We’re running a brief series of before and after queries. Each post will show the very first query that an author sent out (with some commentary on what was so awful about it) and the query that landed them an agent (with some commentary on why it worked). I’ve decided to take the brave leap on our first edition. Let’s dig in.
I am seeking representation for my 80,000 word sword-and-sorcery novel, Revenant. It is my hope that innovative magic and unlikely heroes might turn my readers’ attention back to the “kyngs and knyghtes and grete dedes” of old.
As for “kyngs”, you will find all three of mine suited for their crowns:
1) King A*– He leads a group of paladin warriors known as the Elders. His throne was inherited and he rules from the Elder’s impenetrable mountain city, R*. His father, King Adrian, was quoted once saying, “The Elders will always have an enemy. For it is the very nature of light to constantly unveil that which lurks in the shadows.” King A has instilled his father’s passion for righteousness in every knight that serves him. While most view the Elders as “good” many are still wary of their zealous adherence to an archaic religion and their claims of divine right.
2) The Necromancer– That which lurks in the shadows. The Necromancer claims the same “divine right” to the throne as King A, his younger brother. However, the Necromancer has done everything possible to stray from his father’s teaching by investigating much darker branches of magic. The result? An outcast yet cunning magician with an army of undead at his disposal.
3) King Avarice– During the Great War, a group of separatists made the decision to renounce both the Eldzhin and the enemy they opposed. They formed Merrymarch, a country that prospered through neutrality, but is now ripe with corruption. Its capital city has become a center for bribery, crooked politicians, and underground gladiator rings. Rumors suggest that King Avarice is actually just a puppet king, manipulated by the mysterious warlord, G.
As for “knyghtes”, you will find their blades sharpened and their bravery unyielding:
In life, General Thomas Locklin was a loving husband to his wife Anna. In death, he has no memory of her except for the shattered images that haunt his dreams. In life, his father taught him that wisdom begins when things are called by their right names. In death, he has become Revenant, servant of the Necromancer.
And finally, the “grete dedes” in this book are abounding if you have but the time to read about them. I have no credentials to speak of. I am only guilty of playing far too many video games and letting my imagination drift far too often in the 10th grade. I believe this is the “high-concept, character driven, and well-plotted” style of work the literary website claims you are looking for. Thank you very much for your time and consideration. Please keep in mind that if you choose not to read my manuscript, I will be forced instead to pursue my lifelong dream of defenestrating children for improper grammar in their 9th grade English paper. For the sake of professional courtesy, I wanted to inform you that this is a multiple submission.
Scott Reintgen, Son of Jeff Reintgen the Dentist
23 year old MAT student at N.C. State University
Why Didn’t This Work:
Do you want the short list or the long list?
- On several occasions it’s unprofessional. That kind of playfulness could work, but it’s ill-fitting to my actual manuscript, which makes it even stranger.
- There’s no focus. I’m basically running the agent through a 101 Course of how this world works, but not actually explaining what will happen.
- One reason for number 2? I hadn’t finished the manuscript yet. A serious, serious no-no.
- My framework (kyngs and knyghtes and great dedes) is just strange overall. It’s not necessarily a quote the agent would be familiar with, and it doesn’t illuminate anything particularly unique about my work. In fact, it evokes old and potentially boring literature
- It’s way too long.
- I’m not even sure why I claimed to be a Peanut Enthusiast. I’m not? So weird.
I have the highest respect for you and how you represent your clients. After looking through your submission guidelines, I felt that my novel might be a good fit for your list. Thank you for your time and consideration.
THE BABEL FILES [title has since changed to NYXIA] is a completed, YA science fiction book of 83,000 words. Readers familiar with Pierce Brown’s Red Rising or Fonda Lee’s Zeroboxer will find similar elements in my work. I do feel one of the most important features of this novel is the focus it has on a main character who is a PoC. Having worked in urban schools my entire career, I so often find my students have little to no representation in these types of books. I was hoping to give them an opportunity to see themselves, vibrant and on the page and victorious. To this end, I followed advice I received from author Mary Anne Mohanraj at the World Fantasy Convention. She suggested I seek readers of a diverse background in the beta process. I did just that and was incredibly pleased at the response to Emmett’s authenticity and relevance.
Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why Babel recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family, forever.
As he and nine other teenagers wormhole their way through space, Emmett discovers the promised millions aren’t a guarantee. Each recruit must earn the right to travel down to Eden. There, Babel will use them to mine a substance that’s quietly become the most valuable in the world. Emmett’s year-long flight will act as a competition. Every training session is measured, every point matters, and Emmett will do anything to win. But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. Secrets about the volatile substance they’re hoping to mine, about the reclusive humanoids already living on Eden, and about their true intentions for the kids that don’t win their competition. As Emmett uncovers the truth, he realizes he’s not fighting for wealth or glory, he’s fighting for his life.
I am a 10th grade English and Creative Writing teacher who has spent years sharing my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels with my students, and I’ve started writing stories with them in mind. THE BABEL FILES is my third completed novel, and the first in a science fiction trilogy. I have included sample pages below for your consideration. I look forward to your response.
Why Did This Work:
It’s not hard to see the improvement here, right? There are several massive changes from my first query to this one. We see comp. novels, one that was a rising blockbuster and another book that showed some of my nuance in the field of YA. The actual story section of the query is incredibly tight and focused, reading like the back cover copy of a novel, rather than a list of world building and characters.
More importantly, I keep it entirely professional, angling away from humor and exchanging that for sincerity, especially in my description of my students and my profession. The first paragraph also flashes the idea that I’m someone who acts like a grown up, rather than a peanut enthusiast. I cite my interactions with authors, my general hopes for the book, and throw in some of my experience in the final paragraph. Overall it’s just so, so much better.
Every one of these posts will end with the same message:
Time and practice build the necessary skills to survive in this industry. If your first queries slip through the hands of agents, do not fear or worry. You will get better at this. Your writing will improve. Put the time in and I expect the same kind of leaps you see above. We can’t wait to read your stories.
Thanks for reading!