The Infamous Query Letter

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Abby, Oct 15, 2004.

  1. Abby

    Abby enslaved to my writing

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    Yup, the focus is on character. I've had a few people advise me to use a different pitch for different editors and agents. If they're looking for character-oriented stories, I could use my more character-oriented synopsis. If they want plot and premise, I'll have one for that.

    I wish I could go in-depth into my story, but the summary has got to fit in a query letter, dagnammit.
     
  2. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    And just how are you going to figure out whether they like character or plot better exactly?

    Editors and agents do have personal preferences of what they like in a story. One editor, for instance, may be very into military sf and have handled a lot of those. An agent may really dislike time travel stories and turn down those unless the agent thinks it's really well-done. But the degree to which those likes and dislikes impact their interest varies widely, and they are unlikely to tell you, most of the time, what they actually do and do not like.

    Regardless, while I know it's very popular to talk about character-oriented and plot-oriented fiction as if they were two separate beings, the reality is that character and plot are hopelessly intertwined. Therefore, you talk character and what happens to the main characters in the plot (i.e. both.) If you start talking about plot, as if the characters are secondary, then what happens is what we saw with Abby's other brief descriptions -- focus on the world-building (which to most editors and agents is very boring,) and increasingly vague statements about the plot action that don't provide much info. Even if your characters are there just for fun rather than fully-fleshed out creatures, they still drive the action of the plot and the plot causes characters to make choices in reaction. And tailoring pitches is -- well I won't say don't do it -- but most editors and agents are not going to be swayed by the style of your pitch, which is something I've brought up before.
     
  3. Abby

    Abby enslaved to my writing

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    Very good point. I wondered that myself. :)

    I want to thank everyone here who helped me with my query letter. It worked! I've had an agent request the first three chapters and synopsis. This is the first time this has happened for me, and even if the agent doesn't request the entire manuscript, I feel a lot better about my query letter.

    Here's the pitch I used:
    Slaves to the New World is about a conflict between the Torth--an emotionless, totalitarian society of telepaths--and their brutally oppressed, non-telepathic slaves. At the heart of this conflict is Thomas Hill, a mind reader who lives in present-day America and believes himself unique in his ability. When he learns of his otherworldly Torth heritage, he is torn between a desire to join the godlike Torth, or to remain loyal to his human friends, who are targeted by the Torth for slavery and death.

    Thanks again! I've posted my report about the World Fantasy Convention in my blog, at http://www.abbygoldsmith.com/blog/
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2004
  4. Expendable

    Expendable infomaniac

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    Yaaaaaaay! You go girl! ^__^

    And I'm one step closer to finally getting my hands on your book! Mmmmm! :p :D

    -Ex.
     
  5. MrBF1V3

    MrBF1V3 aka. Stephen B5 Jones

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    Congrats, I think the first was the best, mostly because you start out with their statement about wanting character driven stories, then you start by explaining the character.
    If you want to make sure they understand this isn't a YA story, say so, use modifiers like "gritty", "violent", "adult", (better yet, goto the horror section and borrow some of their words).
    Just a thought.
    B5
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2004
  6. Abby

    Abby enslaved to my writing

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    Thanks. :) I'm still waiting to hear from the agent . . . still trying not to get my hopes too high . . . and still struggling with restructuring the book to make it fit a good sales model.
     
  7. BrianC

    BrianC bmalone.blogspot.com

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    The (promised) Query Letter Post

    So here it is, sharpen your barbs!

    Yikes, now that I read it again after a few weeks, hmm, it just doesn't seem to sparkle. So here's what I think I will definitely change: delete "set in an imaginary world" as duplicative of 'fantasy'; drop the entire paragraph about the next project as ill-considered; and add more about the relationship between Caladon and Feah.
     
  8. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    Here is one of mine, I am in two minds whether to include the blurb about "Seven Threads" now that is out of print, so I left it out of this one. When I include it, it makes it a two pager letter....

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I attach herewith the synopsis and first one hundred pages of my novel, Oracle, for your consideration.

    Pugh Avinguard is a career militia officer, and has been ordered to protect a member of Timeholm’s High Forum, one Joshua Calvinward. Train crashes, riots and a terrorist shooting at the High Forum building are just some of the events Pugh faces while doing this duty. But it is the scheming of a small religious order, “The Inner Ring,” that brings Pugh’s personal past crashing into his present, with tumultuous repercussions, both for Pugh and all around him.

