Sunday, November 11, 2018



1) I know Shark Rules state housekeeping goes at the end. And I know my first paragraph goes completely against that. But it seems to be exactly what this particular agent is asking for on their website. And I know they're looking for thrillers. Should I still follow Shark Rules?

2) A friend who directed an Oscar-nominated movie has suggested I query this agent. The movie was adapted from a book by an author who is repped by this agent. A lot of the agent's clients have had their books made into movies and apparently that's important to them. My friend is up for helping me adapt my novel into a screenplay. Does that carry any weight? Does anyone give a rat's behind?

Dear Query Shark:

(Movie director), screenwriter and director of (Oscar-nominated movie), suggested I query you since you represent (author whose book was made into the movie). SEA BLADE is a 98,000-word adult thriller. It is the first book in a planned series. The main character is a man of color I would describe as James Bond meets Indiana Jones. As a former (military) officer, I think you'll like the concept.

Never tell an agent what you think they'll like.
It's like saying "this is funny" before telling a joke.
Half the fun for us is the sense of discovery.

It's one thing to mention the connection you have to the agent in the first paragraph. Don't go overboard by putting all that other info there as well.

It was supposed to be a routine job for Jet Morgan and his ex-girlfriend Maggie. Recover a Mayan artifact that holds the key to a billion dollars in gold from a pyramid in Belize. Then smuggle it past the drug dealers into Panama. But then Nathaniel Lynch, Jet's old boss, Nathaniel Lynch, at the CIA, shows up. Things rocket from routine to insane in 2.9 seconds. And Jet and Maggie are thrust into an international incident - China's imminent invasion of Taiwan.

If you put the name Nathaniel Lynch first, we don't know who he his.
If you let us know he's Jet's old boss FIRST, then, it has a connection to what we've read, and it makes sense. This is flow. It's making sure your reader doesn't stop and think "huh?"

I hate artifact-driven plots with a passion, but that's just me.
(I did manage to watch all the Indiana Jones movies without any trouble at all.)

Lynch stole Ultra Top Secret U.S. naval plans for Sea Blade, an unprecedented new class of submarine, and sold them to Taiwan. Now he needs Jet, once the CIA's top covert operative, to steal them back and stop the invasion. And to skip the 'being killed for treason' part, he'll need the artifact to personally finance the unsanctioned mission.

Well, this is actually a rather good use for an artifact.

But Jet's no longer a spy. He steals Mesoamerican antiquities now, not secrets. So Lynch desperately offers up his new business partner Ricardo Lopez, the reclusive Mexican billionaire who murdered Jet's wife and child, to lure him back in.

The mere thought of killing Lopez calls to Jet like a needle to the vein calls to a trembling junkie. But pulling the trigger on that fix could backfire on him. Helping a traitor like Lynch is suicide.
He Jet and Maggie will be dodging CIA assassins the second Lynch gets what he wants. But if Jet doesn't help, the unthinkable will happen - war with China.

It's very easy to throw too much into a query.
You only need to entice me read the pages, not tell me about all of the plot points in Act One.

Put the word count, and other housekeeping items here.

With my science background, I was compelled to do proper research. In the process, I was shot at in Mexico, got hammered in Key West, dove with sharks and climbed pyramids in Belize, and fell in love with Panama.
I'm a chiropractor who now cracks creative-writing books. I studied writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and with Bret Anthony Johnston, internationally bestselling author and former Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University. Bret is up for providing a blurb, and (movie director) is up for helping me adapt SEA BLADE into a screenplay. With my science background, I was compelled to do proper research. In the process, I was shot at in Mexico, got hammered in Key West, dove with sharks and climbed pyramids in Belize, and fell in love with Panama.

Start with the interesting stuff.
You don't need the creds for your blurbers. If I know them, I already know it. If I don't I google.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

You can break the rules all you want, but it helps to understand WHY they are rules first. Putting the housekeeping stuff at the end is a rule because it forces you to put the story first.

Thus, putting something ahead of the story is ok, but you know to keep it to a minimum; just the info that will boost your chances of the agent reading the query. 

Early interest from someone about the screenplay is great, but you're querying an agent about selling  a book. "Interest from Hollywood" doesn't help sell a book; we know how nebulous that is. 

"Optioned for film" is better, and "started principal photography yesterday" better yet.  In other words, the closer you are to actually getting something made, the more it will help.  

Right now it's all hot air.  The reason you DON'T include it is that if you do, an agent is likely to think you don't understand how nebulous it is.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

#323-revised 1x

Revision # 1

Dear Query Shark,

Prophecies, Princess Willow Starmill has decided, are the worst. Especially the one that says she must marry a prince. The seer’s words prevent Willow from kissing her best friend, Finn Fields, the only mortal on Atlantis, but they don’t stop her from wondering what it would be like.

Let’s talk rhythm here. What you have is a long ass sentence of 29 words:

The seer’s words prevent Willow from kissing her best friend, Finn Fields, the only mortal on Atlantis, but they don’t stop her from wondering what it would be like.

Consider this revision:

The seer’s words prevent Willow from kissing her best friend, Finn Fields, the only mortal on Atlantis. but They don’t stop her from wondering what it would be like.

The shorter sentences are punchier, more rhythmic.

This is the work of revising. Everyone writes long ass sentences on that first draft.

It’s when you dig in, looking at each sentence and thinking “what can I do to make this more hard hitting.”

Timing is everything, and not just in comedy.

That cursed prophecy is all anyone can talk about when a prince unexpectedly visits from another realm. Prince George offers political strength, a marriage proposal, and eternal boredom. Willow can’t give him an answer until she sorts out her confusing feelings for Finn, but the more time she takes, the more dangerous her beloved island becomes.

And again, look at that last sentence. 28 words. Flab flab flab.

Unpredictable weather causes devastating damage. A fast-spreading illness affects half the population. Rampaging beasts, dormant for centuries, injure people beyond magical repair. Willow and Finn barely escape from a winged menace near the forest. Giant claws shred four young men in the mountains. The waters teem with deadly tentacles. Willow’s kingdom used to be a paradise full of bird-speak and flower-song. The only melodies floating on the salty air since Prince George arrived are dirges.

Let’s do a better job of connecting those two paragraphs. Often it’s as simple as repeating a word:

the more dangerous her beloved island becomes.
Unpredictable dangerous weather causes devastating damage.

Then  you just swan off into detail that doesn’t move the plot forward:

You can cut all of this:
Willow and Finn barely escape from a winged menace near the forest. Giant claws shred four young men in the mountains. The waters teem with deadly tentacles. Willow’s kingdom used to be a paradise full of bird-speak and flower-song. The only melodies floating on the salty air since Prince George arrived are dirges.

Without losing any plot.

People whisper about bad luck and ignored prophecies. Marry the prince and end this, they say. What no one understands is if Willow marries George, a piece of her, the Finn-sized piece, will die.

It’s not ignored prophecies, plural. It’s ignored prophecy singular. That’s a HUGELY important detail because one ignored prophecy that falls on Willow means she’s the only person who can change things.

Details like this catch my eye in the query. I really respond to meticulous writing.

Also for what’s at stake “the Finn-sized piece of her may die” is pretty low-rent. If I lived in Atlantis, I’d say “hey Willow, suck it up, people are dying here.”

And in fact, if she’s the noble hero, she’s not even thinking twice, she’s RUNNING down the aisle in order to save her people.

While Willow searches for proof that her prophecy is unrelated to the recent disastrous events, she discovers the truth about Finn’s past. A truth that could set everything right, or send Atlantis crashing into the sea.

So, Willow is trying to avoid her destiny, I get that. But the plans to get her hitched to Georgie better be proceeding full steam ahead, or there’s no tension.

