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Jul 302014
 

Josh Getzler

So a friend of mine, editor and author Bryon Quertermous, late of Angry Robot and Exhibit A, took his family to Disney World. In his absence I'm going to be stepping in for him later in the week on his website (www.bryonquertermous.com), but I thought I'd tease it with a little background and explanation on the topic.

It started when I read a Facebook post by Ron Currie, Jr. last week with a link to the Warren Zevon song Boom-Boom Mancini (from the amazing album Sentimental Hygene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZS3uDu8jy8) saying that the next time someone wants to know how to write stories, Ron would guide him to Zevon.

 

I would say that’s a great start. And it got me thinking about the artists I listen to whose songs are themselves narratives. These troubadours have always appealed to me, and I’m going to use my time on Bryon’s site to talk about several of my favorites.

 

But as I was thinking about which songs to discuss, it occurred to me that it was going to appear weird if I didn’t explain something: This particular set of artists—perhaps because I was riffing off Zevon—is specifically white, male, and (in a general sense) rock. Not hip hop, not country, not female (and Lord knows there are many great narrative voices in all three, so don’t comment about the lack of, say, Biggie or Johnny Cash or Suzanne Vega or Renaissance). Perhaps we’ll get there. And I’m not going to do Tom Waits because he’s kind of like Bonnie Raitt to me—I know I’m supposed to like them, and I understand their talent, but, I just can’t…

 

So check in tomorrow over at Bryon’s site. Then comment there, here, on Facebook—I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, people I missed, why I’m nuts, and why you’re all rushing to download the catalog of a broken up pub band from Australia that writes songs about cannibals and war and lovers finding time to talk between work shifts and a lonely divorced man who loves Saturdays because every Saturday is Father’s Day. (Teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYKNqftCkSQ)

And then maybe next time we’ll get into songs by female country rappers.

Jul 282014
 

Jeff Cohen

I'm at that mystical, magical moment in the creation of a new manuscript: the one where I start to ponder other professions I might in fact be better suited to. (As evidence, I point to the fact that the last sentence ends with a preposition.)

You hit a certain point and you can't remember why you thought this story was a good idea to begin with. You don't know what comes next, or why it should. You think the characters aren't coming to life properly, the plot is trite, the dialogue is jokey instead of conversational and wouldn't it just be a better idea to learn auto mechanics or something?

But I soldier on, without ever actually becoming a soldier, because I am in my mid-fifties and a coward. I don't give in to the urge to just "take a day off" because that becomes a week off, then a month off, and the next thing you know, a visit to the DeVry Institute seems like a really good career move. I don't believe in Writer's Block, so I keep writing every day.

The fact that at the end of this week (August 1, because that was what I promised myself) I will begin writing another manuscript at the same time I write the last third of the current one isn't really a great comfort.

But there is some solace in the knowledge that comes with experience. I'm now writing what will be my 13th published novel (along with a couple that are not-so-published, but one of which got me my master's degree), and that means this is the 15th time I've hit this wall. I always reach a spot where the work seems like a bad idea. I always think this is the end of the line. I always consider taking up the flute professionally, despite never having, to the best of my knowledge, ever touched a flute.

So this too shall pass. I'll barrel on through the wall because there's a real honest-to-goodness deadline coming up and there has to be a book by then, and besides, I don't really have a better plan. And when I'm done, I'll realize that the story actually came out pretty well, and there will be an editor out there (hi, Terri!) who will help it become better.

Is this keeping me up nights? Nah. The Yankees' complete lack of offense is making me stay awake, students are not getting their assignments in on time, I need to lose 30 pounds (low estimate) and my mom is still rehabbing a shattered ankle while my daughter prepares to move to East Harlem, so the book becomes an actual help in getting to sleep.

I think about the story when my head hits the pillow (usually that's not long after I've gotten the 1000 words in for the day) and sometimes even work out the odd plot problem. It helps me focus on something useful when all those other things threaten to weigh on my mind.

