Sunday, January 25, 2009

#98-revised

REVISION:

Dear Query Shark,

Sixteen-year-old loner Scott Foster spends his free time programming and writing science fiction stories. After the death of his infant sister, Scott's parents join an extremist religious sect that promises eternal life in a misguided effort to rebuild their lives and marriage.



Scott is the sole atheist in a congregation which believes that science, free thought, and disbelief are heretical. Though Scott opposes the church's views, he's afraid to tell his parents and risk alienating them. Still, he's horrified to see his parents become different people as they unquestioningly accept the church's radical beliefs.



When Scott's parents find that he is cutting himself (for reasons even Scott doesn't understand), they send Scott to a psychologist. Though initially unwilling to discuss his problems, Scott's loneliness overcomes his reluctance. Asked by his psychologist to keep a diary, Scott writes the story of his sister's death, his parents' conversion to born-again fundamentalism, and the reasons for his lifelong introversion. Scott's journal and his short stories intertwine with his day-to-day life to illustrate his frustration with a family that prizes civility and repression over emotional health.



Scott tries to find religious equilibrium with his parents, attempts to befriend a geeky classmate, and begins to accept his sister's death. As pressures from church and school build, his psychiatric sessions and increasingly sardonic short stories become outlets for his loneliness and frustration.



"The Dead Rise", a 70,000-word young adult novel and my first book, is a snapshot of the isolation of funerals, dogma, and high school. As an atheist who attended a fundamentalist church for two years, I've felt the isolation of disbelief in the midst of public scrutiny.



Per your submission requirements, below are the first (x) pages of the book. I am currently querying a handful of agents. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.



Yup, that works. I'm going to ask for pages on this because of the story. I"m not in love with the very removed, bystander voice in the query letter, but I'm still going to read pages.

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

Dear Query Shark,

"The Dead Rise", a 50,000-word young adult novel and my first book, is a snapshot of the loneliness of death, ideology, and high school.


Scott Foster, sophomore and closet atheist, spends his free time programming and writing science fiction stories. After Scott's infant sister dies, his parents join a fundamentalist church in an effort to rebuild their lives and marriage.

Why is he a closet atheist? Were his parents in a more mainstream church before their daughter's death? What attracts them to the more charismatic church? Why ISN'T Scott attracted to it?

Scott's diary entries and short stories intertwine to illustrate a week in Scott's life: increasing pressure from his parents and friends to convert to their religion; his crush on high school princess Laura Hope; his continuing struggles to come to terms with his sister's death and his worries about his parents' new beliefs.

As introvert Scott muddles through the banalities of high school and his dubiety of religion, he attempts to understand his parents' faith, compose an essay for the school's first annual creative writing contest, and connect to another high school outcast.


As an atheist who attended a fundamentalist church for two years, I wrote "The Dead Rise" to describe the isolation of disbelief in the midst of faith.

uh oh. You better be writing it to tell a compelling story. That's always the start of a good novel. All that other illuminating stuff is secondary.

Thank you for considering my book, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


The concept is more interesting than the writing. You don't quite have a compelling narrative voice here. You're talking about Scott rather than showing us what he feels. I think you may be biting off more than you can chew by trying to do this all in a single week.

I'd probably read this just cause I like the idea, but more often than not these ok, I'll give it a try end up being rejected at the partial stage cause they're not fully realized yet.

But, I'd read this.

#97-revision

Revision:

Dear Query Shark:

Good Mother Lizard, a literary coming-of-age novel set in the late 1970’s in New York and Montana, centers on Phoebe Gray, an imaginative paleontology student, who wants nothing more than to be a scientist, like her grandmother. She chose science over art, despite her mother’s artistic influence, not realizing that what she picked up from her mother, the painter, has made her an exceptionally observant scientist. Phoebe is socially awkward, more comfortable with nature than people, relating to the natural world in an intensely personal way. She is strong, quirky, and combines the two streaks of mothering influences, science and art, in her experience of the world. Securely on the path to academic success, Phoebe is almost derailed by her relationship with a once-brilliant professor, Elliott Brown.


This is a HUGE block of text on the screen if you're querying by email. Don't do this. Email queries need LOTS of white space, even if you end up breaking paragraphs.

Here's how it should look:


Good Mother Lizard, a literary coming-of-age novel set in the late 1970’s in New York and Montana, centers on Phoebe Gray, an imaginative paleontology student, who wants nothing more than to be a scientist, like her grandmother.

She chose science over art, despite her mother’s artistic influence, not realizing that what she picked up from her mother, the painter, has made her an exceptionally observant scientist.

Phoebe is socially awkward, more comfortable with nature than people, relating to the natural world in an intensely personal way. She is strong, quirky, and combines the two streaks of mothering influences, science and art, in her experience of the world.

Securely on the path to academic success, Phoebe is almost derailed by her relationship with a once-brilliant professor, Elliott Brown.

And here's some further paring suggestions:

Good Mother Lizard, a literary coming-of-age novel set in the late 1970’s in New York and Montana, centers on Phoebe Gray, an imaginative paleontology student, who wants nothing more than to be a scientist, like her grandmother.