In other words, she IS going to marry George unless she can figure out a way to save Atlantis.

THE LAST REALM is a completed 80,000-word YA fantasy novel that retells the story of Atlantis in the vein of ABC’s Once Upon a Time.

I had to look up this comparison, and it seems pretty apt, but it's also a TV show, and generally you want to use books, not other media forms as comparisons.

I earned my B.A. in English and my master’s in English education, both from Rutgers University. I taught 8th grade and 10th grade English classes. Currently, I am raising four readers who borrow a back-breaking number of books from the library, which makes me proud and my chiropractor happy.

YES YES YES!!! This is a lovely bio, with a delightful zing of humor!!! I knew you weren’t boring.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

So, we may have a problem with the book, in that Willow really needs to demonstrate her heroism by agreeing to marry Boring George to save her people. She can be searching for a way out, but what she can’t do is try to avoid her duty.

The essence of being the hero is that you Do The Right Thing even when it costs you. The hero runs IN to the fire, not away from it; toward the gunfire, not away from it. Make sure Willow does this.

Then revise the query and resend.

Original query

  • 1) After reading 318 shark attacks, I have written about 318 drafts of this letter. I feel like this draft meets your criteria and has the most voice. My beta readers are split. My objectivity died a horrible death about 53 drafts ago. Is the writing coherent and the voice clear?
  • 2) I am a SAHM and debut author. If a bio is required, should I just keep it to 2 sentences about my former education and teaching experience and stick it right before the closing? Does a boring bio turn agents off?

Let me stop you right there. I never EVER want to hear you refer to yourself as boring because you are a stay-at-home mom. You may not be curing cancer but you are raising readers, and by god if you don't recognize how important that is, I do, and I'm coming to your house to smack you around with the spiderpus.

Dear Query Shark:

Eighteen-year-old Willow Starmill hates shoes, heavy dresses, and the crown that her mother swears impresses other royals of the Seven Hidden Realms. Willow much prefers to roam the island barefoot, dancing or drawing swords with Finn Fields. When his mother dies, Finn is the only mortal left in the kingdom. Willow would give up her plant-magic, or worse, she would grow dandelions for the rest of eternity, rather than watch Finn wither over time. What good is being an immortal princess on an enchanted island if she can’t even save her best friend?

This isn't bad, or even not-good.
It's well-written.
It doesn't clunk.
But it's also not compelling. It doesn't grab me. It doesn't make me eager to read on.

When Willow learns that Finn will become immortal if she marries him, binding souls on their wedding night, she almost starts planning his funeral. She can’t turn her back on the prophecy given to her on the day she was born, the one that says she must marry a prince. Everyone knows the first day prophecies are never wrong.

This is all set up and backstory. It's not bad, but it's also not that interesting.

Willow’s parents remind her of that fact when Prince George arrives from another realm, offering political strength and a marriage proposal. The longer Willow delays answering the prince, the more dangerous her beloved island becomes. Unpredictable weather causes devastating damage, a fast-spreading illness affects half the population, and rampaging beasts injure people beyond magical repair.

Rampaging beasts? That's kinda fun...but you just toss it in there like a carnivorous rhino with wings is a small detail. (Ok, I made up the carnivorous rhino with wings part but still..)

Are these things happening because Willow is ignoring the prophecy that she has believed her whole life, or is there something darker at work in Atlantis?

Right here is where you finally get to the good stuff, and I had to wade through a lot of set up to get here.

Time is running out for Willow to choose between the alliance or the friendship, her kingdom or her heart.

There's nothing unexpected here, there's no twist. There's nothing that makes me gasp with delight.

I’m seeking representation for THE LAST REALM, a completed 80,000-word YA fantasy novel about first loss and first love. It will appeal to fans of Matched by Ally Condie, The Selection by Kiera Cass, and to barefoot, sword-wielding princesses from any realm.

Matched was pubbed in 2011. The Selection in 2013. Thus both books are too old to be good comps for you. You want books published recently (within 2-3 years)

I chose to submit this to you because, being the only actual fish in the literary sea, you are uniquely equipped to answer my question: On a scale of dwarf lanternshark to megalodon, how necessary are sharks to the success of a novel? Asking for a friend.

For you and your friend.
Opinions may vary, but I'm right, and everyone else is wrong.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Contact Info

As to your question: You can included anything you want in your bio other that the word boring.  You can talk about your eduction. You can tell me you're a stay-at-home mom.  You can mention you're a debut author. Yes, a boring bio turns anyone off, but you're a writer. Make it sound interesting.

As to  whether the writing is coherent and the voice clear? Yes it is, but that's not your problem.

The problem with this query isn't that it's bad. It's not. It's good writing. But it doesn't do the job because it doesn't entice me to read the pages.

The problem is NOT the query; it's the book you're describing. It needs something (a twist of some sort) to elevate it above the pack.

Go back to the fantasy you love to read. What surprised and delighted you about the book/s? Now, do better.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


1. My suspense novel is roughly 140k. Is that instant death? Should I not include the word count in the query unless required? There is a second protagonist that plays a significant role and is responsible for about 1/3 of the word count. I left him out of the query because I felt it made the query too cumbersome. This leads to my second question.

2. Is it misleading to not personally include this second POV in the query? He is from Kadyn’s past and is trying to find her. So technically he is represented by what's there already

Dear QueryShark,

The rules of Witness Protection are not only absolutely clear but incredibly simple: Keep a low profile and under no circumstances make contact with anyone from your past.

You’d think it’d be easy, but it’s not. Not for twelve-year-old Kadyn Hopplar. The past is so much more than just a reference point. It’s best friends and great memories. Most of all, it’s a time when she was happy. A time before her father was killed by the bad men.

She’s got the typical challenges of any normal pre-teen starting a new school in a new town, but while she struggles to move forward she also struggles to let go of her past. Only, her past isn’t ready to do the same.

The bad men are still out there, and they’re waiting for the smallest hint of her presence like hungry spiders on a web. When Kadyn learns that something has happened to her ‘old’ best friend and is desperate to find out more, they may just get their chance to pounce.

Walk a Web of Spiders is a 140,000 word suspense story and my first novel. I also write short stories, two of which have been published.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I'm very VERY leery of a suspense novel that clocks in at 140K, because suspense should be taut, not languid. 

The idea that you just not mention the word count in a query is Textbook Example of Foot Shooting. If I'm intrigued by the query, and request the full, the first thing I do when you send it, is download the manuscript. My word processing program tells me the number of pages and word count automatically.

If you think I won't notice 600+ pages, and 140K word count, you're wrong.
If you think I'll just read it anyway, you're also wrong.
If I think you're trying to pull the wool over my eyes, well, we've gotten off on the wrong foot, and that's Not Good.

But the thing that really bothers me is you've got a 12 year old protagonist, and the plot seems like that of a middle grade novel. 140K is very much too long for a middle grade novel.
Including the second POV seems like a good idea if only to rescue this from sounding like a middle grade novel. In fact, if you start with him, and then talk about Kadyn, it might do the trick even more neatly.

There isn't a lot of plot on the page here. My assumption when reading this is that Kadyn is in WitSec because of something her parents did. But if people are hunting for her, well, the reason for that will help elevate this to a more adult sounding suspense novel.

First figure out how to cut 40K words from the ms. Every person I've ever met at a writing conference who says "this can't be cut" watched me trim 1000 words out of the first 30 pages without fanning a fin. 
Then, start over on the query.  Make sure your reader (me) knows this is an adult novel.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


I have yet to receive anything other than a form rejection from an agent with this query. To me it feels 'ok' but on life support, meaning it's alive, but barely. I feel that I just need an extra oomph to get it up and running in a manner that would garner attention. This is why I'm fully tossing the chum in the water in hopes of getting a bite.

