Sunday, August 31, 2008

#74

Dear Query Shark,

My completed 60,000 word manuscript, NODDING PINES, is a work of literary fiction that tells the story of a broken family through the three unique voices that comprise it.

Writing three unique voices is like going to the Writing Olympics. Just cause you look good in a Speedo doesn't make you Michael Phelps. When someone offers me a novel in three voices I cringe. Then the first, actually the ONLY, thing I do is watch how they use language. If the query letter is over written and pedantic, I have zero confidence you are the Michael Phelps of the Shark Pool.

First sign that elevates an eyebrow: that comprise it. (you don't actually need those words for a complete thought.) If you're writing three voices, you'd better have a very keen eye for extra words.

An emotionally unstable young man named Robbie feels as though he has less power over his own words than they have over him, and so he goes silent, refusing to speak to his teachers, classmates, or even his mother.

2nd ; young man named Robbie (Robbie feels he has less)
3rd ; that sentence has all the rhythm of a snake on skates i.e. not much.

Unable to overcome his preoccupation with language, Robbie decides to leave the country as a means of escape.

4th ; this is where my sardonic side takes over. What does leaving the country have to do with going silent? Is he expecting to just get by with sign language or something whilst in Andorra?


Upon his return, he not only discovers himself, but also the remnants of the father he never knew, realizing for the first time that the anxiety and desperation that he feels aren't his alone.



5th ; And here's where you lose me completely: remnants of the father he never knew. I have visions of shredded polo shirts and strips of jockey shorts hanging on the front gate. I know this isn't what you meant of course, but you are trying so hard to be all serious and shit that I can't take you seriously. Your earnestness shines through, and it just makes me want to throw a banana peel in front of you as you jog past. I know this is NOT a good thing about me, and in fact most agents (particularly those who don't actually run something called QUERY SHARK) might have a less bloodthirsty response, but you queried me, so there it is.

Even if you said the letters of the father he never knew you'd be better off.

The fact that you don't actually see this right now is why I doubt you can carry off the three voices thing.


The lost patriarch, Jason, had left behind a series of letters and stories in an attempt to explain himself and his obsessive love of writing that lead to his suicide. He also leaves behind Juliana, who unbeknownst to him, is pregnant with their son. Unable to overcome her similarly obsessive love of Jason, Juliana in turn writes a series of undeliverable letters to him, chronicling their courtship and their difficulties in accepting one another, while trying to somehow finally forgive him.

While reading their letters and learning his family's history, Robbie meets a young woman with whom he believes he may have fallen in love. Despite trying his best to balance these obsessive tendencies that he has inherited, Robbie feels as though he is confronted by a choice of his father's love of writing and his mother's love of love as they battle for dominance in his life. The quirky nature of the protagonist and the narrative each work hand in hand with the emotional story matter, giving it a combined appeal of wit and sensitivity.



I've pretty much stopped reading after the remnants line, but there are some lines that still make me cringe:

1. meets a young woman with whom he believes he may have fallen in love.. he meets her and falls in love instantly? he's in love with her before he meets her? she's a mailorder bride? I know I know, I'm dripping sarcasm here, but that's what happens when you are so caught up in sentence structure that you lose track of what you MEAN.

2. confronted by a choice...this is a false choice. You've set it up that way cause that's how you want the story to be. The story has to work organically. Most young guys even if they are emotionally unstable don't want to be anything like their old fogie remnants parents. They want to be their own bright shining selves. Think about yourself. Do you want to be your mom or your dad? Do you really feel you have to be one or the other?




As for my personal background, I am a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Central Florida. I have not been previously published, but until now, I have never submitted my work with the intention of publication.

And there it is: bango. This line does not convey what you think it does. It makes you sound like an arrogant brat. I'm pretty sure you're not. (right? right?) The reason is that you couple "I haven't been published" with "I haven't submitted." The reader intuits that you believe you have just to submit your work and publishers will fall upon it.

Well, maybe that will be so for you, but it is not my experience in publishing at all. My experience is you're gonna get the snot kicked out of you by rude agents rejecting your stuff and you're going to wonder why.

I am currently at work on my second novel, a futuristic tale of love and social decline. Influential contemporary writers include Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, and Yann Martel, as our works share a certain meta-fictional quality, along with the aforementioned bursts of humor that offset and highlight the emotion.

Leave out the list of people who influenced your work, ok? And please, don't compare yourself to them. After the earlier line it just makes me want to hunt you down drip sardonic on your keyboard.

I very much look forward to your reply.

Well, perhaps not quite as much as you thought.


Sincerely,

Bottom line: you're 24. You just survived undergraduate school. Get a job and write at night. In two years, look back on this query letter and you'll see what I mean. You need some perspective.

Alternatively, start your own online 'zine. See the query letters and cover letters YOU get. Publish a few issues. Include your own work. Doing that will give you some experience that will help both your writing and your perspective.

#73-Revised 2x

SECOND REVISION
Dear Query Shark,

Fourteen-year-old Samantha doesn’t want to think about the reasons she feels ‘different’. Instead, she immerses herself in the imaginary world of her books. She refuses to hide her fascination with mythical creatures and the fantasy world they inhabit and becomes an outcast at school as a result.

Banished from his position as ruler by his own people, the wizard Slyvanius devises a plot to undo this coup and recapture his former position of power. The wizard’s plan involves blackmail and the kidnapping of a busload of eighth-graders, including Samantha, to use as leverage.

Held hostage by Slyvanius, Samantha is plunged into a world of magic and danger, but since she loves the world of fantasy, she’s able to thrive and succeed for the first time in her life. She bravely makes a deal with the wizard, betting her life for the freedom of her schoolmates. Samantha’s battles with a vicious vampire, a giant wasp, and Slyvanius himself seem oddly familiar and calming to her as she single-handedly attempts to thwart the wizard’s plans.

When she levitates a classmate, befriends a cute fairy boy, and sticks a sword through a powerful dragon in her quest to save her class from imprisonment in a dark castle dungeon, Samantha finds she thrives in this high stakes arena. Along the way she discovers a well-kept family secret that explains why she feels so different.

Don’t Call Me Sam is a 48,000-word fantasy celebrating both the appeal of magic and the power of friends and family.

Thank you for your consideration,



Remember what I said about flat writing further down in the original query? You've still got that problem but you've sharpened the query up enough that I'd actually read a page or two.

You need a REALLY good first page or two here. Make sure you start the story with action. You start with some sort of prologue, or sleeping, dreaming, day dreaming, rumination or other static descriptive thing, and it's not going to keep me reading.

And this is a heck of an improvement from the first effort!
-----------------------------------
FIRST REVISION:

Dear Query Shark,

Thirteen-year-old Samantha takes pride in being a good kid. She won’t admit to herself that, deep down, she's lonely, depressed and angry. She doesn't want to think about the reasons she feels 'different'. Instead, Samantha hides in the imaginary worlds of her books and counts on her best friend, Rose, to help her stay grounded.

Does any thirteen year old actually use "stay grounded?" to describe how they want to be?


Banished by his own people and removed as their ruler, the wizard Slyvanius devises a plan to undo this coup and recapture his former position of power. But, his scheme requires the arrogant and ambitious wizard to kidnap Samantha, Rose, and a bus full of their schoolmates, thrusting the startled kids into a world of magic and danger. Samantha makes a deal with Slyvanius, betting her own life in order to save her friends.

Here's where you lose me. Why does his scheme require a bus full of middle schoolers? What wizard in his right mind wants to deal with a 13-year-old. Even their parents don't much want to do that.

Her battles with ogres, sprites and other mythical creatures seem oddly familiar and calming to Samantha as she almost single-handedly thwarts the plans of this powerful wizard, and proves to herself that she's really 'okay'.

Now this is interesting. Forget the therapy stuff for a minute (well, forget it forever would be better), here's where we first get the sense there's something more going on, there are actual stakes.

Samantha never imagined that she would actually When she levitates a classmate, battles a slimy ogre, sticks a sword through a powerful dragon, befriends a really cute boy fairy or and saves her entire class from imprisonment in a castle dungeon, but she finds she thrives in this high-stakes arena.. Along the way, she discovers that a well-kept family secret is both the source of her inner turmoil and the answer to her anger and sadness as well. that explains why she feels different.

You want to continue the tense from the preceding paragraph (her battles) in the following paragraph (When she). You also want to have the solution match the dilemma from the first paragraph.