She chose science over art, despite her mother’s artistic influence, not realizing that what she picked up from her mother, the painter, has made her an exceptionally observant scientist.


Phoebe is socially awkward, more comfortable with nature than people, relating to the natural world in an intensely personal way. She is strong, quirky, and combines the two streaks of mothering influences, science and art, in her experience of the world.


You don't need all this description. Get to the story!

Securely on the path to academic success, Phoebe is almost derailed by her relationship with a once-brilliant professor, Elliott Brown.




Professor Brown, in decline and under academic pressure to discover and publish or lose his job, seduces Phoebe, seeing in her the imaginative thinking he desperately needs. Over their eight-month affair, he proceeds to not only sabotage her work, but use her ruminations to enhance his lectures and research. Phoebe is slow to challenge Brown, but when he humiliates her in public by accusing her of “thinking with her ovaries,” it’s the last straw and she kicks him out.

You'll need a bit more in that paragraph after I've pared out most of it, but do you see my point here? Focus on ACTION, not description.

Also, I know you've described the professor as once-brilliant, but his actions here are those of an idiot. If he needs her work, why would he purposely alienate her? Stupid and self-defeating characters are boring, and worse, they're uninteresting as villains.

Four months later, needing to move forward in her field, Phoebe is convinced by Brown to go with a crew of students on his annual dig in Montana. Using her unique way of seeing, part scientist, part artist, Phoebe makes the discovery that will save Brown’s career: dinosaur eggshells, juvenile bones and what will become Maisaurus or “good mother lizard.” (Note: this is a composite of actual discoveries made in Montana during that time.) (excellent info to include in the query!) Brown tries to take credit for the find, but when Phoebe refuses he rapes her in her tent, flaunting his power, frightening her. Traumatized, Phoebe must reach out to people for help, instead of retreating to nature, and when she does she finds not only justice, but friendship and love.

and again with the big ass chunk of text.


I am a graduate of (redacted)

Good Mother Lizard is complete at 85,000 words. Please let me know if you would like to review the complete manuscript.


Aside from the formatting problems and the over abundance of description, the problem here is that you're describing a coming of age story that's been told before. A lot. The academic setting is almost a cliche for this kind of problem. Your challenge here is to take an old trope and liven it up. You might start by making the professor more than a one-dimensional cipher for misogyny.






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


ORIGINAL
Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94118

January 26, 2009

Literary Agent
Literary Agency
New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco


Dear Query Shark:


In Good Mother Lizard, Phoebe Gray, a gifted and socially awkward paleontology student, almost six feet tall with unruly red hair and poor posture, attracts a seducer, Professor Elliott Brown.

Is what she looks like the most important thing to know about her? That she's socially awkward?

Middle-aged, in decline and under academic pressure, Brown sees in Phoebe the imaginative thinking he desperately needs in order to make brilliant discoveries in the field and keep his job.

aha. He wants to steal her work. This is more interesting now.

Phoebe wants nothing more than to be a scientist, like her grandmother, and to placate her temperamental mother, the artist. She falls in love with dogwood trees, cardinals, and bird wing fossils, changes her sleeping habits to coincide with the rising and setting sun, sees the world as a wonderland of past and present natural history in colors she memorized as a child from her mother’s palette. But she is na├»ve about relationships and blind to what is unique about herself as a woman.

What is unique? Not the unruly red hair I bet.


Jolted out of her dreamy world of prehistoric visions by Brown’s exploitative affair, her mother’s diagnosis of terminal illness, her grandmother’s touching senility, and a crime committed against her on a Montana dig site, Phoebe learns quickly about the ways of the world.

whoa. You've wasted three paragraphs with red hair, dogwoods and sunsets. NOW you get to a crime? My guess is this might be more germane to the plot than say unruly red hair.

Using New York’s major art and science museums as touchstones, Phoebe finds her strength, makes the mega-discovery of the bones of a new mothering dinosaur, the good mother lizard, and meets new love in a Jewish-Japanese lawyer and Special Olympics coach.

The good mother lizard? Um, no no no. Dinosaurs are reptiles. I know this personally cause I'm old. Mother is a fairly distinctly mammalian concept.

OK-update. I'm wrong. Here's a book review in the New York Times about "good mother lizard"

I stand by my comment that good mother lizard is not familiar enough to slackers anyone reading the query letter to be the best choice for describing this.

Now, if you want to persuade me about lizards being good mothers, you're going to need more than three sentences in a query letter. This is one of those places where you'll be LESS specific. Normally I'm beating y'all over the head to be more specific but in this case you'll want to couch this as "amazing find" "new interpretation" "career saver" something other than a phrase like good mother lizard that makes me thinks "huh??"

I am a graduate of the (redacted), where I received the (redacted). An early version of the first chapter of Good Mother Lizard won a (redacted)

Good Mother Lizard is complete at 90,000 words. Please let me know if you would like the complete manuscript of my novel for review.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

you're awash in description and short on plot. The description isn't compelling enough to make me want to read something without a plot.

The book is probably a lot better than the query, but people won't get to the book if the query doesn't work.

Form rejection.

#96-revision

Dear Query Shark:

I invite you to consider reading my complete manuscript=0 Atitled HER SECRET. HER SECRET.

