Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#117-Revised Twice, and yes we have a winner!

Dear Query Shark,

While Josie Moore hasn’t exactly made peace with her decision to give up her baby boy, she has learned to accept it. She lives her life as if on hold, impatient for the day her son Austin turns eighteen and she is finally allowed to contact him.

When she spots Austin’s adoptive father in the grocery store, she is overjoyed. Now divorced, Mike has recently moved to town and is raising Austin alone. Totally out of the blue, the unexpected sighting provides her with a much needed opportunity. After careful deliberation, Mike allows Josie and Austin to meet.

Eleven year old Austin is eager to get to know Josie, and they develop an easy and comfortable relationship. Mike struggles with placing limits on their time together, and is torn as Austin gradually grows closer to Josie. Often at odds, Mike and Josie try their best to get along for Austin’s sake.

Austin ignores their sometimes hostile attitudes towards each other, and begins to picture the three of them as a family. Unfortunately, he has no idea how to go about making this happen. By the time he starts working on it, both Josie and Mike have started dating other people.

Things get more complicated when Austin’s adoptive mom, Georgia, reenters the picture. She essentially abandoned Austin years before, and is now looking to repair their broken relationship. Mike and Josie join together in helping Austin deal with his conflicted feelings about Georgia.

Mike and Josie don’t see eye to eye on many things, but are united in their concern for Austin. In their efforts to protect him, they discover that familial love and happiness can sometimes be found where you least expect.

A work of women’s fiction, SOMETHING GOOD is complete at 75,000 words. Thanks for your time and consideration.


Holy Helvetica, you did it! Frankly I was copyediting my snarl for "you can't redo a query letter this fast and get it right" and boy oh boy was I wrong. This is ready to go out into the world.

VERY nice work!!! Congratulations!!
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FIRST REVISION

Dear Query Shark,

While Josie Moore has not exactly made peace with her decision to give up her baby boy, she has learned to accept it. Finished with college, but without a boyfriend or job, she was convinced it was her only choice. What she can’t accept is Mike and Georgia Cameron’s divorce. After choosing them so carefully, she is stunned to discover they divorced shortly after the adoption. She is also angry that they ignored their agreement to send updates and pictures, but she is legally unable to do anything about it.


Eleven years later, Josie is divorced and alone. She keeps mostly to herself, save the occasional lunches and dinners with her colleague and friend, Howard. She places her life on hold, impatient for the day Austin turns eighteen and she can try to find him.

Well, she does know where he is right? She has his parents' name. What you mean is contact him, not find him, right?

When she spots Mike Cameron in the grocery store one day, she is overjoyed. Totally out of the blue, the unexpected sighting provides her with a much needed opportunity. Figuring Mike owes her something, Josie pleads her case, terrified of messing up her one chance. He isn’t exactly thrilled to see her, or to reveal how Georgia re-married and had a baby, essentially abandoning Austin.

The problem here is that this is all set up for the actual story (at least I hope it is). The story starts when Josie sees Mike in the grocery store. Pare down the first three paragraphs and get to the PLOT: what happens when everyone is interacting.

Having recently moved to town, he is raising Austin alone. After careful consideration, he allows Josie and Austin to meet. Josie and Austin develop an easy and comfortable relationship, while she does her best not to alienate the easily irritated and often prickly Mike.


Things get more complicated when Georgia reenters the picture. Mike and Josie don’t see eye to eye on many things, but are united in their concern for Austin. In their efforts to protect him, they discover that familial love and happiness can sometimes be found where you least expect.

This is the part where it gets interesting. Focus here.

A work of Women’s Fiction, SOMETHING GOOD is complete at 75,000 words. Thanks for your time and consideration.

women's fiction isn't capitalized. I'm seeing all these random capitalizations lately; it's making me cranky.

My guess is that the query letter reflects the biggest problem with the novel: too much backstory. I'll lay you ten to one that the real story starts somewhere around page 40, chapter four when the grocery store scene is.

That's the start of the story. All the windup and back story can come in later. We don't need to know all that stuff to start with. Josie sees Mike; consternation ensues.


Better but not there yet.

