Query Week: ANTEBELLUM by Savannah J. Foley

10 Feb


By Savannah J. Foley


Hey guys, Savannah here. Today is the second post for Query Week, in which we share our query letters and discuss them.

The query letter you are about to read is the one that got me signed with the Bradford Literary Agency in December 2008. I received over a hundred rejections before Laura Bradford signed me, and looking back I can easily tell you what I did wrong (it started with naming my book ‘Woman’s World’, lol). But let’s read the original query first:

I read on AgentQuery.com that you represent Young Adult fiction, and are particularly interested in edgy romance. I believe you will be interested in my 60,000 word gender-issue YA novel Woman’s World, book one of a completed trilogy.

In a female-dominated society where men are kept as domestic slaves, one young woman must overcome cultural barriers as she grows closer to her new, abused slave -a romance that uncovers the secret history behind women’s rise to power in our world and leads to an exciting, apocalyptic revolution to restore gender equality.

When the famous and reclusive writer known only as the Poetess selects for her first slave a young man whose muteness makes him worthless in society’s eyes despite his great beauty, their journey towards trust and compassion in her isolated home sparks a powerful and forbidden romance. Torn with feelings deviating from strict religious and social dogma, and possibly dying from a cancerous illness that makes her shamefully barren, the Poetess struggles to come to terms with the love she feels for the slave she names Shaedyn, and her new, heretic belief that men deserve to be equal with women. Whispers of an underground equalist movement, and their tentative plan to use the Poetess as a political tool to sway the hearts of the nation, excite and terrify the Poetess until a near-deadly failing of health forces her to leave Shaedyn behind and travel to the East Hall, a technological metropolis and secret heart of the revolution itself.

At age 19, Woman’s World is one of five novels I have written. Originally posted online at Fictionpress.com, garnishing 61,000 hits, near 1,000 favorable reviews, and hundreds of registered fans, Woman’s World takes the female-dominant society stereotype to an intelligent and realistic place with a romance and characters proven to capture the heart of any reader. My other writing credits include a personal narrative in the November 2006 edition of literary magazine TeenInk, and an award from the Journalistic Education Association for Feature Writing. I would be happy to send you a complete copy of the manuscript for your review. I appreciate your time, and look forward to hearing from you.


Savannah J. Foley

First of all, when I created this query letter I didn’t have any writer friends at all. I didn’t know anyone who was going through what I was, and I had only one resource: agentquery.com.

I don’t remember how I found it, but I remember thinking that it was the only website related to agent queries that looked respectable. Its search feature was mostly useful (it crapped out every now and then), but best of all it had a FAQ section. That FAQ section taught me all of my initial knowledge about agents and what they want. In fact, that was pretty much my only guide in writing this query letter.

My first mistake did not begin with a query letter, however. It began with a novel that wasn’t ready to be queried on. Yes, I had a lot of fans on Fictionpress, and yes a lot of people claimed to adore my story, but I knew there were huge flaws in it, but at that point I didn’t care. I figure if it could make Fictiopress fall in love with it, then surely an agent would follow.

Yeah, right.

My book sucked. From the title to the low word count to the embarrassing repetition of issues and occasional corniness. I had bad names and irrelevant sections that had been included so long simply because they had always been there. My book was a messy room; yes, I knew where everything was, but it was not appealing at all.

The description of plot itself isn’t bad, but it ends at an awkward point. I almost want to ask my past self, ‘yeah, so? What happened then? The book ends with them separated? What happens after that?’ I should have pitched the series more, I believe, and briefly (oh so briefly!) outlined the rest of the series. It would only have taken a sentence.

Let’s pop down to the ending paragraphs. I have since learned not to mention Fictionpress in query letters, but I thought at the time that it would serve as preliminary proof that I could write pretty well. If I had to go back, I would take out Fictionpress, and also my age. It’s not relevant, and might have actually discouraged some agents from requesting partials. I would also take out that I had written 5 other novels. At the time I thought it would demonstrate that I was serious about being a writer, given my age, but have since learned that it actually leads the agent to ask what I’ve been doing with them this whole time. It’s better to just focus on the novel you’re pitching at the moment.

