Seabrooke Leckie is with us today for the 6th installment of the Kickass Queries Series, sharing the query that nabbed her agent, Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services.
Seventeen-year-old Talon is one of the New York Assassins’ Guild’s most talented journeymen – and she knows it. She has no doubt that eventually she’ll make guildmaster, where she’ll be able to do the most good for her plague-worn city, helping to clean up crime. The first step is to pass her trials and be promoted to the guild’s elite, though for Talon it’s mostly a formality.
But the trials reveal a different – and darker – side to the guild, and Talon finds herself questioning the morality of what they do. When she’s tasked with eliminating a rogue assassin who’s returned to the city and killed some of her guildmates, she's shattered by the secret she learns about her guildmaster. With a foot on each side, she has to choose between the guild she loves and calls home, or the rogue who wants to destroy it. Dozens will die if she makes the wrong choice... but the right choice might cost even more.
STARS AT MIDNIGHT is a quick-paced light sci-fi YA set in a future post-plague New York City, and is complete at 96,000 words. I envision it as being the first in a series. I have included the first ten pages below for your review.
G: How many manuscripts did you query prior to signing with your agent?
S: The novel that Rachael signed me for was the third one I queried, but the sixth one I’d written. The two books I queried before this one were both good, and I did get requests from agents for them, but I grew so much as a writer from one to the next that in retrospect I’m glad no one took them on.
G: How long did it take to write your query, and what things/steps do you think were most important to make it agent-ready?
S: By the time I was querying this book, I’d had a lot of practice! So it didn’t actually take me that long to write this winning query, in absolute terms. However, all that practice from the two un-signed novels (easily more than a dozen versions) was applied when I came up with this one, so in the grand scheme of things, it actually took a lot of time and work to get here.
The number one thing you can do to help make your query ready is have your critique partner read it and help you with it (and if you don’t have a critique partner, you should absolutely find one! A good one is worth her weight in gold). They can objectively look at your story and your query and help identify where it needs tightening.
The other bit of query advice I’d offer to queriers is to figure out what the backbone conflict arc is of your story, the arc that results in the final climax, and center your query on that. After lots of trial and error, I learned to set my queries up with four parts in two or three paragraphs: background/set-up, inciting incident, character’s options/decision, stakes if s/he fails. The latter two items should reflect the book’s climax. Your critique partner can let you know if you’ve identified the right plot points to lay your query out around.
G: Tell us about your query style – do you approach your entire list of prospectives at once, or query in small batches and revise in between?
S: For my first two queried novels, I followed the commonly-shared wisdom of querying in batches of about 6-10 agents at a time. After each round I would tweak my query letter before trying again. I did notice an increase in requests as my query grew stronger, though I think ultimately what really affected my request rates was the strength of my attached pages, which improved with each book, and the central concept/conflict of the particular novel I was querying. In retrospect, the first two books I queried were probably started in the wrong spot, and could have benefitted from a rewrite/removal of that first chapter or two.
For the third queried book, the one that I signed with Rachael with, I actually entered it in a couple of contests before I ever sent out a query to agents. In those two contests I got seven agent requests, and that prompted me to send queries to an additional six agents who I also would’ve been really interested in working with. I used the same query I had in the contest, plus a closing line with the genre and word count (which had been in the header of the contest entries). Four of those six queried agents requested.
G: Now the fun part – what was “the call” like? How did you know your agent was the right person to represent your project?
S: I was so nervous when Rachael called! (I suspect: what writer isn’t?) But she was really friendly and easy-going and quickly put me at ease. I think that was part of how I knew she’d be the right one. She also seemed to really “get” my story, and didn’t have a lot of suggested changes for it; the suggestions she did have were all things that made total sense to me; I didn’t feel any reservations about any of them. Knowing that she had the same vision as I did for my story was the clinching factor, but I also came away from the conversation trusting that she would be really good at her job and a really good match for me and the things I needed from an agent. (And she has been!)
S: Persevere! As it turns out, publication is a long game. There’s a lot of waiting. I mean, a lot. At every stage. There’s a lot of rejection. At every stage. Stuff that you think will go quickly or will be a slam dunk often isn’t either. It’s a very humbling experience. But the successful writers are the ones who don’t give up. If this book doesn’t get picked up, write another. In fact, while you’re waiting for this book to get picked up, write another anyway. That way, if it doesn’t, you’ve already got another option in the wings, and if it does, you’ve got a head start on your second published title.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Seabrooke! Best of luck with STARS AT MIDNIGHT and all your writing endeavors!
You can learn more about Seabrooke and her work by following her on Twitter (@SeabrookeN) and checking out her blog and Tumblr. She is also a contributor to the Ink and Angst blog.