Just a few hours left!

The form to submit your story to the judges is waiting: Submit HERE.

How to Write the Dreaded Query Letter

This guest post is by Cody Wagner. Cody worked in advertising for years, until deciding to take time off to focus on his writing. You can visit the blog highlighting his journey at A Year Sabbatical and follow him on Facebook.
06-05-10 Back To Bed, You're Dreaming Again

Photo by Βethan (Creative Commons)

You’ve finished that manuscript, the one that’s going to change the world. Now what?

Well, if you’re looking at going down the traditional publishing route, it’s time to submit your work to potential agents. However, you don’t get to send your entire book. No, you only have one page to draw them in—the dreaded query letter.

What is a Query Letter?

I think almost everyone is familiar with the query letter; it’s a nightmare to most writers. You’ve worked for months (or years) on your manuscript. And you’re sure once an agent reads it, he or she will clamor to represent you. Unfortunately, agents are too busy to read every single work submitted. Consequently, many simply request a one pager about your book. In that one page, you get a hook, mini-synopsis, and bio to make them want more.

Fortunately, there are a slew of sites out there on writing good query letters. These resources are invaluable, as even the best writers have trouble selling their books in one page or less.

Because so many resources exist, I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to write the perfect query. Heck, I’m not even qualified to do so. But I’ve picked up a few consolidated tidbits along the way, and wanted to share them with you.

A Hook Should Involve Your Main Character

The hook makes up the first paragraph of your query, so it better be good. In the one-sentence hook, people will try anything to grab an agent’s attention. It’s hard to blame them; hooks are brutal. Regardless of what you write, though, your hook should almost always include your main character. It makes your query more personal and better draws the agent in.

Therefore, instead of writing:

A parallel world with better technology than our own threatens destruction if earth doesn’t turn over its priceless artworks.

You’d write:

Curator John Smith drops the Monets and Van Goghs for a pistol when a parallel world attacks, hell-bent on taking earth’s priceless artworks.

OK that’s not a great example but you get the point.

A Query is NOT a Synopsis

Some resources call the section where you talk about your book the “mini-synopsis.” I want to point out that this label is somewhat misleading.

Admittedly, while writing the first drafts of my queries, I took the word “synopsis” to heart. Ultimately, I ended up writing something that was more informative than catchy. Unfortunately, I convinced myself that the more of my plot and characters I revealed, the more interesting the query would become.

That mistake can be fatal. It might make sense in your head, but think about how many times you’ve zoned out while a friend or relative described the plot of their favorite book (even if it’s a really good one). If an agent’s eyes gloss over while reading your query, you’re done.

The mini-synopsis shouldn’t reveal all the plot points and the quirky friends and the amusing side stories. Instead, a good mini-synopsis simply does the following: introduces the main character, shows what the main character wants, reveals what is standing in the main character’s way (A villain? Lack of money?), and highlights what’s at stake if the main character fails.

Essentially, the point of the mini-synopsis is to reveal the main conflict in your story. Tension is what makes your novel a page-turner so, naturally, tension and stakes in your query will make the agent want more.

I don’t have a real bio. What do I write?

This is something all beginners deal with. Without relevant experience, they end up listing anything to do with writing (I’m a member of a writers group, I have taken classes, etc…). The line of thinking is that something is better than nothing.

That strategy is wrong.

Agents will be the first to sniff out the BS, and saying your mom taught you the art of story-telling makes it glaringly obvious you’re an amateur (unless she’s J.K. Rowling).

So if you don’t have experience relevant to your novel, what do you put?

The answer is nothing.

If you don’t have a relevant bio, don’t list anything. Let the rest of the query speak for itself.

My query is 403 words. Is that too long?

Long story short: YES! This is another killer.

Getting everything into 250-300 words or less seems impossible, so many authors will try to squeeze in an extra 50-150 words, thinking, “In an e-mail, the agent won’t notice.”

Don’t!

If every other author can fit a query into 250-300 words, you can too. Anything longer will cause that glazed-over effect mentioned earlier. If you’re having trouble, remember the tips above about focusing on the main character and his/her conflict.

Now, Go Sell Your Book

You worked hard on your manuscript. Now it’s time to work hard on getting it into the hands of a great publisher, and it starts with the query letter. Go do more research on your own or get started with the tips above.

Good luck! Go give your book the best possible chance at publication.

How about you? What tips do you have to write a good query letter? 

PRACTICE

Begin writing an engaging query letter for your WIP and post it in the comments below for feedback. Even if your WIP isn’t finished, that’s OK. Sometimes a query can give some direction to your novel.

When you’re finished, post your practice query letter in the comments section. Don’t be shy! We all have to start somewhere. And if you post, please make sure to leave feedback on a few practices by your feelow writers.

Good luck!

About Guest Blogger

This article is by a guest blogger. Would you like to write for The Write Practice? Check out our guest post guidelines.

