Sunday, August 29, 2010

#174-Revised 4x FTW

Dear QueryShark:

When personal injury attorney Addy Giordano is hired by a client who claims to have a horrific injury that causes the worse pain known to man, Addy is willing to do just about anything to prove that her client is the real deal and not pushing an insurance scam to its limit.

There ya go! This is exactly right. Main character, and her problem. The only thing we're missing here are the stakes. What happens if she fails?

As she searches for the truth about her client, Addy uncovers some secrets that could make or break the case – not to mention her legal career.

And there are the stakes! Yes yes yes!

With a trial date on the horizon, Addy’s job description gets hazier by the second. She isn't sure if she should be a lawyer who is supposed to present the facts, a juror who is supposed to determine the truth or a private investigator who is supposed to expose insurance fraud.


Nice!

Addy is sure about one thing; she wants to sock it to All American Insurance Company where it hurts the most – their pocket. God knows they have cheated so many of her worthy clients over the years. Plus, teaching All American’s defense counsel a lesson would be an added bonus. He has pulled off too many undeserved victories in the courtroom – not to mention the bedroom.


Yes!

Suited up for an award winning performance in a navy pin-stripe ensemble and her personal version of war paint, Addy marches to trial and decides to do whatever it takes to serve up some justice – even if it’s after the jury is long gone.

Yes!

Personal Injury PERSONAL INJURY is a legal novel. It is complete at 95,000 words. I have worked as an insurance defense trial lawyer for eighteen years.

Thank you for your consideration.


Well, nobody should ever underestimate you! You took A Query That Did Not Work, and got it into fighting trim.

This is a total win.

Take this puppy out for a spin and see the requests for fulls (I hope!) come in!

Very nice revision!


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Dear QueryShark:

It hasn’t been easy for Addy Giordano to maintain a sense of dignity while working in an area of the law associated with phony claims and ambulance chasers. In spite of this, when she lands the biggest personal injury case of her career, Addy decides it’s time to prove that not all personal injury plaintiffs are out to beat the system.

You don't have enough time and space in a query for all this description. Get to the story.


Addy definitely wants to sock it to All American Insurance Company where it hurts the most – their pocket. God knows they have cheated so many of her worthy clients over the years. Plus, teaching All American’s defense counsel a lesson or two would be an added bonus. He has pulled off too many undeserved victories in the courtroom – not to mention the bedroom. A big win for Addy would definitely put a stop to counsel’s soapbox about how jury trials are popularity contests, how Addy is naïve and how her clients are liars.

More than anything else, Addy needs a big win to prove to herself that there are still some good, honest people out there, and that she can make a difference in their lives. After all, it was her compassion for the weak and wounded that made her want to go to law school in the first place. To Addy, being bamboozled by her most promising client would be worse than losing to All American or hearing “I told you so” from defense counsel.


It’s Addy’s last chance to get the last word; it’s time for her to win and save face or lose and lose faith.
Addy will need more than her quick-wit, good looks and superhero mentality to convince a jury that her client is the real deal this time. the story----->Her client was in a minor accident but is claiming a major injury that is supposed to cause the worst pain known to man. To make matters worse, Addy’s client has some secrets and crimes against insurance companies are never easily proven – especially when the injury claimed can’t be seen on an x-ray or diagnosed by a test.

While searching for the truth about her client, Addy’s job description gets hazier by the second. She’s not sure if she should be a lawyer who is supposed to present the facts, a juror who is supposed to determine the truth or a private investigator who is supposed to expose insurance fraud.

Defense counsel’s job description is clear; he’s an actor who is hired to entertain the jury, distort the truth and win.

Suited up for her own award winning performance in a navy pin-stripe ensemble and her personal version of war paint, Addy marches to trial and decides to do whatever it takes to serve up some justice – even if it’s after the jury is long gone.


Personal Injury is a legal thriller. It is complete at 95,000 words. I have worked as an insurance defense trial lawyer for eighteen years.

This is really not a thriller.  I'm still not sure what it is, but "legal novel" or "commercial fiction" or maybe even "women's fiction" are more likely than "thriller."

This query clocks in at 485 words which means it's about twice as long as it should be.  The 250 word maximum should guide you to paring down to what you really need.  Think of it as writing a prose poem, where every word counts.

Right now you have a lot of description but not much substance. For all the description of Addy, I don't really care about her. She's a lawyer intent on doing good. Ok...and?

This doesn't work yet.

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

Addy Giordano is out to prove she’s no ambulance chaser when she lands the biggest personal injury case of her legal career. She has her work cut out for her though; Addy’s client was in a minor rear-end accident but is claiming a major injury that is supposed to cause the worst pain known to man.


Why is she out to prove anything? If she believes in the value of her work, and she's got a successful career, she's long past paying attention to anyone who calls her an ambulance chaser.

Unless of course it's her mother who's saying that.

To make matters worse, Addy’s client has some secrets and her injury can’t be proven by a test or seen on an x-ray.

In order to prove that her client is the real deal, Addy is led through medical school man-caves, convenience marts, paper factories, Italian diners, dead-end roads, theater classes and the backseat of her father’s 1973 Impala.

This is a list of events (I think.) What it's not is a sense of what's at stake for Addy. She loses the case. So what? She's not going to get disbarred, lose her house, lose her life is she? No. So what's at stake for her?

Along the way, Addy battles the personal agendas of doctors and insurance companies and the axe grinding of judges and other lawyers. Addy also teaches the razzle dazzle defense attorney from her past a thing or two about honesty, compassion and one night stands.

And more events without context. This is still not a plot.

The jury is left to decide if Addy’s client is truly injured or pushing an insurance scam to its limit.

And so what, again. There's nothing here about Addy.

Unfortunately, the defense attorney knows how to put on a hell of a show and Addy has found out the hard way that juries seem to lose sight of the truth during the theatrics of a trial. Fortunately, Addy also knows a thing or two about show business.

Addy’s role as an injury lawyer becomes hazier by the second, but she decides to do whatever it takes to serve up some justice – even if it’s after the jury is long gone.

Here's the first glimmer of something that might be a plot. What is she doing that isn't her role as an injury lawyer?

Personal Injury is a mystery and is complete at 94K words.

It's not a mystery. I'm not sure what this is, but there's no crime as far as I can tell.

I have worked as an insurance defense trial attorney for eighteen years.

