Query letter help

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Droflet

I don't teach chickens how to dance.
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Hey Chrons, still working on the terrific feedback for my synopsis but thought I would have a crack at the dreaded query letter.

As always any and all comments appreciated.


Dear ideal agent who loves my book more than … jelly beans,


UNCOMMON PURPOSE is a 96k word military science fiction novel.


On his first combat assignment aboard the starship Truculent, Midshipman Nathan Telford confronts a despised enemy from his youth when his ship responds to a distress call from a civilian freighter. When dealing with the Headhunter scum who have abducted the freighter’s passengers, Nathan abandons any notion of civilized warfare.

Truculent chases down and disables the Headhunter, but when the captain sends a boarding party with orders to secure the civilians, an unexpected energy dampening technology neutralizes the boarding party's energy weapons and combat ‘droids. With the balance of power shifted, and conventional weaponry rendered useless, Truculent’s outnumbered crew adapt to the enemy’s use of swords and armor in their own innovative ways.

Having once been a child slave, Nathan will never allow the civvies to suffer the same hell as he once had. He’s not a slave anymore and this time he will make the bastards pay. In a battle where no quarter is given by either side only the victors will survive.
 
I think you need to encapsulate the idea of your book in first paragraph. Three sentences and no longer than 75 words. You then expand this pitch in any way you need to but you also need to show that you have researched agents background. You need to make this whole letter to be very personal and very precise. You are selling your story but you also you as a new best friend to this agent.

So Telford we need to see the whole thing and not just a pitch.
 
Thanks for taking the time CTG. Yes, I'm aware of the format for approaching agents and I have that under control. It's the pitch that's driving me nuts. T.
 
I know very little about query letters, but I can make comments on this! In fact my comments turned a bit rambly, but hopefully they might help. Fingers crossed someone who knows about this stuff will come and say something...

As always any and all comments appreciated.


Dear ideal agent who loves my book more than … jelly beans,


UNCOMMON PURPOSE is a 96k word military science fiction novel.

[I don't know how long the pitch is supposed to be -- I read it should be one paragraph somewhere, but I haven't researched this like you have, so I won't comment on stuff like length etc, just nit-picky things]

On his first combat assignment aboard the starship Truculent, Midshipman Nathan Telford confronts a despised enemy from his youth when his ship responds to a distress call from a civilian freighter. [I thought this was rather a long sentence -- especially for a first one -- but I see that lots of example sentences have even LONGER first sentences. Um. More punctuation? ;) -- or a different emphasis.Does it matter than this is Nathan's first assignment or could you just call him a 'rookie' or something?] When dealing with the Headhunter scum who have abducted the freighter’s passengers, Nathan abandons any notion of civilized warfare. [The headhunters are the despised enemy, right?]

When the starship Truculent comes to the rescue of a civilian freighter attacked by Headhunters, Midshipman Nathan Telford is forced to choose between rescuing the victims [before something gruesome happens] and the laws he has been trained to obey.

Truculent chases down and disables the Headhunter, but when the captain sends a boarding party with orders to secure the civilians, [ok I think a prproblem -- possibly -- here is that most of this second paragraph has been covered by the first one. I don't know if you've got space to repeat yourself -- that's a question, not a statement] an unexpected energy dampening technology neutralizes the boarding party's energy weapons and combat ‘droids. With the balance of power shifted, and conventional weaponry rendered useless, Truculent’s outnumbered crew adapt to the enemy’s use of swords and armor in their own innovative ways. [I wouldn't say unexpected, because obviously they didn't expect it]

Having once been a child slave, Nathan will never allow the civvies to suffer the same hell as he once had. He’s not a slave anymore and this time he will make the bastards pay. In a battle where no quarter is given by either side only the victors will survive.

um OK. For a short synopsis I think there's too much repetition. I think you miss the chance to make every word relevant.

"Having once been a child slave..." for example doesn't seem to me to pull its weight. Also "only the victors will survive" seemed to me less exciting than the sentence structure made it sound. How about: "the most ruthless will survive?" (also you could drop "by either side" without changing the meaning). There's a repeat of 'Having once been' (so we know Nathan isn't a child slave anymore) when you say: "He's not a slave anymore...."

