And Speaking of Jamie Ford…

You remember Jamie Ford, right? The LDS author whose book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was a 2009 Whitney Finalist and who was featured as a question on Jeopardy?

I was catching up on posts over on Pub Rants and found a link to this in the sidebar. I thought it might be fun for you to see the query letter and comments that caught the eye of his agent, Kristen Nelson.

(Above the *** by LDS Publisher)

(Below the *** stolen from Pub Rants, a blog by literary agent Kristen Nelson. )
Jamie Ford’s Query for

As promised and with Jamie’s permission, here is the query he sent me for his manuscript which was originally entitled THE PANAMA HOTEL.

For me, that title didn’t really capture the essence of the manuscript so we spent a lot of time kicking around alternatives before we went out on submission. It was quite a process but after sharing several forerunner titles with a variety of reliable sources, we agreed to HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET.

One of the fun things about this submission is that many editors loved the title and couldn’t imagine the novel being called anything else.

That means we did a good job. Random House hasn’t mentioned changing it so as far as we know, this will be the title for the book.

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I must admit I hate Asian stereotypes. You know the ones. Good at math. Hardworking. We all look alike. Come to think of it, that last one might hold water. After all, my father once wore a button that read “I am Chinese,” while growing up in Seattle’s Chinatown during WWII. It was the only thing that separated him from the Japanese, at least in the eyes of his Caucasian neighbors.

Sad, but true. Which is probably why my novel has a little to do with that particular piece of history.

I was really caught by his personal connection to the history he plans to explore. I’ve never heard of the “I am Chinese” buttons, which is kind of fascinating.

Anyway, the working title is The Panama Hotel, and when people ask me what the heck it’s all about I usually tell them this:
“It’s the story of the Japanese internment in Seattle, seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old Chinese boy, who is sent to an all-white private school, where he falls in love with a 12-year-old Japanese girl.”

I’ve never seen a novel about a Chinese boy falling in love with a Japanese girl during such a volatile time period. I have to say that I was pretty much hooked by this story concept. Simple but there’s a lot of weight behind it. I did happen to know that the Chinese and the Japanese had long been at war before the advent of WWII so I knew of the general animosity between the countries–but I knew nothing of how that might have played out on American soil.

Click here to read the rest of the query letter and Kristen Nelson’s thoughts about it.

Query Critique: FHE Study Aids

Dear Acquisitions Editor,

Let’s Learn About the Temple, at approximately 13,500 words [This is not an accurate indication of length for this type of book. Tell me how long you think it should be with illustrations included.], is a Family Home Evening study aid targeting LDS families with children. With interesting facts about temples, from the ancient down to the modern day, Let’s Learn About the Temple contains 15 lessons to thoroughly explain why temples are vital to salvation, how to prepare to go to the temple, and the important role of temples in the past, present, and future. Each chapter is supplemented with suggested scriptures, stories, music, and activities designed to help reinforce each lesson objective.

Let’s Learn About the Temple is well written, attractively illustrated, and carefully researched. Six beta readers, consisting of both LDS parents and youth, assisted in providing thoughtful feedback to help refine the final draft. In addition, Let’s Learn About the Temple is unique. No other book of Family Home Evening lessons on the market is both youth and parent friendly, is as comprehensive in the scope of temple-related topics addressed, or provides multiple hands-on learning activities for families to use in each teaching situation. The plentiful illustrations also help to add an effective visual dimension no other study aid offers.

I am a graduate of Brigham Young University with a MA in communications and have worked professionally in the marketing industry for over ten years. As an author I currently have two other published non-fiction books on the market: XXXXX (2008) and XXXXX (2009). I intend the enclosed book as the first in a series of three, all of which follow the same general concept to teach specific gospel-related topics. [I’d like to know the other two topics.]

