A Tale of Scary Cows, Broken Rules, the Tastiness
Of Character Soup, and Finding Humor in Your Mistakes
Below you will find the first query I ever wrote, which is also the query I sent to about fifty agents…all at the same time.
And for my first trick, I’m going to attempt to show you how NOT to write a query, using my own query! Here we go:
Dear Agent: Make sure you put a colon here, not a comma.
I am seeking representation for my completed 59,000-word This word count is a little on the short side for the genre. Also, I should have included that it was YA. paranormal romance novel, THE OAK KING.
Sixteen-year-old Claire would rather be shot dead than come face to face with a cow. When her grandpa succumbs to a brain tumor and she’s shipped off to live on her grandma’s farm in the dregs of Arkansas, that’s a problem. Okay, so, if you didn’t laugh at how ridiculous this hook is, you are a robot! First off, who would literally rather die than be near a cow? Also, though the first line does introduce the cathartic situation that kicks off the plot, it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the plot. Cows never come up again, nor are they important to the novel.
Grandma’s land, in the family for generations, contains a mysterious forest that proves to be even more enigmatic (and dangerous) I would use hyphens here instead of parentheses. than Claire suspects. She discovers just how dangerous when she chases down a runaway goat and almost becomes a meal for a monster with the munchies.
Luckily for her, though, she’s rescued and swept off her feet, quite literally, This is a cliché line. by a “charming” Why did I put this in quotes? forest spirit, Litha. Claire, concerned that this surprisingly attractive man They are always surprisingly attractive, aren’t they? The womenfolk are always soo surprised that their romantic lead is attractive. may merely be playing Dungeons and Dragons, escapes him at level five speed. A Dungeons and Dragons reference…awesome. Much to her chagrin, Litha begins stealing things and leaving strange gifts to get her attention.
Her attention is indeed captured, along with the attention of the melancholy and reserved Faery King Alaeth. This is now character soup, and how tasty it is! Only three characters should ever be mentioned, no more. If more characters are mentioned, the reader can become confused as to who’s who. The king, who is preparing for a war on humanity, is understandably displeased with the cross-species relationship. This is the main conflict and needs to be mentioned much earlier. Until he meets our feisty protagonist, that is, and shows her his way of flirting: strangulation. This is beginning to read like a synopsis, giving us a play-by-play of the novel and not really telling us anything about the plot.
Claire also meets the bone-white faery, Trepidura. Aw, heck, let’s throw one more in there. Why not? Upon discovering Claire has stolen Litha’s heart, Trepidura vows to destroy the “loud and annoying” Stop putting things in quotes! protagonist after a heated argument. Why? Who is Trepidura? What does she lend to the plot? This paragraph could be taken out completely. Even worse: the Fae always keep their promises.
What’s a girl to do when faced with a beast lurking in the forest outside her window, the affections of a forest spirit she barely knows, the unwanted interest of an insane King, and a death warrant on her head? Aaaand here they come, the rhetorical questions. Never, ever use rhetorical questions.
This query has been submitted to multiple agents. If you would like a synopsis or sample chapters, please contact me at REDACTED. Thank you for your consideration!
This query obviously needs some work. It’s about 50 words too long (clocking in at around 307). It reads like a synopsis, not a query. I’ve listed too many characters. The reader probably has no idea what the actual plot of the story is. There are no stakes listed in the query. What is it that Claire wants? What stands in her way? What must she do to overcome that? What will she lose if she can’t accomplish what she needs to?
So, as you can see, I too began as a hopeful little writer with stars for eyes and a brain filled with sparkling dreams (could also be read as jaded delusions, in my case). I think I broke just about every rule there is when it comes to writing a query.
Going through my inbox, sifting through all of the rejections (there were many), and finding this embarrassingly unpolished query inspired me to say this:
Everyone starts somewhere!
If you are seeking help with your query, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed at the state of the query. It can and will be whipped into shape! I know four years ago I didn’t post my query online because I was afraid of the critiques I would get. Fifty rejections later, I began to consider how helpful some fresh and experienced eyes might have been.
A great place to start is AgentQueryConnect.com. It’s a veritable writer’s playground.
I look forward to reading some queries!
The Query Faerie