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Elements of a Successful Query Letter

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The “Agent Finder” article in our October 2016 issue of Writer’s Digest featured a deconstructed query letter in which agent Lane Heymont of The Seymour Agency highlighted the strength’s of one of his own client’s novel queries. Here’s another real-life example of a query that worked, featuring commentary and tips from agent Sara Megibow of KT Literary.

Click the footnotes to read Megibow's commentary on each section, then scroll to the bottom to see how this solid query worked out for Paige Orwin and her book, The Interminables.

Dear Ms. Megibow,

Unkillable doesn't mean invincible.

Edmund Templeton is the Hour Thief, a debonair 1940s-era mystery man who has been 35 for 70 years. Terrified by his own magic and tormented by recurrent PTSD, all he wants is to keep his head down, do his job, and live forever without going mad.

Istvan Czernin is the ghost of an Austro-Hungarian surgeon and an avatar of the First World War. A peerless battlefield medic, considered so dangerous he labors under chains, he has loved Edmund for decades—in silence.1

It's 2020. Eight years earlier, a magical cataclysm shattered reality as we know it. Edmund and Istvan are the most powerful agents of the wizard's cabal that now governs the US East Coast, and have been assigned to hunt down an arms smuggling ring that could blow up Massachusetts.2

What they find is a shadow war waged since the breaking of the world.

Caught between two inhuman forces, torn between love and loyalty, and betrayed by their own memories, the two friends must rely on each other to overcome a foe that offers perfect happiness... and who will take their minds apart if they don't accept.3

I'm writing to seek representation for my urban fantasy novel: THE INTERMINABLES. Complete at 94,000 words, it is comparable to a mix of the Dresden Files and the Avengers, with some China Miéville and Terry Pratchett sprinkled in for good measure. It may include a Chilean robot fortress and chess played with zeppelins.4

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Paige Orwin

Footnotes

1. "Take a look at how Paige introduces Edmund and Istvan. There is a hint of backstory and character motivation but there is also a good chunk of information about the internal and external conflicts for the characters in the book. Too often a query letter dwells on backstory and forgets to tell the reader what the characters will be doing in the actual book! Here we have emotional connection (Istvan has loved Edmund from a distance for decades), external conflict (later in the query we will learn they are asked to hunt down an arms smuggling ring) and just enough description to flesh them out (Edmund is the Hour Thief and Istvan is a ghost doctor). Paige accomplishes all this in a short space—well done! I instantly wanted to read more about these characters."

2. "Look at the compelling, easily accessible way in which Paige has introduced us to her complicated fantasy world through the pitch. Also, by saying, “Eight years earlier, a magical cataclysm shattered reality as we know it,” I have a clear picture of what to expect in her manuscript. The world will be slightly futuristic and the rules of fantasy and normalcy will be broken (both true!)."

3. "Overall, this query is stunning (and the book is stunning, too)."

4. "Writers frequently ask if they should include comparable titles in their query. For me personally, it’s neither a dealmaker nor a dealbreaker. I will say, however, that using China Miéville in this query letter was spot on. I happen to love THE CITY & THE CITY, and THE INTERMINABLES reminds me a ton of that book. So, if using a comparable title, make sure it’s a good fit for the book."

The Outcome: "I read Paige’s query over my holiday break and would normally have passed on asking for a submission until January, but her query was so compelling that I asked for a full manuscript right away. We signed the next week and shortly thereafter sold two books to Angry Robot. Book #1, The Interminables, came out on July 8.”

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