Query Letter Hell

**UPDATE: My agent, Laura Bradford, broke down my query letter over at YA Highway to reveal why she asked to see my novel.

So you wrote your novel, and you want to get published. So you send your manuscript to editors at all the major publishing houses and bam! Done deal. You’ve got a contract and your book will be on the NY Times Bestseller list and you’re bragging to your friends. NOT! Most publishing houses won’t even open the envelope with your manuscript: they only talk to agents of writers.

Okay, you regroup and research agents and send a bunch of them your manuscript and they decide to rep you and they get you a contract with a publishing house. Back up a minute… Did I hear you right? Agents want a one-page query letter before they even decide to look at my work? Seriously, the whole publishing business is a mystery.

For the last few months I’ve been in query letter hell. I sent a bunch of letters out following the standards I’d found online from culling information from various writer/agent websites. When the rejections came pouring in, I wrote to an agent who had a reputation for being helpful and asked why she rejected me – was it my idea or was it the query letter? She extended some invaluable advice. I promptly sent out my revised letter to new agents. Within two weeks, I had seven agents asking for full or partial requests. I can only believe it’s the letter, so I offer this up to you in hopes that it helps. This is also posted in the Absolute Write Water Cooler SYW Query Letter forum where you can have your query letter critiqued by other writers.

Original Query vs. Revised Query
ORIGINAL:
Dear Agent,

I would like you to consider Touched, my YA novel. The manuscript is complete at 102,000 words.

Seventeen-year-old Remy O’Malley knows nothing of Healers or their formal allies, the immortal Protectors, who have hunted them for over a century. All she knows is that her secret ability to heal others has kept her and her mother alive despite her alcoholic stepfather’s cruelty. When the abuse goes too far, Remy’s absent father finds out and insists she come to live with him in the small town of Port Townsend, Washington.

To Remy’s surprise, she loves her new home, family and friends. But the true transformation comes when she meets eighteen-year-old Asher Blackwell, who has powers like hers. Sparks literally fly the first time they meet, as Asher has a secret, too; he’s a Protector who has sacrificed his ability to touch, taste, or smell to become immortal. Befriending Remy goes against everything he’s believed for the last century. Enemies at first, Remy and Asher learn to trust and love one another as their powers begin to change; he soon discovers he can read her mind and that Remy has the power to make him feel human again.

For the first time in years, Remy isn’t looking over her shoulder, but she’s far from safe. She is the first Healer with the power to hurt others, and she must learn to control her powers before she kills someone she loves. Remy must find the strength to fight the stepfather who wants revenge for using her powers on him and the Protectors who are hunting her because she is the key to what they fear most: the power to take away their immortality.

I have a Master’s in English Literature. I received a scholarship to and am working on my MFA in Fiction at Spalding University. My work has been published in Dash Literary Journal. I’ve included the first five pages and synopsis of Touched per your submission guidelines. I’d be glad to send my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
My Name

TIPS FROM AGENT ASST:
Refocus query on what’s unique in my story, like the part about sacrificing senses
1.Protag and their problem
2.What they’re going to do about problem
3.Conflicts that keep them from achieving goal
4.Stakes: what happens if they don’t succeed. Why the reader should care
Limit to 150-200 words and only include essentials. Don’t talk about the plot, but the characters and the struggles they must overcome.

REVISED:
Dear Agent,

I would like you to consider Touched, my YA suspense novel. The manuscript is complete at 102,000 words.

Seventeen-year-old Remy O’Malley heals people with touch, but her power comes at a steep cost. Every illness or injury she cures becomes her own. The pain she can handle, but she worries a day will come when she won’t recover from healing some terrible disease. Then she meets eighteen-year-old Asher Blackwell. Scarred and dangerous, he knows more about her abilities than she does, and she can’t resist wanting to know everything about him.

Once a Protector of Healers, Asher sacrificed his ability to touch, taste, and smell to become immortal. Only by killing a Healer can a Protector feel a shadowy echo of their human senses, and Remy’s kind have been hunted into near extinction to feed their enemy’s hunger for sensation. After a century of living a half-life, Asher yearns for mortality. Remy is more powerful than any Healer he’s known, and the intense pain he feels each time he touches her shocks him, almost more than his inexplicable desire to be near her.

Falling in love is against the rules between these two enemies and could destroy them both. Because Remy has the power to make Protectors human again, and when they find out, they’ll be coming for her, if Asher doesn’t kill her first.

I have a Master’s in English Literature and am working on my MFA in Fiction at Spalding University. My work has been published in Dash Literary Journal. I’d be glad to send my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
My Name

PS. I’d love to give the agent credit, but I worry she would be inundated with requests for help, so I withhold her name to protect her since she did me a kind favor.