To follow up on my literary agent post, I wanted to share my successful query letter!
But first, a caveat…
Querying is a process I do not like, but one I never thought I’d be exempt from as I have always been dead-set on traditional publishing (as opposed to self-publishing — more on why I made that decision later.) I queried my first novel for the first time four years ago — and while I did get some requests for partials and even a few fulls, I ultimately got no agent from that.
Fast forward to now. I have an agent! And after querying for far less time than I did the first time around. Was the difference in my query letter?
… I don’t think it was. I believe the difference this time was in my actual manuscript. You can have the best-written query letter in the world but if the agent doesn’t like the work itself, they’re not going to offer representation. So my first rule of querying is:
Make sure the manuscript’s ready!
Once it IS ready, now we’re at the querying stage. And the query letter IS important: it has to entice the agent enough to request said manuscript. And writing a good query letter takes research, time, and practice. I spent a lot of time on sites like Query Shark, read tons of articles, and most importantly of all, got feedback from my incredible mentor.
I believe all of these steps are necessary, especially the getting feedback part, but you don’t need a mentor for that — a critique partner will work, too.
So without further ado! Here is my successful query letter:
Eighteen-year-old Taryn knows how to survive: don’t get involved. It’s a lesson she learned all too well when she left everyone and everything behind four summers ago after her best friend Stella died by suicide. But now her dad’s moving out of the country, and Taryn has nowhere to go but back home to the Jersey Shore to face not only her distant mother, but everyone else she left behind.
That includes Adam, the boy she used to love more than anything. When Taryn starts waiting tables at a seaside restaurant, there he is, working alongside her—and suddenly it’s not so easy to stick to her rule. Being around Adam brings back memories of the summer she left, the good and the bad, the bonds she and her friends built and the secrets they kept. And soon the guilt Taryn’s carried for the last four years is all she can think about. Because Taryn is the only one who knows why Stella would have killed herself, and she’s never told anybody.
But one of Taryn’s new coworkers is hiding secrets of his own. And the more time Taryn spends with both the new and old people in her life, the more her memories of that summer shift, until she starts questioning whether Stella really died the way everyone believes she did. Unraveling the truth means confessing old sins and diving back into relationships she’s tried hard to forget—but if Taryn can’t face her past, then just like Stella herself, the truth of Stella’s death and what really happened four years ago will be lost to the sea.
WHERE THE WATER MEETS THE SKY is a contemporary YA complete at 85,000 words. The strong group friendship dynamics and shifting timeline will appeal to fans of Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road and the themes of learning to live again after tragedy to readers of Katja Millay’s The Sea of Tranquility.
When I’m not working as a social media director or pondering the angst of the fictional people in my stories, I can be found reading up a storm, baking galettes while listening to French music, and spending time with my own friends and family, whom I could never leave behind for anything. This is my first novel.
Why did this work?
You’ll have to ask my agent to know for sure, but I believe that, with my mentor’s help, I did a good job of dropping in just enough information as to create intrigue, but not too much — my plot is complicated, especially with the dual timelines, so I could have easily added tons more info. The key is to boil it down to the protagonist: what she’s hoping to achieve (make it through the summer without getting involved), what’s standing in her way (her first love, among other things), and enough tension to make the agent want to read on (what really happened four years ago and how that changes what’s going to happen now.)
In addition to that, I had the necessary info about the manuscript: name, genre, and word count (don’t leave that out!), my bio — having never published before, it’s short as you can see — and on Rebecca’s advice, added in some cute personal info. Some people also like to personalize their queries (“I’m querying you because you like…”) which I did at first but then decided made the query too long.
And finally, I had comps! I had trouble with this part, as I honestly believe there aren’t enough books out there where the main focus is friendship. My favorite writer is Tana French; her novels The Likeness and The Secret Place are huge influences on my story. BUT those novels are adult crime thrillers, not YA, so I couldn’t use them as comps. Comps are supposed to be books like yours in the same category and genre, not necessarily your biggest influences. So I chose one recommended by my mentor for its group friendship dynamics (On the Jellicoe Road) and decided on The Sea of Tranquility as the other because the tone and voice are similar to mine: in both stories our protagonists start off really disconnected and dispassionate, plus there’s the element of slowly uncovering what happened. Not perfect, but comps don’t need to be perfect.
Questions? Comments? Let me know!