Thursday, April 17, 2008

#7-with 2 revisions

Ms./Mr. XXXX --

Having enjoyed your blog and gotten a sense of your preferences, I hope you might consider representing my science fiction novel, "Ordobat's Folly," complete at 72,500 words. In style, the book could be compared to a Gaean Reach novel by Jack Vance, but with a reluctant hero out of Saul Bellow.

It's just bad form to evoke a Nobel Laureate in a query letter. Even if the comparison is apt, don't. Just don't.

"Ordobat's Folly" follows Mel Ordobat, master brewer of beer, as he tries to save his tavern business from bankruptcy, only to get tangled up in a larger cause. Seeking a new market on a dangerous jungle continent, Mel upsets the plans of a ruthless Galactic corporation. He also gets to know Sabra Demifera, the leader of a resistance movement among the Company's gene-altered workers, known as Shiners for their glossy white skin.

Mel was raised in a peace-loving society, and his ideals come into conflict with the need to defend himself from the Company's increasingly violent pressure tactics. He's not sure himself how much of his determination is due to feelings for Sabra and how much is just plain stubbornness. In the end, Mel and Sabra outwit and outlast the Company's thugs, find a new way to sell his ales, win an important legal victory for the Shiners, and fall inconveniently in love.

There are only seven plots in the world, I know, but you've got to do something in a query letter that makes this sound enticing. This is a list of events. It's Places in the Heart only in space and with a tavern at risk, not the farm. Gone With the Wind except beer instead of draperies. Caddyshack in space without the gopher.

I've been writing professionally since 1999, both as a PR consultant and with articles for the Onion, the Washington Times, and many others. I've also written about beer and brewing, and my years of homebrewing experience inform Mel's expertise. "Ordobat's Folly" would be my first published novel. If you are interested, I'd be happy to provide a synopsis, partial, or complete manuscript.

I think it's hilarious you write for both the Onion and the Washington Times. Except when you say you write for the Onion, I instantly suspect that this query letter is a volley across the gunwales and pirates will soon be posting my response on their blog shouting "avast, we fooled the agent!"

Please feel free to contact me any time. Thank you!

Revision #1 (which came with the assurance this was not a prank for The Onion!)

Mr./Ms. Agent --

In a strict and peaceful society on a backwater planet, Mel just wants to be left alone with his obsession: to brew the perfect ale. But harsh competition from cheap, inferior beer threatens to drive him out of business unless he does something drastic. So Mel finds himself flying off to a dangerous jungle, where he gets entangled in an ugly dispute between a ruthless Galactic corporation and their strangely inhuman workers, led by a tough, beautiful half-breed named
Sabra. Unlike the civilized locals, the Company has no qualms about using violence to get their way — and Mel is just trying to sell some beer!

"Ordobat's Folly" is the 72,000-word story of how a reluctant hero comes to fight for something larger than just his beers and bars. The Company's powerful computers predict that Mel will be easy to discourage and the workers easy to keep down; together, Mel and Sabra
prove them wrong.

I've been writing professionally since 1999, both as a PR consultant and with articles for the Onion, the Washington Times, and many others. If you are interested, I would love to provide a synopsis, partial, or complete manuscript. If you prefer, you can see the first chapter and some background information at http://

Please feel free to contact me any time. Thank you!

This is why you send pages. This isn't a stellar query letter (it's better than the original though, by a long shot), so if the writing is really good and funny, I'll read on.

If an agent doesn't ask for pages, or specifically says not to send them, I do like the idea of a blog or a website with pages available. That's a good idea. I've actually started looking at some of those.


Mr./Ms. Agent --

Mel Ordobat, peaceful brewer on a backwater planet, has no idea that trying to make the perfect ale will lead him to blood, death and love. But when competition from cheap, flavorless beer threatens him with bankruptcy, he flies to a dangerous jungle and tries to make
customers of the glossy-skinned offworlders called Shiners. Unfortunately the Shiners work for a ruthless Galactic corporation that doesn't care for outsiders. Allying with Sabra, a beautiful half-breed woman who's obsessed with freeing the Shiners from servitude, Mel comes to fight for something more than his beers and bars. The Company has no qualms about using violence to get their way, because their computers predict that Mel and Sabra will be easy to
intimidate. They're wrong.

I've written professionally since 1999, reviewing food and drink, covering the DC music scene, working in PR and advertising, and writing supplements for roleplaying games. ORDOBAT'S FOLLY, complete at 72,000 words, is available for your review. You can also see the
first chapter and some background information at

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yup, you got it!


jjdebenedictis said...

Second version rocks! I'd read that book. Good luck with your querying!

none said...

Hmm, it sounds an interesting story, but I'd be worried that the writing is as loaded with adjectives as the query.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not going to start declaiming "never use adjectives!" But you're using a lot here, and not always to the best advantage. Think about what is the essential point of your sentence--for example, the "harsh competition from cheap, inferior beer" sentence. Which is the most significant point you want to make here? That the competition is harsh? Or that the competition's beer is cheap and nasty? Focus on what's most important, and use your adjective(s) there. Also, try using adjectives that evoke rather than merely describe. "Inferior beer" doesn't bring the visceral reaction in the reader that, say, "rat's piddle beer" might :). Okay, it's only an example!

Think hard about whether you need words like "just"--sometimes you do, but often they're just padding. Make them justify their existence!

Margaret Yang said...

Version two is much improved. Sometimes less is more.

Joel Sparks said...

Thanks so much for what you do, Janet! This was a tremendous help.