Wednesday, July 15, 2009

#119-revised Six times

Dear Query Shark:

Dominique Hillmen thought her problems were over when she collected a multi-million dollar reward for capturing one of America’s most wanted. Instead her family falls apart, her fiancé dumps her and she loses the anonymity she was promised when she blew the killer’s cover.

This is so much better than the first versions it's amazing.


When Dominique’s ex-husband is burned to death in a house fire she believes her last enemy is finally gone. So why does she suddenly feel like she’s fighting for her life? After surviving yet another “accident” Dominique faces one hard fact: someone is trying to kill her. And that someone knows just where she is vulnerable, through her children, and they are not afraid to use them to get to her.

We know that the killer is afraid to use her kids from the first part of the sentence.

She knows of only one person willing to take revenge this far: the man she helped nab, now rotting away in jail. He’d hired a hitman to do his dirty work before- a killer who had never been caught. Since Dominique anonymously tipped off authorities very few people should know her true identity; but no one can explain how she is obviously was exposed. Dominique realizes the wealthy life she always wanted isn’t enough to keep her from looking over her shoulder.


Then Dominique’s best friend is killed in a crash she is sure was meant for her. Dominique must find out whom the killer is using and how he is getting so close to succeeding. The truth turns out to be more shocking and more disturbing than she ever imagined, because her worst nightmare is the man she always invites into her home.

In Sight is a complete mystery at 72,000 words. Full or partial portions of the manuscript are available upon request. Thanks in advance for your time.

Wow.
Just wow.

It needs some polishing but it's SO much better I feel like hoisting a glass and toasting all your hard work. You really really made a breakthrough here.



I think this might be the most dramatic query turn around I've ever seen.



Good job.



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Dear Query Shark:

Dominique O' Shea Hillmen should be relieved to find out her ex-husband is dead. After a long and seedy (seedy is the wrong word here; it describes appearance not action) battle with him for the love of their children, she can finally lay down her weapons. But the war is far from over; her ex proves to be as much trouble dead as he was alive.

With ex-husband no longer setting off fireworks, Dominique sees how much damage their obsession has caused. Where does she begin to help her only son who somehow became involved in a deadly robbery? Or reach her oldest daughter, who despite her best efforts as a mother, became the victim of a sexual predator? Dominique's only comfort is her relationship with her youngest daughter, an imperfect bond that still manages to conceal a hideous secret. But uncovering the truth won't be easy, especially now that a notorious murderer she helped convict has found a way to use her own children against her. (here's where you put the part from the last paragraph, polished up of course to fit.) In Sight is a 72,000 word inspirational mystery.

I am a featured columnist for an online newsletter and write content and design websites for local businesses and non-profits. Thank you in advance for your time.






P.S. - Ms. Reid, there is almost no way I can clear up the link between the children and the murderer without giving away the whole plot!!!! I appreciate your patience but part of my struggle is making sure the tone of the query matches the tone of the book. Much of the mystery is tied into her children being pawns, first by their father, then by the murderer out to get revenge on Dominique. I greatly appreciate your critiques and have grown so much. Here's to your continued success!


Can I slap you upside the head? This one paragraph is better than almost everything you've sent.
This happens a lot, by the way. The italic part is the basis for your query.

You are going to win an award for perseverance! I'm really proud of you, and I hope you won't give up yet. One more time, ok?
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Dear Query Shark:

I am seeking representation for my novel, In Sight, a 65,000 word inspirational mystery.

Dominique O' Shea Hillmen should be relieved to find out her ex-husband is dead. After a long and seedy battle with him for the love of their children, she can finally lay down her weapons. But the war is far from over; her ex proves to be as much trouble dead as he was alive.

This is a really good paragraph.

With the dust settling on the battlefield of their shattered lives,
This is telling not showing, and it's a hyperbolic.

Dominique can see sees how much damage their obsession has caused. Where does she begin to help her only son who somehow became involved in a deadly robbery? Or reach her oldest daughter, who despite her best efforts as a mother, became the victim of a sexual predator? Dominique's only comfort is her relation-ship (relationship is one word, not hyphenated) with her youngest daughter, an imperfect bond that still manages to conceal a hideous secret. Forced out of her blind optimism, Dominique must finally deal with the danger that has taken root in her family, and with a notorious murderer from her past fast on her heels, s She better make it quick, before she loses everything, including her life.

