1. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    Query Letter Practice Query Letter

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Keitsumah, Dec 20, 2013.

    I've just been curious about how a query letter is structured and figured I may as well give it a crack before I start doing the real thing. I have looked at the other query letters to draw examples from, so I hope this works:

    * * *​

    Dear Sir or Madam, (okay, yuck, can someone help me figure out just a rough idea of what I should put here?)

    Keitsumah never asked to start seeing ghosts or to find a strange necklace. Nor did she ask to live in a world cloaked by winter and terrorized by Shifters. She was just an ordinary girl trying to survive in a harsh land with few options. But when her village is attacked, her brother killed, and everything that she loved destroyed, Keitsumah discovers a great and frightening power.

    The power of the Starshade.

    What if you had such power? What if you had the capability to destroy everything that has hurt or will hurt you? These are the questions that I hope to answer in this starting book to the Starshade's Legacy: Last of the Imirri.

    * * *​

    well, I had to do this quickly 'cuz school's out now for Christmas break, but what do you guys think?
     
  2. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Good first line, but before anything else let them know, as a courtesy, the genre and length. That way, if it's wrong for them you've saved them time.

    You might as well say, "The power of flubleglob." The reader has no clue of what you're talking about. You hear trumpets but the reader gets gibberish.

    Never ask a rhetorical question in a query. The reader wants to know what she does, not what they would do.

    But the first paragraph would have gotten me to read on.

    Several suggestions: First, check your local library for Judith Appelbaum's, How to get Happily Published. Next, scan through Miss Snark's blog, starting back about a month from the beginning in 2005 (the link takes you there). It's an agent's eye view of the industry and her opinion on lots of query. Queryshark is another blog worth reading. Then all you need do is write the story.
     
  3. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I've always heard quite the opposite. You're supposed to open with a hook - get them interested in your story. The fact of the matter is, if you don't know that the agent is interested in the type of work you're querying them for, you shouldn't be querying them at all. This is just what I've read on various sites and blogs concerning how to write a decent query (I can try to look back and find them, if need be, though I know a few of them were in Writers' Digest). It just seems bland to open with:

    Now, to the OP:

    Concerning Sir/Madam: What I've read is that, before sending out a query, re-address the beginning to contain that agents name. That way, they know that you meant to send to them and, therefore, must know that you are interested in them. Saying "Sir/Madam/To Whom it May Concern/Agent" will likely set off a warning in their head that you're not interested in them - you're just mass-querying. They know they're not the only one, but they want to know that you specifically selected them. So, replacing the Sir/Madam with the Agent's name will solve your problem immediately.

    I do agree with JayG, though, that Starshade is absolutely meaningless. Leaving it at her discovering a "great and frightening power," is enough to peak interest. He's also correct in the rhetorical question part. I think the last paragraph would be better written as something more along the lines of:

    Probably worded 1,000x better than that, of course, but you get my meaning.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    info/advice above re addressing individual agent is on target...

    but i agree with jay that putting title, word count, genre in the opening of the letter saves the reader the trouble of hunting for it...

    asking questions in a query is a major no-no and will shout 'i am a clueless amateur!'...

    so does mentioning that the book you are querying about is part of a series/trilogy and not a stand-alone novel...
     
  5. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    It's not required, but the agents and publishers I've talked to say they prefer it first.

    An agent is busy, and they're not reading your submission with the attitude, "Okay, let's see if this one is publishable." They know they're going to reject a thousand or more new writers before they find one to represent (Noah Lukeman told me proudly that he averaged ten thousand such queries before he said yes). So they're really looking for whatever they can disqualify you for, quickly as they read. One strike and you're out, so to speak.

    So, from their point of view if by length or genre it's not a fit, they want to know that quickly. On the other hand, if you show them you have something of reasonable length in the genre they favor, their attitude, as they read the blurb is a bit more positive because you've already cleared one hurdle. No one is going to reject your query because they learned the genre and length first.

    My personal queries are formatted with genre and length first, and while it might be that doing so caused the rejection, the ones that got a yes had that data first, too.

