1. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    First Query Letter to Critique

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Thomas Kitchen, Sep 19, 2013.

    Hi all,

    I am (hopefully!) sending out three query letters today, and I'm hoping you can have a look at one of them. There is one thing I am unsure of: do I say "I am querying multiple agents" or state exactly how many other agents I am querying (two, in this case)? Anyway, please have a read, and tell me what you think. Cheers. :)

    *​
    Dear Ms X:
    What would you do if a microchip was implanted into the back of your head? Freak out? Scratch it off? Use it to be a better person? These are all viable options for eighteen year-old Adam Grath, but when he’s also trying to balance a new life in outer space, things seem to be getting a little out of hand…
    My name is Thomas Kitchen, I am from the United Kingdom, and I am seeking representation for my approximately 80,000 word young adult science-fiction novel, Craft: Aftermath. The preferred age group would be for young teenagers and above. I am approaching you because your agency specialises in children’s and young adult books, and I believe my manuscript has everything you are looking for – namely, a strong concept that can convey a range of emotions.
    I am a university student from Carmarthen, Wales, currently studying for my Creative Writing degree. I am querying multiple agents.

    [Synopsis goes here]

    [First five pages here - they specifically asked for it in the body of the email]

    Sincerely,

    Thomas Kitchen
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    do not mention who or how many you are querying... it's a given that you wouldn't be querying only one agent...

    and asking questions in a query is a major no-no... also, telling your name and location makes no sense, because it will be in your letterhead/contact info and you'll be signing the letter with your name, as well...

    drop 'approximately'... it's also a given that word count given is never exact... and 'preferred' since if you haven't targeted your book for a specific market, you should have... how far 'above' young teenagers are you referring to?... that could include adults... if it's for the YA market, just say so... if only for the lower range of the YA market, you can say that...

    and don't say anything about yourself if you don't have relevant paid credits, or don't have experience in some field that's relevant to the book's content... especially don't say you're a student...

    you need to study up on how to write a good query... didn't i send you a raft of tips on the issue?
     
  3. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Hi Maia,

    Thanks for your comments. As for telling my location, it was specifically asked that I mention it in the query, but of course I can drop my name. They also asked for a bio, and I have no idea what to say about myself otherwise. This is what they actually say, "brief bio with details of any writing background you have." Do I instead take that to mean I don't mention myself unless I have credentials?

    Anyway, many thanks for the other comments. :)
     
  4. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    Hi Thomas,

    I agree with mamma don't mention the multiple queries. This can be a turn off for agents.

    Use specifics: forgo preferred... and above. Tell them you know your target audience is youth 11 to 14 for example.

    Be assertive: scrath out I believe and go straight to the point My manuscript...

    mamma is once again right. Unless the agent submission notes demands to know about you specifically i.e. credentials I would keep to mamma's advice and not mention anything about yourself. After all, it's not you you are trying to sell it's your book.

    Keep it simple, clean and assertive.

    Best of luck.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    No no no, is my first reaction. I agree, stating your name and place you're from makes no sense because, firstly, who cares at this stage, and secondly, it's going to be in your letterhead and signature. It's a waste of words. I also agree with dropping "approximately" - it is expected that you should round your word count up or down in any case. "The preferred age group would be for young teenagers and above" - you sound awfully unsure, and you're querying a children's and YA agent, that's not good. Just say "YA" - right now you sound like you're not actually sure you've written a YA novel whilst querying a YA agent.

    "namely, a strong concept that can convey a range of emotions" - drop this, or be more specific. What emotions? These are what agents call "buzz words" - eg. words and phrases that are meant to stir up a reaction but without actually telling you anything at all. From everything I've read on query shark and other samples, this is the kind of thing every agent seems to hate. It's basically a lot of words that neither says anything, nor does it stir any sort of emotional response. You might as well have told me "We need to breathe to survive." It's like, why hello? Of course. I sure hope so!

    Don't mention you're a student, and I would NOT mention you're a Creative Writing student. This is more a personal impression than anything else, but if I were an agent, I'd be very very wary if I read that anyone was a Creative Writing student. It screams, "I want to be a writer but it says nothing about my actual writing skills, and in fact I'm not even there yet since I felt the need to study in order to write but I haven't finished studying!" Remember, anyone can go and study Creative Writing, all you truly need is the cash - if anything, it puts you in the bag of hopefuls who might or might not actually have any talent for writing, rather than someone who's sure of his writing. Essentially, it does nothing to give you any credit and instead it throws a bucket-load of doubt on your skill.

    Now if you'd actually graduated, I might consider including it, but nonetheless it's not much better. Still says nothing about your skill though, so I probably would skip it even if you did get a degree out of it.

