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  1. morningside

    morningside Member

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    Query- oh my!

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by morningside, Jul 13, 2009.

    I'm not sure how familiar everyone is with the query letter (I'm new to the forums), but having finished my manuscript, I've now moved on to looking for an agent. I believe my query letter is good enough, but I'm also new to the publishing world. I'll post it, and if you could give me any feedback, that'd be awesome!

    "I believe my first epic young adult novel, Morningside, would be an interest to you. At 49,000 words, through the eyes of the self-conflicted heroine a story of love, survival and incertitude unfolds. Holding true to the original folklore of vampires, the story caters to those used to masochism and solitude, blended with the romance and humanism recently desired among readers.

    After the first bite, Ava assumed it would be all over; her social life, her chance at a normal future, the opportunity at an unpredictable, yet expected death. Fear and adrenaline both pulsed through her veins, and as a vampire, this would be her new normal. But never-ending life wasn’t supposed to end so quickly. The thirst for blood, the magnification of each and every sense, the eternal potential, was just as temporary as her excitement. Ava was no longer the predator, but the prey. She was human. In a house full of vampires, she was their easiest meal option– until it happened again. As her adrenaline rose, and excitement spiked, she found herself on the same plain as the other vampires, and she was just as hungry for blood.

    Was she a mutant? There were no webbed feet or tails to support the theory. Was she a hybrid? It was a logical assumption, but she was never a mix of the two species. Nevertheless there was something different about her, and even as a vampire, she became the hunted.

    Infamously noted by only one letter, the ancient sire to many of the vampires in the house was after Ava, and what was hidden in her blood. The other vampires all noticed it. Pulsing through her veins and all throughout her body was the secret, the key. Only bent on destruction, this notorious vampire couldn’t be given the luxury of having it in his possession.

    Bouncing between both the human and vampire world, Ava became the rejected. She’s left to fight against herself, fight against the only people left with her, and fight against the enemy for her survival.

    Throughout my educational career, I have received many merits based on the writings I have submitted. Teachers have withheld essays, stories, and poetry to use as future examples in their classes. My writings have also been published in the school newsletter, Eagle Eye (fall, 2001).

    Upon your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

    Sincerely,"

    Thanks!
     
  2. Rumpole40k

    Rumpole40k Banned

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    I amy be wrong, and someone correct me if I am but isn't 49,000 words is a bit low for a novel?
     
  3. morningside

    morningside Member

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    For young adult, I've seen that it's actually on the higher side. But for other categories, yes it is lower.
     
  4. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    since you didn't state that it's for the YA market, your query would be dumped unread by most agents, as soon as they saw that word count...

    anyway, the query is waaaaay too long and has many goofs and glitches needing to be corrected... and since you have no paid credits, you should say nothing about your writing history... none of that will impress anyone... worse is the fact that it lets them know you're not an adult...

    what you need to do is get that down to a single page [including letterhead, addressee info, signature, etc.] and do a careful proofread, to find and fix all the mistakes...

    i can't help you beyond this general info, since your work has violent content, but i'm sure others here will point out what needs fixing...

    love and hugs, maia
     
    1 person likes this.
  5. ManhattanMss

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I think it's a very good letter. There is a little bit of confusion to my read in several places and a correction or two ...

    "I believe my first epic young adult novel, Morningside, would be an interest to you. At 49,000 words, through the eyes of the self-conflicted heroine, (comma) a story of love, survival and incertitude unfolds. Holding true to the original folklore of vampires, the story caters to those used to masochism and solitude, blended with the romance and humanism recently desired among readers.

    After the first bite, Ava assumed it would be all over; (s/b a colon for the series to follow, rather than a semicolon) her social life, her chance at a normal future, the opportunity at [I believe this s/b "for"] an unpredictable, yet expected death. Fear and adrenaline both pulsed through her veins,[s/b a semicolon or perhaps start a new sentence without "and"] and as a vampire, this would be her new normal. [I'd suggest a new paragraph here]But never-ending life wasn’t supposed to end so quickly. The thirst for blood, the magnification of each and every sense, the eternal potential, was just as temporary as her excitement. Ava was no longer the predator, but the prey[maybe because I'm no expert on vampires, I'm unclear about why she's the prey]. She was human. In a house full of vampires, she was their easiest meal option– until it happened again [it's unclear to me what "it" refers to]. As her adrenaline rose, and excitement spiked, she found herself on the same plain as the other vampires, and she was just as hungry for blood.

