I get asked one question a lot: how did I break into traditional publishing. Okey-dokey, here is my (fairly abbreviated) answer.
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.
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’d 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. Unfortunately they are no longer on her website to view.
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 a 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:
RWA 2016 Beau Monde
RWA 2016 Hot Prospect Contest
RWA 2016 Windy City Contest
1st Dangerous Moonlight
RWA 2016 Beacon
1st Dangerous Moonlight
RWA 2016 Joyce Henderson Contest
3rd Dangerous Moonlight
RWA 2016 Fool for Love
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.
Here’s the book the query letter is based on. Isn’t Adam a hottie??
If you want to grab a copy, you can get one HERE.
What sort of lady doesn’t make her debut until the age of thirty-two? A timeless beauty with a mysterious past—and a future she intends to take into her own hands . . .
Lady Euphemia Marlington hasn’t been free in seventeen years—since she was captured by Corsairs and sold into a harem. Now the sultan is dead and Mia is back in London facing relentless newspapermen, an insatiably curious public, and her first Season. Worst of all is her ashamed father’s ultimatum: marry a man of his choosing or live out her life in seclusion. No doubt her potential groom is a demented octogenarian. Fortunately, Mia is no longer a girl, but a clever woman with a secret—and a plan of her own . . .
Adam de Courtney’s first two wives died under mysterious circumstances. Now there isn’t a peer in England willing to let his daughter marry the dangerously handsome man the ton calls The Murderous Marquess. Nobody except Mia’s father, the desperate Duke of Carlisle. Clearly Mia must resemble an aging matron, or worse. However, in need of an heir, Adam will use the arrangement to his advantage . . .
But when the two outcasts finally meet, assumptions will be replaced by surprises, deceit by desire—and a meeting of minds between two schemers may lead to a meeting of hearts—if the secrets of their pasts don’t tear them apart . . .
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