Yea, and you're hamstrung by what you know can be real. This is a novel. You get to make stuff up. Go crazy. Invent stuff. LIE under oath!

I appreciate the chance to forward this query for your consideration.


Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is better, and less clunky, than the first versions but I don't see the plot at all.
There's certainly no crime.
That's pretty much a directed verdict for a form rejection.

Start over.
Show me what the stakes are for Addy.






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Dear QueryShark,

Allison Giordano is no ambulance chaser. With a briefcase in her hand and three inch pumps on her feet, she’s ready to show the “old school” boys a thing or two about personal injury law.


She's not going to have the briefcase on her feet or her pumps on her hands, so you don't need to tell us that's where they are. That's the kind of over writing that bodes ill for a manuscript.


Ally wants to be taken seriously but the type of law she practices is flooded with people trying to scam the system. It doesn’t help that she works for a guy who stars in cheesy late night television commercials. It also doesn’t help that she has a paralegal whose favorite task is gathering accident reports from the police station. To make matters even worse, All American Insurance Company is headquartered in the city where Ally works.


This is actually a better starting paragraph than what you have because it gives us a sense of what Ally wants. (I can not stress enough how much you need to change her name to something that is not immediately associated with a television show)


If Ally wants to be taken seriously why is she working for a cheeseball? You don't need any of this anyway. All you need is the first line.


Whiplash and low back sprains make for a monotonous day. So does dating an accountant during tax season. Ally’s seven month relationship with Michael Novak doesn’t give her any fun stories to share at her girls’ nights out. Plus, to her Italian family, a seven month relationship is four months too long without an engagement ring.

All of this is description without any kind of momentum.


Ally’s monotony at work becomes mayhem when she agrees to represent a woman who tore her rotator cuff in an intersection collision. Although it has nothing to do with the client’s injury claim, Ally learns that her client has a psychiatric illness that causes her to turn into various alter egos. Ally is forced to contend with two of them; a southern gal and a pirate.

When you read this, can you see how clunky it is? One of the things you need to develop is the ability to edit yourself. All first drafts (and most second and third drafts!) suck. That's ok. The trick is to see what needs to be fixed.


Consider this: Monotony becomes mayhem when a client turns out to be multiple...multiple personality. Ally meets a southern belle and a pirate. The question is which one got injured?


Of course, all of this has to come out because, as it turns out, it's not the main plot. That's the next paragraph.

Ally thinks her luck is finally changing when she meets Robyn Dillon. Robyn was in a severe rear-end automobile accident and has been diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia. Although Ally has never heard of this condition, she learns from her client’s doctors that the condition causes the worst pain known to man.


This is still very clunky. As a lawyer, you're used to spelling everything out. You can leave out at least half this paragraph and not only will it be less clunky, it will be more enticing.


Here: Ally's luck changes with Robyn Dillon, injured in severe car crash and now diagnosed with the condition doctors believe is the worst pain people can have...not that they can see it, measure it or test for it.


Of course, the insurance company and its defense attorney, Nicolas Sourvanos, haven’t heard of trigeminal neuralgia either. They learn that the condition lends itself well to insurance fraud since it is diagnosed based on what the patients says. There are no objective tests that can confirm its existence.

Again, clunky. Again, trim.


Ally learns that Nick will defend the case. Nick is no stranger to Ally. He was her law school classmate and prior one night stand – twice. He won their last trial together on nothing more than his charisma and ability to distort the facts. In his fifteen hundred dollar suits and tasseled loafers, Nick never misses an opportunity to taunt Ally about the legitimacy of her clients’ claims.


If Ally ends up with Nick at the end of the book there's got to something enticing about him. This paragraph makes him sound like a sleazeball, and certainly NOT someone I want to spend time with. That's death for a hero in a novel.


Ally prepares Robyn’s case as if it will go to trial. She raises the stakes by investing her own personal savings in the case. Then, she uncovers some secrets about Robyn’s past that make the legitimacy of her claim questionable.

Ally is quick to confront Robyn. However, Robyn provides a very credible explanation for why she withheld information about her past. Just to make sure Robyn’s claim is legitimate, Ally goes as far as conducting surveillance. She even invites Nick along.

In the absence of any conclusive evidence that Robyn is a fraud, Ally reaches for her dark navy suit and marches to trial. The jury returns a seven figure verdict in Robyn’s favor.

Months after the trial, Ally sees Robyn with the man who caused the accident that led to Robyn’s lawsuit. This makes it likely that the two of them staged the accident.

Although she’s enraged that Robyn scammed her, Ally accepts what she already knew; the courtroom is a place for lawyers to put on a show and not a place for lawyers to determine the truth.

She puts on her suit, grabs her briefcase, goes to work and moves forward with her next personal injury case.



Don't tell the entire story. Stop at the point where I want to read more.


Personal Injury is my debut novel. I have worked for twenty years as a trial attorney specializing in personal injury defense litigation.



Personal Injury is Romantic adventure, Chick-lit. It is complete at 90,000 words.


Pick one, and not any of those. I'm pretty sure I said this is a romance novel on your first version. Chick lit isn't hyphenated, and Never EVER use it in a query. The category is dead on arrival.


Thank you for your consideration.


This version is 649 words. Queries should run 250.


Clunky writing means this is a form rejection. I can and do overlook a lot of structural problems with a query, but if the writing doesn't hold up, even perfect form won't help at all.
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Dear QueryShark,

She’s no ambulance chaser. She’s Ally Giordano, the idealistic, sometimes naïve, always quirky plaintiff’s personal injury trial lawyer.

My reaction here is "so what" This is not the reaction you want. You want to entice me to read on. Is this enticing? No. Why not? Because you have done nothing but describe someone who sounds like a ditz.

Even tightening up the writing here will go a long way toward solving that problem.

Consider this: Ally Giordano is no ambulance chaser.

Leave out the description. SHOW us that she's all those things. With just that one sentence you get me to ask "ok then, what is she?"



Ally is quick on her feet, confident and is ready to show “the man” a thing or two. Her success never goes to her head. Deep down she’s a blue collar girl from a manufacturing town fighting for justice amidst all the nut-jobs and crack-pots she meets along the way.

And you're simply compounding the problem of paragraph one here; more description. All bland. None enticing.

I don't stop reading here because I'm hoping that it will get better.

Ally is in the midst of the largest personal injury case of her career. Her client sustained a debilitating neurological injury from a rear-end automobile accident – or so she claims.