    Maybe vampire followers can see how this question follows from the above; but it's unclear to me just how this theory was the consequence of the above]Was she a mutant? There were no webbed feet or tails to support the theory. Was she a hybrid? It was a logical assumption, but she was never a mix of the two species. Nevertheless there was something different about her, and even as a vampire, she became the hunted[??:confused: I'm a little lost now].

    Infamously noted by only one letter [I assume you mean a communication (letter); but that trips me up a little], the ancient sire to many of the vampires in the house was after Ava, and what was hidden in her blood. The other vampires all noticed it. Pulsing through her veins and all throughout her body was the secret, the key. Only bent on destruction, this notorious vampire [confusing antecedent-I'd suggest giving the "ancient sire" a name here or, better, previously] couldn’t be given the luxury of having it in his possession.

    Bouncing between both the human and vampire world, Ava became the rejected. She’s left to fight against herself, fight against the only people left with her, and fight against the enemy for her survival.

    [Might add some white space here or indent the above in order to signal the shift (maybe you're doing that and it just come through that way)]

    Throughout my educational career, I have received many merits based on the writings I have submitted. Teachers have withheld essays, stories, and poetry to use as future examples in their classes. My writings have also been published in the school newsletter, Eagle Eye (fall, 2001).

    Upon your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

    Sincerely,"

    Thanks!

    ***

    Forgive my un-vampire-savvy-ness. I think it sounds like you're in complete control of your story (and what sounds to me like a pretty interesting one at that); and your writing seems to me to reflect that in the query letter here. Your personality comes through and so does the story potential (if my own little confusions don't square with others', feel free to disregard them).

    Good luck!
     
  6. morningside

    morningside Member

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    Maia- I thank you for the comments. Actually, within the first sentence I say the story is a young adult novel, but besides that, I don't make mention of it again.

    And Molly (I'm assuming it's Molly based on the signature)- Your post has been such a help for me. I have taken everything you've said into account, and I truly appreciate the time you spend looking over my query. Thanks so much!!
     
  7. ManhattanMss

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Oh, thanks, morningside. I'm glad you can make use of it. I think you'll do just fine.
     
  8. Akraa

    Akraa Member

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    An editor will discard anything if the first paragraph doesn't grab hold. The beginning of your novel, and your query letter should be equally gripping. Remember that your query letter indicates the nature and quality of your writing, and a letter that doesn't seize the editor's eye quickly tells them that your work probably won't either.

    The writing isn't active enough to hook me in the first paragraph, and your vocabulary is clunky and disinteresting for the young adult genre. At second glance through the rest of the query letter, it shows the same flaws, though alternating between a patronizing and uncertain flavor. Impact words give the letter the ability to seize hold of an editor's attention, and severing the wordiness grants it brevity and increases the chance that the editor will read the entire thing. Compact but meaningful writing marks the work of a good author and must show through in their query letter.

    You betray your uncertainty in the opening line by hedging, using a phrase such as 'I believe'. Your punctuation is uncomfortable, and the use of the questions followed by answers later in the letter could be better related by a single declarative in each instance. You don't need to tell the reader (the editor) what they should wonder about.

    In a brief example of the weaknesses this letter holds:

    "Bouncing between both the human and vampire world, Ava became the rejected. She’s left to fight against herself, fight against the only people left with her, and fight against the enemy for her survival."

    Tailoring this to follow the basic rules of composition results in something similar to the following:

    Rejected by human and vampire, an outcast in both worlds, she must struggle with herself, her companions, and her enemies for survival.

    Moving the rejection of your character to the front of the paragraph creates a stronger sensation than leaving the topic of the paragraph dangling from the end of the first sentence. Navigating the paragraph becomes simpler when the wordiness is eliminated and empowers it with brevity. Using impact words like 'outcast' and 'struggle' increases the emotional appeal, attractiveness, and meaning despite the slimming of the paragraph.

    I'd recommend a revision for compositional strength, like you've probably already performed on your novel. I also recommend you drop your 'credentials' as previously mentioned by another. Beyond this, tailor your letter specifically to the publication you're writing to. Each has certain preferences evidenced in the works they publish, and it will strengthen your letter if you highlight that your manuscript has those qualities.

    On a side note, as an unpublished author you should look into writing contests. A manuscript that has placed in or won a major contest appeals to an editor by providing instant credibility to both your writing and the specific piece.

    Keep up your efforts and your query letter will shine in no time.
     
