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DISSECTING THE TRASH FIRE THAT WAS MY FIRST QUERY LETTER

17th December 2015: the fateful day I decided to begin my querying journey. Why did I chose to start in December, the month all agents are closed? Well, that’s not the subject of this blog post. No, what we’re talking about today is: all of my other mistakes. Come on down! We are taking a horrifically painful look at my very first query letter, the one I wrote with the trusty help of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2015 edition and nothing else. This letter may have failed to secure me an agent (obviously, look at it, it’s awful), but it will live on in glory as a lesson to future querying writers: here’s what not to do.

All right campers, let’s take a look:

Look closely: the greeting is perfection. Formal address, comma at the end. No “Dear Agent” around here, no ma’am. Couldn’t have crafted a more amazing greeting. 10 points to Ravenclaw.
The opener is where this letter starts to derail, though. It is not (currently) best practice to begin your query letter with your intro and bio. Most industry professionals agree it is far better to begin with your pitch, saving your intro section until the end. No one needs to know your name straight off the bat. No one cares about your name straight off the bat. All an agent is looking for is the hook.
Content-wise, the bio is a little sparse but … its not 100% cringe, I’ll give myself that. It’s good to mention your age and profession – check. I’d suggest adding where you’re from as well, and show a little personality! This is also the best place to add any writing credentials you may have. As you may have guessed, I did not add any of those because at the time I did not have *checks notes* a single one.

Okay this is getting painful. “I am querying you today with information about my novel” – Jesus Christ, girl, sit down. O B V I O U S L Y you are. You do not need to spell this out. OBVIOUSLY YOU ARE QUERYING THIS AGENT WITH INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR NOVEL. Go to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200. NO. NO. NO.

Okay, let’s just move on from that. We have some technical information, namely the name of the novel which should just be in CAPS, none of this italic quotation mark nonsense. We’ve got the genre and word count (slim number for a YA Fantasy but okay) which is all very important info but again in the wrong place. We need the pitch first. What is your story about?! And no, before you point them out, no one wants your buzz words. “Ooh, my story is about gemstones oooh!” – go home, you are embarrassing yourself, past me. Christ alive.

Finally, we have some actual relevant information. But of course, I’ve stared it all wrong, haven’t I? One humongous sentence of backstory that no one needs. No one wants this, past me. Where, in anyone’s submission guidelines, did anyone specify “Oh be sure to give us all the tiny details about how your story is based on your beloved grandparents, and how three characters are named after the moles that granddaddy murdered with a spade and scarred your infant psyche so you had to write a 7-part YA F series about it”?

Uh. Disclaimer: I am exaggerating.

Anywhozles. My point is: don’t start with backstory. Start with the crux of your story. Who is your protagonist? What to they want? What is getting in their way? What will happen if they don’t get what they want? It needs to be snappy, no more than 250 words, and it needs to be enticing. Make your story sound like nothing anyone has ever been pitched before. Make ’em care.

My limp description is doing absolutely none of that. I called one of my MCs ‘hard-boiled’, who on earth was 25-year-old me?

I’m not sure what this penultimate section is trying to achieve. We’ve got more buzzwords (woo) and more highly obvious statements. Oh, shoot me now. “I really wanted to write the kind of novel I would like to read” – I just … words fail me.

The only good thing about this section is that I’ve managed to pull some comps out my bum and actually format them correctly (still, get rid of the quotation marks, though). For the life of me, I cannot imagine why I chose to list Divergent as a comp, but … let’s just end this, shall we?

Bit of a shit sign off, but it could be worse. I’m surprised I got my name right, if I’m honest; everything else is wrong. It’s good to see I have followed to submissions guidelines and included a synopsis and five page sample pasted into the body of the email, but I literally did not have to reference this. The agent knows where they are. It’s her submission guidelines. I do not need to direct her to the goddamn materials. She asked for me to put them where I put them. Go to jail again, me. Do not even think about passing Go, you absolute cotton-brain.

I like that I thanked the agent for reading. Gotta be polite. Would have been more polite to add a personalised section and actually tell the agent why I was querying her, but shrug.

And that’s the end. Sign off. Name. Should have added my contact details. Didn’t. Not needed really, I doubt this agent even made it to my synopsis, let alone wanted to get in touch with me!

And that concludes my very first query letter. Positives: not long, tries to include relevant details, no typos/grammar mistakes, followed query guidelines. Negatives: everything else.

Have you got an awful first query? Do you have a successful one? What’s that like? Share your woes and frustrations below – and I’ll grab the red pen!



