Sunday, February 25, 2018

#300

a. word count: 62,000
b. title: COPY PASTE
c. contact info:

Why you put this at the top of your query letter I do not know. It goes at the bottom, and not in bullet point form.


Name
Address
Phone
email
Twitter:
website

And this goes under your closing.  



Another gunshot, another day for Chicago police detective Lauren Medina—until a murder investigation leads not to a street gang scuffle but a supernatural pact for the soul of the city and its youth. All of them.


This is so abstract it's not very interesting. That's death in a query. It's instant death after you put all your contact info and housekeeping stuff at the top of the query, because at this point I assume you haven't done a lick of research on how to query.  


When you query an agent you're saying you're ready to suit up and work in a new industry.  You want the agent to take you seriously, to believe you've done your homework and prepared for the "job interview" of a query.  To that end you've researched correct query format, and the PURPOSE of a query which is to -- all together now -- entice an agent to read your work.


Because you're smart you understand that enticing is not even close to uninteresting. You read your first paragraph and think, "would I want to read this if I hadn't written it."  You might even show this to a writer friend.  If the response is anything other than "hey, I want to read this!" you know you're not there yet.

You're not there yet.


When Medina arrests two teens for the attempted murder of a classmate, she’s not surprised by their crime or even their strange behavior, but the odd graffiti that starts showing up at murder scenes around town—signed by the Pied Piper.

Those two parts of the sentence don't seem connected. She arrests two teens. Is there graffiti at that murder scene?  If there is, Medina notices it there, not "around town."


This leads Medina away from the usual suspects and toward a dark tale come to life. If she can’t save the kids of Chicago from sacrificing each other at the Pied Piper’s delight in exchange for their own deepest desires, she’ll have to make a pact with the demon herself to save the one young man she won’t let the Pied Piper take.


How is she led away from the usual suspects (which doesn't mean what you're using it here for) if she has two suspects in custody?  How is "a dark tale come to life" a suspect? 



And this is where I stop reading. It's entirely abstract and cliche. "Deepest desires" "pact with the demon" are all overused and under enticing.


Specificity is your friend. What is the Pied Piper doing? Why are the kids following him? How do the murders fit in with this?


Copy Paste is complete at 62,000 words. It’s an adult horror novel based on the Brother's Grimm tale.

If this is based on the Grimm tale, where are the rats? They don't have to be actual rats, but something brings the Pied Piper to Hamelin, and in your story, I don't have any idea what it is, or how Medina is part of it.  The Grimm tale is about people failing to honor their obligations. I don't get any sense of that here.  

When you base something on earlier work, you don't have to slavishly follow the plot of the original work, but the theme (which you should NOT mention in a query!) should be similar. 

The plot of Beowulf and  First Blood by David Morell are not similar,  but the theme is. You need to show me the theme of this book is close to the original tale and you do that by telling me about the plot. Tricky, right?  




 
This query doesn't do the job right now.
Go back to the basics.
Who is the main character. What does she want. What's keeping her from getting it? What will she have to sacrifice/how will she have to change to get what she wants.

For those of you who noticed the word count and wonder if it's low: it's not. Horror is generally shorter than other kinds of novels.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

#299-Revised once


Dear Query Shark,

Niall Lewis is in the high school of his dreams. His classes utilize the world’s most advanced virtual reality systems—for true hands-on learning. Everything is perfect until a deleterious glitch impacts his scores.

 This just isn't punchy enough to grab my attention. You're telling me half of what happened: a glitch affects his scores. How, and why should I care? A glitch that drops .01 from his GPA doesn't seem too terrible, unless that .01 is a matter of life and death.

Though he works hard, Niall consistently receives lower grades than his peers; so low that he risks expulsion in a school that demands student excellence. When Niall seeks help, he becomes aware the glitch is no accident and that he faces dire consequences unless he remains silent.

So far we've got failing grades and being tossed out of school. This just isn't enough to carry a plot.
Get to what the dire consequences are, and you'll need to be specific here, to get and keep a reader's attention. 

You seem to be avoiding the obvious: someone wants Niall gone. Why? 

