Yet Another Attempt at Writing a Query Letter

I finished the (hopefully) final revision of my book the other day. The grammar and details should be as perfect as I am personally capable of getting them.

But this lead to another problem: I think my old query letter is really boring. It’s probably technically accurate, follows all the query letter rules, etc., but it doesn’t leap out and say, “Hey, this book is fabulous! Read it!”

So instead of reading all the “rules” of writing query letters (which are frequently contradictory; you can drive yourself mad if you’re not careful), I took the time to read some successful query letters over at Guide to Literary Agents.

I decided, after reading agents’ comments on other query letters, that what I really do well in my book (besides dialog) are characters. I have a rather hefty number of characters in my book (I am a big fan of Harry Turtledove, who manages large casts of characters fabulously), and they all have a unique personality. I mean, look at my character biographies (see right sidebar): I’ve obviously put a lot of time and effort in thinking about their backgrounds and histories–even though most of that information doesn’t actually come out in the book. I know my characters really well. So, I tried to rewrite my query letter in such a way you can see the characters and get interested in them right away.

So, here’s my new query letter (SPOILER ALERT). God-willing-and-the-creek-don’t-rise, I’m going to figure out how to put a poll on here, so you can vote on whether the letter really sells the book, is lacking, or makes the book sound terrible (after all, it’s the book I have to sell to an agent). Comments, corrections, and critiques are welcome in the comment section.

Kalyn Reid has a perfect life. She is a top student in her junior class, she is on the cheerleading team, her parents are happily married, and on her sixteenth birthday she becomes the human-of-choice for a very good-looking vampire.

Anselm (the good-looking vampire in question) has a pretty nice life too. He quietly busies himself making Shaker-style furniture, keeping his house immaculate, and watching Jeopardy! every weeknight promptly at 7:30.

When Anselm becomes insufferably introverted, his adopted brother, Micah, throws a firecracker into the room (metaphorically… most of the time). The two men form the vampire equivalent of the Odd Couple: Micah is irreverently Jewish, an attention whore, and his house is a certifiable disaster area. And yet, when they want to accomplish something together, they are a well-oiled machine: Anselm takes control, and Micah supports him with unwavering loyalty.

The status quo, however, is about to be shattered. Rumors of a new species of vampire are confirmed when Anselm saves Ciaran—a young, cheerful Irishman—from being murdered by another of his kind. Ciaran’s defection, however, sets up a cascade of events which threaten all-out war between the two species.

In the blink of an eye, both of Kalyn’s parents die, Micah’s father is murdered, and Ciaran is kidnapped from Anselm’s house. Suddenly Anselm finds himself struggling to hold together a despondent Kalyn, restrain a wrathful Micah, and rescue Ciaran—again. It doesn’t help matters when, along the way, he falls in love with Kalyn, and her highly-traditional aunt makes a case (literally) out of their inter-species relationship. Both of them wind up in vampire court, trying to defend themselves and their right to be together.  

“Accepted” is an urban fantasy novel of approximately 110,000 words.  This is the first book of a trilogy which follows Kalyn’s crash-entrance into adulthood, and her deepening relationship with Anselm and Micah, even while their culture and people are nearly exterminated.

NOTE: This poll will only run until February 18, 2011. If you’re a latecomer, I probably won’t listen to you, but feel free to leave a comment.


3 comments on “Yet Another Attempt at Writing a Query Letter

  1. Wallace says:

    I’m not really sure how acceptance letters should go, but this seemed way to complicated and you introduced a lot of characters in a couple of lines of explanation. I don’t really care about all the supporting cast of characters, just about the two main ones, which I take it are Anselm and Kalyn. I need to hear what they are about, how they interact, and how they progress as a couple, if they do at all.

    I take it a query letter should be like a resume: short, to the point, telling me what I’m going to like about the book, and why your book is better than some other book I might want to promote. What you’ve written is a summary of the plot boiled down to it’s essence, not a piece of PR promoting your book. Nothing wrong with a summary, but what you want on the cover page is something that will whet the appetite of the agent and want him/her to read your summary page and then go for the sample chapters. It’s like fishing, spin the lure to get his attention then yank the line to get him hooked.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      Query letters are not quite the same thing as a cover letter, because a cover letter always has a resume after it. Many agents, however, do not want sample chapters right away, and book summaries are rarely separate from the query. So often the one-page letter is all you have to describe a 110,000 word book.

      I based my query on the following (successful) one at Guide to Literary Agents. See if mine is similar, or if it missed the mark:

      Dear Ms. Winick:

      Because you represent upmarket and women’s fiction, I hope you will be interested in my novel, The Weird Sisters.

      The Andreas sisters are failures: in love, in career, in life. And so they have come home to the small college town where they grew up: to their professor father, whose devotion to Shakespeare freezes their communication in the words of a man who has been dead for 400 years; and to their quiet mother, who is fighting breast cancer.

