Sunday, February 28, 2010

#148-Revised thrice to a win!

Dear Query Shark,

Space isn’t the final frontier; death is.

In 2093, on a colonised planet, Homicide Inspector Paul Blake breaks under the strain of his son’s death and slits his wrists in a bathtub. After two days dead, he wakes up in a hospital without so much as a scratch. And life will never be the same again.

A year later. Blake investigates the brutal murder of a woman who worked for the world’s most powerful organisation, the GCMRD. Soon after, a colleague of her confesses to her murder and commits suicide.

Still reeling from the events, Blake receives a mysterious call from someone who calls himself Lazarus, and is suddenly exposed to the GCMRD’s most recent scientific achievement:

Bringing back the dead.

As the bodies begin to pile up, Blake finds that he is more involved than he originally thought – or remembered. Lazarus has a plan that seeks to make a new world on the ashes of the old one, a new world inhabited by those he brings back from the dead. And he couldn’t have done it without Blake’s help.

LAZARUS is a sci-fi thriller, complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Yup, that'll do it.

Send pages!

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Dear Query Shark,

Space isn’t the final frontier; death is.

In 2093, on a city of a colonised planet, Homicide Inspector Paul Blake breaks under the strain of his son’s death and slits his wrists in a bathtub, straight after his surprise birthday party. After two days dead, he wakes up in a hospital without so much as a scratch. And life will never be the same again.

Take out every single thing you don't need. Unless the birthday party is key info, it goes. Read your sentences out loud to get a sense of the rhythm of them.

A year later, Blake investigates the brutal murder of a woman who worked for the world’s most powerful organisation, the Global Committee for Military Research & Development. But Before the hunt even begins, the victim’s colleague turns himself in and confesses to the murder before committing suicide.


This needs to be more crisp. It feels mushy. It feels that way because your sentences are really really long. Remember, you don't need to follow all the rules as long as you break them artfully. You CAN have incomplete sentences.

Thus: A year later. Blake investigates the brutal murder of a woman who worked for the world’s most powerful organisation, GCMRD. Before the hunt can begin, one of the victim’s colleagues turns himself in. He confesses to the murder before committing suicide.

Still reeling from the events, Blake receives a mysterious call from someone who calls himself Lazarus, and is suddenly exposed to the GCMRD’s most recent scientific achievement:

Bringing back the dead.

As the bodies begin to pile, it becomes clear that Blake is more involved than he originally thought –or remembered. Lazarus has a plan that goes far beyond a simple murder case; a plan that seeks to make a new world on the ashes of the old one, a new world inhabited by those he brings back from the dead. And it wouldn’t have happened without Blake’s help, who soon discovers is that the only way to fight the dead is to die himself.

LAZARUS is a sci-fi thriller, complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

I'd read the pages on this one but I'm worried that it's not polished up enough yet. When I see mushy writing in a query, I'm confident I'll see mushy writing in the novel. Take out every single thing you don't need. Read your sentences out loud. Develop an ear for pace and rhythm.

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FIRST REVISION



Dear Query Shark,

Space isn’t the final frontier; death is.

Very very rarely does a quick log line grab my attention. Mostly they sound forced or silly. This one works.


In 2093, on a city of a colonised planet, Homicide Inspector Paul Blake breaks under the strain of his son’s death and slits his wrists in a bathtub, straight after his surprise birthday party. After two days dead, he wakes up in a hospital without so much as a scratch. And life will never be the same again.

Normally I screech about leaving out backstory and set up. Not here. This works.

A year later, Blake investigates the brutal murder of a woman who worked for the world’s most powerful organisation, the Global Committee for Military Research & Development. But before the hunt even begins, the victim’s colleague turns himself in and confesses to the murder before committing suicide. Still reeling from the events, Blake receives a mysterious call from someone who calls himself Lazarus, and is suddenly exposed to the GCMRD’s most recent scientific achievement:

Bringing back the dead.

Meanwhile, Blake fights his personal demons while trying to cope with his wife in a mental asylum, struggling to rebuild a relationship with his estranged daughter, dealing with his boss and his own secrets, and evading his only friend, Inspector Bobby Mallow.

