Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My "Epertase" Query Letter

Querying sucks. For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, querying is the process of getting an agent. This coincidentally is similar to getting a root canal, only without the soothing elevator music or the Novocain. For this blog I’ll skip the hours of finding the right agent and then meticulously searching out their individual guidelines for my submission. No, this blog is about writing a strong query letter. More specifically how miserable it was for me to write one.

First, I had to learn what a query letter is supposed to do. Basically, it is to introduce your book and your story to an agent in less than one page. The book could be “The Hobbit” and without a strong query, no one would ever read it.

I won’t bore you with letter structure, word count, font size… zzzzzzz.

The painful part of the query is the mini synopsis. That is where I have to tell the agent what my book is about in an interesting, non-cliché sort of way. Sounds easy, huh? It’s not.

My fantasy novel is 92,000 words and needs to be summarized in less than 300. And I don’t mean book report 300 but exciting, character-driven, original 300. Every word, every sentence counts. I spent 3 or 4 hours crafting a magnificent query and was ready to start sending.

I had one more step before I could try to find my agent-to-be. I needed to let people who know about queries view mine and tell me how great it is. Well, they viewed it. But they didn’t tell me how great it is. Turns out, it sucked. My query was a clichéd, confusing mess. After these “query experts” gave me their critiques, I understood and agreed but had no clue how to fix it.

So I went back to the drawing board more lost and frustrated than I had been at any point throughout the entire book. On my first day of rewriting, I spent 6 hours and ended my session without a single workable sentence. Sure, I wrote 20 more queries that day but none of them were worth bragging about. Let me give you a quick example of how a generic query can be so mind-numbing.

If I tell you that Bill shot Brenda, you probably need to know something about why he did it or you won’t care. So I add that Brenda cheated with Fred. Better? Who’s Fred? Alright, Fred works as a janitor in an office building. But who cares about that? No one. Unless the office building is important to the story, of course. So now I gotta explain about the building.

Are you still awake? Exactly.

Query after painful query, I couldn’t get it right. Hour after frustrating hour, I was ready to burn my whole book.

But slowly without realizing, I was getting closer. Finally, I settled on a hook sentence to start the query. And as I approached the end of my dark frustration, a light peeked through. More hours of work and I actually had something to go on.

At least I hoped.

So without further ado, here’s my query. Let me know what you think. Trust me, I can take it.

Dear agent:

King Elijah of Epertase would kill his own daughter to stay in power. Rasi, a brilliant warrior, would kill an entire army to save her. After Rasi was banished for a murder the king committed, he swore nothing could bring him back to Epertase. But that was before a chance encounter with Elijah’s daughter, Princess Ripley, during a hunting expedition. He never expected to fall in love.

Now a technologically-superior army is poised to invade from the western sea. Elijah prepares for war. When the invaders annihilate Epertase’s closest neighbor in less than a day, it becomes obvious Elijah’s plans are doomed. The kingdom’s only hope is for Ripley to take over the throne. Elijah refuses to accept the inevitable and has her kidnapped. He frames Rasi for the crime. Rasi vows to return from exile to find his true love and lead her people to victory. If he fails, she will die, he will hang, and Epertase will fall.

I am seeking representation for my completed 92,000-word fantasy novel, “The Light of Epertase.”

Thank you for your consideration. The first five pages are included per your submission instructions.