Monday, January 11, 2010

#142-Revised

Dear Query Shark,

Facing the end of college and the impending threat of real-world responsibilities, four friends jump at one last chance for a life of freedom and debauchery when one of them returns from South America with the exotic Goli fruit, a little green confection that alone does nothing, but when consumed with a generic brand of cereal flakes gives them the greatest hallucinogenic high the world has ever known.

That's one sentence.

I'm a very big believer in starting with the subject of the sentence, then the verb. If convoluted you must be, the place to start is not the sentence you place first.

With all the criminal know-how expected of a bunch of northeastern Ivy League choirboys, they set up shop selling little green fruit to college kids and enjoying the easy money. But before long, they learn the hard way that their perfect setup isn’t made to last when of their own makes a cross-country sales drive and finds himself held hostage in Colorado with half of their inventory at the mercy of their greatest fear: real criminals. Now, it’s up to the others to drop everything to save him and, if at all possible, their burgeoning business. Eighteen hundred miles and a whole cast of nefarious characters stand between them and the glory of Goli.


The start of your query is tucked in the middle of this paragraph. It's "Character X finds himself held hostage in Colorado." How he got there is immaterial. Start with the point where something actually happens.



Full of all the wild uncertainty that comes with adulthood and raging against the dying light of youth, Goli Oats weighs in at about 101,000 words and is the first of three thematically-related novels I intend to produce in what I call the “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll Trilogy.” Goli Oats embodies the “Drugs” facet and my next novel, Blue, which is already partially completed, will address the “Sex”, followed by the third, Groupie, which pertains to, of course, “Rock ‘n Roll.”

blah blah blah. You haven't sold me on the first novel yet, so the fact you plan two more is wasted on me. MORE about the plot of the first novel will be much more persuasive than anything.

My name is (redacted) I am from Atlanta, Georgia, and a Film Studies and Journalism student at the University of Georgia in Athens. I have spent my entire life with a tenacious drive for writing and storytelling in one capacity or another. I am firmly dedicated to building my career as a novelist and am looking for the agency that can assist me in that effort now, at the beginning, and throughout my career.

I will know your name and your hometown from your signature and contact info. I don't care where you go to school. I don't care about your tenacious drive for whatever. The ONLY thing I care about is whether you can write well, and if this is a novel I want to read. Focus on that.

Thank you and I look forward to working together,


Form rejection

------------------
Attn. :
Query Shark

It's an endless source of amusement to me that a noticeable percentage of writers have a hard time with Dear (whomever). I've seen TO: I've seen just my name. I've seen Greetings; I've seen Hello! and a few others that made me laugh. Standard business letter format includes a salutation. Attn: is not a salutation. It's a mail stop directive. If you just can't bring yourself to use the standard business format of "Dear Query Shark" I suggest "Good morning"

Four friends, facing the end of college and the impending threat of real-world responsibilities, jump at one last chance for a life of freedom when one of them returns from South America with a strange wonder drug and sends them hurling down a path of excitement and danger in the tireless pursuit of the quick score and easy living.

This is so general as to be meaningless. It's also not very interesting. Four college kids decide to become drug dealers?

Goli Oats, the first novel in the Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll Trilogy from writer (redacted), is the sensational story of four young, misguided but well-meaning friends facing the daunting prospects of careers they don’t want, pre-determined futures, and a lifetime of corporate-sponsored boredom.

You're talking about yourself in the third person. You're telling, not showing about the novel. This is where I'd stop reading.

Their grim outlooks, however, are suddenly brightened when one of them returns from a year-long sabbatical in the jungles of South America with a strange fruit which, when eaten alone, does nothing, but when paired with a generic brand of bland cereal flakes gives them the greatest hallucinogenic high they have ever known.

A college student takes a year long sabbatical? Unless things have changed since I was in college, this doesn't make any sense. Professors take sabbaticals after years of teaching. Students may take a semester or a year abroad, but those aren't called sabbaticals.

Seeing a once-in-a-lifetime way out of all of their problems, they ready themselves for the trials of building a fruit-drug empire that will span the country, entangle them with an ever-widening cast of nefarious characters, and bring excitement and troubles they never dreamed of facing.

This is meaningless description.

Full of all the wild uncertainty that comes with adulthood and raging against the dying light of youth, Goli Oats is at once a completely fresh take on the drug world epic, an indictment of corporate hypocrisy and a slightly twisted, fruit-addled buddy comedy. Just don’t feed it to your goat.

If you tell me this book is a comedy, and the query letter isn't funny or amusing, there's a problem. A big one.

"Drug world epic" is not a category I'm familiar with. If you're offering a fresh take on something, there has to be an old take on it first.

