Query Letter Inquiry

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Reikigirl

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Hello...I have written a second novel which I consider to be a stand alone to my first book, which was published by a small press a few years back. Should I mention that my novel is a stand alone when querying an agent or should I not mention this at all?

Thanks so much for your help on this:)
 
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TheKingsWit

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Stand alone in query-talk just means it can be read and feel complete on its own without reading any other books.This is the default assumption, and doesn’t need to be stated in most cases.

Exceptions are phrases like ‘stand alone with series potential’ or ‘stand alone companion novel’. That would show that it is connected to your other books, or that you have a plan for building it into a series, but that it is still something that can be read and enjoyed on its own if you don’t manage to land a series deal, making it safer bet than ‘the first in a series’.
 
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Reikigirl

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Thanks so much Maryn for your input on this. It's so appreciated. What I should have mentioned is that I am struggling to determine whether or not my second book qualifies as a sequel or a standalone novel and I have come to the conclusion, based on my online research, that it is a standalone sequel. The fact that it contains elements from the first book puts it under the heading of a sequel in which case I probably shouldn't pitch my story to an agent as no publisher will touch a sequel based on a book published by another company. So, that is my dilemma. I really want to try and get an agent but I may have to hold off on that until I write my third novel, if I have the stamina to do it. Thanks again for the feedback! Again, so appreciated.
 

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Can you not query it as a standalone novel with series potential, and mention that the prequel was published by a small press?
 

Reikigirl

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What a good idea TheKingsWit! I never thought to do that. I will definitely give this a try. Thanks so much for your input! Now I just have to complete the query letter. What a mind-grueling task.
 

Reikigirl

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Thanks so much Unimportant for your feedback, although it was very important. My last response was directed to you but it appears I got your name wrong. I appreciate the input and will seriously consider doing just that. Thanks again!
 

Reikigirl

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Ok. I've completed my query letter but I'm still undecided about how to pitch it. I read that the protagonist in a companion novel is a secondary character from the first book. Unfortunately, the protagonist in my second book is the same as in the first book so I don't think can pitch my story as a companion novel. Where this gets really confusing is that my protagonist solves a crime in the second book that the authorities had supposedly already solved years earlier but in actuality, did not. That crime was a subplot of the first book and was only significant from the standpoint of my character going on to solve a completely different crime. So, this isn't a sequel as far as the crime is concerned, however, that crime was strongly referenced in the first book. Again, the bulk of the characters are completely different as well. Is this a sequel? I'm sure your heads are spinning at this point. Any further input on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much. Ugh.
 
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Reikigirl

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I don't know if I can pitch this as a standalone to a prequel as the story it relates to was a subplot of the first, not the main plot. Any thoughts? Ugh.
 

Janine R

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If the previous book doesn’t help you, could you change the names and some characteristics that reference it to the previous book and market it as a stand alone?
 
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Reikigirl

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Thanks so much for the input Janine. That's a great idea, however, since my story revolves so much around that initial subplot, it requires me to keep the same names of the two main characters from the first book as so much of their motivations, etc, relate to it. Hmmm. Tough dilemma I be in.
 

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If the book stands alone -- if the reader can read it and enjoy it and understand it without even knowing there was a previous book -- then it's a standalone. Query it as a standalone and note to the agent that there was a prequel.

If the reader is not going to be able to follow the story unless they have read the first book, then it's not a standalone. Unless you revise it sufficiently so that it does stand alone, it's going to be very hard to sell to an agent. If the revisions would be a major rewrite, you may be better off putting this one on the back burner and writing a new, different, unrelated book that you can pitch to agents.
 

Reikigirl

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Thanks Unimportant. It bothers me calling you that btw. So, my book is definitely a stand alone so no worries there. Just to let you know, I planned on taking your advice initially until it dawned on me. If I wrote the prequel first, it's not really a prequel, right, because it would have had to have been written after the first story, not before the second. Does that make sense to you? If I'm missing something, please let me know as I would like to state everything you say in my query. Right now, that's the only thing holding me back.
 

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Thanks Unimportant. It bothers me calling you that btw. So, my book is definitely a stand alone so no worries there. Just to let you know, I planned on taking your advice initially until it dawned on me. If I wrote the prequel first, it's not really a prequel, right, because it would have had to have been written after the first story, not before the second. Does that make sense to you? If I'm missing something, please let me know as I would like to state everything you say in my query. Right now, that's the only thing holding me back.
If my user name weirds ya out, you can call me Windup Birdie or Steampunk Birdie. Lots of people do :)

It's splitting hairs as to whether you have a published book and an unpublished sequel, or you have an unpublished book and a published prequel. If the book you're querying is truly stand-alone, that's all you really need to say. If you want to claim the previous book as a publishing credential, you can say the prequel was published in year X by publisher X; otherwise you don't even have to mention it unless the agent asks whether you have previous novels published.
 

