, Robin Carr. Lots of fun meeting and chatting with authors.

Marla went to an afternoon session and I went to play dress up. The people offering hair/makeup/costumes were in the business of shooting book covers but on Saturday they were beautifying the contest attendees and taking cover shots, as well as dress up, fun shots.

I had a blast. My only complaint is that it didn’t last all day and I didn’t get to try on every dress.

Here is a shot of me in one of their masterpiece creations:

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This was a photo Brantly took before the photographer stepped in and posed, moved, and generally made me look far better.

The dress was 8 layers of skirt in addition to the top, which was another two pieces. This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but I’m hoping the photographer shots will show the colors and craftsmanship.

After I took off my 10 layers of clothing I was off to the banquet hall for dinner, where NYT bestseller Robin Carr was our keynote speaker.

Sunday’s highlight was our lunchtime speaker, Sarah MacLean, who gave a wonderful keynote speech on the place romance novels hold in modern life.

By the time lunch was over I was beginning to suffer from conference fatigue and ready to head over to Marla and Murphy’s house for a couple days of R&R LA style. Here we are ready to take off:

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LA is a huge city. And I mean huge. One of the favorite topics of conversation is the state of the freeways. Getting anywhere takes 2 hours. Even with all that traffic, the Los Angeleans are almost scarily happy. In fact, everyone in that part of the state seems really happy.

Anyhow, the next three days of relaxation were blissful after the chaos of the conference and road trip.

We hung out, chatted, went to see a magic show at the Magic Castle, checked out Santa Monica Pier and the neighboring beach, and beaded! Yes, I got to savage Marla’s fabulous bead collection and make myself a lovely bracelet.

Here we are getting ready to enter the Magic Castle:

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The Castle is a members and guests only establishment and it felt like we’d entered a secret world. From the moment you say “Open Sesame” to the bookcase to enter the house, to the ghostly piano playing of Irma, to the wonderful prestidigitation of LA luminaries such as Pop Hayden, the experience was a one-of-a-kind.

Here I am destroying Marla’s pristine living room:

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This was a wonderful trip and WAY too short.

Here is a photo of my long-suffering photographer and SAG wagon driver with his new friend:

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Thanks to both Marla and Murphy for being such lovely, generous hosts. We’re coming back next week…