Dear Query Shark:
The Warrior's Crown:

Eighteen-year-old Adira never imagined herself a hero, much less a savior of the kingdom, but she found herself in the middle of a dark war nonetheless. After learning that a dark entity, thought to have been banished generations ago, has resurfaced, she finds herself targeted for death, just for knowing of its return.

I'd stop reading here. There is absolutely nothing new or compelling about what you've described. You absolutely must make a story your own, and you haven't. "Dark entity" is too generic to be interesting. Darth Vader is a dark entity but what made him scary as all hell was the face mask, the breathing, and his menacing intentions. Even his name sounded evil.

Telling me something is a dark entity is boring. Showing me that he can strangle someone just by raising his hand and using The Force for evil...well, that's much more compelling.
Forced to flee her home after her adoptive father is killed by men who pledged their allegiance to the entity, Adira vows revenge.

Of course she does. Again, this is too generic to be interesting.

Seeking refuge at a faraway outpost, Adira hones her fighting skills alongside well-trained soldiers. When an ageless and powerful Seer arrives, Adira finally decides to reveal what she knows. This knowledge, coupled with a shocking revelation about her adoptive father, convinces the Seer that Adira may be the key to stopping the evil from spreading across the land.

Of course she is. So far you don't have anything different that the fifty other YA queries like this that I see every week.

As Adira begins seeking her own personal revenge and fighting alongside new friends to defend the kingdom, a conspiracy begins to unravel and could lead to death for everyone. The entity’s true motives come to light and Adira learns that the only chance for victory may be sacrificing her own life.

Of course it is.

THE WARRIOR’S CROWN is a Young Adult fantasy novel with series potential, complete at 90,000 words. It may appeal to readers of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series.

You may contact me at (email address) or @(you) on twitter.
 I have your email address already since my email inbox shows the return address, and the place for your twitter handle below your name.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

There's nothing here that's fresh and new.
You haven't put your spin on any of this.
Everything is too generic to be interesting (dark entity, faraway outpost, ageless seer). This could be Star Wars...but would you know?

One of the things that made Guardians of the Galaxy so fun was how the movie played with standard character tropes.

I don't know if the query doesn't do justice to the book, or you haven't written a book I want to read.

Go back to your favorite books in this category and read them again. This time watch for how the author surprises you, or twists a plot.  That's what makes a story individual.  Watch for how the characters are described that lifts them from generic to interesting.

It takes a long time to write something all your own. It's not a character flaw or failure that this doesn't work.  It's a step on the writing path. Every single writer learns how to do this exactly the way you are: by doing.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

#320 - FTW


1.) Money is tight for me, so I can't buy new books and my library can be slow to get requests in. A CP suggested reading a summary of books so I can find comps, but that feels dishonest to me...if I don't read a book, how can I truly know it's a good comp? I thought about leaving comps out altogether, but I want to highlight my MC is an anti-hero. What's your opinion on this?

2.) I struggle heavily with depression, so I've had to take steps to protect myself from querying. I have a separate email for queries only and check it once a week, and only if I'm mentally prepared. Should I make a note in my query that my response (should I be so lucky!) may be delayed?
Dear Query Shark

Sixteen-year-old Katrell doesn’t mind talking to the dead; she just wishes it made her more money. Fifty bucks here and there isn’t enough to support her unemployed mother and her mother’s deadbeat boyfriend-of-the-week. But when she accidentally brings her dead dog back to life instead of summoning his ghost, Katrell gets dollar signs in her eyes. Talking to the dead is one thing, but people will pay top dollar to see their loved ones again.

I really like this.

Her plan runs smoothly at first. Though the resurrected people, called Revenants, don’t eat, sleep, or breathe, they’re warm and look enough like their old selves to convince her clients to part with thousands of dollars. Good enough for Katrell.

I really like this. And the best thing: I can see how the precipitating incident will lead to trouble down the road. That's a good thing when you're able to get your reader anticipating things.

But things fall apart when the Revenants aren’t docile puppets like Katrell thought. Her clients forget their loved ones ever existed and dump them on Katrell’s doorstep. Revenants rob citizens of her town and present stolen money and jewelry to Katrell. When her first Revenant graduates from theft to murder, Katrell has a decision to make. If she stops resurrecting people, she’ll be back under the poverty line. But if she continues, the body count will keep inching higher, and the people Katrell love may end up in the crossfire.

I really like this!

WILDFIRE is a 65,000 word young adult contemporary fantasy with elements of horror. It features an all black cast and is #ownvoices for the African-American lead and struggles with poverty.

If it were possible to like this more than I did before, I do.

I’m an author from Alabama, and so far, no Revenants are stalking me. I have a BA in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. I was an editorial intern with (company name) Publishing for a year.

So far anyway (let's keep it that way!)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I love this a lot. If your pages hold up, I think you'll get requests.

As to your questions: 

(1) I don't think you need comps here. However, if you want to include them, it's ok to have read summaries not the entire book.  It's not dishonest. 

(2) Whether you include this information is up to you.  Choosing when and how to reveal that you struggle with depression has no right or wrong answer. Anyone who says otherwise should be ignored.

I don't expect an instant response to a request for the full manuscript, but I'm always much happier to get the requested full sooner rather than later. In your case, I'd want it sooner cause I'd want to start reading.

I wrote a blog post about when/how to reveal personal details that may shed some light too.

Monday, August 27, 2018

#319-Revised once

Dear Query Shark,

When an asteroid hits Earth, Lauren Sand considers herself lucky to stumble upon a Cold War bomb shelter down a mine shaft—until she shuts the door. Time-locked for two years underground, Lauren has no connection to the outside world. Nothing but the final radio broadcast of conspiracy theorist Mick Parks, who claims a nuclear error caused the catastrophe. When the door opens, Lauren emerges into a drastically changed world. The sea has a new shore, breaking six-thousand-feet high into the Rocky Mountains. With everything she has ever known covered by salt water, Lauren sets out to find other survivors.

This is a promising opening.
I can see a couple places where the writing could use some polish but when I read a query, a good compelling concept trumps all.

Struggling to survive, Lauren is grateful to befriend members of a commune called Camp Genesis. But after weeks of camaraderie, she discovers it’s a cult. The women there are the charismatic leader’s chattel, destined to repopulate the Earth with his offspring. When he stakes his claim on Lauren, she flees.

Oh blarg.
Honestly, I'm so so so over this plot device. Women as chattel, women as victims. One of the GREAT things about a post apocalyptic novel is your chance to discard old tropes and invent some new ones.

I'll keep reading but my enthusiasm has dwindled.

With the cult leader on her trail, Lauren treks across the desolate remains of Northwest Wyoming where algae devour the landscape and holiday resorts have become fiefdoms that kill trespassers on sight. Death and destruction greet her at every turn until she meets homesteader Jay in the lawless last city of New Casper. Jay offers Lauren sanctuary, and the future she always dreamed of. But Lauren sees the future of humanity at stake and believes the truth about the asteroid will help give closure and peace to the dying city. Driven by her hunch, Lauren and Jay embark up the frozen summit of Gannet Peak to last known location of Mick Parks. If her intuition is right, his story may help restore their broken world and allow Lauren to stay with Jay forever— if the cult leader doesn’t silence her first.

And now, I'm utterly and completely confused. Fiefdoms kill trespassers? I'm guessing you mean the people who live in the fiefdoms. How do you have a homesteader in a town? And why is Lauren worried about the future of humanity when she's got more immediate concerns?

Closure and peace to a dying city? What does that even mean?

CAPTURE THE TIDE is a 65,000-word, post-apocalyptic YA novel.

