Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Dear Query Shark,

Callie Monroe is alone in the world. More than anything, she wants a home of her own, and to feel she belongs somewhere.

Well, of course she's not alone in the world unless everyone else is dead a la I am Legend. What I think you mean here is she feels lonely and isolated. Some of us would love to be alone in the world particularly after a fierce day on the subway, but I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean.

If she doesn't have a home of her own, where does she live? Do you mean she wants to own her own house? And why doesn't she feel like she belongs somewhere particularly given the next paragraph?

When the patrons of a neighborhood bar called Centerfolds take her in, she finds friendship and true love.

Centerfolds sounds like a strip club. Is it? Is she a stripper?

But when a tragedy in her absence tears them apart, (tears her apart from whom?) Callie ends up wandering through life alone again. Twenty-five years later, when she returns home to care for the mother who had forsaken her, Callie tries to piece together the tragedy that left her brokenhearted, and reunite the friends who were her true family. But the friends resist being found, and the stunning discovery she makes in the effort turns her life upside down, threatens her marriage, and promises to destroy her all over again.

Whoa! 25 years later?? Wait a second. You've got two stories going here. I think you need to focus on one. Most likely it's the second half. Start with that. Be focused and specific about who Callie is and why we'll care what happens to her.

I hope you will consider representing this supernatural love story titled The Brokenhearted. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Supernatural?? Where did THAT come from?? If there is a supernatural element, you need to have that MUCH earlier.



Revision #1

Dear Query Shark:

Thank you for another chance to interest you in my story.

In The Brokenhearted is a supernatural love story in three parts about Callie Monroe's learns a painful lesson: we often don't know when we are seeing someone we love for the very last time.

Nineteen-year-old Callie wants nothing more than a home and a sense of belonging. When fFate leads her into a neighborhood bar where she finds her place in life among the patrons, and love with Bubba Mac, the ultimate bad boy., center of the universe to the tightly knit group of twenty-somethings. But a A devious scheme perpetrated by a rival causes Callie to lose everything, including the man she loves. Bubba Mac. Weeks later, exiled and alone, hundreds of miles away, she receives a devastating message: Bubba is dead. The funeral was yesterday the previous day. Returning to seek solace among their her friends, she finds them all gone, scattered to the winds.

Be specific about the rival. Just a few words, but give it some pep.
You cannot use the name Bubba. You just can't. It's got too many instant negative connotations to use just cause. It's like naming someone Elvis. There has to be a purpose for it that pertains to the story.

As a middle-aged woman, home again back in town to care for the mother who had forsaken her, Callie seizes the opportunity to search for Bubba's grave, and lay to rest all the pain and confusion she <>still harbors.

But she needs the help of their old friends, who resist being found,

Why does she need help finding a grave? If what you mean is she needs help laying the pain and confusion to rest, you need to structure the sentence to focus on that, rather than the grave.

and then the tables are turned, and it's Bubba who leads her to them. And when he proves he still loves her, even from the Other Side, she's torn between wanting to live, and wanting to die. The Brokenhearted may change everything you've ever believed about what happens to us after life.
What's the third part of the story? You said it was told in three parts.

I still don't get any sense of plot here. I don't get any sense of what the problem is. She loved him, he died, she's not happy about it...and? There has to be more. Go look at the jacket flap copy of books in your category and read how they convey the sense of character and narrative drive.

Thank you for this second opportunity, and your kind consideration.

This is an improvement, but sadly, not enough. Once more into the breech dear friend.


ChrisEldin said...

I want to know more about Centerfold.
Are there male strippers as well? I've never seen one, so please be as descriptive as possible.

Southern Writer said...

Thank you for your help, Ms. Reid. You know me, so you know how highly I value your opinion, and appreciate your help. With that said, please understand what I'm about to say does not mean, "but whyyyyyyy?" What it means is that I'm damn frustrated with trying to get this hook right. While I know better than to ask an agent (you) for help, it may be possible that some of your readers might have a suggestion or two I can use.

I completely agree that the supernatural elements need to make their way into the hook much sooner. I'm trying to figure out how to do that without giving away surprise twists in the story, but at the moment, it's not my biggest issue.

