At seventeen, Isla is the most sensible of her friends—she doesn't believe in ghoulies, ghosties or long-legged beasties. Her plans are simple: finish school, get a job, decide what she wants to do with her life. She only agrees to participate in a Halloween party séance because she wants to impress Dominic, but the séance gives Isla the first hint that her family might have a secret. When they try to contact her dead mother they receive a chilling reply: she is not dead. [This is a good example of how you can start a query letter without saying what the title, the genre and the word count are - with a good pitch. This opening para is snappy, easy to read and tells me enough about the story for me to be intrigued. It is also does tell me the genre - or, at least, the age of the readership - without directly stating it.]
Isla is reluctant to upset her father by prying into the family history he never discusses; however, events force her hand. And nothing had prepared her for the truth. Her mother is an aosidhe, part of the fae's ruling class: a race known for its arrogance and cruelty. [This gives me a further indication of what the genre is.] Isla is introduced to her mother's world by Jack, an elf-like hob who is eager to help her for his own reasons. When her father is attacked by an unknown aosidhe, Isla must overcome her self-doubt and work with Jack to save him.
ISLA'S INHERITANCE is an 83,000 word urban fantasy set in metropolitan Australia, and is aimed at a young adult audience—particularly teenage girls who enjoy paranormal fiction.
I have a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, with a professional writing specialisation and, since 2007, I have been working as a public service editor. I am a member of the Australian Society of Authors. [Compared to the polished pitch, this feels a bit light - almost like you're trying to run away as quickly as possible. Tell me why you're writing in this genre, because there's nothing in these two lines that gives me an indication that you even like fiction.]
Included below are a synopsis and the first three chapters of the manuscript. The completed document is available on request.
General feedback: This is an example of a 'stunt letter' (my term) - where the author is accomplished enough to lead with a pitch because the pitch is really polished. The author has told me pretty much everything I need to know about her story - and certainly enough for me to decide whether or not I'd like to read it - in those first two paragraphs. By the time she tells me that it's an urban fantasy aimed at a young adult audience, I barely need to read the words. However, the reason why this is a stunt letter is that it's for the brave and confident writer only - you need to feel really sure that your pitch works in order to put it first in the query letter. There is risk there - that if it doesn't work, an agent/publisher is not going to read any further and not going to find out that it's an urban fantasy etc etc. In this letter the risk has paid off. But for other non-stunt writers it is perfectly acceptable to use a more conventional structure of title/genre/word count to start your letter.