Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And now, a pause for jocularity 2

Dear Sublimity, Snookums QueryShark:

Literary agent Nicola Mersdon just wants three things:
1. An extended vacation in the Bahamas (without the slush pile)
2. A sojourn in the local bar (without the manuscript-bearing students)
And:
3. An engagement ring

But she'll settle for a drink.

Three thousand queries, and Nicola Mersdon has a problem. Her romantically-inclined acquaintance has sent her a diamond ring - without an SASE. Nicola is brought into conflict with her own conscience - can she truly accept the engagement and risk tacit support for NITWIT, a multinational alliance of vicious mass queriers and agent e-mail finders - as it did? But Nicola has a duty, and a harsh one - to reject the query. Whatever it takes.


But her querier's romantic inclinations are as nothing compared to his employers'. NITWIT are determined - and there's the devil in the details, as they offer Nicola a chance to die for: a reconciliatory holiday with her rejected. Unfortunately, NITWITs may provide cookies and scented paper, but honeymoons aren't their speciality. As Nicola finds out to her cost - brought to New York for a sacrifice upon one of agenthood's highest pinnacles of sense. Tied to Miss Snark's grave shrine in Central Park, Nicola is forced to offer her betrothed and his allies in NITWITtery a critique, forcing them to retire in shame. Then she eviscerates them.


LIFE AND LOVE IN AN SASE is an epic tale of tragedy, the human condition, and the eternal duology of love. My 200, 000 word manuscript - described as a fascinating combination of Socrates and Faulkner - is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#118-Revised

Dear Query Shark,

Safe inside the rind of Orange County, parents pay a premium to shelter their kids. If those kids lie well enough, they might even convince their parents the money paid off.

Four best friends lie artfully. They keep up with grades, church, and sports teams, all while inhaling every puff of smoke, pill, and bottle their manicured hands can grab. But the delicate line between good girl and bad begins to erode when take hold of the hottest new drug to hit their high school: crystal meth.

For two of the girls, meth is manna from heaven. It makes cocky, witty Lindsey more sure and more funny (or so she thinks). For Charity, it eradicates the self doubt, the weight consciousness, even pushes away the clouds of depression and suicidal whispers. In just two weeks, Lindsey and Charity are hooked. They cover their dilated eyes with sunglasses and explain away the weight loss; but their arrogant, careless attitudes are hard to miss. Now Charity’s mom is threatening Catholic boarding school, Lindsey could get kicked off her all-star softball team for showing up hung-over, and their juiced-up egos have their best friends, Macey and Allison, needing some space. For a wallflower like Macey, who hasn’t made a friend outside the girls in eight years, a summer without Lindsey and Charity is gloomy enough. Then Allison’s boyfriend breaks off the relationship and she crawls back to Lindsey, Charity, and their dirty little crystals for comfort. Loneliness may be Macey’s worst fear, but if she follows the girls deeper into the gritty drug world, it could cost her more than friendship.

COUNTY OF GLITTER AND GLASS is a Young Adult novel that depicts realistic, suburban, teenage life, with all the drugs, sex, and lies that leave parents reaching for the Pepcid. The journey at the heart of the novel ultimately belongs to Macey, as her need for friendship and independence conflict for the first time. The novel’s third-person narration, which alternates focus with each chapter, reveals how this conflict develops, or fails to, inside each of the four, very different heroines. With its intense friendships set inside a drug underworld, the novel is best described as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Go Ask Alice. Its subject matter and language suit it for the 15+ age group, with a strong secondary audience in the parents and teachers of teens. It this is all telling, not showing is complete at 110,000 words and ready for your review.

Thank you for your consideration,

Focus on Macey.
What choice does Macey have to make?
What will happen if she chooses the wrong thing?

It's too long. YA novels need to be somewhere nearer 70,000 words.

This is MUCH better than the first draft.
I like the title.





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

ORIGINAL


Dear Query Shark,

Macey Fry isn’t prude, she just gags at the smell of cigarettes and puts Post-Its over the nudes in her Louvre book. Her three best friends, however, stow Malboros in their air-conditioning vents and hide condoms in their teddy bears. Still, the four are inseparable; until Crystal Meth.

Post-it notes over art photos is textbook prude, by the way.
Crystal Meth isn't a person, or a proper name so it's not capitalized.

On the last day of Sophomore year, Macey is feeling bold. She’s sixteen now, after all, and she’s wasting her youth being scared all the time. She nervously gulps down two cocktails at an end of school party and winds up asleep before midnight. Macey’s three best friends are feeling bold, too, as the party ends. But Allison, Charity, and Lindsey are bored with cocktails. They’re ready to try the next big thing in teenage entertainment and Charity’s boyfriend has it in that dirty clump of crystals stuffed deep into his pocket.

This sounds nothing like any young person I know. It sounds like a disapproving adult: "wasting her youth" The thing about kids is they don't know they are wasting their youth. "teenage entertainment" is another phrase I'd fall over dead if I heard a kid say.

After just a few long nights with Crystal Meth, Charity and Lindsey are hooked. Macey will never be bold enough to try it and Allison is more interested in her new boyfriend than the new drug. For the first time in eight years, the group is split.



When a police raid on a meth party freezes the local trade, Macey and Allison think they’ve seen the end of their friends’ addictions. But Lindsey and Charity find another source: a dealer whose house is crowded with criminal men and shifty secrets.

Macey thinks her friends will stop being addicted because the supply dries up? I'm less enamored of this character with every passing paragraph.



Soon, Allison’s boyfriend ends their relationship and Allison turns to Lindsey, Charity, and their crystalline comfort, leaving Macey in solitude. Macey must decide which is more dangerous: wallowing in loneliness, or braving the hazardous drug world for the company of her best friends.

And where are her parents in all this? Surely she has a choice other than wallowing in loneliness or hanging out with meth addicts. She sounds spineless and weak here. That's NOT someone I want to spend 200 pages (let alone 140,000 words--ack!) with.

GLITTER AND DECAY is literary fiction, complete at 140,000 words. I describe it as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Go Ask Alice. I am an unpublished author hoping this novel will be my debut work. I have never been a meth addict, but I have pooled the knowledge and experience of several women who have to create this story. TMI

140,000 words is not only too long for a YA novel, it's also too long for an adult novel. Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants is a middle grade novel. I have no idea what Go Ask Alice is called but I read it in high school.

Thank you in advance for your time and attention. I am an avid reader of both your blogs and grateful for your every helpful word.

Focus on Macey. This is her story.

Right now I just want to smack every character and send them to convent school. Your job as a writer is to make me care about the protagonist even if I do want to smack her upside the head. You haven't done that here.

Form rejection.

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

Dear Query Shark,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

VERY nice work!!! Congratulations!!
-----------------
FIRST REVISION

Dear Query Shark,

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Better but not there yet.

----------------------------
ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,

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

Start with the story.

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

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




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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

Put the title and word count down here.

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

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

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

#116-Revised

Dear QueryShark:

Mavis McCreedy has decided to end it all. Her 102nd birthday party is just two weeks away, and she’s determined not to attend. She's just plain fed-up! This relentlessly tedious celebration of mediocrity, called 'life', has toyed with her long enough.

In the critique of the original I said we didn't get much sense of why Mavis wanted to end it all, given she's clearly got all her marbles and a functioning body. "Relentlessly tedious celebration of mediocrity called life" sounds like something you'd hear at a cocktail party of twenty-somethings trying to be blase. Dig deeper. It's the gist of your novel. She can't just want to kill herself cause you need a set up for the novel.

So, instead of helping her incredibly irritating niece plan the big bash at the nursing home, (where she’s been imprisoned for the last twenty years), she embarks on a series of hilariously ineffective suicide attempts.



She tries the usual, at first. You know, she throws herself in front of a bus, down an escalator, and she attempts asphyxiation by an enormous un-chewed rasher of bacon—all without success. Each day brings another unwanted series of heartbeats, and another scheme for Mavis to do herself in. Eventually, in desperation, she even accepts the offer of her eighty-nine year old best friend, Stan. He tries to help out by jacking a Viagra “weekender pill” off his son’s boyfriend. Try as Stan might, (and he does…oh, he does), even that doesn’t work! As the big day approaches, poor Mavis finds herself still very much alive, and profoundly pissed-off.



Is it just an annoying run of good luck? Or, has Providence decided that Mavis must finish her life’s lesson plan before checking-out?



The title of this book is “Mercy”. Thank you for your time in considering this submission.

Word count?

Same response as below: I'd probably read pages if you included them, and a LOT would depend if you caught me on a good day or not. You'd have no way of knowing if you did, so a smart query strategy would be plan to query WIDELY.

This just doesn't grab me cause I don't believe someone who is in good health at 102 would try to kill themselves. The older you get, the more precious life becomes in my experience. And I only look 102, I'm not actually there yet.

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

Dear Query Shark,


Mavis McCreedy has decided to end it all. Her 102nd birthday party is just two weeks away, and she’s determined not to attend. Instead of helping her incredibly irritating niece plan the big bash at the nursing home, (where she’s been imprisoned for the last twenty years), she embarks on a series of hilariously ineffective suicide attempts.

I'm going to assume this is a mordant comedy akin to Harold and Maude. What we're missing here is a sense of Mavis. Why does she want to end it all? If she's well enough, and astute enough for the antics of paragraph two why has she got the hots for St. Peter?

She tries the usual, at first. You know, she throws herself in front of a bus, down an escalator, and she attempts asphyxiation by an enormous un-chewed rasher of bacon—all without success. Each day brings another unwanted series of heartbeats, and another scheme for Mavis to do herself in. Eventually, in desperation, she even accepts the offer of her eighty-nine year old best friend, Stan. He tries to help out by jacking a Viagra “weekender pill” off his son’s boyfriend. Try as Stan might, (and he does…oh, he does), even that doesn’t work! As the big day approaches, poor Mavis finds herself still very much alive, and profoundly pissed-off.


Is it just an annoying run of good luck? Or, has Providence decided that Mavis must finish her life’s lesson plan before checking-out?


The title of this book is “Mercy”. If you are interested, please email me, or phone at (redacted) Thank you for your time and consideration.

Thanks,


This is a pretty good query letter except that I don't have any sense of why I want to spend an entire book reading about someone trying to kill herself. And I don't have much sense of Mavis either.


A lot would depend on how backlogged I was when I got the query. If I'm feeling overwhelmed, this is a pass cause it's not just reaching out and grabbing me.


This is one of those where I'd read the pages if you were smart and followed the directions to send them but I'm not sure I'd request pages if you hadn't.

This is a textbook example of a query that could go either way and EXACTLY why you query a lot of agents. Hit me on the wrong day it's pass, for someone else it's a read.