Query Letters That Worked: CITY OF LIES (Fantasy)



Sub It Clubber Sam Hawke has good news to share. Her debut fantasy novel, CITY OF LIES (Tor, 2018) arrived on shelves in July after a very long journey!

Sam started researching agents in 2013, began querying in late 2014, and got her agent in mid 2015. About a year later (2016), her agent sold her book.

Sam’s generously agreed to share her successful query to help others along the way.

Here is Sam’s query (Kirsten’s comments in italics):

Dear [Excellent Agent]

Protect the family. Preserve your honour. Guard your secrets. For two centuries these rules have bound Jovan’s family; in a few short weeks, he will break them all.

(Kirsten: We often debate how important personalizing a query is. If you have a connection from a conference or are replying to an #MSWL, it certainly doesn’t hurt. In this example, Sam jumps straight into the hook for her riveting story, which is fine, obviously. Sam says she subscribes to agent Janet Reid’s view that personalization won’t change how they feel about your writing.)

Jovan wears two faces. To his peers he is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, Jovan is a ‘proofer’: a food taster trained by his uncle to protect the Chancellor’s family from poison and treachery. His duty defines his life and his loyalty to the Heir is absolute.

When his uncle and the Chancellor succumb to an unknown poison and a rebel army lays siege to the city, Jovan’s structured world unravels. Trapped and desperate, unsure whom to trust, he must protect the Heir from both threats. But as he hunts the poisoner, Jovan discovers his country has two faces as well; behind the beauty and sophistication is an ugly past built on oppression. His enemies aren’t who he thought they were, and a traitor on the Council is manipulating them all.

Betrayed by the Chancellor and the Council, the rebels reject attempts to broker peace, leaving Jovan in an impossible position. Defeating the rebels means perpetuating a terrible injustice, but if the city falls he may lose the things he’s always valued most — family, honour, and his only real friend.

PROOF is a fantasy novel of 160,000 words.

(In her hook, Sam shares her inciting incident and the stakes. We get a general idea of the major plot twists and turns. Then she provides specifics about her book — the genre and word count. For most novels, 160,000 words would be high, but fantasy typically has longer word counts. Note the final, published book, which has a new title, is 560 pages.)

Influenced by my early diet of classic fantasy and old spy thrillers, I have always loved both the transportive nature of fantasy and the tension of a good mystery. PROOF is aimed at readers who enjoy novels which combine elements of these genres, such as Robert Jackson Bennett’s CITY OF STAIRS.

(Kudos to Sam for elegant incorporation of a comp title. By comparing her work to CITY OF STAIRS, we now know exactly the type of reader Sam’s book will appeal to.)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

(Here, Sam omitted the bio paragraph, and that’s ok if you don’t have writing credits or other relevant information to include. What you DON’T want to do is include superfluous information like where you live or hobbies that have nothing to do with your book. For tips on writing a bio, see this post.)

Kind regards
Sam Hawke

Thanks again to Sam for including this example of a query letter that worked. Want keep in touch with Sam via social media? Follow her on Twitter or Facebook, and check out her website. And guess what? Her second book in the Poison War series, HOLLOW EMPIRE, releases in August 2019!

B&W 1
 Sam Hawke has wanted to write books since realizing as a child that they didn’t just breed between themselves in libraries. Having contemplated careers as varied as engineer, tax accountant and zookeeper Sam eventually settled on the law. After marrying her jujitsu training partner and traveling to as many countries as possible, Sam now resides in Canberra, Australia raising two small ninjas and two idiot dogs. City of Lies is her debut novel.

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