(Author) is from (place), and a student at the (school). He has spent his entire life with a tenacious drive for writing and storytelling in one capacity or another. Though his creative efforts thus far have been primarily devoted to musical performance and composition, short stories and screenplay writing, with an aim to further himself in both acting and filmmaking, his passion for the last year has been the authorship of his first novel, Goli Oats. Goli Oats, weighing in at about 101,000 words, is the first of three thematically-related novels he intends to produce in what he calls the “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll Trilogy.” Goli Oats embodies the “Drugs” facet and his next novel, Blue, which is already partially completed, will address the “Sex”, followed by the third, Groupie, which pertains to, of course, “Rock ‘n Roll.” Through his writing, he tries to bring his own unique voice to rather unconventional themes and ideas predicated on a strong base of social satire and embellished with lively, exciting characterizations. He is firmly dedicated to building his career as a novelist and is looking for the agency that can assist him in that effort now, at the beginning, and throughout his career.

Don't ever talk about yourself in the third person in a business letter. It's just plain bad writing.
The query letter should be about the book. You've got almost as many words about you and your plans (203) as you do about the book (255). More about the book. A lot less about you, particularly since none of it is an actual writing credential.


Thank you and I look forward to working together,

Form rejection

26 comments:

Kate Halleron said...

The writer also uses the word 'hurling' when s/he means 'hurtling'.

Misused words are also a big no-no. Right?

The book sounds like a disaster, but that may be just me.

Shawn said...

D'oh! Kate beat me to it.

Maybe the characters are just really, really gastro-intestinally distraught.

Kosmos said...

Maybe the fruit just didn't agree with them ;)

Rachel Menard said...

I feel like the author focused on cramming in as many big words as possible and strayed from the actual story. I read through this three times, and the only plot I see is some friends find a new drug and sell it. That can be described in one sentence. What else happens?

Betsy Ashton said...

Oh dear, this reads like "I just finished my novel and i can't wait to offer it to agents who will fall all over themselves to sell it to a publisher and make me a best seller and filthy rich -- all by June 2010.

There might be potential here, but I can't see it.

Shane said...

Bad query. Great example of what not to do. Thanks to the Shark

Suze said...

Well, I see many dodgy query letters battered in to submission on this blog, so there might be hope for this one yet.

There are glimmers of an amusing novel in this letter, but I also see no plot. Hook us with what actually happens in your book and see the comments here change :).

Good luck with your revisions.

Lanette said...

Fruit mixed with cereal creates hallucinogenic properties? Pass me another bowl of raisen bran.

agoraphob said...

I guess I need to go to South America.

Good Luck with revisions.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Attn writer:

Josie thinks that talking about yourself in the 3rd person makes it seem like someone else wrote the query and submitted it for you. She thinks it's not only awkward, but a generally bad idea. This poster agrees with QS.

It's also a wonder to Josie that the writer thinks there needs to be more than one intro to the query. Not only is it redundant, but it's a meaningless waste of space used to repeat something that's already been said. In other words, it's repetitious for no good reason.

This poster also wonders why that first intro is so long. It's stretched out like taffy into a contradictory conclusion ("tireless" and "easy living" do not go together).

Josie's also starting to wonder if she's seen too many movies with the Rock in them because the writer's "wonder drug" sounds like the running gag from "The Rundown".

Why are you calling it a drug when it's a fruit extract? It wouldn't be illegal to sell (especially not as a new discovery). You might get stuck with a duty or a "no foreign fruits" problem at the air port/border, but that's it.

Not a funny query, and how is this possibly enough material for a trilogy? (Did you realize you were starting with "drugs"? If it's "Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'N' Roll, shouldn't you start with "sex"? Or at least start with it after you toss the cliche title?)

That is all.

Lehcarjt said...

@ Josin - Lehcarjt thinks that was so funny that she now has to wipe her cereal off her keyboard. She thanks you for the moment of hilarity.

Deep River said...

I have a hard time believing that college kids who don't want to work (as we are told five times) and reject "corporate hypocrisy/boredom" are suddenly motivated to build a fruit empire.

It seems to me there are several better ideas that could develop from a college student's discovery of a new drug, but not with the characters hinted at in the query

Aimless Writer said...

Who is the main character? Even if they are a group of college kids there is still a point of view. Perhaps this would work if you gave me the story from on POV.
Like: when Scott returned from South America with a newly discovered fruit that causes hallucinations he decides to corner the market and start his own drug empire. Joined by three friends they confront ....whatever.
I think as is your letter is too general. You need to give specifics that will scare me. What's the danger? Is a drug king-pin hunting these kids? Does the drug/fruit kill people? What's the excitement? What's the danger?

alaskaravenclaw said...

Y'know, dealing drugs is both a crime and morally questionable.

That doesn't mean it's not a fit subject for a novel-- but I'd like to see evidence in the query letter that the writer is at least aware that this is the case.

And it will affect reader sympathy.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I think I'm finally getting the hang of this. Didn't even have to read it. Word count too long, looks like a synopsis. Duh nah....dah nah...dah na..Da nuh.Duh naaaa...(suspenseful mu cis score reaches crescendo) Form Rejection! ;)

kregger said...

Yikes!

