Books: austenland
  The query letter

Once I had austenland (then called ostensibly jane) ready to show, I had to figure out all over again how one gets a book out there. Although by this point I had three books in print, they were young adult books, and the adult book market is a completely different kettle of sea creatures. It was like starting all over again. First I went to my editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. “Do you know any editors who publish adult fiction who might be interested in this?” She read the book and sent it to three editors. A few months later, they either still hadn’t responded to her or weren’t interested. My current agent handled my young adult books but didn’t think he should handle this one, so I had to find a new agent. I brushed up on my query letter-writing skills, wrote a letter (one of the most heinous tasks any writer must undertake), and sent it off.

The two agents I sent this letter to responded about a month later. Both sent me standard responses saying they’d be willing to look at the first three chapters. Clearly they weren’t too wow’ed by my query letter. But by that time I’d already sold the book. I’d found Nadia.

Nadia was an agent recommended to me by another agent. I emailed her an informal query, she emailed back the next day asking me to just attach the manuscript, which is so nice! And very rare. It made me hopeful. She read it over night, called me, we clicked, and she set off to try and sell the book. Several rejections and a few weeks later, the book sold in a two-book deal. Ironically, Bloomsbury trade ended up buying the book, though my connection to the children’s side of Bloomsbury had nothing to do with it. In the end it wasn’t connections that helped me find a publisher, or a terrific query letter, or a track record of books published and awards received (though all those things can help)—it was just finding an agent and then an editor who liked my book. And that’s how it always works. It can be really challenging to get any agent or editor to just read your book. That’s your goal. But eventually, I believe all good books will find the right editor for that book, and it will be happily-ever-after.

My (ultimately unsuccessful, or at least, irrelevant) Query Letter:

January 12, 2006

Dear [agent],

Hello! I’m looking for representation for Ostensibly Jane, a 47,000 word women’s literature novel. You were recommended to me by [deleted in the interest of privacy].

Ostensibly Jane is the story of a thirty-something career girl who spends three weeks at Pembrook Park, an immersive Austen experience, complete with a cast of single, Regency men. She goes hoping to face down and destroy her obsession with Mr. Darcy, but ends up finding unexpected romance.

I am a young adult fantasy writer and have published three novels with Bloomsbury. The Goose Girl (2003) is an ALA Teen Top Ten and Josette Frank Award Winner, Enna Burning (2004) is a NYPL Book for the Teen Age, and Princess Academy (2005) is a Book Sense pick and NEBA Top Ten for Fall. River Secrets, my fourth, will be out in September.

Although Ostensibly Jane is my first adult novel, I have thousands of adult readers. Judging from the emails I receive and the people who come to my signings, about half of my readers are women ages 25-50. My website currently averages 150 unique visitors (over 4000 hits) per day.

Attached, please find a summary and two page prologue. May I send you the complete manuscript?

All best,

Shannon Hale

NOTE: When I wrote the letter above, I hadn't yet received the Newbery Honor for princess academy or made the NYT best seller list. Those two points might have made a difference in my ability to attract agent interest. Also, my website now gets a lot more traffic, making me feel sheepish about having advertised those paltry numbers. Also also, after more revisions, the final word count ended up at 53,000 words.

Return to austenland main page