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Review: The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín

Marketed as “genre-changing blend of fantasy, horror, and folkore” (and no that typo is not mine, it’s from the blurb), The Call 100% grabbed my attention from the concept alone. In this version of semi-dystopian Ireland, the Sidhe are targeting teenagers; “calling” them to their world for three minutes before sending them back. Almost none return home alive. And protagonist Nessa may be disabled, but she is determined to train, determined to win, and to be one of the few to survive The Call.

I was simultaneously impressed and disappointed by this novel. What I loved was the concept; the idea of The Call felt very Hunger Games, very Maze Runner-ish. And it was exciting: who’s going to be called? When are they going to disappear from their world and appear stark naked in the Grey Land, the grotesque world of the Sidhe and have to run/fight/hide for their life?? And the world-building was incredible; such an imaginative world to place us in, inhabited by fantastic villains who genuinely frightened me a little bit! It was so refreshing to read a story about murderous, evil Fae, instead of the romanticised, sparkly Fae that dominate the YA genre these days. This was different, and brilliantly portrayed. I was hooked from page one, and the pacing kept me enraptured, kept me guessing and kept me scared.

But that didn’t hold out forever, unfortunately. I think my biggest issue was that the protagonist, Nessa, didn’t really feel like a protagonist. On paper, she sounds awesome. Badass disabled teen who slaps a guy in the face with her crutch – what’s not to love! But in the end, we barely even passed surface level with her. She felt about as developed as the rest of the characters around her, which isn’t saying much truth be told. She didn’t really have any influence over the story or even accomplish that much throughout – and there was no character arc, no progression of her personal story. I feel like the author ticked all the boxes but then sort of forgot to follow through, which is a real shame because it did end up affecting my enjoyment of the story. By the end, I just wanted her to participate in the story more and I was just waiting and waiting and … then I did some more waiting until finally … she sort of did a thing. And then that was it. Utterly anticlimactic and actually quite frustrating.

At the end of the day, I think this book was written for the mass-market: readers who want a fast pace, some high stakes and a little bit of a shock factor. And that, it does well. But for my tastes, it didn’t quite deliver, and it absolutely did not live up to the rave reviews on the blurb – “perfect for fans of Game of Thrones“!? Buzzfeed, what were you thinking? Nevertheless, it was enjoyable for what it was. It was thrilling and creative, and a little bit of a scare. I just think if the plot had been restructured a bit and more time was spent on the main characters, this one would be a real winner.



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10 YEARS, 10 BOOKS: BEST OF THE DECADE

Switching it up this year! Instead of posting a yearly round-up (because, to be honest, I haven’t had the most fulfilling reading year in 2019!), let’s talk about my absolute favourite books published in the last ten years. That I have read. Obviously.

 


The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson

This book was everything I didn’t know I wanted; a proper little gem picked up on a whim just because the literary Gods smiled upon me one evening. I did not expect to get so into it, but when your protagonist is a martial arts expert with astral projection abilities who can see into the depths of the supernatural underworld of 19th century Chinatown in San Francisco … I don’t believe it’s possible to go wrong.
Inspiring, thoroughly entertaining, something a bit different and completely unexpected. Plus, it’s always good to support small presses! This book totally makes the list.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Another ghost story has made the list, this time taking place in a dystopian futuristic London/Oxford. Spirits, dreamwalking, clairvoyancy, all that good shit – mixed with some crackin’ characters and world-building that made me put down the book and announce to my empty bedroom, “that was fucking brilliant“. There are to be seven books in this series, with three out currently. And while the two sequels to The Bone Season weren’t quite as riveting as the first in my opinion, I still think it’s a cracking urban futuristic fantasy, and there’s nothing quite like it out on the scene.

_A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas

Sarah J Maas exploded onto the YA Fantasy scene at the start of the decade and has churned out two of the most successful series in the genre. Both the Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses series are fabulous and well worth a read. Her masterful world-building and character mastery give me life. If I were to pick a favourite of the 10+ novels Maas has released this decade, A Court of Mist and Fury takes the top spot. I had all of the emotions while reading this book. I may have cried. It was an intense 600+ pages and I highly recommend them all.

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

In a world where the end of days isn’t just a threat but a guarantee, where the latest apocalypse is triggered by a powerful madman looking for revenge and the arcane obelisks that float above the Earth are beginning to shift, the heartbreaking story of Essun unfolds. And it was brilliant. It’s another example of world-building that leaves you speechless, characters that never leave you, and a story that wraps you in its thorn-prickled arms and refuses to let you leave. Every book in this trilogy has won a Hugo award, that might give you an idea of how damn good this story is.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

This is 100% a Marmite novel: you either love it or you hate it. And in my case, I was enthralled. Oh so enthralled. Objectively, I know that this book wasn’t terribly well-written: the plot and world-building are basically non-existent, and the purple prose bordered on ridiculous at times. But oh my days, the characters, especially MC Juliette; Tahereh Mafi portrayed her struggle with life and mental health absolutely perfectly. The romance even stole my heart as well, not an easy feat. I completely loved this story. 10/10 would be fatally wounded by this beautiful book again.

