Saturday, February 6, 2016

#275

Dear Query Shark,

Blind Trust (fact-based fiction) is complete at 83,000 words.

Right from the start my eyes are rolling. "Fact based fiction" is a HUGE red flag. Limiting your story to what really happened is a choke chain on creativity. If you want to write something factual, it's called narrative non-fiction. If you want to write fiction, don't let facts get in the way. (Of course, you can't make it unbelievable either--that's the art of writing)


There were all those questions from Arthur… damn him and his questions! Life was grand for Ted and Ellen Rivers before their forty year old daughter brought home her latest husband, Arthur Ferguson. Arthur’s ambitious inquisition threatens to upset the family’s blueprint for success. They had more money than they knew what to do with... and they had Max Custer. Ted and Ellen were intoxicated by Max’s astonishing brilliance. He was awash in red carpet clients and espoused that he and his global staff of experts could insure their newly found prosperity would keep the whole family well off for generations to come.

The first two sentences are in the wrong order. Unless we know who Arthur is, the first sentence doesn't make much sense. You're also awash in words here: Ted and Ellen's daughter brings home a new husband who says he can keep them rich for generations to come. Your paragraph has 103 words; my sentence has 20 and is easier to understand.


Arthur dares to challenge the sophisticated professional. He obviously doesn’t appreciate that Max is the expert. Surely, Max must have been an altar boy or maybe even a boy scout before he became an international finance wizard. Arthur claimed to be an accountant, but was for some nebulous reason between jobs. The innocent but colorful lives of Ted and Ellen Rivers are changed forever when Arthur launches his own investigation to expose Max Custer’s skeletons.

At this point I"m too confused to keep reading. I have no idea who the main character is. I have no idea what's at stake. I have no sense of where or when the story takes place.

Countless unsuspecting victims have been similarly duped. A writer friend of mine was also seduced by one of these financial experts. The proceeds from her best seller vanished. Suddenly she was broke. She described it as being mugged, or even T-boned, but was too ashamed to write the story. This eye opening revelation should appeal to a broad audience, because nearly everybody knows somebody that has experienced a similar humiliation.

None of that belongs in a query for a novel.

This is Ted and Ellen’s story; a dramatized version of actual events. I personally researched every intimate detail of the ominous scheme Max hatched. In fact, I was there. Names were changed, but actual documents and much of the ostentatious verbiage and techniques that were used by Max (and his “global staff of experts”) is included. Ted and Ellen were from another generation and had more fight and resilience than anyone expected. While not victorious, they were not entirely defeated either.

It sounds like you're writing an expose here, not a novel. I see this a lot from people (and friends of people) who have been victimized by some scurrilous ne'er do well.

What you're forgetting is that the story must come first. Accuracy in relating events and dialogue is not something I give a whit about in novels. I care about plot and story.


Blind Trust is rife with events and details so bizarre it is sometimes hard to believe they are really true.

You know that truism "truth is stranger than fiction?" There's a reason it's a truism, and this is it. What you don't realize is this is NOT a selling point for a novel. When I read a novel I want to believe it's true, not think it isn't. That's why you get to make stuff up: so it sounds authentic.

I realize this seems odd, particularly to people enamoured of facts and truth, but often the things that sound most authentic and illuminate points of darkness are in fact made up.


After returning from Vietnam, I earned a B.S. in Business Administration and have had an extensive career in corporate and forensic accounting. I have been published in the Birmingham Business Journal, The Smoking Poet and CJ’s Writer’s Blog. I live in Wisconsin with my wife and two dogs in our ongoing 1890 farmhouse restoration.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

This is a mess. Are you sure you read the QueryShark archives?

Who is the main character? What does s/he want? What's keeping him from getting it?
If you are intent on telling this story as a warning to others, you might think about a different form. Murder mysteries are seldom seen as warnings not to be killed.

Dupe novels seldom keep people from being duped.

If you want to write a story using these events as your inspiration, don't stay wedded to the facts. It's fiction, you get to make it all up.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

#274

Dear Query Shark,

(1) I don’t know if I can save her. I’m not sure I can save myself. I have failed so many times.My friends, my family, they all had a chance to live but I was never fast enough, never strong enough.

Because you've started with "I", my impression is you are talking about yourself.  This sounds like a memoir.

