Monday, March 29, 2010


TIPS FROM THE SLUSH PILE by Sara Megibow Sara Megibow

Happy Almost-Spring!
We've hired a new Literary Assistant here at the Nelson Literary Agency! Her name is Anita Mumm, and she is wonderful and talented. You will all be hearing from her in the coming months. It's been exciting teaching her how to manage the infamous query inbox. Because reviewing that inbox is a difficult task (so many queries and not enough time), all well-written queries really get noticed. As writers, the importance of a well-constructed query letter should really be at the top of your list.

So, in going back to basics while training, here are three pointers that I am teaching Anita. Hopefully these thoughts will help you writers in navigating the waters of the query slush pile.
1. What is the defining event that occurs in the first 30 pages of your story which propels the novel forward? In HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford, it's a press conference given by the owner of the Panama Hotel. She has discovered the belongings of 30 Japanese families interred during WWII. When she unfurls a Japanese parasol during the press conference, Henry realizes it belongs to his first love, Keiko. He is then propelled on a journey to find her. Without this moment, there would be no story. It's the plot catalyst. Make sure you include your book's defining moment as part of your pitch in the query letter!
2. Make it short. Yes, you've heard it before and it's true - a well-written query letter catches our attention on its own. We don't need headshots, sample pages, weblinks, sample pages, synopses, quotes, marketing schematics, etc. to encourage us to read more of your work. A short intro, a well-written pitch paragraph and one or two sentences about your previous publishing history (if any) is all you need.
3. Get your genre right. Imagine walking in to a bookstore. Where would one find your book? In the romance section? Then, label it "romance." In the literature section? Label it "commercial fiction." There is no such thing as fictional non-fiction. Also, remember - we don't represent mysteries, horror, thriller, suspense, self help books, picture books, etc. If you are unsure of your work's genre, don't guess because naming the wrong genre can be detrimental. As a last resort, simply say, "this is a completed work of fiction" -- we can figure it out from there.
I hope these tips help! Happy writing!


Sara Megibow
Associate Literary Agent

(Thanks Sara for allowing me to forward your tips to writers...)

Dawn Chartier