The Evolution of a Query, Part I

It took me a year to write my MG science fiction novel.

[Cue violins.]

It took me another year to write a query that had a decent request rate.*

[Cue sounds of a woman screaming.]

It's sad, but 100% true. It took me a very long time to write a query that piqued the interest of an agent. Any agent. I don't know what it is, people! I just suck at writing these 250-word summaries...

And so, I thought it might be helpful to show how my query evolved over the course of twelve months (from April 2009 to April 2010). All in all, I think I wrote 5 major drafts of my letter (not including the 100 or so mini-drafts within each draft) before I hit a 40% request rate. Not too shabby!

Without further adieu, here is the original query letter I sent out in April/May 2009:

Dear Fantastic Agent (Wo)Man:

The seventh grade sort of sucks for twelve-year-old Danny Singer. He’s the new kid at school. He’s pestered by a big brainless bully. And right before winter break, he’s attacked by a giant praying mantis from outer space.

Yeah, middle school isn’t exactly what Danny thought it would be.

After he narrowly escapes from the seven-foot-tall mantis, Danny's day only goes from bad to worse. Turns out, the bug that attacked him isn’t alone. In a few short weeks, an entire swarm of Locusts will descend upon the solar system to gobble everything in sight. And worst of all? The Locust King is coming straight for Danny and his mom.

To save his family, Danny must team up with the brave Titanian Knights, a group of extraterrestrial soldiers who have sworn to defend the solar system from any harm (and who don’t look too fondly on scrawny pre-teens who've never used a sword before). With the Knights by his side and with a scimitar in his hands, Danny soon finds himself in the middle of a cosmic battle to protect the Earth—and his mother—from utter destruction.

Complete at 72,000 words, STARLIGHT is a middle grade science fiction novel, which should appeal to fans of Margaret Peterson Haddix and Phillip Reeve. [Insert boring bio here.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Most sincerely,

Caroline Tung Richmond

Okay, it's not terrible.'s not so great either. I sent out 6 of these queries and I received absolutely NO requests from agents! Fie, fie!

[Insert fist pumping against the sky.]

Ah well.

And yet, I learned a few lessons from my very first query. First, it showed me that my novel itself was a bit cliche. (Yeah, that part about the bully? Definitely overdone.) Second, I learned that I had no idea what I was doing in the query department. Yep, absolutely no-freakin' idea.

So...back to the drawing board I went! I decided to scrap this query and work on a new one. After all, surely my problem lied in my query and not in my novel! Surely! My manuscript was perfect!

[Cue the writing gods shaking their heads.]

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I show you Query Letter, Part Deux!

* Granted, I did more than write and re-write my query from April 2009 to April 2010. (I'm not that pathetic, I promise!) I revised my novel a half-dozen times. I went to a writing conference. I revised my novel again. I went to more conferences. And then I re-wrote the first third of my novel based on an editor's feedback from yet another conference. Aieeee!