Query Letter Blogfest

I love blogfests, and this one is awesome! Hosted by Alicia, Erinn, Holly, and Pam, & Quita, the Query Letter Blogfest is meant to help writers perfect one of the most vital marketing tools in their arsenal: the query letter (or, The Most Important First Impression You’ll Ever Make). So, check out the query letter I’ve posted below and, if you’re so inclined, leave a comment letting me know what works and what doesn’t.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve only just started to draft this story. While the summary  is the basic gist of what will happen, I’m still ironing out the details. Also, I am inherently wordy. I suspect this query letter has fallen victim to my wordiness. Please do point out fluff if you choose to critique. Also, please do not hesitate to be brutally honest. I’ll probably cry and eat a gallon of ice cream while reading comments, but I’ll handle it and come to greatly appreciate any thoughtful feedback. 🙂 

***Updated to add: I’ve edited the summary of my query letter based on some excellent feedback I’ve received today. The version below is new and hopefully improved…

And on that note:

Dear AGENT,

I’m writing to query your interest in my contemporary young adult novel, Insert Fabulous Title Here, told in alternating points of view and complete at 60,000-ish words. PERSONAL BIT… I hope Insert Fabulous Title Here will intrigue you.

Brilliant loner Lia Bonelli and over-achieving doctor’s son Jace Bryant have been competing to be Valedictorian since freshmen year, but petty rivalries vanish one autumn afternoon when two masked men storm their school bus, hijacking it without explanation. Jace has no idea that the kidnappers are Lia’s cousins, the sons of her recently deceased crime boss uncle. Uncle Ray was the victim of a botched surgery, and Lia’s cousins hold Dr. Henry Bryant, Jace’s father, responsible.

Lia is a secret accomplice to her cousins’ plan—of course she is; duty is everything to her relatives. Plus, her cousins have promised her a cut of the ransom money, exactly what she needs to escape her corrupt family once and for all. But as the abduction drags into days, Lia and Jace grow unexpectedly close. Her audacity gives him courage he’s never had, and his unwavering honesty is more authentic than anything she’s known. Then word comes that the Bryants can’t produce the payment Lia’s cousins demand. When it becomes clear that they’ll do anything to secure the ransom money—even kill—Lia is forced to choose between family allegiance and the very real affection she’s beginning to feel for Jace.

I am a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, YALitChat and Savvy Authors. I have a BA from Washington State University and a background in teaching. Per AGENCY NAME’S submission guidelines, I have ATTACHED/PASTED WHATEVER of Insert Fabulous Title Here to this email. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Katy Upperman

Can’t wait to see what you think, and thank you in advance for any feedback you offer! Also, you can click HERE to check out the list of participants. Please do take a moment to drop by to offer critique on a few of their query letters.

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26 responses to “Query Letter Blogfest

  1. I really enjoyed this! Sounds like a great story. Still, I wonder what would happen if you tried to compress the summary into one paragraph. It takes awhile for you to get to the dramatic tension — that Lia is an accomplice — and since that is what keeps your readers reading, you might want to get to it sooner.

    Great letter, though!

  2. Okay, firstly, this is fab and boy do I ever want to read it. Seriously. Please write faster.

    Secondly, yes, you’re right, too long. I think, as well, you tell too much of the story in the query. You start out with great, short summaries of Lia and Jace. Could you pull up after the sentence saying two men storm the bus, cut out your description of the rest of the action, and crunch it right down? Tell us Lia has a connection to them she can’t admit. Tell us she’s torn between the promises she made before the hijacking and the things it can offer her, and the growing affection she’s feeling for Jace. Tell us Jace has more at stake than he knows. Lay out the stakes, then make us read to find out what!

    It’s pretty late here so I do hope this makes sense! Finally, I offer the best tip I found in Elana Johnson’s From The Query To The Call (which is now free, and if you don’t have it, GO and get it!): If you put the first and last sentences of your query together, you should basically have your short pitch. Where does it need to start and end for that to happen? My immediate instinct is that it needs to be something like: Lia and Jace are DESCRIPTIVE THING THAT SAYS HOW THEY INTERACT, until their school bus is hijacked by masked men. Now, Lia must decide DECIDEY THINGS ABOUT SPLIT LOYALTIES AND CONSEQUENCES.

