So I decided to post my query letter with the first chapter of my novel The Swimmer's Assistant. It's chick lit so if you don't read that genre, I understand if you're not interested.
Some people have suggested that I self-publish or e-publish. I've had a few companies tell me that they can e-publish my novel, but I'm not sure if I'd still need an agent or if that's what I ought to do. I'm up for anything, really.
I would love to find an agent and I've sent many (MANY) query letters. I've received mainly form rejections, but some have requested a few chapters. Then I usually get the form rejection again. I've been told by a couple agents that chick lit is dead, that it's hard to sell, but I refuse to give up.
Look, I've written a book that many may refer to as fluff. But if I've made a person laugh, if I'm put a smile on their face, then I feel I've done my job as a writer. What I want to write might not be the next Hemingway or Tolstoy, but I do know there is an audience out there for it.
Here is my query letter that I've sent to agents:
Dear *insert agent name here*
Meet Jane Williams.
She doesn’t understand the popularity of Twilight, can’t walk properly in high heels, struggles to speak Starbucks (venti what?), and nearly drowned in the toilet when she was a baby.
Meet Brian Parker.
He’s a star swimmer with a temper (he’s known for pulling what the media has dubbed “a Parker Pout” after a loss), has five Olympic gold medals, and has just hired Jane to be his assistant as he trains for the 2012 London Olympics.
Enter the problem.
Jane has developed feelings for Brian which is ridiculous for several reasons. 1) He has a dog who hates her. 2) He chews with his mouth open. 3) He has a perfect Twilight-obsessed girlfriend named Vanessa who (natch) plays Cinderella at Disneyland. Surely her crush can’t amount to anything. Or can it? There was that time when they nearly kissed....
My name is Amber Myers and I’ve written a fast-paced 100,000 word women’s fiction book titled The Swimmer’s Assistant. While I have never been published, I do write a blog that receives a decent following and many readers have expressed interest in reading my book.
I appreciate your time and hope you will consider representing me. I found your website through Query Tracker and several writers had good things to say about your agency so I thought I’d take a chance. I also see that you wouldn’t mind working with first time authors so I think we’d be a perfect match.
And here is the first chapter. Sorry, it posted a little weird when I copy and pasted it.
When I was a year old I almost drowned in the toilet.
I wish I were kidding.
My Mom loves to tell the story to nearly everyone she meets, much to my chagrin. She’ll wait all of five seconds before diving into the tale of how she was busy doing the dishes and realized that it had gone quiet.
“Jane had been playing with her toys in the other room and after I finished scrubbing the last pan I got a panicky feeling in my stomach. Mothers just know when their children are in trouble,” Mom will say seriously. She’ll pause for a dramatic effect and then lean closer. “I ran into the living room and Jane was gone. She even left behind her blanket and you have to understand, she took that thing everywhere. I was in a blind panic, screaming out Jane’s name.” She’ll stop again and at this point the recipient of the story will either look extremely interested or extremely bored.
“So I rushed around the house like a mad woman, gripping Jane’s blanket. I remember taking three stairs at a time as I made my way upstairs. I checked our bedroom. She wasn’t there. I popped my head in her room and…” Mom will take a deep breath before finishing the sentence, “...nothing. She wasn’t there. The bathroom was the last place I looked. I was literally two seconds away from calling 9-1-1. Two seconds!” She’ll hold up two fingers in case the person has forgotten how to count. “I honestly didn’t expect to see Jane in the bathroom. In fact, I almost missed her. But then I did a double take and there she was! Half of her body was inside the toilet. I wasn’t even thinking clearly when I grabbed her. Her face was covered in water and I thought she had drowned, I truly did. Then I realized her eyes were open and that she was breathing. Her face was wet though so who knows what could have happened if I hadn’t found her?” Mom will be panting at the end, her hand over her heart.
I’m not surprised Mom is telling my taxi driver the Toilet Story. The taxi driver, a guy named Stan with salt and pepper hair, is nodding politely but it’s obvious he could care less. Mom is holding up two fingers which indicate that her story is drawing to a close. I want to signal to Stan that its okay, that the tale is nearly over, but I can’t catch his eye. He’s too busy staring down at his watch, hoping Mom will get the point.
She never gets the point.
She continues to prattle on and when she concludes her tale, a loud swish of her breath is heard and her palm is over her chest.
