Monday, September 28, 2009

My Original Query Letter Revealed...SCARY!!

Recently, I've had a few writers email me asking about query letter advice and any tips I can share. I don't feel qualified to give advice on writing the perfect query, so all I can honestly say is come up with something, anything that will set your letter apart, follow each agent's explicit query guidelines, and above all write truthfully. Don't try and give an impression of yourself that is not true. There is no need to lie or to stretch the truth. While there are agents who care about previous publishing credits, they won't give a pig's eye about them if they don't like your query and/or sample chapters. In other words, don't be afraid to be honest. As far as publishing credits, I had not a one!

So, in order to fully embarrass myself this beautiful fall Monday, I've posted my original query letter. Because of it, I received about 15-17 requests for partials and 10 for fulls, eventually getting me signed with Nancy Gallt Literary Agency and one other offer of representation.

Trust me, I know it's hard to cram everything you want to say into a one page letter, but doable, to be sure. I started with a two page letter, and edited down to one. I read my query now and know it could be far better, still too wordy! After all, it was my first query letter! I remember when I began querying; I searched for query letters online. The infamous query was so mysterious to me! I found a few other authors who posted theirs, which helped take the unknown out of the forever daunting query! One query I found came from YA Author, Heather Brewer. I thought hers was great, so you may want to google her and see if she still has it posted somewhere, excellent query! So, here is mine in all its bare, ratty glory! Enjoy and absolutely no snickering about my query! ;)

xoxo -- Hilary

Dear Elusive Über Agent,

As a girl, still at the age when toys were the appropriate gift, I hated getting dolls. I did not want to pretend to be their mommy or make up pleasant conversation surrounded by tea and biscuits. I found them more than a little annoying, with their perfect noses and pristine curls.
Instead, I loved animals, particularly of the rodent variety. I would sit in my room for hours, stuck in between my toy rats, mice and moles, spinning their next exotic escapade in the odd and mysterious world in which they dwell. Animals have emotion and depth, offering much more than companionship, especially when given a voice on paper. NIGHTSHADE CITY combines this voice, with the realm of YA animal fantasy, character driven fiction, and our continuing, albeit creepy fascination with the cryptic, four legged creatures that overrun our great cities and homes. Outwardly just vermin, but are they?

The rats of Trillium City are underground and have been so for years. Little do the weary humans of the steely city realize, an ancient throng of strangely intelligent rats exist right under their very feet, thriving in the intricate Catacombs excavated lifetimes ago.

Barely escaping alive, rat brothers, Vincent and Victor Nightshade, flee their underground home, the Catacombs, dodging mandatory recruitment by the Ministry run Kill Army. They make it to the surface, disappearing into the dark, human metropolis of Trillium City, where they stumble upon a hidden rat made tunnel, and trek down to a concealed world, buried farther in the earth than even the Catacombs. Founded by a group of rebel rats, the covert city’s residents are set on derailing the corrupt Ministry of the Catacombs, and freeing its many citizens from death and torment at the hands of the narcissistic Killdeer, the charming and decadent leader of the Ministry, and Billycan, a peculiar and slightly demented ex-lab rat, who commands the Kill Army with a bloodthirsty fondness for butchery. When the Nightshade brothers join up with Juniper, the ardent leader of the newborn city and despised adversary of Billycan, they soon unearth the demons that have haunted Juniper since his youth and learn how their father, Julius Nightshade, really died. Working with Juniper and his rebels, a fearless Ministry seamstress, and a relic tribe of earthworms, Vincent and Victor Nightshade battle for retribution and redemption against Killdeer and his army, realizing their future and releasing ghosts from their past.

Writing stories since childhood, I've completed my Bachelors in Fine Arts from the University of Kansas. I'm a professional visual artist from Chicago, hoping to take my creativity to the next level. I've completed NIGHTSHADE CITY, an 80,000 word novel, focusing on fighting for what you believe in, the true meaning of family and refusing to let a few decide the fate of many.

Thank you and take care,

Hilary L. Wagner

P.S. I did not really address the agent as Elusive Über Agent! Ha!


  1. Wow, that is such an unconventional query--I love it! :) I think your unique story came through loud and clear though, and I personally love the no-doll thing, lol. I used to pretend I was a horse or a mountain lion when I was little--not really into dolls much, either. You rock! :)
    Can't wait to read it in print---not too long now!

  2. No laughter here. It's very generous of you to post this so the rest of us can learn. I particularly enjoyed seeing how you wove in an MG voice into the query itself. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for the post, showing how it is done is priceless.

  4. Sounds like a great story. Thanks for posting it. I'm aways interested in reading how other people write queries.

  5. Thanks, guys!

    It is really cool to see how others handle their queries. I've read some really great ones! It's obviously a very personal thing, but it also has to appeal to a lot of different people and personalities, which to me feels like the trickiest part!

    P.S. Still dislike dolls!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  6. Love that you tell it like it is, even in your queries, Hilary! Nice work!

  7. Only the opossums would snicker, my dear. And I'm afraid they are biased.


    Your query did EXACTLY what it was meant to do - get your book read - and now look at you, Ms I'm Published!

    I can't wait to read it.


  8. Nice query. And it worked! Thanks for posting it.

  9. I was so scared of the query when I first wrote mine. I literally thought of it as this magical thing! Ha, ha! I guess in many ways it was, at least for me! Thanks for all your support guys and for not snickering, barring Jen's blasted possums (good for nothing possums)!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  10. Good for you for having the courage to dig this out. And although it's unconventional, it certainly shows what a storyteller you are.


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