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Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#9)

Categories: Agents, Back to Basics, Getting Published.

This
is my definitive No Rules series on novel queries. It’s meant
particularly for writers who are new to the query process. (A series on
nonfiction book queries will come later.) Go back to the beginning of the series.

FULL QUERIES
Here is where we put it all together—so you can see how the query elements add up to the whole! My thanks to the query letter writers who granted permission for this use.

Note: Next I will cover FAQs. Feel free to submit a question in the comments, and I’ll address it.


ORIGINAL QUERY LETTER

In a January interview with Guide to Literary Agents, you praised The Thirteenth Tale and indicated an interest in “literary fiction with a genre plot.” My paranormal romance MOONLIGHT DANCER blends a literary style with the romance tradition. When a 16th century ghost demands help, a Korean/Caucasian woman must risk love and life to prevent murder.

Moonlight Dancer explores the stories of two unique women—Kendra, a Korean Caucasian herpetology student, and NanJu, a troubled Korean shaman—and the men they desire.

The lure of an enchanting antique Korean doll launches Kendra literally into the arms of Hiro, a handsome Japanese Caucasian art dealer. Once Kendra brings home the mysterious doll, unsettling events—hallucinatory dreams, an averted accident, unexplained time shifts—force Kendra to seek Hiro’s help, and later, his love.

NanJu also yearns for love, but shunned by community and family alike for her shamanic calling, she loses her only beloved. Although NanJu has been dead for 400 years, due to connections Kendra does not suspect, NanJu comes and goes as she pleases. For Kendra, NanJu’s comings and goings (with the antique doll as foil) exact a toll of terror and confusion.
 And NanJu must not only reveal a terrible secret of betrayal and murder, but also convince Kendra to risk her life to rectify it.

Moonlight Dancer could be characterized as Nora Roberts’ BLACK ROSE meets Margaret Drabble’s THE RED QUEEN. I glean inspiration from such writers as Jasmine Cresswell, Jody Picoult and Alice Hoffman. My work has appeared in the literary magazines Natural Bridge, The Writing Lab, Under the Sun, Verbatim. I earned my MFA from St. Mary’s College where I received the Agnes Butler Scholarship for Excellence in Fiction.

I would love to send you sample pages from this novel. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

REVISED QUERY LETTER

In a January interview with Guide to Literary Agents, you praised The Thirteenth Tale and indicated an interest in “literary fiction with a genre plot.” My paranormal romance MOONLIGHT DANCER (xx,xxx words) blends a literary style with the romance tradition. When a 16th century ghost demands help, a Korean/Caucasian woman must risk love and life to prevent murder.

Moonlight Dancer explores the stories of two unique women: Kendra, a Korean-Caucasian herpetology student, and NanJu, a troubled Korean shaman—and the men they desire.

Lured by an enchanting antique Korean doll, Kendra falls for Hiro, a Japanese-Caucasian art dealer. When Kendra takes home the mysterious doll, unsettling events —hallucinatory dreams, an averted accident, unexplained time shifts—force Kendra to seek Hiro’s help, and later, his love.

NanJu also yearns for love, but shunned by community and family alike for her shamanic calling, she loses her only beloved. Although NanJu has been dead for 400 years, due to connections Kendra does not suspect, NanJu she comes and goes as she pleases. For Kendra, NanJu’s comings and goings (with the antique doll as foil) exact a toll of terror and confusion.
And NanJu must not only reveal a terrible secret of betrayal and murder, but also convince Kendra to risk her life to rectify it.

Moonlight Dancer could be characterized as Nora Roberts’ BLACK ROSE meets Margaret Drabble’s THE RED QUEEN. I glean inspiration from such writers as Jasmine Cresswell, Jody Picoult and Alice Hoffman. My work has appeared in the literary magazines Natural Bridge, The Writing Lab, Under the Sun, and Verbatim. I earned my MFA from St. Mary’s College where I received the Agnes Butler Scholarship for Excellence in Fiction.

I would love to send you sample pages from this novel. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

ORIGINAL QUERY LETTER

Dear Ms. Rofe,

In reading your October 7, 2010, interview on the Guide to Literary Agents blog and reviewing your profile on the agency website, your dedication to Middle-Grade fiction is apparent.   That dedication and your affection for “adorkable” heroes lead me to write to query your interest in my novel Pictures of Me.
 
