Sep 10, 2010

Query - Elemental Matters: Giving & Getting

Cody J. McLean
(My Address)
(My City, State & ZIP Code)
(My Phone Number)
elementalmattersbooks@gmail.com
http://elemental-matters.blogspot.com/


(Agent)
(Agency)
(Street Address)
(City, State, Zip Code)

(Date of Submission)

Dear Mr./Ms. (Agent),

I am seeking representation for my novel, Elemental Matters: Giving & Getting, the first draft of which was completed at approximately 120,000 words on March 7 of this year. This book is to be the first in a planned series that can be best classified as a contemporary fantasy. It starts off fun and light, exploring the wonders of the mystic in a manner similar to Harry Potter. However, it progressively delves into deeper, darker territory. With an enthralling storyline, deep characters, and a unique blend of sci-fi and fantasy, Elemental Matters: Giving & Getting is sure to pull in readers like a black hole.

Life just isn’t fair; it’s a fact and everyone knows it. People just handle it in different ways. Chunhua is a girl who knows this all too well. Her family means everything to her, but her ancestral past has determined her future. On a shared birthday, she and her sisters receive mystic powers and new responsibilities. This seems innocent enough, but Chunhua’s life is thrown into oblivion when distant relatives hunt down her family for these powers, threaten them, and force her to follow their every whim. Her freedom is the price to save her dear kin. Somehow, she must find a way to break away from her new masters while still carrying out their dirty deeds. But in the midst of all this, Chunhua makes choices of her own that may prevent her from ever going back.

I am a seventeen-year-old high school student and as such, I can relate the audience to the protagonist better than, say, some middle-aged author could with recollections of their own teenage experiences. I also strongly believe that the market needs a bit of spicing up from some new blood. Read my work and you will likely agree.

If this has grabbed you by the collar, please contact me to request my full manuscript. Thank you for your time; I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Cody J. McLean

11 comments:

Mesmerix said...

Okay, first, congratulations on getting this far! And at 17! Wow, wish I had been this smart at 17.

Now, getting to the meat of things, you need to read how to format a query. First step is to go to Query Shark and read everything there is to read there. Then, start over.

Your query should begin...
---
Dear Agent,

Life isn't fair...
---

All the stuff about address, the entire first paragraph, none of that should be there. Put the title, word count, and genre as the last paragraph. Nothing more. Then, after your signature, put your contact info including website.

Your 3rd paragraph is actually offensive. "some middle-aged author" is the majority of authors out there, and agents. While I realize that you feel you can relate to a teen better because you are one (and that's probably true), saying it like that is not a good way to get you into the graces of others.

You can say you're 17 and feel you will relate well to other teenagers. There's no need to tear anyone else down to build yourself up.

Show don't tell. Don't tell us the story is fun and light and explores the wonders of the mystic. Show us that. Explain with clarity the plot points of your story, don't be vague.

Don't tell us that by reading your work, we'll agree that the market needs new blood (yours specifically) but show us that with a clear query with exciting characters and confclit.

Your paragraph on Chunhua and what she's doing is very vague. For example, you say "freedom is the price to save her dear kin." But I'm confused. Does she sell herself so that these relatives will let her sisters go? Say that.

You say, "Chunhua makes choices" but what choices? The choice the main MC makes is the most important part of a query. It's the heart of it. Don't be vague here.

I highly recommend checking out the aforementioned blog, as Janet Reid is literary agent and expert in the field. She knows far more than I do and her Query Shark blog will help you.

Keep up the good work, Cody. This shows a lot of potential and its certain you have the motivation to keep going. Best of luck!

Zee Lemke said...

Ooh, interesting. I like some of the ideas here. I like that your sentences are pretty well polished.

This query is upside-down. General stuff about how you're seeking representation and what genre you're in is boring and therefore gets left out or, when necessary (word count, genre), put at the bottom. If you're querying by email, your contact info also goes at the bottom. Don't include the agency's address inside the envelope, but that matters less.

