My Agent Story, Sample Query Letter, AND a Query Crit Offer!

One of my original “author” shots from my old blogspot. Yes, my dog is kissing my cheek…

I was at a loss for what to blog about, but my writer friend Cynthia Herron ( suggested sharing my “When I got the Call” story about when I got my agent. 

I’m only too happy to share, because I remember scouring blogspots for agent stories ever since I started writing. And every story is different, because every agent is different. 
For instance, I’ve had two agents, and I’ve never had “The Call.” I have had “The Series of E-Mails, Resulting in a Contract.”

My first agent contacted me based on my query. She read over my MS, loved it, and we signed a six-month contract, in which she would shop my first novel around (Otherworld) for six months. If there was no action by that time, we could renew or not.

Suffice it to say, my book was too short at 50,000 words and my proposal was probably the laughing-stock of every publishing house it went to. My agent was new to the position and didn’t realize how lamentable my proposal looked. She didn’t email me regularly about responses from publishers and she never called.

After six months, I let the contract run out. After poking around a bit more, I realized I’d need to add 30,000 words to my novel baby to get taken seriously. I also realized my genre was hard to break into (speculative fiction). SO. I decided to whip off another book.

In Sept, 2010, I started writing my Viking novel, based heavily on the Icelandic sagas. I figured that historical fiction was an easy sell in the CBA, right? RIGHT? 

I finished the book in May, 2011. I started querying. I re-vamped my query several times, then I went and did the unthinkable–part of my query was in the first person POV of my main character. I know those of you who’ve read up on queries probably know that first person queries either a) fail abominably, or b) work like a charm.

Thankfully, for me, it worked. I’m going to paste part of my query here for you. After some brief intro stuff, I went right into the first person of my main character, Gudrid:

I turned my back on everything I knew.  This is because I watched my mother hang.  She was the sacrifice chosen for Thor, offered up by my chieftain father to improve his crop yield.  And how could I be a Volva, a holy woman who determines who lives and dies, after that?  I left my home in Iceland and haven’t looked back.  

I’ve had three husbands, and two were fools.  But Finn is different.  He’s a quiet leader, a sailor with rough hands and a soft heart.  I joined him on this trip across the ocean to Vinland, even knowing I would give birth to our child soon after we arrived.  Our Viking men are starved for women here, and Hallstein, one of our own crewman, is a bigger threat to me than the native Skraelings.  At least for now.  But that’s about to change.

My husband’s best friend and business partner, Snorri Thorbrandsson, would lay down his life for me.  I spend my lonely nights dreaming about Leif Eiriksson, my brother-in-law.  But what I don’t realize, what I can’t see coming, is how much my own husband is willing to sacrifice for me.
GOD’S DAUGHTER is a completed, 80,000-word historical fiction novel, based on two of the Icelandic sagas.  It chronicles the life of Gudrid, a beautiful woman who defied expectations and had the first European baby born in North America.

I also added something extraordinarily conceited, like “I hope to be the next Margaret Mitchell.”

About two months after I’d queried him, my now-agent, Andy Scheer of Hartline Literary, got back to me with a response, and it wasn’t just your run-0f-the-mill “I’d like to read more” response. What impressed me was the RESPECT with which he asked me. It was like, “If you’re not already represented, I would love the honor of reading more of God’s Daughter.” 

He treated me like an artist! Woah!

I got the entire MS to him. He read it and made suggestions. He edited it. All this took about four months. I incorporated all these changes, not sure if he would ask to represent me at the end of all my efforts (though I was pretty certain)

Valentine’s Day week, 2012. I was praying I’d hear something definite. Were my changes good enough? Had I impressed him with my quick turnaround time? I knew his edits were GOLD. I couldn’t find a better editor if I went out and hired one. My hubby kept saying, “He wouldn’t put this much time and effort into you if he didn’t plan to represent you.” 

That week, he asked to be my agent, and I accepted! Yes, this was all via email. To celebrate, I will say I shouted in the solitude of my car, very loudly, and just once. This contract is not for a mere six months. He represents my writing career.

Then we got my proposal out on submission in March 2012, since the book was already edited. And guess what? We still haven’t heard back from all the publishers. This is not a fast process.

But I’m so thankful I have an agent–and not just any agent. I’ve grown in my writing skills from working with such a talented editor. He’s prodded me to build up my platform, which has actually been a fun process. AND he maintains a cheery outlook on my career (unlike me). 

So there you go. My agent story–otherwise known as: “When I got the E-mail!

****I‘d like to throw this offer out for you. Do you have a query letter you’d like me to look over for you? There’s nothing I enjoy more than helping fellow writers with query letters. If you’re interested in sharing yours and getting some honest crits, please email me at heatherdaygilbert (at) gmail (dot) com.****

25 thoughts on “My Agent Story, Sample Query Letter, AND a Query Crit Offer!

  1. Great article, Heather! I can relate as to the slowness of the industry. I sure hope I get my agent someday. I'd love to have someone encouraging me and giving me direction for my career. Maybe I'll query your agent next time. Thank you!

  2. Heather – what a great post. I am also represented by Hartline – through Linda Glaz, one of the most encouraging, in-your-corner kind of people. She, too, gave me a few pointers on a queried story and after I applied her recommendations, offered me a contract. No shouting on my end, just tears of joy. This happened in January 2012 and since then we've sold one novella, one full-length novel, with a third awaiting final word from a major publisher.Hartline was not the first agency I'd contacted, but it was the first one whose agents and owner responded with professional courtesy rather than ignoring me and hoping I'd go away. Congratulations to you on your journey.

  3. Davalyn, how encouraging! And I agree–Hartline is such a special agency that stands out from the crowd. I especially appreciate their unwillingness to allow vulgarities in the books they choose to represent.

  4. That's great – congratulations!And thank you for the query crit offer. I know how much work that can generate, and it's really, really special for you to do it.Class wins out!

  5. Thanks, Jennifer and Jill! I remember reading these stories all the time, wishing I could have one someday. Just goes to show dreams do come true! And now I feel I should start playing Disney music…And thank you, Andrew. I'm totally serious about critting queries! I like to look at them as if I were a busy agent, crunched for time. So usually, the shorter, the better. I'm trying to write my synopsis now and it's KILLING me to make it short!

  6. Very encouraging "call" story, Heather. I pitched a logline to an agent for fun recently, and was very shocked when she asked for more. But I haven't heard from her, so I'm trying to see her silence as an opportunity to tweak my book and make it even better.I nominated you for "The Sunshine Blog Award" if you want to participate. 😉

  7. Love your story! It's very encouraging to hear about agents who are willing to work with not-yet-published authors in an honest, committed fashion. Cheers for Andy and Hartline!I may need to take you up on that query offer…. hmmmm….

  8. Gwen, how sweet! I'll check out the deets on the award but probably won't do it right now–I feel pretty busy! And let me know if you ever need any help/input w/the tweaking. I'm glad to offer my two cents' (and I'm happy to get yours, too!).And Diana, shoot your query on over! It's fun for me to read about all these interesting stories…

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