Author Topic: Rewriting the Query for the Specific Agent's Taste?  (Read 154 times)

Offline sfallon

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Rewriting the Query for the Specific Agent's Taste?
« on: October 06, 2021, 09:54:16 AM »
I’ve queried a few agents so far (only form rejections up to this point, but it’s still early), and I’ve started wondering if I should be doing something different with my query letter. I wrote one that represents my plot and what I think makes it interesting to the best of my ability, but I’m wondering if it would be better to write a query letter that specifically caters to the agent I’m querying and what they’re interested in/looking for.

The one I’m about to send a query to is interested specifically in things like full and complex female perspectives, diversity of characters (including in terms of sexuality), and books that “grapple with ideals of freedom and justice” and show how deep elements of personal philosophies are tested in moments of crisis. I believe that my book fits the bill on all of these, but I’m not sure the query I’ve been using shows them off very well. I don’t want to shoehorn in every little thing that fits her list (and there are even more things I could have put in but chose not to for the sake of keeping it clean), but I also want to make sure I catch this agent’s attention because she only wants a query letter, no synopsis or sample pages.

This is the new query that I came up with, but I'm really not sure if it would be better to explain the plot as clearly and concisely as possible or whether it really would be a mistake to leave out certain details that the agent won't know about otherwise. For example, I'm worried that it's a little unclear how one of the main character's orientations fits into the plot because I don't have enough room to fully explain (it's kind of complicated). Does anyone have thoughts or advice on this?

Dear [Insert Agent Name Here]:

In the computational monarchy of Elniwald, unlicensed witchcraft is a crime punishable by death. Eighteen-year-old Tim has spent the past thirteen years hiding in the palace basement, but he is forced to reveal his magical abilities when assassins strike. His non-violent philosophy inspires him to save both the sister he loves and the father who wants to kill him, but he nearly pays with his life.

Shiloh Alexandria Gesenden, heir to the throne, believes he’s made a terrible mistake. She dreams of ruling the country with her brother by her side. Her manipulative father wants her to get married, despite the fact that she’s aromantic and happily single.

Shiloh would do anything to save Tim, but the witches of Elniwald are treated more cruelly than either sibling ever imagined. While they long to be reunited, everyone from the monarch to the sadistic witch who runs Tim’s prison has other plans in mind.

The Binding of Magic is a fantasy novel with science fiction elements, complete at 120,000 words. It stands alone, but it could also become the first in a series. It is similar to Sanctuary by V. V. James and Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis.

I graduated from Cardinal Stritch University with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and writing in 2014. I’ve had two short pieces published previously: one in Delta Epsilon Sigma Journal in spring of 2014 and one in Clare Magazine in summer of 2014.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Offline MKWrites_318

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Re: Rewriting the Query for the Specific Agent's Taste?
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2021, 04:54:45 PM »
I think it's risky to be rewriting a good query for the sake of a specific agent, especially when you don't know what query format that agent actually responds to. If I were you, I'd just get together the best query you can and use that.

If you're ace/aro, then you can mention that you have ace/aro representation in the story and that it's an ownvoices novel. That way you're letting the agent know without taking away precious pitch space. Also, you can mention the agent's love for specific characters or plot points in the opening or closing paragraph of the letter, instead of within the pitch. Example, you could follow your genre/word count/comps paragraph with: "In your agent bio, you mentioned a desire to see narratives that feature characters facing philosophical crises, diverse casts, and complex women. I believe this story would be a good fit."

As for this query, I'll give you my notes for it.

Quote
Dear [Insert Agent Name Here]:

In the computational monarchy of Elniwald, (I'm having a hard time picturing what a computational monarchy is.) unlicensed witchcraft is a crime punishable by death. Eighteen-year-old Tim has spent the past thirteen years hiding in the palace basement, but he is forced to reveal his magical abilities when assassins strike. Has he been hiding entirely or has he just been hiding his magic? Are the assassins after him? His non-violent philosophy inspires him to save both the sister he loves and the father who wants to kill him, but he nearly pays with his life. This is a lot for one sentence, and we don't have enough prior information to parse it out. Why is it up to him to fight the assassins? Why does his own father want him dead? Why is it only his non-violence that makes him want to save his family?

Shiloh Alexandria Gesenden, heir to the throne, believes he’s made a terrible mistake. Who? Tim? What mistake did he make? She dreams of ruling the country with her brother by her side. So Tim is a prince of some kind and not just a servant or another member of palace staff? Her manipulative father wants her to get married, despite the fact that she’s aromantic and happily single. If Shiloh is one of the narrators/POVs then do feel free to include her POV in the query, but this marriage thing sounds like a subplot. If that's the case, don't include it. You have a limited number of words in a query. Make the central plot shine.

Shiloh would do anything to save Tim, but the witches of Elniwald are treated more cruelly than either sibling ever imagined. While they long to be reunited, (You didn't mention that they were separated.) everyone from the monarch to the sadistic witch who runs Tim’s prison has other plans in mind. I'm not sure I understand the stakes here. It feels like I'm just supposed to root for two siblings to be reunited, but you set up the first paragraph to tell us how messed up the world is, so it feels like a pretty small goal. What are the other plans from the monarch and the sadist? Spell out the danger a bit more. Make the main thrust of the tale clear so that we know exactly what we're rooting for.

The Binding of Magic is a fantasy novel with science fiction elements, complete at 120,000 words. It stands alone, but it could also become the first in a series. It is similar to Sanctuary by V. V. James and Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis.

I graduated from Cardinal Stritch University with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and writing in 2014. I’ve had two short pieces published previously: one in Delta Epsilon Sigma Journal in spring of 2014 and one in Clare Magazine in summer of 2014.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


I don't know what your original query looks like, but this one feels like it can't settle on which thread to follow. Are we focused on the witch who's been hiding his whole life? Are we focused on the princess and her love life? Or are we focused on the siblings' shared desire to be reunited? I can see that there's a cohesive story here, but by focusing on sharing little details that you think the agent wants to see, it's gotten muddled. Just make your story, the central arc of your story, sing in the query pitch.

Offline sfallon

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Re: Rewriting the Query for the Specific Agent's Taste?
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2021, 05:22:34 PM »
Ok, that helps a lot, thank you! I wasn't sure if it would be a bad look to just come out and say "I think you'll like my story because it has x elements", so I was trying to show them instead. Seems like I just need to try to make it clearer instead of trying to fit too many things in.

Offline MKWrites_318

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Re: Rewriting the Query for the Specific Agent's Taste?
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2021, 03:43:17 PM »
It's not a bad look at all. In fact, a lot of agents really like to see that you've done your research and have a reason to query them. Of course, other agents don't need or care about that personalization, but it doesn't hurt to have it, even in those cases.