Saturday, July 24, 2010


Dear Query Shark,

For eight years, Daniel Schmidt has been doing his best to support himself and his abusive, disabled mother. He took a job at a local grocery store, dropped out of college, sacrificed his future to look after her, and she has nothing but contempt for him.

How about I just smack Daniel around and tell him to snap out of it? It worked for Cher and Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck, right?

The trouble with this opening is that it makes Daniel sound like someone I don't want to spend a paragraph with, let alone a book with. What do you like about him? What motivated him to do all this sacrificing for his mother? Why didn't he leave her to be eaten by wolves?

I don't assume he's a selfless lad because of this; I see a spineless wuss. You've got to make us see his merits here.

One day, Daniel decides not to go straight home after work but to instead take a walk in the woods, and his life changes forever. He meets a young girl named Anja and feels compelled to follow when she invites him to come back to Herbst, a magical village deep in the woods. The villagers welcome him with open arms and for the first time in as long as Daniel can remember, he feels appreciated.

"Feels compelled to follow" is so passive I want to start smacking YOU around now, not Daniel. This is not the reaction you're looking for.

Herbst is a place where people who need to can escape their old lives and start over, and

This, right here, is where your story begins, and a much better first line:

Daniel desperately needs a fresh start. Herbst also can only exist as long as Anja does, and a man lurking in the woods is trying to kill her.

Why is someone trying to kill her? The story is not about how Daniel got there, but what happens now that he's there.

When Daniel and three other newcomers to the village come together to protect Anja, they find themselves up against more than just a man. They have to protect her from an embodiment of the evils of the world they left behind, who seeks to bring unending winter to the village of

This is so general as to be meaningless. You must be specific. "More than just a man"...does that mean he's also a woman? A goat? A shark? I know you mean something else, but this is not the place to be coy about what makes him more than a man.

Eternal Autumn, a 94,000-word fantasy novel, is complete and available at your request.

Thank you for your time,

Form rejection



(name redacted)
(address redacted)
(apartment number redacted)
(city state zip redacted)

If I mention this often enough will you stop doing it?


If I see this in a letter addressed to the Query Shark, your chances of getting on the blog drop to zero. If I see it, you haven't read the archives. Or you read the archives and didn't pay attention. I've mentioned this enough times that I'm starting long past boring myself.

Learn it. Know it. Follow the damn directions.

Dear Query Shark

Deep in an ancient forest, there is a little village called Herbst. Fiery autumnal hues light up the trees of the village year-round, the air is crisp and cool, and the mountaintops are capped with snow.

well, ok, sure but so what?

Unless fiery autumnal hues is the name of the protagonist, it doesn't belong in the first paragraph. And fiery autumnal hues is just plain bad writing. It doesn't say anything more than "red and orange." If you choose to describe red and orange leaves in some fancy way, it should add to the description not just gild it.

If I got this query I'd stop reading right here.

Not many of the villagers are originally from Herbst. Most of them came from ordinary places, like New York or Alabama. How they arrived at Herbst varies, but they all had two things in common – they all needed to escape their old lives, and a young girl named Anja showed them the way.

Describing New York as ordinary and like Alabama made me laugh out loud, and not in a good way.

"A young girl named Anja showed them the way" is actually pretty creepy. You've said this is set in real time, and real space when you invoke New York and Alabama. Thus you've limited your time and space to what will feel emotionally true to us here and now. The only thing I want to know about Anja is why she isn't in school and why she's running around like the Pied Piper of Pelham.

If you want to create a world where young girls lead people out of their old lives, you'd do much better to not invoke the present day.

Through each other’s support and Anja’s help, Herbst became a place where people could leave their miseries behind and start over.

So far, this sounds like Big Sur in the 60's plus nothing is happening. This is a bad sign.

At least, that’s what it used to be.

Finally you get to a point where there is some tension. This is in fact where your story and your query letter start: Herbst used to be a refuge for people. Then....

A stranger has arrived in the forest, hell-bent on murdering the little girl and destroying the village. When four newcomers to the village band together to protect her, they find themselves not only fighting against the new evil lurking outside the village gates but the evils of the old world they left behind, and they discover Anja’s true connection to the village of Herbst.

So, the stranger, I'm guessing he's not the protagonist? Too bad. He's the only interesting one here. Why is he hell-bent on this seeming wicked deed? Oh he just wants to kill her isn't a really compelling motivation (not that I haven't experienced it myself quite recently.)

Eternal Autumn, a 94,000-word novel for young adults, or those who wish they were still young, is available at your request.

If I hadn't stopped reading in the first paragraph, here's where I would have.

For starters, this isn't a YA novel at all. YA novels have protagonists in their teens (your novel doesn't). Generally they deal with issues or themes (and have plots) that are of concern to teen readers (your novel does not).

And "those who wish they were still young" is just rude.

Lots of adults read YA because it's good writing, not because they want to be 16 again. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to think of anyone in my office who reads YA who wants to be 16 again.

I see this kind of "oh my book is YA" now that YA is really hot. Unless you've read 150 YA books that were published in the last three years, you should not even think about writing a YA book or think you know what it is.

Thank you for your time,

This is a form rejection.