Your first query worked just fine.
Why are you "fixing"this?
It's the PAGES that aren't working.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


After a handful of rejections, I decided to commit myself to the Query Shark archives and I'm so glad I did. I killed my darlings, waited, then killed some more. But, the question is still the same. Is it my letter or my pages that get me rejected? I need the Query Shark.

Dear Query Shark,

When the earth starts collapsing around her, Lauren Sand considers herself lucky to stumble through the steel hatch she finds in a mine shaft—until she reads the notice on the bomb shelter door telling her it won’t open for two years, when the radioactivity outside has safely decayed. But, thanks to the final radio broadcast of a conspiracy theorist named Mick Parks, the young woman knows it was an errant asteroid that shook the world, not nuclear war. What she has two years to wonder about is why no one knew the end was coming.

Now, standing on the new shore of the sea, breaking six-thousand-feet high into the Rocky Mountains, Lauren understands she will never see her Shoshone grandmother Jean and sister Ava again. They, and her hometown of Shadow Grass, Wyoming are covered by salt water. She has survived the end of the world, but to what end? As she begins her treacherous search for other survivors, Lauren is driven by the need to know how there was no warning that the end was near, except for the disregarded claims of a radio talk show host.

Hostile vagrants with saccharine promises haunt the desolate landscape and threaten her resolve. But when she meets Jay, nothing seems impossible. Lauren will learn that one person willing to ask why, and not flinch at the truth, can begin to reconstruct the broken world. Along the way, she will shed the doubts and guilt of adolescence and accept the most unexpected gift of all at the end of the world—love.

CAPTURE THE TIDE is a 66,000-word post-apocalyptic survival epic and love story. It is my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

It's your pages.
This isn't the most compelling query I've ever seen but I like the concept a lot. I'd read pages if  I repped YA. (You know this is YA, right?)

I'm not sure finding out why the world ended is a strong enough plot; the world after all did end. No amount of knowing why is going to change that.

"Hostile vagrants" is the wrong phrase here. I'm not sure you can be a vagrant in a post apocalyptic world since it means "without visible means of support" and no one has a job in this new world, or money, most likely.

You might mean vagabond, as in traveller. 

You're also missing the obvious: why are they hostile? If I was traipsing around at the end of the world, I'd probably be glad to find someone else.

All that said, I'd read pages.

So, what's wrong with your pages?  My guess (and I haven't seen them of course) is you start at the wrong place.  Start with the door opening, not the door closing.  And you might think about the plot too.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


The first person viewpoint character of my novel is blind but the story is not about her blindness. It’s just something she happens to be. I know it’s a selling point, but it’s not a plot point.

Originally, I had it as a logline (A blind girl and her best friend…) Now, I’m having trouble fitting it back in earlier in the query. Is it too far down?

At the end I talk mention the blurb (author) promised-- is that worth including? It’s not a lie, but I’m worried it’s not relevant or I’m jumping the gun.

Dear Query Shark,

When something from  space (missing word) and lands in the parking lot outside the pizza shop, Meg knows she’s in trouble.

You're missing a verb here. As I read your query that kind of typo stands out like a pink flamingo on Astroturf.  It leads me to form some opinions about your work and they're not good.

 I cannot over stress the ironclad necessity of making sure these kind of glitches get revised out. We ALL leave out verbs, make typos, have too many thats, and discover errant the thes in our writing. The trick is to REVISE those errors out.

Other than that, this is pretty funny.

But when a boy who smells like spearmint invites her to see his band and her boy-crazy, best friend, June, overhears? Meg knows she’s screwed.

And this is splat. The second paragraph should build on the first. You have an alien space craft (or something!) landing in the parking lot. Your BFF hearing a boy invite you to a concert is pretty anti climatic.

The solution? Leave it out. Move directly to the next paragraph.

There’s rumblings in town that something like this (the object from space, not the boy) without the second paragraph you don't need the parenthetical has happened before. Also, their new friend, Sev, a zoologist from the team sent to investigate, seems to know much more than he’s letting on.

Together, the three of them must unravel the mystery behind the object that fell—and they’re not the only ones searching.

Why do they have to unravel the mystery? What's at stake if they don't? Unicorns will go extinct?

And, it all has to happen before Meg’s “date” (June’s words) at Battle of the Bands this weekend.

Why? What's so important about this concert?

 THE DODO AND THE SPACESHIP OUTSIDE is a lighthearted YA, slice-of-life novel interrupted by the arrival of a sci-fi adventure in the parking lot outside.

One of the things agents say at writers conferences panels about queries goes like this: "I was reading this terrific manuscript, pretty sure it was a rom-com, then all of a sudden, aliens arrive in Chapter 14. That's why I ask writers to submit a synopsis."

And here you are with aliens interrupting a rom com, but you've kindly put it in chapter one.

You're trying to be witty here. Oh hell you ARE witty. But the purpose of a query isn't to show your wit, it's to entice me to read your novel. You're undercutting that here by using the word "interrupted." 

It’s all experienced though the ears, hands, and nose of Meg, who is blind.

It is completed at 60,000 words. Comparables are “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” meets “Steelheart.”

I’m currently a creative copywriter at (Big Ass and Famous), a large advertising agency. This novel was workshopped over a semester under (Good writer) and he has promised a blurb once it’s published. As an LGBTQ+ minority, I’m also passionate about including those narratives in my work.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Your questions:
The first person viewpoint character of my novel is blind but the story is not about her blindness. It’s just something she happens to be. I know it’s a selling point, but it’s not a plot point.

Originally, I had it as a logline (A blind girl and her best friend…) Now, I’m having trouble fitting it back in earlier in the query. Is it too far down?

No. You handle it very deftly. Since the book is NOT about her blindness, you don't lead with that.

At the end I talk mention the blurb Brandon Sanderson promised-- is that worth including? It’s not a lie, but I’m worried it’s not relevant or I’m jumping the gun.

It's worth a mention because he's OFFERED the blurb. Where you'd run into trouble is if he'd already blurbed it. You can't ask an author twice and often books are revised and reshaped in the acquisition and editorial process such that the book read before sending out to agents is much different than the book now on its way to bookstores.  There's a longer blog post about that here.

There's essentially no plot on the page here, and even in a rom-com, you must have a plot, or what's at stake for the characters.  You've got the wit; now we need some substance.

Queries can have frothy whipped cream but it's got to be on top of the hot chocolate, not in place of it.

Revise, resend.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Dear Query Shark:

Question: My plan was to give potential agents the ability to read up to 1/3 of the book instantly. Eight years ago, you said not to include active links, but it’s very common now. Is this acceptable? Active is much easier because email software will turn parts of a URL into what looks like active links, but they don’t work, which could be confusing. This is what a non-active link could look like:

To read up to 88 pages of the book on Zoho TeamDrive, go to (add https:// at beginning and paste into browser) and enter the password (redacted)

Is this a good idea or a bad one? I’ve made this a real link/password for the Shark in case she wants to see how it works.

Thank you for making query writing educational and entertaining. You can chomp my arm off now (left please since I write with my right).

You're solving a problem that doesn't exist.

If I want to read your manuscript all I have to do is hit Reply to your email, and ask you to come to my house and read it. And about 50% of all y'all would be there within an hour.

Alternatively, I can just email you to send the manuscript as a word doc. In other words, the system works fine, don't screw around with it unless asked to do so.

The only reason I can think of that made you want to do this is being afraid you'll miss the email requesting the full. Unless you are headed for a long prison term, on a voyage to Mars, or stalking the wild asparagus in Borneo, you'll be available enough to send something.  I don't need the manuscript the instant I read your query. I generally read queries in batches, and requested fulls when I've set aside a block of time.

