I recently agreed to participate in Joshua Palmatier's Query Project, whereby a bunch of published authors reveal the sekrit handshake they used to get published, get an agent, etc. (You'll find links to a bunch of other posts at the bottom of mine. Follow them all for a different perspective!)
My route to publication was a unconventional, to say the least, and was mostly bereft of query letters, submissions and - let's be honest - common sense.
You can read the full story on my website, so I won't go over that again. Instead, I want to concentrate on the query letter I used after Hal Spacejock books 1 and 2 had been published, and immediately after I handed in the final manuscript for Hal 3.
Around this time (late 2006) I thought two things: one, that a prestigious US agent was shopping my novels around over there and two, that a major UK publisher was still considering them in England.
The catalyst for me approaching my current agent was this: the discovery that the US agent had written to my publisher six months earlier to say that the US publishers wanted to see the books do well in the UK before they'd be interested, due to the british style of humour. Somehow this message got lost, and when I heard about it I leapt into action.
Since the UK publisher was still (I thought) considering the books, I dashed off a quick query letter to the John Jarrold literary agency. John's based in England and I felt he would be ideally located to apply the thumbscrews over there. Immediately after clicking send I rang my publisher to explain what I was up to (they have world English rights to the Hal books, so any sale would be a sub-licensing deal), and I was still on the phone to them when John's reply came back, asking to see the first book.
A few weeks later I heard that the UK publisher in question had already decided against the book six months earlier, and had written to my current publisher to say so. That message also didn't get through. Despite this setback, I signed with John Jarrold and he's represented me ever since.
Anyway, this is a copy of the query letter I sent John Jarrold. Comments are in red.
Hi John, [Hey, I live in Australia. Formality is for Poms]
I'm the author of an SF/Humour series which is currently selling through bookstores across Australia and New Zealand. (The Hal Spacejock series, published by FACP - http://www.fremantlepress.com.au/ - and distributed by Penguin Australia - http://www.penguin.com.au/) [I felt it important to mention this up front. We're not talking self-published.]
I was born in the UK and moved to Australia aged 16, so the humour in the books is more Red Dwarf, Black Adder and Hitchhiker's Guide than Crocodile Dundee. [There's some bloody awful aussie humour around. Not Mick Dundee, necessarily, but it ain't Home & Away with a laughter track either.]
The first book was a Dymocks best-seller for three weeks on release, [So it's not a complete dud] and the second title has been out for just over three months. [So it's not had time to become a complete dud]. Book three entered production last week [ditto], and will be published across Australia and New Zealand in January 2007.
Earlier this year [IMPORTANT US AGENT] of [BIG US AGENCY] contacted me through my website [he'd heard about me via one of his clients, but I didn't mention that] and offered representation, but Fremantle Press have World English rights so I passed his query on to them. He showed the books to a number of NY publishers, without any result, [I didn't mention that I'd literally discovered this an hour or so earlier, a whopping six months after the fact] and Fremantle Press is now going to ship the books to the US where they will sell as imports through the existing distributor, ISBS. ([IMPORTANT US AGENT] said there would definitely be interest if Spacejock did well in another market first, but then you could say that about any book.)
That brings us to the UK, and the purpose of this email. Tom Holt was kind enough to give me a cover quote for the first book ('Better than Red Dwarf', amongst other nice lines), and on my suggestion Fremantle Press sent a copy of Hal Spacejock to [Big UK Publisher]. I don't want to leap boots-first into any negotiations, but I did wonder whether there's anything here for you.
To my knowledge, [Big UK Publisher] haven't decided one way or the other. [Absolutely true. Neither myself nor the publisher had heard a thing] I know these things take time, but I believe the earliest they could have seen Spacejock was October '05. [Nearly a year earlier]
I can't ask you to represent me for these books, since Fremantle Press already have World English rights, and any deal would be between them and a publisher. What I did with [IMPORTANT US AGENT] was to put him in touch with Ray Coffey at FP and they proceeded from there.
The situation is complicated by the fact [Big UK Publisher] are already looking at the first book - assuming it didn't fall down the back of someone's desk. [It hadn't, but I would eventually discover that the reply had]
I should mention that I'm currently writing the fourth book in the Hal Spacejock series, with two more planned after that. My contract with FACP only covers the first three with no option clause on any further works, and [stuff deleted].
On the writing side I've seen several of my stories in print (including one alongside Tom Holt in Andromeda Spaceways), and I won an Aurealis Award in 2000 for a short story. After that I turned to novels. [Never hurts to mention publication credits & awards. The Aurealis is Australia's premier spec fic award, but I didn't bother explaining. A quick Google search will show whether an award is notable or not.]
Hope I didn't go into exhaustive detail in my email. I wanted to lay the details out without taking up too much of your time.
Incidentally, although I live in Western Australia I was born in Croydon, [etc, etc, we're almost family, me ol' mucker, etc, etc]
[This is where coincidence plays a part. JJ wrote back to say he'd worked in a public library near Croydon in the 70's, and a couple of emails later we established this was the exact same library my mum used to take me to every week when I was a kid ... in the 70's. In other words, he was one side of the counter and I was the other!]
There you have it - one query letter (or rather, email). It worked for me, and you'll find a bunch of others here:
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Janni Lee Simner
Maria V. Snyder
David J. Williams
Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)