Don't insult middle-aged people. Don't, in fact, EVER insult ANYONE in any query letter ever. Keep in mind: -the agent is probably middle-aged; -the agent is probably representing YA authors who are both successful and middle-aged; -you want the agent to be thinking about how awesome your book is, not about anything else and certainly not about bad books. "Spicing up" and "new blood" are cliches anyway. Just cut that paragraph. If you're good--and this query sounds like you probably are--you can stand on your own strengths without having to put anyone down. (Note for future job interviews: same thing applies. Never blame anything on a previous employer.)

Don't compare yourself to Harry Potter. Percy Jackson is the obvious heir to that empire and Riordan wrote an awesome, original series that was nothing like HP. Don't compare yourself to a black hole, either. Black holes suck. You don't. Don't SAY that the story starts off fun and light. That's going to be the job of your content paragraph: showing some fun, light-hearted things that Chunhua does.

con't

Zee Lemke said...

con't

Okay. So that content paragraph. There's not enough here yet. You've sort of outlined the plot (girl gets magic powers, gets kidnapped, tries to escape), and that's good! I get the sense that something happens. However, I don't really feel like I know what reading this book will be like. Leave out the sisters unless you can be funny when you talk about them. Have Chunhua in the first sentence and seriously consider having her name be the first word of the WHOLE QUERY. Next, check for logical connection between your ideas. Why is she trying to find a way to carry out her masters' dirty deeds (cliche again, btw)? Why is Chunhua's making her own choices opposed to trying to break away? (There's that "but" there.) Make the antagonists concrete. What are they threatening to do to Chunhua's family? For that matter, how on earth is kidnapping a minor and forcing her to use her magic powers against her will--by threatening her family!--fun and light? You also have the same problem Mesmerix had at first. Chunhua doesn't DO anything here, except perhaps vaguely needing to make some kind of choice. Make her the subject of a whole bunch of active verbs. Like at least three. Give me a little bit of implied setting, enough to know whether this is set in the US (or China), or in fantasyland. At the moment, all I know is that Chunhua's name is feminine and Mandarin, and that's not a lot of cultural info. Consider breaking up the new version into smaller chunks to make it more readable in an email window.

Replace your last paragraph with "Thanks for your time and consideration." The whole art of writing query letters is knowing what to leave out, and then using the space to dance.

Zee Lemke said...

Oh, and 120k is looooong. There's a link on the PQSP front page to a post about genres and word counts. Go read it.

Creiesp said...

Wow! Finally, someone with actual (and good) advice! Thank you so much. ^^ Quite a few of the things you mentioned had been in the back of my head, but I wasn’t too sure whether I should change them or not (and how). I didn’t mean to insult middle-aged people, but a lot of agents ask for a paragraph about yourself, but since I don’t have anything previously published or any relevant “experience,” that was what I ended up putting out. Also, some have said that I shouldn’t mention my age in the query, and I was a bit unsure about that too. Same for the black hole and Harry Potter stuff.

Also, this is actually the first revision of my query letter, and the first one did mention that the book is set mainly in China, but I cut that out and just figured that Chunhua’s name sounded Chinese enough to show that she’s from China. Seems kind of stupid in retrospect…Oh well. Also, I’m wondering whether I need to include somewhat early/mid-book spoilers to help project the plot. When I told my family one of these that occurs fairly early (though they hadn’t gotten to it because they’re slow readers), they just act shocked, and that’s one of the effects that I want, but I fear that if I just tell people these things up front, they’ll lose some of their intended impact when they actually read these parts in the story.

Another problem is that I’ve already sent over twenty query letters to different agents at different agencies that handle my genre, which there are only so many of. Since you’re only supposed to send a query to one agent per agency, and one query per agent (and per book), I fear that I’ve nearly exhausted my options for agents. I usually use such sources as the AAR site, http://pred-ed.com/, & http://www.agentquery.com/. Do you think that if I change my query letter drastically enough (and perhaps cut down and spruce up the novel itself a good bit), it would be alright to requery some agents? Or can you recommend any other sources or ways to find agents (attending conferences would be difficult, due to none of them ever being at my area and the fact that I’m restricted when it comes to traveling)? If worst comes to worst, I suppose I could just work for a while to finish the second book and submit that. Both could almost completely stand by themselves, anyway.