Written by a high school student, Don’t Call Me Sam is a 48,000-word fantasy celebrating both the appeal of magic and the power of friends and family.

Don't talk about yourself in the third person. I don't care where you are educationally, but I do care if you're under 18. That means I have to behave myself around you and talk to your mom before I talk to you, so if you're sub-18, mention it. Otherwise, nada.

I would be pleased to send along the complete manuscript for your review.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Rejection with encouraging words.


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

Original

-----------------------------
Dear Query Shark,

Thirteen year-old Samantha didn’t mind being called a ‘straight edge’. She took pride in being a good kid. But, deep down, she felt angry and struggled to control her temper.

Samantha loved the imaginary world of mythology but is shocked when she realizes that she actually has supernatural abilities herself. These new powers both thrill and scare her. She never dreamed that she would actually:

- levitate a classmate
- battle a slimy ogre
- kill a powerful dragon with a sword thrust though the heart
- befriend a really cute boy fairy
- save her entire class from imprisonment in a castle dungeon

Samantha’s plans for eighth grade didn’t include what was about to happen on the afternoon bus ride home from school. A wicked and powerful wizard has new plans for her and her best friend, Rose.

Samantha’s natural resourcefulness and her burgeoning supernatural skills allow her to fend off the wizard’s repeated attempts to recruit her. After his initial failure to acquire the cooperation of the girls, the wizard attempts to use one of his minions, the clever fairy Percy, to lure Samantha and Rose into a vulnerable position. But, Percy experiences true friendship for the first time in his life and betrays the wizard to become the girls’ advocate and protector, even at the risk of losing his wings.

While avoiding the wizard’s wicked schemes, Samantha desperately searches for a ‘trainer’ in an attempt to harness her magical skills and her temper. She finds just the right mentor and discovers an amazing secret about her family in the process.

This 48,000-word middle-grade/young adult fantasy demonstrates the power of the natural over the supernatural, as it details Samantha’s struggles and triumphs. I would be pleased to send along the complete manuscript for your review.

Ok, let's start with the fact that middle grade and young adult are two pretty distinct categories. They're separated less by subject matter than vocabulary and word count but they are sold and marketed VERY differently. Consider the reason: most young adult readers make their own book purchases, middle grade readers do not. Yes, there are exceptions but generally.

Now, the other thing, and the more important one is that your language here is ... well ... not stimulating. I feel like I'm reading a report about something that happened far far away (sort of like as far back as perhaps my years in middle school are now.)

Girl discovers supernatural abilities, mayhem ensues is pretty pedestrian for a plot too. But then almost anything can sound pedestrian if you use bland language. Do you really want to see boy sees girl, boy loves girl, girl doesn't see boy, girl ignores boy, chaos ensues until a stroke of deus ex machina saves the day? Well, heck no me either. But I sure loved this.

It's not always true that you can make a cliche plot sound interesting by describing it well, but it's worth the risk.

Your query letter is decent form, but your writing does not make me want to read the book.

Language is your toolbox. Sharpen up.


Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is a form rejection.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

#72

Dear Query Shark:

Mollie McWigglebutt is about to be turned into a Brussels sprout by a witch. Or so she believes when she hears a strange tapping on her bedroom window late one night. Her parents say monsters don’t exist, but Mollie knows better. She’s certain a toe-eating monster lives beneath bed and steals her dirty socks for it’s its Grubby Sock Casserole. Why else would they be disappearing?

This doesn't make sense. Kids who are afraid of the dark aren't afraid of being made into vegetables. They are afraid of being bitten or eaten or chomped on much like you get chomped on here in the Shark Tank.

Will Mollie face her fear of the dark and defeat the witch, or will she be doomed to live her life as a Brussels sprout in a strange monster realm?

There's nothing distinctive here. What you need to focus on is HOW Mollie faces her fears, not that she has them. Does she hang Hindu prayer flags? Does she sacrifice virgins? Does she elect John McCain? Oh wait, she's only seven right, she can't vote.

Children (ages 7-10) reading my chapter book Things That Go Bump in the Night (3478 words) will laugh, cheer, and tingle with anticipation as they journey with Mollie on her quest to conquer her fears.

This is the sentence that says "amateur hour" to me. Don't tell me how people will react. SHOW me by writing a query letter that makes ME laugh, cheer, and tingle. I may not be 7 but I love Fancy Nancy and Olivia and cupcakes too. And so do children's book agents to whom you will direct this query when it's fixed up.

Books similar to mine are:
Julie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed by Barbara Park
Oh Bother! Someone's Afraid of the Dark! by Betty Birney
Whooos's Haunting the Teeny Tiny Ghost? by Kay Winters

You don't have to list books that are similar to yours. That's something for a non-fiction book proposal.

With the exception of the book written by Ms. Parks, the above listed book targets the younger reader.

Some older children are still afraid of the dark (like my elder son) and that's my reason for writing the book. The main character in my book depends very little on her parents, and is empowered by her own actions and decisions.

This isn't targeted to irrational seven year olds? What's the demographic? Remember kids read UP the age bracket not down. That means a ten year old does NOT want to read about a 7-year-old; s/he wants to read about a 12-year-old.

My book also contains the original Peanut Butter Song (sung to the tune of "You are my sunshine"), which was a hit with my test audience of 6-10 year-olds.

Words fail me. Please tell me you didn't include a CD.

My works have appeared in ezines, newspapers and magazines, including Sasee, Adoption Today, Story Station, Holiday Crafts 4 Kids, and JustForMom.com

Works? Do you mean stories? Essays? Illustrations?

I am also a contributor to anthology collections such as Laughing and Learning: Adventures in Parenting, Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul, and Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover's Soul.



I also have experience promoting and organizing my own book signings.

Really? Why?

I found your agency listing through a fellow writer, who spoke highly of the company.
Thank you for considering "Things that go Bump in the Night". I have included the first five and a half pages in the body of this email.

Unless you were referred by a client or someone I actually know, having someone tell you I'm the cat's pjs is baseless flattery. While I'm not all that opposed to baseless flattery it should be accompanied by the now famous twenty dollar bill.

#71

Dear Query Shark:

In a sunless, frozen world, the landscape is difficult to travel, cities are built underground, and wars are fought with assassins, not armies. The king's city of Vastii is a corrupt metropolis struggling to recover from a recent plague that had ravaged the working class; its tunnels are rife with mercenaries, murderers, insurgents, thieves, and members of a secret police who feel that the sword is the best way to hold back a violent revolution.

Avoid the temptation to set the scene in a query letter. You don't have enough page space to do that. Start with who matters, and what's at stake.

When a lord of a prominent city north of Vastii turns hostile to the monarchy, the king takes his niece Wyrren Jadis as a political hostage to prevent her family from aiding the rebellion. The king also has a twelve-year-old grudge against the Jadis family, and with his niece under heavy guard in his palace, he attempts to make Wyrren accuse her father of murder.

Between betraying her father and endangering herself and her companions, Wyrren instead looks to fight a king in his own court with what little resources she has: a formal education in government, a specialty in a non-combative magic, three female bodyguards posing as her maids, a high ranking slave allowed access to the city, and whomever is willing to associate with a woman outside of the king's favor. The most powerful of her potential allies is an ambitious young nobleman who may or may not have honorable intentions.

This paragraph is where you finally get to what you should have started with. Wyrren is going to do battle with the king so she doesn't have to betray her father to her uncle. Ok...so what? Maybe her father IS a murderer and a snake (no offense to snakes of course, some of my dearest colleagues are rather slithery.)

And unless there's some sort of twist on this story, I'm left thinking ya ya ya, who isn't battling a wicked uncle these days.


Blue Crystal is a complete novel of 95,000 words, written for adults who enjoy action, intrigue, and dark fantasy. I've included the first X pages.

Thank you!

Right now you don't have anything that makes me want to call you up and demand pages instantly. There's no hook of any kind, and nothing about the plot suggests an interesting twist or dilemma.

Form rejection.

#70-Revised

REVISION

Dear Query Shark

Dr. Abigail Wade is a gifted virologist. Her only true confidante is a Great Dane named Extra and she hasn't has a date since Poison was popular. She is sanctioned by a major pharmaceutical company to find a cure for the deadly Gemini virus.

Sanctioned? This is an odd word choice. Sanctioned means directed to, or to give approval for (it also means other stuff too of course). It doesn't fit here unless the pharmaceutical company controls the virus, and thus who gets to do research about it. If that's the case, you still don't want to use that word cause it gives the game way. And the second sentence has NOTHING to do with anything that follows.

Once the vital antidote is discovered, instead of being celebrated, she finds herself on the run from corporate assassins. Everyone else that had been working on the project turns up missing or dead. Dr. Wade learns that the owner of her company, Dalton Taggart, is bartering with terrorists and if she does not stop them, innocent people will be intentionally infected. If the demands of the terrorists are not met, treatment will not be granted to the sick. The situation is compounded when the cure suddenly no longer works. Dr. Wade must solve the puzzle and overtake Taggart’s henchmen before the terrorists come to collect.

This is a mishmash. I know it makes sense to you cause you know what you want to say, but it doesn't make sense to me at all. She discovers the antidote, then she's on the run. Well, there are a couple connecting points missing there. And when does everyone on her team die or disappear. You're starting at the wrong point. Start when the problem starts-when she discovers the people on her team are turning up dead or missing. Does she know why? She obviously doesn't want to join them so what does she have to do -specifically- to keep that from happening. And what bad thing will happen if she does do it?


PROJECT GEMINI is a medical thriller that wields a mix of suspense, science and a touch of humor. This novel is complete at 80,000 words and would be appealing to those who enjoy the works of Robin Cook and Michael Palmer.

I am a Pharmacy Technician and Pre-Med major. I have worked as a Medical Assistant inside of a Laboratory for twelve years and have done extensive research, as well, to maintain accuracy.
I am seeking representation for this novel. I would be happy to provide you with a partial or the entire manuscript at your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Form rejection
-------------------------------------------------

ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark

I am a Pharmacy Technician and Pre-Med major, and my recently completed 80,000 word thriller PROJECT GEMINI follows a female virologist who is trying to cure a seemingly unstoppable disease. Soon everyone working on the project is either missing or dead and she finds herself on the run from corporate assassins while fighting to keep the vaccine out of terrorists’ hands. PROJECT GEMINI wields a mix of suspense, science and a touch of humor. It is a woman’s take on the genre pioneered by Robin Cook and Michael Palmer.

This is an unholy mess. If someone presented this to you as a list of symptoms cause they were feeling poorly you'd make them stop, and start again. Just think of what follows as an intervention:

First, "female virologist" sounds like you're describing a lab project. What's her name?


"seemingly unstoppable disease" could be the common cold. It could be AIDS. It could be racism, alcoholism, or (my favorite) stupidity. Be specific.

Everyone working on the project is missing or dead? I gotta tell you, any normal person would take that as a sign to get the HELL out of the lab, move to Wichita, Kansas and enroll in the Ag program there. At least those guys aren't trying to kill you. Of course, I'm being sardonic here but if someone is going to be this hellbent on doing something no one in their right mind would, there better be a reason. And it can't be cause the terrorists/corporate assassins kidnapped her son/husband/boss/mom/cat.

Are the corporate assassins and the terrorists the same people? If they aren't you've got too much going on here.

"A woman's take" just offends the hell out of me. I don't think you as a lady author, and I don't think of Michael Palmer's book as "a man's take" on anything. I think of his books as page turners written by a ripping good novelist. So shoot me, I'm sensitive on the subject, but then I'm sensitive about how language is used in general.

I would be honored to provide you with a partial or the entire manuscript on an exclusive basis. If you are interested, please respond and I will send it via email or snail mail at your request.


Please can the crap about honored. Of course you want me to read your pages, and face it, you think I'm an idiot if I don't request them. I understand and accept that.

And "if you are interested, please respond" is like saying "please breathe in through your nose as you read this". Stating the obvious is best left to direct testimony in front of the grand jury, and teaching three year olds how to use the bathroom (first take OFF the pants).

And don't get me started on offering! OFFERING!!! an exclusives in a query letter. Have you not read my blog?? Exclusives stink. Don't do this. Not now, not ever.


Thank you for your time , patience and consideration.
Let's hope I don't actually NEED patience when reading your query, ok?

#69

Dear Query Shark:

Aside from a primal need for food, water, shelter and warmth, most of us want the same things from life...love, security, a sense of self-worth and a modicum of success. For some, these needs are met easily while others must overcome tremendous obstacles to achieve them.

Unless you are introducing a discourse on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, this is so general as to be meaningless. It's also very obvious, and thus NOT a hook. A hook generates a response of "oh! I didn't know that, I want to know more!"


Despite a lifetime of dealing with tragedy and betrayal, four young women who are doctors, partners and friends come to terms with their troubled pasts by approaching life with faith in themselves, in God and in the power of love. Each meets the man of her dreams, all of whom must overcome difficulties of their own to be worthy of the women they love.

Again, you're bogged down in generalization. Focus on ONE person. What's her problem? What's at stake? Why will care about her?

I am seeking publication of my novel, Second Chances, a completed work of literary fiction of approximately 99,075 words. The characters and the plot were developed using descriptive language, irony, strong emotions and consistency.

My guess is that they are not. I'm guessing this because your query letter does not use descriptive language, irony, or strong emotion. I'm not sure what you mean when you say your characters and plot were developed using consistency. If you mean they are consistent, the first question I would ask is consistent with what?




The story concerns an interfaith marriage laced with anti-semitism, a marriage of convenience to facilitate an adoption, a marriage nearly destroyed by hidden guilt and a marriage surviving adultery and betrayal.

Finally here you start talking about something other than platitudes. You'd do better to start here, be specific and haul out some of that promised descriptive language.



I would appreciate the opportunity to send you a sample of my work. I look forward to your response. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Form rejection.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

And now, a pause for jocularity

Dear My Dream Publisher Of Good Humor,

Three students of the College of Witching and Whizzing in Ireland are finding out that life isn’t all it is cracked up to be when Lord Saddam-a-mort decides to go on a rampage with all the artillery he could muster up. When their college professor fights Lord Saddam-a-mort, and almost kills him with the Crystal of Darkness, Lord Saddam-a-mort yells out a truth that shatters the heart of Larry, one of the three students that wears thin glasses and always seems to figure out magic without much help from his education at the College. He yells out, “Larrrry, I am your Grandfather.”

Trusting the evil Lord in his hour of doom, Larry decides to go on a quest to look for his father, because he deduced that if he had a grandfather, that must mean that he had a father at some point in history. His faithful, red-headed girl friend, with eyes like the sea after a storm, goes along for the ride, and they take their other friend Juan Hector Manuel Crisanto Deigo Carlos Felipo Marco Alberto Miguel Fernando Hermanez Recardo the 3rd, an exchange student from deep Mexico.

They only make it as far as the next interesting place, Scotland, and find themselves in the throws of a castle, because, well, something happened, but there they were. The hunched back man who answered the door, eerily followed the three around the castle. Door after door was opened, with the hopes of finding Larry’s father, but all that lay behind each one was a new mystery to solve. Behind one, for example, was Central Earth which consisted of the children of Men, Elves, and Gnomes that haunted the gardens of Men. There Larry, his red-headed girl, named, um, Matilda, and Juan, connected with Leroy, son of the Dave, son of the Harold, who produced DNA papers stating that he was indeed the father of Larry, and also a prince.

Thrilled, Larry high tailed it out of there, just as a war was unfolding against Man and the formidable Garden Gnomes who were in league with the Plastic Pink Flamingos of the Netherworlds. The three students used this knowledge of the Castle of Doors to get away from the hunched back man who loosely guarded the door of the castle. As they are leaving, the hunchback says with a look of horror in his eyes, “I smell dead people….”

As the three grew, Larry couldn’t live in comfort knowing that his father has maybe or maybe not survived the battle against the Garden Gnomes. Until one day, a letter came along by Owl, and enclosed in the letter was a golden bracelet which he had to go to the country of Saddam-a-mort to throw into the burning oil wells and destroy. Upon the destruction of this bracelet, the wars of Central Earth would cease, and all the people that are wired by their heads into every outlet in the Pink Flamingos power lines will be freed and allowed to live as normal men of Central Earth, instead of living as a ‘renewable energy source.’

I would like you to consider reading my 100,789 word manuscript for the genre: pre-teen action thriller adult fantasy drama, chocked full of recipes, tips for green living, and coupons for future upcoming books. I have always loved writing, ever since the fourth grade when my work was included in the 1975 Christmas Pageant at Show Low, Arizona Elementary School. (Yes, that was me! You remember that, don’t you? DON'T YOU?)

