The Query

I found writing my query letter was one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the whole “getting an agent” thing. It pales beside the agony of waiting to hear back on fulls, but on the “awful spectrum” I’d still happily place it somewhere between Vogon poetry and a back to back screening of every Michael Bay film ever made .

First off, there are a bunch of differing opinions around the traps on how to do it. For what’s it’s worth, I relied mainly on the advice of the wonderful Anne Mini and her superlative blog , Janet Reid and the dreaded Query Shark (who incidentally shit-canned me with a form rejection faster than a prom-night BJ) and of course, the dearly missed Miss Snark (much <3). These people have given you all the resources you need to craft a good letter, and each is far better versed in schooling you than I am. You just need to figure out a) Who to believe and b) When to ignore everything they say and just go with your gut.

The act of condensing your 80-90k labor of love into a single page, a single hook with enough “voice” to sell your writing skillz seems impossible, and I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but I’m thinking that I must have done something right. Looking at my battered little “query results” spreadsheet, this query letter netted me a total of 4 partial requests plus 12 more full requests in a little over 3 months, leading to four offers of representation. Along the way, I got 22 form kicks to the bollocks and a bunch of “no response”.

Incidentally, it never hurts to resend a query if you get no response from the agent, even if said agent is a “no response means no’ kind of person. The worst that can happen is you get no response again. The best that can happen is a partial/full request and an offer of rep, which happened to me. Without further foreplay, here it is:

Dear XXXXX,

Griffins were supposed to be extinct. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t let one die.

Yukiko’s hunt for a legendary beast has gone horribly wrong and now she’s stranded; a sixteen year old girl in the country’s last wilderness, with only a furious griffin with broken wings for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is that he’d rather see her dead than help her. But trapped together in the wilderness, Yukiko and the griffin find a friendship that neither expected.

Her homeland, Shima, is on the brink of environmental collapse, flora and fauna decimated by mechanization and the toxic, Guild-controlled fuel called chi. Upon her return to civilization, Yukiko’s father is imprisoned by the Shōgun. She becomes entangled in deadly court intrigue and a blossoming romance with a young samurai. Enlisting the aid of a rebellious guildsman and an anarchist cabal, she pits herself against the authorities, facing jealousy, betrayal and murder in the hope of seeing her father freed, her homeland saved and the griffin fly again.

STORMDANCER is an 80,000 word steampunk fantasy novel. It’s ‘Free Willy’ meets ‘How to train your dragon’ in dystopian feudal Japan with a Rage Against the Machine soundtrack.

My first 50 pages are enclosed. Unfortunately I was unable to include a SASE – I live in Australia and our postal system is run by muppets. I apologize for the inconvenience this will surely cause. Hopefully one day my great sun burnt country will enjoy a postal system not reliant on horse and carriage or koala bears. I hear rumor that we’re getting running water installed next year, which I’m quite looking forward to.

If you could respond to me by email, I’d be very grateful. Thanks for your time.

Sincerely

Jay Kristoff
blah blah

I will say it doesn’t seem to hurt to do something a little bit different (the joke about muppets in the postal system got a few lols, and some running gags going on some of the full requests). Of course, I’d clip that entire paragraph on an e-query. I’d usually replace it with something to prove I’d done a little research about the agent I was querying (I ❤ ur blog, etc), presuming that information about said agent wasn’t as scarce as straight men at a Lady Gaga concert.

Note: “Doing something different” doesn’t mean painting the query letter in your own blood or kidnapping the agent’s zebra. Just sayin’.


36 responses to “The Query

  • Caroline Tung Richmond

    Haha, I love the last paragraph!

    “I hear rumor that we’re getting running water installed next year, which I’m quite looking forward to.”

    That’s just plain awesomeness.

    Anyway, your novel sounds incredibly kick-ass and I love that it’s set in feudal Japan. Very cool!

    Once you’re on sub, feel free to mosey on over to “The Next Circle of Hell” thread at AW. (Under the “Rejections and Dejections” tab.) We’re all authors on submission over there. 🙂

  • queenofheadlessbeauty

    Wow, your book sounds AWESOME. *looks at own query with a big sad face*

    I actually happened on your blog doing a search for Matt Bialer, who I have a query out with >.O I love the last paragraph, it made me giggle. I used to be afraid to put any jokes into my query letters, because I wanted to be SERIOUS WRITER. Then somewhere along the way I … stopped caring what they think? They would find out I’m crazy sooner or later anyway. Anyway I’m digging your blog, keep us updated!! ;D

    • misterkristoff

      Will do, thanks for visiting. 🙂 I know what you mean about wanting to be taken SERIOUSLY, but getting an agent is a lot like getting married. No sense pretending to be something that you’re not.

      Besides, it never hurts to make the assistant laugh. Those poor folks read hundreds of queries a day. How many of them do you think get a lol?

  • Hannah

    Ahahaha, love it. Good luck on submission and can’t wait to read your book!

    • moorockmomma

      Well you are just too cool for school, aren’t cha? LOL. I saw your post on AW about your gabillion offers of rep and clicked on the query letter link. I’m not usually a blog-comment person, but I just had to say, I LUUUURVE your:

      1) Query
      2) Blurg
      3) Effing Zebra (Crap, it’s not even yours, is it?)
      4) Name (Jay Kristoff? For serious?)

      You’re Grade-A Supreme Cool. I can’t WAIT to read your book, Mister. I had goosebumps from the first line.

      Are you on submission already? Yes! One step closer to The Last Stormdancer being in my hands. Though I’ve never used it, I’d like to think I invented the Amazon pre-order button. I look forward to claiming that I was the first person to order it, so email me the link when it goes up. You think I’m kidding.

