Sunday, December 5, 2010

#190-Revised 5x FOR THE WIN

Dear QueryShark,



Twenty-three-year old Scott Harris is the most wanted man in Orlando. He’s been tearing apart its wealthiest neighborhoods since turning to a reluctant life of burglary, and is about to get pinched by the city’s best detective, Andre Jones. With one last big score, Scott’s going to get out while the getting’s good. He hits the mansion of Mayor Eugene Stone, and uncovers a lethal secret that will hurt many people, including those he cares deeply about.



The mayor’s top priority isn’t budget proposals or city council meetings. Turns out, he’s using his trusted position as cover, quietly plotting in the shadows. He leads a sleeper cell outraged with what’s happening to their country. The group is ready to change things their way – and ain’t nothing in this world solved without violence.



With the heat cranked up, there’s no way Scott’s going to the cops with what he knows. He begins to use his skills as a thief to set up the mayor and crush his plans. Unfortunately for Scott, there’s bad news creeping up: Jones finds out who he is, and what’s worse – so does Mayor Stone. The mayor sets a deadly trap for the little punk, leading to a brutal showdown between Scott, Detective Jones and the sleeper cell. Outnumbered and out of time, there’s only one chance left for Scott to save his life, and hopefully his freedom – or there’s gonna be a whole lot of killing going on.



INVISIBLE EMPIRE is a novel of suspense, complete at 109,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.




Sincerely,

By George I think he's got it!
If you'd asked me to bet cold hard cash money on whether this query would ever work, I'd have laid odds it wouldn't. You proved me wrong. Congratulations.

What I like best here is we have a MUCH clearer sense of voice now.  Read the first version. Then read this.  You'll see. 

Now, apply everything you learned here to the novel before you query. It won't do you a bit of good to have a spiffed up query unless the novel is also spiffy.

But, reward yourself before diving into those revisions, you've earned it.

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



Dear QueryShark,



Picking locks, bypassing alarms, cracking safes – for Scott Harris, it’s all just part of the day after turning to a reluctant life of crime. No one would ever guess this seemingly wholesome twenty-three-year old is the person tearing apart Orlando’s wealthiest suburbs. If he were to take an aptitude test, the results would come back: disillusioned and destitute. After boosting jewels and C-notes, life is slowly turning the corner…until he slips up. Now Detective Andre Jones, Orlando’s most talented cop, will do anything to pinch the thief that’s been shaking up the city.

It takes a while sometimes to see where the story starts, but I think it starts here:

With one last big score, Scott’s going to get out while the getting’s good. He breaks into the home of Mayor Eugene Stone, and gets the shock of a lifetime when he finds a deadly secret. The mayor’s top priority isn’t budget proposals or city council meetings. Turns out, he’s using his trusted position as cover, quietly plotting in the shadows. He leads a sleeper cell outraged with what’s happening to their country. The group is ready to change things their way – and ain’t nothing in this world solved without violence.



Scott’s conscious (this is the wrong word. You mean conscience) washes over him like the pounding surf. With so much heat around, there’s no way he’s going to the police. Before the bloodshed begins, he’ll have to depend on his skills as a thief to set up the mayor and crush his plans.



Unfortunately for Scott, there’s bad news creeping up: Detective Jones finds out who he is, and what’s worse – so has the mayor. Outnumbered and out of time, mistakes aren’t an option. He’s got one chance left to save his freedom, and hopefully his life – or there’s gonna be a whole lot of killing going on.



INVISIBLE EMPIRE is a novel of suspense, complete at 110,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.





Sincerely,


This is better. Polish it up. Let it sit for a week, and polish it again.


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


Scott Harris, a disillusioned twenty-three-year old down on his luck, turns to a reluctant life of burglary and tears apart Orlando’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Now Detective Andre Jones, the city’s most talented cop, is one step behind his every move.

This is good. It's not the most gripping opening, but it's good enough to keep me reading. Agents don't really keep score cards when reading queries. There are a couple things that will get you an instant rejection (fiction novel) but mostly we read till we know whether we want to read the pages.


Scott’s going to make one last big score, then get out while the getting’s good. He breaks into the home of Mayor Eugene Stone, and gets the shock of a lifetime when he moves gets to the cellar and finds a deadly secret.



With a cop hunting him, Scott knows going to the police isn’t an option. Unwilling to stand by, he decides to sabotage Stone’s plan before the bloodshed begins. Detective Jones discovers Scott’s identity - and what’s worse – so has Mayor Stone. Outnumbered…and out of time, Scott must rely on his wits to secure his freedom, and hopefully his life.



INVISIBLE EMPIRE is a novel of suspense, complete at 110,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is much much better than the first versions.

The problem is that it's not compelling. It's not enticing. It's flat. You've set up the scene but there's no juice here, no electricity. It doesn't make the cut on "do I want to read this."

Electricty is found in word choice. Go back and look at the archives. Study the ones that were yes on the first version. Really STUDY the word choices.

Revise.





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

With a cop and a killer gunning for him, Scott is in way over his head. If he plays his cards just right, he could make it out with his freedom - and his life.

oh, you guys love those loglines don't you. Other than no response means no, log lines are the worst thing publishing has imported from the film industry. Honestly I think log lines don't serve a writer well. You have an entire page to work with here, don't try to condense it to a single sentence. 

This sentence doesn't actually say anything. It uses metaphors that don't apply to anything in the book (cards), introduces a character not in the query (a killer) and tries to set up tension...there's no tension in flabby sentences.

Start with the name of the main character. Describe what he wants and what's keeping him from getting it.

INVISIBLE EMPIRE concerns Scott Harris, a young man who turns to a reluctant life of burglary. He slips up one night and now has Detective Jones, Orlando’s most talented cop, hunting him like a hawk.


The pressure is all too much for Scott to handle, so he’s going to make one last big score, then get out while the getting’s good. He breaks into the home of Mayor Stone, and gets the shock of a lifetime when he moves to the cellar and finds a dangerous secret.


You don't need the first clause. He's got the cops after him; in fact he's got Orlando's most talented cop after him.  It's pretty obvious somethings gotta give.


Too scared to go to the police because of his own criminality, but unwilling to stand by, Scott decides to sabotage Stone’s plan before it’s too late; all while dodging the pursuit of Detective Jones. The Mayor eventually finds out who Scott is, and has every intention of putting an end to the little punk for good, leading to the lives of all three men colliding in a brutal showdown.

I'm not sure criminality is actually word. Even if it is, it's not a good one here.  He's scared to go to the police cause the police are after him.  That seems obvious.  You don't need to state the obvious. 

The rest of this paragraph has all the rhythm of an elephant dancing the hokey-pokey.  Polish it up.

INVISIBLE EMPIRE is a novel of suspense, complete at 110,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.





Sincerely,

This is much better than the previous iterations.

You've got the right details in the right place.
Now go back and make sure every single word is right, and the sentences are honed.
This is where you start reading every sentence out loud to see if they sound right.
It takes a while to get it right at this stage. It's like moving day when you've got all the furniture on the truck, then realize all the little stuff still has to be dealt with. That stuff takes just as much time, if not more, than heaving the couch down four flights of stairs.