    Again, hope this all makes sense! Happy to discuss via email if you like, and when you’re further along in the story if you prefer. I love pitchy stuff.

    • Thanks for all your help, Amie! I love the advice you offered about the first and last sentence making up the short pitch. I’ve never heard that before! I think I’ve tweaked this to the point where that almost happens, and over all that’s making the query stronger. I’ll definitely take you up on your offer to chat more about pitching this later. Now, I need to get moving on writing the thing!

  3. Oh goodness, longest comment ever, sorry! Rambly when I’m sleepy.

  4. “Loner Lia Bonelli and over-achiever Jace Bryant have been in direct competition for the title of their school’s Valedictorian since freshmen year, but petty rivalries vanish one autumn afternoon when two masked men hijack their school bus.”

    ^ That should be your first line, IMHO. I think you have a brilliant premise here, but it is getting lost with a lot of back story. I don’t care so much about each of the characters until you tell me why I should. Once I know their bus is hijacked, well then I’ve perked up and am ready to listen.

    I think this is well written and could just use a bit of trimming. You already mentioned that you knew this was running a tad long. I say get to the hook immediately, then build a bit of the backstory (hijackers being part of Lia’s crime family, the pressures of family loyalty, etc) and then end with the climax you’ve already established: “When it becomes clear that her cousins will do anything to secure the ransom money—even kill—Lia is forced to choose between family allegiance and the money she desperately needs, and the very real affection she’s beginning to feel for Jace.”

    I think you could even tighten that last line just a bit. Maybe “When it becomes clear that her cousins will do anything to secure the ransom money—even kill—Lia is forced to choose between family and friends, between blood loyalties and moral somethingorothers.”

    Anyway, those are just my thoughts. Hope they help. You’re off to a great start!

    • Awesome advice, Erin! You’re so right about the first line. I changed it, and with a few other tweaks, I think the whole thing reads cleaner. Now I just need to write the story. 🙂 Thanks so much for all your help!

  5. This story sounds fabulous!! And my male lead is Jace too…I ❤ that name. lol I agree that it does need to be condensed, but it looks like you've got all the basics there that you need! Great job!

    • Thanks so much, Holly! Good taste on the name Jace… it was never even on my reader until I found it in a baby name book and thought “Perfect!”

  6. Hi Katy, happy to read this! I hope this is helpful to your process:
    Dear AGENT,

    I’m writing to query your interest in my contemporary young adult novel ALREADY WORDY LOL, YOU DID WARN US!, Insert Fabulous Title Here IN ALL CAPS, complete at 60,000-ish ISH, HA words. PERSONAL BIT… I hope Insert Fabulous Title Here will intrigue you.

    Lia Bonelli is a brilliant loner longing to escape her volatile family. Jace Bryant is an over-achieving doctor’s son with a disintegrating home life. THESE ARE TERRIFIC TO PUT UP FRONT, BUT THEN I WOULD WANT TO LINK THEM TO WHY THEY WANT VALEDICTORIAN TO ESCAPE ASAP AND WHY DOES JACE NEED THE SCHOLARSHIP BTW? IN LIGHT OF THE QUESTIONS, YOU MIGHT JUST WANT TO LAUNCH INTO THEIR COMPETITION. They’ve been in direct competition OR ‘THEY’VE BEEN BATTLING FOR THE VALEDICTORIAN SPOT’ for the title of their school’s Valedictorian—not to mention ‘AND’ WOULD DO the substantial scholarship that comes with it ‘ATTACHED’ WOULD DO—since freshmen I THINK IT’S FRESHMAN (CAPITAL) EASY TO LOOK UP year. But petty rivalries vanish one autumn afternoon when two masked men storm their school bus, hijacking it without explanation EXCELLENT. Jace has no idea that the kidnappers, Luca and Nicolas Russo, are Lia’s cousins, the grown sons of her recently deceased crime boss uncle. Uncle Ray was the victim of medical malpractice, and Lia’s cousins hold Dr. Henry Bryant, Jace’s father, responsible SORRY, TOO MANY PEOPLE. HOW ABOUT NOT PUTTING THE COUSINS’ NAMES. JACE’S FATHER’S NAME COULD GO AWAY AS WELL.