Maybe this isn't such an awful moment after all.

 

A few personal notes: Despite some unintentionally deceptive comments I might have made a few weeks ago, we now actually have adopted a rescue beagle who is--at least for the time being--named Gizmo. In the interest of driving up visits to DEAD GUY, I hereby include Imagea photograph.

As I mentioned before, my amazing daughter Eve will be moving this week to an apartment in New York City, where she will spend the next year in a project called Blue Engine, an AmeriCorps program intended to help teenagers prepare to apply to college by improving math and English scores. She'll be a teaching assistant helping with algebra. It all might seem overwhelming now, but I'm sure she'll end up loving it and the lucky students who will find her in their classrooms in the Bronx starting in September will be the better off for it. We'll miss her, but she'll be close enough to visit and give us excuses to go into the city now and again.

One other thing: The Deadly Ink Mystery Conference is being held this coming weekend, August 1-3, at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, NJ! I've always found it to be a fun, intimate conference, and if you're in the area, you should definitely plan on stopping in! Register now!

Jul 272014
 

Jessy Randall

Or some of them anyway.

WandorasmallIn 2009, a small press called Ghost Road published my young adult novel The Wandora Unit. I got paid a tiny, thrilling advance. The book sold a few copies and got reviewed in Bitch, and then Ghost Road quietly went out of business. In 2012 another small press wanted to reprint it, but then they went out of business, too.

Maybe that's okay. I made so many mistakes in that book. Just mistake after mistake after mistake. Here are a few:

  • The book doesn't really have a plot. It's about high school poetry nerds making a literary magazine. There's friendship and love, but nothing really happens.
  • I was way too attached to my interpretation of things that occurred in actual real life, as though readers would care one fig what song was playing at the dance or what color my boyfriend's hair was.
  • When I did occasionally try to pump up the story with bits of fiction, I did a bad job of it, contriving stupid conflicts and surprises.
  • I didn't read the manuscript aloud until after it was a full-fledged published novel. DUH. IDIOT.
  • By the time the book came out, fifteen years after I'd written it, my clever postmodern format with multiple-voiced fragments was nothing particularly new in YA fiction.

Things I did right:

  • I started the novel when I was a teenager, and wrote most of it before I was 24. So it's a pretty authentic young voice, not some kind of pretending-to-be-young thing with faked-up slang.
  • I included poems by fourteen different actual teenagers. Contacting them to get permission to use their work was probably my favorite part of the whole writing/editing/publishing experience.

Maybe now that I've admitted these mistakes publicly I'll be able to move the fuck on. But I doubt it. If I knew how to fix the book and make it a marketable YA novel, I probably would never have written it in the first place.

 

Jul 232014
 

Josh Getzler

 

This week, I was lucky to have one of my newest clients, Nikki Trionfo, visit our Chelsea offices. Nikki has written a terrific, searing young adult novel about a girl in California who’s trying to investigate her sister’s death. The girl, Salem, is the daughter of a peach grower in California, and the novel, called Shatter, brings into play the conflicts among white middle-class growers, Hispanic migrant workers, unions, and gangs.

 

One of the things I enjoyed about Shatter is the way Nikki brings in characters of different races and socio-economic statuses and shows their interaction in a natural, unforced way. When I took her on, I told Nikki that one of the more sought after elements in fiction these days, both in children’s books and books for adults, is Diversity. My colleagues on both the buy and sell side of publishing are actively looking for books that address cultural, racial, and sexual diversity, and I felt that when she finishes her revisions and we go out on submission, we will have a very enthusiastic response from editors.

 

This afternoon I was looking on Nikki’s website, http://www.nikkitrionfo.com/, and I saw her latest blog post. It was fascinating. In it, Nikki brings up this conversation, and how it took her aback. She hadn’t thought she was writing a book with a Diversity theme in it at all. Rather, she was writing from her own experience growing up in the orchards of California, where different cultures mixed all the time—it felt so natural because it was.

