Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Query that Won

I've had a few emails recently from people asking me if I would consider posting on this blog the query that ultimately got me my agent. I had absolutely no problem doing that - I know, from experience, how hard writing a query letter is, and how useful seeing other people's successful or unsuccessful queries can be - but I hesitated for two reasons. First, that a query only gets you so far - and like your book and your actual writing, a query is so subjective. 

With WOVEN (which I queried as ECHOES, because that was before my agent told me there was a young adult novel coming out this year with that title), my query got me three partial requests (one of which turned into a full request) and three straight-off full requests (one of which turned into a phone call). 

My query also got eleven 'thank you, but this doesn't sound right for us' responses, which just goes to show that a query can be both successful and unsuccessful.

The other reason was that my situation was slightly different in that I wrote to my agent Melissa after being referred to her by another agent (for more on that, read this post). So the referral would almost certainly have sparked Melissa's interest; that said, if the query hadn't interested her as much, if not more, I doubt she'd have asked me to send her the full.

So it's important to bear those things in mind, especially the subjective part, and to just work like crazy to make your query sound like something you wouldn't dream of rejecting. And get a friend or objective outsider to tell you (honestly) whether they'd request pages. 

And now for the actual query. This wasn't the first query I ever wrote, nor was it the first that generated requests for a manuscript. So I found the general stuff - greeting, description of genre, etc - fairly easy to write. The pitch for the actual book, however, took me days to iron out. It was honestly the hardest thing I've ever written and I still don't know if it's all that good. 

I've cut out a few bits that aren't really relevant (like the part where I mention the referral), but the rest is all here.

Dear Ms. Sarver,

[A single line about the referral redacted]

Echoes are created for a single purpose: they are a safety net against the death of a loved one. Stitched by three Weavers in London, echoes are copies of 'others', real people in the world. From birth, they must learn every aspect of their other’s life and behave like them in every way. They must be ready to step into their shoes as soon as they are needed. They have no name or identity of their own, and must learn to survive in a world that despises them.

The novel explores this concept through the eyes of Echo, a teenage echo who pointedly names herself. There are certain laws that bind her kind, and Echo knows that breaking them can be fatal.

Echoes must not be themselves, which means they’re not supposed to love art when they know fully well that their other does not. They must not fall in love with their guardians, even if he is young, sarcastic and named Sean. When their other dies in a car crash and they travel to Bangalore to replace her, they must love her grieving family, friends, and - most especially - her bitter, handsome boyfriend. They must not expose themselves to persistent hunters, and certainly mustn’t invade the Weavers’ Loom and try to destroy it. And they must never, ever cut and run.

ECHOES is a YA urban fantasy, set in contemporary England and partly in India, and clocks in at 124,000 words. I hope it will be the first of a series of novels. If you'd like to see a partial or the manuscript, I'd be happy to send it along. This is a multiple submission and the manuscript is currently being considered elsewhere.

Thank you very much for your time.

Sangu Mandanna

Note: I still don't know how I got any requests with that word count, considering it's somewhat high for YA, especially YA from an unknown author. Melissa and I did some revisions before we sent the book out to editors, and the word count has since reduced by about 10,000 words.

I hope that proved at least slightly useful!

(For more on queries, I cannot recommend Query Shark highly enough. Janet Reid may be snarky and sharp - which I personally love - but she knows what agents are looking for and she certainly gets results!)


  1. That's an amazing query letter, so thank you for sharing it! It's a great example--and I love the idea of the story.

  2. Thanks for posting - I love the concept of your book!!

  3. There's perfect and, as my wife is fond of saying, there is 'good enough for government work'. The object of this is, like blurb, to rope people in. You can't possibly say everything in as few words as that. Suffice to say, if that had landed on my desk you would have snagged me by the end of the first paragraph. Who cares what the story is! The concept is the most intriguing thing here particularly because it has the potential to be more than one book. Well done.

  4. I love love LOVE the concept of your book and how clearly you've explained it!

  5. I see why you got an agent -- this definitely is an intriguing story. Congratulations! :)

  6. Wow, that sounds great. It just proves that the quality of the material can supersede the word-count issue. Well done :)