Friday, November 8, 2013

Mystery Novel Query Letter that Worked

I'm excited to have multi-talented, and multi-published author, Nancy Cohen as my guest today for Writers Paying It Forward Friday. Nancy has only one query letter to share...because after that, she
landed an agent who has sold her books--all 18 of them!--from that day forward. If you haven't read one of Nancy's books, I encourage you to check them out. She's a very talented writer who (IMHO) really has a grasp of the craft.

Nancy, welcome to my blog and thank you so much for sharing your Actual Query Letter that Resulted in a Contract! I know when I was first starting out, I'd have given my left nostril to see the query letter for a book I could actually buy and read, and here we have yours from your first mystery, PERMED TO DEATH.

Nancy, would you share your query letter here, and tell us why you think it got a response? What made it successful?
I’d already had a track record, and that made a difference. Plus this was the start of a new series, which agents prefer over a midlister doing the same old, same old type of work. I was changing genres so it would be a fresh start.

(Nancy Cohen's query letter for PERMED TO DEATH):
Dear Ms. Agent:
I'm a published author seeking a new agent to represent me for a mystery book proposal.  PERMED TO DEATH is a 75,000 word novel featuring beauty salon owner Marla Shore.
When one of her clients is poisoned while getting a perm, Marla becomes a prime suspect. She attends the woman’s funeral and meets her relatives and business associates, all of whom have logical motives for murder. But so does Marla, as homicide detective Dalton Vail learns during his investigation. Desperately seeking to salvage her reputation, Marla seeks to identify the killer before the next "permanent" solution is her own.
PERMED TO DEATH is the first book in a proposed series. Also available is a synopsis for the next story, HAIR RAISER. The title for the third installment is MURDER BY MANICURE.
I have four futuristic romance novels in print and am the winner of the 1995 HOLT Medallion Award in the paranormal category.  PERMED TO DEATH is my first mystery.  Would you be interested in seeing the complete proposal? An SASE is included for your reply. Please note this is a multiple submission. Thank you for your consideration.

I love how succinct your letter is, yet you hit every point in the Anatomy of a Query Letter and you follow all of the Top 10 Do's and Don'ts for Query LettersYour book synopsis was well crafted, and I love, love, love the hair puns in your titles. So clever!

What is THE most important thing writers can do for themselves to get an agent/publisher in today's market?
 Attend a writers’ conference with editor and agent appointments. Meeting them personally is the best way to get attention and to receive an offer to send your material.

If you could have done anything differently with your writing career so far, what would it be?
 I would have been more persistent in sticking to mysteries even when the cozy market took a dive. It’s refreshing to write in two genres but more difficult for branding and promotion.

Who are your writing role models, and how have they influenced you?
Marilyn Campbell advised me to write a futuristic romance back when we were in a critique group together. Circle of Light became my first published book and a HOLT Medallion winner in the paranormal category. Now I’d have to say my current critique partners are my role models. They carry on regardless of the ups and downs of life and the writing business.

I so agree with you about critique partners--having good ones can make or break you as a novelist. What's one fact about you that most people don't know?
I like watching romantic comedies on the Hallmark Channel. Happy endings are a must.

Do you have any upcoming releases? If so, tell us about it!
Hanging by a Hair, my 11th Bad Hair Day mystery, is due out from Five Star in April 2014. I’ve also submitted Warrior Lord, #3 in my paranormal Drift Lords series, to Wild Rose Press and am waiting to hear back from my editor. In my spare time (ha!), I’ve been working on an original mystery to publish myself as an experiment in self-publishing.

I know people will want to visit you online. Can you give us your website links and contact information?

Thank you so much for sharing your Actual Query Letter that Resulted in a Contract today, Nancy! It was great chatting with you, and best of luck with your upcoming releases! 

Be sure to click on "Follow Happily (my) Ever After" link on the right so you won't miss any of my upcoming writers for my Writers Paying it Forward Friday...

Happily My Ever After,

P.S. Ready to rock your query letter like Nancy Cohen did? Check out my post to get the basics of query letter writing on Anatomy of a Query Letter, then be sure to double-check you are following all the other rules in the Top 10 Do's and Don'ts for a Query Letter.

P.P.S. Want to see another query letter example? Check out mine for my first paranormal romance, DESPITE THE GHOSTS, here.


  1. Thank you for having me here today, Dylan!

    1. It is absolutely my pleasure! Thanks for paying it forward with me. I know many writers out there who'd love to see an actual query letter that worked. :)

  2. Hi, Nancy,

    You brought up something very important here. Like you, I write both mystery and romance. I've used my own name for all of my different kinds of novels. I don't know if that is a good thing or not. We don't want to confuse readers as to the type of writing they can expect. Yet it is important to have a name readers can recognize.

  3. My agent advised me to keep my same name when switching genres, but this was after my name was already established. Sometimes a publishing house will require a name change, otherwise it's your choice. I do target different bloggers and readers groups depending on the genre.

  4. Great letter and interview. Thank you both. Ms. Cohen, I particularly like the last two sentences of your letter. In a professional manner they scream, "Hurry up an contact me before someone else does!"