    Lia is a secret accomplice to her cousins’ plan—of course she is; loyalty is everything to her corrupt family NOW I REALLY BELIEVE THE FIRST SENTENCE CAN GO AWAY; THIS IS MUCH MORE INTERESTING. Plus, Luca and Nicolas ‘THE COUSINS’ have promised her a cut of the ransom money, exactly what she needs to get away once and for all WITHOUT THE FIRST SENTENCE, THIS IS ALL CLEAR, THOUGH I’M TEMPTED TO ADD HERE ‘TOGETHER WITH THE VALEDICTORIAN SCHOLARSHIP AND A GREEN LIGHT TO HARVARD’ INSTEAD OF ABOVE AS WELL. But as the abduction drags into days, Lia and Jace grow unexpectedly close. Her audacity gives him courage he’s never had, and his unwavering honesty is more authentic than anything she’s known EXCELLENT. Then word comes that the Bryants ‘JACE’S DAD’ WOULD BE FINE, ESPECIALLY SINCE WE DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE REST OF HIS FAMILY HERE can’t produce the payment Luca and Nicolas ‘THE COUSINS’ demand. When it becomes clear that CAN OMIT ‘THAT’ IMO her cousins will do anything to secure the ransom money—even kill WHO? ‘SOME OF THE DOZEN INNOCENT CLASSMATES FROM HER NEIGHBORHOOD’?—Lia is forced to choose between family allegiance BUT NOW THEY SEEM HORRIBLY BRUTAL; I AM SURE IT BUILDS TO THIS POINT IN THE MANU, BUT HERE I WOULD BE TEMPTED TO LEAVE OUT THE KILL PART, IT’S LIKE A WHOLE OTHER DIMENSION. I WOULD SAY ONLY THAT IT’S CLEAR THE COUSINS AREN’T WILLING TO BACK DOWN. MEANWHILE, HOW WOULD HER ALLEGIANCE TO THE FAMILY (IF SHE GOES THAT WAY) END UP WITH THE MONEY? HOW COULD SHE BRING ABOUT THAT OUTCOME, IN OTHER WORDS? (ESPECIALLY WITHOUT LANDING HERSELF IN JAIL?) IT’S A LOGISTICS QUESTION and the money she desperately needs, and the very real affection she’s beginning to feel for Jace I GET THE FEELING SHE CAN KILL JACE FOR MONEY OR SAVE HIM AND STARVE, WHICH WOULD MAKE THIS A VERY DARK STORY WITH A LIGHT-SIDE QUERY. BUT I LOVE THE IDEA. SO… TWIST IT! 🙂

    I am a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, YALitChat and Savvy Authors. I have a BA from Washington State University and a background in teaching. Per AGENCY NAME’S submission guidelines, I have ATTACHED/PASTED WHATEVER of Insert Fabulous Title Here to this email. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Sincerely,
    Katy Upperman

  7. I’m hooked but I think you need to tighten a bit.

    If I were an agent, I would request a sample chapter.

    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  8. Yeah, wordiness and my head is swimming. So much going on. This is a great plot outline to work from. When you get the story done and come up with that fabulous title then tighten it. As a story it works. Conflict between characters and internal conflict about choosing against family or not. Those are the things that make stories interesting. You need to make sure this is a real hard choice for her. The higher the stakes for going against the family versus the stakes for going against her values and self-interest makes for the intensity. Sounds fun and good luck.

    • Oh dear… your head is swimming?! A true sign that I need to cut some stuff out! Great advice about making Lia’s choice very difficult. You’re so right about the high stakes. Thanks for your feedback, Scott!