I have received many compliments on my work from my husband, my mother, my deaf aunt Matilda (the inspiration behind my main characters love interest), and my goldfish. I also attended a New Kids on the Block concert when they first toured, and studied a prestigious Book on Writing I got at a garagesale. This manuscript could be considered for a screenplay, and should be categorized right up there with other genius Cinematic Works of Art, such as, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (a moment of contemplation while we ponder the greatness of the Monty… hummmm...ok, that’s enough).

Passing this query up would mean certain death for your Publishing corporation.
I will encourage you to use your good sense and really consider-accept, this almost finished manuscript, destined to be a best seller.

Sincerely,
(name redacted)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

#68

Ideas registered at Writer's Guild

What? Writers Guild is for screenplays. Here's their website.
This isn't something I know a lot about since I don't represent screenplays or scripts but I don't think you register ideas, you register the pages. The purpose is to protect your actual work during the hubub of those pitch meetings with Griffin Mill


Starting your "query letter" to me with that tells me two things: you don't know what I represent and you don't know what a literary agency does.

Book One



Jill's father, Jerry has recently died in a car crash while her mother, Sarah was driving. Because Jill was very close to Jerry, she blames her mother for her father's death. And now that her mother has 'got religious', Jill is finding herself more and more angry at the peace that Sarah has found. Jill wonders why God doesn't love her. After moving to a new school and making several friends, Jill finds herself making a mistake which may ultimately cost her a decent future. How can anyone love her now? When sister, Anna nearly loses her life, Jill finally reaches out to God, who brings some healing to Jill's family.





Book Two

Jill's continues her journey with Christ. Her relationship is still healing with her mother but she is surprised at the peace and forgiveness she feels. She is excited to begin working for God to bring others to him and begins to work on friend, Ashley. Ashley is quite boy crazy and doesn't want to attend church until she meets Jill's secret love, Matt. Jill desperately wants to save Ashley, until she discovers that it is not she, but Christ who does the saving. Jill's friend Kelly, ends up leading Ashley to God. Jill struggles with some disappointment, and feels jealousy over Matt.



Book Three

Jill, still nursing her crush on Matt, begins her senior year. Ashley is no longer interested in Matt. Ashley is still crazy, but now crazy about Christ and begins to woo many kids to church. Jill still struggles with inadequacy because witnessing seems so easy for Ashley. She 'complains' to Matt who rather roughly encourages Jill. Jill and Kelly are still close friends.


This isn't a query letter. This is a recitation of events.
Start over.

Form rejection



(name redacted)

(phone redacted)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

#67

Dear Query Shark,

Molly is a seven year old with a big problem. Her mom has not been acting normally for days. She stays in her bedroom for hours and Molly can hear her crying. Why?

The answer will be revealed as the story unfolds. Molly's mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Molly and her family live with all the ups and downs of going through cancer.

This is a book to read to children to help them understand what to expect when breast cancer has become an unwelcome guest in their family.

As a breast cancer survivor and mother myself, I want to write this book to make it easier for parents to answer questions that children may have about Mom, Grandma, an aunt or a friend as they go through this very common cancer.

This is my first book, and I'd like your opinion of my idea. I'm planning on it being a 32 page book with illustrations. Thank you for your time.


First, you're not writing to an agent to get his/her opinion of your idea. You're writing to ask them to represent it. You don't have to say that, but the universal purpose of a query letter is "do you want to take me on as a client."

Second, you want to give us a sense of the story of the book. Molly's mom is sad...then what.

There are 100 books that come up when you look for "telling kids about cancer" on Amazon so you'll also need to mention what makes this book different/better/ special.


Sincerely,

#66-Revised

Revision

Dear Query Shark:

After nearly dying in childbirth, physician Maddy Edwards can speak with the dead. But when the dead warn of murder, will anyone believe her?

Boston internist Maddy Edwards is a hypochondriac with one big worry-- she's more-than-a-little-bit pregnant, and afraid she won't survive the delivery. Maddy's fears prove justified when her heart stops momentarily in childbirth, the result of a serious medical error. When additional deadly errors occur at the same hospital, Maddy is invited to join the oversight committee reviewing the apparent medical miscues. But Maddy, plagued with
psychic abilities since her near-death experience, soon realizes the truth-- the seeming mistakes are being deliberately staged. As the attacks continue, hospital authorities ignore Maddy's warnings and doubt her sanity. Maddy begins tracking the killer herself, knowing another attack could strike the hospital at any time. The ghostly clues lead Maddy to a surprising culprit-- a grieving mother who wants to bring down the hospital in revenge for her
daughter's death after surgery. Exposed, the woman escapes with Maddy's baby, a replacement for the stricken woman's lost child. Now Maddy and her husband must find their baby or they too will lose a daughter.

DEATH BY ERROR (86,000 words) combines the sensibility of a Lisa Scottoline novel with the plot arc of medical thriller. It should appeal to readers who enjoy suspense novels with a strong female protagonist. My background as a physician and published author in medical journals brings realism to the story. I am seeking your representation because I love your blog.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Yup, that works!




----------------------------------------
ORIGINAL

Dear Ms. Shark,

Physician Maddy Edwards sees dead people, and not just at work.

Cliche alert! There's no way to say "sees dead people" unless you mean it sardonically and not have people think instantly of the movie. I mean really now, who doesn't see dead people these days!

Boston internist Maddy Edwards is a hypochondriac with one big worry-- she's more-than-a-little-bit pregnant, and afraid she won't survive the delivery. Maddy's fears prove justified when her heart stops momentarily in childbirth, the result of a serious medical error. After her near-death experience, Maddy is troubled by strange encounters with transitioning
souls, with whom she can now communicate. These wronged spirits confirm what Maddy already suspects-- the deadly medical errors that continue to plague her local hospital are really a series of vengeful murders. Skeptical at first, Maddy begins to accept her power as clues from the dead lead her to the killer. When the killer responds by kidnapping Maddy's infant daughter Grace, Maddy and her husband must find Grace before she becomes the killer's
next victim.

There's a list somewhere of "If I Were The Killer I Wouldn't" and it captures one of the biggest problems with a lot of thriller queries I see. If I were the killer, and Maddy was after my hide, I'd KILL HER. What the heck does he hope to accomplish by kidnapping her kid? For starters, what's he going to do, keep the kid forever to keep Maddy from investigating? If he kills the kid, his leverage is gone.

This kind of "kidnap the girlfriend/daughter/wife/dog/Kindle" motif is as old as Aaron Spelling TV scripts. In other words, NOT fresh and new.

Also, you mention "vengeful" but it would really help if we had more of a sense of the plot. And why Maddy (mother of an infant!) would risk all to investigate.

And was the serious medical error during her delivery really an attempt to kill her? And why?


The plot has to make sense in and of itself. A lot of times you'll see the word "organic" and it means just this: the plot has to adhere to its own internal logic requirements. You can't just say "she'll get kidnapped!" to create tension. That's the stuff of bad romance novels and soap operas.


DEATH BY ERROR (86,000 words) combines the sensibility of a Lisa Scottoline novel with the plot arc of a medical thriller. It should appeal to readers who enjoy suspense novels with a strong female protagonist. I am a physician and published author in academic journals, currently writing full-time. I am seeking your representation because I love your blog! If you would like to read more, the completed novel is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

#65-Revisions

SECOND REVISION



Title: Doorways and Mirrors
Genre: Women's fiction

Liz is a happy go lucky girl with a problem. She is having panic attacks, and she wants to know why. The merry go round of doctors she visits are of no help at all. Liz is a patient adrift in the wonderful world of western medicine, experiencing a frightening and embarrassing health crisis that culminates in a complete loss of self esteem, getting fired from her job and losing her health care coverage. She is determined to find a cure and goes on a desperate search for sanity in an insane, drug obsessed country where insurance companies rule, television offers treatments and physicians are demoted to “prescribers.”

After a frustrating three year search for answers through the labyrinth of conventional and alternative medicine, she finds the root of the problem while watching an HBO special on drug issues facing the elderly: an over the counter drug interaction.

In Doorways and Mirrors, Liz goes on a journey of healing and self discovery similar to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. She draws on spiritual strength, philosophy and a whole lot of humor to find answers, and reclaim her health:


I'm sorry but I don't want to read novels about health care. I want to read novels about people. Jodi Picoult writes very compellingly about a health care issue in My Sister's Keeper. Here's the first paragraph of the jacket copy:

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of a preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate--a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now.


