Friday, September 12, 2008

#76-Revisions

REVISION:

Dear Query Shark,

I am writing you because you represented [Title] by [Author's Name].

The Last Catholic (90,000 words) is a psychological novel telling the story of how an introspective young man becomes someone like Hamlet. Caught between an abusive alcoholic father and a fanatically religious mother, the protagonist (use his name) finds their conflicts mirrored in his attempts to attain sexual freedom. The novel traces the development of this subject from the protagonist's childhood to age 19 when he leaves home to go to college. In focusing on the psychological conflicts between religion and sexuality the book is broadly relevant to major concerns in religion in America today.

This sounds like an academic treatise, not an interesting novel. What's the protagonist's central conflict, SPECIFICALLY. Attain sexual freedom isn't specific. Most 17 year old boys I know think sexual freedom is having a steady girlfriend whose parents are out of town most of the time.

I was a University Professor for 33 years. I taught a variety of courses in the history of Drama, Modern and Postmodern American Fiction, and Interdisciplinary Studies. I have also worked for over two decades now as an actor in regional theater. I am the author of seven published books on a variety of subjects in Philosophy, Psychoanlaysis, and Cultural Studies and also three full-length plays. (Descriptions of these books, selections from them and a complete Vita are abailable on my website: redacted).

If you need any other information, please don't hesitate to contact me by email at: redacted.

Yours sincerely,


You have not effectively communicated why we should care about any of these characters. There is no plot. I notice you don't mention the word count. If it's still 350,000 words, that's going to come out at some point in the query process believe me. You'd do well to mention what the word count is if you've pared it down. If you haven't, you need to. Even epic fantasy doesn't run that high very often. Form rejection.



ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,

I am writing you because you represented [Title] by [Author's Name]. I therefore think you will find my novel of interest.

The first sentence implies the second. You don't need to spell out the obvious here. I find this kind of writing among academics because the writing style required in professional journals requires the outline of logical step. Novels and query letters allow for intuitive leaps.


Titled The Last Catholic, my novel (350,000 words) deals with the conflict between religion and sexuality in the life of a young man of working class origins growing up in Chicago in the 50's and 60's whose life changes when he gets the chance to go away to college. Written in a syle of lyric naturalism, The Last Catholic dramatizes the conflicts created by a strict religious upbringing in a secular world. In this sense the subject is contemporary and broadly relevant

I stop reading at 350,000.
This is too long by a factor of three.
Novels run 70-100,000 words.
Anything more than that just raises the bar.

Just reading the query letter shows me that can probably cut your word count in half with some judicious pruning.



I was a University Professor for 33 years. I taught a variety of courses in the history of Drama, Modern and Postmodern American Fiction, and Interdisciplinary Studies in the relationship of Literature to Philosophy, Psychology and Politics. I have also worked for over two decades now as an actor in regional theatre. I am the author of seven published books on a variety of subjects in philosophy, psychoanalysis and cultural studies and also three full length plays. (Descriptions of these books, selections from them and a complete Vita are available on my website: redacted)

If you need any other information, please don't hesitate to contact me by email at: (redacted) I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

11 comments:

Sarah Laurenson said...

Seems like a really broad description of the book. I don't get a feel for the main character or what the story is really about. This is more a description of the philosophical underpinnings.

And wow. That's an impressive word count. Besides cutting, can you break it into multiple books? Are there logical story endings within the manuscript?

Sarah Laurenson said...

And Hi Janet. Glad you were roasted today. I really enjoyed the discussion and the expensive booze.

Mystery Robin said...

Also, there's a lot about theme but nothing really about the story. And sadly, I have no idea what you mean by lyric naturalism. I studied literary theory and the phrase still eludes me. :)

walteradavis said...

Thank you both to Janet and to those who commented. I'll be rewriting it with all this in mind. I won't burden any of you with a long definition of lyric naturalism. Just one example--Toni Morrison's Beloved. (It is part of a tradition that goes back to writers like Virginia Woolf and Faulkner.) I realize the length is prohibitive. And I am thinking of dividing it into two separate books. I will work hard to get a better description for story and character. My understanding from various guides is that the description is supposed to boil everything down into 2 sentences. That's what I've tried to do. But they're the wrong 2 sentences. And I may need 4. Once I've done this I'll resubmit.

Just_Me said...

What's lyric naturalism?

*reads above post*

Got it.

Now, we know the conflict... what is your main characters name and what is he/she doing? What's the catalyst for action? What makes me turn pages?

Phoenix said...

My understanding from various guides is that the description is supposed to boil everything down into 2 sentences.

Different agents expect different things out of a query letter. In most cases, the 2 sentences you mention are the hook or the pitch or the log line. You start with those sentences and expand from there in your query letter. And you don't pack those 2 sentences with everything you can about the book. Something like:

Matthew Christensen's strict Catholic upbringing in a 1950's boarding school didn't prepare him for life in a secular college town. The sexual revolution is gearing up, young men and women are openly experimenting with sexual boundaries, and Matthew -- thrust into a world he never knew existed -- finds his own temptations threatening to tip the balance between faith and living.

Also, just like in your novel, you want to show more than tell. For instance, telling us the book dramatizes the conflicts created by etc. is yawn-inducing. Give an example: When the first temptation shimmies near during pledge week, Matthew clutches the Bible tucked in his pocket nearer still. On temptation's second pass, the Bible slips away."

And never, never should a first-time novelist's credits paragraph be longer than the story description. Professor and actor have no bearing on the work at hand. Leading off with them greatly dilutes the published works mentions that come after.

talpianna said...

If you want to catch a shark, you need a good strong hook and the ability to haul line.

nn Angel said...

I found this one really wordy and the information given on the story too brief and general. He/She seemed to spend more time talking about him/herself than the actual story. But that's just my opinion.

Steve Stubbs said...

Talpianna said: "If you want to catch a shark, you need a good strong hook and the ability to haul line."

You left something off. You not only need to haul line but cut bait. Even a hungry shark won't bite at an empty hook.

magdalune said...

The query smells of an academic delving into fiction, and it's important to remember that academic writing and fiction writing have very different audiences. You might want to have a freelance editor go through it. Or, since you're a professor, you can probably talk to one of the interns in the English department or someone at your writing center. Just someone to look at it through a fiction reader's eye rather than an academic's.

nn Angel said...

Janet, he did mention the new word count, in parentheses after the title. It's 90k.

I still probably wouldn't even pick this one up in a bookstore, though. There isn't anything appealing about the characters or the idea behind it. When I first read "sexual freedom" I thought he's gay and his parents were the type to insist "it's just a phase".