    At the centre of the maelstrom engulfing Pugh, is Oracle, an autistic Cassandra, unaware of the stuttered words flowing from their mouth. A person turned into an “it”, a Glimpser.

    I am a fifty-one year-old mother of two. I have a love of history and reading. I work part time as an Admin Clerk for the local council, and split my spare time between my home, family and my passion for writing.

    As to my previous publications;

    My short story, “Death Won’t Be Cheated”, was accepted for the third issue of the award-winning magazine, Event Horizon by Mam-Tor Publishing.(The magazine was recently voted Best Graphic Novel of 2006 by the London International Festival of Science Fiction and Film)

    My flash fiction story “Aftermath”, was published in the first edition of the Australian Anthology, FlashSpec. This book has been reviewed by Horrorscope; the following is an extract of that review;
    “'Aftermath' by ######### is a well-constructed meditation on beauty and survival in a post-apocalyptic world.”


    Yours Faithfully



    ##########
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2006
  9. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Well I now know a bit more about both of these books, but the letters are both not at all what I would recommend. I have to work today, but I'll try to do comments this weekend, and some general query letter info.
     
  10. Ranke Lidyek

    Ranke Lidyek Guest

    Brian's query

    Brian C,
    I like the synopsis in that it seems to indicate that you know your way around a plot (Cenith's betrayal). As for a query, I'm not certain. Feel free to email me later on with questions as I'll think this one over. The one thing I do feel you should add is a sort of comparison of two books that might relay the "feel" of your novel, the atmosphere.
    And perhaps what separates it from other fantasies as well.
    I think the main thing is that if you send anything out, make sure that opening sings. If you can keep them baited past the first 25 words, you have a chance.
    From what I've read on your blog (excerpts), I think you have definite talent.
    Don't give up and keep writing!
     
  11. Ranke Lidyek

    Ranke Lidyek Guest

    query letter: Her Dress is Darkness

    Here's my latest version of a query. I'm not sure if it's much good, but hopefully it can serve as an example in one way or another (probably another... lol).
    Here goes:

    Dear _____,
    Please consider my fantasy novel, Her Dress is Darkness (93,000 words).

    From a windswept tower above the Nyghtmear, a forgotten power gathers, hungering for children in another land. There, love will plunge a boy named Walter into darkness to save a little girl's soul. Terrible secrets lurk in Enheas, a place of magic and Making, a place rooted in Walter's own forgotten bloodline, endangering his very being, positioning him as an unwilling pawn in a game of the gods below. Walter will need strength beyond imagining to keep his promise: a promise he knows will thrust him in the midst of a harrowing descent. Unspeakable horrors will suffocate his spirit and only Walter's love for Lydia can grant him the will he needs to face the Pale Queen of the Unborn. In the world of Temeres, nothing is as it seems. Dead gods stir in the Groves of the Deep, preparing for a return to the world of light, while an eleven year old boy, a wooden knight, a glass dragon, and an ancient warrior strive to protect what remains of innocence.

    Author information: The new SF novel I am working on (On Raven's Wings under the name, Ranke Lidyek) won an editor's choice award on www.onlinewritingworkshop.com, and I also run an online critique group (Mystic Oasis) for fantasy writers. I have completed several scripts and another novel. I compose music, play guitar and piano, and create art with far too much frequency. Thirty years old, I served six years on a naval submarine and currently work as a senior supervisor for a New England power company.

    The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response. Further information and artwork are available on the website for this novel and the ones to follow: www.darkwoodchronicles.com
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2006
  12. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Okay, okay, I better take a stab at some of this before there's a hundred of these things! Ranke, I don't know that your query letter is going to work either. The following are suggestions and don't have to be followed if you don't want to; just my two cents.

    General Recomendations:

    1) Don't use superlatives or quality descriptors such as alternative, edgy, subversive, unique, different, revolutionary, traditional, innovative, etc. They won't buy it, and more importantly, these terms convey no useful information whatsoever.

    2) Don't try to show how your novel is new or different from other fantasies or sf novels. You are not selling laundry detergent. You aren't even selling a non-fiction book, which would require you to show how your book was better and different from other similar non-fiction books out there. You are selling a fiction book and the other fiction books out there don't matter. You are not in competition with them. Further, your novel is NOT new or different. It's just a particular flavor of story and even the lowliest editorial assistant probably knows better where it fits in the market than you do. (That doesn't mean that you don't have a unique voice/style and approach/vision to your story, just that you haven't come up with a new type of story or sff story.)

    3) The important thing you have to offer is your story and the information they are looking for about your story is clarity and emotional content primarily. You have to have enough detail for them to follow what in the world you're doing, and you have to give them emotional information about what you've put together.

    4) To convey emotional information, don't use vague descriptors, like that the book is about love, hate, war, etc. These are big subjects and could involve any number of things. Details specifically about your characters and their situation are better for description.

    5) Don't hide the end of your story. This is not cover copy. If you don't tell them the end, they aren't going to be able to guess it, which means they lose interest and move on to the next query letter. The more you obsfucate your description, the less interest you're likely to generate. You are not seducing, you are not teasing. You are not making a marketing pitch. You are presenting.

    6) Don't just list plot details. If you're going to bring them up, you're probably going to have to explain why they are significant.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2006
  13. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Again, these are suggestions. The forceful tone is because it's late at night here. :)

    Brian's Query:

    Brian has a very tidy description of his story's plot. Unfortunately, it's not a very informative one. Essentially, the story seems to be about two brothers going at it with swords. Maybe. There's one brother and he goes off somewhere, and the other brother switches sides for some reason. The other brother comes back, loses his girlfriend, and, well, does something I guess, but I have no clue what it is. I'm rooting for releases man-eating tigers in the castle.

    The story is about Cenith and Caladon and Feah -- who they are, what they go through, how they feel about it and how they inter-relate. So what we need to know is at least the following:

    1) Who perhaps are these barbarians and why are they attacking the city? Okay, we can guess why they may be attacking -- loot -- but it would be useful to know just what sort of threat these folk are facing.

    2) What sort of relationship do the two brothers have?

    3) Why does Caladon decide to take up the quest for the sword? What's the sword suppose to do? (And is the queen his mom?)

    4) What particular events on the quest impact on Caladon the most? What happens to cause him to conclude the quest is a dead bust?

    5) How for goodness sake does Cenith end up the being the bad guy? Was he always the bad guy? Did he develop a mental illness? Become bewitched? What happens to the man?

    6) Did Caladon know Feah before the quest, or only after when he returned? Does she help him in some way? How and why did they fall in love?

    7) What does Caladon do when Feah is assassinated? What happens to both brothers?

    You might say that you can't possibly work all that in, but it's definitely possible to do so. You can even work in a little of the central theme of the story, if you happen to know what it is.

    Other Bits:

    "I am writing to ask that you consider undertaking representation of my debut novel, RoseThorn, a 158,000 word fantasy set in an imagined world."

    This is a bit awkwardly worded. You're writing them to consider reading the manuscript; representation comes later. RoseThorn is an epic fantasy novel.

    "I am also seeking representation for my next project, currently in the planning stage, a contemporary fantasy duology. The first volume of the duology will be titled Ghost, Ghoul, Goblin, Witch, and the second volume Demon, Devil, Dragon, Warlock."

    Cut this. However, if RoseThorn is the first in a proposed series, you can mention that.
     
  14. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Holbrook's Query:

    I've read the very beginning of Oracle, and the Oracle of the title is quite cool. But Holbrook doesn't talk a lot about it and seems to think we already know what an Oracle would entail. Who turns an Oracle into an Oracle and why? What's a Glimpser? In the text, the Oracle is "it," but physically what do they look like -- men, women, neuter adrogynines or not human at all? How does the particular Oracle play a role in Pugh's story?

    The story seems to take place in an imaginary realm. But Holbrook mentions trains and guns, so it's a post-industrial imaginary realm. That means she has to explain the nature of the realm -- how it is set-up, since it could be designed in any number of ways. Maybe they have computers. Maybe they still use swords. We don't know.

    She mentions things that Pugh has to deal with -- why are these important? What's a High Forum?

    What does the Inner Ring scheme?

    What is in Pugh's past that becomes a problem, and how does it do so? What are the tumultuous repercussions?

    Other Bits:

    "I am a fifty-one year-old mother of two. I have a love of history and reading. I work part time as an Admin Clerk for the local council, and split my spare time between my home, family and my passion for writing."