    I don't think there's any harm in saying in 1-2 sentences what you're like, some agents like that, but not something so uninteresting as what you're studying. For myself, I'm including 2 sentences on my cultural heritage because I'm hoping a unique identity like that could help in the marketing aspects, but that's because it is unique. I'm Chinese raised in Britain living in the Czech Republic - it's an interesting background that is very unique to me and me alone. Compare that to me telling an agent, "I studied Art History at the University of Nottingham" - it's not the same thing.
     
  6. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Thanks, everyone. The query letter has now been revised, but I decided against a bio - I really don't have anything interesting to say about myself. I've cut out my name, but as I've said, they specifically asked for my country of residence in the email. And thanks for the help with the "range of emotions". What should I put there instead?
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I wouldn't put anything at all - your synopsis and sample should speak for themselves. Or if you really wanna add something, you could say something like, "My book is reminiscent of..." and then name a few authors whose writing style or stories are similar to yours. Some people think you shouldn't compare yourself to other authors, but again, some agents like it because it gives them an idea immediately of what kinda thing they're looking at. Of course, if your comparison is really off and you didn't know, that could hamper your chances because then you'd come across as ignorant. There're also some really big names you probably shouldn't compare yourself too simply because agents might be tired of seeing such unlikely comparisons. I don't know what these big names might be, but for example, I wouldn't compare myself to Twilight and Hunger Games precisely because they're so trendy and hyped up.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    who's the agent requiring your country of residence?

    whatever you do, don't write a generic letter that you send to all agents... if it appears to be such, it's likely to be tossed on sight, or at least consigned to the bottom of the 'later, maybe' pile...
     
  9. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    This is advice that I hear repeated everywhere. An agent wants to know that you're considering them for a reason. It's part of establishing that you know what your book is all about, because you've found agents that are interested in representing in. Sending something out like, "I believe my book fits your agency's standards," isn't enough. Tell them why. Let them know that you want them, as much as you believe they should want you.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    well put, thorne!
     
  11. The Peanut Monster
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    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

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    This is all good advice.

    What I'd add, is: if they ask for a bio, put a bio. Think of it like an exam question: anything they ask for you must give them, otherwise it shows a lack of ability to even follow basic instructions. Brief is fine, and you can frame your student-hood in a mature and confident way: "I am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts at X University and will finish this course of study in 2015. My major is X. My experience in creative writing extends to ...."

    Above all, be confident. Talk to them like they are adults, and you are sure of yourself and your work. Know what you mean to say, and just say it, e.g. "The novel is intended for the Young Adult audience", or "The manuscript fits in the Young Adult genre." (and a because could also be useful here).
     
  12. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't really have much to add. I'm scared of query letters, tbh. One thing I could add is that stick to what the agent(s) ask, follow their guidelines even if there's a standard. If anything, it shows you read their submission guidelines. I also wish you luck!

    But this caught my eye:
    I thought the editors/agents are mainly interested to hear how thing X about the author makes him/her qualified to right that book or they're interested in some merits that show them s/he has experience in the biz or has already published stuff, meaning, there're people out there other than his/her parents that think this author can write.
     
  13. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Having read the submission guidelines of several publishers and agents, that seems to be the common consensus: if I'm writing a medieval hack'n'slash sword fantasy, they don't want to hear that I'm great with guns, they usually want only the most relevant information and that's it, nothing extra (come to think of it, I've never seen submission guidelines where they prompt you to tell things irrelevant to the submission).
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i don't see a mixed-race/cultural background as any kind of useful selling point, agent-wise, mckk...

    if you have no relevant paid credits or expertise that relates to what goes on in the book, it's best to say nothing and let the book's summary sell it and you...
     
  15. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    • What would you do if a microchip was implanted into the back of your head? Freak out? Scratch it off?

    This doesn't work, because the reader doesn't know the background. If it was done forcibly the reaction would be very different from if it was expected. A simple rule of thumb: Never ask the agent to answer a question. They just got here, remember.

    • These are all viable options for eighteen year-old Adam Grath, but when he’s also trying to balance a new life in outer space, things seem to be getting a little out of hand…

    Okay, from the reader's POV: What's outer space in the context of your novel? In orbit? Around Neptune? Is he modified to live off-planet without a ship or suit? See the problem? You know, but you're making general statements for which the reader has no context.

    Here's the thing: every story, at its most basic is someone who needs something and cannot get it. But you've given no sense of that, or the consequences of not getting it. But that's your story. Think in terms of the back cover blurbs of the books you presently own. Think in terms of the voice-over for the film they might make of your story. Don't try to relate the plot as part of the blurb, but make use of the 250 words you have as a maximum to make that reader say, "Hmm. Let's read a few pages to see if this guy can write."