(2) Now they're gone, taken from me, their lives no longer bound to this dying land. Yet I remain, why, for what? To fulfill some Prophecy spoken four-thousand seasons ago.

Now it sounds like a memoir with religious overtones. This is where I stop reading. Two paragraphs and eight sentences. You're done.

This is a textbook illustration of why you do not write a query in the voice of your character. It's confusing. And when I am confused, I stop reading. I don't stop to try to figure it out. I don't skim past this to see what comes next. I stop reading, and go on to the next query. You'd get a form rejection from me; you'll get a vast silence from agents who practice No Response Means No.

(3) The Ancients couldn't possibly know me, or what I’ve been through, if they did they would’ve asked someone else to save the world.

When you revise this, you should consider starting at (3). Use the character's name instead of "me" and "I".  I like the phrase "if they did, they would have asked someone else to save the world."  That sentence snags my attention. I'm interested to see why someone else should have been asked to save the world.  (Too bad I wouldn't see it with this version of course)

Blackwater was a Key Master. Being blessed with the power to fashion magical keys, Blackwater could conjure Keyways, to travel from place to place in the blink of an eye. All the Key Masters that traversed the vast land of Taurian, have been hunted down and killed, their craft falling into myth and legend, yet Blackwater, the last Key Master, still lives.


You've got a lot of words here to say some pretty simple things: Blackwater can travel from place to place in the blink of an eye because he's a Key Master. The last Key Master; all the others have been hunted down and killed.

See the difference? You don't need all this information in the query. I'm going to assume that most of the backstory, and world building, will happen in the novel. Right now I'm keen to see whether you've got a plot, and whether the writing is taut.

Also, most queries are written in present tense even if the novel is not. Present tense gives you a boost of energy and verve here:  Blackwater IS a Key Master.

Aida cannot remember her name, nor where she comes from, or how she came to be with child. Confused and afraid, she stumbles into Blackwater’s forest. Aida is taken by the Taenarians who wish to steal the magic her child carries. Blackwater must now choose whether to use his Key Magic to rescue her, or watch another innocent lose their life because he did nothing to prevent it. Traveling into the depths of Taenaria, Blackwater seeks to rescue Aida, whose womb carries the essence of rebirth and the key to saving this dying world.

oh yuck yuck yuck. Here is where I lose interest very quickly. We've gone from something that looked appealing "wrong choice to saving the world" to saving some sort of fecund damsel in distress. (I'm really over the whole damsel in distress thing, but that's probably just me)

You've set up Blackwater's choice but there's nothing at stake. He saves her and what bad thing happens to him? He doesn't save her, and what worse thing will happen? Unless Blackwater has skin in the game, it's just a series of events with no tension.

Even without the problems in (1) and (2) I'd say no to this query because there's no sense of what's at stake. 

Also notice you dropped those evil Taenarians in without any explanation, and those poor doddering Ancients from (3) have disappeared.

If you think of a query as a piece of flash fiction it might help.  It has to hold together as a complete entity. You don't have to spell everything out (your reader will intuit things) but the query needs to be seamless. Mentioning a character only once leaves a gap. Seamless = no gaps.

The Key Masters Chronicles: Book I, The Last Key Master, complete at 111,843 words, is commercial fiction.

It's not commercial fiction; it's SFF.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The first thing to do is make sure your novel has something at stake. Even if you fix the query letter, it won't do you any good to send me a novel with nothing at stake. What's at stake for Blackwater needs to be clear in the first 20 pages or so. Generally I'll give a requested full about 50 pages to hook me, but you really want that to happen as soon as possible.

Once you've got the novel in shape, revise the query to remove the character's POV, and tighten up the paragraphs. Use present tense.



Saturday, January 16, 2016

#273


 When writing the query I had realized there was no possible way to write a succinct summary for so many timelines and character lines for (what I thought) was a finished 190,000 word novel. then, BAM, I realized, holy crap!

 Easily understood afterwards, of course, but, once I separated the timelines and characters, splitting and parsing it between seven (future) books to force it under the 100,000 limit- It all made sense.

 Hindsight is a dork we all know. But it took the Query Shark and many edits to realize what I had to do. Thank you for that. 
Dear Query Shark:

A seasoned captain. A passionate coman. Their duties performed from necessity, their choices from personality.

This doesn't tell me anything. It's the portentous voiceover in a movie trailer or the tag line on a book cover.