  • themagicviolinist

    I’ve been working on my query letter for close to a year now, but I think it’s pretty close to finished. I’ve been debating on whether or not to put my first paragraph at the beginning or the end.

    To Whom It May Concern, [this will be replaced with the agent’s name]

    Fantasya: A Giant Problem is a completed 24,500-word middle grade
    novella about a unicorn who must save her species by defeating the evil giant
    Gargamouth. It is the first book in an MG fantasy trilogy and is a story of how
    friendship and teamwork can conquer any task. A Giant Problem will
    appeal to fans of Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series. [This is the paragraph I was talking about. I’m not sure if I should put this after the following two paragraphs or leave it where it is.]

    Cassandra Day wants Gargamouth finished. The irascible giant has ordered the trolls and elves to kill any unicorn that stands in his way of becoming ruler of Fantasya, especially Cassandra. Cassandra has watched countless friends and family members die since she was orphaned at the age of two, and she’s not about to watch any other
    unicorn suffer.

    But before Cassandra and her best friend can even begin to plan their assault, they’re accidentally sent to earth. As if blending in with the humans wasn’t hard enough, now the trolls are on their tails. They have get back to Fantasya—or risk certain death.

    I post at my blog themagicviolinist.blogspot.com two to three times a week and am a monthly contributor at thewritepractice.com, one of the Top Ten Blogs For Writers in both 2011 and 2012. I am part of a published anthology titled Fauxpocalypse. I
    contribute regularly to several other websites, all of which can be found on the sidebar of my blog.

    Thank you for your time and consideration and I look forward to hearing from
    you soon.

    Sincerely,

    Kate I. Foley

    [e-mail here]

    [phone number here]

    • TheCody

      Hi Magic Violinist! First off, I have to say I’m a big fan of your articles on here 🙂

      The consensus is that the paragraph should go at the bottom. The first sentence should be that powerful hook, the one that single-handedly draws the agent in and makes him/her want to know more.

      Also, in that paragraph, you say what the book is about (“A unicorn who must save her species by….”. However, you cover off on that in the rest of the query. So I don’t think you need that info. If anything, you might clarify Cassandra is a unicorn in your hook.

      Actually, your idea will appeal to kids, so I think you could take that hook and really blow it out of the water. A quick question that would help me address this: Do the unicorns have powers? Or are they just really good creatures? I’m trying to see what really separates unicorns from other creatures in your book. If there’s something cool about them, I think it should be in your query, so kids can be drawn to them even more.

      • themagicviolinist

        Aww, thanks so much. 🙂

        Okay, that’s good to know. That’s where I initially put it, but then another author suggested it should be at the top.

        Thanks for your advice! I’m off to make more edits.

  • Andrew Ronzino

    I’m planning on attending the Writer’s Digest Conference in August, and before I go I want to have my manuscript (which I’m currently working on the final polishes on), and query letter set and ready to go by then, so I have something great to pitch while I’m there. Here is the query letter. This is the second draft of it.

    Dear Mr. Agent, [This will be replaced with the agent’s name]

    Seventy years after the United States government was seized by an internal coup, the country is under the tyrannical rule and iron fist of President Paul Genesis. The military controls everything in New America. There’s a curfew in place, the country is closed off and no one can get in or out, the government is even controlling the Net. Very few people remember the freedom America used to have.

    Dianna Testa is the daughter of one of the highest ranking generals in New America, and is constantly moving from province to province. During her first day at her new high school, she meets Michael Vadaren, a boy who doesn’t talk and believes he has nothing to say. But Michael isn’t who he thinks he is, and he may be the only key to
    help an underground movement take America back from President Genesis and return it to the free nation it once was. With Dianna’s help, he must find his voice and survive the military forces that are hunting him.

    WRITTEN IN SILENCE is the story of a girl’s journey to help the boy she loves survive assassination and walk in his destiny. She must speak on his behalf and help him find his voice so his words can stir others to fight against oppression and tyranny and take back their country. Together, they must bring back the Home of the Brave!

    WRITTEN IN SILENCE is complete at approximately 82,000 words. It is a YA novel told in a third-person limited point of view. It will appeal to people who enjoy young adult fiction, or to anyone who loves stories of perseverance through adversity.

    Enclosed are the first few chapters. [This will be replaced with what’s requested in the submission guidelines] Upon your request, I would be happy to provide the complete manuscript. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew Ronzino

    • TheCody

      Hi Andrew,

      Sounds like an interesting book! I think it’s cool to see a YA novel that has that patriotic, adult feel to it.

      With that said, I did have a few comments:

      1. When you begin talking about Dianna, I assume she’s the central character. However, you then switch to Michael (even saying he must find his voice and survive…), leading me to believe he’s the central character. Based on “the story of a girl’s journey”, the book is about Dianna. Therefore, the query should be about her. You need to make sure to cover off on her goals, her conflict, and what’s at stake if she loses. Michael can be a part of it, but make it about her. Is her primary struggle trying to fit in at the new school? Is it being the daughter of a big general? Is it the underground movement? And what’s at stake for her? If she loses, is she killed? Or her friend?