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

With a cop and a killer gunning for him, Scott is in way over his head(stop), but if  If he plays his cards just right, he could make it out with his freedom, and his life.

You really should start here----->INVISIBLE EMPIRE concerns Scott Harris, a young teacher who becomes unemployed after an excruciating motocross injury leaves him  Scott bedridden, impelling his father to take on three jobs to pay the medical bills. Recovery is slow for Scott after surgery, and pain prevents him from working beyond a few hours at a minimum wage job.

Impelling is an adjective. Impel is a verb. Impelling personality. Something impels him to take on three jobs. 


Knowing his father toils all day breaks his heart, and Scott struggles to find a solution to help him. When he overhears his father being threatened with physical harm if a hefty loan isn’t paid back immediately, Scott decides he can’t watch his father suffer any longer, and believes there is only one option left. He will have to become the type of person he despises, and turns to a reluctant life of burglary.

Here's where you lose me.  I simply don't buy that a man turns from teaching to burglary. You'd do better to leave out all this set up and simply start with Scott as a burglar. 

Scott hits some houses, but also makes a few mistakes. Before long Detective Jones, Orlando’s best investigator, is in hot pursuit. Scott’s pushed his tormented body to the limit while burglarizing, and he begins to take more than his prescribed dosage of OxyContin. This brings forth hallucinations of a demon stalking him, taunting him to abuse the painkiller, and he begins to wonder if his everyday experiences are reality or some type of purgatory. It’s all too much for Scott to handle, so he’s going to make one last big score, then get out while the getting’s good. 


Focus on the main plot of the book. Your query is 400+ words right now. Pare it down by focusing only on the events that move the plot forward.


Scott breaks into the home of Mayor Stone, and gets the shock of a lifetime when he finds a deadly secret in the cellar. Stone leads a white supremacist group planning to hunt illegal immigrants and terrorize institutions they deem to be a threat to the white race. Too scared to go to the police because of his own criminality, but unwilling to stand by, Scott decides to clean up his act and try to stop the extremists himself.




Scott manages to destroy part of their remote compound deep within the OcalaMayor Stone finds out who Scott is, and has every intention of putting an end to the little punk for good, leading to the lives of all three men colliding in a brutal showdown.

INVISIBLE EMPIRE is a novel of suspense, complete at 110,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Pare down all the stuff you don't need and then you'll have the bones of the query in place.  

The problem with this query though is that I don't see anything compelling.  It's all very cliche: white supremacists, lone wolf hero.  You can have a structurally sound query (well, you could, once you revise) but the book itself isn't doing much for me here.

If this is your first novel, there's a lot of merit to the advice I hear from established writers: put the first one under the bed, and write the next.

When you do that, try to twist some of the cliches into new forms.  Make the white supremacists the good guys. (Now THERE is a challenge!)



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

Scott Harris gets the shock of a lifetime while burglarizing the Mayor’s home when he moves to the cellar and finds a tortured prostitute shackled within a catacomb of horrors, and documents entailing a vicious plot to take over the U.S. government.

And here's where I stop reading. I don't buy the premise of the novel. You get ONE item from the menu: either a tortured prostitute, OR a catacomb of horrors, OR documents entailing a vicious plot to take over the U.S. government but not all three.

INVISIBLE EMPIRE is a psychological thriller concerning Scott, a twenty-four-year old who crashes his motorcycle and becomes injured with a rare and brutal nerve condition. Chronic pain leads him to rely heavily on oxycontin which distorts his mind, bringing forth hallucinations of a demon stalking him, taunting him to abuse the painkiller. He wonders if his every day experiences are reality or some type of purgatory. He becomes bedridden and loses everything, including his girlfriend and job as a fourth grade teacher, impelling his father to take on three jobs to pay his bills.

This is all backstory, and has nothing to do with what you have in the first paragraph.

Scott receives surgery, but recovery is slow, inhibiting him from gaining employment. A massive wave of guilt washes over him knowing his father toils all day. He struggles with how to make money to help his father, and through an oxycontin haze, realizes he will have to become the type of person he despises. Scott develops the skills of a professional thief, and breaks into upscale homes of those who have procured their riches through unlawful ways.



"procured their riches through unlawful ways?" He only robs the home of people most likely to have heavily armed guards and the inclination to kill him if they discover him. That doesn't make sense either. Wouldn't you want to rob the people who don't have alarm systems?

My point is here is that you're making up stuff that defies credulity. Thrillers have to start from a point where the reader thinks "yes, that could happen."

As a result, Scott now has Orlando’s most dogged investigator, Detective Stone, hunting him like a voracious hawk coming in for the kill. This leads to an exhilarating game of wits as Scott continues to steal, barely escaping the relentless pursuit of Stone.

None of this has anything to do with what you said in the first paragraph. Added to the list of things I don't believe: a game of wits with an Oxycontin addict.

Scott meets a young woman and falls in love and begins to question his motivations. He convinces himself to hit one more house for a big score and breaks into the home of Eugene Miller, the Mayor of Orlando. He learns Miller is the leader of a vicious supremacist group bent on overthrowing the U.S. government in a violent uprising, but is discouraged from going to the authorities when he ascertains a few members are local police officers. Scott decides he is the only person that can sabotage their plans and sets out to stop them while simultaneously struggling to elude Stone. Miller discovers Scott’s identity and goes after him with extreme prejudice, leading to a thrilling showdown between all three men.


Finally, some linkage. 

But, you forgot the tortured prostitute and the catacomb of horrors.  You mention that in the first paragraph, then never again.

 Added to the list of things defying credulity: the protagonist deciding he's the only guy to thwart a violent uprising by white supremacists. Honest to godiva, the guy sounds like a nut job at this point.

INVISIBLE EMPIRE blends fast-paced plotting, heart-stopping action and suspense, unpredictable violence and dark humor. It will appeal to the same audience that has made bestsellers of works by Richard Matheson, Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King.

If nothing else, please please please don't compare your books to Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy yourself. Let someone else do it.

And when you tell me your book has fast-paced plotting, heart-stopping action etc, I simply don't believe you. Show me you can write that way in your query, don't tell me.


I obtained my B.S. in Film/Video from (redacted.) I currently teach writing at a public school in (redacted) I have worked in Hollywood on several film projects and hope one day to direct a major motion picture based on my manuscript.

This is NOT a selling point for an author. I want to sign clients who intend to write their fingers to the bone for many many bestselling novels and make me rich and reclusive. Telling me you have another career goal makes it easy to say "not for me." And yes, that's even if I'd liked/loved the book. There are more good books out there than I have slots on my list.

The 127,000 word manuscript is completed and ready to be sent at your request. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.


Sincerely,


This is a form rejection.

79 comments:

Creative Conduit said...

Oh. My. Godiva. This is horrendous. It's like a stew with too many weird ingredients and the flavor is not tasty. And 127,000 words for a thriller? No thank you.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Actually, I think it's better than a lot of what we've seen lately.

Yes, the manuscript's probably too long; so is the query. I think the writer has a wordiness problem. A lot of sentences contain filler phrases (eg "as a result") and/or long words where short ones would work better.

