Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Evolution of a Query Letter

I sent my first query letter on June 4, 2010.  It's not terrible. But hey, it was my first query letter so it wasn't perfect. And I should disclose that I got two full requests out of this first query (well, not out of the ACTUAL first one sent, but this version). Here's how I started:
My YA novel, THE SWEET SPOT, is a realistic contemporary sports novel combining competitive junior golf with a touch of romance.  I am hoping it will appeal to your love of sports and interest in young adult fiction.
The first line? Blah. While true, it doesn't tell the agent anything about the book. Or me. Or why they should even read past the first paragraph.This particular sentence was personally directed at an agent who had indicated that he likes sports stories--not a bad idea to personalize if you have something that feels like a solid connection to make.

Second, third, and fourth (!?!) paragraphs tell the agent what the story is about. Here's my chance to sell my book. BORING! Where's the voice? What's fun and exciting about my story?
Fifteen-year old Kate Anderson wants two things this summer: to play in the Massachusetts Junior State Championship and to turn Scott Turner from her best friend into her boyfriend. As one of the only girls playing competitively, making the cut for the championship won’t be easy. But if she does, the publicity might be enough to get her parents’ failing golf course back on its feet. Unfortunately, golf is a game of focus, and Kate has a hard time tuning out the distractions. Her number one distraction? Scott Turner.
During a tournament early in the season, a sudden downpour leaves her t-shirt soaked and Kate exposed in front of Justin Foley and his leering posse. Like a knight in tan khakis, Scott gives her the shirt off his back and she’s able to finish the match, modesty intact. Angry at them for embarrassing him the same afternoon, Justin threatens revenge. Confidence soaring, Kate starts to find her stride regardless of Justin Foley and his threats. When two British exchange students start working for her dad, Kate is positive they’ll finally have the manpower to get the golf course ready to host the championship qualifier. But, days before the tournament, two of the greens are hit by vandals and “the smoking blowtorch” is found in Scott’s backseat.
If the championship committee relocates the qualifier to another golf course, Kate loses her home-course advantage and Willow Bend loses its chance to host. If Scott isn’t cleared of the vandalism, he stands to lose a lot more. Kate is sure that Justin Foley is the vandal; she just needs to prove it. And then prove to Scott that they belong together.

It's too long. Too much detail. Not enough about WHAT THE BOOK IS REALLY ABOUT. It's too much synopsis and not enough back-cover-copy. Where are the stakes for the main character--they're sort of there, but it could be soooo much stronger.
The Knight in Tan Khakis, a short story excerpt of THE SWEET SPOT, was published in Golfer Girl Magazine in December 2008. In addition, my middle grade non-fiction Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn: All About the Earth Signs for Capstone Press was released in January 2010. I have recently completed two additional non-fiction titles for Capstone scheduled for release sometime in 2011.
Throughout my teen years, my parents owned a golf course in central Massachusetts. Though not a memoir, this novel is loosely based on my experiences playing a lot of golf with boys as a teenager.
THE SWEET SPOT is complete at 68K words.  I’ve included the first five pages at the bottom of this email. Would you be interested in seeing the full manuscript?
This part didn't actually change much from Query #1 to Query # 67. It's solid, I think. 

This is the query letter that my agent actually read and ended up signing me from: 

With the family golf course on the verge of bankruptcy, Kate needs to be the first girl to win the Junior State Championship to draw the crowds back, but her plans are derailed when her best friend and crush is accused of vandalizing the course with a blowtorch.
I started with my hook this time. I didn't have any personal nugget about Vickie--just that she liked contemporary and she had a rocking blog for writers. And personal detail hadn't really paid off before, so I started with what I thought was my strongest hook about the book.
For fifteen-year-old Kate, being the first girl to win the Junior State Championship means more than bragging rights or a college scholarship. The gigantic media blitz that comes with it might draw the crowds back to her family’s almost-bankrupt golf course. But golf is a game of focus and Kate’s distractions are mounting by the day: the hotshot bully; a pair of Brits her dad hires for the summer; and the sweetest distraction of all, her best friend Scott.

When vandals torch part of the golf course and the cops find the “smoking blowtorch” in Scott’s car, it rocks Kate’s world—first Scott withdraws from her and then she finds out the family might lose the prestige of hosting a major tournament.  She suspects her friends, stakes out the bad guy, and gets her hands dirty for the first time in her life to prove Scott’s innocence and guarantee the course is repaired in time.  Maybe then Kate can tune out the distractions and prove she can play to win.
The three paragraphs from Query #1 were condensed into two MUCH stronger paragraphs about the story.  Shows the stakes for Kate.
Though not a memoir, THE SWEET SPOT is inspired by my experience growing up on my family's golf course in central Massachusetts.  It wasn't always easy being the only girl playing golf competitively in the area, but it was fun!
The Knight in Tan Khakis, a short story excerpt of THE SWEET SPOT, was published in Golfer Girl Magazine in December 2008. My elementary non-fiction TAURUS, VIRGO & CAPRICORN: ALL ABOUT THE EARTH SIGNS for Capstone Press was released in January 2010. OUR SUN, STARS, and WHO REALLY DISCOVERED AMERICA with Capstone were all published in January 2011.  I have completed two additional titles for their fall 2011 catalog.

THE SWEET SPOT is a contemporary YA novel complete at 68K words and available for your immediate review should you be interested.  This is a simultaneous submission.  Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
So there you have it, the Evolution of a Successful Query Letter. Any comments?


Julie Musil said...

Kirs, this is awesome. i love watching how things evolved, especially knowing the outcome was successful! Thanks for posting this.

Lori M. Lee said...

How cool! Thanks so much for sharing :D

Krista V. said...

Thanks for sharing this, Kris! Your first attempt wasn't bad, but the later attempt was a lot tighter and did a better job of highlighting the stakes, as you said. And of course, we all love knowing the story - your querying story, that is - had a happy ending:)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Thank you for sharing! It's nice to see how your query evolved.

Vickie Motter said...

I actually liked that you didn't add a "personal nugget" about me. I tend to skip over those anyway. You did a great job of jumping feet first into the meat of the story, and grabbing attention. Your bio section was also clear cut, to the point, and impressive.

Kristine Asselin said...

Julie -- glad you liked it!

Lori, Krista - Thanks!

Nicole - You're Welcome

Have I mentioned I love my agent? Thanks, Vickie!

Heather said...

This was excellent! It really showed how one concept can be portrayed in so many ways. It's all about where we want the focus and keeping it interesting. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

So cool to see the evolution, Kristine! I can see why Vickie wanted it. Looking forward to reading it!

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for sharing this. Queries are hard for me, but it's pretty easy to see the differences that make your second version better.

Margo Berendsen said...

thanks for sharing - this is really helpful!

Escape Artist said...

This showed how fascinating the query can be. It can take you down a long and twisting road if you let it, but you've gotta always pull those reins.
I'm an expert and letting myself get too clever...or trying to be. It took me some time to appreciate the art of the query. You have demonstrated well the journey it takes. Thank you for sharing.
My best, Linda

Pretty Things said...

DEFINITELY bookmarking this post!!!!