PitchWars - knocking on the door: the Query letter
Thank you so much to the aspiring PitchWars mentees that are reaching out for the query letter and first chapter feedback. I've been where you are 4 times (no really, I applied 4 times, even when I knew the story wasn't strong enough), and it never got easier. However, between the times I was in the PW cohort (I'm a 2 time mentee), I learned about the process and how to shoot my best shot.
And it all starts with the query letter. This is you knocking on an agent's door, asking them to take a chance on your pages. Agents get 100's of queries a month, and if your query letter isn't strong enough, isn't catchy enough, they might not read your pages. 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.
That's why we keep learning!
So before I dive into the first few of 19 query+1st chapter packages I'm fortunate enough to provide feedback on, I wanted to share my 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 POVs, I keep the same structure, but the makeup of each is slightly different.
1 POV: Highlight the main character
Para 1: Intro of Main Character's present situation
Para 2: The inciting incident + a little taste of what happens after
Para 3: Hint at the black moment + stakes
2 POV: Spend a paragraph for each character, then bring them together
Para 1: Intro of Main Character 1's present situation + transition to MC 2
Para 2: MC 2 + The inciting incident
Para 3: What happens after + Hint at the black moment + stakes
What does this look like? Well, here's my query letter for the MG Fantasy that earned me my agent:
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!
By getting her talisman two years early Anika’s made it possible for her ancestor to be freed from a magical prison realm. While cursed desserts collect people’s sins to strengthen a grandparent she’s never met, Anika travels around Gujarat learning how to use her magic.
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.
But you have 1.5 months before the submission window opens, so find some like-minded writers and trade queries! Trade pages! Make friendsssss
I get it, trust is hard. And more opinions doesn't always mean they're right and you're wrong; it also doesn't mean that other people have your best interest at heart. So, as with the 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 :)