Cinder: From Query Letter to Flap Copy

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If there is anything more difficult to write than a novel, it’s that novel’s submission materials. The dreaded query letter! The awful synopsis! The pristine first five pages that have been tweaked to within an inch of their lives! How we writers stress and worry, analyzing every sentence, agonizing over the difference between “sincerely” and “best regards,” struggling to hit that perfect balance between the necessary and the interesting.

I started writing my query letter for Cinder, my debut novel, more than a year before it was ready to submit to anyone. Sometimes I would be chugging along, revising or editing or doing something that had nothing to do with writing at all, and a sentence or two would pop into my head. A hint of description, a taste of conflict, a short enticement into my story. So I would open up a word doc and write it down. Sometimes it was only a couple sentences, sometimes it turned into the complete letter.

By the time the book was finally ready, or as ready as I thought I could make it, I opened up all my query drafts and started piecing them together. Kind of like Dr. Frankenstein, I took the best parts of each letter—the wittiest turns-of-phrase, the most concise descriptions—and stitched them together into a sensible whole, following the tips I’d learned from months of diligently following agent blogs.

 I then posted the query letter to my blog, let my friends pick it apart, and used their suggestions to make a handful of changes.

 Then—finally—I chose my top five dream agents, took a deep breath, and hit send.

 As it turned out, my query letter was quite respectable, despite how nervous I was. Of sixteen agents I submitted to, two asked for partials and three for fulls, and I ended up signing with Jill Grinberg, the very first agent I’d sent it to. She later used my query letter when she went on submission to publishers.

 And then, can you imagine my surprise when a year later I received my book—my book! And I opened up the cover to read the front flap of the jacket and immediately recognized the description text my publisher had chosen to print there. My query letter! Almost word-for-word, as it will live on now for eternity.

So that’s my query story, and here, without further blabbing, is the letter itself.

 —–

 Dear Ms. Grinberg,

I’m seeking representation for Cinder, an 85,000-word futuristic young adult novel and a re-envisioning of the classic Cinderella story. I’m submitting to you because Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series was hugely inspirational in the writing of this novel, and I hope my futuristic world will capture your interest as well.

 Sixteen-year-old Cinder is a cyborg, considered a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother. Being cyborg does have its benefits, though—Cinder’s brain interface has given her an uncanny ability to fix things (robots, hovers, her own malfunctioning parts), making her the best mechanic in New Beijing. This reputation brings the prince himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball. He jokingly calls it a matter of national security, but Cinder suspects it’s more serious than he’s letting on.

 Although eager to impress the prince, Cinder’s intentions are derailed when her younger stepsister, and only human friend, is infected with the fatal plague that’s been devastating Earth for a decade. Blaming Cinder for her daughter’s illness, Cinder’s stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an “honor” that no one has survived.

 But it doesn’t take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig. The surgeons who turned Cinder into a cyborg had been hiding something. Something valuable.

 Something others would kill for.

I’ve had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (Cats Curious Press, 2007), and am a member of the Romance Writers of America. I hold an MS in Publishing and a BA in Creative Writing, emphasis on children’s literature. My bi-monthly writing newsletter reaches over 450 subscribers.

 Cinder is the first of a planned series.

I’ve attached the first fifty pages. Thank you for your consideration.

Best regards,

 Marissa Meyer

(This post was originally published on Novel Novice as part of the Cinder blog tour: http://novelnovice.com/2012/01/21/cinder-author-marissa-meyer-my-query-letter/)

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