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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » City of Magi query letter

   
Author Topic: City of Magi query letter
micmcd
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Hi everyone. I have previously seen query letter attempts listed and critted here, so I hope this isn't out of line. I'd love to know what you guys think of my first attempt at a query letter for City of Magi. I stuck close to Nathan Bransford's query letter mad lib, though of course I'm not targeting any specific agent just yet. Nothing here is sacred to me, so feel free to have at it. As always, thanks for the comments. Note - the first paragraph is just filler. The summary bit is what I'm working on. Thanks!

quote:


Dear Agent of Amazing Awesomeness,
I chose to submit to you because [reason specific to the agent]

Grayson Kearney is the head of a semi-criminal enterprise in the largest, richest, and most influential city in the free world, Dein Astos. When a prominent military hero is murdered and his death attributed to natural causes, Grayson realizes that more than money is at stake and investigates a conspiracy that threatens the stability of the entire country. With the help of Zia Locke, the daughter of the murdered hero, and a rising star in the Magi Knights, Dein Astos’s elite guard, Grayson ties together the loose ends of a plot to overthrow the republic and return Astosen to a monarchy. To do so he must overcome his own past, including a sister that doesn’t know she’s related to him and his father, a respected priest that abandoned him at birth.

City of Magi is a 272,000-word work of fantasy. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Second attempt
quote:

Dear Agent of Amazing Awesomeness,

I chose to submit to you because of [reason specific to agent]

Grayson Kearney is the head of a smuggling enterprise in the largest, richest, and most influential city in the free world, Dein Astos. When a military hero is murdered, Grayson uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the stability of the nation. That murdered hero is Zia Locke’s father, and with her help Grayson ties together the threads of a plot by an ancient enemy of Zia’s family. If they fail to stop the forces aligned against them, the nation of Astosen may lose its fledgling democracy. Knocking at the gates are the forces of Valania, ready to re-take their former territory and working with the conspirators to overthrow the government.

City of Magi is a 272,000-word work of fantasy.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Third attempt

quote:


Dear Agent of Amazing Awesomeness,

I chose to submit to you because of [reason specific to agent]

Grayson Kearney is the head of a smuggling enterprise in the largest, richest, and most influential city in the free world, Dein Astos. When a military hero is murdered, Grayson uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the stability of the nation. That murdered hero is the father of Zia Locke, a promising young officer herself. With her help, Grayson ties together the threads of a plot to destabilize the nation. If they fail to stop the forces aligned against them, the nation of Astosen may lose its fledgling democracy. Knocking at the gates are the forces of Valania, ready to re-take their former territory amid the turmoil.

Grayson isn’t Dein Astos’s most upstanding citizen, but he’s not about to let the city he loves fall back under the thumb of a despotic superpower or a power-hungry tyrant. D.A. may not be perfect, but it’s the capital of the free world and the one place where an abandoned orphan like Grayson can rise to the top.

City of Magi is a work of industrial-era fantasy.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Fourth try
quote:


Dear Agent of Amazing Awesomeness,

I chose to submit to you because of [reason specific to agent]

Grayson Kearney is the head of a smuggling enterprise in the largest, richest, and most influential city in the free world, Dein Astos. When a military hero is murdered, Grayson uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the stability of the nation. That murdered hero is the father of Zia Locke, a promising young officer herself. With her help, Grayson ties together the threads of a plot to overthrow Astosen’s fledgling democracy and restore the monarchy. They find that the conspiring monarchists aren’t shy about reaching for unsavory sources of aid. This includes the Valanian military, who hope to retake their former territory amid the turmoil.

Grayson isn’t Dein Astos’s most upstanding citizen, but he’s not about to let the city he loves fall back under the thumb of a despotic superpower or a power-hungry tyrant. D.A. may not be perfect, but it’s the capital of the free world and the one place where an abandoned orphan like Grayson can rise to the top.

City of Magi is a work of fantasy set in a magically-powered industrial society.

Thank you for your time.



[ January 30, 2012, 05:25 PM: Message edited by: micmcd ]

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Crystal Stevens
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The one thing that glares out at me is proclaiming this is your first novel. From what I've read about query letters, this will turn an agent/publisher/editor off immediately and is considered the mark of a rank amateur who hasn't done his homework on query letters... very unprofessional.

I'm not sure how much you have written here, but the shorter the better. Most query letters shouldn't be longer than one page.

I don't know if this is really much help, but is what came to mind reading your letter. Good luck.

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micmcd
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Odd... I got that straight from the bottom of Bransford's post. I'll see what else I find.
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JenniferHicks
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A few things jump out at me immediately:

-- Short sentences are good. These are convoluted. You do a good job laying out who the protagonist is, what he wants and what's standing in his way. But the query is hard to read.
-- It's not clear from the novel description what genre this is. You say fantasy at the bottom, but you need to make it clear sooner.
-- 272,000 words? You're not going to sell a debut novel at that length. Either cut the word count or split the novel into two novels. Most agents say they're looking for works in the 100,000-word range.
-- I agree with Crystal: Don't say it's your first novel.

Good luck.

