Wednesday, April 29, 2009

#112-REVISED-2nd Revision and a **WINNER**

Dear Query Shark:

Where was her dog?

She felt the first splinter of worry when Hope didn't come in for dinner.

Emily Hunt lived through her dogs. When her dogs succeeded in the show ring and field trials, Emily owned their success. She watched them lounge in the sun when she needed to warm her own soul. She saw her God in her old dogs’ eyes.

It made no sense to keep the runt from an otherwise impressive litter, but Emily had a feeling. A strange, magical connection. And the little white whippet proved her right. Hope became Emily's star - a running phenomenon that showed her disappearing fanny to the fastest sighthounds in the country. But more, Hope became Emily's heart.

Hope had known only kindness from the humans in her life. Granted, humans make idiotic mistakes; dogs were used to that. The species was basically blind and deaf with noses that did nothing but decorate their faces. The poor dears had lost nearly all ability to communicate truth because they relied on their clumsy spoken language. "Blah, blah, blah," they'd babble on, saying nothing at all. Dumb, dependent, sweet creatures. Hope adored her Emily.

She was no ordinary dog. She could make humans hear her. Of course humans would mistake Hope’s words for their own thoughts. Most humans did, anyway. But dogs knew.

After she was grabbed her from her yard, Hope encountered a new breed of human. She stared through crusty cage wires at indifference, greed, and evil. The indifference hurt the most. She was sick, she was sad, she was so tired. She felt madness licking closer.

Emily's search to find Hope uncovered the dark underworld of stolen dogs. They auction dogs like cattle. Emily had known about puppy mills, where dogs were kept in criminally abhorrent conditions and literally bred to death, but only as a distant, shameful concept.

The thought of her dog at a place like that.

Hope had been gone for two years. Even Emily was thinking maybe it was over. Could she give up and go back to her comfortable life, as her friends and husband advised, (dogs get lost all the time, you don't let it ruin your life, for God's sake move on), or would she keep trying to search for Hope? She had her other dogs to train, to compete, and there was a waiting list for puppies. But the dreams were so damn real.


And then she got an email. A lead that changed her life in a way she never imagined.

Because of one very special little dog.



Little Hope is 78,000 words.

I believe this book, told from the both the human and distinctly canine points of view, would appeal to young adults and the world of adult dog lovers.

I have self-published two editions of a collection of short stories, essays, and poems. The first edition of 800 sold out, with twenty-five copies not yet offered for sale. The last three copies to sell on eBay sold for more than $150 apiece. The second edition, which contains thirty new writings, is currently selling. I have been published in national and international dog magazines. I write commentary for my local NPR station, and maintain a blog with a small following, getting from 3500 - 10,000 page views per month, depending on the number of posts.

You had me in the palm of your hand right up to self-published. That's why I'd advise taking it out. Even if you think it unfair, it's true there is a prejudice against previously self-published writers at the query stage. You don't need this in a query; it's not a writing credit. Leave it out. You can always mention it later after your agent has signed you up and sold your book.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

All the best-

wow! You REALLY improved this query. Congratulations on all your effort and hard work!!




------------------------------------------
Dear Query Shark:

Childless landowner Emily Hunt lives through her whippets, especially a little bitch named Hope. Other dogs immediately recognize Hope's extraordinary gift: humans can hear her. Humans, hampered by their clumsy reliance on the spoken word, mistake hearing Hope for their own thoughts.

What do "childless" and "landowner" have to do with the story? Are these the two most important things we need to know about Emily? My guess is no, they are not. Therefore, don't put them first in a query letter.

When Hope disappears, Emily is determined to find her, haunted by memories of her first dog, taken away when six-year-old Emily was placed in foster care. She will not have another dog taken from her, though her obsession threatens her friendships and her marriage.

I'm not sure we need to know why Emily is determined to find Hope. It makes sense that if she lives through her dogs, she's not going to just let them be dognapped and not do something about it.

Hope has entered the dark world of stolen dogs: dog auctions, commercial breeding facilities, and puppy mills. After two auctions in as many years she is halfway across the country living in deplorable conditions. But here she connects with Caleb, a scrawny ten-year-old boy, whose alcoholic widower father terrorizes him and criminally neglects his 'breeder dogs'.

Alcoholic and widower! Evil incarnate! Oh wait, it's the "criminally neglects" part that is important isn't it? Focus on what's important. Leave out all the description.

Caleb is determined to save Hope when his father consigns her to yet another dog auction. An Internet search convinces him that his little white whippet is the same one that is advertised as stolen on the pretty lady’s website.

Why does he want to save her?

Caleb thinks Emily hasn’t arrived in time and tries to stop the auctioneer from taking Hope, getting beaten by his dad for his efforts. With the gavel banging, a weak Hope feels Emily’s presence and turns toward her. In horror, Emily realizes that the pathetic dog is her Hope. A dirty little boy with a blood-smeared face is screaming as loud as she is.

You've given us a synopsis of the book, not a reason to read it. You'd do well to revise this and focus on the dilemma Emily faces, not the series of events that happen. Right now this doesn't make me wonder "what happens next" because you've told me.