You've got a syntax problem that makes me reach for the "thanks but no thanks" form reply.
The problem is "or so she claims" could mean the client claims, or it could mean Ally claims.

It's not totally clear to me. I know it is to you, and my guess is you mean the client claims, but one of the things a beta reader can help with on queries, is getting you to see stuff that you're too familiar with to be objective to see any longer. This is one of those things.

With the help of her neurotic Italian family and her flamboyant paralegal, the empathetic Ally is determined to help her sweet little client fight the evil large insurance company.


And we're done. I'd stop reading right here. If you're trying to be sardonic "sweet little client/evil large insurance company" it doesn't work because you can't just suddenly be sardonic. If you are actually writing a novel that has characters like this, you're writing a novel with cardboard cutouts. That sweet little client better have a dark side, and that evil large insurance company better have a heart, or you don't have anyone very interesting in the book.



In order to do so, Ally will be up against Nick Sourvanos, the insurance company’s handsome and savvy defense lawyer. Nick is Ally’s ex-boyfriend - of sorts. He is the polar opposite of Ally’s steady accountant boyfriend. Although Ally and Nick continually fight for the last word, they can’t seem to get enough of each other.


I'm sorry but this is such a cliche that I can't even offer a suggestion for revision.


Nick’s pessimism about the legitimacy of personal injury claims challenges Ally’s convictions about the sanctity of the legal system. Especially since her client’s neurological injury lends itself well to insurance fraud.

You've got too much going on here. Nowhere here do I get a sense of what the plot is. I get the sense of your cast of characters, but that's all.

Ally uncovers a series of facts about her client that makes the legitimacy of her injury claim questionable. Having faith in people, honesty and the legal system, Ally discounts the facts and marches forward with blinders on.

Why do you want to make your protagonist, the character with whom we are to sympathize and root for, sound like an idiot?


Unable to settle the case, Ally takes it to trial. Will the jury do the right thing? Will she teach Nick a thing or two about people? Will Ally’s faith in the legal system be confirmed? Does Ally really want to win the battle if it means loosing the war?

Don't do this. Don't ask rhetorical questions about the plot of the book. It invites the worst form of sardonic response in my head (not what you want) and it doesn't entice me to read on.

What other adventures are on the horizon for Ally?

Revisions are in store for Ally. Lots of them.


Personal Injury is my debut novel. I have worked as a trial lawyer specializing in personal injury defense for twenty years.

Yup, I figured that out in paragraph four. Like many professionals turning their hand to novel writing, you know too much about your field. It's really really hard to get doctors/lawyers etc to see that plot trumps process in a novel. By this I mean your characters and your plot have to be more interesting than the scenes about jury selection and speeches about the sanctity of the legal system (which is not a phrase I understand at all, but that's another story)



Personal injury is a humorous, legal romantic suspense novel.
And a partridge in a pear tree.

You get to pick one category. Two at the MOST. Four is (4-2) two too many. The first category to go is "humorous" because that's the most subjective. The second is "legal" because the legal part should be secondary to the story. The third one to go is suspense, since what you've described above isn't suspense. You have, most likely, a romance novel here.


It is compete at 90,000 words. It could be the first in a series.

Thank you for your consideration.



This is a form rejection.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

#173-Revised 2x

 Dear Query Shark,

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,





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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Quit trying to be fancy. Be plain.

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

What the hell is "raising kites?"



What mental changeover?

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

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

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


-----------

Dear Query Shark,


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


This is a form rejection.

#172-FTW

Dear QueryShark:

Segorian Anderson is an Idiot. But that’s fine with him. It’s a well paying job with no heavy lifting.

If you walked past Segorian, you’d forget him before you even saw him. It isn’t a magic power, he just has the sort of face his own mother could forget. She’s been trying to for years. But being forgettable is a job requirement for an Idiot.

No, he's not the Court Jester. He doesn’t wear motley (whatever motley may be), that's a different union. He’s the Idiot. In a Queen’s castle, wine spilt down the wrong dress can lead to a declaration of war. So someone unimportant has to be blamed for it, and that’s the Idiot’s job. He’s the Idiot that did it, for any value of ‘it’. Of course, as soon as he’s exiled-for-life out of the castle gate, he uses his back-door key and sneaks in. To wait for next time.

Everybody needs an Idiot. Queen Sonea of Peladon has Segorian.

But that's not all the job. Someday, something really bad will happen. Really, really bad. Badder than a bad thing on a very bad day with extra badness. When your Top Guns are more Top Gones, when the world’s about to end (or the washing up won’t get done – whichever comes first), who you gonna call? No, not them. They haven’t been invented yet. You call the Idiot, so you can risk someone nobody will miss if things don’t work out. And now Peladon has a case of dragon.


But the dragon may be the easy part. Segorian has woman trouble, and he’s the only person in the castle that doesn’t know it. Because to Segorian, women are an open book. The problem is, he never learned to read.

A COMEDY OF TERRORS is a comic fantasy of 51,000 words. The author has never saved a small country from a dragon. He is, however, both male and married and feels well qualified in the field of Idiocy.

My thanks in advance for your time and attention. As per your published guidelines I enclose ( whatever they ask for - the first five pages and a short synopsis) for your consideration.


Sincerely



This query breaks every rule I've yammered about in terms of content. Who's the antagonist? What choices does Segorian face? Who knows...and who cares?! Not me. I just want to read this. That is a query that works.

The SOLE purpose of the query is to get me to read your book. IF you can do that without following any of the guidelines, be my guest.


This is hilarious.

I'd read pages.
I'd pray they were good,.

Monday, August 16, 2010

#171-Revised 6x

Dear QueryShark:

Frankie Donovan owes Nicky a debt he'll never forget. It sent Nicky to prison and Frankie to the police academy. He vows to be different than the dirty cops he knew growing up, but every day is a struggle to keep the oath., and he   He longs for the days when he and Nicky ruled the neighborhood.



Frankie goes to see Nicky when he gets out of prison, (you're missing connective tissue here) but Nicky soon disappears, resurfacing months later with a mysterious late-night call. He tells Frankie he has evidence against the head of a mob family and needs help.

The clauses in a sentence need to follow logically.  Unless Nicky disappears because of Frankie's visit, those two events don't belong in the same sentence.  You're missing the connective tissue if you want both phrases.  The question is: do you need them?  You've got to develop an ear and eye for this.