There are very few uses for a paragraph that begins "meanwhile" in a query letter. Plus, the phrase "personal demons" used like this is a cliche.


As the bodies begin to pile, it becomes clear that Blake is more involved than he originally thought –or remembered. Lazarus has a plan that goes far beyond a simple murder case; a plan that seeks to make a new world on the ashes of the old one, a new world inhabited by those he brings back from the dead. And it wouldn’t have happened without Blake’s help.


Disturbing secrets of a double life emerge, buried under the haze of a drug habit and Blake becomes suddenly aware of his own, forgotten involvement in the plot. It’s not long before Blake’s past catches up to him and the rest of his world. While the city burns, Blake must make a desperate attempt to stop Lazarus and his Children, who are calling him to rejoin them. But what Blake soon discovers is that the only way to fight the dead is to die himself.

LAZARUS is a sci-fi thriller, and is complete at 69,945 words. I would be delighted to send you a partial or full manuscript for your consideration. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


This is pretty much a 180 turn, and in the right direction.
This is a CLASSIC example of why you don't want to try to be too clever in a query (the original) and just tell us about the novel (the revised query).

I think of queries as a bit like what figure skaters used to have to do in the Olympics: compulsory figures. Skaters were required to perform a series of figures, and were judged solely on accuracy not artistry. There is a photo somewhere of a judge measuring a line in the ice with a ruler!

The resemblance of queries to compulsories is this: you have to get the basics down in the query. Your artistry shows in your pages. Yes your voice comes through in your query. Yes there is style there. But mostly you've got to communicate some basic info: what the book is about, and the stakes involved.


This revision works. I'd read pages.

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Dear Query Shark:

Whatever I write will be deemed pretentious; that much I know.

And it would be so na├»ve on my behalf to disguise this as more than it is; ‘tis a novel pitch, and my solemn duty is to make it stand out above the rest.

Without being pretentious.

So, this is my novel, LAZARUS (70K words). I’m supposed to call it a “sci-fi thriller”, and if it ever sees the light of publication that’s what they’ll probably end up calling it. But, personally, I refer to it as a scream; a scream in written format because I don’t know any other way to do it.

It’s about death and near-life experiences. It’s about a cop who gets mixed up in a plot with bombs, drugs and human cloning. It’s about the awful rain that falls and washes nothing away.

I wonder if you’d like to read it, and if so, I’d be thrilled to send you a partial or full manuscript. For your convenience, I submit a synopsis below.

Synopsis:

(redacted)


Well, no, a synopsis isn't for my convenience, thanks anyway. A synopsis is what I read after the query letter and the pages I ask for. A synopsis shows me a novel has a beginning, middle and end, and that it doesn't veer totally off track somewhere past page 100. A synopsis is many things but it's not enticing and it's not a query. This isn't enticing and it's not a query either. You've conveyed nothing about the book. This isn't pretentious, it's lazy. I'm both; I know which is which. Form rejection, probably accompanied by a blog post ranting about "queries have to tell me what the book is about."

28 comments:

Kate Halleron said...

People don't want to hear you scream. They want to read a story.

Scream on your own time.

I also wonder if the submitter has read the blog AT ALL. This is nothing like what the Shark begs for.

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree with Query Shark about there not being enough information about the manuscript.

Take out the first three paragraphs (I'm including those two stand-alone sentences and that middle paragraph).

Expand on what you begin telling us, and you might have something.

lora96 said...

Is there a main character, with a name? Does he/she have motivation or a goal in mind? Do I care?

Brittany said...

Lol, I think the main character is the cop, but there is a serious lack of information here. Even if it was unique. :-)

Melissa Dean said...

What's with the rain sentence? Makes no sense. Obviously, this writer has not read anything about query letters, and the shark was absolutely correct to form reject this one.

Kayeleen said...

I don't know if you were trying to personalize it, but starting a query with the thought that the agent will think you are pretentious seems kind of insulting.

Where's the main character? Where's the plot? Where's the reason for the book? What do you hope to accomplish besides maybe annoying or alienating the person reading it?

I was intrigued by the idea of "death and near-life experiences." That sounds unique, if you had expanded on it.

~Jamie said...

I usually don't comment, but I just can't help it here.

This is the tackiest query letter I've ever read. It's not bad writing--it's just rude and makes it sound like you don't have time to write a query letter because your novel will never see the light of publication anyway.

I don't understand... you were able to write 70,000 words and the only way you know to describe them is 'a scream' unless your novel is just AHHHHHHHH for 230 pages--stop being metaphorical and write the damn query.

Rider said...

Don't lead with "Well, I know you're all going to think this sounds pretentious, but..." It just makes you sound incredibly pretentious. If you don't want to sound pretentious, be professional. Do what is asked without trying to be cute or clever about it.

Marissa Doyle said...

A guess--I think maybe this author read how everyone loved query #146 and decided to pour on the personality/voice rather than concentrate on the matter at hand--telling what the book is about.

Tintin said...

If you want to avoid sounding pretentious, leaving the word "'tis" out of future queries would probably be a good idea.

Alice said...

Oh my goodness. I can't wait to finish, rewrite, and rewrite again my novel so I can send a query to the Query Shark. She will tear it apart, and it will be like a long awaited graduation ceremony.

Kate Halleron said...

Oh, man, that is SO much better.

Sounds like a book I would read, too, so I wish you every luck with it.

Unless you really meant that screaming part in the first query. Then the book goes against the wall.

Heh.

But really, good job with the rewrite!

marynoel said...

Re: the revised version --- I would totally read this, and I usually run screaming from anything that says sci-fi on it. I would round the word count, though, to an even 69,900 or 70,000.

FWIW, I actually liked the original entry -- not as a submission, but as a teaser. I think it was this line: "It’s about the awful rain that falls and washes nothing away." I *love* that.

Thank you for revising it, though; I'm totally intrigued. I hope you go far with this project. :)

Fanfreakingtastic Flower said...

I'm with Marynoel. I'm no fan of sci-fi but this sounds fascinating.

Christi Goddard said...

This is way better. I wish you luck with this. It's definitely something I would read.

Rider said...

Much better. I would totally read this. In fact, I can't wait for it to get published so I can.

_*rachel*_ said...

This new version is awesome!

M. G. E. said...

Surprisingly, for the original "query" being so bad, the revision is pretty damn good.

Normally we see terrible--but trying--first query, followed by a slightly less terrible query.

Here it's like he didn't read the blog at all prior to the first query, then came back, read the blog, and wrote an actually decent query.

diggadoo said...

1. I like how people take the time to revise their query and it's a sure fire thing. It brings hope!

2. I loved how she said 180 degree turn. I get vexed, sometimes, when people say 360 degree turn (that is right back where you started)

Okay...

That is all

Therapist/Writer said...

Yea #148 Revised!! What a good job of dumping the junk and charging forward with the goodies. That's impressive.

Kayeleen said...

I really like the revision. It makes so much more sense and I would read that book. Good job!

minivanmafia said...

How do I send a query? I don't see the email.

Josin L. McQuein said...

minivan,

There's a convenient, and very red, link on the sidebar that says:

* If you want your query posted, read and follow these directions


Asking for directions when there are directions given is likely to make the shark go into a feeding frenzy!

;-)

_*rachel*_ said...

Good luck to you! This definitely works.

Uma said...

'This is what writers write. This is what agents read.' What sincere effort you have put into making the difference clear! And how generous of you to make it available for free!
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Uma Dongre

Ann said...

I REALLY want to read this book. Although the first letter was too cutesy (and made the writer sound pretentious) I loved the "It’s about the awful rain that falls and washes nothing away" line as well.

It doesn't work for the query, but it'd look good in the book.

Nik P said...

Thanks for the helpful criticism and the encouragement everyone! It means a lot.

I'd like LAZARUS to be published too :) I'm trying...

upmic said...

Just thought I'd let you know that this novel is now out on Kindle:

www.amazon.com/dp/B008BM7LMO

Thanks for all your help!