Clash of the Query Letters—3rd place

Congrats to Doug Engstrom for winning third place in the Clash of the Query Letters 2024! Here's what our judge (Michelle Barker) had to say:

"It's never easy to write a query letter for speculative fiction, but the author of Prodigal Mothers managed to pitch a complex and intriguing story that includes both strong world-building details and compelling stakes. The plot feels fully realized and cohesive, and the main character's dilemma promises an exciting climax."

Great query letter example for pitching a novel to literary agents


Dear Agent,

Following an amicable parting with the agent who sold my debut novel, I'm writing to seek representation for Prodigal Mothers, my 112,000-word multiple POV adult science fiction novel about institutional power, maternal love, and artificial intelligence. It will appeal to fans of Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City and Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted

Dree Rogers has received what may be the most humiliating news a professional parent can get—her daughter has run away from home. Ina's decision to flee the orbital habitat of Aurora with her infant and descend into Earth's poverty and chaos endangers her life, her baby’s life, and the reputation of the Rogers family. Not to mention Dree's parenting license. If Dree can return the runaways, she can protect everything Ina's rash action has put at risk. 

Although Dree doesn't know it, Ina is running because she has incurable, progressive early-onset dementia caused by the family bioengineers' botched attempt to improve her cognitive functions. Ina knows if family leaders learn what's happened, they'll institutionalize her and her baby to hide the failure. To escape this fate, Ina has concealed her condition and cut a deal with an ancient, earthbound AI named Athena. Athena promises dignity for Ina in her final days and a secure future for her child in exchange for secret Rogers Family information. To deliver the information to Athena's settlement, Ina must journey deep in The Wilds—scrublands that used to be the American Midwest, populated by anarchist nomads who revere Athena and despise families like the Rogers. 

Crossing The Wilds on a bicycle with her baby in tow, Ina battles tornados, wild ostriches, and kidnappers. In pursuit, Dree must overcome uncooperative family bureaucrats, hostile nomads, and the growing conflict between her love for her daughter and her duty to the Rogers Family. When Dree catches up to Ina and learns the truth, she’s furious at how her daughter has been treated and devastated that Ina didn't trust her enough to share the secret. Now, Dree must make a fateful choice—fulfill her mandate and return Ina and her baby to Aurora, gambling she can protect them in a family she no longer trusts, or betray the family by cooperating with Athena and the nomads, risking retaliation that could include death for them all. 

I'm the author of Corporate Gunslinger (Harper Voyager, 2020) and my short fiction has appeared in several small-press collections. I’ve also written a steampunk novella as work-for-hire, but it’s no longer in print. I'm not under contract with a publisher or represented by an agent, and I am interested in both original work and work-for-hire. 

I've placed <requested materials> below my signature. 

Thank you for your time and attention.

Doug Engstrom


Doug Engstrom is the author of CORPORATE GUNSLINGER (Harper Voyager, 2020), an out-of-print steampunk novella,  and several short stories published in small press anthologies. In the course of his life, Doug has run an Air Force base newspaper on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and bicycled across the state of Iowa twice. He worked in corporate IT before he began writing full time. He lives near Des Moines, Iowa with his wife, Catherine Engstrom.

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