Saturday, August 21, 2010

#173-Revised 2x

 Dear Query Shark,

Yvonne, an internationally renowned ballerina and choreographer, is between life and death, in coma, for an extended period, as a result of an attempt on her life.  George Stenner, a writer who has for years followed her career, with a view at preparing an authorized biography, is convinced by her family to speed up his work.

This is a very static opening. There's nothing intriguing here. 

Inspired by Yvonne's memorabilia and her diary, he starts writing instead an impressionistic, sensitive and personal novel about her, covering more than three decades.  Mesmerized by her personality, he decides to go about it by focusing on the changes in her character, on her way of thinking, on her inner life.  He decides to place the narrative point of view squarely on her, and crafts many parts in first voice or even in stream-of-consciousness fashion to render her as faithfully as possible.

oh god, this is an agent's version of hell: a book about the structure of a book? YIKES!!! You're on the wrong foot here.  You're telling us about things we don't have any investment in, and worse, it's about something that's removed from the events themselves: a recounting of the events.  
This is where I'd stop reading.


He finds that her adolescence in ballet school, with all its ebullience, is easy enough to write.  Stenner decides to skip the period of stardom as a ballerina in her twenties, and to swing all his energy in the Yvonne's rough years of transition from being a very physical ballerina to being a remarkably cerebral and creative choreographer. Yvonne was very successful in this passage, a rare feat, and Stenner's ultimate ambition is to capture the wonder of this journey of self-discovery, of her inspiration, of her mental process, all on the background of her complicated liaisons.

This is all telling. You're telling me about ebullience, not showing it.  

Going into these relationships is tantamount to stepping onto mined terrain, but only by looking into them may Stenner hope to inch toward solving the final mistery, the one that is so close to leading to Yvonne's demise.

Please remember to run spell check before you send queries.  It won't catch homonyms but at the very least it will catch "mistery"

I am seeking representation for KITES, a 120,000-word literary novel about the challenge of change, about spurring one's imagination, about lust and envy. That is absolutely not what the novel is about. I don't know what it's about but generally about gives us a sense of what happens. Plot.  This is my second novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,





This version doesn't work at all. Start over.  Look at what I've said before. Start with Yvonne. Show us what happens.

------------------------------
Dear Query Shark,

Set over three decades, this is the story of Yvonne facing the most challenging issue for a ballerina: how to change herself, her entire creative makeup and outlook, in order to remain more than a blip on
the radar of her art, while fighting the time's onslaught.


When I see the phrase "this is a story of/about" I know you're going to be telling not showing.  That's a warning sign.

Consider this: Yvonne faces the ultimate challenge of a ballerina: (and then what the challenge is).

See the difference? One is telling. The other is showing.


Her first twenty years in dancing are cocooned in the love of her parents, in the guidance of others, and astonishingly physical. She trusts her body and it generously responds to her spurring it. Too bad
some of her classmates don't share in the good vibes of her, just sixteen, getting a main part in "Don Quixote" with the National Ballet. Still, there can't be anything wrong in making a move on
Tony, one of the young male stars of the company, even though she's just a teenager.


Here's where I'd stop reading.  This paragraph is absurdly jumbled. You've got her parents (never mentioned again), Tony (never mentioned again), her body (never mentioned again), her classmates (never mentioned again), and the National Ballet (never mentioned again).  And you have them all in the same paragraph with no topic sentence that tells me how they fit in the story.

Only a decade and a bit later, it's as though past success as a soloist and her own desire to continue to dance don't quite carry the day when confronted with directors' take that the shelf life of a ballerina is shorter than a rose's. Suddenly, having three on-and-off lovers seems to be less appealing than before, even more so when the best candidate for something long-term, Patrick, a principal dancer himself, isn't into playing paternity.

The first sentence literally does not make sense. "It's as though" is the culprit. You're also telling (her own desire instead of her desire) rather than showing. And who the hell is Patrick and what does "playing paternity" mean? I think you mean he's not interested in having children, but why is that an issue? Is she pregnant?


Switching to choreography seems the only avenue that would still allow her to remain in her beloved art, but there are the high hurdles of the inspiration and of the will to motivate others that she must bring to the table.

When you read that sentence out loud does it sound right to you? For starters, you've got one sentence in three tenses. That's not good.

And what are "high hurdles of the inspiration"? And "high hurdles of the will?"

Quit trying to be fancy. Be plain.

Reinforcements seem to come from inner sources and channels fed by her practice of raising kites since childhood.

What the hell is "raising kites?"



What mental changeover?

However, at the height of her newly-found fame, when preparing a show in Berlin, she feels sabotaged. Years of envy and jealousy, some of them of the amorous persuasion, perhaps, seem to have found too palpable an expression. And the challenge is the ultimate one when, just one year later, an attempt, which may well be successful in its aim, is made on her life.

I have no clear idea of what you're saying here. She "feels sabotaged." Is she?  Who's envious and jealous? And now someone is trying to kill her?

I am seeking representation for KITES, a 120,000-word literary novel about the challenge of change, about spurring one's imagination, about lust and envy. This is my second novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

This is a mess. Start over. Limit yourself to sentences of ten words or fewer. Pick each of the words with an eye for specificity and clarity. That's the bare bones of a query. From that, you can revise into longer sentences if you need to but ONLY if you need to for the sake of clarity.

Think of this as barre work. Only when you can do all five positions with your feet do you get to strap on your toe shoes and dance. You're not there yet.


-----------

Dear Query Shark,


YVONNE (39) is all into her ballet and modern dance. By now, she has successfully managed that rare feat of going from dancing to choreography. However, when she is between life and death as a result of an attempt on her life, the time machines need rewinding, in a search for light.


Don't capitalize the names of characters or put their ages in brackets. That's script format, not query letters for novels.


You're starting in the wrong place. Start where the story begins. If the novel is told in flashback, the story starts where the flashback starts.

And in that unfolding story she is again in ballet school facing the barre, debuting in "Don Quixote" at sixteen through the envy of schoolmates like TABITHA and her ilk. Later on, now thirtysomething, with no dancing offers and having left behind the womanizing PATRICK, her former lover, she bleeds to somehow stay in ballet and dance. A new tack to her imagination and to her life emerges of all places from having flown kites with her father for years, and she switches to choreography.


In paragraph (A) below, you tell me this is a novel about lust, envy and imagination. Yet what you say in this paragraph doesn't SHOW me any of that. This is usually why I holler so much about telling me what happens in a novel. Usually that's the way to get "show" rather than "tell" on the page.


If you have a character-driven, rather than plot-driven novel, you've got to have superb language. There's nothing here that shows me anything new or fresh. It feels like an old story (woman reviews life as she faces death) told without new insight.


Yet, on the crest of fresh fame, while putting on an international modern ballet show in Berlin, she feels she is being sabotaged. And now, at this hour right after the hit on her, the doubts are mounting.

(A)I am seeking representation for KITES, a 120,000-word literary novel about the challenge of change, about spurring one's imagination, about lust and envy. This is my second novel.

I logged four glorious years in my youth eating in the same cafeteria with students of a national ballet school, while filling my eyes with their wonderful ways of moving about. I'm still in touch with many of them.

None of that matters. It's also ironic that this paragraph is the only paragraph with any vitality.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


This is a form rejection.

55 comments:

alaskaravenclaw said...

I found this query very hard to follow. My advice to the writer is to avoid reaching for the unusual and just write the way that people talk in real life. For example:

"she bleeds to somehow stay in ballet and dance"

is confusing.

"she wants to stay in ballet"

is much easier to follow. Or even

"she yearns to stay in ballet"

would work.

Leah said...

I think the query is going for a literary tone, but it doesn't seem successful on that front. Some examples:

However, when she is between life and death as a result of an attempt on her life, the time machines need rewinding, in a search for light.

The "attempt on her life" is the most interesting part of this sentence, but it's squirreled away in a passive clause. There's also the needless repetition of the word "life." Why not just say "attempted murder?" "Attempt on her life" is something that is said euphemistically of public figures to diminish the perceived severity of the threat.

Aside from that, the metaphors don't work for me. How/why do time machines "need" to "rewind" in order to set up a flashback? Did you mean "the videotapes need rewinding?" And what is Yvonne's "search for light?" As far as I can tell, her only problem at this point is trying to survive the murder attempt. In that context, a "search for light" makes me think of "going towards the light"--i.e., accepting death. Your intention?

...debuting in "Don Quixote" at sixteen through the envy of schoolmates like TABITHA and her ilk.

"Debuting...through the envy" is a bit odd, but I'll chalk it up to poetic license.

...she bleeds to somehow stay in ballet and dance.

Don't think "bleeds" is a stylistically consistent verb choice here. Unless this is full-contact ballet.

A new tack to her imagination and to her life emerges of all places from having flown kites with her father for years, and she switches to choreography.

Convoluted construction. The important bit--changing careers--is tucked too deep in the sentence. Also, why do her memories of flying kites spur her to change? Yvonne's switch from dancer to choreographer sounds like a (if not the) central struggle she faces, but I have no idea why or how she did it, except that it involved kites. Which I could have guessed from the title.

And now, at this hour right after the hit on her, the doubts are mounting.

Again, torturous construction of clauses. The hour itself sounds more important than the murder attempt. Also, how could "doubts [be] mounting" after the murder attempt? Wouldn't that be something that happens prior to the (presumably) climactic action?

I would seriously rework this query, both structurally and stylistically.

Allison said...

This was really hard to follow. It's amazing you understood this in the slightest. It feels like all the sentences are in the wrong order.

Stephanie Barr said...

"And now, at this hour right after the hit on her, the doubts are mounting." Perhaps, if you're left for dead, you might move past doubts.

Maybe, if I was consumed with dance, this might be enough to interest me, but right now I have nothing about character or story or anything else.

Who is Yvonne, besides a dancer trying to hold on to her career as she ages, and why should I care? That's what I need here.

Lehcarjt said...

I found this really hard to read. The words didn't flow right and I kept having to reread sentences as they didn't seem to make any sense. I'd encourage the author to simplify (a lot). Right now the voice is really unappealing.

TheLabRat said...

I found this hard to read in a really specific way that is going to sound totally insulting. Apologies in advance.

If you've ever goofed off on Wikipedia and found yourself trying to fix sentences written by non-native English speakers or school kids on summer break you've run into the same oddball syntax problems seen here. People try to get overly florid with the language and bork the basics in the process. It causes eye bleed.

Seriously, I don't mean to sound like a jerk. Just trying to throw out a specific tone issue I see. That said once I sorted it out, the story itself does sound interesting.

Theresa Milstein said...

The first paragraph reminded me of when I first writing seriously, and wanted to make everything sound flowerier. I didn't understand that getting to the point could be more powerful. This query just needs to be direct about the book's plot/message.

Lise1977 said...

Hello:

I'm the (seemingly obfuscating:-)) author. Thank you, Shark and everyone.

I need to explain several things. I apologize for the length of this.

The choice for a frame story organization was motivated by the fact that I am presenting 30 years of Yvonne's life:

a) Ballet school years and first successes as a ballerina.

b) I'm skipping over her greatest period of success as a dancer, but I'm making reference to it; this is _not_ the center point of the book.

c) Her "doldrums" in her thirties, when she becomes unemployed as a dancer and lacks a clear focus on what to do next, to some extent related to her love life lacking a clear anchor.

d) Her decision to become a choreographer and her fight with herself in order to change her whole approach to her art from the physical one as a dancer to the much more mental and imaginative one required by choreography. This is the main focus of the book, this transformation, in which very few dancers succeed, as other resources, different processes, talents really, are involved.

e) Presenting several of her choreographies, the way she got her ideas (some of them inspired by literature: Auden, Kafka, Shakespeare's sonnets), and how she puts them on, her interaction with the dancers.

f) The hit on her, which is very probably motivated by things that have happened in her life, things that have generated envy, jealousy, etc.

g) An epilogue. It is only here that we find whether she survived.

The frame story is recommended for covering such lengths of time, AFAIK. Also, all this is character-driven, as it is the changes that occur within Yvonne, in her outlook to her art, in her manner of thinking and operating as a creative person, really, that are the main interest.

Now, what I'm doing is following what Donald Maass tells us about the
frame story:

"In its simplest form, the novel opens at the end of the action and the author then flashes back to show how we got to that (hopefully) striking state of affairs. The advantage of this structure is it gives both author and reader an end point for which to shoot, a question to answer: 'How did we get here?'

Thus, in the first chapter Yvonne takes a bath and is attacked by a murderer. A fight, or better said, an "exchange" ensues, and we're left suspended without being told who the murderer was (she might have recognized him/her) and if Yvonne or the murderer survived the fight and in what condition. This will only be revealed at the end of the book, in the epilogue.

This is the framing moment, "at the end of the action," as Mr. Maass describes it.

At this time, I hope and speculate that the reader would want to know who the victim (Yvonne) really was, who the assassin was and what were the reasons behind his/her act, what lead to this event.

In order to satisfy this hoped-for curiosity, I start narrating her life story with the stages mentioned in the above, leaving to the reader to make speculations as to the perpetrators, but more importantly, to see Yvonne's evolution.

