Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.


Monday, January 2, 2012

The Horrible, No Good, Very Bad QUERY LETTER!

Yes, that is a grave - where I'd like to bury all my query letters to date. 


I am horrible at writing the query. I don't know why. I can write an amazing fight scene, but explaining the fight scene to you is impossible for me. I will show you my very first query letter, when my MG novel was called Treasures in the Trees. Yes, the title sucked and so did the query. 


I will show you my last query letter, now that the revised book is called REDWOOD BLOOD. It got a "not bad" mark by Andrea Brown, of the Andrea Brown agency. I am still working on it...UGH.


I encourage input on my query letter as well as posting your own query letters. If I can help you in anyway, I will. I will also post all and any information I've received over the years on these IMPOSSIBLE LETTERS!!

  • FIRST QUERY ATTEMPT: Created on 10:31:2010

Dear unknown agent, (I never sent this out -- it was practice only)
Hi. I'm Angie Azur. In April, I graduated from a two-year writing program at Writer's Boot Camp in Santa Monica. I am also completing my MFA in creative writing via Chatham University's Low-Res program. I recently moved to Mill Valley, near San Francisco. Stories have always come to me, especially when I'm near water. I am home.  Below is a brief synopsis of one of those stories, Treasures in the Trees.
Ben shoves purring cats away, squashes bugs under boots, and zings baby birds with his slingshot. He turns twelve this month and doesn't care one bit. His father abandoned them a month ago, leaving Ben all the chores of the blueberry farm. Then his wacky Grandfather, Pappy, moved in, to help with the bills. He's a storyteller, same as a liar. Pappy says the reason the redwoods grow so big is there's magic hidden inside. Ben doesn't believe in magic. But his younger sister, Hedy, does. She eggs Pappy on, totally annoying Ben. But when Ben is willed an ancient Book of the Trees and meets one of Pappy's main characters head on, Hedy comes in handy. Her memory of Pappy's stories and Ben's link to nature helps them claim the treasures in the trees. Together they release the magic, saving themselves and the world.
Treasures in the Trees reminds readers of The Dark is Rising or parts of Tuck Everlasting, fantasy novels grounded in reality. I think of it as The Goonies meets parts of The Princess Bride, with fun fantasy, real danger and true camaraderie.

With gratitude,
Angie Azur
www.teazurs.com


  • MID QUERY ATTEMPT: Created on 4:29:2011
Dear Ariel,

I briefly met Mary Colgan at the Big Sur writer's workshop, March 2011. She was lovely and regarded chronicle books with high marks. I am impressed with your catalog as well. She explained that she would no longer be working there, but said it was all right for the writers attending the workshop to query you.

Redwood Blood is a middle-grade, contemporary, fantasy novel. Think Goonies meets Legend. It is complete at 48,000 words.

Benjamin Corbin is turning thirteen and having the worst summer ever. First, his ex-best-friend, Trey, chose a new slingshot sharpshooter for the tournament and won. Then Ben's dad went out on some hike for rare bird feathers and got himself lost. Ben's not allowed to help with the search because his mama put him in charge of his little sister. Finally, his estranged Grandpa died. Which wouldn't be so bad, except the funeral, yes, the actual casket with the dead body is downstairs in the living room.

Ben refuses to leave his bedroom. His mama tries to coax him out with the promise of a gift his extinct Grandpa left for him. When Ben won't budge, she drops the box on his bed. Inside are a gold coin and a piece of paper titled The Blood of the Trees. It looks like a section of a tree with rings of life. On each ring lines jet out, and on each line is a name. Corbin is one of them. So is Crowne, as in Trey Crowne, the traitor.

Here's what Ben doesn't know: One, he is linked to the last magic tree-bloodline. Two, for century's woodland clans have hidden in the redwood groves behind his house. Three, the clans are split; one side is content while the other wants to rule the world. Four, Ben is destined to become the Heir to the Trees, reunite the clans, and release the curse over the redwoods, if he claims his crown. Five, the evil clans have his dad. Six, Trey knows.

Captured by woodland clan chiefs, Ben and Trey are given a task. They must recover the six remaining golden coins hidden in specific redwoods. The one with the most medallions secures the crown. But there's a catch. The rivals must work together in order to release the coins. If Ben fails, the redwoods will remain locked in silence, and his dad will be sacrificed. If Trey triumphs magic will enslave humankind.

I am a graduate of Writer's Boot Camp and will be completing my MFA at Chatham University. I have been a member of SCBWI since 2004. Some of my article credits include, So You Think You're Boring? and Move Probie! Memories of a Junior Firefighter. As an actor for over 12 years, I have also written scripts as well as TV pilots.

This is an exclusive submission. The completed manuscript is ready for your review. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Angie Azur
www.teazurs.com

  • MOST RECENT QUERY ATTEMPT: Created on 12:01:2011
Angie Azur                                                                                    
Mill Valley, CA                                                                        http://teazurs.blogspot.com/ 
angazur@mac.com


Dear Andrea Brown,

I enjoyed talking with you at lunch during the Dec. 2011 Big Sur workshop. Thank you for your candid talk on publishing, and MFA degrees. 

Redwood Blood at 50,000 words, is a middle-grade fantasy novel. I have enrolled the help of Eric Elfman, an amazing writing coach to help me through revisions. 

The black present on Benjamin Corbin's pillow surprised him. He turned 13 today with no celebration. He didn't expect one. In fact he didn't expect anything. He opened the card. "The transformation begins and ends with the sun rising on the first and setting on the third day of your tenth year plus three."