Little Hope. The manuscript is 78,000 words.

Thank you for your valuable time.
My time isn't any more valuable than yours.

Use this: Thank you for your time and consideration.

Better, but still a form rejection.
Remember the goal in a query letter is to entice me to read this book. Clearly it's a subject you're passionate about. Get some of that passion on the page. This is a list of events, not a siren call to the page.

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

ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,

Emily Hunt lives through her dogs. Whippets. Elegant, art deco creatures built for speed with eyes deep as God and just as knowing. Emily's youngest whippet, a little bitch named Hope, blasts into the quirky world of sighthound enthusiasts and quickly establishes her unlikely self as a star. Dogs instantly recognize Hope's extraordinary gift: humans can hear her. Humans, with their diminished capacities, are clueless.

I'm confused. (This is not a good sign) Who is the book about? Hope or Emily? Because you start with Emily and the fact that she "lives through her dogs" I'm thinking this is a story about Emily. Then it sounds like it's a story about Hope's ability to communicate with people (I"m going to forgo the Bitch Whisperer jokes here because, despite the last sentence, I don't think you're going for a sardonic tone.)

Emily lives on a secluded estate in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, passed down to her husband over generations of horsey landed gentry. Though the couple is childless, Emily has her dogs, her rescued thoroughbreds, and her friends. Her husband, Edgar Emerson Hunt, III, has a busy law practice in Washington, DC. Life is good.

This is pointless. What happens?

Hope vanishes from the yard, and Emily's world disintegrates. When a well-meaning friend says, "It's just a dog," Emily slaps her, hard. She will find her dog. It is a matter of trust.Through her searching, Emily's own past as a foster child in Baltimore is revealed.

A matter of trust? I don't understand what you mean. The dog trusts Emily to find her?


Hope survives in the seedy underworld of dog auctions, commercial kennels, and puppy mills. At the end of the end, a back yard puppy mill in Missouri where she's one of 110 dogs in a rickety garage, Hope meets Caleb, a scrawny ten-year-old boy, whose alcoholic widower father terrorizes him and criminally neglects his 'breeder dogs'. Caleb hears Hope, loves her, and is determined to save her when his father consigns her to yet another dog auction.

whoa! Missouri? Caleb? Where's Emily? What does any of this have to do with the first two paragraphs?

The dramatic conclusion gets Emily past the gun-toting guard at the auction barn just in time to not recognize Hope on the auction block. When she 'hears' her dog, she can't hear her own screams, and dismisses the vision of a dirty little boy with a fresh black eye who is screaming as loud as she is.

You're mixing show and tell here, and neither come out well. Emily doesn't recognize Hope. She can't hear her. Why is she screaming if she doesn't recognize the dog? Why is she having a vision? Do you mean she is seeing the boy?


The conclusion is relentlessly rewarding.

Please please please don't tell me how I'm supposed to respond to a book. It just makes me say "wanna bet?" SHOW me what I might find relentlessly (an odd modifier for) rewarding, instead of TELLING me.

Little Hope. The manuscript is 78,000 words.




(two paragraphs from novel redacted)

Don't include lines from the book in your query letter. Include the first 3-5 pages, at the end.

Thank you for your valuable time.

all the best-


Who is the main character? What happens to her? What choices does she need to make and what are the consequences.

Have I yammered about that enough? I guess not.

Answer those questions. That's the basis for the query letter.

People like to read about dogs. You might have a good story in here. This query letter is like an Springer Spaniel with a winter coat. It needs a bout with the clippers to spruce it up.

Form rejection.

#111

Aureole. This is a world where love exists – where magic flows in human blood, and Gods walk the earth.

I'm sorry but when I see Aureole, I think areola. This is not the effect you're going for (I hope). When you are world building and naming things, please remember that your audience speaks and reads this work in English. Try not to name things in a way that evokes words that mean something entirely different unless you intend us to think that.


Rain, Huldah, Grishild and Amaya were born into this world, each with a different path to walk.

Well ok, but is anyone born any other way? Don't state the obvious. Get to the substance of the story. What happens?

Rain, a secluded priestess, unwittingly kills a man after chaneling a dream bred by communion with the Gods.

What? If I can't understand what you mean, it's a form rejection. If you'd sent this to me, I'd have stopped reading right here.

Although she is destined for a tragic end, her brief life sets in motion a string of events which may ultimately lead to the destruction of her world.

This is too general to be of much use in figuring out What Happens?
Also, the first clause does not have a connection to the sentence that follows.



Huldah, a deprived child prodigy, and Grishild, a disabled girl loved by a lesser-God, live their lives worlds apart, yet both are intimately connected to the deceased priestess. While their lives unfold, the end of Aureole draws nearer. Brought together late in life by Amaya, a young woman who bears a striking resemblance to Rain, Grishild and Huldah struggle to save her from the Gods before time runs out. But does Amaya represent repetition, or revolution?

I'm sorry, but this literally makes no sense to me. It will really help if you use short declarative sentences and focus on one character or two. You have four. You also have all four mentioned in one sentence with a pronoun. That means I have NO idea to whom the pronoun refers. I can guess I suppose, but a query letter isn't supposed to be me guessing at the plot.