My guess is that you put in some sort of formatting here. As you can see it doesn't survive the email. Plain text only. Always.

I believe you will have a heart felt fervent desire to represent my book.

Please don't ever include a sentence like this in a query letter. I know you want me to feel that way, but be cool: don't wear your heart on your sleeve. Just tell me about your book.

HER SECRET
Friends to the end


You don't need a centered title and subtitle in a query letter. That's for actual pages.

Taylor and Ashley are typical teenagers, fourteen years old, and the best of friends, they do everything together from, horseback riding, dancing, just hanging out talking about boys and sharing all of their secrets.

This is a run on sentence. It's where I'd stop reading if you sent me this query letter.

I'm not sure typical teenagers go horseback riding.

A recent camping trip leads Taylor to the discovery of a horrific secret. A secret between Ashley and her dad. A secret that began when Ashley turned thirteen, when her dad claims, she became a woman.

You've got a real problem here with the tenses in this sentence. If you can't identify what it is, you're querying too early. We all make mistakes (god knows I've made a gazillion, and some real doozies right here on this blog) but there are some fundamental problems here with grammar that should not have survived a second or third revision.


Their friendship becomes threatened, and Taylor becomes faced with the decision of her life, to tell or not to tell. Will this secret destroy a friendship that came so natural to them from the start, six years ago?


HER SECRET friends to the end - Is my 10612 word, Mainstream Fiction book written for Middle grade – Teen/YA reading level.

10,612 words is about 1/3 the length of a book for either of these age groups. Middle grade and Teen YA are two VERY different reading levels.


Educating our kids, that it's ok to tell even when it's family.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
(redacted)


I get the sense you're writing the book not to tell a story but to make a point. That hardly ever works. The story has to come first.

Form rejection.

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

ORIGINAL
(author)
(address)
(city, state, zip)
(phone)
(email)


(date)


(agency)
(address)
(city, state, zip)

Dear Query Shark:

You've utterly wasted the first 14 lines of your email with information I don't need to see right away. DO NOT DO THIS. Put all your contact info at the end. You don't need to list my address. I know where I work.

You don't format an email query the same way you format a paper query.
You don't cut and paste the entire paper query into the email and just send it.

Queries by email have a specific form. Follow it. If you don't have a clue what it is, look it up!


I would love to invite you to consider representing my book targeting our youth today.

Would love to invite you implies that perhaps you aren't. Example: I would love to have you over but I have to wash my hair. Would is a conditional. It's often used incorrectly. That doesn't mean you get to misuse it in a query letter.

Also targeting our youth today? What are you getting at here? Is this a novel for "our youth." If that's the case you need to be much more specific. Toddlers who can't read are youth, just as the glitter crazed and horse mad tween girls are, and the sardonic goth readers in high school.

FRIENDS TO THE END

Have you ever had a best friend? One that tells you all of her secrets? Fourteen year-old Taylor thought she had that in Ashley. Until, a recent camping trip leads to the discovery of a horrific secret. A secret that Ashley couldn’t even tell her best friend. A secret that involves Ashley and her dad.

Oh, abuse. Great.

Yawn central. Abuse is very over used and very tired theme. Unless you have something dramatically new or fresh to contribute, this won't work.

There (you mean their) friendship is threatened and Taylor is faced with the decision of her life, to tell or not too (you mean to). Will this secret destroy what came natural to them?

What came natural to them? Um...do you mean this in the way that it's most normally used? Like, they're having sex?


FRIENDS TO THE END - Is my 6057 word, Mainstream Fiction chapter book written for youth – Teen reading level.

6057 words? Is this a typo? Six thousand words is about 30 pages. A YA novel is 60,000 words, and you're writing a YA novel, not a teen reading level for youth.

"Chapter books" normally refer to books for younger readers. This topic isn't going to fly in the third grade.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. Time is of the essence, in continuing my search for representation.


Oh really? You put that in a query and it's an automatic rejection. Publishing is not a lickety split industry unless you plan on doing it yourself.

Nothing gets my dander up faster than someone telling me they're in a hurry to hear back. Who the heck isn't? My response time is 30 days. I'm pretty clear about that everywhere I list information about sending queries.

Sincerely,


Form rejection, but a fast one.

#95

Dear Query Shark,

The needle glinted in the moonlight as Samantha prepared to plunge it into the President’s neck. Vengeance lay in her grasp. Nausea churned in her stomach.

Nausea doesn't churn in your stomach unless you ate something called nausea. She was nauseated. She felt nauseated. Nausea churned her stomach. All those constructions solve your problem.

Yes, I'm an utter crab about silly things like what words mean. You should be too.

How had she fallen so far in her quest for revenge?

Second year resident, Dr. Samantha Bartlett, is swept from the frigid New York winter to face the chill of death back home. But she’s not alone. A strange man she dubs Shades haunts her every step as she seeks answers to the inferno that claimed her grandmother, an eerie reminder of her parents’ deaths. What Samantha finds forever changes her image of those she only thought she knew.

This is hyperbole without meaning. Inferno that claimed her grandmother? Eerie reminder? What specifically are you talking about?

