#33 Query Corner – THE WITCH IN THE ENVELOPE

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

THE WITCH IN THE ENVELOPE, is a dark twist on the legend of St. Nick, Nick and his Watchers aren’t here to leave toys — they’re here to keep Mara, the vengeful witch, from kidnapping children to fuel her magic.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

In keeping with my love of retold fairy-tales, this one hits the mark for me. The story sounds like a lovely festive romp – with dark vibes. The origin story comes through strongly, but there are some things we can do to make Q33’s query stronger.

  1. Queries should fit onto one page. Your query is about two pages long so we need to trim it down.
  2. The query needs to introduce the Main Character and their Goals and Stakes. It’s tempting to give all the context in the query letter, but this isn’t the place for backstory.
  3. ALWAYS, always, always sell one book at a time. This book NEEDS to have been written to stand alone, but it’s fine to say that it has “series potential.”
  4. Be specific. Stories have patterns and themes — that’s how the marketers can make a business case. But? When querying agents? Specificity is how you stand out.
  5. The query should not talk about the process or why you wrote the book. (NOTE: Unless your chronic illness is part of an #ownVoices thing, I would leave it out until I’ve enticed an agent, and then bring it up.)

Queryist’s Original:



Dear Agent,

The Witch in the Envelope is a not so Always Merry and Bright twist on the legend of St. Nick, his elves, and the North Pole. With hints of dark, paranormal fantasy and notes of swoon-worthy romance, Watchers aren’t here to leave toys, but to save children from the vengeful witch, Mara, and restore their home, Cristes Adventus.

Liddy Erickson has had a very special bond, that might seem strange on a human level, with Will Jamison from the moment they met. Soon after he moved in down the street, Liddy was plagued by vicious nightmares. She stopped believing they were just dreams when one morning she fought to wake. Dripping in sweat, a scratch on her chest from the witch’s claws barely missing in their attempt to rip her heart out, was raw and very much real. The only person she ever told was her best friend Will who disappeared along with his family shortly after. Her nightmares immediately vanished, but so too did her memories of Will.

Eight years later, it’s now 1998 and seventeen-year-old Liddy is self-conscious about the radical changes her body went through over the summer. Previously, she enjoyed blending in. Now, she garners the attention of just about everyone. Luckily, no one has mentioned the transformation of her eye color from blue to bright violet. Thankfully her great group of girl friends help her to feel more like she belongs instead of the outsider she feels she is. Dedicated to her education and future career, nothing will stop her from moving out of the Chicago suburbs; something she has always felt called to do. However, the new transfer student is stirring up past heartbreak and strong desires, a palpable and familiar connection tempting Liddy to rethink her plans.

As her memories begin to resurface, Nick, a mysterious stranger with a distinct melodic chime to his walk, approaches Liddy with an outrageous notion that she is a Watcher and, hopefully, the Princess of the realm Cristes Adventus. His claims of secretly protecting Liddy from a witch—who seeks to kidnap children to strengthen her magic and torture Watchers— are suspect when evidence implicates him as the enemy. Can Nick be trusted or is he actually the one behind the disappearances and threats to her life? When Liddy finds a loved one in mortal danger at the hands of her nemesis, she must decide if she will disobey a direct order and trust her gut if she is to save them from a fate far worse than death.

Currently I am a disabled stay at home mom. Previously, I was a high school teacher and diagnostic cardiac sonographer. I have an invisible, chronic illness that came on suddenly in 2017. Reading (and any other visual motion stimulation) causes me great pain amongst other debilitating vestibular dysfunction symptoms. However, with the encouragement of my husband, family, and friends, I have not let that get in the way of pursuing my dreams of becoming a traditionally published author. I work hard and I am looking forward to partnering with you.

The Witch in the Envelope is a YA, historical (1990s), low fantasy novel complete at 112,180 words. This is the first in an intended series and will appeal to fans of: a literary version of the high school melodrama Dawson’s Creek, the paranormal adventures of Keeper and Seeker by Kim Chance, and a splash of nostalgic childhood dark fantasy, The Witches by Roald Dahl.

I am so thankful for this opportunity,

Q33

000.000.0000
IG, FB, Twitter: @[q33Handle]

My Revision:


         Dear Agent,

The Witch in the Envelope is a not so Always Merry and Bright twist on the legend of St. Nick, his elves, and the North Pole. With hints of dark, paranormal fantasy and notes of swoon-worthy romance, Watchers aren’t here to leave toys, but to save children from the vengeful witch, Mara, and restore their home, Cristes Adventus. [This should be combined with the stats paragraph.]