Thus, in reply to Shark's comment, I think I've started the story at the appropriate moment: the unrolling of the life story starts after we have just witnessed the hit on her. However, this flash-backing is not done in her mind, but in front of the readers, by the narrator, as by, metaphorically speaking using a time machine that is rewound (I'm not using the concept in the novel, but in the query).

But perhaps I'm wrong. I just hope things are a bit clearer now.

Now, the difficult thing in the query is: what to say after I start the unrolling of her life story which I think I did by mentioning the time machine? It's 30 years, a long _process_. What to select of it? How to sweep it in one para of say 100 words?

Thanks again.

Susan said...

I think maybe one issue with the query itself is in query construction rather than the use of a frame story. The query doesn't have to indicate that this is a frame story, and probably shouldn't (because it's irrelevant, rather than because it's a bad way to tell a tale). Even if the story itself is framed, the query needs to start at the beginning of the action.

You've probably heard the expression "good writers kill their babies" - it applies to queries too. If you find yourself feeling particularly clever about a tactic or a turn of phrase, it warrants very close scrutiny, if not outright assassination. If you don't do it yourself, the agents will gladly do it for you - but they'll take the entire project out with it.

Josip said...

assume it happened in 30 days. forget everything about time span

arhooley said...

Lise, at the risk of reducing your wonderful literary opus about an artist's changes to something cheesy, I'd make your very first sentence the attempted murder of a retired ballerina in a bathtub, and say flat out that we're going to spend some time in a 23-year-flashback while Yvonne's life hangs by a thread. Just spell it out; as it is, the jumps in time seem random. Hence the confusion readers are expressing.

Further, I don't know about the book itself, but the query is dreary. Seems to be a common problem with litfic. If your book is lively or sexy or suspenseful or busy, please convey it in your query. Where is your VOICE?

Remora Rhetorica said...

Author, none of these comments were attacking your story, just the query; a long defense of the structure is unnecessary and frankly makes me worry you missed the point.

All critiques here are for your query, which is bad. A bad query does not mean a bad story. A good query is your goal, so then whether bad or not your story gets the chance to be judged on its own merit.

That said: be specific. Be concise. We're all writers here; we're all writing queries and indebted to Ms. Reid for the invaluable advice and venue for assistance in the imperative and oftentimes inscrutably arbitrary art of query-writing.

Don't complain that you can't explain 30 years in 100 words. My fantasy novel has over 300 years of history behind the cultural tensions and geopolitical factions. Is that mentioned in my query? No.

If you had to send someone a text message explaining your book, how would you do it?

Yvonne is down on her luck. She's out of work, out of money, out of inspiration, and almost out of blood.

That'd start your query off with some un-confusing oomph and it sets up a mini-frame within your query (frankly I'm not sure framing your query is the best course of action, but if #172 can be FTW then anything's possible). The problem with a framed query is that now you have to successfully flash back without losing the agent, or her interest.

I tried valiantly several times to perform such a segue to give as an example, but I couldn't concoct one that wasn't bewildering, trite, or both. This is, similarly, why your query reads so poorly. As Shark said, start with the start of the story, not the start of the novel. Normally I wouldn't dare rewrite someone's query, but you provided a detailed outline of the novel, so I feel at least moderately armed and dangerous:

Yvonne is talented. She debuts in Don Quixote at a tender sixteen, and skyrockets to fame.

There's your a) and b) right there.

But when her career unwinds as the years roll on, and her latest lover abandons her, she loses her way.

And c). Also, the main conflict, which Ms. Reid extols as crucial.

Caught between her love of dance and the crushing havoc it's wrought of late, Yvonne decides to become a choreographer.

This is your d) part i). This is the choice Ms. Reid talks about; the unique thing with your story is that the choice isn't the focus of the book, merely the catalyst. Capitalize on that uniqueness.

The sheer imagination required of a choreographer, however, seems insurmountable. It is the rare dancer who can make the switch,

The main point of the novel right here. This is the juicy part of your d).

but Yvonne draws inspiration from cherished memories of flying kites with her father.

Tie in the name of the novel, so the agent's not left in the dark...

Her successes are bittersweet, however. Old envies and vicious rivalries follow her, and culminate in an attempted murder leaving Yvonne bleeding out in her bathtub.

And we've caught up to the frame at the start of the novel. All that's left is your epilogue, and since you didn't mention if she lives or not, it'd be wicked hard to pose a wrap-up, but:

There, her love for her father, and her love for dance, inspire Yvonne one last time. Throw in some de-cheesed line about 'love for life' and a clue about whether she lives or dies (believe me, don't leave out the ending to make it seem more enticing. The agent wants to know if you're going to crap out in the last chapter or not).

You've got what sounds like a potentially heartwrenching story. And if you stick around QS long enough, you'll have yourself a query to match.

AA said...

There's nothing wrong with flowery language. If I were to write, "The butterfly floated like a zephyr into the azure sky. Sunlight glinted off of her gossamer wings," then, that's just a writing style.

But this is important: I MUST use the proper grammar and sentence construction, and I MUST write a sentence that doesn't leave the reader confused about what I'm referring to. If I take care of those things, I can be as creative as I want.

For example, here you've got me trying to rewind a time machine, and then apparently reprogram it to search for light. Sort of, a rewindable light-seeking time machine. I never, at my age, expected to be in such a position. I'm a writer, Captain, not an engineer.

I'd also like to point out that the story may be a frame story, but as it stands, the query has no framework. Perhaps Mr. Maass's advice wasn't meant to apply to query letters.

I'd rewrite this in chronological order. First, the triumphant debut at sixteen. Then, a life in the theatre. All the stuff about the womanizing lover and the change of career, explained more thoroughly if it is the main part of the story. Then, at the end, the attempt on her life. And at the very end, the fact that her life flashes before her eyes and she sees where it all went wrong, or whatever the reasoning behind this is.

As others have mentioned, I don't get the lust, etc. All that sounds cool, but it's only hinted at in the query. I might want to read the story if the emotional aspects were elaborated more.

Tara Maya said...

Someone tries to kill a ballerina in a bathtub. Why on earth? That hook does sound cool, but I admit, if you just wrote that, it would sound more like a mystery than a literary novel.

I have no problem with a frame story. I'm also not sure how, or whether, to indicate this in a query.

Is there a love triangle?

And, I'm sorry, this is awful, but the kite thing did make me think of The Kite Runner. That's probably not useful feedback, since if it's in your book it's in your book. I was quite curious to know how it could relate to ballet choreography.

haleigh said...

