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Here's the one-page query I sent to my agent:

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

I read on Publisher's Marketplace about your recent sale of Mark Henry's zombie novel, Happy Hour of the Damned, and thought you might be interested in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, my 70,000-word literary post-apocalyptic novel targeted to the young adult market. 

Generations after the zombie apocalypse known as The Return, Mary's life is as circumscribed by her community's strict religion as it is by the fences that form her village's only defense against the hordes of the undead -- the Unconsecrated -- who dwell in the surrounding forest. 

Her faith is shattered the day her mother becomes infected by the Unconsecrated, and her belief in her community is destroyed when she secretly witnesses the Church leadership imprison, then condemn, a miraculously non-infected outsider who somehow finds a safe path to the village.  The only other person who questions their Puritanical lifestyle is her betrothed's crippled brother, Travis, who has been assigned to wed Mary's best friend.  Mary is torn between her duty to friends and society and her growing love for Travis. 

When the Unconsecrated breach the fences and overrun the village, Mary, Travis, and their intendeds are among the few survivors.  Now, their only chance is to brave the outsider's path through the deadly Forest in an attempt to discover the only thing that Mary still believes in -- that there is a world beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth. 

I am an active member in Romance Writers of America and several of its subchapters.  The Forest of Hands and Teeth is my third completed manuscript and will appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman, Libba Bray, and Meg Rosoff. 

Per the submissions guidelines on your agency's website, I have pasted below the first chapter and synopsis.  I would be delighted to send the full manuscript at your request.  Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.  I look forward to hearing from you.                        

Carrie Ryan

Some quick thoughts:

First, I must thank my wonderful, amazing, uber-talented critique partner, Diana Peterfreund, for writing the pitch part of this letter.  Thank goodness she believes that a critique partner is often in a much better position to boil down a book's essence rather than the writer.

Second, clearly I'm a big fan of personalizing query letters.  Every letter I sent had something specific to the agent, even if it was a mention that I'd enjoyed one of the books they represented.

Third, I sent this snail mail... but notice that in the last paragraph I put "I have pasted below..." oops!  I don't know if that was the way I wrote it in the original letter or if I just saved this letter before I made that change.  But just goes to show (a) I should have done another read through and (b) Jim didn't care.

Fourth, I always put that "per the guidelines on blah blah blah" part because I was terrified of breaking some agent's rules or pet peeve and I wanted to let them know that if I did, it was by accident and that there was bad information out there about what they wanted in a submission package.

Thanks for letting me share!  I love the whole query process :)


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 25th, 2007 06:03 pm (UTC)
My pleasure -- I love reading all these queries!
Oct. 25th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC)
I plan to use Mark Henry's name in my query. I'm writing about demons and not zombies, but I just can't stop pimping since the League site went live.
Oct. 25th, 2007 04:57 pm (UTC)
You're like my patron saint, Todd.

BTW: Happy Hour gots the demons, too!
Oct. 25th, 2007 05:11 pm (UTC)
To be fair, I'll probably drop Strout's name too.
Oct. 25th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
In my original draft of the query I had a little bit more explanation of how Mark's zombies were funny and mine were definitely not, but thankfully my CP and query guru told me to cut to the chase and get right to my story premise.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 25th, 2007 06:03 pm (UTC)
Ah, thanks! I think my biggest fear was not being able to actually capture the book in the query. To me, that's the hardest part (and I think Mark Henry's query is a great example of being able to capture the voice).
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 25th, 2007 06:50 pm (UTC)
That happened to me with the second manuscript I ever wrote. I got to the end, sat down to write the query and realized that the query was *way* more interesting than the book and that I'd made a major plot mistake in the book as well. So I chalked it up to practice and moved on :)
Oct. 25th, 2007 07:31 pm (UTC)
Oooo. I would totally pick up that book just based on the title alone. So evocative!
Oct. 25th, 2007 08:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!
Oct. 26th, 2007 02:02 am (UTC)
I guess that goes to show you? All along I was trying to convince her to change the title to "Unconsecrated." I like one word titles. They get to be bigger on the cover. ;-)
Oct. 26th, 2007 01:08 pm (UTC)
That's one of the reasons I'm keeping my name: short name = bigger on the cover :)
Oct. 26th, 2007 01:27 pm (UTC)
and that comment was from me, by the way. Didn't realize I'd gotten logged out...
Oct. 25th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
Wow. That is a really excellent query.
Oct. 25th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! Really, Diana was the one who wrote most of it so she deserves the credit :) But the query worked and I adore my agent so all's well that ends well!
May. 19th, 2008 04:26 am (UTC)
Lovin' queries

Can you please send me a vial of whatever makes you love queries so I can innoculate myself against the visceral distaste? Just kidding (kind of...)

Congratulations! Thanks for being so open and sharing.

D.A. Lewis
Feb. 25th, 2009 07:15 am (UTC)
Re: Lovin' queries
Agreed. I'm terrible at writing queries. Thankfully, though, I have about a million people willing to rip them to pieces for me. :)
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


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