Tuesday, July 8, 2008

#54

Dear Query Shark:

"My name is Bartholomew Benson, and I just killed twenty-one people."

Clearly, Mr. Benson is a man with a problem.

At first pass, Bart seems like a normal guy. He's a farmer in the year 2017, trying to make ends meet in his small Midwestern American town. He struggles with mundane problems like a stormy marriage, feuding neighbors, and a meddlesome ex-wife.

But Bart is far from normal. He's an ex-soldier who served extensively in the Middle East, and after military service, he was recruited for a much more difficult task: hunting humanity's worst enemy.

Bart has been entrusted with some very dark secrets. He knows about the world's first fully functioning quantum computer. He knows that this new quantum environment spawned life: sentient artificial intelligences. They've stayed quiet so far, hiding in the deep crevices of the technological jungle, so virtually no one even knows they exist. But Bart knows that, unless they're stopped, these new AIs will inevitably take control. Of everything.

That's something that he's not going to let happen.

The Emancipation of Bartholomew Benson is a 50,000-word science fiction novel that tells Bart's story through a series of journal entries, flashbacks, and first-person narration. The story is character-driven, focusing on Bart's ever-increasing difficulties of maintaining a normal life, all while handling the daunting responsibility of saving mankind.

I currently reside in (town) where I teach (subject) in the (univ) Business School. This is my first novel, and I'd really appreciate the opportunity to share more of this story with you.

Sincerely,

You had me right up to series of journal entries, flashbacks and first-person narration. I'm not sure why you want to use those devices in what is essentially a very short novel.

I'd read the pages but for something like this, I'm really in favor of straightforward story telling.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Housekeeping Memo

For some reason, Queries 50 and 51 disappeared from the blog right after I read and commented on them.

I hope this is not a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc,*** but rather a technical glitch.



Negative.
When one of the chums sends a revision, the post goes "on hiatus" while I crit the revision. Then it comes back.

I do this primarily to annoy you of course, but mostly it's so I remember what I haven't finished working on.


*** yea, I had to look it up too.

#53-Revisions

Dear Query Shark,

The Crichton Heir keeps you guessing from the prologue to the end of the book as to who the Crichton Heir actually is. You have a strong, although rather naive, Lady Margaret Sinclair, who seems to always have her foot in her mouth. It only gets worse (what gets worse? her foot in mouth?) when the mysterious but handsome Sir Patrick Graham shows up unexpectedly at Crescent Cove, per her father's request. Sparks fly, and Margaret wants to pursue these new feelings, while Patrick knows that he should avoid the Laird's beguiling daughter who has his body reacting with a mind of it's own!

Why should he avoid her? Is her foot in mouth contagious? Because this set up and these characters are so stale, it brings out my not-nice jokey responses. That's really not what you want in a query letter.



Margaret's world is turned upside down with the sudden death of her beloved father and she must agree to marry the Laird of Crichton Castle, Alexander Crichton, to save those around her from his threats. He is a deviant man who may have more than one death on his hands already. While Patrick struggles to save Margaret from a man he despises, he must learn to trust not only Margaret, but those that she would protect from Crichton; Josephine, her companion, who isn't what she seems, Frederick Kerr, the man that Margaret has always loved, and her own mother, Victoria Sinclair, who has her own secrets that may save all of them in the end.

Character soup here; a list of people reduced to glib adjectives that make them seem like cliches. Focus on Margaret and her problem. Why does she have to marry this joker? He's threatening her? Why doesn't she kick him in the kilt?

The Crichton Heir, is approximately 95,000 words. It will be the first in a series of historical romances, The Crescent Cove Series. The setting for The Crichton Heir is Northern Scotland, late eighteenth century.

I'm so over historical romances set in Scotland that I want to send you a Rand McNally map of the world. There are OTHER PLACES! Think Iceland! Lichtenstein! Andorra! Portugal! Anything but poor overused Scotland.

I sincerely thank you for your time and consideration.


I see this exact query three to five times a week. Every week. It's an auto reject. I want something I've not seen before. Give me Iberia in 1540 before you give me Scotland in 1770. I don't care how much you love Ren Faires, write about something else.

------------------------------



Dear Query Shark,

Patrick Graham is blissfully unaware of what fate has in store for him at Crescent Cove. Summoned by his benefactor, Angus Sinclair, Patrick will learn that his parents were murdered for greed when he was a baby, and he was given a new identity to protect him from those who had everything to gain from his death.

