Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest: The Dreaded Query Letter

Alright, so I kinda missed the boat during Week Two of Deana Barnhart's fantastic "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest last week, but I'm back and ready for action just in time for Week Three! This week's theme is query letters, so we are all posting our queries in order to receive valuable feedback from YOU.


I would really appreciate it if you wouldn't mind letting me know what you think about my query letter for my young adult urban fantasy, THE MERMAID GENE. (I realize the manuscript is a little long at this point, but I'm in the process of cutting it down as we speak.) Thanks in advance for your help, and I can't wait to read your queries if you are participating in the Blogfest as well!

Dear Agent:

An arctic mermaid is the last thing seventeen year-old Kai Murphy expects to find when she joins a beluga whale research team in Alaska.

She’s an aspiring scientist, after all—the daughter of a famous dolphin researcher and the type of girl who studies tide charts for fun and cruises Cook Inlet’s icy waters in a Zodiac, counting whales for a database. When the late-night sighting of a silvery, speckled tail threatens her perceptions, she teams up with flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer to investigate.

Turns out mermaids aren’t Alaska’s only mysteries. There’s also that warehouse closet crammed with hunting rifles, the blood-filled plastic bins and those shadowy poachers haunting the Port of Anchorage. Never mind the silvery creature in the inlet, which now seems intent on stalking her.

As Kai searches for answers and begins falling for Noah, she realizes even he isn’t above suspicion. The fate of her team—and the inlet’s struggling beluga whales—just may rest in her hands.

THE MERMAID GENE is a stand-alone, young adult novel with series potential, complete at 99,000 words. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums published my article “The Dangers of Human Interactions with Marine Mammals” in its 2007 Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide, and I have worked as a zookeeper and educator at many marine mammal facilities, including the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage. This experience sets THE MERMAID GENE apart and allows me to take readers behind-the-scenes into the thrilling and often-misunderstood world of beluga training and research.

Thank you for your time. With your interest in ___(space for personalization)___, I hope THE MERMAID GENE will be a perfect fit for you.

Sincerely,

Me

26 comments:

Angie Cothran said...

Your first sentence is a perfect hook. It did just what you want it to do—it pushed me to read on. Well done :)

I would end the second sentence after “studies tide charts for fun.” The rest drags a little and really doesn’t say anything different. I would cut it. I also LOVE the idea of a love triangle with twins. VERY unique!

The rest is fantastic! I would pick this up, read the back copy, and buy it—and that is saying something. I’m not an animal lover, but don’t hold that against me :)

Good luck. Great Job!

Kate Larkindale said...

This is really good. The first line really tells you what the book is about, and it's interesting!

You can probably cut your second paragraph a little because you kind of repeat yourself. We get what she's like.

But I'd pick this up and give it a read. Your experience speaks to the authenticity.

Good luck!

Michelle Fayard said...

Hi, Lisa,

I've put my suggestions in parenthesis/all caps:

An arctic mermaid is the (last=CONSIDER NO ITALICS; THEY’RE DIFFICULT TO READ WHEN YOU’RE READING IN A HURRY) thing seventeen(HYPHEN)year-old Kai Murphy expects to find when she joins a beluga whale research team in Alaska. (GOOD)

(She’s=KAI IS) an aspiring scientist, (after all—=COULD DELETE)the daughter of a famous dolphin researcher and the type of girl who studies tide charts for fun and cruises Cook Inlet’s icy waters in a Zodiac, counting whales for a database. When the late-night sighting of a silvery, speckled tail threatens her perceptions, she teams up with flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer to investigate. (GOOD)

Turns out mermaids aren’t Alaska’s (only=CONSIDER NO ITALICS) mysteries. (There’s also that warehouse closet crammed with hunting rifles, the blood-filled plastic bins and those shadowy poachers haunting the Port of Anchorage.=WHAT ABOUT: THERE ARE BLOOD-FILLED PLASTIC BINS, HUNTING RIFLES CRAMMED INTO A CLOSET AND SHADOWY POACHERS HAUNTING THE PORT OF ANCHORAGE.) Never mind the silvery creature in the inlet, which now seems intent on stalking her. (ANOTHER GREAT PARAGRAPH!)

As Kai searches for answers and begins falling for Noah, she realizes even he isn’t above suspicion. The fate of her team—and the inlet’s struggling beluga whales—just may rest in her hands.