Annie O’Malley likes 5th grade well enough. That is, she liked 5th grade.  Right up until the most important project of the year, the Fifth Farewell, turned out to be a self-portrait. A self-portrait?  Annie’s not crafty like her mom. And she’s not creative like her best friend Taylor. What is she going to do? It’s a conundrum.  That’s a word from her collection. That’s right. Collection. Annie collects words like some kids collect rocks. So far she’s collected 981.
 
Then Annie starts to think: if a picture is supposed to be worth 1,000 words, maybe she can use her words to make a picture.  Trouble is, she can find a word to describe everyone and everything but her.

Audacious – that’s Taylor. Effervescent – that’s her little sister, Daisy, who seems to be in full bloom when Annie hasn’t even started. She’s even got a word for Madison and Addison, the two-headed amoeba of the fifth grade: nemesis.

As the end of fifth grade approaches, Annie comes up with plenty of words to describe herself. How she feels when her new friend Kate turns on her and joins up with the amoeba: blindsided. How she feels when Taylor pulls away to deal with her brother’s recent Autism diagnosis: flabbergasted. How she suddenly feels around long-time friends Sam and Oliver: awkward. Not exactly the picture she wants to present.

When Annie finally does discover the perfect words, there’s an even bigger problem. Does she want to reveal who she really is?  Can she find the courage to ‘go for it’?

PICTURES OF ME is a 32,000-word contemporary Middle Grade stand alone novel with series potential. It will appeal to fans of Lauren Myracle’s ELEVEN, Kate Messner’s THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. and Wendy Mass’s FINALLY.

This is a simultaneous submission. The requested ten pages directly follow. Thank you for your time and consideration.

REVISED QUERY LETTER

Dear Ms. Rofe,

In reading your October 7, 2010, interview on the Guide to Literary Agents blog and reviewing your profile on the agency website, your dedication to middle-grade fiction is apparent.   That dedication and your affection for “adorkable” heroes lead me to write to query your interest in my novel Pictures of Me.
 
Annie O’Malley likes 5th grade well enough. That is, she liked 5th grade. Right up until the most important project of the year, the Fifth Farewell, turned out to be a self-portrait. A self-portrait?  Annie’s not crafty like her mom. And she’s not creative like her best friend Taylor. What is she going to do?  It’s a conundrum.  That’s a word from her collection.  That’s right. Collection.  Annie collects words like some kids collect rocks.  So far she’s collected 981.
 
Then Annie starts to think: if a picture is supposed to be worth 1,000 words, maybe she can use her words to make a picture.  Trouble is, she can find a word to describe everyone and everything but her.

Audacious – that’s Taylo
r.  Effervescent – that’s her little sister, Daisy, who seems to be in full bloom when Annie hasn’t even started.  She’s even got a word for Madison and Addison, the two-headed amoeba of the fifth grade: nemesis.

As the end of fifth grade approaches, Annie comes up with plenty of words to describe herself. How she feels when her new friend Kate turns on her and joins up with the amoeba: blindsided.  How she feels when Taylor pulls away to deal with her brother’s recent Autism diagnosis: flabbergasted.  How she suddenly feels around long-time friends Sam and Oliver: awkward.  Not exactly the picture she wants to present.

When Annie finally does discover the perfect words, there’s an even bigger problem. Does she want to reveal who she really is?  Can she find the courage to go for it?

PICTURES OF ME is a 32,000-word contemporary middle-grade stand-alone novel with series potential. It will appeal to fans of Lauren Myracle’s ELEVEN, Kate Messner’s THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. and Wendy Mass’s FINALLY.

This is a simultaneous submission. The requested ten pages directly follow. Thank you for your time and consideration.


ORIGINAL QUERY LETTER

Dear TK

The first time her momma goes off with one of the boyfriends for the whole night, ten-year-old Rawling Summer decides she’ll be the one doing the leaving as soon as she knows how. But she doesn’t know leaving your Momma and being free of her are two different things.

