This blog is to accompany one of the videos on my new writing & publishing #booktube channel. I interviewed my agent Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group and we ended up talking about how I ended up as her client. Part of this story is, of course, the first step for most writers… the dreaded query letter! I’m sharing mine here, from over three years ago now, as an accompaniment to the video, with a little bit of added commentary in italics.
I’d been querying agents on and off for The Oathbreaker’s Shadow since I finished university in 2007. My final push came a few years later, after I’d returned from travelling, set up in the UK and found a new job, and realised it was now or never for this book – otherwise, it was time to move on to something else. I was a bit more savvy about agents, so I targeted around 10 from across the UK & US to query. PFD – where Juliet worked – was not on the list at that time, but they had very little YA epic fantasy on their books. My query success rate was pretty high – I ended up with five out of ten full manuscript requests but equally a few form rejections, so I turned to Twitter (as you do) to have a little moan. The result was that Juliet saw the tweet and suggested that I query her boss at the time. I held out little-to-no hope, as you can see below! I was very self-conscious as Juliet was the only person I queried who knew it was me – I was going out under a pseudonym at the time, so that was nerve-wracking. As a result, a long and rambling query letter followed that is a good example of what NOT to do! Thankfully, the manuscript pages spoke to themselves and Juliet asked for a full.
Hey Juliet, (AA:This is a pretty casual opening but Juliet & I crossed over briefly at HarperCollins, so I knew her and was querying her boss after her suggestion via Twitter).
I got your message on Twitter but thought I’d e-mail you instead. How are things at PFD?
As you know, I’m on the query roll! I’m querying agents for my novel The Oathbreaker’s Shadow under my pseudonym, but obviously as you know it’s me there’s not really sense in hiding it. I did think about you and PFD but I’m worried that this particular project is too fantasy for Rowan? (AA:Starting off apologising for my book – never a good opening!) But I could be wrong! I’m actually working on a much more properly YA fantasy-romance book at the moment which I’m hoping to have finished for the new year, which I will definitely show to you. (AA:Oh dear! Queries should really focus on the book you want to publish. It’s good to show that you have other ideas but this makes me sound like I’m querying a book I won’t end up writing for another three years!) That book is called Philtre, (AA:which is now The Potion Diaries!) and it’s about a Princess who is poisoned by a poorly mixed love potion and the rivalry between two young potion makers – a young girl from a traditional alchemist family and a boy whose family owns a corporation that produces synthetic elixirs [like a magical GlaxoSmithKline] – as they both try to find the cure to save her.
If you want to get an idea of my writing, I’d be really happy to show you the Oathbreaker manuscript as I know you love fantasy!! I’ve copied my query synopsis below. Then, if you think it might work for her, you can pass on to Rowan – though I totally understand if it’s not really her speciality! (AA:Still so very very apologetic – but I did think that Juliet might like it based on the books she worked on at HarperCollins)
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow synopsis: (AA:What follows below is the more ‘typical’ part of a query, which I sent to other agents when I didn’t have a prior connection)
For fifteen years Raim has worn a single blue string tied in an intricate knot around his wrist. Raim barely thinks about it at all; not since becoming the most promising young archer ever to train for the elite Yun guard and not since his best friend (and the future Khan) Khareh asked him to become his sole Protector. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to Khareh’s, suddenly that string on his wrist is all he can think about – it bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin. The knot contained a promise of its own – and now that promise is broken.
Scarred now as an oath-breaker, Raim has two options: run, or be killed.
Raim flees deep into the vast desert to live in Lazar: the colony of exiled oath-breakers. It is there he hopes to learn how to clear his name and return home to keep his promise to Khareh. Except in Lazar, he discovers that his scar from the burnt thread marks the first step on the path to becoming a sage, with the ability to perform feats of magic straight out of legend. The trade-off: he will remain tarnished as an oath-breaker for the rest of his life. Can he forgo his honour for immense power? And even if he did want to clear his name, how can he keep a promise he never even knew he made in the first place? (AA: Apart from a couple of lines, which are a bit spoilery, this ends up being pretty close to the actual blurb for the book, so I consider this a pretty successful query summary!)
Set in a world based heavily on the fascinating, cutthroat and deeply honor-bound culture of medieval, Genghis Khan-era Mongolia, The Oathbreaker’s Shadow will appeal to readers of Peter Ward’s Dragon Horse and younger readers of Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series. (AA: A little positioning doesn’t hurt! and shows that you know your market.)
All the best,
I hope that seeing this helps some people out there, even though I know that my query experience wasn’t exactly typical! And of course – I did have the benefit of having known Juliet from her previous position. But I could never have imagined that that very apologetic query would lead to Juliet offering representation. Once she did, I remember being very excited at the prospect of our careers growing together. Juliet really impressed me by being as hungry as I was and I wanted someone with that ambition and passion and drive on my team. I told the other agents who had fulls that I was signing with her, and the rest is history…