THE QUERY LETTER

Posted: June 16, 2015 in Literary Agent, Query Letter
Tags: , , , , ,

agent

The first draft of my query for Black Iron Mercy, minus the personal touches tailored to individual agents

Opinions and critiques are desired from professionals and amateurs

It is okay to be harsh

Imagine your finest moment being ripped from history, rewritten by those who would use your remarkable instant for their own personal gain, forever omitting you and your brethren from the day that defined you as men, as soldiers, as victors.

Black Iron Mercy is a historical novel that follows the life of Arlis Jenkins from his days as a boy in the mining town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin through and beyond his exploits with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, a reputable regiment that served with distinction in the famed Iron Brigade during the American Civil War.  I am seeking representation for the manuscript, which is complete at 99,000 words.

Today, 18 years after the Battle of Gettysburg, Arlis doesn’t care about fame.  Wanting nothing more than to live in quiet solitude, he is content with putting the war and his troubled past behind him, living the life of a farrier on a livery in small Wisconsin town.  But now, a new kind of war arouses him… a war of words, written and spoken by glory seekers and those seeking to make a dollar from the experiences of others, and Arlis realizes that one fight remains:  The fight for truth and vindication, accuracy and exoneration.

Told in a series of flashbacks, Black Iron Mercy is a story of love, loss, courage, and the triumph of the human spirit, where every day our champion struggles to hold onto hope.

Black Iron Mercy was inspired by the post-war experiences of Mickey Sullivan, who spent much of his later life correcting false histories.  It is for him that I took up this crusade, and it is to him that I owe my gratitude for my enthusiasm.  Mickey is one of my principal characters.  And although Arlis is fictional, nearly all of the characters that wear the blue suit of the Union Army in my novel were real people. It is a heavy responsibility, using real people in fiction.  Because of this, I asked this generation’s foremost expert on the Iron Brigade, Mr. Lance J. Herdegen, author of five books on the subject and the former head of Civil War Studies at Carroll University, to read, edit, and endorse my manuscript.  He has done all three.

I write a popular blog with over 2,600 followers at Ericschlehlein.com.  Additionally, I wrote the script for “Align on the Colors, Close up on the Colors,” a nine-part documentary on the charge of the Sixth Wisconsin Regiment on the railroad cut at Gettysburg, filmed and narrated in 2013 by Gettysburg Battlefield expert, Frank Marrone Jr.  I also manage and edit a Facebook fan page, “The Iron Brigade in Media,” a site that is dedicated to all mediums preserving the memory of that brigade.  My second novel, “Working Title,” is in its infancy.

When I’m not writing on subject matter relevant to this project, I’m often copywriting for various websites or speechwriting for local political candidates, for whom I’ve been known to manage campaigns.  In my spare time, I provide for my family by working as a firefighter and EMT for the village in which I live.

Thank you so very much for taking the time to read my query.  I’d love to send you a sample or the entire manuscript, should you be interested in reading further.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. michele says:

    It’s a good start. I think it should start with the 3rd paragraph, omitting the word “today.” But i’m confused. If he doesn’t care about fame, what causes him to want to set the record straight? and what happens if he doesn’t?

    I like that you took the step of verifying the history with an expert. But the paragraph is wordy. See if you can cut that down. A wordy query will make an agent think the MS will be as well.

    No need to mention unfinished/unpublished novels in your bio.

    Overall, the information is good, but you could really pair the sentences down. Queries should be short and sweet.

    good luck

  2. I am definitely an amateur, but I think your third paragraph is a bit awkward. What if instead you did something like ” Eighteen years after the Battle of Gettysburg, Arlis doesn’t care about fame. He wants nothing more than to live in quiet solitude as the farrier on a livery of a small Wisconsin town. He is content with putting the war and his troubled past behind him, but now a new kind of war arouses him. Glory hounds and opportunists seek to exploit the experiences of others and Arlis realizes he has one fight remaining: The fight for truth.”

    I’m sure you can come up with something better, but maybe this will help get your thoughts going. Might help in other areas of your query as well. Hope it helps.

  3. I agree with some of the other comments. From what I’ve researched,and there’s a LOT to read about queries, brevity and clarity is your friend.
    And while I find the subject very interesting, if I were an agent I’m not sure I would be hooked. I’m thinking though that you will be querying only those agents interested in this particular genre. They of course, will be your best bet.
    Also and unfortunately, as my daughter likes to tell me, it’s all about the Benjamins.
    Cha-ching.
    If you’re interested, and if you haven’t seen them already, there are examples of successful queries available to peruse at writer’s digest.com

    http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries

    BTW, Good luck!

