Nina Romano

Nina Romano is author of the historical fiction books, The Wayfarer Trilogy, published by Turner Publishing.  Nina has won many literary accolades, most notably she was a Gold Medal winner of the Independent Publishers IPPY Book Award in 2016.  In this article, she gives writers an insight on how she secured an agent and a publisher.

 

5 STEPS TO WRITING A BETTER QUERY LETTER

How many articles have you read in order to write a decent query letter? Do they give specifics? Are the suggestions generalizations and are you left floundering or still wondering how to write one?  

Many writers I know try to get an agent, but find it difficult to know how to.

I could teach a course on how to query! In 2003, I secured an agent but, sadly, we parted ways.  I wrote over one hundred query letters to hook that one. Most of them were returned with scribblings of how great my letter was!

Of course, literary agents need to be skeptical.  They need to be able to invest in a book that will return that outlay through sales.

Most agents liked my style.  They’d say my writing was solid, lyrical, enchanting, beguiling, engaging.  And they enjoyed my plot.  But they weren't sure how to market the novel.

1. Source of information

I found the Writer's Guide to Literary Agent and Publishers to be the best book for me to learn from.  With it, I:

  • checked off every agent that looked for historical, women’s fiction, romance, etc. 

  • cross-referenced these by checking the agency’s status.

  • read about each agent until I found the one who’d be most interested in my novel.

  • researched the authors and novels of the agent’s client lists, and found the ones which culminated in a published book.

 

It was a slow and demanding process but I was willing to spend as much time on querying as writing my novel. 

2. The Query

 

Next, I addressed each letter and email personally to the agent most suited to my novel.  I made sure it made a connection between their agency and my novel.

Include information about your writing and publishing history in the query.  If you don’t have poems, short stories, published books, or any literary prizes, you may need to explore another direction.  When I didn’t have published work, my bio would include subjects like:

  • College education

  • Who I studied writing with

  • Writing workshops

  • Writing conferences   

 

3. Synopsis

 

My novel synopsis was one single-spaced page. I revised it from a longer version. The synopsis was written in the same style of the novel I was submitting.  

If the agent wanted the material in the body of the email, that's what I gave them.  If they said on their submissions page the material could be attached, then that's what I did. 

I read what each agent wanted and what they were looking for as to novel content and how to submit it.

Your first sentence should be strong and “hook” the agent or editor into wanting to read more.

Trust me, if the agent likes what he/she has read, they’ll then read your bio.

4. Author Bio and Sample Chapters

 

The bio should be written in third person. Use your last name or full name, never your first. 

 

The synopsis goes through the same process as the query letter.  Agents will read the first line, first paragraph, and if interested, the entire synopsis.

 

Send in a sample three chapters.  The first sentence of your first chapter needs to draw the reader in quickly.  State, in some way, what the novel promises to give the reader.

 

Your first paragraph needs to hold your reader’s attention, perhaps have your character say or do something with another character. If there’s no interaction with other characters it means no sparks can fly.  

Your first chapter should end with the reader wanting to know what happens next.

Each chapter must contain tension, a problem, trouble - something at risk for the main character. Think of the first chapter as a mini version of the novel itself. Use dialogue and action, strong nouns and verbs— cut adverbs and adjectives.

Work on a great first line to capture your reader - a first paragraph that’s exciting, and a first page that entices the reader to crave the rest of the story. Good writing and talent means nothing. You need a strong story, too.

Letters should be one page only—not how you got A+ in every MFA course! You need a great hook for that first sentence to connect.  A bit about the book, and a sentence, known as the elevator pitch, in which to summarize what your novel’s about.

Here’s a few examples:

“Calamity Jane meets Godzilla”

“South Pacific meets The Dirty Dozen”

“King Rat meets Stalag 17” (my novel)  

Then all you need to do is summarize and say what your novel is in a fast delivery punch.

5. No Agent?

 

Trying to get an agent is a time-consuming undertaking.  If you don’t manage it, I recommend going with small, traditional independent publishers who accept unagented material for submissions.

Today, self-publishing is a viable option, too.

I managed to get my book published and I understand that, having an agent might have made my path easier, but I managed to accomplish what I wanted.  I learned that marketing is more difficult than securing an agent, and even publishing a novel.

After the experience of writing hundreds of query letters to agents, my advice to writers is:

Don't hesitate to dive in. If you don’t run the race, you can never win!

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Author: Nina Romano

Nina Romano earned a B.S. from Ithaca College, an M.A. from Adelphi University and a B.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from FIU. She’s a world traveler and lover of history.  She lived in Rome, Italy, for twenty years, and is fluent in Italian and Spanish. She has authored a short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates, and has published five poetry collections and two poetry chapbooks with independent publishers. She co-authored Writing in a Changing World.  Romano has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry.

 

Nina Romano’s historical Wayfarer Trilogy has been published from Turner Publishing. The Secret Language of Women, Book #1, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist and Gold Medal winner of the Independent Publisher’s 2016 IPPY Book Award. Lemon Blossoms, Book # 2, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist, and In America, Book #3, was a finalist in Chanticleer Media’s Chatelaine Book Awards.  

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