After two months and no word from Nicky, the murders start. Now Frankie has five bodies with mob connections, and the evidence points to someone from the old neighborhood. He can’t imagine it's Nicky, but when the other suspects end up dead, he has no doubt.

You really love those compound sentences!  As you build tension, the sentences should get shorter, the words sharper. You don't always need complete sentences.  (You get to break the rules on purpose if you want to; you can't break the rules by mistake)

Frankie is now in a quandary. He doesn't give a shit about the dead mobsters, but he owes Nicky. It's time for Frankie to decide if he wants to be a cop, or a gangster. And he has to do it before Nicky gets to him.



MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series.

Put in the word count here.

I'm not jazzed about announcing a book is a series in the query letter.  The reason  is not that I don't want to take on books that can be series because I do. Most editors want books that can be the start of a series. 

I'm very suspicious that "star of a series" means the author has written five sort of ok novels, and not one outstanding novel.  I'm particularly afraid of that when I see queries with run-on sentences that aren't quite as polished as I wish.  Polishing a novel take a  long time. If you think it doesn't you're doing it wrong.

If this is a series, I'd rather see MURDER TAKES TIME (word count) is the first of a potential series.  That way you've told me you want it to be a series, but you haven't actually done the writing yet.


This is pretty close to ready to go out.  I strongly strongly urge you to hold off on querying until you've had a chance to really look at the novel again, and apply what you've been working on here: fewer long ass sentences; polishing up the prose; energizing your writing. 














 

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

Dear QueryShark:

Frankie Donovan owes Nicky a debt he'll never forget. It sent Nicky to prison and Frankie to the police academy.

When Nicky gets out of prison, he disappears, resurfacing months later with a mysterious late-night call. He tells Frankie he has evidence against the head of a mob family and needs help.
After two months and no word from Nicky, Frankie wonders what happened…then the murders start. Now Frankie has five bodies with mob connections. At each scene he finds evidence that points to someone from the old neighborhood. He can’t imagine it's Nicky, but when the other suspects end up dead, he has no doubt.


Notice how you switch from Frankie being the subject to Nicky here? (Frankie starts the sentence in the first paragraph; Nicky is the subject in the first line of the second paragraph)

This makes the query feel jumbled. Stay with Frankie. He's the main guy. Example: Frankie gets a call from Nicky after he's released. He's got evidence...etc.

This example isn't stellar writing but you get the idea.

Frankie is now in a quandary. He doesn't give a shit about the dead mobsters, but he owes Nicky. It's time for Frankie to decide if he wants to be a cop, or a gangster. And he has to do it before Nicky gets to him.

MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series. It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York.

I don't think the setting matters here. It's a book about the people, not where they are. Brooklyn is evocative, but Wilmington Delaware? Not so much. (Sorry Delaware)

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,

It's getting better, but still not there yet. Take your time revising. Develop you ear and eye for taut writing.

----------------
Dear QueryShark:

Frankie Donovan grows up on the wrong side of the law, always loyal to his best friends, Nicky and Tony. He counts the days until he can get out of his house, away from his screaming mother and abusive father. One night, Nicky saves Frankie’s life and changes everything. Tony goes to New York and becomes a mobster, Frankie becomes a cop, and Nicky goes to prison. It is a debt Frankie will never forget.

You're trying to revamp the entire query and that's a good strategy. What you've got to do now is pare down. Everything in that first paragraph is essentially "Frankie owes Nicky a debt he'll never forget. It sent Nicky to prison, and Frankie to the police academy."



When Nicky gets out of prison, Frankie starts hanging out with the old gang, longing for the days when he and Nicky and Tony ruled the neighborhood. Frankie has discovered that life as a cop is not as honorable as he thought. But he took an oath to uphold the law and he abides by it.



Then Nicky he disappears, resurfacing months later with a mysterious late-night call. He tells Frankie he has evidence against the head of a mob family and needs Frankie’s help.



After two months go by and no word from Nicky, Frankie wonders what happened…then the murders start. Before long Frankie has five bodies with mob connections. At each scene he finds evidence that points to Nicky or Tony. He can’t imagine it‘s Nicky, but when Tony ends up dead it leaves Nicky as the lone suspect.

I'm going to encourage you to leave Tony out of this. He ends up dead, so he's not one of the main characters even if he started out as one.


Frankie is now in a quandary. He doesn't give a shit about the dead mobsters, but he owes Nicky. It's time for Frankie to decide if he wants to be a cop, or a gangster. And he has to do it before Nicky gets to him.



MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series. It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York.



Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is better, but it still needs polish. Trust your reader to make intuitive leaps with you. Leave out everything you don't need to entice me to read on, EVEN if it's an integral part of the book. I know you can't stuff a query letter like a cannoli.



Still a form rejection, but better.

----------------------
Dear QueryShark:

Frankie Donovan has five brutal murders to solve, and he is baffled by the lack of good leads. But as he sifts through the evidence, certain clues stand out.

At the first scene thirty-two packs of Winstons are lined up on the table. His partner thinks it odd that there are no prints are on them;,but Frankie knows it's a message from someone in the old neighborhood. He just has to think back all those years and figure out what it means.

After the second scene, a package is delivered to him with eleven dead roaches. Now Frankie's suspect list narrows to Nicky or Tony, his two best friends. He questions Tony and gets nowhere. Nicky has disappeared.

When a dead rat shows up in the fridge of the latest murder, Frankie knows it’s Nicky. Then Tony ends up dead, and Frankie realizes Nicky is coming after him.

Frankie has no idea why Nicky is doing this, but he has to figure it out before Nicky gets to him.

MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series, and is complete at 121,000 words(or whatever number pleases the omniscient agent). It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York.



Thank you for your time and consideration.



I'm guessing you can hack 20K out of this without losing a single ounce of story just by honing your prose. I've done this for a couple people recently and once they've recovered (by this I mean they no longer need paper bags as inhalers) they see how to trim. My guess is you'll see it too if someone gives your novel some liposuction.

The central problem now is the stakes for the book are "will Nicky get to Frankie." In order to care about that outcome, we've got to care about Frankie. You haven't given us any reason to do so.

It's a lot easier to write queries for thrillers --I don't want the world to blow up if I'm in it after all-- than it is to care about some guy who clearly hangs out with a oddball crowd..or did when he was a kid.