      2. I don’t think you need the sentence “WRITTEN IN SILENCE is the story of a girl’s journey to help the boy…” That’s telling. Show us. Say “Brianna has to risk being murdered by President Paul to help the boy she loves…” That’s not the premise, but you can make it more exciting by showing her goals and what’s at stake than merely saying “it’s the story of ….” Does this make sense?

      3. I’m actually torn on your hook. Convention says to put your main character in the query; get people drawn to her right away. However, the premise of your book is REALLY interesting. However, I think if you could weave Dianna into your hook, it could be even stronger! Maybe something like “Seventy years after the US government is seized by a coup, Dianna Testa must choose between the safe life she knew or a boy destined to save the home of the brave.” Again, I don’t know much about your book (and that hook is too long), so I’m totally making that up. But you get the idea.

      4. Because you say it’s a “YA novel,” I don’t think you need “It will apeal to people who enjoy young adult fiction.” It’s repetitive as that’s what a YA novel is.

      Good luck!!! I think that sounds like a really cool book!!

      • Andrew Ronzino

        Wow! What helpful tips! Thank you very much. I can see how I can make it stronger now. I can’t wait to work on the next revision of it.

        As for the story, Dianna is the main character, because the story is told through her eyes, but the story is really about Michael. He’s the key to everything, but she must be his voice. He can’t do anything without her. So the two of them together need to fix the country. I’m basically telling their story through her eyes. I will find a way to clarify that for the query.

        Again, thank you for the input and kind words.

    • Maure

      This sounds interesting! I’m not an expert on query letters, but a couple things that felt a little ‘off’ to me… The hook didn’t start with the main character, and it’s a little hard to tell whether Michael or Dianna is the main character, or if they’re both equal. And having two short paragraphs start with the book’s title made me wonder for a moment whether one was accidentally written twice – to me, the first paragraph that starts with it feels a little unnecessary. More of a minor nitpick, though. Good luck with your story!

      • Andrew Ronzino

        Thanks! I’ll take your “nitpicks” to heart! 😀 I agree with you, I need to make some revisions.

  • Helen Earl

    I am currently trying to get my children’s picture books published, which is slightly different to pitching a full length novel manuscript. I cannot draw to save my life, but all the advice suggests that publishers like to allocate their own illustrators anyway, so I am submitting text only. The stories are composed of twelve stanzas, each four lines long.

    Dear Mr/Ms/Mrs Awesome Agent [insert name here]:

    I am writing to seek representation for my children’s picture books, The Adventures of Ginny Giant and Sweetpea the Dragon, which are tales of friendship and responsibility. I found your details through the Association of Authors’ Agents Members directory.
    I believe that your work with *other authors and publishers in this genre* makes you the best person for me to approach.[Substitute specifics to agent concerned]

    I have written five tales so far and have ideas for many more.

    The first tells how they meet: There’s a Dragon in my Soup! Sweetpea’s egg hatches in Ginny’s bowl of pea and ham soup.

    Next: There’s a Dragon in my School! Ginny takes baby Sweetpea to ‘Show and Tell’ where he causes a commotion.

    The third is There’s a Dragon in Santa’s Grotto! in which Sweetpea shows he can be both naughty and nice.

    Then comes There’s a Dragon at the Seaside where a sandstorm makes Sweetpea sneeze.

    In the fifth tale: There’s a Dragon in my Shop! Ginny goes to an ice-cream shop for a birthday treat and Sweetpea causes things to hot up.

    I am a library assistant and these are my first children’s stories.

    I have been honing my literary skills by writing fan-fiction for over twenty years, which I
    post online. I came third in an international fan-fiction writing competition in 2009.

    I have conducted some market research by posting on my WordPress.com page and sharing all my stories in some local schools as well as trying them out on a friend’s
    son in America. I have attached some of the feedback I’ve received as a
    separate document.

    Below is the first story [or whatever specified by agent website] for your perusal./ Per your guidelines, I have included below the full manuscript for my first picture book, There’s a Dragon in my Soup!

    Thank you for your time and consideration. I very much hope you like what you see and look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours sincerely

    • TheCody

      Hi Helen,

      I haven’t done any research on children’s picture books, so I won’t be much help on the synopsis information itself, but hopefully I can assist with these little pieces of feedback:

      1. I like that you say “I believe that you work with *other stuff* makes you the best person…” It shows you did your research on that agent.

      2. You should remove the line “I am a library assistant and these are my first children’s stories.” If you are a newbie, don’t call it out. That is actually a deterrent and you want only good things in your query. So let the rest of the information try to sell itself. In this same vein, I’d remove “I have been honing my literary skills by writing fan fiction….” but keep “I placed third in an international fan-fiction writing competition in 2009.” That last sentence is the real award that gives you some credibility (which is good!).

      Good luck, and it sounds really cute!!