My award from the JEA isn’t really relevant, but I would keep it in if I did it again. It was for Feature Writing, and that’s basically fiction anyway. 😉

Thankfully, Laura Bradford somehow looked past all my mistakes and picked up on the spark that had enthralled so many others. She was simply amazing in helping/teaching me to edit my book, and it’s 10 times better than I could have made it on my own, unguided.

My biggest advice to those of you writing or about to write query letters out there is to have several crit partners be brutally honest with you about your book, and then be brutally honest about your query letter. Research, research, research successful query letters so you know what to do and what not to do (I recommend Query Shark). There are so many resources out there these days that you really have no excuse to have a bad query letter. Even just go to Twitter and search for the tag #queries. You might even run across some by LTWF contributor and future agent Mandy Hubbard 🙂

So, what do you think of my original query letter? If you were an agent, would you have requested to read that book?


Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

23 Responses to “Query Week: ANTEBELLUM by Savannah J. Foley”

  1. Sarah J. Maas February 10, 2010 at 1:06 AM #

    I think it definitely speaks volumes about the strength of your story that LB saw through the query and supposed roughness of the draft you sent her (I’m sure it was great), and still wanted to sign you!!! 🙂

    And you’re so right about there being a rude awakening when you make the leap from FP to real publishing–you get into this comfort zone in FP, where you assume that the ENTIRE WORLD loves your story…Little did I know! But that’s one of the main reasons why we created LTWF, right? So other FP people can learn from our mistakes!

    Anyway, fantastic job–I adored reading this!

    • Savannah February 10, 2010 at 9:35 AM #

      That was it exactly! I assumed my story had this power to make people love it, and it would be no problem to get an agent!

  2. Angela February 10, 2010 at 7:19 AM #

    I think you mentioned somewhere that an editor or someone said that they loved your book but found the issues it dealt with too much for YA readers (I think it was your Fail Better blog post)

    I’ve only read a chapter of Antebellum (It was amazing, by the way), and when I read the query letter, I couldn’t help but think about those issues.

    I’m planning on majoring in political science, so the book summary has me hooked. I love novels that deal with issues in society and whatnot.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Savannah February 10, 2010 at 9:37 AM #

      I did; I mentioned that on my livejournal actually (that post has since been friends-locked because apparently you’re not supposed to share stuff like that until after you’ve been published. Oops!)

      Thank you for the compliment on Antebellum! I actually sent my agent an email yesterday asking if she’d heard anything more from publishers about YA vs. Adult. Personally I think it would do great as a YA, because that’s who I originally wrote it for, but perhaps I will be overruled simply because of all the big issues it deals with.

      • Vanessa February 11, 2010 at 11:39 PM #

        A lot of YA novels deal with tons of issues. In fact, YA is known for being problem novels/coming-of-age novels. I’ve always thought that some of the best YA stories I’ve read where ones dealing with social issues!!

        But I guess it can sometimes be a fine line between YA and adult fiction. Some books, like Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” is marketed as both YA and adult (sometimes it depends on the country too).

      • Sarah J. Maas February 12, 2010 at 2:13 AM #

        I agree with Vanessa…YA often pushes the envelope…And I think you can definitely have those issues, but the main problem seems to be how mature/old-sounding your heroine is in comparison to her age…like, she sounds more in her late 20’s than in her late teens. THE HUNGER GAMES deals with similar issues of politics and corrupt governments and secret histories, but I think they stay more “YA”ish because the protagonists are all so very TEEN-ish, you know?

        BUT I think that ANTEBELLUM is definitely one of those books that could be in both adult and YA–it’s just a matter of time before a publisher sees that!!! 😀

  3. Rowenna February 10, 2010 at 8:57 AM #

    I think your idea is such an incredible twist on people’s preconceptions–it comes out in the query and it makes me want to know more, despite the flaws that you point out. (PS Antebellum is such a fabulous title, btw.)

    Thanks so much for your honesty here–learning from mistakes is so important, and it takes a really confident and giving person to allow others to learn from her mistakes! You’re inspiring me not to be afraid of my own mistakes, but to forge ahead with making them and learning and–hopefully someday–getting to publication. Thanks!

    • Savannah February 10, 2010 at 9:38 AM #

      Thanks, Rowenna! I hope you’ll appreciate my honesty just as much when it’s about your story, lol! I think we’re going to try and get all our critiques back to you on Friday.

