Query Letter Algebra: Once Upon A Time, X Met Y

By Lindsay Bandy

My eighth-grade self was sitting at the kitchen table with my engineer father, dripping tears on pre-algebra homework: “But Daddy, why are there letters mixed with the numbers?” That pretty well sums up my relationship with mathematics.


However, the X meets Y formula is one even math phobics want to familiarize themselves with as they work on preparing a manuscript for submission. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it helps to give editors and agents an instant taste of what your manuscript is like. You’ll find it on the backs/reviews of many novels, and even some picture books. So, take a deep breath and prepare yourself for a little math lesson: The formula is supposed to go like this….

Once upon a time, X met Y, had a beautiful word baby named Z, and lived happily and famously ever after. 

It’s important to consider is where your manuscript fits in the market and who your readers will be. If you have a 20th century British saga with a supernatural twist, you might say “Downton Abbey enters the Twlight Zone in this exciting YA novel.” (But please don’t try this at home…it sounds truly dreadful.) Can you think about a similar author and say “Z will appeal to fans of Ms. X?” Or, “This story will appeal to fans of X movie or Y television show.”

Nathan Bransford, author and former literary agent at the Curtis Brown agency, says on his blog:

I personally don’t mind at all if you compare your book to another book or author or two to put me in the right frame of mind. This is completely optional, so don’t feel as if you have to, and honestly I’d just use your best judgment about whether you think it would be helpful.

For more of Nathan’s insights, you can visit his blog here http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/11/comparing-your-book-to-other-books-in.html

Here are a few examples of the X meets Y formula to get you thinking. I don’t know about you, but this one can be hard for me to conceptualize, so I’m glad it’s not always necessary. But, it’s where reading like a writer, watching TV and movies like a writer, and being well-versed in your genre really matters.

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife meets Lost in this chilling exploration of love and memory…Haunting, sophisticated, and ultimately exquisite.” Kirkus starred review of the Printz winner MIDWINTERBLOOD by Marcus Sedgwick (My absolute favorite book I’ve read this year!!)
  • Greek mythology meets Mean Girls in Oh. My. Gods by Tera Lynn Child

For examples of queries that worked, you can visit Writer’s Digest’s web site and check out their Successful Queries series here http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries




This entry was posted in Submission Sense, Uncategorized, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Query Letter Algebra: Once Upon A Time, X Met Y

  1. Steve Silbiger says:


    The comment section is not working?

    BTW I had a great discussion with John Dixon a member of another adult Philly writers meetup group I belong to and junior leader. (CBS Show Intelligence, and his YA book Phoenix Island) I have published non fiction adult works (Ten Day MBA) and he was giving me insight to his fiction writing influences and processes as I have a new project that is adult fiction. He said I should get familiar with screenwriting basics as a place to leap off. It relates to classic plots and that is how this note relates to your blog. John suggested two great books:

    Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies by Blake Snyder. The author offers super famous seminars in hollywood to aspiring screen writers every year.

    Steve Silbiger

  2. Lindsay Bandy says:

    Sorry, Steve, and to those of you who received this as an e-mail the other day, too….apparently, “save draft” turned into “publish draft!” I guess WordPress was experiencing some technical difficulties. Ah, technology!

    Anyway, THANK YOU for the great suggestions to read Save the Cat! I will put it on my to-read list 🙂

Comments are closed.