      • Helen Earl

        Very sound advice. Thank you.
        I’ve actually now written a sixth story, but don’t want to overwhelm. Also I think it might be a good idea to keep a couple ‘up my sleeve’ in case they do take off. I can then trickle them out while I write still more. Who knows, Sweetpea the Dragon could become the next Peppa Pig or Spot the Dog, complete with a range of merchandise like backpacks, cuddly toys, cereal bowls etc. Hey, a girl can dream!

    • themagicviolinist

      Admittedly, I don’t have any experience with querying picture books, so take or leave my advice as necessary.

      1. “Sweetpea causes things to hot up.” Did you mean heat up?
      2. I agree with Cody. I think you can cut the “I am a library assistant and these are my first children’s stories” line.
      3. Do you usually query multiple picture books at a time? And if you do, five still seems like a bit much.
      4. It seems like you really do your research on the agents you query. That’s always a plus with agents.
      5. Your books sound really cute! 🙂

      • Helen Earl

        Thanks for the feedback.
        Firstly, can’t believe I missed ‘heat up’, although ‘hot up’ is sort of a colloquialism.
        Lines duly dropped.
        Some agents accept up to three picture book texts at a time, but with something so short I figured it wouldn’t hurt to let them know that the series has mileage.
        I always believe in doing research. I feel that if I’m going to be working with someone then I want to get to know about them as much as they’ll want to Google me!
        Thanks for the encouragement.

  • TheCody

    OK my query isn’t the traditional 3rd person, present tense version. This could actually be a bad thing, as some agents want you to stick to the desired format. I will even have to make a similar version in the standard format, just in case.

    However, I still focus on the main character, shows what he’s up against, and what’s at stake. So, although not standard, it conveys the same information. And, after about 20 revisions, it’s my best version so far.

    P.S. Query letters are hard, LOL 🙂

    ==========

    Imagine being a gay fourteen year-old sent off to a mysterious boarding school that says “NO!” to the gay. Sucks, huh?

    But imagine that place is Camp NO Where, a secret haven for gay teens. Their over-the-top homophobic shenanigans – like serving Healing Hamburgers – are just an act to fool your parents and, for the first time, you get the freedom to lead an open life.

    Now imagine your pathological liar roommate surviving a murder attempt, claiming his killer is under someone’s control (seriously). To make matters worse, Camp NO Where tries so hard to cover it up, you suspect they’re involved and begin stalking the staff.

    While you’re searching for answers, an emerging homophobic cult attacks Camp NO Where’s students, killing your roommate. As he dies in your arms, you learn he was right, and the cult is under someone’s control – a siren, born with the power to brainwash men. Seriously. And, being gay, you’re immune to her song, which might explain why Camp NO Where is a target.

    Now you have to decide whether to bail and return to your awful – but safe – closeted life, or stay and risk everything trying to stop a creature beyond the myth, before more students die, and Camp NO Where is closed forever.

    Hey, I’m Blaize Trales, and I don’t have to imagine any of this craziness, because, believe it or not, it happened to me.

    • O-O!!! 1. I have no experience with Query letters what so ever. 2.I’d buy your book.

      • TheCody

        2. Thanks so much!!

        1. There’s no time like the present to start 🙂

        P.S. I like your smiley, LOL

        • Thanks. I’m going to start on my Query today…Hopefully.

  • Maure

    I’ve never written a query letter before, but I am thinking about sending out this story when it’s finished and edited… here goes. (By the way, I’ve seen some people say that you should put the title/wordcount first, some say you should start off with the hook. Seems we’re going with the start-with-the-hook method. Also, I’m purely bullshitting the wordcount, since I have no idea what length my WIP will be in the end.)

    Dear [insert name here]

    Hired to face down a violent haunting straight out of a horror movie, what’s Alec – ghost and monster hunter for the Southwest states – to do? Bargain with another member of the vengeful dead to help him out, of course.

    Dorita Rios is a recently deceased girl with a lot of anger issues; she reluctantly agrees to help Alec out if he’ll protect her family from her murderer, but the other dead girls in the area are encouraging her to just go after her killer herself. Alec already has enough to deal with, between the creature haunting his client into an early grave and the memories it stirs of nasty events in his past. Neither of them are prepared for the horrors they uncover at the root of the haunting, or the can of worms they open by bringing it to light. And when a betrayal turns everything they thought they knew on its head, it’s a fight not for their lives – which Dorita’s lost anyway – but for their minds.

    ‘Mostly Dead Girls’ is a 80,000 word paranormal horror novel. It will appeal to people who like character-focused horror. (Some line about why I’ve chosen to submit to this agent in particular, why I think the book’s a good fit for them).

    Enclosed/below is the (what’s specified to send – first pages, synopsis). Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you.

    – my name

    • TheCody

      Ooooh another interesting book! I’m scared really really easily which, naturally, makes me a fan of paranormal horror 🙂 I even grip my blanket, nervous, when I read Nancy Drew, LOL!

      I’m really digging the title of the book 🙂 And the premise is really cool!