It doesn't serve any purpose in a query and worse, with coman, it's confusing. I don't have a clue what coman means. It sounds like a furry creature in a forest, maybe kin to a koala.

What appears to them in the languishing days of mineral extraction will test a captain's resolve for stability. It will test a coman's choices of personal humility.
And this is more of the same. Except now I'm thinking the coman is perhaps a robot of some kind?




 Prematurely set back towards Earth, Captain Quanta Strohm Lathif, a dutiful and proud veteran of Our World's Pride Fleet, and Coman Whittman Stahl, the captain's energetic subordinate, the crew of ship Yarppah bring with them an unfilled minera hull; three less baybots; Myryan, a first contact species, who has succumbed to his wounds in their botbay, and his trailing Avayrian ship bouncing off their tail.
There are 65words in this sentence. If you can speak them aloud without drawing breath, I'd think you're part fish. A sentence in a query should be fewer than 20 words as a general guideline--you should be able to say the whole sentence in one breath. Short form work like query letters benefit from succinct sentences.


In addition you have FIVE named characters in ONE sentence. The CAPS here are to emphasize this is too many. (The five are: Captain QSL, Coman WS; the ship; the first contact alien, his ship)


You've already told us Captain QSL is a "seasoned veteran". You don't need to repeat it. Do we need to know the name of the fleet? Do we need to know the name of the ship? (Hint: no)


You've got words I don't recognize: minara; baybot, botbay. Obviously in science fiction you'll have new words but it's really helpful if you keep those to a minimum in the query letter cause you don't have room to provide much context. And baybot/botbay is just begging for confusion in the novel, let alone the query.

In SF (and historical fiction) novels (let alone queries) you want to make double dog sure your prose is as lean as possible. Include only that which is absolutely necessary because you've got to save room for all the world-building, and providing context so your reader can intuit what botbay, baybot and minara means.

I sort of get the idea here: there's ship coming home with aliens on board.  The only thing I'm wondering about is why they're coming home early (a question you don't address at all.)


 On Earth, Jerrison Glanders, an appointed OWP Watcher under the Minders, languishes day to day in his office. As sudden as his coffee turns over on his desk and spills to the floor, his demeaning minute by minute transtanking of OWP's captains peaks and emulsifies from his life's journey into becoming a Watcher and the personal change he must now follow.
I literally do not understand what "his demeaning minute by minute transtanking of OWP's captains peaks and emulsifies from his life's journey into becoming a Watcher and the personal change he must now follow." means. This is death in a query. If I'm skimming along and I don't understand a sentence, I assume I was reading too quickly. I go back to the start of the paragraph and read again slowly. If I don't get it the second time, I'll look for things like a missing word, a misspelling, some sort of error that will allow me to figure out the sentence. If I come up empty on the third time  I stop reading.

In addition we now have two more names (Glanders, Minders) to remember. This makes seven. That's four if not five too many.
 

 Looking for change and leniency of both himself and those captains, Mr. Glanders sets out for a deal of reciprocity beginning an off Earth search for the scheming clandestine habitual needs of Senior Watcher R. M. Fahreel, who's multi-world rock collection is as pertinent and bonded to his personality as a rattle and blanket is to a child.

And there's eight. 
And bonded to his personality doesn't make sense. A good metaphor illuminates something, it doesn't make me try to figure out how you can bond something to an abstract concept.

 It is still a pang upon my gritted teeth to dispel and distill within this query letter from moving beyond a single page and flagrantly slipping into the entirety of a second novel.

This sentence is gibberish.  I hope you can see that when you look at it again. 


 My science fiction novel, CASIMIR LURE, lies in a future where there is no dystopia, only the political and scientific push that we as a species look to attain. The novel is completed (foil your prime limits) at 95,000 words. the first book of a six novel series, THE CASIMIR EFFECT, is in the works for continued enticement with an additional 130,000 words of story and additional character development within.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

I've read some long SF novels in my day. I've even requested fulls for novels that clocked in at 190K. I'm not intimidated by length and (given the length of City on Fire by Garth Risk Halberg, a BEA Book buzz novel in 2015) I'm confident long novels are making a comeback.

The problem here is not the length. The problem is I don't understand what you're talking about. I don't have any idea of what problem the captain faces. I don't understand who the main character is, or, if there are multiple focal characters,  what the precipitating incident is. 
Charles Dickens is the master of long-ass novels with multiple focal characters. If you consider Bleak House as an example, Dickens sets the reader down in London, and then describes the lawsuit that is the precipitating incident for the novel:

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.