So, there's no  real reason you need this PLUS it's a  TERRIBLE idea and you should never do it because it marks you as a crackpot who thinks "follow the damn directions" doesn't apply to you. I'm sure that's not the real you, so don't do stuff that makes people think so.

Also, I like to have the manuscript here on my hard drive so I can adjust the font, clear out all the crazy margins you set, insert double spacing, AND be able to send it back to you with some notes marked in track changes. In other words, what I ask for is what I want, and what I want is not arbitrary or whimsical.

Dear Mr./Ms. Agent Name:

Things 15-year-old Josh Taylor didn’t see coming:

A mom who doesn’t know him.
A clone in the kitchen that looks exactly like him.
A dead father who’s very much alive.

It’s like he wandered into the Twilight Zone . . . or a seriously messed up after-school special. He’s knocked unconscious and wakes up in a world where supernatural creatures live among humans, technology has advanced by a couple decades, and even his family is different.

This is actually pretty good, and enticing.

An angel, named Zed, claims he’s a champion with the power to manipulate matter and energy. And he thinks that’s ridiculous — until he sends kids flying with a wave of his hand and strikes a tree with lightning. An ancient prophecy declares he’s destined to liberate a powerful sword, and he easily frees it. But it’s engraved with a freaky warning: “In the wrong hands this is a weapon of mass destruction. Protect it at all costs.”

Now he’s got a list of things he never thought he’d do:

Make it rain in the school gym.
Heal his friend’s cat-dog hybrid.
Steal a priceless artifact from a museum.
Battle a 5322-year-old changeling at the zoo.

And those were the easy parts. Something invisible is stalking Josh. Angels fight over him, try to recruit him, and force him into dangerous situations to test his powers. Even his home isn’t safe — with a spiteful AI in charge. And vampires and aliens want to steal the weapon, and they threaten to kill him and his family and friends to get it. Josh must learn to use his superpowers quickly, because if he fails, everyone and everything he loves could be lost.

TITLE — a 93,000-word YA alternate-universe adventure — is my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Angels, vampires and aliens. And Artificial Intelligence. You've got a LOT of weird here. Often the best plots are pretty simple. You don't need fusion cooking for a tasty treat (Brussels sprouts, raisins, walnuts with ice cream!); you need really simple but delicious ingredients. Corn on the cob. Butter. A napkin.

Over stuffing the plot is something I see in writers early in their career. It takes confidence to pare down, and confidence takes a while to build.

It's not your lunatic page link that will earn you a pass here; it's the overly elaborate plot.

Revise. Resend. And ditch the link idea forever.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

#316-Revised once

Dear QueryShark:

Rosie didn’t mean to summon a muse, but now Muses Incorporated’s best and brightest is at her service. Every time Rosie runs into Theo, her new neighbor, inspiration follows in his wake. Words that have been dead and gone for years flow free and easy. Things are looking up. 

I'm confused here. If inspiration follows in his wake, who's being inspired? Rosie? Theo? People standing around chatting at the neighborhood t-rex roast?

Words that have been dead and gone flow free and easy? Dead words are flowing? That sounds like a horror novel to me.

Don't try to be clever. Just tell me what Rosie wants and why she can't have it. My guess is that Rosie wants to be a writer and she's having a hard time wrangling words. 

Until she and Theo stumble through a portal and end up trapped in the world where Rosie’s stories live.

They stumble through a portal? Generally when I'm slinking about with my Muse  here in NYC I avoid the manhole covers portals.   

Stumbling through a portal is one of those devices you use cause you haven't figured out how to get them to a different world in a more interesting way.  Quick fixes like this are ok if they aren't major plot points, but honestly, this is the big one, and it's a cliché.

Okay. She can handle this. 

Theo says the only way home is to write them to the other side, but that’s kind of hard to pull off when there’s nothing but sand and sun where characters and plot should be. 

You know characters and plot are made up things, right? Cause at this point you've taken this whole "my book is a living thing" metaphor right up to the edge of aw c'mon.

As if that wasn’t enough, Theo’s power-hungry, manipulative boss is doing everything she can to keep Theo from signing his last contract and becoming a free human again. Calliope’s determined to keep them trapped until Theo gives up his hope at freedom and promises to stay by her side forever. And if that means killing Rosie, then so be it.

Theo sounds like the guy with the problem, not Rosie.

Maybe she can’t handle this after all. 

ROSIE AND THEO is contemporary fantasy, and is 75,000 words.

75K feels a bit light for a fantasy. There's all that world building you need, plus of course a plot.

This is my debut novel. When I’m not writing, I’m raising five kids to be pretty cool humans, along with my pretty cool, human husband. Sometimes, I’ll go on long and very excited rants about Jewish pirates. It’s a thing.

This is still the best part of the query, and it gives me hope.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

The really bad news is that books about writers and writing are generally best left to non-fiction. Only writers find the travails of writers to be interesting. It's a little too inside baseball.

I see these kinds of books from writers often enough that I know it's a response to being frustrated about your own writing career.  Unfortunately that's not enough to drive a novel.

If you can turn this on its ear, make the writer the villain (gasp!) and the Muse the protagonist; the writer botching things left and right; the Muse having to solve things for the writer, this is going to be a whole lot more interesting.

If you don't want to make that kind of major change, you still need to be much more specific about Rosie's problem: what she wants and why she can't have it.


Original query

Question Re: contact info. Should a tumblr be included? I have over 2k followers, but it's mostly fandom content. And what about fanfiction? I've been writing for 17 years and I have stories that have close to 50k hits online, and several hundred likes and comments. But I also know that a lot of people see fanfiction as taboo. Should I reference it, or am I better off not mentioning it at all?

One last question - when submission guidelines ask for pages, should they always be double spaced, even if the submission guidelines don't say either way?

Dear Query Shark,

Rosie’s pretty sure it would take magic to help her publish a novel at this point. Her best friend, Adelaide, always said she had it in her. But to be honest, Rosie hasn’t written a word since Addy died two years ago. Right now, she has less chance of publishing a book than she has of landing a decent date on Tinder. And that’s saying something.

Novels about writers are really tricky. Only writers care about whether someone publishes a novel. And writers aren't your audience here: readers are.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a doctor once at a writing conference. I asked what the stakes were in his novel. He said in a horrified voice "he will lose his hospital privileges!" The writer/doctor was shocked to his shoes when I said no one would care about that.

My point here is the book needs to be about more then whether Rosie gets published.

Theo has worked as a muse at Muses Inc. for two hundred years. Now, at last, his contract is almost up. He just needs to sign one more writer and he can get back to his life, to his own writing, to his freedom. But his boss, Calliope, doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and seems determined to make him stay, whatever the cost.

 This is actually a much more interesting start to the query. But what is Calliope's problem here? She doesn't like writers all of a sudden? Last I looked, she's the muse of Poets et al.

When Rosie inadvertently summons Theo, the two of them end up thrown into The Sandbox, a world where Rosie’s writing comes to life. The only way back home is to follow the story through to the end. Cue hybrid monsters, fire mages, fairy queens and one seriously manipulative Greek goddess.

So, what's the plot here? Rosie wants to get published. Got that. Theo wants out of Muses Inc. Got that. Who's running the Sandbox (ie the antagonist)? And by Greek goddess do you mean Calliope, cause she's a muse, not a goddess.

Rosie’s pretty sure it’ll all make a good book if she and Theo can just survive it.
ROSIE AND THEO is 74,000 words. It is a contemporary fantasy novel about reclaiming agency, overcoming fear, and becoming the protagonist of your own narrative.

Well, ok, but I don't get how this is any of that. What fears does Rosie overcome? Reclaiming agency? I'm pretty sure you don't mean literary agency, cause that would be weird. Become the protagonist of your own narrative sounds like a self-help book, not a novel.

