Sunday, January 18, 2009

#90-Revised

Dear Query Shark:

I see that you represent mystery/crime genre authors and I thought that you might be interested in my novel AN INCONVENIENT WITNESS.

In my novel, Owen Johnson is enjoying a glorious day, until he witnesses the murder of one of his clients. The killers get a good look at him and a car chase ensues. Owen manages to elude the killers this time.

Owen is convinced that the killers are after him, even though all his friends and co-workers assure him that the killers are scum and the cops should get them soon. Should Owen run for the hills and hide, or conduct business as usual? It's a tough question where the wrong answer could land Owen in the morgue.

There's a shorthand acronym for protagonists who behave like this: TSTL. It stands for Too Stupid To Live. One of the requirements I have as a reader is that characters don't behave in ways that will get them nominated for Darwin Awards.

Some guy wants to kill you and you're wandering around wondering if you should hide?

To quote my favorite theologian: "d'oh"

Owen works for an insurance company in Columbia, South Carolina where his sales are booming. He employs his good ole boy network to help him hide from the killers and get ready should he meet them face-to-face a second time.

"Hi Mr. Peterson, I'm your life insurance salesman. There are killers after me, can I hide at your house?"

What you're missing here is any kind of compelling reason for your characters to behave this way. WHY would he not leave town? Hasn't he got a cell phone and a BlackBerry? Why does he need to stay any where near where people are TRYING TO KILL HIM.

While his professional life is a success, his personal life is a mess. It doesn't help that his kinky wife is having a torrid affair, his sales assistant wants to jump his bones, and the killers possibly lurk around every corner in town.

His sales assistant wants to jump his bones? Why?
His kinky wife is having an affair? Too bad it's not with the killers, she'd have a two for the price of one sin fest going on.

I picked Columbia as the setting because I worked there as an insurance agent for over fifteen years, and if offers potential conflicts between the Yankees, like Owen and the native South
Carolinians.

None of which is shown in this query letter. You're telling me a lot, and showing nothing. Show not tell is a common critique on early novels. Like, why his client got killed for starters, and why the killers would stick around to knock off Owen instead of heading for Hawaii with all their hard earned killer reward.

I understand that writers can play a big part in the marketing effort for their novel. There are sixteen cities (e.g. St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, and Atlanta) within a day's drive of my house. I can drive to each of these cities to promote my novel. I intend to knock this one out of the ballpark.

Hurray for good intentions, but unless you have some specifics here other than enthusiasm, it's not persuasive.

Form rejection.

(you didn't do anything I suggested below did you?)

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

Dear Query Shark:

I read on Publishers Marketplace web site that you have made some nice deals for debut authors in the mystery/crime genre. I thought that you might be interested in my novel AN INCONVENIENT WITNESS.

Witnessing a murder can ruin your day. Then when the killers get a good look at you and chase you down the interstate for forty miles, I know that I'd be a nervous wreck.


In my novel, this is Owen Johnson's problem. Owen knows more about the victim's past than he lets on. He suspects that the victim's slightly shady past may have just caught up with him.


Owen is a professional mess but a personal success working for an insurance company in Columbia, South Carolina. After witnessing the murder, Owen plays a tricky game of hide and seek with the killers. Along the way, Owen enlists the help of a few friends whose quirks and eccentricities would rival the group of characters Harlan Coben has developed for his character, Myron Bolter.

If you're going to compare your work to a bestselling author, you really must spell the names correctly.

I picked Columbia, South Carolina as the setting because I worked there for over fifteen years and it offers an interesting dynamic between the Yankees, like Owen, and the native South Carolinians.

"interesting dynamic" is so general a phrase as to be meaningless.

I understand that writers can play a big part in the marketing effort for their novel. There are sixteen cities within a day's drive of my house. I can drive to each of these cities to promote my novel. I intend to knock this one out of the ballpark.

well, that's nice but your intentions will be more persuasive if they are accompanied by some specifics.

There's not enough in this query letter to get an idea of what the book is about other than an insurance executive trying to elude killers.

You might want to practice by writing a query letter for a book that's not your own, or a movie you like. Consider Midnight Run, the movie with Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro. If we use the pattern you've established in this query letter you'd have written: Charles Grodin is a bookkeeper playing hide and seek with a bounty hunter. Some interesting characters help him. If you know the movie (and if you don't, rent it, it's terrific!) you'll know you're missing some key parts, and the parts that make the movie good. You're missing those parts in this query letter too.

Form rejection.

3 comments:

PT Hammonds said...

*I intend to knock this one out of the ballpark.*

I think this accolade would be best used if you'd just written a sports-themed novel. Otherwise you just sound silly.

Sarah said...

QS,

Do we need to address marketing in the query? I've only seen one or two small publishers who specifically request marketing strategies in query letter.

Is it helpful to provide concrete suggestions regardless?

talpianna said...

In her "farewell speech" announcing she would no longer give speaking tours, Margaret Drabble mentioned meeting young writers at workshops who were already planning how they'd handle the book tour--before they'd even finished the manuscript!

WV--hatical: Aretha Franklin at the Inauguration