Sunday, September 30, 2012

#228-revised once





It’s a case of maternal love-at-first-sight for nurse Beth Ward when she sees the mysterious baby boy who’s been abandoned in her hospital. After enduring a life of abuse and abandonment of her own, she’s filled with an unshakable need to protect him. When the baby is declared a ward of the state, Beth is determined to adopt him. She risks her career, her relationship with the doctor who loves her, and possibly even her life, to make him her own.

After Beth achieves her desire and the adoption is final, her life is one of blissful contentment until the day she learns that her boy may be a kidnapping victim. Beth must decide between concealing his secret in order to keep the son she’s sacrificed for and come to love so deeply, or risk losing him forever to the grieving parents who gave him life. As Beth’s actions affect the destiny of countless lives, she discovers the possibility for joy in the midst of tragedy.

 This is the story right here. You'll need to expand on it. Tell us more about the birth parents. I think this would be agony for birth parents--their child doesn't know them, and to take their kid from the only mom he's known--talk about a dilemma. And at some point there's a crime being investigated here, right?

I almost never tell a writer to write MORE in a query, but you need more of the story here. Forget all the stuff about how Beth got him. Focus on when she's about to lose him.





BABY JOHN DOE (92,000 words) is a completed work of women’s fiction. I received inspiration for this story while working as a hospital medical coder. 

I get my best ideas in the shower but let's not put THAT in a query either.  Inspiration is important to the writer but meaningless in a query. 




Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Better.



Revise. Resend.

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

Johnny is kidnapped on the day of his birth. Beth is a divorced, childless, and jaded nursing supervisor who's given up hope of ever finding love and happiness. BABY JOHN DOE is the story of how the course of their futures are forever altered the instant their paths cross.

This is so general it's meaningless.  The one specific thing you have -- "Johnny is kidnapped"-- gets buried instantly.  We don't even know if Beth kidnaps him, or is the one who gets the heat (she should have been supervising more closely) when he goes missing.

Start with something specific---and connect it to the next thing that is also specific.

The moment Beth sees the mysterious baby, injured, unconscious, and alone, she believes she's been placed in his path to save him. While trying to adopt Johnny, she battles hospital administrators who want to take him off life-support, skepticism from her new friends, and even betrayal from the man she loves. When all seems lost and Beth contemplates ending her life, the baby miraculously awakens.


What? This doesn't make sense to me. Because you start with the fact that Johnny's kidnapped, we're expecting Beth to be the victim or the perpetrator. You've led with the wrong thing. The important thing isn't that Johnny is kidnapped. The important thing is that Beth found him alone and tried to help.  One of the elements of good storytelling is knowing where to focus your reader's attention. If you tell me to focus on the kidnapping --which you did by virtue of it being your first sentence--I'm expecting something other than what you're now telling me is the story.

If I'd read past the first paragraph, this is where I'd stop because right here is where it's clear to me  that you don't see that this is disconnected and that means you won't see it in your novel.

Your query tells a story, it should entice me to read MORE of the story. 

As Johnny grows, Beth marvels at the remarkable person he's becoming in spite of his disabilities. The only thing marring her new life is the nagging fear that his real parents will appear one day to claim him. At midnight on Johnny's eighteenth birthday, the kidapper calls Beth to tell her who Johnny's real parents are. Expecting the worse, Beth is amazed when she becomes united with Johnny's family through the love of their son.



I have many family members who joined us via adoption, I strongly STRONGLY object to the idea that birth parents are the "real" parents. Seeing that won't make me stop reading a query, but a book that promotes that idea wouldn't be something I want to take on and promote.

Also, more important I bet Beth doesn't think of those people as the "real" parents either.  If she's saved this kid and been the mom all these years, her viewpoint is probably just like mine: she's the mom. This kind of inconsistency bodes ill for the novel. 