Now you tell me if you can stand not knowing what happens. Yes, it's about health issues, but mostly it's about Anna and how we now have an instant sense of her, and what the stakes are.


Liz Riser walked out of the tri county community-health clinic in a complete huff, frustrated with the commercialized pill pushing industry of modern medicine only to get in the car and hear her trusty radio ask if “Viagra is right for me.” As she drove down the street, her heart raced. Her face flushed. She felt that ol' dreaded wave adrenaline surge upward, overpowering her for the millionth time. She panicked. She clutched her chest. She was dying, over and over again, and none of the doctors could tell her why. Even worse, she was convinced that for the most part, they did not even care.

She pulled over and dialed 911, for the third time that week.

Don't put your first paragraph in your query letter. Particularly without mentioning that's what you're doing. It's jarring in the extreme.

This is a story of white coats and co-pays, shamanic healers and scammers, all mixed up in the day to day life of a working mother with bills to shuffle, laundry to ignore, and the frightening thought that Richard Simmons might really be her friend for three easy payments of $19.95.


The author is a congressional policy liaison with a wide base of knowledge on women’s health, alternative medicine, and the structure problems of our conventional medical/insurance systems. She has co-authored two privately published works of non-fiction for corporate clients, and this is her first novel.


Pages are available on request.



You're getting lost in all this description. You can distill this all down to: Liz is a happy go lucky girl who suddenly finds herself having panic attacks and can't understand why. She's got the same problems everyone else does, so why is she suddenly dialing 911 every day thinking she's dying?

And then you can get into why we should care about her.

This still has the feeling of a novel that's written to rally people to a cause, and that never goes over very well. The story has to come first. Much like Jodi Picoult's novel is not couched as an exploration of right and wrong, but as a novel about people facing choices, your novel needs to be about Liz first and foremost.

Form rejection

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







FIRST REVISION:

Dear Query Shark:


Title: Doorways and Mirrors
Genre: Women's fiction


Liz is a happy go lucky girl with a problem. She is having panic attacks, and she wants to know why. The merry go round of doctors she visits are of no help at all. Liz is a patient adrift in the wonderful world of western medicine, experiencing a frightening and embarrassing health crisis that culminates in a complete loss of self esteem, getting fired from her job and losing her health care coverage. She is determined to find a cure and goes on a desperate search for sanity in an insane, drug obsessed country where insurance companies rule, television offers treatments and physicians are demoted to “prescribers.”


After a frustrating three year search for answers through the labyrinth of conventional and alternative medicine, she finds the root of the problem while watching an HBO special on prescription drugs issues for the elderly: an over the counter drug interaction.

In Doorways and Mirrors, Liz goes on a healing journey of self discovery similar to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. She draws on spiritual strength, philosophy and a whole lot of humor to find answers, and reclaim her health.

You've already said this is a novel. Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir, not a novel.



Liz Riser walked out of the tri county community-health clinic in a complete huff, frustrated with the commercialized pill pushing industry of modern medicine only to get in the car and hear her trusty radio ask if “Viagra is right for me.” As she drove down the street, her heart raced. Her face flushed. She felt that ol' dreaded wave adrenaline surge upward, overpowering her for the millionth time. She panicked. She clutched her chest. She was dying, over and over again, and none of the doctors could tell her why. Even worse, she was convinced that for the most part, they did not even listen.

She pulled over and dialed 911, for the third time that week.

This is an abrupt shift from the query letter to the first page of the book, with no warning.

This is a story of white coats and co-pays, shamanic healers and scammers, all mixed up in the day to day life of a working mother with bills to shuffle, laundry to ignore, and the frightening thought that Richard Simmons might really be her friend for three easy payments of $19.95.

You've just got too much going on here. The tone alternates between funny, and sort of pathetic. I don't know what to think about Liz, and I don't have much sympathy for her. And Richard Simmons is a weight loss guru, not anyone associated with therapy. (I had to look up Richard Simmons website just to make sure he hadn't become a therapist since I'd last heard of him and was fortunate enough to find this youtube of his appearance on Whose Line Is It Anyway-this is NOT for anyone who finds sexually nuanced jokes in bad taste. I laughed for ten minutes)

The author is a congressional policy liaison with a wide base of knowledge on women’s health, alternative medicine, and the structure problems of our conventional medical/insurance systems. She has co-authored two privately published works of non-fiction for corporate clients, and this is her first novel.

You don't need qualifications to write a novel. From this though I get the idea that you want to use this novel to illuminate problems in the structure our conventional medical/insurance systems. I'm always leery of books that start from a prescriptive premise. Start with the story. The prescriptive flows from the story not the other way around.

Don't talk about yourself in the third person in a query letter.

Pages are available on request.

This is a form rejection.







---------------------------
ORIGINAL

Dear Query Shark,

I am dipping my toes in the water to give you something to chew on. Enjoy the feast:

Title: Doorways and Mirrors
Genre: Women's fiction


“I think I’m allergic to Pop Tarts. Or maybe it was the Advil, or the Pepsid. I also ate my kids Flintstones vitamin that day, so maybe that’s what put me in the hospital on deaths door in a full blown tachycardia. I'm not sure, but I’m not taking any chances Doc. I’m not taking any more pills.”

“Panic attacks and anxiety disorders are common Liz. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We just need to look at the root cause…together.”

At that moment laser beams shot from my eyes and melted that creepy councilor's sappy face to the floor. Anxiety disorder? Give me an ever lovin break. I’m trying to find the source of a life threatening allergy here, and this bitch is going all Sigmund Freud on me.

“I am NOT paying for this. I'm NOT a psycho.”

I walked out of the tri county community counseling center in a complete huff, only to get in the car and hear my trusty radio ask if “Viagra is right for me.” My heart raced. My face flushed. I felt that ol' dreaded wave adrenaline surge upward and overpower me for the millionth time. I felt like an abused child at the moment when the bedroom door creeks open at two am. I panicked. I clutched my chest. I was dying.

I dialed 911.

Again.

Thus began my three years of hell as a patient adrift in the wonderful world of western medicine, the complete the loss of my Self, the shrinking of my world and a desperate search for sanity in an insane, drug obsessed world where insurance companies rule, television offers treatments and Physicians are demoted to “prescribers.” It is the story of white coats and co-pays, shamanic healers and yoga, all mixed up in the day to day life of a working mother with bills to shuffle, laundry to ignore, and the frightening thought that Richard Simmons might really be my friend for three easy payments of $19.95.

This is a story of courage that has nothing to do with war.

Feel free to request pages if you run out of Ambien.


Sincerley,


I can overlook misspelling "sincerely"; that's not a problem. The problem here is that you are talking in a sort of jokey, off the cuff, don't-take-me-seriously voice about a topic that's pretty serious. And of course you use the analogy of an abused kid at 2am. That's as jarring a pairing with jokey voice as I can think of.

This reads like the query for a memoir. Only cause you told me it was women's fiction did I know I was supposed to be thinking novel. The problem with that of course is that your query letter is in the first person. That makes me think it's you.

When I finish reading I'm utterly confused about what you're trying to write about, and thinking, honestly, "you" ie the narrator DO sound psycho so this one is a form rejection.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

#64-revision

REVISED VERSION:


Dear Query Shark,

5 things Angela James never thought she'd do:
Melt through the floor of the science room.
Break into a police officer's apartment.
Attack her brother's girlfriend.
Throw a birthday party for a supernatural creature.
Burn a house down.

Angela had a lot of plans for her eighth grade year that aren't panning out. But the one thing she really hadn't seen coming?

A blue, winged boy dropping from the sky to completely destroy her perfectly normal life.

Angela has become a carrier of magic – a gift that she's supposed to use to better the world – but unfortunately, this new power is as uncontrolled as her 13-year-old emotions. All it seems to be good for is manifesting in embarrassingly public ways. And she's not alone. Her classmate Zeke and his sister Izzy have also been given new abilities, and they see it as an opportunity to finally get a leg up on the kids that have long bullied them.

And what about the winged boy? The one who ruined everything? He's their only ally, an emissary sent to guide them and keep them alive as long as possible, but he's got emotional baggage, a nasty temper and secrets of his own.

The magic – and the secrets that go with it – throw Angela's whole life out of whack. She worries her parents, racks up detentions at school, breaks the law … and those are the easy parts. There are creatures in the dark hunting them, creatures that crave magic and will suck it from the children's bodies if given half a chance. They can look like anyone and can be so exquisitely beautiful that it's easy to forget you're in danger until you're dead.