“Wow,” Stan says. His eyes flick around nervously, as though he’s worried Mom is going to launch into another story. He should be afraid. My Mom loves to talk. She’s been known to commiserate with homeless people, who now turn and walk in another direction when they see her approaching.
Mom’s mouth is starting to open again.
Run Stan! I want to yell. Instead I yank my wallet from my purse and hurl a few bills in his direction.
Run! Get of here!
“Jane!” Mom admonishes as Stan jams the money into his pocket and throws himself behind the wheel. “I was going to pay for—”
With a squeal of tires and a trail of smoke behind him, Stan is gone.
My heart lifts and I wonder if this is how the helicopter rescue people feel after they’ve saved hikers from a snowy mountain during a blizzard.
“Jane,” Mom says again. “I was all set to pay for the taxi. You don’t have extra money to toss around. You have to be careful.” She takes me by the shoulders and gives me a sympathetic look as she runs a hand over my shoulder length dark hair. Her nose wrinkles slightly as she peers closer. “When was the last time you had your hair cut? Look at all these split ends.” She clucks her tongue.
She probably thinks I can’t afford to get my hair cut anymore. Mom has it in her head that I’m destitute since I’ve lost my job.
It’s not true though. I have money. Not a lot of it, mind you, but enough to keep me comfortable for a couple of months. It is true that I’ve lost my job. But it wasn’t my fault. I’m a responsible person, I swear. It was just, well, I was the last person hired. So naturally, I was the first to be let go.
I used to be a first grade teacher over at Bradford Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas. But thanks to the economy being in shambles, the school had to figure out ways to cut back. And that meant they had to let go of five teachers. The principal, Mrs. Thorne, was extremely apologetic when she told me the news. She sat behind her desk and kept slamming her fist down on a pile of papers.
“This is just awful. I know.” Slam. “I hate to do this. I really do.” Slam. “You are a wonderful teacher. It’s nothing you did.” Slam. “I’ll write you a letter of recommendation. I really hope you find something quickly.” Slam.
Find something quickly, that is.
None of the schools around the area were hiring.
So I thought, okay, I’d have to settle for a two hour commute. But none of those schools were hiring either. In fact, when I walked into one of the schools the secretary actually snorted and mentioned that I was the eighth teacher of the day who had inquired about a position.
I made the mistake of telling Mom when I lost my job. I should have known better. The second I told her I was let go, she emitted a loud wail and asked if I was going to go bankrupt.
“No mother,” I had said with a roll of my eyes.
It sounded to me like Mom was a little put out that I wasn’t going bankrupt. She’d never admit it but she loves drama. It’s why she flips through various tabloids and will phone me up and gush all about who Jennifer Aniston is dating that particular week.
“Maybe you should talk to your sister about finding a job,” Mom had suggested.
“Mom, Darcy is a makeup artist. I know nothing about makeup,” I’d remind her.
It’s true. I still have no idea how to apply makeup properly even though I’m twenty eight. I usually just brush on foundation and put on a dab of lipstick. I’m too scared to attempt mascara again because one time when I was eighteen I almost took my eye out.
It was Darcy who did my makeup growing up. She’s two years younger than I am and from a small age she was always messing with Mom’s lipstick. So it was really no surprise when Darcy decided to become a makeup artist. She started off working in a portrait studio. Her customers would marvel at her work and exclaim that she had such talent for making them look natural, yet beautiful. When she was seventeen and almost out of high school, a celebrity came in with her daughter who wanted to get her pictures done. Darcy did the makeup and the celebrity was so impressed that she made some phone calls. Three weeks later Darcy found herself applying blush to Meg Ryan on a movie set. When the movie wrapped, word got out about how talented and professional she was and she was quickly nabbed by the lead actress in a Steven Spielburg movie. She wound up leaving Texas, the state we had grown up in, and moved to Los Angeles when she was nineteen.
Darcy is now one of the most sought after makeup artists in the industry. At least that’s what Mom told me. You never know if she’s embellishing the truth.
I’m surprised Darcy was able to find time to get married since she worked so hard. But she did. Three years after moving to Los Angeles, she found herself doing the makeup for some actors on a soap opera. She caught the interest of one of them whose name was Scott Franklin. She was only supposed to be working on the set for a few days while the regular makeup artist was out sick, but apparently Scott pulled some strings and Darcy ended up staying there for over a year. Scott asked her out and Darcy kept refusing him. She’d call me and explain that actors made her nervous.