Thank you again for your kind and helpful words. :)

Anonymous said...

"Some middle-aged author" weighing in here.

The first paragraph needs to go. Talk about your character and plot, not yourself, and for God's sake don't boast. Let the agent decide for herself if the story is going to pull in readers like a black hole. Your job is just to tell her what the story's about.

Don't try to be cute-- "if this has grabbed you by the collar". Instead, try to be professional. I cannot emphasize this enough: make your *story* stand out, not your query.

Your query makes it sound like what you're offering to send is a first draft. If that's what you have, you're not ready to query yet. You need to polish your manuscript first.

Anonymous Author said...

Creiesp, I can answer that question-- no. If they've rejected, you're SOL.

What you need to do is query in batches of 5 or so, then revise after each batch.

Mesmerix said...

For some reason, my comment disappeared. It went to my email, and I saw it here, but now it's gone? Here's the repost:

-----

Okay, first, congratulations on getting this far! And at 17! Wow, wish I had been this smart at 17.

Now, getting to the meat of things, you need to read how to format a query. First step is to go to Query Shark and read everything there is to read there. Then, start over.

Your query should begin...
---
Dear Agent,

Life isn't fair...
---

All the stuff about address, the entire first paragraph, none of that should be there. Put the title, word count, and genre as the last paragraph. Nothing more. Then, after your signature, put your contact info including website.

Your 3rd paragraph is actually offensive. "some middle-aged author" is the majority of authors out there, and agents. While I realize that you feel you can relate to a teen better because you are one (and that's probably true), saying it like that is not a good way to get you into the graces of others.

You can say you're 17 and feel you will relate well to other teenagers. There's no need to tear anyone else down to build yourself up.

Show don't tell. Don't tell us the story is fun and light and explores the wonders of the mystic. Show us that. Explain with clarity the plot points of your story, don't be vague.

Don't tell us that by reading your work, we'll agree that the market needs new blood (yours specifically) but show us that with a clear query with exciting characters and confclit.

Your paragraph on Chunhua and what she's doing is very vague. For example, you say "freedom is the price to save her dear kin." But I'm confused. Does she sell herself so that these relatives will let her sisters go? Say that.

You say, "Chunhua makes choices" but what choices? The choice the main MC makes is the most important part of a query. It's the heart of it. Don't be vague here.

I highly recommend checking out the aforementioned blog, as Janet Reid is literary agent and expert in the field. She knows far more than I do and her Query Shark blog will help you.

Keep up the good work, Cody. This shows a lot of potential and its certain you have the motivation to keep going. Best of luck!

Zee Lemke said...

However, finishing the second book, polishing it to a high sheen (including discarding a good 2/3 of what you write), and querying THAT is legit. Don't worry, you don't have to be 17 to be a prodigy in this biz. You've got at least three years left. This model has been successfully followed by several published authors.

I recommend Query Shark and Nathan Bransford as good blogs to read while querying.

Anonymous Author said...

I'm up in the air on the question of saying you're 17. My gut says, yes, do say it. My agent says, no, don't.

When I was 16 and querying my first-- well, second-- novel, telling my age seemed to guarantee a more careful read and a more thoughtful, carefully explained rejection. But those were simpler, kinder times. In those days you, the writer, could call an editor up-- she'd answer her own phone-- and you could ask her if she was reading and then send her a full. Those days are long gone.

All the blogging agents (and my own agent also) say that the time they'd want to know the author is a teenager is when it comes time to sign the contract.

Dominique said...

Okay, some basic rules:

1) Never query the first draft of your book. It is, by definition, not ready. Make sure to take the time to think about it, revise it, edit it, rewrite it if necessary. Books take time.

2) Depending on your genre (and I can't tell if this is MG or YA, because you haven't told us your MC's age), you might be running really long on the word count. Definitely look into what's considered appropriate in your genre, and make sure your book is edited to concision.

3)You can pretty much cut your whole first paragraph. You don't need to tell your agent the story starts light but gets darker, is enthralling, and has deep characters. This should be apparent in your query. Show, not tell.