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I as said I would a few weeks ago, I dug out my dusty old query letter and put it under the microscope. I gave it a few tweaks, tightened it up a bit, and now I feel like it’s in serviceable shape. This is the meat of a letter I’ll be sending out to literary agents to try to tempt them to read my manuscript, or at least the first few pages. Conventional wisdom (of which I’m rarely a fan) says that the letter should be a page or less and needs to convey the basic concept of the book quickly, neatly, and preferably with a taste of your writing style. Sounds easy, right? Trust me, once you’ve spent a few years and over a hundred thousand words telling a story, boiling it all down into two short paragraphs is maddening. Here it is:
In the tradition of Johnny Tremain, THE FIDDLER’S GUN (100,000 words) is the story of a young woman’s fight for her own independence during the Revolutionary War.
The Sisters of the Ebenezer orphanage in Georgia don’t know what to do with Phinea Button. She matches knuckles with the boys, sticks her nose up at bonnets and dresses, is determined to do anything they forbid her, and is nearly a grown woman. But when the American War of Independence threatens her tiny community, Phinea’s reckless nature spins beyond even her own control. She kills a British soldier and flees the orphanage with a price on her head.
On the run, she joins the crew of a privateer ship and begins a new life on the high seas of the Revolutionary War. She can’t run forever though, the British are close behind and the home she ran away from is about to become a battlefield.
So there you have it. Is it good? Heck if I know. What bothers me about it is that it’s not accurate. It doesn’t convey the romance of the book. It feels like nothing but plot when the book is (in my mind) very character driven. And then there’s the fact that the plot as outlined is scarcely complete or even accurate. Why? Because to get any more detailed requires far too much exposition for the brevity required by the letter.
So here I sit. Stumped. I’ll tinker with it for another week or so while I move on to the next step: deciding whom to send it to. That brings up another problem. Most agents work with a select few genres and it’s important that I target those that deal with my type of manuscript. The trouble is that I’m not sure what genre my book fits into. Sometimes I feel like it’s Young Adult. Other times I feel like it’s Historical Fiction. Sometimes I feel it might even be Literary. A lot of advice I hear tells me to go to the bookstore and find books like mine in order to figure out where mine fits in. I’ve done that. In fact I do it all the time, and I have yet to really find any book that I think is terribly similar. I can’t even figure out what shelf it would be on. It frustrates me to no end. The only exception of note is the book that I reference in the query letter, Johnny Tremain. Though there are many similarities, I can easily place that book in Young Adult, a genre that I usually feel isn’t quite right for me. Did I mention that this is frustrating?
So as I ponder these ridiculous things, I’ll be scouring the internet and the local bookstores in search of another dozen or so agents to submit my work to. Meanwhile, if anyone has any input on genre or nits to pick on the letter, I’m all ears (or eyes, this being the internet and all.)
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.