Dear [Agent Name],
Somewhere in the heart of in a nameless city falling slowly into the sea, George Kepler, a shy bookbinder,
So, you're opening hook and paragraph are pretty moving. They break pretty much all the query rules, but the writing is so gorgeous, I think it works. You really set the setting up beautifully, and we know a lot about George's character from the things he surrounds himself with, but I think we need more about who he is. For one thing, I was picturing a somewhat elderly man, until the first sentence of the next paragraph. So maybe you could call him a young bookbinder, or, you know, somehow otherwise hint at his age. Then, it might be nice to have one or two words to describe his personality. We can infer a lot about his character from his profession, and the things he does with his time, but just a little more about the kind of man he is before his story begins would help.
But just when he finds himself distracted by the black eyes of his local barista, Lilya, a peach of a girl with sharp elbows and an obligatory dose of snide, two strangers come a-knocking who know a lot more about him than they should. Love this. Potential romance and mystery/conflict? Yes, please. Before he knows it, they've whirled George out of his sleepy life of prayer and sent him on a series of harebrained and beautiful adventures. As he pursues an unseen Klezmer orchestra through a driving snowstorm, falls off cliffs, uncovers the unlikely friendship of a Danish alchemist and a famous mystic rabbi , stumbles across a secret synagogue, and discovers a forgotten manuscript that might just be about the Golem, he's left with hardly any time to ask himself - are his new friends fun-loving fools, or are they after something? I'm teetering on undecided about all this. I mean it's lots of fun, and full of quirk, but I wonder how well it will work at enticing agents. It's a long sentence, and mentions a lot of cool sounding things, but it doesn't really give a strong sense of what the central conflict is. You usually want to convey a sense of what difficulty your MC will have to overcome. This feels like a lot of little trials, but you need at least one big one too. Are they angels sent from God or a pair of tricksy demons? Is he having the time of his life or beginning to lose his mind? Does Lilya think he's nuts or a just lovable schlemiel? And did he leave the front door hanging open? Hah! The rest of this is hard to decide about too. It's generally a bad idea to ask questions in a query, but somehow, I think you make this work. The Yiddish, and the humor, and the dichotomy of George's situation really finish this up with so much entertaining voice.
I'll talk about this more when I summarize, but this paragraph continues the theme of the first, which is somewhat along the lines of style over substance. I don't mean that in a bad way, because the writing is so good I'm guessing you'll get requests based on it alone, but you do need to keep in mind that at this point, I still don't really know what happens in this story.
Thank you for your consideration.
This rest of this is good. So let's summarize. Your writing is so gorgeous, I think that if you left this query as is, you would probably get requests based on your writing alone, especially from agents who accept the first five pages along with the letter. In other words, this query is already very good, and I don't think you'd have to change anything for it to work.
But you came to me asking for help, and I do think there is room for improvement. Try to see if you can focus. Think about the three Cs that are the fundamental basis of most query letters: Character, Conflict, Choice. We have a decent sense of George's character, but we could use a little more up front. The first C needs the least work. You have lots of little (clever, funny, and brilliant) bits of minor conflict, and we can guess at something bigger, but you should avoid being vague in a query if at all possible. Is there something bigger behind this journey? Who are these strangers? It's okay to get very specific in a query. You don't want to keep things a mystery (except - don't give away the end). Finally, we don't have a sense of a difficult Choice George will have to make in order to overcome whatever the main conflict is. Sure, he asks himself some great questions, and there are some choices included there, but most queries include one tough, over-arching decision that summarizes how hard it's going to be for the MC to achieve his goals.
So the point of all this is - you're an amazing writer. Your way with words alone will probably sell this MS to a lot of agents, but if you want to improve this query, to really tighten it, you need to think about how to get even more specific about your story. You do have a lot of clear, specific details, and that's good, but they don't really connect to the main storyline - if that makes any sense.
What do you all think? Ever seen a query with so much beautiful writing, and such a unique voice? Do you agree that it needs to be tightened, or do you think I'm off the mark?
Please share your feedback in the comments.