Confronted by Shades, Samantha joins a secret underworld known only as the Elite, where a web of power and control is woven deep within governments worldwide. Their talons are embedded in the power structure of the United States, and Samantha becomes the unlikely key to infiltrating the White House at its most intimate levels.

If their talons are embedded why do they need her to infiltrate?

What the heck is actually happening here? Get rid of every single adjective and adverb. Use plain declarative sentences. Those are the skeletal structure of a query letter: what happens. Why? To whom?

All that other purple prose obscures your meaning and leaves me thinking "huh??"

The quest for blood threatens to destroy Samantha. From the darkness there is no escape.

This is meaningless.

RUNNING INTO THE DARKNESS is complete at 67,000 words, and I am prepared to submit a synopsis of this thriller and up to the entire manuscript at your request.



I am a member of the (redacted). My particular line of work in government relations allows a unique window into the realm of politics and the Washington D.C. scene.

Well good, but none of that appears to factor into what you wrote in the opening paragraphs.

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

Sincerely,


Form rejection.

#94

Dear Query Shark:

As you read this letter, you are secure in your surroundings. Dial 911 anywhere in the country, and armed men will rush to your aid. You have friends that care for you. You feel safe with them. Perhaps in times of trouble you pray to a God, or some greater power. All is as it should be…or is it?


Would it scare the hell out of you If I gave you scientific proof that most people you see, and know, are not completely human?

I live in New York City and ride the subway. I've got scientific and anecdotal evidence on a daily basis.

This opening is too info-merical in tone to be persuasive and compelling. It sounds like you're selling Ginsu knives.


If you are subject to fits of terror when faced with scientific proof…put this letter down…dismiss it from your life.

Generally one does not have "fits of terror". "Fits of laughter" yes.


On January 20th, the whole world fell in love with an un-known man, the new President of the United States. Do you not find that strange?

What does this have to do with anything you've mentioned earlier. If you plan to tell me that President Barack Obama is not human, you've got a bigger problem than this query letter.


A Neanderthal skull in the British Museum found in 1920 is dated to be over 40,000 years old. The hole in this skull as examined by forensic scientist, state; “This hole could only have been made by a bullet.”


The skull of a specie of Aurochs (extinct for 100,000 years) in the Moscow Museum has a bullet hole between its eyes. Some could argue the bullet hole was made by modern day man. The problem examiners face is the bullet hole has calcification…this means the creature was shot some 100,000 years ago, and survived its wound long enough for the bone to start re-growing. It appears that whoever was doing all this shooting was not only killing Dinosaurs, but also Neanderthal creatures.

Dinosaurs were mostly extinct by 65 million years ago. Neanderthals traits appear some 6oo,000 years ago. Here's the difference: 65,000,000 years versus 600,000 years. In other words 64,400,000 years. You have dinosaurs with bullets in them? Aurochs aren't dinosaurs. They look like cows. IE not reptiles.

Clay of the Gods is a true story based on actual events, however, some of the characters, incidents and names are fictitious. It starts with the creation of Adam, and ends with the last days of Mary. You need not know beyond that, for you will know what has happened, what is happing, and what will happen. It will give you joy, or complete terror?


I'm not even sure where to start here. This is dazzling in its lack of focus and clarity. I have no clear idea of a plot, characters or what exactly this novel (is it a novel?) is about. You can have all sorts of lunatic and crackpot ideas but if you want me to read them, you have to write them clearly. Michael Crichton had me believe in cloned dinosaurs simply cause of his writing.

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

Sincerely, (redacted)

Form rejection.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Feeling Shark bit?

"I just wanted to thank you for the advice you gave me on your Query Shark blog. I struggled to write an effective query letter, and it wasn't until I applied your advice and wrote the revised version posted on your site that I started getting legitimate hits. And, I'm happy to say, I recently signed with an agent who I'm very excited about. Hopefully, we will have success in finding a publisher - we'll see - but I wanted to say thank you for all of your help."

Thanks again!

Query #64



Well! That's the kind of news that makes even the shark smile!




Sunday, January 18, 2009

#93-Revision

Dear Query Shark,

I’m seeking representation for The Last Baby Boomer, my completed 67,165-word work of literary fiction.

It is the year 2076 and twelve-year-old Emily Pennington is saying earnest prayers that Martin J. McCrae, 117, will promptly suffer a catastrophic heart attack. She’s not the only one. So are more than two billion otherwise law-abiding souls scattered around the solar system. McCrae is the last baby boomer and his death is going to enrich some stranger by $980 million.

Just one problem: McCrae won’t die. After government demographers identified him as the last baby boomer, the lonely pigeon feeder gleefully agreed to become the central figure in a lottery ghoul pool. Contestants pay $25 to be in a museum suite with the chatty fibber for 15 minutes. If they’re present when he dies, they win a jackpot bloated by off-site gamblers who wager millions on the widespread conviction that he could go at any minute. He revels in the boredom-slaying opportunities to tell historic lies and surprise all the ladies with lascivious squeezes skillfully timed to coincide with the instant the souvenir pictures are snapped.

McCrae’s rollicking youth and the lively friendships are woven throughout the book. In 2080, the one-time couch potato lapses into a persistent vegetative state. Court-sanctioned contest rules forbid any treatments. Conspiracy theorists surmise he’s already dead and the government’s using the death pool as a macabre bailout program. As the death obsession dissolves into a moral quagmire with no equitable end in sight, the lines waiting to play grow longer and longer. Because, geez, doesn’t everybody have to die someday?

McCrae revives after two old friends, truly “eternal optimists,” appear and claim to have discovered a life-extending elixir. McCrae must decide to drink the heady potion or allow his life and the nearly billion-dollar jackpot to end naturally.

I'm a Pittsburgh freelancer whose humor features appear in Esquire, Men's Health, Sports Illustrated and other top publications. I would be happy to send you the full or partial manuscript for The Last Baby Boomer, a coming of old, old age story. Because everyone has to die, but only one of us gets to die last.

Thank you for your consideration and have a great day.

Best,


Holy moly, are you sure you wrote that original query. This is so much better I'd actually ask for pages.


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


Dear Query Shark:

The Last Baby Boomer will celebrate his 44th birthday on December 19. He will die -- mark your calendars -- on September 25, 2081. The gala parades down Broadway will begin the next day.

“The Last Baby Boomer” is my 209-page novel about the life and death of the last baby boomer, Martin J. McCrae. Because his impending death will symbolically tombstone a generation known for selfish excess, the 117-year-old McCrae agrees to be part of a lottery ghoul pool.
Contestants pay $25 to be in a museum suite with him for 15 minutes. If they are present when he expires, they win the multimillion dollar jackpot. One problem: McCrae won't die.

Word count, not page numbers. Always.

Tombstone is not a verb. Not now, not in the future, not ever.


You've described the gimmick, but not the novel. Who's the main character? McCrae? The gamblers? Someone else?

If the novel is simply waiting for him to die, you'll need something else to hold our interest.

I’m a (redacted)-based freelance writer whose humor features appear in dozens of top publications including Men’s Health, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Golf, Cooking Light and Travel + Leisure Golf.

Please let me know if you’d like to see more of “The Last Baby Boomer,” a coming of old, old, age story. Because we all have to die, but only one of us gets to die last.

Regards,


There's not enough here yet to entice me. I'd probably read the pages if they were attached, but you'll be much better off if we get more sense of what the story, not just the set up, is.

#92

Dear Query Shark,
In a world where movies control every facet of human life, one man will stand up to the status quo. The motion picture industrial complex, the driving force of the modern economy, must be stopped. Howard Terrace will turn against the studio that made him wealthy to save the life of his daughter.
For five years Howard protected his family from the Biz. Sacrificing his own privacy, pride, and independence to the whims of the industry was supposed to keep them safe. Now his six year old daughter Megan’s discovery by O’brandon Entertainment is about to destroy her life as well. He can allow her to be made into a child star and suffer torture living in the limelight or he can refuse and be brought to ruin. His contracts with O’brandon mean they essentially own him, his career, and all his financial assets and they won’t hesitate to cut him down if h e doesn’t hand over Megan.
Howard and his wife Lori will fight back with lawyers, rival studios, and a loyal fanbase. Turning the industry’s own weapons against them is the only way Megan can be saved and the actors liberated from their indentured servitude. Too bad many actors are so used to the system that they will resist change and side with the studios in the coming war, turning friends against each other. Millions of jobs are connected to the entertainment industry and paradigm shift in the Biz could start a global economic collapse. This epic conflict is about to be waged live in front of the paparazzi and cable news, and there can be only one victor.
Hollywood Headliners is the story of a man’s confrontation with manipulative employers and the cult of celebrity that empowers them. The battle before him puts his life, his daughter’s life, and the world economy at stake. The complete 62,000 word manuscript is available for partial or full review upon your request.

Thank you for your consideration,




The huge ass block of text is how the query arrived.

DO NOT DO THIS.

It's impossible to read. Formatting your e-query with white space is essential.

Here's how it should look at a minimum, and if it were me, I'd put in even more. Yes you can break up paragraphs in an e-query that you wouldn't break up in a printed letter.


Dear Query Shark,

In a world where movies control every facet of human life, one man will stand up to the status quo. The motion picture industrial complex, the driving force of the modern economy, must be stopped. Howard Terrace will turn against the studio that made him wealthy to save the life of his daughter.

What? "In a world where" is the ubiquitous movie trailer phrase of course, so when I see it here, I think you're being ironic. What follows does not appear to be ironic. Thus, I'm confused.

For five years Howard protected his family from the Biz. Sacrificing his own privacy, pride, and independence to the whims of the industry was supposed to keep them safe. Now his six year old daughter Megan’s discovery by O’brandon Entertainment is about to destroy her life as well. He can allow her to be made into a child star and suffer torture living in the limelight or he can refuse and be brought to ruin. His contracts with O’brandon mean they essentially own him, his career, and all his financial assets and they won’t hesitate to cut him down if he doesn’t hand over Megan.

You've got both too much and too little here. You're describing a problem we don't understand. Howard needs to keep his family safe from what? He sacrificed himself by doing what? Now the corporation wants his kid. Why? What makes her so special?