Angelfall by Susan EE

I raved about this book. I gushed and babbled about how much I loved it. I called it “the pinnacle of dystopia” with amazing characters, plot, pacing, world-building – the lot. I still remember it fondly – it came out when the PNR (paranormal romance) hype had turned from vampires to angels and wow did the genre capitalise (and fair play, indeed). Angelfall is definitely the best angel book I read during the craze – perfect for fans of The Hunger Games, as it boasts a similar vibe. And … it was an indie book! Love when I find a really amazing self-pubbed book.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Hardcore survivalism? Interesting and different location. High stakes, excitement, a protagonist that makes the Book Boyfriend list? Oh hell yeah. Now I am pretty damn fond of my survivalist literature and I think The Martian may actually be my absolute fave of the genre. I loved every minute I spent with this book, and Mark Watney, one of my very few book boyfriends (I’m highly exclusive). This book was so popular they made a film, and I need to point out that the film is VERY DIFFERENT to the book. The film was boring, the book was amazing and hilarious, read it.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer. What a woman. What an absolute legend. This is hands-down the best autobiography/self-help book I have ever come across, and it reads as if you’ve gone out for coffee with Amanda Palmer herself and just … having a good old chat about the world. It was not only really interesting to read about Palmer’s life but I loved learning about her philosophies. Her voice resonated so deeply with me and I do think her words have changed my outlook on some things. Ff anyone has an interest in psychology and self-awareness, this is a great one to pick up. Loved it. Absolutely loved it.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I’m crying just thinking about this one. I never wrote a full review (I think I read this before I became a reviewer), but my Goodreads review features a gif of a blue blob with its jaw on the floor. So there’s that. There’s not an easy way to explain how this book made me feel. It was wholesome and pure while also being heart-wrenching in its existentialism. It was depressing in a way that I would totally put myself through that again. This was just John Green all over, him at his absolute finest.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Hello, this is my favourite Neil Gaiman story. We’ve all got one, this is mine. What a whimsical, wholesome, disturbing-yet-relateable, quirky little story. A short, but it packs a punch, and it’s even better as an audiobook read by Gaiman himself – those sultry tones heightened the atmosphere of the story tenfold. It’s one of those stories that don’t have a clear plot, don’t have a clear destination, but the journey is 100% one you want to be on with these characters, just seeing what happens next. Wonderful book, beautifully written, would recommend to anyone.

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2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018



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MOST ANTICIPATED READS OF 2020

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.

N.K. Jemisin is a fantasy master. Her Broken Earth trilogy is critically acclaimed – each of the books has won the Hugo award for Best Novel, which I don’t actually believe has been done before. I’m really looking forward to something new from her – a bit of an urban fantasy which I haven’t seen before from Jemisin. And that premise sounds goooooooood.

Malorie by Josh Malerman

Say what you want about the film Bird Box, the book was brilliant. Easily the most terrifying book I have ever read (Stephen King, who?) and a cracking central character in Malorie.
As of right now, there isn’t much information on the plot of the story, save that Malorie takes “centre stage” in this novel (I mean, she did in the first one, but anyway). Regardless, I’m excited. And I’m more than ready for the next chapter in this horror-post-apocalyptic tale, where you must remain blindfolded to survive. Just don’t reboot the Bird Box Challenge, we’ve had quite enough of idiots walking out into traffic with sleep masks on, thank you.
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Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

I feel like I have been waiting forever for Lori M Lee to bring us something new! I adored Gates of Thread and Stone, but that came out in 2014 and its sequel in 2015 – a five year gap is just cruelty! A fantasy spy novel is right up my alley, and I already know Lee can deliver. Just can’t wait until I get this one in my hands!

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

An ambitious young woman with the power to control minds seeks vengeance against the royals who murdered her family, in a Caribbean-inspired fantasy world embattled by colonial oppression.

I adore Caribbean-inspired fantasy; and this one feels like it’s ready and primed to rock my world. Magic, murder, manipulation and morally-grey characters? Sign me up, please!

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will revisit the world of Panem sixty-four years before the events of The Hunger Games, starting on the morning of the reaping of the Tenth Hunger Games.

It’s the prequel none of us asked for but, let’s face it, the one we’re all going to read. Did the Hunger Games series need to be revisited? Probably not. Will Suzanne Collins deliver? I bet she will. The Hunger Games will always be a firm favourite of mine – to this day I’m still blown away with Collins’ story-telling ability. I think this prequel, with younger versions of characters we have already met, could easily be a great addition to the world. I think it’ll be a ‘fun’ survivalist read – just maybe we shouldn’t all take it too seriously.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas

#1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas launches her brand-new CRESCENT CITY series with House of Earth and Blood: the story of half-Fae and half-human Bryce Quinlan as she seeks revenge in a contemporary fantasy world of magic, danger, and searing romance.

I have stalked Sarah J Maas’s Pinterest page for basically 85 years at this point and there has been some stunning book inspo pinned all over for absolute yonks now. Whatever this “Crescent City” board was, it intrigued & confused me for years until finally, many years later, the first book in the series will definitely, actually, 100% certainly and officially be releasing next March. Probably. And it’s an adult series. I’m so ready.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

I may not have read any Zen Cho yet (I know, shoot me), but I’m pleased as punch to be starting with this one. A wuxia fantasy – one I’m excited to read as I’ve only every watched wuxia, never read – slated to be brilliantly written with fab characters and touching themes of identity and self-love. And damn, I really want to know the meaning behind that cool-but-also-weird-and-overly-long-title. Summer 2020 cannot come soon enough!



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The ads below help to pay for this website. If you can see them, thank you for not using an ad-blocker. If you’re a fan of my content and you would like to support a self-employed writer further, please feel free to share the love and buy your girl a coffee. The caffeine jolt may just get me through my final edits!
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Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

“Months passed, winter easing gently into place, as southern winters do. The sun, warm as a blanket, wrapped Kya’s shoulders, coaxing her deeper into the marsh. Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land that caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

I was completely entranced by this story, in ways I never expected to be. It was memorable, both in character and in content, and though it was only a story about one little girl in one small part of the world, it swept me off my feet as if it were a saga. It’s books like these that prove stories do not to be epic in scope to pack a punch. You can still fall in love with a character and their journey, and that’s exactly what I did. If you’re a fan of utterly moving character-driven dramas a little bit à la Celeste Ng, Where the Crawdads Sing may be the book for you.

At the tender age of six, Kya Clark watches as her mother walks away from her family. One by one, the rest of the Clark family follows in her footsteps, elder siblings walking out of Kya’s life one day at a time. They leave Kya alone in a run-down shack with her father who negligent at best and abusive at worst. Kya is left to raise herself in the deep marshes of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, alone and unloved. What follows is a story of survival, of loneliness and human connection, the story of an innocent girl who did not deserve such a start in life.

“Alone for hours, by the light of the lantern, Kya read how plants and animals change over time to adjust to the ever-shifting earth; how some cells divide and specialize into lungs or hearts, while others remain uncommitted as stem cells in case they’re needed later. Birds sing mostly at dawn because the cool, moist air of morning carries their songs and their meanings much farther. All her life, she’d seen these marvels at eye level, so nature’s ways came easily to her.
Within all the worlds of biology, she searched for an explanation of why a mother would leave her offspring.”

I did not expect to love a story set in the depths of North Carolina marshland. The ‘deep south’ has never been an appealing setting for me, and still isn’t if I’m honest, but Barkley Cove seems to be the exception. These marshes are written as their own character, full of life and personality. They are as much of a part of the story as Kya is, and together they make a heart-melting duo.
Kya herself is one of those ‘good and pure’ protagonists. I wouldn’t say she’s fraught with complexity, she’s a very innocent and naive child entangled in a survival story, and that just makes her insanely likeable. She’s a kid surviving in the wilderness on her own, you can imagine what a satisfying read that is. I felt myself cheer when she prevailed, I felt my heart sink when she didn’t, and goddamn it I cried when she cried – and I do not let the tears fall for just any book, I can tell you.

At the crux of her story, though, is a murder mystery. Not a big one, it teases its way into the plot bit-by-bit. This is where the story fell short for me. I didn’t mind this crime-y subplot, but in the end I just felt like it could have been executed better. I found myself wishing it was either more ingrained in the story or just left out entirely, but that was really my own qualm about the book.

In all, a massively engaging read, and well-deserving of the accolades it has already received. I’d recommend picking this up if you are a fan of Little Fires Everywhere or The Great Alone, or if you’re looking for someone who inspires you to keep working hard, no matter the circumstances, and prevail when everything else seems against you.



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The ads below help to pay for this website. If you can see them, thank you for not using an ad-blocker. If you’re a fan of my content and you would like to support a self-employed writer further, please feel free to share the love and buy your girl a coffee. The caffeine jolt may just get me through my final edits!
_____________________________________________________Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com