Today I have the first of a couple of posts about successful queries and why they worked, just like you asked! So, since I work in acquisitions, I asked some of the authors I had the privilege of acquiring to send me their stories. Enjoy!
Michael Cristiano is a Canadian writer. His relentless obsession with fiction began long before he could even spell the words ‘relentless obsession’. He spent most of his childhood getting lost in fantastical masterpieces, learning foreign languages, and attempting to be published by the age of thirteen. Though he’s off by a few years, The Black Oracle is his debut novel and is due for publication in 2015.
Website & Blog: www.michaelcristiano.net
I got the idea for The Black Oracle when I was fifteen and I had no idea that writing it would be such a long and all-encompassing process. I had loved writing and always dreamed of being published, but The Black Oracle was my first real attempt at a novel. I was really obsessed with dystopian fiction and the apocalypse at the time: George Orwell and Aldous Huxley and a concept album called Year Zero by Nine Inch Nails that revolved around a fictional dystopian society.
I wanted the story to be different from other dystopian novels though. I wanted my characters to live in a post-apocalyptic culture that had regressed back to a hunter-gatherer existence in the jungle. But I also wanted to work the fantasy genre into that so I had the main character’s wife kidnapped by a colony of jungle mutants. In order to get her back, my main character would have to go into the parallel world of Zalm, a place of kingdoms, magic, and war.
After two years, I managed to write 40,000 words. I liked my story, but I was stuck. The words weren’t coming out right and I was getting discouraged by premature editing. Eventually, my writer’s block got so bad that I actually stopped writing The Black Oracle in 2008 and worked on a completely different project. It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 that I was ready to finish.
By the end of 2012 I had a polished manuscript I queried around for a year without garnering much interest. I graduated university and planned a forty day backpacking trip to South Africa and Europe during May and June 2014. Ten days before I left on my flight to Johannesburg, I got an email from Katie Teller who requested a rewrite. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to rewrite and resubmit The Black Oracle before I left. A month later, I was travelling in Heidelberg, Germany and Curiosity Quills Press sent me an email offering to publish my first novel.
This query was where all the magic happened:
Dear Acquisitions Editor,
Discovering that his newly pregnant wife has been kidnapped, Joachim, a hunter from the jungles of a post-apocalyptic Earth, must journey into a parallel world to find the ingredients for a potion, one that will act as a ransom to get her back.
Since Joachim’s youth, the demons of the jungle existed only as mythical predators that emerged following Earth’s apocalypse, monsters that slaughtered villagers and scattered their entrails through the trees. Now, those creatures have raided his village, kidnapped his wife and brought her to their leader, Zupay. The demon has lived forever – or so it seems. One knows when he is going to die, after all. Accompanied by a senile elder, Joachim must enter the world of Zalm to retrieve the ingredients for Zupay’s immortality potion. Only a prophetess named the Black Oracle knows where to find these ingredients and with her help, Joachim must traverse Zalm and return home before the end of the tenth day or Zupay will murder his wife and unborn child.
The Black Oracle is a New Adult fantasy novel running approximately 82,000 words. I am a current student at the University of Toronto studying Language and Linguistics. Since winning the 4th Annual Brampton Public Library Writing Contest in 2002, I have pursued my passion for fiction and plan to make it a large part of my career and future. If there is interest, I would be happy to have the opportunity to share my manuscript with you.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
I think this query worked for a number of reasons. First, I think it is a good balance of plot and intrigue. It gives enough away to give a feel for the story, but I think it also draws the reader in to want more. Secondly, I edited the query a billion times and read an obscene amount of advice on blogs. I also joined the Absolute Write Water Cooler forums and took to reviewing other people’s queries so I could get a feel for what worked and what didn’t. The best way to learn is to observe, or so they say!
The Black Oracle is slated for release in winter 2015. Official details are coming soon but for now, this teaser will have to do. Stay tuned!
“In a post-apocalyptic Earth, humans are not alone.
Joachim is a hunter. Though generations have passed since the Great Death, something has evolved in the trees beyond the giant glowing mushrooms, mutants that want to see human entrails spread along the jungle floor.
And now they’ve taken Joachim’s wife.
To get her back, Joachim must give the leader of these demons something in return: immortality. A creature knows when he is going to die, after all. In the realm of Zalm, Joachim must navigate a world of magic and darkness to find the ingredients to a potion. Only the Black Oracle knows where these ingredients are, but she’s a little busy at the moment. She leads an army of rebels, revolutionaries fighting for liberation against the High Council.
In a story of betrayal, prophecy, and bloodshed, Joachim must find a way to save his wife while evading a ruthless Empress, one that wants to see the Black Oracle and her associates killed – Joachim included.”
Thank you, Michael! You should definitely look out for this book, and follow him, because he’s going places!
I wrote The Undead during the winter months of 2012. The story came just as much from my heart as it did my imagination when I took a real life experience and warped it until it offered me both refuge and a creative outlet.
After months of writing, I finalized the story mid-summer.
By the end of August, I had queried a few agents and then participated in the September #pitmad. I had two requests for partials and Katie Teller from Curiosity Quills made one of those requests.
