A steak knife, an old ring, and a crime punishable by death all have one woman in common(--)Ebony Graves. Okay, two nitpicks right away: I would much prefer a colon to an em-dash. Em-dashes are great in manuscripts which are designed to have full support for advanced formatting, but I advise people to stay away from them in queries. If you must have them, use a double hyphen--also, and this is probably just me and my fantasy nerd card, but Ebony Graves sounds a lot like Ebony Greaves. I take it that's your character's name? At twenty-two years old, she lives in a patriarchal society that hangs women accused of crimes? first, and asks questions later. No one cares that she was trying to escape a vicious beating by her own father.
Okay. So even though this is somewhat reversed from your normal query letter's presentation (this is: inciting incident first, then a bit of world, then a bit of character) it mostly works for me. Maybe because it's a really compelling situation. I still need more about Ebony though. We know she's relatively young, we know she suffers under the thumb of a cruel and abusive father, but we don't know much about who she is.
With no other options available, Ebony requests sanctuary from the only powerful woman in town, Lady Charmaine. Her benefactor demands she become the next Jade courtesan if this whole thing is a proper title, I think both words might need to be capitalized. by competing in three challenges to save herself. In doing so, it awakens a rune magic from inside that Ebony didn’t know she had, as well as a desire for Kaige, the handsome stranger lurking throughout the manor.
This whole paragraph is pretty good. It's very specific, which is perfect. It sets the tone of a world that is clearly not our own, and it hints at a society that does not share our customs. I wonder if you might consider another precious stone, though. Jade will always sounds Asian to me.
Otherwise, the rising stakes here are good, and you are building toward a strong but succinct representation of your story.
Pitted against contestants who plot her downfall and a new magic power that threatens her body and soul, Ebony must decide if she can follow through with Lady Charmaine's demands or if her price of freedom lies in death.
And now you lose a lot of what you built in the last paragraph. Where that one is specific, this one is vague. You have to be careful, obviously, because you don't have a lot of room, and you certainly don't need to explain everything, but I do think you've got room enough to get a bit more specific here. What are the three tasks? Or at the very least, what is the first one? Who are the other contestants? Or at the least, who is the worst of them (you don't necessarily have to name the character)?
I'm very concerned about this. First of all, Fantasy novels are almost never this short. With the world building required, telling a story in a fantasy world almost always takes longer than this. If you check the submission guidelines of most Fantasy imprints (or at least those that accept unagented submissions, like Pyr, you'll see they don't even accept manuscripts under 85,000 words in length).
Don't let that discourage you though. You could call this a novella. Or you could make Ebony younger and call it Young Adult Fantasy. All I'm saying is you need to know your market, and make your query show that you do.
My published works have been accepted by everydaypoets.com, fiction365.com, Pill Hill Press, and my local college’s Expression Magazine. I recently graduated with my BA in English from the University of Wyoming.
Thank you for your time,
In summary, except for the very beginning and the very end, this query is actually quite good. You need to lead with more sense of character, and you need to close with more specifics, but otherwise you're in pretty good shape.
The word count thing isn't really meat-of-the-query type stuff, so I won't harp on it any more, but I do think you should consider changing your character's name (and maybe age). In a Fantasy novel, Ebony Graves just sounds a little too cliche for me.
What do you all think?