THE MERMAID GENE is (a stand-alone, young adult novel with series potential=I LIKE THIS PHRASE), complete at 99,000 words. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks (&=IS THIS AN AMPERSAND OR SPELLED OUT?) Aquariums published my article (“The Dangers of Human Interactions with Marine Mammals”=TRY UNDERLINING INSTEAD OF QUOTES) in its 2007 (Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide=UNDERLINE THIS TITLE TOO), and I have worked as a zookeeper and educator at many marine mammal facilities, including the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage. This experience sets THE MERMAID GENE apart and allows me to take readers behind-the-scenes into the thrilling and often-misunderstood world of beluga training and research. (GREAT BIO SECTION!)

Thank you for your time. With your interest in ___(space for personalization)___, I hope THE MERMAID GENE will be a perfect fit for you. (I LOVE THIS CLOSING GRAPH!)

(WHAT A SURE-FIRE WINNER THIS QUERY—AND YOUR BOOK—ARE. I AM VERY HOOKED.)

Michelle

P.S. I’m a new follower.

Eliza Tilton said...

I like everything but the second paragraph. If you cut it down, you'll be fine. Good job!


She’s an aspiring scientist and the type of girl who studies tide charts for fun. When the late-night sighting of a silvery, speckled tail threatens her perceptions, she teams up with flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer to investigate.

Christa said...

I really like this. I was with you for all of it. Yes, I realize that this is a little on the long side for a query, but everything you write is absolutely engaging. I would pick up this book. My only note is to add the genre to young adult novel (i.e. young adult fantasy) so that it explains the length a bit. (It feels long for a contemporary YA, but not so much if you are building a world of fantasy/thriller).
Make sense?

Donna Perugini said...

I would just switch around this: The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums published my article “The Dangers of Human Interactions with Marine Mammals” in its 2007 Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide, and I have worked as a zookeeper and educator at many marine mammal facilities, including the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage...to this:
I have worked as a zookeeper and educator at many marine mammal facilities, including the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums published my article “The Dangers of Human Interactions with Marine Mammals” in its 2007 Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide. The zoo experience and published research set THE MERMAID GENE apart and allows me to take readers behind-the-scenes into the thrilling and often-misunderstood world of beluga training and research.

The reason I put the zoo experience first was the article you wrote through me off since the title, etc. was so long. You pull me in better with the zoo experience first and then the article.

You have a hook and your keep interest high. Looks and sounds like a winner to me! Lots of helpful comments here too!

mooderino said...

Hi

Great opening, you getthe premiose inb with a good sense of her issue (scientist facing the impossible).

Not sure about the next bit. You've already established her science credentials. If you want to give a little personal detail about her that's fine but you seem to be giving too many examples of the same thing. i would choose just one.

Making Noah a suspect is a neat idea, nice narrative twist.

I think the story is well set up and clear in its aims and goals. YOur personal info at the end is maybe a little to specific. The reference to beluga whale traning seems a bit unrelated as that doesn't come across as the main focus. i would suggest making it clear you have a background in marine wildlife, including Anchorage Zoo, and that will add a level of authenticity to your story, but the scientific paper and other specific details could be left out.

mood
my query is up at: Moody Writing
@mooderino

LisaAnn said...

Oh my gosh, thank you so much for your amazing comments, everyone! I'm already working on my next query draft, and I definitely appreciate your suggestions. You are amazing! How does this sound??

Dear Agent:

An arctic mermaid is the last thing seventeen year-old Kai Murphy expects to find when she joins a beluga whale research team in Alaska.

She’s an aspiring scientist, after all, and the daughter of a famous dolphin researcher. When the late-night sighting of a silvery, speckled tail threatens her convictions, Kai teams up with flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer to investigate.

Turns out mermaids aren’t Alaska’s only mysteries. There are also blood-filled plastic bins, secret closets crammed with hunting rifles and shadowy poachers haunting the Port of Anchorage. Never mind the silvery creature in the inlet, which now seems intent on stalking her.

As Kai searches for answers and begins falling for Noah, she realizes even he isn’t above suspicion. The fate of her team—and the inlet’s struggling beluga whales—just may rest in her hands.

THE MERMAID GENE is a stand-alone, YA urban fantasy with series potential, complete at 99,000 words. I have worked as a zookeeper and educator at many facilities, including the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage, and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums published my article “The Dangers of Human Interactions with Marine Mammals” in its 2007 Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide. My expertise sets THE MERMAID GENE apart and allows me to take readers behind-the-scenes into the thrilling and often-misunderstood world of beluga training and research.

Thank you for your time. With your interest in ______, I hope THE MERMAID GENE will be a perfect fit for you.

Sincerely,
Me

Angie Cothran said...

Great revision. It works for me. Best of luck.

Donna Perugini said...

Nailed it!

