Random excerpt from novel-in-progress: There are few places creepier than a deserted computer lab in the middle of the night. And believe me, I know creepy.
In February 2008, I decided to send a query to my top-choice urban fantasy publisher, Ace/Roc. A month earlier, a small press had bought my mystery, and I was feeling successful and optimistic. Ace/Roc publishes some of my very favorite authors. I’d recently finished an urban fantasy that had been fun to write and that I was hoping to sell. When I saw that Ace/Roc accepts submissions directly from authors, I thought, “Why not?”
So I whipped up a query letter. I went through that and the novel’s first ten pages about a gazillion times, polishing and polishing and polishing some more. I pasted them into an email and clicked Send.
Five months later, I received a request for the next 50 pages. Two hours after that, for the whole manuscript. A couple more weeks, and I had a two-book offer. And Deadtown comes out in December.
Query letters have a difficult job to do. They need to have an up-front hook. They need to show a plot that has momentum. They need to convey a sense of the book’s tone while introducing the central conflict and main characters. For fantasy, they need to open a door into the world the characters inhabit. Say the words “query letter” in a room full of writers, and you’ll hear a chorus of groans. Maybe some gnashing of teeth and weeping, as well.
So I thought it would be helpful to share the query letter that got my book noticed in the slush pile. (Back when I sent this, the novel’s working title was Zombie Town.) I think it does a pretty good job of doing all those things a query letter is supposed to do. Of course, if you’re sending sample pages with the query, make sure those are in the best shape you can get them.
My name is Victory Vaughn, and I live by two simple rules: Never tell a human you’re a shapeshifter on a first, second, or third date. And never, ever bring along a zombie apprentice wannabe on a demon kill.
When Vicky broke Rule #2, she almost got trapped in dream limbo–in someone else’s dreamscape. And now, thanks to sexy human cop Daniel Costello, who needs her help to solve a murder, she’s seriously tempted to break Rule #1. That is, if Daniel ever asks her on a date.
Vicky kills demons for a living–other people’s demons. Her job keeps her busy at night, which is one reason why her on-again, off-again relationship with workaholic werewolf lawyer Alexander Kane never seems to go anywhere. That and the fact that he’s pressuring her to go with him–as a wolf–on his monthly full-moon retreat. But Vicky isn’t a werewolf; she’s Cerddorion, part of a long line of shapeshifting demon-slayers who trace their lineage back to the goddess Ceridwen. Besides, she’s got bigger things to worry about right now, like being stalked by the Hellion who killed her father ten years ago. And this time, that demon-from-Hell has bigger plans than one little murder.
Single-handedly saving Boston from utter annihilation wont be easy. Kane is obsessed with defeating the anti-Monsterchusetts candidate for governor. Vicky’s vampire roommate Juliet (yes, that Juliet-as in “Romeo and”) is more amused than alarmed at the prospect of a widespread massacre. The demon-plagued client who’s Vicky’s best hope for confronting the Hellion keeps firing her. And Daniel may have betrayed her to her second-worst enemy.
On the night her father died, Vicky was burned by the Hellion, marked forever with its essence. Now, her demon-marked arm–her fighting arm–won’t raise itself against the thing. As Vicky struggles to avenge her father and save the city, she wonders: How can you fight something that’s inside you?
Zombie Town is a 100,000-word urban fantasy. Although this is the first book of a projected series, it can also stand alone. I’m submitting the manuscript to Ace/Roc because I enjoy many of the authors you publish, particularly Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, and Rachel Caine. I’d be proud to see Zombie Town sit on a bookshelf next to these authors’ novels, and I believe it would appeal to their readers. Per your submission guidelines, I’ve enclosed the first ten pages in this email.
I’m a published author of technical books, including several books in O’Reilly’s popular Missing Manual series. My first novel, a mystery, will be published by Five Star Mysteries in the summer of 2009.
Thank you for your consideration.