Please know how much I appreciate your time in reviewing the enclosed completed manuscript. [I’m assuming it includes the illustrations you mentioned?] I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Author Name
Contact Info

Uhmmm. Other than the comments made above, I can’t find anything wrong with this query. If I published this type of book, I’d look at the enclosed mss.

There are two possible issues:

1. If you have two published non-fiction books already, why isn’t the publisher of those two books picking this one up? I’m not saying you need to include that information in your query. Just be prepared with an answer if I like the book and I give you a call. You must be sure that no ROFR clause in a previous contract will cause a problem if I make an offer. I’m going to want it in writing.

2. Generally, including illustrations is not a great idea unless you are the illustrator. (Are you? IF so, say so in the query.) Is this a package deal where I have to accept or reject the mss and illustrations together? Or can I accept the mss and reject the illustrations? That needs to be made clear.

Illustrations can make or break a book. They’d better be really good if you’re going to make them a part of the package. Also, purchasing the rights to illustrations may be an issue. Most of the time, I consider illustrations work for hire and pay accordingly—within my budget. If the illustrator is going to cost more than what I generally pay, or they’re too hard to work with (artistic temperament can nix a deal), then I’m going to want to use my own illustrator.

Query Critique: Romantic Suspense

Dear Editor,

Last Resort [italicize or all caps book titles**] is a complete [of course it is], 85,000 word, contemporary novel targeted for the LDS market. [What age? What genre?] The exact setting of the book is never revealed, though much of the inspiration comes from the small communities of rural Northern Arizona. [Why not reveal the setting? This is an odd statement to make.]

Meg Connolly is stuck. It has always been her plan to follow in her deceased father’s footsteps and attend law school at Stanford University. Unfortunately, upon her graduation from Arizona State University her application has been rejected. Left with no other options, she ends up taking a job teaching high school history in the small town of Green Hills [Isn’t this the setting?] as a way to pad her resume and reapply to Stanford the next year. [Watch out for passive voice. If it’s in your query, it’s probably all through your book. Not good.]

Fully expecting to tediously bide her time, Meg is surprised that her new situation is not as bad as she imagined. As the months pass, she finds herself becoming increasingly attached to her job, new friends and, especially, a landscaper she begins to date named Sean Taylor. Finally, her long awaited acceptance letter arrives and she must decide between the life she has always had planned, or the one that has fallen into her lap.

More complications arise when she must come to terms with tension in her family life and she stumbles onto a stolen cache of money from a string of bank robberies in the area. The criminals responsible for the heists remain at large and a few months later, the same ruthless men take the Green Hills High School hostage. When the dust settles, it becomes apparent that someone on the school’s staff has helped the crooks, and Meg is the FBI’s number one suspect. [THIS is the main part of the story, or it should be, with the romance, teaching and life changes secondary. Lead with this. It’s the best paragraph of the letter.]

I am a graduate of Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. I completed my student teaching in 8th grade Language Arts and I taught 8th grade Social Studies. I was also a writing tutor in college and have been a substitute teacher. [None of this matters.]

If you are interested, I would be glad to send you a manuscript to be considered for publication. I have enclosed a SASE [I probably see it. You don’t need you to tell me it’s there. Save your words for more info on the book.] and eagerly await your response. Thank you for your time.

Based on the description, I’m guessing this is a romantic suspense. You need to know your genres and be able to tell me which one it falls in. It would also help if you could tell me what it’s similar to—is your style more like Betsy Brannon Green’s Murder by the Book, sort of light-hearted and fun; or Stephanie Black with lots of twists and turns to the plot; or Traci Hunter Abramson’s Royal Target where the romance is as strong (or stronger) than the suspense; or like Julie Coulter Bellon with heavier FBI-type intrigue? This is going to help me place it. As it is, I can’t really tell.

At this point, I’d probably pass. Punch up the description of your book. Make it more exciting, like what would go on the back cover. While lacking some plot details (because I don’t know your book) the letter below would be adequate.