Liddy Erickson has had a very special bond, that might seem strange on a human level, with Will Jamison from the moment they met. Soon after he moved in down the street, Liddy was plagued by vicious nightmares. She stopped believing they were just dreams when one morning she fought to wake. Dripping in sweat, a scratch on her chest from the witch’s claws barely missing in their attempt to rip her heart out, was raw and very much real. The only person she ever told was her best friend Will who disappeared along with his family shortly after. Her nightmares immediately vanished, but so too did her memories of Will. [Backstory? Or phase 1 of the novel?]

Eight years later, it’s now 1998 and seventeen-year-old Liddy is self-conscious about the radical changes her body went through over the summer. Previously, she enjoyed blending in. Now, she garners the attention of just about everyone. Luckily, no one has mentioned the transformation of her eye color from blue to bright violet. Thankfully her great group of girl friends help her to feel more like she belongs instead of the outsider she feels she is. Dedicated to her education and future career, nothing will stop her from moving out of the Chicago suburbs; something she has always felt called to do. However, the new transfer student is stirring up past heartbreak and strong desires, a palpable and familiar connection tempting Liddy to rethink her plans. [Is this the real start?]

As her memories begin to resurface, Nick, a mysterious stranger with a distinct melodic chime to his walk, approaches Liddy with an outrageous notion that she is a Watcher and, hopefully, the Princess of the realm Cristes Adventus. His claims of secretly protecting Liddy from a witch—who seeks to kidnap children to strengthen her magic and torture Watchers— are suspect when evidence implicates him as the enemy. Can Nick be trusted or is he actually the one behind the disappearances and threats to her life? When Liddy finds a loved one in mortal danger at the hands of her nemesis, she must decide if she will disobey a direct order and trust her gut if she is to save them from a fate far worse than death. [Solid tale, but so much detail, it reads closer to a synopsis.]

Currently I am a disabled stay at home mom. Previously, I was a high school teacher and diagnostic cardiac sonographer. I have an invisible, chronic illness that came on suddenly in 2017. Reading (and any other visual motion stimulation) causes me great pain amongst other debilitating vestibular dysfunction symptoms. However, with the encouragement of my husband, family, and friends, I have not let that get in the way of pursuing my dreams of becoming a traditionally published author. I work hard and I am looking forward to partnering with you. [Chronic illness is rough and you’ve clearly worked hard to get where you are. However, unless this is #ownvoices, you may want to wait for agent interest before disclosing this.]

The Witch in the Envelope is a YA, historical (1990s), low fantasy novel complete at 112,180 words. [Round to nearest 1,000] This is the first in an intended series and will appeal to fans of: a literary version of the high school melodrama Dawson’s Creek, the paranormal adventures of Keeper and Seeker by Kim Chance, and a splash of nostalgic childhood dark fantasy, The Witches by Roald Dahl. [Good job having a recent comp mixed in here.]

I am so thankful for this opportunity, [This sounds like you don’t think you’re deserving, and you are!]

Q33

XXX.XXX.XXXX
IG, FB, Twitter: @[Q33_handle]


There was a lot to unpack. The query showed there was a great story — but had a lot of synopsis and background that could be trimmed to let the story shine. I trimmed it down a lot, just to show Q33 what it might look like. To give Q33 a framework to flesh out.


My Re-write:


Dear [Agent],

17-year-old Liddy Erickson plans to keep her head down and escape the Chicago suburbs gets sidetracked with the arrival of a cute, new transfer student — who reminds her of a childhood friend. That’s when Nick, a stranger with a distinct melodic chime to his walk, approaches Liddy with an outrageous notion that she is a Watcher and, hopefully, the Princess of the realm Cristes Adventus.

Nick claims he’s secretly protecting Liddy from a witch—who kidnaps children to strengthen her magic and torture Watchers— but evidence implicates him as the enemy. As Christmas draws near [a hint at the santa theme], Liddy finds [her brother/new crush/whatever] in mortal danger at the hands of [the witch]. Faced with a fate far worse than death, Liddy must decide if she can trust [Nick]’s orders to save [whoever] or disobey [Nick’s] a direct order and trust her gut.

Currently I am a disabled stay at home mom. Previously, I was a high school teacher and diagnostic cardiac sonographer.

In this dark and witchy twist on the myth of Santa Claus, The Witch in the Envelope is a YA low fantasy novel complete at 112,000 words. With series potential, this should appeal to fans of the high school melodrama Dawson’s Creek, the paranormal adventures of Keeper and Seeker by Kim Chance, with a splash of nostalgic childhood dark fantasy, The Witches by Roald Dahl.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q33


And then, after a few rounds of revisions, Q33’s final (for now) query draft.