 

Often, we spend our time in our own bubble of similar-looking and –behaving communities. And often writers, working off their own experiences, create homogenous casts. And part of the need for diversity in literature is to give future readers and writers role models to look to—so sometimes we strain ourselves looking for diversity. (And that’s not a bad thing, and has great cultural relevance and worth.) Which is why I’m so excited when I get a book like Nikki’s where the diversity is so second nature as to be that much more powerful. I can’t wait to see where it lands.

Jul 212014
 

Jeff Cohen

My children, who are in their 20s, do not really grasp the idea of episodic television.

Oh, they get that there's a new chapter in a television series every week, and that they have to wait until the next one is aired (or if they're binge-watching, 15 seconds)  to find out what happens next. They get, mostly, that the story doesn't just play from beginning to end in one shot.

But they don't know very much about the way television was back in my 20s. When the same characters showed up every week, but for the most part they dealt only with the problem posed by the current episode's writer(s), they solved it, and they they disappeared until a whole new set of challenges showed up seven days later.

On shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or  1180207320_1F Troop, there was no concept of a story arc. There was a story and that was it. Next time there would be another story. That's how television worked.

Things changed in the early 80s when Hill Street Blues and shows like it challenged viewers with continuing storylines that were not concluded at the end of the week's show. You'd have to wait to see what was going to happen, and sometimes it could take quite a while. Characters would recur from season to season. Viewers were rewarded for their attention with callbacks to previous episodes.

Now, television (particularly in one-hour drama) is almost entirely made up of stories that stretch over longer periods of time. And like most other things, it has some good and some less than good to it.

The new show  Halle-Berry-ExtantExtant is an example: Starring Halle Berry, it tells the story of an astronaut in the elusive "near future" who returns from a 13-month mission to discover that she is pregnant despite her belief that such a thing is not possible. Not surprisingly, answers to the main story questions were not provided at the end of the first episode.

And I'll tell you, I'm just tired of the whole thing.

Lost was the breaking point for me--years of hints, quandries, theories, suggestions, and in the end, the answers given were just as irritating as not knowing. I have avoided some you'll-never-guess shows since then, and not avoided others I wished I had.

You're wondering what this has to do with crime fiction publishing, and you have a point. Consider this: each novel in a series--and I'm trying to complete the second book in one series so I can start the seventh in another--is an episode of a television series. The same characters usually reappear, a new plot is introduced for them to confront, and their relationships will possibly shift or change depending on the circumstances of the story.

Except: I solve the mystery at the end of each book. The reader (who finishes a book it takes me around three months to write in an odd number of hours) is not asked to wait a year until the next installment shows up to (maybe) get some answers to the burning questions.

At the same time, though, there is continuity. Characters grow; they develop. I don't have patience for a character who is the same in book #5 as in book #1. If the silly bugger didn't learn anything from the first four experiences, I can't expect him/her to be any smarter about the situation now. 

Sometimes a character will show up as a minor player in a book and I'll realize s/he has something that can be interesting in the series. 9780738741512_p0_v1_s260x420Two books later, it would be a major omission to the reader if that character weren't involved in the action.

So there is both the Old Television and the New Television in mystery series. On the one hand, people will develop and change. On the other hand, they won't change a lot, at least not very quickly. Because that's the way life is: People tend to evolve rather than have an epiphany every time something happens to them and completely change their personalities in accordance with their new self-understanding.

On the one hand, the story will conclude at the end of the book. On the other, the characters' lives are (usually) not over, and that means their stories go on to the next installment. (In the Guesthouse books, they can go on even after the character dies, which adds a level.)

The one thing I won't do is introduce a story that is huge to the characters and make a reader wait until the next book to resolve it. I won't leave a pregnant Halle Berry wondering what the hell happened for however many episodes Extant will go on. That's not how I write.

Oddly, my children do read my books, and it doesn't seem to bother them.