There are also some lady-doth-protest-too-much words, like "thrilling" and "exhilirating." In a post-Tintin world, I think the way characters actually feel during chase scenes and showdowns is Scared.

The most appealing angle of the story to me is the part where he can't tell reality from fantasy-- the demon chasing him.

The query's just got too much going on, as if the writer thinks that the more he throws in , the more chance he has of hooking an agent.

And things feel not-believable, as Ms. Shark says. For example:

but is discouraged from going to the authorities when he ascertains a few members are local police officers

Can't he not want to call the authorities because he's a burglar?


Writer, summarize the story in one sentence, for yourself. Then write the query from there.

Lehcarjt said...

he's the only guy to thwart a violent uprising by white supremacists.

Were they white supremacists? It read 'violent supremacists', and that could mean that their supremacy is that they are more violent than the average citizen and feel a sense of superiority to pacifists.

On the query overall... I agree that it is trying to do too much. Plus, everyone one of the aspects is totally unoriginal (except the violent supremacist, of course, if that is what they are). One of the reasons Stephen King is brilliant is because he is so original.

But what totally made me laugh was when the romance was thrown into the mix (the kitchen sink?), and yet I wasn't the least bit surprised to find it.

John Jack said...

Overkill. I see an And Plot of Epic Proportions!!! Something Happens! and Something Happens! and Something Happens! and Something Happens! and Something Happens! and Something Happens! and Something Happens! to no meaningful End . . . Oh my!

It's a breathless, Pressure-of-Speech in written form, query. Pressure of Speech is a manic, frenzied speech disturbance, a form of hyperbole where overstatement is more likely a grammatical vice than a rhetorical virtue.

Copyedit suggestions
OxyContin: brand name proper noun with internal capital case, oxycodone generic.
Everyday experiences: compound word adjective everyday.

lahn said...

The last paragraph has more potential -- the conflict between the mayor (antagonist), the thief (protagonist) and the cop (complication). I'd start there. But I agree that 127,000 words is too long, which means you probably have some more editing to do on the novel before you query. In the novel, it seems like you may have some tightening to do -- cutting some of the backstory -- to make the protagonist more believable. Try to think about the core or the heart of your story, and start from there. Good luck.

kmullican said...

At least he wasn't humble XD. That the shark puts up with our crap really says something...I could not! But I couldn't teach small children or hang with the elderly either!

Stephanie Barr said...

Yikes.

My guess is the problem here isn't just the query but the book, which, as QS pointed out, is implausible. It also appears contrived and as full of cliché as your query letter.

Pick one story. Build a likable character that fits that story, one that makes sense and that a reader can identify with.

It's not a video game where you just can't throw everything at the character whether it makes sense or not. Everything has to fit, to lead logically to the next bit, be part of the whole.

One cohesive story is worthy a thousand disembodied bits of "heart-stopping action and suspense, unpredictable violence and dark humor".

You might want to pull back on the use of the narcotic's name or choose a different one. Although oxycontin is a legitimate opoid, it is close in name to oxytocin, used to induce labor and linked to orgasm. I was at a loss on why it would be prescribed for a nerve disorder as I read the query.

If your novel is like your query, I urge you to go back and rethink your novel. If your query projects a frenetic miasma not found in the novel, clean and simplify the query and resubmit.

Good luck.

Dana Elmendorf said...

D. All of the Above.

I'm very curious, if this query gets revised if it can redeem itself.

Irene Troy said...

Eee-Gad! There are some decent plot points contained in this query, but they are so scrambled together it is impossible to sort out which plot point goes with another. Teacher turned burglar – not impossible. Prostitute shackled in the basement of the mayor’s home – not impossible and perhaps a neat lead in to an interesting thriller. Found documents describing a plot to overthrow the government, been done, but possible. A fourth grade teacher is injured in a motorcycle accident, becomes a bedridden oxycontin addict who is unable to support himself. Eventually the guy has surgery and while recovering decides to study burglary in order to pay his debts. In the midst of burglarizing the mayor’s home he discovers a prostitute shackled in the basement. Upon closer inspection he also discovers a “catacomb of horrors” and, oh yeah, by the way, documents outlining a plan for the violent overthrow of the government. YIKES! My head spins!

I’ve said this before, but it’s something that continues to make me nuts. Even when you are writing fiction, you MUST do your research! Oxycontin leaves the addict only marginally functional. A true oxy addict wouldn’t have the wits to evade even the most bumbling detective or to recognize the importance of found documents outlining the overthrow of the nearest kindergarten much less the US government. The term “supremacist” is most often associated with the preface “white”. If this is what you mean, then please use the full title. How the heck are we supposed to believe this loser of an ex-teacher/oxy addict has the motivation – or indeed even the mental capacity – to pursue a band of evil-doers? The entire premise of the novel, at least as outlined here, is ridiculously unbelievable.

I suppose most fiction writers harbor a secret (or not so secret) fantasy of having their highly successful novel turned into an equally successful movie. Its great to have dreams, but sharing them outside the circle of family and friends is…well…an invitation for ridicule. Get your first novel accepted by an agent, have that agent find a publisher and, if the novel succeeds, that is when you start talking about movie rights and other fantasies.

I sincerely hope that proposed novel is not as poorly written as the query. Certainly, being able to create a great story and being able to write a great query is not the same thing, so, hopefully, the story is much less convoluted.

Gisele said...

This is an onion with many layers, indeed.

I'd suggest taking out all of the background information (2 paragraphs worth) about how and why Scott became a burglar. The reader doesn't need to know about the struggles he went through to get there. At the query level, it suffices to say that he is a thief. Done!

Also, take out the references about his father and his love interest. Those are peripheral characters. If you stop to talk about them, it takes away from the idea of a "fast-paced plotting, heart-stopping action and suspense" novel you are trying to convey.

The first paragraph needs to be rewritten because it’s a mouthful on two counts: Too many things going on and it’s a one-sentence paragraph.

“He learns Miller is the leader of a vicious supremacist group bent on overthrowing the U.S. government in a violent uprising, but is discouraged from going to the authorities when he ascertains a few members are local police officers.”

I’d place a small wager that the (sensible) reason why Scott is discouraged from going to the authorities with his findings has nothing to do with the culprits being part of the police force and everything to do with the fact that he is a wanted man himself. Isn’t Detective Stone supposed to be “hunting him like a voracious hawk”? Why would he want to set foot inside a police station?

Considering that your novel takes place in Orlando (a highly diverse city) and it has to do with white supremacists trying to overthrow the government, I’d suggest that you change the race or ethnicity of either, the burglar, the detective or even the mayor! It would add depth to your story if at least one of them were not white (judging from the names you gave them, they all are).

Lithopedion said...

I don't know about the whole robbing people with ill-gotten riches. How would you find that out? That would involve ridiculous amounts of detective work. I think they're trying too hard to make they're character a flawless good guy. I say just make him a flat-out robber.

arhooley said...