Johnny matures, marries and has a son. Tragedy strikes when the baby needs a liver transplant to survive and Johnny dies without warning from a brain aneurism. Johnny's liver is transplanted into his son, saving his life. Even though she's grateful that her grandson will survive, Beth is angry with God for trading Johnny's life in the process. She wonders if everything she and Johnny went through was worth it. During his funeral, as Beth hears how numerous lives were changed through Johnny's inspiring influence, she realizes that even though she set out to save his life, he saved hers in the end. For the first time in her life, she is whole.



And there's no plot here as far as I can tell. There are events and lists of challenges and obstacles, but there's no mention of choices or stakes. You really need choices or stakes to be clear otherwise I read this and think "so what." That's not the response you're looking for. 

Also, you've just told me the entire story.  Don't ever do that. The purpose of a query is to entice me to read the pages.  This is like telling someone "Bruce Willis is dead" and then asking them to buy a ticket to the the movie***.  Why would I when I know what happens?

BABY JOHN DOE is complete at 92,000 words and is my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


It's really important that you focus only on the start of the story and the plot in a query. The reason I beg plead cajole INSIST you read the QueryShark archives is so you can see how effective queries unfold and how to get the plot on the page concisely.  This query doesn't do either of those things.

And you don't want to summarize the novel or give a complete synopsis of it in a query.  It defeats the entire purpose of your query.

Re-read the archives. Start again. Resend.





***this movie

Sunday, September 9, 2012

#227-revised 4x FTW

Thirty something year old Vivienne has had big dreams since childhood.

Winning an Oscar before she's forty and marrying a good guy with George Clooney looks.... being two of them.

The trouble is the men in her life have a habit of bursting her bubble.

So when she leaves London for the States and lands a promising movie role, her luck looks to be changing.

Until she gets played by handsome fitness instructor Jamie Parker.

And has no idea that her confrontation with him at the gym is being secretly broadcast by a third party for all to hear.

As the truth unfolds loud and clear, he loses his job, shady schemes and meal ticket girlfriend.

She only wanted to give him an ear bashing but now Vivienne is in trouble and made the immediate scapegoat.

Intent on revenge, he resurfaces with a tabloid talk show and a plan to drag Vivienne's name through the mud, jeopardizing any chance she may have in Tinsel Town.

Once again faced with a no good heartbreaker, she has to ask herself, how badly does she want to live the dream and is she even tough enough to survive the showbiz world.

The thing is, when it's in your blood, it's in your blood.

     


 The only thing I'd change here is I'd use paragraphs instead of single sentences.  

I think you've done a GREAT job on this revision. You've got all the pieces in the right places.  You'll need the word count and the category and a closing, but this looks good.





 --------------------------------------
Third revision

Thirty something year old Vivienne has always had big dreams.

Winning an Oscar before she's forty, marrying George Clooney and living happily ever after.
The trouble is, the men in her life have a habit of bursting her bubble.


Now that you've cleared out all the debris from the previous starts we see the reason this query is having a hard time catching my interest: the protagonist sounds like an idiot. There are "big dreams" for grown up girls, and big dreams for teenyboppers. Marrying George Clooney and living happily ever after is something out of TigerBeat magazine (do they still have that?) It's not the starting point for a book if you want us to take the story with any degree of seriousness.  It's one thing to joke around about marrying George Clooney; it's something else to make it your protagonists "big dream"

And since marrying George Clooney doesn't figure in to the plot at all, leave it out.  Finding a nice man who supports her acting ambitions: that's more what she really wants anyway isn't it?




So when she leaves London for the States and lands a promising movie role, her luck looks to be changing.

Until she gets played by love rat Jamie Parker.

And has no idea that her request for an explanation of his cheating antics will blow the lid on his shady schemes and lose him everything.

And here again: what? There's a purpose to his "cheating antics" (a phrase that does not resonate well since antics rarely cheat) ??

Intent on revenge, he comes back with a reality TV show and a plan to drag Vivienne's name through the mud, jeopardizing any chance she may have in Tinsel Town.