So, yes, it's entirely possible to have a long-ass book described in 221 well-chosen, elegant words.  And if you say scoff and say "yea, well that's Dickens!" all I say to you is: that's exactly what you want to aim for.

And if you're thinking it can't be done in this day and age, and in your specific category, well, here's Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

The precipitating incident: trouble is brewing, the cold is returning. There's not a lot of specifics here but you get the sense of the novel: it's a grand adventure.   And notice: only ONE made up word: wildling, but the reader can easily intuit they are wild beasts/men/creatures of some sort.


As your query stands right now it would be rejected after the second paragraph but even if you polish this up, I worry about the novel. Remember, the purpose of a query is to entice me to read the novel.  A perfect query, with pages that go splat isn't any more useful to you than a bad query.

Time to get some outside eyeballs on the manuscript. A good crit group or beta reader is probably the best next step rather than simply revising and resending the query. 




Friday, November 6, 2015

CrimeBake 2015 Effective Queries Workshop

 

Effective Query Letters
11/6/15



1A query letter is a business letter
The purpose is two-fold
            1a Entice the agent to read your pages/request the full manuscript
            1b Demonstrate you are not an asshat.**


What this means:
            1c Don't speak of yourself in third person, state the obvious, try to be witty.

            NO: Felix Buttonweezer has published three novels, and learned how to kill people at CrimeBake 2015.

            YES: I've published three novels and attended your class on query letters at CrimeBake


            NO: I'm writing today to introduce you to my novel
            NO: I'm writing to ask you to review my novel

            NO: Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya and I've got a novel you're going to die for.
            NO: Your website says you are looking for homoerotic haiku. Boy have a I got a book for you.

            YES: Jack Reacher found himself in hot water once again.



Take away: Starting with the name of your protagonist and the problem s/he faces is a good start to an effective query.


**an example of author asshat: "I'd like for you to sell me on why I should retain your services as a literary agent."



2.  A query letter requires "show don't tell" exactly like your novel
            Example: "My novel is funny" is less effective than actually being funny on the page.

NO:  THE SONG OF THE KALE LEAF is beautifully written, with a strong distinct voice, and characters that come alive on the page. It explores themes of being green in a colorless world.

(The reason you think this is the right way to go is you often hear "write like a dust jacket" but that's not good advice.)

YES: Elizabeth George has a ready smile and eyes that miss nothing.  You might mistake her for harmless, until you read her books.

NO: KILLING FLOOR explores themes of alienation, democracy and familial bonds.

YES: Jack Reacher was enjoying his seventeenth cup of diner coffee when the SWAT team in Margrave, Georgia rolled up to arrest his ass.

Take away: The less abstract your query the better.

 



3.  A query letter MUST tell an agent what the book is about 
            3a  Who is the main character?
            3b  What does he want?
            3c  What is keeping him from getting what he wants?
            3d  What must he sacrifice to get what she wants?


Example:
            3a Jack Reacher
            3b wants to see the grave of an old, almost forgotten blues musician
            3c when he is suddenly, inexplicably arrested for a murder he could not have committed.
            3d When the guy behind the false arrest is also killed, Reacher can stay in town, at great peril to himself, to solve the case or he can leave shake the dust of this crazy town off his sneakers and get on with his wandering.



How to convey what the book is about:

            3e The main character must decide whether to: do THIS or do THAT

            3f If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:

            3g If s/he decides NOT to do this:  the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:

Example:
            3e Katniss Everdeen must decide whether to take her younger sister's place when she is called to be their district's entry in the Hunger Games.

            3f If she goes in her sister's place, her family will suffer because Katniss' hunting skills are what keeps them from starving now;

            3g If she decides not to go, her sister will surely die in the Games.


Notice: no backstory. Your reader will jump right in to the story with you.


This is not intended to show the exact wording you use in a query, but will help you distill your plot to the essentials. You need the essentials of Act One, not a rundown of the entire plot.

Take away: A query is not a synopsis[i].



4.  If you're having trouble getting a query to work within these parameters:

      4a  Write a LOT of words, then pare down.

       4b  Write a query for a novel you love that you didn't write (sometimes it's easier to practice on other books)

     4c Write your crit partner's query/have her write yours.

