Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Query Letter (Beta)

On Sunday I did something totally out of character for me. I read my rewritten query letter to my husband Nick. I've always been intensely private about my writing. He gets to read the finished product, and that's about it, and I never fill him on much of how things are going. But I spent an hour and half on Sunday crafting the letter, walking up and down and talking it out to myself (alone in the house, fortunately) and I felt pretty good about it. And he thought it was good, though he questioned the wording of two sentences and we sat down with the thesaurus and had a nice confab over that. So I'm going to post the new version here, and hope for feedback. I thought about sending it over to Query Shark, but that woman scares the bejeezus out of me.

Dear (whoever),
When her father hastily decides to join the Union Army, Thetis Wymore is sent to continue her education at Miss Barclay's, the Delaware finishing school where her half-sister teaches. Miss Veda, the headmistress of Miss Barclay's, is a slaveowner, and Thetis, wrongly tarred as an abolitionist, finds herself cold-shouldered by the other girls, especially after a flea jumps out of her luggage. As she tries to find acceptance at Miss Barclay's, studying music in hopes of meeting her idol, a world-famous concert pianist, Thetis begins to question what she has been taught about slavery and struggles to maintain her independence of mind. When Thetis learns that her father has been wounded and possibly captured, she decides to run away. Forced at the last moment to bring Sheba, Miss Veda's pet slave girl, along, Thetis flees with her across a drought-stricken land under threat of Confederate invasion. Will Thetis and Sheba be able to set aside their antagonism and help each other survive? Will Thetis be able to understand the lessons she has truly learned at Miss Barclay's? And will these lessons give her the strength to respond to the terrible aftermath of the battle of Perryville?
[Usual personal information, publications, etc.] How to See the Elephant is a piquant narrative of American life during the Civil War, told with dark humor by Thetis herself. Even as she grows from a flippant schoolgirl into a self-confident nurse , Thetis' youth is darkened by her exposure to the face of battle, a subject I have treated seriously. How to See the Elephant is a lively and moving work of young adult historical fiction which could be marketed to the same young adult readers who like the works of Ann Rinaldi, Richard Peck and M.T. Anderson. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Laura,
I think your novel sounds fascinating. But I believe your query should start with the last graph describing that it is a narrative of American life during the Civil War. The first paragraph reads a bit like a synopsis -- too much plot detail, I believe, for a query, which I think should be lean as a pitch. Also, beware of asking unanswered questions about the plot. I think that's frowned upon. I'm no expert, but this is information I have heard, so I hope it is correct. Best to you.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I don't know if you've already seen this, but I find this enormously helpful:

My only specific comment might be that some of the sentences in the "hook" section seem a bit overloaded with adjectives. Your simpler description on your first blog post about How to See the Elephant struck me as a bit cleaner, for what that's worth.

Laura Canon said...

Thanks for the feedback. I got the sense as I was typing it that I had kind of overloaded the sentences with description. It could definitely be leaner.
I got the question technique from a Writer's Market chapter about query letters. Perhaps there are different schools of thought. I'll definitely take a look at that website, Jen.