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From Query to Agent:

Debut Author Neely Tubati Alexander’s Success Story


When COVID-19 struck, Neely Tubati Alexander lost half her business overnight. Rather than letting this setback discourage her, she turned to writing, a passion she had pursued sporadically for years. In her words,

[I] really started to write again as a form of self-care. I looked forward to, at the end of the day, locking myself in the guest room pretending I was at a hotel or a resort—somewhere else. I wrote, and it started to become the thing that I looked forward to at the end of the day.

Despite juggling business and family responsibilities, Neely made remarkable progress, completing her first novel in just eight months. However, her journey took an unexpected turn when she submitted her work to an admired editor and received what she describes as "scathing developmental edits." Determined not to let this define her writing process, she faced a critical decision: salvage the manuscript or apply her newfound knowledge to a fresh project. Choosing the latter, she began crafting what would eventually become Love Buzz, her first published novel.


In this post, we'll explore Neely's inspiring journey through the querying process, highlighting actionable steps that led her from a challenging manuscript to becoming a successful published author with a second book deal already in her pocket!


1. The Power of Research & Perspective


“When you think about an agent sitting down and reading maybe 15 queries in a row … you don't know what came before yours,” says Neely.


How exactly did Neely get started on the query process? Before sending off her letter, Neely invested time in identifying agents who were likely to be interested.


Seek the Right Fit

Aware that not every agent would resonate with her distinctive writing style and genre, Neely constructed a list of nearly 80 agents. She turned to tools like QueryTracker, explaining, “There are some really amazing reports ... if someone would request, you can pull a report that says, ‘These are the agents that request like this agent.’”


By adopting Neely's meticulous approach, aspiring authors can significantly enhance their odds of success. Take the time to curate a list of agents who are not only open to submissions but also genuinely interested in your genre and similar books. How can you find them? Use your comp titles to reverse engineer your search process. This targeted approach ensures that your work lands in the hands of those most likely to appreciate and champion your writing.


Personalize Your Letter

In addition to her meticulous agent selection process, Neely personalized her queries. She noted, “so the letter was 99% the same for everyone and then I personalized it in the first sentence.”


How exactly did she do that? She put in the research. She says,

My personalizations were very much around, ‘I saw your Manuscript Wish List and felt like this could be a good fit based on what you're looking for, or I read this article that you wrote.’ So I definitely try to show that I knew something about them or that there was a specific reason that I was querying them. Not just, ‘You’re one of 30.’ I did do the research in that regard. ‘What is the specific reason that I want to query this person?’ And making sure that they knew what that was.

When crafting your query, invest time in understanding the agent's interests and preferences. In your letter's opening, clearly convey why you've reached out to that specific agent.



2. Learning from Feedback


Like many new authors, Neely says she initially underestimated the query letter, assuming that agents would simply “skim it and go straight to the pages.” However, a pivotal moment came when an agent told her,

"I really liked the pages, but I just didn't get what I needed from the query."

She reflects on this as her “wake-up call,” realizing that she needed to put more effort into perfecting her query letter. Based on that feedback she says, “I definitely went through and cleaned it up. [I] made it shorter and much more precise.


Focus on the Summary

When asked what the most challenging part of refining her query letter was, Neely responded, “Probably that middle chunk that was about the summary of the book.” She acknowledged that this was a difficult task, saying, “It's really hard to condense your book into 400 words or less, but it forces us to say, ‘Okay, what are the most important things that someone needs to know?’” Neely ended up trimming about 150 words from her summary, enabling her to emphasize the key plot points of her story, effectively conveying its essence.


Keep your summary brief. Aim for the entire query letter to be a few hundred words, with the summary even shorter. Challenge yourself to condense your summary to around two hundred words, retaining its core elements. Setting such limits can yield surprisingly clear results.


Treat it Like Your Novel

Neely sums up the query letter revision process by saying,

I would say treat it like the pages, right? That you are going through an editing process, and revising, and that you treat it just like you do with the pages—crisp and as edited as possible.

Review and refine your query letter. Omit unrelated details and ensure every word serves its purpose. For example, unless pertinent, omit personal anecdotes or lengthy theme explanations. A focused, polished letter is more likely to captivate a literary agent.



3. The Fine Art of the Query Letter

Initially, Neely believed that the goal of her query letter was to, “shock or stop someone in their tracks.” However, after receiving the literary agent’s feedback, she began to recognize the importance of adhering to a more formulaic structure. She says the goal is, “To really be able to make it as clear as possible as quickly as possible.”


So what exactly is this formula?


Create a Memorable Introduction

Your letter should open professionally. Address the agent by name, signaling genuine interest in their expertise.


Define Your Book's Space

Identify your book's genre and provide relevant comparable books. As Neely advises,

Anytime you can say, ‘X meets X’—and people will immediately know what that is—it's super helpful.

This helps agents place the manuscript within the market and assess its commercial potential.


Captivate with a Succinct Summary

A concise yet captivating summary should pique an agent's interest. Neely emphasizes the need to summarize effectively without revealing too much.


Highlight Uniqueness

End by emphasizing what sets your manuscript apart. Neely suggests including information about the broader themes of the book and delivering a memorable closing pitch.


Conclusion


Neely's diligence paid off when her revised query caught the attention of one of the literary agents and eventually prompted a “revise and resubmit” request for her story. Based on that revision, she received an offer. However, she didn't stop at one success. Neely reached out to agents who hadn't responded previously, including the agent she eventually collaborated with. She stresses,

There is a world of reasons why someone doesn't respond immediately to a query.

She explains that agents often wait until there is an offer of representation—until someone else has vetted the work for them.


Neely's experience highlights that persistence pays. Despite a first failed manuscript, a failed query letter, and a revision laden second manuscript, by staying in the game, she was able to finally publish her debut novel, Love Buzz. Not only that, but Neely already has a deal for her second book, In a Not So Perfect World, coming out in March of 2024. In Neely’s words,

It really is about keeping on.

So what are you waiting for? Dust off that old query letter, polish it up, and get started today!



Find Neely’s publishing journey helpful? Learn more about her journey in “Identifying a Good Literary Agent: 3 Must-Have Qualities, with Author Neely Tubati-Alexander.


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