The Query Letter

A private comment asked me to share the entire query letter I’d written for THE SPIRIT-WEAVER; it was by another writer who apparently is having difficulty writing a query for his own novel.  In the interest of helping my brothers-in-arms, here’s the letter, with a shortened version of the story capsule.  (And while I think it’s an effective letter, or will be, I’m not 100% satisfied with it; in particular, I’m unsure of the Martin comparison.  I’d like to include a comparison, because that helps an agent get a feel for the book, but there’s basically no fantasy out there that’s a close parallel to mine; but Martin’s epic, character-driven approach comes closest in spirit, even if his background and story are very different from mine.  I may also cut the second sentence in the last paragraph; while it adds to the letter by further exploring the book’s inspirations, it makes that paragraph run long, and the letter would probably have just as much punch without it.)

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Dear Mr. Galen:

My recently completed 160,000-word novel THE SPIRIT-WEAVER is gritty, character-driven epic fantasy in the tradition of George R. R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. The world in which the book unfolds, Daszeria, is the North American version of Middle-earth; the setting draws vividly on American Indian lore, colonial and frontier America and the mythology of the American wilderness.

Into panic-ridden Felora Little Ford’s quiet, desperate life comes the Spirit-Weaver, an innocent-looking leather headband coveted by the Wandmen, brutal conquerors who bid to doom Fel and the other native peoples of Daszeria to a living hell of dispossession and subjugation. When he realizes the Spirit-Weaver’s awesome and harrowing power, Fel must reach within himself for a power even greater—an iron will determined to keep the headband out of Wandman hands, even as they overrun his homeland in search of it.

Hunted relentlessly, Fel seeks salvation in the ancient and mysterious Western Nations, whose legendary warriors fended off Wandman aggression a thousand years ago. But securing their aid becomes a struggle all its own: bitter rivalry and war have sundered the Western tribes—and, like a storm that no one sees coming, they are the next targets of the twisted Wandman creed of Manifest Destiny. To make the Western Nations stand as one against the Wandmen, Fel must first overcome the demons that have held his soul all his life—and if he fails to conquer himself, the Wandmen will conquer everything.

My lifelong passion for American Indian culture and language drove me to write the book and to spend over a decade crafting Daszeria. I’ve studied the American Indian languages Mohawk and Cheyenne for fourteen years now, and they’ve inspired several constructed languages that appear briefly in the story.

Fantasy readers have shown that they’re hungry for more adult themes—and THE SPIRIT-WEAVER pulls no punches: like Martin, it shows the real brutality of the real world, and the villains aren’t evil wizards in distant towers, but human beings who commit their atrocities out of religious fervor, greed and lust for glory. Fel, my flawed and haunted hero, will inspire anyone who’s ever longed to rise up against the forces, external or internal, that hold him back. The book features those “big canvasses, big characters, big consequences” that you find so compelling in fiction, and will appeal not only to epic fantasy fans, but equally to historical and mainstream fiction readers. I intend to make it the first volume of a series; and I’m currently working on the sequel. I’d like you to evaluate the manuscript and assist me in selling it to a publisher, and to likewise handle my future books. Please reply at your convenience.

Sincerely,

XXXX X. XXXXX

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I read a couple books on query letters years ago, and I wrote the above from what I remembered of those.  A query follows a basic paragraph formula: introduce yourself and your book; give a short capsule of the story, akin to cover-copy blurbs; list your publication credits and/or credentials; and conclude with a summation that tells the agent why your book is special, where it fits into the market, and, most important of all, invites him to read the thing.  You have to do all that with great enthusiasm; your passion for your work has to evident in every sentence.  Oh, and you have to do it succinctly: the ideal query letter is a page or less.  Agents are busy people, and your letter had better be so damn intriguing that it tears him away from his busy schedule, and, ultimately, makes him pick up the phone and call you on the spot.  Or at least send you a “gimme” reply.  I tried to accomplish all that with my query; time will tell if I succeeded.  At any rate, I hope the letter helps the writer who inspired this post.  (As I said in another comment, I wrote the query well in advance because my writer’s group is focusing on queries at the moment, and I decided to give it a try; I’d originally planned on waiting until the book was finished…but at least this way I’ll have the letter ready when it is.  And while the query is addressed to Russell Galen, and he’s far and away my first choice, and I feel like I have a good shot at him, I’m well aware of the pitfalls in this business; so if need be, I’ll revise the letter a bit and try someone else, should it come to that.)

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