Thursday, April 24, 2008

#14, 2 revisions

Dear Mr. (not exactly)


Archaeologist Erin Matthews wonders if the ancient documents prove the story of the crucifixion has flaws. Members of her team are sweaty, smelly, and dirty. They’ve just unearthed another clay jar filled with mysterious parchments. Translations show they are between members of the same family.

A paragraph needs to flow in logical order. You've got the documents before the discovery. Here's the order: Erin Matthews team of sweaty smelly dirty archaeologists just unearthed another clay jar filled with mysterious parchments. Erin wonders if they prove the story of the crucifixion has flaws. Translations show...etc.

The Sons of Light, a religious sect, follow the team and learn about the discovery. Two thousand years ago, they dedicated their lives to protect the secret of the parchments. Chased, shot at, even kidnapped, the team is determined to continue their research. A final bloody attack forces Erin to make a choice. Should she continue to risk the lives of her team or give up the chance to expose a 2000-year old secret?

Well, let's not pick nits here, but 200o years ago, Jesus wasn't dead. He was nine years old. I know I know, it's nit picky, but yes, I'm persnickety about detail.

Now about these Sons of Light guys. Who are they? Jews? Early Christians? Aliens? Unless you're writing science fiction, you have to ground your story in historical fact. You can spin a yarn from those facts, but you have to start with fact.



If the story in the letters is true, it was Joseph, brother of Jesus, who was crucified in his place!

Um, wasn't it James who was the brother of Jesus, and Joseph was his father?

THE LAST SECRET is a 97,000-word thriller. I have enclosed my synopsis and sample chapters as per your web site.

Thriller? This is revisionist religious history. What are the stakes? Who cares? I'm guessing His Holiness Pope Benedict for starters, and maybe the entire Catholic Church not to mention the Greek Orthodox and most Protestants (except the Unitarians of course) but your job here is to tell me who the players are in your story.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

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Revision

Members of Archaeologist Erin Matthews team are sweaty, smelly, and dirty. They’ve just unearthed another clay jar filled with mysterious parchments. Translations show they are between members of the same family. Erin wonders if the ancient documents prove the story of the crucifixion has flaws.

Archaeologist isn't a name, it's a job. No cap. Is the most important thing about the team that they are sweaty smelly and dirty? It's not unusual that a dig team would be ss&d is it?

The Sons of Light, a religious sect, follow the team and learn about the discovery. Almost two thousand years ago, they dedicated their lives to protect the secret of the parchments. Chased, shot at, even kidnapped, the team is determined to continue their research. A final bloody attack forces Erin to make a choice. Should she continue to risk the lives of her team or give up the chance to expose a 2000-year old secret?



If the story in the letters is true, it was Joseph, a little known brother of Jesus, who was crucified in his place!


This kind of story is pretty old hat. I'd be much more interested in what happened AFTER Erin authenticates the parchment and the divinity of Jesus and all that other stuff is now called into doubt. I mean think about it, Pat Robertson would have to get a real job!

The problem with this is that non Christians, or the non-pious don't give a fig, and devout Christians won't read it cause it's blasphemous. Who's your audience here?


THE LAST SECRET is a 97,000-word thriller.

Thank you for your consideration.
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Revision #2


Dear Query Shark

Erin Matthews has had archaeology in her blood since she was a little girl. Her grandfather enticed her into the field with his stories of exotic places and amazing discoveries. Now, a noted archaeologist herself, Erin is leading a group at a dig on a tiny Greek Island. The team is exhausted, but exuberant, having unearthed another ancient clay jar filled with mysterious parchments. Preliminary translations simultaneously excite and frighten Erin. They suggest the story of the crucifixion has serious flaws.

The Sons of Light, a Judeo-Christian sect, has been following Erin and her team and learn about their discoveries. Almost two thousand years ago, members of the sect dedicated their lives to protect the secret of the parchments. Chased, shot at, even kidnapped, the team is determined to continue their research. A final bloody attack forces Erin to rethink her options. Should she continue risking the lives of her team to achieve her own fame and notoriety or give up the opportunity to expose the explosive 2000-year old secret? If the story in the letters is true, it was Joseph, a little known brother of Jesus, who was crucified in his place.

THE LAST SECRET is a 97,000-word thriller.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,


you got it!

18 comments:

Jamie Hall said...

Having seen an earlier version of this (months ago?) on the Absolute Write message board, I know this current version is an improvement.

Ken said...

I'm not sure if you expect me to comment on your comments, but I will. First, your suggestion regarding the order of my first paragraph is well taken. Second, right, don't nit pick, would you have been happier if I had said 1,963 years ago?, Third, I do call the Sons Of Light a religious sect. If that brings to mind aliens, I guess that's just your thing. They can't be Christians, too early for that. So, they have to be Jews, early followers. Fourth, even a simple Google search on 'brothers of Jesus', will reveal he had four brothers ( any perhaps one sister). This is from biblical references. One of his brothers was, in fact, Joseph. Fifth, I believe I have exposed the main characters in my query letter. I have been told that the query should only be long enough and 'grabbing' enough to get the agent to read the synopsis. Finally, I am having a little difficulty deciding the genre, but thriller seems to fit best.

Brigid said...

Hey, Ken,

I agree with a lot of Ms. Reid's comments here. I understand the nitpicking, because even though you're being approximate, I can see how that would make people think that you don't know what you're talking about. In the first sentence where you mention 2000 years, can you say, "Nearly two thousand..." and thereby eliminate the nitpicking? Also, with the Sons of Light guys, I didn't realize they were Jewish at first glance either. Could you say "...Light, a Jewish religious sect..." or something like that?

Also, the Joseph the brother of Jesus thing threw me too, and that's after twelve years of private Catholic education. I understand your point about a quick Google search, but I can't imagine an agent choosing that over the option of just assuming you don't know what you're talking about. (This kind of goes hand in hand with the "2000 years" thing)

One of the hardest parts of writing a query, for me, is that I know my story so intimately that I forget that not everyone else does. I think you're really close, and I think most of the comments have a lot of merit. This is just my opinion, from reading it at face value. Try to take a step back and read it the same way.

(And I could be full of crap. I haven't sold my book either, so take this all with a grain of salt.)

Good luck!

beth said...

Ken--It took me awhile to grow a thick skin in this industry, and to realize that if the reader didn't get it, it was my fault, not theirs. Just some friendly advice: don't be too dismissive of Ms. Reid's comments--she's spot on. You're right in that a query should "grab" attention...but it shouldn't leave the reader with "pause moments" where they have to puzzle through what you're trying to say, or question your ideas. Keep in mind that the recipient of your letter doesn't know you--and therefore doesn't know how credible you are--so you have to establish that credit through your query. For example, Joseph may be a brother of Jesus, but James is more well-known, so something as simple as an few adjectives "Jesus's obscure younger brother" may fix your problem.

Josephine Damian said...

Ken: A bit of advice? Whether you agree with someone's assessment of your work or not, your reply is: "Thanks for the feedback," or "Thanks for taking the time to do this." That's it. Don't argue. Don't explain.

Janet is, of course, correct.

Heidi said...

And yet, by expressing his objections, it enabled Brigid and Beth to give some really concrete advice on how to fix it.

That said, one that submits a query for evaluation does need to take the criticism in a little less defensive manner. Sometimes tone is everything.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm agreeing with all the comments here. I majored in religion, focusing on early Christianity and Mediterranean religion, and reading this on the back cover would make me put the book down because it looks as if the author doesn't quite know what he's talking about.

1- "Approximately 2000 years ago" would be a better choice of words. Scholars debate the exact date of Christ's birth, placing it anywhere from 10BC - 2 AD.

2- I didn't have a problem so much with labelling the Sons of Light simply a religious sect, but I'd like to know more about them. Are they early followers of Christ, or are they hiding the secret behind the crucifixion for some other reason? (And yes, early followers still called themselves Jews, but they still count as Christians due to their beliefs- and if they're still following Christ in the present day, wouldn't that make them Christians now? Maybe Judaic Christians...)

3- I am also seconding revising the Joseph-the-brother-of-Jesus thing. When most people hear "Joseph", they think of Jesus' dad.

talpianna said...

As for siblings of Jesus, what about the Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary?

Kristin Laughtin said...

talpianna- Denominations that adhere to the perpetual virginity of Mary usually explain Jesus' siblings as being Joseph's children from a previous marriage.