Dear [Agent],

A not so Merry and Bright twist on the legend of St. Nick, Nick and his Watchers aren’t here to leave toys — they’re here to keep Mara, the vengeful witch, from kidnapping children to fuel her magic.

Seventeen-year-old Liddy is self-conscious about how much she changed over the summer, but at least no one mentioned the transformation of her eyes to glowing violet. Dedicated to her education, nothing will stop Liddy from moving out of Chicago’s suburbs, except maybe the cute new transfer student, who rouses a familiar sense of connection in Liddy.

That’s when Nick, a stranger with a distinct melodic chime to his walk, approaches Liddy with an outrageous notion that she is a Watcher that can help save Cristes. As Christmas draws near, Liddy finds her friend near death at the hands of Mara. Liddy must decide if she can trust Nick’s order or risk it all by trusting her gut to save her friend.

The Witch in the Envelope is a YA, fantasy romance novel complete at 112,000 words. With series potential, this should appeal to fans of the high school melodrama Dawson’s Creek, the paranormal adventures of Keeper by Kim Chance, and the childhood dark fantasy, The Witches by Roald Dahl.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q33


We’re almost there, and hopefully, Q33 will find the right agent to take them all the way to publication.


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

They Want What? The Difference Between Blurbs, Queries, and Synopses!

All industries have their own specialized terms, and even inside an industry, different people can want things done different ways. In the publishing world, you hear a lot about blurbs, queries, synopses, and more.

Now, I can’t tell you what ALL agents, publishers, and readers are looking for, but I can point you in the right direction.

High Level Distinctions

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about the big picture.

For the most part, blurbs are what you find on the back cover of a novel. (Or want to, what’s with this trend of bigger-name-author quote on enjoying the book, without saying ANYTHING about the book, not even the genre??) What you see in the Facebook ad as you scroll past.

Queries, if you’ve been to my blog before, you should know, are what you send a literary agent (someone who helps you find and negotiate with your publisher).

And synopses? Those are for agents or publishers, to find out how the plot progresses.

Three different tools, for three different tasks, all describing the same story. But, they all go about it in very different ways.

The Blurb

Blurbs are your seasoning, without much substance. Blurbs push the secretive, trying to give away only enough to entice the reader to pick up the novel.

This is where you’re going to see all the cliches pop out, “a man on the run”, “a woman with a deadly secret”, “will it come back to bite them?”

Rhetorical questions are perfectly fine, here. In moderation. All things in moderation.

Blurbs spark interest, but shouldn’t give anything away.

The Query

Queries are nicely seasoned but have definite substance to them.

As I may have mentioned here once or twice, queries should be told in 3rd person, present tense. They should be about two paragraphs, maybe as many as four if you have multiple protagonists.

And? They should take the agent to the first major plot point, setting up the rest of the story.

They do NOT give away the ending.

How is this different from the blurb? In a query, the agent wants specifics. Readers are looking for ways your book is like things they’ve already read, agents are looking for ways your book differs from others in the same genre.

How is this different from the synopsis? A query is focused on the main character(s) – who they are, what they want, and what stands in the way. The stakes are the entire point of the query.

Some agents like a query that starts off with a logline/pitch. A single sentence (try to keep it to 2 lines or less), that almost summarize the story. These overlap a lot with so-called elevator pitches and work best with “high concept” novels. “Alice in Wonderland meets The Jungle Book” (good luck!). These are what you can tweet during twitter pitch parties or say when someone asks you “what you write?” during a party.

Other agents prefer you skip the logline, get right to the story, and then give a brief stats paragraph (genre, wordcount rounded to the nearest 1,000, any novels/writers you’d compare your work to), plus, your brief bio.

Your bio should be shorter than the story part of the query. If you have no publishing credits, do what I do: brief and simple. “I write from my lair in the DC metro area.” Occasionally, I add a hobby or so, if my reading of the agent shows they have similar interests, or if the hobby is something displayed in the novel.

Just remember who the query is for and what it’s supposed to do, and you’ll be in good shape.

The Synopsis

Synopses have substance, but are light on the seasoning.

The synopsis is all business. WHO does what, WHERE. You can give motivations, you can add a little description. But you need to detail the major plot points and completely give away the ending.

Different agents/publishers ask for different length synopsis. Anything over 1-page is single-spaced. (Hence my insistence that 2-page synopsis don’t exist. They’re just double-spaced 1-page synopsis)

I’ve seen agents ask for 1-page synopses, 3-page synopses, or a full-synopses. So? I have 3 versions. My long one is 5 pages.

