Thursday, May 7, 2009

Agent-Author Day at Backspace

Hello Everybody!

My fellow Equestrian Ink authors and I have all discussed the road to publication. Right now I’m branching out in new directions as a writer. After completing two romances for the e-publishing market, equestrian themed, of course, I’m currently completing my first contemporary fantasy, The Grimoire. This novel is a turning point for me as more than just a new genre (although the equestrian world is still a core setting – this time in Virginia horse country). I’m planning to take The Grimoire to a conference in New York at the end of this month to look for agent representation. The end goal will be national distribution with a major New York publisher. Nothing like aiming high!

I attended this same conference last year and learned a great deal about agent-author relationships (If anyone is interested in my sharing my notes on this, just leave a note in the comments section and I’ll post on it). It’s called The Backspace Writers Conference. The url is This time I’m participating in their Agent-Author day where I meet with 15 agents and they each review my query letter and first two pages of my manuscript.

What I gathered from the conference last year is that a letter querying an agent on whether or not they would like to review one’s manuscript needs three central points: an introduction that will catch their interest, writing that really sparkles in a paragraph giving a high-level overview of the story, and a closing paragraph briefly explaining the authors background, including their knowledge of the field they are writing about, be it fiction or non-fiction.

I thought a good way to share what I learn at Backspace is to post my ‘before’ query letter and then post my ‘after’ query letter when I get back from the May 28 conference. I’m fully expecting to be raked over the coals, but it will be worth it to end up with a winning query letter!


Okay, folks, here’s the before letter and the first two pages of the manuscript:

May 28, 2009

Dear Agent XXX:

I appreciated the opportunity to participate in The Backspace Conference Agent Author Day and want to thank you for your positive feedback regarding my work. The Grimoire is a completed 80,000 word contemporary fantasy novel which I am submitting for your consideration.

Gemma Morrin is a talented witch who shares her family’s ancestral home with a perfect roommate, her great-grandmother Fiona. Wonderful, irreverent Fiona cooks, loves to garden, and generally refuses to allow the fact that she is a ghost limit her in any way. When a witch from Fiona’s ancestral coven, The Foreseers, shows up bedraggled and frightened, Gemma’s calm world is shattered. The Foreseers have been decimated by the wizard Cathaoir in his pursuit of a key central to the coven’s power. The Foreseers convince Gemma to protect the key from Cathaoir while they regroup, but to stop his search she must get close enough to him to use her unique ability to alter his perceptions without being killed. Cathaoir meanwhile has begun a campaign of escalating terror attacks on Gemma’s family and town to coerce her into turning over the key. To add to the chaos, Connor Hogan, a mortal man with whom Gemma is falling in love, discovers her witchcraft. It takes a lot out of a guy when his girlfriend's transparent relative floats in, sits cross-legged right beside him and offers him a snack she made especially for him.

The Grimoire is an introduction to The Foreseers, whose mission and history is yet to be revealed. The nature of their work requires secrecy, and as such much of their workings have been designed to mirror those of the intelligence community. In developing the world of The Foreseers, my husband and I relied on our contacts and his background as assistant instructor for the course Intelligence and Covert Operations while we were at Yale. The magical creatures integrated into the story have been drawn from various mythologies and cultures so that they can function across numerous cells of The Foreseers organization. I drew on my experience showing in hunters and equitation in creating the Virginia horse country setting for The Grimoire. Although most of my writing and editing experience has been in the medical communication field, I have e-published two romances since December 2007, A Dangerous Dream and Never Trust A Matchmaking Witch. More information regarding my background and writing is available at Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Mary Paine

Chapter 1

Virginia, July, 1948

Meara chose this night to change her fate. Witchcraft, the power and the glory of it, she honored but knew was not to be her destiny. There were those, family and friends, who would suffer for her choices. She hoped they would come to understand that she yearned not for this life, but for one freed of the burdens of the gift.
She stood on the balcony, the wind pressing her thin white robe against a slim body poised on the last brink before womanhood. Her arms were raised, hands cupped in a pose as ancient as the call to the elements she made. Candles flickered and flames rose up in a circle around her as she chanted, head thrown back as the vivid blaze of her hair fell down her back.
Meara had selected her time carefully, the energy of summer bringing strength and endurance as she performed this, her final spell, under the fullness of the Mead Moon. She prayed its energy would bring the rebirth she sought.
Eyes closed, she tilted her face upward and the aquamarine pendant she wore glowed as she chanted. “With strength and sight do I now entreat, the Goddess to grant the future I seek. Bind me not with this great power; my destiny begins from this hour.” Lightning cracked and lanced across the sky as the wind rose howling to whip around her. “This power send beneath the seas. This is my will, so mote it be.”
Meara held her position, only the faint tremor of her hands betraying the force she exuded to bring about this change. Young though she was her power was not inconsiderable as she summoned the full breadth of her strength. She staggered as the lightning sliced down and seemingly through her as if to rend her in two.
Torrential rains began to fall and a glimmering white mist appeared, spinning in ever rising swirls. She struggled to remain erect, seeking to channel her will. The haze arched and funneled into a small brass box standing in the center of the circle. As the mist disappeared inside, the lid closed and the box rose up, turning three times before arrowing out, buoyed by nothing but air as it rushed toward the sea.


mugwump said...

OK Mary, I'm loving this. This is the kind of information I glom onto. The thought of writing a query letter terrifies me.
Your story seems fun and engaging. Good luck and please tell!

mugwump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Paine said...

I'm glad the information is helpful. There are quite an array of books out there on the topic of query letters, but I found the Backspace Conference last year to be the best source for me because I was hearing the query letter info directly from the agents, some of whom I plan to send my query letter to. We'll see what they say this year.

I'll be happy to post my notes from last year's conference and share what they have to say about The Grimoire's query-the good and the bad : ) - at this year's conference.


Laura Crum said...

I enjoyed both your query letter and the beginning of the story Mary. I was never good at query letters, synopsis, any of that stuff. I think you did a good job of it, but will be very interested to hear what the agents say. Thanks for sharing a great topic with the rest of us.

littledog said...

I don't know nothin' 'bout them query letters or agents--
but I'm an avid reader who can't wait for your book, and your story (so far) would capture my attention and get me addicted if the first two paragraphs were switched. Put the description (scene) first, then the explanation--just my opinion as a reader.

Mary Paine said...

Great! Thanks for the input. I love getting feedback to help me make the opening better. I'll take a close look at those first two paragraphs again!


Jami Davenport said...

Oh, Mary, have a great time at the conference. I'm anxious to hear what you learned!!!

This is a great story. I hope it finds a home in NY.