Kudos to Ms. Query Shark, for her excellent examples. I may not be able to write an effective query, but I have learned how to recognize errors in other submitted query's. I am one step closer.
What I want to know, who or what would we feed to the goat?

lauradroege said...

@Kregger,
It almost sounded like we shouldn't feed the BOOK to a goat; the author needs to reword that!

I see some potential but I can't see this working as a comedy. As QS said, a query letter for a comedy needs to be funny, and this one just doesn't quite tickle my funny bone. And a novel about illegal drugs doesn't make me think "comedy": maybe the drug concept could be revised into a fruit-extract wonder vitamin or something? Then the college students would be merely con artists, not drug dealers. I can have sympathy for and be amused by a con artist (if he/she is actually funny and not dangerous) but a drug dealer? No way.

Rachel said...

The first sentence is incredibly long, too. Yikes.

But I laughed at "fruit-drug empire." Too bad it's not supposed to be funny, right?

Dominique said...

College students don't take Sabbaticals. They do have leaves of absence, but those aren't for kicks. People usually take those when they need to take time off for personal, medical, financial or family reasons.

Was this student, perhaps, studying abroad in South America?

"Seeing a once-in-a-lifetime way out of all of their problems, they ready themselves for the trials of building a fruit-drug empire that will span the country, entangle them with an ever-widening cast of nefarious characters, and bring excitement and troubles they never dreamed of facing." This sentence is a problem.

a) No matter how great this once in a lifetime oppurtunity is, if it involves and "ever-widening cast of nefarious characters" and "troubles [I] never dreamed of facing," I'm out. So, these people probably saw neither of those aspects coming; ergo, they could not ready themselves for them.

b) It's a tad far-fetched, not matter how great the drug is, to claim that four college kids would decide to "build a fruit-drug empire that will span the country." That's a complex process, and not something many people could pull off, even if they wanted to. No matter how great the drug was, I don't think most people's minds would go to the "Oh my god, let's make a huge national drug empire!" place. That's a bit weird.

c) If things happen without the characters planning for them (ie: they become drug lords without planning on it, they didn't expect to meet a huge array of wicked and nefarious people, etc) or are a ton of things "they never dreamed of facing", they could not prep themselves for these things.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Just a thought, but if you tweak your set-up a bit, it might be easier to swallow the story line.

A more believable reason for a college student/recent grad to be S. America would be work with an aid organization. Something like the Peace Corps, or something like Save the Children. There's also field work for an anthropological graduate study. Being attached to an environmental group bent on saving the rainforest could give the MC a way to access parts of the forest with unusual plants.

Any of those are more plausible than "sabbatical", and someone on a charity or humanitarian trip might be able to rationalize the use of "drug money". Just like a student could claim they were harvesting the fruit for "research".

Dreamstate said...

I actually lost track of the number of cliched phrases (jump at the chance, once-in-a-lifetime) in this query. Given how many TENS OF THOUSANDS of query letters that pass the desks of some of our agent friends, it is critical that a query avoids cliches 'like the plague.'

Jenn McKay said...

Attn: 142,

I'm interested in the strange fruit from South America. Especially if there is some believable science-type explanation behind its hallucinogenic high.

Do these kids perhaps land a multi-season reality t.v. deal?

Can the hero go to South America with an aid organization (good suggestion Josin) and meet a goat?

In your query rewrite, can you tell us the benefits of a fruit high?

Thanks!

Irene Troy said...

This reads as if the writer has just completed a course in creative writing during which he heard the admonishment: “write what you know” one too many times. He graduated college recently, is a bit confused about the choices laid out before him and has dreamt of something a bit more exciting than what is currently available. The plot (?) of the story seems vaguely familiar or at least derivative. College kids nearing graduation are frightened by possibility of no longer being “kids”, having to assume adult responsibilities, finding a job, etc. They discover some magic get rich quick scheme and…well; we’ve all read this story, haven’t we?

The author seems a bit sold on himself. Perhaps it is time to return to the drawing board and rethink not only the query, but the story itself. Sorry, if this is harsh, but sometimes we all need a good wakeup call.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Perhaps this was sent out by a service? That could account for the third person.

Kenneth said...

I hate to be the one to point this out Query Shark, but at the top of the Query you said,"Or is this intended to be invoke the start of a...." If I'm not mistaken, the word "be" should not be there. I know, I know, my wife says I'm a freek about these things!

laughingpaws said...

Congratulations for putting yourself out there.

I don't understand how the fruit only produces hallucinogenic properties with a generic brand of cereal. Is it a preservative in the cereal? Your drug kingdom would have to be local since as far as I know we don't have any national grocery store chains. And if it's a preservative then once it became known, they'd simply pull it from the shelves.

So you'd have to stock pile it and sell both the fruit and cereal together? Which has great potential. I mean that's funny. I can see a rough drug dealer type, pulling open his trench coat to flash ziploc bags of cereal and fruit, but it might need more thought and development to bring it home. Or perhaps it's a script and not a novel?