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ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,

I would like you to consider SOMETHING GOOD, a work of women's fiction complete at 75,000 words.

Start with the story.

Divorced, childless and edging toward cynical, Josie Moore is doing the best she can. She lives with the colossal regret that she didn't choose wisely when she gave up her precious newborn son to the outwardly perfect Mike and Georgia Cameron. The discovery that they divorced a mere three years later leaves her frustrated and angry, but unable to do anything about it.

Ok, so she ISN'T exactly childless is she? Why did Josie give her son up? Was she a surrogate? Was she alone and afraid? A very quick couple of words to give us a sense of why she did this will connect us to her emotionally. You don't have much emotion here, and so the query feels flat. That's not good, particularly when you're dealing with a VERY emotionally charged concept here.




An out of the blue sighting at the grocery store and she may have the chance to reconnect with her son, Austin, years before she hoped or even imagined. He and his dad have moved to town, and after Josie confronts Mike, he reluctantly agrees to give her a chance to meet him. Depending on Austin's reaction, he may even allow her some small role in his life.

This is passive voice: "an out of the blue sighting at the grocery store". Short declarative sentences: Josie sees her son one day at the grocery story. It's totally unexpected, out of the blue. He and his dad etc.

Why does she confront him? He didn't steal the boy. He adopted him, right? You're missing the obvious here: Josie is this child's biological parent and suddenly here is a chance to be part of his life. Make us feel her elation, her hope, her fear. I'm not talking about huge run on sentences; more like six well chosen adjectives.



Trying her best not to alienate the easily irritated and often prickly Mike, Josie develops an easy and comfortable relationship with Austin. Having her around turns out to be a surprisingly good thing for them when the long absent Georgia re-enters the picture. Having all but abandoned Austin after the divorce, she returns, hoping to fix their badly damaged relationship.

Give your paragraph some chiropractic adjustment: subject, verb, clause. Josie develops an easy and comfortable relationship with Austin while she tries her best not to alienate etc. See the difference?

Now, who is the them in the badly damaged relationship? Austin? Mike? And you really don't need much more than "things get much more complicated when Georgia reenters the picture." We can intuit the chaos that ensues.


Mike and Josie don't see eye to eye on many things, but are in complete agreement in their love and concern for Austin. In their somewhat clumsy attempts to keep him protected and happy, they discover that familial love and happiness can sometimes be found where you least expect.

Put these sentences in subject, verb, clause form. In short form queries it's very important to keep your structure as simple as possible. And frankly with the amount of sentence polarity (I made that up in case you're wondering if you missed something in grammar class) here in this letter, I'm VERY afraid I'm going to see a lot of it in the manuscript. That is NOT a good thing.

The complete manuscript is available upon request. Thanks for your time and consideration.

Put the title and word count down here.

You have a very good concept here. It's the writing that makes me shiver. I think you need a good brutal critique group that will help you see some of the convoluted writing I see here.

I'd probably read a couple pages hoping for the best, but then if they were good, I'd read near the middle of the book too, just to avoid the dreaded "workshopped to hell first chapter syndrome." WTHFCS is what we call a novel with a perfect first chapter followed closely by a splat of epic proportions. I actually have a category for this on my query data base "what the hell was I thinking."

I'd read on but you've got a VERY narrow window here. Before you query, I'd make sure that book has had some brutal (and I mean BRUTAL) beta readers.

14 comments:

KayKayBe said...

Thanks query shark. Now I know there's a name for what I'm doing to my first chapter!

Buffra said...

Ahh....It has promise, but it also makes me think of 1,001 romance novel plots. Please tell me it's not going to be a 'and then Mike and Josie fall in love' kind of book. Because I would probably put that back.

But if it really deals with the relationships and how people are constantly building and rebuilding families, it could be interesting.

Ruth said...

Of course Mike and Josie fall in love! That's just inevitable. Sad, but inevitable.

*sigh*

Other than that it does sound like a good book, though - as long as the writing is good. I'll be a beta reader! :)

Lehcarjt said...

