Sunday, February 14, 2010

#146-Revised

Dear Query Shark

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING is a completed fantasy of 101,000 words. It has the potential to be the first part of a trilogy.

Potential is VASTLY over rated as an enticement in a query. It's bad enough to include it; you certainly don't want to lead with it.

When your childhood is taken, when all those you care for and trust cast you aside, when the one person who stands by you is taken also what do? Especially if one of you is human, and one a dragon. Especially if you both happen to be dead...

And I'm done reading here.
For starters, improper use of the punctuation mark ellipses (...) drives me BONKERS. I've received query letters that are essentially one run on sentence due to improper ellipses.

Need a quick tutorial on ellipsis? Here's the Wikipedia mention

Also the prose is hyperbolic, not to mention purple. Get real. Be specific.

You find the damn dragon. Because two heads... and claws and fire... are nastier than one.

Sonea Finder and Sephiranoth ShadowSeeker. One has two legs and long blonde hair, and one has four legs, scales and wings. But deep inside... well, deep inside they are still a woman and a dragon. What they are not any more is scared children.

You realize of course we have no idea who is who. And using invented names that both start with S further confuse any hope we have of remembering.

Sephiranoth. Despised for a birth that caused his mother's death, his older twin brother MorDin is the treasure of the clan. Sephiranoth will discover that same brother stealing the life force of younglings and leaving them dead. For MorDin wishes to live forever. But Sephiranoth, the worthless one, will not let that happen.

And we're still confused. Plus, none of this has anything to do with what happens. It's backstory. Hyperbolic, purple backstory.

Sonea will grow up wounded and abused by dragon magic. She will lose her mind, to be cured by an old dragon many think mad. A dragon who has lived many lives seeking an old evil. An old evil that destroyed her childhood. An old evil she will not let continue.

Still confused. Still backstory. WHAT HAPPENS?

Only together can they end what was begun. But the price of their meeting will be their deaths.
Yet in the land of Istaria, some are chosen. Chosen to set death aside.

Despite having written together for many years, neither of the authors has killed the other as yet, nor appear to have any intention of doing so. They have shared experience in game environments both as players and developers of game lore and history.

This, finally, has some life to it. Too bad it's about the authors not about the book.

Our thanks in advance for your time and attention. We enclose the first five pages and a short synopsis of Thunder and Lightning for your consideration. On request we can provide a partial or the full manuscript.

Leave out what you're willing to do. It makes me want to ask if you'll stand on your head and sing Greensleeves but that's just cause I'm annoyed you can't get out of your own way here and write a query letter that tells me what choice (ONE choice) the main character faces, and what the consequences of that choice are. I'm pretty sure this isn't the first time I've written that phrase today, this week, this month, on this blog.

Sincerely

This is a complete and utter mess. Form rejection.

(and I know you can write, I've seen you do it. Not here, of course, but in that intro below.)

--------------------
First, if I may, allow me to introduce myself. I'm an idiot.

This would not be news to anybody that knows me, apart from my mother. She believes me to be an incredible idiot, and would be amazed I had been able to improve to just ' idiot'. Her view is probably more accurate, as she's known me longer.

Fine. We have that out of the way.

Second, it would also appear I am a masochist. At least, it appears that I have talked my co-author into allowing me to take us swimming with sharks. Or, at least, _a_ shark.

As is likely to be rapidly obvious, we have written what we believe to be a novel. A Fantasy. And, having done so, we dare to believe that others might agree with us.

Having come to this conclusion, we spent some time investigating. As neophytes we took a swim through descriptions of those coral reefs that are agents, and publishers. Beauteous to look at from a distance, there are sharp edges to those corals. And amid them lurks the Shark...

Herewith we offer a potential query letter. Or rather two. Two forms of the same base letter. It may be that in setting them both here we do indeed already break the rules of submission, but I could not find such a specific restriction among those rules.

It may also be that I have erred in the Subject line. In your ' Instructions for submitting work to the Shark', bullet 5, you say that the title I have used is acceptable. Indeed, it appears to be commended. In your ' Read before sending query' sidebar, you say ' You MUST put Query Shark in the subject line to have it be considered for the blog. Don't put anything else in the subject line...'. Likely I have chosen wrong, and likely am even more at fault for pointing out the seeming conflict.

Both forms of the query fit precisely on a one inch margin page if set in 12 point Times Roman when the address blocks are included as offered. We have left the address blocks in as indicated in your postings. If nothing else, it shows some page use. We understand, expect and express our thanks for their redaction should you choose to use them for feeding on in public.

The (redacted) email address was established some time ago. We have considered that it might appear too much like a publisher itself and thus put off any agent or publisher. As a consequence of this thought, we have also purchased (redacted) and are in the process of setting up a revised contact email address.

One comment I will offer, to be accepted or rejected as you choose. We have noted your dislike of random capital use. One of the forms here uses the word Ancient. Capitalised. While Ancient is not commonly a proper noun, in the context of this work, Ancient is in fact a grade and rank of dragon. Hence the capitalisation.

While neither query seems to match those common standard forms we have seen displayed, one has slightly higher level of non-conformity. Or at least less eld-style phrasing. Our own feeling is that the first has a little more bite and flavour, the second is possibly more ' comfortable' to read. We accept the decision of the Shark's teeth in the matter.

We have read and at least believe we understand the samples offered at queryshark. We believe we have at least tried to avoid the most frequent of the misjudgments on which you have chosen to comment. We now throw ourselves into the water, fully aware of the nearby cruising fin. Should you choose to ignore our frantic splashing text, we of course understand. Should you choose to come closer, and after feasting set their torn and bloodied remains for all to see, that would at least help others avoid our neophyte errors.

As I said above, I am an idiot. Any merit on what follows is to the credit of my co-author. Any fault is mine entire.

On with the motley... if scattered words may be considered the jester's tatters:


So, this is hilarious, right? Fresh, insouciant, a delight. Idiot or not, someone here can write a fine letter. And then look what you do:
-----------------------
Actual Query:

Dear Query Shark:

Did ye ever hear tell of the Thunder and Lightning? The Fool and the Fair?

You missed the part about rhetorical questions right? Or is this intended to be invoke the start of a ballad or epic poem? Whatever you intend it to be, what it IS, is gone.

Sonea Finder. Lightning to the Thunder. Warrior and mage, a crafter of wonders. Her smile would put the sun to shame.

cliche!

But that smile hides dark secrets.

cliche!
Scars from wounds made by her own mother's knife. Cast aside by those she cars for.

I'm pretty sure you mean cares for. I'm not calling the query police for typos, but yes I do notice. And truthfully, I care. My choice for clients are the people who obsess over this kind of thing. I have to drag pages from their clutching fingers as they mewl about just a bit more time to make sure they've dangled no modifiers.

The way to avoid this caring for cars thing is to let a query sit overnight, or for a week. Or have someone else read it. Or print it out and read it. Figure out which way helps you most efficiently and use it. On EVERYthing. Me, I use the commenters on the blog. They love to catch me out on this kind of stuff. Public humiliation is sauce for the shark as well!

Cast mad by the forced lust of one called friend, mind-healed by one who will be friend and more. Sonea, who comes to know that none of this was chance...

And this is all tell, no show. We don't need to know about her smile, her scars, her lusts or any of that stuff. We need to know what HAPPENS.

She will find those who took what she lost. She will make them pay. For she is Sonea, and she is Finder. And not death itself shall bar her finding!

I'm sorry but this just makes me laugh. This kind of overwrought drama is out of place in a short form like a query letter. You don't have enough time in a query to build up to that kind of drama. It's like opening an opera with the climactic scene. You need time to build up to that.

Sephiranoth ShadowSeeker. Thunder to the Lightning. A dragon. Old beyond age and Ancient in Primal magic. Who never speaks one word where ten may be spoken... and each one more puzzle than the last. Driven to bouts of madness by some past cruel magery, he screams of stolen young. A dragon bound to a secret punishment. Bound by judges he cannot name, for a deed he cannot speak. Who finds one who shares more with him than she knows. One he must watch die, and lose.

Same thing here. All smoke and simile, no substance.

But he is Sephiranoth, who has lived more lives than one. And that which he seeks... he finds.

Can he find a plot? I need one of those.

The Lightning. The Thunder. The Fair. The Fool.

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING: STORM RISE, STORM WAKING is a completed fantasy of 101,000 words. It is the first of a three part series. The second book is currently under development.



Despite having written together for many years, neither of the authors has killed the other as yet, nor appear to have any intention of doing so. They have shared experience in game environments both as players and developers of game lore and history.

Our thanks in advance for your time and attention. As required in your submission guidelines, we enclose the first five pages and a short synopsis of Storm Rise

I thought the title was THUNDER AND LIGHTNING? I thought that because those are the first words preceding "is a completed fantasy of 101K" I suspect you mean THUNDER AND LIGHTNING to be the name of the series you contemplate. Don't do this. One book at a time,
one title at a time.


for your consideration. On request we can provide a partial or the full manuscript.

Sincerely

And here's the second form of the query referenced above:


Did ye ever hear tell of the Thunder and Lightning? The Fool and the Fair? Sonea Finder, Sonea Fair. Lightning to the Thunder. Warrior and mage, a crafter of wonders. Her smile puts the sun to shame. But that smile hides dark secrets. Scars from wounds made by her own mother's knife. A lost young woman cast aside by those she cares for and turned insane by the forced lust of one called friend. Sonea, who comes to know that none of this was chance... Sephiranoth ShadowSeeker. A dragon. Thunder to the Lightning, who calls himself Fool that walks among the Wise. Old beyond age and ancient in Primal magic. Who never speaks one word where ten may be spoken... and each one more riddle than the last. Riddles that hide old secrets, and an older shame. Bound by judges he cannot name, for a deed magic bars his tongue from speaking. In bouts of crazed anger and loss, he screams of stolen young. Lost in madness and the mountains, she will find him. Sonea, who shares more with him than she knows. What dragon made broken, a dragon may heal. Yet for all things there is a price. Clan wings will block the sun, dragon fire will burn and death will take the Fair One from the Fool. But in the land of Istaria, some are chosen. Chosen to set death aside. And what may stay lost for one called Finder? THUNDER AND LIGHTNING: STORM RISE, STORM WAKING is a completed fantasy of 101,000 words. It has the potential to be the first part of a trilogy. Despite having written together for many years, neither of the authors has killed the other as yet, nor appear to have any intention of doing so. They have shared experience in game environments both as players and developers of game lore and history. Our thanks in advance for your time and attention. As required in your submission guidelines, we enclose the first five pages and a short synopsis of Storm Rise for your consideration. On request we can provide a partial or the full manuscript. Sincerely



Notice the Big Bloc O'Text?
Unreadable.

It doesn't mean instant rejection. I usually can struggle through a couple sentences before my eyeballs need GPS to figure out where to go. It's NOT in your best interest to send a Big Bloc O'Text however because you don't want me reading only a couple sentences, or skimming.
Don't shoot yourself in the query by doing this.


And both queries are form rejections. All tell, no show. And no bloody plot! What happens?

The interesting thing about this is the cover letter to the Shark. It shows absolutely without a doubt that you can write, and write well with a fresh voice.

So what the hell happened between that and the query.

You got tense. A query Has to Grab Attention! It Has to be Dramatic! It Has to be Bold!
Crap.

A query has to be well written. It has to be enticing. It has to be as elegant and strong as a gossamer spider's web, as much about what is NOT there as what is.

I strongly suggest, no actually I BEG you to start again, and just pretend you're writing to me like you were in the cover letter. Show me what happens. Entice me.

I know you can do it cause you already showed me.

This kind of thing happens more than you'd think in queries. Usually I see the disconnect between the query and pages. Great query, dreadful pages. Breaks my cold little heart. What warms it right back up again is when it goes the other way: dreadful query, great pages. It's one of the reasons I always want to see pages with a query.

69 comments:

Colette said...

Oh my gosh, the first part was hilarious! I think perhaps this writer is missing his or her calling.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Love the letter. Great voice in that.

Good luck with the query.

I agree with the Shark - you've got the goods, but you haven't delivered them yet.

hampshireflyer said...

I want to know if the narrator of the query is going to narrate the book!

Emily said...

Anybody else think Sephiranoth sounds WAY too similar to Sephiroth?

I think that could be problematic.

Shelley Sly said...

I agree with the Shark and the other comments: What a funny, engaging voice in the intro. It would be great to see that in the query.

I have a question, though. Shark says "one book at a time, one title at a time." In this case, it was because a series was mentioned in the query. But what if you were writing a stand alone book that just happened to be sequel friendly? Do you mention in the query that there's a sequel in the works, or wait until an agent expresses interest before bringing up the sequel? Thanks.

DrunkenRaine said...

I did love the intro and I could see the over the top writing going into the query, but it ultimately failed.

Of one note, the name Sephiranoth reminds me (not surprisingly) of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, one of the most beloved (and well-known) video games.

Maybe he was banking on the recognition, but I might call foul.

Lehcarjt said...

Is the giant block of text somehow different than the first query? I only skimmed the giant block, but it seemed identical to me.

There does seem to be some interesting elements to this. I like the dragon and woman as thunder and lightening.

However, there is a part of me that wonders if this isn't a joke.

Theresa Milstein said...

Query Shark has so thoroughly devoured these queries that there isn't much left to add.

I think there's a temptation to make this manuscript sound so mysterious and over the top that substance was forgotten, ignored, pummeled.

A plot along with the humor in the letter at the top, and maybe there's a manuscript worth viewing. I can't tell from these queries. This demonstrates how challenging it is to write a decent query, since it's obvious that these people can write from the letter.

DeadlyAccurate said...

I want to know if the narrator of the query is going to narrate the book!

