So today I will be sharing with you the query letter that got me my agent - as well as a whole bunch of full and partial requests! I started writing my query letter in the early stages of writing my book. I think it really helped me see the bigger picture and understand what the key themes were in my plot. I got it checked dozens of times before I sent out my first query - and I advise that you do too!
Ace of Spades was the 3rd book I queried, and so I had a bit of practice before hand on query writing. The most helpful resource I found was looking at successful queries like the query of author Amelie Wen Zhao. Her advice was invaluable and really helped to tighten my query and understand how to hook agents using carefully crafted language.
So…here it is!
Dear Ms. Sheppard,
I addressed most agents as Ms. or Mr, but do your research and make sure you use their correct pronouns - i.e. some agents may use Mx.
From sex-tapes to covered up murders, Devon and Chiamaka have a lot at stake if their secrets ever get out.
This was my first paragraph. Short, simple and effective. I showcased what my stakes were, and gave them an idea of what sort of character’s and themes this story is dealing with. From this first sentence, we know we are dealing with major secrets and the threat of these secrets being exposed. But by who? This was my hook.
Start with something compelling about your character(s) or the world you are writing about. A fact that makes your book stand out, out of the hundreds of queries agents read in a week.
Anyone that knows them knows that they are furthest from friends; some may even call them enemies.
Here I established what the relationship is like between the two main characters - this was important for me as i needed to create an understanding that this ‘quest’ to find who is possibly blackmailing them is made harder by the fact that they do not get along. While following other successful queries and their structure, I noted that while there was a formula they still made the query their own. So instead of moving straight on to the inciting incident, i first wanted to establish what the relationship between the two looks like. Doing this showed that there was tension prior to the inciting incident.
But when ‘Aces’, an anonymous texter, starts spreading their secrets around their private school, they have no choice but to team up and expose their tormentor’s identity.
Now, I move onto the inciting incident. Their secrets being spread. After revealing what kind secrets they are hiding in the first paragraph, the revelation that they have been spread is even more shocking. Which begs the question…what does happen if they get out?
If they fail to act fast enough, they risk social annihilation and losing out on a place at their dream colleges.
Here I state what they have to lose if they don’t stop their tormentor in the initial stages of their secrets being spread. I use two things that would be important to many High School seniors - having friends and getting into University.
Devon and Chiamaka set out to find the person or people behind Aces, what they find, however, is the soiled history of their school’s past and that Aces is not just a game of high school mean girl’s, but instead a powerful institution that dates back 400 years ago: an institution with the power to ruin not only the lives of the only Black students at the private academy, but also historically the lives of millions that looked just like them.
Building on what they have to lose if their secrets get out, I allude to a much bigger, scarier system. With contemporary books, a lot of queries I have read tend to focus in on plot points that are not central to the plot/ not compelling enough. There is so much that happens to my characters within the story that I have left out. So many side characters who are SO important, but are not relevant when it comes to delivering an interesting and succinct pitch - which is essentially what a query is. If you name drop too many characters the query becomes confusing. Same with dropping too many differing plot points. Try and find the major theme/themes and expand on them as you write your pitch/query. In my case, my major theme is secrets, and i expand on this theme by revealing why these secrets matter as well as what’s at stake for my MC’s if their secrets get out.
By not stating exactly what i mean by powerful institutions, I keep the mystery and intrigue alive without my query being confusing. This makes the reader of my query more intrigued and willing to read on.
Now it’s not just about them – Devon and Chiamaka must expose Aces or risk a violent and treacherous history repeating itself.
And to end my query, I finish on a very contrasting final sentence. The query starting with what seems to be an anonymous bully, like in pretty little liars or gossip girl, ending with something that seems bigger and more dangerous than anything the two main characters can imagine or control.
Told in dual-POV’s, ACE OF SPADES is a YA Mystery stand-alone, complete at 70,000 words, and can be compared to Jordan Peele’s GET OUT and the TV drama GOSSIP GIRL, and will appeal to readers of Karen M. McManus’ ONE OF US IS LYING. Per your submission guidelines, I have included the first 3 chapters for your review.
And finally…I end my query with stats. Stating the POV - just so they know what to expect when reading. The genre and age category - YA Mystery, although this has since changed to a YA Social Thriller as I think it’s better suited. Then comp titles - very important aspect of your query. Comp titles allow for a concise description of your story. You can use movies, books, tv shows anything that accurately describes what your narrative can be compared to.
And that’s it! That’s how you write a query letter! Of course, you end the query with a short paragraph about yourself - in my case I just wrote about what i study at University. You can also include a small sentence describing why you sub’d to an agent, but I picked my agent list very carefully and the ones I sub’d to were ones that enjoyed dark narratives and had an editorial style that I preferred.
Thanks for reading my post! I hope it helps <3
Don’t give up on querying and finding an agent. It will happen, keep practising and perfecting your craft.