      The prototypical oldest sibling, Rose (Rosalind) was sure that if she followed all the rules, she would have everything. Instead, she has nothing. She has lost her job, her fiancé has abandoned her, and she is trapped by the safety she has spent her life seeking.

      Always afraid that she would be lost in the middle, Bean (Bianca), escaped to the glamour of New York. Her return is anything but glamorous; she was fired for embezzling funds from her employer. Praying that the love of a holy man will wipe her sins clean, she seeks forgiveness by pursuing the town’s handsome new reverend.

      For seven years, Cordy (Cordelia), the baby of the family, has been a ghost. She dropped out of college to take to the road, skipping from place to place like a stone on water, trading passing love for shelter. But that life has lost its luster, and she has come home with only one thing to show for her time on the road: a pregnancy of uncertain paternity.

      My writing has been published in anthologies, magazines and journals, including the Philadelphia City Paper and Crab Orchard Review. In 2005, I won the RWA-sponsored “Get Your Stiletto in the Door” contest. I hold an M.A. in Literature, and teach English in South Florida.

      The Weird Sisters is complete at approximately 90,000 words, and I would be delighted to send the full manuscript for your review.

      Thank you for your time and attention,

      Eleanor Brown

      Commentary from Elizabeth:

      From the very start, Eleanor’s letter had all the sure signs of a great read. It was properly formatted, she spelled my name right (always a good sign!), and she did her research matching her project to my interests. Once introductions were out of the way, the letter pulled me in immediately. The first line has so much going for it! It’s direct, declarative, and presents a relatable situation. The feeling of being a failure, and the subjects of love, career, and life have a universal appeal allowing the reader to identify with at least one of these elements.

      After that, the characters absolutely hooked me. It takes an incredibly talented writer to not only introduce so many characters in such a short letter, but reveal so many layers of each character’s personality and story. Eleanor used a tagline for each character that was both memorable and compelling. These sisters weren’t one-dimensional, they had inner turmoil, conflict, and complexity. She made me want to know these women, be friends with them, and in a way made me feel like I already knew them. We all have friends or sisters like these characters and that kind of immediate familiarity is exactly what I look for when considering women’s fiction.

      Throw some Shakespearean flavor into the mix and this is starting to sound like the perfect pitch! It also suggested that this book would have a wide appeal. With so much going on, I couldn’t wait to start reading. Once I did I was hooked!

  2. Wallace says:

    Ah, I see. You are given just one page to not only present your story idea , but also summarize your story and sell yourself as a writer. Tough call. Your query page looks much better given that criteria. I still think it’s too bogged down in details though, and not clear enough about the direction of the story. I may be a little presumptious, but, not having even read your novel let alone written it, I’ve taken it upon myself to write a query letter for you. You are welcome to use all or part of it or just ignore it entirely. I don’t know many of the particulars of your novel, so I might be wrong in some regards, but I did look over several of the query letters from the reference you included and I think this conforms to the list of accepted query letters listed there.

    Dear Ms. Ima Agent,

    I saw from the 2011 edition of How To Land Yourself A Hot Literary Agent that you are interested in works of fantasy and science fiction. I have written a 110,000 word contemporary novel about a new type of vampire, Anselm, and his relationship with a 16 year old High School cheerleader called Kalyn Reid.

    Anselm has a simple life, shared with his adopted brother Micah. He builds furniture, watches TV and tries his best to blend into the world around him. His world starts to unravel when he rescues Ciaran from being murdered. Ciaran is also a vampire, but a type of vampire unknown to Anselm. This knowledge was never meant for Anselm and possessing it starts off a chain of events that lead to the death of Micah’s father, the kidnapping of Ciaran, and the death of Kalyn’s parents.

    Anselm now must restrain Micah from setting off on a hopeless vendetta against the vampires while at the same time trying to rescue Ciaran without getting them all killed. To further complicate his life, his feelings for Kalyn have gone from affection to love and he finds himself both her guardian and her lover. As their feelings for each other deepen, word of their love reaches the elders of the vampire society and they are called before a tribunal to justify not only their love but their very lives.

    This is the first book of a trilogy following the growth of Kalyn from girl to woman and her entry into the world of vampires her lover Anselm must live and hide every day.

    (I don’t know your particulars, but here is where you write about yourself so the agent knows your not a ten year old with a word processor. Something like this)

    I’m a graduate of The University of Tennessee with a B.A. in literature. I’ve written several short stories and essays in the past and have participated several times in the National Write A Novel In A Month series. I have written extensive background on my characters and settings and would be happy to send you an expanded summary of my book and sample chapters if you desire.

    Thank you for your time and attention.


    Keri Peardon

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