    And: don't include the synopsis above the signature. If it is included make it begin on a new page. In fact, place it after the sample, because its job is to act as a stand-in for the rest of the manuscript. Let your writing hook the agent first.

    You might take a look at the QueryShark site. And if they haven't had you read it as part of your studies, you should read either Jack Bickham's Scene and Structure or Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer. That may give you some of the inner workings of scene and story construction that many CW courses seem not to cover.
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, it's advice I've seen given by some agents - if there's anything at all unique about yourself as an individual, mention it, because that could make you easier to sell in the market as a new face, because it's memorable. The question being, what else have you got other than a good story? And that it doesn't hurt to put in one sentence or so about yourself, so they know you're really human. (I'm not saying spend a paragraph here. Just one short sentence of no more than say, 10-20 words)

    The truth is, bottom line is if you've got a good MS, it'll eventually sell. If you have a bad MS, no amount of tricks and even a good query letter would get you through the gates. But assuming you have a good MS, what's the harm in putting just one sentence about yourself? Nothing at all. What's the gain, if whatever personal detail you picked strategically does happen to interest the agent? Well, quite a lot.

    No agent's gonna ditch an MS because "Well, the query was excellent, as was the synopsis and the sample writing looks amazing, I'm really interested in this book, but because this newbie put one sentence about herself at the end of the query, I'll just have to give her a form rejection." It's just not gonna happen (and if it does, then you probably don't want that agent!).

    Bottom line is, everyone's giving quite different advice out there. Listen to the ones that make sense to you, I'd say. Keep it concise, precise, and make sure the summary/pitch of your story in the query is grabbing and well-written. If you've got that down, it won't matter whether you choose to include one sentence of personal info or not. I'm gonna include mine, but only because I think it makes me stand out as an individual. If an agent think back to his slush pile at the end of the day, he just might remember "That random letter with a rather interesting background - who was that again?" rather than "Story 156th - don't even care who that was".
     
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  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Mckk, Yeah, I doubt mentioning one's racial/cultural background in one sentence will make or break it. If it fits the query, you're definitely free to put it there. The reason I brought it up was that many agents are quite specific about what to put in the bio section.
    But I do hope that the day when our ms is of reasonable length and we can submit it (thank you, maia), the agent/publisher would remember us by the ms (which is unlikely now because our work is not good enough), not by our Finno-Bulgarian heritage, which, frankly, would be a weak marketing tactic anyway 'cause it's just not very interesting or sexy (now, if we promised to take our clothes off everytime someone buys the book... j/k!).
     
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  18. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @KaTrian - Oh yeah, definitely agree with that. But either way, really don't mind why the agent remembers me, as long as he remembers me (assuming it's not because my MS is that bad, of course, but rather for more neutral or more positive reasons)
     
  19. Sandfire
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    Hey Thomas, how's the querying going?

    Here are a few thoughts, in case you are still revising the query.

    I've heard that rhetorical questions are a really bad way to open a query. While some agents like them, they cause others (perhaps most) to want to reply with the snarkiest answer they can come up with--which is not the frame of mind you want them in for reading the rest of your query.

    Do you actually just ellipses off that paragraph, or is that indicating there is more? If I can be honest, if this opening is your hook, it didn't particularly grab me--it feels kind of casual. I'm sure you can raise the stakes to pull us in.

    I'm not sure if this applies, but I encountered several agent websites that mention a pet peeve about queries that call the manuscript a 'fiction novel'. I could be wrong since this is specifically science-fiction, but you might try to find some examples of how successful query writers have phrased it. I suspect you can strike 'novel'.

    My only other thought was that I would probably insert the synopsis and samples below my signature. I take 'body of the email' to mean the text has been pasted into the email and not included as an attachment, not actually inserted as if it were a part of the letter.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'sci-fi novel' would do the trick and is commonly used/accepted... and 'young adult' is usually done as 'YA'...
     
  21. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Thanks, Maia. I'll update the letter when I send out the next batch. :) And thanks to everyone who's replied - it's nice to get differing opinions bounce ideas off one another!
     
  22. Dazen
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    Dazen Active Member

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    One example of something that could be of an advantage is if you were a fencer and writing a Medieval Hack 'n' Slash Fantasy. Fencing may not be relevant to the time period, but if you have knowledge of how you parry, thrust, cut, or give ground etc may give the agent a reason to read your five page preview if it's a battle scene, etc.
     
  23. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Dazen, that's how I see it as well. And also why I'm training traditional European fencing at the moment: it's one of the few areas of martial arts I had zero experience in, and since I do write some hack'n'slashery and the opportunity to train this stuff for next to nothing arose...
    I know it's not a big advantage when it comes to getting published, but if, hypothetically, everything else was equal, I'll take whatever advantage I can. Especially if the process of gaining that advantage is fun.
     
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