Ben laughed it off as another prank from his sister. But he shouldn't have. The curse will turn him into a tree, unless he realizes his destiny. Ben's bloodline is linked to the last magic groves. He has been chosen as the Heir to the Trees, to reunite the clans, and release the spell over the redwoods. If he fails, the redwoods will remain locked in silence, and wicked magic will rise to rule the world.

          I am a graduate of Writer's Boot Camp. I have been a member of SCBWI since 2004, and on the board of the Mill's College 2011 SCBWI conference. I have been asked to come back in 2012. Article credits include, So You Think You're Boring? and Move Probie! Memories of a Junior Firefighter
          I also have a blog where I interview authors such as: Albert Borris, A.R. Silverberry, Christine Ashworth, Kate Avery, and Jon Boyer. Please feel free to visit it as listed above.

Thank you for your time. This is an exclusive submission, and ready for your review. 

Sincerely,

Angie Azur



So lets talk about these 3 query letters for the same novel: REDWOOD BLOOD

Query ONE: Obviously it was my first ever attempt at writing a query letter. It's actually embarrassing to go back and read it, let alone publish it here on my site for everyone to see. But I think it will help you jump ahead quicker than I did back then. 

What's wrong: 
  • Too much introduction on me. It's not all about me....
  • They know stories come to writers....no need to tell them
  • They don't care how I feel about water (Did I really write that??)
  • No one likes my MC right from the start...he shoves purring cats?
  • Changing names from Grandfather to Pappy is confusing
  • Should not have introduced Hedy here.....too many characters in a short paragraph
  • Too many comparisons in the end...pick one or two
  • Is this an exclusive submission? How many words it is? What's the genre? 
Query TWO: This query is better because I have an actual person I am writing to. But it's still not right.

What's wrong/What works:
  • The opening is good, quick and to the point
  • We know how long it is and what genre and some great comparisons
  • The part about the book is way too long...too much going on, gets confusing
  • Too many characters introduced and too many unknowns
  • Good ending part on me...some of my credits, but the acting stuff...no one cares
  • Good exclusive submission remark
Query THREE: Getting closer...

What's wrong/What works:
  • Good beginning. Lets the agent know where we met and hopefully sparks a memory
  • Second line is good too - gives the stats of the book and that it is being looked at by someone they respect
  • The middle now has gone from too much information to not enough
  • The curse is too much - need more about the beef of the novel
  • What's at stake? Why does anyone care?
  • The end is good - nice to know about the interviews of other authors and the blog
The next step is to revamp the middle of this 3rd query. The way I'll come up with what to write is this. I'll sit in front of my computer and write. I'll write the way I would tell someone about the book. I'll write about Benny (now a girl, not a boy) and how she feels about things. I'll write and write and I will end up with 3 or 5 pages of rambling on and on about the book. Then I'll go through and highlight my favorite sentences. And hopefully, I'll have something to stick in the middle of this query. 

If this does not work then I will talk to myself about the book and record it. I seem to have a difficult time writing about the book, but when I talk to someone about the book they seem to love it and want to know more. So I must be doing something write during that conversation. I might even enroll the help of my friends to sit and listen to me, ask questions, and allow me to record the conversation. I'm sure to get something that I can use to entice an agent from either of these ideas. 


Below are the notes I've taken when listening to teachers, agents, authors, and publishers about the query letter. 
  • should be business form
  • should be about a page
  • do not lie - agents know if they met you, or if you were at a workshop - they will double check
  • send query and 5 pages no matter what the submissions guidelines states
  • introduce your character - why do we care about the MC?
  • give the plot info
  • voice - want to hear the voice of the MC
  • agents do read the query
  • hook first - synopsis - your info last
  • only give your writing experience not your whole life's story
  • what is your tag line? 
  • read the back jackets of the books you love - this will give you an idea of how the synopsis of your book should read
  • only drop names if the agent knows the person well
  • if you are using a reputable editor - one you are paying - let them know
  • what era? location? where will we be in the book?
  • always be thankful - use sincerely, thanks for your time, thank you...
  • check out other's query letters 
  • get your query critiqued
  • do your research - only query to those agents you believe would carry your book
  • do not say that anyone in your family loves the book
  • do not say that your students love the book
  • be professional
  • do not apologize
  • do not say your ms is in revision
  • keep it simple


I hope exposing my early query and the more recent ones has helped you in some way. I will tell you that I have over 19 query letters written about this one book. I have chosen different ways to present the main character and/or other characters. I have focused on one or all of the plots. I wanted you to see and to know that you are not the only writer with a block when it comes to query letters. Keep writing them and one will get you noticed. 

Off to write my 20'th query....taking a deep breath.

Angie




3 comments:

  1. Very gutsy to show your early queries. I think the queries are harder, much harder, to write than the books! I've often thought of hiring someone to write them for me, but since they are so hard, I doubt anyone else could do much better (sigh). Good luck with this. One thing I would suggest is saying where you had articles published rather than the titles of the articles. Good luck!

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  2. As Rosi says, gutsy indeed. Thank you for sharing them. I'm not sure I even kept my first attempts. Did you ever get some cold reader to read your queries before you sent them out?

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  3. Thanks ladies - yeah - I am still laughing at my first query. I have a critique group now, but back then I had no one to look them over. I am re-writing the last one now and will have someone read it before it goes out. Andrea Brown gave me some tips on it, so I am trying to re-write according to those. I'll post the next one in a new blog...if it's not too horrible. ha ha

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