Hooked! Query letters that piqued an agent's interest - Part 5 of 5
Published: April 8, 2009
|Katharine Sands, author of Making the Perfect Pitch, is a literary agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency in New York City. Her workshops promote the art of pitchcraft, a word she coined to describe the art of pitching to agents. "It's like lightning striking," she says of reading a query letter that excites her. "That's when I know I'm hooked." |
Author Jodi Fodor did just that with the query letter for her book, Irreverent Rhymes, which the publisher re-titled The SAT Word Slam. "Writers should know that query letters, and indeed all submitted material is reviewed in terms of being promising, not finished or completed material," Katharine warns. "So much is subject to change. When you query agents, it is worth remembering that the agent is evaluating what might be developed, not just what has been created, written and rendered."
Every year, over 2 million college-bound teenagers prepare for the SAT exam. And over 2 million of them are bored while they're doing it. They read through mountains of test-prep books and attend countless classes that promise to boost their SAT scores. But nobody makes them laugh.
I decided it was time to give these kids something to laugh about, so I created Irreverent Rhymes: The Off the Hook SAT Vocabulary Book. Irreverent Rhymes is a collection of funny rhymes that use satire, celebrity mocking, and guaranteed-to-work mnemonic hooks to help kids remember 500 vocabulary words often found on the SAT.
I'm a Los Angeles-based tutor, and for 15 years I've been working with teenagers to improve their writing and standardized test scores. I know that these rhymes and mnemonics work because I've been testing them on teenagers for over a year. Every week, kids walk into my lessons and ask, "What new vocab rhymes did you write this week?" And I reply, "Which ones you remember from last week?" In response, they fire off the definitions of words like "abrogate," "erudite," "obsequious" and "feign" without blinking. All the brain needs is a simple, logical memory link to make a word's meaning stick. That link, along with the satire and humor that kids can't get enough of, makes Irreverent Rhymes a sure hit.
These days, the competition to get into a good college is fierce. What used to earn acceptance into UCLA won't even get kids of this generation into Eastern Somewhere Over There College. So parents are on a mission. They're willing to spend a lot of money to increase their kids' chances of attending the best schools. And improving vocabulary is one of the best ways to do that. To quote The Princeton Review: "The number one way to improve your score on the SAT is by improving your vocabulary. Nothing is more important."
I earned a BA from Michigan State University and an MFA in creative writing from California State University, Long Beach. I've taught Freshman English for Cal State and reading skills for the Institute of Reading Development in Berkeley. As a freelance writer, I've written many educational scripts, stories and lyrics for clients like Disney, Little Tikes and Americhip. I know kids, and I know test prep. This is my territory.
Put simply, these vocabulary rhymes are fun. They're short, they bounce along, and they do the job of cementing the meanings of new words into young minds:
Erudite Katharine, if this project sounds interesting to you, I'll be very happy to send more samples and a complete proposal.
Erudite--this word is tight.
It's smart and educated.
Erudite book lovers
Are the only guys I dated.
This is a vocab word
With which you should acquaint
Cause if you can't define it
Then erudite you ain't.
Erudite is very bright.
Thank you very much for your time,
Jodi writes: Every year, over 2 million college-bound teenagers prepare for the SAT exam. And over 2 million of them are bored while they're doing it. They read through mountains of test-prep books and attend countless classes that promise to boost their SAT scores. But nobody makes them laugh.
Hook: A query letter is a message in a bottle. You do not know where it will land or what result it may have. This letter clearly shows the answers to the two questions I always have top of mind when reading query letters: Why now? Why you (or why this)? Jodi's letter answers them in the first paragraph. 1) There is a clearly identified market (2 million college-bound teens) and 2) unique, fresh content.
Jodi writes: They're short, they bounce along, and they do the job of cementing the meanings of new words into young minds: [she includes an example].
Hook: I chuckled. I guffawed. The example unmistakably proves the book would work. She is funny. The example is bursting with information, is illustrative and shows a distinct sensibility, one that would delight any age—but she speaks to teens. Funny can be a slippery slope—it is so subjective—but this is spot-on and has snap. And I do not have to hunt or edit or probe or imagine—it is all done for me.
Jodi writes: I'm a Los Angeles-based tutor, and for 15 years I've been working with teenagers to improve their writing and standardized test scores. … I know kids, and I know test prep. This is my territory.
Hook: Agents dislike when writers huff and puff. Writers must avoid hubris and humility in query letters—both are kisses of death. Too haughty and you might be a nightmare (and/or wrong about your potential). Too humble and the writer is, most likely, not worth my time. Here you see expertise born of experience—practical, real-world application—with a hip twist. She speaks from authority and strikes the perfect balance of having a good product and a reason why it will work. When you've got it, flaunt it.
--Posted April 8, 2009
Marla Miller shepherds writers through the publishing process with her Marketing the Muse workshops, which she teaches at several writers conferences throughout the country, and her Web site, www.marketingthemuse.com. She is a published author and editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine for Newport Beach, Calif. A yenta of sorts, she's introduced many unpublished authors to their literary agents.