This isn't the hook for the novel at all. It's the setup for what happens. Lead with the hook.


Margaret Sinclair, Angus’s daughter, is a strong, outspoken young woman. When she wrongly suspects that her father has brought Patrick there as a potential suitor, she is not opposed to the idea, due to the mutual attraction they have for each other.

This isn't the hook either, it's just more set up.

Unfortunately for Margaret and Patrick , Angus Sinclair makes a horrible mistake. He assumes that Margaret is quite taken by Alexander Crichton, and to mend the two family’s differences, he promises Margaret to Alexander, instead. Adding to the problem is the fact that Alexander is a man of no honor. Abusive and sadistic to women, he is not opposed to using blackmail to acquire both Margaret and her inheritance and could be a cold-blooded killer.

So, why does Angus promise Margaret to an abusive sadist man of no honor? If we know this about Alexander, why doesn't Angus? This is closer to the hook for the novel: misunderstood motive.

Shortly after the surprise announcement of the betrothal, and before Angus can tell Patrick of his true identity, Angus mysteriously falls ill and dies. Margaret swears on her father’s death bed that she will abide by his wishes to wed Alexander. With no way out, she vows to keep her word; not only for honor, but to protect those that she loves from Alexander’s fiendish threats.

Fiendish threats are such a cliche that I root for the fiends.

To save her daughter, Margaret’s mother must divulge a family secret that Margaret is not the first and only child of Angus Sinclair. Therefore, Alexander cannot take possession of Crescent Cove through a marriage to her. She also resolves a decades-old mystery, naming Patrick as Alexander’s missing cousin and the true Crichton heir.




It is a race against the clock for both Patrick and Margaret’s brother.
Um, if Margaret has a brother, wouldn't HE inherit Crescent Cove rather than Margaret? And wasn't she an only child in the paragraph above?

They must try to rescue Margaret from her new husband’s deadly sexual pleasures. Both men have sworn to die to protect her. Both men may have to pay that price for her freedom.

Deadly sexual pleasures? What the heck is that? Do I even want to know?

At 95,000 words, The Crichton Heir is a completed historical romance with action, a host of memorable characters, and plot twists that keep you guessing until the very end.

I'd much rather see the characters as memorable from how you write about them, rather than have you tell me how memorable they are.

And truthfully, you're so caught up in giving me the plot that the characters aren't memorable at all. You're missing one key element: an interesting antagonist. Fiendish and evil aren't interesting at all. Historical romances have interesting compelling bad guys. You don't.

At least you don't mention Scotland though. That's a big plus.

Thank you for considering my work. I appreciate your time.

#52

Dear Query Shark:

My story is approximately 200,00 words. It is the first in a series. It is the story of three international detectives. One is from Rome, Italy, and the other two are from London, England. It is in the style of James Bond but a little tongue-in-cheek humor. I have traveled to Rome, Italy, Costa Rica, and I now live in Tarpon Springs, Florida. ---

This is like the start of a legal brief. You tell me where people are from, how long the book is and that you've travelled. You're missing the most important element of a query letter: why should I care? I don't mean that harshly, but the purpose of a query letter is to interest me in the story. You have to tell me the interesting parts. These aren't.

The story starts in Tarpon Springs, Florida where the three agents, 008, Max, and Rosa are hired to find the people responsible for selling real estate that is acquired from owners who are never found, just disappear.

I think there are three failures of logic here. Rather than list them, how about we let the commenters have a go?

In the next chapter we travel to Philadelphia, PA, where they are trying to find out who robbed the Philadelphia Mint. They come across four assailants who they think are responsible for the theft because they have been following them. They are from Shanghai and Russia.

This is where I think you're sending this in to the Query Shark to be funny. There's no connection between the paragraphs or the events. You use "they" to mean three different sets of people. I'd need a road map to be confused. Right now I'm hitting "auto rejection"

I am originally from Philadelphia, PA, and my wife and I now live in Florida. I like to write and to travel.


Hope this will whet your appetite to read more of the story.

This is not an effective query letter. It does not entice me to read further.

#51-revisions

Dear Ms. Query Shark,

One woman, eight centuries, one spell binds them together.

I hear the theme music from Lord of the Rings here. You have to be really careful about phrases that do that. "where no man has gone before; I am your father; pernicious cranium sucking zombie...oh wait, that's just the last IM I got from a disgruntled querier, never mind)

Mallory O’Malley thought she had life figured out. Sure, her fiancé had broken their engagement a year ago, but she’d gotten over him, didn’t hate her job, and had a best friend who thought she could read palms, so life was good. Right?

