Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Query Letters - They Don't Have To Be Scary

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.

I'm currently searching for an agent for my erotic romance novel Alex Craig Has A Threesome, and I have battled with the dreaded query letter. I thought I had done my research, but after attending the Boston writer's conference The Muse And The Marketplace, I discovered I had not written the damned thing correctly. I had written my introduction, named the book, gave the blurb, the word count, genre, and then my publishing history and a little information about my prior movie and TV work.

Turns out I left out an important item – why I am the best person to write this book. The Muse taught me the proper way to write a query letter, and thanks to the conference I did get my first request for a partial. Sadly, that resulted in another rejection, but at least she requested a partial.

I'm not giving up.

According to book developer and principle of The Scribe's Window Cherise Fisher, who gave the talk "The Perfect Pitch" at The Muse And The Marketplace, a pitch is "the transfer of enthusiasm from one person to the next. It's like a virus. You infect with your pitch." Books are meant to entertain, educate, and inspire/provoke. A pitch is the foundation for your proposal. It's your contact with an agent or editor. It's also about being as clear and concise as possible to the person you're pitching to.

Multi-published, Rita Award winning author Shelley Adina wrote in her article Writing A Pitch Perfect Query Letter that there are four parts to a successful query letter:

The intro
The story (i.e., the back-cover blurb
Your credentials
Call to action

My mistake was leaving out my backstory – why a have a passion for this particular story. I left out my call to action. I needed to personalize my pitch. The perfect book is the book only you can write. This includes your life experiences and your perspective, Reveal what is behind you for writing this book. Why are you so driven to do it? What's the story, and why is it yours to tell?

This article will discuss those four parts of a successful query letter so that when you write yours, it will be more likely to attract the attention of an agent if you are searching for one. Your goal, of course, is representation. Not everyone is on the look-out for an agent, but this article about writing queries should be helpful to anyone.

The Intro – This is where you introduce yourself to the agent and any ties you may have. If you've met the agent at a conference, listened to a lecture, or attended a workshop, this is the time to mention it.  Familiarize yourself with the agent. If the agent has a blog, read it. Read any articles or interviews the agent is involved in. If you're a fan of the books and authors the agent represents, tell them.

Make sure you write your query in your natural voice since you want to be approachable. Adina was right when she said, "Your voice is your brand, so your business letter should reflect it."

Also make sure you’ve spelled the agent's name and the agency's name correctly. You don't want to get off to a bad start with a misspelling.  Your intro should show you've done your homework, you're familiar with the agent, and your letter isn't boilerplate.

The Story – Condense your novel into a concise and attention-getting paragraph or two. No more than that. This takes some work. Focus on the characters, what drives them, any archetypes you're using, the conflict, and what gets the ball rolling for the characters in the first place. Do not skimp on your condensed story. This is the meat of your query letter. Your story has to grab the agent's attention immediately. Don't waste words and use words wisely.

Your Credentials – This is where you talk about why you are the best person to write your story. You also list any previously published works or awards you've received. If you've written a book that showcases the beauty of New England and the Atlantic Ocean and you've lived on the Massachusetts coast for twenty years, mention that. Is your heroine an art lover and you majored in Fine Arts? Is your hero a stage lighting technician and you've worked as a union gaffer for several years? All three of these examples are true for me regarding two of my unpublished novels, my thriller Secrets and Lies (which may have found a publisher) and my erotic romance work in progress Full Moon Fever.

Now, what if you're a mom teaching part-time at an elementary school, but your book is about a sleazy but sexy successful con artist in love with his mark? Let's assume you've done your homework for this book and you are a romance fan. Mention that you consume romance novels the way normal people eat meals, for instance. It's definitely worth a mention if you've done research on famous con artists and their techniques. Has your manuscript won any contests? That's a must-mention. Are you a member of RWA or Broad Universe? Definitely mention both.

A Call To Action – Your closing should be inviting and it should offer a call to action. Why do you think your novel is a good fit for this agent and publisher? What is the goal of your book? To entertain? To teach? What is the goal of your main characters? Close your query with ease.

If you want to see examples of successful query letters, check out Writer's Digest's Successful Queries page. Not only does the page include scads of very good queries, there are explanations from agents following each query as to why it was a good one. I've learned a great deal from reading those examples. Hopefully, this learning experience will someday (maybe soon) result in representation.


  1. It's definitely a challenge to hit the right points without sounding formulaic. Thanks for the pointers, Elizabeth, and good luck placing those novels, too!

  2. Thanks, Kathleen and Lisabet. I learned a great deal at that conference. Hopefully I'll find a home for those novels eventually. I'm staying positive. :)


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