The Infamous Query Letter

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

  1. THEM

    THEM Registered User

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    Pete MC, I actually thought they were both pretty good (mind you, the second one is better). On the negative side - it sounded very cliched. But on the positive side - it automatically pressed many of the shortcut buttons that we all recognise in the fantasy genre (which is dreadfully cliched for the most part, but still good when it's done well), so I think there's no need to overexplain.

    If I picked up a book with that blurb, there's a fair chance I'd buy it.
     
  2. Rhiannon

    Rhiannon Registered User

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    Query Letter - YA Fantasy

    Hello, I've got a query letter to offer up. I'll be submitting in the UK market - I'm not sure if that significantly changes what needs to go into the query letter. Any help or criticism would be most welcomed.

    Dear [AGENT]:

    I am seeking representation for my young adult fantasy novel BELLADONNA which is complete at 52,000 words. I have enclosed the first three chapters and a synopsis. I have approached you regarding representation because [REASONS].

    One hot August day, a fractious young lady named Hazel escapes from her governess, raids an apple orchard, kisses a boy, and breaks a witch's window. The witch curses Hazel into servitude until she speaks her Name.

    Soon, Hazel is fetching water, scrubbing floors, and utterly ruining her fine hands. As she works, the witch tells tales of her otherworldly father, of the mortal man she loved and lost, of witch hunts and fairy revels. Hazel learns to see the witch not as a fiend, but perhaps as the mother she never had. When Hazel discovers her father is dying and the witch does not let her go to him, Hazel runs away to Faerie, desperate to learn the witch’s Name. Instead, she falls into the clutches of the Fairy Queen – the witch’s vengeful half-sister.

    I am a member of SCBWI British Isles, as well as the Oxford writing group Group 2012, organised in part by Blackwell’s Oxford. I discuss my writing and academic experiences on my personal blog.

    I would be thrilled if you would consider BELLADONNA for representation, and a few other agents are considering simultaneously. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Sincerely,

    [NAME]
     
  3. N. E. White

    N. E. White Moderator Staff Member

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    Hi Rhiannon,

    I'm not an agent, nor am I represented by one, so take my comments as the rantings of another internet yahoo. Regardless, I hope they are helpful. :)

    A good hook here. I like your opening paragraph. The agent has the genre, title, and size right up front. I'm sure you'll put something flattering for each agent you send this to in your [REASONS] clause.

    The second paragraph read well to me, too. Hazel went wild and now she's in trouble with a witch. Promises a lot of story. My only gripes are "fractious" does not endear me to Hazel, and the "Name" thing may be a little too vague. It might just be me, but maybe you should say something about what makes her "Name" special?

    My mind-tongue stumbled on "tells tales", might want to reword that. In terms of our two protags, Hazel and the witch, after reading this paragraph, I'm not sure which one I should be gunning for. Both? If that was your intention, then you did a good job. But you might want to give a reason why the witch doesn't let her go see her dying father. And it will have to be a good one, because you've set it up for us to get attached to the witch (as Hazel has). Also, you might want to give just a bit more hint as to how Hazel overcomes the Fairy Queen. Will the witch help her?

    Oh, by the way, is it Faerie or Fairy? I'm pretty sure I've seen it either/or, but not both. (shrug)

    I'm not sure this is relevant. I don't know about the U.K., but here in the states, I'm pretty sure most agents do not care what writing group one might belong to, unless, of course, it is some elite, exclusive group. However, if that was the case, a member of that group probably won't be looking for representation? Anyway, it might be better to include some publications here instead.

    I'm not too sure if I like the closing paragraph. On the one hand, you give the agent a bit of your personality by saying you'd be "thrilled", but at the same time you offer them sort of a threat by saying you are sending this to other agents. I'm not too sure if agents would find that annoying or not.

    In regards to your very last sentence, I've been cautioned not to use that line because it makes one sound presumptuous. (another shrug)

    Just my two cents worth. Good luck!
     