Not so much.
Everything changes when Mallory travels to Ireland for a second reading of her grandmother’s will and finds she’s inherited a run down castle, believed by the town to be haunted. Not a problem since there’s already a buyer interested. But there’s just one catch. She must live in the gatehouse for six months or she’ll lose it all.

At this point you've lost me cause of the cliches. You'll do MUCH better to bring Trevor Riley up sooner. That's where it gets interesting. And it's also the main plot.

Sounds easy enough, until the DVD the solicitor gives her from her dead grandmother begins to play by itself. Her Grams is not only asking her questions, but waiting for a response. She tells Mallory about a blood spell her ancestors are stuck in and she’s the last in the line that can break it, only she can’t give her any clues on how to do so..

Waking up in the middle of the night to find she’s standing outside the castle complete with fog wrapping around her, much like a boa constrictor, and an unknown voice telling her she’s going to die, wasn’t exactly what she had in mind either. But you might say it was the words GO HOME, etched into the damp mirror after her shower, that really made her question her sanity.

And what’s a girl supposed to do when she finds out the man who broke off their engagement is actually hundreds of years old—800 to be exact. If you’re Mallory O’Malley you decide to stay and break the spell. Besides, Karma can be a bitch sometimes.

Insert Mr. Trevor Riley, acquisition expert for Thad International Reality, who seals deals, big deals, not caring who he hurts along the way. His motto, wine them, dine them, gain their trust, and just don’t get emotionally involved.. And Trevor thinks he’s just the man to schmooze the owner into selling her estate until he walks into the solicitor’s office finds she’s the beautiful redhead he’d stolen a taxi from on his way back to Ireland. A woman who’s none to happy to see him.



As strange occurrences continue to happen, Mallory will have to decide if she wants to stay and claim what’s hers, or leave the place to the evil inhabitant, dooming the castle and its past to the blood spell. And Trevor Riley is caught between protecting a woman he hardly knows from the very place he wants to buy, or leaving her on her own, making the deal of the century.

I’d like to submit for your consideration my paranormal manuscript, After Thoughts and Before, which is completed at 110, 000 words.


I’m currently writing the next stand alone novel, After Thoughts of Darkness, in which the characters multi cross from this manuscript. I’ve written back cover story blurbs for puzzles which are sold in Barnes and Noble. I’m the acting president of Tampa Area Romance Writers and a member of RWA.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,


You don't need to describe all the set up. Pare down to the interesting parts. I'm always in favor of leaving out the part about the next book but that's just me.

And how fast can you do the NYT crossword puzzle? (insert sound of competitive cackle here)

---------------------------------

#51 - Revision

Dear Query Shark,

Mallory O’Malley, apprentice at Passion Soule Art Gallery, thought she had life figured out. She had a job she liked, friends, and in general life was good.

Everything changes when she travels to Ireland for a second reading of her grandmother’s will and finds she’s inherited a run down castle, believed by the town to be haunted. Not a problem since there’s already a buyer interested. But there’s just one catch. She must live in the gatehouse for six months or she’ll lose it all.

"Must live in haunted house under terms of the will" is a very very overused device. Yawn. And there's a failure of logic too. So what if she loses it all? Before she goes to Ireland she didn't even know she'd inherit. She doesn't want it or need it, so let the city have it.

Insert Mr. Trevor Riley, acquisition expert for Thad International Reality, who seals deals, big deals, not caring who he hurts along the way. His motto, wine them, dine them, gain their trust, and just don’t get emotionally involved. And Trevor thinks he’s just the man to schmooze the owner into selling her estate until he walks into the solicitor’s office finds she’s the beautiful redhead he’d stolen a taxi from on his way back to Ireland. A woman who’s none to happy to see him.

He took a taxi back from Ireland? Wow. Again, you've used cliches. The big bad businessman is boring.

Someone or something doesn’t want her there and will do whatever necessary to get rid of her. Even death. As strange occurrences continue to happen, Mallory will have to decide if she wants to stay and claim what’s hers, or leave the place to the evil inhabitant, dooming the castle and its past to the blood spell. And Trevor Riley is caught between protecting a woman he hardly knows from the very place he wants to buy, or leaving her on her own, making the deal of the century.

Greed will get you every time. There's a reason it's one of the seven deadly sins. You're missing any compelling reason for Mallory to undertake this, starting with the fact she likes her life as it is.