Look back at our poster child for revision and tenacity #119. What finally worked for her was she quit revising the query; instead she took what she'd learned, and wrote a new query with a fresh focus.

You're on your third revision here and I'm still not enticed. Yes, it could be me. My guess though is that it's not.

Take some time. Think.

Form rejection

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


Dear QueryShark:

Nicky Fusco is the mob’s best hit man. When they give him an assignment to kill a woman who is blackmailing them, things go wrong. Just as he is about to pull the trigger, she twirls her necklace with her finger. That reminds him of the only girl he ever loved. Instead of pulling the trigger, he takes her on the run and marries her.

Ah the ubiquitous shadowy "they." Yuck. Faceless, nameless enemies are boring. Think about it: Darth Vader wasn't truly scary till you heard him breathe. Even though other people were fearful of him, the audience didn't gasp till we heard him.

Avoid formless characters.

Now, knowing that you should avoid formless characters, how do you actually do so?

We don't need to know who gives Fusco the assignment. It's enough to know that he has been given it. That gets "them" out of the picture.

Consider: Nicky Fusco is the mob’s best hit man. His assignment is to kill a woman who is blackmailing the wrong guy.


Now hiding out in Cleveland, he turns to the one person he can trust—Detective Frankie Donovan. He tells Frankie that his wife has evidence against the head of Brooklyn’s crime family. A few days later the mob shows up and kills Nicky’s wife, leaving him for dead.


Ok, "the mob" doesn't show up. Unless it really is a mob of people. Someone shows up. Who?

And you undercut any kind of tension or suspense with that sentence that is now struck out. See paragraph (4) below.

Convinced that Frankie betrayed him, Nicky heads out to get the revenge he promised his dying wife. First, he kills the ones who shot her, leaving evidence at every scene that lets Frankie know he’s coming. According to the laws of the old neighborhood, he is saving Frankie for last.

Cut out every single thing you don't absolutely have to have. We don't need to know (in the query letter) that he promised his dying wife he'd get revenge. We only need to know he's going out to get revenge. Simplify everything to keep this taut.

(4) Meanwhile, Frankie Donovan struggles with the two oaths he took in his life—one when he became a cop, and one with his two best friends when they were eight years old. He is working the worst murders in the city’s history, and the evidence points to Nicky or Tony. He can’t imagine it is Nicky; the last time they spoke he was going to send Frankie evidence against the head of mob family. But when Tony ends up dead, it leaves Nicky as the lone suspect.

No "meanwhile" in a query letter. Ever.

And you've got a HUGE splat here. We're all caught up in Nicky getting revenge, and Frankie being the ultimate target when *splat* you start dropping in backstory.

The line "Frankie Donovan struggles with the two oaths he took in his life—one when he became a cop, and one with his two best friends when they were eight years old. He is working the worst murders in the city’s history, and the evidence points to Nicky or Tony" isn't bad writing at all. It just doesn't work here because we're already far far head of that part of the story.

Consider this: Frankie finds himself working the worst murders in the city's history and all the evidence points to Nicky. But he can't imagine it's Nicky: the last time they spoke Nicky was set to send Frankie evidence against the head of mob family.

Frankie doesn’t care about the five dead mobsters, but he needs to find out why Nicky is doing this. And he needs to do it before Nicky gets to him.



MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series, and is complete at 121,000 words. It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York.



Thank you for your time and consideration.


I'm absolutely convinced that you can cut 20,000 words from this manuscript and end up with a better book. The overwriting I see in queries is ALWAYS present in the novels they're for.

You've also got a pretty straightforward crime/revenge novel here, which is fine. The problem is there's nothing here that makes me think I haven't read or seen this story before and more than once.

Something has to tell me that this book will have fresh/original twist on an old story. I don't see that here, and that means it's a form rejection.

-----------------------------------
Dear Query Shark:

Detective Frankie Donovan took two oaths in his life—one to uphold the law when he became a cop, and one with Nicky and Tony when they were eight years old and inseparable.

This is a long ass sentence. Think of the rhythm of what you write. You're writing a hard-edged crime novel. This is not the place for flowery sentences...unless they're lilies of course.

Consider this: Detective Frankie Donovan took two oaths in his life—one to uphold the law when he became as a cop;, and one with Nicky and Tony when they were eight years old and inseparable.

Now Tony is a mobster, Nicky is a hit man, and Frankie’s got five brutal murders to solve. To make matters worse, every crime scene has new evidence that points to Nicky as the killer. Frankie knows something is wrong and he's determined to find out what set Nicky off.

You've got a problem here in that we're not sure what "something is wrong" means. Does it mean Nicky isn't really the guy, or is Nicky the guy and something set him off?



With his lieutenant pressuring him on one side, Tony’s mob buddies from the other, and the FBI crawling up his ass trying to prove he’s crooked, the tightrope Frankie’s been walking all these years is getting thinner. His gut tells him he should turn Nicky in, but there was that oath...and Nicky had lived up to his end of it, saving Frankie’s life when they were younger, and earning himself a stint in prison.


So, why is Tony in this? And why is the FBI crawling up his asterisk? What tightrope? Cops don't turn people in...they investigate. Is Frankie investigating all the cases? What points to Nicky? Why would he NOT investigate Nicky? He didn't become a cop to let someone get away with murder did he?

You've got both too much, and not enough here. Not enough that makes this a distinctive compelling story, and too much of what I think of as throat-clearing, or preparation. Dig deeper, and give us some short compelling sentences showing an enticing story.


Frankie shook his head and cursed. The relationship with his friends has forced him to make many tough decisions, and now he faces the toughest one of his life; if he lets Nicky go, he breaks the oath he took as a cop and risks losing his job. But if he tries to bring Nicky in, he breaks an oath he has kept for twenty-five years—and he risks losing his life. Nobody fucked with Nicky Fusco.

Frankie blessed himself and said a prayer. All these years he has kept his honor, never betraying the oath to his friends or the badge, but now one of them would have to go. He stuffed an extra clip in his pocket and headed out. Somebody was going to die today.


No no no. Don't quote the book in your query. It just takes up space you desperately need for other things: showing us what the story is about.

MURDER TAKES TIME is the first in the FRIENDSHIP AND HONOR series, and is complete at 121,000 words. It is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York. I have the second book finished and an outline for two more books.

