Friday, April 14, 2017

#287-Revised 1x

Dear Query Shark:

Realtor Reed Winford suspects something is wrong with the historic house he has agreed to sell for an old client but he thinks at worst it is bad plumbing or a leaky roof. The last thing he expects is the ghost of a young jazz-age woman who lived in the home in the 1920s and who was murdered a hundred years ago.



And here's where I stopped reading this revision.
This paragraph is an exact replica of the first revision; the one I wrote four paragraphs of notes on last time.

Failing to revise is fine. You don't have to follow my advice at all.

What you can't do is not follow my advice and then ask for more. That seems a poor use of time for both of us.

I see this less in queries, and more in novels. When I give notes to prospective clients, there's always the chance they think I'm delusional, off my rocker, have no taste, or a myriad of other reasons they think the advice is flawed.  Such is the way of subjective evaluations of any art form.

But then sending the novel back for further consideration, that's where I lose my cool. If you think I'm wrong, why the hell would you want me to represent your work.




Winford knows he must find a way to remove the haunting in order to sell the house. His business is selling homes and he has a job to do. He uses clues from old records, maps and antiques found at the home to track the woman’s prior locations when she was alive. As he’s drawn deeper into this woman’s tragic life, he begins to have real feelings for her. Now he wants justice for her death. He talks to the police, title researchers and the ghost herself, trying to find out who killed her and why.

When someone tries to murder Winford, he discovers that she may not be the only ghost, and that the evil which killed this wonderful woman is still in the city and must be confronted and destroyed.

Winford tracks down the source of corruption using smuggler’s maps and old photographs dug up from a grave. His skills pay off when he is able to discover the crime family’s headquarters as well as their secret to remaining in power even after death.

Writing books like this is the best way I've found to combine my two biggest hobbies: writing and real estate. I’ve been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Boy’s Life and Capper’s Weekly. I’ve won the Crowder College Golden Quill Award.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
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First revision
Realtor Reed Winford suspects something is wrong with the historic house he has agreed to sell for an old client but he thinks at worst it is bad plumbing or a leaky roof. The last thing he expects is the ghost of a young jazz-age flapper who lived in the home in the 1920s and who was murdered a hundred years ago.

These sentences convey information but not vitality. Remember the purpose of a query is to entice your reader (ie me) to want to read more, not just tell me about the book you've written. A query is more like a sales pitch than an informational interview.

One of the fastest and easiest way to punch up the vitality of a query is to ditch those long ass sentences. Short, sweet, hubba hubba.

For example: Realtor Reed Winford suspects something is wrong with the historic house he has agreed to sell for an old client. At worst it is bad plumbing or a leaky roof. The last thing he expects is the ghost of a young jazz-age flapper who lived in the home in the 1920s and who was murdered a hundred years ago.

You don't always need complete sentence: At worst, bad plumbing or a leaky roof.
You don't need to repeat yourself: jazz-age flapper, 1920's


Winford knows he must find a way to remove the haunting in order to sell the house. His business is selling homes and he can’t let a ghost ruin a deal. He uses his real estate skills and clues from old records, maps and antiques found at the home to track the woman’s prior locations when she was alive. As he’s drawn deeper into this woman’s tragic life, he begins to have real feelings for her. Now he wants justice for her death. He talks to the police, title researchers and the ghost herself, trying to find out who killed her and why.

You don't remove the haunting, you remove the ghost.
You don't need every single piece of information that you've got here. This is not a checklist for a home inspection!


When Then someone tries to murder Winford with an old car and an ancient safe, he discovers that she may not be the only ghost. The evil which killed this wonderful woman is still in the city and must be confronted and destroyed.


Winford tracks down the source of corruption using smuggler’s maps and old photographs dug up from a grave. His real estate dective skills pay off when he is able to discover the crime family’s headquarters as well as their secret to remaining in power even after death.

Don't reveal the entire plot in the query. At MOST you want the first act.

I’ve been published in (this), (that)  and (them). I’ve won the (That) Award. I live in the Seattle area and the locations in the book are real.

The fact you live in Seattle and locations are real isn't a selling point. It's a novel; you can make it all up if you want. That the locations are ACCURATE is my big sticking point. I can't stand when writers get the geography of a real place wrong. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Thank you for changing the name of the main character. That helps a lot.

Now, it's time to spruce up the writing here. A query needs to be vivid. It's not just a conveyance.

And if your query reflects the writing in your novel, you'll need to take a look at that too. Remember a query is intended to entice me to read the novel. If the novel isn't spruced up that's not the fault of your query!

Reflect, revise, resend.