I’d like to submit for your consideration my paranormal manuscript, After Thoughts and Before, which is completed at 110, 000 words.

I’m the acting president of Tampa Area Romance Writers and a member of RWA.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

I don't think the problem is the query letter. I think the problem is the novel.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

#50-REVISION

Dear Query Shark:

Lilith fled Eden to live in exile, heartbroken from Adam's treatment of her. Only the unicorns followed her into exile, her dearest friends, who stayed with her through the long lonely years. 1300 years after the birth of the Nazarene, the eldest of the unicorns is dying. Lilith knows that were she to feed him the fruit from the Tree of Life that once grew in Eden, he might live. But it is still forbidden to her. Desperate, she seeks the help of the children of her rival, and five women respond, risking their lives, and their souls, to reach the Tree of Life where it was hidden by Saint Issa in the Garden at the Roof of the World.

What rival? You've got so much spent on set up that you miss the important stuff.

Lilith accompanies these women disguised as a mischievous crow who befriends them and helps guide them on the right paths. The dangers are formidable, and eventually Lilith must decide if she will let her friend die and the errand fail, or sacrifice her own immortality so that one of these descendants of her hated rival might reach the Garden and save the life of her friend.

I'm confused. Lilith is disguised as a crow? And she's immortal cause she didn't eat the apple?

The Garden at the Roof of the World is complete at 143300 words.

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you.


Sincerely,


Maybe this is just me, cause as we all know I don't do fantasy, and I think this is what this is, but I don't have much of a sense of what this book is. It sounds like a quest novel, but the rival is so unfocused I don't have a sense of what challenges Lilith faces. And is this Lilith's story or the five women?

When I have this many questions in a query letter, I send an auto rejection. I really want a clear sense of what this book is about. (and yes, I know it's damn hard to write these things!)


---------------

Lilith fled Eden, choosing exile over service to Adam. Only the two unicorns followed, her dearest friends, who stayed with her through the long lonely years. Lonely in no small part because the descendants of her rival, Eve, have shunned her. Many believe the lies spread about her being a mother of demons, a devourer of infants, but most don't even know she ever existed. 1300 years after the birth of Jesus of Nazereth, the eldest unicorn, one of the pair who followed her into exile, is dying. Immortal, Lilith knows that if he dies, she will face the endless days of her exile alone, for none of his descendants have stayed with her, choosing to live in the wild places of the world.

Lilith knows that were she to feed him the fruit from the Tree of Life that once grew in Eden, he might live, but it is still forbidden to her. Her only hope is that she might convince some who are ignorant of who she is, to try to journey to the Garden at the Roof of the World, where St. Issa hid the Tree of Life.

Five women from different parts of the world, each with her own reason for trying to save the life of the eldest of unicorns, agree to take on what they consider to be a work of charity. Not trusting these women to find the hidden garden and achieve the state of grace needed to enter paradise, Lilith accompanies these women in disguise.

The medieval world through which they journey is filled with temptations and dangers to body and soul. To Lilith, the greatest danger is that the women with whom she travels discovers who she is, for in their travels they learn the lies that have been told about Lilith. She is convinced that they would never believe the truth.

Eventually Lilith must decide if she will let her friend die and the errand fail, abandoning the women to a monster beyond their strength, or reveal herself and risk her own immortality, and the betrayal of these women. Lilith must learn to love, and to trust that one of these descendants of her hated rival might reach the Garden and save the life of her friend.

The Garden at the Roof of the World is a modern medieval romance, blending myth with history to create a story that is at once a journey through medieval Europe, the Near East, and India; and a spiritual journey of reconciliation.

The Garden at the Roof of the World is complete at 143300 words.

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you.


well, by George I think you've got it!

#49--Revision

Dear Query Shark:


Meet Frannie Freeman, a training specialist with a penchant for embarrassing, public mishaps and no filter between brain and mouth.

Frannie navigates the hazards of life-inside-the-cubicle, doing the impossible for the ungrateful with humor and sarcasm∑and tequila. In love with her boss Sam, who married the vile Malia˜aka „Malaria‰˜after indulging in too many martinis at a company Christmas party in Las Vegas, she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and buries her broken heart beneath a façade of dry wit.

This is all description. It's not bad, but let's get to the good stuff.

When Sam suddenly expresses his interest in her and confesses that he thinks he was roofied the night he married Malaria, Frannie can‚t believe her luck. And you know what „they‰ say: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Pare down the first three paragraphs into one.