I didn't like words from the book/ Nathan's head being used -- e.g. 'scum' and 'civvies'.

mini nitpick: "Nathan will never allow the civvies to suffer the same hell as he once had" -- "as he once did"

Hope some of this is useful.
 
Hi Tel,

the ideal letter is just enough info and not too much. Unfortunately, nobody knows exactly what that is... I'm sure you've seen sites where there is an abundance of advice, and my only addition to that is to try to tailor your letter to each agent individually. Naturally you'll check their site and do exactly what they ask for. If you're canvassing them because they handle a particular writer you admire (and may feel your work bears some comparison) then I feel mentioning it can be worthwhile - in a laid-back English kind of way. Maybe like this:

Dear Miss Fernackerpacker (always use their name - if it's uncertain if it's miss, mrs or ms, then pick up the phone and ask the person on the switchboard!)

UNCOMMON PURPOSE - Military SciFi 96,000 words

I was hoping to find representation for my novel Uncommon Purpose, and after seeing that you represent Joe Abercrombie/Peter Brett/Whomever , I thought I would write to see if you might consider looking at my book.

You may get differing opinions on this, but it worked for me! If you're just writing on spec to all agents, then it should maybe look like this:

Dear Mr Johnson,

UNCOMMON PURPOSE - Military SciFi 96,000 words

I would very much like to be considered for representation by yourself, and I hope you might be interested to take a look at my book Uncommon Purpose.

Now the hook... the most difficult bit. A few lines to interest the agent into either asking for some of your work, or reading the synopsis (if that's what the agent's website asked for). Hex has already given some good advice, and you have to try to get over what the book's about. If someone asks you "What's your book about?" what do you say? Because that's the essence of what you want to get over.

A very useful exercise I did when I went on a self-editing course (that's a contadiction in terms, if ever I heard one...) was to do this: write a one-line synopsis, then a paragraph synopsis, and then a whole page synopsis - in that order. In your case, the one-liner might be: Midshipman Nathan Telford gains revenge for the deaths of his family when he overcomes his enemy, and rescues children destined for a life of slavery. (I'm doing this off the top of my head, you'd probably do it differently.) But if thatsums up the book, then that's what you need to expand on. As I said, nobody knows how much to write, but consider this: your letter will arrive on said Agent's desk along with 50 others that day. Any walls of text will be filed in the bin, along with any ridiculously quirky and/or outlandish attempts to attract the attention of the reader. Be businesslike, and short. If you can write a letter that the agent reads as he's dialling a publisher, and waiting for it to be answered, there's a much better chance he'll read it, and if it hooks, ask for more.

So what to say?

Starship midshipman Nathan Telford has a past: his family were enslaved and killed by the Heebie Jeebies (I can't remember what the race is called, but just name them and leave it at that, don't elaborate and distract.)On his first assignment his chance for revenge arrives when the enemy abducts a civilian ship, and he is thrust into a desperate battle to rescue it.

Conventional weaponry has been rendered obsolete by the enemy's trechnology, but Nathan and the crew revive a 600 year-old fighting art, eventually overcoming them, at great cost.

To be honest I'd leave it at that, as hopefully, your synopsis is enclosed, and this hook has at least told the story in 72 words!!!

Then you need to finish with a little more:

Uncommon purpose is the first in a trilogy/quadrilogy/series that follow Nathan Telford's life, and adventures. It is set in the future/alternate galaxy/wherever and (if this is true) was inspired by 'whatever it was inspired by' ie authors/books.

To sum up:

Dear Miss Smith,

UNCOMMON PURPOSE - Military SciFi 96,000 words

I would very much like to be considered for representation by yourself, and I hope you might be interested to take a look at my book Uncommon Purpose.

Starship midshipman Nathan Telford has a past: his family were enslaved and killed by the Heebie Jeebies. On his first assignment the chance for revenge arrives when the enemy abducts a civilian ship, and he is thrust into a desperate battle to rescue it.

Conventional weaponry has been rendered obsolete by the enemy's technology, but Nathan and the crew revive a 600 year-old fighting art, eventually overcoming them, at great cost.

Set centuries in the future, Uncommon purpose is the first in a series that follow Nathan Telford's life, and adventures.