“When you do their makeup, you hear all sorts of horror stories. Husbands sleeping with the nannies, wives running off with their personal trainers, husbands leaving their wives for a man…”
“Huh?” I cut her off, horrified.
“It happens more often than you think,” Darcy said simply.
In the end, she gave Scott a chance. They ended up falling in love and he proposed with a two carat diamond ring six months later. Mom was elated. She ran around Texas telling everyone she knew that her daughter was marrying a movie star in Los Angeles even though Scott had only acted in commercials and had a bit part in a soap opera. Darcy started planning an elaborate wedding at the Plaza Hotel and it was around this time when we found out that Dad was sick.
See, Dad had started to feel really tired but he refused to go the hospital. He assumed it was due to age. But then one morning Mom discovered him passed out in the kitchen with his coffee cup smashed in pieces around him. She called 911 and he was rushed to the hospital. It was there, after several tests, when we found out that he had lung cancer. Darcy had flown in from Los Angeles, proclaiming that she’d reschedule her wedding because she had to have Dad walk her down the aisle.
I still remember the confusion in Mom’s voice as she spoke to the doctor after hearing that her husband, the man she had been married to for over thirty years, had lung cancer. “I just don’t understand,” Mom kept saying. “He hasn’t smoked a day in his life.” Then she asked the difficult question. “How long does he have to live?”
“Maybe a month. Maybe even six. It’s hard to say. Unfortunately the cancer has spread and there is nothing we can do now but keep him comfortable,” the doctor had said gravely.
Naturally, we were all devastated.
Darcy decided to move up her wedding. Instead of the Plaza Hotel she was married in the backyard of the house we had grown up in with only a handful of people present. She held onto Dad’s arm, looking like a perfect angel in her flowing white dress and veil. Dad was visibly weak but he still had a smile across his face.
“Now we just need to find you someone,” Dad said to me during the reception.
“Someday,” I answered with a sigh. “Someday.” Two weeks before I had broken up with a guy named Jonathan, who I had been seeing for about a month. It ended when I realized we had nothing in common, that all we did when we were together was have sex. Sure sex is important but I was looking for something with a little more substance.
Dad started chemotherapy. Mom and I always went with him and we’d sit and chat like we were at a restaurant and not in a hospital while poison seeped into my father’s veins. We were all set to bring him to another chemotherapy appointment when Dad abruptly went, “No thanks,” as we walked out to the station wagon.
“No thanks what?” Mom frowned.
“No more chemotherapy. No thanks. I’m going to wait it out at home,” Dad said firmly.
“Wait it out at home?” Mom repeated. “Don’t you mean that you’re giving up?” She eyed him angrily but I could see the fear across her face. I wanted to say something, to beg my father to go to the hospital and buy himself some more time, but I knew I should stay out of it.
“I’m not giving up, Sharon,” Dad said. “We both know that chemotherapy isn’t going to cure me. It’s only making me sick and tired and I refuse to be like that when I don’t have much time left. I want to enjoy you. I want to enjoy my girls.”
Mom and I sobbed right there in the yard. I remember how Dad hugged us to his chest. I could feel his ribs digging into me. He had lost so much weight and didn’t look like himself anymore. My Dad usually had a round stomach “thanks to fast food since my wife can’t cook” he had always said—but now his stomach was flat, his cheeks sunken in, his eyes darkened with worry. Not because he knew he was going to die, but because he knew what his death was going to do to us.
He passed away the following week in the bed he had shared with Mom. I had been staying with Mom to help her out and woke to her screaming. I knew he was gone. I can still remember how her wails echoed throughout the house.
When about four months had gone by, Mom announced she was leaving.
“Leaving where?” I was perplexed. I assumed she was going on some sort of vacation. She didn’t have a job, after all. She had always stayed at home with Darcy and I.
“Leaving Texas.” Mom squeezed her hands together in her lap. Her eyes were red rimmed as they had been since Dad had died.
“Leaving Texas,” I parroted, still not comprehending what she was talking about. How could she leave Texas? Most of her family still lived in Texas. I lived in Texas.
“I can’t stay here.” We were seated in the kitchen, the same kitchen where Mom had measured Darcy and I every month until we were eighteen. The pencil markings were still against the far wall.
“Are you wanting a new house?” I could understand that. It was probably painful for Mom to wander the home she shared with my Dad. I knew she couldn’t even go into their bedroom because she claimed she could still picture Dad lying there, dead.