  4. theWallflower

    theWallflower Start judging

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    -Complete is implied. I might change this to say "...for BELLADONNA a 52,000-word YA fantasy novel...".
    -I'm hoping that those first three chapters and synopsis are not going on every query letter that goes out. All agents have different criteria and things they want to see. Some want first 3 chapters, some want first 50 pages, some want 10 pages, and so on.

    -I'm not familiar with the term "fractious". Is that commonly used in Britain? I had to look it up.
    -Right away, I'm seeing a problem. You have a laundry list of events, but no character, no problem, no stakes, and no obstacles. First, why does it matter that it's a hot August day? That seems irrelevant, and word conservation is key in a query. Why is Hazel escaping from her governess? Is that the central problem? What's the apple orchard for? Who's the boy? Is he a main character? How did the window break? There's no cohesion to these events, and that loses me as a reader.
    -Why is Name capitalized? Does it mean something other than a name? Otherwise, it sounds like assigning Importance to objects that aren't that important.

    -This tells me that being kidnapped by a witch is the central conflict of the story. So why did anything in that upper paragraph matter? A query needs to tell me A) who the protagonist is B) what problem/conflict the protagonist faces through the story and C) what obstacles the protagonist faces or what obstacles the protagonist faces.
    -Why do her fine hands matter? Is that part of her plot or character?
    -So... why didn't Hazel run away in the first place? If she goes to Faerie, she must be able to escape elsewhere too. Or at least seek help.
    -And then you close with a totally different event -- being kidnapped (again) by a Fairy Queen. What does this mean to her? What happens if she can't escape? She won't see her father again? She didn't seem to have cared that much when she ran away in the first place.
    -This query feels more like a summary. I think it should read more like back cover copy. It should intrigue me to read, to interest me with a compelling character, a strong, original conflict, and human relatability. I don't see any of that here.

    -I'm not from England, so this doesn't mean anything to me. I would say leave it out because it sounds like it's just a college writing group. An agent only really cares if you have anything published.

    -This line seems mostly as filler. An agent knows that you are sending to other agents simultaneously. Just say "Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon."
     
  5. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    I missed this one -- sorry about that. It looks good, though, except that I would suggest changing that one vague bit into: "The witch curses Hazel into servitude until she speaks the witch's true Name."

    I think a YA novel that's doing a take on Rumpelstilskin sounds terrific. I think you'll have some interest. And what Wallflower said is of course correct -- don't send chapters unless the agent takes query packets, but if you're a SCBWI member, I'm guessing you know that already. (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for those who are curious.)
     
  6. theWallflower

    theWallflower Start judging

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    This is a heavily revised version of one I did in January. Testing the waters again (pun intended).

    Dear [AGENT],

    Mermaids do not exist. No one knows that better than Gene, who's hustling out a living on the flooded Earth with salvage and courier jobs. He's traveled everywhere with his AI companion, Stitch, and never seen anything more majestic than a barnacle-covered whale. Until an honest-to-god mermaid gets stuck in his ship's exhaust port.

    She can't speak, so Gene smuggles her to Carl Rance, a scientist friend on one of the floating sea stations. He starts finding clues in her biology, but becomes obsessed with her beauty and mystery. Gene, too, must control his growing affection, which conflicts with his unfettered lifestyle.

    Before anyone solves her mystery, the station is attacked and destroyed. Gene narrowly escapes with the mermaid, but has to abandon the wrathful Rance, who accuses Gene of stealing.

    While crashed on a desert island, he and Stitch decipher her origin by teaching her to speak. But the return home involves diving into a world of more than just mermaids. And a secret that, in the wrong hands, could destroy the remainder of mankind.

    MERM-8 is an 86,000 word science-fiction novel set in the far future. I have been previously published in Electric Spec, Flash Me, and The Dunesteef, and received an honorable mention in the 2010 Writers of the Future contest.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Sincerely,
    [NAME]
     
  7. N. E. White

    N. E. White Moderator Staff Member

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    Hey theWallflower,

    I will give you a reader's take on your query. Remember, I'm trying to be helpful, so if I'm not, well, just ignore me. :D

    I liked the rest. For me, you just have to work a bit on the beginning, otherwise, well done! :)
     
  8. theWallflower

    theWallflower Start judging

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    Wow, I thought I had the beginning nailed. The last half was what I was having trouble with :)
     
  9. N. E. White

    N. E. White Moderator Staff Member

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    Well, that's just my opinion. Maybe KatG will notice us and chime in. :)
     
  10. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Sounds pretty good to me, actually. I would suggest changing "crashed on a desert island" -- which sounds weird with a mermaid -- to something like "While hiding on a desert island with a wrecked boat"

    There will be some question for agents, since it is a mermaid, as to whether it's futuristic fantasy or just post-apocalypse SF, which depends on the actual mermaid's origins, the big secret, etc. In the longer plot synopsis that you might be attaching to the query letter, you'd probably want to spell that out. You do indicate in the query letter, though, that it is a science fiction mermaid. Interest will likely not hinge on the basis anyway; it's simply clarification. Given that Kameron Hurley's God's War series is doing well and others like it, I think you'll likely get some interest.
     
  11. theWallflower

    theWallflower Start judging

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    How's this for an intro. I'm trying to better communicate setting. But I'm worried this one might be too wordy. Maybe I could try switching the first two sentences around.

    In the future, on the ever-expanding ocean, humanity is scattered to seaplexes -- sea stations glutted with poverty, commercialism, and organized crime.

    Gene is a freelancer with a ship, hustling salvage and smuggling jobs. And no one to worry about, but his AI companion, Stitch. So when an honest-to-god mermaid swims into his exhaust port, he gets a responsibility he doesn't know how to deal with.

    ...

    Here are some other intros I've worked with. Does anything jump out at you?

    Gene has made a comfortable living on the flooded Earth, hustling salvage and smuggling jobs, and no one to worry about, but his AI companion, Stitch. So when an honest-to-god mermaid gets stuck in his ship's exhaust port, he gets a responsibility he doesn't know how to deal with.
    ________________________________________
    Gene is a freelance cargo runner living on the flooded Earth. But when he finds a mermaid in his ship's vent, he must discover her origins and outrun the mafia, in order to return her home.
    ________________________________________
    In the future, the Earth has flooded, humanity is scattered on the ever-expanding ocean, and sea stations are gluts of poverty, commercialism, and organized crime. Gene does his best by scrounging up a living with salvage and smuggling jobs. When a mermaid gets stuck in his ship, Gene has to figure out her why's and how's, while protecting her from mafia, the world, and his best friend.
    ________________________________________
    Gene has discovered a mermaid in his ship's vent. She can't speak, so he doesn't know how she got there or how she could even exist. But he's got to do something with her, so he smuggles her to Carl Rance...
    ________________________________________
    It's an old story -- the sailor finds a mermaid and falls in love. It usually doesn't happen in the future, when the Earth is an ever-expanding ocean, and humanity is scattered on sea stations which are gluts of poverty, commercialism, and organized crime.

    Gene is a freelance cargo runner living with no one to worry about but his AI companion, Stitch. So when an honest-to-god mermaid gets stuck in his ship, he smuggles her to Carl Rance, a scientist friend...
    ________________________________________
     
  12. N. E. White

    N. E. White Moderator Staff Member

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    I like this one.
     
  13. CharlotteAshley

    CharlotteAshley Registered User

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    I'm on the brink of querying some agents (and one publisher), so I could use the fine skills of you folk... My biggest problem is my book's lame title, but the rest of the query is in pretty dire straights too...

    Dear [AGENT/PUBLISHER],

    Thank you for considering my novel, SEEDS OF STRIFE. It is a completed 83,000-word YA Fantasy novel with a unique setting, iconic characters and a strong social conscience.

    It begins with a plant. It begins with Baz.

