For those interested in querying but don't know where to start, I'm posting my query letter and some tips:
I’m looking for an agent for THE TOUCH THAT CARVES, a YA light-silkpunk fantasy debut which is inspired by my experiences as a second-generation Vietnamese American. It is a standalone with duology potential, complete at 80k words. [AGENT PERSONALIZATION]. This manuscript might particularly appeal to fans of Chloe Gong’s THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS and Marie Lu’s SKYHUNTER.
They call her a bloodcarver. In Theumas, a city-state on the verge of medical revolution, where citizens worship industry over deities, 20-year old Nhika can rend bone and weave sinew with just a touch. The last of her kind, Nhika has always been alone in a city whose forebears have shunned her kind and whose people fear her.
And for good reason: her touch could kill. But when a misstep lands her for sale on the black market, she’s bought to heal instead. Suddenly, Nhika finds herself roped into the mystery surrounding an aristocrat’s death, and to earn her freedom, she must keep her identity as a bloodcarver a secret.
That’s easier said than done when an enigmatic young man pulls at her heartstrings in ways even bloodcarving can’t quell.
With her new identity, Nhika has a chance at a real connection with someone else, something beyond her carving touch. But others would kill for her gift, and Nhika will have to decide what is worth saving—or dying for.
I graduated from [REDACTED] with a degree in [REDACTED], which has informed and inspired my storytelling. This story also draws from my medical background and experiences in an immigrant family.
Thank you for your time and consideration. [MENTION ATTACHMENTS] I’d be happy to pass along the full manuscript at your request.
[contacts, as needed]
Tips to write a query letter:
1.) Keep it brief and concise: a paragraph for meta data; a hook-y, non-spoilery blurb; and a short bio. You should aim for around 500 words or less.
2.) For the meta data, you can include: comp titles (I was not specific, but it's best to be as specific as possible), word count, genre, title, and agent personalizations as necessary. Personalizing the meta data to an agent could mean playing up the parts of your manuscript that particularly appeal to their wishlist, mentioning whether you were referred, listing what kind of editors have already expressed interest, etc.
3.) The story blurb is the most important part of the query. It should have a similar level of depth as a blurb you might find on the back of a published book. If you don't know where to start, a general guideline to follow is: who is the main character (including age)?; what is the inciting incident?; how does this specifically trouble the MC?; what are the stakes if the MC doesn't do X?
3.5) Of course, this will look different if you have multiple POV characters or less traditional antagonists, but you will still want to convey to an agent why the conflict matters to your characters. Character is key!
4.) For the personal bio, don't worry about not having any credentials. I certainly did not. Don't inflate yourself if you don't; just mention things that would be pertinent to the manuscript, such as why you are the right person to write this book.
My publishing journey thus far, however unfinished, has been a very fortunate process. I didn’t know much about this process before I wrote a book (or queried… or accepted my offer… or went on submission), so you can enter this industry blindly, as I did. But you shouldn’t. Hopefully, my journey can help some other aspiring author brave the waters of traditional publishing.
The bare skeleton of my timeline is as follows:
7/20/21: I started a new project I called “BloodcarverWIP” with no plans for it at the time. It was self-indulgent, fun, and something I normally didn't write. A writing friend encouraged me to submit it to a Twitter competition called Pitchwars, with a deadline at the end of September, so I scraped together a query package: query letter, synopsis, first chapter.
9/24/21: I sent a single, lonely query and immediately received a full request, meaning that they wanted to see the full manuscript! I was floored. Within a week, I’d sent off the full, too. This full request was the first “good sign” in my process.
10/25/21: I participated in a Twitter pitch event (where authors pitch their books and agents like those that they want to see in their inbox), #DVPit, and received a decent amount of agent likes.
10/28/21: I sent out a few of my #DVPit queries.
11/1/21: A fateful email: one of my #DVPit agents wanted to call. Over the course of the next week, I sent queries to all the other agents on my list (which, because I had been so unprepared, were very few).
11/5/21: On the same day the Pitchwars mentees would be announced, I received my first offer! Luckily, I scheduled my call for the morning, and pulled out my Pitchwars submission right before mentees were announced.
That same day, I informed all my other agents that I had an offer and gave them two weeks to either offer or pass. Over the next couple weeks, I received both offers and passes. In total, I queried 22 agents and received 4 offers, of which I ended up choosing Ramona Pina from BookEnds Literary! We just went on submission with the project at the beginning of the month!
Now, having said all that, the whole process could’ve been a lot smoother had I come in more prepared, so here are some things I’d advise querying authors based on what worked for me and what didn’t.
Join writing communities. I can’t stress this enough. Twitter was my platform of choice, and it’s a good one considering all the pitch contests and mentorship programs. Authors don’t need to be on social media, but it can (as in my case) expedite the process. Additionally, some of my closest writing friends are those I’ve met off #writingtwt. Overall, it’s a great learning resource between its writing community and industry events. Sadly, the Pitchwars program no longer exists, but other mentorship programs still thrive on the platform. My process would not have been half as quick had it not been for the Twitter community. And the key to gaining traction in the community is simple: give as much as you get! Like others’ posts, interact with other writers, and find your people.
Prepare your agent list. While it’s true that the querying trenches move incredibly slowly, you don’t want to get caught off guard as I did. After you get an offer, it’s a bit of an industry no-no to send out more queries. So, you want to be prepared to send out all your queries when you anticipate receiving an offer, i.e. when you get the “call.” This means researching agents, their manuscript wish-lists, and their agencies. More research and preparation can never hurt.
Pitch events can help. Twitter pitch events happen on certain dates throughout the year, and use hashtags such as #SFFPit or #DVPit. If you’re interested, make sure to research the kinds of pitch events that your manuscript would be eligible for. For these events, it’s a good idea to “comp” (list comparable titles) your manuscript to one or two pieces of media that play off each other in unexpected ways. A strategy for the body of the pitch is to hook with an inciting action and end with an implied question. Think of it as a mini query!
It may not happen with your first book. My agented manuscript was the first book that I queried, but not the first that I wrote. In fact, it was the fourth that I had written that year. I knew that this project was “the one” because it was the first that I felt proud to attach my name to.
And finally, keep writing! If it doesn’t happen with this book, then maybe the next. And if not that one, then another. Moving onto the next project keeps the momentum alive, your craft improving, and your mind off the stress of querying.
Of course, this was just my experience, and there are many paths towards publishing (including self publishing!). If someone were to ask me how I got my agent, my simplest answer would be that I tried my luck, and it paid off. The news that changed my life came on a day like any other; you never know when your own luck will turn. Until then, all you can do is write, query, and persevere.