     4d  Write one sentence paragraphs with WHO WHAT WHY THEN

            WHO: Jack Reacher
            WHAT: got arrested
            WHY: cause they needed a fall guy for a murder
            THEN: there was a second murder (and he couldn't have done that one either)


     4e Break all the rules but do it in a way that is utterly compelling (notice this is not the FIRST option!)

Example:

One week ago, Claire's cousin Dinah slit her wrists.

Five days ago, Claire found Dinah's diary and discovered why.

Three days ago, Claire stopped crying and came up with a plan.

Two days ago, she ditched her piercings and bleached the black dye from her hair.

Yesterday, knee socks and uniform plaid became a predator's camouflage.

Today, she'll find the boy who broke Dinah.

By tomorrow, he'll wish he was dead.

Premeditated is a 60,000 word contemporary YA novel. Chapters or a synopsis are available on request. (PREMEDITATED by Josin McQuein)


        4f  These are guidelines, not a template. Change up. Start with the antagonist. (notice this is the LAST option)

In each of these cases, this isn't what your query will say, but it will help you get the right elements on the page.

Take away: Authors often ask me "is it ok to (do X).  The only answer to that question is "Does it work?" Does it entice the reader/agent to ask for pages?  If it does, do it. If it doesn't, don't. That includes ALL the "how to" in this workshop.

Beware: you need to know the rules, so you know when you're breaking them


If it just isn't working: Writing a query letter can help you find major problems in your book.





5.  A query letter should include
            word count 
            title (and just pick one, no need to have "working title" mentioned)
            any publishing credits you have [Don't have pub credits? Don't worry, and don't reach]            

(the novel has to be finished.  You don't have to say it is but just know it)


6.  A query letter must avoid several instant-rejection phrases such as
            fiction novel
            sure fire best seller
            including ideas or art for the cover
            film potential
            "dear agent"/"dear sir or madam"



7.  Things to avoid in query letters

            7a Wrong tone
                        Don't beg  "please read my query"
                        Don't flatter  "I know you're very busy"
                        Don't demean yourself  "I'm just an unpublished writer with big dreams"

            7b Wrong comps
                        Don't quote rejection letters  "Jenny Bent loved this but she was too busy"
                        Don't quote critique groups, friends, paid editors or conference contacts

            7c Wrong style
                        Don't ask rhetorical questions "What if you were stranded on a desert island with an unpublished writer?"

                        Writing in your character's persona "I'm a serial killer. I like to target literary agents."

Take away: there are some rules you really shouldn't break, even for style or verve.
           




8.  Most common format error in electronic queries: 
   Contact info at the top in "standard business letter format"

            Put your contact info at the bottom.[ii]  Standard business letter form is DIFFERENT  for electronic queries.

Take away: "this is the way I was taught" is not a reason to do it wrong. Correct style has changed to accommodate the electronic world. Keep up.











9.  Second most common format error: Big Blocs o'Text
 
You get big blocks of text when you cut and paste from word docs.[iii]

This is a good query. I signed the author.  This format makes it very hard to read.



When failed salesman Johnny Wolfe encounters a dying dog in the street while walking to work one morning, he suspects there’s a sense of the wild returning to the city.  When the dog kills one of Johnny’s rival salesmen, his suspicions are confirmed.   Wolf is a 78,000 word noir thriller.  Based upon your interest in suspense, and the off-beat humor you exhibit on your blog, I thought you might enjoy reading and representing the novel for publication.
Wolf traces two days in the life of Johnny Wolfe, a man mired in loss – the loss of his childhood pet, the failure of his marriage, and the end of a once prosperous career selling surveillance and security equipment.  He yearns to get his life back on track, and when he finds a $1.2million sales order on his colleague’s now dead body, he figures this deal could be the answer.  
Except what is the product that is being sold?  Why doesn’t it show up in any of the company sales catalogs?  And what does this product have to do with the sudden return of dogs to the city?  Or are they really dogs, and why is it that the people in Johnny’s life all smell so much like they’re out to get him?  Wolf is a boy and his dog story, except that the boy has grown into a hapless salesman and the dogs are all werewolves.
I am a first time novelist who’s worked in sales for a lifetime.  I am also a dog enthusiast.  I’ve published various pieces in local newspapers and have won an Emmy for video editing. 
Thanks for reading these pages of Wolf.   You seem interested in suspense with a unique bent, and that’s what I’m going for in Wolf.  I hope you enjoy.
 








