Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Query Letter

This is about how much progress it feels like you're making writing your query letter.

So here it is. The one that got me the golden ticket! This was probably the four-thousandth version of my basic pitch for the book. The first two paragraphs set up the basics of the story and hopefully engaged the reader enough to keep going. The third paragraph is a little more indulgent, trusting that the first two, brief paragraphs had earned me enough capital to spend on a few flourishes, a few fun turns of phrase. This paragraph also revealed more about the conflict of the story and concluded without a resolution to that conflict; in fact, the query only takes the reader to the halfway point of the book.

Paragraph four is straight genre, word count and title along with a minor info dump of themes. It's scary putting that last part in, but I was trusting the first three paragraphs did their job. Agents are interest in knowing what audience the story will appeal to and identifying some of the issues explored in the book help them do that. Some people put this at the top of the letter, but I think, just as in an actual book, you have to grab your audience from the first sentence.

Finally, the personal touch. I was prompted to sen this query to Laura due to a tweet I saw that morning. Mentioning the tweet as well as how my story lined up with her personal tastes as expressed on the agency website allowed me to connect my work to this individual, not to a mass audience. I believe even when everything else is in place, forgetting to make this small personal connection will prevent even the best query letter from standing out in the mountain of slush sent to an agent everyday.

Take a look at the actual letter below. You'll see there is no magic in the prose. It takes constant revision and tightening to get a proper rhythm to this kind of letter. And it never feels natural to reduce an entire book (or even half of a book) down to three paragraphs. Furthermore, what appeals to one agent may not appeal to another. Everything is subjective and timing is something you can't predict or control.

Tune in next time to see how this letter resulted in an immediate offer of representation! (That's a little joke for the newbies).

Dear Laura,

Coming into her senior year after a jilted suitor posted private sexting messages onto the school Facebook page, Mila Cavanaugh is struggling with her new notoriety.  When she meets Rup, an unnervingly hot and domineering college student, she learns any problem can be solved by a master manipulator for the right price. 

Each time Mila stumbles Rup is there to help her back up, but each new favor requires Mila to fall deeper into Rup’s sphere of influence.  As his recompense goes from inconvenient to criminal, Mila finds herself moving away from Rup and toward her best friend’s brother Blake who is always there for her, asking nothing in return. 

Just as Mila’s life starts to resemble normal again, a new threat emerges: a grainy video taken after a long night of partying, one that could ruin more than just her reputation.  In trying to contain the video Mila learns that Rup has been behind every problem he’s ever solved for her.  Now he’s offering to make the video go away forever, but his price is a night alone with him.  Giving herself over to Rup could bury her worst mistake under the weight of an even greater one, costing her something she can only give away once.  If she can learn Rup’s true identity and expose him as the monster he really is, Mila may be able to get the upper hand in a game she didn’t even know she was playing.

UNSEND is my 65,000 word YA contemporary novel inspired by the RUMPELSTILTSKIN fairy tale.  While there are no angry dwarfs or spindles of spun gold in this retelling, there is peer pressure, manipulation, sexting, stalking, and self-image issues.

Seeing your tweet this morning about unexpected retellings of classic tales and reading your wish list at Red Sofa's website gives me hope this story will be a wonderful fit.  Per your submission guidelines, I have not included sample pages and will keep myself from being incarcerated until I hear back from you.


Shawn Keenan

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