Aureole is a generational work of speculative fiction which stands complete at 85,000 words, and draws heavily from mythology and gender theory. It is my first complete work of fiction, though I did write a well-received play for a local theater festival. Thank you for your consideration.

What is a generational work? I've never heard the term.
If this draws heavily from mythology, why don't I recognize any of the story?

I don't care how literary your work is. A query letter needs to tell me WHO the book is about; WHAT happens to them; the CHOICES they have to make; and, the CONSEQUENCES of the decision.



Sincerely,

This is a form rejection.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

#110-Revised twice

SECOND REVISION

Dear Query Shark,



The first time Megan tried to kill herself, she was in elementary school. By the time she was in middle school, she began to slip razorblades through her skin. Before she graduated high school, she manically shaved off her eyebrows. She refused to leave her bed for days at a time. She clung to friendships with people who did not exist. She had multiple suicide attempts. She developed a reliance on prescription drugs and an addiction to recreational drugs…



Yet, to her best friend, Angela, nothing ever seemed out of the norm.

ellipses continue a sentence, they don't break a paragraph. You're clearly going for dramatic effect here (which is fine) so I suggest you try it this way:


The first time Megan tried to kill herself, she was in elementary school.the reason I suggest breaking here is that the idea of a child suicide is pretty shocking

By the time she was in middle school, she began to slip
was slipping razorblades through her skin. Before she graduated high school, she manically shaved was shaving off her eyebrows.
The break here is to ease the transition from was -ing verbs to past tense -ed verbs.

She refused to leave her bed for days at a time. She clung to friendships with people who did not exist. She had multiple suicide attempts. She developed a reliance on prescription drugs and an addiction to recreational drugs…
yet, to her Megan's best friend, Angela, nothing ever seemed out of the norm.


Put Megan's name in again so we recall it easily when you move to the next paragraph.

INSIDE THIS PURPLE ROOM looks back at the lives of two teenagers: Megan – a rebellious outsider and diagnosed schizophrenic – and her unlikely best friend, Angela – an introvert who seeks normalcy, but who instead commits herself to the adventures, turmoil and instability that are the result of her most valued friendship.

Ok, right here is where you lose me. Megan doesn't seem rebellious to me. She seems mentally ill. Why does Angela stay friends with someone who is so clearly unbalanced? You can't just say adventures, turmoil and instability. Those are NOT attractive qualities, particularly to someone whom you describe as seeking normalcy (and let's not even get in to how much I loathe that word. It reeks of psycho-jargon to my ear)


The manuscript novel begins when Angela is a twenty-year old college student. She returns home to New Jersey for Christmas, though, despite the inherent cheer of the holiday, cannot celebrate. <---this after="" anniversary="" around="" br="" days="" falls="" her="" holiday.="" just="" megan="" of="" one="" rather="" revolve="" s="" strictly="" suicide="" the="" thoughts="" which="" year="">
This is bereft of emotion; it's so detached it feels like you're an observer. Angela is grieving the loss of her friend particularly at the one year anniversary of her death.

While the world around her prepares for Christmas, Angela forces herself to visit a psychologist, where she reflects on her life with Megan. Fueled by her more mature understanding of the inner workings of her childhood, Angela invites the reader to step past the manicured forefront of suburban culture. Here, the reader is able to witness the troubles that haunt today’s youth, the changing role of the American family and the frequently overlooked aspects of childhood mental illness.

This isn't compelling. This is a report. The reader doesn't feel anything. People want to connect emotionally; this fails to do that.



But more, the reader is able to witness the unbreakable friendship that existed between two teenage girls.

Right here in a nutshell is the problem: the reader doesn't witness anything in a good book. The reader is PART of the book. The reader is enfolded into the story right along with the characters. The reader should FEEL what the girls feel, not observe them.

The story is weaved together by a series of brief chapters, which consist of Angela’s fragmented memories of her life with a mentally ill best friend. It is by way of these recollections that she reflects on Megan’s disturbing childhood behaviors. Perhaps more importantly, though, Angela finally begins to reflect on her own adolescent habits. Namely, her tendency to interpret Megan’s increasingly upsetting behaviors as signs of her friend’s creative nature rather than what they really were – the early and complex signs of a troubled and deeply disturbed teenage girl.

I cannot suggest strongly enough that you write very simple declarative sentences in a query letter. Leave out every single extra word. Only when you have the bones -what you absolutely must have for coherence- can you add in what enhances rather the obfuscates the meaning.

Here's what I mean: A series of brief chapters connect the main episodes. The chapters are Angela's memories of Megan. These chapters show Megan realizing she saw Angela as creative rather than troubled. (and then, the problem with that is...what?)


I have worked closely on this project with (redacted) who urged me to begin to submit this manuscript. He is the author of more than twenty books and the recipient of the National Magazine Award (2008). He has described INSIDE THIS PURPLE ROOM as “honed to excellence… and is in my opinion as an editor and writer of many books, of publishable quality… [It] is well-written, moving, insightful, and wise – sorrowful but tempered with hope and very relevant to our times – and most importantly, a pleasure to read.”