Revenge for WHAT?  As far as we can tell poor old not-Mrs-Clooney hasn't done anything other than ask why Not George is a rat.  That doesn't make revenge sound likely. It makes revenge sound psychotic.


Once again faced with a no good heartbreaker, she has to ask herself, how badly does she want to live the dream and is she even strong enough to survive in the showbiz world.

She's offered a reality tv show. What's not to say yes to? If she's an actor she'd leap at the chance to play toilet tissue (singing toilet tissue!) in a national commercial.

You'll need to be much more specific about the problem here.


Maybe London wasn't so bad after all...


The thing is, when it's in your blood, it's in your blood.


One of the very first things to remember about any query is you've got to make sure your protagonist sounds like someone I'll want to spend some time with. Either cause I like them, am rooting for them, am fascinated by them, or can't wait to see if they get eaten by wolves.  What they can't be is a two dimensional cartoon.

And the plot has to be real enough to make me want to find out what happens.

This doesn't do that yet.
It's better than where you started but it needs work.
   
-------------------


Second revision

Dear QueryShark:


Finally, Los Angeles has changed Londoner Vivienne's luck for the better.

A favorable acting job, a step closer to celebrity crush, George Clooney and a dinner date with handsome fitness instructor Jamie Parker.


I don't know what a favorable acting job is. I know what a favorable rating is, and I know what a good job, or a job with prospects, or a lead in a tv sitcom all are, but those are not things speakers of US English would call "favorable."

And this list is kind of weird: she has a job, and that's on par with one dinner date? She must not get out much.



But after the date, she finds out he has a rich, young girlfriend and is a total player. She confronts him and sees him for the shameless con artist he really is.


Welcome to Hollywood, Vivienne.
 If she found this out after only one date she's pretty lucky that's all the time she wasted.



Then he disappears.


As the dust settles, she gets back on track and finds that a nurturing friendship with stand-up corporate guy, Drew Simmons, blossoms into something more. Though totally different from anyone she's dated before, she realizes that her past choice in men brought her nothing but unhappiness. This time she was getting it right.

Life is good....

Then Jamie Parker reappears with a TV show and only one thing on his mind... revenge.


Revenge for what?

The sooner you get to this point - the shady ex turns up with a reality TV show in his hip pocket - the better. THIS is where things get interesting. Which is to say everything that comes before it isn't.



Naively, she faces the biggest test of her life. How badly does she want to live the dream and is she even tough enough to survive the showbiz world.


Why is she still naive?And what's the test? This is the first point where things get interesting and you leave us with no details.


The trouble is when it's in your blood, it's in your blood.

BREAK A LEG is a 103,000 word women's fiction novel. It is my first novel.

Thank you for your consideration.



There's both too much and not enough here. There's all this set up but the real story is the TV show. THAT'S the interesting choice. And it's interesting because there's a dilemma. There's no dilemma with Drew. He's the safe path. Thus...not all that enticing.

If you spend more than 20 pages of the book getting to the tv show, I think your book starts too soon.

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


First Revision
Dear Query Shark,

Maybe it's the disastrous stage performance, cheating boyfriend, London or all three.

But Vivienne is ready to throw in the towel on her lifelong dream.


Until she heads to Las Vegas for fun and hits the jackpot: an offer of a movie role in Hollywood.


Now in Los Angeles, things are finally looking up for Vivienne, a favorable acting job, a step closer to her celebrity crush, George Clooney and a dinner date with a handsome fitness instructor Jamie Parker.

Get to the plot as soon as you can.  The story starts in LA when she is trying to make a new life for herself.


After the date she finds out he has a rich, young girlfriend and is quite the player.

Determined not to be humiliated again, she confronts him and sees him for the womanizing con artist he really is. This time around, she comes out on top, putting him in his place as he disappears.

As the dust settles, she gets back on track and finds that a nurturing friendship with stand up corporate guy, Drew Simmons blossoms into something more. Though totally different from anyone she's dated before, she realizes that her past choice in men brought her nothing but unhappiness. This time she was doing it right.