Pk Hrezo said...

I love the revision! It really sparkles! And what a fun story! I'd love to read this one if you need another beta.
I was raised in FLA too (still there) and Alaska is one of my fave places. I'm loving all the blue in your blog here... giving me this really cool relaxing and spiritual feeling. lol
Nice to meet you!

Deana said...

If I were an agent I would for sure ask for more! I am very interested in this story and your background is a plus. The only suggestions I would give is that the second paragraph may be a little wordy, but really it wasn't too bad and then when I saw the word count, which you said you were working on cutting down.

If you are going to submit it for the contest, have it in by 12PM ET Tuesday.

Good luck LisaAnn!

amber said...

OK, overall this is what I think: The MERMAID part of the story is the most interesting, yet you barely talk about it. Take away some of the focus on secondary characters and MC background and focus on whatever the 'MERMAID GENE' really is.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I think this sounds like an awesome story! I love the first line! It's a great hook.

Jen Daiker said...

I really liked this query. I have a few things of mention and they are really personal taste so you can discard if you disagree.

One - I was certain the focal point was the mermaid until you started mentioning other mysteries that nothing to do with the water. It was then I felt a little confused about where the story was going.

Two - I'd remove "I hope MY TITLE is the perfect fit for you". My reasoning is I've heard a few agents mention they aren't a fan of those endings. They like a simple "Thank you for your time in consideration."

It's really all up to you. It seems several have not commented on those aspects so you might be safe and no need to listen to me!

PS - I love your blog! The pictures are absolutely fabulous!

RAD - Dot Painter said...

First of all, what an extraordinary woman you are! I'm so envious of your ability to help and work with such amazing animals.

Good twist on the mermaid and her location. Everyone has said what I would.

In the last paragraph, you don't need to mention it is a stand-alone book or that it has series potential, let the agent make that call.

Nice job! Let me know when it's bought and is going to be release;)

Side question - is that a Bactrian Camel you are with in the side photos? I'm painting one for my picture book right now.

:) Rachel Dillon
ThroughEndangeredEyes.blogspot.com

Melodie said...

Hello!
I'm in Alaska - are you still? Couldn' ttell from you bio. I think I recognize where you took some of your photos. Your top one almost looks like the Homer spit minus the trees. Where is that? Your blog looks great - am a new follower! Check out mine at foreverrewrighting.blogspot.com. If you're in AK, let me know where...would love to hook you up w/ our local writers group!

A few comments on you Q:
it flows okay but it raises a few questions. The connection between these graphs isn't clear: Turns out mermaids aren’t Alaska’s only mysteries. There’s also that warehouse closet crammed with hunting rifles, the blood-filled plastic bins and those shadowy poachers haunting the Port of Anchorage. Never mind the silvery creature in the inlet, which now seems intent on stalking her.

As Kai searches for answers and begins falling for Noah, she realizes even he isn’t above suspicion. The fate of her team—and the inlet’s struggling beluga whales—just may rest in her hands

What is Noah in suspicion of doing? Why is the team at risk? You mention the warehouse, etc. but make no connection between those details and now all of a sudden, the team is threatened. It's vague - connect the dots to up the tension. What do plastic bins and poachers have to do with Kai's research? What is Kai attempting to accomplish in your book?

Good luck!

Laura Barnes said...

I love it, LisaAnn, I think it's perfect. I particularly like that you show that you know there are lots of mermaid stories right now and that yours is different because of your experience. I also agree that at the end you should just say Thanks for your time.

Good luck!

LisaAnn said...

@Angie & Donna: Yay! Thanks, ladies!

@PK: Great to meet you, too! I can't wait to check out YOUR blog!

@Deana: Thanks for stopping by, an thanks again for organizing this whole thing. (If you guys haven't checked out Deana's blog yet, you definitely should!)

@Amber: Thanks so much for your suggestion; that's one I actually haven't heard yet. There are so many other things going on besides the mermaid mystery that it's hard to fit everything into a query letter, but I will keep on truckin'! (The "Mermaid Gene" is actually kind of a surprise, but it gets a big reveal in Act Three.)

@Nicole: Thank you so much! I have tooled away on those first few words more times than I can count!

@Jen: Point well taken. I will definitely remove the last line, and I'll see if I can fit some more forward focus into the query. Thanks so much for bringing that to my attention!

