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  • Hetal Avanee

A quintessential query

So, you want to apply to RogueMentor (or dive straight into the querying trenches), but you're not sure if your submission package is strong enough. You've polished your pages until your eyes crossed and rewritten your query letter a thousand times, but you're still not sure. I've been where you are close to 200 times (no really, and I've collected almost that many rejections), but I had about a 47% request rate for additional pages and that is partially due to a killer query letter.

This is you shooting your shot, putting your foot in the door, and hoping someone invites you in. The problem is that if your query isn't strong enough, isn't catchy enough, an agent receiving 100s of queries a day might not read further; they might not give your pages a chance either. It's a hard truth, and I'm sure there are many factors to that decision, but it doesn't mean that the there's no hope. We need to practice, we need to be brave enough to ask for feedback, we need to be willing to make changes.

I think there are a lot of other posts out there about this, so there are probably a lot of different ways to approach the query, but I have a typical structure for a query letter. It's a simple formula: 3 paragraphs for the manuscript + 1 paragraph for pertinent story details + 1 paragraph for my bio = 5 total paragraphs, no more than 1 page long. Even if I'm writing multiple Point-of-Views (POVs), I keep the same structure, but the makeup of each is slightly different.

1 POV: Highlight the main character

  • Paragraph 1: Intro of Main Character's present situation + a little about the world/current situation

  • Paragraph 2: The inciting incident + a little taste of what happens after

  • Paragraph 3: Hint at the black moment + provide the stakes

2 POVs: Spend a paragraph for each character, then bring them together

  • Paragraph 1: Intro of Main Character 1's present situation + transition to MC 2

  • Paragraph 2: MC 2 + The inciting incident

  • Paragraph 3: What happens after + Hint at the black moment + stakes

What does this look like? Well, here's my query letter for my MG Fantasy out on sub. This is the letter that [maybe] caught my agent's attention :)

Eleven-year-old Anika Patel is in Gujarat, India because her parents have important magical things to do. Anika dreams of being thirteen when she’ll be able to control her own magic as she helps kids of the right age meet their magical talismans. She makes a wish that she didn’t have to wait for her magic—and it comes true!

And then her parents become the victims. Ani, her brother, and a menagerie of magical outcasts must enter the prison realm to save her parent’s souls and prevent the world from falling into chaos.

ANIKA PATEL AND THE BEASTLY BAKERY is a 59,000 word #OwnVoices Middle Grade Fantasy set in India. [Sentence about story specific influences redacted]. It is a stand-alone with series potential that should appeal to fans of Sayantani DasGupta’s The Serpent’s Secret and Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah. During DVpit’s fall event a dozen editors expressed interest in this story.

I’m a first-generation Indian American raising second-generation Indian American kids for whom I wrote this story. It’s based on our real-life diasporic experiences, balancing not being Gujarati enough in India or American enough in the US. I’m showing my kids through mythology that they’re stronger than they think and can work through any obstacles.

I'm not saying mine is the only formula, but it's worked well for me. According to Query Tracker, I had a 71% request for more pages rate for this story. None of my other stories achieved that high of a rate (the next highest was a 53% positive response), so maybe other factors played into the requests, but they must've read the query letter first.

The great news is that with Rogue Mentor, we'll decide how much time we have to make the letter and pages ready. We'll work on making it as strong as possible. We'll polish it until it gleams.

I get it, trust is hard. My thoughts won't mean I'm right and you're wrong. As with any feedback I provide, please read, take a moment to reflect on the notes, and decide for yourself whether or not you want to use any of it. I won't be offended if you don't. And you know what? Anyone who's looking out for you will also be okay if you decide not to use their feedback.

But I'm around if you have any questions.

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