I know QS prefers to start with the pitch of the book, but in this case I think opening with the genre makes sense. Because it was crossed out, I didn't read that first line and then I spent the query wondering if this was a romance novel based on the relationship between the protag and the adopted father. (Sounds kind of Harelquinish to me)

I didn't decide that it wasn't a romance until after going back and reading the first line about 'women's fiction.' It wasn't until then that I got a feel for the scope of the story.

Although on second thought, maybe this is a fault in the query itself. Perhaps the pitch should make the genre clear. I don't know.

Bane of Anubis said...

Not my cup of tea, genre-wise, but I'd be wary given the loose prose of the query - though the query does a nice job of encapsulating the plot and conflict elements.

BuffySquirrel said...

I'm now dreading the thought of a beta reader more brutal than our beloved Shark.

Brigid said...

I'd beta read this. I was adopted, and I'm in the middle of a search to find my birth parents. I really like the concept of the guy falling in love with the birth mother, but the divorced mom mucks things up.

No shortage of tough love here. If you're looking for a beta (and you're willing to accept help from some random woman on the internet), give me a shout.

Janet Reid said...

Hi Janet,

After reading your entry for 117, I was unhappily surprised by your passive voice remark. I tried to insert a comment; however, no comments allowed from people not holding a typical blog account. So I thought I'd write to you direct.

From 117

"This is passive voice: 'an out of the blue sighting at the grocery store.'" However poor the query writing, your quote wasn't a sample of passive voice.

Passive voice combines the past tense of the verb "to be" and the past tense of a helping verb.

Basically, all that passive voice means is that the subject of the sentence receives the action: "He was murdered" is an example of the passive voice.

Better terms for the unfortunate sentence would be "writer's gargle" or "foot in mouth disease."

Cheers,
--Chet

Ruth said...

Oh, are we nitpicking then?

"An out of the blue sighting at the grocery store (not technically passive voice, but certainly not a particularly active voice - also, it's missing hyphens in out-of-the-blue) and she may have the chance to reconnect with her son, Austin, years before she hoped or even imagined. He and his dad have moved to town (passive voice)....

That one sentence may not have been in passive voice - although the next one is - but it's certainly written in an inactive voice. Action sentences (such as Query Shark's suggestions) make the query sound more "alive", more immediate.

RayofLight said...

He and his dad have moved to town (passive voice)....

Nope, try present perfect tense,

That said, this query could benefit from some serious editing and as Janet already suggested, I sense so could the manuscript.

Ruth said...

Heh, really? I'll retire from the lists then. :) I thought the passive voice was just using "is" or "has" instead of action words. My bad!

jackjack said...

Hate to beat a dead horse, but passive usually includes a form of 'to be' typically followed by a past participle (ending in '-ed', or -en as my sample demonstrates). Usually, the words 'by the' sneak their way into passive sentences.

"The dead horse had been beaten by the farmer.

The sentence reads better as,

"The farmer beat the dead horse."

Southern Writer said...

Juno meets Into Thin Air.

Shalanna said...

My fingertips were itchin' to yell that the accused sentence IS NOT IN PASSIVE VOICE, but Chet (I love you, Chet) beat me to it. So MANY people are confused about passive/active voice! Passive voice is when the actor is not named in the sentence ("Report cards were handed out at noon.") Sometimes we do not know the actor, or it doesn't matter! Passive voice is not the devil!

But PLEASE don't go by some rule that some workshopper made up as far as determining the cast of a sentence. I don't demand that you all study Curme's GRAMMAR the way I did in college, but DO know what passive voice is. It isn't because of forms of "to be" or "is/has." What ARE they teaching them in the schools these days? (Props to those who recognize the quotation from C. S. Lewis.)

That said, you can recast sentences to be more concise and to remove cliches ("out-of-the-blue needs to be a hyphenated compound modifier here, yes, but it is also a cliche that she did well to remove.) You can make things sound more immediate by decreasing psychic distance, which is generally what is really meant by "take it out of passiveness and use active verbs" or whatnot.

The revised query is really good! I would like to serve as a beta reader for this author, as well. I know someone to whom something very similar happened during an "open adoption."

My verification word, "Dealisse," sounds like a great name for a character, too.