Monday, May 21, 2012

All About Query Letters

Today, I post my query letter for a roundtable discussion that will take place via Rachel Horwitz@rachelhwrites on twitter. Scurry on over there if you would like to participate!!


This is my pitch for Yassa:


***Updated***

Dear Ms. XXX,

When Temujin is ten, he murders one of his half-brothers in self-defense. That one act of brutality shows him the animal that lives inside his heart, sets into motion a string of events that bring a boy named Jamuka into his life, and gives Temujin the idea to write the law he calls Yassa. He marries his betrothed, Börte, only to have her kidnapped a week later by a rival tribe and sold at auction.

Yassa law states that, above all else, you are to be loyal to those you pledge yourself to. There is only one punishment for breaking Yassa law: death. Deep conflict arises between Temujin and Jamuka when they go to rescue the beautiful and fair Börte from the kidnappers because Jamuka sees her, falls in love, and decides to take her for his own. In a fit of fever, Jamuka attacks Börte and tries to force himself on her. Setting aside the law for the love of a friend, Temujin casts the man out instead of killing him.


Jamuka is bent on revenge for being cast out and is driven to win Börte at any cost. As a result, the two men are plunged into battle over power and a woman. Love drives the conquering of the greatest continuous empire in History in the hopes that the victor will win the affections of Börte, who is being driven mad with her own choice while the men are crossing swords. Only one man can succeed and become Genghis Khan.

Yassa is a completed 90,000 word historical fiction novel set in 18th Century Mongolia.

Thank you for taking the time to read my query.

Sincerely,

Jo Michaels

I appreciate all feedback.

That's all for today, folks!!

Until next time, WRITE ON!!

Jo

9 comments:

  1. I love that this is set in ancient Mongolia. The story sounds quite intriguing.

    The opening "Thank you for taking the time to read my query" is redundant. You thank the agent for their time and consideration in the last paragraph, so I'd just cut this one and lead straight into the rest of the query.

    "That one act of brutality shows young Temujin the animal that lives inside his heart, brings into his life Jamuka, a man Temujin thought was a friend but who becomes his greatest rival, sets off a string of events that test his loyalty, his love, and his law, Yassa, and gives him the tools to become the mightiest ruler of all time, Genghis Khan."

    This is a mouthful. I would recommend cutting this up into more managable chunks.

    "I am the author of The Abigale Chronicles – Book One which is the first in a young reader’s series and was self-published April 23, 2012. I have been reading and writing since I was four years of age and have written a number of short stories throughout my life. I attended Chattanooga State where I took a number of writing courses and the very History course that spawned the idea to write Yassa. After graduation in 2011, I pursued my idea of writing Yassa in earnest."

    For the query, I don't think any of this is necessary. Unless you have ridiculously high sales of your self-published book, I doubt they'll much care. Agents also assume you've written your novel because you love to write, so telling them you've been writing since the age of four is also unncessary. Also, unless you have a degree in English or Creative Writing, or even History to tie it into your book, I don't think that sentence is necessary. So, while this is purely my own opinion, I would recommend cutting this entire paragraph from your query.

    "Thank you for your time and consideration in reading this query. It is followed by the Prologue and first chapter of the book. If you are interested further, I'll be happy to send my proposal for your consideration. I look forward to your response. Thank you again for your time."

    I've always read to never include your Prologue in the sample pages you sent to an agent while querying. I figured I'd mention that, but the decision is purely up to you. In fact, I'd suggest removing everything after "Thank you for your time and consideration". Agents will assume you have a synopsis prepared and are eager to send it to him if they request. While I can't vouch on behalf of agents, I've also seen mentioned that "I look forward to your response" can be seen as a pushy prompt, so you might be best served leaving that out as well.

    Overall, I liked the query. I just think there are a few sections that should be cut completely. I hope my feedback helps and take my critique with a grain of salt. I'm no expert. These are just my opinions.

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    Replies
    1. I appreciate ALL feedback. Thank you very much, Rachel.

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  2. It’s up to you, but generally speaking the thanks for reading / word count and title come in your final paragraph before your writer details. I don’t think their placement there is paramount tho. I love that this is historical fiction and Genghis Kahn is a fun character, maybe play up on the stereotypes or say something that would break them? That could be a catchy. There doesn’t seem to be a main focus, more of a plot summary. That was a mistake I made with my first query. Try to hone in on your conflicts and characters. Btw, the classic, “I’ve been reading and writing for x years” is apparently a big no-no. For your credentials, focus on whatever professional work or involvement you’ve had. Normally I’d say to nix the self-pubbed comment, but it might be good for you.