This is my debut novel. When I’m not writing, I’m raising five kids to be pretty cool humans, along with my pretty cool, human husband. Sometimes, I’ll go on long and very excited rants about Jewish pirates. It’s a thing.

This is the best part of the query. It's funny. It makes sense. And it makes me want to know more about you.And where's the book about Jewish pirates? Oy matey!

Thank you for your time and consideration.

You don't have any plot on the page here, and I'm not seeing what you tell me the book is about. Start over.

As for your questions:
Question Re: contact info. Should a tumblr be included? I have over 2k followers, but it's mostly fandom content. And what about fanfiction? I've been writing for 17 years and I have stories that have close to 50k hits online, and several hundred likes and comments. But I also know that a lot of people see fanfiction as taboo. Should I reference it, or am I better off not mentioning it at all?

Include your Tumblr account if you want an agent to look at it. Any social media platform is ok, particularly if it shows you've got an engaged audience.  Readers are readers and I'm always glad to hear that a debut novelist already has some. 

Fanfiction is taboo? I guess we should all forget that complete flop of a novel Fifty Shades of Grey?
I can't sell fanfiction using a world someone else created but I can certainly let READERS of that fiction know you have another book being published. There's a very clear distinction here. Let me know if you need elaboration.

One last question - when submission guidelines ask for pages, should they always be double spaced, even if the submission guidelines don't say either way?

Not in an electronic query. Pages are single spaced BUT you allow white space by inserting a line every 3-5 lines so you're not sending a Big Block O'Text.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

#315-revised 2x

* one of the people commenting on my pitch on your site mentioned that he thought it was speculative fiction. I’m not sure if a couple of ghosts qualify a novel as speculative fiction. Could it be Magic Realism?

I can never remember the distinctions on these, so I'm always looking it up. Here are some places to start. And category can be more fluid than genre for sure.

Magical realism:

Is speculative fiction also magical realism?


Revision #2

Dear Query Shark,

In 1977, seventeen-year-old psychic Alice discovers a young man in antique clothes — and he’s been murdered.

She asks Rona the housekeeper if she knows if there had ever been anyone murdered on the old Georgian estate? Rona reacts annoyed, and when Alice tells her about a ghostly swan with human eyes that tried to warn her about the forest, she becomes agitated and changes the subject.

“reacts annoyed” is incorrect usage. You mention in an earlier query that English is your second language. I think you’ll need a native English speaker for a the final once-over on this. A native speaker would catch this (I hope!)

I’m also confused by this entire paragraph. What ghostly swan? What warning?

Alice finds a dead guy in antique clothes. The first thing she does is ask the housekeeper if knows of any dead people? I’d think she’d check his pockets for ID. Or call the police. Or someone who could help her.

Is Rona the only other person on the estate? If so, and that’s why Alice inquires about this of her (Rona), then you don’t need to tell us much more than she (Rona) becomes agitated and changes the subject.

Determined to find answers, Alice searches her room and discovers a secret compartment containing old letters dated 1803. The letters, written by the eighteen-year-old Melissa, intrigue Alice and slowly a tragic life lived 174 years before starts to unfold.

So, you’ve got a dead body and your first course of action is to search your own room?

That doesn’t make sense to me.

You’d be better off to place less emphasis on the discovery of the dead body, and instead starting with the search: 

After Alice finds a murdered young man in antique clothes in the garden, something no one on the estate seems to want to talk about, she decides to search for clues about his identity.

The cache of letters from 1803 that she finds in a secret compartment in her own room seem to hold the answer.

Then Alice meets and falls in love with Rona’s nephew Connor and she experiences true happiness for the first time, but when she finds her dog poisoned in the forest, she begins to wonder if meeting Connor wasn’t orchestrated by Rona to stop her investigating the historical murder.

So that’ a long ass sentence of 48 words.

Anytime you have something this long, revise into shorter, blunter sentences.

You’re also awash in what happens rather than giving us the plot. (Lack of plot is a consistent problem in ALL these iterations of your query)

Consider this revision: Alice’s investigation slows down when she meets and falls in love with Rona’s nephew Connor.

There’s no connection here between the dog being poisoned and Connor. Why would Alice suspect him? And if she thought Connor killed her dog, why hasn’t she kicked him to the curb?

In trying to lay Melissa’s brother’s ghost to rest, Alice must face a devastating truth about the swan — with Connor’s eyes.

Again, what swan?

I grew up in Ireland and have always loved the stories told me by my teachers at the various convent schools I went to. THE GHOST SWAN is set in Ireland, and inspired by Irish legends and history. The novel is told in a dual time narrative and complete at 96,000 words, targeting a YA Crossover readership.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

There’s nothing at stake here for Alice. Facing a devastating truth is NOT stakes. What’s at stake is what Alice is going to lose, have to give up, etc. What choices she has to make.

Stakes are why we care about what happens. Without them, the book is just a series of events, and that’s not what you want.

There are templates on this blog for how to get plot on the page. Use them as the starting point.

Since it's  not in the query, first make sure it IS in the book.

Yes, it is entirely possible to write a book without a plot.

I’ve read some. Great writing, great voice, but no plot. Those break my heart.

Make sure you’ve got a plot in the book THEN revise the query to reflect that.

Revision #1

I’ve put in two comparable titles, Atonement which inspired me to want to write a heart-wrenching love story and I wanted the mystery of The Miniaturist, but how do you compare yourself to such great writers?

Dear Query Shark,

It’s 1977, Leda recently moved with her father to a mysterious Georgian estate in rural Ireland.

This isn't a compelling first sentence.  If you show us why the Georgian estate is mysterious, or why Leda and Dad are moving there, you'll have a better chance of engaging your reader. But really the best way to start is with what Leda wants, and what's getting in her way.

In the throbbing heart of the forest not far from the house, where shadows duck away from sunbeams like wild cats, she stumbles on the murder of a young man dressed in strange old-fashioned clothes. She realizes she must have witnessed something from the past.

Forests don't have throbbing hearts of any kind, and this kind of metaphor makes me roll my eyes. That shadows duck away from sunbeams is telling me something I already know, and not in a way that makes me see shadows or sunbeams in a new light. If you start with "In a forest not far from the house Leda finds a young man dressed in antique clothes. And he's dead" you've got my interest.

In other words, don't try to be fancy. Not here, not in the novel. Too much fancy is like an overdecorated cake. Save the marzipan filigree for the top of the cake, not covering the entire thing.

Terrified and lonely, she finds old letters hidden in her bedroom written by a teenage girl dated 1803. The letters strangely comfort her, and visions of past events start to trickle into her daily life.

This is too abstract to be compelling. We have no idea why she's terrified, why she's lonely, why she's finding letters hidden in her bedroom.

And if she's having visions, what is she seeing? Is that what's scaring her? If so, you have this in the wrong order: visions, then tell us she's scared.

But the big problem here is we still haven't gotten to the plot.  I really need to know what the problem is, and what's at stake for Leda.

Then, she meets the first kind person in the village, slaughterhouse worker Connor, and it doesn’t take long for her to fall in love with him. As she uncovers the secrets of the letters, she discovers that the murders that started 174 years ago have never really stopped and Connor may be hiding the darkest secret of all — she might lose more than just her heart.

Still no plot. What does Leda want? What's keeping her from getting it.

Written for a readership that also enjoyed Atonement and The Miniaturist, The Ghost Swan is a general fiction novel of 96,000 words, set in 1977 and 1803, and told from two perspectives, the young, murdered man in 1803 and Leda.