Then there's the writing itself. The first sentence is an endless, gobbledy string. After that, the Shocking! Breathless! plot unfolds with clunky stative verbs as Scott "becomes injured" and "becomes bedridden." He "receives surgery"? Is that it? I receive a daily paper. How about if he "resorts to surgery"? "Recovery is slow, inhibiting him from gaining employment"? How about if his recovery drags on and he can't get back to work? Drop the bureaucrat vocabulary and punch this up.

Me said...

Blake Snyder in his Save The Cat screenwriting book labels such a mish-mash of coincidences as 'Double Mumbo Jumbo'. Finding the tortured prossie - OK, or finding the Plans for World domination - OK, or something else - OK, but not all of them.

Blake says that audiences (or readers in this case) are unlikely to believe in the coincidence of things. One strange or incredible event may be believeable, but two or more is likely to lose the viewer's or reader's belief in the credibility of the storyline.

Choose what you believe is the strongest theme and go with that.

Guinevere said...

This query would be much stronger if it were about three paragraphs shorter. And at 127,000 words, it sounds to me like a First Novel. I don't mean that in a bad way - many of us write our first novels way too long. My first draft of my first novel was also near 130k.

In this case, my advice would probably be to shelve this novel and write another one - return to this story someday in the future. First novels are like first loves; they're called first because another one's supposed to come after, and it's usually a whole lot better (not to mention, in the case of the novel, 40k shorter).

witherec said...

Hello. I am the author of this query and I just wanted to make a personal statement and ask for some constructive advice.

I was in a motocross accident six years ago which led to Pudendal Nerve Entrapment, an excruciating nerve disorder. For three years I was prescribed heavy doses of oxycontin, 3X a day and was able to teach elementary school full time. It is not implausible for someone to take narcotics and function at a high level every day.

It is really tough reading these comments because the plot points in my book aren't all frentic and jumbled together like people are pointing out in the query. I am having a hard time describing my story inside a couple paragraphs, and I am feeling pressured to squeeze it all in because there is a lot going on, but in my story it happens slowly, and the reader will understand why Scott makes his decisions over time.

I also thought it was good to lead with a hook, but now it seems I am doing the wrong thing. Should I start my query letter simply with how the story begins and follow through to the end?

I am also well aware that I am not Stephen King or Cormac McCarthy - I have read a lot of advice about how you should describe who your potential readers might be. But I guess this is wrong to do as well???

Every time I read advice on how to write a query letter it always seems to contradict itself - uggh!

Although it was really tough to stomach Mrs. Reid’s comments (I think I might have cried like a baby for a few seconds), I think it is really cool that she takes the time to help others. Any help is greatly appreciated and thank you for the constructive criticism! Happy holidays!

Alice said...

OMG, I have been trying to sum up my mg story in one sentence and the first thing I thought was, dang this guy summed his up.

There's too much going on and the story isn't believable, I say his first sentence works.

but what do I know.

jjdebenedictis said...

Author, since you have some experience with film, consider writing a log line for your novel--one sentence that sums up the plot.

That should help you strip out all the extraneous details. Your query letter should then only focus on that one, central conflict.

Probably your novel should too. As people have mentioned, this query seems to reveal a "kitchen sink" plot.

That said, I think you could make a pretty enticing query out of what's here, but you do need focus. Here's a suggestion for how you might consider structuring things:

- Massive medical bills drive Scott Harris out of the teaching profession and into cat burglary.

- To blunt his guilt, Scott tries to only target those who gained their wealth through unlawful means.

- More than Scott's conscience is driving him back out of his life of crime, however. Not only has Scott just fallen in love, but a talented detective is getting uncomfortably close to catching him.

- To fund his final retirement from thievery, Scott targets the mayor's home, but things go awry in a very atypical manner. In the basement, Scott discovers a tortured prostitute and the mayor's plot to stage an extremist uprising.

- Unable to go to the authorities due to their possible corruption and his own criminality, Scott must manipulate the one police officer he knows is honest--the detective chasing him--into catching the mayor and his cohorts before the violence begins.

- There's one problem, however--the detective doesn't know who Scott is yet, but mayor does.

Best of luck with this, Author, and don't be too disheartened by the reception your query received here. Amazing books often come out of the writer being forced to gut their first attempt. We all go through this sort of pain--just turn these incisive comments into the polishing cloth that makes your story shine. :-)

Joel said...

This has been done, kinda ...

ABSOLUTE POWER (1997)
From the book by David Baldacci
Screenplay by William Goldman
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Ed Harris.

The basic elements are too close to make it work as a stand-alone book.

Anonymous said...

It's not "Mrs Reid"

Christine said...

I realize the second paragraph is backstory and unrelated. The Shark says it is best to lead with a hook. A question I ask is how do we avoid the superfluous second paragraph of explanation after a hook.

I would also like to know if the hook should be considered in a tag line form that encompasses the full story and summarizes the query.

We are told to start with what we know. Obviously, most of us do not know the "how to" of query letters or we would not be reading this blog. My question for this writer would be what element did s/he know of the story: the character, his background, the governmental view(mayor), addiction, or etc. I think that sort of illustrates.

I've found it's easier to build a story if you start with an element you understand. Then, simply expand your personal universe of imagination around that element. It allows for a solid connection between you and a key piece of the words your putting on paper. Plus, if it's personal, you're less inclined to embellish with the flowery bits. It smacks of bragging.

I hope some of this is helpful and would appreciate any assistance with the questions I have posed. Good luck to all.

Meaningless Prose said...

witherec, did you exceed your prescription? take more than needed?

I somehow doubt your doctor just handed you a bottle of pills and said, "take as much as you need."
It was probably controled dosages to be taken at certain times of the day with certain things, right?

You really can't use your experience, as an addict will not be regulated, as your doses were, they will take as much as they think they need to handle their pain.

Research the addiction more, find out all the side affects and overall affects before you use it in your ms.

flibgibbet said...

I sense a fairly coherent plot buried under all the razzmatazz and tortured delivery:

Scott loses his job after a near-fatal motorcycle accident and resorts to crime to pay his mounting medical bills. Once Detective Stone begins to suspect him of the crime spree, the jobs get a lot riskier. Then Scott burgles the wrong house and learns things he wished he hadn't. Now it's not just the Detective who's after him, it's the Mayor and his henchmen----white supremacists plotting to overthrow the government. If he goes to the cops, he'll spend the next blank years in prison looking over his shoulder; if he goes it alone, he risks spending eternity six feet under...

I'd ditch the first para, most of the backstory, and especially all references to oxy. The oxy addiction makes Scott unsympathetic. Drug addicts steal to feed their habit, not to pay back their financially burdened fathers. Moreover, they're irrational, untrustworthy MC's, mentally incapable of doing anything heroic or worthwhile.

Hope you give this another go.

Tara Maya said...

I like JJ's version.

Lexi said...

I agree, JJ's summary is masterful, bringing all those elements into a coherent précis. I am impressed by it.

Tiger said...

so what I gather is, the protag is too injured/addicted to get a legitimate job. Pray tell, then, how does he manage being a criminal? In my mind that is quite a bit more difficult than showing up to your shift at the gas station. It requires you to be very physical, alert, and savvy. The protag appears to be none of these things.

jjdebenedictis said...

Y'know what we need? We need a mirror blog called "QuerySnark", where all the mean comments could go.

Maybe with a bit of computer wizardry, we could ban authors by IP address from reading the post that features their query on QuerySnark, but they could still read QueryShark where only constructive criticism would be posted.

I understand the appeal of mockery, but to make it a cruelty-free sport, you need to make sure the person in question doesn't know you're doing it.

Also, tough love is only helpful if you don't wound the person so badly they can't process the wisdom behind your jabs.

The Shark doesn't pull her punches, but she gives solid advice for how to improve what's there. I find some of the comments, however, are sharper than is helpful.

It's easy to spot what's wrong (in anything), but push yourself harder: What's done right? How could it be improved? Both you and the author will learn more when you offer that kind of critique.

And we can find some other venue to rampage around in being glorious bastards. I mean, I get the appeal of doing that; it's fun. It's just not meaningful criticism.

PS - Thanks, Tara Maya. :)

alaskaravenclaw said...

Witherec, I'm sorry to hear about your accident.

If you noticed my suggestion (2nd comment) that you try to distill the story into a single sentence, that's something I've found helpful in the past.

Try to keep the sentence under 20 words.

What I generally find is that if I can't do it, there's a problem with the novel and a rewrite is necessary. That was the case with the manuscript I've got out on submission now.

Once you've got your sentence (or revised the manuscript and then written your sentence) then build the query upward from your sentence rather than downward from your manuscript.

And hey, everyone? Before you post, please ask yourself if you've offered any suggestion that can be useful to the writer. It's important to point out what's not working in a query or story, but it's not an end in itself.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Christine--

Actually, some of us regulars are multi-published scum. We're just here (or I am anyway, can't speak for others) to join the conversation.

I'm not sure why a hook would need to be followed by a paragraph of explanation.

Take a look at Query #179 FTW.

Notice what's not there. No explanation, for example, of the long-ago crime that served as impetus for the novel's action. No description of the killer. Except for simple explanations of each of the two main character's motives, there's no backstory.

Does that help?

Dana Donovan said...

Witherec said, "Every time I read advice on how to write a query letter it always seems to contradict itself - uggh!"

That is true. Good news is now you can stop reading advice outside of this venue. What you see here will work if you take it to heart and put it into practice. Believe me. I know. It took me 5 attempts, but the Shark and the rest of these guys did not give up on me until I got it right.

You will get it right, too. Good luck.

I look forward to your revision.

Stephanie Barr said...

Admittedly, I've been reading here a long time, but I haven't found the comments on this thread particularly unkind or pointless. Most are along the same lines: advice to focus and tighten, make the character more believable and approachable. JJdebenedictus did a great job, I thought, of showing some potential directions.

Taking criticism is tough, but I don't see how anyone can be a good writer without it. If you're too thin-skinned, you aren't going to make it.

And, I have to say, "mean" criticism is more helpful than a rejection with no explanation, which is what you'll get from the business, most of the time.

Given your history, some of this seems really close to you. That may make it hard to get the distance you need to look at this objectively. If that's the case, don't be discouraged. Either put it away until it's not so close or turn to something that you can take a bit more criticism again.

And, before you turn in a revision, go back and reread the comments, divorcing yourself from the emotional reaction as much as possible. If you read the archives, you'll find the ones who get the win, over and over, are the queriers that really listened and revised their query with a ruthless hand, often starting from scratch. Sometimes, it took a lot of revisions, but, when they pulled it off, they had something they could really use in the real and very unforgiving agent/publishing world.

And that should be what you're looking for.

Shayne said...

Witherec, I hope you don't mind, but I took a stab at rewriting your query. Obviously it's not perfect, but if it helps, feel free to use any or all of it.

Scott Harris is unemployed , drowning in debt, and suffers from a raging OxyContin addiction. Unable to see any other options, he turns to a reluctant life of crime, burgling the homes of those who obtained their money in less-than-lawful ways. Before long he's got Detective Stone, Orlando's best investigator, in hot pursuit, and a nagging conscience that won't let him rest.

Determined to quit while he's ahead, Scott decides to make one last big score, and then get out while the getting's good. Unfortunately, the house he decides to hit belongs to Mayor Eugene Miller, who, when he's not governing the city of Orlando, is busy leading a vicious supremacist group in a conspiracy to overthrow the federal government.

Unable to go to the police with the proof he's uncovered, but unwilling to stand by and do nothing, Scott decides to stop Miller himself. But Miller knows it was Scott who robbed him, and he has every intention of putting an end to Scott for good. With a cop and a crook both both gunning for him, Scott's in way over his head, but if he's plays his cards just right, he could make it out with his freedom, and his life.

Invisible Empire is a novel of suspense, complete at 127,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

arhooley said...

jj, excellent rewrite. I don't see meanness or non-constructive criticism here, though. I'm guessing the Shark wouldn't post such comments.

tweetlebeetle said...

I have a question about this wonderful Shark critique: I can see how in this situation it is problematic to compare the writing to established authors like Stephen King. But what if one uses a comparison in the query in order to establish the type of book it is? For example, the novel I am working on is about animals, but in order to establish that the book is not a kids book, I have this line in my query:

"Like Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi and Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Rabbit Illusion is an allegorical fable and an anthropomorphic adventure."

Is something like this ok, or is it best to never compare?

Thanks for Query Shark!

Christine said...

Alaskaravenclaw--

I appreciate the response. My sincere apology for the very generalized comment about the collective reason for reading this blog. I meant it soley as a subtle form of encouragement and solidarity.

I grasp what you mean about avoiding the pitfall of backstory, excellent example choice. Thank you. However, where should I look for the line between extraneous backstory and plot-sensitive query material? Or is this a problem judged on an individual case basis?

Also, any help you can offer regarding my second question would be appreciated.

Thank you again.

Janet Reid said...

TweetleBeetle,

It's one thing to compare to a specific title. It's another thing entirely to say your novel will appeal to readers who like Stephen King. One is useful. The other is met with skepticism.

Adam Heine said...

witherec wrote:
"Every time I read advice on how to write a query letter it always seems to contradict itself..."

Yes. Welcome to the world of the wannabe-published author :-)

One thing that helped me was reading every single post on this site. It took a while (there were 70 or so at the time), but by the end I was correctly anticipating what the Shark would say about it.

Other good places to read actual queries, along with professional comments on them:

* Evil Editor (the "Face Lift" posts).
* Jodi Meadows' Query Project
* Chuck Sambuchino's Successful Queries posts

It's a little helpful to get advice on your own query, but it's far more helpful (I've found) to read, and even critique, hundreds of other queries, both good and bad. Eventually you start to get a feel for what works and, even better, how to fix it.

Leslie said...

Adam Heine--you are officially on my holiday gift list! I had not seen Evil Editor before.

Upon reflection, I am not sure if I should thank you or curse you, because I have a feeling I'll be up all night reading...

AA said...

It is actually very constructive to only point out what is wrong with a query. At least the writer knows there is something wrong and can go about fixing it.