A DECENT LIFE is Rawling’s coming-of-age story set in Nordeen, a small southern town, where not repeating your mother’s life is as difficult as avoiding mosquitoes on a hot summer night.

Rawling bides her time, avoiding Momma at home and the bullies at school. By the time she’s fifteen, she’s talked her way into a job at the diner and is living in a room upstairs. When she manages to graduate from high school, everyone in town thinks it’s a miracle. When she gets accepted to college to become a court reporter, no one believes it. But when her mother dies in a car crash and ghosts from her mother’s past come to life, friends can only slow Rawling’s slide backward. And no one, not even Roy, her so-sweet and so-bad boyfriend, can save her when she learns about her daddy.

In the vein of Curtis Sittenfeld and Lorrie Moore, A DECENT LIFE is a work of women’s fiction complete at 80,000 words. My award-winning essays, focused on Italian language and culture, have appeared in anthologies, newspaper travel sections, and online guides.

Thank you for your consideration.

REVISED QUERY LETTER

Dear TK

The first time her momma goes off with one of the boyfriends for the whole night, ten-year-old Rawling Summer decides she’ll be the one doing the leaving as soon as she knows how. But she doesn’t know leaving your Momma and being free of her are two different things.

A DECENT LIFE is Rawling’s coming-of-age story set in Nordeen, a small southern town, where not repeating your mother’s life is as difficult as avoiding mosquitoes on a hot summer night.

Rawling bides her time, avoiding Momma at home and the bullies at school. By the time she’s fifteen, she’s talked her way into a job at the diner and is living in a room upstairs. When she manages to graduate from high school, everyone in town thinks it’s a miracle. When she gets accepted to college to become a court reporter, no one believes it. But when her mother dies in a car crash and ghosts from her mother’s past come to life, friends can only slow Rawling’s slide backward. And no one, not even Roy, her so-sweet and so-bad boyfriend, can save her when she learns about her daddy.

In the vein of Curtis Sittenfeld and Lorrie Moore, A DECENT LIFE is a work of women’s fiction complete at 80,000 words. My award-winning essays, focused on Italian language and culture, have appeared in anthologies, newspaper travel sections, and online guides.

Thank you for your consideration.

Next up: FAQs

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Looking for more great query letter advice? Check out the Writer’s Digest official guide to queries, which includes examples and instruction by genre.

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4 Responses to Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#9)

  1. Dakota Smith says:

    I noticed that all of your sample query authors compare their books to those of well known published authors. Is this advisable?

    Thanks for the series. It comes at a perfect time for me and has been so helpful.

  2. @Megan – Thanks so much for jumping in.

    You may be right. An agent might be MORE interested with the further detail in the original. And maybe the original query should be sent out specifically with the intent of finding an agent who’s in love with those details, and has taken the care and attention to read them.

    My view is that most agents — who read thousands and thousands of queries over the years — are skimming the queries and not reading them for the level of detail conveyed here. Most agents (and editors) have a sixth sense right away whether or not they want to see more, based on years of experience and instinct. That’s certainly a good description of how I approached queries (albeit nonfiction ones).

    So … you could be right. An agent could be MORE interested if they took the time to really soak this in. I’m just betting they won’t — or if they did, it wouldn’t make a difference in the outcome anyway.

  3. Megan Sayer says:

    I found myself getting quite involved in the "Pictures of Me" original query letter. I found the voice refreshing, and the illustrations of a girl who "collects words" quite intriguing. Without the reference of her 981-strong "word collection" the whole "picture paints a thousand words" has no context.

    And, if I could be so bold as to say this, I probably wouldn’t be at all interested in the book if I’d only read what was left after your edit.

    Were the cuts primarily for the sake of brevity? Some of these revised queries are mighty short. I get that agents are really busy people, but is it possible that these last two could be rejected on the basis that they’ve NOT provided enough to generate an interest?

    Thanks so much. This has been a really informative series!

  4. Suzanne says:

    Thank you for this series. It has been so helpful as I have gotten my query letter together. I do have a question, though. With the holidays coming, is it wise to go ahead and send query letters now, or should I wait until January or even February? I don’t want my query to get lost or ignored due to the holiday shuffle or the catching-up afterward, but if that’s not a big deal then I’d love to get it out there. Thanks!

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