Saturday, January 3, 2009

My Query Letter, Let Me Show You It

It's almost open season for querying again and before I bombard various unsuspecting agents with my query letter, I thought I'd use the break to polish it up. Now, this query letter has been worked and re-worked about a dozen times, but I'm firmly of the opinion that it doesn't hurt to go back every once in a while and see if it can be improved upon further.

Especially in light of this very helpful post from literary agent Sara Crowe on query letters that worked on her. If you haven't visited Ms. Crowe's blog yet, I highly recommend it. Really, go check it out, I'll still be here when you come back.

See? I'm still here. Now on to my query letter...

Dear [Agent name here],

1920. Matewan, West Virginia. It’s not easy being the woman of the house when you’re only twelve years old. It’s even harder when you’re living in a coal camp, caught up in one of the bloodiest strikes in American history. Daring, headstrong, and absolutely afraid, Molly Anne McCoy is determined to keep her family alive through it all.

They called it the “Matewan Massacre.” Coal miners in Mingo County, West Virginia, Molly’s father included, were determined to join the United Mine Workers of America. The coal operators were just as determined not to let it happen. On a rainy afternoon in the town of Matewan, union sympathizers and Baldwin-Felts agents in the employ of the coal companies faced off. Someone fired a shot. Two minutes and hundreds of bullets later, seven of the agents, two miners, and the mayor lay dead. For the next year, out of work miners waged a guerilla war against the coal companies while their families struggled to survive in tents.

In the 89,000 word Young Adult historical fiction novel, Surviving Matewan, Molly Anne tells her story of the massacre, the miners’ eviction from their homes, and the year she spends struggling to care for her family while living in a tent colony. Caught up in a bitter fight for a better life, Molly has to deal with more day-to-day worries too, from her brothers avoiding chores to dealing with the possibility that one of the boys in the coal camp just might like her.

Despite a handful of adult non-fiction books and an independent film loosely based on events, to my knowledge, no Middle Grade or Young Adult novel has ever been written specifically about the massacre and the strike. (This is also where I put further information on why the agent might be interested in this particular manuscript. For example, if the agent expressed an interest in YA historical fiction.)

I did my best to be faithful to actual events. In the course of my research I visited Matewan, went down into a mine, where I promptly discovered I was claustrophobic, spoke to experts and retired miners, waded through countless archives, and listened to oral histories from the people who lived and breathed the events themselves.

If interested, my phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx and my e-mail address is xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. Thank you for your consideration!


Melissa Barlow

I like my query letter. I think it's pretty decent. It's gotten me one request for a full (which was rejected, but I got great feedback), so it's been somewhat effective. Still, after reading Sara Crowe's super helpful blog post that you really should read, I think I can make it better. Let me get to work and I'll show everyone what I come up with.

Update: I haven't read my query letter in a few weeks and really, looking it over again, I like it a lot. But I think I have to try and make it better because my manuscript has a few things going against it. It's on the long side at 89,000 words, it's in a strange no man's land between young adult and middle grade fiction, and it's a historical, which I'm starting to learn isn't always an easy sell.

My strategy is to focus less on the history and more on the characters, to try and bring them to life in the query letter.

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