Thursday, May 22, 2008


Dear Query Shark:

Like a storm ready to make landfall, my near-death hiking experience twenty-five years ago has hung in my mind, waiting for all the elements to come together. The storm has struck and the result is my middle-grade novel, OUT OF THE STORM.

Why you wrote the book may be compelling but it's not THE most compelling thing about the story (I hope!). It goes later in the query letter. Lead with your strongest element: the story.

Jessie MacGregor’s thirteenth year isn’t at all what she had in mind. She struggles with her mom’s recent departure from the family to “find herself.” Her dad hides his broken heart by burying himself in his work. He pressures Jessie to go on a teen backpacking trip, which turns into a rescue mission. When her hiking guide shatters his ankle, Jessie and two other teens must hike to safety from deep in the Sierra backcountry.

This is good.

Throughout her adventure, Jessie struggles with her mother’s search for herself and the angry terms on which she left her father. She wonders what the future will hold for her family and desperately wants to feel that she has some kind of control over her life. This inner struggle parallels her physical challenge of getting out alive and causes Jessie to develop an inner strength she never knew existed. Jessie realizes that whatever life throws at her, she will survive.

This isn't. You go from specifics to generalities. What happens on that trail? Is she attacked by bears? Struck by lightning? Solicited for an anthology of teen sex writing (ok, this is a bad joke but you get my point)

We need a sense of what she struggles with other than the obvious.

I have extensive wilderness experience, particularly in the Sierra Nevada, including numerous backpacking and mountain climbing trips, and a 270-mile trek from Yosemite National Park to Mt. Whitney. I’ve drawn on these experiences and research to create this high-action adventure novel.

This is actually better than the first paragraph about why you wrote the book.

I’m the proud author of seventeen children’s book...(publishing credentials to follow). have 17 books published and NOW you need an agent? Why?

My current goal is to obtain an agent to represent my novel, but I’m also interested in an agent who represents picture books and easy readers.

oh man. You don't need me to tell you that finding an agent who covers all these areas is gonna be tough. We have enough agents at FinePrint to field a baseball team, and even with that many I don't think we do picture books or easy readers. Sometimes if an author has a wide array of work, we can keep it all in house with several agents doing different projects, but this one is a tough problem. Yikes.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Warm regards,


Dear Query Shark

A job interview at Southern Georgia University is great news for Tyrinn Mack, but his boyfriend believes this opportunity could ruin their relationship. After a heated discussion about their future, Tyrinn tries to find a happy medium between his post graduate plans and his love life. Inadvertently, his search leads him to a former flame. Their reconnection instantly reminds Tyrinn of their steamy past and the reasons why their friendship fizzled. He knows what they had was amazing, but it’s also history. Tyrinn has a boyfriend now, and regardless of their issues the relationship is solid. But a sudden kiss stirs up old feelings and the truth Tyrinn can no longer avert.

BEFORE YOU TAKE FLIGHT is a 93,000 word gay fiction novel set in a small college town in Kentucky.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

"fiction novel" is an instant rejection no matter what. It seems like a small stupid thing doesn't it? Well, words are your tools (I've said this before) and I look for writers who know without even thinking about it that fiction and novel are redundant. You can certainly write it, but you'd damn sure better edit it OUT of your query letter.

You've also used "avert" oddly. This is one of the things I watch closely in queries. You can do all sorts of nutty things but if you WRITE WELL, and that means using words with precision, I'll read your pages.

Now, if I hadn't hit "auto reject" for those two things, I still would have rejected it because you don't make this novel sound very compelling. It sounds like a police report. Well, ok, not quite, but it's pretty bland.

A query letter is enticing. Vivid is good. Compelling is good. Avert your beige sensibilities and give us intimations of fire!


Dear Ms. Reid,

Set in the year 1996 and complete at 80,000 words, OVER EXPOSED is an erotic suspense centering on the risks a woman takes to have her sexual needs fulfilled and the extent women will go to get revenge when they have been wronged.

When Jewell Layne’s twenty-year marriage ended, she vowed she would never be beholden to another man. Five years after her divorce, the brash, forty-four-year-old, six foot blond is living in the lap of luxury—and she is still being expected to provide sexual favors to the judge who handed her a biased property settlement after conveniently arranging for some incriminating photographs to be lost on the day of her divorce proceeding.

Incriminating photos of whom? It may be obvious to you as the writer, but it's not to me as the reader. Also, if she's so brash and determined, why hasn't she marched down to the local Bar Association and filed a complaint? In 1996 people don't get mad, they get lawyers.