You have not revised and polished enough. I know this two ways: 120K words, and the two paragraphs you included. All the stuff about lean sentences and good energetic rhythm also applies to the book. Compound sentences are not your enemy but use only when needed.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Form rejection. I'm not enticed to read a story that has a formulaic set up, and the two paragraphs show me the book itself needs a lot more revising and polishing.

You're not ready to query yet. Your novel is not done. (I see this a LOT)



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Original version

Dear QueryShark:

My name is Niccolo Conte Fusco. I’m a hit man.

No no no. Don't write your query in the POV of your character. I know you're tempted to do it; I can hear that siren song of first person Query enticing you to do something Unusual! Fresh! Original! It's none of those things: it's a gimmick.

I'm not looking for gimmicks. I'm looking for hooks, yes, but there's a difference between a hook and a gimmick, and I know it when I read it.


Also, you do understand that while I read crime novels, I don't want to live in one. Thus if you really ARE a hit man, and you have my address, "yes come on over" isn't the first thing I want to say; it's "Suzie! Lower RAISE the drawbridge***!"


I’m thirty-three years old and wondering how everything went so wrong. But to understand that you’d have to go back to the beginning, back to when it was me, Frankie, and Tony that ruled the neighborhood. Frankie is now a cop and trying to pin five murders on me. And Tony…Tony is lying on the floor in front of me in a pool of blood, my bullet in his gut.


That's called set up. It's not conflict or tension. I'm not emotionally invested in a self-described hit man. In other words, you haven't snagged my interest yet.

Don’t judge me yet; I’ve done enough of that. Instead, why don’t you listen to my story and let me tell you about what happened in my neighborhood when someone broke an oath.

yea yea yea.
I'm sorry, but again, this isn't conflict. It's not a choice. It's not good intentions gone horribly awry.

MURDER TAKES TIME is set in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brooklyn, New York, and is the first in a mystery/suspense series featuring Detective Frankie Donovan and repentant hit man, Nicky Fusco.

Well, it's not the first in a series if you don't get the first published. While I'm interested in books that lend themselves to a series, that's not the first thing I care about. I want to know what the book is about. You've given me set up but no plot.

Thank you for your time and consideration. A complete manuscript (121,000 words) is available upon request.


You can write. This clear succinct energetic writing. I like it.

What you haven't done is give me a reason to read on. No plot. No hook.
And you're going to have to come up with something really fresh and new here. This is a well worn path. You really want me thinking "wow, I haven't seen this before" not "wow, this sounds like the plot of Lorenzo Carcaterra's SLEEPERS published in 1996."

Sincerely,

Form rejection



***thank you to the commenter who clearly understands the ups and downs of querying.

#170

Dear Query Shark:

Kelly is hunted by the Guild for the simple fact of being a necromancer. If that wasn’t bad enough, her zombie friend is threatened by a voodoo priest who will do anything to possess her, even kill Kelly for the privilege.

This is almost reminiscent of the old "walks in to a bar" joke motif: a necromancer, a zombie, and a voodoo priest walk in to a bar.

You're too close to the novel to see this. In fact, my guess is that when you read this you'll think I'm being harsh. One of the writing skills every author needs to master is objectivity: getting OUT of the story enough to see how someone else might interpret it. The only way to learn this is practice ("the first million words are practice"--Stephen King).

The same applies to queries.


There's a simple way to figure out what goes in the first paragraph of a query.

1. What is your main character's name?

2. What problem/choice does the character face? (20 words or fewer)

3. Who wants to foil the main character's plan and why? (20 words or fewer)


These three questions are the blueprint of your query. You don't write the answers and send it as a query any more than a real estate agent posts blueprints instead of photographs of a house for sale.

You USE these questions to guide you on what to include (action/plot) and what not to include (description/character list)

Think of it as a writing exercise. Answer each of these questions. Use as many words as you need, then pare down to 20.




To further complicate her life, she finds herself attracted to Rayne, whose relentless pursuit of her is about to tip off the Guild to her whereabouts.

You've got four characters mentioned in one paragraph. That is at least two, and probably three too many.



What Kelly doesn’t know is that Rayne is a Guild hunter and despises her kind. But he hides a sinister past from his Guild brothers. He once worked with black magic. After witnessing the death of his girlfriend at the hands of Demaskus, his old mentor, Rayne abandoned the dark arts and vowed to avenge her. When Demaskus returns and starts murdering hunters, Rayne is determined to destroy him at any cost. Trouble is, Kelly’s skills might be the key to defeat the man who wants to bring down the Guild.

At this point I'm confused, and I don't care. In fact I've stopped reading.



Rayne’s secrets unravel and Kelly discovers how deeply she’s been betrayed. When her friend is kidnapped by the voodoo priest now in league with Demaskus, her only hope lies in the Guild and the men who’d rather see her dead. Both Kelly and Rayne must face their enemies in a battle that will save either the Guild, or plunge society into chaos.

You mean society isn't already in chaos? You haven't seen our office when cupcakes arrive have you?

DEATHLY VEIL, is a completed 101,000 word urban fantasy romance.


I’m an active member in (redacted) and have had (redacted) ebooks in publication. (list redacted)

I can send you a partial and synopsis or full of my manuscript for your perusal anytime. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

I stopped reading after the second paragraph and sent a form rejection.

Start over.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

#169

Dear QueryShark:

Alix Luvbochic’s back from Afghanistan and she's traded in Marine ops work for Hollywood security. There’s good money in foiling paparazzi.

This is a great opening line that has me eager to read more.

Her big break comes from Sunny, engaged to an A-lister. The more wedding prep Alix does, however, the more she worries. Turns out the groom likes to sit in an egg-chair dangling off a cliff. Its hook is rigged to occasionally detach. His first wife sat there ‘til she dropped.

And then it goes splat. Almost an entire 180 from "yes I want to read this" to WTF?

First: "wedding prep" sounds like what a wedding planner does. And I don't associate wedding planners with Marine ops (although....there's an idea!)

And then "likes to sit in an egg-chair dangling off a cliff." I had to look up egg-chair, but it turns out I've seen plenty of them, just not hanging off cliffs. And the visual just doesn't make sense. I'm confused now. That's a very very bad thing in a query letter.

And the logic of the problem of the groom sitting in a device that killed his first wife eludes me totally.

My interest in reading on has dropped from 100% to zero.