Nor is my protagonist a stripper.There aren't any male strippers, either, Chris, but there is one very steamy sex scene, if that will do.

In Atonement, Briony Tallis covered sixty-five years from the time she committed her terrible deed, until the time she atoned for it. The story was written in four parts, and no one minded. My story covers thirty years, and is written in three parts, but that doesn't mean it's two (or three) stories. It means I'm failing to properly convey how the parts fit together.

In McEwan's hook, he states that Atonement covers the period from World War II to the close of the twentieth century. But I can't quite do that because The Brokenhearted covers from the end of Viet Nam (Oh, horrors! The dreaded '70's!) to the beginning of the new century, and mentioning the 70's, or Nam, is the kiss of death in a query, is it not? The story is about neither; it's just when it begins.

I can concentrate on the first 30 pages as instructed in Kristin Nelson's blog (it was Kristin, wasn't it?), but the protag's troubles in the first 30 pages are nothing compared to what she will face later. I wrote the story once, flipping back and forth between past and present, but doing so requires giving away plot twists that I don't want to give away. I really believe it needs to be told in chronological order. So if ANYONE has any suggestions on how to fix this hook, I'm listening!

ChrisEldin said...

Doesn't anyone remember that famous formula? When Q meets R and S stands in the way, causing Z to rear its ugly head.


Okay, seriously, I think you need to spell out some of the plot twists you want to keep as a surprise.

THis is the part that I felt interested in:
Callie tries to piece together the tragedy that left her brokenhearted, and reunite the friends who were her true family. But the friends resist being found, and the stunning discovery

What is the tragedy? Who is trying to prevent her from learning the truth? I feel like you give us so little information. And the supernatural part threw me off as well. But that could be part of your hook in the beginning....

Good luck!

Janet Reid said...

First, don't worry about giving away surprises. The query letter isn't the place to hold back.

Second, you can talk about the big picture of the book rather than the details.

"This is the story of Callie Monroe who wanted nothing more than a home and a sense of belonging. A (specific example of what you called tragedy) interferes and it takes almost all of her adult life to get back on track".

Mention the three segment structure.

And get that supernatural stuff in earlier.

Try again.

Send the revision with your shark #, and you'll get revisions critiqued.

The only failure is not trying.

Don't make me come down there and chain you to the typewriter. I know where you live and you know I'm fully capable of doing so.

Southern Writer said...

Janet Reid, you are so cool. Thank you! I don't know why I never realized the query isn't read by the public, and of course, I can tell all in it. *Headdesk*

But I still don't want to give away who died and how, to the general public, and I don't know what to do about that. If I post it here, or on my site, or God willing, someday on the back cover, everyone will know what happens before they read it, and what would be the point then? I just can't get it out of my head that it's okay to do. I guess I'm just failing to see the logic of it. Are all your readers this thick? Come on down, and bring plenty of chain. This thing is kicking my butt.

Brigid said...

I think if you've got a kick-ass twist, you've got to reveal it in your query letter. I'm not sure someone's going to read it here, and then you'll find an agent, and then you'll sell the novel, and then eighteen months later the book will be published, and THEN there will be tons of public outcry that you once put your query letter on the Query Shark.

I mean, it might happen.

Just like my toddler thinks he might get sucked down the drain in the bathtub.

Though I'm being tongue-in-cheek, I do understand your problem. I have two major twists in my WIP, and I've been wondering whether or not to reveal them in the query. I read over on Miss Snark's site (I'm an addict, and use it as a reference -- sad, I know) that a twist should be revealed in a query so the agent knows you have one. So I'm going my that.

I'm really interested to see a revision. I think this could be a cool story.

R. Lyle Wolfe said...

Okay, I get it. Your site . . .your rules.

Anyway, have you ever seen a good Alfred Hitchcock Movie?
Even if you know exactly what is going to happen, the suspense leading up to it can me murder.
In every good movie and good novel, the spectator knows what is going to happen.
"It's not the destination, it's the journey."

Lehcarjt said...

Couple of thoughts...