    For generations, Raina Ratherham's people have cultivated Baz, eating its seeds and tapping the power that lies in the kernel. Once, only talented casters like Raina's father, uncle and sister could draw out and shape that power. Then Bazza Jo changed everything. His Baz is cheap, fun, and easy to cast. Now everyone in every corner of the Empire is a caster, and Bazza Jo supplies Baz to all of them.

    Not much of a caster herself, Raina has always taken Bazza Jo's presence in their life for granted. When her flamboyant, Bazza-casting uncle Septimus decides to come settle in their little frontier town, Raina catches her first glimpse of a world outside Bazza Jo's influence. When the latest crop from Headquarters triggers a fight between her father and his friend Marko - a settled native of the forest-dwelling Kreel people – Raina sees a world where the power of Baz is totally unknown, and unwanted.

    Raina befriends Kal, the young Kreel leader of the East Wood, and together they uncover an escalating conflict between the people of the town and the people of the forest. A mysterious new Kreel leader has been organizing a resistance to the Baz farms encroaching on the forest, and Bazza Jo has responded by sending powerful casters with new, dangerous Baz at their disposal to quell the resistance. The skirmishes between field and forest grow ever-more deadly as opportunists on both sides turn the frontier town into the stage for a power struggle with consequences across the Empire.

    Raina is just as fiercely loyal to her friends in the woods as she is to her family in the town. Caught between field and forest, casters and warriors, farmers and hunters, Raina is determined to lead her friends in a stand against both sides to protect the people of both worlds.

    I am a long-time book blogger and freelance writer. My articles have appeared in the journal Amphora, the letters of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, and on the CBC Books blog. My blog articles have been picked up by the Huffington Post and are cited as research tools at various colleges and universities throughout North America. SEEDS OF STRIFE is my first full-length novel. I have attached my first [SAMPLE SIZE AS REQUESTED] below.

    I hope to hear from you,
     
  14. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Okay, not bad. Seeds of Strife is a good series title. For the first book, though, I agree you probably want a different working title. (I'm assuming this is a trilogy or some such, but if not, I do think you want a different title -- the one you have sounds a bit too non-fiction maybe.

    You do not have a unique setting or iconic characters. (Nobody does.) You do have a very fun magic system. The social conscience element is first off expected in YA and second evident in the novel description. So I'd suggest deleting this sentence.

    The description of the plot is clear and concise. I believe it will interest them. However, you don't say what powers the Baz exactly gives the farmer/casters of the Empire. And since those powers are both instrumental in the society and in the war with the forest people, that's going to be a main question they want to know. Does Baz let you do nearly anything -- change matter, fly, shoot fire? How is the dangerous new Baz different from the old? So you're going to have to work in an explanation in there so they know what they're dealing with.

    You also need to specify if Markos and Kal are female, male or other, and probably indicate if Kal is a love interest for Raina (male or female or other.) If the forest people are a different species from the farmers, or if the farmers are different from humans, you may need to get in some details there.

    On your bio, you may want to simplify this and just state that you are a blogger and freelance writer whose work has been published in the journal Amphora, the Huffington Post, the letters of the Bibliography Society of Canada and the CBC Books blog, among other places. The citing reference is not going to make a lot of sense to them, especially as it gives no indication of why you would be cited. My guess is that you are some sort of expert in education, library sciences, research policy or related field, so you should probably just give that, if it's your day job or a field in which you also work in addition to freelance writing. If you are a biologist or agricultural specialist of some sort, you might want to mention that. They won't care that universities use stuff you wrote for research, but they are mildly interested in professional jobs, especially if they are related to material in the book or are writing and editing based, such as teachers, journalists, researchers, non-fiction book writer, etc. -- things where you are teaching writing or others have assessed your writing and found it good. If Amphora is a fiction journal and the piece was a short story, you should differentiate it from any non-fiction credits, along with any other fiction publication credits you may have.
     
