Friday, January 15, 2010

Sorry guys, the spammers have been at it again

Comment moderation is ON.

Generally I won't reject any comments other than ones that are insulting to the writer of the query.
Insult me all you want, that's ok, but not the queriers. I have a bully pulpit. They don't.

And please for godiva sake would someone invent an anti-spam comment program. At this point I'd be willing to pay cold hard cash for one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A momentary lull in the bloodletting

More than two thousand writers have offered up their queries to the Shark.

As you can see from the post numbers, we're really behind (don't worry, Q is for query, not quit: we're not stopping!)

I want to pause for just a moment between eviscerations to say how much I respect your participation here. Some of you send queries, some of you write comments, some of you just read the blog. I consider all of you to be part of The Chum.

I know this exercise in brutality (is there really any other accurate description?) works. We've all watched some of the queries go from raw to polished. It does work. But, that does NOT mean it's easy.

It is, in fact, very very hard. You have to gather up your courage just to send a letter, then have it posted, endure the critique, then take it to heart but not take it personally, and then try again.

Each person who gets a query posted on this blog has a chance to have it taken down.
Of the 143 posts I've done, only 6 have elected to do so.

Recently, in reply to the email I send to authors with posted queries reminding them they can have their post taken down, one writer replied:

In no way, shape, or form, do I want my query removed. How could I offer a more, improved, version if the original wasn't still posted?



That sentence right there is the best evocation of rock solid iron clad determination I've seen in some time.

Writing can be learned.
Syntax can be taught.
Determination is yours and yours alone.

I can't teach it, foster it, or help you find it. All I can do is recognize it and respect it. You've earned your scars here.



Now, enough lallygagging by the compliments buffet. Back to work. And yes, I mean YOU.

Monday, January 11, 2010

#143-Revised

Dear Query Shark:

Elizabeth will be convicted of sedition and Transported. Jocelyn, exposed for the spy she is. Meredith hanged for piracy.

Is there a reason the t in transported is capitalized?

That's what will happen to her sisters should Alicia Atherean choose to ignore the instructions outlined in a letter penned by the most influential persons in London.

I'm a big fan of starting where the story starts. Here it seems to be: If Alicia Atherean ignores the instructions of (insert blackguard's name) then (list all that stuff from the first paragraph).


Now here's where your query falls apart. The very next sentence should be: If she DOES follow instructions then (equally, possibly even more, dastardly event) will happen.

The juxtaposition gives you a sense of the stakes and tension. Everything you have right now is just blathery set up.

Then you say what the instructions are and they should be heinous.

The letter details the reason why the four of them have been threatened. A conspiracy exists. Should it come to fruition, the result will strip India of its sovereignty and shift the balance of power within the British Empire away from the Crown and Parliament.

blah blah blah

Her blackmailers have decided that Alicia and her sisters are uniquely situated to prevent that from happening as those orchestrating the conspiracy want her and her sisters dead.

more blah

They will be bait, but not forsaken. Persons of exceptional skills and powerful motivations have been dispatched to assist each of them.

more of same

One such person, Michael Sayre, a Lieutenant with allegiences to Whitehall and the Guards, sits in front of her now and awaits her answer.

Is he the blackguard? I just want to know who the bad guy is.

I'm increasingly annoyed by queries that clearly haven't run a simple spell czech. 

She'll go. She'll do what she has to do. But not just because of the threats levied against her sisters.

The true incentive to ensure her cooperation is the promise detailed in the third paragraph of that letter.

We're way too far in to the query for this little piece of news. The stakes must be earlier.

Her blackmailers will make the outstanding warrant for her arrest, issued nearly ten years ago for murder, disappear.

I hope she murdered someone truly dastardly or you're having us root for a murderer. Not that I don't of course-- all things being equal-- but you're writing for a more genteel audience than the bloodthirsty denizens of The Reef.

Valkyrie Park: A Lady’s Gamble is the first in a four-part series of historical adventure novels set during Napoleon’s ‘Hundred Days’. It follows Lady Alicia Atherean from her Hell in Calcutta to a secret rendezvous in London. At 120,000 words, the novel is complete. The next three books, detailing the adventures of Their Ladyships Elizabeth McMorrow-Catherwood, Jocelyn Rosemonte, and Meredith Rhethage, are in various stages of completion. Thorough outlines for each book are available.

oh nooo. No no no. Time to break the bad news that this is a million word saga is later. Much later. Like---if asked in a hopeful tone "is there more."


Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,

This still isn't sharp and focused enough.  Get rid of all the blather. Set up the stakes of the book. That's all we really need to know. All you have to do is entice me to read on. 


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

Winter, 1815: Four women – each made sisters by childhood tragedies – are forced, by threat of the hangman’s noose, to commit treason against the Crown for the sake of the Crown.

