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Query Letter – Chuka (Horror)


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Hey fellow Storyists! I recently completed the final draft of my horror novel and am about to submit query letters. I'm posting my query letter here, and hoping for some helpful feedback. Thanks much!



Dear Ms. Agent:
Three days ago, Chuka awoke in a lake on the outskirts of North Platte, NE. Two days ago, two fishermen attacked a family in the park, littering the yard with their bodies. With them, they brought a squid-like parasite. One day ago, all across the city, the infected went insane. It’s kill or be killed for them. The whole town is aware of this.
Except Charles. He spent the morning arguing with his wife about an affair she’d had that summer. Now, Charles stands in his living room, staring at his son’s body in the doorway. His wife, Deborah, fights off their attacker in the kitchen, a boning knife buried in her calf.
One problem. Their attacker won’t stay down, even after Charles bashes his face in.
He grabs his son, and he and Deborah drive into town as quickly as they can.
I’d like to tell you about my latest horror novel, CHUKA (80,000 words), a bloody novel about a leviathan, insane cowboys, funerals behind convenience stores and one messy love affair that threatens to rip Charles and Deborah apart.
I am writing to you because [reason]. I hold an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside. I am enclosing an SASE and the first five pages as a sample. May I send you the full manuscript?
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Brian Amaro-Jeppesen
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Alas, I was always a complete dud at query letters, so I don't know how useful my comments will be. But here are a few things I notice.


1. We don't need Deborah's name in the query. Focus on Charles. "His wife" is sufficient to identify her.


2. Incredible as it may sound, even this brief summary gives too much information about the plot. Drop the "a boning knife buried in her calf" and the paragraph "He grabs ... as they can."


3. Use that space to give us a capsule description of Charles. Who is he? Obviously, he and Deborah have baggage (one mention of the affair is enough—I think we can assume it endangers their marriage). But does Charles have baggage as well? What is the character arc he traverses? The query needs to hint at more than the affair; otherwise the agent may think Charles has no arc.


4. The paragraph about the novel itself is clear (although you can avoid the duplication of "bloody novel," since you already say it is a horror novel, which is more important in terms of identifying the genre). The details sound appealingly wacky, except for the "one messy love affair"—although you could keep that here if you change the description of Charles.


5. The paragraph about yourself is good. I assume you will not always send five pages but whatever the agent asks for. And I wonder whether the "I am writing to you because" should not go first and foremost. Depends on the reason, I guess. If it's because you read in a book that this agent likes horror, then it can stay where it is. If it's because your professor recommended the person, it should probably be the first thing the agent sees. You have, according to Poets and Writers magazine, 90 seconds to get this agent's attention. So you need to emphasize whatever is likely to make the recipient keep reading, and a recommendation is the thing most likely to do that.


So, my advice. Use what seems helpful and ignore the rest, because I am a long way from knowing what works.


And good luck! Congratulations on finishing your book. :)


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