Life is good...

Then Jamie Parker reappears with a TV show and only one thing on his mind... revenge.

Vivienne finds herself taken on a roller-coaster ride to the shady side of Hollywood that was never mentioned in her gossipy glamour magazines.

This is too generic to be interesting. The next paragraph says the same thing, but much better.


Naively she faces the biggest test of her life, how badly does she want to live the dream and is she even tough enough to survive the show biz world.

The trouble is when it's in your blood, it's in your blood.

I like this sentence a lot because it tells me she's going to go for it event though we all know she shouldn't.

BREAK A LEG is a completed 103,000 words contemporary novel aimed at women's fiction. readers and It is my first novel. I am currently writing my second.


Thank you for your time and consideration.


I can always tell when you actually have read the archives! 

This is clearly better than the original but you've still got some tightening to do. When you're revising the question is always "can I take this out?" Revision is almost always the art of saying more with fewer words.


Revise. Resend.




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


Catching her boyfriend cheating with the neighbor and making a disastrous community theatre debut all in the same hour was so painful for thirty-three-year old Vivienne Jaystone that she gives up on her dreams of becoming a famous actress and finding Mr Right and resigns herself to being stuck in a dead end Customer Service job in East London.

Right off the bat, that's a 59 word sentence. Here's a rule of thumb: if you can't say the entire sentence out loud in one breath, it's too long. Not always, but generally, and that means for sure in a query letter.

And second, let's think about the purpose of a query letter. It's to entice an agent to read on. This sentence goes from high to low. Vivienne is excited to make her debut and it goes flat, then she gives up her dream, and becomes a clerk. High, low, flat, splat.

In other words, not enticing. This is not what you want to do. At all.

That first paragraph should end on an upswing.  The only response you want from an agent is "what happens next" and six thousand interrobangs. 



Until, she goes on a girly weekend to Las Vegas where she meets a musician, Frank who offers her the chance to work with his band and pursue her love for actng.

Ok, so that's not how you spell acting, and spell czech will tell you so. I watch for these kinds of things. I prefer working with writers who obsess over every word and run spell czech twice. Yes, it's true I have clients who have forgotten to do that (and yes, we torment them about it forever) but they didn't forget in their query letters.

This is my introduction to you. Comb your hair, polish your shoes, check your spells.

Also this paragraph is the start of your story. It's where Vivienne is making a choice that leads to the story. The other stuff is backstory.

Inspired, Vivienne re-thinks her ambitions and takes a gamble, staying in Vegas, where by her career with the band is short lived after a chance meeting with small time director Michael Brown, who offers the opportunity of a small role in a low budget movie in Los Angeles.

So far there's no plot. There's a series of events. Don't know the difference? How to get the plot on the page is listed in at least a dozen QueryShark entries here. I purposely don't list them on the blog roll because Honest to Godiva I want you to read the entire thing. Yes, it's a lot of work. Yes it's going to take some time.

Also, the stakes here are so low that it's almost hard to care. Small role, low budget movie. There are a million people who have those roles. If she fails, so what?  

Will La La land give Vivienne the courage to conquer her fear of forgetting her lines on stage and help fulfill her dreams of becoming an Oscar winning actress? Will she finally find true love? Or will it end up being her worst nightmare?

This isn't plot either. 

And honestly, this just doesn't sound like anyone I know who's pursuing a career as an actor.  Here's where research comes in.  Look up the bios of actors and see how they got started. They may have done community theatre, but it was when they were six.  Most of them were in regional theatre at least, and more likely they were doing soaps, or indie films to get noticed.  Getting the details right is part of your job.

"Break a Leg" is a completed 104,000 word contemporary novel written with aspects of comedy, romance, drama and quirkiness aimed at women fiction readers, hoping to inspire readers to believe in themselves and their hopes and dreams. "Break a Leg" is my first novel and I am currently writing my second.