Complete at approximately 90,000 words, Keeping Back the Dark is a young adult urban fantasy balancing danger and wit as it follow Angela's struggle for a normal life.


I majored in creative writing at Kansas State University, and I'm currently taking classes toward my secondary education degree. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,


well, heck yea I want to read that! Nice work!

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


ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,

The 5 weirdest things that Angela James has ever done:

1. Melted through the floor of the science room (uncomfortable, especially when you land in a mop closet.

2. Broken into someone's house (but if they're not really people, is it still a crime?)

3. Attacked my brother's girlfriend (she was asking for it)

you've switched from third POV to first POV (Angela James has ever done/my brother)

4. Thrown a birthday party for an Icarus (what do you get the guy who's lived for centuries?)

5. Unintentionally used magic (unfortunately now the story of my life)

Angela had a lot of ideas about what her eighth grade year would be like, and absolutely none of them are panning out. Moving hadn't been in her plan, and neither had dropping from "somewhat liked" to "nonexistent" on the social radar. But the one thing that really hadn't been on her agenda?

A blue, winged boy dropping from the sky to completely overthrow her perfectly normal life.

Now she has magic underneath her skin, threatening to burst out wildly with every swing of her 13-year-old emotions, and only the slightly odd Marr siblings understand because they're going through the same thing. And the winged boy? The one that ruined everything? He happens to be their sole ally – an emissary sent to guide them – but he's got emotional baggage, a nasty temper and secrets of his own.

I don't understand anything in that paragraph. And "Marr siblings" is just a little too close to Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely); trust me that's the first person everyone thinks of with that name.

Angela finds herself saddled with a secret life that has her worrying her family, racking up detentions at school, and even breaking the law … and those are the easy parts. There are creatures in the dark hunting her and the Marrs – creatures that can look like anyone and who are so exquisitely beautiful that it's easy to forget you're in danger until they start killing you.

It would really help to be specific here. Why are they hunting her? Autograph seekers? Unpublished writers who heard she's an agent? Why?

Complete at approximately 90,000 words, Keeping Back the Dark is a fantasy fit into the real world, full of conflicts both supernatural and ordinary. This book — the first in a planned five-part series — blends danger, friendship, family and wit in a combination aimed at readers aged 10 and older.


I started writing at the age of seven, covering the gambit from never-to-see-the-light-of-day amateur novels to Harry Potter and Buffy fanfiction. I majored in creative writing at Kansas State University, and I currently work as a copy editor while I take classes toward my secondary education degree.

Never ever ever mention you started writing at age seven. It screams amateur hour. It's one of the things that sets my teeth on edge cause it's like "I was born to be a writer." The only people born to their day jobs are royalty. Unless you are a princess, don't mention your childhood employment training in a query letter. One of the very best writers I know took up the craft cause she needed a job where she could sit down all day. It's what you're doing now (like jumping in the shark tank-for which I have great respect) that counts.

Thank you for your consideration,

The list is funny and charming. I was all set to love what I read, but the rest is a belly flop in the shark pool.

Start again. Be specific. Revise.



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


A brief summer interlude of hilarity

Dear Query Shark,

Although tattoos have become a powerful cultural force, more popular than the iPod, Starbucks, and many would argue, William Shatner, its evolution is shrouded in myth, distortion, and innuendo.

TATOO: WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN GLOBAL WARMING is a satirical examination of the history of the art of tattoo. Modestly researched and fully illustrated, the book debunks scientists' flimsy theories about its Paleolithic-era origins, casually dismisses claims of its existence in ancient Egypt, and relying on little more than hearsay, credits the invention of the small-of-the-back tattoo in 1976 to a redneck named Ricky White. From valuable advice on how to pick your first tattoo, the benefits of bypassing professional artists in favor of do-it-yourself tattoos, to choosing the right design before beginning a long prison sentence, TATTOO: WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN GLOBAL WARMING sets the record straight.

The full manuscript is available upon request. Thanks so much for your time.




A key element of the satire is spelling tattoo wrong in the title of course.

I'd be leaping all over this if my colleague hadn't just sold a book on tattoos to Seal Press. You snooze, you're tattooed.

Sorry!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

#63-Revisions

REVISION
Dear Query Shark:

Clint Vaughan and Mike O’Donnell, two aging CIA contract assassins with a colorful past, are on the seemingly impossible mission of killing a mission to kill a man who’s already dead.

By spelling out the obvious, you lose both the hook and the humor.


The year is 2002, and Saddam Hussein is at it again. In flagrant disregard of the Armistice and UN resolutions, he embarks on a rearmament program which could spell disaster for the whole Middle-East. The American President is fed up with the Iraqi’s shenanigans. Trying to avert a military confrontation, with a madman, he charges the CIA to remove him, once and for all. Against the background of these factual events, I webbed the intrigue of fiction.

"I webbed the intrigue of fiction" misuses two of the six words in the phrase.

1. Webbed is not a synonym for write or create or invent.

2. Intrigue is either a transitive verb (not a not a noun) or if used as a noun it means a secret scheme, a clandestine love affair or the practice of engaging in intrigues.

Now, I had to look up the definition for intrigue to find out it was a transitive verb. This is not stuff I keep in my head or can cough up without the aid of the trusty red Websters. What I do have in my head though, and what you need to work on is an innate sense of what words mean. You don't have to know why, just that they don't. I knew this was off when I read it. I had to use the dic to find out why.

Now, that is not to say you can only use words in the acceptable way. Far from it. You can line them up, dress them in leopard skin union suits and march them around the room whistling Layla if you want. The only requirement is that these machinations illuminate what you are trying to say rather than obfuscate it (yes, I had to look that up too, but it's a great word isn't it)

Saddam must know that he can’t win. So why is he doing it? Actually, he isn’t. Saddam is dead. Only the World doesn’t know it.

World is not capitalized in this use; it's not a proper name, it's a description.

With the help of disgruntled ex KGB officers, an unscrupulous oil Tsar keeps the myth alive. He plans a new gulf war, of much grater magnitude, and employs Saddam look-alikes to further his goal—control of the crude market.

This is your lead sentence by the way, it's the start of the story.
Grater involves cheese, not magnitudes.


From Washington to Moscow, and from Tel-Aviv to Baghdad, the story spells deceit.

"The story spells deceit" doesn't make any sense to me.

I’d like to interest you in this 95,000-word spy/thriller, One Hundred Hours to Kill a Dead Man. The novel, a relevant depiction of special operations procedures, shows how far people will go just to lay their hands on some black gold.

"relevant depiction" doesn't make sense. Relevant to what? And I'm not reading novels as a how-to lesson in controlling the oil market.


Russian Roulette, a second novel of the same genre which recycles some characters, is undergoing final editing and will be ready for submission soon.

Then why are you even mentioning it? First, query ONE novel per query letter. That is an ironclad rule. Second, query only when you're done. And that means after final editing.

Thirty years of globe trotting, research and analysis of international issues gave me the insight and expertise to write these novels.

(Redacted) a former metro staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and professor, with decades of writing and editing experience, is assisting me on these projects.



I look forward to hearing from you.



Sincerely,



The original query letter was much different than this, but neither one works.
Back to the drawing board.









Original
---------------------------------------------
Dear Query Shark,


The year is 2002 and Saddam is at it again. In flagrant disregard of the Armistice and UN’s resolutions he embarks on a rearmament program, which could spell disaster for the whole Middle-East. He must know that he can’t win. So, why is he doing it?
The American President is fed up with the Iraqi’s shenanigans. Trying to avert a military confrontation, with a madman, he charges the CIA to remove him, once and for all.

I’ll tell you a secret. They plan to send in Clint Vaughan.
Who’s he you ask?
Clint was the greatest contract assassin the CIA ever employed.
And don’t worry about him reaching seventy, next January.
Don’t shake your head that it won’t work!
He’ll have professional help.
Right, Mike O’Donnell will go along. He’s the best SAS operative that ever lived.
And he’s younger than Clint, by almost a year.
Don’t Holy Moses me!
Those two have done many ‘jobs’ together and were the best of friends, that is, until the day Clint ran off with Mike’s lassie.
Granted, it’s going to take a lot just to bring them together again.
I also accept that no amount of training could make these septuagenarians move like young men. But I know one important factor, together they have over sixty years worth of experience. When the going gets tough, all that knowledge and skill will come in handy.

