Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Every writer knows that a good query letter is crucial in getting a manuscript read by an agent, which is the first step in getting an offer for representation. This is the query I sent for MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT. This letter elicited a lot of requests from agents for the full manuscript and eventually I did sign with an agent who ended up getting me a two-book deal with St. Martin’s. In brackets are my explanatory comments of why I constructed it the way I did.

Dear Agent:

I am currently seeking representation for Midori By Moonlight, a novel starring the Japanese Bridget Jones.

[This opening sentence is short and sweet and to the point. By using the Bridget Jones reference it gives the agent an idea of what kind of book this is.]

Thirty-year-old Midori Saito’s dreams are all about to come true. A strong independent streak has always made her feel like a stranger in a strange land in her native Japan, but now she’s embarking on a new life in San Francisco. She’s about to marry Kevin, the perfect American man—six feet tall, with curly hair the color of marmalade. Unlike a Japanese guy who’d demand she be a housewife, Kevin doesn’t mind if Midori follows her dream of becoming a master pastry chef. Her life is turning out as exquisitely as a Caramelized Apple Tart with Crème Fraiche, until Kevin dumps her at their engagement party in favor of his blonde, ex-fiancée, whom Midori never even knew existed.

Now Midori is not only on her own—with just a smattering of fractured English in her repertoire—she’s entered the U.S. on a fiancée visa that will expire in sixty days. Unable to face the humiliation of telling her parents she’s been dumped, and not wanting to give up on her American dream, Midori realizes she’s “up the creek without a saddle.” Her only hope is new acquaintance Shinji, 30, who long ago escaped Japan after a family tragedy, is a successful San Francisco graphic artist and amateur moon gazer, and who lets her share his apartment as a platonic roommate.

Soon Midori finds herself working at an under-the-table hostess job at an unsavory Japanese karaoke bar, making (and eating) way too many desserts, meeting a charming and handsome chef with his own restaurant who may be too good to be true, and trying to uncover the secret behind a mysterious bar hostess who looks strangely familiar. But Midori’s willing to endure almost anything to hang on to her American dream, and she just might find that the love she’s been searching for far and wide is a whole lot closer than she thinks.

[This was my take on a “blurb” that would appear on the back of a book. It’s a bit long for that and the style is slightly different, but I wanted to cover all the salient plot points without going into a full-blown synopsis. I made various food references to give the flavor of the book. Looking at the back of the book or by clicking on the Books section on the Web site you can see how this description was changed and shortened on the published book.]

I am the author of two children’s non-fiction books published by KidHaven Press (Famous People: Christina Aguilera and Wonders of the World: Niagara Falls), have had short stories published in several literary journals, and currently work as a freelance writer and editor. I attended the Squaw Valley Writers' Conference in 2001 and 2002, and my self-published novel, No Kidding was a winner in the Writer's Digest 2002 Best Self-Published Book Awards in the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category.

[Sometimes it is advised to only offer relevant publishing history, e.g. other fiction. By including my non-fiction books, I felt I was showing an agent that I had real-world publishing experience, even though these books are not novels. I included a reference to the Squaw Valley Writers’ Conference because it is a well-known conference and one where you need to submit a writing sample in order to get accepted, otherwise I would not have included conferences I attended. I mentioned NO KIDDING, my self-published book, because it won an award. However, it’s not necessary to have any other writing credits—don’t worry if you don’t have any.]

I am Caucasian-American—my Japanese last name comes by way of my husband who was born and raised in Osaka. I have lived in Japan and traveled there many times, the first time as a winner in a songwriting contest sponsored by Japan Victor Records. I also speak conversational Japanese and have placed in a number of Japanese singing contests and performed on TV in Japan.

[It is often advised not to give any personal information in a query letter. This personal information, I felt, was relevant to the subject-matter of my book and showed that I had a background in the Japanese language and culture.]

Thank you for your consideration.
---Wendy Nelson Tokunaga


Kelley said...

Thanks, Wendy, for posting this. It's such a huge help for those of us just embarking into query hell. I liked how your voice really came through-it certainly gives me a hint of how the novel would read (it sounds so funny. :) ) Just a ques-were you ever concerned over its length?

MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

Very cool Wendy! Welcome to the wonderful (?) and whacky (!) world of Blogging!

Great first post!

Steph from Yahoo

Wendy Tokunaga said...

Kelley, Thanks for your comment. Yes, I knew it was a bit long, but since I felt it would engage the reader and that all the info was relevant I didn't worry about the length, though I know the "rule" is one page.

Wendy Tokunaga said...

Thanks, Steph, for coming by. I can't believe I've finally done it. :-)

Wendy Tokunaga said...

Thanks, Bethany! Actually, it didn't happen so quickly. Though I did get a lot of requests for fulls, and got a few "close calls" it still took probably about eight or nine months to get an offer. And this was the *fifth* novel I'd written (another long story!) But it did all end up working out well in the end. :-)

Trish Ryan said...

What a great query letter! And I love how you inserted your reasons for shaping the letter the way you did.

Welcome to the blogsphere!


Anonymous said...

Great Job, Wendy!
I love your new blog and the query letter. I can't wait to read your book.
Your chaptermate,

Wendy Tokunaga said...

Kim and Trish,

Thanks so much!

Mary Witzl said...

This really is useful, Wendy. Writers hoping to be published need to see a well-written query letter, and it is helpful to be taken through the nuts-and-bolts construction of that letter and hear why certain elements work and others don't.

Wendy Tokunaga said...

Thanks, Mary! Great to see you here.