  9. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    Too long, too wordy and too much passive voice. You absolutely must drop the whole paragraph beginning with "Throughout my educational career...." It's the equivalent of telling the agent your Mom put your artwork up on the fridge.

    Examples of query letters that work abound. Google is your friend. You've got the makings of query in there somewhere but as it stands, that's not it. Keep at it and good luck.
     
  10. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry i missed that, m!
     
  11. morningside

    morningside Member

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    I appreciate the many comments, and based on them I attempted a rewrite for my query letter.


    Rejected by human and vampire, an outcast from both worlds, she must struggle with herself, her companions, and her enemy for survival. In my fantasy young adult novel, MORNINGSIDE, complete at 49,000 words, a story of love, destruction and incertitude unfolds.

    When he whispered her name, that’s when she knew– this was how death felt. The first time wasn’t permanent, allowing Ava the inconsistent life as both a human and vampire. The second attempt was personal; and infamous vampire lusted for what was hidden in her blood. She became the hunted.

    Upon your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

    Sincerely,


    I'm not sure if I'm getting the concept all wrong or something. I feel this one is just way too short, albeit how rough it really is.

    I have no plans on giving up, though!
     
  12. ManhattanMss

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Well, now that we’ve apparently succeeded in beating the life out of a perfectly delightful and interesting query, I feel an obligation to apologize to you for playing a part in that.

    I'd never send a query letter that I didn't feel conveyed my own enthusiasm about my writing and about the story I'm trying to market. I do not agree with others that you reveal too much about your age (in your previous version) by mentioning your particular successes. Agents do want to know what credits you have or do not (and perhaps how you view those). Putting that paragraph last, as you did, shows that you understand this is a detail they may wish to consider. While the credits you mention certainly suggest you haven't yet pubished a best-seller, they do NOT suggest that you cannot write. Nor do they suggest that you're deluding yourself by mentioning them. My takeaway from your previous letter was that (whatever your age) you’re mature, can write and take some pride in doing it well, and are on a mission to sell your quirky vampire novel.

    The purpose of a communication--particularly a query letter--is not simply to convey details, but to SUGGEST something well beyond that (which is what the best fiction does, too). I don't feel this truncated version comes close to suggesting anything important at all (including the imaginative twist you've given to the vampire story you've written). I felt your previous letter did all of that in a decidedly refreshing and interesting way (in spite of my own confusions). Not only that, your previous letter covered everything agents look for, and did it thoroughly, concisely and enthusiastically, with some evidence of your personality and style.

    Agents often suggest what they want to see in a query letter (and you can find many examples on the internet and in bookstores). Those guidelines exist, not because agents want all queries to be identically short and devoid of anything other than facts. They do that because most queries they receive reflect writers who don't comprehend the publishing process. These letters are often immature, naive (sometimes arrogantly so), occasionally unreadable, and suggest that the manuscript to follow is likely to be equally all-the-above. In my opinion, your original letter is not guilty of any of that.

    My advice is to remember that the agent YOU want to work with is, first, a person who hopes not just to represent a story that sells, but to represent a WRITER who’s not afraid to express herself with skill, imagination, and honesty.

    I’m sure you’ll do fine in your future writing endeavors. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a long and confusing road. I’d hope it’s a road that unfolds for the rest of your life. With respect to both your writing and the advice you receive, I think you should trust your own instincts. They’re good ones.
     
  13. Rei

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    What you need is a combination of the enthusiasm of the first one and the brevity of this one. That first one was way too long. This one is a reasonable length, but could be a bit longer. There are plenty of websites that provide examples. This is one that worked for me. It's not perfect, but it got the job done.

     
  14. morningside

    morningside Member

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    I, personally, loved my first letter, and I found it gripping because I love my story. But at the same time, I'm given so many conflicting opinions on what to do and not to do in the perfect query letter. If only an agent would reply to the letters with the pro's and con's of what I've written. It's difficult being so new to such a set industry, and trying to break into it, but such is life.

    At the moment, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I sent out my original letter to a couple of agents, and I'm waiting to hear back from them. A rejection doesn't necessarily mean the letters bad, though, so I'll probably remain with the same confusion. It seems the writing part of a novel is really the easiest part, and like so many other unpublished authors, I'm just looking for that one person who will give me a chance.
     
  15. morningside

    morningside Member

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    Thanks Rei, for a bit of clarity :)
     
  16. Rei

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    We would all love it if agents replied that way. They just don't have the time. One publisher says in their submissions page that they get as many as 5000 queries a year.