“A new house…and a new state,” Mom nodded. She reached over and squeezed my arm. “I can’t stay here anymore, Jane. I just can’t. I’m going to Los Angeles to be near Darcy. I can afford it, thanks to your father’s life insurance and retirement money.”
I didn’t say anything at first. What could I say? My Dad had died and now my mother was leaving me.
“I need to start fresh,” Mom added. “Surely you can understand that?”
I wanted to lash out and say that no, I didn’t understand. But I couldn’t do that to a widow who had just lost the love of her life. So I plastered a smile on my face and wished her luck even though my heart felt like it was breaking apart.
“You could come too,” Mom said hopefully.
I sighed. “My life is here. My job is here. I can’t just up and go.”
But then I lost my job and couldn’t find another one. I’m not going to lie, I was beginning to panic. About two months after I was let go, my phone rang and it was Mom with some news. She let me know that a job was available. Only it was in Los Angeles.
“What is the job?” I wondered cautiously. I had seen a few episodes of Dirtiest Jobs and was a little traumatized. If Mom wanted me to clean up Porta Potties then I’d have to decline.
“Darcy met this woman at a charity event who apparently is Brian Parker’s publicist. She told Darcy that he desperately needs an assistant. You’ve heard of Brian Parker the swimmer, right?” Mom questioned.
Of course I had heard of Brian Parker the swimmer. He had been splashed (ha!) all over newspapers and magazines awhile back for deciding to abruptly take a break from swimming. Everyone had been excited to see how he’d perform at the Beijing Olympics and one month before they began, he made an announcement saying that he was walking away from swimming for an unspecified amount of time. Apparently photos of him partying kept popping up and he’d get tons of flack for it because he was supposed to be a role model for children. There were a couple instances when Brian was pictured smoking a cigarette and the media kept telling him that he needed to behave properly, that kids looked up to him, so he should stop going out to clubs…..
After Brian gave a press conference on his decision to stop swimming for a bit, it was rumored that his last assistant was the one who had been secretly releasing photos of him partying to various magazines and online sites. She also would allegedly tip off the Paparazzi on where Brian would be so that they’d be sure to get a drunken shot of him. One time the Paparazzi found Brian giving an intoxicated rant on how he was sick of having no privacy and that everyone could piss the fuck off. Unfortunately for Brian one of photographers filmed his tirade and it popped up on TMZ the very next morning. The day after that, Brian announced his break from swimming.
“I know about Brian,” I told Mom.
“Well, guess what,” Mom said. I could hear the excitement in her voice. Moving to Los Angeles definitely helped her heal. When she had first arrived she was still a bit of a mess but Darcy helped her through it. She’d drag Mom out to spas and stores, refusing to let her get depressed. Now Mom volunteers her time at various places and has even joined a bowling and Wii game group for people over fifty. “Brian has started swimming again.”
This is true. Brian had showed up at a swimming meet and won first place in all three events that he entered. He refused to tell anyone if this meant he was back in the swimming world—but then four days ago he sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters and admitted that yes, he was making the steps on coming back after being absent for close to two years. “My goal,” he had said. “Is to win five gold medals in the London Olympics.”
Brian, by the way, had competed in two prior Olympics. He had popped up at the 2000 Sydney Olympics at the tender age of sixteen. At sixteen I was too focused on whether a boy liked me or not. But Brian, he had arrived fresh faced and determined to win. And win he did. He walked away with five medals: 1 gold, 1 silver, and 3 bronze. The world was quickly enraptured by this young swimmer who seemed to have appeared from no where.
Brian came back for the Olympics held in Athens four years later and earned 3 gold medals and 2 silver. During a press conference he proclaimed that during the Beijing Olympics he was going to win all gold medals in the five events he would enter. But obviously he never went to the Beijing Olympics.
Now Brian has vowed to win the five gold medals in the 2012 London Olympics . And that’s not all he’s vowed. No, he’s also decided that he’s going to enter in races that he normally wouldn’t have raced in—Brian is considered to be a sprinter swimmer which means he competes in short races. Now he’s determined to branch out and do the longer ones. This sparked interest in the sports magazines who once named Brian one of the best sprinter swimmers in the world. No one believed he could branch out to the longer races.