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  3. Yeah, I would've stopped reading at the crazy-long sentence. After the second comma, I just skipped it entirely. It seems like you've got a good story, but I'd reiterate what was mentioned above - focus more on characters/conflict/stakes as opposed to "first this happened, then that happened" etc. I read the meat of the query twice, and I still don't really understand what's at stake :-/

    And I ditto the comments about your word count/genre being at the end, and nixing most (if not all) of the final paragraph. Agents want to know about the story, and if your info doesn't relate directly to it, you risk it being a turn-off to them.

    Good luck! <3

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  4. Stopping by from QueryRoundtable.

    Dear Ms. XXX,
    Thank you for taking the time to read my query.

    Yassa is a completed 90,000 word historical fiction novel set in 18th Century Mongolia. (This usually goes after the query.)

    If he had never murdered his brother, ten-year-old Temujin would have been free to marry his betrothed and love of his life, Börte, and live out his days in peace.(Queries should be in present tense.) That one act of brutality shows young Temujin the animal that lives inside his heart, brings into his life Jamuka, a man Temujin thought was a friend but who becomes his greatest rival, sets off a string of events that test his loyalty, his love, and his law, Yassa, and gives him the tools to become the mightiest ruler of all time, Genghis Khan. (WOW long sentence. It's very, very confusing and I got lost right away. If an agent saw this, they would stop reading.)

    Yassa(is this a race?)law states that, above all else, you are to be loyal to those you pledge yourself to. Hanging in the balance(balance of what?) is love and deep loyalty to a best friend and brother in life. To honor one is to betray the other. Temujin and his best friend, Jamuka, are plunged into a battle with their loyalties and their hearts. Love drives the conquering of a continent in the hopes that Börte will bestow her affections on the victor.(I kept reading, expecting there to be more. This just seems like it cuts off.)

    I am the author of The Abigale Chronicles – Book One which is the first in a young reader’s series and was self-published April 23, 2012. (This paragraph is reserved for pub creds. Self pubbed doesn't count, and most of the time putting in a query does nothing but hurt you. Leave this out.)I have been reading and writing since I was four years of age and have written a number of short stories throughout my life.(This too will only hurt you if you put this is a query. It screams amateur.) I attended Chattanooga State where I took a number of writing courses and the very History course that spawned the idea to write Yassa. After graduation in 2011, I pursued my idea of writing Yassa in earnest.

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  5. Be careful of run-ons. Why did Temujin murder his brother? Focus on the who, the conflict, the obstacles, and the stakes. That will make you query stand out. I hope this helps!

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  6. I get a little lost with all the names and proper nouns. I had to read it a few times before I gathered what was going on. First Jamuka appears to be a friend, then he's a rival, then he's a best friend, and finally a bitter rival again. Establish the relationship first with a short, simple sentence, and then bring us the conflict.

    I agree with the others than the sentences are a little on the long side, which is probably what makes it hard to read.

    I love this setting, and a character study of Genghis Khan sounds truly fascinating, but an agent won't get that far if the first paragraph is so murky. Why does he murder his brother?

    Maybe start with the seed of the conflict: Yassa law demands loyalty to those you pledge yourself to, but after ten year-old Temujin murders his brother he finds himself in conflict with this simple demand.

    Then talk about the conflict with the friend and the girl and how it leads to conquering a continent.

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  7. I don't understand. Maybe I'm reading it wrong... but it sounds like you said that Temujin chooses friendship above all and allows Jamuka to live, even after he takes Borte for himself... If Jamuka already has what he wanted (and an awfully loyal friend in Temujin to let him get away with it), why is he bent on revenge? What causes the conflict between the friends? Does Temujin change his mind about Jamuka?

    Do we need all of the back story in the query (when he's 9, this happens, when he's 10, this happens...)? Perhaps it would be easier to follow if you simplify it to one main conflict/story in the query.

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  8. I really like your opening sentence and I love the setting. I think you have a great concept, but perhaps a bit too much is revealed. The query should be what a reader would find on the back of the book, so you don't want them to know all the details before they start.

    I might begin with: "When Temujin is ten, he murders one of his half-brothers in self-defense. That one act of brutality shows him the animal that lives inside his heart." and stop there, then move on to "(X number of years later) Deep conflict arises between Temujin and (his friend) Jamuka when they go to rescue the beautiful and fair Börte."

    Finish with, "Love drives the conquering of the greatest continuous empire in History in the hopes that the victor will win the affections of Börte, who is being driven mad with her own choice while the men are crossing swords. Only one man can succeed and become Genghis Khan."

    I hope this helps!

    ReplyDelete

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