Unfortunately, Sunny doesn’t find a taste for Russian roulette, furniture edition, reason enough to cancel. She can’t be in it for the money, Alix thinks. The pre-nup’s so tight Sunny’d get more down on the corner with a cup.

Russian roulette, furniture edition is utterly hilarious. And that's the problem. You've got what looks like a terrific premise and some really great lines, but there's the confusing stuff. I look at that and think "I'm going to be editing a lot if I take this on." That's not a good thing.




Sunny’s found another angle, though. Wedding pics are worth a bundle to the tabloids and Sunny’s cut a deal. Her pap gets the shots, then she speed-dials for divorce.

So, she's marrying the guy for the wedding pictures, even though he appears to be have homicidal furniture? That's pretty cold...I love it.

That’s enough for Alix. It’s a tough decision--the money’s great--but she signed on to screw the paparazzi, not to sneak them in. Besides, it’s cruel to the groom, however weird he is.

And I like this too.

Then she finds out why Sunny needs the money. Now she feels terrible. And the groom’s not taking humiliation well. Forget the paparazzi--it’ll take all her training to stop the second bride from ending up as splattered as the first.

Ok, I surrender. You've got me. In the preceding paragraph my sympathies weren't with Sunny; now they are. I like that. It's enticing. It makes me want to read more. That's the sole goal of a query: entice me to read the book.

The Bride Bit Back is suspense, complete at 82K. My stories have appeared in (redacted), (redacted), (redacted), and the (redacted), anthology.


I'd read pages, and if they were really really good, I'd read the full.

This query isn't perfect. In fact, it's got some serious problems, BUT it's enticing. That's all a query letter really has to be. Get that part right and you can screw up on almost every other thing and still get your pages read.

But, and here's the problem, almost every agent I know is trying to do less editing rather than more.

Investing edit time in a ms is a good decision IF you know you're going to get serious money for it. Right now serious money is in commercial thrillers, hot YA urban fantasy and big-ass non-fiction.

For a book like this, editing isn't the difference between $5K and $50K; it's the difference between unsold and $12.5K . The commission on $12.5K is $1,875 paid out over the course of probably six months.


It doesn't make much sense to spend a lot of time editing for that kind of money particularly if I know, as I do, that I can probably find something ELSE to sell for $12.5K that doesn't require the editing.

The less time I need to invest in something before it's publishable, the better.

So, fix that second paragraph, make sure you have a ms that's as polished as you can, and you're off to the races.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

#168-From "mess" to "yes" in five revisions

Dear Query Shark:

Cesario’s finally found his All-Time Groove: he has the girl of his dreams, he’s just had his first short story published in The New Yorker, and his agent is fielding calls from editors who are betting that Cesario has at least a solid novel or two in him.

The crazy part, Cesario's not even finished with undergrad.

The kid is practically gilt-edged.

But then things quickly turn Achebe (read: fall [the heck] apart).

And just like that, he loses his girl to a DJ with water-boarding-worthy musical tastes.

And then his Mom’s breast cancer, which everyone nicknamed Donna (the cancer, that is, not his Mom), makes a comeback so furious that other cancers will talk about it for years to come.

And suddenly, Cesario couldn’t write himself out of a crappy, meandering sentence if Raymond Chandler was reincarnated as Cesario’s dominant hand.

Which is to say, Cesario has a few things on his plate.

But—

Unlucky for the plate, and for cancer, and for word documents, and for disc jockeys with bad mp3 collections, Cesario is hungry as hell.

And worse, he’s too stupid-smart to stop there.

The Glorious Mis-Education of Some Stupid Smart Kids checks in complete at just a shade below 90,000 words. I thank you for your time and consideration!


uh...yea, that's exactly how it's done.
Nice revision.

--------------------
Dear QueryShark:

After two years of doing his time at community college, Cesario’s at last accepted into the university of his dreams, and he sees his chance to not only escape his childhood zip code, but also maybe even write the next Great American Novel in between classes.

To boot, he’s developed a foolproof marketing strategy for his unwritten, unsold book:

1. Initiate a public feud with a fellow author. Slap them across the face in front of TMZ cameras. Do this preferably with the hardcover version of their latest bestseller.

2. Stage a book drive-by. Pepper an unsuspecting street corner with paperback copies of your book. Do not aim; throw the books indiscriminately at all passersby.

3. Commission a special effects guy to come on your book tour. Have him set up a laser show, ceiling-high flames, and a cannonball center-stage. Have a fire extinguisher on stand-by. Do your own stunts, and emphasize that, despite the obvious dangers, your passion for writing is second only to your love of your fans.

4. Write a novella-diss against a popular writer’s latest book, and when asked why, tell everyone that you take the literature game very seriously and you felt like that author’s work was a blatant disrespect against paper itself, not to mention a total affront to agents, editors, and publishing houses, an indictment on the entire industry. Be sure to play up that you’re just one humble person fighting a much bigger struggle, and that you don’t expect, or want, any personal attention. Instead, all glory and honor to whatever Higher Power you believe in, and all that jazz.


Genius, right?



However, to Cesario’s surprise, writing a book is harder than he thought, and not even a change of address can put him far enough away from the superhuman reach of his family’s craziness. But perhaps that’s a good thing after all.



And maybe, rather than just writing The Best Novel Ever Written About Real Love, Cesario might finally get his chance at the real thing.



The Glorious Mis-Education of Some Stupid Smart Kids checks in at just over 90,000 words.



Thank you for your time and consideration.


uhh....what? This query bears almost no resemblence to what you've sent before, and honestly there's no plot and no sense of the character.  

This is all gimmick.  Start over.

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

Dear Query Shark,


Finding true love is tough enough without a curse. Unfortunately for Cesario, he's got the extra baggage. Back in junior high, when he revealed his crush for a pretty girl at school, Cesario’s Mom, the fiery competitor that she is, one-upped his news. She promised that if he continued to like white girls, it would be the death of her. Cesario waited for one of the witty if not off-color punchlines she was famous for. It never came.




This from the same woman who could recite the entire I have a dream speech from memory?




The same woman who'd applauded the episode of Saved by the Bell when Zack Morris (the charming, Caucasian lead actor) finally kissed Lisa Turtle (the beautiful and she knows it African-American co-star), and then delivered a ten-minute impromptu dissertation on why it was about time a television show stood up for what was right and true?




What happened to that woman?