      Regarding the hook, I’ve read so many things on about opening with a question. For the most part, I was told to avoid it. But it has worked for other people, so it’s a judgment call. However, I wonder if there’d be a way to consolidate it. Maybe something like “When ghost hunter Alec is hired to face a violent haunting straight out of a movie, he’s forced to enlist the help of a dead girl with anger issues.”

      If I had any other feedback, it would be about specificity. You want to make sure your book stands out as original. Therefore, you want to avoid general language and concepts, and really push what makes your book different. For example, take this excerpt:

      Alec already has enough to deal with, between the creature haunting his client into an early grave and the memories it stirs of nasty events in his past. Neither of them are prepared for the horrors they uncover at the root of the haunting, or the can of worms they open by bringing it to light.

      This reads as very general to me. Nasty events in his past? What are they? Everyone has had nasty events happen to them, so blow us away with why his are so important. For example, if his father was murdered by the ghost of his mother, that’s so much stronger and specific to your book.

      Also, horrors they uncover at the root of the haunting? Again, that doesn’t inform me of *this* book. I totally get that you’re trying to tease and build interest, which is great. But there’s that fine line between teasing and coming off as generic.

      Finally, can of worms they open? What does this mean? Do they unleash a creature that can eat the world?

      I’m going overboard here, LOL. But, I think, by adding just a bit of clarity, your book will sound even more original and appealing. Good luck!!

      • Maure

        Thanks for the advice! A lot of the generality comes from the fact this is the first draft and I’m winging a lot of it. XD I should be able to tighten it up when I’ve gotten a draft done.

        • TheCody

          Ahhhhhh that makes sense 🙂 I’m excited to hear more later!

  • Chris

    Hey, this is my first novel and query letter. Probably an info dump. Critique is appreciated!

    ————————————————————————————————————–

    Running from the FBI, Auk, a fugitive, is forced to inject himself with a sleeping tonic that will last five days to access memories that are buried deep within his mind. Only a week before, Auk was sent out by his partners to eavesdrop on a conversation by two high-ranking FBI officials that were planning an attack in Philadelphia; unfortunately,
    however, he was caught and tortured and the memories were locked deep within
    his thoughts. Falsely accused of treason, he is now running for his life while
    trying to prevent an attack. Using a modern technology, his partners will
    display his dreams on a screen while Auk searches for these locked up memories
    in his nightmares.

    Less than 100,000 words, The Dream Sequence is written for
    science-fiction lovers alike.

    • TheCody

      Intriguing, Chris! One of my favorite movies has similar themes (dealing with memory retrieval to solve a conspiracy). I have a few points of feedback:

      1. There are some awkward/run-on sentences (including the first/hook). I think the idea is strong but the wording could be finessed.

      2. The order of the query seems a little jumbled. I wonder if you could merge the key idea into a compelling hook. Something like “When fugitive FBI agent Auk represses critical memories, he must take a deadly experimental drug to remember the past and save an entire city.” That’s really rough (I spent like 2 minutes on it, LOL) but you get the idea.

      3. From there, I’d like to know what Auk is. I put FBI agent above but that was just a guess. You mention partners, but that seems too general. Again, if you include something, strive for precision. Is he a high ranking agent? Is he just some guy in the wrong place at the wrong time and they’re his coworkers? You don’t want to spend tons of time on this, but it can lead you to his goals, the conflict, and what’s at stake if he fails. Maybe the first sentences after the hook could be something like, “After years as a routine agent, Auk is mysteriously sent to spy on fellow FBI agents. Undercover, he learns they’re actually terrorists planning an attack on Philadephia. Before he can turn them in, he’s captured and brutally tortured. He manages to escape, but not before sustaining head trauma………” Again, that’s really rough (and may not be accurate at all). It’s just to give you an idea of where I’m going.

      Good luck and I look forward to learning more!!

      • Chris

        Thanks so much for the feedback! I was aiming for Auk to be a new FBI agent, until he learns of the attack on Philadelphia. From their, he, along with three partners he founds an organization to help stop this attack.

        Again, thanks so much for the advice!!!! 🙂

  • Pingback: Lovely Links – April 2014 | The College Novelista()

  • Dear ( insert name here)

    I am writing to seek representation for my new literary fiction novel ‘The Cave of No Return’.

    In a small town in New Zealand in1980 Shaz Maloney and her two close school friends, Dee and Gwen, break free from the confines of parents and schoolwork on an adventure to a three day rock festival.

    While Gwen is off exploring the festival Shaz and Dee are confronted with the shocking scene of a young women being sexually assaulted. They both realise what is happening but take no action and retreat in fear. Through shame of their inaction and the fear of having their adolescent freedoms retracted they never speak of it again.

    Even Gwen is not privy to their shameful secret. As Gwen retreats from their friendship into the depths of her own violent home Shaz becomes increasingly anxious about excluding their friend and not sharing her shame. When Gwen gives birth to twins her retreat is cemented and Shaz moves on from this old friendship partially relieved.

