CRAFT: Cover Letters/Query Letters

Via (whom I thought I had put on my friendslist ages ago), a link to a great little explanation of cover letters by , whom I’ve also added to my reading list.

My idea of a cover letter . . . well, perhaps it’s more of a query letter. I must be all right at doing these query things, as I get the OK to send stuff fairly often. It’s the BOOKS that must suck, as EvilEditor once pointed out.

Here’s an example of a brief e-mail query. That’s something you don’t see featured on blogs very often, and therefore it might be helpful.
@ @ @
Subject: QUERY: not QUITE Huck on a raft, but a journey with magic

Dear Mr. Maass (or whoever is reading this e-mail):
After following an anonymous blogger’s tip to check out your agency’s “This Month” webpage, I find that for October, you’d be interested in “a Huck Finn-like fantasy featuring a raft trip down the Mississippi, with magic.” I had to smile, as that would intrigue me, as well. I’m not sure whether my book is close enough to fit your criteria–although obviously I think it is–but I thought there was no harm in trying.
I am seeking representation for _Camille’s Travels_, a book of my heart that I call my “YA literary dark edgy urban fantasy with a coming-of-age theme.” Camille’s raft is actually made up of trains and buses, and her river is the highway system, but her journey definitely is magic-driven. (My book’s title is an allusion to the Joel McCrea film “Sullivan’s Travels,” which is itself alluded to in the Coen brothers’ “O Brother Where Art Thou,” a film titled after the film supposedly being made in “Sullivan’s Travels.”) It’s a female Huck on a train and a bus . . . with magic.
Camille MacTavish is a seventeen-year-old runaway escaping an abusive home life with a stolen magic dragon in the pocket of her jeans. Which could be fun, if the dragon didn’t attract all the wrong people.
The magical trinket (a netsuke in the shape of a dragon) isn’t what it seems. Although Camille thinks it’s a luckpiece she stole as a souvenir from Philip, an acquaintance on the road, it’s actually the protrusion into this dimension of a powerful magical entity from another plane of existence. Philip is a sorcerer, and he sets out to track her down, retrieve it, and kill her (thereby gaining power through sacrificing her to his personal demons.)
Once she realizes what’s happening, Camille begins running for her life. The magic she unwittingly wields (once the “luckpiece” is attuned to her) but cannot control gets out of hand, and the battle becomes far larger and more perilous–not only for Camille, but for the friends she has made on the road and at the Renaissance festival where she found work. She can’t figure out quite how to control the magic (and it seems that it may have started controlling her–which could lead her down the path that Philip chose, a path to destruction), yet she and her new friends must defeat Philip and the dark forces in time to prevent a rending of the very fabric of space-time.
The book is complete at 63,000 words.
By the way, if you _are_ Mr. Maass: We’ve met. It was at least fifteen years ago, when I had won the top prize in a Greater Dallas Writers’ Association competition at their convention, and we were on the top floor of the Radisson in Richardson enjoying the winners’ party. This is a new book.
I can be reached at (areacode) /cell-number/ or at this e-mail address. May I send you a partial or the full manuscript?

*insert your name here*

(Actually, don’t just insert your name there at the end of the description of my ill-fated book! Put the description of your book in.)

This may be a really bad example of a query, BTW. I got all familiar and jokey and so forth, and I put in all that pretentious rot about the literary allusion in the title and its source because I know Mr. Maass is a little bit literary himself. But basically I let them know why I was querying about that particular book (because of the reference on their website and my belief that Camille’s journey shares the same defining metaphor at heart as Huck Finn’s, minus the slavery stuff but with the stuff about not fitting into a corrupt society that allows such tacky people to be at large.) And I asked whether I could send a partial or the full. You’d be surprised at how many queries don’t include that last little bit! “Ask for the sale,” as Uncle Edgar used to exhort us at the Shaklee conventions.

But anyhow, that’s the example query that I have to offer.

By the way, I got the go-ahead to send the partial from an agent’s assistant two days after I sent that query, so something must have intrigued them. Sent the partial and have not heard back. I don’t want to speculate on whether I ever will or not. This is just to let you look at a query that supposedly worked its magic.


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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