You could argue that it is MORE helpful to offer ideas on how to fix it, and I won't disagree, but what if you just can't think of anything? The author has to do the work here. It's his baby. Ideas are great when you have any to share, but this isn't the place where if you can't say something nice, you don't say anything at all. Knowing what doesn't work is important, too.

Also, I think people should post their initial reactions to the queries posted here, even if there's no accompanying "constructive criticism." It could be really helpful to a writer to hear "OMG!" when he thought he was going to get "This is fantastic!"

I'm not saying that is true in this instance, but I've actually seen comments from query writers on this and other blogs, saying that the query had an entirely different impact than they thought it would. If they're being honest they admit it's helpful to get this feedback. The "feel" of a query and the general impression you get of it is important as well as the specifics.

I think if we try to censor ourselves too much we risk not communicating something important. And, anyway, if the Shark thinks it's mean for no good reason she won't post it.

Trisha said...

"In a post-Tintin world..." I think this is my favourite part of the query :P And it's not even in the query!

Joseph said...

I thought this had interesting elements, actually, but isn't the protagonist in such severe pain that his father has to take three jobs to support his oxycontin habit? How is he involving himself in acts of derring do?

Of course, then I decided that the protagonist was simply having fever dreams and paranoid delusions. It's sort of Lynchish!

Stijn Hommes said...

You're using too many words in that query, author. Get to the point and don't waste them on backstory. Also, there is a problem that queryshark hasn't addressed.

If Scott is recovering from a near fatal motorcycle accident then he's not fit to be a burglar. Despite what you might think a burglar has a tough job. He needs to be agile to mount walls and squeeze through windows if needed, and of course, he has to be able to hide in tight spaces without screaming with pain and run if things get too hot.

I simply don't believe Scott has the necessary skills for a life of crime in his situation.

M. G. E. said...

I had to laugh when the whole "documents entailing a vicious plot to take over the U.S. government" part hit.

This reads like some kind of hippie super-hero wetdream :P The world's being taken over, and only drug-addicted robinhood, Scott Harris, can stop the evil, rich, supremacists.

Taymalin said...

What ruined it for me was the oxycontin addiction. An addict isn't going to bother with a home that is difficult to break into. They're going to do smashh and grabs to get the money for their next fix. I love vigilante stories though, so I really wantt to like this one. I'd say get rid of the addiction, and give him a believable reason to hate the bad guys (loss of a loved one is usually a solid motivation for vigilantism). That would get me firmly on his side, and I'd have less moral issues with his becoming a thief to support an addiction.

That said, he can have an addiction, many good characters do. But, that can't be his sole motivation for stealing, or being a vigilante, it completely ignores the psychology of addiction, which generally has a very selfish slant.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Christine:

However, where should I look for the line between extraneous backstory and plot-sensitive query material?

I'd say write it with absolutely zero backstory. Then, if it's imcomprehensible, add backstory in tiny increments.

As for your other question, I'm not sure I understand it, but a hook is just that, a hook. It gets you interested in the story, is all, though in some cases it also serves as a summary.

Trisha, thank you :).

alaskaravenclaw said...

Okay. Having one's work (one's baby, one's several hundred hours of effort) critiqued is always painful. I've often been struck by how incredibly careful and gentle most editors are in offering critiques.

(I said most!)

Having one's work critiqued in public by strangers online... well, I don't know how anybody does it.

But I was in a writing workshop once where the teacher told us to ask ourselves the following questions before critiquing:

1. What is the writer trying to accomplish?
2. Did s/he succeed?
3. Was it a good thing to do?

This was very useful to us because I, at least, have a tendency to rush to #3, or even to skip all three and go on to "Is it something I would have done?" Which, of course, isn't the question at all.

witherec said...

WOW! Great advice here. I wish I could personally thank each one of you that has helped me and shake your hand. I am truly grateful.

I know as a writer you need to have a thick skin, I just wanted to put myself out there about how I was feeling. At least I was honest about it stinging. I could lie and pretend it didn’t have an effect on me. I will lick my wounds and take Query Shark’s advice, as well as everyone’s insight and write something stronger.

Theresa Milstein said...

At 127k words, you can pull out a lot of the parts that are muddling this plot.

Make us care about the protagonist. Then being a fugitive from the law while trying to stop the white supremacists could be interesting.

Take out the prostitute and horrors. Simplify. Oxycontin may not work unless he quits to clear his mind so he can actually have a chance fighting the bad guys. That could be a good midway point realization for the protagonist.

And don't compare yourself with famous authors. Nearly everyone says not to do so. Unless you do it in a funny/skewed way (Stephen King meets Laura Ingles Wilder), it doesn't work.

As others have said, simplify your wording in the query too.

Good luck!

P.S. We all want to see our books made into movies. Don't mention it in the query.

Idem said...

I agree with JJBenedictus that a large proportion of reader comments here tend to be more harsh than they are substantive. To the writer of the query, I would say: the purpose of submitting to this blog (a very useful purpose) is to find out what a real live literary agent would think. So take the Shark's comments as a tool to improve your query, and discount the reader comments ENTIRELY. Then, for the totally different (and also very useful) purpose of workshopping your query in a forum, go to Absolute Write Query Letter Hell Share Your Work. There you can actually have a roundtable discussion which for the most part just gets down to business, skipping the glorious bastardy and witty hard-assery.

arhooley said...

By the way, witherec, you might note how energetic jj's rewrite is. Medical bills drive Scott, Scott blunts his guilt, Scott targets the mayor's home, etc. And you are being a champ about this, and we have all been here.

AA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AA said...

That's interesting, Idem. I decided to find out how many "substantive" comments have been posted so far. I cut and pasted what I thought was the basic jist of most of them. Next two comments:

Yes, the manuscript's probably too long; so is the query.There are also some lady-doth-protest-too-much words, like "thrilling" and "exhilirating." The query's just got too much going on,And things feel not-believable. Writer, summarize the story in one sentence, for yourself. Then write the query from there.
I agree that it is trying to do too much. Plus, everyone one of the aspects is totally unoriginal. Overkill.The last paragraph has more potential I'd start there.
In the novel, it seems like you may have some tightening to do -- cutting some of the backstory -- to make the protagonist more believable. Try to think about the core or the heart of your story, and start from there.Pick one story. Build a likable character that fits that story, one that makes sense and that a reader can identify with. Everything has to fit, to lead logically to the next bit, be part of the whole.
You might want to pull back on the use of the narcotic's name or choose a different one. clean and simplify the query and resubmit.The term “supremacist” is most often associated with the preface “white”. If this is what you mean, then please use the full title.Get your first novel accepted by an agent, have that agent find a publisher and, if the novel succeeds, that is when you start talking about movie rights and other fantasies.
I'd suggest taking out all of the background information (2 paragraphs worth) about how and why Scott became a burglar. The reader doesn't need to know about the struggles he went through to get there.Also, take out the references about his father and his love interest. Those are peripheral characters.The first paragraph needs to be rewritten. I’d suggest that you change the race or ethnicity of either, the burglar, the detective or even the mayor. I think they're trying too hard to make they're character a flawless good guy. I say just make him a flat-out robber. Drop the bureaucrat vocabulary and punch this up.
One strange or incredible event may be believeable, but two or more is likely to lose the viewer's or reader's belief in the credibility of the storyline.