 

P.S.: Of course we're sorry to see our pal Ben LeRoy leave DEAD GUY, but this Thursday we'll be thrilled to welcome the wonderful Terri Bischoff of Midnight Ink to the fold! Make sure you check out DEAD GUY this Thursday (and every one thereafter) to welcome Terri and get her distinctive perspective on the publishing scene.

Jul 142014
 

Jeff Cohen

I hate timelines.

In every book I've ever written--and a few that I haven't--I've run into problems with the timeline. And they are the most difficult adjustments I have to make every time I face my final pass at the pages, which I'm currently hip-deep in doing for a book you won't see until December.

Sure enough, here comes a timeline inconsistency again. It's a wonder I have any hair left.

The idea when writing a novel, of course, is to create the illusion that the work was done all at once, in order, the way the reader is expected to experience it. An author does not want the reader to be aware of the effort and the time that goes into the creation of the story because it might decrease the amount of enjoyment the reader gets, and that reflects on the author.

Getting all this?

The seams aren't supposed to show, but the fact is that even a relatively short novel takes months to write. I set myself a goal of 1000 words per day. So a book the size of E.J. Copperman's Haunted Guesthouse series would take a little short of 90 days to write. The average reader will consume (through the eyes) the story in a matter of hours.

So consider this: Somewhere around Week Eight, what one wrote on Day Three might lose a little of its detail in the author's mind. So whether something happened on Tuesday or Wednesday might be just a trifle difficult to recollect seventeen chapters later.

Wait, I hear you saying, don't you reread the whole shebang before you unthinkingly ship it off to your editor? And you have a point. Yes, I do read the manuscript from stem to stern before I'll even consider hitting the "Send" button. Usually, more than once.

But I'm thinking about that character moment or that logic problem or whether or not that red herring is too obvious or whether the dialogue is getting too cute in this section here or whether, heaven forbid, the reveal of the solution to the mystery makes no sense.

So even though I know for a fact that I'm going to have a timeline problem somewhere along the line because it's happened in every single other example of my work, I am pretty much guaranteed to miss it no matter how closely I read. So when those pages show up on my screen for one last pass (accompanied by the inevitable timeline chart), I get a chill up my spine in anticipation of the brain work that will encompass the next few days.

I waded through this last one, and made some changes, but I'll be totally honest with you: I'm only pretty sure it solves the problem. It's entirely possible my brain, which obviously does not function at a high level on such subjects, has overlooked the whole issue again, or complicated it even further.

What I ask of you is that you concentrate on the other aspects of the story, and if a timeline doesn't work for you, just change the day mentioned to whichever one works. I trust your judgment.

Because I can write dialogue and develop characters. I can come up with ideas for stories that have enough nuance to keep a person reading for 300 pages or so. So far, six novels in the series have made it through the process, and I'll begin work on #7 within a month or so.

I'll make some timeline error in that one, too. Please. Consider all the other things I do better, okay?

Jul 072014
 

Jeff Cohen

There are questions you are asked when people find out you write for a living (the one they should ask, "Why would anyone want to do that?", is never one of them). They want to know how you got your first book published (through sheer chance and luck). Some want to know where you get your ideas (K Mart). Others will ask who you'd like to play your character "in the movie." (WHAT movie? What have you heard?)

Then there are those who ask, "Who are your writing heroes?"

I am really bad at this one. I tend to stammer, look embarrassed and mumble something that doesn't really answer the question. I claim to be reluctant to leave out someone and offend that person, so I say nothing.

It's all crap, of course. I actually don't have any writing heroes, at least not of mystery novels, and maybe not of any novels. You're just not supposed to say that, and it's a problem.

My writing heroes were always screenwriters. Ernest Lehman (North By Northwest, perhaps one of the six greatest films ever made). Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show, and what else do you need to know?). Mel Brooks (everything up to and including High Anxiety). 

Larry LarryGelbart_photo_webGelbart (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Tootsie, M*A*S*H).