There isn't really a "general fiction" category when you're talking about your novel. You'll see that in libraries maybe, but here in a query you can just say fiction (but NEVER EVER "fiction novel")

Atonement isn't a book you'll want to use a comp. First, it's now too old to be useful (it was pubbed in 2003). But, more important, Atonement sold very very well. You'd think that would be a plus as a comp, but it's not. More than anyone, agents know what a crapshoot it is to get a novel to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. (Hell, tens of thousands of copies is hard enough.) And of course, it was nominated for the Booker Prize.

Comparing your book to an outlier like this is akin to saying "The woman who won Miss America played the trombone for her talent. I play the trombone, so I could be the next Miss America." And no matter how well you play the trombone, that is not something people will take seriously. Even if you are young and lovely.

You can use Atonement if want to compare tone or style, but even that isn't a great idea.

The Miniaturist is a better choice, since it was pubbed in 2015, but it also has more than a thousand reviews on Amazon, thus might be a big reach.

Comps are very difficult to get right.  You're safer to say "the tone of my book is reminiscent of X or Y" or "the two time lines of my novel are similar to Z and A."

Readers who liked B and C should have B and C no more than two years old, and not runaway best sellers. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The answer to your question, how do you compare yourself to such great writers, is "you don't."

While I would LOVE it if your book moved me like Atonement, it's better for me to discover that it does, rather than be disappointed if it doesn't.

I remember when I read the very first draft of Lee Goodman's INDEFENSIBLE. I put my monocle down at about page 30, took a breath, and thought "holy moly, this guy writes like Scott Turow."  Lee hadn't mentioned Scott Turow, or even Presumed Innocent  in his query at all. He let me figure it out on my own. And because I saw it on my own, I was sure I was right. (I am right!)

You've still got the same problems you did in the first version: no plot.
This leads me to think that the problem might not be the query, it's the novel itself.

Make sure you have a plot in your novel. Yes, it is entirely possible to write a novel without a plot.
It's not a character flaw, or a sign that you're a bad writer, or you should throw up your hands in despair and become a taxi dancer at a waterfront dive bar.  It means you should figure out a plot and get it in the book.

Original query


1. I was raised in Ireland but born in the Netherlands; technically English is my second language, should I mention this in the query or would I be better off keeping my background a secret?

2. I’ve lost count as to how many agents I’ve queried; my novel was requested twice. I’ve had it assessed by official assessment agencies twice as well, both were very positive but had different views to what I should adjust. Could it than be the query that is posing the problem?

3. Is this query too short?

4. Should I mention the courses I did?

Dear Query Shark,

Florian relives one day over and over again, 11th February 1803, the last day of his life.
Leda discovers 174 years later who murdered him.

Your sentence structure is robbing that second line of any zing.
Consider: 174 years later, Leda discovers who murdered him.
See the difference?

But the problem of course is that reliving one day over and over again has been done so often that it's not only NOT fresh and new, it's tired and cranky.

This opening does not catch my interest. That's not fatal in a query, but it's not good either.

Although Florian and Leda live in their own time, each simultaneously embarks on a quest for truth, not knowing what the other discovers will affect them both in ways they never dreamed.

I don't understand what that means. Specifics really help in a query. And as far as I can tell there's no plot and nothing at stake. I really need to know about those in the query.

The Ghost Swan is a literary novel of 96,000 words set in Ireland in 1977 and 1803, and told from two perspectives.

And here's what's really amiss about this query. You're calling it a literary novel, but this query is the antithesis of literary. There are no lyrical turns of phrase, no deftly wrought metaphors, no words tangoing the reader across the dance floor of the novel, beguiling them to read on.

In other words: your query shows me what kind of writing to expect in the novel, and after reading this I do not expect literary fiction.

Plain is good. Plain is very good. But plain as in the beauty of an Amish quilt or the negative space of a spider web on a dewy morning.

I am an artist, and divide my time between writing and painting large watercolors. I’ve completed the writing a Novel, course at (School) in London, and (named) course in Scotland, and the (another name) Short Story Course. I published a short memoir in (another) Magazine in Dublin, and also made the artwork for the cover of (another) Literary Magazine, which was published last January.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


To answer your questions:
1. I was raised in Ireland but born in the Netherlands; technically English is my second language, should I mention this in the query or would I be better off keeping my background a secret?

There's a difference between keeping it a secret and not announcing it in a query. If you were raised in Ireland my guess is your English is pretty darn good. I didn't see anything in the query that made me wonder if it was your second language.

2. I’ve lost count as to how many agents I’ve queried; my novel was requested twice. I’ve had it assessed by official assessment agencies twice as well, both were very positive but had different views to what I should adjust. Could it than be the query that is posing the problem?

This query doesn't work at all. It starts with something that doesn't sound engaging, and there's no hint of plot, or what's at stake for either main character.

3. Is this query too short?
It doesn't have any mention of plot or stakes, so yes. That said, don't just add that. Think about how to entice your reader.

4. Should I mention the courses I did?
 No. The only thing that matters is the book.

Start over. Get some plot on the page here in the query.
SHOW me that you're writing literary fiction. 
If you're not, it's ok, but call it something else (like commercial fiction.)

Sunday, June 17, 2018


I've queried fifty-six agents. Five requested my full manuscript. They all passed. I now have these questions: Regarding my MC's name, I know your mind turns to CODE NAME VERITY. This isn't what I want. But, I want to use the name and there's an etymological reason. Is this foolish? Should I mention that the novel is told in two points of view? Would it be relevant to mention my writer's group in my bio? And should I include my published novel even though it didn't achieve robust sales?

Dear Query Shark,

Sixteen-year-old Verity Callahan has the ability to know the true answer to every question she's asked. When she was fourteen, she learned minutes before it happened that her father would die in a car crash — and yet, she failed to save him.

She's tried to bury her ability, but now it's manifesting in new ways. She's burdened with more information than ever before. What's worse, she's compelled to blurt it all out. She never asked for this. She wants to be normal.

Her younger brother Lucas Callahan is an empath whose power is growing. He will manipulate anyone's emotions to get what he wants: access to the best Ivy League institutions and a life of power and prestige. And once he understands what Verity can do, he imagines all they could do together.

But Verity has found happiness with her new boyfriend, Will McConnall. Lucas wants Verity and her abilities under his control. Realizing he'll never get that with Will in her life, Lucas devises a drastic plan to eliminate him.

By answering one fateful question after another, Verity learns of Lucas's scheme. She must hone the very abilities she detests to thwart Lucas's plot, or lose Will forever and become Lucas's puppet.

TRUTH BE TOLD, a young adult contemporary fantasy novel, is 101,000 words.

My first novel, (title), was published by (press name) in 2009. I wrote the novel while earning a master's degree in creative writing at (named) College. I completed the Creative Writing Summer Programme at the University of (other name).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regarding your questions:

I've queried fifty-six agents. Five requested my full manuscript. They all passed. I now have these questions: Regarding my MC's name, I know your mind turns to CODE NAME VERITY. This isn't what I want. But, I want to use the name and there's an etymological reason. Is this foolish?

No. Verity is a fine, old-fashioned name.

Should I mention that the novel is told in two points of view?

It doesn't matter.

Would it be relevant to mention my writer's group in my bio?

No. Your writers group is absolutely irrelevant.
And should I include my published novel even though it didn't achieve robust sales?

And here's the answer to the question you didn't ask: what's wrong with my query.

Nothing. You're getting requests. The agents are passing after they've read the ms. That means you have a problem in the manuscript, not the query.

There are a couple of ways to work on that. All of them are going to require some financial investment. You can engage an outside editor to look at your novel and identify areas that need to be revised. You can enroll in a class about novel writing. Grub Street in Boston offers these. You can bid on (and win!) an auction item wherein an agent offers a manuscript critique.

When you're considering who to work with look for actual, and recent experience in trade publishing on the acquisitions side of things.  You need help from people actually in the publishing trenches, because what agents want is a book they can sell.
Your query has done her job. Time for the manuscript to step up.