AA said...

Choose what you believe is the strongest theme and go with that. This query would be much stronger if it were about three paragraphs shorter.Consider writing a log line for your novel--one sentence that sums up the plot. Research the addiction more, find out all the side affects and overall affects before you use it in your ms. I'd ditch the first para, most of the backstory, and especially all references to oxy. The oxy addiction makes Scott unsympathetic.Once you've got your sentence (or revised the manuscript and then written your sentence) then build the query upward from your sentence rather than downward from your manuscript.
You're using too many words in that query, author. Get to the point and don't waste them on backstory.I'd say get rid of the addiction, and give him a
believable reason to hate the bad guys (loss of a loved one is usually a solid motivation for vigilantism)That said, he can have an addiction, many good
characters do. But, that can't be his sole motivation for stealing, or being a vigilante, it completely ignores the psychology of addiction, which generally
has a very selfish slant. Make us care about the protagonist.Take out the prostitute and horrors. Simplify. Oxycontin may not work unless he quits to
clear his mind so he can actually have a chance fighting the bad guys. That could be a good midway point realization for the protagonist.
And don't compare yourself with famous authors. Nearly everyone says not to do so. P.S. We all want to see our books made into movies. Don't mention it in the query.

Katrina S. Forest said...

Witherec - I have heard the same advice about comparing your novel to others in the genre. The problem comes when you compare yourself with someone who's a household name. First, no matter how it's phrased, it sounds like you're thinking way too highly of your own work. And second, it doesn't demonstrate any knowledge of the market, because everyone knows who Stephen King is. Personally, I would leave the comparison out unless an agent's guidelines specifically ask you to have it in there.

I also have to add to the Shark's words about only robbing people who obtained wealth through "unlawful ways." How does Scott know they got their money unlawfully? And how many unlawful rich people live in this area that he always finds a new one to steal from? It feels like you, the author, are afraid to have Scott do something that's seriously immoral, such as robbing an innocent person, so you've placed these convenient evil people there for him to rob instead. Don't be afraid to let your MC be in the wrong. It can add a lot to his character.

Good luck!

jdh said...

Make him a meth addict. Those suckers are cunning and relentless. Oh, but then again, a meth addict wouldn't care about the prostitute, horrors or government overthrow, so scratch that.

In making a decent guy an unwilling addict, I sense you are trying to show he is redeemable. He didn't have a choice about becoming addicted. He was a school teacher. Before the accident, he stood at crosswalks and helped old ladies cross.

Toss out the drug connection altogether. Make him a Robin Hood who bites off more than he can chew.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Yipes.

Lemme see if I have this straight:

He's got a "nerve condition" (should be "nerve damage", as "condition" is usually congenital)that means he can't work.

He's doped up on Oxy, which means he can't think.

Yet, he's got super sneaky thief skills.

Yeah... um... no.

Jo-Ann said...

Hi Author- good to see your skin's thickening!

A thriller needs lots of twists and turns. The writer needs to keep on upping the ante to make sure those pages keep on getting turned.

A query doesn't need that many elements. Your query feels tightly packed with detail at the moment.

One theme that emerges from the posts is poor credibility of a major plot point- ie, an oxycontin dependent MC being bedridden and unable to work yet able to break into homes.

You have the experience with oxy to know what is and isn't possible, but the rest of us dont. Your challenge is to word it in such as way so that it isn't hitting the BS-detector, or to omit it altogether. If you do so you'll need to find a way to show the reader Scott's motivations for breaking into houses.

Difficult? Yep. Impossible? Well, revise and let the shark be the judge!

Good luck, I look forward to the next installment.

Shane said...

I would keep this part:

A small town burglar discovers a shackled prostitute in the mayor's basement. THE END

That right there is enough to write 80,000 words of a thriller. The characters could define the book based on that concept. You could go any number of ways with that jumping point...

Graceful Space said...

The plot seems totally unlikely and incredible, yet also just the kind of unlikely and incredible plot that gets made into movies all the time. These are not the kinds of movies I enjoy or watch, so a book with this kind of plot does not appeal to me either, but does that necessarily mean it's unpublishable? Are people more willing to watch movies with unbelievable plots than they are to read books with unbelievable plots? I don't read this kind of book, if it exists, so I'm just wondering...

Ashley Girardi said...

Are people more willing to watch movies with unbelievable plots than they are to read books with unbelievable plots?

Uh...of course. Snakes On a Plane would NEVER be a book. Movies are a method of visual storytelling so it's much easier to suspend disbelief. If you're shown something fantastical on screen then at least one sense is automatically engaged. With writing, you're asking the reader to imagine it along with you. Completely different.

To the author: this story doesn't seem unsalvageable. Pare down the query and focus on the essential plot points. You've already been given a substantial amount of advice. Good luck.

AA said...

I agree with Ashley about movies.

My take on it is: you're spending a lot more time with a book than a movie. If you watch an hour-and-a-half movie, you're not making nearly as much of a commitment to the storyline.

Fast-paced movies and tv shows tend to put people in an almost meditative state in which the critical part of the brain is disengaged. Few people can read without engaging critical thinking skills, however.

Joseph said...

I thought my pointing out the discrepancy between him having a crippling injury that prevents him from working and yet being able to run around and break into people’s houses was pretty helpful!

I was mostly joking when I said that I thought it might be Lynchish fever dream, although that might actually be an interesting idea for a story (akin to the unreality of Brett Easton Ellis).

I don’t know that you need to make the thief more sympathetic. Thieves, rogues, jerks, etc. are often interesting because they do and say the things we fantasize about, but never would. They don’t even necessarily need a clear motive—Iago didn’t have one. It’s a gamble, but anti-heroes can work very well. This just seems like a soup with a lot of ingredients that don’t go together. You should put the manuscript away and read it again in a few weeks with a fresh eye, trying to see how, exactly, all these elements hang together. Complicated stories work because at heart they tell that old chestnut: Act 1, get the character up a tree. Act 2, throw stones at him. Act 3, get him out of the tree. Summarize that and include the important characters as they have bearing on the hero’s journey. If they have genuinely interesting arcs (which they should, which adds flavor) that ultimately influence the fate of the hero (so it’s satisfyingly complex), provide context (without digression).

I do think it sounds like a genuinely interesting story though because you are obviously excited by it and you’ve taken pains to try to be inventive in your storytelling—the essential skill of a good writer. If you’re similarly inventive in the way you tell the story in brief, then you’ll pique interest.

Also, if the writing is good and the story excites, people will believe pretty much anything.

Joseph said...

Oh, sorry to post again, but the first paragraph is what led me to believe that it might all be a crazy dream. The bit about the young lady he falls in love with can either go or you can make her sound more interesting.

Draconium said...

Christine:

Technically hook is the inciting incident in a story. It's the event that sets all the subsequent events into motion. It poses the question that creates the tension that will keep the audience interested till the resolution. Am i being clear?