After I sent the first three chapters, I tried to relax, but it was difficult. Someone was interested. About a week after I had sent my partial, Katie requested the full manuscript. I couldn’t push SEND fast enough.
At the end of September, I attended the SBWBI conference in Charlotte, NC. While I was there, Katie sent me an email asking about my online presence.
My heart stopped. I didn’t have an online presence. I had a twitter account with about twelve tweets (mostly from pit mad because I’m not much of a tweeter), no Facebook page as an author, and no blog. I panicked. Would they think I wasn’t serious?
I understood that an online presence was a great way for people to read about you and get to know you, even if you’re an introvert (which I am, with a dash of shyness in the mix). So, I started timidly tweeting (which still is the best way to describe my tweeting habit), I created a blog where I talk writing and more, and then set-up a Facebook page as an author. And while I networked to find my voice online (which is still a little quiet), I read about Curiosity Quills. I checked out their book covers and their online presence. I was excited and hopeful.
In November, Katie offered me a contract. I withdrew my queries / partials from other agencies and signed on the dotted line. And of course, went out to dinner to celebrate.
The road from signing a contract to publishing a book becomes a beast of a different nature.
First, Curiosity Quills had a deck of information that they wanted me to complete. It ranged from author information to marketing ideas (covers ideas for my book included). I was granted a month to fill in the forms and submit my manuscript. One of the reasons they gave me a month was because they wanted me to clean up my act a bit before the editors had a look. They included a very helpful style guide and tips sheet. I combed through my work looking for the types of errors that would slow an editor down and then pushed SEND.
Within a month, I received feedback from the editor, Christina Ferko. She read through my ms, marked areas and then sent an assessment letter about the book. She made a lot of great points about Eric, who was one of the main characters. I needed to expand his role. I spent time thinking about how to accomplish this and decided I wanted to give him his own voice and write the book in dual POV. I contact Katie to make sure that was still in the parameters of the contract and then sent a note to Christina.
And then I was off.
For a solid month, I crafted Eric’s voice (actually, I felt more like a portal. He had his own voice that apparently had been waiting patiently for a chance to be heard.) At the month’s end, I sent my work back to the editor for round two.
Once round two was returned to me and I made more changes, cover work began. Alexandria Thompson of GothicFate.com was my artist and we began working on the cover. She was so open to my ideas and very knowledgeable about colors/fonts/graphics.
By May, the book had been edited, the cover had been crafted and the next step was proofreading. This phase took a little longer because there were still minor fixes that needed to take place. Matthew Cox was super helpful with his feedback during this time!
While I waited for ARC’s and the release date, I set up a blog tour and a book Blitz. I figured out what kind of swag I wanted to have for my book and ordered parts so I could assemble.
And then my release date hit. I thought I was prepared, but I should have gotten more done ahead of time. There are so many facets of a release that I didn’t quite understand. I guess that’s why experience is such a great teacher.
Your successful query and why you think it worked or tweet if you can find it!
One of the pitch tweets that caught a request during #pitmad was:
16 yo Lyla can save the reaper she’s falling for if she’s willing to sacrifice the brother she idolizes. YAPR #pitmad
Writing succinctly takes great effort and pitching becomes a lot like fishing. What you catch depends upon the bait you offer. In 140 characters I zeroed in on the best bit of tension from the book that would draw the interest of editors and agents.
Winston Churchill’s quote about speeches also applies perfectly to writing tweet pitches:
“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
Sixteen-year-old Lyla Grimm’s hopes of rescuing her rock-bottom reputation take a back seat after touching a corpse at her parents’ mortuary. Now an undead woman with serious de-comp issues is stalking her. So much for restoring her reputation. Survival definitely trumps the in-crowd.
Lyla suspects the corpse-following is a prank. Especially when the arrival of Eric, the hot new guitarist in her brother’s band, coincides with the stalkers. But when more bodies disappear, her classmates amp up her title from freak to pariah, and her best friend turns on her. Lyla’s left alone. Eric’s uncanny way of appearing when she needs him most earns him her initially reluctant admiration.
But Lyla doesn’t know that her smooth-talking guitarist is the Grim Reaper dispatched to find out why Death’s clients aren’t staying down. When Eric realizes Lyla can wake the dead, he jockeys for control of her gift. His death-messenger-destiny suddenly looks less permanent. But the closer he gets to Lyla, the less sure he is of his plan. The dead are a lot easier to deal with than living emotions.
Gossip explodes, Lyla’s family implodes, and desperation sets in. With an offer to free herself from her gift, Lyla must choose between saving the brother she idolizes and freeing the Grim Reaper who’s stealing her heart. Both must lose for one to win.
To Purchase The Undead: Playing for Keeps
A huge thank you to Michael and Elsie! I love both of these guys and their books. Get Elsie’s now, and keep an eye out fro Michael’s soon to come. Definitely worth your time. And I hope their thoughts and stories have helped you with your querying journey and you’ve gleaned some great advice from them.
Look out for next month where some of the Aussie Owned ladies talk about their querying process.
Katie Teller is a writer of NA fiction. Her debut, Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh, is now available. You can find out more about Katie, the Kiya trilogy, and her other books on twitter, facebook or at her own blog.