  9. my standard disclaimer: I am a query shark devotee, which influences some of my advice. Obviously there is more than one way to skin a cat.

    {For example, I jump right into the story, though it feels rude and abrupt, and move this to the end.] I’m writing to query your interest in my contemporary young adult novel, Insert Fabulous Title Here [LOL], complete at 60,000-ish words. PERSONAL BIT… I hope Insert Fabulous Title Here will intrigue you.

    Brilliant loner Lia Bonelli and over-achieving doctor’s son Jace Bryant have been in direct competition for the title of their school’s Valedictorian since freshmen year, but petty rivalries vanish one autumn afternoon when two masked men storm their school bus, hijacking it without explanation. [first: love the premise. I can’t think of anything like this, which is a good thing. very cool. the description of the characters is more tell than show. it’s tricky to describe someone any other way. i get that, but it tripped me up. Also, can you break this into two sentences?] Jace has no idea that the kidnappers [, Luca and Nicolas Russo,– don’t need their full names at this point] are Lia’s cousins, the sons of her recently deceased crime boss uncle. Uncle Ray was the victim of medical malpractice [a botched surgery sounds less formal. “Malpractice” makes me think, then why not sue?], and Lia’s cousins hold []Jace’s father[,] responsible. [Okay, now the brilliant loner and son of the doctor make sense as necessary details]

    Lia is a secret accomplice to her cousins’ plan—of course she is; loyalty is everything in her family [to her corrupt relatives] [WOW- didn’t see that coming, and I like it]. Plus, Luca and Nicolas have promised her a cut of the ransom money, exactly what she needs to escape her family once and for all [if she’s so loyal, why a desire to escape? is she forced into being loyal? ‘Loyal’ makes me think they have some redeeming qualities]. But as the abduction drags into days, Lia and Jace grow unexpectedly close. Her audacity gives him courage he’s never had, and his unwavering honesty is more authentic than anything she’s known.[ overly vague] Then word comes that Jace’s parents can’t produce the payment [Luca and Nicolas demand]. When it becomes clear that her cousins will do anything to secure the ransom money—even kill—Lia is forced to choose between family allegiance and the money she desperately needs, and the very real affection she’s beginning to feel for Jace.
    [you do an excellent job of setting up the stakes/conflict. You also make me care about this character, and considering her behavior, that is not a given]
    I am a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (I think SCBWI is an acceptable acronym), YALitChat and Savvy Authors. I have a BA from Washington State University and a background in teaching.[the shark says leave out anything irrelevant to writing] Per AGENCY NAME’S submission guidelines, I have ATTACHED/PASTED WHATEVER of Insert Fabulous Title Here to this email. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. [perfect]

    • Ooh, great advice, Katharine! I’ve applied it, and think that this query is starting to read much cleaner. I think your more spare style has melded really well with my wordiness to make a pretty decent pitch. 🙂

  10. First, what a fantastic title. Agents should request this based off that alone.

    – “Brilliant loner” and “over achieving doctor’s son” are both very telly, which if I remember right, we’re not supposed to do in queries.
    – “but petty rivalries vanish one autumn afternoon when two masked men storm their school bus” <– LOVE
    – "…hijacking it without explanation. Jace has no idea that the kidnappers, Luca and Nicolas Russo, are Lia’s cousins, the sons of her recently deceased crime boss uncle. Uncle Ray was the victim of medical malpractice, and Lia’s cousins hold Dr. Henry Bryant, Jace’s father, responsible." <– This goes into too much information and can be tightened. Maybe something like: "Jace has no idea the kidnappers are after him, or that they're Lia's cousins, or that Lia is secretly involved in their plan."
    – I like the decision that Lia needs to make too.

    The story sounds great, I would definitely request to read pages from this bad boy.

    • Thanks, Alicia! So glad you like the title. 🙂 Thanks for your advice. It’s so hard to know what’s imperative information and what’s fluff when you’re knee deep in your own story. This exercise has been extremely helpful. Thanks again!

