Friday, June 1, 2012

Liz's Old Query Mistakes

I'm going to show you guys samples of my old queries. This will show you that you do get better with time. Note these were written in early 2009 and 2010. And I actually enjoy query writing now. Go figure? (Also, this is severely embarrassing)

My first query from sometime in March of 2009:

 A cursed Evvie struggles to survive in a world where her mere birth is
an abomination. Motherless and tormented by a truly sinister skeletal
goddess that plays host within the depths of her mind, Evvie must
embark on a journey to discover the secret of her heritage and why she
is cursed.  Tainted contains all the original fantasy elements
expected of the genre, but entwined within the story is a heroine who
embodies both good and evil.

Right off the bat you know it's far too LONG. As mentioned in yesterday's post. It's best to be below 250 words. The closer to 200 words the better. Agents are all strapped for time. Make their lives easier with shorter queries.

Tainted is a 52,000-word young adult fantasy novel, inspired by
mythology and folklore.

Evvie spends the first twelve years of her life in hiding, raised by a
man she believes is her true father. Cursed by the gods themselves for
being the first of her kind, a mixture between light and dark elf,
Evvie is hunted by light and dark elves alike. She leaves home after a
friend is murdered and the truth about her father revealed. Struggling
with magic she cannot control, Evvie vows never to love Matthew, her
childhood protector, in an attempt to protect him from her unstable
powers.  Here I introduce way too much in the beginning. In fact I probably could have covered my bases in about two sentence and omitted the extraneous details.

Evvie will aide a young man she barely knows, in order to forget the
pain that persistently strikes at her heart, only to come face to face
with an evil aunt bent on killing her and a royal secret about her
heritage that she never thought possible. Right here--too vague, especially in the beginning. This doesn't segue well with the previous paragraph. An agent will always want concrete details and not abstract language like my first couple lines in here.

Evvie suffers from the same insecurities that all young adults her age
go through. She is the fantasy equivalent of today’s teenage girl,
even using the same language and phrases. Evvie is an insecure yet
stubborn heroine merely trying to fit in a world where she was never
meant to exist. (THIS is so NOT necessary. Why did I add this? Non-writing folk told me to. Sometimes AVOID the advice of non-writerly folk.)

I began writing Tainted at the age of fourteen. I have taken several
creative writing classes. I am currently a senior in high school and
have won several poetry and prose competitions, including the Creative
Writing award at my high school, which is one of the largest in the
country, publication in “A Celebration of Young Poets”, and
recognition for a fictional essay in the Miami Herald. (NONE Of this is relevant except maybe the classes)

Tainted is the first of a three book series. I have begun the planning
for the second book. I have also included the first 2 pages in the
email body. I hope to hear from you soon (For a series you should merely state it has series potential but make sure your book can stand alone. This one could as long as I tweaked the last chapter.)

Another Version for the Same Story:

(This one is much better and way shorter, but what it lacks is an actual voice. I'm writing for Upper MG/early YA here and it reads like an annoying synopsis, which is another beast entirely. There is potential yes, but what this one lacks is giving more of the character's personality to the query. It reads like this happened, then this happened, with some telling thrown in there.)

KEEP THIS IN MIND: A writer's query improves just as their writing improves. This first novel just wasn't ready. Sometimes if a query isn't getting requests or for some reason you can never seem to write those stakes out in an enticing way it could be cluing you into the fact that that novel isn't ready or something needs revising. Remember not every story will sell. But to give yourself the best possible chance you need to write a rockin' awesome query.

TOMORROW we'll show you a query that has gotten loads of requests and we'll tell you why it works :)

Evvie Nyx has a secret.

She knows the rules; never let the village children see her, keep within the forest, and keep her secret or end up like her dead mother.

For Evvie, an elf of mixed races and the first of her kind, she never considered hiding in the brush to watch the village rule breaking, not exactly. But when she is faced with the choice of being discovered and saving a village boy from drowning, breaking the rules is exactly what she must do.

Her existence is revealed to the village, putting everyone in peril. A mage is sent to kill Evvie, but instead kills the boy she saved. Plagued by grief after the death of the child, Evvie sets out for vengeance, but quickly finds herself in a dangerous political trap set up by her own aunt, which could end her life.

I am currently a Creative Writing major at the University of Central Florida and read requested manuscripts for a literary agent as a learning experience.

Tainted is a 55,000-word Upper Middle Grade fantasy. It is a standalone novel with series potential and should appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce and Philip Pullman. Because you enjoy imagined worlds set in another time, and especially since a favorite of yours is His Dark Materials series, I feel this may be up your alley.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I have included the first ten pages in the body of the email as you requested.


  1. Thank you for posting the evolution of your query letters. It's extremely helpful to see the process.

  2. Wow - great improvement in that query. It's a good lesson for the rest of us. And how do you have the time to write so many posts?!

  3. Thank you guys :) glad it was helpful. Sheesh this is so embarrassing that I half want to put up my latest to show you guys I can write haha. (I actually like query writing now).

    And Lexa there are 3 of is :) Helps a lot!