Read each agency’s submission guidelines VERY CAREFULLY.
Some agents want the first chapter with the query. Some want a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Others will specify how many paragraphs should be in the query and what is to be contained in each paragraph. Hardly any want attachments with emailed queries.
Below is my query for Ken’s War, published by Melange Books, LLC. The info between parentheses describes what the content will be for each segment of the query letter.
(Address agent by name who reads queries in your genre) Dear Kaitlin Portergiss:
(State why you chose this agency or how you know about it. I should have written a tad more about how my book fits their stated requirements and preferences.) I reviewed your requirements in Jeff Herman’s Guide and also on your website.
(List what is in query and attached.) Attached, as requested, you’ll find 20 pages from Ken’s War, a 50,000-word YA novel.
(Hook that includes setting, protagonist, conflict and mini-synopsis.) It’s 1965 and army brat Ken knows how the world works. So imagine how his world splinters when, because of his misbehavior, Ken and his father are whisked off to a remote outpost in Japan.
Think of being immersed in a foreign culture, of learning that your mother back in Pennsylvania has replaced you and your dad, of discovering that you don’t know how the world works. While avoiding his dad as much as possible, Ken feels justified in lying to and stealing from the people – Japanese and Americans – who care about him. In a subplot, Captain Paderson leads an investigation into stolen army supplies appearing on the black market. After spending the night at a festival with his forbidden Japanese girlfriend, Ken returns to confront the man he believes is his greatest enemy. “Why did you lie?” his father asks. “Because I didn’t want to have to beat you up,” Ken replies. He learns firsthand about “dirt bags” and heroes, about betrayal and family loyalty, and about first love and broken hearts. He and his father return to Pennsylvania after Paderson receives a medal for breaking up the black market. Although Ken is caught stealing, realizing that his father is a hero is the true journey for Ken.
(Target readers) Ken’s War is for teen readers who crave character-driven novels involving high stakes, that follow the traditional arc, and honestly portray emotional undercurrents, lightly spiced with humor. A crossover audience of baby boomers will identify with the protagonist and the time.
(Author’s credentials.) I’ve lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, home of the U.S. Army War College, and “army brats” were my pals. Later, I worked professionally with army personnel. Like the protagonist, I’ve been uprooted from Yankee soil to live in the Far East where enduring culture shock was a daily challenge. The book is NOT based on my life. Over 400 of my articles and short stories have been published here and internationally. Oxford University Press published two anthologies of my stories. My novel The Dressmaker’s Dummy was published by Denlinger’s, which folded. I’ve taught fiction and nonfiction writing in the U.S.A. and abroad. I edited the nonfiction book The Stress Elimination Handbook (Ibis Press).
Thank you for reading this. I look forward to your reply.
Blog readers, you’re welcome to use my query as a template or springboard for your unique query. All the best!
Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “Ken’s War.”
When teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War
“Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.