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Meredith
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quote:


Dear Agent of Amazing Awesomeness,
I chose to submit to you because [reason specific to the agent]

Grayson Kearney is the head of a semi-criminal enterprise in the largest, richest, and most influential city in the free world, Dein Astos.

I'd leave off the semi in semi-criminal. Some of his enterprises are more than merely shady and his hobby as a spy is not exactly official. [Smile] You've covered who Grayson is, but you might want to add a little about why we should care about him.

quote:
When a prominent military hero is murdered and his death attributed to natural causes, Grayson realizes that more than money is at stake and investigates a conspiracy that threatens the stability of the entire country.
I agree. This is a long sentence. You probably can break it up. I might go with something more like "Grayson uncovers a conspiracy".

quote:

With the help of Zia Locke, the daughter of the murdered hero, and a rising star in the Magi Knights, Dein Astos’s elite guard, Grayson ties together the loose ends of a plot to overthrow the republic and return Astosen to a monarchy.

Another long sentence. I don't think you need the part about the Magi Knights in the query.

quote:

To do so he must overcome his own past, including a sister that doesn’t know she’s related to him and his father, a respected priest that abandoned him at birth.

I'd leave this part out. Instead of delving too much into Grayson's past, describe what's at stake. What will happen if they fail to stop the plot to overthrow the quasi-democratic government of Astosen? What about the fact that the plotter is in cahoots with Astosen's bitterest enemy (don't use the word cahoots, though)? And the danger that the change of government will lead to a new conquest?

quote:

City of Magi is a 272,000-word work of fantasy. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Okay. Definitely leave off the part about it being your first novel. It's not that it's unprofessional. It's just not necessary to call attention to it.

In this case, I would also leave off the word count. I know everybody and his uncle says to include it. But, I've read this book. It's great. And really long debut novels do occasionally get published. (Look at NAME OF THE WIND). So, IMO, your best shot is to get the agent to start reading. By the time they realize how long it is, hopefully, they'll have fallen in love with it.

Oh, and do mention recognized writing classes that you've taken. It helps show you're serious about the craft.

BTW, this probably belonged under books, not short works. I almost missed it.

[ February 06, 2012, 06:41 AM: Message edited by: Meredith ]

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JenniferHicks
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Sorry, my "you're not going to sell at that length" was harsh. There are always exceptions, and I hope yours is one. Having said that, I will second Meredith's advice and suggest you leave out the word count. You don't want an agent or publisher to reject your query out of hand because of a number.
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micmcd
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(second attempt included at the top)

I understand the concerns about the length, but I wonder if leaving the count out is suspicious in some way. Incidentally, I'm perfectly fine with harsh critiques. I'd rather get it from people here than every agency & publisher ever.

I could drop something like 100K by removing a parallel childhood story that runs through the book, but I feel like that would greatly detract from the story. Meredith, you read it - do you feel like it would work as well without all the stories of Grayson growing up?

I wasn't sure what section to post this in, "books" b/c it's a query for a book, or "short works" because the letter itself is short [Smile] My mistake.

Thanks for the feedback!

[ January 29, 2012, 10:09 PM: Message edited by: micmcd ]

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Meredith
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quote:
Grayson Kearney is the head of a smuggling enterprise in the largest, richest, and most influential city in the free world, Dein Astos. When a military hero is murdered, Grayson uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the stability of the nation. That murdered hero is Zia Locke’s father, and with her help Grayson ties together the threads of a plot by an ancient enemy of Zia’s family.
That last one is another long sentence. I think you could start a second sentence at "With her help" and break it up.

I don't really care that it's an ancient enemy of Zia's family as much as I care that it's a plot to destabilize the government and return to the monarchy.

You still need something to tell the reader why we should care about Grayson. He's a patriot who uses his criminal enterprise, in part, to filter information to (well, I don't quite know how to characterize the old professor. He's not exactly part of the government.) Or something about his childhood. Or maybe what it is that makes him love Dein Astos in spite of it all--a place where even an orphan can get the best education if he's talented enough. Grayson was talented enough.

quote:
If they fail to stop the forces aligned against them, the nation of Astosen may lose its fledgling democracy.
Good.

quote:
Knocking at the gates are the forces of Valania, ready to re-take their former territory and working with the conspirators to overthrow the government.

This could be phrased better.

Some agents may wonder why you left out the word count, but in this case, it's a risk I'd take.

As far as the childhood storyline, I think you need at least some of it. Too much about Grayson is explained there--and if you cut it, you'd just have to explain it somewhere else. And probably end up with the same word count anyway. There are probably some bits that you could cut, but not all of it.

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micmcd
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(third attempt added at the top)

Thanks again for the feedback. I agree, Meredith, that the book would suffer without the childhood storyline. I just don't think you can read about a character like Grayson without demanding to know how he became who he is. Years ago, this story was petering out and I didn't think it would be worth finishing. It was the childhood storyline that gave it new life and revitalized what happens in the adult world.

