Friday, November 6, 2015

The Query That Got Me My Agent

Happy Pay-It-Forward Friday!! I hope everyone's had a lovely week. If you're looking for my IWSG post, click here.

I've recently started Pay-It-Forward Friday, and what I do is post something of help to the writing community. So far, the focus has been on queries. Weirdly, I love query letters, though most people seem to hate them. If you have one you need help with, let me know! Or, if you have one you want to brag on, I'd be happy to feature that as well. Today I suppose I have more of the latter - since I had no sacrificial lambs on the query critique alter, I'm posting the query that snagged my agent's attention, and got me a full request. Here it is, and my notes are interspersed in purple:

Ms. Lu,

Always address the agent formally. Check, doubly and triply, you have spelled the name right!!! 

Evryn’s got mad skills at playing hide and seek. She can find lost children, hack the most secure databases, pretty much anything. Except for the one thing she desires most: the knowledge of who her parents are, why they abandoned her, and what her special talent means about who and what she really is.

There is differing advice from agents on this, but I like to jump right into the story on the first line. I put the more drab details like word count at the end. Agents are super busy and may only read a line or two, so I want them to be great ones! Note: many agents hate a query opening with a question, so use caution with that.

It took me a while to get this paragraph right:
  •  I needed to lay a tiny bit of back story just so it made sense, without getting bogged down. 
  • It needed to be interesting to hook the agent. 
  • I've written it with the same voice/tone of my story - I am a big fan of this in queries. Don't go overboard, but this is a way to show your writing style.
  • I've also revealed a bit about Evryn's character - what she desires most (the truth about her parents and herself)
So, when a guy named Seeker appears quite literally out of nowhere, claiming to know about her past and offering her a job, Evryn can’t say yes fast enough. Even if it does mean following him to another realm. As in, mind-blowingly, not Earth. Apparently she’s part of an elite clan of Hunters descending from Artemis who can find just about anything in all of time and space. As the last of Artemis’ direct lineage, Evryn is her clan’s best shot at finding a lost city before rival clans do.

Here I start to lay out the main plot point. I had to do some world-building too, because this is fantasy. Again, a balance to not get bogged down.

Not just any city, but the flying, realm-hopping city of Skye. Aboard Skye is the Artifex, a magical device with the power to create or destroy worlds. Everyone wants the device, and with Evryn’s super-powered lineage, it means everyone wants her, too. It’s hard to decide who she can trust, even within her own clan. After she discovers a strange, alluring connection to the Artifex, she’s not even sure she can trust herself. Worse yet, the only person who may be able to help her is the Timekeeper, the sadistic ancient being who created the Artifex. An interdimensional war is brewing, and Evryn is right at the epicenter of it all.

  • More details on the plot
  • The stakes!! This is important in any query. Without stakes there's no tension. Amp up that tension!

Let the hunt begin.

I like to end queries with some kind of clever, teaser-ish phrase, but it's not necessary.

My new adult contemporary fantasy HUNTRESS FOUND is complete at 85,000 words. Per your submission guidelines, I’ve included the first ten pages and a brief synopsis below. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Now you can (and should) add the drab details:

  • Genre
  • Title in ALL CAPS (it looks weird, but it's proper etiquette)
  • Word count (this is important - don't forget!)
  • Then I like to confirm to them that I have read and complied with their submission guidelines - it personalizes the query, and lets them know you're prepared and organized.
  • If you have any legit publishing credentials, add that in. Note: LEGIT. I was published in a local newspaper and some zines years ago, but I'm not listing that because it sounds amateurish. The rule is, you can list it if you got paid. I'd say you could fudge on this a little, if you didn't get paid, but it was a well-known publication. Use good judgment. 
  • Same with awards - list any writing awards that are well known, but not super minor stuff. I won some writing contests on different blogs, some of them even well known contests in the writing community, but I aired on the side of caution and didn't include it. You don't want to sound unprofessional.
  • And in that same vein, NEVER mention "I'm an unpublished author", or "This is my first novel". It's not necessary to mention that and many agents report they feel it sounds unprofessional.
  • Overall: hook 'em good, keep it short and sweet!

Alexia Chamberlynn
(850) 443-6075

This was an e-query (hardly anyone takes paper anymore), so I everything is left justified. I also included my main social media sites in my signature block so they can see I am market savvy. 

Hope that was helpful! If you have a query you want me to feature, please let me know - whether it's a critique or a brag you're looking for. 

Have a fabulous weekend, writer friends!


  1. You kept the query short and to the point. I think diving right into the story is a good thing. They probably read enough extra fluff.

  2. Love the idea of paying it forward! Thanks for sharing your query and your notes. :)

  3. Thanks for sharing. Queries are tough because every word must count and make an impact. You did a fabulous job!

  4. It was great to read the query letter that got you an agent. It sounds like an exciting story too.

  5. Lots of useful advice here, thanks for sharing. Yes, best to get straight to the heart of the story!

  6. Ooh, great query and excellent advice (cool sounding book, too!). The STAKES--that is definitely important. What the character wants, and what happens when he or she doesn't get it. Now I'd better run off to see if my recent queries have all these things...

  7. Wonderful query. It's always eye-opening to see the ones that attract an industry person's attention. I've seen different formats, but I like this one.

  8. So we're calling it contemporary fantasy these days instead of urban fantasy, eh? Interesting.

  9. I really like this breakdown of a query. Thanks for sharing!


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