Niall keeps silent and does the work of two people just to stay enrolled. He sacrifices his relationship, friendships, family, and sleep for passing scores while continually questioning if his dream is worth it.

What dream?
 
At this point I've stopped reading because you're not talking about a book that sounds enticing. 

Struggling to maintain his silence, Niall reaches a breaking point and speaks out. Barely avoiding expulsion, a series of events leads him to a secret file that not only explains the glitch but also uncovers a neurological program capable of nefarious motives for his school and the world.

You're too far in to the book at this point. A query should be about the first act, not the climax of the book. 

And "a neurological program capable of nefarious motives for his school and the world." is mind bogglingly confusing.

To rescue the students from the brainwashing, Niall must take matters into his own hands. He devises a plan to keep his place at the school and stop the mastermind behind the insidious scheme.
When his plan fails, he learns he must choose either the easiest path or the road less traveled.

Again, this is the climax of the book.


SILENT GOLDEN EAGLE is an 84,000 word YA novel.


Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,

This is still too abstract to be interesting.
Your main character has to want something. It sounds here like Niall wants to stay in this school. Why? 

Sometimes it's clear why a protagonist wants something. Here it's not. What's so special about this school? Why is he so dead set on staying here?  And why does someone want him gone?

Those answers need to be clear, and specific in this query.

---------------------------------------------------------------
Question: I know the first four words are a mouthful to describe my protagonist, but I don’t want to explain the eight different cohorts with unnecessary backstory. I mention Golden Eagle cohort solely to help explain the title. Is it worth mentioning?

Dear Query Shark,

Golden Eagle cohort freshman Niall Lewis is in the high school of his dreams until a glitch in his first virtual reality class threatens everything he has earned. The glitch prevents him from receiving the high ranks necessary to stay enrolled and when he tries to get help from the school he is warned to keep silent or be expelled.

By ranks do you mean grades or marks? Even if you use ranks in the book it will help you here to use grades or marks because your reader will know what you mean without having to stop and think about it. Ranking and ranks mean different things, and I paused at "ranks" to make sure I understood what you meant. That is NOT something you want me doing here.


Niall chooses to keep silent because going home means failure. Things only get worse when he is accused of cheating in a league quest. Niall’s league rank suffers even though he is cleared when an equipment malfunction is found.

And here you use rank in what seems like a different way than you use it above. I'm following what you're talking about but my confidence in the clarity of your writing is taking a beating. Again, NOT what you want.

Exhausted from doing the work of two people just to stay enrolled, helping his league move back up in the ranking, being taunted by rival league bullies, and under pressure from his family, he finally breaks his silence. Barely avoiding expulsion, a series of events leads to the discovery of a secret file on a terminated neurological program that explains the origination of his glitch. In the wrong hands, this hidden technology could have nefarious consequences for the world.

Where did this "work of two people" come from?
You're using league here in a way that is different to my eye from the precediing paragraph.

I'm all in favor of nefarious consequences, but honestly, they have to be consequences for Niall to count as what's at stake here.



Knowing that exposing the glitch is no longer just about rank or enrollment, Niall must take matters into his own hands. With no one willing to listen, he devises a plan to keep his place at the school, help his friends, and stop the mastermind behind the insidious scheme.


Insididious schemes are even better than nefarioius consequences! These are the only phrases with zip and vitality. The rest feels mushy.


SILENT GOLDEN EAGLE is an 83,000 word YA novel with sci-fi fantasy elements.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


To answer your question: you don't need to use anything in the query that will explain the title. We're used to not knowing what a title means until we're knee-deep in the book.

But the problem here isn't how you describe Niall, or the title. The problem is there's nothing at stake for Niall, and I'm pretty confused about what's going on.  

If you find yourself needing a paragraph to exlain a sentence, you've got the wrong sentence.

Revise, resend.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

#298

Dear Query Shark:

The Three Little Pigs went out into the world to make their fortune--which proves that there is a fortune to be made in the world and you can make it (or blow it away) even if you're just a little pig.

Before you build your house of straw, read 101 Ways to Stay in Debt Forever.

If you have tried and failed to obtain a negative net worth, this book is guaranteed to help send your finances into an immediate downward spiral.

