Saturday, June 12, 2010

#163

Dear Query Shark:

It's not like Amber Crandall actually wants her little sister dead, but sometimes she thinks that a moment of silence sounds like a pretty good thing--until it actually happens.

This is an excellent first sentence. You might be tempted to "polish it up" by writing it thus: Amber Crandall doesn't actually want her sister dead, but resist resist resist.

The way this sentence is constructed right now, the rawness, is pretty close to perfect for conveying voice.

Late one night during the spring of her senior year, Amber's father returns home unexpectedly from his military tour of duty in Iraq looking like he hasn't taken a strictly paved route home from wherever it was the Marines shipped him.


Here I think we're running into a difference of idiom "Strictly paved route home" isn't the phrase I'd choose but I'd check the address/area code to see if the writer is Canadian or Australian. It wouldn't make me stop reading because I understand what you mean.


While her image-obsessed mother glosses over her father's increasingly erratic behavior, Amber struggles to maintain her customary role as family peacemaker. She definitely doesn't air the family secrets. Only her senile grandmother has the nerve to speak out, and nobody takes Gran seriously.

At this point I'm praying nothing goes wrong in the rest of the letter because I'm very very interested.


But when her father disappears the same night a bomb detonates in their community theater, Amber uncovers evidence of the double life her father kept hidden for over a decade.

And here's the sentence that every single query letter needs: the point at which the action starts. Where the protagonist must choose what to do.

Everything Amber has ever believed about her father, her family, and even her own identity begins to unravel. When the youngest Crandall goes missing, Amber finally speaks up--but it might not be soon enough to save her sister's life.

Notice that the writer has mentioned FIVE characters: Amber, Mum, Dad, Gran, little sister. Normally I'd be all over that as "character soup" but this WORKS. Why? Because the writer does not name the characters...she describes who they are to Amber: Mum, Dad, Gran, sister.

One Last Thread is a young adult novel of approximately 38,000 words that follows Amber's struggle to do the right thing while remaining true to the family she loves in spite of their imperfections--and her own.

Notice that the writer does not need to tell us anything more than "struggle to do the right thing" here. We don't need to know what she has to do, only that it is the right thing. Specificity is good, but it can get you bogged down in detail. This is an elegant way to convey what Amber must do.

(I know you prefer word counts between 50 and 200 thousand, but you also constantly snarl about extraneous information. So... I pared on the side of caution. The far side.)

This is a hilarious line because I DO snarl about paring down, and I was a tad concerned at 38K for a YA novel. Frankly I'd be ok with a novel on the short side of things because it's a lot easier to tell a writer to add scenes and flesh out characters than have them pare things away.

This also SHOWS rather than tells that the writer reads the blog and (more important!) pays attention. At this point I'm totally smitten.

Thank you for your time,



Contact Information redacted



This is as close to a perfect query as we've seen here in a while. You bet I'd request pages. In fact, I AM requesting pages. Send at once.

52 comments:

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Aw, it's so nice to see that writers 'get it' and write a tailored query letter without sacrificing voice and trying to please everyone at once. Great example.

pensees said...

Fantastic query. Great job!

Alicia A said...

Well done... and the writer made it look so easy.

Erinn said...

Wow that was a perfect letter. Well done! Congrats to the writer.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I guess it's a good query when you forget you're reading a query by the end and just want to read to story.

Great job.

Nick Saw said...

I love when they spark fire on the very first try.

Lehcarjt said...

Good job. I'd pick up this book.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Great query.

Q. Shark, you don't really tell people to write 200k words, do you? That seems more like two novels. Possibly three or four.

onefinemess said...

This one I "get" and agree with more than the last pick :).

Deb Salisbury said...

Beautifully done! I'm impressed with the voice in this query.

Verona St. James said...

The premise is interesting, the writing is spare but strong. Great query.

Botanist said...

There are so many things right about this one, the voice, the characters, the shark bait...

It even got me hooked, and I am so far on the wrong side of YA I shudder to think about it.

And was that a genuine, honest-to-goodness request for pages from Janet? Way to go!

Brittany said...

I love this query letter! It's simple in a good way.

Casey said...

I hope that when I send in my query, it's as well-done as that one was.

Lydia Sharp said...

I disagreed with the last one you loved, but not this time. :)

My favorite part:

But when her father disappears the same night a bomb detonates in their community theater, Amber uncovers evidence of the double life her father kept hidden for over a decade.

Efficient word choice--gets the point across without too much detail--and a very enticing turn of events. Awesome.

Lyle said...

I get sooo jealous when good queries happen, but this is an excellent one and a great template for me!

Thanks, um, Amber!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I enjoy seeing things done correctly but 38K seems really short when I think about laying out money for a book. I hope the 'fleshing out' works out.

Anthony said...

Congratulations to the writer!

Call me silly, but I copied and pasted only the writer's text into a electronic scratch pad to read it.

Besides all the goodness Janet mentions, the query has a certain flow and a nice voice.

Man, I love this blog.

Uma said...

I love, I love!!

hampshireflyer said...

Congratulations author! (Janet, please tell us if anything more comes of this... I want to know what happens to Amber! :))

Melissa said...

Really great query and congratulations on the request!

Theresa Milstein said...

Another great query. Congratulations!

MaryAnn said...

My only comment would be,
"What does the first paragraph have to do with anything else written in the query?"

I thought the story would be more about her sister disappearing and Amber feeling somehow responsible.

Stephanie Barr said...

Now see, not my genre or interest, but I totally get why this was a great query.

Kudos! Here's to a book as good as the query.

M. G. E. said...

Congrats to the writer ;)

Only one thing caught my eye: you used the double-dash interruption construction twice in a query, which might lead me to wonder if you over-rely on that in the book, which could get annoying :P But that's nit-picking at best.

This -could- have been the perfect query, if the book length were longer. Clearly the writer got a pass because they did everything else right. But a 38k word book isn't even technically complete.

Still, just goes to show, an agent would rather snap up a good writer with an incomplete book who gets it than deal with a bad writer with 200k words on their shelf.

Margaret Yang said...

Yeah, baby!

It's like watching Michael Jordan sink a ball, nothing but net, and you know, he makes it look easy.

This query looks easy, although I'm sure it was worked on endlessly.

That's voice.

njgilbert said...

So happy for you, and glad that a good story can make a query shine.

_*rachel*_ said...

Congratulations!

Claire Dawn said...

That was nice. I tend to write multiple characters who's stories intertwine to influence the MC, and it's always been a pain for query writing. But I think this does it well.

Uma said...

I know people who underwent profound personality changes after their deployment in Iraq/ Afghanistan. I have a feeling this is going to be beautiful, complex...something I'd love to read.

morphine-moniza said...

oh this is fabulous! Great job :). I agree with the shark about the word count though. The novel does seem a bit too short for YA. But the query is absolutely perfect.

london-setterby said...

I love this query! It's not my genre but I'm so hooked by the query I wish I could read the book right now regardless. :-) Congrats!

storm grant said...

Loved: "I pared on the side of caution"

I'd assume there's puns and clever wordplay sprinkled throughout the book.

Joyce said...

Excellent query! The voice came through loud and clear.

And I especially liked the snarling comment.

drrez said...

I want to read this book. There's nothing wrong with the length - I love a book just long enough to finish on a plane flight!

Keith Popely said...

I love this letter. In fact, I'd say it's really helped me think about how I should be approaching my own.

But I'm having difficulty understanding how long a draft manuscript should be. 38,000 words? I just cut 38,000 words from my book and it's still too long. Of course, I'm writing for an adult audience, but I can't believe 38,000 words is even considered a book.

Becca C. said...

Congratulations to the writer! & 38k is fine for a YA novel, provided it's complete, of course.

WC said...

I haven't read YA fiction since I was, you know, a YA. Usually my eyes glaze over even at good YA queries, but I too want to know what happens. Well done #163, well done!

Jenn McKay said...

#163: sounds like some great characters. The family dynamics you promise to explore sound interesting.

Taymalin said...

Congrats, and good job! It's not a genre I usually read, but I'd pick this one up.

Barbara's Spot on the Blog said...

What a great query. I got so caught up in the story line I forgot it was a query.

Bobby Mathews said...

Just got a rejection from Janet ... and as form rejections go, it's the nicest one I've seen.

I'll work on my query and try you again. Someone that cares enough about writing and writers is definitely someone I want to keep in mind as an agent.

Kathryn said...

#163, FTW!!! :D Well done!

Debra L. Schubert said...

Excellent query. A writer friend emailed me tonight asking for query advice. I'm going to email her back this link.

Keep us posted on how this goes!

Harmony said...

You make it look so easy, but I'm sure you're like the rest of us...awake way too late, pile of notes by your side, banging your head against the keyboard. Congratulations and thank you for the great example.

Draconium said...

First off let me put in my kudos to the writer congratulations, well done!

I just want to say one thing regarding some of the reader's comments (here and elsewhere on this blog). M.E.G wrote "... a 38k word book isn't even technically complete." What is complete? I get so tired of people who assume that a book must be a certain number of words to be a whole work. I would much rather read (and pay for) a tight short book than a meandering and repetitive long one. Of course i haven't read the book, maybe it is missing something, but i don't think word count is the deciding factor. There are many amazing, breathtaking short novels or "novellas": The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, Motorman by David Ohle, The Outsiders by S.E Hinton, The lover by Marguerite Duras, not to mention Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, or Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea- the list goes on and on.

I know that length affects marketability in ways that i do not understand, therefore i cannot comment. But as for artistic integrity, well, that's another story.

Uma said...

@ harmony
"You make it look so easy, but I'm sure you're like the rest of us...awake way too late, pile of notes by your side, banging your head against the keyboard."
I don't know about the winning query, but I could totally relate and felt better about myself.

Steve Stubbs said...

Thanks for posting this. Seeing what you consider good is a much better teaching tool than seeing what you consider crap. I hope this lady becomes a female Stephen King and that you both get rich.

Unpublished Author said...

Ooooh! This is almost painful, because I REALLY want to read the book, but I can't. It's such a tease!!!

Wm. Luke Everest said...

I just want to make one comment at people complaining about 38K being too short.

Recently, I was part of a small crowd talking with Paul McAuley (a best-selling, multiple award winning sci-fi writer), and someone asked, "How many words do you aim for in a story?"

Paul said, "I don't."

"But how long do you generally make them?"

Paul said, "I keep writing until they're finished."

He was making an important point. Anyone who can write publishable material knows to focus on the story, not the word count. Or in other words, as Alfred Bester said, "The book is the boss."

It might alter the book's market, but at least the book will HAVE a market. 100k words of boring rubbish will not. Writers should focus on craft, not market trends.

JD said...

Well done... fabulous description and you've obviously done your research on Query Shark archives!

Becke Davis said...

Brilliant!