Sunday, June 24, 2012

What does a query look like?

My alter ego Caitlyn Young* is ready to query agents and editors about her romantic suspense/paranormal novel LOVE IS THE BRIDGE. I thought some of you might like to see what a sample query might look like. (My query has too much voice, so I don't recommend being quite as familiar/folksy/chatty as I am unless you've met the agent or editor at a conference or some such thing.)

This is an example of an e-mail query one might send to an agent.


Dear Mr./Ms. SuperAgent:

I am seeking representation for LOVE IS THE BRIDGE, which I describe as a literary ghost story romantic suspense with strong techie elements (but I'm probably wrong, as I never explain my books very well). It is complete at 85,000 words.

Have you ever considered how vulnerable you are to cyber-attack through your cell phone, Facebook page, e-mail accounts, and even any files that might be accessed by a remote system while you are connected to the Internet? Paige Campbell had never considered that she had anything to worry about until she got the first crank call. By the time her Facebook page is hacked and one of her files changed so that she is suspended from college and accused of plagiarism, she's beginning to believe that someone--or something--is out to get her. Can there actually be a "ghost in the machine"?

Alan McConnell doesn't believe in ghosts and thinks it's outlandish to claim that his prototypical AI test system (for writing advertising jingles) has become the portal by which a ghost (or at least a paranormal entity, which he also doesn't believe in) has entered our material plane. But after his studio experiences several problems and strange events, he concludes that there is a hacker with access to his studio, probably the same person behind this "haunting" complained about by his client Paige Campbell.

The young entrepreneur hired Paige to sing radio jingles for his advertising agency, and is determined to help her solve her problem (as well as his own) by catching the hacker. But is it a crafty and cruel programmer they're dealing with, or a ghost (as it claims) who has mistaken Paige for someone else, and is determined to haunt her until she lifts the curse it believes she has set on it during a previous life? The attraction between Alan and Paige threatens to interfere with their attempts to rid themselves of this problem. Still, they can cope with everything--until the night they're trapped in the studio with what is either a menacing entity or a clever killer.

I've pasted the first few paragraphs of the novel as plain text at the bottom of this e-mail, as suggested in the guidelines on your website. Feel free to ignore it if you don't prefer to preview.

My mystery NICE WORK (written as Denise Weeks), first in the Jacquidon Carroll series, won the 2011 Dark Oak contest and will be released this July by Oak Tree Press. At a recent writers' workshop led by David Farland (AKA David Wolverton, NYT best-selling author), I was told by Mr. Farland that in his opinion, the opening of LOVE IS THE BRIDGE was "nearly flawless," and he offered to blurb the book.

May I send you a partial or the full manuscript?

Caitlyn Young


"There is a land of the living and a land of the dead,
and the bridge is love."--Thornton Wilder

Paige Campbell slammed the cash register drawer and grabbed for the store's incessantly ringing phone.

She'd been expecting Uncle Hans to check up on her, because even after three months he still didn't trust her to close the store alone. Amused, she lifted the receiver and recited the prescribed greeting. "Hans' Music Haus, this is Paige, how can I help you?"

A steel-cranked synthesized voice rasped, "Stop asking questions or you're dead."

"What?" Paige blinked. "Excuse me? You've got the wrong number. Hello?"

Silence echoed on the line.

Some kind of prank call. Still, it had shaken her. She tossed her head as if to tell herself she was being silly and settled the handset back in place. When the bells on the shop door jingled to signal a customer, she jumped.

"Boo!" said her best friend Anndréa, who'd apparently headed over the moment her shift ended at Joanie's Scraps next door. "Scaredy-cat. What's wrong with you? Customers don't bite outside of Twilight." Then she looked closer and cocked her head, sending her short black-cherry hair swinging. "Wait, there IS something wrong. You're as pale as a ghost floating in skim milk."

Paige managed a weak smile. "Crank caller. Stupid of me. I guess that's a milestone--my first."

"How romantic." Andi clasped her hands. "Better make a scrapbook page. We've got embellishments on sale." She checked her watch. "Ready to roll?"

"Just about." It was three minutes past official closing time. She circled around behind Andi, threw the double front deadbolts, and flipped the sign in the front window to CLOSED. "I can't stay long no matter how happy the hour is, though. And I'm drinking strictly diet cola. I've got a gig. Paying."

"All right!" Andi shot her a high-five. "What kind of gig?"

"Just a jingle." Returning behind the counter, Paige zipped the blue vinyl cash pouch closed and secured the register. "You know, like the one the Yellow Pages runs: 'We are the pages more people are turning to.' For a radio advertising spot."

"Jingles are cool. That's how little Janie Fricke got started, and right here in Dallas, too."

"Good for her, whoever she is. But I'm not getting started on anything." Paige checked the security system keypad and verified all sensors were green-lighted. "I'm just picking up extra money for next semester's books and fees--you know, what my fellowship doesn't cover. This was a random referral from the dean's office, when this studio called the conservatory to ask for a mezzo-soprano."

"But still. You should play some of your own songs. I'll bet they'd offer you a recording contract."

"They're not that kind of studio." She tied her hair back in a ponytail and checked her makeup in the magnetic locker mirror she'd stuck on the side of one of her uncle's file cabinets. "Let's see how this goes. They probably have a stable of regulars."

"And you're going to be one of them." Andi sounded so confident. It was sweet, although Paige knew Andi was just naïve about the music business. "Your voice is so amazing, better than GaGa or Britney or any of the pop-tarts. It's as good as Celine Dion's or . . . La Streisand's."

"Flattery will get you everywhere." Paige doused the main lights. "But you know I don't want to get sucked into advertising and commercials." Keying in the code to arm the security system, she headed for the back door, clutching the cash pouch close to her chest. "Hurry, we only have ninety seconds."

Andi rushed to catch up. "Everything that isn't opera is not a sellout."

"I'm not exclusively opera. I sing folk and jazz."

As they scooted out the door, the phone started ringing.

Before Anndréa could say anything, Paige shook her head. "If that's Uncle Hans, he'll try my cell next. Otherwise, let them call tomorrow to ask whether we have the sheet music for some new hip-hop song. I'm off the clock at five."

A valid excuse, but not the only reason she didn't want to answer the call.

--end of opening, LOVE IS THE BRIDGE--

Well, there you have it. If you can pigeonhole your book with fewer words than Caitlyn used, you're probably in luck. ("My romantic suspense SONG FROM THE HEART is complete at 75,000 words." "My young adult fantasy SUPERDOG" or "LADY OF THE MORNING is women's fiction" would probably work better than that trainwreck of a description I gave.) If you have other credits, it's always good to mention them in your next-to-last paragraph. Your final paragraph should ask for the sale: "May I send you a partial or the complete manuscript?" It's good to add, "I can be reached at 123-555-1212 or by email at dogdays@dumdum.dum," but I omitted that because I didn't want to post my cell number for the world to see, lest my phone suffer the same fate as Paige's.

Your mileage will undoubtedly differ. But I thought some people might like to see a query, so what the h#$k.

* Why do I have or need an alter ego, or pen name, or pseudonym? It's all about branding. Shalanna Collins writes fantasy, mostly young adult fantasy/adventure in the tradition of Diana Wynne Jones, the Harry Potter books, or Eva Ibbotson's WHICH WITCH? Thus, when it comes to mysteries, Denise Weeks is the author to turn to. Therefore, Caitlyn Young (a pen name tested by the agent of a good friend of mine, tested through focus groups, no less!) will write the romantic suspense and woman-in-jeopardy stuff. You might as well know now, because librarians will cross-reference all my pseudonyms anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment