Sunday, February 28, 2010

#147

> From: (redacted)
> Subject: Query Shark

> Date: Monday, July 27, 2009, 3:04 AM
> Dear Query Shark,
>
> In the modern world, it’s getting harder and harder to
> keep track of everything that’s going on. Enter orphaned
> teenager Alexis Crane, the tag-along assistant of the Four
> Horsemen of the Apocalypse. She constantly has thoughts
> running through her head, evaluating what has happened in
> the day. She’s learned to live with it and with the Four
> Riders as well.
>
> One day, these thoughts stop. People stop dying, disease no
> longer exists, nobody suffers from starvation, and mankind
> is at peace. What could ever go wrong?
>
> The Four Horsemen try to convince Alexis to find a way to
> fix everything. They themselves cannot interfere directly,
> so they must depend on Alexis to figure out how to return
> the world to normal.
>
> There’s a problem: Alexis doesn’t want to change the
> world back to the way it was before. She’s become
> convinced that this is humanity’s utopia.
>
> In another part of the world, two mortals feel that
> something is very wrong. Along with a rag-tag wizard, they
> work to destroy the false reality Earth has become.
>
> It is the start of a deadly race that will forever change
> the world. Alexis save fix everything before the unlikely
> trio destroys it.
>
> FOUR FADING is a fantasy/adventure novel complete at 71000
> words. I have the complete manuscript should you request
> it.
>
>
>
>
>

This is what your query looks like when you forward it to me. Plus, it's in blue, just in case I don't notice the little > thingies.


Don't forward your queries. It looks sloppy. I hope it conveys the wrong impression of you.

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

Here's the version I copied, removed the >, and adjusted the line breaks. I promise you I will NOT do that for your query.

Dear Query Shark,

In the modern world, it’s getting harder and harder to keep track of everything that’s going on. Enter orphaned teenager Alexis Crane, the tag-along assistant of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. She constantly has thoughts running through her head, evaluating what has happened in the day. She’s learned to live with it and with the Four Riders as well.

You've taken a kick ass idea and killed it.


The opening sentence sounds like an advertisement for DayTimer.
We all have thoughts running through our head about what stupidities we've committed (or want to.)

Your concept: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have an assistant. I'm sold. Try not to shoot yourself in the foot by not leading with that.

One day, these thoughts stop. People stop dying, disease no longer exists, nobody suffers from starvation, and mankind is at peace. What could ever go wrong?

Well, what you mean is: what's the problem.

The Four Horsemen try to convince Alexis to find a way to fix everything. They themselves cannot interfere directly, so they must depend on Alexis to figure out how to return
the world to normal.

And you lose me here. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are harbingers of doom. They're not the cause of it. Of course they can't interfere. Basically, if this is utopia, the guys are out of work.

There’s a problem: Alexis doesn’t want to change the world back to the way it was before. She’s become convinced that this is humanity’s utopia.

Yea. And the Horsemen want to return to the way things were...why? Maybe they really want to retire and move to Florida. Go to the horse races.

In another part of the world, two mortals feel that something is very wrong. Along with a rag-tag wizard, they work to destroy the false reality Earth has become.

Why? Who are they?

It is the start of a deadly race that will forever change the world. Alexis save fix everything before the unlikely trio destroys it.

And we're done. This literally doesn't make sense. I can overlook a lot of stuff but query letters have to actually make sense. My guess is you didn't proof read. You have NO idea how much I hate that. Loathe with a capital snarl. I've got clients who are lucky to be alive after sending mss without running spell czech. I snarl at them. Queries just get a form rejection.

FOUR FADING is a fantasy/adventure novel complete at 71000 words. I have the complete manuscript should you request it.

Of course you have the complete manuscript because you don't query without one.

You've got a GREAT concept here. Everything else is a mess. Rethink what you're doing.

24 comments:

Kate Halleron said...

Actually, to me, this sounds like an amalgam of two or three Terry Pratchett books. I love Pratchett, but I'd rather read him than someone imitating him.

However, publishers LOVE imitators, so you might do well with this.

Julie Weathers said...

