Query Week: QUEEN OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas

8 Feb

WELCOME TO QUERY WEEK!

In case you didn’t see on Friday, this week is ALL ABOUT QUERYING.

Today, Sarah J, Maas will discuss her querying experience for QUEEN OF GLASS, and what made it successful (or not); Wednesday, Savannah Foley will be doing the same for her ANTEBELLUM query; and Friday, Mandy Hubbard—YA author extraordinaire and literary agency intern—will be analyzing their queries from an agent’s POV.

But what’s the point of all this?

To help you. To learn from our mistakes—and our achievements. To get a sense for what works, and what doesn’t. To know what catches an agent’s eye, or what repels them.

Feel free to post any questions you might have about the querying process–we’d all be more than happy to answer them! And don’t hesitate to give your own feedback about the queries we share!

We hope you’ll join us!

~~~

QUERY: QUEEN OF GLASS

By Sarah J. Maas

~

To be honest, there were times when I wondered if I’d ever be in a position to discuss what made my query letter for QUEEN OF GLASS successful. So, here’s a bit of background on what I did BEFORE sending out my query.

I researched like a crazy person. Using AgentQuery.com, I browsed through agents who represented fantasy, viewed their client lists, and easily accessed their submission guidelines—which are IMPORTANT. FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES. DO NOT IGNORE THEM. THEY ARE THERE FOR A REASON.

Once I compiled my list of agents—and properly formatted everything to fit their individual requirements—I made sure to tailor each of my queries to the similar tastes we shared. If they had a passion for strong heroines, I’d mention how Celaena, the heroine of QUEEN OF GLASS, is an ass-kicking assassin; if they enjoyed love triangles, I’d mention that. Basically, by tweaking my query to our mutual interests, I demonstrated that I’d done my research, and that I wasn’t mass-querying them (which is one of the biggest faux pas you can commit).

Then…I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and hit “send.”

The query I sent to my agent was the following:

Dear Ms. Rydzinski:

What if Cinderella went to the ball not to win the heart of the prince, but to kill him?  In THE EYE OF THE CHOSEN, the first book of my fantasy trilogy, QUEEN OF GLASS, Celaena Sardothien is not a damsel in distress—she’s an assassin.  Serving a life sentence in the salt mines for her crimes, Celaena finds herself faced with a proposition she can’t turn down: her freedom in exchange for the deaths of the King of Adarlan’s enemies.

Before she can complete her mission, she must first train within the glass castle in the capital of the empire. As training with the Captain of the Guard revives her muscles, encounters with the Crown Prince threaten to do the same to her heart. But Celaena soon learns that the King of Adarlan might have plans more sinister than assassinations.

An ancient queen’s ghost charges Celaena with an enormous task: to discover and destroy the mysterious source of the evil king’s power. Torn between her desire to win her freedom and a mission much bigger than herself, Celaena thus begins an adventure she never wanted, which will uncover her forgotten, magical past—a past more dangerous than any tyrant…

I am a 2008 graduate of Hamilton College with a degree in Creative Writing, and I have been published in Hamilton’s literary magazine, Red Weather. Because of your interest in fantasy, I thought you might be interested in my trilogy, which is centered on a retelling of the Cinderella legend through the eyes of an assassin. My completed manuscript is available at your request. Below, please find the first ten pages of my manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sarah J. Maas

So, in hindsight, what worked and what didn’t?

Well, I still like my pitch. BUT I’m not ashamed to admit that the first draft of my query was a nightmare. Mandy Hubbard can attest to that, and it’s only because of her editing genius that my query looks the way it does. I was totally clueless about what to include in a query—and it wasn’t until I imagined that I was writing the summary on the back of the novel that I got the tone and pacing down right. I spent several drafts tweaking words to make them juicier, cutting or combining sentences to make it flow better, etc..

And PLEASE–don’t discuss the philosophical and thematic elements–SHOW them in your pitch. Don’t talk about your history with the manuscript; don’t mention how long it took you to write it, or how quickly you revised it, or how your critique partner thinks it’s the next HARRY POTTER.

So…What could have been cut? Well, some things in the final paragraph irk me. The reference to my publication in Red Weather, for one. While it’s a college literary magazine, it doesn’t really COUNT in the real world. In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed that I saw it as a credential, and my query wouldn’t have suffered in the least if I had removed it. I would also cut out the double-use of “interest” in the same paragraph (Wow, I’m cringing right now).

Regardless of those things, I learned pretty quickly that I had a decent query in my hands. I immediately received requests, and out of the 16 agents I queried in mid-December of 2008, well over half of them asked for material.

My agent got back to me within a few weeks—and requested that I snail mail her the partial. Two weeks later, she asked for me to mail her the entire manuscript. A week after that, she called to offer representation, and from the moment I spoke to her, and heard her enthusiasm for the story, I KNEW she was The One. I signed with her at the end of January 2009.

There are loads of missteps that I could discuss—the two agents I queried in spring of 2008 with a 2-page query letter (eek!); or the 6 agents I queried in fall of 2008 with my novel, A FARAWAY LAND (whose query letter was pretty kick-ass and garnered a bunch of requests). The short explanation: I learned not to write a 2-page query, and that, while AFL received a few revision requests, my heart was more in QUEEN OF GLASS, and I’d endure the rejection better with a project that had my entire soul in it.

But the most important thing I learned when querying was on a more personal level. I learned about my strength. I learned to get back up when knocked down; I learned that my backbone is made out of steel. I learned to take risks—I learned that it’s okay when those risks turn out to be mistakes. I learned to keep my head held high, no matter what.

While it was difficult at times, I wouldn’t trade the ups and downs of querying for anything. I wish you all the best of luck with your own endeavors!