But he did. During the meet that he showed up at after being away from the swimming world for so long, he won a gold medal in two of those longer races. This is what caused the media to start coming back. Now all the major sports journalists are on the edge of their seats, wondering if he can really return to the level that he walked away at.
“Yes Mom, I know how he’s come back to swimming,” I confirmed.
“Well, as I said before, he needs an assistant. Now. Brian’s publicist has agreed to meet with you in two days for an interview.” Mom squealed at the end.
“An assistant?” I frowned. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an assistant. Didn’t assistants get yelled at all the time? Did I really want to do someone else’s chores when I could barely remember to do my own?
“You don’t have any other jobs lined up,” Mom reminded me bluntly.
This was true.
In the end I agreed to do it. I made sure to add that it was a temporary thing though. If a teaching job popped up in Texas, I’d take it. I wasn’t staying in Los Angeles forever. So I packed basically everything I owned in a suitcase (it was sad to realize that all my possessions could fit. All the furniture in my apartment belonged to my friend and roommate Helen, plus I was on a teacher’s salary so I could afford very little) and told Helen that I expected to return at some point.
“If a job becomes available, I’ll call you!” Helen, who was also a teacher, had sworn. She was a little sad that I was leaving but she had a boyfriend who helped distract her. Plus she already had a girl subletting my room so she didn’t have to worry about paying the rent on her own.
And so I left Texas and flew to Los Angeles.
I’m staying with my Mom. It was probably a mistake to agree to it but it’s too late now. Right now she’s excitedly wheeling my luggage inside her Spanish style two bedroom home and is rambling on about how we can stay up late and watch bad reality TV together.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” she shouts for the tenth time. She drops the suitcase handle and gathers me in her arms.
“This is not permanent,” I say.
“I know that. I know.” Mom backs away and waves a hand dismissively through the air. “Come on. Let’s get you something to eat. I bet you’re famished.” I follow her into the kitchen and watch as she rifles through the fridge and freezer. “Hmmm…I need to go shopping. I admit I order out a lot. Because, well, you know…”
“Because you’re a crummy cook?” I finish. I don’t say this meanly, just factually. “Thanks for passing that on to me, by the way.” I’ve tried to follow many recipes and usually end up in tears because something always goes wrong. The meat burns, the sauce sticks to the pan, the vegetables become unrecognizable…
“Who needs to learn how to cook anyhow?” Mom says, pulling a can of nuts from the cupboard. She grabs a bowl and dumps the nuts into it. “Here.” Mom slides them across the counter where I’m leaning. I pick out a pecan and examine it.
“Are you nervous about the interview?” Mom takes out two diet Cokes from the fridge and pushes one over to me. “Darcy says the job is yours but the publicist just needs to make sure you’re sane I guess since the last assistant was so dishonest.”
I crack open the soda. The truth is, I am nervous. What if I say something wrong and don’t get the job? Still, I have to appear confident to Mom. If she sees I’m worried, she’ll sit me down and give me a long lengthy speech on what a great girl I am and who wouldn’t like me? “I’m not nervous,” I answer, munching on the pecan.
“You’ll be working for Brian Parker, the swimming sensation. They say he has a temper though. I wonder if he’ll still do the Parker Pout if he loses.” Mom taps her chin and cocks the head to the side.
Oh right. The Parker Pout. Whenever Brian would lose a race, he’d rip his swim cap off and toss it across the pool deck. Some reporters claimed it was bad sportsmanship, others said it was because Brian had so much passion for swimming that it physically hurt him to lose and that was how he showed his pain.
Guess what he does when he wins though? Nothing. Brian is notorious for showing no emotion whenever he wins a race. He simply climbs out of the pool as though it’s no big deal. To me it sounds like he has a bad case of PMS.
“I don’t know if he’ll still do the Parker Pout or not. He hasn’t lost a race since coming back from his swimming break so no one really knows,” I say, sipping some Coke.
“I wonder if it’s true that he turned Lindsay Lohan onto girls?” Mom mused. Brian and Lindsay dated for about six months back in 2007 and rumor has it that when Brian dumped her, Lindsay turned to girls because he messed her up so much.
“Mom, if I get the job, I’ll have to treat him like a normal person. I can’t ask him questions about who he dated,” I say.
“I know that,” Mom says, but not in a convincing tone. “But you will tell me all about what being Brian’s assistant is like, right?” She gives me a hopeful stare.
“I need to get the job first,” I sigh as I crumble a peanut into my palm.