Query Analysis

14 Feb

By Mandy Hubbard

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Hi Everyone!

Sorry for the delay in my query analysis post– things have been pretty crazy since the big announcement, but I’m settling into a rhythm now.

Let’s start with Sarah’s query. My comments are in bold/italics:

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.

I’m definitely a fan of starting a query with the hook. I read dozens and dozens of queries in a week, sometimes spending a few hours in a row. If you can start your book with a sharp focus on the hook, it’s more likely to grab me right from the get-go. Likewise, if your book is humorous, get me laughing right from the start. It’s okay to start with, “I am seeking representation for________” but I prefer to save that for the end, near your bio.

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.

Great! We have the hook, now we’re focusing in on the character. It’s important to have a good balance of  conflict and character.

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…

Sold. She’s got enough conflict, driven by the character, to carry a novel.

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.

Though she skipped the word count (and I happen to know it’s because it’s the word count is slightly higher than normal, so this was probably a smart move), she has all the pertinent information. The closing is concise and to the point.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sarah J. Maas

So, is it a request? Definitely. Sarah’s query is well-written, with a great balance of character and plot. She gets right to the point up front. Even better, she’s added a commercial angle by showcasing that her epic fantasy is a unique take on a fairy tale.

Moving on to Savannah’s query:

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.

Here’s how most people begin their query– genre, word count, etc. It’s professional, and it works. My PERSONAL (stressing the PERSONAL) preference is to begin with the hook, but Savannah’s opening works just fine. Further, she’s pinpointed the agent’s specific preference for edgy romance. If all you plan to say is “I see you represent YA so I think you’ll be interested in my YA book,” Then leave it out. All you’re saying is that you found them on a website or search engine. It sounds like you’d take any agent that reps YA. Moving on….

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.

Great! Here’s the hook, and Savannah tells it in an easy-to-follow manner. She also tells us who the main character is, which I assume she’ll elaborate more on…

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.

Bingo! We know more about the main character, and Savannah has done an EXCELLENT job of balancing internal and external conflicts. She’s also set up the plot sufficiently that we get an idea of where the reader is going to be taken in the opening pages, but not so much it’s like one of those too-long movie trailers that spoils the movie. Remember, your query is to ENTICE AND INTRIGUE an agent,  NOT to explain away your novel! Savannah has done a great job of this.

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.

In her post earlier this week, Savannah said she would have removed her age and her fictionpress background. I agree– in a normal situation you shouldn’t mention either of those. For me in particular, it might be of interest becuase I myself came from FP, so it’s something in common. But for your average agent, fictionpress will come off as amatuerish.

Regards,

Savannah J. Foley

The verdict? I probably would have requested this, too, although I would wonder if it were truly YA– it probably has a strong crossover into regular “adult” romance. I would have requested to see, though, because I’m a sucker for romance, and Savannah has made it clear that it’s the romance driving the story in this one.

I hope this was helpful! Please remember that these are my opinions only, and another agent could very well feel differently.

Mandy

Agent, D4EO Lit

Author, Prada & Prejudice

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9 Responses to “Query Analysis”

  1. Sara McClung February 14, 2010 at 2:52 PM #

    It was really cool to see your specific take on the queries! Little trips into agents’ minds are always, always nice to have access to 🙂

  2. Savannah February 14, 2010 at 3:15 PM #

    Whew, so glad you liked our queries from an agent’s perspective! Thanks for taking the time to analyze them, Mandy! And Congratulations again on your new job!

  3. Angela February 14, 2010 at 6:08 PM #

    Thanks for giving your feedback on the queries. I think it’s interesting to see an agent’s view.

    If you have no writing background how would the end of Sarah’s and Savannah’s query letters look like?

    • mandyhubbard February 14, 2010 at 6:36 PM #

      It’s TOTALLY okay to leave out a bio/background and just end with something like, ‘The full manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you.”

      What you DONT want to do is put, “I have no writing credits whatsoever.”

      ANd yes, people do that. all the time. Just skip doing that final paragraph and let the query focus on your book instead of you.

      • priscillashay February 15, 2010 at 12:37 PM #

        About writing credits, I don’t have any credits in the way of publishing, but I am involved in my college’s literary magazine (editing and collecting work). Is that something that would/should be included???

        By the way, congrats on all the queries so far!!

      • mandyhubbard February 15, 2010 at 12:41 PM #

        You can include credits like that if you want to– totally your call. I think some may consider college papers/magazines not quite on the same level, but I think it shows you can handle deadlines and pressure, so I suppsoe it could help.

        Your book is #1, bio/credits are just an extra, IMO.

  4. priscillashay February 15, 2010 at 12:46 PM #

    Hmm, thank you 🙂 I was just wondering, but thanks for the quick reply!

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