August 2, 2010

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!


  1. Look forward to seeing the evolution. But wow . . . 5 MAJOR drafts? Not looking forward to the querying thing.

  2. I love forward to seeing #2 tomorrow! I have to say that I am feeling lovey dovey with all these awesome queries running around!

    It might be because I know I'm close to that stage!!!

  3. I dont thing the first one was too bad. i've drafted a few queries and then realised my MS wasnt ready for querying stage.

    cant wait to see the next instalment.

  4. I'm one of those nerds who enjoys writing a query. But I hate writing synopses!

  5. I'm never going to post how many query drafts I went through. Not because I'm embarrassed -- although I am -- but because there were so many that I genuinely lost count.

    I've also heard that bullies are cliche. But from the looks of things, the powers that be keep making bullies and the bullies keep staying that way. So are MG writers supposed to just ignore their existence? Sigh...

  6. Caroline, that query wasn't too bad at all. Man, I would hate to post some of my early ones. . . you guys would rip your hair out!! I look forward to seeing tomorrow's letter and your timeline is extremely helpful to those of us still in the trenches:-)

  7. That's the sometimes harsh thing about queries--they can reveal major flaws in the novel, the book you THINK is totally DONE. My first query for Wavecrossed showed me where the story was cliche too, and I embarked on a major rewrite (as with you, the first of several) Then when it came time to rewrite the query, suddenly I had a decent hook, and my request rate shot up. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Janet, don't be scare of querying! I'm just horribly, terribly bad at it. Haha. That's why I needed to write so many drafts to get it right...but I'm sure you'll only need one!

    Jen, very exciting that you'll start querying soon! Have you started writing the query yet?

    Nomes, thank you! :o) Yeah, I don't think this query was horrendous, but I guess it simply wasn't good enough to catch an agent's eye.

    Stephanie, I HATE synopses as well! Ugh...the only thing I hated more than writing the query. Hehe.

    Mary, that's a really good point! I think all of us have some sort of experience with a bully, yet for some reason bullies are seen as cliche by some agents and editors. Perhaps it's in the way that bullies are perceived? Or maybe too many writers rely on the bully factor to relate their story?

    Lindsay, I just know that you and Julie are going to kill it with your new query! I read it on AW and it's great!

    Lynn, isn't it funny how that happens? I noticed on Query Letter Hell in AW that a lot of writers also notice flaws in their manuscript once they write their queries.