  4. jennnanigans says:

    My suggested edits:

    “Black Iron Mercy is a historical novel following the life of Arlis Jenkins from his days as a boy in the mining town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin to his exploits with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, a regiment that served with distinction in the Iron Brigade during the American Civil War.”

    I like that you want to pack all those descriptors in there, but while I was reading I found myself stripping some out. Also the line about the manuscript’s length ought to go further down – the top portion is about drawing the reader in and casting the spell, let the bottom part be about business.

    Hope this was helpful! Ignore me if not! 😀

  5. Gwenny says:

    I love creating Historical Fiction and I appreciate you reading along w/Constance & the gang.

  6. giffmacshane says:

    Hi, Eric, Ideally, from everything I’ve seen, a query should be limited to about 250-300 words, and follow a standard formula, to wit:

    1.) who is the main character?
    2.) what does he want?
    3.) What must he overcome to get it?
    4.) What happens if he fails?

    From that standpoint, I think your query letter is a bit too long. The first paragraph is too general to let us identify with Arlis. The second paragraph is mostly summary or synopsis, and your motivation (not your character’s). I’m not really drawn in until the third paragraph, where Arlis begins to have a personality. And you’ve told us what he wants but not why (vindicated of what? exoneration from what?), or what specifically will happen if he doesn’t get it.

    The agent will also want to see your title/genre/approximate word count as one sentence, either at the beginning or just after the bio. It’s important for the agent to know it’s told in a series of flashbacks, but I’d let them decide what the themes are from the info you provide about Arlis.

    Finally (no poison darts, please!) your bio is currently about as long as the book info is. I’d recommend condensing it to as few words as possible, while maintaining the gist of the information.

    For instance: “Because of this, I asked this generation’s foremost expert on the Iron Brigade, Mr. Lance J. Herdegen, author of five books on the subject and the former head of Civil War Studies at Carroll University, to read, edit, and endorse my manuscript. He has done all three.”

    could become: “Lance J. Herdegen, former head of Civil War Studies at Carroll University, has read and endorsed my manuscript.” 47 words down to 18. The agent can examine his additional credentials from that information if s/he wants to, and you really don’t need to tell them who edited it — they’ll assume someone did.

    As another writer of historical fiction, I think your book sounds fascinating. I wish you the very best of luck with it!

  7. This is a area i struggle in lol! Sucking up to salepeople has never been my strong suit!

  8. darling chay says:

    Arlis Jenkins? Sounds like a badass character.

  9. T.D. Donley says:

    I agree with the other comments. This can be pared down. One other point – I would add something about who you are targeting with your book and why it would sell. The book industry is all about making money. Check out Nicolas Sparks website. Yes, he’s a romance author, but he did a great job with his query letter. Good luck!

    • Thank you, Ms. Donley! Your words are wise and appreciated. My query has changed much since this post, and my first seven letters are in the hands of agents. Stay tuned! I’ll be posting an updated version of my query letter as well as rejections and progress. It is certainly nice to meet you, and so very kind of you to take a few moments to help me! ♥

  10. athling2001 says:

    As one of *those* people with the dreaded grammatical cringe factor -” as a boy in the mining town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin through and beyond” – please put the needed comma after Wisconsin. Otherwise, combine and tighten. Less is more.

  11. Can’t wait to read your book, it sounds fascinating!! I love historical fiction.

  12. loasejohn says:

    Reading query letters like this almost intimidate me from sending out my own. I cannot speak for anyone else, but this made me want to read Black Iron Mercy. A friend recently coerced me into looking at The Killer Angels, and I loved it. Opened a whole new genre for me.

    What I’m trying to say is, someone better publish this soon!

    • Wow! Very kind of you to say, John. Your words are uplifting at a time I’m feeling low. 14 rejections, now. My query, by the way, looks very different from this now, although much of the language remains. I’m still not confident about it and it’s still evolving.

  13. blkkat49 says:

    I have little knowledge of writing a query letter, but I’ve read advice on how they’re done, mostly from Writer’s Digest. I found your query interesting, but I did wonder if it was too long. I wish you success and you certainly stirred up a lot of helpful comments. I’m enjoying your posts, and thank you for following my blog.

  14. Jack says:

    Reblogged this on Wyrdwend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s