10. Correct form for an electronic query for FICTION



Subj: QUERY-Title by Author



Dear (Name of Agent)


FIRST: 100 word paragraph answering the question "what is this book about?"
Have a line break every three lines  Big blocks of text are hard to read


SECOND: Your writing credits and bio.

THIRD: Genre/word count. Maybe even title if it fits better here.[iv]

FOUR: Any kind words;  how you found me; why you picked me to query.


Closing:  Thank you for your time and consideration


Your name
your email
your telephone
Your website
Your blog
Your twitter name
Your facebook page[v]

Your physical address



You don't need all these social media avenues.  
            List the ones you want agents to see.
            Clean up your web presence!

There should be no live links in a query.[vi]





11. Here's how the previous example should look in EMAIL (notice the lines break more often than every paragraph)[vii]


(1)When failed salesman Johnny Wolfe encounters a dying dog in the street while walking to work one morning, he suspects there’s a sense of the wild returning to the city.  When the dog kills one of Johnny’s rival salesmen, his suspicions are confirmed.  

Wolf is a 78,000 word noir thriller.  Based upon your interest in suspense, and the off-beat humor you exhibit on your blog, I thought you might enjoy reading and representing the novel for publication.

(2)Wolf traces two days in the life of Johnny Wolfe, a man mired in loss – the loss of his childhood pet, the failure of his marriage, and the end of a once prosperous career selling surveillance and security equipment.

 He yearns to get his life back on track, and when he finds a $1.2million sales order on his colleague’s now dead body, he figures this deal could be the answer.
 
(3)Except what is the product that is being sold?  Why doesn’t it show up in any of the company sales catalogs?  And what does this product have to do with the sudden return of dogs to the city? 

Or are they really dogs, and why is it that the people in Johnny’s life all smell so much like they’re out to get him?  Wolf is a boy and his dog story, except that the boy has grown into a hapless salesman and the dogs are all werewolves.

(4)I am a first time novelist who’s worked in sales for a lifetime.  I am also a dog enthusiast.  I’ve published various pieces in local newspapers and have won an Emmy for video editing.

(5)Thanks for reading these pages of Wolf.   You seem interested in suspense with a unique bent, and that’s what I’m going for in Wolf.  I hope you enjoy. 













12. Extra hints

            Don't offer exclusives

            Don't attach anything unless the agent's specific guidelines say to do so.

            Don't engage your spam filter or auto responder

            Don't be afraid to sound stark[viii]. Most query letters are verbose. Make your point then             stop.

            Avoid sweeping statements. Be as specific as possible with every single word

            Don't cut and paste.  Type a master email and duplicate it.






13. When to hit SEND

            Expect to spend two months writing a good solid query letter.

             You've sent it to test readers and asked "is this a novel or a memoir" and they answered correctly.

             You've sent it to test readers to check for format problems.

             You've sent it to beta readers and asked "would you want to read this?"



14.  After you hit SEND

            Expect to hear no. A lot. Or nothing, even more.

            Have a query tracking system in place so you know who/what/when/where.


Remember: the vast swaths of silence from "no response means no" is often NOT a comment on your query.



15. What To Do When You Realize You've Messed Up: Start Over and Do Better

     15a Making a mistake is better than doing nothing

     15b These are the only mistakes you can't recover from;
            1. spamming the agent (multiple queries sent too often)
            2. scaring the agent (too personal, too angry)
            3. telephoning my office
            4. denigrating my clients ("all thrillers today are crap")
            5. Lies ("I have an offer of rep" when you don't)

These are not the mistakes made by a writer who has invested in attending a conference and paying attention to how things work.  Your mistakes will be things like homonyms.


     15c  There is no black list
    
     15d You can requery when you've revised and improved, but you'll need to wait awhile, and you can only do this once.

     15 e    Errors are better than inaction.

     15f  I've signed authors who sent me really bad queries.




Takeaway: Write a novel I can't wait to tell people about and you'll be just fine.