Meg Connolly’s dream is to follow her deceased father’s footsteps and attend law school at Stanford University. Rejected once, she takes a job teaching history at the high school in Green Hills, Arizona to pad her resume and waits to reapply to Stanford the next year.

Fully expecting to tediously bide her time in this small town, Meg stumbles onto a stolen cache of money from a string of bank robberies in the area. The criminals responsible for the heists remain at large and a few months later, the same ruthless men take the Green Hills High School hostage. When the dust settles, it becomes apparent that someone on the school’s staff has helped the crooks, and Meg is the FBI’s number one suspect.

If that’s not enough complication, Meg must come to terms with tension in her family life. She also finds herself increasingly attached to her job and to her new friends, especially Sean Taylor, landscaper extraordinaire.

Finally, Meg’s long awaited acceptance letter arrives and she must decide between the life she had planned and the one that has fallen into her lap—assuming she doesn’t end up in prison!

I’ve based Meg’s classroom scenes upon my own experience as an 8th grade Social Studies teacher and modeled the fictional town of Green Hills, AZ after several small rural towns near Arizona State, where I received my Bachelor’s degree.

At 85,000 words, Last Resort is a contemporary romantic suspense for LDS adults, particularly women. Readers who enjoyed Traci Hunter Abramson’s Royal Target will also enjoy Last Resort, which has a similar mix of romance and suspense (or whatever is true about your book).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Updated 12:15 P.M.
**Whether you use initial caps, all caps, italics or quotes is NOT a deal breaker in a query letter. I prefer italics (on print submissions) or all caps (electronic submissions). (Actually, now that I really think about it, the trend seems to be going to all caps—and I’m totally fine with that.)

But don’t take my word for it. Go to Pub Rants, a blog by Kristen Nelson (agent), and you can read several successful query letters with her comments about them. Some of them used initial caps, some used all caps. (BTW, she sold Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. You can read his query HERE.)

Query Critique: Romantic Comedy (?)

Dear Acquisitions Editor, [or in this case, Dear LDS Publisher,]

When young [How old is he? This makes it sound like he’s a boy, but he’s going to college. It’s better to be specific.] Chris Kerry leaves his Texas home and his checkered past [? better to be specific, drug-riddled? convicted felon?] to attend the University of Utah , he does so against the wishes of his Aunt Jean, who has been a mother to him since he was orphaned at the age of three. Chris is less interested in his aunt’s harsh views on Mormonism and more interested in a change of scenery and starting his own life. He doesn’t expect to find himself homeless on his first day in Salt Lake City, or the twists of fate that make two girls from Idaho his best friends. The job he finds in a downtown tuxedo shop barely pays the rent, but the outlandish cast of co-workers fills his days with both humor and frustration. Chris is in Utah to get an education. He’s certainly not looking for love, religion or shocking revelations about his past, but all three find him [the part that intrigued me most] in this funny, moving novel that illuminates how we recognize truth, how one young man finds a home and a heritage in the most unlikely place, and how love and friendship change everything.

The Rogue Shop is my first novel and the attached manuscript is complete at 106,000 words [a tad long for a debut YA novel, but okay for an adult novel]. Several drafts have been carefully revised with thoughtful feedback from an alpha reader group including both genders and a wide age range. [good for you!] This humorous romance [this was a surprise; there are not enough clues in the previous paragraph for me to recognize it as a romantic comedy—I was thinking a coming of age, even though he’s a little old for that (?)] is targeted at the LDS Young Adult (18-30) readership. [Young Adult is not 18 to 30; YA is 12 to 18, give or take a few years. 18+ is Adult. This tells me you’re not sure who your reader is.]

I am a graduate of the University of Utah with a BA in English Literature. In the years since graduation I have established a successful career in sales and business management in the Salt Lake City area, but with this effort I return to my passion for fiction. Upon publication I intend to take an active role in promoting and marketing my work in close partnership with my publisher [good; but that is assumed]. My experience in speaking and teaching in a business environment is wide and varied, and I look forward to taking my show on the road and selling my work with enthusiasm [good; the fact that you have skills and experience meeting with the public will help].