This difficult relationship provides the backdrop for a series of transgressions in which envy, jealousy, greed, and Jewell’s prurient urges puts her in harm’s way, tests the boundaries of her relationship with her best friend, and subjects her to the judge’s wrath.

Series of transgressions? Against what?
Prurient urges? Prurient implies deviant.
Judge's wrath? I thought he was the bad guy?

I'm sorry, I find every single one of these characters repellent. I don't want to read about them, I want to Purell my computer screen.

You can write about this topic all you want, but one character has to be compelling and interesting, and likable.

After persuading her new neighbor, who is a professional photographer and a member of the Fort Worth Black Chamber of Commerce, to photograph her in her townhouse while his wife is out of town, the consequences of Jewell’s earlier follies will pale in comparison to the price she, her neighbor, the race-baiting judge, and a third man will have to pay when Jewell becomes emotionally involved with her neighbor and her explicit photographs are discovered by her neighbor’s wife.

What does his membership in the Chamber of Commerce have to do with the plot? Whose wife is out of town?

May I send you a synopsis and sample chapters from my complete at 80,000 words manuscript? Thank you for your time. I look forward to your reply.

Automatic rejection on this one.


Dear Query Shark:

Shattered Ceiling is a 82,000 word political thriller set in Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C.

Former juvenile delinquent turned P.I. Jo Grant tracks a client’s runaway daughter to a feminist commune in the hollows of Kentucky. The missing girl is an unwitting pawn in a U.S. Senator’s scheme to frame his popular opponent for a staged assassination attempt – on himself. Jo discovers an ex-Vietnam sniper, furious at military funding cuts, out to kill the Senator for real, but Jo’s dicey past prevents the authorities from believing her. As bodies pile up, Jo races to extricate her clients, foil the Senator’s plot, and stop the real assassin.

You lead with the runaway daughter, and then that character disappears and it's about an ex VietNam sniper. The characters you mention first should be the most important ones.

Why does the ex VietNam sniper care about military funding cuts? Does he have lucrative contracts that got cut? It's not his being a sniper that matters, it's why he cares about the budget cuts.

Every single PI in the world has problems with police. That device is as old as disgruntled VietNam vets.

I am Executive Vice President of the (redacted) Sisters in Crime and a founding board member of the (redacted) Writers’ Festival.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my work. The full manuscript and a SASE envelope are included.

Sincerely yours,

This is an auto rejection for lack of clarity, and lack of something new and compelling. You can use devices that have been used before but you MUST have something new to say, or use them in a new way.


Dear Query Shark:

Gus had warned Proli not to get involved with the first angry mob that comes along, but when the workers stormed across the city that night, she drunkenly joined their ranks without hesitation.

That's a pretty intriguing opening line. The only problem is that I don't have an immediate sense of when/where. Paris in 1968? Petrograd in 1911? Babylon in 1165BC? New York in 2020?

Poor work conditions had led to the gruesome deaths of two young girls at the Governor's paper mill, the latest in a long string of injustices. Armed with out-dated weapons and homemade bombs, the angry workers clash violently with the security forces at the Governor's estate and are forced to retreat.

At 76,000 words my first novel, Viva La Stasis, is a work of literary fiction that follows Proli as she is forced to ask herself the very question most of us try to ignore: what if nothing happens? From the war vet hammering an "Impeach Bush" sign into her front yard to the English teacher stammering his way through rounds of speed dating on a Thursday night, we adamantly reject any inkling that our efforts may prove fruitless. In the days following the workers revolt, that sentiment burdens Proli as she walks the streets of a city awash with rumors of a full-scale uprising.

It's not discussed in the factory where she works, but York Finster, a former resistance hero, has emerged from retirement. Proli hears his name whispered in taverns and diners through out the city, and his demands for change are echoed in the hearts of every worker. Except for Proli's. York Finster has delivered thousands of moving speeches, and nothing has ever come from them. She cannot lend her energy to a false revolution, especially with rent being past due and her roommate, Gus, spending most of his time chasing after university girls instead of honest employment. As the Governor and his council clamp down harshly on suspected dissidents, however, Proli discovers that she has unwittingly been entangled in the heart of a messy rebellion she never thought could happen.

I am seeking your representation for this novel. A full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time.

I'm absolutely not clear about when this takes place. There are hints that it's now (Impeach Bush) and hints that it's 50 years ago (former Resistance fighter).

I like the idea but you need to be much more specific. Every single word in a query letter matters. Use the most specific, vivid word you can every single time.

This would be an automatic rejection right now because I just don't have a compelling sense of where this novel is headed.