I appreciate your time and consideration and I hope to hear from you.

Yours sincerely,

Tathan Nelford.


And for God's sake enclose an SAE, or you'll never hear a thing!

Best of luck, hope this helps.
 
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Thanks very much for that Boney. I think your right about this but as I've said before I have recieved some widely contradictory advice over the last few weeks. I think I'll go with your advice and forget about the amateurs. Ta, T.
 
It may, like Boneman said, depend on who you're sending the query to. If different agents like different kinds of query, that might explain some of the contradictions.
 
Boneman: Apologies in advance - this is not meant to contradict your excellent advice. This is just a different take - Hope that's grovelling enough. :)

I'm not so sure about this and I don't have any personal experience of trying to get an agent interested so please accept this as the ramblings of a complete nutter.

Having said that, I do get enquiries (and I'm sure I'm not alone in this) from individuals, job agencies, and people trying to get me interested in there latest wonder product.

Most of them go straight in the 'bin file'.

However, some, I do open and read.

Usually it's because I'm intrigued by the first few words. With a E-mail it's invariably something in the subject line. It isn't even going to get clicked on, if the subject doesn't ring my bell.

We must all have seen spam. Some you just can't resist. (Oh I know, never open a spam e-mail, but at my age rock climbing and base jumping is unwise, I have to get my adrenaline shots somehow)

So for me it's basically down to the first five to ten words. I can't see anyone that reads for a living being different. If you like, those words have to be the best book opening hook you have ever written.

I don't think

Dear Mrs Getoffyourass, (actually that might, but only if that's not her name)

I would very much like to be considered for...

( just to use Boneman's example)


By now this letter is in the bin/recycle. They had their chance and it didn't work.

As with most business letters (and this is business), I would put a 'one line' subject line. big and bold and brassy. As I said their eyeballs have to actually leave their sockets to get them past the

Dear Mrs....

etc.

to the meaty bits below.

Within this line you need to distill everything they need to know to get them interested.

The book title isn't necessarily one of those things, unless it's a particularly punchy title.

Book names are ephemeral. They can change, or be changed. Who cares what it's called. It could be "Dead Rats and Lettuce", nobody gives a damn at this stage. I would say that "Uncommon Purpose" doesn't say a lot to me about what the books about and although it's only two words, those two are precious.

So you need a one line < 15 word grab line.

After the niceties you need a three line summation.

After that (if s/he's still reading after that then you are in with a chance)

the rest of the page can be a short synopsis.

If it's good, very good you may be asked for more.

With all the nonesence hype about Nanowastyourtime that was on the TV recently, they intervied an agent/publisher and asked how many submissions do you get a year. The reply was something like

"Oh, about a thousand, of which there may be one best seller if they're lucky"

Again this is my take on things and I could be writing complete ballcocks, but in the end what you are doing is selling, not writing.

Oh and by the way, it always helps if you have an inkwell of your own blood handy for the

Yours sincerely

Telford

at the end of the letter.
 
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So for me it's basically down to the first five to ten words. I can't see anyone that reads for a living being different. If you like, those words have to be the best book opening hook you have ever written.

Dear Mrs Agent

By the time you read this, I'll be dead.

Dead tired of not being a famous author, that is!!!!111!
 
Thanks guys, this is all good stuff. I see HB's point, although silly, it's something that will grab the agent's attention. That's what you're saying TEiN and what I'm not delivering. I need to get them by the throat and not send them some wishy-washy drivel that will end up in the bin. Hex, yep, I see your point and am investigating such possibilities. Ta muchly, T.
 
I see HB's point, although silly, it's something that will grab the agent's attention.

Oops! No, my post was meant to be, uh, not quite sarcastic, but to point out the ridiculous extreme that line of thinking could lead you to. Trying to artificially grab the attention of someone whose personality and mood you don't know in advance is fraught with peril.

Remember, you're not sending spam. You're sending a piece of writing to people who want to receive pieces of writing. They will not, I suggest, dump it in a 'bin file' unless your query is badly written or annoying. They will base their judgement on your submission (I assume you'd be sending something with the query, though I know this varies with country). Yes, play up a unique and intriguing aspect of your book in the letter, and if you have a great title all the better, but it's just as important for it to be professional, brief, and non-annoying. Letters can be annoying in many ways, and "trying too hard" is a major one, I'd have thought.

