If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!
Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences, but for those who don’t, I wanted to provide a resource so writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.
With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from H.P. Wood. This great query connected her with her agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan.
MAGRUDER’S CURIOSITY CABINET is dark historical fiction in which the bubonic plague hits Coney Island. A group of outcasts must fight to keep their makeshift family together in the face of an oppressive city government determined to cover up the epidemic, regardless of the cost.
The novel begins in May 1904. Coney Island’s newest amusement park, Dreamland, has just opened. Its many spectacles–including a replica of Mount Vesuvius, which rains death and destruction every quarter-hour, and Lilliputia, a midget-sized version of a 15th-century German town–are expected to attract crowds by the thousands, paying back investors many times over.
Kitty Armstrong and her mother arrive by steamer from South Africa. When Kitty’s mother takes ill, the hotel doctor sends Kitty to Manhattan to fetch some special medicine. But when she returns, Kitty’s mother has vanished. The desk clerk tells Kitty she is at the wrong hotel. The doctor says he’s never seen her although, she notices, he is unable to look her in the eye.
Alone in a strange country, Kitty meets the denizens of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. A relic of a darker, dirtier era, Magruder’s is home to a forlorn flea circus, a handful of disgruntled Unusuals (freaks), and a mad Uzbek scientist named Doc Timur. Magruder’s Unusuals take Kitty under their wing and resolve to find out what happened to her mother.
But as the plague spreads, Coney Island is placed under quarantine. The gang at Magruder’s finds that a missing mother is the least of their problems, as the once-glamorous resort town is abandoned to the freaks, anarchists, and madmen.
(Available June 7, 2016)
It took about nine months from my original query to the offer of representation, and another nine between signing and an offer of publication. Two babies-worth of time! All these stories about people who send a query at breakfast, have an agent by lunch, and celebrate their book deal at cocktail hour…. Well, I’m sure those stories are perfectly true (cough) but that’s not the only way it happens.
Along the way, I was told that a particular subplot was the least interesting thing in the manuscript, and I was also told that it was the most interesting. I was told that the characters weren’t likable enough, and that the characters were too likable given how many awful things happen to them. I was informed that I’m a great writer with a bad premise, and that I’m a lousy writer with a fantastic premise. All of which is basically true. Or maybe none of it is—I forget now.
When Courtney responded to the query, she described the manuscript as “crazy.” But she meant that as a compliment, which is how I took it.
My point is that people say a lot of things about stuff. Some of it’s nice and some of it ain’t, but you can’t afford to sweat any of it too much. The agent hunt isn’t just about finding somebody who loves your manuscript (although that’s key!); it’s also about finding someone whose personality and worldview is aligned with yours. You’re starting a partnership—hopefully one that will last over many years and multiple books. It matters that the two of you agree on whether “crazy” is a compliment or not.
H.P. Wood is the granddaughter of a mad inventor and a sideshow magician. Instead of making things disappear, she makes books of all shapes and sizes. She has written or edited works on an array topics, including the history of the Internet, the future of human rights, and the total awesomeness of playing with sticks. She lives in Connecticut with a charming and patient husband, a daughter from whom she steals all her best ideas, and more cats than is strictly logical. You can find her at hpwood.net or on Twitter @hilarywrites. MAGRUDER’S CURIOSITY CABINET will be published by Sourcebooks Landmark in June 2016. Photo courtesy of Nicole Friedler Photography.