16.  Bonus Content: Ten Red Flags in ANY Query


1. The first sentence has more than 25 words.

2. The first sentence has more than two clauses.

3. The author refers to himself/herself by name (rather than "I")

4. The bio section refers to a recent retirement that now allows time to write.

5. The phrase "film potential" is present.

6. The words "beta readers" are present.

7. The words "why this book will be successful" appear in the query

8. The phrase "my name is"** appears

9. Love for the written word is professed.

10. Instructions for pronunciation of any name is included




17.  Bonus Content: What  you need BEFORE you query


                                                Fiction                        Memoir            Non-fiction
permission to query                        NO                        NO                        NO

check with agent on topic              NO                         NO                        NO

query letter                                    YES                        YES                        YES

website*                                         Yes                        Yes                        Yes

dedicated email[ix]                        Yes                        Yes                        Yes

word count                                    Yes                        Yes                        No

finished project                            Yes                        Yes                        No

proposal                                        No                        No                         Yes

platform/established presence       No                        No                        Yes

blurbs                                             No                        No                        No

Marketing strategy                        No                        Yes                        Yes

Answer to the question:                 No                        Yes                        Yes
"Why I wrote this book"

comparison books                        No                        Yes                        Yes
"how is this book different
from others in this category"


*what counts as a website?
            Blog=yes 
            Twitter=no 
            Facebook=no 
            Myspace=no 
            LinkedIn=no

A blog and website can be seen by anyone who wants to reach you

Anything that  can only be seen by "members" does not count.

It's important there be NO barrier between your contact info and the person who wants to reach you














Workshop presenter

Janet Reid is a literary agent at FinePrint Literary Management in New York City.  She keeps a blog at JetReidLiterary.blogspot.com that answers questions from writers and allows her to rant on things that drive her crazy in publishing and reasons she loves her job and the city.


She also runs [x]QueryShark.blogspot.com a blog that critiques queries sent to the Shark by writers.  To submit a query click on the link "how to submit a query to the shark."  It's all volunteer.


Her Facebook page is Janet Reid, Literary Agent.


Her clients include New York Times bestselling Patrick Lee (The Breach series and RUNNER); Jeff Somers (WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE);  Laird Barron, the multiple award winning author of most recently THE BEAUTIFUL THING THAT AWAITS US ALL; Steve Ulfelder; Cornelia Read;  Dana Haynes; Lee Goodman; Terry Shames; Mike Cooper and Phillip DePoy.


Her list is largely crime novels and thrillers, and narrative non-fiction in history and biography.
She is a member of AAR, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Association of American Historians, the Civil War Roundtable of NYC, the Women's' National Book Association (NYC chapter), Biographers International Organization, and the Authors Guild.


She lives in Brooklyn and is tormenting herself by painting her apartment. Yes, 27 color samples later, it's almost done.



[i] A query is not a synopsis.
[ii] Put your contact info at the bottom.
[iii] You get big blocks of text when you cut and paste from word docs.
[iv] Put the housekeeping info after the story info
[v] You don't need ALL these social media touch points
[vi] No live links in a query
[vii] the lines break more often than every paragraph
[viii] Don't be afraid to sound stark
[ix] Email just for your author/writer work. It should be your name.
[x] QueryShark.blogspot com has 260+ entries designed to help you revise your query to be more effective

Saturday, October 31, 2015

#272-Revised 1x

Revision #1
 
-->
Dear QueryShark,

Drew Nolan knew cooperation could make his life easier, but only if he betrayed everything that mattered to him.  Day after day, he entered an interrogation room and faced Ceked Mirko.  Day after day he sparred, verbally and mentally, with that cold, arrogant bastard.  Then the interrogations got worse, then the torture began.  How long could he, or his shipmates, hold out?

Drew Had visited a dozen star systems as a young officer, but nothing prepared him for the bitter reality of Kasdech.  He knew the cramped confines of starships, not the mud of planets.  Yet, after the Kasdech attack, that is exactly where he finds himself; locked in a frozen prison camp beside his fellow survivors.
At this point, we don't know anything more about the plot than we did after the first sentence. You're giving us backstory and set up. Get to what's at stake here!

War between Kasdech and Earth is coming, and Mirko knows it.  Interrogation is his business, and he will stop at nothing to extract the information his superiors require.  Drew has learned much in war, but one lesson stands above the rest: you take care of your crew.  He isn’t ready for command—he is too young, too unproven—but his crew needs him, he is all they have left.
This still isn't plot. What's going to happen? War? Ok. What's at stake? What bad thing will happen to Drew if he betrays everything that matters to him? What worse thing will happen if he doesn't?


