QUERY: ANTEBELLUM (WOMAN’S WORLD)
By Savannah J. Foley
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.
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?