  11. I like this a lot, particularly the third paragraph and would love to read more of this. I’m not sure what the previous version was, but this is strong throughout.

    A couple things:
    You start a bit wordy: “I’m writing to query your interest in my” could be shortened to “I’m querying about my.”

    Also, “have been in direct competition for the title of their school’s Valedictorian” could be “have been competing to be Valedictorian.”

    Is the story told from multiple perspectives? I get the impression it is. The query shifts from Jace’s perspective in the second paragraph to Lia’s in the third which works fine for me, but if the MS is only in one character’s perspective you might want to keep your query in that perspective.

    • It is told from multiple perspectives, Dustin! That was one of the challenges in writing this query: presenting both Lia and Jace’s situation and stakes. Not sure I’m there yet, but after all this feedback, I think I’m moving in the right direction. Thanks for your help!

  12. Oooh fun! I love a good school bus hi-jacking!

    Err, fictionally speaking of course.

    Most everyone else hit on the big stuff so I’d just emphasize to focus on one POV, Lia’s, with just a little line at the end about how its told in alternating POVs so that’s not a surprise. Other than that, I would just say at the end when you say she must choose between her family and the money she needs and Jace who she’s come to feel real affection for – yeah. Cut the bit about the money. One, the sentence is wordy, so that helps trim it down, and 2 – it makes Lia come across as pretty unsympathetic, considering what’s at stake. Choosing between family and friends is conflict enough, the money/self interest factor is honestly just unnecessary.

    Now get cracking! People want to read this! Myself included!

  13. I love the rivalry and the situation of throwing the two together and have them become close. I would mention the crime boss involvement and the implications for his doctor’s son, but I wouldn’t outline the girls involvement, maybe just say, but when Jace uncovers Lia’s connection, he’ll have to question if he can really trust her.
    I like the sound of the story, but agree with the others that the query is too long. Save some for the synopsis 🙂
    Wagging Tales – Blog for Writers

  14. Katy this story sounds great! I’d definitely want pages. Here’s my crit:

    Brilliant loner Lia Bonelli and over-achieving doctor’s son Jace Bryant have been completing//SP. I THINK YOU MEAN COMPETING// to be Valedictorian since freshmen year, but petty rivalries vanish one autumn afternoon when two masked men storm their school bus, hijacking it without explanation. //WE’RE RIGHT IN THE ACTION. I LIKE THIS AS THE LEAD.// Jace has no idea that the kidnappers are Lia’s cousins, the sons of her recently deceased crime boss uncle. Uncle Ray was the victim of a botched surgery, and Lia’s cousins hold Dr. Henry Bryant, Jace’s father, responsible.

    Lia is a secret accomplice to her cousins’ plan—of course she is;//I THINK YOU CAN TIGHTEN THAT FIRST PHRASE. MAYBE: “OF COURSE LIA IS …”// duty is everything to her relatives. Plus, her cousins have promised her a cut of the ransom money, exactly what she needs to escape her corrupt family once and for all. But as the abduction drags into//ON FOR DAYS? NOT SURE INTO IS THE RIGHT WORD…// days, Lia and Jace grow unexpectedly close. Her audacity gives him courage he’s never had, and his unwavering honesty is more authentic than anything she’s known. Then word comes that the Bryants can’t produce the payment Lia’s cousins demand. //IF YOU WANT TO TIGHTEN THIS UP A BIT, YOU CAN DROP “LIA’S COUSINS DEMAND” SINCE WE KNOW THEY’RE THE ONES BEHIND THIS.// When it becomes clear that they’ll do anything to secure the ransom money—even kill—Lia is forced to choose between family allegiance and the very real affection she’s beginning to feel for Jace. //GREAT ENDING!//

    I am a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, YALitChat and Savvy Authors. I have a BA from Washington State University and a background in teaching. Per AGENCY NAME’S submission guidelines, I have ATTACHED/PASTED WHATEVER of Insert Fabulous Title Here to this email. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

    I really like this though!