Don't learn how to cook. If you have life insurance, you don't need savings. And borrow a lot of money--that worked for Trump! Learn these and other great skills in 101 Ways to Stay in Debt Forever.

101 Ways to Stay in Debt Forever is complete at 75,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is a textbook example of a query so confusing I don't even know if it's fiction or non-fiction. Your email to me you included a line above the salutation: 101 Ways to Stay in Debt Forever: Humorous Fiction, 75,000 words which I think you intended to be viewed as the subject line of the query email.

The problem with that is  this book isn't fiction as far as I can tell from this query.  There's no story.

It sounds more like a satirical self-help, but again, I'm just guessing.

When I rail against people trying to be clever in queries, this is exactly what I'm talking about.

PLAIN writing is a good start for any query. Tell me about the story if you're writing fiction.

If you're writing anything else, tell me the issue you're illuminating, the problem you're trying to solve, or the event/historical period you're shedding new light and insight on.

Don't outsmart yourself by trying to be clever.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

#297

Question:
I am stuck, drowing in a pit of regretions. I have revised, read all your posts and done the dance. There has to be something I am missing. Is the title too strange? Is the story too broad? Do people not like time travel? SOS!

Dear QueryShark,


I’m seeking representation for my adult novel, JUMPING OFF THE timeLINE. Given your interests in innovative magic and dark humor, I think it would be a good fit for you. This speculative fiction novel, complete at 89,000 words, explores a world where time is not only controlled, but wielded like magic. Once they jump, these humans can shift to any time period or age of their life.


All that intro and housekeeping stuff (word count, category, compliments) goes at the end.

One of these is Lark Robles, a twenty-five, okay fine, twenty-seven-year-old woman is dashing through the airport. But then she stops. In fact, time stops. Two mysterious women, both dressed like Woody Allen stars, step through the frozen airport and tell Lark the truth. She must choose between jumping off the timeline, or staying and dying in a tragedy. Time is only controlled by humans fated to die in a tragedy. If Lark jumps, she trades away her life, her family, her memories, and makes someone take her place on the destined plane.


Woody Allen stars? This doesn't evoke any image at all for me. And even if you replace "stars" with "characters" I still don't have an image. His movies are too idiosyncratic to have one type of star o character. [And honestly, Woody Allen? ewww.]

But most troublesome is that we have no sense of what's at stake. Sure Lark trades away her life, her family, her memories, but so what? Maybe she doesn't want any of those. And someone has to take her place? Does she get to choose who? If I got that offer, I'd want to choose who, and yes, I already have a list.


Lark says yes to train in the art of time and trades her bejeweled jean jacket for a fur coat. She rides water subways in 2071, gets drunk with Cleopatra, watches the final seconds of Miracle on Ice, and plays tag at Woodstock. When another controller of time decides Lark’s tragedy is perfect for her disastrous plan, Lark must relive the events she jumped from. But can she make the same decision again, and fully let go of her past on the line?


So, she gets to choose again. What's at stake this time? And what disastrous plan?

Also, not to be be nit picky but you've chosen pretty tame events here. You know where I'd want to be? Galilee for the Sermon on the Mount. London for the debut of Romeo and Juliet. Philadelphia in 1776. Seneca Falls in 1848. Gettysburg on November 9, 1863.

Lark's choice of events to attend, and what she does there (plays tag at Woodstock?) make her sound insubstantial, and worse, silly. Not someone I want to spend a couple hours with, even on a Friday night.


I have always been fascinated with time and knew that if we could travel, it would come with a cost. This novel is an exhilarating concoction of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and The Magicians. I am a Midwestern novelist, creator of the popular blog(redacted) and an environmental engineer. Thank you for your time and consideration.

I like the idea that time travel comes with a cost but concept isn't execution, and right now this query does not entice me to read the pages.

Get some stakes on the page, REAL stakes, and give Lark some substance. Even the frothiest chick lit novels had heroines who were interesting rather than silly.

To answer your specific questions:

Is the title too strange? No. And no one rejects a novel or query based solely on the title unless it's something truly offputting (like sex abuse references)

Is the story too broad? No. It's not substantive enough.

Do people not like time travel? Well, maybe, but that's not your problem here.