I learned from television and film, and once I realized that someone actually wrote down those things for the actors to say and do, that was what I wanted to do. So I started writing what I thought were screenplays. As early as 10th grade I was writing screenplays.

I wrote 24 (or 25, even I can't keep track) feature-length screenplays after I got out of college. And I have documented their various degrees of no success. Comedies. Dramas. Thrillers. Science Fiction movies. Baseball movies. A trilogy of intrepid-reporter stories. Two superhero movies.

Don't bother looking on IMDb. I'm not there. None of those scripts was produced.

That's okay, now. I fell into writing mystery novels by accident, and I have been happily doing so now for 15 years and--depending on how one keeps score--13.5 books, two novellas and one "short" story of about 10,000 words. I'm very satisfied in my "new" profession, and don't have the overwhelming obsession with being represented on the big, small, or these days, iPhone screen.

But I never really gained any novelist heroes. I admire a good many people who write books, and when I read for pleasure (something I do almost exclusively when I'm not writing), I have favorites whose works leave me awestruck. There are some great talents out there doing what I do.

Do I want to be any of them? No, I don't. I'm trying to be the best novelist version of me that I can. 

When I was four, my hero was Superman (the 2025820-geGeorge Reeves version). When I was seven, it was Mickey Mantle (because, um, he was Mickey Mantle). At 17, Woodward and Bernstein. At 18, the aforementioned Mr. Brooks.

Now? I don't really have heroes. I really look forward to the works some people produce, and I will follow them pretty much anywhere because I know the ride will be emotionally fulfilling and fun. I read some authors because I've met them. I read others because I just need a fix of that kind of writing.

But ask me to name one currently active writer whose work I will drop anything to experience and I will name Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Newsroom, SportsNight). Is he my hero? No. He's someone whose work I admire.

My hero is the writer I'm hoping to become. Haven't quite gotten there yet.

Jun 302014
 

Jeff Cohen

If you think getting accepted by a publishing company is tough, try adopting a rescue dog sometime. 

Don't get me wrong: I understand that shelters and adoption organizations have to be very careful about the families to which they give animals that need homes. I'm not complaining about any questionnaire, reference call (my best friend called up and said, "You want to be a beagle parent?") or adoption donation. I'm not. But it is an interesting process, and one that I recommend anyone who likes having a pet around the house should give a go.

So here's the latest addition to our household: We're calling him Toby (partly after everyone's favorite character in The West Wing and partly because of the bloodhound Sherlock Holmes would sometimes employ in his investigations), but his name used to be Bagel. We felt having a dog with an edible name might give off the wrong message in our house (that's a joke).

Image

He's a 2-year-old (we think) beagle who came from a "kill shelter" in one of the Carolinas to a more hospitable one in Pennsylvania, where he spent about a month with a foster family before we came along and drove him to New Jersey following a tearful farewell.

Toby's a little skittish, but that's understandable considering all the tumult in his life. We're expecting that after a while in one place, he'll relax a little more. He's already part of the family. I'll keep you updated.

Meanwhile, back in the publishing business, I went to Maine a few weeks ago for a long weekend, and because it was Maine, I had dinner with Julia & Methe wonderful Julia Spencer-Fleming (and we talked about publishing, IRS!), her equally adorable husband Ross and their extremely interesting (I mean that in the most complimentary possible way) children. And that made me think: 

If I'd been going to Michigan, I would have looked in on Robin Agnew. Had we decided to vacation in Virginia, perhaps we'd have had dinner with Ellery Adams/Jennifer Stanley/JB Stanley. Or perhaps Meredith Cole would be home.

Were we lucky enough to be vacationing in England, I would have gotten in touch with Lynne. Upstate New York? Maybe Toni L P Kelner would have been available. We were going to get in touch with Rosemary Harris on the way to Maine, but time didn't allow it.

I know my friend Leann Sweeney lives in some Carolina or another these days. I could certainly get in touch if I were in that area. Going to Massachusetts? I definitely would hope Hank Philippi Ryan could find some time.

