The Magic Bullet

Posted: October 8, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,


In the Bizzaro world of novel writing, the query letter is like the first of a series of steps to selling your novel by degrees.

Yeah, it confuses us, too.

Like with food, there’s the sample in that little paper cup. But what you don’t realize is that before you get to the sample there are a few smaller steps. Before you pick up the sample, something has to catch your attention, like a smell, or a friendly salesperson holding out the paper cup, or an eye-catching box.

But before that you have to be a little hungry, and the food being offered has to be something you’d actually ever eat. As opposed to, say, a bit of salami if you’re a vegetarian. And you have to have room in your budget to buy the product.

But before that, you have to be out at the store, doing some shopping in the first place.

Before you can sell a manuscript, you have to locate a publisher in the market for a book in the style and genre of your manuscript, or an agent willing to help you sell a book in the style and genre of your manuscript. But before they’ll buy it, they have to read it. But before they’ll read it, they’ll want to read a sample.

But before they’ll request a sample they’ll need to be sold on the idea of your manuscript.

That’s the query letter. You have to convince a complete stranger – who didn’t ask you – to be interested enough in your idea to request a sample. How you do that appears to have a wide variety of “solutions.” I read several of these and a number of successful examples, and thought I understood that you’re supposed to include a brief synopsis of your book. And so I wrote one. Not just a synopsis, but an engaging example of my style that will make the trader beg me for more.

Only now that I’ve done it, I don’t think I’m supposed to do that at all. I think I’m supposed to tease with just the character, conflict and stakes. So I’ve clearly got too much.

Which is why I’m posting it here and not sending it off the prospective agents or publishers. Here, then, is my first (failed) attempt at a query letter:

Dear [Agent],

I’m writing to you because I read you are seeking middle grade fantasy novels with strong female characters [or other appropriate specifics].

Twelve-year-old Cat Brökkenwier wishes her world was just a bit more like her favorite books. But life as a homeschooler has depressingly few faeries or castles. With her tameless hair and her dad’s nose she’s hardly princess material, anyway. Besides, Mom is completely over the whole fairytale thing. If Cat gets caught daydreaming one more time there will be Consequences.

But Cat can see elves and gnomes and goblins among people the way her friends see elephants and pirate ships among the clouds. Mrs. Dalyrimple, the strange old lady at the craft fair, says that’s because the fae were real, and Cat can see their descendants because she’s one of them. Oh yeah, and since Cat has this fae-dar she might be the last Princess of the Fae. All she has to do is learn everything there is to know about the fae-born hiding among us and become besties with that creepy old ogre-born who lives across the street.

Without her mother finding out.

When a pair of goth teenage dark elves threaten Cat with a knife, it stops being a quest and becomes a mission. Enter Bone-Breaker the Goblin, a changeling boy who can control the mind of anyone he touches. He’s using his power to build an army so he can enslave the humans and become the Prince of the Fae. And Cat’s in his way.

Cat doesn’t have an army. She doesn’t even know what kind of fae she is. Then when her dad returns home from abroad all of the pieces fall into place and she realizes the terrible truth. She’s a troll. Clumsy and friendless, and definitely not princess material. But Bone-Breaker has taken a hostage.

Finding strength in her new identity, Cat confronts the prince with a trick up her sleeve – trolls are immune to magic. But when he touches her she discovers her mistake too late. The changeling’s charm overwhelms her, until she hears the shouts of encouragement from all of the fae-born she’s met and befriended on her quest, who’ve come to cheer her on. Including her mom.

Cat punches the goblin, breaking his nose and his spell. His army abandons him and the fae-born choose Cat as their princess. And Mom confesses the truth and her secret past.

Cat’s mom was born a wood nymph 500 years ago. She had been the last Princess of the Fae, but abandoned the crown when war with the dark fae nearly took her life. She grew lonely when her people dwindled until finally she used a wish to become human herself. And she vowed to shield her daughter from the dangerous world of the fae. But Cat’s heart and guile convince Mom to support her, and together they embrace Cat’s very different, new life.

The Last Princess is a funny, adventurous quest story full of lively multi-cultural characters and hard choices. Complete at 65,000 words, The Last Princess is the beginning of a five-book series or a stand-alone book, and will appeal to fans of Emily Windsnap or The Sisters Grimm.

Thank you for your consideration.

  1. Elsa Holland says:

    Reblogged this on The Writers Room and commented:
    Query Letter


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