    One agent I asked about it said, that he looked at a query as a business letter, and thought most writers get too obsessive about it. He, like others, said that unless the query was obviously from an amateur (talks about how much they enjoy writing, etc., or has a poor blurb) they will at least glance at the writing sample. So in the end, it's still your writing that sells them. The query only gets them to look in a slightly better frame of mind.

    Remember, agents know you're using a boiler plate format, and may have had lots of people help you with it. So they don't take the blurb as seriously as we think they do.
     
  6. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I suppose the advice I've read came from people with too much faith in the writing population - that suppose writers will only query agents with the knowledge that that agent is interested in the genre they're writing, and have done their homework and know how long the novel should be, given the chosen genre and audience. I don't know; I would never consider querying an agent unless I've read up and know that they, personally, are interested in the genre I'm trying to get them to represent. So, for myself, personally, stating, "I'm sending you a [fantasy/horror/mystery/sci-fi/slice-of-life/non-fiction] story," would seem a bit superfluous, and would lose some of the punch that might help get an agent interested in what I'm giving them. And, at any rate, it would seem to me that the synopsis itself would, at the very least, HINT at what kind of genre and audience you're looking for.

    But, I'm an amateur, and have little actual experience with the querying process and agents. I'm just stating what I've read and why it makes sense to me. I've been lightly attacked before for stating these sorts of opinions without stating specifically that they are just word-of-mouth; what I've read; what I perceive. So I'm stating it here.
     
  7. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The problem is that when we come to writing we have only the story, and given that as far as we know, writing is writing, and we have that part out of the way, it never occurs to most people that as a profession there are lots of tricks-of-the-trade and specialized knowledge unique to writing fiction for the printed word that's very different from telling a story on the stage or in film. So, just as I did when I began to record my campfire stories they have at it, secure in te knowledge that what they need is a good story idea, a background in reading, a flair for words, and luck. They hear the term "learning your craft," and take it to mean by practice. They believe that if the story (read plot) is a good one, any publisher will be pleased to accept it.

    When I began there was no Internet, so I labored alone, hardening bad habits into concrete and getting better and better at writing crap. Eventually, when the rejections kept coming, I paid for a critique of several chapters and learned how little I did know, and as a result began a study of the elements of fiction.

    But today the situation is different. Today the new writer reads for the Internet and goes on a site filled with people who believe as I did when I began. So of course, when they compare notes...

    The result is that out of 100 submissions, 75% are deemed unreadable. 22% are readable but not on a professional level. And of the remaining three, two of them didn't check, and are wrong for that agency. The remaining one is asked for the full manuscript, and about ten of them are read for every one selected.

    May seem a bit bleak, but if you take the time to direct your study and take advantage of the analysis and development done over the years you jump to one in ten.
     
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  8. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    This wasn't an issue about how many books will get published in comparison to the number of authors that query agents. No one should go into a career as a fiction-writer/novelist/author if what they're looking for is to make money. The prospects are bleak, at best. This conversation is about the basic structure of queries, though - what comes first? And, as I said, what I read is apparently written by optimists. It doesn't seem practical, to me, in this day and age, to not check and see if those agents whom you are querying are actually looking for the kind of work that you're trying to get represented.

    But the world isn't the way that optimists think it ought to be - people don't look up that kind of information, I guess, just furthering my already cynical view of the general population, and lessening my view on the writing population as a whole. Common sense isn't as "common," these days.

    EDIT: By the way, I hope no one is thinking that I don't think that genre, title and wordcount should be included at all. I've just simply read that it should follow the synopsis of the manuscript. Usually the first sentence in the first paragraph following the synopsis. Basic sentence format? Something along the lines of "'TITLE', a completed manuscript at [word count] is a [genre] novel..." and usually has more embellishment.

    MORE STUFF!

    I've been looking at Writer's Digest's Successful Queries? (http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries) The majority of the queries are formatted with hook-synopsis-word count. The first exception I came across that listed wordcount in the first paragraph was a YA Urban Fantasy called "Ink" by Amanda Sun and represented by Melissa Jeglinski. She basically just comes right out and says what she wants:

    So, it can and has been done successfully both ways. Personally, I think going Hook-Synopsis-Manuscript Info-Bio is a better format, with better flow. But, it certainly would not be to your detriment to state title, word count and genre immediately upon opening the letter.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2013
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    placing the needed info first allows the agent's readers to see right away if the book fits that agent's paramenters for representation, or not...

    it's a courtesy to the agent to do that, but some put it last, hoping their summary will interest the agent enough to take it on, even if it falls outside of those limits and don't want to risk having the query tossed before the summary is even read...

    whether that ever works is debatable...
     
  10. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    But, as I said, this is a moot point of the writer has already ensured that they are only querying agents seeking the kind of manuscript that they write. So, if I write mysteries, I will only query agents that have stated that they are seeking mystery novels. Had I done my homework, I should know approximately how long that manuscript should be. Therefore, I, as the writer, want to put more emphasis on my synopsis, and grab the agent's attention and say, "DOESN'T THIS SOUND GOOD?!" I want to sell my story.

    If you're mass-querying and not checking that the given agent is ACTUALLY interested in the work you're seeking representation for, then, by all means, place the title, word count and genre first.

    All I'm saying is, as a writer, if I know that, by virtue of my genre and wordcount, I'm not wasting their time, then I should be able to give them a well-written, interesting query letter with a great opening hook, because I know, when they do get to the genre and word count, they're not going to go "Jesus Christ, I don't represent that!" If you're not sure if they represent what you write, first off, you probably shouldn't be querying them, at all. Second off, by all means, put it first, so that they know right away. But, again, as will be the case when I begin the query process: If I'm trying to sell an adult fantasy manuscript, I will first do my homework to figure out how long such a manuscript is expected to be and, second, only query agents that say that they are interested in adult fantasy manuscripts.

    That's all I'm saying. As someone that is going to do her homework, I'm not as concerned about wasting their time, because I'm making sure I'm only querying agents with potential interest.
     
  11. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    Okay, after reading the comments, i decided to retry posting this again. Plus, i realized that since Keitsumah isn't the only main character, i should introduce Batos as well since he is half of the story.

    Also, i am going to be careful on choosing what publisher to send this out to, so i likely don't end up with the wrong genre type. But in case it does, if the summary is good enough, then they may suggest I go to another.

    * * *​

    Dear _______; (name and syntax goes there)

    Keitsumah never asked to start seeing ghosts or to find a strange necklace. Nor did she ask to live in a world cloaked by winter and terrorized by Shifters. She was just an ordinary girl trying to survive in a harsh land with few options.

    But when her village is attacked, her brother killed, and the little that she had loved destroyed, Keitsumah discovers an ancient power long since lost during the Wars. A power that once made the very land tremble and shattered mountains.

    A power created by the collected vengeance of all humanity.

    Then the sightings of ghosts become more frequent, whispering of dark prophecies and deadly trials to come. It is Keitsumah's destiny to destroy all the Shifters and to end the never-ending curse of their existence.

    But when one boy saves her life and she discovers that he is a Shifter as well, Keitsumah's determination will be put to the test.

    Batos is the prince of Shifters, twin brother to Bibindoe and son to Arrcafah the Cruel. Born with blue eyes and a fur coat as white as snow, Batos stands out like a light in the darkness when compared to his yellow-eyed, dark-furred compatriots. He cannot stand the slavery his kind enforces upon the human race, but doesn't have enough courage to stand up for what he believes in.

    Until a girl with a strange, glowing necklace is captured and dragged into his life. For the first time, Batos decides to save someone and try to protect them. But under the continued scrutiny of his father, Batos will have to choose between what is right, and what will keep him alive.

    The Starshade's Legacy: Last of the Imirri is a YA Fantasy novel rounding up to about 150,000 words. It is a story including action, mystery, love and suspense, with an ending that you will never see coming.