Ok, the problem here is that it's all set up for what I think is the plot: the murderer from her past. Dominique has to repair her family or what? I still don't get the connection between the notorious murderer from her past and the description of the family.


I am a featured columnist for an online newsletter, (redacted) and write content and design websites for local businesses and non-profits. Thank you in advance for your time.

This is getting better but it's not there yet.I admire your tenacity a lot.

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Dear Query Shark,

What would you do to protect your child? What if the person you had to protect them from was a member of the family?

Don't open a query with a rhetorical question.

Dominique O'Shea Hillmen divorced her husband years ago. Knowing that he hadn't let her go and would never quit until he either got her back or ruined her life didn't bother her. In fact, she dismissed him altogether, until she realized how carefully he had planted seeds of hate in their children.


No sooner does she learn the cost of ignoring him when Keon, Dominique's ex husband, is found dead. On the day of the funeral Dominique meets her former brother in-law, Trammel, for the first time.


Just like his brother, Trammel turns out to be only too happy to rub Dominique's face in her failures. Pointing the finger of blame at her for her shady past, her abusive marriage and the current problems with her children, he challenges Dominique to remain the calm, evolved person she desperately wants to be.



But being calm won't be easy, especially when
Dominique learns that (HERE IS WHERE YOU FINALLY GET TO THE PROBLEM) her youngest daughter is hiding a hideous secret. On a head-to-head collision course with an enemy (WHO?) who is not afraid to destroy her children (HOW?) because they know it is the only way to destroy her, Dominique must face her two most dangerous foes: a notorious murderer who is closer than she ever imagined and her own self-destructive thinking. (or WHAT?)

Let's review the recipe for a good query:


Who is the main character?
What happens to her-what's her immediate problem?
What choice does s/he face?
What terrible thing will happen because of that choice?

In Sight is an inspirational novel at 228 pages and almost 65,000 words



Thank you in advance for your time. I look forward to your response.



To Your Continued Success,

Start over. Cut everything I've stricken. Be concise.


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Dear Query Shark:


Dominique O'Shea Hillmen is a single mother with one goal: she must get over her fiancée. Following an author's advice to put down the cocktails and dive into her pain, Dominique finds herself sober in more ways than one. What she sees with some reflection is everything she hates: desperation, neediness and whew!– a big steaming hunk of arrogance.


No sooner does she realize this when Dominique learns that her ex-husband has been found dead. On the day of the funeral her former brother-in-law, Trammel, shows up to introduce himself. Like real family, Trammel turns out to be only too happy to rub Dominique's face in her failures.


Pointing the finger of blame at her shady past, her abusive marriage and the current problems with her children, Trammel challenges Dominique to use her anger to inspire her growth instead of continuing to stunt it.


One tragedy after another soon derails Dominique's life. She is attacked on the street and one of her pets is brutally killed. Her friend is fatally injured in her car. And her youngest child, her own daughter, is hiding a hideous relationship.

This is an odd assortment of tragedies. Focus on the one you're really writing about: her youngest child.

To top it all off, the secret to Dominique's current financial success is one courageous act that exposed a multi-million dollar scam and led to the capture of a deadly, wealthy fugitive. That fugitive now faces the death penalty, and those involved in the scam are still picking up the pieces of their shattered lives.

Right here is where this query slips into full scale mess. It's time to start over. What's the problem Dominique faces? (pick ONE) Who's the antagonist (pick ONE). What choices must Dominique make? What are the stakes involved in those choices? FOCUS.


On a head-to-head collision course with an enemy who is not afraid to use even her children to destroy her, Dominique must face her two most dangerous foes: a notorious murderer who is closer than she eve imagined and her own self-destructive thinking.



Several years ago I learned that both of my daughters had been molested. Because I was also molested as a child, and vowed to never allow it to happen to my children, I set out to learn why this seems to plague certain families. The latest research on this issue confirmed that mental illness in children is a major contributing factor.



There are over twenty million sex and love addicts in this country, many of whom were molested as children. There are also millions of children being molested each year. Our lack of resolve to respond to these issues both in terms of prevention and after the fact, is responsible for the dramatic increase in addiction and molestation.



My hope is that In Sight will give people, especially parents, a look at the reality too many children face. The most successful country in history must find a way to inspire in our culture a love and respect for family in general and personal responsibility specifically.


You're querying me about a novel, not an advocacy article. Focus on the STORY. If the story is compelling, you'll make your point. If you SHOW me rather than TELL me, you'll be persuasive. If you just tell me all this stuff, I won't even listen.