I know there's nothing new under the sun, but I think the author would have to work really hard to get away from the "Death Takes A Holiday" comparisons. Maybe I'm confused.

Emma said...

I love the idea of the Four Horsemen having an assistant and I can see so many hilarious ways in which that concept can be used but that query just doesn't make sense.

I thought I was reading it wrong so I tried to read it aloud and it actually sounded worse.

If you want to query an awesome concept like that, have the Horsemen under threat of forced retirement because humans don't need them and then get the assistant sent out to cause mayhem so that they don't lose their jobs.

That would sound way more believable as a way of tying in the wih Horsemen's need for an assistant to be causing mayhem.

I reckon, on reading your query again that, that was what you were probably aiming for and if you can pull it off, I bet any agent would want to look at your work.

Just my opinion though.

Hannah said...

My question is to the Shark. I noticed the date included in the original, forwarded (the logic in that laziness escapes me) query: July 27.

I remember reading somewhere the number of submissions the Shark receives, and I remember that her turn-around is somewhere around 30 days. Did you receive this query on July 27, and is it just now getting posted, or does that turn around apply to critiqued posts as well?

Josh said...

I love the idea of the book. It's definitely something I would attempt to read. I also agree with the Shark; you should rethink a couple ideas, and give more details.

Whether it is a recycled idea or not, if this ever reaches publication (after some re-editing/rethinking) I'd give it a try.

Janet Reid said...

Hannah, don't confuse the stats from real queries with the stats on QueryShark. There is NO turnaround time assurance on queries for QueryShark. I don't post them in order received, and sometimes not even close to when they are received.

There are more than 2500 letters in the in-box for QueryShark right now. There's not a chance in the world I'll get to all of them.

The "real queries" for representation have a 30 day turn around and I AM caught up on those.

Nathan said...

What a great story idea! I was instantly sold as well on that initial idea.

From the query, I also feel that perhaps you haven't hit its potential yet.

Is that a naive thought, considering I haven't read the story? But if the query is an accurate reflection of the book itself, then I stand by that statement.

Keep going, because this is obviously a compelling idea.

writing0011 said...

This shows one reason I personally would never send a query to queryshark. It sounds like the writer had a decent central idea that he botched. Now he had the botched version, but the central idea is avaialble to anyone here who wants to write about an assistant to the Four Horseman.

JS said...

Nathan, this query certainly relates a great story idea. However, the story idea it relates is a pretty direct mash-up of Terry Pratchett's MORT (which is about Death's mortal assistant) and his REAPER MAN (which is about Death deciding to knock off work, much to the chagrin of his fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse).

Querier, if you have a different take on this stuff, you're not conveying it here. Right now you sound like you're ripping Pratchett off and not adding any value to the mix. If I want to read Pratchett, I'll go right to the source, thanks.

Lehcarjt said...

The thing that grabs me about this is the humor/cleverness of the four horsemen having an assistant. However, the query overall isn't humorous or clever, which leads me to question those qualities in the book.

alaskaravenclaw said...

I love Terry Pratchett too, but as he says himself, writing genre fiction is a matter of taking some stuff out of the pot and throwing some stuff in.

A lot of his stuff is derivative. He's not got a copyright on Death or the four horsemen (who also played very nicely in _Thief Of Time_, one of his best). The story idea is fine and doesn't take anything from Pratchett that he hasn't taken from the other sources.

The problem here is the query being somewhat incoherent. I wasn't able to extrapolate as much of the plot from it as Ms Reid was. It would make me think the manuscript would be hard to follow as well.

Stephanie Barr said...

I like the notion, too, but my reaction was the same when we linked thoughts to tragedy in the world.

And haven't the 4 horsemen been around for ages? How can the assistant be a teenager? Or why?

Josin L. McQuein said...

The query was forwarded? So did the writer even compose the query or was it sent from a 3rd party source to you? Forwarding sounds fishy.

Definitely has shades of Death Takes a Holiday, so hopefully this one's better than Meet Joe Black.

Janet Reid said...

Re: forwarding.

