Sunday, April 20, 2008


Dear Madam, (err, no. Dear Ms Reid, Dear Janet, Dear Sweetums, but no, not ever Dear Madam)

I am presently seeking representation for my science fiction / fantasy novel, "Lex Talionis", which is completed at approximately of 125,000 words. The sequel, Iacta Alea Est, is underway.

Right away I know you could cut 25,000 words from the novel because you can cut a lot from your first two lines of the query letter. I'm not averse to long ass novels, but they still have to be taut and muscular writing. This is not taut writing.

The novel opens when a badly injured young girl in a hospital is brought back from death by an unlikely savior: the tiny alien headliner of a circus side-show. Elsewhere, a wounded solider is trapped on ship and stalked by an unseen danger that has already decimated the crew. Unable to remember anything except the phrase "Lex Talionis", the young woman calls herself Lex. With the help of her doctor, Colin Mayfeld, and his friend, the mysterious empath Dr. Anton Slake, she begins the search for her identity. Where her story intersects with the wounded soldier's lies the answers to her past, present and future.

This is all set up. What's the conflict? What are the stakes?

I have been writing novels since I was ten years old, when I finished my first full-length novel. My short story, 'Douen Mother' was a quarter finalist for the Writers of the Future Contest (second quarter, 2004), and was published in 'Abyss and Apex' in January of 2006. I'm currently a long-standing member of the Online Writers Workshop, which counts among its former contributors writers such as Nalo Hopkinson, Elizabeth Bear and Celia Dart-Thornton. At present, I work as a Marketing Support Analyst in the pharmaceutical industry, but I hope to develop my skills as a writer to the point where I can take it up as a career at a future date.

With all due respect, don't ever include that you've been writing novels since you were ten. That's not a publishing credit. This paragraph is for things that you've published. If you haven't that's ok, but do NOT try to pad it with writing groups you belong to or your life long love of writing. It screams amateur.
I respectfully ask if you would be willing to consider having me e-mail my package, should you be interested in seeing more of my manuscript.

Again, you're over writing. At this point, I'm thinking 30,000 words can be cut from this and you'll still have the story intact.

I hope that this proposal meets with your approval. Until then, I remain,

This isn't a proposal, this is a query letter. Don't confuse the two.

All you need to say at the close of your letter is: Thank you for your time and consideration. I know you want me to read the thing. That's pretty much a given.
Yours truly,


Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for your help. The thing is, the template I culled my letter from was by an agent who specifically asked that any association with the OWW be mentioned. Now I'm confused. Is it a plus or a negative? Should I include it in my general query or not?

Margaret Yang said...

I have a question. Is finaling in the writers of the future contest a credit? Is any contest?

jjdebenedictis said...

My main comment is just to agree that you need to show us what the story is, rather than telling us there is one. The story about the injured girl feels like backstory; maybe start with "Lex"?

Nancy Beck said...


Not every agent is going to know that that OWW = Online Writing Workshop. (I know because I used to belong to it.)

Just something to keep in mind (and keep in mind that Ms. Reid doesn't deal specifically with SF/Fantasy).

Of course, you'll specifically target SF and fantasy agents, right? :-)

Anyway, this was very confusing to me, I'd agree with jj that the part with the girl seems to be backstory.

Try this -

1. When statement (nine times out of ten this is the way to start) also called a "hook". When ___ happens, main character reacts in this way and gets in a heap of trouble because...

2. Rising stakes in order of appearance (and, if the book is written well, in rising order of pandemoneum). I'd go with three--s/he reacts, the shit hits the fan, s/he does X, SHTF again...

3. Until final ultimate crisis that makes your agent/editor go "Man, how's he gonna get out of this one??"

Mix in a little voice to reflect your book and bob's-yer-uncle, you got yourself a query. See? Easy-peasy.

(I think I got that off the late, great Miss Snark's blog. ::sniff::)

If that doesn't work for you, try this one -

Rei's General Query Tips:
* Pick only a very few plot elements -- two to four is probably good. If you choose too many, your hook will read as a dry synopsis.

* If you introduce a character by name, make us feel *something* about them. Love them, hate them, distrust them, whatever. This means showing, not telling, just like in most writing.

* Figure out what cliches your story uses. Spend as little time on them as possible, and stress what makes yours different.

* Don't repeat yourself.

* Don't repeat yourself.

* Don't just tell us the stakes; make us feel the stakes. Example: Just saying "The destruction of the world hinges on the outcome" won't make us feel it. However, giving sympathetic faces to the people who will be destroyed and presenting what the destruction will entail can make us feel it.

* Introduce your MC early on so that the reader knows who to start identifying with.

(From eleltra's crapometer -

I hope that'll help you in some way.

Good luck.

none said...

If querying the agent who requested mention of the OWW, then mention it, but don't mention Bear & co. That just looks like you're hoping their success will reflect on you. When querying other agents, maybe mention it in passing, but don't dwell on it. Participation in a workshop is, at least theoretically, evidence of dedication to the craft. But it's not a publishing credit.

Success in a contest that the agent is likely to have heard of--or that will return results when Googled--is worth mentioning. Not if it's not prestigious. WOTF probably has enough credibility in the SFF world to be worth a mention.

tlmorganfield said...

Like Buffysquirrel said, mention it only to the agent that said to mention it, otherwise it's not worth mentioning. Now if you'd been to workshops like Clarion or Odyssey, where participants are selected based on their writing, that would be worth mentioning.

And regarding WotF, a quarter finalist probably isn't worth mentioning either. Lots of people get quarter finalists. It more noteworthy to get a semi-finalist or finalist, though I'm not convinced those are worth mentioning either (and I say that having been a finalist myself). Placing in the contest is definitely something to mention though, because that's the same as a sale (and a prestigious one at that.)

Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...

Really? Dear Sweetums?
That's how I'm starting all of my queries from now on.