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Query Construction: ANCHOR

Hello! This post originally appeared on Bookends Literary as part of my “new author” splash when I signed with my agent. You can find the original at this link.

I thought I’d talk about my query letter process, in case it is helpful to any writers who, like me, also find the query process tough.  Please remember that I am just one data point, and there are many ways to write queries!

Although I still find queries very hard, I’ve come to realize that the process can # be really insightful for examining character agency and narrative through-line in the story itself. In other words, is your protagonist active in the query, and does your plot have an arc that can be quickly explained in a logical fashion? If the not, then the manuscript itself may have problems.

For my first novel, my query was pretty poor. I just couldn’t seem to condense the things I thought were relevant into the required word count. I had a couple requests from small presses, each ending in eventual rejection, and nothing from agents.

With ANCHOR, I took a totally different approach and wrote the query letter first, before a single word of the actual novel was jotted into Scrivener. It wasn’t actually useable, and was very rough, but it helped me pin down the tone, voice, and basic concept that I was aiming to convey.

Over the next seven or eight months, as I drafted and revised and hacked away at the actual manuscript, I kept picking away at the query. Every so often I’d get feedback from Absolute Write ‘Query Letter Hell’ (this forum is super helpful!) and from my critique group. Because Anchor has a highly unusual protagonist, I ended up with an unusual structure, which reflected the duality of the story concept.

That structure proved very polarizing. I won a couple of critiques from some professional query experts on Twitter, and also submitted it to Query Kombat.  All of those groups felt my query letter was a scrap and redo. Too short (130 words), too many paragraphs (6), and contained swearing (a big no-no). All valid points!

However, Query Shark selected it for critique and gave it a stamp of approval. My critique group and Absolute Write also approved. Different responses from different groups, all of whom I trusted. What was I supposed to do with such varying feedback?

After a lot of discussion with different people, I decided that it was probably okay to be polarizing. A query isn’t about hooking the most number of agents; ideally, it should instead hook the right agent by accurately conveying the tone, feel, and conflict of your story.  I felt that the query I had matched my MS in that respect, and so decided to run with it.

A few things I’ve learned from others, which were helpful to me:

  • Queries take time. Days at a minimum, usually a few weeks on average—or months, in my case. I’ve learned to give myself time to polish.
  • Critiquing other people’s queries was, hands-down, the best way to improve at writing my own.
  • Query letter rules do exist for a reason, but I try to treat them the way I would treat any craft rules for general writing—with a dose of common sense and approaching them on a case-by-case basis.

Here’s the letter below 

Dear Naomi Davis,

Remy is a waitress, scraping by in the waking world. Ro is her dream-self, fighting monsters in the dreamworld.

Remy has depression and a catalogue of failure. Ro has magic guns and kickass friends.

Remy is planning to commit suicide. Ro is pretty sold on staying alive.

If Remy dies, Ro is fucked.

Dream-selves don’t survive the death of their dreamers. If Ro wants to keep living, she must breach the divide between worlds (no problem) and defeat a Sumerian goddess of death (little harder), all to save someone who doesn’t want saving (no promises).

ANCHOR (TO YOUR OTHER SELF) tells the story of two different women in two different worlds, who share one life between them. This standalone novel of speculative fiction is complete at 100,000 words.

BIO: I’m an autistic mixed-race writer, and have drawn on those tangled experiences in the creation of Remy/Ro. Some of my short fiction has sold to markets such as Flash Fiction Online (SFWA qualifying), Aurealis, Sub Q, and Andromeda Spaceways. I am an active member of writer groups both online and locally, and can be found under the username Harlequin on Absolute Write, or Blind_Nycteris on Twitter.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Kind regards,
Sunyi Dean 
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