A lot of people write a query then forward it to agents one by one, rather than duplicating the email then sending it.

It's not from a query service. I recognize those pretty quickly.

Deep River said...

For what it's worth regarding the comparisons to Pratchett: long ago one of my Eng. Lit. professors was fond of saying that in fiction there are no original ideas, only original execution.

Rider said...

writing0011:

You're assuming a gazillion other people haven't had that idea already. Just because you and me can't think of any books that feature the Four Horsemen having an assistant doesn't mean no one's ever thought of it before, and it doesn't mean people who don't even read Query Shark aren't thinking of it right now.

Central ideas are a dime a dozen. There's not enough to this query for someone to successfully plagiarize the work.

JS said...

My point is that this query, as it stands right now, doesn't add anything new to the mix that isn't already in MORT and REAPER MAN.

The querier isn't showing what he or she brings to the table. There's nothing distinctive in this query, and that needs to be there if the querier wants to sell the book; remember that an agent who can place the book (and an editor who wants it) will be quite familiar with what's already out there and looking for a fresh twist.

There's a big difference between "Pratchett doesn't have endless copyright on the idea of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as business colleagues" and "After reading this query, I don't see what the unique selling point of this book is."

My hope is that the querier will choose to revise and build on the latter question.

Look at Twilight for example: it's not just another vampire novel, it's a novel about vampires as angsty teenagers. The power of that twist on an oft-revisited idea, and its saleability, is apparent from jump.

Kate said...

Yup, this plot could go a million different ways. And it's not something I'd generally read, but if it had some sardonic wit thrown in there, I just might be persuaded to pick it up.

Didn't get that from the query though.

Jael said...

Agree with Rider. Also, I find that a writer's willingness to rip off ideas they read somewhere else is generally inversely proportional to his/her ability to actually write well enough to pull it off. Good writers come up with their own ideas, and good writers are the only ones you need to worry about competing with.

(And you can never guarantee people won't come up with the same idea independently... I wrote a book with a central character who ages in reverse, and you can imagine how annoyed I was two years later when the Benjamin Button movie came out, given that I wasn't familiar with the Fitzgerald story it was based on... or the book The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which also has a central character who gets younger. There is nothing new under the sun.)

joewordsmith said...

I wasn't as blown away by the central concept as Janet was. Four Horseman have an assistant. Good enough, though kind of generic twist. (The vampire's assistant anyone?)That has to be combined with a really dynamic "and then he ..." whatever for me to care. But everything about this story just seem canned and generic to me. Wizard? Not a fresh idea in this letter.

Irene Troy said...

Are there any original concepts left anywhere? Perhaps not; however, if you are going to take an already tried and true concept, at least do it with some style and originality. The four horsemen take on an adolescent assistant – humm, interesting and perhaps worthy of a story. The four horsemen take on an adolescent assistant who works to put them out of business – okay, that’s getting a bit further down the path of originality. Four horsemen, adolescent assistant working to put them out of business, assistant puts world to rights and fights against the four horsemen; interesting concept that echoes better known authors work. If you are going to adopt an already tried concept you have to be willing to expand that concept into areas left unexplored by the original author and you have to do it in a way that hooks your reader. Right now, based solely on this query, the author has failed miserably in his/her attempt at creating a compelling story from an already tried and true concept. Hopefully the story reads much better than this query.

Tawna Fenske said...

Re: forwarding queries, I tried this once or twice when I was querying agents many moons ago. Obviously, I personalized each letter and edited little bits here and there, but thought it was just efficient to start from the base of the same letter. The little >> marks and strange colors didn't show up on MY end, so I was horrified when the agents replied and I could clearly see what my message had looked like on THEIR end. Lesson learned the hard way!

Tawna

lora96 said...

@Julie, I was going Death Takes a Holiday and Meet Joe Black on this one, too.

I want to like it. But, in order to like it, I will need a choice/goal/reason for the mc and at least some example of how "Alex" is spunky or interesting.

S.D. said...

She mentioned particular mortals and a wizard having a plan to take advantage of the situation. Maybe that's the different take than Prachett had.