~~~

Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella. Her agent currently has her novel on submissions to editors. Sarah resides with her fiancé in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

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24 Responses to “Query Week: QUEEN OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas”

  1. Angela February 8, 2010 at 6:17 AM #

    Thanks for sharing. I’m don’t know much about query letters, but your letter makes me want to reread Queen of Glass.

    Hopefully, I can turn around my lack of knowledge on query letters after reading the next query week posts.

    Thanks again!

    • Sarah J. Maas February 8, 2010 at 10:54 AM #

      Haha, thank you! I really hope this whole week proves useful for aspiring authors! 🙂

  2. Savannah February 8, 2010 at 8:14 AM #

    Excellent way to kick off Query Week!

    • Sarah J. Maas February 8, 2010 at 10:54 AM #

      Thank you, thank you! 🙂 I can’t wait for your article on Wednesday!

  3. Christina February 8, 2010 at 9:14 AM #

    Just wanted to say I think you did an excellent job Sarah! And I really really liked what you wrote for today…It sort of inspired me and made me want to try a bit harder. This was full of a LOT of information that will definitely be helpful for the future…obviously i haven’t started querying yet (still working on the novel :P) but this really makes me want to finish my novel and give this querying a try soon!

    Thanks so much again!
    Christina

    • Sarah J. Maas February 8, 2010 at 10:56 AM #

      Thank you!!! That is high praise indeed! 🙂 Seriously–hearing that we’ve inspired someone with their own journey to publication is the best compliment we can receive. It makes all of our hard work and effort totally worth it!!!

      Best of luck with finishing your novel, and your own querying quest! 😀

  4. Sara February 8, 2010 at 10:32 AM #

    Kick ass query–thanks so much for sharing! This week’s theme comes with perfect timing as I’m about to be working on my own query!

    • Sarah J. Maas February 8, 2010 at 10:56 AM #

      Thank YOU so much for commenting!! 🙂 And eeeeek!! Working on your query!!! SO exciting!!! That’s really wonderful!

      Wishing you the best of luck!!

    • Savannah J. Foley February 8, 2010 at 11:16 AM #

      Wow, what an exciting time for you! Please let us know if you have any questions or need any advice!

