A Tale of Two Queries
Hello! And welcome to the MOST EMBARRASSING blog post I have ever written. Why so embarrassing? Because I’m about to shine a giant spotlight on one of my greatest failures as a writer. YIKES.
I’ve talked about my query process before, but what I haven’t done is actually shared my own query letters. UNTIL NOW.
It’s important to note that both projects in these query letters are shelved. Neither of the books discussed in these queries are my debut - this was back before I geared my writing away from YA and toward Adult fiction. I also want to note that these two letters were written three years apart. The first is literally the first query letter I ever sent. (SHOCKER, it earned me a form rejection). The second example is the last one I ever sent - the query that ultimately got me my agent!
After sharing the letters, I’m going to outline what I think did and didn’t work in the two letters, and, to my understanding, why the first one was a resounding failure, and why the second one did the trick!
*Deep breath* okay. Let’s begin.
MY FIRST QUERY LETTER:
Ms. AGENT NAME HERE,
I am currently seeking representation for my upper YA fantasy novel, THE SEEKER. Complete at 77,000 words it is the first installment of the SHADOWSIGHT series. The sequel, THE SHADOWWEAVER is nearing completion, and the remainder of the saga is currently in outline form. Please find a brief summary below:
Radella is a sly and mistrustful loner, but not without reason. She possesses the power of the Sight, viewed throughout the Realms of Feardswic as a curse from the feared Goddess of Shadow. Her power is her greatest secret – if discovered, by the laws of the land her mere existence is a crime punishable by death. To scrape a living she works as a Seeker, using her Sight to find powerful objects and sell them to dubious buyers in the criminal underbelly of society.
When a mysterious Eastern Queen and her army begin to threaten the lands of the West, Radella finds herself tasked with a Search that may hold the key to the Queen’s downfall. The leaders of the West intend to use this key to return Feardswic to its old ways, but Radella has other plans. Armed with a sharp tongue, her trusty set of daggers and, of course, her darkest secret she may just have the means to change the fate of Feardswic for good – but first she must complete her Search.
I hold a Bachelors Degree in Communication with a focus on Public Speaking and Advertising. I currently work in higher education and am a first time novelist.
MY LAST QUERY LETTER:
Ms. AGENT NAME HERE,
I am currently seeking representation for my YA Fantasy novel, SKELETONS OF RUST, which is complete at 95,000 words. I believe it may appeal to readers of Victoria Aveyard's Red Queen or Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone.
SKELETONS OF RUST is the story of seventeen-year-old Teha Malcolm, an impetuous rebel with a gift for sarcasm who wants nothing more than to spit in the face of the Sovereign, the brutal tyrant threatening to crush her world beneath his perfectly shined boot.
Despite the strain of his harsh labor schedules and ever-shrinking rations, just about everyone Teha knows seems resigned to their bleak existence. In the interest of protecting her little sister from the wrath of their oh-so-fearless leader Teha tries her best to do the same, but when the unexpected resurgence of an ancient and deadly magic results in her sister's death there is nothing left to temper her rage.
Painted as a criminal and forced to go on the run, Teha has no choice but to embrace the dark power now churning within her in order to save her people from the Sovereign... but can she save them from herself?
Given your interest in dark stories involving betrayal, I believe this story may be a good fit for your list. Per the guidelines listed on the [AGENCY] website, please also find the first chapter of my manuscript pasted below my email signature. I sincerely thank you for your time and consideration, and wish you a wonderful day.
Alright, so there are a few main differences I noticed between my first letter and my last, ultimately successful one:
Pitching the whole series: Whoo boy. I was greeeeeeeen when I sent that first letter. As a newbie chilling in the slush pile, it’s never a good idea to pitch a whole damn series. That was something I didn’t learn until after I sent this letter, clearly.
Genre confusion: This story was DEFINITELY not YA. I mean, also, it was bad. But the characters were not teenagers. This was an adult fantasy. The fact that I didn’t know that was probably a GIANT red flag to every single agent I sent this mess to.
Unnecessary author bio: Probably didn’t kill me, but it definitely didn’t help me. Basically, unless you have an MFA or a degree that’s SUPER relevant to your story… might as well leave that out.
Overload of fictional terms: So many world-specific titles and terms! It’s tricky with SFF, I totally get it, but slimming things down to the basics would really have helped my case here.
Comps! Look at those comps in the second letter. Comps can be tricky, but they give the agent you’re querying an idea of the vibe you’re going for with your story, which can help set the stage for the project being pitched.
Voice! See how my voice was like, totally flat in the first query? The second letter isn’t perfect, but man, is it punchier!
Following the Rules! Always, always, always check the agency website and send each query individually following the submission rules to the letter! It’s worth it.
The Concept! I mean, we can’t ignore the fact that the concept I pitched the second time was just objectively stronger than the first one. Ultimately still not as strong as AMONG THIEVES, which finally landed me my first book deal, but way stronger than my first attempt.
There you have it! I hope you can learn from my mistakes here, and that my shame here can spare you from facing a similar level of embarrassment re: your future querying attempts. Happy querying!