A devious plan to seize total control of India, and assassinate the Prince Regent should the need arise, is discovered. All available clues point to persons operating within the East India Trading Company. The vicious scheme would have succeeded more than twenty years ago had not a certain French upstart embroiled all of Europe in war.

In an up-stairs room at Almacks, a desperate countermeasure is devised. 

You've set the scene with the first two paragraphs. NOW you have to get specific: who are the players and what's at stake.

If a warmonger caused these men to halt their machinations the first time, then – God, forgive them – he shall be re-released onto the world once more. Only then, while victories are achieved with cannon, shot and blood, will this group of men within the East India Trading Company be vulnerable to investigation.

I absolutely do not understand what you're trying to say here. Who is them? The four women release Napoleon from Elba? 

The stakes are high. If these men succeed, there will be no way to remove them from their places of power and persuasion. Should these four women – a Privateer, a Calcutta madam, a spy in King Louis court and a Midland raider – win the day, then the ruling seat of the British Empire remains in London and they get to keep their heads.

I just don't have a sense of what's going on here. You've got to be very specific about what happens.

The clock is ticking. The challenge to Bonaparte’s rampage commenced the moment Napoleon sailed from St. Elba. The moment the Frenchman concedes defeat is the same moment in which these men will execute the final steps in their plan.

I'm not sure what the connection is between seizing control of India and anything going on in Europe. You said there is one, but not what it is. Or why it's important.

At 125,000 words, Valkyrie Park is a female-centric novel steeped in historical fact and rich adventure set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s ‘Hundred Days’.

You're telling me this is a female-centric novel but only talking about men. I know you're trying to avoid character soup, but this isn't the way to do it.



Thank you very much for your time and your consideration.

This doesn't work yet.

 -----------
Dear QueryShark:

VALKYRIE PARK: A Lady's Gamble


Don't start with the title.

Alicia Atherean cannot step foot in London , or any other town in Britain . For those who commit murder, even if it was ten years ago and the only means to prevent the sale of her younger sister’s virginity, there is no justification, has no Statute of Limitation, no appeal. Especially when there was – is – a witness.

Your first sentence is good. Then you switch into a much more distant, narrative voice. "For those" is the culprit. And there IS a justification; you just told us what it is.

Now a Calcutta madam, Alicia – Mesteren as she is now called – operates her establishment Odin’s Fare as one of India ’s premier hells. Only her adopted grandfather, a sitting Board member for the East India Trading Company, knows that Lady Atherean and Mesteren is the same person.

Ok, but, where does the story start? So far I know she can't go back to London, and she's in India. This isn't an actual plot.

She’s used to doing what she has to do in order to keep her employees safe and her past a secret. That’s why, when she finds out about a break-in at her grandfather’s house and hears reports of two different men quietly interrogating her staff, she issues orders to have the perceived perpetrators brought to her.

Still no plot. And by plot I mean a reason to care about what happens, a reason to read on. So far this is just description. It's not BAD description but it's also not enticing description.

Graeson Allerton, a member of the Calvary Guards, can’t leave London just because the esteemed and highly influential Lady Constance Hawthenford deems it. Jonathan Ward, a former Whitehall ‘Finder’ and life-long friend of Allerton, is selected as a comparable replacement. Ward is talented, tenacious, and doesn’t share a past with the woman he’s being sent to find.

and we're done. You've got too many characters here and nothing enticing. There's NO connection with Alica. You assume "the woman he's being sent to find" will convey "Alicia" but it does NOT. In short form writing i.e. query letters you don't have enough time or space to call characters anything but their names OR their primary relationship to the main character.

Jonathan notes everything Gray tells him about Alicia: the little he knows of the status of her sisters, the Hawthenford connection, and the last time Gray actually saw Alicia – when she shot a man at point-blank range. Jonathan also takes possession of a very important letter, a letter that Jonathan cannot fail to hand-deliver to Alicia.

This is over written. Too much detail, but not enough sense of what's at stake here.


Jonathan is primed for action. Increasingly restless since Bonaparte arrived on St. Elba, hanging about Whites and propping up walls at balls and soirees are habits he doesn’t enjoy fostering. He’s looking forward to committing his considerable talents to the task of locating a long lost Lady by the deadline Hawthenford imposed.

For Jonathan, the trick to finding someone has everything to do with making them wanting to find you more than you want to find them.



What four women? I know who you mean from the previous edition of the query but in this query I don't.

Also, focus on ONE main character, and her plotline. You can say it's a "sweeping saga" of some sort to let me know there are lots of people, but much like if you were querying for GONE WITH THE WIND you'd mention only Scarlett and Rhett; maybe Ashley, and that's it.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

This is too jumbled and unenticing to catch my eye yet. I might read a page or two of the novel cause we're all looking for good historicals, but I'm pretty sure this is a form rejection.


