Query Letter: Of Jade and Dragons
Of Jade and Dragons (undergoing re-titling at the moment) was my PitchWars MS and my first and most extensively queried book! It will (hopefully) be going on sub very, very soon - so here's a sneak peek at what the book is about and how I pitched it :)
Complete at 94,000 words, OF JADE AND DRAGONS is a YA silkpunk fantasy re-imagining of the story of Harjol, the ordinary girl who became one of the most extraordinary concubines of the Qing dynasty. It will appeal to fans of Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn and Joan He’s Descendant of the Crane. It is a standalone with series potential.
Eighteen-year-old Aihui Ying dreams of becoming a top-notch engineer just like her father, but her life is torn apart when she arrives one moment too late to stop his murder and lets the killer slip out of reach. Left only with a journal containing his greatest engineering secrets and a jade pendant snatched from the assassin, Ying takes revenge in her own hands and follows the trail to the prestigious Engineers Guild, a place that harbours her father’s hidden past.
Hoping to find more clues, Ying enters the guild’s apprenticeship trial in disguise, infiltrating its heavily-guarded walls with the help of an unlikely ally—Aogiya Ye-yang, the taciturn eighth prince. Her journey through the guild’s trial is fraught with challenges, from jealous guild masters to impossible tasks, and her increasingly tangled relationship with Ye-yang also sinks her deeper into a murky political whirlpool.
But whoever killed her father is still hunting for his journal, and Ying is the only obstacle standing in their way. To survive, she must fight to stay one step ahead, yet the secrets hidden within the guild can be as deadly as the weapons they build. Faced with the choice between doing what’s right and what’s necessary, Ying must decide if revenge is ultimately worthwhile, if it means going against everything her father stood for.
A strong opening to your query is important, because you want to capture the reader's interest from the get-go. I chose to put my metadata (word count, genre, comps) in front because I thought the silkpunk and re-telling elements were important selling points that might interest an agent in my MS, and it could also provide some context to the blurb that follows.
The next three paragraphs are all about what my book is about! Paragraph 2 starts with an introduction to Ying, my MC, and the critical event that starts her journey. This paragraph contains the hook of the story - always start with the hook, because that's what's supposed to entice readers to buy the book. If no one is hooked by the hook, then no one will buy the book (oh hey it rhymes!)
Paragraph 3 delves deeper into the MC's journey, and drops teasers about what to expect from the "meat" of the story. It also introduces the love interest! Queries should mostly centre around the MC, because there's only so much you can talk about with so little real estate. Beyond the MC, I would recommend limiting mention of other characters to a maximum of one - the one that's most critical to the development of your MC's arc. If there is a need to mention more, then it would be sufficient to use descriptors (e.g. the huntsman or the witch) instead of names so that your query remains focused.
Last but not least (in fact, almost as important as the hook), the query blurb should end with stakes. What must the MC do in order to succeed in her journey - and what will happen if she fails? In this last paragraph, I've brought in the obstacles that are standing in the MC's way and ended it with what she has at stake. I've always had difficulty coming up with good stakes, because I tend to come up with things that are too broad and generic, which means it won't stand out! When drafting this query, I started with external stakes ("if she fails, she will cause the downfall of the kingdom"-type thing), but after workshopping the query with my mentors, I eventually landed on stakes that were more internal, because internal stakes matter more to the MC and will help readers feel more invested in her journey!