The Evolution of a Query Letter, Part V

Ah, beloved Query #5! We have finally arrived!

My journey thus far:

Query #1
April to mid-May 2009
6 queries, 0 requests

Query #2
mid-May to June 2009
15 queries, 1 full request

Query #3
late-October to November 2009
7 queries, 0 requests

Query #4
December 2009 to early February 2010
13 queries, 3 requests (Woot!)

When we left off yesterday, I was telling you guys about how EXCITING it was to finally get partial and full requests...and then how DEPRESSING it was to receive form rejections on said requests. Fie, fie!

I cried a lot after those rejections. A lot, a lot. Many tears were shed from my small brown eyes!

But after the tears washed away, I knew I had to work on fixing my manuscript. And so, I got to work. I cut out 7,000 words. I rehauled the first chapter. I edited and revised and rewrote. A lot, a lot.

Which brings us to Query #5! Although Query #4 had received an okay response, I knew it could be better. Plus, my manuscript was freshly revised and thus I thought it deserved a fresh start. This is what I came up with (Note: this is the actual query I sent to my agent Jim McCarthy!):

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

Since you represent one of my favorite YA authors, Carrie Ryan, I hope you will consider my manuscript for your list. THE COSMIC CHRONICLES OF DANNY J. SINGER is a MG science fiction novel, complete at 61,000-words. An excerpt of this book received the grand prize in the Maryland Writers' Association's 2009 Novel Contest.

Twelve-year-old Danny Singer doesn't think aliens are real—until he finds one knocking on his front door.

Obviously, Danny freaks out about this intergalactic visit. After all, he’s about to get abducted, right? But weirdly enough, the alien isn’t interested in abductions or the typical take-me-to-your-leader stuff. Instead, it insists on delivering an urgent message.

In a matter of weeks, a swarm of gigantic space bugs—the Locusts—will devour the Earth as their next meal. And even worse? The Locust King, Abaddon, is coming straight for Danny and his mom.

Yeah, Danny starts freaking out again, but he has to pull himself together. To protect his sick mother, he agrees to join the Titanian Knighthood, a society of alien warriors who defend the solar system. His training starts immediately and Danny soon discovers why he's on the Locusts' most-wanted list. Turns out, Danny's dead father was once a Knight himself—in fact, he was the one who stopped Abaddon from conquering the galaxy fifteen years ago. Now, Abaddon is back for revenge and he has a few bones to pick with Danny's family.

Armed with a mystical sword, Danny must defeat the Locusts before Abaddon destroys him. Failure isn’t an option: the future of the Earth—and his mom—are on the line.

I am a freelance writer with publications in Highlights and Boys’ Life. I am also a member of SCBWI. I've pasted the first chapter of my novel below my signature. Upon request, I'd be pleased to send you a full manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.


Caroline Tung Richmond

I sent out 20 queries from March through April...and I received 9 requests for partials and fulls. Holy schmoly! Nine requests! I was completely and utterly blown away by this. I really couldn't believe it!

To be perfectly honest, I'm still a bit puzzled why Query #5 caught the agents' eyes while my other queries tanked. After all, the "meat" of my query (the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs) remained quite similar to what I had before. So...what was the magic ingredient?

Hmm, here are a few of my thoughts:

1.) The first sentence is really important. Like, really really important! Since agents read so many queries each day, a strong hook-y first sentence is vital in my mind. As writers, we need to create a first sentence that makes an agent sit up in his chair and eager to read on! So...spend time on your query's opening. Lots of time, if necessary!

2.) Voice matters. I know, I know! You hear this all of the time. But I think it's important because it adds that extra oomph to a query. For instance, I tried to dial up the voice in my own query with phrases like "the typical take-me-to-your-leader stuff" and the "Locusts' most-wanted list." Sure, maybe they're sort of cheesy (hey, I like cheese!) but I think they're kind of interesting. And they made me query different.

3.) The last sentence matters, too. Your closing paragraph needs to setup the stakes of your novel to entice the agent to request your novel. What does the protagonist risk losing? What's gonna happen if Danny doesn't defeat the Locusts? What's gonna happen if Harry doesn't find the Sorcerer's stone? What's gonna happen if Bella and Edward can't stay together? (Um, Bella goes to college and dates a new guy named Rob and realizes she was a total ditz for wanting to become the undead? Heh...)

4.) Sometimes it's all subjective. I know, I know! Another bout of cliche advice! But it's true--at least it was for me. I queried a few agents who I thought would be perfect for my novel--they liked science fiction and repped a lot of MG--but they rejected me outright. But then I queried agents who I thought would certainly reject me--I never thought Jim would request a full since he doesn't do much MG--but then they'd request to see more. Sometimes it really isn't about you or your query. Sometimes it's just a matter of preference. Honest.

Anyway, this post is getting super long so I'm going to peace out for now. But be sure to come back tomorrow when I give an exhaustive list of query tips that I've learned from my excessively long querying process!