    They don't care. Cut all this. You can say that you work in political administration or for your local council, if you like, and that it is part-time is unimportant.

    "As to my previous publications;

    My short story, “Death Won’t Be Cheated”, was accepted for the third issue of the award-winning magazine, Event Horizon by Mam-Tor Publishing.(The magazine was recently voted Best Graphic Novel of 2006 by the London International Festival of Science Fiction and Film)

    My flash fiction story “Aftermath”, was published in the first edition of the Australian Anthology, FlashSpec. This book has been reviewed by Horrorscope; the following is an extract of that review;
    “'Aftermath' by ######### is a well-constructed meditation on beauty and survival in a post-apocalyptic world.”"

    How about instead: "I am currently the fiction editor for the award-winning graphic literary magazine Event Horizon, and have published stories in that publication and in the Australian anthology FlashSpec."

    It's more concise and gives you more room for plot description. If you really want to show them the review of the story, I would suggest attaching it separately to the query letter. Now correct me here, but didn't you and HE also self-publish or have out from a small press a short story collection?

    More my sticking my nose into things when I can manage it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2006
  15. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    Thanks KatG, a lot to work on...

    As to Seven Threads,(Mine and Dan's super effort ;) ) I was unsure of whether to put it in as it is out of print. I took it out of the sample I posted. Easy enough to drop back in.

    Oh Ranke, the first 3000 words of Oracle won the editor's choice on onlinewritingworkshop back in March 2004, small world eh? Took me 12 months, though, before I could get the whole story to jell.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2006
  16. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    OK, second go, though much of the info about the story is most of the one page synopsis.


    Dear (Agent/publisher of choice)


    I attach herewith the synopsis and first one hundred pages of my novel, Oracle, for your consideration.

    In an ancient and mystical world glimpses of possible futures can only be seen by a Glimpser. A Glimpser is not born it is made, by the pseudo-scientific actions of a religious sect, the Inner Ring. This sect is bent on bringing the Goddess’ prophet, the Seer, back, to lead them into an era of secular power. Oracle is one such Glimpser, an autistic Cassandra

    The maelstrom that exists in Oracle’s mind is mirrored in its world, for it is in the grip of an industrial revolution. Steam power is now king; trains criss-cross the land, huge smoking factories tower over once sleepy towns. The governing body, the High Forum, is under attack from within. The rigid class system, once the glue that held Timeholm society together is being challenged by a bill before the legislature

    Oracle’s arrival at a train station set in motion a series of events that plunge Captain Pugh Avinguard into the heart of these turbulent times. Pugh has been charged with the protection of a member of the High Forum, one Joshua Calvinward. Train crashes, riots, a terrorist shooting at the High Forum building ensue and the murder of Joshua at his moment of triumph on the floor of the High Forum, all seem set to plunge Timeholm into chaos.

    Laced through this is Pugh’s personal horror, the person Oracle once was, was his wife, who by a twist of fate is partly restored to him, yet in the wings the Inner Ring are waiting, to claim her. Pugh is forced to act when she is kidnapped, rescuing her and bringing down the Inner Ring. Together Pugh and Oracle will live to see the implementation of the law that Joshua worked to bring into existence, empowering the bond contract workers, who lie at the heart of Timeholm’s industrial progress.

    I am currently the prose submission editor for the award-winning graphic literary magazine Event Horizon, published by Mam-Tor and have published stories in that publication and in the Australian anthology FlashSpec." I am also the co-author, with ######, of the short story anthology, Seven Threads, published by EQ books.

    Yours...
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2006
  17. BrianC

    BrianC bmalone.blogspot.com

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    Man, it was easier to write the book! Okay, I'll work on it when I get back; I have sixteen agents that I want to query.

    BTW, hello all from World Fantasy. Last night was a blast. Now I'll how ling I can stay awake today. Sue, I told Hal that you said 'hello.'
     
  18. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    If you were with Hal, Brian, I am surprised you are awake and functioning at all lol.
     
  19. Ranke Lidyek

    Ranke Lidyek Guest

    Kat G

    Kat G
    Thanks for the feedback. While I agree with your comments, I'm not sure where I put "edgy", different, etc (or superlatives, for that matter) in the query. To put superlatives on one's own writing is the mark of an amateur. The novel should speak for itself. And my query is rather straightforward. Word count and paragraph describing the general story elements.