Unless the agent knows this guy, the endorsement is meaningless. And "worked closely with" can mean a lot of things. You don't need anyone's endorsement for a novel.



I am a part-time faculty member at (redacted) where I teach writing. I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing: Nonfiction and am a reader for the Literary Review. To date, my essays, poems and interviews, as well as chapters excerpted from my manuscript, have appeared in a number of literary and arts journals including (redacted) . Additionally, a chapter from my manuscript titled (redacted) was recently selected for inclusion in the anthology(redacted) . I have held positions with New York and New England based book publishers and have completed freelance projects for multiple companies and publications, including IN STYLE.



INSIDE THIS PURPLE ROOM is my first book-length work.



Thank you for taking the time to consider my writing.





Sincerely,


Still a form rejection.
-------------------------




FIRST REVISION
Dear Query Shark:


Megan is a foul-mouthed, cynical outsider. Her best friend, Angela, is a timid introvert who is willing to do anything her friend suggests. Together, these teenagers have dreams of escaping the limits of their dead-end suburban New Jersey town. But when the signs of a debilitating mental illness begin to surface in one of them, the two must struggle to keep their friendship alive amidst the obstacles presented by illness, growing up and growing apart – even if it means ignoring the disease that ultimately takes one of their lives.

If you want me to care about what happens to either one of these people, you can't sound like you're reciting events in a clinical review.


Inside This Purple Room invites the reader on a journey through childhood mental illness and explores how the unbreakable friendship between two young girls prevented either of them from ever accepting the disease that consumed their lives.

You just said that, only better, in the first paragraph, but you still don't need to say any of it.

At ages twelve and thirteen, Megan and Angela take part in somewhat clich├ęd rebellious activities: smoking cigarettes, skipping school, sneaking out, stealing their parents’ booze. But as the two prepare to enter high school, Megan’s behaviors become more disturbing. She slips razorblades through her skin. She refuses to leave her bed for days at a time. She manically shaves off her eyebrows. She clings to friendships with people who do not exist.

Focus. Start with the problem: Megan starts slipping razorblades under her skin. She refuses to get up for days at a time. She talks to people who aren't there. Leave out all the other stuff. It's just white noise.


Angela is terrified of loosing the only true friend she’s ever had. As a result of her fear, Angela begins to interpret Megan’s increasingly upsetting behaviors as signs of her friend’s creative nature rather than what they really are: the early and complex signs of a troubled and deeply disturbed teenage girl.





But Megan’s illness spirals out of control and leads to a string of suicide attempts, multiple stays in psychiatric wards, frightening delusions, a reliance on prescription drugs, and an addiction to recreational drugs. Angela must try to save her friend without breaking the trust of their friendship, while also attempting to hold onto her dreams of leaving her hometown.

Why does Angela have any responsibility at all for a teenager who is mentally ill? Would she have responsibility if Megan had cancer? No, she wouldn't. If she feels responsible, why isn't someone telling her she's not?

Even when Angela does leave to pursue her college dreams in a quaint New England setting, she is haunted by the dichotomy of her life: lively romps on the campus green one minute, calls from psychiatric ward payphones the next; the innocent pressures of final exams juxtaposed with the more urgent pressures of a friend who continues to threaten her own life.

lively romps on the campus green? What is this Tammy Goes to College?

A coming of age story of two young outsiders, Inside This Purple Room is narrated by Angela and is framed around three of her visits to a psychologist. Here, she returns, via memory, to her adolescent search for normalcy amongst a life defined by illness. In doing so, she finally begins to understand the truth of her childhood and the fact that the disease she watched control her friend’s life was perhaps really shaping and controlling both their lives all along.

You don't need to tell us the structure of the novel. In fact, if you're doing something like telling it in flashbacks it's probably better to let us discover that later.




I have worked closely on this project with (redacted) who urged me to begin to submit this manuscript. He is the author of more than twenty books and the recipient of the National Magazine Award (2008). He has described Inside This Purple Room as “honed to excellence… and is in my opinion as an editor and writer of many books, of publishable quality… [It] is well-written, moving, insightful, and wise – sorrowful but tempered with hope and very relevant to our times – and most importantly, a pleasure to read.”





I am a part-time faculty member at (redacted) where I teach writing. I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing: Nonfiction and am a reader for (redacted). To date, my essays, poems and interviews, as well as chapters excerpted from my manuscript, have appeared in a number of literary and arts journals. Additionally, a chapter from my manuscript titled “Sunday Morning” was recently selected for inclusion in the anthology In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself (MW Enterprises). I have held positions with New York and New England based book publishers and have completed freelance projects for multiple companies and publications, including In Style.

Inside This Purple Room is my first book-length work. It is fully complete and ready for review upon your request.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,

In the end we have no sense of these characters. You're talking about them objectively, clinically. You're observing, not showing us.

A query letter needs to be enticing. This isn't.
It's better, but it's still a form rejection.