The giant secret that you want to keep secret may very well be the hook your story needs to gain readers. It's not the facts of history that create the story, it's the way the characters react to/within those facts.

I think you need to state that the story is in three parts, but I also think you have to make sure we understand how and why those three parts are connected.

Supernatural was covered already, but romance was not. If this is going to be sold as a romance and shelved as a romance, then I need some understanding of how/why it is a romance. Take a look at the back of some of the romance novels at the stores today. Romance readers want the focus on the romance and not on the inner tragedies, etc.

And okay, maybe I've seen just a tad too many references to vampire and were-wolf books, but this cracked me up. But when a tragedy in her absence tears them apart, I took that a little too literally!

Dave Shaw said...

Southern Writer, your profile is hidden - the general public reading this blog, which I think includes the rat and me, doesn't know who you are. Even if that changes sometime between now and when your book hits the racks, I doubt that very many of us will connect your submission to Ms. Shark with it. Well, maybe the rat would, but she's funny that way. ;-)

Seriously, it seems very unlikely that anything you sub here under a pseudonym will one day affect your sales negatively. It's more likely to affect them positively, by helping you get published in the first place. Besides, you should know in your heart of hearts that the first reader of the book who talks about it is going to give the whole darn thing away, anyway! If the book's good, it will still sell, so don't sweat it!

Anonymous said...

There is some wonderful potential here, but you've hidden it. What caught my eye was the paragraph where she goes home to care for a mother who has never cared for her. That alone speaks volumes about your character. Then she has the chance to fix something that has weighed on her mind for 25 years. How many readers are out there who have longed to fix something they've done, especially something that's alienated loved ones? This could be a terrific read!

Your character wants a family and she has two chances to find it: in her real family and in her friends, and neither one is going to be easy to deal with. You tell us why and you've got your query.

Just_Me said...

Southern Writer~
The story comes across hazy, I have no idea what your character is like, what motivates her, or why I would want to read about her.
Maybe.... (please forgive me I have no clue what your story is about and I'm winging this)

"Callie Monroe was fifteen when her father went to jail for trying to kill her and her mother went insane. Shunned by her smalltown Callie hitchhikes until she finds acceptance at a club. Years later, recovered, happily married, and secure in her surroundings Callie is called back to the small town to care for her ailing mother."

There you have the major event that sets up the catalyst and the catalyst for the story- coming back to the smalltown.

It's not Shark-worthy by any means but maybe that will give you an idea of how to kick off your query.

Good luck!

Southern Writer said...

Thanks, everyone, for your help. I've written another attempt at it, and I'm sure it will turn up here when Janet has time.

Southern Writer said...

Bummer. I'll keep working on it. Thank you loads again for your advice.

I understand what you're saying about the name Bubba. It annoys me that people can't see past their preconceived notions to embrace something different. I think people used to prejudge people with the name Ralph, then Ralph Fiennes came along. And what kind of name is Leonardo (Di Caprio)? Bubba is a very common name in the South, and not all of them are camouflage-wearin', tobacco-spittin', gun-totin' rednecks. Only half of them are. ;- )

The only other thing I'd like to mention here is that Callie literally doesn't know where Bubba's grave is located. She wasn't there for the funeral, and when she made it home, the friends were all gone, so there was no one to tell or show her. She's wondered about it for nearly three decades, and to visit it is part of what she needs to achieve closure.

So anyway, back to Square One for me.

With gratitude,


R. Lyle Wolfe said...

Bubba is a common nickname in the South. It is not a common name.
It's like Holmes, G, Mother (Shut your mouth).
Show me two children with Bubba on their Birth Certificate.
Maybe he got the nickname Bubba Mac because of a childhood habit of chewing bubble gum while eating a Big Mac (Anyone ever eat potato chips and chew gum at the same time?)
Keep on trying. My query for my completed novel is 100 times worse than yours.
So, to you, I give kudos

Lehcarjt said...

I liked this second revision a lot better.

I don't get the 'can't find his gravesite' though. How many cemeteries are there in a small town/county? And if she didn't know where to find him, the best thing to do would be to contact the local genealogy group. They'd tell her how to go about figuring it out.