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I like Steampunk Birdie. It has a lot of pizzazz! LOL. And yes, it's a lot like splitting hairs for sure. It's also turning mine gray. Yikes. In terms of mentioning my first book to an agent, yes, I would like to claim that as a publishing credit as it shows I completed a manuscript and got published as a result. So, based on what you're saying, it would be okay then to label my first book as a prequel. Well, that would certainly make my life a lot easier. Here's another question for you. Should I mention that's it's a prequel in the first paragraph of the query or in the last paragraph where I list my publishing credits? If I mention it in the first paragraph, I'm afraid that might take away from the focus on my second book as I would have to mention the title of my first book as well. Any suggestions Steampunk Birdie? :)
 

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Thanks Janine! I actually have it there at present but wanted to get more feedback on that. Thanks so much for your input!
 

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I too vote for putting it in the last paragraph with the other housekeeping details.
 

Reikigirl

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Thanks for the input Steampunk Birdie! It's already there! One more thing and I'll leave you folks alone as I'm probably exhausting everyone. I make small references to the first story in terms of the crime that my main character solved and how she almost died doing it. Even though that crime has nothing to do with the second book's plot, I wanted the reader to know what my main character had undergone before she takes on yet another investigation. Do you think that's okay considering it's a standalone? Thanks everyone. You folks are great, birdies and all!

 

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Oh, the actual query itself is a different kettle of coloured horses barking up the wrong well :)

If the MC has particular problems or issues due to something in her past, adding that in can work. But like every sentence, clause, and word in a query, it has to work well enough to justify its inclusion.

Jane McCarthy has been housebound with agoraphobia and panic disorder since she was nearly killed three years ago by the Detroit Strangler. This morning, her house burnt down would be relevant. Jane McCarthy can't decide whether to marry the handsome cowboy whose kisses make her ovaries pop, or the stockbroker whose billions make her pocketbook swoon. Maybe she's indecisive because she nearly got killed three years ago while solving a crime would just plain not work.


ETA: D'oh, I think I misread your question. Do you mean in the book itself? Again, flashbacks that are pertinent to the ongoing story are perfectly acceptable.
 

Reikigirl

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Yes, I meant in the book itself, not the query, but I'm glad you misunderstood as I got such a kick out of reading your sample query. It was very entertaining! LOL. In terms of the actual book, I don't use flashbacks regarding the crime she's already solved, just a brief explanation of what happened, including the names of the characters in the previous book who are not present in the recent one. From what you're saying, I think that's okay, right Steampunk Birdie? I love typing that name. Haha.
 

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Yes, I meant in the book itself, not the query, but I'm glad you misunderstood as I got such a kick out of reading your sample query. It was very entertaining! LOL. In terms of the actual book, I don't use flashbacks regarding the crime she's already solved, just a brief explanation of what happened, including the names of the characters in the previous book who are not present in the recent one. From what you're saying, I think that's okay, right Steampunk Birdie? I love typing that name. Haha.
Yep, it sounds fine to refer to that information in the current book. Don't infodump it or do the "As you know, Bob" thing, of course; work it into the action so it seems natural to the reader.
 

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Thanks Steampunk B. Yes, I made a special point to avoid those infodumps. I 'll be sure to avoid the other thingie as well. I can't thank you and the others enough for all your help on this. It is so appreciated. I'm still going over the first 20 pages or so of my book before sending the query letter out. If I hear back from any agents, I'll be sure to let you know although to be honest with you, I'm not holding my breath. Thanks so much again for the input! Just curious, are you a fellow writer as well? You certainly have a creative streak:)
 

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Thanks Steampunk B. Yes, I made a special point to avoid those infodumps. I 'll be sure to avoid the other thingie as well. I can't thank you and the others enough for all your help on this. It is so appreciated. I'm still going over the first 20 pages or so of my book before sending the query letter out. If I hear back from any agents, I'll be sure to let you know although to be honest with you, I'm not holding my breath. Thanks so much again for the input! Just curious, are you a fellow writer as well? You certainly have a creative streak:)
Yes, I write, though I am just getting back into it after a long hiatus. Fantasy and horror, usually, but to date nothing novel length.

If you get active in the Share Your Work subforum, when the time comes you could post your query and first five pages and ask for critique in return.
 

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My first thought was you were a fantasy writer. You're a horror writer as well, huh? Very cool. I had taken a long hiatus too as this second book wasn't jiving with me but I picked it up again last year and it poured out of me. Thanks so much for suggesting that forum. I will definitely check it out and post my stuff. I was a member of a critique group when I wrote my first novel but it broke up after we completed our projects. I miss getting other writers' opinions of my work. Thanks again for all your help Steampunk Birdie. It is so appreciated. You saved my hair from turning completely gray:) Thanks to everyone else too!
 
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