ORIGINAL
------------------------------------------------
Dear Query Shark:

“When people ask me how long I knew Megan was depressed, my answer often varies. Sometimes, I say a year, sometimes five years, sometimes forever and other times I say only for a moment, right towards the end. I try to place my finger on it. Attempt to sort through the mess in my head, carve a path through the clutter and find the minute it all came crashing down. That solitary second that would enable me to place blame, to find a reason, to understand how it all went slip-sliding away from me.
I try to remember the beginning of it all.” – from Inside This Purple Room


Don't start your query with a quote from the book. Never ever. If you want to include a quote (and I don't think you should) put it farther down in the body of the letter so I have some idea of what I'm reading.

To Whom It May Concern:

I'll just assume you're using this rather than Dear Query Shark. Agents LOATH "to whom it may concern" salutations. I'll take Hi Sweetums, or even Hey Nate Dawg, before To Whom it May Concern. You know who you are querying; use his/her name. Dear Reptilian Agent Who's Standing Betwixt Me and Fame is better than TWIMC.


At age twenty, Megan Elizabeth Kelly claimed her life with a bottle of prescription pills. One year later, her closest friend began a journey to put back together the pieces of both their lives.

She didn't claim her life. She took it. The phrase"claim a life" is used with things like illness or war or the action of a third party. When you use it here, it sounds pretentious.

My first book-length manuscript,Inside This Purple Room, chronicles the lives of two teenage girls and their search for identity and friendship amidst a debilitating and ultimately fatal mental illness that surfaces in one of them.

The fact this is your first book doesn't have anything to do with what you write next. Move that to the closing paragraph. It's not the most important thing to know.



Throughout Inside This Purple Room, the narrator returns, via memory, to her adolescent search for normalcy amongst a life defined by illness. In doing so, she reaches new insights about her youth while coming to terms with her blemished past; but perhaps, more importantly, she begins to find meaning from the pain of her experience that: “Sometimes, in the end, even love is not enough.”

"amongst a life defined by illness" misuses among. I think you mean amidst. Even then, can't you say this a bit more simply? Elegant writing is clean, uncluttered.

Use the narrator's name. Use specific examples.

Even love is not enough is a cliche.



The story is framed around three visits to a psychologist in which the narrator reflects on the memories of her youth that shattered in the height of crisis. Through these recollections, the narrator invites the reader to travel back down the familiar roads of childhood to experience a first-hand account of the pressures facing young girls today, the changing face of the American family and the increase and implications of recreational and prescription drug use amongst our nation’s youth; it is by way of these fragmented scenes that the reader begins to question, along with the narrator, if the rise of mental illness in our nation is something that is born or bred.

You're telling us the same thing in this paragraph that you did in the preceding one, and it's not more illuminating. It's all very general. Who is the narrator? What happens to her? Why will we care about her? Those are the questions I ask when I read a query.

You're also not talking about the story. It sounds like an op-ed piece. That's deadly in a novel.


Inside This Purple Room asks the reader to step past the manicured forefront of suburban American culture to witness an unbreakable friendship formed in the height of a dysfunctional childhood characterized by obsessive lies, manic hallucinations, emotional outbursts, exhausting psychiatric visits and disturbing patterns of self-mutilation. In doing so, the reader joins the narrator as she embarks on a passage to make meaning of the illness that interrupted her formative years, took captive her friend’s existence, and introduced them both to life’s painful realities during a time that should have been plagued by innocence.

You're awash in generalities here. The first sentence in this two sentence paragraph has 46 words. The second has 48. When I read a query and see this kind of writing, I know this is what I'll see in the novel itself. There's a place for long-ass sentences in books. Generally speaking it's not back to back.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, it is estimated that one in four adults – approximately 57.7 million Americans – suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Similarly, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the U.S., and the third leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-24 years. Thus, issues similar to those found in my text have touched the lives of many individuals in varying age groups.

All of which means nothing. The story has to come first. The story is the only thing I consider. If it helps illuminate an issue I care about (deeply) that's good, but didacticism doesn't work well in fiction.

Readers have a long history of interest in these topics, based on the success of both fiction and nonfiction texts such as The Bell Jar, Girl Interrupted, Prozac Diary and Prozac Nation, among others; however, to date, many of these texts have been crafted by individuals/narrators who have themselves survived private battles with mental illness. Currently, there is a void in the market for texts that explore mental illness and suicide from an outsider/survivor’s perspective. Inside This Purple Room fills this void, adding a unique voice and fresh commentary to the tapestry of illness narratives.

You're dead wrong about the dearth of books by outsiders:

Broken Glass by Robert Hine
Mad House by Clea Simon
The Normal One by Jeanne Safer
My Sister's Keeper by Margaret Moorman

and this is just a quick survey of Amazon with the key words "mental illness."

And you don't need this kind of comparison title search in a query about a novel. (Non-fiction, yes, novel no) Your story is yours.


Though sorrowful, Inside This Purple Room is also laced with optimism and, for this reason, I believe will be marketable to a range of audiences. The text was crafted with adult audiences in mind, however, may appeal to younger readers as well who will relate to the lives and circumstances of my manuscript’s two main characters.

Leave all this out. It's telling not showing.