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

November, 1814: Four women are blackmailed with deportation, incarceration, exposure and treason into rescuing the sovereignty of a nation and the life of the Prince Regent.

Rescuing the sovereignty of a nation? What the heck does that mean? And how is someone blackmailed with deportation? Or Incarceration? Or exposure? Or treason? These sentences literally do not make sense to me. This is a VERY bad sign in a query. Don't be afraid of plain writing. It's harder to do than it looks. Simple direct sentences are the bones of the query. Start with them.


Alicia: living in exile for murder, she has become Mesteren, a successful Madam in India.

Meredith: wilful and fearless, more pirate than privateer, she’s well-aware that someone within the Admiralty wants her head in a noose.

Jocelyn: a Whitehall spy stationed in Paris and trapped between those aligned with King Louis, those faithful to Bonaparte, and those intent on achieving power of their own.

Elizabeth: resentful of the trappings associated with a title she never asked for, she finds satisfaction in raiding the countryside and smuggling contraband with her band of marauders.

This is a list of characters who have some sort of nefarious past. It doesn't tell me a darn thing about what happens in the book.

These four women – aristocrats by birth, criminals by choice, and sisters by circumstance - possess the talents and tools to accomplish what men of power and stature cannot: to thwart a conspiracy devised by a group of men within the East India Trading Company to make their boardroom the true seat of the British Empire.

Ok, so here you finally get to the plot. And again, you're lost in your phrases. What exactly does the East India Trading Company intend to do? Move Buckingham Palace to Bombay? Kidnap the King? Kidnap the Queen and marry her off?



Valkyrie Park is an 85,000 word historical romance novel in the rich tradition of Diana Gabaldon and Stephanie Laurens.. Though I envision it as the first part of a four-part series, Valkyrie Park easily stands alone.

This paragraph made me laugh out loud. "Rich tradition" of Diana Gabaldon is a worthy goal, but I know you haven't come close even though I've not read a single word. This is how I know: 85,000 words.

If you look up the text stats on Amazon for OUTLANDER, Diana Gabaldon's amazing first novel you'll find it's closer to 300K. VOYAGER is 383K.

Even Stephanie Laurens' mass market paperbacks run 125K or so.


There's a reason for that: you need to build a world and furnish it. You can do it in 85K words. You can't do it well.


Also Valkyrie is from Norse mythology. It feels odd to have a book about the British Empire circa 1804 referencing Norse mythology, but that's probably just the Puritan in me.





Thank you very much for your time and for allowing me to present this query for your consideration.

Sincerely,


This is not compelling or enticing. I don't read enough of the category to judge if it's fresh or new, but my guess is some of the commenters will shed some light there.

Form rejection.

#142-Revised

Dear Query Shark,

Facing the end of college and the impending threat of real-world responsibilities, four friends jump at one last chance for a life of freedom and debauchery when one of them returns from South America with the exotic Goli fruit, a little green confection that alone does nothing, but when consumed with a generic brand of cereal flakes gives them the greatest hallucinogenic high the world has ever known.

That's one sentence.

I'm a very big believer in starting with the subject of the sentence, then the verb. If convoluted you must be, the place to start is not the sentence you place first.

With all the criminal know-how expected of a bunch of northeastern Ivy League choirboys, they set up shop selling little green fruit to college kids and enjoying the easy money. But before long, they learn the hard way that their perfect setup isn’t made to last when of their own makes a cross-country sales drive and finds himself held hostage in Colorado with half of their inventory at the mercy of their greatest fear: real criminals. Now, it’s up to the others to drop everything to save him and, if at all possible, their burgeoning business. Eighteen hundred miles and a whole cast of nefarious characters stand between them and the glory of Goli.


The start of your query is tucked in the middle of this paragraph. It's "Character X finds himself held hostage in Colorado." How he got there is immaterial. Start with the point where something actually happens.



Full of all the wild uncertainty that comes with adulthood and raging against the dying light of youth, Goli Oats weighs in at about 101,000 words and is the first of three thematically-related novels I intend to produce in what I call the “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll Trilogy.” Goli Oats embodies the “Drugs” facet and my next novel, Blue, which is already partially completed, will address the “Sex”, followed by the third, Groupie, which pertains to, of course, “Rock ‘n Roll.”

blah blah blah. You haven't sold me on the first novel yet, so the fact you plan two more is wasted on me. MORE about the plot of the first novel will be much more persuasive than anything.

My name is (redacted) I am from Atlanta, Georgia, and a Film Studies and Journalism student at the University of Georgia in Athens. I have spent my entire life with a tenacious drive for writing and storytelling in one capacity or another. I am firmly dedicated to building my career as a novelist and am looking for the agency that can assist me in that effort now, at the beginning, and throughout my career.

I will know your name and your hometown from your signature and contact info. I don't care where you go to school. I don't care about your tenacious drive for whatever. The ONLY thing I care about is whether you can write well, and if this is a novel I want to read. Focus on that.

Thank you and I look forward to working together,


Form rejection

------------------
Attn. :
Query Shark

It's an endless source of amusement to me that a noticeable percentage of writers have a hard time with Dear (whomever). I've seen TO: I've seen just my name. I've seen Greetings; I've seen Hello! and a few others that made me laugh. Standard business letter format includes a salutation. Attn: is not a salutation. It's a mail stop directive. If you just can't bring yourself to use the standard business format of "Dear Query Shark" I suggest "Good morning"

Four friends, facing the end of college and the impending threat of real-world responsibilities, jump at one last chance for a life of freedom when one of them returns from South America with a strange wonder drug and sends them hurling down a path of excitement and danger in the tireless pursuit of the quick score and easy living.

This is so general as to be meaningless. It's also not very interesting. Four college kids decide to become drug dealers?

Goli Oats, the first novel in the Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll Trilogy from writer (redacted), is the sensational story of four young, misguided but well-meaning friends facing the daunting prospects of careers they don’t want, pre-determined futures, and a lifetime of corporate-sponsored boredom.

You're talking about yourself in the third person. You're telling, not showing about the novel. This is where I'd stop reading.

Their grim outlooks, however, are suddenly brightened when one of them returns from a year-long sabbatical in the jungles of South America with a strange fruit which, when eaten alone, does nothing, but when paired with a generic brand of bland cereal flakes gives them the greatest hallucinogenic high they have ever known.

A college student takes a year long sabbatical? Unless things have changed since I was in college, this doesn't make any sense. Professors take sabbaticals after years of teaching. Students may take a semester or a year abroad, but those aren't called sabbaticals.

Seeing a once-in-a-lifetime way out of all of their problems, they ready themselves for the trials of building a fruit-drug empire that will span the country, entangle them with an ever-widening cast of nefarious characters, and bring excitement and troubles they never dreamed of facing.

This is meaningless description.

Full of all the wild uncertainty that comes with adulthood and raging against the dying light of youth, Goli Oats is at once a completely fresh take on the drug world epic, an indictment of corporate hypocrisy and a slightly twisted, fruit-addled buddy comedy. Just don’t feed it to your goat.

If you tell me this book is a comedy, and the query letter isn't funny or amusing, there's a problem. A big one.

"Drug world epic" is not a category I'm familiar with. If you're offering a fresh take on something, there has to be an old take on it first.

(Author) is from (place), and a student at the (school). He has spent his entire life with a tenacious drive for writing and storytelling in one capacity or another. Though his creative efforts thus far have been primarily devoted to musical performance and composition, short stories and screenplay writing, with an aim to further himself in both acting and filmmaking, his passion for the last year has been the authorship of his first novel, Goli Oats. Goli Oats, weighing in at about 101,000 words, is the first of three thematically-related novels he intends to produce in what he calls the “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll Trilogy.” Goli Oats embodies the “Drugs” facet and his next novel, Blue, which is already partially completed, will address the “Sex”, followed by the third, Groupie, which pertains to, of course, “Rock ‘n Roll.” Through his writing, he tries to bring his own unique voice to rather unconventional themes and ideas predicated on a strong base of social satire and embellished with lively, exciting characterizations. He is firmly dedicated to building his career as a novelist and is looking for the agency that can assist him in that effort now, at the beginning, and throughout his career.

Don't ever talk about yourself in the third person in a business letter. It's just plain bad writing.
The query letter should be about the book. You've got almost as many words about you and your plans (203) as you do about the book (255). More about the book. A lot less about you, particularly since none of it is an actual writing credential.


Thank you and I look forward to working together,

Form rejection

Sunday, January 3, 2010

#141-Revised 4x

Dear Query Shark,

Guardians can defeat any injury or illness, and for around three hundred years have brought about great improvements in people’s lives. Yet these acts are nothing compared to what could happen if a certain fourteen-year-old mustered up the desire to resume his dead father’s cause.

yikes, where did this come from?

Three years ago, Will’s life was shattered. Now, he has rotten prospects, faded dreams, and an old note which hints that his father may have actually chosen to die. Translated, that means something else was more important than staying alive—to be with him. Everything Will believes about his father unravels when he uncovers evidence of a double life kept hidden for over a decade.


Will becomes the target of growing suspicion (by whom?) after another person (who?) connected with the note disappears. When he sets out to discover his father’s past, he learns something else: his father possessed a significant, otherworldly artifact (be specific), which is now missing. His problems worsen after when word gets out that its power might be transferred to anyone who could (yes, forcibly) claim it–and he doesn’t know where it is or what it even looks like.


The trouble with that is? Everyone thinks he has it.

Then he meets Soren, who seems to know more about Will’s fate than Will does. Will is drawn to the frailties and mysteries of the aging monarch, yet fearful of his protection. As violence increases across a once peaceful land, and the guardians begin to disappear, Will must ask himself if Soren is his savior or the one who will lead him to his demise.

You don't need any of this. This is a quest novel. It's Will's story. All you need to do is tell me what Will needs to do to reach his goal.

Will needs to find the artifact--if he can first find the desire, then the courage--to continue what his father believed to be so very worthy. Oh, and the life of poverty thing should be fixed also. But what can one solitary boy do?


THE SAME SPIRIT is complete at 86,000 words. It is YA fantasy adventure and my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


This is getting better except for that first paragraph. Good name change. Pare down to the essentials. Get some vivid word choices in there.


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

Sixteen-year-old Percy has a plan for summer vacation, and it doesn’t include discovering the truth of what happened five years ago. That was when his father died, and he has yet to accept his fate as a result of it: a hard life of poverty. Now he learns that his father may have actually chosen to die.

There's a missing paragraph here. You go from "a plan for summer vacation that doesn't include" to "look for the missing artifact" Something must have happened to change his plans. What was it? That's the key.

Also, five years is a LONG time for a kid. At sixteen, it's not quite a third of his life. Percy sounds a bit neurotic if he hasn't "accepted" what his life is like. If you notice other adventure/quest YA books, you'll notice the main characters may remember the past, but they don't really dwell there. They are trying to make things work in the present.

Percy also learns his father possessed an artifact which one day, along with its bearer, will unite all people when their very survival is threatened. (this is so general as to be useless) He is thrown into the kind of adventure he thought existed only in his father’s bedtime stories, but ill-equipped, for he has never set foot outside of their isolated seaside town. He must overcome an inherent mistrust of adults and learn to accept help - from one in particular. His problems worsen when he realizes that the artifact’s power might be transferred to anyone who could claim it…and he doesn’t know where it is, or what it even looks like.

You don't need a laundry list of the quest. What's the one thing he needs to do? What happens if he fails? What worse thing happens if he succeeds?

And the trouble with that is? Everyone seems to think he has it.

Percy needs to find the artifact, its proper bearer, and why his father was willing to die for it. Oh, and his own life story could also use a happy ending. But what can one solitary boy do?

SAME SPIRIT is complete at 86,000 words. It is YA adventure fiction and my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.


I'm pretty sure this isn't a category called adventure fiction cause I've never heard of that before. This is fantasy. Magic artifacts tend to be fantasy (or diet books, but those are shelved, perplexingly, in non-fiction)

This is getting better, but it's not there yet.
---------------
Dear Query Shark,

Percy was just eleven when his father died. The interment was private, nearly unnoticed. In fact, people went about their business as if William Moore had not existed. Now five years later, Percy learns that his father may have chosen to die.

Choosing to die - according to Percy - is just another way of saying that his father chose to leave; it means that he intentionally left them behind. Percy is angry, yet afraid to discover what the well-traveled William knew, why he isolated them near the sea, and with what he was involved – in particular, what he may have loved more than his family. Percy begins to ask questions about his father’s death, stirring what has been long dormant. The questions quickly arouse paranoid suspicion, and he realizes that now he has placed himself and his mother at risk. Powerful memories of his father, and vivid details of a stranger – scholar, actually - who had visited just before William’s death, drives Percy from his childhood home to follow his father’s path back to its beginning.


The story starts here, in the third paragraph:

Percy learns that his (now dead) father acquired an artifact believed to have survived through the end of the previous age.

Believed by whom? You don't need the word believed, and it creates the who believes problem.
Percy learns (no that) his (now dead) father acquired (insert name of what it is or something more specific than) artifact from the end of the previous age (what age? Ice? Dinosaur?)

It may have even stopped time, and much later, brought back the dead to their new world, now 300 years ago.

This sentence just leads to more trouble. You don't have enough time to explain any of the details without sounding muddled: "brought back the dead to their new world" leads me to wonder whose world, and why. Just leave it out.

Along with its bearer, the artifact is prophesied to one day unite all people when their very survival is threatened.

This is where a very plain noun-verb-clause structure is your friend. It is prophesied that one day the artifact and its bearer will unite all people when their very survival is threatened.


Many people are desperate to find it as sporadic violence begins to erode the peace which has reigned for decades. On top of not knowing what or where it is, Percy’s problems worsen when he realizes that the artifact’s power might be transferred to anyone who could claim it. He must overcome an inherent mistrust of adults and learn to accept help - from one in particular.

I strongly strongly strongly suggest that you write straightforward sentences. DO NOT lead with
these damn clauses all the time: Percy's problems worsen when he realizes... Then you put in And he has to find the artifact too or something like that.