  5. Rachel S February 8, 2010 at 11:16 AM #

    I’ve wanted to know about this for ages! (I actually thought of asking you about it before we decided to do query week. lol psychic)

    I really liked yours and I think this is really important. I feel like a lot of people tend to do this and somehow don’t learn from it even after being told a 1,000 times. 😉

    “Don’t talk about your history with the manuscript; don’t mention how long it took you to write it, or how quickly you revised it, or how your critique partner thinks it’s the next HARRY POTTER.”

    • Sarah J. Maas February 8, 2010 at 11:28 AM #

      Haha, I hope this lived up to your expectations!

      And yeah–a lot of people receive feedback and never listen to it. I sort of feel bad for those kinds of people, just because (by not listening to the feedback they receive) they prove to be their own biggest roadblock.

  6. svonnah February 8, 2010 at 11:50 AM #

    I love your lead in, but did you change the title of the book? I don’t think we’ve ever discussed ‘Eye of the Chosen’…

    • Sarah J. Maas February 8, 2010 at 12:13 PM #

      Well, QUEEN OF GLASS is the series title, but each book has its own individual title…The first book is QUEEN OF GLASS: EYE OF THE CHOSEN; the second book is QUEEN OF GLASS: THE PATHS OF THE TREASONOUS; and the third book is QUEEN OF GLASS: THE CROWNED.

      Of course, I’m not really attached to any of the individual titles, so those could ultimately wind up being changed–it’s just the QOG series title that matters to me! 🙂

  7. Anthony February 8, 2010 at 6:43 PM #

    “…and I’d endure the rejection better with a project that had my entire soul in it.”

    Is it weird that this gave me the chills?

    Anyways, you guys are doing something really great here. It’s really interesting to see you evaluate your own query and inspiring to see the stages you’ve gone through and where you are now.

    Query Week….genius.

    Humbly yours
    Anthony

    • svonnah February 8, 2010 at 6:51 PM #

      I’m pretty sure it was completely Sarah’s idea, too!

      • Anthony February 8, 2010 at 7:23 PM #

        Well I’m sure you and Ms. Hubbard will have something very useful to contribute. Looking forward to it.

    • Sarah J. Maas February 8, 2010 at 7:28 PM #

      Haha, thanks, Anthony! I’m so glad it gave you chills–that’s a pretty great reaction to receive!!

      Yeah–Mandy came up with the idea for Query Week, actually…we were thinking of hosting a query workshop, but thought it might be cooler to do an entire week dedicated to discussing our own querying travails.

  8. Vanessa February 8, 2010 at 11:26 PM #

    I love how you show us your actual query letter, Sarah! Your query letter is actually a lot better than a lot I’ve read.

    You can tell that you actually spent time writing and wording your query! What kills me is when I see something sloppy and thrown together. I think that, after writing your query, it’s good to wait a few hours – or even a day – before looking back at it. Because sometimes you just don’t notice things. You have to step back a bit before looking at it again. It seems to me that’s how most typos/repetitions go unnoticed.

    But, kudos to anyone who has ever submitted a query! I think you’re right in saying that it makes you stronger. I don’t think anyone should take a rejection personally – it should just push an author to keep trying and improving!!

    • Sarah J. Maas February 9, 2010 at 4:44 AM #

      YAY!! I’m glad it passed the test!

      And you are SOOO right with the advice–and especially with the encouragement that authors should view rejection as a push to keep trying!! 😀

  9. Jem February 9, 2010 at 4:49 AM #

    You are seriously inspiring Sarah. Such a charismatic and successful you author. I cannot wait to buy QOG and read more of your works. You truly do give me the strength it takes to get through the hard parts of writing a novel!

    • Sarah J. Maas February 10, 2010 at 12:01 PM #

      Thank you!! 🙂 That really means a lot to me!

  10. Eileen March 24, 2010 at 11:20 AM #

    it’s just like a cover letter for jobs. isn’t it in away? and the manuscript is sort of like the resume.

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