The manuscript is 47,000 words and fully complete; at this word count, it is brief enough not to be cost-prohibitive to most publishing houses. I have worked closely on this project with (redacted) who urged me to begin to submit this manuscript. Kennedy is the author of more than twenty books and the recipient of the (redacted) He has described Inside This Purple Room as “honed to excellence… and is in my opinion as an editor and writer of many books, of publishable quality… [It] is well-written, moving, insightful, and wise – sorrowful but tempered with hope and very relevant to our times – and most importantly, a pleasure to read.”

Well, he forgot to tell you that 47,000 words is about half the size of a novel. You need another 13,000 words to get to the minimum word count for a novel, and you'd do better to double it.

And don't worry about a publisher's cost for producing the book. That applies only to book with photographs or lots of illustrations. In fact, a short book is harder to sell because publishers need to charge hard cover prices for what looks like a small book.


I am a part-time faculty member at (redacted) where I teach writing. I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing: Nonfiction and am a reader for (redacted) To date, my essays, poems and interviews, as well as chapters excerpted from my manuscript, have appeared in a number of literary and arts journals. Additionally, a chapter from my manuscript titled “Sunday Morning” was recently selected for inclusion in the anthology (redacted). I have held positions with New York and New England based book publishers and have completed freelance projects for multiple companies and publications, including In Style. Though Inside This Purple Room will be my first major publication, I feel strongly that my fierce dedication to the writing process as well as my professionalism will make me a desirable client. And, of
course, I believe strongly in the potential of this project.




A coming of age story of two young outsiders, Inside This Purple Room investigates the often-ugly interior of the highly sought American dream. Through a series of relived stories, painful visits to childhood haunts and recounted memories, the narrator learns to understand the truth of her childhood, and, in doing so, begins to realize the disease that overtook her friend’s life, the one which she believed only existed for a moment in time, was perhaps really there, thriving and growing more powerful, and shaping both their lives, all along.

Uh..what is this doing here? It restates something you already mentioned and you've put it after what's essentially the closing paragraph.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. May I send you a copy of the completed manuscript?

Sincerely,


This is too short for a novel, and I don't have a sense of who the novel is about. There's nothing that connects me to the characters, and thus I don't care about them.

Focus on the actual story. SHOW me what the story is about don't tell me how important it is.

This is a form rejection.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Help from another source

The QueryShark swam by a very helpful blog today. Don't be misled by the "tweet" in the title; it's not about how to query via Twitter.

Any query writer would do well to start with what is essentially an index of essential components for a good query and then refine it into a pitch.

I'm pretty sure you'll see me quoting this again. I think it's sterling advice.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

#109

Dear Query Shark:

Set in France, ONE WAY TO PARIS is one woman’s voyage to the outer limits of her comfort zone.

In a short form work like a query letter, every single word counts. It's almost like a prose poem, and probably more difficult to write; not that I've written a query letter or a prose poem!

That means you don't want to waste words. This sentence does that. It doesn't tell us anything more specific than the title and setting, the second of which we intuit from the paragraphs that follow, the first of which can be mentioned at the end.

Always always start with what the book is about.

Do you sometimes dream of leaving the United States behind and experiencing the city of lights, its joie de vivre, its gourmet food, its magic? Would you then consider renting out a room in a beautiful ancient house in the heart of Paris?

I'm confused. "Renting out" is what landlords to. "Renting a room in Paris" is what tenants do. This implies I'm the landlord, but if I'm also leaving the US behind and experiencing Paris, it sounds like I'm the tenant.

Abandon the "you" construction. Start with Annie. The story is about her.



Annie has no choice but to bank on it. Bankruptcy has reared its ugly snout and if she is to keep her beloved house, she has to find renters, and quick. No need to trumpet all the details of the woman she has become, and even less need to get into what exactly happened the night her husband was killed.

Let's forget the background of how she came to this point and get on to what the story is about.



Lured by Annie's ad, which promises them to ‘Start over in Paris’ -- a concept Annie has no intention of applying to her own life -- the tenants bring the kind of baggage that doesn’t fit neatly in suitcases. Lola, the model is hiding from her husband and has abducted their children, Althea is clearly anorexic and Jared might very well be a drug addict. And then there is Lucas, Annie’s blue-blooded, Lanvin-wearing tenacious friend who simply refuses to be scared away
by her bad attitude.

So, why is she reaching out for people who want to start over? With all the people who want to visit Paris, why exactly would she want applications from the Dirty Dozen? Why doesn't she just advertise in the AAR newsletter for query-sharked agents who need a vacation?

The story can't just be these characters arrive cause you need them there (unless you are Pirandello of course.) They have to arrive for a reason that makes sense to the story, and Annie has to rent to them for reasons that make sense to the story.


Annie’s protected universe is soon threatened in more ways than she had anticipated. When she finds herself reluctantly but actively engaged in the rescue of her tenants, Annie discovers that she might just save herself in the process.

Protected universe? What? I though she was facing bankruptcy and unfortunate inquiries from les flics re le mort de monsieur.

Thank you for considering my work. The manuscript of ONE WAY TO PARIS is completed and 96,000 words long.




Please do not hesitate to contact me and I’ll gladly forward the material you need. Thank you for your time and consideration.