Hi Lise,

I'm going to agree that the problem is not that you have a frame story, the problem is that you don't have a clear query, and the fact that it's a frame story is just one extra obstacle you have to writing an effective query.

Despite the structure of the novel, you still have a protagonist with a goal. It seems like the main focus is her making the switch from dancer to choreographer. Your overall story goal is going to be why? One goal that unites everything. Maybe it's turning her love for dance into a sustainable career, or becoming the same person on the inside that the audience sees in the dancer...

Only you know your character, so only you can know the answer. Switching from dance to choreography is *how* she tries to accomplish this goal. Your focus in the query should be on *why* she does it.

And just when she reaches her goal, or almost reaches it, or gives up reaching it forever...wham! She's murdered in a bathtub. Now we've got something really fascinating, and hopefully compelling.

Lise1977 said...

Thank you, everyone, for your comments and suggestions, esp Remora Rhetorica going to the pains of writing a query for me.

As to her advice:

>(believe me, don't leave out the ending to make it seem more enticing. The agent wants to know if you're going to crap out in the last chapter or not).

I'm not so sure about that, really. Lots of advice I've seen says stuff like the ending should be only provided in the synopsis, where indeed is a must. I have it there, and whenever making a submission asking for a synopsis, it will be there.

If the Shark could chip in on this particular issue, it would be very appreciated.

Now, why did I frame the query itself? Because placing the crime at the beginning of the query seemed a good hook, and the hook, yes, it is essential in the query.

I'll reconsider this choice for the query structure, of course, now that I see many of you aren't enamored of it :-)

BTW, I can see the novel flowing well in both the framed and unframed versions (the latter, with the hit at the very end). Still, I feel that the version with the crime at the beginning might have more drawing/driving power (especially with the suspense in which it is being presented), even though solving the murder isn't the central priority, which remains presenting the changes in Yvonne/MC and her particular approaches to being creative in her art. This is not a murder story, but a literary novel with a touch of mystery/thriller, should we really want to attach some labels.

Scott Holmes said...

I wonder if the murder is the focal point (i.e. The Lovely Bones), and everything else in some way answers the question of "why" and "why now."

Take a look on Amazon under Editorial Reviews at the Amazon.com Review:

http://tinyurl.com/24ekl63

You might be able to use that structure for your query.

Irene Troy said...

I’m chiming in a bit late on this query; however, one issue that keeps screaming out at me is the meaning of the term “literary fiction”. If you chose to write genre fiction –e.g. mysteries – then you generally write to a formula. If you write lit-fiction you write more free form. [Please feel free to correct me if these statements are incorrect] However, although lit-fiction may offer more freedom to break from traditional boundaries, it still must appeal and entice readers. In short, you do not want to write so flowerily or esoterically that the common person will have difficulty following the story line. Of-course, if the goal is to appeal to only sophisticated readers or something of this type, than by all means, use as much fancy language as you wish and tell the story in as convoluted a manner as you choose. But, don’t expect your novel to have wide appeal or to sell thousands of copies.
This query is extremely difficult to follow. I still have little idea as to the story or the characters. Instead of trying to impress with your command of the language, step back and ask these important questions: what is the boiled down, clear and clean story in its simplest terms? Try to boil it down to just a few sentences: woman grieves for her lost youth and unfulfilled dreams. Woman tries to find a means for fulfilling these dreams through new avenues. Woman encounters obstacles and must find a means over or through these obstacles. Dreams alter with time and the woman recognizes these changes as growth and chases her new dreams with vigor. As woman nears her dreams tragedy strikes. Now you have the essence of the novel and everything else is mere background or color. The essence is what belongs in the query.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Thanks for this: "If you have a character-driven, rather than plot-driven novel, you've got to have superb language."

Tzivia said...

Having read the query, the shark's sharp comments, and the clever comments following, I feel a bit silly poking at a nitpicking detail.

However.

Many advice books for writing a query recommend all caps for a character's name. I don't like to do it in the query, but I do it in the summary. I must say, it looks very jarring.

Is is now considered correct to use ordinary first-cap for a name, and CAPS only in screen plays?

Remora said...

Lise, my understanding of queries at this point indicates that only a few things are formulaically necessary:

I. Name of protagonist, generally at the start of the query
II. Main source of conflict, generally a specific antagonist
III. Choice protagonist faces

Unfortunately, these seemingly hard-and-fast rules cannot apply everywhere. #172 broke most of these rules but got a yes. Your query might not be capable of following these rules, because the choice Yvonne faces isn't the crux of the book, but rather the catalyst behind the growth and change of your protagonist.

Litfic queries are often different through sheer incompatibility, and my experience with litfic submissions is that agents are infinitely more skeptical of litfic credibility than of genre fiction. Genre fiction is somewhat formulaic and has a few key patterns, which guide a book and can help even first-time writers sculpt a good one. Litfic, on the other hand, is free-form.

The choice is obviously yours, and I encourage you to do what seems best in your query. If Yvonne's death or ultimate survival is irrelevant to the bulk of the story, leave it out if that's what you'd like.

It's just that generally the ending can be left out of a query because the ending is somewhat obvious: a character with such-and-such a personality endures this conflict and faces that choice--agents know enough about characterization to surmise which way the protagonist leans.

In your novel, the protagonist's choice has no impact on her survival. There's no causality, and therefore it's impossible to conclude one way or another. I suppose the point of your litfic is to show the growth and change, to take us along with Yvonne on her journey, and so her ultimate destination may not be as important.

I guess my suggestion to throw in a clue as to the ending was just a gut feeling I have--litfic isn't plot-driven, so it can careen into catastrophe so much more unexpectedly, and it just seems like an agent deserves to know where you're headed before she invests her time in reading the full MS.

I defer, though, to your own judgment; it's your novel and only you can tell how important the ending is. And if our shark could chip in, I'm sure we'd both appreciate her tossing in a rule of thumb.

arhooley said...

Lise, I'll add this. In your query, Yvonne's artistic challenge is utterly unrelated to the plot. It may be stodgy to say so, but Aristotle called for unity of plot and theme. You may have achieved this in your novel, but it's not visible in your query. That's why this query needs to be rewritten.

alison said...

Look, I'll say it. It's just bad writing. I have no idea if the book is too, although I suspect it is after reading this. It's hard to understand, and the author writes as if she thinks good writing is flowery but doesn't know how to pull that off. I'm more alarmed by her lengthy defense, which seems to miss the entire point that's been by QS and others.

AA said...

I agree the author is missing the point. She keeps defending the way the book is written. We aren't reviewing the book, we are reviewing the query.

In order to even be able to critique this, I'd need more information. What happens to the character between the ages of sixteen and thirty-nine? Who is involved in what happens? How does she respond/react to what happens?

I don't care if it's character-driven, plot-driven, or rubber band powered, it has to have some structure. At least a beginning, middle and end. And it doesn't matter if it's a literary thriller or a Victorian sci-fi comedy, the agent still needs to know what the story is about.

Perhaps, Lise, you could post a few paragraphs listing the main incidents that happen in the story, along with the names of people involved, in chronological order. Then at least we'd have something to start with in order to help you. You don't have to give away the ending, but we need something specific to work with.

You see, we really are trying to help you, but it's frustrating without more information.

TheLabRat said...

"I'd make your very first sentence the attempted murder of a retired ballerina in a bathtub"


Yes this. Because that very concept is so WTF I keep reading just to find out what the bejeebus is going on. Mind you I'm no agent just a fellow aspiring writer. But it would sure as hell get my attention.

Lise1977 said...

Scott,

Thank you for the link. Interesting concept.

JS said...

Lise1977, I think you need a beta reader who is more familiar than you are with English idioms. It's "to the envy of her classmates," for instance, not "through the envy of her classmates"; you'd like the Shark to "chime in" or "weigh in" on your question, not "chip in" (to "chip in" is to make a financial contribution, not to make a contribution to a discussion).

I don't know what else to say about the query, because it's really hard to follow.

Your ballet/modern dance information seems not quite up to the task as well. For instance, all choreographers are former dancers--it's not the "rare feat" that your query makes it out to be (at least in the US).

And if someone tried to kill me, I would have a more radical response than "doubts are mounting."

I would start, as others have said, with the murder attempt. "Who would murder a ballerina-turned-choreographer, and why? As Yvonne recovers from an attempt on her life, she tries to understand."

Best of luck with revising the query, and with the book. I would love to read a big, juicy saga about a former ballerina whose life is in jeopardy, and I bet lots of other people would as well.

Josin L. McQuein said...

QS,

I have a question about the ALL CAPS. I know they don't go in a query, but I've had people tell me they do belong in a synopsis.

Is there a Synopsis Baracuda swimming anywhere nearby the Query Shark who could tell me which is right? Or is it no big deal either way with a synopsis?

Robert Michael said...

Author,
Everything Remora said, I give a hearty "AMEN!" Her critique is professional and caring.

The query, as is, will not excite an agent to request a manuscript, I am sure. That doesn't mean your story is invalid, it means your query has failed.

Put some of this advice to use, if you can. As Red Green says, "We're all in this together."
Keep plugging along. Some lustful ballet fan out there may thank you some day.

Lise1977 said...

First: thanks, everyone.

I'm not sure if we're not dealing with contradictory advice here:

Remora said:
As Shark said, start with the start of the story, not the start of the
novel.

JS said:
I would start, as others have said, with the murder attempt.

Mind, the murder is mentioned already in the 3rd sentence of the
posted query (no prob to place it in the first, though), while the novel
starts indeed with the murder scene, in the frame story version (1st
chapter). The 2nd chapter is a flashback to her childhood from
then on, everything is previous history wrt to the murder, with the
exception of the epilogue, which is several years later.

Lise1977 said...

JS:

Thanks for the advice, but:

1. On "chip in," I used definition 3 here:
----
chip in

intransitive verb
1 : to put up a chip or chips as one's stake at cards
2 : to contribute money or assistance to an enterprise
3 : to interject a comment into a conversation : INTERPOSE

transitive verb : CONTRIBUTE

Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.
----

An example in fiction:

----
Ninjahunter - Page 29
David Amerland - Preview

"Young Paolo is right," Gaspare Napoli chipped in, his aging voice dripping authority.
http://tinyurl.com/23umtuz
----

I have nothing against "chime in," but "chip in" works too, IMO.


2. In "debuting ... through the envy" I really meant crossing/traversing/passing through something like a mass of envy, just as the famous David Lean said about "Lawrence of Arabia":

----
David Lean: interviews - Page 54
Steven Organ - 2009 - 149 pages - Preview

It has passed through the envy belt. It's now an old picture. Nowadays everybody's flocking to see it.
http://tinyurl.com/298nhet
----

Remora said...

The advice on that point is contradictory. Those who suggested you begin with the hook of the murder suggested it because it is a good hook. It is interesting and unique. The fact that you use it in your novel as the frame is proof positive that it is a good hook.

We are not debating whether or not it is a good hook, however.

The question is if that specific hook is functional in a query. Ms. Shark, myself, and others pointed out that a chronological explanation of events may be more useful for a query than a framed one.

Framing is a legitimate and enticing organizational tool for novels. Of this there is no doubt.

However, the inverse chronology is ill-suited to a query, in my opinion. A query conveys the sense of the story in an enticing manner, and while framing is enticing when you have the space to situate it properly, I feel that in a 100-word query, such explanation is difficult.

Because queries are so short and so pointed, framing comes off as clunky, poorly organized, and flat-out confusing. If you can situate a mini-frame within your query, then by all means do so, because the bathtub murder of a retired ballerina is a good hook. It works in your novel and it could work in your query.

If you can explain it properly. The problem is, perhaps you can't. That's not a failing of yours--100 words is paltry compared to the decadence of an entire novel, and even the best writers have difficulty boiling down their work into a 100-word bite.

The advice on either side of this point is sound. The murder is a good hook. The murder is also at the chronological end of Yvonne's life. Either explain chronologically (in the query) because that's the intuitive way to convey a story, or start with the hook because you feel you can adequately segue from the murder to the flashback, cogently and succinctly.

I know I tried to do so in my previous example, and I honestly couldn't. Everything I came up with was "bewildering, trite, or both." If you can, Lise, then more power to you.

Perhaps most importantly, author, remember that this is your book. This is your query. We are here to critique you, assist you, encourage you, and advise you, but never to demoralize you, nor tell you what to do.

Try writing two queries, one that begins with the murder and segues, and one that is chronological. Write them both, leave them overnight, then read them both. You decide, at that point, which is more effective--or, if you want outside opinions, submit them both as alternate revisions for Ms. Reid to post.

PS: many thanks to Robert for his words of appreciation. I'd been worried I've been coming across as garrulous and pedantic, but if my attempted help is truly construed as helpful then my qualms are allayed.

AA said...

Lise, It's bad enough that you blame poor Mr. Maass for the failure of your first query. Then you get defensive when people point out that your sentence constructions are awkward. Trust me, they're awkward.

"Debuting through envy " doesn't make sense no matter how many famous people you quote. A debut is something that happens IN ONE NIGHT. That is not the same thing as the years it would take for a movie to "pass through the envy belt."

The only reason Lawrence of Arabia "passed through the envy belt" is because technology was racing forward so fast in the making of early films that the movie was quickly surpassed, thereby making it not quite such an awe-inspiring thing. In a way, it's sort of like the past few years of digital animation. Toy Story was amazing when it came out, but Avatar makes it seem quaint. None of this applies to your sentence.

Also, you can technically use "chip in" the way you have used it, but since it is rarely used that way, it made it seem like maybe you didn't know a better way of putting what you wanted to say. Just because somebody else used it and got away with it doesn't prove it isn't awkward. If that example was provided by the dictionary, then it wasn't an example to show you the best way use that phrase. That is not what dictionaries are for. It was to show you that it CAN BE used that way. BTW, if I was writing a story about ballet, I wouldn't take my advice on word choice from a book called Ninjahunter!

My dictionary says that "bait" can mean to take refreshment on a journey, but I'm not likely to use it that way.

The dictionary doesn't teach you about language flow and style. It's primary purpose is to provide every POSSIBLE definition of a word or phrase. If you want to use reference works and quotes from famous people, that's fine. But you're using the reference works the wrong way and misunderstanding the quotes.

I'd still like to see a query review or a brief synopsis that might help us to help you put things in order.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Lise1977, I've known a lot of writers who have made it and a lot who haven't. The main difference between them isn't talent. The difference is their reaction to criticism.

Please think about that for a moment.

The writers who don't make it can all offer cogent, plausible, lengthy explanations of why they've written as they have. What they can't do (or rather don't, or won't) is accept the critiques they get, learn from them, and evolve as writers.

Thari said...

And just as a last(?) thought on the "we are not criticizing the novel, we are criticizing the query" - BUT, oh, yes, the big BUT, the advice given to the query is to be applied to the novel as well, is it not? If the flow or structure of the query is off, then the flow and structure of the novel are likely to be off as well.

The novel is what drives the substance of the query, the writing in the query is an indication of the writing in the novel. The two are inextricably intertwined, and a critique of one must needs extend to the other.

That said, there is a difference between saying "I don't like frame oriented novels," which is USELESS criticism, and saying "you have obscure (at best) word usage in this query".

Lise: if people here find your usage/punctuation/whathaveyou unreadable, then undoubtedly the general public will, too. And they will stop reading after one or two pages, whereas we will still read everything because that is the nature of this place. Has anybody outside your lover/family read your book? What were their comments?

All that said (slap me later, if you must), I would be interested in reading this novel just to see what inspiration the MC's father and his kites gave to her. I love the idea of a "life-review" sort of novel, I've read several and enjoyed them all. I wish you the best of luck.

Thari said...

And one last snarky comment: if you are going to criticize others' usage/punctuation, then you must first learn what is correct. Many of you need to learn the subjunctive mood.

arhooley said...

what to say after I start the unrolling of her life story which I think I did by mentioning the time machine? It's 30 years, a long _process_. What to select of it? How to sweep it in one para of say 100 words?

All right, since you ask, I've got a suggestion. I understand authors don't like rewrites, but I'm doing it anyway. Let's put this up for a vote.


Yvonne, a 39-year-old retired ballerina, has beaten the odds and attained success as a choreographer. Is that why someone has attempted to murder her in her bathwater?

As her life hangs by a thread, she recalls her career as a dancer from her earliest days -- painful hours at the barre, an enviable stage debut at the age of 16, a faithless lover, the inevitable waning of her powers, and a surprising source of creative renewal. Where, she wonders, did she make a lethal enemy?

KITES is a 120,000-word literary novel about the challenge of change, about spurring one's imagination, about lust and envy.

Victoria Dunn said...

Lise1977 - There's a huge difference between "technically correct" and "pleasing to read" or “easy to understand”.

I was irritated with a word puzzle the other day, because it used two words I'd never seen before. "Unthorough" and "scrimpy". Now they're both real words, and I've come around to liking "scrimpy" (it's just archaic, after all), but I still think "unthorough" is awkward and ugly, and I don't want it in my puzzles. Especially since "unfinished" has the same number of letters and matches the definition just as well. I felt cheated.

What people are trying to tell you isn't that you're incorrect, but that to a casual reader your query writing has the appearance of being incorrect.

My suggestion would be to try rewriting your query in very plain language, then work in a single unifying metaphor. Not time machines (technology), darkness (death), searching (quest), bleeding (injury), tacking (usually sailing, versus kites), kite flying (childhood), and cresting (ocean waves) all at the same time.

Just pick one - you can do a lot for instance with the kite metaphor alone, using wind and a sense of being propelled along through life and encountering storms, etc... Bringing that theme forward will also tie in nicely with your title.

Also, if you have your ballerina being murdered in a bathtub, don’t bury the lead! It’s a real attention grabber.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Your position and your point should be obvious. The moment you have to defend one or the other, should be the moment you realize you've made a mistake in presentation.

Irene Troy said...

Being a writer is tough. It’s an often times lonely and highly frustrating career choice. “Making it” as a writer means confronting obstacle after obstacle and finding a way through, over or around. If you want to be a published and successful writer the first thing you must learn is how to take criticism. I do not suggest you take all criticism and immediately alter your writing to follow the ideas offered by others, but I do strongly suggest you listen carefully to whatever criticism you receive, even that which makes you angry. Often times it is the stuff that pisses us off, the stuff that makes us say “oh, that person has no idea what she is talking about” that is the most valuable.
A young woman who recently joined our writer’s circle submitted a short story for our critique. As other members gently (truly, not nasty at all) began picking the story apart – and there was a lot to pick apart – the young woman visibly got angrier. Finally, she stood up and shouted “well, my friends at work and my family all read the story and told me it was wonderful. I guess they know more than you guys” and then she stomped out. A few days later I happened to run into the writer and she asked me what I truly thought of her work. Instead of responding to that question I told her that if she wanted an ego boost or the joy of hearing someone say she was a wonderful writer then she needed to listen to her friends and family. However, if the goal was to improve as a writer, to hone her skills and to, one day, become published, she needed to listen to less flattering critiques as well.
Nobody likes to hear negative things said about their writing. All of us would like to believe ourselves capable of becoming the next “big thing” in publishing. None of us, not you, not me, not any one here, is going to become a great writer unless we are willing to drop our defenses and really, really hear criticism.
You’ve received some good feedback here, from Janet and from the rest of the want-to-be writers here. Don’t waste this opportunity.

Lise1977 said...

Remora:
Thanks for reviewing the pros and cons of the two alternatives. Indeed, I have two versions (frame story and usual) for some time.