    What I wrote prior was a response to Brian, not a query. My query (which I'm not fond of, I admit) just gives a taste of the book.

    There is some confusion out there between a synopsis (which I have... they tend to ask a page for every 10k of a novel) that details the plot points and the paragraph summary which I've seen more drawn out as a teaser.

    That said, the queries most effective tend to be simply written "what if" versions. They usually lead in with a "what would you do" and go from there. At the heart, many stories are very simple, but it is the execution that makes something resonate.

    I think it's hard to condense one's own work because we see all the subtext beneath and have a hard time separating it from the bones of the plot. The trouble is that bones are often dry, even if impeccably constructed.

    In general, your comments are good guidelines. One should just get to it. The quick paragraph pitch. The author information (if it applies to the novel), and sometimes marketing (mainly for agents). Though I think it's best to keep the synopsis separate from the query. My feeling when sending to editors is to just say, Please consider.... and let them read the manuscript. If the opening catches them, you don't need to bother with the rest. Agents care more about queries than editors.
    And agents are often more difficult to attain because they are "guessing" at what editors are looking for, rather than looking themselves.

    Thanks again!
     
  20. Ranke Lidyek

    Ranke Lidyek Guest

    also... comparisons in queries

    It's often a good idea to take two novels that, when melded, have something of the flavor of your novel. I think that can help a person understand where you are coming from more than any description.
    A reader a while ago mentioned that my novel was a fantasy, but without the traditional elements. He said "it was as if Edgar Allen Poe had written the Chronicles of Narnia"... which was an interesting description. I thought it captured some of the feel of the book. There is something of a lovecraftian undertone to the whole thing.... something decaying beneath the mythic elements. Though the style, an editor mentioned, was baroque. This surprised me as I thought I had written it in a more straightforward manner (which is a bit of a departure for me as a writer)

    It's interesting in that I think many writers change their voice to fit the story and it's not wholly calculated as much as it is just the method of extraction. I think most stories are buried things... already there. And we just try to exhume the fossil as well as we can, keeping the bones intact and (hopefully) removing as much dirt as possible.

    While I'm still polishing (and dusting), I do think the bones are in place at least.

    One thing I feel is that many good writers need persistence and luck. Believe in your story and keep pushing, but also keep writing. Sometimes people don't see what you think they do in your work. Until that one other piece (maybe something you aren't as enamored with) catches their attention and they suddenly "click". Then the rest falls into place. A person recently told me that what I write, because of the layers... will probably be enjoyed more by SF readers who like to think about things and analyze, rather than the traditional fantasy audience. It's interesting in that something I've been writing for myself... which is far more obtuse and difficult... and something I purposefully just made to tread on all the "don'ts" of critique groups (something very contrarian by nature) has gotten a hugely positive response.

    I didn't understand it until that person said that. The new piece was SF (though really a mix of fantasy as well). So, readers came in right away knowing it might take more work from their end. And it should because in this story you have to question what the main character really sees. Many apparent metaphors are actually very real in this world... and it's a study in the mechanism of perception and reality.

    So, while the writing is absolutely different from the fantasy novel I'm shopping (and more difficult, I feel), I am getting people who are willing to go where it takes them right off. Whereas, with fantasy, the modern trend has been to make things so matter-of-fact that you lose the sense of wonder and discovery... people have less willingness to let things unfold naturally.

    Which comes to another point. Published authors can get away with far more than unpublished because they've already earned that reader trust. So, while YOU know that you are going to answer the questions on the mind, most readers when parsing snippets of the story don't know the whole framework of the narrative. And many readers like to shut off the brain rather than engage it (nothing wrong with that, either!).

    So, there is a matter of the right audience for your writing. Just believe that there are other people out there who savor what you want to examine. A very small percentage of people buy even the bestsellers. I just try to write for people like me... people who like a bit of mystery and like to explore concepts with intriguing (though pretty flawed) characters. So, even if nothing ever comes of it. I can be proud if I get to the point where I feel it is the best that particular story can be. Meanwhile, I can move on to another delusion and start digging. That's what is so fun about writing, anyway. That purity of initial discovery. That turn the story takes that you didn't expect, and that character who won't let go and grabs you by the throat and does it his/her way.

    Faith is what counts... Keep writing and keep believing. Writing is worthwhile in itself.... without the external classifications, I feel. Enjoy it.