(redacted)

DON'T FORGET YOUR CONTACT INFO!!!!!!!! (even if I redact it for the Shark attack, make a habit of inserting it)


This is a mess right now, but you actually have an interesting idea. Revise this to tell what the story is first.

This is one of those form rejections I always feel bad about cause there's probably something good in there but I can't see it yet.

This is the exact kind of query that prompted me to start this blog.

Monday, April 6, 2009

#108 REVISED THRICE!

Dear Query Shark,


The Healer's Chamber: A Tale of Souls Restored weaves an inspiring story of five individuals on a metaphysical journey from death to healing and beyond.



Four tragedies — a crash; a gun-point rape; cancer; a fire — befall four souls. When three of the victims find themselves in Dr. Abraham’s elegant office, they wonder how people so different — a devout Muslim consumed by his rage, an impatient Hindu who flaunts her youthful sexuality, and an Irish Catholic whose beauty and motherhood have been ravished — could meet in a place that lies between life and death.



As they cast back and re-live their stories with new honesty, Dr. Abraham’s patients find empathy for their living selves and for one another. But the final session begins with a jolt. Instead of their trusted guide, the fourth victim enters and takes charge. Burned and scarred, with eyes like Satan, he calls himself Dr. Faust. The force of Faust’s will extracts the final measure of truth from everyone, including the deeply imperfect Dr. Abraham.



Stunned by his healing power, Faust realizes that he did not become a demon in the hell-fire that killed his father. He too is a soul. Finally, with clarity and spiritual unity, all five earn their passage from the healer’s chamber. The souls are released – to the arms of deceased of loved ones, to voluntary service in the chamber for newly acquainted soul-mates, and, for one, back to life.


I'm a psychologist with a PhD and two college textbooks to my credit. The techniques of Abraham and Faust are drawn from my knowledge of group therapy. The Healer's Chamber (82,000 words) is my first work of fiction.

I don't think of academic writing as a persuasive publishing credit for trade fiction. This is your call though if you want to include it. The reason I wouldn't is that I have an (perhaps irrational) prejudice against academic writing.

At this stage I'm not concerned with whether the techniques are accurate. I'm only concerned with whether you can write well and the story sounds interesting.

I watched Mary Mack, whom you represent, on YouTube, and based on her discussion and your appreciation of books that explore human relationships, I think you might be interested in my novel. Thanks in advance for considering it. Below is the first page, followed by a synopsis.


This is a lot better. It's still a little dry for my taste but I'm not the right agent for this**, so zipping it up for me isn't a good idea.

I think this is ready for a test run. Good luck!

**novels about inner explorations aren't my strength. I'm more likely to seek out novels about external conflict. Give me a car chase any day.
------------------------------------------------------
SECOND REVISION
Dear Query Shark,

The Healer's Chamber: A Tale of Souls Restored weaves an inspiring story of five lives in a metaphysical journey from death to healing and beyond.

Four tragedies – a crash; a rape; cancer; a fire -- befall four souls. When Mohammad, Joy, and Mary find themselves in Dr. Abraham’s elegant office, they wonder how people so different—a Muslim who revered his stern father, a Hindu who brags of Karma and eternal pleasure, and a devout Irish Catholic with a smile like the Mona Lisa—could meet in a place that lies between life and death. And why is the fourth chair empty?

As they cast back and re-live their stories with new honesty, Dr. Abraham’s patients face the pain they have suffered and the suffering they have inflicted on others. Together they journey from the healer’s chamber, through its portal, to the moment where their souls are cleansed and released.

But the final session is not conducted by their trusted guide. Instead, the fourth victim, the young man who was to have occupied the vacant chair, enters and takes charge. Burned and scarred, with eyes like Satan, he calls himself Dr. Faust. The force of Faust’s will extracts the final measure of truth not only from Mohammad, Joy, and, Mary, but also from Dr. Abraham.

Stunned by his healing power, Faust realizes that he did not become a demon in the hell-fire that killed his father. He too is a soul. With truth comes release to a place that none could have imagined.

I'm a psychologist with a PhD and two college textbooks to my credit. The techniques of Abraham and Faust are drawn from my knowledge of group therapy. The Healer's Chamber (82,000 words) is my first work of fiction.

I watched Mary Mack, whom you represent, on YouTube, and based on her discussion and your appreciation of books that explore human relationships, I think you might be interested in my novel. Thanks in advance for considering it. Below is the first page, followed by a synopsis.

Sincerely,


We've seen their death is a tragedy, but why do they need to look at their lives with new honesty? What delusions did they have? You describe them (a Muslim who revered his stern father, a Hindu who brags of Karma and eternal pleasure, and a devout Irish Catholic with a smile like the Mona Lisa) in a way that doesn't make me see them as deluded or self-deceiving in any way.

This is much better, but I still don't have a sense of the characters as other than one-dimensional. Because they're one-dimensional, I don't care what happens to them. Because I don't care, I'm not enticed to read more and find out what happens.





-----------------------------
First Revision:

Dear Query Shark,

The Healer's Chamber: A Tale of Souls Restored weaves an inspiring story of five journeys from death to healing and beyond.