Yeah, my first thought was that if the book doesn't sound like the first letter, the writer is writing the wrong kinds of books. It's not uncommon for a writer to write the kind of book they *think* they should be writing.

My first two books were epic fantasy. As it turns out, I'm not an epic fantasy writer, but I only learned that when I let go and wrote the kind of book I was supposed to be writing in the first place. Started getting noticed then.

(Not to say this is the writer's problem; it could be simply a matter of writing a bad query).

Lydia Sharp said...

This is precious.

Sara J. Henry said...

I used to work as a correspondence writing teacher. Some writers would have great mini-essays in their application packets - and then their first assignment would come in and fall completely flat. When they thought about writing, the result was dreadful. When they just wrote, it was delightful.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Maybe one author wrote the intro letter and the other wrote the query (or at least collaborated on it) since there's a reference to being pushed into subbing to the Shark.

If this is the case, tell your co-writer to step away from the query or you will be forced to extreme measures to ensure that he/she can't muck things up.

You need a distinct voice - ONE VOICE - which you have in the intro. Now, let that voice write the query.


Ver word: dejecin...
The Shark does a lot of dejecin of bad queries.

Christi Goddard said...

Their intro is funny. They sound like a couple of sillies that I'd enjoy bantering with, but professionally considering their query would make me go 'Yikes!' It would definitely be improved if they used more of the fun voice from before.

jjdebenedictis said...

Emily: Now I've got "One-winged Angel" stuck in my head.

But I immediately thought of my favourite bishi too, when I read "Sephiranoth".

StanManX said...

You can't really call foul on a name being similar to "Sephiroth" because the Final Fantasy character's name is taken from something else.

If the author really is trying to force that FFVII connection, they might consider going ahead and just using the actual name (or an alternate spelling). The reader won't have to work as hard to make the connection.

Nathan said...

"Me, I use the commenters on the blog. They love to catch me out on this kind of stuff. Public humiliation is sauce for the shark as well!"

Is this a good time to mention that under the FTC Compliance Notice for your other blog,

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com,

you spell industry as "indudstry?"

If not, please disregard.

Nicole said...

@Emily & DrunkenRaine:

YES. That is exactly what I thought.

I think this is one of those classic examples of a writer (or in this case, writers) freaking out over the query. Trying too hard. We all know how the first thing an agent is going to see is the query, so we wig out over it and it turns into something like this.

I'll be interested in seeing how this works out when it's revised.

Donna Hole said...

Well, that was fun.

But may have helped me with one of my own dilemma's. My son talked me into using a popular character name for my protagonist in the fantasy we're supposed to be writing together. Wynter.

Never been sure of that.

I commend the authors of the letter, however. Very bold and gutsy move.

........dhole

Irene Troy said...

The cover letter is witty and shows a great sense of self-depreciating humor. On the other hand, the quarry is so confusing I came away without a clear sense of story. In my opinion a story line – presuming there really is one – should stand on its own without befuddling verbiage. Sometimes I think people (me) try too hard to impress and in the process obscure the very thing they hope is impressive. Back to the drawing board with this one.

lora96 said...

Love the hilarious opening letter. I feelt their pain, trying to compress a big ol' story into a concise and intriguing letter without surrendering to the siren song of MELODRAMA. I can't wait to see the revision of this query.

JS said...

The Final Fantasy character is called "Sephiroth" after a concept in Kabbalah (the Sephiroth are the Ten Emanations of God's Will, which is not a concept I actually understand any further than that).

Okay, so.

A) Calling a character "Sephiroth" or anything that sounds like it is going to make people think of Final Fantasy, not the Kabbalah.

B) Adding "-an-" into the middle of the word "Sephiroth" doesn't make any linguistic sense whatsoever. The word "Sephiroth" is a regularly-formed Hebrew plural (of the singular "Sephirah") and inserting "-an-" in the middle of it to make a name is like creating the name "Pizzahyis" out of the word "pizza".

And I hope that your book is not as unbearably forsoothly as your query letter. If it is, I strongly encourage you to rethink that.

kregger said...

Once I saw the first lined out sentence, I knew it was crash and burn time. There are medications for these types of multiple personality disorders.

'ware, candy coat a query at your own peril, when there is blood in the water, the Shark will feed.

Janet Reid said...

Exactly Nathan, exactly.
Except it isn't....

(hiding eraser under fin)

Claire Dawn said...

Seriously, if the book reads like the cover letter, WOW!!!

pulp said...

Lehcarjt said
However, there is a part of me that wonders if this isn't a joke.

Me, too. Strongly.

Abigail said...

"Emily said...

Anybody else think Sephiranoth sounds WAY too similar to Sephiroth?

I think that could be problematic."

