Query Letter Review

I labored over this query letter. I researched (pretty sure I’m the queen of research), read examples, read so many articles titled “How to Write a Query Letter”, and then I pounded it out. I knew it wasn’t terrific, but I considered it decent enough. After all, I only needed to get one agent’s attention, right? This is what I ended up with (names and addresses removed, just pretend it’s done in official business-letter style):

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my debut novel Origins, an urban fantasy with a focus on werewolves. I found your name on AgentQuery.com and learned through your website that you were seeking new clients. With your interest in sci-fi/fantasy authors, I believe my novel would be a good fit.

Origins is just over 90,000 words and is intended to serve as a jumping off point for a further series. It begins with 3 college students in Chicago who are abducted by a team of werewolves and transported to a secret compound in the jungles of Peru. There, they are turned into werewolves themselves. Jesse and Dylan are made to fight other werewolves in the arena for sport, while Kate is used as an experiment on how the transition affects her unborn baby.

Told from the perspective of multiple characters, each chapter focuses on what one character is experiencing at that point in the story. In addition to the three initial protagonists, additional characters are granted chapters as they become relevant. On the surface, Origins is about survival and escape, but it also explores the nature of entrapment, the role of family, and what it means to be a monster.

As already mentioned, this is my first completed novel. I have recently completed James Patterson’s Masterclass and was chosen as a semi-finalist in his 2017 co-author competition.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Jessica Goeken

So, what went wrong? I have some ideas, and some of these are parts where I disregarded recommendations because I didn’t think the letter made as much sense without them.

Opening Paragraph

I actually think this is pretty solid. It’s fairly generic, but it states my purpose, my connection to the agent, and why I think my novel would be a good fit for them. It’s important to give them the name and genre of your novel here.

Paragraph 2

It’s important to quickly list your word count, too, so I did that right (yay!). But then I said that I planned for this book to start a series. Which is true, but not a good idea to tell them. I’m not trying to sell them a series, I’m trying to sell them a single book. That’s information better kept to myself until things progress further.

I also don’t think I did a good job introducing my novel. It sounds kind of boring, but I couldn’t come up with anything better to say. How do you condense something so big into a couple of sentences that accurately convey what your book is about?

Paragraph 3

I talked about themes. I couldn’t think of anything content-wise to follow Paragraph 2, so I tried to generalize what I wanted them to understand about the story as a whole. That’s another recommendation I skipped. Don’t tell them what themes are in your book. If you’ve done your job right, they’ll be able to tell. A better thing to focus on is what conflict your protagonist is facing, what decisions they have to make, and what hurdles stand in their way.

Paragraph 4

Writing credentials. I don’t have any. Not any that count, at least. I’m sure they don’t care that I had poems published in the Fall Foliage magazine in the fifth grade. I don’t know if they care about the co-author competition, but it’s all I have, so I put it in there.

Closing

Nailed this one. Polite, to the point. This is not where you beg the agent to read your book, or insist that it’s the best thing they’ll read this year. Obviously you think it’s worth something if you’re sending it to them, so don’t lay on the praise. Let your writing speak for itself.

So, those are the mistakes I’m pretty sure I made. I’ll never truly know, because none of the agents told me what made them reject my novel, but I think I have it figured out. This part, at least. And these lessons will help me to make my next letter better than this one.

Stay tuned. I think next time I’ll share some of the responses I got to my query.

My Agent Quest

I’m not planning to make multiple postings a day, but for now I’m trying to bulk up my content a little to make you want to stay and read more. Is it working?

This post is about the ordeal I went through to determine which agents I wanted to send my completed manuscript to. It’s tough. If you do a google search for “literary gents” you’ll likely come back with too many results to manage, and not all of them will be legit.

Agent scams are everywhere. How to tell if an agent is a scam: they’ll try to charge you money. They’ll make you pay fees for evaluating your work. DON’T! Real agents won’t charge you a dime. They make their money on commissions when their clients get signed with publishers.

I’d read a recommendation saying that aspiring authors should check the “Acknowledgements” section of books similar to their’s and find names of agents that way. I decided that was a good place to start and began a list.  I spent a couple of hours poring over books and furiously writing down names. And it was a huge waste of time. Yeah, I got some names (not all authors name their agents or even have an “Acknowledgements” section at all), but no way to contact them without further research anyway.

Once I was online my search went quickly. I googled “how to find a literary agent” and discovered AgentQuery.com.  I even have it bookmarked now. For the most part, this site contains information for nearly every literary agent in the U.S. It shows you if they’re currently accepting unsolicited queries, what agencies they work for, what genres they prefer to represent, what their submission guidelines are, and new projects their clients have coming out. I narrowed my search to “fantasy”, since my novel was an urban fantasy about werewolves, and received 159 search results.