    (Okay, the book isn't actually done... that's why this is a practice query, and i hope to get the word-count down. Also, about the ending, you literally won't see it coming. I didn't until a few weeks ago and I'm still reeling. :p)
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    what are you referring to as 'syntax'?

    the query summary is generally expected to consist of a single paragraph... two medium length ones only if the plot is too complex to cover in one... so you do have a lot of paring down to do in both wording and number of paragraphs...
     
  13. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Agreed with Mamma on that one. Your Query Letter isn't just the summary - you need to give personal information about yourself in relation to your writing. Taking up too much space with the summary gives you less room for that.

    Short, sweet, and to the point.

    By the by, you typically don't query publishers. You query agents. They're separate entities. An agent is your connection with the publishers. Many large publishing companies (and even some small ones, I'm sure) don't accept unsolicited work. The agents have the connections to suggest you to various publishing companies, the agency backing them to have credibility, and the know-how to help you get a good contract. It's generally warned-against to go into the publishing process without an agent.

    Also, it's probably best not to write your synopsis until after the novel is finished, both the rough draft and revisions. You may think you know where things are going, but it's very possible that details will change. It's also easier to summarize the novel once you know it the whole way through. You wouldn't try writing a book report without reading every chapter, would you? This is the same concept. Little nuances can become crucial details.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2013
  14. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    okay, vocab fail there. :p not sure what i really meant otherwise.

    and i guess i will lay off this, but this is just a practice so i can get a basic feel for the thing. And i think i have, so thanks guys.
     
  15. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Are you referring to titles? Like Mr./Mrs./Dr./Miss?
     
  16. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    maybe -yes. i think that's what i meant lol.
     
  17. lex
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    lex Contributing Member

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    I think the word you intended was "salutation". ;)

    Good luck with it! :)
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    actually, that is not mandatory... and is definitely not recommended, unless one has relevant paid credits to mention and/or some area of expertise that is pertinent to the plot...

    lacking those, it's best to say nothing about oneself...
     
  19. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    ^.^' That was actually what I mean when I said "in relation to your writing." Agent doesn't care if you've climbed Mt. Everest unless mountain climbing is relevant in your story. Sorry for the confusion.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, i feared many would take 'in relation to your writing' as license to include what courses they'd taken, what they read, what their writing goals are, and all the other stuff screaming 'i'm a clueless amateur!' that does not belong in query letters so many new writers throw in...
     
  21. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Totally understand. Definitely one of the topics I should have been more specific about. Thank you for clarifying.
     
  22. Alix465
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    Alix465 Banned

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    The key to writing what your story is about is that you describe the situation. Many writers have real trouble with this and try to include lots of plot.

    Do’s and Don’ts

    • Don't write about you how your story ends, only give the setup or situation.
    • Only include the time and place when absolutely necessary for making sense of the story.
    • Don't use character names.
     
  23. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    This my be the most useful advice I've seen in the query forum to date. Thanks @Alix465 .
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    telling the ending is not a mandatory 'don't'...

    agents need to know the ending, in order to tell if the story is marketable enough to make it worth their time to read the ms... many, if not most or all, don't like to be teased, as it wastes their time...

    so, advising new writers to not 'sew up' the summary of their plot with a brief mention of how the story ends makes no sense to me...
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2014
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  25. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    Okay went and looked at others for examples and tried again.


    Dear _______;

    Living in a world that has been badly damaged by the very beings created to save it, Keitsumah struggles to get by with her brother while battling past terrors. But finding sticks and the occasional deer are the least of their worries when a pack of Shifters attack the village. Again. In the end, Keitsumah is forced to flee, and what she had left of her family and home is destroyed. Drawn to the brink of madness, Keitsumah at first believes she is hallucinating when she sees a ghostly lioness. But when it offers her a chance at revenge, she accepts, not knowing that the consequences could end up wiping out what little of the human race remains.

    The Starshade's Legacy: Last of the Imirri is a YA Fantasy novel rounding up to about 150,000 words, and is the first in its trilogy.

    (not sure if i need to add anything else and how am I not supposed to put the character's name in??? i tried that and can't find a way to make any sense of that.)
     

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