      • Rowenna February 10, 2010 at 2:35 PM #

        Haha, no worries–I love the honesty, nothing gets better without it! 🙂 No rush–I know you guys are busy! Have a fabulous week!

  4. junebugger February 10, 2010 at 3:19 PM #

    Wonderful post! You’re right about having brutally honest critique buddies. They help so much–even though their edits sometimes give me a panic attack. I don’t know what I would do without them.

    • Sarah J. Maas February 10, 2010 at 3:24 PM #

      I totally agree–and I think you definitely need to establish what kind of critique partnership you’ll have, and know beforehand how to handle criticism…and not to take it personally. Honesty is key–and I’ve learned that being nice just to spare someone having their feelings hurt doesn’t help anyone. 🙂

      • Biljana February 11, 2010 at 12:07 AM #

        Definitely. If you’re not honest the first time, it makes it harder and harder to come clean. And I know personally I’d rather have a friend tell me something sucks than an agent :P.

      • junebugger February 11, 2010 at 1:35 AM #

        Do you want to know how honest my editor was? I sort of wanted to send my full ms without her approval–because I wanted to send it off right away. But then she sends me a whole essay on what needed to be fixed in the final four chapters–the lack of motivation behind a certain action, emotionally unengaging. She was totally right. And I was SO grateful that she had the guts to tell me this when I was just ready to send my story off. It took me five more days of intense editing. But it was worth it.

      • svonnah February 11, 2010 at 10:44 AM #

        Absolutely. I love how honest Biljana was with me last night about Chapter 3 of my WIP. She was all like, ‘you’re representing this character ALL wrong and you need to fix it,’ and I was like, ‘I thought so but I didn’t know! Thank you!’ even though I was embarassed that I had got it so wrong.

      • Vanessa February 11, 2010 at 11:47 PM #

        I think, as a writer, you just get so emotionally attached to your work. It’s hard when you’ve put so much effort into every word and every sentence; sometimes even entire scenes! You just end up so close to your work that it becomes hard to see anything else. It’s your baby, and you’ll be damned if anyone calls your baby ugly!

        But that’s what good editors/crit partners do. Sure, I still think they should be gentle, but they should also be honest. And they should provide as much feedback as they can (not just, “it sucks” – they should say WHY it doesn’t work, HOW it doesn’t work, and give possible suggestions if they can).

        I’m always so happy when I get authors who don’t freak out when they get their manuscripts back from me, especially in their early drafts. I use track-changes on MS Word (i find it so much easier to point out what isn’t working, or what is brilliant). I am ALWAYS warning them to not freak out when they get their MS back and find it FULL of red comments everywhere.

        But I’m sure one of these days I’ll get someone who freaks out on me…

  5. Rachel S February 10, 2010 at 3:39 PM #

    I just want to say

    I LOVE QUERY WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And I remember reading Woman’s World (don’t tell SJ Maas. whoever they are. I read more of WW than I did QoG) and loving Shae and the Poetess, but I truthfully always saw it as an adult novel. But to each their own. 🙂

    • svonnah February 11, 2010 at 10:45 AM #

      Thanks for your comment about the genre. I’m waiting to hear back from my agent so we can have a discussion about genre. I’m a little nervous!

  6. Biljana February 11, 2010 at 12:04 AM #

    Awesome post. Great advice. All this hub-hub over querying gets my blood pumping and excited :D.

    • svonnah February 11, 2010 at 10:45 AM #

      I think you meant ‘hubbub’, but I love ‘hub-hub’!!!

      • Sarah J. Maas February 11, 2010 at 7:31 PM #

        LOL–I just saw this comment chain and died. “Hub-hub!” hahahaha it’s almost as good as Savannah’s squirrel-scuttling across-the-ceiling noises on Skype.

      • Biljana February 11, 2010 at 7:42 PM #

        Yeah I thought it’d be funny too haha. That’s why I totally did it on purpose.

  7. Biljana February 11, 2010 at 7:41 PM #

    Yeah I thought it’d be funny too haha. That’s why I did it on purpose.


  1. Savannah J. Foley » I’m sharing my query letter at LTWF - April 2, 2014

    […] View my Query Letter here! […]

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