I paged through every single one of those 159 search results. Some were easily discarded, and some seemed absolutely perfect. I ended up with a list of less than 30 names, a good size for my initial foray. I wasted a lot of time here, too. I was trying to be organized and efficient and put them all into an excel spreadsheet, with contact information and submission guidelines, but I was so nervous that I continually linked to their pages to make sure my information was accurate. After all, if you don’t send agents EXACTLY what they ask for, there’s a good chance they’ll discard it without a second thought.

Next time, I’ll make a much simpler spreadsheet, knowing that most of my work will be done through individual websites anyway. One good aspect is that it allows me to track when I submitted my queries, who has responded, and how long it took them to respond.

One thing I didn’t expect: nearly all of the agents I submitted to preferred or only accepted queries through email or through a specific link on their website. It was easily adapted to, and saved me a lot of money on postage, I just wasn’t prepared for it.

In my next post I’ll share my query letter with you and show you the things I’m pretty sure I did wrong. I’m still not quite sure how to fix it, but that’s a problem for another day.

Steelheart

So, I just finished Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, the first book in his young adult The Reckoners trilogy (spoilers). I’ll admit, I was a bit leery about this series. Last year I read his Mistborn trilogy, and while I enjoyed it, there were a few aspects that I really didn’t like. He begins that series by plunging into a fictional world without telling the reader what any of the rules are. It was difficult to follow. Once I finally understood, I had a blast reading it. Then it ended with theistic elements that I wasn’t comfortable with, which left kind of a bad taste in my mouth for the whole experience.

Hence, my hesitation in this new series. There are some major differences this time around, though. First off, it’s set in a world that I can understand. It takes place in a futuristic Chicago, and what happened to the city is explained quickly and succinctly. The protagonist explains what happened when Calamity came, and the superhumans called Epics that decided to take over the world. It’s a good introduction, and allows the reader to accept and understand the details that follow.

One thing Brandon Sanderson does well is create his own lingo, especially for curses and epithets. These are simply thrown in, and it’s up to the reader to guess at the interpretation. In my own writing I struggle to come up with unique names and phrases, and I’m impressed and a little jealous that he does it so well.

I did struggle to connect with his protagonist, however. David is a young man consumed by the death of his father and driven to seek revenge against the Epic that killed him. He spends a whole decade on his research and planning, with no thought to other interests or his future or even girls. That’s something I simply can’t identify with.

I was intrigued by the character of Megan, though. She’s introduced as the tough-as-nails love interest that comes sweeping into David’s life, and it would be easy to box her into that corner. But she’s written with intense complexity and lot of mystery, and I have a feeling that she’ll have a major role to play in book 2: Firefight.

Keep tuning in.

The Dresden Files

This post is coming in a little late, since I’ve been reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher for a little while now.  This past weekend I finished up Proven Guilty, White Night, and Small Favor (spoiler alert).

In case you haven’t heard of this series, here’s an overview: The protagonist is a professional wizard named Harry Dresden. He lives in Chicago, and works as a private investigator. In the first couple of books this is where the main conflict comes from. A client will come in with a problem, which will somehow involve the use of black magic, and Harry will be drawn into a long and dangerous battle to resolve it.

One thing I can guarantee about this series is that it is non-stop action almost from page one. The conflict usually begins in chapter one, and the entire book is set over only a couple of days. Each story is a race-against-the-clock, beat-the-bad-guy-before-he-kills-everyone-and/or-destroys-the-world. They’re difficult for me to put down because I have to know what happens next, and it isn’t unusual for me to stay up into the wee hours of the morning to finish a book.

Harry is an excellent example of a conflicted protagonist. It takes a while for his backstory to be fully revealed, and we learn that there is black magic in his past. It’s difficult for him to keep some of those impulses in check, and he’s not always successful.  Even though his troubles are far outside the scope of what we can experience, his internal struggles are ones we can all relate to, and the fact that he isn’t always strong makes him very human.

Jim Butcher is amazing at weaving his storylines and tying his books together in more than just a sequential sense. For example, Queen Mab of the Winter Fae first appears in book four: Summer Knight. Harry agrees to grant her three favors, the first of which takes place in this book. The next favor doesn’t appear until book ten: Small Favor. There’s still one favor left, and I’m anxious to see what happens the next time Queen Mab appears. For me it creates a sense that the whole series is just one giant story, and I’m only reading chapters at a time, rather than individual books.

One character I love seeing is Thomas, the White Court vampire that turns out to be Harry’s half-brother. He’s prominent for a couple of books as he and Harry figure out their relationship, then he’s somewhat phased out a bit. He’s insightful, and funny, and is a good balance to Harry’s stubbornness and impulsiveness.

It’s difficult to summarize an entire series in a simple post without giving away all of the details prematurely, especially since this post comes in the middle and not at the beginning. Please don’t let my simple words keep you from checking out this series, because it’s definitely worth it.

Keep an eye out for what I’m reading next!