    While Dee leaves school and settles for the safety of suburban life Shaz is compelled to pursue study about womens rights through university and is soon publishing her outrage in a national newspaper under a pen name. In this time and era that avoided women’s issues and hushed domestic violence Shaz’s voice rattles cages. Her anonymity is exposed and her family become the target of an angry press with threatening consequences.

    The Maloney family leave New Zealand seeking a fresh start in Australia. In Shaz’s struggle to become independent she moves to the west coast of Australia and meets Simon. Simon, another New Zealander expat, has escaped the insistent shadows of his own misguided past.

    An awkward and slow relationship develops amidst unspoken shame, guilt and secret habits.

    Meanwhile Gwen, a victim of the silenced undercurrent of domestic violence, is suddenly free after the suspicious death of her abusive father. She too pursues study in women’s rights and welfare where she discovers the microfiche files of newspaper editorials and eventually identifies the author.

    Shaz flies over to Sydney to celebrate her 25th birthday and is greeted with a surprise from her mother; both Dee and Gwen appear for the small party. Gwen reveals to her old friends the reason for her retreat and the truth about her twin sons. One was her fathers son and the other the product of being raped at the festival. Neither Shaz nor Dee can admit to their shameful witnessing of the event. Nor does Gwen fully disclose to Shaz that she considers her a silent mentor based on her earlier writings or her own radical eugenics based theory that the evil of sexual abuse is a genetic inheritance. One that can only be stopped by bringing an end to the male bloodline.

    Simon is also visiting Sydney to see his sick mother. He is reluctant to meet Shaz’s family or friends but they all accidentally meet at a prime tourist location. Gwen recognises him immediately as her aggressor from the festival and in the shadow of her psychologically dissociated state she perceives Shaz as her saviour, albeit unknown, delivering the abuser to her.

    Back on the West Coast Shaz and Simons love affair blossoms, their new found trust and comfort with the opposite sex allows them to slowly reveal more vulnerability and depth.

    Gwen’s visit to Perth, Western Australia, later in the year, while not initially favoured by Shaz, illuminates to her the insular life she has created. She appreciates the opportunity to finally share her current life with people, Gwen, from her past.

    Gwen’s visit is for a far more sinister reason. Although she sees her friend is deeply in love, she must save her and relieves Shaz of Simons presence. Simon is cut and tossed in to the cave of no return off of the craggy limestone coast of Western Australia. Unbeknown to Shaz she will never see Simon again. But…his child lives on in her belly. Gwen hopes she has a girl.

    The Cave of No Return is 65,000 words and ideally suited to women’s fiction and literary fiction genres.

    Thank you in anticipation of your response.

    Yours Sincerely
    (My name)

    • TheCody

      Hi Dawn,

      I love the idea that something that was supposed to be fun and liberating ends up shaking their lives. Very interesting!

      Regarding the query, I just pasted it into Word and it’s right at 700 words. That is far too long; it reads like a synopsis (so keep it for that :), not a query. You need to distill this down into no more than 300 words. It’s tough, but take the core character, conflict, and stakes, and weed everything else out. At first it will seem like you’re removing the essence of your story (that’s exactly how I felt!), but when you create something shorter that feels right, you’ll see a tighter version can be really compelling.

      • Thanks Cody. Yes way too long. I’m working on a limited program on ipad at the moment… so thanks for doing the word count.
        And yes a good start on synopsis, thanks for the suggestions.
        Much appreciated.
        Dawn

  • Just felt to share that yesterday I completed my first draft of my first ever novel….feels so good. So I thought I’d have a bash at the query letter practice, just for fun.

    So excited! 🙂

    • Chris

      Congratulations!

  • Andrew Ronzino

    Hey, I took the suggestions that were given and completed another draft of my query letter, if it’s okay, I would like to see if you all think it’s any better. I left the hook the way it was because I feel like it’s stronger this way, but you tell me.

    Dear Mr. Agent, [This will be replaced with the agent’s name]

    Seventy years after the United States government was seized by an internal coup, the country is under the tyrannical rule and iron fist of President Paul Genesis. The military controls everything in New America. There’s a curfew in place, the country is closed off and no one can get in or out, the government is even controlling the Net. Very few people remember the freedom America used to have.

    Dianna Testa is the daughter of one of the highest ranking generals in New America, and is constantly moving from province to province. During her first day at her new high school, she meets Michael Vadaren, a boy who doesn’t talk and believes he has nothing to say. Dianna’s life becomes more complicated when she learns that Michael may be the only key to help an underground movement take New America from President Genesis and return it to the free nation it once was. She becomes a fugitive with him so she can help him find his voice and survive the military forces that are hunting them, including her own father.

    Dianna must risk her life and safety to help the boy she loves survive assassination and walk in his destiny. She must speak on his behalf and help him find his voice so that his words can stir others to fight against oppression and tyranny and take back their country. Together, Dianna and Michael must bring back the Home of the Brave!