Victoria Dunn said:
>My suggestion would be to try rewriting your query in very plain language.
Absolutely.

Arhooley:
Thanks for your proposal. It's fine to me, but it has two rhetorical questions. The agents don't seem to like that.

Josin:
> realize you've made a mistake in presentation.
Oh, I know that. I wouldn't be here otherwise:-)

Thanks again, everyone.

Stephanie Barr said...

@ Victoria Dunn

Scrimpy's archaic? Man, I love that word.

How irksome.

JS said...

Lise1977--

Your writing does not sound, to me*, like idiomatic US English. Hunting for rare usages in other published works to support your point isn't going to make your writing sound like idiomatic US English.

You are getting this advice from me for free. Other people pay me for similar advice (although they know who I am and what my experience and credentials are, so it's a different kind of interaction than here in the Shark's commentariat).

But here's the thing about my free advice: of course you may take it or leave it (just as my paying clients do); arguing points with me, on the other hand, is a waste of time for both of us.

* (where "me" is "a 45-year-old US publishing professional"--in other words, someone quite similar to the people who'll be reading your query)

Lise1977 said...

JS:

I tend to believe your advice. Your query for Mrs. Dolloway (thanks again) showed some beautiful phrasing and simplicity.

L. Bowser said...

I'm a little late on this one, but here goes anyway. The critique will be mixed between what doesn't work for the story and what doesn't work for the critique.

>> My sister is a professional dancer. Knowing her and her collegues, I can tell you it is not rare that a choreographer is a former dancer. What is rare is for that transistion, especially for women, to occur so late in life. Earlier in her 30s would be closer to normal. Even more rare would be for someone to walk away from dance for a period of time and then make that transition.

>> I feel like the first paragraph doesn't really tell me much about the story, other than she is dying.

>>Since the entire book, based on your current query, appears to be a flashback I think you'll have a hard time writing an effective query. Is the majority of the book really a flashback? If not, that needs to be clear.

>>Since the title of your book is "Kites", I might focus a little more on this connection with her choice for choreography. What was the specific connection.

>>Doubts are mounting after the hit on her? About what? That someone has it in for her? That someone is trying to sabotage her? This makes little sense to me. While dancers can be truly vicious, it tends to be in back-biting, alienaty you from your mentors and connections sort of way. Not the kill you kind of way. Either way, there should be little doubt that someone is trying to kill her.

>> All you need is the line "I am seeking representation for KITES, a 120,000-word literary novel." The rest should have been shown by your query above.

>>The dancer friends are interesting if you routinely talk about the industry or if they went on to dancing fame. Otherwise, I would leave it out.

So with all that said, here is the query that I would try and write.

Dear Ms. Shark,

Yvonne debuted at 16 as the prima ballerina in Don Quixote. It was all down hill from there.

At 39, struggling to maintain a connection to the only life she'd known, her muse struck. Memories of flying kites with her father flooded back. The way they would direct them across the sky. Simplicity. Grace. Beauty. The answer was simple. Choreography.

Now she has climbed to the summit. Her international debut in Berlin is about to begin. But she's missing. Dying. And only one question consumes her. Who?

My literary novel, KITES, is complete at 120,000 words.

Sincerely,

Lise1977 said...

L. Bowser said:

>At 39, struggling to maintain a connection to the only life she'd
known, her muse struck. Memories of flying kites with her father
flooded back. The way they would direct them across the
sky. Simplicity. Grace. Beauty. The answer was simple. Choreography.

All this is fine with me, but would resonate for many of the agents
as "telling, not showing," I'm afraid.

I wonder if others here don't feel the same.

Thanks, anyway.

John M said...

Your search for creative phrases makes for a hard read. Even in third person, the narrator's voice has to suck a person in like your best friend. Someone you can listen to for hours without your brain going numb.

Your query suggest a middle aged woman trying to find herself, but you comments about lust make me think the real plot and mechanisms are something other than the self quest. Maybe step back and rethink what drives the story.

M. G. E. said...

If it's litfic and not a mystery, then you certainly don't need to start it with the attempted murder and pose it as a frame-narrative.

Doing that would actually be counterproductive, because flashbacks are inherently anti-dramatic, generally, and basically gives away the highpoint of your story. And it changes the genre, as has been mentioned, to mystery.

Every character in your flashback from that point on becomes a potential suspect or red-herring. Every new character introduced causes the reader to ask, "Could this be the one who wants to kill her?"

The reason litfic doesn't have quite the same formula as genre fiction is because the point of litfic is the character focus, and to understand a character well you have to see them respond to -many- life situations.

At the same time, those situational challenges have to be crafted specifically to reveal the character's personality.

Your strange mix of plot-driven mystery with the aim of litfic means you're writing at cross-purposes, and it simply may not work.

But, I'll tell you what's definitely not going to work: your attempt at a literary tone which is falling completely flat.

When I read this I had zero idea what you meant:

"However, when she is between life and death as a result of an attempt on her life, the time machines need rewinding, in a search for light."

When the reader has to stop, re-read, and puzzle through the meaning, the illusion of fiction is broken utterly, and that is the cardinal sin of fiction writing.

I thought you meant literally that she had (more than one) time machine that was driven by a winding mechanism... which then, apparently, lights her room or something.

What you've got here is a statement that's extremely general and that you mean to be taken metaphorically without making it clear that it's a metaphor--largely because you're packing too many metaphors too closely together.

It's almost like you're trying to invent new phrases of "surprising description"--which is what all good litfic tries to do--but it's ended up obfuscating your actual meaning by being too general.

You mean that she's thinking back on her life to discover who might want to kill her. Listen, there's nothing wrong with saying exactly that!

Meaning trumps floweriness.

Floweriness is completely wasted if it's also not crystal clear to the reader.

Those phrases that stun and surprise us in litfic are also usually extremely visual and easily imagined. There's nothing easily imagined about that phrase or the rest of your writing in the query.

I think this was the most difficult to read query on the entire site so far, and yes I've read all of them.

Lise1977 said...

M. G. E. said:

[BTW, really interesting thoughts.]

If it's litfic and not a mystery, then you certainly don't need to start it with the attempted murder and pose it as a frame-narrative.

I don't need to, but I could, this is the whole point of my argument: it's an alternative.

I think there's a place for frame stories in litfic, and one only has to see what Donald Mass mentions as examples for "frame story/tale told in flashback":

Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"
Robert James Waller's "The Bridges of Madison Country"
Thornton Wilder's "The Bridge of San Luis Rey"

They are all litfic.

Also, Mr. Maass mentions that the frame story is esp recommended in novels which span a long time or have a long setup time, and mine does.

The reason litfic doesn't have quite the same formula as genre fiction is because the point of litfic is the character focus, and to understand a character well you have to see them respond to -many- life situations.

Fully agree with you on this one.

My major difficulty is how to cover character changes or long thought/imaginative processes (say thinking about a new choreography, for my MC) in a query. These take tens of pages in the novel, and trying to compact that takes me many times to "telling," that is to dryness.

Even more so, as the query-writing seems to be so much fact/plot oriented these days, and metaphorical/poetical writing is frowned upon in it, IMO.

Any ideas, everyone?

BTW, I tested a query very close to Remora Rhetorica's suggestions (which are much less convoluted that my initial version presented here) on a real agent. The result wasn't much better, still a form rejection.

Now, it could have been the query or the first five pages, as they were together. Or both:-[

Or it could be that the litfic and the subject matter (ballet, character changes in a ballerina, her creative process) could be perceived as less hot by some of the agents.

I'm going to continue real-life testing:-)

M. G. E. said...

@Lise:

I think you need to cut to the heart of your story and talk about what exactly your character is facing up against and trying to overcome.

Since it's litfic the opposition is likely to be something intangible, which is fine, but what that does is set the spotlight on her character.

So, I'd jump out with a quick intro line about your character that incorporates one attention-getting word which characterizes your character perfectly, then jump into the central conflict she faces and will push through during the course of the story.

For instance, I suggest you find a word that is unusual to use in description. So, if I describe Billy as a gangly weasel of a boy--what jumps out at you is the word "weasel", it's visual and interesting and characterizes him.

Then give the inciting incident of the story and segue into the central conflict and the situation that precipitates it.

Even if that conflict and situation is mostly internal, it will be possible to describe it.

And again, your prose has to be extra polished for litfic, and that includes the query.

Dana Donovan said...

Lise, for what it's worth. I have written a dozen books over ten years and have sent out literary thousands of queries in that time (Janet and FinePrint Literary Management included).

Typically, it is two or three hundred queries per book, between books.

Talk about rejection! Not a single agent requested pages.

I admit, it was difficult reading the criticisms of my first submission here on Query Shark, but after a friendly nudge from people like JS, Stephanie, Josin, Arhooley and the rest of the regulars here, it dawned on me-it's the query, stupid. (me stupid, not you).

I know you don't agree with everyone here. I didn't agree with everyone entirely either. But clearly you are smart, articulate and imaginative.

I am not telling you to do this. I am just saying. Once I realized that it was the query, stupid, I stepped back, took a deep breath and resolved to write the perfect query utilizing all the free advice I received here.

BTW, I am still working on that query. If Janet and the others will have me, I will keep at it until I get it right.

Best of luck to you, sincerely.

Zoe said...

As far as writing style goes, being a literary novel doesn't mean writing confusing, awkward sentences. Some sentences in this query were so difficult to follow that I'm not sure I understand what the plot is. Literary fiction is not actually as flowery as we tend to think it is.

A note from a dancer (and this is about content rather than writing style) - having friends who are ballet dancers doesn't necessarily mean you know enough about the subject, so I really hope the author did some research. A thirty-something-year-old dancer would never get picked up by a ballet company, because she's practically past retirement age. Also, the transition from dancing to choreographing is not all that "rare"; I mean, every choreographer was once a dancer, and a lot of dancers become teachers (which nearly always involves choreographing). If you mean she's become a successful or renowned choreographer, that's something else.

I love to see dance used as a backdrop for books and movies, but it's a field most people are not very familiar with. This means you can probably get away with making up what you don't know, but it also means any dancer who picks up your manuscript is going to be annoyed out of their mind if anything jumps out as being highly improbable or inaccurate.

Zoe said...

Lise: "Even more so, as the query-writing seems to be so much fact/plot oriented these days, and metaphorical/poetical writing is frowned upon in it, IMO.

Now, it could have been the query or the first five pages, as they were together. Or both:-["

I'm sorry for commenting twice in a row but I just saw this. Lise, I am a ballet dancer, an art nut, and I prefer literary fiction to commercial fiction any day. In other words, I am your your target audience. And after reading your query, I'm still not interested. This is partly because of the confusing structure of many of your sentences, but also because I don't see any heart in your query - which is what dance is about and what I would hope to see in a character so dedicated to the art form - and because I don't see the theme coming across strongly in your query, which is what literary fiction is about.

You need to be able to express these things clearly and concisely in a single page for anyone to believe you can do it in 400 pages.

You've been given a lot of different suggestions for how you can change your query to make it work better, but you're choosing to defend your query rather than revise (well, maybe you are revising, it just seems like you're pretty gung-ho about keeping this query the way it is). Why?

I'm all about believing in your story and standing behind it, but this isn't your story; it's a query, and if you're querying it's because you want your book to be published and other people to read it. That means your query -has- to to be something that will interest an agent or publisher; you -have- to write for them. As I said, I am the most likely type of person to be interested in your story, and your query turned me off because it's dry and difficult to read. I really hope you take some of the criticisms here to heart; they are coming from people who want you to succeed.

Stephanie Barr said...

Rev 12/4:

There is a school of thought that being cryptic is provocative and inspires a reader to want to learn more. For most of the people I know, including myself, it just gives us a headache.

The second paragraph adds nothing. The third paragraph walzes around what happening without saying it. The fourth and fifth paragraphs are saying what? Don't be obscure. That just works against you. It's not enticing. It's frustrating.

Be clear. This is a woman in a business where you can be a has-been in your mid-twenties and have to reinvent yourself, where old rivalries and personal differences can work against you. I think it's a message that can speak to people, even if they aren't into dance.

Dancing around what you're trying to say isn't going to send the message you want or sell the story.

Tell the story, clearly and concisely. Tell us why Yvonne's plight should matter to anyone else, or it won't matter to anyone else.

Colin Smith said...

I would also encourage the writer to go back to what Ms. QueryShark said on the second re-write (with a great analogy to ballet). Get the basics right before trying to be clever. The novel may have a literary tone to it, and the writer may be trying to convey that voice in the query, but it's not working. The point of the query is to show the agent what the book is about. I would suggest if the voice gets in the way of this, then the voice needs to be toned down, at least initially.

My suggestion is to begin by spelling out in bullet points and simple sentences what the story is about. Then remove any bullet points that deal with secondary characters, plots, etc. You can then use this as a framework for crafting the query. When you have written the query, let it sit for a couple of days. Then go back and edit it. Read it aloud. Read it to a spouse, friend, or really anyone else and ask them "do you get what the novel is about?" And "does this make you want to read it?"

I hope that helps.