Yes, this does mean I wrote the query summary for Child of Darklight before I had a story. Like pitches, writing query letters is hard! How do you boil over 50k words down to 200? The answer is obviously witchcraft…
At this point, I knew all the important-important info (aka the major plot points) without being bogged down with all the fun-important details that spring up during the writing process. Seriously, I will never wait until the end to write my summary EVER AGAIN. I took the pitch info (protagonist, goal, stakes, and obstacles) and expanded them into three paragraphs:
A witch protects a nocturnal river village from vicious sun walkers during the day–for a price. Their most beautiful child is sacrificed annually. Twelve-year-old Kisima doesn’t see herself as beautiful thanks to the large birthmark on her face. After a selfless act, however, her image appears in the pool of beauty, but the mark of the chosen shows up on her pretty best friend’s palm instead of her own.
They’re both sent down the river as this year’s offering. When Kisima’s friend, Chobo, is attacked by the witch, Kisima can’t just sit and watch. She interrupts the process, wounding the witch, but losing Chobo.
With the deal broken, when the sun rises, the sun walkers attack. Kisima is the only one who recognizes Chobo’s face in the vicious crowd. After chasing down what’s left of her friend, she discovers the sacrificed children become sun walkers. But Chobo is only partially turned. Kisima must venture into the light, risking her life, to save Chobo before she turns completely, end the sacrifices, and defeat the witch for good.
Looking back, this is TERRIBLE. But, what matters is that it worked for the purposes of finding the right story. I tweaked this summary until it had the magic I knew agents were looking for.
This was the final draft I sent out to agents:
Twelve-year-old Kisima loves her only friend, Chobo, but she still longs to be accepted by the others in her nocturnal river village—where all the houses are on stilts, and the pathways are lit by glowing purple flowers. Thanks to the large birthmark on her face, her people believe she’s cursed to bring misfortune wherever she goes.
And her village knows its fair share of misfortune. Its days are plagued by blood-thirsty sun wokas—golems made of sticks and dirt and light. The fayah witch provides protection, but she has a price. Each year, the village must surrender its most beautiful child, never to be seen again.
When Kisima’s new plan to prove herself to her village leads to the fayah witch marking Chobo as this year’s chosen child, Kisima secretly transfers the mark to her hand and accepts the role instead. Chobo refuses to let her friend go alone. The two journey to meet the fayah witch together, but they don’t expect her to attack or to drain Chobo’s beauty. Kisima fights back, and uncovers an unsettling truth: the fayah witch turns the surrendered beauties into sun wokas, now including Chobo. To save her friend, and her village, Kisima must survive long enough to unravel the complicated history between her people, the sun wokas, and the fayah witch.
And then I moved on to: