Tuesday, February 24, 2009

#101-revised

REVISION:

Dear Query Shark:

Toni Matthew’s life is almost perfect. She’s a top-producing real estate agent, is engaged to a man who loves her even though she’s hardheaded as hell, and has finally begun to overcome the trust issues she has suffered since being abandoned by her mother.

This is all superfluous. Get to the story.

But Toni’s next-to-perfect life begins to come apart when, two days before the wedding, her fiancĂ©, Scott, plunges to his death from the top of a new hotel. Toni knows the man she loved would never jump. However, after the medical examiner rules Scott’s death a suicide, the police detective assigned to the case won’t investigate any further.


Refusing to accept the ruling, Toni retraces Scott’s last few days, looking for a reason someone would want him dead. When she discovers a spreadsheet on a hidden flash drive, she realizes the list of addresses and columns of numbers may lead her to the answer.

Why? I look at spread sheets/royalty statements every day. What information in that document would provide a motive for murder? (I have several suggestions, all involving reserve against returns, but that's another matter entirely)

After an unknown driver forces Toni’s car off the road and into the river, she decides to let the killer think she’s dead. Deciphering the spreadsheet while keeping out of sight may be next to impossible. But Toni won’t give up until she finds the truth.

There's just nothing here that makes me want to read this. Faceless enemies, unknown problems, and a main character we have know nothing about except she has trust issues with her mother, and her dead fiancee thought she was stubborn.


My thriller, NECESSARY VENGEANCE, runs 77,000 words and is my first novel. I would appreciate the opportunity to send you the complete manuscript.



Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is better, but it's still not compelling. A query letter needs to elicit "I want to read more" and this doesn't.

Who is the antagonist? What are the stakes? Be specific. Find a compelling reason for someone to read this book and use that in your query.

And if you can't, time think the unthinkable: it might not be a problem with your query letter. It might be a problem with the actual book. I've seen that more than once.


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Dear Query Shark:

Two days before his wedding, real estate developer, Scott Chadwick, plunges from the top floor of a hotel under construction in Nashville, Tennessee. Was his death suicide, or murder?

Opening with a guy who is dead on page one focuses our attention on the wrong person.

His fiancĂ©e, real estate agent, Toni Matthews, won’t give up until she finds the answer.

You need to start with Toni: Toni Matthews fiance plunges to his death just two days before the wedding. Was it suicide or murder?

The other problem is that it's not obvious why Toni would investigate. Where are the police? Even in traditional or cozy mysteries with amateur sleuths, there needs to be a reason for their sleuthing.

Others will go to any lengths to ensure the truth stays buried.

Oh yikes. Cliche! And why is anyone worried about Toni? Does she have super detection skills?

After an unknown driver forces Toni’s car off the road and into the river, she decides to play dead. While in hiding, she races to uncover the killers’ identities. If they find her first, she’ll be dead for real.

Races to uncover the killer's identities is a terrible cliche. And what is Toni racing? The clock? The midnight train from Georgia?



My thriller, NECESSARY VENGEANCE, runs 77,000 words. I would appreciate the opportunity to send you the complete manuscript.


There's nothing compelling here. For all I know from this I might be glad Scott is dead and Toni might be next. There's nothing here that gives me a sense that I'd care about anything that happened to them.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Form rejection

#100-revised and improved!

Dear Query Shark:

For Christmas, when he was nine, Christopher asked Santa for a puppy. His parents asked for a daughter.

You really only ask Santa for stuff at Christmas, so you don't need the For Christmas. It also makes the two sentences stronger when you don't start with a short clause. Particularly in YA and middle grade books, you've really got to have a good ear for the rhythm of the sentences since you've got so few words to work with.

The sister he’d never wanted disappeared one beautiful summer day, stolen out of his grasp by three men; none over four feet tall, with long dark hair and eyes the color of deep woods, brown and ancient.

And very pointed ears.



Frosty is a 55,000-word young-adult novel about the children of Santa Claus and the civil war threatening Christmas. To rescue his sister, Christopher and his friends will join forces with an elf and a Shaman as they cross Siberia searching for the North Pole.



I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and have served as a Judge for the (redacted) Writing Competition.

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


Much better.
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Dear Query Shark;

I don’t believe there’s anything on earth I wouldn’t give to be twelve again. Or thirteen. Even fourteen. But fifteen?

No.

For Christmas, when I was nine, I asked Santa for a puppy. My parents asked for a daughter.

I called her Frosty.

The sister I’d never wanted disappeared one beautiful summer day, stolen out of my grasp by three men. None over four feet tall, dressed all in green, with long dark hair and eyes the color of deep woods, brown and ancient.

And very pointed ears.

At this point, I've stopped reading the query letter, and started reading the pages you've sent. Oh wait, you didn't. Well, ok, I'm emailing you asking for pages.

What I like: the concept.
What I also like: the crisp tone.

A modern twist on the legends and myths of elves, the North Pole and Christmas, Frosty is a 55,000-word young-adult novel about the children of Santa Claus. Raised in the world of humans, ignorant of their parents, they are kept safe from the rebellion threatening to destroy the elves until the war comes to them.

uh oh.
All that crisp tone? Gone.




To rescue his sister, Christopher, his best friends Jack and Mary, and the new girl in school, Sara will join forces with an elf and a Shaman as they cross Siberia searching for the North Pole. Along the way, they will discover the truth about each other as well as the history of Christmas. Faced with insurmountable obstacles, the six friends will battle an army, fall in love, and discover that the greatest gift of all is to bring joy to children.

You'll be better off using "band of friends" rather than names (name soup). "Discover the truth about each other" is a cliche. "insurmountable obstacles" is a cliche.

It's better to be as specific as you can: rescue his sister is pretty specific. That's pretty much all you'll need to keep my attention.

While I am unpublished, I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and have served as a Judge for the Savannah, GA Children's Book Festival Writing Competition. I am also Editor of the Beacon, the newsletter of the Boston-area Mensa group.

Mensa. Oh man. Leave that out.
There's simply no way to mention Mensa membership without sounding pretentious. I'm not saying you are pretentious, I'm sure you're very nice but in a query letter it just makes me roll my eyes.

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


(contact info redacted)


I'd definitely read pages on this even though the query letter could stand some tweaking.