Thanks to all who submitted entries to the query contest. And you still have until midnight tonight (Saturday) to submit. Allie will have a winner next week, I'm guessing Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Monday. Meanwhile, she gave me permission to post her fave from WiDo's files. Not one of the contest entries, this query came through submissions and made her say "YES!" The project is currently in editing and scheduled for 2011 release. Let's take a look. (editorial comments in red).
(This was copied and pasted from a PDF file and it is doing odd formatting things in blogger. I'm not sure I want to keep messing with it or formatting may get worse instead of better. Just be aware that the spaces and weirdness came from me and Blogger, not from his query letter.)
Dear WiDo Publishing,
You know the neighbor down the street who looks a little like a rodent? What if he’s actually part
gerbil? Or that beaky store clerk? She could be one-fifth cockatoo. What if half-humans/halfanimals
have lived incognito for centuries, blending in seamlessly? And what if you were the only person on earth who could see through their ruse? A few too many "questions" in the opening paragraph. Better to balance it with statements. For example, change 3rd question to "Take that beaky store clerk." And change the What if half-humans/half animals... question to "Imagine a world where half-humans/halfanimals have lived incognito for centuries, blending in seamlessly." This mixes it up a bit for easier reading.
Thirteen-year-old Wilhelm Tuttle (aka Will) lives a boring, friendless life trapped in a sterile
bubble, suffering from mysterious allergies no doctor can explain. A bubble boy! Intriguing to insert this element into an already interesting plot idea! Who doesn't love a bubble boy? But everything’s about to change Every query needs an "everything's about to change" section, whether you use those exact words or not. The everything changing for the MC is what makes the story. Include it in your query. as he learns his countless allergies have a single, bizarre source—enchants, a society of half-humans that have lived among mankind for generations. Their existence is history’s best kept secret. Spotting them is next to impossible. Enchants have become far too clever at keeping their tails, scales, claws and feathers hidden from everyone…everyone but Will. This last section of the paragraph is killer. The first paragraph was a tiny bit weak with all the questions, but this second paragraph has it all. An intriguing MC, the everything's about to change hook, and the plot turns & twists SUGGESTED, NOT OUTLINED. Now the editor's imagination starts working overtime and she can't wait to read the sample chapters.
The ability to see enchants makes Will something special, but it also makes him a target. Soon a
misfit team of half-human bodyguards has to be sent in to keep him alive. Awesome! In two brief statements, we have numerous story possibilities-- conflict, characters, tone, strange world environment, life or death situations, what's at stake-- nicely wrapped up here to make this a query no editor could resist. Especially not one who loves fantasy, and enjoys medical/health complications (he probably had her at "bubble boy.")
Enter Dr. Noctua, a feathery physician with the face of an owl; Kaya, a beautiful tigress plagued
by anger issues; and Rizz, a wisecracking man-ram who never acts his age. Ahh, the possibilities for characters!. These sound intriguing, with the promise of even more to come. Their assignment: to
help Will overcome his fears and blend into a society that isn’t supposed to exist. But when Will
stumbles upon a sinister plot that threatens to destroy enchants everywhere, blending in becomes
the least of his worries. More hooks to let us know what's at stake. Faced with wolf-man attacks, deadly stampedes and carnivorous enchants with a taste for thirteen-year-olds, Will scrambles to discover who’s forcing enchants to lose their humanity. Hints of thrills and action to keep the reader turning the page Can Will find the culprit in time? Or will he have to sacrifice himself to save his newfound friends from becoming slaves to their own instincts? Another perfect paragraph. I'll bet by now everyone of you WANT TO READ THIS BOOK.
Wilhelm Tuttle and The Silent Sanctuary is an 87,000-word middle reader fantasy adventure with
a powerful value-centric message. Think Men in Black meets Fablehaven (A bit long but generally our editors prefer more material going in that less, for reasons too detailed to go into here.)
On a personal note, I studied creative writing (studied writing a plus, always include albeit briefly if you have educational background in creative writing) at Brigham Young University where I double majored in Communications Marketing and Visual Arts Design with a minor in English. Without being lengthy he's saying that he's well-educated in areas which will contribute to his success as an author. For the past decade I’ve worked the Madison Avenue and Detroit advertising circuits, where my writing (note how he emphasizes writing again) and marketing earned a New York Festivals Silver World Medal, a Cannes’s Finalist nod, and six note six! IAAA awards. He's in advertising? And marketing? By now WiDo submissions editor is giddy with enthusiasm. Once, I thought I saw a well-dressed possum in Grand Central Station and I’d be
willing to bet the night guard in Detroit was half pit-viper, but it’s so hard to be sure. This sentence is the clincher. He's clever and witty, and sounds fun to work with. By now Allie is laughing with delight saying "I WANT THIS!"
As per WiDo Publishing submission guidelines, I’ve included the first three chapters of my finished manuscript for your review. ALWAYS FOLLOW THE PUBLISHER GUIDELINES. This is so important. Read the submissions instructions very carefully. This writer did his research. He studied WiDo's website and knew his story was a good fit. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. He doesn't include any personal information, but limits his letter to the story and to his qualifications-- which is excellent. Although our families and marital status are important to us, they don't matter to an agent or editor. Keep it business-like, yet not stiff. James pulled off the exact right tone here.
This one is about as good as it gets. Though his opening paragraph, which should be the strongest to hook the agent or editor, is actually the weakest, it's followed by a very strong one, and another and another. So the one question after another opening is quickly overlooked.
Make every word count. This query is not wordy or rambling, but concise and pithy. The tone is perfect-- professional yet not stiff, clever and personable without taking liberties and pretending like he and the editor are buddies. Pay very close attention to the tone of your query. You do not want to come across as being too odd, too friendly, too stiff, too arrogant, or too-- anything.
Be sure to save the background and personal information for the last. Your opening paragraphs must hook the reader. Get right to the story.
Thank you, James Gough and Allie for letting me use this query here. It's an excellent example of how to write a query to get you published!
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown
"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it." ~Jesse Stuart
"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf