My Turn

March 15th, 2010 • Kate

shoe-laptopI thought we’d try something a little different today. I’m always happy to feature your queries, and, in the past, I’ve also shown you some successful queries that worked, and helped convince me to offer representation. But an agent’s job isn’t just about reading, it’s also about writing — just like you. And I love that part of my job.

Today I sent out a new manuscript by my client Kater Cheek to several editors. Hopefully, we’ll hear soon that someone loves it, and wants to make an offer. And though I call each editor before I send the material, when I send the manuscript, I include a cover note that looks a lot like a query letter.

Now, some editors don’t bother reading agents’ covering notes, which is fine. They’ve already heard me pitch the manuscript, and want to get right into reading it, not reading what I say about it. But I find that the covering note I write — if I do it right — gets used more than just once. I may feature it in my rights list for a book fair, like Bologna. It may become part of an editor’s presentation to an acquisitions board, or inspire their flap copy, or catalogue copy.

And it all starts here. In this case, with the author’s short synopsis:

A woman named Kit inherits a magic bindi from her famous witch uncle. Kit has to use this bindi’s powers to find out which of her uncle’s enemies is trying to kill her.

Kater also wrote a little bit more about the manuscript in a query:

Please find below the first chapter of Seeing Things, an 80,000 word urban fantasy set in a fictional city in the Pacific Northwest. The heroine is a young struggling artist and barista who inherits an unusual magical artifact, and has to deal with its powers while she fends off all the people who want to steal or buy it from her. Seeing Things has old folklore and New Age magic, mystery, romance, and a little humor.

Both of which are rather brief and to-the-point.

What I love about the manuscript, though, is how Kater mixes Kit’s sense of humor with some harsh situations and real emotions — even when dealing with vampires, witches, and people trying to kill her. You could take out every mention of magic or supernatural creatures, and still have a very tight mystery about a young woman trying to deal with an unexpected inheritance and the people who’ll do anything to take it from her. It’s a little bit noir, and I like that.

In coming up with the hook line, I’ll admit I had a little fun:

I’m delighted to enclose Kater Cheek’s urban fantasy SEEING THINGS. They say you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but when the horse is a magical jewel that allows its wearer to see things unseen, and people keep trying to kill you for it, well, wouldn’t you call a dentist?

Moving on, I gave a little bit more information about the characters and the situation:

Kit is a struggling artist and part-time barista, trying to keep a lid on her feelings for her sparring partner, who inherits a small bindi on her uncle’s death. Sure, it would have been nice to get the house, or some money, but Kit’s been told the small Indian jewel is worth more than any of her uncle’s other possessions – and when possible buyers start popping out of the woodwork, Kit starts to feel better about her inheritance.

The conflict comes quickly thereafter:

Except for the fact that she’s promised her tea-leaf-reading brother she wouldn’t sell it. And once she starts wearing the jewel – and sees for herself its magic – Kit decides to hold onto it.

Kit needs money, but made a promise not to sell it. And once she gets used to having the bindi, she sees why people are offering so much for it.

However, Seeing Things isn’t just about a thwarted financial transaction. There’s action, too:

But it’s not that easy. Kit is mugged at gunpoint, stalked, and hexed – oh, and the Vampire Guild seems overly interested in her problems. With nothing but a small jewel that lets her see magic, a werebear friend with benefits, and a dead witch of an uncle advising her, will Kit be able to survive through the pagan new year and keep her inheritance?

In one paragraph, we find out a whole lot more about the world of this novel, full of magic, witches, werecreatures, and a (hopefully) intriguing Vampire Guild that reads like a crime syndicate. With that on the table, there’s nothing more for me to add than some information about the author:

Kater is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop, and a contributor to John Joseph Adams’ THE LIVING DEAD anthology, in such company as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Clive Barker, which was named one of PW’s best books of 2009. She has published fiction in Fantasy Magazine, Ideomancer, Big Pulp, and Coyote Wild, among others. Her short story “Voice Like A Cello” was named to Locus Magazine’s 2009 recommended reading list. SEEING THINGS is the start of a series of novels set in and around the fictional Pacific Northwest town of Seabingen. Her website, which features her art and writing, is www.catherinecheek.com.

You’ll note I also mentioned how the book has series possibilities, without going into too much detail. Also, by only mentioning it at the end, I hope I indicated that the book can stand on its own.

Intern Jenny read over my shoulder as I put this letter together this morning, and gave the highest praise: “I can’t wait to read it!” What do you think?

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10 Responses to “My Turn”

  1. Jenny Tonks Says:

    This is an awesome query! The "hook" definitely worked on me–I'd snap it up if this was the blurb I saw at the bookstore!

    I was intrigued with your use of the "looking the gift horse in the mouth" cliche, because all the agent blogs I read tend to rail on use of cliches–they tell writers not to use them. Is it different with publishers?

  2. GK Says:

    @ Jenny Tonks: Ah, but she doesn't just use the cliche, she plays with it, with the dentist line. She utilizes it (I imagine) to hint at the humorous voice of the work. The reason so many agent blogs denounce cliches in queries is not because they can't ever be used, but because often queriers use them as a crutch rather than being creative.

    I so love writing submission letters, and this is a lovely, succinct, enticing one. *thumbs up*

  3. Krista V. (the forme Says:

    Thanks for sharing this. SEEING THINGS definitely sounds intriguing.

    And Jenny, I agree that avoiding cliches is generally a good thing, but this one works because she adds a little pizzazz to it ("…wouldn't you call a dentist?"). Cliches tend to be indicative of bad writing when a writer starts using them mindlessly, when he or she lets them take the place of actual wordsmithing.

  4. write-brained Says:

    Very cool–thanks for sharing. It IS alot like a query, isn't it? Good luck to both of you!

  5. Carrie Harris Says:

    I hate this. How am I supposed to wait to read the book after reading this? CANNOT STAND THE SUSPENSE!!!!

    Which is exactly what I think you want editors to say. 🙂

  6. ChristaCarol Says:

    Well done! I have to say, my favorite was the last paragraph before the creds (the mugging, the werebear…WEREBEAR…how cool is that?!) This sounds like a fun read. Good luck to you both!

  7. Sandy Shin Says:

    I am echoing everybody here, but I really like the pitch. Intriguing and full of humorous voice!

  8. Stina Says:

    Since queries should mirror the voice of the novel, did you find it difficult to write this since you didn't write the novel? I find that problem happens frequently when writers crit queries. A query for a chick lit ends up with a high fantasy voice. How did you manage to capture the voice when writing this? 😀

  9. B.Lois Says:

    Great idea – to post something you wrote. Gives additional insight into what agents and editors want to see in book blurb. Thanks!

    Oh yeah, the book does sound good. You'll let us know when it hits the shelves?

  10. Matt Says:

    Love it!

    And I'm a big Kater Cheek fan already, so it takes a lot to make me even more anxious to read her stuff!

    Well done, the both of you!