I have over ten years of marketing/sales experience and have personally researched the medical information in this book. On several occasions I have been tapped to speak before thousands of people about how faith in God has shaped my life. In Sight is an inspirational novel similar to The Shack or The Alchemist. Coming in at 228 pages and almost 65,000 words, In Sight shares the same theme as those new-age classics: that with love and faith God can turn any situation into a victory.





Thank you in advance for your time. I look forward to your response.



Continued Success, Thank you for your time and consideration

This query is a mess right now, but it's a better mess than the original version. When you care passionately about something as you clearly do, it's hard to channel that passion into telling a story. If you're querying me for a novel, I don't care about your issues, and hyperbole is a turn off. I DO care about a good story, and if you tell that story well enough, I will care about your issue.

Form rejection.
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Dear Query Shark:



With thousands of queries crossing your desks each month I know you're wondering, Is this one going to be worth it?

Never start with something this hideously negative. Assume I do want to read it. Now tell me about the book.



I won't tell you to consider my work because it's brilliant and I'm irresistible (although I would hope so ☺).
Never put emoticons in a query. NEVER. For starters this is a business letter. Second, this emoticon looks like !*&&# (literally) on my screen because I work on a Mac and you don't.


I wouldn't even say my novel is ambitious. It only touches on the meaning of life, grapples with the root cause and ultimate cure for addiction and mental illness, and attempts to answer the age-old question: Why do good people have the worst luck in relationships?

I've stopped reading right here. I know you mean to be lighthearted and perhaps whimsical but I don't give a rat's patootie for that at 3am when I'm reading this. The only thing I want to know is: what is your book about?


My little novel, In Sight, is about Dominique O'Shea Hillmen, a quirky, spunky single mother of three. We open to find our heroine down on the ropes: her fiancé has bailed, her ex-husband is found dead and two of her children have been locked away in institutions.

I'm not sure I'd be able to think of someone as quirky or spunky in the same sentence as "two of her children have been locked away in institutions."

You have a very jarring mixture of tone here.

Following an author's advice to put down the cocktails and dive into her pain, Dominique begins a journey that brings her to one startling self-revelation after another, a host of insights that challenge her to see all of life from a completely new perspective. Never far from danger, or far from the ghosts of lives she has ruined, Dominique soon finds herself the target of an enemy who is not afraid to use her children or to destroy her by any means necessary. Learning to pick and choose her battles, Dominique realizes her beliefs have been her greatest nemesis, greater even than the notorious murderer who is closer than she ever imagined.

This doesn't give us any idea of what happens, or what the problem is. Be specific. Short sentences. Build the bones of the query, then add only what you need to convey clear and precise meaning.



In Sight is a modern hybrid, a mix of spiritual/literary/mystery/romance like The Shack or The Alchemist. Coming in at 228 pages and almost 65,000 words,

Never ever ever have four categories. Pick one. It doesn't have to be right; you won't be the one deciding the category anyway. Just call it fiction, or a novel.


In Sight
is difficult to categorize but shares the same theme as those new-age classics: that we are our own happy ending.

I guess the notorious murderer gets locked away and the kids come home then.



My name is (redacted) and as a mother of five, ranging in age from 16 months to 20 years, I can promise you anyone actively involved in a child's life these days better be able to deal with the horrific, the gross, the dangerous, and outrageous, without batting an eye. I started out writing about the state of our children, the epidemic of molestation and wide spread mental illness, and eventually uncovered the latest research which suggest the usual causes of these issues is also the cure. Oh, I know, fun stuff-right? But In Sight is all about hope and healing, the drug of choice for us die-hard optimists. I look forward to your response and hope this letter sparks your interest.

Don't ever say "my name is." This is business letter. You'll put your name at the bottom of the letter above your contact info.

All the other personal information is absolutely irrelevant to whether this is a novel I want to read. Talk about the book.

Thank you for your time.

I don't have any clue what the story is here. Form rejection.

13 comments:

totally pristine said...

Thanks Query Shark. I did not know I was giving that impression. Revision coming up.

Lehcarjt said...

Hmmmm... I am the mother of four. I deal with gross and outrageous on a regular basis, but have yet to hit horrific or dangerous (especially of the gun-totting type). Perhaps we live in different parts of the country? ~Grin.

