Saturday, May 10, 2008


Dear Query Shark:

I read about you and your agency on Publishers Marketplace and your website and I am excited to submit this query for your consideration. The novel, “Flight Number July 17,” is a completed (161300+ words) multi-cultural/life story set in Iran and United States during the years preceding and following the Islamic revolution in Iran.

161K is a BIG novel. I'm always suspicious of word count like that because to me, it means there's a LOT of cutting needed. When I see this, I read on with an eagle eye for overwriting and verbosity.

When Farrah, a Persian Jewish girl, born in an affluent traditional family meets Hamid, a Persian Mojahed (Holly Warrior) in New York during a demonstration against the Shah of Iran, she does not realize that she has just taken her first step towards destruction of her life.

Remember you are querying an American agent who may not know that Iran is Persian or that Jews live in Iran. Also "affluent traditional family" may mean one thing to you and another thing to me. My idea of a traditional family involves apple pie and Thanksgiving turkey. Is that what you mean? Also it's Holy Warrior. I can overlook misspellings but you really need to be on this lest you use words that end up confusing the reader.

Farrah is raised with abundant love and respect. All her family expects from her, is to be obedient and protect the family’s good name. Life is perfect for everyone until Farrah leaves Iran to attend college in the United States. The Islamic revolution begins in Iran shortly after, which brings misfortune for her family. Meanwhile, Farrah gets involved and marries Hamid, a Muslim, Persian man, unaware that he is a fugitive who is using her as his shield. Hamid, in time, becomes intolerably abusive. Farrah, now with a new born baby, decides to take her son and go back to Iran, but she has committed the unforgivable crime against her family’s values by her marriage to a non-Jew. Her family have abandoned her with the fear of social shame. Farrah finds herself entrapped in that marriage, with nowhere to go. Yet, there is her son that keeps her hopeful and on her feet. Unfortunately, there are tragic events in front of her that gradually turn the life of this once a fairy princess to absolute devastation.

And here it is: over written. The second paragraph already has Farrah meeting Hamid. Now you're going back and explaining more. You don't need all this stuff. What HAPPENS and why it MATTERS are the key things you need here.

The novel “Flight Number July 17,” goes beneath the surface of social glamour and illustrates cultural prejudice, society’s expectations and judgments, fear and deception.

This is so general as to be useless. This is a novel about what happens to people. Make us care about that first.

I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran where I received my BA in English Literature and Translation. I emigrated to the United States before the beginning of the Iranian Islamic revolution. My employment experiences with the Iranian government, my acquaintances in American State Department, and my ethnic background as a Persian Jewish woman have helped me to portray the ethno-sociological, and political atmosphere of the story. Here, I have written and translated articles for various Farsi language publications.

Normally I don't care much about a writers credentials but for a novel like this, I think it's important that we know you have experience beyond google for the setting and sentiments.

I appreciate your time in considering my query. Please give me the opportunity to submit the complete work. I look forward to hearing from you.

And bonus points are awarded for not saying "hearing from you soon!"

Best regards,

This is the classic example of how a query letter can hurt you. I'm hugely interested in books exploring this kind of topic, and in fact had a roommate in college who was from Iran. I am all over the idea of this novel but the query letter tells me it's probably not yet ready for publication. Rather than get into any kind of back and forth about how to fix it, this one would get a form rejection cause there's enough stuff coming to me that's ready to sell.


Josh Everett Ryan said...

I agree... the story seems like it has the potential of being intriguing if done well, but as already stated, it delves a little too deep in description within the query. Might be best to attack it by introducing the characters and the conflicts that ensue (the abuse by the man, the shunning of the family amidst the background of a revolution). These pieces are engaging. Putting these elements into the query without the superfluous description and plot summary I think would make this more concise and powerful.

Jess Melton said...

While the story has interesting elements, buy not my typical read, it does seem very wordy.

I would be curious to know if a query letter is typical of the writing style and attention to detail the author puts into their novel? I am curious because I noticed some flow problems in the query and think that if the author got an editor top correct the flow problems, perhaps the word count would decrease as well.

Kristin Laughtin said...

This is a great example of a story with a good concept but perhaps but not the best execution. If the novel reads anything like the query letter (which it likely does, considering the word count), shortening and tightening it up could make it really great.

Marian said...

The story as I understand it is : Woman leaves Jewish family in Iran to go to the States, marries Muslim man there, has child. Revolution breaks out in Iran. Muslim husband is a fugitive (from... ?) and abuses her. She can't go back to her family because of the shame.

I'm not sure what she actually does, though, or whether the story has a happy ending. The query letter mentions "absolute devastation" and the "destruction of her life", which makes me wonder whether the story has a happy ending, or even a bittersweet ending. And I'd really like to see what Farrah does to solve the problem, especially if she returns to Iran.

Just_Me said...

Note to author:

Send manuscript and query through your beta readers again. Let them hack and slash. There is potential (I think) for a bestseller, but it needs a few more drafts.

Don't rush to print and sacrafice quality. Great books *always* take work. Invest the time to make this perfect.

ChrisEldin said...

Why would she go back to Iran?
That's a huge credibility gap. I have an Iranian friend-Muslim, who is married to a Christian Iranian man. He can't go back to Iran for any reason, he's on too many lists. And she's very cautious about her occasional trips to visit her family.
No one underestimates familial pressures in a part of the world where there are still 'honor' killings.

R. Lyle Wolfe said...

Wow! Is there really social prejudice in Iran, New York, or where ever this story is set?
Actually, I think a better novel would be about how transgendered people are readily accepted in Iran.
It is illegal to be gay in Iran; however, get a little *snip snip* and everything is cool.

Lehcarjt said...

The story catches my attention - I'd read a book about an Iranian woman trapped by her own choices. However, I need some hope that the story is going to end well. Does it truly end in the 'destruction of her life?' Or is that destruction a plot point? Something she had to overcome to reach HEA?

Is the real story in that 'destruction of her life', how she overcomes the destruction? I'm wondering it the query really reflects what the story is about. Is it the story of meeting her husband and leaving him? Is it the story of what happens after she leaves?

Perhaps the word count is because you've started too early and are trying to tell too much of a tale in one book.

Anyways, I still liked the idea.

Priya Sridhar said...

I would read this. The Islamic revolution in Iran was one of the most heartbreaking events in history.