@RAD: Thanks so much for your input, and yes, that's actually one of the loves of my life, Knobby the Bactrian camel. I have LOADS of photographs of him in funny poses if you'd ever like to use them for your paintings. Let me know, and I'll email them over to you. (He would be HONORED, I'm sure! ;))

@Melodie: What a small, small world! That top picture IS Homer Spit, and my husband and I actually just moved to Colorado from Alaska this past December. (We miss it like CRAZY, but my family is in Florida and his is in California, so we figured we should try to get a little closer before we start having kids.) You have definitely brought up some GREAT points in your post as well; I think I will do a little brainstorming and see if I can throw up a third draft.

@Laura: Thank you! That's exactly what I'm going for... I know mermaids are starting to invade the market, but my story really is a lot different (and I'm not just being biased), so I really hope there's something for everyone.

In conclusion, thank you ALL soooo much for all your help and support! I haven't felt this jazzed about query writing since... Well, ever. Stay tuned for Draft Three! :)

alexia said...

Um, first let me say that I LOVE that you are an animal trainer and all your pics are awesome! I have a menagerie of horses, dogs and cats at home.

I love the idea of an arctic mermaid! Really cool and unique. Your query is well done and has a great voice, so I don't really have much to critique! I think an agent would be enticed as is, but a couple minor things: I think of scientists as naturally inquisitive, so it seems she would not be so surprised to discover something new like that. I'm guessing therefore that she's the straight-laced/logical scientist type, so maybe sprinkle in a brief descriptor to indicate that.

Also, I was a litle confused by the mysteries paragraph. By shadowy poachers, do you mean they're supernatural? That would be groovy... I just couldn't tell if she's come across just normal poachers or something more. And is the silvery stalker thing the mermaid? I wasn't sure what the storyline was exactly after she discovers the mermaid. Maybe clarify a bit.

Usually you're not supposed to put in personal details unless you're published, but I think in your case it's super cool and it works. I think this story sounds awesome and I would definitely want to read it!

jamieayres said...

You are A*M*A*Z*I*N*G!! I'm jealous of your life:) Sorry so late in visiting your blog. Wanted to share a helpful tip I learned today. You should be able to read the first & last sentence of your query pitch and have it tie together to make sense, then go back & add the middle. So maybe delete the part of "never mind . . . " in 3rd para and skip right into a concluding sentence. EX: Now the fate of her team, the struggling beluga whales and the silvery creature in the inlet that's stalking her, all rest in her hands. Does that make any sense? It's 12:45am and I'm tired, lol. ~good luck:)

LisaAnn said...

@Alexia and jamieayres: Thank you so much for your suggestions, and welcome!

Here is my third draft. What do you guys think??


Dear Agent:

An arctic mermaid is the last thing seventeen year-old Kai Murphy expects to glimpse when she joins a beluga whale research team in Alaska.

An aspiring scientist, Kai dismisses Anchorage’s mermaid myths until the late-night sighting of a silvery, speckled tail threatens her convictions. Teamed up with flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer, she decides to investigate.

Turns out a mermaid sighting isn’t her research team’s only mystery. There are also secret closets filled with hunting rifles, blood-filled plastic bins and shadowy beluga poachers haunting the inlet’s icy waters.

As Kai searches for answers and begins falling for Noah, she realizes even he isn’t above suspicion. The fate of her team, her belugas and the mysterious creature in the inlet just may rest in her hands.

THE MERMAID GENE is a YA urban fantasy novel, complete at 98,000 words. I have worked as a zookeeper and educator at many facilities, including the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage, and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums published my article “The Dangers of Human Interactions with Marine Mammals” in its 2007 Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide. This experience sets THE MERMAID GENE apart and allows me to take readers behind-the-scenes into the thrilling and often-misunderstood world of beluga whale research.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Me

Lori M. Lee said...

I'm going to be completely useless and say I loved this query lol. I have nothing constructive to offer. Good luck!

magpiewrites said...

Hey LisaAnn
Just wanted to say CONGRATULATIONS on winning the GUTGAA query contest - I'm definitely hooked and can't wait to read the Mermaid Gene when its published (premature, maybe a bit, but I've no doubt it will be!)

I'm a new follower, but you were kind enough to visit me during the contest. And coincidentally, I've just finished reading Wither by Lauren De Stefano - what did you think?

LisaAnn said...

@Lori: I LOVE feedback like yours!

@Magpie: Oh my gosh, thank you so much! The idea of this actually maybe happening someday is so huge and life-changing that I won't allow myself to seriously think about it. But oh man... It sure would be AWESOME!

Oh yeah, and I'm still at the very beginning of Wither. I'm not a diehard dystopian fan at the moment--as I spent the spring re-reading so many dystopian classics like Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and 1984 that I think I've kinda temporarily hit my threshold for big, scary governments. But so far so good... What did you think?

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