Friday, November 4, 2011

My best query letter ever (a.k.a. the “it’s just business” query letter)

Dear Prospective Literary Agent

Since you are interested in memoirs, I hope you will be intrigued by my book, Lost in the Spanish Quarter, a memoir set in one of Italy’s most enigmatic cities, Naples.

As an American who discovered a loophole to gain access to a free college education in Naples, for years I roomed in the city’s most dangerous central-city ghetto, the Spanish Quarter, along with a tight-knit circle of Italian university friends. There I developed a fascination with the port city locally known as Napoli – with its volatile volcano, Saharan scirocco, underground passageways and New Years’ skies that rained festively with old crockery and washing machines. It was in this setting that I also developed an all-consuming love affair with Elio, a geology student from a local farm. Our seemingly flawless relationship, however, began to buckle under the lack of future prospects the city offered as well as its shootings, earthquakes and crashing ceilings. At the same time, Elio himself began to cave under the pressure of his domineering peasant mother and a spontaneously collapsed lung. The heartbreak drove me into self-imposed exile on the other side of the globe, New Zealand. A few years later, however, a series of heartfelt emails between me and Elio start to explore the true reasons behind our break-up and the possibility of forgiveness. The love letters – translated from the Italian and interspersed throughout the narrative – eventually offer us a second chance of a return not only to each other, but also to Naples.

Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world, with 4 million annual tourists from the U.S. alone and nearly another 4 million from the Commonwealth (according to Italy’s tourism agency, ENIT). While the Naples region ranks high among international visitors, most skirt the city itself due to its reputation for organized crime and mountains of trash. Many, therefore, miss out on not only Europe’s largest historic center, but also its vibrant people with their ancient culture, cryptic customs and impenetrable dialect.

My memoir is an insider’s look into life and cross-cultural love in a much-feared and little-understood Italian city. It’s a darker version of memoirs like A Thousand Days in Venice for travellers who want to venture beyond the conventional sun-drenched concepts of Italy. Akin to a younger woman’s Eat Pray Love, I believe my memoir will appeal predominantly to single women searching for true love, fulfillment and a place to call home.

Originally from Washington D.C., I spent over a decade growing up in Naples, where I earned a Masters degree with honors in foreign languages and literature. I now live in Auckland, where I teach English, Italian, interpreting and academic writing at a polytechnic and play an active part in the local Italian community. I am also a translator, proofreader and editor for two Italian academic journals.

I am seeking an agent with literary tastes who is ready to push the boundaries of what Italian memoirs are supposed to be. I hope the attached synopsis will whet your appetite. I appreciate your time in considering my query.

Sincerely,

Heddi Goodrich

(Dear reader, what do you think of my latest attempt at snagging an agent? Any feedback before I send it out would be most welcome!)

17 comments:

  1. I like the bit about how it opens up a side to naples that people don't know of.. that is a great way of approaching it, keep up the hard work Heddi,Ii believe in what you have created !

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  2. I think it's great!
    Also, I might be imagining things, but is there a 'to' missing in the following sentence, between 'due' and 'its'? "While the Naples region ranks high among international visitors, most skirt the city itself due its reputation for organized crime and mountains of trash."

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  3. Dear Rangtang, that's actually what I was trying to achieve...so, yay! And thank you.

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  4. Dear Christina, you clever girl! Duely noted and corrected...the worst thing would be to send out a query letter with typos! Thank you.

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  5. Well, I don't know anything about query letters, so I can't give you any useful feedback, but I enjoyed the flow of it and the descriptiveness of the first section. Thought it was great.

    PS So, what was the loophole that let you gain access to free college in Naples?

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  6. Thanks, Kimry! Flow is important...and hard to achieve in such a tight space (and especially when you love adjectives).

    The loophole was getting an Italian high school diploma: the university didn't have any cases like me (non-Italians with an Italian diploma) so they treated me as if I had a Italian passport...hence I just paid the university taxes of something like 300 dollars a year. Lucky me: no student loan to repay!

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  7. Yay Heddi, I think this is the best yet - nice work knocking the summary down to a paragraph, that must've been hard. Good luck!!!

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  8. Hmm, interesting. Glad you were able to work it to your advantage. OK, back to the letter - shooting some positive thoughts your way!

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  9. Dear Annabel, thank you for following me on my long and tortuous query letter journey. And you're right - the summary is the hardest part, partly because the book is so darn long (don't tell anyone!).

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  10. Dear Kimry, thank you for the good vibes...I need as many as I can get right now! And a few good vibes back to you too :)

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  11. I don't know for sure, but I've read in a lot of places and from a lot of different sources that a query letter/cover letter ought to be only one page, total and that anything longer won't even be looked at. This is crazy hard to do! I can't tell for sure if this fits that rule!! I also have read that you should include your word count. These are technical and boring rules...but I have read numerous times how important they are. I don't know for sure, as I'm a little behind you on the whole road to publishing. What do you think? Am I crazy?!!!!!

    Other than that, I really enjoyed what you wrote and it sounds like SOMEONE REALLY MUST PUBLISH YOUR BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!

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  12. Dear Gretchen, for this query letter I based myself on some of blog "Author!Author!"'s latest posts. She recommended leaving the word count out, believe it or not! And as that's one of my book's weaknesses, I don't want to draw too much attention to it. I left it out on my previous query letters and still got some bites, so who knows?

    As for the one-page thing, you're absolutely right! Mine JUST fits onto a page, but it does come out a bit longer than the previous ones because of the statistical information added. I would still like to get the description paragraph shorter. If you have any ideas of how to do this, let me know. It's so hard!

    And yes, the book must be published!!! But how and when is really the question...in the meantime I'll just keep plugging along at my miserably slow pace. Fingers crossed for both of us :)

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  13. I like "push the boundaries of what Itailan memoirs are supposed to be" - going-to-Italy-and-falling-in-love has been done many times before so I think it is good to end by stressing that this is similar to the proven formula, but different and fresh.

    I would move the paragraph "My memoir is an insider's look..." to the beginning, as the second paragraph. It tells them what you want them to think about your memoir and why they should care. They can then go on to reading the plot having been prepped to think "ah, yes, it will appeal to single women looking for true love and reveal the secrets of a little-known city". If you give them the plot first up they have to work it out for themselves, which they might not have time to do if they skim through the letter quickly.

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  14. Excellent! And I love the statistics included - gives yet another reason for a publisher to take you on!

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  15. Dear Ester, brilliant!! I think you're probably right about both points and I can't wait to tweak the letter accordingly. Grazie mille!

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  16. Yes, Gretchen, I resisted for so long but finally gave in to statistics. They are important for memoirs, but obviously not for fiction. And because my book reads like fictions, until now I'd really been treating my query letter like a fiction query. Hence now the better fit. :)

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