    Oh yeah, and the reason I don't mention genre etc in this is because it was an e-mail submission and that stuff was in the subject line, which is what the publisher said to do.
     
  17. Akraa

    Akraa Member

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    I have to disagree with ManhattanMss concerning the virtue of your original letter, but my point concerning brevity may not have come across properly. The point of brevity isn't for it's own sake. Brevity is simply a by product of good writing. It isn't about cutting your words down, but achieving more emotional impact and information in your words, which often cuts down the wordiness in the process. I meant only to encourage you to apply the same basic principals of composition that you likely used in your manuscript itself.

    I do agree that the enthusiasm of your original letter shows through the unsteady composition. Don't abandon that simply to make it shorter. The trick is to refine your original letter to a more comprehensible and smoother flowing piece that grabs the attention.

    As for credentials, I think your age has little to do with the matter. Your numerous merits you mentioned in the first letter should be mentioned individually, if at all, as you think applicable and appropriate. The comment on teachers retaining your writing samples isn't a great credential, but the school publication is on the cusp. Remember that it's professionalism that you want to aim for. It doesn't mean you should ignore your achievements, but rather select those that you believe are most relevent, and discard those you do not believe will help pursuade an editor to accept your manuscript. Leaving your credentials unmentioned is superior to mentioning unsuitable credentials.

    You'll want to mention why the piece will appeal to the publisher's audience in addition to the summary. Even the language you use in the query letter should push toward that audience. Though you need to keep it professional, it doesn't need to be rigid.

    I hope this cleared up my earlier comment a bit, and helps you continue to improve your letter.

    Edit: On a side note you might wish to earn a few minor professional credentials before sending it out. It will both help you hone your skills (possibly improving your ability to edit and refine your manuscript even further) as well as provide proof that your work is capable of braving the waters. A single short story acceptance (especially in the genre of your novel), or placing in a contest, would greatly strengthen your credentials. Just as novels aren't written in a day, they don't need to be published right away either. The trick is to get them published when both you and your work are ready.
     
  18. morningside

    morningside Member

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    Akraa, thanks for the comments. I do take everything to heart when people offer constructive criticism, and I will continue to work on a query letter which will best represent my manuscript.

    I'm going to take advice and enter into some writing competitions with parts of my manuscript, and see where that takes me. I'd like to have some credentials to display in my query.

    Thanks!
     
  19. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The more of your manuscript you post publically, the more you endanger your chances of getting it published. Publishers almost exclusively want first publication rights.
     
  20. morningside

    morningside Member

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    Good heads up, Cogito. So it's okay if the credential doesn't apply directly to our manuscript, then?
     
  21. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Unless your credentials include published works (for pay) in the same or nearly the same genre, you are better off leaving them out. They won't impress, at least not in a positive way.

    Let the writing be your credentials.
     
  22. Akraa

    Akraa Member

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    Submitting a stand alone excerpt is an excellent idea, and writing contests shouldn't claim any rights for your submission (exceptions apply and are explicitly stated). Submitting to a contest should not hurt your chances of publication in the slightest, and if you fare well, it will dramatically improve your chances.

    Edit: Just be sure to research the contest well before entry and not walk face first into a scam, or a contest without much in the way of prestige. Submitting to a worthless contest may net you a prize, but it won't help get you published. Just remember to be careful, and aim for a contest with both a good prize, and good prestige. If your manuscript doesn't do well, just consider it a recommendation for more revision.
     
  23. Banzai

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    But most contests will display winning entries online or in print, which would mean that you could no longer sell first publishing rights, which would damage your chances of getting it published.
     
  24. Akraa

    Akraa Member

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    Yes, you should always carefully read over the information on the contests you enter. Check out all the details before submitting, and check various websites that keep a watch on the many contests out there and warn about frauds.

    Contests can be very good, and I know several writers who have gotten their start through them, but they can also be a recipie for tragedy if you are unprepared or hasty.
     
  25. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    entering contests won't be seen as 'credentials' anyway... only winning really prestigious ones might do that... what counts as 'credentials' is paid writing credits... if you don't have any, just don't say anything... and don't waste time and money entering contests that will take months to be judged and you have little chance of winning, if you have a ms ready to be submitted...

    plus, as banzai points out, it's foolish to let any part of what you're submitting be out in public, or be tied up in contests, if you want a publisher to spend money to print it and sell it...
     

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