After ruling out his Mom had been abducted and replaced by aliens, Cesario, a sucker for mysteries, questions family members for insight, but no one’s talking. Except for his estranged father, who Cesario's nicknamed The Coupon, on account of his always cutting out on the family. As Cesario pieces the puzzle together, it becomes apparent that his father's past, and a few family secrets, are at the heart of his Mom's feelings.


Your query starts here----->;Ironically now that Cesario’s off to college, and has the freedom to date anyone he pleases, the idea of keeping his relationships secret from his Mom doesn’t sit right. And all the more so when it’s clear that Gerren Edwards, a political science major, is not just any girl. She's social, funny, intelligent and he can't stop thinking about her; in short, she has words not in Cesario's vocabulary ready to leap off his tongue; i.e., forever, commitment, and yes, even the L-word. Shorter still, she just may be, gasp!, The One. The kind of girl you'd naturally want to take home to Mom. That is, if your Mom hadn't specifically informed you that her very physical well-being, read: she'd actually drop dead, was directly attached to such an introduction.




Just as Cesario's Mom finds out about his new relationship, she falls gravelly ill. And although Cesario, a born skeptic, knows it's ridiculous to truly consider, part of him wonders whether there was truth to his Mom’s curse. The idea unsettles him, but his Mom's health continues to deteriorate. Following an unexpected break-up with Gerren, Cesario is heart-broken, without a plan, and with a Mom still sick. Coming to his senses, he reminds himself that it was his Mom who'd taught him that the best part about love was its knack for overcoming obstacles. With his Mom's life in the balance, Cesario knows love may be the only defense against even the most formidable curse, and even after learning Gerren is involved with someone else, Cesario is determined not to let her go twice.



The Curious Curses of Cesario M. Benjamin, a novel about family, race, and of course, the L-word, is complete at 73,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

You're awash in words and events here. You're saying a lot of things three and four times in different ways. His mom doesn't want him dating white girls. She says it will be the death of her. He does, she falls ill. You don't need much more than that because that is all setup.

Focus on the choices Cesario has to make and the consequences of those choices.

Get rid of all the setup. We'll see all that in the pages. Get to the heart of the novel in a query.

Form rejection.


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Dear QueryShark:

Finding love can be tough enough without a curse. Unfortunate for Cesario, he's got the extra baggage. Since he was eight years old his Mom promised that if he continued to date white girls, it would someday be the death of her. So Cesario did what any I love my Mom and don't want to hurt her type would do. He dated behind her back.

Ok, so this lad is eight years old and dating girls? 

Now that he's off to college, it's become much harder to keep his relationships secret, especially when it becomes clear that Gerren Edwards is not just any girl. She just may be, gasp!, The One. And of course, the scandal!, she's white.

As Cesario prepares to break the news to his Mom, she falls gravelly ill, and Cesario reluctantly ponders if perhaps there was any truth to her promise. Conversely, he wonders if dating non-white girls would improve his Mom's health. Following an intense break-up with Gerren, Cesario commences Operation: Date Brown Girls. However, after a series of good-intentioned relationships fall flat, Cesario is left heart-broken, without a plan, and with a Mom who is still sick. He concludes true love may be the only defense against even the most formidable curse, and even after learning Gerren is involved with someone else, Cesario is determined not to let her go twice.

The Curious Curses of Cesario M. Benjamin, a novel, is complete at 73,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


I still don't have much sense of Cesario other than he dates girls his mum doesn't approve of, then he dates girls his mum does approve of.

What we have here though are one-dimensional characters. We have no sense that Cesario's mum loves him, and wants to protect him from the certain and difficult challenges of marrying outside his race or culture. She's his mom; she wants to protect him.

We get no sense of why Cesario likes girls who aren't brown. And we have NO sense of Gerren at all.

This is much improved from the initial effort but there's no compelling reason to read this. A compelling reason generally means  I want to find out what happens.  Right now, these characters aren't developed enough for me to care about what happens at all.






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(address)
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What have I told you about your address at the top of queries? DON'T DO IT.

Dear Query Shark:



Ceasario M. Benjamin has been cursed by his mother. If you keep dating these white girls, she promises, I will fall over and DIE on the spot. Literally. To top things off, his estranged father, who Ceasario has dubbed The Coupon, is trying to make a comeback in a family that has done its best to move on without him. And when crazy things start happening to each member of the Benjamin clan, is Ceasario’s secret girlfriend, who coincidentally happens to be of the white persuasion, really at the heart of all their troubles? And is it truly possible that Ceasario’s dating habits will impact the fate of the entire world, as the shadowy agents at C.O.L.O.R. would have him believe?

This is a mess. You've got FIVE people introduced: Ceasario; the soon-to-be-dead Mum; the mysteriously-nicknamed-Dad; the secret girlfriend that isn't so secret to Mum it sounds like; and some agents who are of course shadowy.

In other words, too much.


Think of characters as headgear. One thing on your head is fine, two might work, and but three is too many. Plus three and you're past calling the Fashion Police, we're calling the guys with nets.
Pare down. Focus.


A novel written for those of us who’ve ever felt helpless about whom we love, and maybe even a bit cursed, The White Girl Curse: The Curious Curse of Ceasario M. Benjamin, is complete at 64,000 words.

This belongs at the end, and you can leave out the movie-announcer-phrases of who you think the novel will appeal to. It doesn't actually say much about your book, and your book is the only thing I care about.



As someone who found himself in a similar harrowing position, choosing between true love and family ties, I feel aptly qualified to tell Ceasario’s story.

Stop right there. You don't need to be qualified to write your novel. It's a NOVEL. You get to make it all up. You never have to be in the same situation as your characters to write about it. Stephen King didn't need to be kidnapped and tortured to write MISERY. Margaret Mitchell didn't need to shoot a Yankee to write GONE WITH THE WIND. Sean Ferrell didn't need to pound nails in his palm to write NUMB.



I’ve had the good fortune of receiving the (redacted) Scholarship award, the very first year it was presented at (redacted) I hold a BA in English Literature. I’m also just as proud to be recognized in my hometown and honored as a (redacted) County Star Writer.

None of these are publishing credits. If you aren't published, I don't care. Filling up your pub credits paragraphs with this is just wasted words. Leave it out.





And just as important, I thank you for your time and consideration.

What's the book about? This is a form rejection based solely on the fact you have not told me a single thing about what the book is about. Start over. Read the damn archives. Pay attention.