    WRITTEN IN SILENCE is complete at approximately 82,000 words. It is a YA novel told in a third-person limited point of view.

    Enclosed are the first few chapters. [This will be replaced with what’s requested in their guidelines] Upon your request, I would be happy to provide the complete manuscript. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew Ronzino

    • TheCody

      This reads much better to me! I still have some comments, though 🙂 With queries, feedback seems never-ending :p

      1. I still think a hook combining the tyrannical rule and main character would be preferred, but that’s your call. Either way, I don’t think you need that much information setting up the iron fist. At the very most, you might have “The military controls everything in New America, and the country is closed off to the world,” and leave out the rest of the paragraph as I feel that conveys it without getting too long. Personally, I got how bad the situation was from the first sentence alone. Besides, if you don’t start with you main character, you need to introduce him/her as quickly as possible.

      2. You mention Dianna helping Michael find his voice twice in two different parts of the query. It makes it seem repetitive. I feel like there’s more important stuff going on then reiterating helping him speak. And, although you can’t spend pages talking about everything, I think it might help to tell just a bit about why Michael’s voice is so important (and why he’s the key). Did he witness something crucial? Or is he some kind of savant?

      3. I think some language around Michael could be tightened to feel stronger. Instead of saying, “a boy who doesn’t talk and believes he has nothing to say,” simply using “a reclusive mute” or something could be more powerful.

      • Andrew Ronzino

        This is good stuff. Thanks again.

  • Andrew Ronzino

    Sorry if this is one time too many, but I’ve been getting a lot of good advice of the tightening of my query, so I feel like I should see if my latest version is any better. If you’re all sick me posting these here, just ignore it. I don’t want to be a bother. 🙂

    You suggesting throwing Dianna as close to the hook as possible, I tried several things, and this is what I felt worked the best. Also, I can’t call Michale mute and reclusive, as he’s neither, and saying so would misrepresent him. He chooses not to speak, so I used the word silent, which I think will reflect off of the title a bit.

    Dear Mr. Agent, [This will be replaced with the agent’s name]

    Seventy years after the United States government was seized by an internal coup, the country is under the tyrannical rule and iron fist of President Paul Genesis. The military controls everything in New America and the country is closed off to the rest of the world. Dianna Testa is one of the few people who believes that the president’s takeover was more hostile than history tells.

    Dianna is the daughter of one of the highest ranking generals in New America, and is constantly moving from province to province. During her first day at her new high school, she meets Michael Vadaren, a silent boy who believes he has nothing to say. Dianna’s life becomes more complicated when she learns that Michael’s heritage may make him the only key to help an underground movement take New America from President Genesis and return it to the free nation it once was. She becomes a fugitive with him so she can help him find his voice and survive the military forces that are hunting them, including her own father.

    Dianna must risk her life and safety to help the boy she loves survive assassination and walk in his destiny. She must speak on his behalf so that his words can stir others to fight against oppression and tyranny and take back their country. Together, Dianna and Michael must bring back the Home of the Brave!

    WRITTEN IN SILENCE is complete at approximately 82,000 words. It is a YA novel told in a third-person limited point of view.

    Enclosed are the first few chapters. [This will be replaced with whatever they’re requesting in their submission guidelines] Upon your request, I would be happy to provide the complete manuscript. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew Ronzino

  • Pingback: Great posts for writers | Taylor Grace()

  • I wonder if shorter than 250 words is advisable?

    Wolves are attacking the Nest, and Yanna knows who is responsible.

    No one believes her that the Head Watcher, Aten, their protector, is behind the attacks. Because everyone knows that Yanna is untrustworthy. She is 23-years-old, and, somehow, still human. Everyone Crosses, metamorphosing into animals and trees — everyone but Yanna, who has been cursed with enduring humanity.

    Only Roran, an emigrant from another Nest, believes her. The friends strike out together to reveal Aten’s treachery, and save the Nest. But as they get closer to the truth, rumors begin to spread: “It is Yanna’s fault,” they whisper. “She is the Tainted One. She will destroy the Nest.” As suspicion mounts against her, Yanna is forced to choose: either keep her head down, or pursue the truth and risk exile – or worse.

    The Oak Daughter is a 75,000 word fantasy novel for young adult and new adult readers.

  • Pingback: Markierungen 05/12/2014 | Snippets()

  • Barbara

    Thanks for your advice, Chris. It’s the best I’ve seen on query letters. Here is mine. Thanks for your comments on it. Barbara Kober

  • Barbara

    Victoria Winston watches an elderly woman jump from a blazing
    building.

    She stands in crushing heat in a railroad station waiting for the
    death train.

    She wakes up in a hospital wondering if she will die from a wound
    meant to kill the President of the United States.

    An idealistic, ambitious reporter, Victoria Winston is living her
    dreams–covering news of worldwide significance for a major metropolitan daily
    newspaper in the nation’s capital.

