Without a truly phenomenal query letter, agents won’t even care to read my novel, which is why I am sooo thankful to J.R. Johansson for her Forging Fridays, and especially the one on February 1st, in which she critiqued my query letter for Finding ‘Ohana.
One of the main things she says is that I need more emotion, which I think is a fantastic point, since emotion is what most people complement when they read my writing (as well as what I pride myself most on).
She also suggests that I drop my attempt to keep the end of chapter one a surprise. It is chapter one, after all. So as much as I despise spoilers, I’ll oblige, trusting that others who have been in the publishing business longer know far more than I.
So, without further ado, here is my new and improved query letter:
[Open with specific reason why I am querying this particular agent, such as, "When we met at such-and-such writer's conference, you mentioned that you love novels with the setting as its own character. My novel, Finding 'Ohana takes place in Hawai'i, and cultural values have a significant role in the characters' lives."]
Just last week, Cinnamin Makaiau was painting a nursery sunny yellow, picking out Hawaiian names that mean “Heaven,” and watching her wife, Naali, lovingly hold her round belly as Cinnamin expected to see her hold their baby soon. But after an emergency C-section, Cinnamin instead watches as Naali goes into shock, and dies without ever holding her baby boy, leaving Cinnamin unsure of how to put back the pieces of her shattered life. She is left with in-laws who want to help her through her grief, but whose Hawaiian customs of mourning seem to mock her pain, and so Cinnamin feels no comfort from the people who want to be her family, her ‘ohana.
Meanwhile, Cinnamin cannot help but think of her own parents, who turned their backs on her when they found out the truth about her sexuality, but who had been able to console her back when life was simpler and her greatest pain was a scraped knee or a child’s cruel remark at school. Cinnamin is alone, craving comfort from those who cannot give it. So when she runs into her brother, and he suggests she marry her best (male) friend to earn her parents’ love and acceptance, Cinnamin considers it. And as she is swept away in plans for a wedding to a man she can never love, Cinnamin finds herself being forced to choose between regaining her family or remaining true to her identity, as Naali once taught her to do.
Finding ‘Ohana is a completed, 48,900-word women’s fiction novel that explores the locals’ Hawai’i and the ways in which native Hawaiians adapt their ancestors’ culture. It deals with many complex themes, including parenthood, family estrangement, grief, religion and sexuality, as well as family and individual identity as they are defined by differing cultures.
In order to write this novel, I researched Hawaiian culture and interviewed native and local Hawaiians, as well as used my own personal experience in growing up with religious values conflicting with sexuality. I’ve been working as a professional editor for LazyDay Publishing, so I know the level of perfection required before a novel is ready for publication. I’ve had short stories and academic papers published both in local and national literary journals between 2010 and the present under my given name as well as my pen name, Sierra Dawn.
Please let me know if you have any questions and thank you so much for your time and consideration.
I think this is a huge improvement! The bulk of the query is focused on the novel, rather than other things I’ve written, it’s concise and to-the-point, and, best of all, it’s more emotional than my previous attempts at a query letter. So thanks, again, to J.R. Johansson for the wonderful critique!