Oh, I caught that, too! The first time reading, I thought it did say Sephiroth. I mean, there's nothing wrong with using Sephiroth, but it reminds me too much of Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core and Tales of the Abyss (rpg video games), and I might think that it's some fanfic of the two (fanfics are icky).

peladon said...

First, and genuinely, my thanks for the many comments.

I suspect that it would surprise nobody to know that the comment about poor Sephiranoth's name has been made more than once. In fact, and this will likely destroy what little street cred I have, I have never actually played Final Fantasy in any form! On my sainted grandmother's life, I swear it! Well... she's dead. Oh, and never beatified. But the point remains :-).

Of couSephiranoth's name ( Sephiranoth ShadowSeeker) was part pure alliteration ( a weakness of mine) and part based on the Sephiroth of the Kabbalah. His other name, the Fool that walks among the Wise refers to the Fool card of the Major Arcana in Tarot. So the ideas blended in my head about seven years ago. However.. no matter.

It is also worth noting that both letter and query came from the same lunatic hand. My co-author is totally blameless.

Enough drivel. Comments consistent, point absorbed. Drama diet dictated, plot power prescribed. Yanks drawing board out of cupboard.. realises he can't draw... grabs pen. Hmmmm... maybe the synopsis can be bast... er... illegitimised... into something....

Bad news is... We'll be back.

The Idiot. Out and down. For now...

Adam Heine said...

Shelley wrote: "But what if you were writing a stand alone book that just happened to be sequel friendly?"

The way I've seen most often (and have never seen torn apart by the shark or other query predators) is something like: "This is a standalone novel with series potential."

But stop there. Mentioning a sequel you're working on is getting ahead of yourself (heck, working on a sequel at all may be getting ahead of yourself).

mermaid_stories said...

Aaargh!!! The opening letter had me drooling to read this book. Why the query letter? Why? Please fix it so you can sell your book and I can read it. Your book does read like the opening letter, right?

Liesl said...

Could you please write your whole book in the voice you wrote your introduction? It would be an awesome fresh voice for all the melodramatic dragon fantasies in the world. I am tired of dragon-land, but I will buy a dragon book with that voice. I will promote it too, (with all the popularity I possess.)

Please begin with "First, if I may, allow me to introduce myself. I'm an idiot."

Then have a fight with a dragon that shows what an idiot your MC really is. I mean, who fights with dragons? Idiots.

Then he gets struck by "The Lightning."

peladon said...

Oh.. to My ( well, not my, but useage be useage.. ) Lady Shark...


The second form was not in fact single block of text. It was set-pretty to neat and tiny paragraphs much like the first... lord knows which stage of email transmission allowed me to trip over my own two feet. My apology.

No.. tihs is not a request for clemency... just a genuine mea culpa :-).

_*rachel*_ said...

I agree--what happened between the prelude and the query? It goes from "this is pretty funny!" to "owowow!"

Kate Halleron said...

May I say how brilliant and lovely the clause "if scattered words may be considered the jester's tatters" is?

Write like that, not like that other dreadful thing.

Tawna Fenske said...

Peladon, it's wonderful to see you pop in to own the query and absorb the comments. I agree 110% with the sentiments everyone else expressed, and can't wait to see the result of a rewrite. May the force be with you!

Tawna

Lucy Woodhull said...

I would echo our beloved carnivorous leader - print out anything you are sending (query/ synop/ MS) and read it ALOUD. It's a MUST. I learned that from Anne Mini www.annemini.com (fantastic blog, BTW). It's amazing the clunky sentences, extra words, forgotten words, and typos you catch when you are forced to read it more slowly, word by word. Good luck to the brave letter-writer!

Claude Forthomme said...

Like everybody else, I loved the first part, dear Peladon (if that's your name) and hope that's how your whole book reads!
But I WOULD like to make a comment to agents - and the SHARK! - about all their humongous requirements/advice/suggestions/demands as to how a query should look like: please, please remember that writers are also ahem...artists!
By that I mean, writers (at least those involved in fiction writing) can only do so when inspired. Yes, INSPIRED! You have to be in a trance to compose, you have to float out of yourself, and climb up there and sit on cloud nine (or cloud zero, whatever).
What I'm trying to say is this: creative writing is NOT rational. It's not analytical. It just happens and sometimes, when you're really zipping along and words are pouring out, you don't even know where it all comes from! It's magical, it's like some almighty spirit is whispering in your ear...
Then of course, once the first draft is done come the months of revision. What drudgery! But, sure, very necessary - even essential. I grant you that, dear agents.
Then, lo and behold, comes the dreaded QUERY letter! Dreaded precisely because it forces the poor writer to do what he/she does least well: rational, analytical writing. You're supposed to know what you wrote about, you're supposed to be able to show (not tell!)what is the essence of it. The nugget at the heart of it all. Some agents even want to see it in one hundred words or - worse - in a single pitch line! God, but writers are NOT marketing pros...they're just poor, lost writers! Yeah, they're idiots!
Couldn't one come up with a revised query letter model that would tie in more closely with how one writes and feels about one's work? Something less stringently rational?
After all, the plot is supposed to be in the synopsis (which, I agree with most agents had better be kept to one page). So why not a query letter just focussed on one or two things expressing how the writer feels about his book?

Janet Reid said...

Ah Claude, you voice the very reason I keep this blog. No matter how ethereal or irrational the writing act is, it's all for naught if you cannot tell me what the book is about.

so, "a paragraph or two about how the writer feels about his/her novel" will get a sentence from me about how I feel: "not right for me"

You have to be able to tell me what the book is about.

Marissa Doyle said...

Claude, writing may be art, but publishing is business. You need to be able to operate in both worlds to succeed.

Kate Halleron said...

Claude, fiction writing is the marriage of the rational and the irrational.

Pure rational = crap.

Pure irrational = crap.

But they sure can have some beautiful babies.

JS said...

By that I mean, writers (at least those involved in fiction writing) can only do so when inspired. Yes, INSPIRED! You have to be in a trance to compose, you have to float out of yourself, and climb up there and sit on cloud nine (or cloud zero, whatever).

Claude, this may well be an accurate description of your writing process.

It is NOT an accurate description of MY writing process, nor of that of the other professional writers I know.

Don't you generalize about me, and I won't generalize about you. Sound fair?

joeinlosangeles said...

I disagree with you, Claude. Sure, at times writing is stream of consciousness or an act of discovery. But, even in that case, after I'm done I go back, edit, and make sense of any loose ends. Storytelling is about applying discipine to the anarchy of creation.

The first letter was probably easy for the person to write because it was just about vamping. It was clever, but if it had been much longer it would have been tiresome because there was nothing to it except attitude and variations on one joke.

The problem with your suggestion, Claude, is you are overlooking that an agent needs little reason to put one letter down and move onto the next one. You don't have enough of their attention span to wait for the synopsis. You need to grab them in the first line and tell them the plot in 50 words.

Tough? Not really. Just go bookstores and look at the dust jackets.

Adam Heine said...

"Someone asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. 'I write only when inspiration strikes,' he replied. 'Fortunately it strikes every morning at 9:00 sharp.'"

peladon said...

@Claude
Sir... I hate to pen words... or even type them... that might have a side effect of appearing to paint my nose brown. And though I must thank you for your words... I must also stand against them to some degree :-).

As someone who has blood still floating in the water here, it would be pleasing to take refuge under the artists cloak. To suggest that indeed one might be permitted to ' come up with a revised query letter model that would tie in more closely with how one writes and feels about one's work? Something less stringently rational?'

Unfortunately, we most oft write from the heart. And, having been present at more than one autopsy, I know what comes from the heart. Pretty, it is not. More importantly, saleable it is even less.

An Agent does not live by love alone. A publisher does not cast bread upon the waters by the loaf in the hope of seeing many loaves return. Rather, each would most like to cast but one crumb... and still get the loaves. They are gamblers, and we... better, you all, for I do not stand worthy of that crown... are the chips and the reward also.

The Agent must spend much time to find something. Not something they like. Not something that they can see bears the cares and fears of a committed idiot^H^H^H^H^H. Something. That. They. Think. Will. Sell.

Sadly, and gloriously, that's the song that is being sung. Bring an Agent or a Publisher the greatest literary work the world has ever known, but that is destined to sell three copies, and two of those to your mother, and bring them a merry pot boiler that will stay on the New York Times best seller list for ten years. Guess which one they most want to see.
It is our^H^H^H your place to be irrational. Having penned a few foolish words, it is difficult to believe any author is anything else. If those worthies named Agent and those demons named Publisher are not in fact rational... then we will be writing words that offer whispers into silence.

Thanks be for the rational Agent and the evil Publisher... and now the Shark may get back to grinding my bones to make her bread. Or was that Ogres... :-)

Liesl said...

To Claude:

This reminds me of acting school, when the acting student tells the unimpressed director, "But I was crying! Real tears! I FELT all the damn feelings!"

But no one else did.

That's the difference between art as a ventilation system and art as a business. Nobody cares where it came from. Nobody cares what you feel and understand if they don't feel it too. That's where real skill comes in to work with the raw heart.

It's magic, yes, but it's also science.

Claude Forthomme said...

Wow, I sure hit a raw nerve!

And I accept all your comments - yes, writing IS about both the rational AND irrational, and yes, you have to be able to cry real tears AND know that you're just pretending... except one comment (probably I wasn't clear myself): I never meant to imply that one should not tell the agent what the book is about in a query letter.

Sure one does! And if it can be done in 50 words, that's even better! FIFTY words, my, I dream about that!

So obviously I'm in trouble: I've been seriously misunderstood!

I think what I was really trying to say is that DIFFERENT parts of the brain are used in writing a novel and writing blurbs for the dust jacket (or query letters for that matter).

And that's why agents get so mad at writers for not being able to come up with a nice, clean, reasonable query letter that makes instant sense and hits the agent between the eyes - no, I should rephrase that: some writers have a superb rational half of the brain that they use without problem, but others just don't. It's a fact of life. And that's why agents are sometimes (pleasantly) surprised to come across opening pages of a book that read far better than the query letter - indeed, they can even look like they were written by a different person...

And let me repeat (at the risk of annoying everybody): I don't think that's so surprising. Because what you need to invent good fiction (and write it) is NOT the same thing as what you need to compose a striking query letter...

So I was only musing about how to come up with a query letter model that might be a little more flexible and provide a closer fit between the irrational creative mind and the rational query letter...So if my idea of giving more importance to the synopsis is no good, what else? Any suggestions?

Liesl said...

You're right Claude. Sorry if you felt attacked.

You're right that a Query letter is very different from writing a book. It's a different muscle and it's very frustrating when you've worked on something so hard for so long to realize that you can't get anyone to even read it unless your write a fantastic query letter. And no mistake, it's hard to do that. Trying to condense the essence of an 80,000 word novel into fifty is...insane.

But the gates are high for a reason. Think of it as everyone just raising the bar to see how high you can jump. Agents and editors want to know how serious you are about the business side of this art, and the query letter is the preliminary exam.

That's why we love Query Shark! She's helping us study up.

AJ said...

peladon: "Unfortunately, we most oft write from the heart. And, having been present at more than one autopsy, I know what comes from the heart. Pretty, it is not. More importantly, saleable it is even less."

This is one of the best things I've ever read about writing. Dear Peladon, I am really looking forward to seeing your query rewrite.

Hema said...

Ms. Reid, I have been immersed in reading all the past queries here (following your directions to send a query letter for you to critique and post), when it hit me: all (at least those that I read so far) are all in adult lit. category. Do you ever critique queries for manuscripts in children's categories?

Thanks for wonderful advice on dos and don'ts on queries -- no matter what category, I'm finding that most apply all across the board.

Exobia said...

This was really entertaining. I loved the tone and voice of the query cover letter.

However, most agents only want a page or two max for a query. This letter takes up a page and a half already with absolutely nothing related to the manuscript.

Should a writer really risk an agent's time on nearly 2 pages of chatter?

Are agents more forgiving of breaking rules when an author does it pleasantly or skillfully?

Thanks for your feedback!

Claude Forthomme said...

Thank you, Liesl. Yes, I did feel a little misunderstood and I'm glad you put it so nicely...and clearly! And I agree with you, the Shark is really helping us figure out how to reduce our 80 k words down to a 250 words query letter that will get an agent's attention.

For that I am very grateful to the Shark!

But...there's always a but! I was just trying to find a way to do it that would bring together Peladon's wonderful "voice" in his opening letter AND the necessary nitty gritty of a query letter, such as explaining the plot in a nutshell etc...I guess there's no way other than the Shark's...

Which reminds of something I just read about Tolstoy. As reported by Elif BATUMAN in her Ph.D thesis (do check out her marvellous book, it's just come out: THE POSSESSED), it seems that
Tolstoy considered the content of his novels "impossible to define not only 'in advance', but even after the fact: 'If I wanted to say in words all that I mean to express by my novel' he wrote about Anna Karenina, 'I should have to write a novel - the same one I wrote - all over again.'"

How true! Of course, most of us (including me for sure) are not Tolstoy...Moreover, a query letter is not supposed to express "all" that is meant in a particular novel. I do know that, but (sigh) it sure is hard to find the one set of words that best expresses the whole novel in all its innuendoes and intricacies!

Joe Mullich said...

Claude, I think it's wrong to think in terms of models because no one thinks in that way when they're reading a query. All they're thinking is, "Does this letter say anything that makes me want to spend my time reading the manuscript or should I simply move onto the next query?"

That's it. And you have 15 or 30 seconds.

But here's the good news. If you can write a great novel, but simply suck at queries, you can hire another writer to compose your query for you. Really -- it's perfectly legal and ethical.

--So I was only musing about how to come up with a query letter model that might be a little more flexible and provide a closer fit between the irrational creative mind and the rational query letter...So if my idea of giving more importance to the synopsis is no good, what else? Any suggestions?--

Adam Heine said...

"...it sure is hard to find the one set of words that best expresses the whole novel in all its innuendoes and intricacies!"

But you're not expressing all its innuendoes, etc. Think of it like describing a painting to someone. They don't want to hear about all the details in the background or the symbolism or the artist's inspiration -- not at first.

Before they've seen the painting, all they want to know is (a) what is it a painting of and (b) what makes it unique from every other painting like it. And then, because we're writers, we have to show it, not tell it.

It's more interesting that way anyway.

Marissa Doyle said...

Re the latest revision: You have to stop being in love with the sound of your own voice, get out of your own way, and tell what the heck actually happens in the story: these characters want X because of Y, but Z gets in the way and this is how they overcome it. Get it down to the bare bones of plot and character, then add in touches of voice to put some flesh (but not too much)on those bones.

It's hard. But you can do it.

Lehcarjt said...

Please go over to Kristen Nelson's blog and read her posts (some of her most popular) on using the opening scenes of the book to write a query. Her posts are really helpful.

Stephanie Barr said...

Re second revision, I think the writer has made a real mistake going with "cryptic" and trying to titillate via style.

Perhaps it's the style of the book, but I suspect agents are not likely to get excited about the premise and your ability to build tension. What they want is some inkling of the story and why someone would want to read it.

I have to say, I think you missed it. And this a genre I love.

Starry said...

The part before the cover letter is exactly the vague, tired, badly constructed cliche that would have me stop after the 1st paragraph. It is like the person was trying to imitate narration under a movie trailer. I can almost see the words hovering in, set in Trajan type.

I actually have serious trouble believing that they were written by the same person. In this case it is even feasible that the discrepancy we see is due to the two different authors involved.

Catherine said...

Good writers do not necessarily make good story tellers.

JS said...

"You"?

I am not a dragon, nor a human who knows any dragons. Neither are any literary agents. Nor are we dead.

Few things are as alienating as a "you" that doesn't include the reader.

Also, "Sephiranoth" has got to go. Seriously. It's merciful. Let it go. I know how hard it is to change character names, but you guys really, really, REALLY need to change this one.

pulp said...

" When your childhood is taken, when all those you care for and trust cast you aside, when the one person who stands by you is taken also what do? "

What do?

Lucy said...

Janet, I have a new phrase for you, courtesy of Maureen Johnson:

"QUASH the SQUISHY BITS!"

I'm thinking it's going to catch on around the blogosphere.

http://ktliterary.com/2010/02/ask-daphne-about-my-query-xxxxiii/

Amber said...

Tsk, tsk, Madame Shark. Spell check: Greensleeves, not Greensleaves :)

Janet Reid said...

Spelling error? What spelling error? (whistling innocently while hiding eraser under potted palm)

Tawna Fenske said...

Re: revised version, I think Marissa Doyle's comment is the best advice this author could possibly get:

You have to stop being in love with the sound of your own voice, get out of your own way, and tell what the heck actually happens in the story

Amen. The author can obviously write well, but needs to learn when to use flourish and when to just tell the @#$% story.

Tawna

Amanda said...

Just a quick note: I'm another reader who absolutely cannot think of anything other than Final Fantasy with that character name, and if you're targeting a fantasy audience most people will be the same way.

I couldn't read a full book with Sephiroth. I'll never forgive him for killing Aries.

Joseph said...

Aeris/Aerith, you mean.

I thought of Sephiroth as well, and then I remembered another popular recent epic fantasy about a magical teenager named Eragon, and his life partner and dragon, Sephira.

nekatomenos said...

I don't know why but I fail to see any qualities in that introductory letter that show any sort of difference in writing skill from the cliches in the query. The whole package seems like a teenager playing at self-deprecation to me.

I hope I don't sound like a tool but I don't see this "wit" everyone saw in the opening letter.

Thomas Sinclair said...

It may seem inappropriate. It may seem an overreaction, but I have to confess my love for the Shark for, "And I'm done reading here.
For starters, improper use of the punctuation mark ellipses (...) drives me BONKERS. I've received query letters that are essentially one run on sentence due to improper ellipses." I seriously want to steal this for my teaching.

Zollmaniac said...

Just stumbled upon Query Shark and was really enjoying the blog posts (which lead to me reading some older queries).

Is this a fan fiction? From the sound of it, the story seems to be based in the world of Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted.

I hope they didn't write the whole thing without getting permission first, but I'm betting they did.

Lithopedion said...

The name Sephiranoth is definitely a reference to Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII. All it does is pull me out of the story, because I keep thinking you misspelled Sephiroth.