When the two, old dogs of war, start after their elusive target they discover a shocking truth. Saddam is dead, long live…. Saddam?
With the help of ex KGB officers, an unscrupulous oil Tsar keeps the myth alive. He plans a new gulf war, of much grater magnitude, and employs Saddam look-alikes to further his goal; control of the crude market.

The 95,000 words spy/thriller novel, One Hundred Hours to Kill a Dead Man is a relevant depiction of special operation procedure, and shows how far people will go just to lay their hands on some black gold.
From Washington to Moscow, and from Tel-Aviv to Baghdad, the story spells deceit.

I hope you’ll find the story interesting, and it will be my pleasure to send the manuscript for your consideration.

Sincerely,


This is a hilarious query letter. My question is though, is the book supposed to be funny? I'm certainly not ready to laugh about the Iraq war yet. Grimace, groan, moan, and pray, you bet; but I'm not ready for The Sunshine Boys Meet Saddam. Maybe other people are, but I wouldn't bet on it.

And if the book is NOT funny, the tone of the query letter is counterproductive. I read this, and I think I'm hearing your voice, and how you write. You send me twenty pages of a "relevant depiction of special operation procedure" and I'm wondering what the heck this thing is. And I'm not sure why you chose the word relevant to describe a depiction of a special operating procedure. Relevant to what is my first question when I see that.

You've got a great voice though, and that's always good for a page request.

#62-revised

Dear Query Shark,


Rebecca Oakland wanted to take top honors and leave Crystal Shores. She focused on herself and her grades, spending little time thinking of others.

I'm as self involved, ok MORE self involved, than the next slithery agent in NYC but I'm not the protagonist of a novel. We really need a reason to care what happens to Rebecca. Right now she sounds exactly like me...and that's NOT a good thing.

Needing an isolated area for a governmental experiment, a scientist targets Rebecca's town, and sends in his grandson, Derek, to ensure the program's its success. The young, good-looking intellectual brings with him, not only an academic challenge, but an experiment of his own, a computer game he created. That is when things begin to drastically change.

You've called the problem here both a "governmental experiment" and "a program" in the same sentence. That's confusing. When I substitute its, a fundamental flaw in logic is revealed: if this is a government sponsored experiment, why does the scientist need his grandson?

I'm entirely turned off by a high school student being described as an intellectual with a straight face.

The sentences are awkward here. Start with very plain subject-verb-object constructions. I had to read the young, good-looking intellectual brings with him, not only an academic challenge, but an experiment of his own, a computer game he created twice in order to figure out what Derek was bringing with him."But" and "not only" are indicators of exceptions, not the main subject.

Now, Rebecca is scared, as friends and family succumb to a mysterious sleep. In an attempt to stop the madness, she will have to play Derek's game and hope she has the strength to fight through and win. The thought frightens her, but realizing that she could lose the most
precious things in her life, forever, frightens her more. In the world of Omniverse, there are no restarts or saves. Rebecca cannot stop. She cannot give up, or it will be GAME OVER.

I have no clue what kind of story is happening here. I have no clue about motivation. There's no reason to care about Rebecca. The stakes are unclear too.

The completed manuscript of 86,000 words for GAME OVER, is available upon request. Thank you for your generous time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Please don't ever put I look forward to hearing from you soon in a query letter. It sets my teeth on edge. Other agents may not have quite the ..ah...toothy! reaction that I do, but why risk they do. Be safe. Don't say it.


Reply: unclear plot, awkward sentences. Form rejection.


--------------------
ORIGINAL:

Dear Query Shark,


My inspirational suspense novel, Game Over, brings forth a struggle between good and evil, when a mysterious figure, steeped in the delusional grandeur of darkness, desires world allegiance and welcomes you to his creation, the computer game called Omniverse, secretly
programmed to break your will as he attempts to take your soul.


What? delusional grandeur? desires world allegiance? break your will as he attempts to take your soul?

This is so generalized as to be meaningless.

I'm not familiar with a category called inspirational suspense, but I'm not familiar with inspirational books in general so if that's a real category, cool. How do you know if it's a real category? Is there a section in the bookstore that says "inspirational suspense?". There isn't at the stores where I buy books, but hey, I haven't been to every bookstore in America either.

Rebecca was scared. When her small hometown won a free technological make-over, it had seemed a dream come true. A dream which quickly became a nightmare, as friends and family succumbed to a mysterious sleep, while others drifted along in a cyber fog, oblivious to the
chaos around them.

What? What is a technological make over? What is a cyber fog? Cyber generally means the world of electronic media. Unless you are an avatar in Second Life how are you drifting along in a cyber fog?

In an attempt to solve the mystery and save her town, Rebecca must willingly open herself up to unknown and unseen dangers that are lurking deep within the computers. To her disgust and horror, the virtual reality she encounters is controlled by real evil, meaning she must draw her strength from real faith and take a stand. But, the hairs on the back of her neck prickle, as she thinks about her lack of attention in Sunday school and nodding off during Services. Had she absorbed any knowledge, strength, or faith? If she found others wandering inside, would they have the will to stand? Rebecca will soon find out as she's put to the test, for in the world of Omniverse, there are no restarts or saves. Fight against it, for if you give in, it is Game Over.


The completed manuscript of 86,000 words is available upon request. Thank you for your generous time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Sincerely,


The Devil is in the computer and Rebecca has to overcome him? Does that about sum it up? You'll need to make the Devil more interesting or this will simply be a boring preachy book. The thing is the Devil IS interesting, and tempting, and luscious, and that's why we all have such a hard time resisting him.

This needs a lot of work, it's a form rejection right now.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

#61

Dear Query Shark

Re: Manuscript Submission

I am seeking representation for the publication of my novel, titled “Before I Go, The Diary Of A Suicide”. The novel is aimed at the adult market and is approximately 50,000 words in length. It is written in diary format, in the first person and tells the story of Isabelle, a woman who experiences the devastating effects of severe depression.


The book explores the taboo subject of suicide whilst exploring the intimate thoughts of a loving and vulnerable woman. We journey with her as she struggles with miscarriage, serial betrayal and post natal depression.


This is a series of events, not a plot. You have to have a plot. A diary format is incredibly difficult for a novel. I'm not sure why you chose that form, but I strongly encourage you to try something else.

I'm not sure I'd describe suicide as a taboo subject anymore. Thirty years ago, sure, but heck, it's in the news every day now.


This is my first book and I am sending this query letter to you as I know from your website that you welcome first time authors.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

#60-revisions

Dear Query Shark:

Lizbah is destined to be a god, determined not to become one, and damned no matter what path she chooses. In a world caught in a Circle of Time that perpetually repeats itself; Lizbah must join with five unlikely heroes on her epic journey as she seeks an answer to the ultimate question: "I'm not really a god . . . am I?"

I know you're writing in English. I recognize the letters. I don't understand a single word of this.

Lizbah: Genesis Revelation, a completed 90,000 word novel, can be sent to you upon request. The first three chapters can be found at www.


You get a full page for a query letter. Use it. This doesn't give me any idea of the plot, the stakes or a sense of the characters.


Thank you for your time and consideration,


Form rejection.


Revision #1
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear Ms Reid (May I call you Maggie?),

huh?

A War of mythological proportions is brewing and no one knows who to trust. Senator Rikon has assassinated the King and declared himself Populace Magister over the Therconian territories. If he succeeds, then all are doomed to eternal servitude. Rikon can be stopped, and the World saved, by an orphaned farmer; but she has no desire to be a hero.

Mythological proportion doesn't mean the same thing to me that I think it means to you. I think what you mean is epic proportion. Mythological proportion doesn't actually make sense to me since epic battles of good versus evil seem to be in operas about gods, not actual stories. On the other hand, maybe I missed something in Myth 101 (and yes, that was a real class, and yes I took it, and yes, I passed.)

Lizbah, the prophesied child of a Druid Lord and an Elf Queen, is destined to be a God, determined not to become one, and damned no matter which path she chooses. Lizbah receives guidance from a sentient Oak that we later discover to be Lizbah’s Father, and a compassionate Pixie that Lizbah created from a dying woman who, unbeknownst to Lizbah, was her Mother. Lizbah, in stages, accepts her responsibility and sets out to become the savior that everyone believes she is. However, saving the World isn’t as simple as it appears.