To write my synopses, I often just build my query up — adding the ending/etc, for the 1 page synopsis (plus, caplocking the first mention of any proper noun — person or place). For my full synopsis, I write a 1-3 sentence description of what happens in each chapter, then edit it for clarity and flow. My 3-page synopsis is my 1-page combined with my 5-page edited down, until they meet in the middle. This is usually the synopsis I like the best and what I’ll send unless otherwise specified.

The synopsis shows your plot and pacing, often delving into character development as well. It needs to be coherent and clear, more than it needs a strong narrative voice and descriptive imagery. If you can do both, more power to you.

If your query is strong enough, the agent or publisher is going to want to look at your synopsis to learn more.


By keeping in mind exactly what each is for, you’ll soon find that you too, can keep blurbs, queries, and synopses straight in your head.


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#32 Query Corner – BENTLEY ONE

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

In BENTLEY ONE, a set of elementally-aligned college students set out to find what’s scaring off its ghosts.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

The story sounds like it might be interesting, but I can’t know from your query.

  1. The query needs to introduce the Main Character and their Goals and Stakes.
  2. The query should not talk about the process or why you wrote the book.
  3. Beta-readers and following the guidelines should be a given, thus don’t need to be discussed.

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Agent:

I am seeking representation for my supernatural YA novel, BENTLEY ONE. I think this novel may hit in a sweet spot for you since its supernatural elements tend to present more as fantastical. The finished novel is 63,000 words.

BENTLEY ONE explores the haunted campus of Bentley University located in Northern Pennsylvania. BU has several ghosts, one more prominent than others.  Someone or something is drafting the ghosts into servitude. The novel develops the friendship of the students who set out to right what is wrong about the campus.

While college was many years ago for me, the setting for BENTLEY ONE is inspired by a similar, real-life university, where I majored in mathematics and minored in writing, with an emphasis on creative writing. This is my first novel.

I have put BENTLEY ONE through multiple rounds of beta reading (including readers in the target demographic) to clean up plot points and address confusion. Most recently, I have had it professionally edited to prepare it for agent submissions.

According to your guidelines for submission, I am including the first 10 pages of BENTLEY ONE for your consideration in representing me.

All the best,

Q32

My Revision:

Dear Agent:

I am seeking representation for my supernatural YA novel, BENTLEY ONE. I think this novel may hit in a sweet spot for you since its supernatural elements tend to present more as fantastical. The finished novel is 63,000 words. [Pretty good intro. Although, trying to redefine something like ghosts as ‘fantastic’ instead of ‘supernatural’ may be stretching. Perhaps you should look at agents who are actively looking for or are open to Supernatural fantasy?]

BENTLEY ONE explores the haunted campus of Bentley University located in Northern Pennsylvania. BU has several ghosts, one more prominent than others.  Someone or something is drafting the ghosts into servitude. The novel develops the friendship of the students who set out to right what is wrong about the campus. [This is telling, not showing. I think we can pump it up.]

While college was many years ago for me, the setting for BENTLEY ONE is inspired by a similar, real-life university, where I majored in mathematics and minored in writing, with an emphasis on creative writing. This is my first novel. [You don’t want to emphasize inexperience, and unless it’s an #ownvoices novel or the plot involves a specialty of yours, this isn’t needed.]

I have put BENTLEY ONE through multiple rounds of beta reading (including readers in the target demographic) to clean up plot points and address confusion. Most recently, I have had it professionally edited to prepare it for agent submissions. [This is expected — except ‘professionally edited’. This suggests that you need a lot of work to polish drafts, and often agents (or the acquiring editors they’re selling to) will have you do revisions upon acceptance.]

According to your guidelines for submission, I am including the first 10 pages of BENTLEY ONE for your consideration in representing me. [Unnecessary.]

All the best,

Q32

The queriest took my advice, but admitted the trouble with illustrating the main character was that this was a multiple point-of-view tale! With a few more passes, we ended up with a query the queriest was happy to use.

The Final Query:

Dear [Agent],

I am seeking representation for my 61,000 word supernatural YA novel, BENTLEY ONE. I think this novel may hit in a sweet spot for you since its supernatural elements tend to present more as fantastical.

Miguel leaves campus at the end of his freshman year with all its friendly ghosts in place, haunting in their normal haunts. When he returns after the summer break, he knows something is definitely wrong – all the ghosts have disappeared!

Linda, CJ, and Frankie are elementally aligned students, looking for an earth-aligned person to complete their own investigation into the missing ghosts. Also investigating the disappearing ghosts, Miguel is easily convinced to join forces with them. When they discover an ancient, powerful spirit, calling herself ‘The Queen of Disks’ is not only taking out ghosts but controlling an army of grey-hoodied students, the foursome realize it’s not just the spirit world in danger. If they can’t stop the spirit, she just might end up controlling more than just a school.