As for brief and professional, I've seen it recommended that you don't start by saying "I'm hoping you will represent me/this book" -- why else would you be sending an agent a query? It's completely unnecessary and might give the impression that you waffle in your writing too.

If you haven't discovered Miss Snark yet, go there now.
 
Based on no knowledge at all, I wonder if we're inclined to worry too much about query letters. Is someone really going to fail to read your pitch/ synopsis because you've said "I'm hoping you will represent me..."? Although they might read it slightly less sympathetically, I suppose.

I was reading about cover letters for Shimmer (I'd love to get a story published there) and (although short stories not the same as novels, magazine editors not the same as agents etc etc.) I thought this was relevant to pretty much all cover letters:

"A bad cover letter isn’t the end of the world, but when I open new slush for Shimmer, a lack of cover letter (or a cutesy one) makes me go, “Uh oh, better strap myself in for this story.”

Sometimes I’m wrong, it turns out to be a great story anyway, but usually not. Sure, a good cover letter doesn’t make your story any better and a bad one doesn’t make it worse, but don’t you want us to go into your story feeling confidence in you? A professional cover letter means you take your writing seriously — think about the impression you want to send."

http://gralinnaea.com/?p=1657

How about: "Dear Agent [although obviously their name],

Please find attached/ enclosed [choose one!] the manuscript of my military Science Fiction novel, Uncommon Purpose (96,000 words).

[Pitch]"

I agree that Miss Snark is marvellous at cutting through the er confusion.

Edited to say: I think telford should wear the heels. Absolutely.
 
Yes, I'd second everything HareBrain says, telford. I can see where TEiN is coming from, but I don't think an attention-grabbing first line is actually going to do you any good. In fact, quite the reverse.

Writing is a business, so you should be writing a business letter. A soft business letter, perhaps, and with a hint of excitement -- the epistolary equivalent of a well-tailored suit in a cashmere mix but with red killer heels. Or a red hankie in the breast pocket for you men. (Though you can wear the heels if you really want...)
 
Thanks again HB & Hex and also to his honor for pitching in. Yep guys, for the last two weeks I have immersed myself into every site and article on the process of getting an agent (including the wonderful Miss Snark). I think everyone is right, most certainly that now I have to remove my writer's cap and put on my business cap. Quiet right there TJ. Ho hum, I'll have to stop worrying about this and just jump in a the deep end. How hard could it be? (shiver runs down Telford's back). Ta all, T.
 
Hex's suggestion for the letter is a good one to follow. However, this might seem impossibly picky, but in my experience of sending and receiving thousands of email attachments in recent years, "please find attached" has fallen out of use and now can seem slightly fusty and old-fashioned. The common opening now is simply "I attach" which also has the benefit of brevity.

(Not that "please find attached" is going to rub anyone up the wrong way, though.)
 
Thanks HB but that's no longer an issue. None of the agents I've approached accept attachments and insist on putting the query into the body of the E. But thanks for the tip. T.
 
And as long as you check and re-check their requirements, and stick to them - to the letter - you can't go wrong...:eek: It's their ball, and we want to play. Having said that, how the hell did Australia win that game?
 
Thanks again Boney; you're a star. The two agents I am approaching have a very broad approach with little detail. Send query, as short as possible, synopsis and sample pages. I've gone into their sites and even investigated particular agents and that's all I get. I suppose they assume that if a writer feels confident to submit then he or she should know the basics.

BTW, how's your sub going. With your level of writing competency I would be amazed if you didn't get published. No kiss arse Boneman, just how I (and many others) see it.

The game? What game? Oh, of course, that game. The same series where England got creamed by THE FRENCH. Oh, the humanity. How did we do it? Talent Boney, pure talent. (And maybe just a smidgen of arse). T.
 
Can't remember if I found this site here on the chrons, but it bears repeating: http://www.jmtohline.com/2010/12/biggest-mistakes-writers-make-when.html

My own subs: still hanging in waiting for two agents who have the whole book, to get back to me... sent a gentle reminder t'other day. Can't make my mind up if it's a good thing or not, that they've had it for over three months and not got back. Time will tell.
 
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