A quick little divorce seems the ticket until Garland Harper, CEO of the company, charges into the situation, laying down ultimatums and offering solutions with no options: divorce between Sam and Malaria is a grand illusion, and if Sam presses forward with his plans, Frannie will be accused of sabotaging the new speculation software and Harper will see to it that the only bars she‚ll see for many years won‚t be offering tequila.

What? What? Don't describe your plot in metaphors! What the hell is speculation software? I thought she was a training specialist? Be really really clear about what happens and what the stakes are.

Between the political pitfalls of a large company, flaming pantyhose, and Post-It Brain Blizzards, Frannie makes a desperate gamble to win her man and keep out of jail to enjoy him. And if along the way she learns about making mistakes, extending forgiveness, and risking everything to do what‚s right˜just call it a healthy dose of quinine..



Office Politics is humorous women‚s fiction complete at 71,000 words. Thank you for considering my work.

Sincerely,


I don't know what this book is about. It's clear you've got good energy though; I'd probably read the first three pages and hope you've got some action early on.


----------------------------------------

Dear Query Shark,

Meet Frannie Freeman, a software training specialist for Harper & Lyttle, Inc., with a penchant for embarrassing, public mishaps and no filter between brain and mouth. In love with her boss Sam, who is married to the vile Malia (aka Malaria), Frannie navigates the hazards of life-inside-the-cubicle, doing the impossible for the ungrateful with humor and sarcasm…and tequila. When Sam suddenly confesses his interest in her and that he believes he was roofied the night he married Malia, Frannie can’t believe her luck. And you know what they say: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

A quick little divorce seems the ticket. But Malia doesn’t want a divorce, and she’ll do anything to stop Sam from filing—even blackmail her own father, the Harper of Harper & Lyttle. Desperate to save his own hide, Harper charges into the situation and lays down an ultimatum. If Sam files anyway or if he and Frannie leave the company to escape the ultimatum, Frannie will be accused of sabotaging important, expensive software and Harper will see to it that the only bars she’ll see for many years won’t be offering tequila.

Frannie makes a desperate gamble to win her man and stay out of jail to enjoy him. And if along the way she learns about extending forgiveness and risking everything to do what’s right, just call it a healthy dose of quinine.

Office Politics is humorous women’s fiction complete at 71,000 words. Thank you for considering my work.

Sincerely,

Much much better.

#48

Dear Query Shark:

Tearsah Slaughter was the girl voted most likely to succeed in high school. Too bad nobody told her at what. Now here she was, a wanted outlaw in America, when she’d just been a simple college junior back home in Australia. In the 85,000 word paranormal Rahzer, high school was the turning point for this lycan day dreamer turned mercenary.

What? You've got so much stuff crammed in this paragraph I'm lost already. Clearly the important stuff is she's a mercenary on the run from the law. I'm betting she wasn't born that way (just a guess) so you can leave out all that stuff about "most likely to succeed" unless of course she shot her high school home ec teacher or something.


The cliques in her high school were the aloof, model thin Vampiras who all hung together with waist length, frizz free hair. They always wore the coolest clothes and got dropped off in stretch hummers or limos. Next were the Valkyries and the Amazons. They were the best female athletes, running the basketball, archery and volleyball teams.

And what does this have to do with being a mercenary? Also, even though you're using Vampiras to describe the cool chicks, you're describing something we already recognize as cliche.

While the harpies and nymphs vied for the title of most likely to become professional escorts, the changelings were the most two faced. A few humans hung tough. From these cliques her motley group of friends called themselves the “Reckoning” crew and sleep overs included gossip, make up, and musings on where they’d be in ten years. Their goal?. To have many lovers and to save the world, looking fierce.

You've got character soup here. I don't know what to focus on, what's important, and I don't see a plot anywhere at all.

Only fighting zombie debt collectors and zapping ghouls who treat human fingers like KFC isn't glamorous. But first Tearsah has to escape from her American crime lord fiancé, then teach him the wrath of an unwilling contract bride. No means no, mofo.

Zombie debt collectors! I do love that phrase! But wait..crime lord finance? Where did he come from? Unwilling contract bride? I'm so confused here I might actually let the zapping ghouls munch on me.

I’m an educator, and this character was graphic novel at first, that I retooled.
Sample pages are available at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Unless this was published as a graphic novel, you don't need to mention it.

I'm confused about what's important, what the conflict is and what the stakes are. This is list of ingredients for cake, not the finished cake ready to taste. Back to the kitchen!