Want to see a successful query letter? After hanging out with a writers’ critique circle recently, author Ann Leckie decided to share her original query letter for her award-winning novel Ancillary Justice. Aside from the title, which changed between querying agents and before publication, the letter describes a book familiar to many readers.
Here’s how Leckie laid out her plot to potential agents—you’ll note that it sounds not-so-different from the final jacket copy:
Once Breq had hundreds of bodies, her artificial intelligence animating a ship and thousands of ancillary units in the service of the Radch, the colonialist empire that built her.
That’s all gone. Destroyed. Now she has only a single, limited human body. And she has only one goal–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal, ruler of the Radch.
A long time ago, Seivarden had been a lieutenant on Justice of Toren, the ship Breq used to be. Now Seivarden is lying in the street on an icy backwater planet, naked and unconscious, battered into insensibility from months of too many drugs and too little food. Breq knows she should leave Seivarden to rot where she found her. Breq isn’t responsible for Seivarden, not anymore. Besides, Seivarden was never one of Breq’s favorite people.
But Breq can’t walk away, can’t abandon a former officer. Even though she knows that it’s a possibly fatal distraction from her one, true aim. Even though she knows that in the complex politics of the Radch, Seivarden would side with the faction that Breq implacably opposes. The faction that has already destroyed her once.
As Leckie points out, really only the premise and some of the first chapter made it into her query. If you think about it, her query probably sounds a lot like you describing the book to your friend, or what you’ve heard if you’ve been on the receiving end of an Ancillary Justice recommendation: “It’s about a starship AI that gets reduced to a single body! And now she’s on a revenge mission!” (If anything, the talk of factions doesn’t come up until nearly halfway through the book.) Interestingly, there’s no mention of the non-gendered Radch society combined with the prevalent use of female pronouns, both big talking points from the book. Then again, there’s a lot to start with from the premise alone.
It’s cool to see Leckie sharing this look into the early life of her book!