Proli knew better than to get involved with the first angry mob that came along, but when the workers stormed across the city that night, she drunkenly joined their ranks without hesitation. In the city of Grand Betelsburg, many have silently endured poor work conditions, low wages, and other injustices, but the days of quiet upset are coming to an end.

How many tenses are we going to have in two sentences? Pick one. Stick with it.

The gruesome deaths of two young girls at the Governor's paper mill sparked a riotous rage among the workers. They jeered loudly as they headed toward the Governor's estate, and Proli shouted along with them, raising her fists in solidarity.

You're now in the present but "that night" implies all this happened a while ago. This is just plain bad writing.

Viva La Stasis follows a factory girl, Proli, and her profiteering roommate as they struggle to make rent and end up making a stand.

This sentences has NOTHING to do with what came before it.

In the days following the worker's march, rumors of a full-scale uprising bring Proli more hassle than hope. The Governor and his council begin to clamp down on suspected dissidents and impose a strict curfew. Fears of being interrogated by a heavily armed street patrol keep her indoors at night when she'd rather be out dancing with Hank, a fellow factory worker who admires the freckles on her nose as much as her ability to throw a decent punch. When she does sneak across town to his apartment, Hank welcomes her with copies of the city newspaper filled with council sponsored lies and bores her with endless praise for York Finster. She notices that Hank's not the only one talking about York Finster. His name is whispered in back rooms and taverns throughout the city, and his cries for resistance soon echo from the lips of every worker except for Proli's. She remembers that even in his glory days York Finster was a failure and a coward: two traits that make him a lousy champion for the working cause.

At this point I'm so confused about who what and when that I've stopped reading. It's also a hugely long paragraph for a query letter. Paragraphs need to be short and sweet. Big blocks of text are literally unreadable.

Where Proli sees futility, her roommate, Gus, sees profit. He tries to secure lucrative munitions deals with the strengthening resistance, but his previous line of business selling contraband literature has not prepared him for the arms trade. Despite his inexperience, he quickly establishes ties with some of the underground's most influential members. When Gus learns that York Finster is plotting with the Governor to sabotage the worker's rebellion, he and Proli will do the unthinkable and plan a revolution of their own.

I am currently seeking your representation for this work of literary fiction. A completed manuscript of Viva La Stasis (76,000 words) is available upon request. I have included a self-address, stamped envelope. My other contact information is listed above should you prefer to correspond by another method. Thanks for reading.

Simplify. Use short declarative sentences to say what the book is about. Garnish as needed AFTER that. This is a mess.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Dear Query Shark,

My lineage made me one of the fortunate ones. But to paraphrase an old Hollywood bumper sticker, “My Mercedes went up my nose.”

My father is A.B. My mother, C.D., came from Hollywood royalty. My memoir, SCARS, is a candid journey through a world of dangerous people, and crimes fueled by an all-consuming battle with drugs and alcohol. And when I found myself dangling on the edge of a New York city subway platform, waiting for the next train to burst through the tunnel and put an end to the horror my life had become, I wondered how it had all gone so terribly wrong. I hoped that this last desperate act would finally atone for years of senseless aggravation, deception and pain inflicted on those I loved and those who had struggled to love me.

This is often a harsh look into life with a father I feared as much as I loved, as he watched me self-destruct and waste away a promising career. Little did he know that from the moment he introduced me to playwright, Miguel Pinero, life would begin to unravel.

From the beauty and wealth of the Hollywood suburbs to sleeping on cardboard in the alleys of San Francisco, it is a story of guns, jail, a lover's suicide, and transvestite hookers turning tricks in my back room. This is an honest, revealing, and sometimes humorous look into a life I didn't find worth living until my father reached out and rescued me from the clutches of death.

I plan to include photographs and letters from this time period and I am ready to send you my completed 171,00 word manuscript.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Note; names will be included in mailed queries

171,000 words is about 71,000 words too many.

This is a query that would get an instant "not right for me" and that would be absolutely accurate. You can't pay me to read these kinds of memoirs any more. However, there is an audience for this, and it does sell, particularly if you have a lot of famous names attached so that is why you query widely. After paring it down of course.

And be prepared to prove everything. Memoir, particularly drug recovery memoirs are subject to increased scrutiny by skeptical editors who don't want to the subject of blistering commentary on Oprah.


Dear Query Shark:

Teenager Cassandra O'Hare knows what it's like to live in constant fear of being mauled by a werewolf. Generations ago, a curse was put on her family that makes even the most civil of lycanthropes want to devour anyone in her bloodline. After her sister is left dead on the front porch, Cassandra and her parents move two states away to start over in a new town.

So, can you imagine the questions for the realtor? "Do you have werewolves here?"
Seriously though, you're missing the most obvious question of why they would think moving away would save them? Is there a den of werewolves nearby? (Where do werewolves live actually?) Wouldn't they be safe if they just took a boat out on the water when the moon was full? The set up for a story has to make sense. You can't just say "this is how it is cause it's my book."

At first Cassandra believes there is safety in the suburbs of Fox Hollow, but when a crazed werewolf begins stalking her, it becomes clear that she cannot escape the family curse so easily. Using what little she knows of magic and the help of new found friends, Cassandra tries to ward off her supernatural stalker before she shares her sister's fate.

I didn't think the werewolves had to be crazed to stalk her. I though it was the curse. And now she knows magic? New found friends?

What you've got here is all set up. There's no antagonist. There's no plot.

Into the Fire is an urban fantasy novel complete at 52,000 words.

This is a good closing sentence, but it's probably YA urban fantasy if the protagonist is a teen.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!


Dear Query Shark

“Substitute Wives” is a literary women's fiction book and a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakout Novel Competition. Publishers Weekly had this to say about it: “This unflinching and at times uncomfortable story is told in a deft, sure voice”.

Resist the urge to quote contest reviewers in a query, particularly those who are anonymous. PW comments here do NOT equate to a PW review in the actual magazine. I give ZERO credence to these blurbs cause I have no clue who wrote them, and I'm absolutely convinced that no one says "this is crap" in one of these things. Not to say that yours is crap, but trust me, some of them were.

Semi-finalist is also the kiss of death. Finalist might be ok, but the only ones I'd truly want to read would be the top three at most. Why? Semifinalist means you're one of 100 or so, right? I can't sell something that is as good as 97 other things. I need something that is BETTER than 97 other things..the top 3%. More likely the top 1%. You're shooting yourself in the foot by mentioning this. Let the book speak for itself.

Joy is a twenty-three year old millionaire working as a prostitute as a penance to ease her guilt over the death of her ex-boyfriend. Raised by an undemonstrative mother, and absent father and an abusive uncle, Joy has relationship issues, so when she meets Matt - a married man - on the job and hears all the right lines, she falls for him.

Ok, I've stopped reading right here. When you throw "millionaire working as a prostitute" at me, you've got to realize that there's a leap of logic here that isn't clear to me. I can see her working in a soup kitchen, or giving away her money, but whoring? Not quite so believable. In fact, not at all.

When Joy receives news that her mother’s terminally ill, she knows it's time to go home. Haunted by childhood memories, will she find the way back?

And this has zero connection to what we just read in the previous two sentences.

Says Amazon Top Reviewer: “the story drew me in and made me wonder what the motivations of these women were. As we got further into the story, it was becoming clear that the reasons were not all black and white, and that there was definitely some deeper meaning behind all of it.”

Again, this isn't something that works in your favor.

The Substitute Wives is commercial fiction and the word count is 63,000.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Dear Query Shark:

Recipe for Disaster, New York City style:
Take one seriously toned single girl. Add a pinch of “please-God-just-kill-me-now” blind dates and some hard core vigilante justice under the cover of darkness. Mix in a handsome cop who should be off-limits and blend violently with a killer skilled in mind-control and focused on destroying New York City. Put on a pair of Manolo Blahniks, your best little red dress, and slam it down.

Alexa Tate is more than human. She can swim underwater without holding her breath, scale a brick building in five seconds flat, and hear the emotions of those about to commit a crime. A secretary by day, she uses her skills to hunt down evil at night. She is stronger, faster, and more lethal than anyone she’s ever met.

Until now.

A non-human hunter has come to town. Using mind-control to inhabit his victims and through them commit unspeakable crimes, the hunter leaves a trail of bodies leading right to Alexa’s door.

Suddenly, Alexa is the prey in an ancient war whose rules she is just beginning to understand.
To stop the hunter and save those she loves, she must uncover the truth about her origins, keep a certain handsome cop from suspecting her of crimes she may have committed, and unleash the tremendous power locked inside of her without becoming what she fears most: a killer.
Living in New York City can be murder.

Shadowing Fate is a paranormal thriller complete at 94,000 words. Thank you for considering my work. I appreciate your time.

Send pages at once.
Do not pause to sleep or eat.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

#26-with revision

Dear Query Shark:

Dogs and foxes are similar in appearance but they are not at all alike in character.

My book is named, 'To Kill a Snake.' John Suter the chief of homicide at the CBI. Is like the hound dog. He is happy to guard the live stock and chase the predators away.