You're telling me this is a comedy in a letter that isn't funny; that it's quirky in a letter that isn't and inspiring in a letter that isn't that either.

You can forget the inspiring part. You're writing to entertain first and foremost. There is no higher purpose in my mind. But more than that, you can't tell me this is comic, or quirky and write this flatly if you want me to believe you. You don't need gimmicks. You need quirky comic diction.

And you can avoid the whole problem by simply saying this is women's fiction. Leave out the other stuff.

My name is (redacted)
I know that. It's in your signature line. This kind of thing in queries drives me bonkers because it's one step up from "hi, how are you." It's awkward and amateurish. Would you put that in a cover letter applying for a job?

I was born in London and raised in Loughton, Essex in the U.K. I currently live in California, where I have lived for eleven years.

None of that is important (in your query anyway--it's important to you the person of course.)

I am looking for representation and appreciate you taking the time to consider my work.


Thank you for your time and consideration.


You could be the best writer on the planet but this query doesn't show me that. It's listless and flat and has no plot.

When I get a query like this I don't even look at the pages other than a quick glance at maybe the first line to see if somehow, maybe, good writing has wiggled through.

This is a form rejection.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

#226

FIRST REVISION

 Dear Query Shark,

Frederika Frosch, a transfer student from Austria, likes Lee Min Ho. She recently found out that he’s interested in her too.

She likes him, he likes her....so what? 

It really helps if there's some inkling of tension, or what's at stake, here in the first paragraph.  Set up is great but you have to show the bowling ball heading toward the pins, not just the pins at the end of the bowling alley.


It was three years ago that Freddy first met the transfer student from South Korea. Almost immediately, she managed to leave a lasting impression by soaking his designer shirt in a pool of hot coffee. Needless to say, he wasn’t too happy about it and resorted to ignoring her for the rest of their time at Riverden.

More of the same. She likes him, he likes her, they had a rocky start...so what.
At this point I'm impatient to see stakes. 

But there he was, speaking to her, on the first day of the last year of their high school career. Having transformed from thin air into someone Min Ho is apparently interested in, Freddy doesn’t quite trust the new wind that travels through the halls of Riverden. Because in Riverden, California’s International school for the rich and the gifted, you stuck to your own kind. You didn’t intermingle.

Ok. Here's a hint of tension: no intermingling. Except we already know they are going to do that cause without it you don't have a book.  What you need here is what bad thing is going to happen if they do intermingle. What worse thing is going to happen if they don't?


When Freddy finds out that Min Ho really likes her, the two of them get closer. Though before they have a chance to start dating, Min Ho’s entire female Asian fan club and its leader, Yoon Joo, start marching against Freddy in every way possible.

"marching against" is a very unusual way to describe what we'd call Mean Girls stuff. It's not unusual in a good way. It's unusual in that it makes me think they're leading protest marches...and that's nonsensical.

Metaphors, similes, comparisons, descriptions need to illuminate the story: make us see behaviour in a new way. This doesn't This is confusing. Confusing is not good.

From abusing her verbally, to making Freddy crash Bernadette, her beloved motorcycle, they have seemingly declared war against her. They even go so far as to involve the rest of Riverden. The school starts to show Freddy that just maybe, in contrast to what she believed at first, people aren’t that tolerable after all. Though Freddy and Min Ho don’t want to listen.

Still no plot. And you don't mean tolerable. You mean tolerant. (At least I think so although my assistant would say people aren't tolerable at all.)


Min Ho is, furthermore, part of the rich in Riverden and priceless to his parents who run several companies back in Seoul. Yoon Joo’s final move is to get the parents involved and Min Ho, shortly afterwards, disappears.

Aha! Here's the first hint of what's at stake. You've spent so long on set up though that I've probably stopped reading the query by now.

Freddy cannot figure out what happened. How can a teenager alone fight against the injustice of a world in which she feels like she doesn’t belong in in the first place, and that wants her to back off from being together with the one person she truly loves?