It's the moment about 15 minutes into a film where the stakes are raised and the audience goes "holy crap, what's next?!" and the rest of the film goes about answering that question. In Thelma and Luise, it's the moment Thelma shoots the rapist in the parking lot and nice vacation transforms into a fast paced run from the law. That's an extremely dramatic example, but you get the idea. You're trying to catch the readers attention, create a tension, and leave them wanting more.

morphine-moniza said...

The story's a bit messy right now. You should probably just focus on the most significant plot points for the query and ignore the other stuff. Good luck!

M. G. E. said...

Scott decides he can’t watch his father suffer any longer, and believes there is only one option left. He will have to become the type of person he despises, and turns to a reluctant life of burglary.
You've lost me here too. And it's not just a problem, this is absolutely fatal.

This back-story does not pass the sniff test, and even the most simple-minded reader is going to realize that resorting to burglary is never something to which one has "no choice" in, especially for one who has such strong feelings about criminals as you depict him.

So, what I'm saying is, you likely need an entirely new backstory for this character.

You can really only make robbers sympathetic when there's oppression going on, such as a Robin Hood tale. Otherwise you just have an anti-hero.

"Scott breaks into the home of Mayor Stone, and gets the shock of a lifetime when he finds a deadly secret in the cellar."
- Your query starts here, although you need maybe one line of introduction for Scott, something like:

"Scott is a reluctant criminal, having turned to burglary to support his pain-killer addiction after a back-breaking motorcycle accident.

When Scott burglarizes the mayor's house, he's shocked to discover that Mayor Stone is a white supremacist blah..."

Still, that doesn't fix how cliche your bad guys are.

I still say your story makes me suspect didacticism, primarily the title which makes me think you're going to try to connect the lone mayor to some larger national shadow group of racist rulers.

Lastly, I don't like the phrase "deadly secret." It sounds like it means a secret that kills you if you know it >_> A "dangerous secret" is one where you can get killed for knowing it. That may be more apt.

Stephanie Barr said...

1/2/11 Rev - I like this rev better, but I have to go with the other comments I've seen. I'd focus on the burglar-stumbling-into-a-crime-but-can't-go-to-the-cops-because-he's-a-crook angle. For me, the drug interaction, the would-be Robin Hood aspect, hard to sell in a short query and almost apologist.

The story is this crime he's uncovered, isn't it, and the risk to himself if the "really" bad guys find out he knows as well as his inability to go to the authorities with it directly. That seems like enough to hold the story together.

Lehcarjt said...

Ditto to what MGE said. The jump to burglary made no sense to me. My first thought was to wonder why he just didn't get a job as a teacher. Or at McDonald's. Or as a janitor.

Meaningless Prose said...

What's stopping the guy from getting government aid?
Not fool-proof or anything, but there is unemployment, disabled and such programs, why isn't he applying to them?
Maybe you should cut the back story so that these types of question won't come up, though I hope they are answered in you novel.

jjdebenedictis said...

Oh, this is much better! Good work, and keep going! :)

Stephanie Barr said...

1/9/2011 Rev -

Oh, this is much better. I like the substance in the query, particularly with what QS has excised, and see what I'm looking for in the story.

Clean and polish and you can have a win.

Joel said...

Dude. Read the first comment ... read the last.

Way to go.

A few notes:

1. Give them first and last names in the query. It reassures you're not making little cardboard cutouts with your safety scissors: Detective Alejandra Jones? Teddy Jones? Mickey Jones (it's Orlando ...)

2. Is it cellar or basement? Remember that you can't live without a sump pump in the basement, and that can they flood in hurricane season …. Oooooh. Hurricane Season.

3. "Too scared to go to the police ..." Scared is weak and contradicts the bravado of breaking into the Mayor's home. Try: suspicious, cynical, or just "Scott isn't"

4. Remember that Stephen Sondheim has a rhyming dictionary. A thesaurus, gently applied with a soft cloth, can do wonders.

5. You need a hot chick. And not a basement babe with raccoon eyes and a gingham dress ripped from her shoulder. Someone as smart or smarter. His doctor? One of the new moms from his support group (lawyer?) Candor yet support.

6. Carry the PNE carefully, like a migraine, not like an addiction.

7. You're at 161 words with QS's cuts ... consider a sidekick/babe to break it out of the pack.

Joel said...

Scott decides to stop Mayor Stone before blood flows, but the cops are closing in. And now he’s waited too long. Detective Jones discovers Scott’s identity—and so has Mayor Stone. Outnumbered and out of time, Scott has only hours to stay free—and stay alive.

[Beware alliterative, bland, monosyllabic names: Scott. Stone. Jones. Sounds like accountants. Dude: it’s Miami. Don’t use synonyms in the same sentence: cop and police. Sabotage is oddly weak. So is: stop, foil, disrupt, ruin. The problem with the sentence starts before it reaches the object. Bloodshed is cliché. Identity? Is he a superhero? Rely on his wits? Cliché. Secure his freedom? Keep his freedom. And hopefully his life? Should go the other way. (I’m a sucker for an em dash. Don’t follow my example.)]

Stephanie Barr said...

1/17/Rev - Getting there.

Perhaps some insight into the nature of the deadly secret and the stakes for Scott, not only if he tries to foil Stone's plan despite the cop's pursuit, but if he decided to look the other way. He has a choice, let us know the stakes.

Jen said...

I prefer the previous version (after the Shark's revisions) -- the one starting with "Scott Harris, a young man who turns to a reluctant life of burglary..."
It was sharper and had more energy.
I'm not buying Scott's motivation to become a burglar (explained in previous versions of the query but dropped in the later ones). Someone who suffers from debilitating pain and can't hold down any regular job is an unlikely candidate for complicated break-ins.
Are you trying to model Scott after the thief in David Baldacci's ABSOLUTE POWER?

Gisele said...

I think the Shark is spot on. Deleting the first paragraph tightened up the narrative and the pace.

I would suggest also deleting the entire paragraph about Scott's reluctance about going to the police. It's weak and it is slowing down the pace. Consider how much stronger this sounds:

"...[The Mayor] is using his trusted position as cover, quietly plotting in the shadows. He leads a sleeper cell outraged with what’s happening to their country. The group is ready to change things their way – and ain’t nothing in this world solved without violence.

Unfortunately for Scott, there’s bad news creeping up: Detective Jones finds out who he is, and what’s worse – so has the mayor..."

Writer, I think you are almost there. Your next revision will probably be a winner.

Good luck.

Theresa Milstein said...

The new query is much better. I'm glad Query Shark took out the first paragraph, which more about being clever than about substance. You're so close now.

Stephanie Barr said...

Rev 5 - I'm liking the new rev better, too. I agree with the first paragraph deletion and think you need a new lead in sentence for the new second paragraph, something that ties in with the second sentence about "so much heat around" - I felt like he was blushing.

I'm not sure the conscience/surf things works anyway. New sentence, and I'd think you really have something.

Way to go.

Theresa Milstein said...

What a turnaround - excellent query. Congratulations!

Stephanie Barr said...

And all your hard work paid off.

Way to go! I'm glad you didn't give up.