Howard and his wife Lori will fight back with lawyers, rival studios, and a loyal fanbase. Turning the industry’s own weapons against them is the only way Megan can be saved and the actors liberated from their indentured servitude. Too bad many actors are so used to the system that they will resist change and side with the studios in the coming war, turning friends against each other. Millions of jobs are connected to the entertainment industry and paradigm shift in the Biz could start a global economic collapse. This epic conflict is about to be waged live in front of the paparazzi and cable news, and there can be only one victor.

An epic conflict of extras?

I'm absolutely at sea here about whether this is a near future noir kind of novel, an irony-drenched critique of the movie business or something else.


Hollywood Headliners is the story of a man’s confrontation with manipulative employers and the cult of celebrity that empowers them. The battle before him puts his life, his daughter’s life, and the world economy at stake. The complete 62,000 word manuscript is available for partial or full review upon your request.

Thank you for your consideration,

I'm confused. I don't have any sense of investment with the characters, and no very clear sense of the story.

Form rejection.

#91

Dear Query Shark:

Who is eviscerating men in small town Louisiana? FBI agent Trey Fontaine returns to Raven Bayou as a handler for an undercover agent. It’s the only job they’ll let him have until that gunshot wound in his butt heals. He should never have started with the pain pills. Again. He’s hooked, using them to soothe the emotional pains of his complicated life. In the meantime, men are being butchered and Trey must remain ‘hands off’.

You've got a real uneven match here between the tone (zesty and breezy) and the subject (men being butchered and eviscerated)

His hero and godfather, a homicide cop who grieves the death of his wife while the drunk driver stands trial, has a new partner:
Gemini Taylor.. Trey loved her when he was twelve and now… now she’s determined to solve the murder of her father, a crime for which her mother was convicted. A crime that left Gemini scarred. Trey’s godfather was the cop in charge of that case and now Gemini is his partner. Recent killings—with the same MO as the case of Gemini’s father—will require the three of them to work as a team.

What the heck?? I'm totally lost here. You've got too much going on. What's the main story? Trey needs to solve a problem or what? Focus.

You've got Trey, his godfather, his godfather's wife, Gemini Taylor, her father, her mother all mentioned in the first two paragraphs. That's four people too many.




Mordant Schism is a completed 115k word psychological suspense with a theme daring you to think you really know anyone--even yourself.




I’m a member of RWA and Sisters-in-Crime. I have attended many conferences and taken online classes, as well as being a member of a critique group with published authors. I’ve written several newspaper and magazine articles. I have an A.A. degree in Sociology and an A.S. degree in Administration of Justice--Police Science. I worked in uniform at the Sheriff’s Department. I am now retired and use my time writing.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience.

There's nothing distinctive about this yet, and it's confusing.

Form rejection.

#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.

#89

Dear Query Shark,

In her youthful naivety, Ghuri, destroys her reputation by having an affair with a married man. She is on her way to becoming the worst sort of Indian woman, disgraced and penniless, when a naked man showed up on her doorstep. The man has been robbed and left for dead, he knocks on a dozen doors, but no one will help him because he is so shamefully, naked and seems drunk.

This is pretty clunky writing. Contrast "The man has been robbed and left for dead, he knocks on a dozen doors, but no one will help him because he is so shamefully, naked and seems drunk." with

"The man had been robbed and left for dead. He knocked on a dozen doors but no one would help him because he seemed to be drunk, and was shamefully naked"

Clunky writing in a query is always a bad sign. Even if I like the concept, I'm never enthusiastic about something that will clearly have to be heavily edited.

Only Ghuri opens her door to the stranger. She treats the man with as much respect and kindness as she would give a king. She nurses him back to health and later he returns, not as a king, but the Sultan.

Aren't a king and a sultan the same high-born, powerful kind of guys?

As a reward, the Sultan Abdul Rahim marries Ghuri and she becomes one of his 300 wives. The fairytale might have had a happy ending if it ended there, but Ghuri‘s story is just beginning.

Well, if this is the start of the story, this is where the query letter begins. Not the backstory.

In a palace full of princesses and prima donnas, the competition to become one of the Sultan‘s favorite wives is fierce. And as Ghuri discovers, even dangerous. When she becomes pregnant with the Sultan‘s son, Ghuri‘s life and the life of her unborn child are threatened by a group of scheming, powerful concubines who will do anything to bear an heir to the throne.

I don't understand why they are scheming against Ghuri if they want to bear an heir to the throne. Surely they should be scheming to leap into the sack with the Sultan. You've got two different kinds of conflict here and are not distinguishing them.


The Boy Who Had A Moon On His Forehead and A Star On His Chin, is complete at just over 45,000 words.

Whoa! The title of the book makes it sound like it's about the kid, not Ghuri at all. And 45,000 words? Is this a novel for adults? If so, it's WAY too short (75K is the norm). If it's a YA novel, it's still too short. And if it's a novel for middle grade kids, the focus on Ghuri, an adult, seems out of place.



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

This is a form rejection.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

#88-Revised Twice

Dear Query Shark:

Anne Wells expects nothing from life but to be married to the man she loves and to do what society expects in Regency England. Her easy plan becomes nearly impossible, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the Napoleonic Wars. She is left a helpless, unclaimed woman in a world full of predatory men and is nearly forced by her parents into marriage to the unbearable Sir Thomas.

Why?? Why do her parents want her to marry the unbearable Sir Thomas?

I'm seeing a lot of this lately: events in books (or worse, queries) that are there because the writer needs them for the book NOT because the story needs the event to be cohesive. The story has to make sense. People don't just get married off to evil villains for no reason. It's the REASON that makes the story compelling!!

Her salvation comes in the shape of a “business proposal” from a handsome, near-stranger. named Edward Hill, who proposes a platonic marriage until her soldier returns to make her his again. Knowing that she has no other choice but to marry a man far worse, she accepts his hand.

Why on earth would some guy want a platonic marriage? What's in it for him? Again, the reason anyone would do this is why the story will be interesting.


There are a few aspects of her new endeavor, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier never returns from battle, and what if her marriage of convenience becomes something more? Anne must learn to face the endless complications that arise while trying to survive and be happy in a world where reputation is everything, and marriage is viewed as a business transaction.



I sought you as an agent because you were seeking my genre and I feel that we could work well together. My manuscript for Loyalty is 90,000 words and is available upon request.



Thank you for your consideration and your time.

Form rejection.
-----------------------------
Dear Query Shark,

Anne Wells is the personification of a naive, teenage girl in early 19th century England with her ideals of marriage and life. Everything changes for her, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the Napoleonic Wars, and she is left a helpless woman in a world full of predatory men. When she is nearly forced into marriage by her parents and the unbearable Sir Thomas (who views her as an object that he must possess) she readily accepts a “business proposal” from a man she hardly knows to remedy her sad situation. This man, Edward Hill, would act as a surrogate husband and would concede to annul the marriage upon her soldier’s return. Knowing that she has no other choice but to marry a man far worse than Mr. Hill, she accepts his hand. There are a few aspects of this plan, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier dies in battle and leaves her to endure a platonic marriage? And what if
Edward wants the business proposal to be something more?


What have I been telling you about big ass blocks of text?
All together now: DO NOT DO THIS.

Here's the opening paragraph with the white space you need in an email query:

Anne Wells is the personification of a naive, teenage girl in early 19th century England with her ideals of marriage and life. Everything changes for her, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the Napoleonic Wars, and she is left a helpless woman in a world full of predatory men.

When she is nearly forced into marriage by her parents and the unbearable Sir Thomas (who views her as an object that he must possess) she readily accepts a “business proposal” from a man she hardly knows to remedy her sad situation.

This man, Edward Hill, would act as a surrogate husband and would concede to annul the marriage upon her soldier’s return. Knowing that she has no other choice but to marry a man far worse than Mr. Hill, she accepts his hand.

There are a few aspects of this plan, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier dies in battle and leaves her to endure a platonic marriage? And what if Edward wants the business proposal to be something more?

In the end, Anne learns the difference between fantasies and real life, and must face the complications that arise while trying to survive and be happy in a world where marriage is viewed as a business transaction.

I sought you as an agent because you expressed an interest in romance and historical fiction. My manuscript for Loyalty is 90,000 words and is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration and your time.

Now here's the critiqued version which has more white space cause I interjected my surly comments as well:

Anne Wells is the personification of a naive, teenage girl in early 19th century England with her ideals of marriage and life.

This is tell not show. Telling not showing is a cardinal sin. What does she DO that would show us she's shy and naive about marriage and life.

Everything changes for her, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the Napoleonic Wars, and she is left a helpless woman in a world full of predatory men.

If she's a woman in paragraph two, why is she a shy naive teenage girl in paragraph one? Why is she helpless. She's got parents.

When she is nearly forced into marriage by her parents and the unbearable Sir Thomas (who views her as an object that he must possess) she readily accepts a “business proposal” from a man she hardly knows to remedy her sad situation.

So, why do her parents want to force her into marriage with the unbearable Sir Thomas. And if they can force her to do stuff, how exactly is she going to marry this other guy without permission?

And why on god's green earth would she even be tempted to marry anyone at all other than her honey pie? And when honeypie comes home from the wars expecting a shy naive virgin, and sees instead a pregnant woman saying "I had to do something to avoid the unbearable Sir Thomas" he's going to smack from here to next Tuesday.

This man, Edward Hill, would act as a surrogate husband and would concede to annul the marriage upon her soldier’s return. Knowing that she has no other choice but to marry a man far worse than Mr. Hill, she accepts his hand.

No other choice? She hasn't even started to consider choices. The nunnery sounds good for a start.

There are a few aspects of this plan, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier dies in battle and leaves her to endure a platonic marriage? And what if Edward wants the business proposal to be something more?

She sounds like a twit, frankly. I'm not sure twits can carry an entire novel without your readers wanting to defenestrate her.

In the end, Anne learns the difference between fantasies and real life, and must face the complications that arise while trying to survive and be happy in a world where marriage is viewed as a business transaction.



I sought you as an agent because you expressed an interest in romance and historical fiction. My manuscript for Loyalty is 90,000 words and is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration and your time.


Form rejection.



________________________

Original


Dear Query Shark,

I thought you might be interested in representing my novel, Loyalty, since you expressed an interest in romance and historical fiction. The full manuscript is available upon request.

Put the title of the book and the word count at the end. Start off with with the book is about.

Loyalty is about Anne Wellesley, who is the personification of a naive, teenage girl in early 19th century England with her ideals of marriage and life. Everything changes for her, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the War of 1812,

the British don't call it the War of 1812; they call it The Napoleonic Wars*
(There's a very good post in the comment section that corrects this)


and she is left a helpless woman in a world full of predatory men. When a man she hardly knows, Edward Hill, offers to marry her to save her from the overzealous marriage plans of a scheming, decrepit knight

knight is a social order in 1812, not a military category; the British army and navy do not have "knight" as a rank*
(and the post in the comments section clarifies and corrects this too; make sure to read it)


and annul the marriage upon her lover’s return, she readily accepts. There are a few aspects of this plan, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier dies in battle? And what if she falls in love with the wrong man?

Why the hell would she do this? You'll need to be much more specific about the danger she faces alone to make us believe she'd consider marrying someone for protection. Where's her family for starters?

In the end, Anne learns the difference between fantasies and real life, and must face the complications that arise while trying to survive and be happy in a world where marriage is viewed as a business transaction.

I have no writing credentials to recommend me except for my passion for reading and writing.

You don't need to mention that. If you have credentials, mention them. If you don't just leave this blank. You don't need credential to write a novel.

Thank you for your consideration and your time.


*I'm sure you know that getting historical details wrong makes me crazy. CRAZY. It's instant rejection cause I know I'll be verifying every last detail through the book and I just do not want to do that. You HAVE to get this stuff right.


Form rejection.

#87-Revised

Dear Query Shark:

I found your name in Publisher's Weekly and read your biography on your agency's website. Since we share interests in urban fantasy, I thought you would be interested in my novel.

Alex changes her last name to elude the rapist stalking her.

Start with the most interesting thing about your novel. This isn't it. It's probably the dragon part.

She doesn't remember why he is stalking her, or much of anything anymore.

If she doesn't remember anything, how does she know he's stalking her?

But having strange powers, no memories and a rapist holding the key to it all, is enough to keep her far away from her past.

Far away from her past what? I'm far away from my past shenanigans in undergraduate school simply by virtue of time passing...stalker not required.

When she unwittingly rescues a dragon, her enemies have now doubled and she must decide what information she can, and can't, live without.

This makes zero sense to me particularly after all the other stuff about stalking, rapists, and steering clear of her past.

My manuscript is urban fantasy chick lit, approximately 90,000 words, and will appeal to the well established audience who enjoys a strong female protagonist.

Chick lit is funny, bright, and insouciant. You know something is chick lit cause it's first and foremost FUN. You've conveyed none of that here.

Form rejection

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

Guardians

what? Is that the title? Generally you want to start with something more standard like "hello"
Alex, whose last name changes to elude the rapist stalking her, bursts into a New Orleans alley to rescue a mugging victim.

The last name thing is utterly confusing in this sentence, and is never referred to again.
After she has driven off the attackers with her fun neuro-electric powers, she realizes that not only has she interrupted a dragon hunt, she has helped the dragon. Perfect. But the dragon, Gabe, is more human than the criminals Alex fights, and saves her when the rapist, Morgan, returns. Alex flees with Gabe back to his brothers, Rile and Cale, who explain that they have been sent from their own world as a Calling to help others.


I'm totally confused here. You've got two masculine names, and two made up names and one gender neutral name. You don't have to name your characters Sylvia and Mabel but "Alex" and "Gabe" and "Rile" and "Cale" and "Morgan" are impossible to keep straight in one paragraph. Also, focusing on one character is best. Two at the most.

If I have to read a paragraph three times to parse out what's going on, it's a form rejection. I read this three times, slowly, and I'm still not sure I could tell you what's happening.
Alex reveals that she awoke recently, with strange powers and amnesia, in Morgan's bed, but she broke free to fight crime, preferring to die from a drug dealer's bullet. Cheerfully ignoring the psychopathology behind her actions, Alex makes advances to the non-human Gabe, using her powers as a euphorice and inflaming Rile's jealousy. When the brothers offer to discover her past, she flatly refuses. Having strange powers, no memories, and a rapist holding the key, is enough to keep her far away from her past. Instead she is drawn into their adventures, toppling dictatorships and rescuing victims of sexual slavery. The book shows how she handles new powers, memory loss, an obsessed rapist, and a team of quarreling brothers, with a mixture of humor, strength and a dash of understandable fear.
And where did the drug dealers come from? Drug dealers, dragons and rapists oh my. You've got too much going on here.

And there's more! Toppling dictatorships and rescuing victims of sexual slavery. Really too much going on here.

My manuscript is urban fantasy chick lit. There is a well established audience who enjoys a strong female protagonist, but are uncomfortable with the increasingly over erotica, as well as witchcraft and vampirism, the current mainstay of fantasy heroines.

Really? Those books sell pretty well. You're better off to stress what your book is about rather than taking pot shots at the bestsellers.

Focus on your main character. Describe the challenge she faces in simple straightforward sentences. Query letters needs to flow. It doesn't right now.

You've also not mentioned the word count. When you've got this much going on, I'm deeply suspicious the word count will be very high.
Form rejection.