If Percy doesn’t discover the origin of the artifact, its whereabouts, and why his father was willing to die for it, he will also fail to find the intended bearer, and his family’s hardship would have been for nothing. Whether his failure results in the end of an age, or his success ensures that the beginning continues, he will learn that parents are still important, friends necessary, and death can be a beginning instead of just an end – for one who surrenders to it, as well as for those who love them.

And when you stop there, instead of adding all this other stuff, you actually have something much closer to enticing.

THE SAME SPIRIT is complete at 86,000 words. It is YA adventure fiction and my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

You're improving but this is still a form rejection.


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

William Moore died when his son Percy was just eleven. The interment was private, nearly unnoticed. In fact, people went about their business as if he had not existed. Now five years later, Percy learns that a friend had feared for his father’s safety, had warned him to discontinue involvement in certain activities…and that William his father may have chosen to die, knowing that it had been foretold.

Start with the character who isn't dead for the entire book, ok? Percy was just eleven when his father died.

And I hate to break this to you, I but I foretell your death. Mine too. We ALL die. Thus "knowing that it had been foretold" is meaningless.

What Percy doesn’t know is that William Moore acquired an artifact believed to have survived through the end of the previous age. It may have even stopped time, and much later, brought back the dead to their new world, now 300 years ago. He also doesn’t know that along with its bearer, the artifact is prophesied to one day unite all people when their very survival is threatened.

If Percy doesn't know it, it doesn't influence his choices at the start of the book. Leave it out. It's like saying "Scarlett O'Hara doesn't know the south will lose so she whiles away the war in Miss Pittypat's parlor instead of learning to farm."

When Percy begins to ask questions about his father’s death. He arouses suspicion and inadvertently places himself and his mother at risk. To discover what William Moore knew, with what he was involved, and why he settled into their isolated, provincial community by the sea, Percy has no choice but to leave his childhood home and follow his father’s path back to its beginning.

Well he does have a choice. And that's why this is still not very focused. You're glossing over the choice he makes: to leave home and discover what his father knew, and why his father isolated their family OR to stay home and remain ignorant. IF he leaves home he risks (whatever he risks). If he doesn't, he'll (whatever he won't)

The query is not the place for a rundown of the entire plot. Focus on what STARTS the plot moving and entice me to read on. Be specific.

And a quick word about starting sentences with when, since, during, meanwhile, but, and: don't. Start with the subject. It will make the sentence stronger about 97.6% of the time, and if it doesn't THEN you start with something else.

However, being sixteen and also much like his father, he strays from his purpose. He quickly gets caught up in the wonder – and the danger - of a civilization which is struggling to build a utopia. He lives through false imprisonment for vagrancy, the murder of his friend’s uncle, and robbery. He doesn’t realize that the events are not unintentional – that being William Moore’s son, he is a curiosity to others who know what he has yet to learn. He may now be the bearer of the extraordinary, if it exists – or could its power be transferred to anyone who could claim it?

To fulfill his father's destiny, and ultimately discover his own, Percy must learn to accept help from others – one in particular - and resume his path, the one which was chosen for him.


THE SAME SPIRIT is complete at 86,000 words. It is YA adventure fiction and my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Form rejection
----------------------------------
(4 lines of address redacted)

DON'T PUT YOUR CONTACT INFO AT THE TOP. Yes, I'm shrieking. I see this all the time and it's starting to make me nuts. In an email query, your contact info goes at the bottom under your name. Don't waste the first 4, 8 or 16 lines of an email with something OTHER than the most important information: what your book is about.

Dear Query Shark,

The maturation of 16-year-old Percy Moore stalled five years ago when his father died, and left him lingering in their isolated, provincial community.

What? He stopped growing? He stopped maturing? He's lingering on his death bed? This is so general as to be meaningless. Be specific. Percy Moore's father dies and leave him alone in an isolated community. Then what?


He cocoons, and avoids adults with their curious stares.

What, his father was the first person to ever die there? He died from something suspicious? Right now this doesn't make sense. Why are people staring at Percy? And cocooning is one of those shelter-magazine buzz words meaning people stay at home with their entertainment systems. Is that how you mean it here?


But when he endangers his remaining family by discovering that his father’s death may not have been accidental, Percy is forced to leave his childhood home. He knows that he must either run to hide, or swallow his fear and seek out the details of his father’s mysterious past.

You'd think he'd want to leave if people are staring at him. Be specific about what the problem is.

What Percy doesn’t know is that his father had been foretold and accepted his own fate, and had armed and prepared his son to find the same path and accomplish what he would not.

His father had been foretold doesn't make sense. An event, not a person is foretold. And Percy doesn't sound armed or prepared at all to me.

As Percy journeys through the unfamiliar, gathering friends and straying from his original purpose, he also doesn’t realize that his father’s life and death is not a secret.

unfamiliar what?
uh...since when was it ever thought to be a secret?

William Moore was believed to possess a gift of unknown origin or value - brought about by his travels - which would one day bring people and lands together in a struggle for survival. Unaware that the events are related,

What events?

Percy lives through imprisonment for vagrancy, the murder of his friend’s uncle, and robbery. To survive, he must learn to allow adults – one in particular – into his life again and resume his path, the one which was chosen for him.

List the events, then say "the events are related" otherwise the reader doesn't know what events you're talking about. But you also don't want a list of events in a query. You want problem/conflict/consequences and choices.

This is so general as to be meaningless. Get back to basics. What's the problem Percy faces? What are the consequences? Answer that in fewer than 100 specific words.

THE SAME SPIRIT is complete at 86,000 words. It is YA fiction, the first of a 3-book series and also and my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Sincerely,


Form rejection.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

#140-revised twice

Dear Query Shark,

I am currently seeking representation for BECOMING, a 71,000 word young adult urban fantasy.

Claire Silver will never be the same after a high school prank goes terribly wrong and leads to her being mugged and left for dead. It’s not so much the trauma of the incident - especially since she has no memory of the attack - but the inexplicable, life-altering changes that follow in its wake.

A high school prank goes terribly wrong. Clair Silver is mugged and left for dead.
You can see there is a missing link here. Unless the prank is the mugging, the two don't seem to connect. You're better off leaving out the high school prank part out.

In a matter of days, Claire’s once dark indigo eyes transform into to an almost unnatural shade of teal. and sShe starts seeing extra layers of colored refractions surrounding everyday objects.Then s She develops weird food cravings – if one considers the flowers in her Nana’s garden to be food.

Claire has no idea what to make of these new developments until she makes friends with Skye Thompson, Skye is a new transfer student who recognizes a kindred spirit in Claire . She tells Claire that they are both Spirit Guardians; people who upon dying are brought back to life by ancient animal spirits joining with their own soul, giving the chosen vessel unique physical and spiritual powers. Claire has some serious doubts about her new friend’s sanity - until Skye uses her physical ability to jump fifteen feet in the air and her spiritual ability to temporarily make Claire as fearless as she herself is.

Just when Claire thinks that things can’t get any stranger, Jackson Chatfield, the guy responsible for finding who found Claire and taking took her to the hospital after her attack, starts to shows a sudden romantic interest in her. She almost can’t believe a guy so goldenly beautiful actually wants to date her.

As if beginning a whirlwind romance, struggling to deal with new abilities and coming to grips with the idea that her soul now has a roommate weren’t already enough to complicate Claire’s once quiet life, seemingly random acts of theft and destruction start plaguing her family. As the situation goes from bad to worse, Claire begins to see Jackson’s true colors - and they are far from golden or beautiful.

Jackson knows more about Claire and her new status than he’s been letting on. He’s been keeping secrets – secrets that may get Claire killed.

I have included some sample pages the first three pages and would be pleased to send the full manuscript upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Best Wishes,



This is getting better. Really really work on the rhythm of your sentences. And remember, it's not going to do you any good to polish up this query if you don't take what you're learning and doing here and apply it to the manuscript. (hint: that-ectomy is a GOOD idea; take out every single word you don't need.)





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

I am currently seeking representation for BECOMING, a 71,000 word young adult fantasy.

Claire Silver is an over-thinking, second-guessing, chronically-shy mess living anything but a fairytale life. Mugged and almost killed when a high school prank goes terribly wrong, Claire is saved by Jackson Chatfield, a guy so goldenly beautiful that he actually resembles the guardian angel that Claire romanticizes him to be. And, wonders of all wonders, Jackson actually appears to take a sudden romantic interest in little ol’ Claire.

We don't need to know all that about Claire. The only thing we need to know is what happens to her.

I'm not sure goldenly is a real word, but I think it actually works here.

This unexpected charming attention isn’t the only unusual thing that happens to Claire; the once familiar face in the mirror starts to look like a stranger. The eyes staring back at her go through a startling transformation from a dark indigo to a striking shade of teal. She also starts seeing extra layers of colored refractions surrounding everyday objects.

This is stuff we actually do need to know about Claire. The reason we need to know it is because it's what's changing. It's where the action starts.

Claire has no idea what to make of these new changes until she makes friends with Skye Thompson, a new transfer student. Skye recognizes a kindred spirit in Claire. She tells Claire that they are both Spirit Guardians; people who upon dying are brought back to life by ancient animal spirits joining with their own soul, giving the chosen vessel physical and spiritual powers. Claire has trouble believing any of this is real until Skye demonstrates her own powers before Claire’s awed eyes.

What does Skye do? Be specific. (I really hope it's not something like turning Scotch into water)

As if becoming guardian to an animal spirit wasn’t enough to complicate Claire’s quiet life, seemingly random acts of vandalism start plaguing her family and she learns that Jackson is harboring some pretty serious secrets of his own. What Claire doesn’t realize is that all these things are connected and that she and Skye aren’t the only Spirit Guardians in town.