On a different note (and I don't mean to be unkind), before you post a revision, I would recommend spending a couple weeks researching query letters. Go through Query Shark from beginning to end and especially note those queries that were hits. Your's needs to more like those than what you've posted here. Good luck!

Jeannie said...

Does the book hinge on the bad guy who endangers her kids? If so then thats the story. The rest is just backstory that we can discover when we read the book. She's rediscoving herself? Snooze. But something is threatening her kids? What? What?
Tell me the threats, the action and why this is exciting.
Aside from all the back story I'm not sure what this book is about.

Poisonguy said...

Never far from danger, or far from the ghosts of lives she has ruined, Dominique soon finds herself the target of an enemy who is not afraid to use her children or to destroy her by any means necessary.

This is the really interesting bit of plot (to me).I'd work up to it and then out of it to the finish.

Good luck.

BuffySquirrel said...

Epidemic of molestation? I think it's more likely that we're slowly admitting to the extent of a problem that's always existed.

With that in mind, I'm left somewhat dubious about the "truths" the protagonist is going to uncover. I'm also puzzled by the connection between addiction, mental illness and good people having bad luck in relationships. Uh?

If you're proposing to cure addiction and mental illness, then you should probably be writing non-fiction. If it's a novel, then what happens?

BuffySquirrel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pristineparrb2b said...

Thanks for the comments. I sent a revision in yesterday and hope to see it's passed! Great suggestions everyone.

Ruth said...

Re: the revision - I always prefer stories where the character problems arise from the character.

That is: the character's fiance has left her. Everyone around her, family included, talks about what a loser she is.

...Then a bunch of stuff happens which seems wholly unrelated from all the character set-up you've just described.

The friend dying and the pet being killed are external - they don't stem from her character. It's often more successful (I think) if most of the conflicts stem from the character herself, choices she's made, or just being the person she is. I read somewhere that the first/main conflict in a book can be external; the others should all/mostly be the result of character choices. Otherwise it's just a bunch of bad stuff happening to someone who has no way of preventing it all. If it's a bunch of bad stuff happening to someone because of stuff she's already done - much more interesting.

So the child could still be molested, as you could link that to her mother somehow - which would make it that much more horrific for the mum. (Not that you need to link it to the mum. That's fine too. It just seems that SO MANY problems that "just happen" to her seems a bit... like a writer trying to find conflicts for her character, rather than her character creating conflict.)

Note: male fiance has one e. Female fiance has two. For the first couple of sentences in your revision I thought she'd been in a same-sex relationship.

Other note: Why don't you change "an author" to "a friend"? I don't really take life lessons from the books I read, but if a friend gives me some serious advice, I'd generally take it seriously. Personal advice = more likely to be listened to than impersonal self-help book (in my opinion).

totally pristine said...

Thanks Ruth,
The string of bad stuff is happening because her life is in danger but it takes her awhile to figure that out. And the person behind the threat to her life is so close to her she doesn't realize that they are the source of her problems.

It's hard to spell this out without giving away the plot or the lesson but I hope that clarifies some things.

BTW, thanks for the fiancee fiance tip!

Stephanie Barr said...

It was a long hard road and my hat's off to you for making it. I love to write but hate to market; your tenacity and perseverance are inspiring and a reminder to me to get my act together.

Queries are hard, they are, and I still haven't mastered it despite reading everything here. If my hat was not already doffed, I'd doff it on learning, crafting and working until you made something that showed the story.

In the last revision, I finally saw the story I entirely missed in most of the earlier incarnation. I bet what you learned will help with all your future endeavors.

Good for you.

Shauna said...

Wow! That is a huge improvement. I am definitely impressed with your tenacity. Publicly putting yourself out there for the shark six times is intimidating stuff.

Reading through them all is very informative. There are so many details that technically could be in your query, and yet, just don't belong.

It's like watching What Not to Wear- for queries. Makeover!

Pretty cool stuff to have Ms. Reid so proud of you she featured you on her blog. I hope you're proud of yourself.

jjdebenedictis said...

*blows Vuvuzela of Triumph*

Yay, author! Great work, and best of luck with the querying!

pristineparrb2b said...

Thanks everyone for all the encouraging comments. I have to give a shot out to the writers on Agent Query because they really helped me get clear and critiqued the heck of my revisions. Writers need feedback as much as they need confidence in their ability to just keep working on the craft. I thank Ms. Reid for not getting so disgusted she just deleted my stuff on sight.