Aimless Writer said...

Ken, Don't forget me, the poor schlep in the book store, reading the back of your book. I think the things mentioned here clarify what your story is about. I'm reading the back of the book, maybe a few pages to see if it will interest me and I'm on my lunch hour so you need to grab me quick. There are thousands of books to choose! Which one do I want? Which blurb is written so I don't have to think too much. I'm not stopping in the bookstore to google anything.
After all the comments and getting a clearer vision of the book it is probably something that would spark my interest enough to take home. But that first draft?
Triller? Or adventure along the lines of Indiana Jones? or the Mummy?

Sue said...

I just stumbled over here from... Hmmm... I have no idea how I got here actually. But holy CRAP - I love this blog.

Phoenix said...

Ken: Also don't forget that the tone of the query should at least somewhat match the tone of the story. If thriller is close to the genre, then the query should give some indication that this is a thrilling story. The revelation you end with should probably be your hook and everything should follow from there. As Janet said, a thriller needs some high stakes, so the query should make evident why Erin continues to risk her team. And does she have a personal motivation in doing so?

Janet Reid said...

There were many religions in the Middle East 2000 years ago. "A religious sect" could be any of them.

All I know about your book is what you tell me. If what you tell me isn't clear I say no. It's that simple.

Almost every agent will tell you the same thing: we read until we can stop. We don't google, we don't wonder if our preconceptions are wrong, we just stop reading.

This isn't a question of whether I'm right or wrong. Reading query letters isn't a democratic or even a Socratic exercise.

If you don't like it, it's not like there aren't 3000000000 other agents in New York City.

I don't say Query Widely cause I own stock in the post office.

PaulaKay said...

I was directed to your blog via Nathan Bransford's blog and I'm glad I stopped by. I find your critiques informative as well as humorous. Thanks for taking the time to post.

I figure what better place to reveal my amateur stripes so here is a “stupid” but honest question for you. What do you mean when you say this seems to be "set up?"

Thanks,
PK

Ken said...

Thank you all for your comments. I have continued to revise my query letter based on what you've said. Below is my updated version. Please comment - all are most welcome.

Members of Archaeologist Erin Matthews team are sweaty, smelly, and dirty. They’ve just unearthed another clay jar filled with mysterious parchments. Translations show they are between members of the same family. Erin is both excited and frightened by the content of the ancient documents. They indicate the story of the crucifixion has serious flaws.

The Sons of Light, a Judaic Christian sect, follow the team and learn about the discovery. Almost two thousand years ago, they dedicated their lives to protect the secret of the parchments. Chased, shot at, even kidnapped, the team is determined to continue their research. A final bloody attack forces Erin to make a choice. Should she continue to risk the lives of her team or give up the chance to expose a 2000-year old secret?

If the story in the letters is true, it was Joseph, a little known brother of Jesus, who was crucified in his place!

THE LAST SECRET is a 97,000-word thriller.

Thank you for your consideration.

BuffySquirrel said...

Set up is like backstory--the stuff that happens before the story proper starts.

I see the evil word verification has appeared!

Brigid said...

I don't know that we need to know how dirty and smelly they are. I'd rather know more about Erin, and what kind of person she is. Personally, hearing that people reek in the first sentence is kind of a turn off.

Also, I might put a variation of this sentence:
If the story in the letters is true, it was Joseph, a little known brother of Jesus, who was crucified in his place!
at the end of your first paragraph. I think it might have more grab.

Here's the thing, though. I read a book for the story, yeah, but I need characters to tell me a story. From this, I can't really identify with Erin, and I'm not sure I want to read about her. What's going to compel me to want to hear her story?

Think of it this way: you hear some guy standing on the street corner shouting that he's had a vision, and the end is near. No one gives a crap. People blow past that guy all day long. But say your best friend comes up to you and takes you into his confidence. He pulls you behind a cubicle and says he's had a terrifying vision, that the end is near. Now you might think he's nuts, but he's your friend, you're gonna care, and you're gonna listen.

Make Erin my friend. Make me care.

Margaret Yang said...

You went from bad to meh to good! You win! I'd much rather see this than the ones that are perfect from the get-go.

This blog is awesome.