Sunday, June 10, 2018


Greetings (Agent’s name)

When someone uses Greetings as the salutation, it always reminds me of the now cliche "Greetings, earthlings. Take me to your leader." Or worse, a letter from my draft board letting me know Uncle Sam has need of my services.

 I'm not sure why you don't want to use Dear; it's standard business form. Hello works too.

This sounds nit-picky. It IS nitpicky, but you want to set the right tone at the start; Greetings doesn't do that.

Title: Subtitle is a mystery/thriller novel that appears to correspond to the types of manuscript you prefer to represent.

No. Never ever put this in a query. Either tell me what SPECIFIC book your book is like, or leave it out. This is so general as to be meaningless.

Also, novels generally don't have subtitles.

And you don't need novel to modify mystery/thriller. Those are, by default, novels.

Again, I can hear you saying "don't be so damn nit picky" but if you've got excess words here, you're going to have them in your novel. Your query tells me what kind of writer you are, in addition to telling me what your book is about.

This is the kind of writing that leads to "french fried potatoes" instead of just french fries, or better yet, fries; and, "she looked down at her toes". Generally one is not looking UP at one's toes. If you are, then you'd include it. If you're just toe-gazing, you don't need down. Your reader will fill in the expected words.

The main plot of the book revolves around the struggle by several groups and individuals for control of the theology and especially the vast fortune of an astrology cult which has become a money laundering vehicle for powerful criminal cartels and organized crime.

Again,  is so general it's meaningless. Start with something interesting. Like what happens to one of the main characters that is important.

As in works by Russian authors such as Tolstoy this book has an ensemble protagonist. Which is to say there is no single main character. Instead, the plot is moved forward by several individuals or groups who, in some cases are not even aware of each other. The most important members of the ensemble are Izaak Houser a professional conman and the cult’s Head Astrologer. Sophia Chin-Robinson, an alcoholic housewife and cult member who lives on Guam. Xi, Shinwai a 93-year-old Hong Kong real estate tycoon who is also the cult’s wealthiest convert. Zack Xi, Shinwai’s sociopathic illegitimate son who is the CEO of one of his father’s subsidiaries which is used in the money laundering operation. Jacque Eider, the ethically challenged managing director of Zurich International Banc-Corp. Wilson Chau, a venal and corrupt law enforcement officer in Hong Kong. Gerald Morris a bitter, amoral, ex-mob lawyer. Thomas Saint-John, the leader of an Interpol team based in Geneva who is investigating money laundering and William Ngan an ICAC officer (The Hong Kong equivalent of the FBI) who is investigating what appears to be an unrelated crime. I believe this makes for a convoluted but ultimately engrossing storyline.

Never ever describe your novel as convoluted. It means difficult to follow. This is not what you want me thinking NOW. Complex, layered, multi-faceted, sure. Convoluted

There are 198 words in that paragraph and it doesn't tell me anything about the story.

You've got textbook character soup.

Here are the characters you mention by name:

(1) Izaak Houser a professional conman and the cult’s Head Astrologer

(2) Sophia Chin-Robinson, an alcoholic housewife and cult member who lives on Guam.

(3) Xi, Shinwai a 93-year-old Hong Kong real estate tycoon who is also the cult’s wealthiest convert

(4)Zack Xi, Shinwai’s sociopathic illegitimate son who is the CEO of one of his father’s subsidiaries which is used in the money laundering operation

(5) Jacque Eider, the ethically challenged managing director of Zurich International Banc-Corp

(6) Wilson Chau, a venal and corrupt law enforcement officer in Hong Kong.

(7) Thomas Saint-John, the leader of an Interpol team based in Geneva who is investigating money laundering

(8)William Ngan an ICAC officer (The Hong Kong equivalent of the FBI) who is investigating what appears to be an unrelated crime

Eight people.And not a one of them sounds interesting because you haven't given us a reason to care about any of them. We care about people when we see what choices they face.

I'd stop reading here if this was an incoming query.

I can get past all the format screwups and weird salutations, but at this point, you haven't done the one thing your query MUST DO: entice me to read more.

The manuscript is completed sans some editing. It is actually a prequel to another work which is also completed in what I plan as a series.

If I hadn't stopped reading when served character soup in the preceding paragraph, I'd stop here. Never query a novel that isn't ready to go on the day you send your query. Some of us surprise y'all by asking for things within minutes of receiving the query.

And just so you know, that last 10% of the editing? It takes forever if you do it right.

I hope that the work reminds my readers of books by authors such as Nury Vittachi because I am dealing not just with the crimes but with the subtle ways that people from different cultures and generations misunderstand each other. I also hope that readers of an author like Kurt Vonnegut would appreciate this book because it portrays imperfect people thrown into an absurd world and coping with the sometimes random consequence of both good and bad life choices. Lastly, I believe that readers who enjoy works by authors like Dan Brown would possibly enjoy my novel as it deals with alternative religious ideas particularly what most astrologers would consider a heterodox system.

Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Brown both huh?
Kurt Vonnegut writes literary work, Dan Brown doesn't even come close. When you select books to compare yours too, you need to be aware of style and tone, not just subject matter. 

I like the first sentence of this paragraph a lot. I think really terrific novels come from cultural and generational misunderstanding. Done well, this kind of novel can pack a very subtle but very powerful wallop.

The problem here is that you're telling me, not showing me. And you're telling me too much. I have no idea of the story here.  Even Tolstoy's ensemble casts novels had something that unified them.

War and Peace has 580 characters (no, I didn't count, I looked it up on Wikipedia) but it can be described without identifying more than a few:

The story moves from family life to the headquarters of Napoleon, from the court of Alexander I of Russia to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. Tolstoy's original idea for the novel was to investigate the causes of the Decembrist revolt, to which it refers only in the last chapters, from which can be deduced that Andrei Bolkonsky's son will become one of the Decembrists. The novel explores Tolstoy's theory of history, and in particular the insignificance of individuals such as Napoleon and Alexander.

I underlined insignificance here because if this arrived in a query, that would be the word that would catch my attention. Normally we think of Napolean and the Czars as significant. Here's a book that challenges that. I'm in!  (and that's exactly what you want a query to do)

This is an unusual mystery of just over 80,000 words. It is set primarily in the cities of Hong Kong and Zurich as well as on the island of Guam.

Well, I don't see anything unusual here about the story at all because there is no story.

Thank you for your time. I truly appreciate your diligence in reading this query and reviewing the sample chapters that I have submitted.

I know you're trying to be polite here but it comes off as smarmy. You don't have to thank the meter reader for looking at the gas meter. Reading and evaluating queries is my job.

You can reach me via my author email:

Leave this out. If you're querying by email, I have your email address already. If you want to include it, put it under your name

I look forward to your response.
You probably don't, but you're trying to be polite.

End a query with Thank you for your time and consideration. That's all you need.

What you've failed to do here is figure out how to query for an ensemble cast. The answer is not to list the characters and hope for the best.

There are some terrific ensemble cast books.

What you do is talk about what UNIFIES the characters. What do they have in common? Are they working at, coming to or leaving an AIRPORT (by Arthur Hailey). Are they living in the SOUTH PACIFIC (James Michener). Are they living/working/living/dying in Charm City (The Wire created by David Simon and Robert Colesberry.

There's simply no way all eight people can be the main character. They can be important to the plot, sure, but which character starts the plot moving forward? In Noble House by James Clavell it's not the prologue, it's the arrival of the Americans.

In Shogun, it's not the shipwreck, it's the decision to save the English sailor.

At some point in your novel, hopefully at the start, something changes. That's where your plot is.

Start over. Tell me about a story I'll want to read.