Oh, hi there writers!
One question I get asked all the time, is how to craft a good query letter. At conferences. On Twitter. From random acquaintances on Facebook. So, what better way to help querying writers... than to start sharing a couple outstanding examples?
Welcome to my little "Perfect Pitch" series here on the ol' blog, where I'll post query letters from my clients. The queries that hooked me, and the books that sold afterwards.
Samira Ahmed's LOVE HATE & OTHER FILTERS hits bookstores everywhere on January 16th with Soho Teen and January 18th with Hot Key Books in the U.K. She's gearing up for her book launch and her book tour.
And fun fact, all this started with a tweet. And a different title.
Let's check out that query, as well as that tweet. And if you find all this helpful, please pre-order Samira's debut on Amazon, B&N, and IndieBound, and add it on Goodreads. Signed copies with limited edition art are available from Anderson's too.
First, that tweet!
I love Twitter contests. I spent a lot of time scouring through Beth Phelan's #DVPit and Brenda Drake's #PitMad. And it's hard, trying to master just how to sum up your entire novel in 140 characters (though Twitter does have more now).
Here's the tweet that caught me immediately.
"She wants to make films & kiss boys--her Muslim parents forbid both. Will a terrorist & Islamophobia shatter her dreams? #pitmatch #YA #CON"
Somehow, in that tiny tweet, Samira was able to convey not just the internal stakes for the main character, but the external ones. The emotional turmoil and the very real danger on the outside. We get important character pieces. We know there's romance, we know the character's background, we know her family struggles. In. One. Sentence.
When you're playing along in those kind of pitch contests, try to pack as much as you can in. In that quick blip. You can do it.
Now, the query letter. Because when you do these Twitter contests, you still have to send a traditional query letter. So it's still important to get that query right, because you could still lose the agent's interest with one that's written poorly.
Dear Mr. Smith,
Thank you for liking our #PitMatch connection! I'm excited to share my query for SWIMMING LESSONS along with the first 50 pages of the manuscript that you will find attached as a Word docx.
Seventeen-year old American-born Maya Aziz lives between worlds. Between the proper world her parents expect for their good Indian Muslim daughter and the one she envisions for herself. Between her small Midwestern town and her dream of going to film school in New York. Between the mundane reality of her every day and her imagination where she gets advice from Ilsa Lund and Holly Golightly. Between her conflicted longing for the Homecoming King and the Suitable Boy.
With the help and humor of her two best friends, Maya navigates a senior year that’s enlivened by teen angst, romance, a bit of magical realism, and swimming lessons at a secret pond—but a suicide bomber disrupts it all.
Told via brief inter-chapters, the aftermath of this act of domestic terrorism has repercussions in Maya's small town, changing her life forever. This intercalary story builds to the bombing and delves into its genesis and aftermath in ways both intimate and profound.
SWIMMING LESSONS, complete at 80,000 words, was one of three finalists for the 2015 Sheehan YA Book Prize. It is a contemporary young adult story, with a whiff of The Love That Split the World meets Quantico, set in a space where cultures collide, where the definitions of self and other are blurred, and where last names can be a threat.
I was born in Bombay, India, and currently live in Chicago. I have also lived in Vermont, New York City, and Kauai, where I spent a year with my husband and two young children searching for the perfect mango. I received my BA and MAT from the University of Chicago and taught high school English for seven years. My creative non-fiction has appeared in Jaggery Lit and Entropy.
Currently, the full manuscript is under consideration by three other agents. I will let you know immediately of any change in status. Thank you for your time and interest.
So let's talk about this query and why it's so great, using my favorite "the hook, the book, the cook" query construction:
The Hook: Samira already got me with the hook in the Twitter pitch event, so she didn't need to open with one. However, you'll see her dive into that format later on, when she talks about how long the book is. She shares really unique comp titles, and delivers a kick ass marketing line with "set in a space where cultures collide, where the definitions of self and other are blurred, and where last names can be a threat." I ended up using that while querying the book to editors!
The Book: She sums up the entire novel in three paragraphs, the last of which dishes some interesting notes on the format of the narrative, something that totally sold me the second I started reading the book.
The Cook: And the bio is perfect. Not only does she talk a bit about herself, she digs into her writing. Where her non-fiction has been, the awards this manuscript was nominated for. She's even open with the fact that other agents are reading it.
This, my friends, is perfect pitch.
And again, if you find all this helpful, please pre-order Samira's debut on Amazon, B&N, and IndieBound, and add it on Goodreads. Signed copies with limited edition art are available from Anderson's too.