In the camp, under Mirko’s ungentle hands, is only suffering and misery.  In escape is the smallest hint of hope, the tiny chance to save this crew and bring home a warning.  Even if escape’s likeliest outcome is death, some things are worth dying for.
We still don't have a sense of the plot here at all.


THE VOLGA INCIDENT is science fiction, complete at 120,000 words, and is my first novel.

Thank you for you time and consideration

There's a formula for getting the basics of your plot written down. 

I copied this from my handout on effective query letters that I've posted a couple times:


3.  A query letter MUST tell an agent what the book is about 
            3a  Who is the main character?
            3b  What does he want?
            3c  What is keeping him from getting what he wants?
            3d  What must he sacrifice to get what she wants?
Example:
            3a Jack Reacher
            3b wants to see the grave of an old, almost forgotten blues musician
            3c when he is suddenly, inexplicably arrested for a murder he could not have committed.
            3d When the guy behind the false arrest is also killed, Reacher can stay in town, at great peril to himself, to solve the case or he can leave shake the dust of this crazy town off his sneakers and get on with his wandering.
How to convey what the book is about:

            3e The main character must decide whether to: do THIS or do THAT

            3f If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:

            3g If s/he decides NOT to do this:  the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:

Example:
            3e Katniss Everdeen must decide whether to take her younger sister's place when she is called to be their district's entry in the Hunger Games.

            3f If she goes in her sister's place, her family will suffer because Katniss' hunting skills are what keeps them from starving now;

            3g If she decides not to go, her sister will surely die in the Games.

Notice: no backstory. Your reader will jump right in to the story with you.
This is not intended to show the exact wording you use in a query, but will help you distill your plot to the essentials. You need the essentials of Act One, not a rundown of the entire plot.

 You're going backwards here.
the first query was actually more effective than this one.
That kind of thing can happen. Don't let it damage your confidence.
Just look at the original query again, and use the good parts (there were a lot) and improve the parts that need it. 

Revise/resend.

Dear QueryShark:

Drew Nolan knew cooperation could make his life easier, but only if he betrayed everything that mattered to him. Day after day he entered an interrogation room and faced Ceked Mirko. Day after day he sparred, verbally and mentally, with that cold, ruthless bastard. Then the interrogations got worse, then the torture began. How long could he, or his shipmates, hold out?

This paragraph does something quite amazing: it uses my own assumptions to surprise me. The first four sentences allow me to assume that Drew Nolan is conducting the interrogation. I'm used to the good guy being the one in charge in an interrogation room (one too many crime novels!)  Yes, that first line gives us a clue, but it's not until the last line that I thought "oh! Ceked Mirko is the one running the show."

This is a Really Good Thing to do in a query because it engages my interest from the get-go.
I'm keen to read on and find out what's happening here.

Drew had come to Kasdech a rising young naval officer on a simple first contact mission. Over the course of twenty-four hours he had seen his captain killed, his ship destroyed, and his few fellow survivors locked beside him in a frozen prison camp. He wasn’t ready to be in command—he was too young, too unproven—but his crew needed him, he was all they had left. Drew had learned much in war, and one lesson stood above all else: you took care of your crew.


Ok, so we get the larger picture of what's going on here.

Mirko would will stop at nothing to break the prisoners, he he's proven that, and Drew refused refuses to let that happen. In the camp, under MIrko’s Mirko's ungentle hands, lay only suffering and misery. In escape lay the smallest hint of hope, the tiny chance to get his men home. Even if escape’s likeliest end was death, some things were worth dying for.

You've gone from what's happened before to what's going to unfold in the novel. Change from past tense to reflect that, as per the first sentence mark up.

Why Mirko is trying to "break the prisoners."  They're in a prison camp, so my expectation is simply that they're being held prisoner.  This interrogation and "breaking" leads me to think something more is at stake. You say "cooperation will make things easier" in paragraph one. Spelling out what this cooperation is would be a good idea.


THE VOLGA INCIDENT is military science fiction, complete at 120,000 words, and is my first novel.

I don't get much sense of the science fiction angle here other than the names, "first contact" and "his ship." I'm not suggesting you drown the query in world building at all, but some hints would be good.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

As it stands right now, I'd probably read the pages. The pages will need to drop us right smack dab in to the middle of something happening, and give us a sense of the world these people are inhabiting very soon.


Polish up, resend. You're almost there.