  15. CharlotteAshley

    CharlotteAshley Registered User

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    Thank you, Kat! Amazing help. :D Thanks for calling out that first sentence - it's there as fluff and nothing else. I'll see if I can put something more substantial in! Off for the re-write...
     
  16. Andrew Leon Hudson

    Andrew Leon Hudson sf-icionado / horror-ator

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    I'll post a draft query letter here shortly, but I wonder if someone can advise me regarding this:

    I'm writing in Word, TimesNR 12pt, but just a standard word doc page format. Are they asking me for whatever I consider to be twenty pages, or should I be reformatting to approximate a published page of text (which I guess is about half the word count)?

    EDIT: They have requested embedded text, no attachments, so I will just be pasting in "a quantity" of text...
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2013
  17. CharlotteAshley

    CharlotteAshley Registered User

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    They usually mean 20 pages of a properly-formatted manuscript, which is Word, TNR, 12pt *AND* double spaced.

    Good luck! :D

    Charlotte
     
  18. Andrew Leon Hudson

    Andrew Leon Hudson sf-icionado / horror-ator

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    Thanks, Charlotte!

    So, with the above quote in mind, here is a short synopsis of the novella (possibly/probably novel) I intend to submit to Musa's The Darkside Chronicles. It runs to about 350 words. Basic story feedback would be great, but mainly what I need to know is whether it works as query letter content: is it clear, is it too long, whatever reactions y'all might have.

    - - -
    The Glass Sealing

    Arthur Singleton was a rising star of Southwatch’s engineering community until he crossed paths with the Duville family. Winning a private commission from one of the city’s most successful businessmen should have made his name, but instead of embracing the future--automated industry--Singleton proves to be regressive, hiring workers made unemployed by his patron’s allies. Singleton grows ever more supportive of the workers’ plight, but when he attracts the attention of Duville’s eligible daughter his superiors demand action. Singleton’s reputation is ruined and, cast out from polite society, he disappears into the masses beneath the dark cloud...

    Five years later, Jocelyn Duville has inherited her father’s mantel but not the respect he enjoyed. Being a mere woman, none of her peers take her seriously, but few would deny that, under her leadership, the family’s business flourishes like never before. As her personal stock rises in value she is invited to join a most exclusive club, one in which decisions that truly shape the city are made. Jocelyn has risen beyond her class, but her new goal is as ambitious as it is unthinkable: to literally divide the city with a huge glass ceiling, forever separating the rich from the toxic filth--and social inferiors--building up beneath them.

    After years of labouring in the depths of the city, Singleton has become a figure of quiet authority in the workers movement. However, influenced by seditious forces within Southwatch’s underworld, the movement has grown increasingly radicalised and news of Jocelyn’s plans to forever separate the rich and poor is the final straw--for the workers in general, and for Singleton in particular. Her project must be stopped, even if it means tearing down the entire city; but they’ll need an engineer to do it. It seems the time of Singleton’s revenge has come.

    In a story that will speak directly to anyone stirred by the popular protests of the Occupy movement, The Glass Sealing takes all the social unrest of the industrial revolution and transforms it into an epic struggle between the haves and have-nots, played out as only Steampunk could allow.
    - - -

    Thanks very much!
     
  19. N. E. White

    N. E. White Moderator Staff Member

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    Nou, I don't have time to read through this properly, but I think you are getting the query letter synop mixed up with the full synop. They are requesting a standard query letter (which usually has a one to two paragraph synop in the body of the query letter) and a full synop (which is usually anywhere from 2 to 4 pages long or about 1,000 to 2,000 words - I think). Your query letter should be: intro, book synop (very brief, again if you can do it one paragraph or two that would be ideal), then your publication history (if you have it). Did you mean for the above to be included in your query letter?
     
  20. Andrew Leon Hudson

    Andrew Leon Hudson sf-icionado / horror-ator

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    Okay, thanks for that tmso. Everyone else can skip it if they want, I'll do a much shortened version and post that for feedback instead.