If our dream vacation to Australia ever becomes plausible, I'll look up my pal Fiona Marsden, who says she's my biggest fan. In two years when we take our trip to Hawaii, I won't be able to go without looking up my good friend Cynthia Chow. I'm leaving some people and places out, but I think you get the idea.

The point is: Nobody should get into the whole "author" thing expecting to become unspeakably wealthy and remarkably famous. But if you measure wealth by the fine people you meet along the way, there are few better, more enriching professions. 

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Jun 252014
 

Joe Newman-Getzler

(Note From Josh: I welcome once again The Boy to take over as Temporary Tuesday Dead Guy. Joe's been working at HSG for a couple of weeks, reading manuscripts and generally hanging out looking Publishing-y. I believe that while he speaks for himself, Jacob and Rachel, our other Biblically aptly named interns (HA! Jacob, Rachel, and Joseph...) and many other interns, would probably find Joe's thoughts pretty familiar. And note to authors: Interns do read manuscripts, but (at least at HSG) are not entrusted with decision-making authority. Next week I'll go through Jeff Cohen's Better Query Letter.)

 

 

 

So, the summer has begun. Freshman Year ended for me almost a month ago, and words cannot describe the joy I felt when I finally exited my last final. I was all set for a summer full of rest and relaxation, and taking the time to watch the world go by and soak up the sun.

Well, while I will get to that, I had to work for my dad first.

Now, for a teenager, there are fewer things that appeal as much as money, and working as an intern for my dad at his literary agency promised at least a few dollars. Plus, I have a chance to spend the day doing what I love to do: reading and hanging out with my dear ol’ dad. So, I agreed to work for him for 6 days over the course of 2 weeks. Each day, I get up early and have two coffees with Dad (a hot one at home, and iced one once we’re close to the office). We hitch a crowded Subway, each partake in either a Metro or amNewYork (then switch when we’re finished), and get out at 34th Street.

At HSG I get to read, alternately, the 50-page excerpts that my dad and his assistant Danielle get on a regular basis, or one of the huge manuscripts that, were I not doing this for a job, would probably finish in a month. This can be either fun or taxing, depending on the manuscript. I must admit, until I started working with Dad, I had no idea how much action an author can cram within 50 pages, and I end the Partial wondering how long the actual manuscript must be, and how much more action must take place.

The best of the 50-pagers are like the best carnival barkers. They reel you in with promises of excitement, adventure, and altogether stellar storytelling, and once you reach the end, you’re almost falling over yourself trying to find out more; begging on your knees to sample more of the carnival's wares. At worst, it’s like you can already see the shadow through the tent that makes it clear that the “rare mermaid of Worcestershire” isn’t much more than a Barbie doll’s torso pasted to the tail of a fish. The writing is on the wall that there’s no desire to forge onward and that further reading will drain rather than enthrall. My initial reading has resulted in a balance of better and worse, and the happiness I feel when I give the “OK” to a good manuscript is proportional to the guilt I feel when I dismiss a bad one. But to me, it’s the journey, not the destination. My dad likes to say that when an author ties up a book nicely, they “stick the landing,” but the actual routine needs to impress me as much as the landing.

At the end of the day, it really is the principle of the thing. While I'm giving my opinions about real people's blood and sweat, I’m doing it in service for the dad I love. I’ve seen how hard he works: the man’s on the phone so often it’s a wonder his ear doesn’t fall off. He and I share the common goal of wanting a book to succeed. We both share the desire to never give up, and rather improve to a point where it can be either passable or perfect. It’s really been working with my dad that helps me understand how to edit and pass proper judgment without being nitpicky or cruel. Many books don't work, but how great it feels to help a book get better! Such are the thoughts of an intern desiring to help more books succeed, and ready to take on the next batch of possible success stories.

 

Jun 232014
 

Jeff Cohen

Two weeks ago, we (or more specifically, I) discussed common mistakes made in writing a cover letter meant to interest an agent, editor, or other big deal in your writing (and Josh pointed out just where I was wrong). This week for a refreshing change of pace, I thought we'd look at how to do so in an effective manner. It's meant to be helpful without the layer of snarkiness.