Despite my own college’s severe lack of actual ghosts, I graduated from [SCHOOL], with a major in mathematics and a minor in writing.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q32

With a little more focus on the meat of the story, and a little less on how the novel came together, it looks like Q32 is well on their way to finding an agent!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

Picking an Agent (or #PW Mentor) To Query

Whether you’re querying PitchWars mentors tomorrow or literary agents on Friday, it’s best to do your homework first. Querying an agent (or mentor) simply because they represent your genre is the bare minimum to not get thrown into the trash in 0.005 seconds.

I know it’s hard to pick — and harder yet not to get emotionally invested in a person who knows nothing about you.

I’ve talked a lot about picking agents and my own pitchWars experiences. From querying agents and mentors, here’s a list of my biggest tips.

2 Things NOT To Do To An Agent/Mentor

  1. Do Not Stalk Them.

    As I’ve mentioned before, do not stalk agents or mentors. Do not go through their facebook/instagram feed and like everything they’ve posted for the last five years, scour their photos to find out their favorite foods, their friends, vacation places. Don’t Do It.
  2. Do Not Rules Lawyer Their “No Thanks” Lists

    Some agents or mentors mention things they want A, B, and C. But never Z. And you have A, B, C, and Z. They’d be perfect except for that last thing!

    I can promise you, they do not want you messaging them asking if off-screen Z counts. Or, yes, they have Z, but it’s not that explicit.

    Imagine saying you hate dogs and then your inbox gets flooded with dog pictures asking if this one is allowed because of whatever excuse. You’re now flooding them with exactly what they asked NOT to get.

5 Things To Help You Select An Agent/Mentor

  1. Read their wish lists
    – on their bios
    – profiles
    – on #mswl/www.manuscriptwishlist.com
  2. Read their don’t want lists
    – Then REMOVE from your list of agents/mentors to query if you have a match. No matter what.
  3. Read their twitter feed
    – see if their personality seems like a good fit
  4. Examine their bio
    – see what sort of agent/mentor they are (editorial/big picture/etc)
    – what experience they have
    – what sort of publishing experience/connections they have
    REMEMBER – This is a two way process. It’s not just “do I have what they’re looking for”, it’s also, “do they have what I’m looking for”.
  5. Check out their list of favorite books
    – if those books would be a great comp for your novel, or are evocative of your tone? That’s pretty promising!

Querying is scary and intimidating. It can be easy to stall by doing your research… FOREVER. But, eventually, you have to query or move on.

All you can do is your best. Then, it’s out of your hands.

Best of luck to all of you out there in the querying trenches — with agents or PitchWars!


Let me know what you’re querying!
Let me know if you’re a pitchWars hopeful.

And link your social media below. I love connecting with other querying (and beyond!) writers.

Pitching Agents And Readers

I talk a lot about pitching agents via the query process, but that’s not the only way to pitch. There are verbal pitches to agents. And? There’s the pitching you need to do to the READERS!

6 New Tips For Pitching Agents

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind.

  1. In person, if you’re not very social, it’s fine to keep the pitch extra short!
  2. In the written query, the part addressing the story is typically
    1. First paragraph is the character, setting, and inciting incident
    2. Second paragraph is the escalation
  3. It’s okay to close with a question!
    1. I’d heard so many times that agents “hate rhetorical questions” that I’ve just banned any question from my query letters. BUT! I’ve been told, it’s okay to have a question, especially in the summary sentence. “Will Carol manage to finish dinner before the store closes, or will she find herself locked in, forever!
  4. A strong character voice in the query is very dangerous, but on rare occasions will work.
  5. Only describe your background/education if it’s on display in the book.
  6. A lot of publishing houses are looking more for duologies and stand alone books than series. It’s a smaller commitment, that can be expanded if the book(s) sell well!

Pitching Readers

The number one thing you have to remember when pitching to your readers is … if you’re planning on selling on Amazon, no matter how amazing your cover text is, Amazon only shows the first 2 lines of your blurb. Make Them Count.

No Matter Who You’re Pitching

There are two things your pitch has to accomplish.

  1. Show how your story is distinct from the others in its genre
  2. Show how your story fits in the market

What pitching tips work best for you?

What ones would you suggest we avoid?


Here were more notes from all the panels I hit at Balticon53 and I’m still not done. I attended all the panels, so you don’t have to.

Tune in again next week for more writing tips and writerly musings.