    As a reporter for The Washington Sun, she covers local disasters, the White
    House, Watergate, the publication of the Pentagon Papers and a world of
    assassinations, antiwar protests and bloodshed in the streets. Her bylines on page one–even those on page 39– thrill her every time.

    Until …

    The final edition.

    A 73,000 word historical novel, Final Edition begins in 1968, a year that
    has been called “the most turbulent and tragic year since World War
    II.” It is the story of Victoria’s understanding
    of the soul of a newspaper and its magic allure. It is a tragedy about heartless corporate executives concerned more with columns of figures on a budget sheet than with columns
    of news on a layout sheet. And Victoria’s struggle to hold back the doom.

    I spent 25 years in the newspaper business–14 as a reporter and editor for The
    Washington Star. This is a
    fictionalized account of the last years of that newspaper’s life and the peril
    that threatens of newspapers everywhere.

    The complete manuscript, chapters or
    a synopsis are available on request.

    Thank you for reading this. I hope to hear from you.

    Barbara Kober

  • Geraud Staton

    Beyond Darkness is a 76,000 word action-adventure novel about Teri Dettweiller, a smart-mouthed bodyguard, who finds herself between a kidnapped child, a power-hungry cult, a love-sick killer, and a telepath…and all she’d wanted to do was sleep in!

    The United States has clawed its way through nearly 50 years of chaos and terror; a time known as The Darkness. But, that time is passing, and the world is coming back into the light with the help of a few strong individuals fighting for a unified government. But not everyone agrees that a “unified government” is the best way to go. A group known as The Brotherhood hatches a plan: kidnap the nephew of the woman most likely to become the next President of the United States.

    Enter: Teri Dettweiller. Teri works for a private security agency dedicated to protecting the innocent; and no one believes in defending the innocent more than Teri! Teri tags along on the hunt for the kidnapped child and quickly finds out that she is in way over her head. The Brotherhood isn’t just a power-hungry cult. It’s a cult lead by a trinity of
    maniacs out of childhood nightmares: a charismatic psychopath, a sword-wielding
    assassin, and a telepath. A fucking telepath!

    Poisoned, chased across New Durham, and betrayed by people she trusts, Teri has to not only protect the kid she rescues, but figure out a way to protect the entire political structure of New America! Her weapon of choice: Ethan Henri. He’s the perfect monster, and the best weapon she can use to stop the Brotherhood once and for all. But when you let a monster loose in the world, aren’t you responsible for what it does?

  • Barbara Kober

    Victoria Winston watches an elderly woman jump from a blazing
    building.

    She stands in crushing heat in a railroad station waiting for the
    death train.

    She wakes up in a hospital wondering if she will die from a wound
    meant to kill the President of the United States.

    An idealistic, ambitious reporter, Victoria Winston is living her
    dreams–covering news of worldwide significance for a major metropolitan daily
    newspaper in the nation’s capital.

    As a reporter for The Washington Sun, she covers local disasters, the White
    House, Watergate, the publication of the Pentagon Papers and a world of
    assassinations, antiwar protests and bloodshed in the streets. Her bylines on page one–even those on page 39– thrill her every time.

    Until

    The final edition.

    A 73,000 word historical novel, Final Edition begins in 1968, a year that
    has been called “the most turbulent and tragic year since World War
    II.” It is the story of Victoria’s understanding
    of the soul of a newspaper and its magic allure. It is a tragedy about heartless corporate
    executives concerned more with columns of figures on a budget sheet than with columns
    of news on a layout sheet. And
    Victoria’s struggle to hold back the doom.

    I spent 25 years in the newspaper business–14 as a reporter and editor for The
    Washington Star. This is a
    fictionalized account of the last years of that newspaper’s life and the peril
    that threatens of newspapers everywhere.

    The complete manuscript, chapters or
    a synopsis are available on request.

    Thank you for reading this. I hope to hear from you.

  • Arianna Arguetty

    Help me? I’ve sent out around twenty queries by now, and I think this is my best one. No one has requested a partial or anything. What am I doing wrong? :,(
    ___

    According to the Knight Agency website, you represent young adult fiction and particularly enjoy secret societies and witty characters. As such, I would like to introduce you to my novel, Ateli Exelixi, meaning “imperfect evolution” in Greek.
    Dear [Agent’s name],

    Ateli Exelixi is the story of Jenna Christine Stewart, a sixteen-year-old who discovers that she is not who, or what, she thought she was. She is adopted. She is not human. And she has to less than a year before the Skia, a species of shadow beings, drives humanity to all-out nuclear war.

    Due to an accident at her school, Jenna and the rest of the student body are transferred to a prestigious academy that will separate her from everyone else and thrust her into training with humanity’s secret guardians. There, she must learn how to control her emotions and her abilities before society rips apart.

    This story, the first of a projected five, is set in present-day Miami and runs about 84,000 words. I am a new author and hope to pursue a career with your assistance. I have included the first five pages of the manuscript as your website requests. Thank you for your consideration and have a great day.

    Sincerely,

    Selene Osiris