Be gentle. It's my first time.

Let's start with a (fictional) example:

Dear Ms. Agent: (Don't get too familiar with someone you don't know. "Hi" is out of the question. "Dear Sally", not much better. This is a business communication.

Ernestine Hawthorne is facing a difficult decision: Her aging mother Bernice is confined to a wheelchair in an assisted living facility, but is mentally sharp as a tack. At least, that's what Ernestine thinks until she hears her mom's story of ghosts in the building warning of coming violence.

She consults the facility's medical staff about possible dementia, but is told her mother is essentially a very healthy 77-year-old. 

Then her mom's friend dies, seemingly of natural causes, and Bernice insists it's murder. Ernestine has to make a decision--assume her mom is hallucinating, or start asking questions that someone might not want answered.

Notice that the first three paragraphs don't mention the writer at all. That's because the agent cares only about your story, so that's what you're selling here. Never mistake a query letter for anything but what it is--a sales tool. The product is your work. Sell your story, not yourself.

That's the premise of my new 85,000-word mystery novel, ASSISTED DYING. As she gets deeper into the investigation, Ernestine will encounter doctors, administrators, psychiatrists, patients, residents and caregivers... and each one will have something to hide. All the while, she'll be balancing each new revelation with the possibility that her mother is fading mentally, and might be imaginging the whole thing.

You've introduced the idea that this is the plot of a novel, but you're still telling--or more accurately now, describing--your story. You are the last thing this letter will discuss, and the least.

All the while, she'll be threatened anonymously, insulted to her face and intrigued by the attentions of Dr. David Patel, the handsome gerontologist whose interest in Ernestine is clearly not professional--she isn't old enough.

Can't hurt to have a little romance thrown in.

ASSISTED DYING is the first in a series of Ernestine Hawthorne mysteries. In each novel, Ernestine will be reluctantly looking into a crime while dealing with the problems of life in today's world: her mother will require watching, her friend Nancy's husband will be showing signs of straying, her job might be in jeopardy. But she'll persist with a wry sense of humor and more than a little attitude.

Now you're showing ambition. Note that it doesn't say the book will be the first in a PROPOSED series and the word "hopefully" does not appear anywhere in this letter. Confidence, not arrogance (see the previous post).

The book represents my newest work, although I have written short stories that were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and several articles on crime fiction for bookstuff.com. I am currently hard at work on the second Ernestine Hawthorne novel, BURIED UNDER A TBR PILE.

Finally, you get to talk about yourself. A little. Very little. Nothing about where you went to college or your day job at the Walgreen's. If the author in this case had some expertise in an assisted living facility, it would make sense to say so--any connection to the material that lends credibility is good. But NEVER mention directly that this is your first novel; let them ask when they're interested. The job here is to GET them interested. And by the way, I completely made up bookstuff.com.

I believe ASSISTED DYING might appeal to you because of your work with Samantha Bezlowitz, and because your firm has always had a practical, realistic approach to the publishing business. I would love to discuss any possibilities with you, and hope you will be interested in representing my work.

You've done research on their agency. This is a little blatant in its pandering, but it can't hurt to show you didn't simply copy the agent's name off a list. Do the work and know your prey.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Don't call every day asking for an update. From your research, you should know the agent's policy regarding submissions, and many will state how long it usually takes to get a response. Wait that amount of time plus at least two weeks to get in touch.

Sincerely,

You

 A query letter is a first contact. It's meant to be an arm waving in the air and saying, "Hey, look over here!" But that's all it's meant to do. Nobody ever asked for the rights to represent a query letter. Make sure you have the goods before you offer them for representation or publishing. Don't ever promise what you can't deliver. And never, ever, lie in a query letter--just leave out the pieces of information (like it being your first novel) that you don't want the recipient to know.