I appreciate the time you invest in considering my submission and gratefully await your reply [good].

Romantic comedies sell well, so that’s a plus. Your book is unusual, in that it’s a romantic comedy from a guy’s perspective. (They exist, but aren’t common.) But I’m not sure, based on your first paragraph, if your book truly is a romantic comedy. If it is, play up those points. If it’s not, you need to recategorize it. This isn’t a horrible query, but it doesn’t immediately place the book into a sales category for me. Also, the personality of the book doesn’t really shine through. It would go in my “Maybe” stack.

ALSO, read Jordan’s very, very good comments.

Query Critique: YA Teen Pregnancy

Dear Deseret Book, [it would be better if you addressed it to a specific person but if you don’t know the person’s name, go with Acquisitions Editor; this is a minor point.]

My 92,000-word novel, XXXX, is a message-driven Young Adult romance in the vein of Jack Weyland and Kay Lynn Mangum that depicts the emotional consequences of sexual assault on a teenage girl and those who love her. [good first paragraph; has all the vital info—length, genre, author styles to compare it to; and a short description of the plot. The only question I have is how much of a romance is it really going to be?]

From the moment she arrives in small-town Virginia, Emily Page is attracted to the introverted Joshua Cade. They fall in love and become the ideal high school sweethearts, but everything changes the night that Josh’s basketball team wins the state championship—Emily is brutalized that same night by Drew Fuller, who threatens to hurt Josh if she tells anyone what happened. [needs a paragraph break here] Traumatized, Emily tries to cover up the incident but her world comes crashing down when she realizes she is pregnant. Knowing that she won’t be able to hide the pregnancy, Emily breaks Josh’s heart and leaves without telling him why. She moves to Northern Virginia to live with her brother and sister-in-law who are recent converts to the church [LDS Church]. There she is introduced to the only thing that can heal her heart —the gospel of Jesus Christ. Following her heart and overcoming her fears, she places her baby for adoption through LDS Family Services. The story concludes when Emily returns to her hometown to testify against Drew. In the courtroom, Emily finds herself unexpectedly face-to-face with Josh, the one person she has been trying to protect with her silence. [good description of content]

XXX portrays Emily’s adoption experience in an uplifting, healing manner. Many young girls keep babies born out of wedlock out of a desperate need to love and be loved. I feel confident that Emily’s example of choosing adoption will show them that having the faith to give their baby up to a good LDS home is sometimes the most loving decision. [Good first sentence; that’s what I want to know about a story like this. However, it goes a little off point after that because most girls who have to make this decision weren’t assaulted. Perhaps an acknowledgment of that along the lines of: Although most LDS young women who find themselves pregnant and unmarried are not victims of assault, I feel confident that Emily’s example …]

I would be proud to be a part of the Deseret Book tradition of offering thought-provoking, testimony affirming and heartfelt stories. I hope you agree that this is the right place for a story as important as Emily’s. Per Jamie Barrett’s instructions, I have included three chapters and a preface to each; [I don’t know what this means. Why do each of your chapters need a preface?] the full manuscript is ready for review upon your request. I look forward to hearing your response. [Good; this tells me you understand the DB’s mission and also that the book is finished. Also, I think it’s always a good thing to identify the people whose names you drop, for example: Per your assistant, Jamie Barrett’s instructions… or whatever.]

Full Mailing Address
E-mail [I’d get another email account with a more professional sounding address, like]

Overall, a solid query. Not hugely gripping, but given the content of the book, I wouldn’t expect it to be. It contains all the info I need to make a decision on whether or not to read more—and yes, I would read your chapters. If they were good and I was looking for a book that dealt with this topic, I’d ask for more. If I already had a recent release or one in the works on this topic, I’d pass.