Query Critique

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.

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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.

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