Four tragedies – a crash; a rape; cancer; a fire -- befall four souls. When Mohammad, Joy, and Mary find themselves in Dr. Abraham’s elegant office, they wonder how people so different—a Muslim who revered his stern father, a Hindu who brags of Karma and eternal pleasure, and a devout Irish Catholic with a smile like the Mona Lisa—could meet in a place that lies between life and death. And why is the fourth chair empty?


As they relive their stories, they must face the pain they have suffered and the suffering they have inflicted on others. Together they journey from the healer’s chamber, through its portal, to the moment where their souls are cleansed and released.


But their final session is not conducted by their trusted guide. Instead, the fourth victim, the young man who was to have occupied the vacant chair, is now in charge. Burned and scarred, with eyes like Satan, he calls himself Dr. Faust. The force of Faust’s will extracts the final measure of truth not just from Mohammad, Joy, and Mary, but from the fifth trapped soul, Dr. Abraham himself. With truth comes release to a place that none could not have imagined.


Ok, how exactly is this inspiring? (Remember your first sentence?)

You've got an odd mix of tone here. The name Dr. Faust of course evokes some sort of pact with the devil, so I'm left wondering if this book is about choices (Faustian bargains) and if so what they are.

I'm a psychologist with a PhD and two college textbooks to my credit. Dr. Abraham's techniques are drawn from my knowledge of group therapy. The Healer's Chamber (82,000 words) is my first work of fiction.



I watched Mary Mack, whom you represent, on YouTube, and based on her discussion and your appreciation of books that explore human relationships and psychology, I think you might be interested in my novel. Thanks in advance for considering it. Below is the first page, followed by a synopsis.


Sincerely,



This is better than the original by a long shot, but I still really don't have a sense of the story here. I still see it described as four characters talking about themselves. We need more sense of what happens and what the stakes are.

This is still a form rejection.
--------------------------------------------------
ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,

I watched Mary Mack, whom you represent, on YouTube, and based on her discussion and your appreciation of books that explore human relationships and psychology, I think you might be interested in my novel, The Healer's Chamber: A Tale of Souls Restored. It's is an inspiring story of five interlocking journeys from tragedy to healing and beyond.

Lead with the most persuasive thing. It's never ever where you found the agent's name. If you want to include that (and some agents do like to have it in a query) put it at the bottom. Start with what you've written.


A crash; a fire; a rape; cancer -- four tragedies befall four souls. But when Mohammad Irani, Joy Han, and Mary Josephson find themselves in Dr. Isaac Abraham's elegant office, they wonder why people so different—a Muslim who revered his stern father, a Hindu who brags that Karma will bring eternal pleasure, and a devout Irish Catholic with a smile like Mona Lisa—would come together in such a place. And why is the fourth chair empty?


This is character soup. You don't need to describe AND name them. You can get away with only descriptions ("a Muslim, a Hindu, a devout Catholic") because in this case it appears their religions are actually important to the story.


Their careworn Jewish psychiatrist welcomes them. "You are here to be healed, but my therapy requires that you believe you may in fact have died. You must believe it is possible that we are together in this place until the end of time."

I'm sorry, but this sounds like Hell. Sartre's kind of hell. (He famously said "hell is other people") We need to get something in these earlier paragraphs that is more intriguing than four people doing therapy to the end of time.

As they reveal their memories inside "The Healer's Chamber," Mohammad, Joy, and Mary confront the pain they have suffered and the suffering they have inflicted on others. All wait for what Dr. Abraham calls "the Portal session," when their stories are fully told, and their souls are restored to a pristine state.

I don't know what you mean here.

But that final session is not conducted by their trusted healer. Instead, the fourth victim, the young man who was to have occupied the vacant chair, is now in charge. Burned and scarred, with eyes like Satan, he calls himself Dr. Faust. The force of Faust’s will extracts the final measure of truth not just from Mohammad, Joy, and Mary, but from Dr. Abraham himself.

So this book really is just people telling their stories to a therapist, and then having them break down when confronted by someone who's introduced late in the book?





I'm a psychologist with a PhD and two college textbooks to my credit. Dr. Abraham's techniques are drawn from my knowledge of group therapy. The Healer's Chamber (82,000 words) has been professionally edited. It is my first work of fiction, and it is ready to go.

I really don't like to hear that your book has been professionally edited. For me, it's not the persuasive piece of information you think it is. You think it says "my book is polished and ready to go."

What I infer is "your book was polished by someone else and god help us when we get to the edit letter from the editor, and you don't know how to do this stuff"


Freelance editors tell you a book needs to be edited before agents will look at it. What they are doing is selling their services. Only one of my clients employed an editor and that was for non-fiction.

All my novelists write, revise, and edit their own books.


You can employ all the editors you want, but it's best to leave it OUT of the query letter for a novel.



Thanks in advance for considering my novel. Below is the first page, followed by a synopsis.



Sincerely,


There's no hook here, no compelling reason that makes me want to read this.

Who is the protagonist here? Who is the antagonist? What conflict or choices do these people face? What are the consequences if they make one choice, or the other?


Being able to tell me this in a query letter gives me a map for reading the book, a sense of where I'm going. Without it, we're floundering.


This is a form rejection.