You're drowning in detail. You'd do better to be more specific in paragraph one, and lose this paragraph entirely. The gist of your story is that Lizbah has to save the world, doesn't want to, and then discovers she likes being a mom.

The World is entangled in a repeating cycle of events that span the Genesis of existence to the Revelation of the end. The Oak refers to these events as “The Circle of Time.” The Circle of Time has deteriorated to such a state that “knots” exist in time. These knots allow people to exist, in different planes of time, as different entities. The Oak, for example, exists as three characters: a god (as the Oak), a wizard, and a Druid Lord. The Oak has existed through all times and knows what is going to happen, before it happens; however, The Oak is unsure about how it will happen. Only with death is the Oak assured that the Circle of Time has been broken and that the World might yet be saved.

Pare this down to tell us what you need to: The Circle of Time, Genesis to Revelation, has deteriorated such that knots now exist. The knots allow people to exist in different planes of time, as different entities. THEN you tell me how I'll keep all the characters straight in the novel.

I actually represent a novel that is episodic, each episode told in the first person, but a different person each time. AND it's out of chron order. I'm very clear about this in the cover letter so the editor/reader KNOWS what to look for. You need to do that too. The query isn't just what the book is about here. It's got to give the reader a road map particularly since you've got a complex narrative structure.


At the anticlimax, Lizbah has an epiphany and realizes that there are more important things in life than becoming a god and saving the world: Like being a mother.

Anticlimax?

In the end, Lizbah returns to her life as a farmer and rebuilds her life with her newborn daughter. Lizbah soon realizes that the end of one journey is simply the beginning of another. We are left with Lizbah learning that “they” are coming for her daughter. Thus we have the beginning, of the end, of the Genesis.

You don't need to recount the entire story in the cover letter. That's the job of the synopsis.

My completed novel of Genesis Revelation is 95,000 words can be sent to you at your request. Thank you for your consideration.

#59

Dear Query Shark:

Cassie’s stepfather wants to control her life.

He wants to send her to some private Catholic powerhouse school because he thinks she’s a soccer prodigy, and okay maybe she is, but it doesn’t mean she should go there. Especially when Cassie thinks Coach Z, the soccer coach for the local high school, is like the coolest lady on the planet.

Cassie’s controlling stepfather is just the beginning of her problems. Her mom is a dizz. Her brother, Jesse, is a total drug-freak. Worse is that her real dad, who supposedly died when she was three years old, has a stranglehold on the family.

Whoa, stop right there. What??

Her mom and stepfather are too freaked out to breathe his name and so they go on pretending each day that he’s one of the silent dead but Cassie is positive he is not because he stalks her at soccer practices.

What? Her dead father stalks her at soccer practice? Why?

ZEN AND THE ART OF SOCCER, complete at 79k words, is a quirky suburban YA story about the beauty of soccer and a coach that is dying of cancer, and about a family re-uniting against great odds.

Suddenly Coach Z is dying of cancer? And who's reuniting? The dead guy? You have dead fathers stalking and the word "paranormal" better appear somewhere in the query.

I’ve been coaching travel and high school soccer for over ten years and know the thrills and potholes of teenage sports. Cassie must learn the hard way that: It’s not about what you are. It’s about who you will become…

It's not about who you are, it's about who you will become? What the heck does that mean? And what does it have to do with her dead father, controlling stepfather and her dying coach?

Thank you for your time. Please let me know if you would be interested in seeing a portion or all of the manuscript.


I'm really confused about the plot. Who is the antagonist? What does the dead father have to do with stuff? What's at stake? This book can't be about soccer. It has to be about Cassie. Thus your query letter should be about Cassie, not soccer.

#58

Dear Query Shark:

Cancel the wedding–the groom is dead.

This is a pretty good opening line.

A tycoon’s son is murdered the night before his wedding in Stateline, Nevada. The victim’s father is enraged by the local police’s complacency, and offers Private Investigator Dan Reno an impressive bounty to find the killer. Reno seizes the opportunity to revive his career, but he’s nearly killed when a band of rogue cops pressure him to leave town. Haunted by his murdered father and a violent past, Reno wants no more blood on his hands. But once he learns what the cops have at stake, he’s forced to revert to his old ways to survive.

Couple logic problems: If Dan Reno's career needs reviving why is someone with a boatload of money hiring him? If he's so allfired set on leaving his bloody ways behind why is he a PI? Soybean farming would be more likely. (For example when Clint Eastwood came out of retirement in Pale Rider, he was a farmer.)

And what do the cops have at stake. It's helpful to know what the stakes are and who the actual bad guy is. Rogue cops aren't compelling. One rogue cop, maybe.


STATELINE is a 95,000-word mystery, set against the backdrop of the snowy alpine winter in the Sierras, and the lonely deserts of Nevada. It targets readers who enjoy books by authors such as James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, and Robert Crais.

Well this sure doesn't sound like any of those guys at all.

I have a Bachelors degree in English, and live in Northern California.


Thank you for your consideration.

-------------------------------------
Revision:

Dear Query Shark:

Cancel the wedding–the groom is dead.


A tycoon’s son is murdered the night before his wedding in Stateline, Nevada. The victim’s father is enraged by the local police’s complacency, and offers Private Investigator Dan Reno, a guest at the wedding, an impressive bounty to find the killer.

Reno, stuck in a low paying job with an overbearing boss, is glad for the chance at a big payday, but he’s nearly killed when a corrupt sheriff and his henchmen pressure him to leave town. Haunted by his murdered father and a violent past, Reno wants no more blood on his hands. But oOnce he uncovers the sheriff’s stake in a local drug dealing ring, he’s forced to revert to his old ways to survive.

STATELINE is a 95,000-word mystery, set against the backdrop of the snowy alpine winter in the Sierras, and the lonely deserts of Nevada. It targets readers who enjoy books by authors such as James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, and Robert Crais.

I have a Bachelors degree in English, and live in Northern California.

Thank you for your consideration.

What does the tycoon's son death have to do with the rest of what you're talking about. It's in the first two lines, then never mentioned again.

And Dan Reno in Stateline Nevada? Time for some name research.

This is pretty run of the mill plotting. Part of your job in a query letter is to write compellingly. That's not to say you write "this is a compelling novel" it's that you choose words and string them together in a way that makes me want to read this. Right now, not so much. It's better than the first go-round, but it's still a form rejection.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

#57

Query Shark chomped in error

#56

Dear Query Shark:

I have chosen to submit my 110,000 word romantic comedy, “The 15 Date Rule” to you due to your interest in women’s fiction as well as the fact that from reading your blogs, you appear to have the shoot from the hip qualities I am seeking in an agent.

Trusting Allie Alexander created her, the Fifteen Date Rule in order to protect herself from sleeping with ill-intentioned men. Lately, it seems as though Allie is finding every reason to break her rule.


When it comes to concrete subjects such as math and science, Allie is an exceedingly intelligent woman. Yet, when it comes to relationships and human motivations, let’s just say that Allie’s trusting, naive character often overrides her common sense. For example, on the romance front, Allie keeps her humiliation in overdrive by frequently bumping into Matt, a handsome man who occasionally fills in at his brother’s relationship break up service. Matt is well aware of Allie’s numerous dating misadventures and seems to magically appear to witness every humiliation. On the career front, Allie is a successful and busy astrophysicist who seems to be continuously leaving things out of place at her work. Dismissing these problems as a symptom of being too busy, she ignores the discrepancies until the groundwork for a sensitive project is stolen from her offices. Allie must then learn to trust herself as well as her abilities in order to solve the mystery of her stolen work as well as to snag Matt's heart.


whoa. First of all, this paragraph is way too long. Particularly if you are querying by email you want to break up big blocks of text. Also, you've got so much extra wordage in here, I want to bring my tweezers and start plucking.

Consider this:


Allie is a successful and busy astrophysicist. Somehow though, she keeps forgetting things, and that's creating a problem at work. To top it all off, Allie keeps bumping into Matt just when she's in the throes of yet another humiliating date moment.

The problems at work are getting serious. Matt isn't. Allie must solve the mystery of her stolen work as well as snag Matt's heart.


Clearly that's not polished and it needs a bit more fleshing out but you see my point. LESS IS MORE.

And what happened to the 15 Date Rule?

Recently, I ranked in the top ten of a RWA sponsored writing contest. I have also written entertainment articles for small newspapers, garnering me several contributor awards. I am also a member of my local writers guild.

Don't mention contests unless you won. Even then, they don't mean much.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.