Southern Writer said...

Hi Lehcarjt, I appreciated your comments and wonder if you might help me clarify what I mean about finding the grave site. Do you live in a small town? Is it right next to a big city with dozens of cemeteries? Where would you begin? If you searched them all, and were still unable to find the grave, what next? Callie wasn't at the funeral, and there was no one left to tell her where Bubba was buried, so she doesn't know. When she finally gets a clue and finds the right cemetery, there's no headstone. The grave isn't marked. I'm trying not to spell everything out in the hook. At some point it would become more of a synopsis. So would you continue to try to clarify the situation, or leave that part out all together?

I also didn't explain the third part of the story because it's the part that ties up all the loose ends and settles the matter. Who wants to know the ending before they read the rest of the book? I didn't want to say that the story is written in three parts (the hook for Atonement doesn't mention how many parts it has), but y'all made me. If I left that out, what happens in the third part would never be a question.

And as Janet said, "there has to be more." Well, of course, there is. Being haunted by the ghost of the love of your life, proving to you that he's still with you, and still loves you, would tend to have a bit of effect on your marriage, not to mention your sanity, right? But again, how much can I explain and keep the hook short?

I don't know if I'm just dense, or if I'm making this harder than it has to be. If I tell too much, I'm telling the whole story, leaving no surprises for the reader, and if I don't tell enough, then I'm being too vague. Gah.

talpianna said...

Southern Writer, as Evil Editor recently pointed out on his blog, you don't want to keep the Big Secret a secret in your QUERY LETTER; after all, no one will read it but the agent, and you are trying to sell it to her so she needs to know all the best bits.

As to finding the grave, the first thing I'd do is look up his obituary in the local newspaper; it will very likely tell where the interment will be.

Southern Writer said...

Thanks, Talpanna. The newspaper did not say where the interment would be. It listed the funeral home in charge
of the body. A trip to the funeral home turned up no info twenty-five years later. Finding the grave in order to get
closure is one of the complications in the story.

I'm beginning to think that maybe I should keep it really short and sweet,
saying something like:

Callie Monroe's true love is suddenly killed in her absence, and she is set adrift in life until she can return to her hometown to investigate his death. When his ghost begins to haunt her, it turns her life upside down, threatens her marriage, and promises to destroy her all over again.

Is that enough, do you think?

Lehcarjt said...

Hi. S.W.

I am so not being snarky when I say this, but I do live in a small town (of ~28K people) about thirty minutes from a large metro area. (although I have to drive through an hour of suburbs to get to anything resembling a big city). If I needed to find a grave, I’d call my mother, a geneologist. She has access to databases of databases of databases of just this kind of stuff.

I’ve spent way to much time thinking about this and rewriting this post. Grin. You story appeals to me, and I’d love to see you nail it.

I do think you are overcomplicating things with gravesites and rivals and missing friends, etc.. I think maybe what we are missing is the heart of the story. What is it that problem that Callie must overcome? Or maybe what is it that she does overcome at the end of the book? What is her HEA? What is stopping her from getting that HEA? Boil it down to one short, but concrete sentence, and then build in the details that relate directly to that.

The truth is that I’m not an expert on this. I’m repeating the things I’ve picked up from reading other queries. It is much easier for us to sit at home at our computer (or in bed with our laptops listening to our children in the backyard murdering each other) and tell you everything that is wrong with you query, than it is to follow the same principles to create our own. Nature of the beast. We all struggle with these exact same things. If reading Query Shark and Evil Editor have taught me anything (and they have) that is at the top of the list.

Best Wishes. I look forward to your next revision.

Southern Writer said...

Lehcarjt, thank you. I didn't realize I was being inconsiderate with everyone's time. That was a gentle reminder. Before I go, I just want to say that strangely enough, I had to go out of town to a funeral yesterday, and boy, let me tell you, no one would ever find that cemetery without a good map!

Lehcarjt said...

I was not trying to imply that you were being inconsiderate. Actually, I thought you sounded a little frustrated and I wanted to let you know that you weren't alone.