Of course there are places that can be cut (believe it or not, I went through and cut out quite a bit before coming up with 272,000), but at this point it's something an editor would need to address. I cut where I could, and what's left moves well (I think). I don't see a good splitting point either, but perhaps a talented editor would.

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annepin
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These sentences essentially say the same thing. I would suggest rewording the second sentence so it doesn't repeat "stability" . Or, better yet, get rid of one of these lines and think about how you can add more information about your book. Both of these lines are pretty vague.

It's not clear to me where the danger of the power-hungry tyrant is coming from. Is there danger of a coup, or is Valania a tyranny? Finally, Im not sure what an industrial-era fantasy is. Do you mean steampunk?

Good luck!

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Merlion-Emrys
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My guess would be fantasy set in an industrialized world...which may or may not be "steampunk" which is as much a style as anything else and is, as I understand it, usually just barely at the beginning of an industrial sort of time period.
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micmcd
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Industrial-era fantasy was an attempt to indicate that this isn't a classical knights, horses, & fair maidens fantasy. I wouldn't describe it as steampunk, either. It's fantasy set in something roughly akin to 1920's-30's era technology, so (some) cities have subways, there exists electricity, but there are no computers or anything of that sort.

To me, steampunk is more focused on the wild gear-laden technology, and this book isn't.

Thanks again for the comments. I'll give it another try in a bit.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Um. Even though queries could qualify as "short works," this is actually about a novel, and so should be moved to the Fragments and Feedback for Books area.

Okay if I do that, micmcd?

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micmcd
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Sure KDW. I was just confused as to the right place.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Done!
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Meredith
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quote:
Dear Agent of Amazing Awesomeness,

I chose to submit to you because of [reason specific to agent]

Grayson Kearney is the head of a smuggling enterprise in the largest, richest, and most influential city in the free world, Dein Astos. When a military hero is murdered, Grayson uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the stability of the nation. That murdered hero is the father of Zia Locke, a promising young officer herself.

Good so far.

quote:

With her help, Grayson ties together the threads of a plot to destabilize the nation. If they fail to stop the forces aligned against them, the nation of Astosen may lose its fledgling democracy. Knocking at the gates are the forces of Valania, ready to re-take their former territory amid the turmoil.

You use stability and destabilize in the space of a couple of sentences. Frankly, I think destabilize is too vague. The plot is to overthrow the fledgling democracy and bring back the monarchy. Just say that. You don't need another sentence.

I don't like the "knocking on the gates" line. Come out and say that the plotters are in league with Astosen's worst enemy and what Valania wants is not a return of the monarchy, but conquest.

quote:
Grayson isn’t Dein Astos’s most upstanding citizen, but he’s not about to let the city he loves fall back under the thumb of a despotic superpower or a power-hungry tyrant. D.A. may not be perfect, but it’s the capital of the free world and the one place where an abandoned orphan like Grayson can rise to the top.

City of Magi is a work of industrial-era fantasy.

I know what you're trying to get at here, but I don't think this is quite right. It's not steampunk, either.

fantasy set in a magic-powered industrial society?

quote:

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Missed this in the first couple of versions. Leave out the soon. In fact, I usually just stop with "Thank you for your time." There are a heck of a lot of agents you won't hear from at all, not even with a form rejection.
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Meredith
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Hmm. Maybe something like:

And while the conspirators may think they've got everything under control, Grayson and Zia find evidence that the Valanians are after more than the return of the monarchy. They want nothing less than the reconquest of Astosen.

Just a thought.

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micmcd
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(fourth attempt at the top)

Thanks again for all the feedback.

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Tryndakai
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I like it. [Big Grin] Each attempt is markedly better than the one before, and I was fairly hooked with the first one!

Two bitty nits: ". . . aren’t shy about reaching for unsavory sources of aid. This includes the . . ." seems like an odd break. I'd rather: ". . . unsavory sources of aid, such as the . . ."

And your second summary paragraph seems to me to cut off before quite finishing the thought. Not sure *what* thought . . . it just seems unfinished. [Razz] Super helpful, I know. [Wink] Or maybe . . . it seems almost to end on a "whiny" note. "It's not perfect, but . . . Also, I'm an orphan!" [Wink] Not that the mention is at all bad in itself--it's just how it's the last thing you say. Seems to dangle. Not sure if that makes any sense, or how better to say it . . .

All in all, it's rather well written, which encourages me to think the story itself is, too, and I'd rather like to check it out. [Big Grin]

(Also, I use the word "rather" a lot . . . [Razz] )

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Jess
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I'm learning queries too so I'm not sure how helpful I'll be. It sounds like you have a great story and the query is well written and simply written. I'd say it needs more voice. the third attempt and on its beginning to get more voice, but it could use more. Write it so that when the agent picks up your book she already knows a little bit about your character because of the voice in the query letter.
I've heard a way to do this is to write the query letter in the POV/ tense of your story and then go back after and change it to third person present tense. Hope this helps! Good luck with querying!

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Meredith
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One more thing:

Reading through the synopsis reminded me, you probably should indicate that this is potentially the first in a series. So:

quote:
City of Magi is a work of fantasy set in a magically-powered industrial society and potentially the first in a series.


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