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Original query

The centennial of the Roaring Twenties is coming, and there will be a resurgence of interest in that era. This novel combines the mystery, romance, fantasy and history of that time. Realtor to the Dead, a paranormal mystery of 118,000 words, describes how a modern day real estate agent handles a house haunted by a crime from that era. 

Your query doesn't need a prologue. Start with the story.
And it's almost always a terrible idea to project where readers interest will be going. Given the popularity of Downton Abbey right now, a "resurgence" in interest in the 20's may very well have come and gone.


(MC NAME) is an agent who enjoys his career but always seems to get stuck with the difficult house listings. He thinks his luck is about to change when he gets to list an early 1900's beach-front house in the suburbs of Seattle. GERTRUDE SEDGWICK is a 99-year old woman who is selling the home, which has been in her family for many years, although she suspects something is wrong with the house she's trying to sell. And she’s right.

Start with something interesting. That MC enjoys his career is nice, but it's not very interesting.


(MC) finds a ghost in the home during an open house. He discovers she is a young jazz-age flapper girl who used to live in the home in the 1920’s, and who was murdered nearly a hundred years ago. (MC) uses his real estate skills (and a dug-up bootlegger relic from the Antiques Roadshow) to track down the woman’s prior locations, using historical property documents and maps. He finds an underground speakeasy in Seattle’s historic district. This leads to talks with police, title researchers and the ghost herself. Who killed this woman and why? What connection does it have to one of the city's richest immigrant families? Who is trying to kill (MC) through antique automobiles and an ancient safe? It gets worse when they try to destroy the house (MC) is trying to sell, by attacking it during the filming of a reality TV show.

You're getting lost in events here. What's at stake for our MC? Why does he want to solve her murder?


(MC)is also drawn deeper into feelings for the dead woman. This sends him on a quest to get closer to her by using antique telephones, eyeglasses and phonograph records. He takes it a step further in an intimate scene involving an antique magic trick!

This is so abstract I don't know what you mean. For starters you HAVE feelings, you don't get drawn deeper into them. I've jumped up and down about plain writing here more times than I can count but it bears repeating. Plain and simple is almost always the best way forward.


(MC) tracks down the criminal source using smuggler’s maps and old photographs dug up from a graveyard. His real estate detective skills pay off when he’s able to discover the crime family’s headquarters, as well as their secret to eternal life.

oh. Eternal life huh.
Well, that moves it right off the crime shelf and into something else.

I have published short works in Chicken Soup for the Soul, THIS and THAT. I have won THOSE College's SPLENDID Award. It was more fun and personal to name the agent/detective after myself. I live in the Seattle area, and the book’s locations are real.

Naming the protagonist after yourself is textbook confusion for an agent reading this. I thought it was memoir when I read it first. If I'd gotten this in the slush I would have rejected it instantly cause it looked like you were talking about yourself in the the third person.  

I STRONGLY urge you to revisit this choice. It doesn't add value, and it makes your query ripe for misunderstanding. That is not what you want.

Please be an agent to this agent!

I'm also at work on another novel.

(MC name)


It's pretty clear you haven't read all or even enough of the Query Shark archives yet. There's a template for getting plot on the page, and a template for a closing line. You've missed both of those. You don't have to follow all the rules, but if you break them it should be for a reason, not cause you don't know them.

Read the archives.
Revise.
Resend.




3 comments:

kathy joyce said...

The multiple lists of how the MC finds information (old phonographs, digging up maps, and so forth) is very distracting. Doesn't add value, delete, IMO.

nightsmusic said...

(MC) finds a ghost in the home during an open house. He discovers she is a young jazz-age flapper girl who used to live in the home in the 1920’s, and who was murdered nearly a hundred years ago.

This is where my eyes crossed. There's way, way too much information in here and none of it is constructed well enough to make sense.

You have someone selling a house. You have a MC who is her listing agent. He finds a ghost. He helps the ghost. This is what happens in the end after helping said ghost.

I agree that you need to read through this site and then try again. I wish I could tell you that this story sounds interesting, but I can't at this point. You don't want stew, you want a steak. ONE thing. Query with a steak. One thing. Save the stew, well layered, for the story.

Colin Smith said...

Janet's advice is golden, of course. But if I might share something that really jarred for me:

He takes it a step further in an intimate scene involving an antique magic trick!

This comes across as if you're looking for something in the novel to pique interest, whereas the novel itself needs to grab the agent's attention. It has to be a story she wants to read, with characters that intrigue, and a conflict she wants to explore. A particularly good scene here and there is all well and good, but she's not going to pour her heart into representing a novel because it has "an intimate scene involving an antique magic trick."

I know there's more to your book than that, so these are wasted words. You only have 250--use the best ones, and use them well. :)

All the best with the revise. I look forward to seeing version 2. :)