That second sentence is where I stop reading and send you a form rejection. 

While de-puzzling the mystery to Min Ho’s disappearance, Freddy starts to use her talent as a writer and writes a book. The story of a girl and a boy that couldn’t be together.

de-puzzling? Again, that is not a word choice that illuminates anything.

DON’T LOVE is complete at 65,000 words. It is a young adult romance and the first in a potential series of three. I was born in Vienna, Austria, am currently working on finishing my BA in International Studies and Marketing, own an online boutique and eat ice cream for breakfast. For more information check out my blog (blog info)

Put your contact info (and a blog is contact info) under your name.

I am guessing that English is one of your languages, and probably not the first.  Your command of it is admirable but it's also not publishable yet.



Your time and consideration are greatly appreciated.



You're not ready to query yet if your book is like this query letter. Spend some time with beta readers.  
Getting a lot of form rejections won't help you. Invest your time by joining a critique group. It can be of inestimable value to you if only to identify things like "depuzzle" "pool of coffee"  "marching against" and the difference between stick and stuck.



--------------------------
ORIGINAL QUERY
Dear Query Shark,

Freddy, short for Frederika, Frog from Vienna, Austria likes Lee Min Ho from Seoul, South Korea. She recently found out that he likes her too. Surprisingly. Because she isn't one of them. She isn't Asian, but Caucasian.

Her name is really Freddy Frog? Really? This makes me wonder if it's an animal fable.

Though as soon as Freddy finds out that he likes her and the two of them have the chance to get closer, Yoon Joo (also from South Korea), together with her puppets of brainless Asian barbie dolls, set out to break them apart. Bono, Freddy's bestest of friends, is thrown into the pool of toxic hearts and tempers when it turns out that he sort of likes Freddy himself.


Riverden is the place of the crime for passion. The most popular high school in Orange County, California. Made especially for the rich and the gifted.

If all the action is taking place in the OC why are you mentioning Austria and South Korea?

Although Freddy's still only a teenager she knows what she is and what she is not. She isn't one of the rich kids like Lee Min Ho, but one of the gifted ones. She's also not a person that gives up easily, least of all the boy she has grown to love. A writer is what she is. And this is her story. The story of a girl and a boy.

I'm with you right up to here. The rhythm is a little bumpy and there are too many characters, but I'm not looking for flaws in a query letter. I'm looking for a good story. Right up to now, I'm with you.

But, dear agent, you see this isn't your average love story. This story has a purpose unlike any other and that's why Freddy needs you to publish this book. She needs you to publish it, because this will be the only way she'll find him again. Reach out to him. Her impossible love. Through this book. Through words that are so powerful that they will spread across nations and ignite generations.
Through telling their story Freddy can show him that she still loves him. The guy she has recently lost. The guy named Lee Min Ho. Min Ho from South Korea.


And right here you go splat. And not just sort of. BIG FAT SPLAT.

For starters, I don't publish books. That's the publisher.
For seconders, what the hell does this even mean?
This is like breaking the fourth wall in theatre and talking to the audience. Don't do it. Just tell me what the book is about. Don't plead with me. Yuckola.

You have the set up but no plot. The plot is NOT publish this book.  

For thirders: this isn't your average love story is telling me not showing me what the book is about. 

DON'T LOVE or THE ART OF KILLING YOUR BABY is complete at 65,000 words. It is a young adult romance and the first in a potential series of three. I was born in Vienna, Austria, am currently working on finishing my BA in International Studies and Marketing, own an online boutique and eat ice cream for breakfast. For more information check out my blog (blog info)

This is the worst title of all time. That is not the category you want to be in let alone win.

Yes publishers change titles so you don't need to obsess over getting it exactly right but you want one that doesn't make me actively wonder if you have lost your grip on reality.



Your time and consideration are greatly appreciated.

This is a classic example of veering right off the rails, over the cliff, under the water, and out to sea.


This is a form rejection with the title now heading the list of examples of what not to do.