A few things first, however. A lot of my excellent and brilliant blogging buddies helped me hone this version of the letter in this post, and I really want to thank them again for their input and fine suggestions. Every one of their comments was useful, helpful and made me think carefully about what I was doing in the letter, line by line. This query wouldn't have been nearly as strong without their kind assistance.
Also, as a caveat, I have to say I don't actually think the query letter was the thing that kicked me over the last hurdle. This manuscript got rejected by almost thirty agents before I got an acceptance, and most of those rejections were form letter passes. This is what I think really made the difference:
I had the good fortune of having Nathan Bransford, a literary agent for Curtis Brown, Ltd., critique my query letter and sample pages on his blog in December. His reaction was basically, "Nice query letter; your pages don't work." He then gave me very specific comments about what the issues were, and his blog and mySpace readers chimed in with their thoughts also.
And dang, it was painful, but he (and they) were so very, very right. His critique did what all good critiques do: it made me see into my own blind spot. I balled up in wibbley self-doubt for a period of time, but then I sat down with my opening scene and rewrote that puppy within an inch of its life.
I queried four more agents with the new pages, and one of those agents was Ms. Wood.
I think my query letter was strong (thank you, blogging buddies!), but I'm certain the rewrite is what made the difference. (By the way, when I thanked Mr. Bransford again for his help, his reply really cemented my opinion that he is one heck of a class act. All of you aspiring writers: query Nathan first! He would make a fantastic agent for you.)
That all said, here's the query I sent to Ms. Wood:
Dear Ms. Wood,
Arthur C. Clarke said sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In DARK HEIR, my 94,000 word science fantasy novel, a damaged A.I. litters the world with unstable "magical" guardians to protect a peace that failed thousands of years ago.
Katirin is a princess of such embarrassing parentage her family forced her into a convent to get her out of the royal succession. She just discovered that the convent's priestesses, who share a communal mind and seek only to increase their numbers, aren't holy women serving God, but empty husks puppeteered by what Katirin believes is a demon. If she doesn't escape, the creature will devour her soul.
For Katirin, however, evading telepathic priestesses and her irate family isn't enough. She can see the demon's hunger will one day destroy the nation she should have ruled, so Katirin vows to stop the creature--but how do you kill a demon that lives in a thousand bodies? And what if the monster turns out to be the most benign weapon humanity ever created?
DARK HEIR reads like fantasy but with a science fiction twist that makes it unlike any book on the market today. I'm deeply impressed by your agency's client list (Lynn Flewelling is a particular favorite, thanks to her Nightrunner series) and I hope you will consider my novel for representation.
I am a physicist, visual artist and rock climber. DARK HEIR is my first novel and is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.