      #Stormerdancergroupie, much?

      LOL. Seriously, good luck with everything! You deserve it, if only for this line:

      “Jay has prostituted his writing arm in the soulless crack-house that is “creative advertising” for the past ten years.”

      Where the eff did you come from? I love it.

      -moorockmomma

  • misterkristoff

    Well, many thanks. Tell your friends, come again, don’t forget to tip your waitress. 🙂

    I’ve been out on sub for a week or so, yeah, although truthfully I don’t expect to hear much back until next year. I’ve been lead to believe that the whole publishing industry kinda shuts down after Thanksgiving and won’t start up again til after NYE. So keep your fingers crossed for me, and y’all come back soon, y’hear?

  • Reb MacRath

    Greay query letter, Jay. Till now, I’d always sooner write a 100,000-word novel than a single-page query. But you’ve shown that it can be done in style and the book sounds terrific. Cheers. And wish me luck with the new query you’ve helped inspire me to write.

  • misterkristoff

    Thanks for visiting, Reb. I’m glad the query helped. It’s an awful part of the process – everything you do seems inadequate. Just remember the golden rule – your first iteration WILL suck.

    Good luck! Go forth and destroy 🙂

  • Lisa

    Oh my gosh, just when I thought this query couldn’t get any better, I read your last paragraph. So creative, and ballsy! Good on ‘ya for taking a chance… Looks like it definitely paid off! 🙂

  • misterkristoff

    Many thanks. It never hurst to do something different, as long as the “something different” doesn’t involve zebra-napping 🙂

  • Maia

    haha this is pretty awesome…i live in Sydney and the idea of getting a book recognised in America is pretty freaky…but i guess possible (and im going to melbourne next week and i hear the cafes are pretty great…definitely running water!)

    • Misterkristoff

      It’s totally possible! Another Melbourne based writer I know just sign ed a deal in the states too. Where you’re from really doesn’t matter. It’s the words that count. 100%.

      We do have running water now, and yes, we’re very excited about it! 😀

  • AnGruidl

    Lol this is great! The worst query I got looked like the person hand wrote it on a couch because the pen poked through the paper. All it said was Dear Agent, please represent my book! And a phone number. . . yeah that went strait to the trash.

  • Matthew MacNish

    I came here after reading the excerpt at Tor.com. Your book looks incredible (in fact, it IS incredible, at least the first three chapters). I can’t wait to get my heavy handed book junkie claws on it.

    Anyway, I came to comment on the query page, because as hilarious as your most recent post was, there wasn’t much to add. I happen to feature both critiques of un-sent queries on my bog, and analysis of queries that actually worked.

    I want to ask if I can analyze yours at some point, but I think I’ll get to know you first, so I’ve subscribed to your blog.

    If you want to see the posts, you can find them:

    here.

    And here.

    Otherwise, just keep doing what you’re doing. It works for me.

  • Matthew MacNish

    We can talk about all that later, but for now: I = a new fan. If you’re half as cool as a person as you are as a writer, I’m sure we’ll be friends. I’m subscribed, so get ready for my opinions on some shit.

  • GN Forester

    Thanks, I enjoyed this post, and particularly liked your query letter. Without wanting to request a list of spoilers, how did your synopsis differ? Or did your query here function as the synopsis?

    Thanks in advance and I’m looking forward to reading your book.

    • Misterkristoff

      The synopsis was really an expanded version of the setting break-down, plus some major plot points. it gave a list of turning points in the novel and explained the conclusion. But I’m not the best person to learn how to write a synopsis from – I learned everything I know over at Author!Author! 🙂

  • Jon Karoll

    This gave me all sorts of ideas how to write a query. Thanks so much! Huge lol on that last paragraph, along with the “Rage Against the Machine soundtrack” just win man.

  • jazming

    Dammit Jay! Why didn’t you say this earlier?! Where am I supposed to put this zebra at? Also, you’re voice is effing hysterical, so like I’d drop everything to read your MS.

    • Misterkristoff

      I find zebras fit quite neatly in the garage. You’ll have to find somewhere else to stash the meth lab, but really you shouldn’t be cooking that shit at home in the first place.

      …or so they tell me.

  • C

    I am downloading the sample to my kindle TONIGHT.
    And as awesome as the query was, the last paragraph was my favorite part. Muppets and koalas and water, oh my.

  • deadlyeverafter

    Wildly helpful as I pitch my own Japanese inspired insanity to countless agents who will cry when it crosses their desk more than likely. Thanks very much!

    –Julie

  • BarakiEl

    Postal Koala bears – pffft! You crack me up. 🙂

  • Chris DiRusso

    After reading that query, I want to read it. That is a great example of a query done right. You taught me something and I thank you.

  • Lisa

    Hey I was referred to this because of my struggles with the local post office. Haha. Untrained chimps could likely beat the postal service where I live.

    I don’t know if I like “steam punk”, but think I read one book that qualified. If your book is near as entertaining as your above writing I’d like to read & review it for my blog. Can you provide a copy?

    Lisa
    Moonshine Art Spot

  • Lisa

    OMG !!! I read your Nevernight book Goodsgrave !!! I didn’t realize you were you! Awesome book. If that’s steam punk I apparently like it. It was kinda a beyouch too look up all the clever remarks at the end of each chapter when reading an ebook, but I continued any way cuz I just had to !!!

    Do you have anything extra (extra promo for the book?), I can post in the blog when I lost my review ?

  • Lisa

    I meant when I POST my review, not LOST. BLASTED auto correct 🙄🙄

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