Vandalism sounds like a petty annoyance. Is someone toiletpapering her house? Soaping her car windows? Probably not if (as we learn in the next paragraph, these things may cost Claire her life)

These oversights may cost Claire her very life.

Intermeshed in this supernatural fantasy is the tale of a vulnerable teen learning to be comfortable with who she is and discovering the importance of self-reliance when all else fails.

Focus on what moves the story forward. We don't need to know what the lessons are that will be learned. We just need to be enticed to read the book. I'm pretty sure intermeshed isn't a word.

Included with this query you will find a synopsis and sample pages for BECOMING. I would be pleased to send the full manuscript upon request.

This is better, but there's nothing compelling here. A kid discovers she has magical powers of some kind and it makes her a better person. This is as close to run of the mill YA fantasy as you can get.

Time to get out the imaginarium and get some layers in here. Turn some tropes on their ear. Confound me with fabulous ideas.

This is still a form rejection, but it's a whole lot better than the first version.

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


I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in young adult fantasy.

This is just about the worst way to start a query I can think of. I know you've been told (not here but elsewhere) to personalize a query with "why I picked you" but to be effective it has to be specific. This is so unspecific as to be icky. If you absolutely cannot resist putting in something about why you elected to query this specific agent, mention specific books, or an interview on a website, or their blog, or something individual to the agent.


My novel BECOMING is a young adult fantasy complete at approximately 71,000 words. It is my first novel and the first in a planned trilogy.

BECOMING is a 71,000 word young adult fantasy.


Claire Silver is an over-thinking, second-guessing, chronically-shy mess living anything but a fairytale life. But when A near death experience during her senior year of high school leaves her open to becoming the guardian to an ancient animal spirit, Claire must learn to accept the newly developing magic inside of herself and find the hidden strength she never knew she had.

I'm not sure what "leaves her open to becoming the guardian to an ancient animal spirit" means. Does it mean she's considering it or vulnerable to it?

Claire better learn her lessons quickly, because she’s not the only one with something to hide.

Well of course, we don't know that Claire herself has something to hide do we?

While trying to uncover who is behind the seemingly random acts of vandalism that are plaguing her family, Claire fails to take into account that she is part of a whole new world were nothing may be as it seems. If only she had realized that those around her were harboring hidden personalities and hidden abilities right under her nose.

This paragraph doesn't have any connective tissue to what came before. I'm assuming not everyone in Claire's family has had near death experiences (if they have, I'd like to be their life insurance agent) Are they all guardians of some sort of spirit?

Be specific.

It’s a mistake that may cost Claire her very life.

Come along for Claire’s journey and meet some of her fellow Spirit Guardians: Drake, the ill-tempered, darkly handsome loner deeply concerned about the safety of those he doesn’t even know - Jackson, the consummate gentleman with the face of an angel and a heart made of unfeeling ice - Kyra, the stunningly beautiful and attractive woman suffering from crippling insecurities that eventually drive her insane, and Skye, the fun-loving, laughing good-time girl, who has been terribly alone for the majority of her years.

This is a list of characters and without context, or any sense of how they relate to Claire, it's useless info. It's also cliche ridden, and that's the kiss of death in a query.

Enclosed you will find a synopsis and sample pages for BECOMING. I would be pleased to send the full manuscript upon request.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

This isn't specific and it isn't compelling. Form rejection.

#139

Book title: Force of Nature
Query word count: 2,059
Book word count: 111,866 (fiction, young adult, complete)
(name redacted)
(address redacted)
(city, state zip redacted)
(phone number redacted)
(email redacted)


Hello Janet/Query Shark:

If this reaches your eyes, thank you. I’ve appreciated all the comments I’ve read about the work you’ve posted thus far. You offer an amazing service to new writers – even if you never review their creations.

I’d like to publish my novel, and have enclosed a synopsis and a query here for your review. Your comments would be greatly appreciated for the re-write process.

Thank you for your time and consideration.




Synopsis, written by one of the characters:
(redacted)

Query (earlier in the book):
(pages redacted)

(End of query)

I’d be thrilled if you would read more of the book.


I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry here.

This isn't a query. This isn't close to a query.
Look at it.
It's a list of information about the book, including godhelpus the word count for the query. That's so far beyond useless information I just want to smack you with all previous 138 entries to the Query Shark and shriek, "DID YOU SEE THAT IN ANY OF THESE" particularly in the ones I said were good? No, no you didn't.

So, let's start out the new year with a refresher.

1. Don't put your contact information at the top of an electronic query. Put it at the bottom, under your name. If you're including pages in the real query to real agents, put your contact info below your name and BEFORE the pages.

2. A query is not a synopsis.

3. A query is not pages from the book.

Start over. Read the archives to see what works and what doesn't.