Strong Query Letters by Anita Mumm

October 9, 2012 · 1 comment

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This past weekend I presented on writing strong query letters at Author Fest of the Rockies in Manitou Springs, CO. As an example I handed out NLA client Stefan Bachmann’s wonderful query for THE PECULIAR, which I first encountered in the slush pile a year ago. Last month THE PECULIAR debuted to much fanfare from GreenWillow/HarperCollins. With Stefan’s permission I’ll share the query, my comments, and the results of our discussion here.

Dear Ms. Megibow:

I would like you to consider my gothic steampunk fantasy for middle grade readers, The Peculiar. 69,000 words in length, it takes place in a Victorian England that has enslaved the population of Faerie, an England where magic and industry are at war, spells do half the chores, and clockwork birds carry secret messages across the sky. [Fabulous opening. We know three key elements from one succinct paragraph: genre, word count, and that this story takes place in a unique, fascinating, and well-built world.]

Bartholomew Kettle won’t live long. Changelings never do. [How’s that for a hook? Who could possibly stop reading? One workshop attendee asked if this could be used as the opening of the query. Absolutely. In that case, the information from the current opening would come after this paragraph.] The child of a human mother and a faery father, he is despised by both his races; if the Englishmen don’t hang him for witchcraft, the faerys will do something worse. So his mother keeps him locked away, keeps him hidden and cut off from the world in the faery slums of Bath. But one day Bartholomew witnesses a mysterious lady kidnap another changeling through a shadowy portal, and suddenly he finds himself at the center of a web of intrigue and danger that spans the entire country. Changelings are surfacing in the Thames hundreds of miles away, their bodies empty of blood and bone, and their skin covered in red markings. A powerful figure sits in the shadows, pushing the pieces in place for some terrible victory. When a sinister faery in a top-hat begins to stalk Bartholomew’s every step, he knows it’s his turn. Something is coming for him. Something needs him. But when you’re a changeling there’s no where to run. [There’s is a lot of meat to this paragraph, without an information overload. The book has undertones of horror, and this suspenseful ending to the pitch paragraph gives agents a nice taste of its dark tone.]

I am eighteen years old and a student of classical music at the Zürich Conservatory. My short stories have appeared in issues of Mirror Dance and Every Day Fiction. [Yes, naturally we did a double-take when we read he was eighteen. We generally advise authors not to mention their age in a query, but in this case, we were already so intrigued that it only increased our curiosity and eagerness to read his work.]

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Stefan Bachmann

Bravo, Stefan! This query got right to the heart of the story and left us begging for more—which is exactly what every writer should be going for. To see more examples of NLA client queries, visit Kristin’s blog and scroll down to her Query Pitch Workshop on the right side bar.

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The Brown-Eyed Girl October 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm

As one who struggles to write query letters myself, this post was really helpful. Wow, and I want to read THE PECULIAR now. Thanks!

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