Books aren't named. They are called or titled. You have two sentence fragments. They make your query letter look illiterate. What is CBI?

The fox in this case is Ryan Stone. His son has been killed by a jealous rival for the attention of a girl at a graduation party. Ryan's quest for revenge takes him into the dark world of drug dealing. After he enters that world in search of vindication he finds, he like the fox, is over whelmed with blood lust. He is killing for the shear joy of it

Your punctuation renders your sentence meaningless. I believe what you mean to say is finds he, like the fox, is overwhelmed. The rule on clauses set apart by commas is: if you remove the clause the sentence must still make sense. If I remove your clause I get: he finds is overwhelmed with bloodlust. And in fact you'd do better with a well chosen that: he finds that like the fox he is over whelmed with blood lust.

When I see this string of errors in diction, grammar and punctuation I stop reading. Words are your tools and yours need to be sharpened.

The drug cartel sent an enforcer to put an end to the leakage of money and drugs caused by Ryan’s activities.

John Suter and Patty Bell are called in to investigate killings at a small airport near Erie Colorado. They are soon up to their necks in the chase. They need to find the person who is stacking up bodies faster then they can travel to the locations.

We already know who the villain is. You need to start with this and then reveal the villain or it's anti-climactic.

You aren't ever up to your neck in a chase, the metaphor doesn't make any physical or visual sense.

In the end Ryan Stone and the enforcer have a shoot out in a local park. Ryan is shot by the enforcer. Suter arrives on the scene and is forced to shoot the enforcer. He is profoundly disturbed by this event because he has never before fired his weapon at another person.

There's no plot here. You've described a series of events about four people.

To Kill a Snake is a story of about 103400 words. I have added the first few pages to this e-mail. I am now writing another Suter story. I will have a completed draft by the end of July I also have another book on the back burner ready to start as soon as I finish the one I am working on.

Thank you for your time and attention. I am hoping to hear from you soon.

Form rejection letter.

Revison #1

John Suter has always been happy to guard the live stock and chase the predators away. He is a hound dog by nature. This has always worked well for him in his capacity as chief of homicide at theCBI. (Colorado Bureau of Investigation.)

John Suter and his partner, Patty Bell, have been asked to come to the airport at the small town of Erie just north of Denver. The Chief of the Erie police thought that seven murders would be well beyond the capacity of his small four man police force. When the operating crew arrived at the airport, that morning, they had found seven bodies scattered across the tarmac.

John slowly walked the perimeter of the crime scene. The view reminded him of the morning he had walked into the chicken coop shortly after the visit of the neighborhood fox. That morning, as now, everything he seen was dead.

This is not a hook, it's a description of what happens early in the book. It's not that compelling because we don't have a sense of why this matters.

Everything he seen? Basic errors in grammar raise the bar for your query to Olympian levels.

When Ryan Stone's son was killed by a low level drug dealer, Ryan went hunting for the men responsible. He found that he enjoyed the excitement of the hunt, and was pleasantly surprised by the stacks of unexpected money. After Ryan had left an impressive total of bodies behind; the drug cartel sent Royal Roybal to stop the cash bleed. Roybal soon began to stack up his own total of victims. After perusing the scene at the airport John felt his hound instincts going to work. John and Patty Bell start to hunt down the pair of foxes that have invaded their chicken coop.

This paragraph is a mess. The sentences don't connect to each other. We don't know who Ryan Stone is; we think John Suter and Patty Bell are the people you're talking about. There's no connection to the scene at the airport with Ryan or this other guy Royal.

My novel 'To Kill a Snake' is 103000 words. I am currently writing another story with John Suter and Patty Bell, as the protagonists. There is another novel in line behind that one. I will have a first draft by the end of July.

form rejection

#25-1 Revision

Dear Ms. Reid,

On behalf of writers everywhere, I thank you for your very helpful service,"Query Shark." I hope you will consider representing my novel, "The Former Desolations" (women's fiction of about 400 pages).

Page count is irrelevant. Word count is what matters. A 79K ms is 304 pages in 12 pt TNR and 393 pages in 12 pt Courier.

In leaving her hometown, Libby left behind the great love of her life, Dylan Murray, in order to pursue an architectural career. Years later, she is married with two children, and her career aspirations are as dead as her passion for life. But when her daughter falls in love with Dylan’s son, Libby’s heart is shocked into life again. Now she has a second chance at happiness—but at the cost of her daughter’s only chance. Faced with the most wrenching choice of her life, Libby meets someone who teaches her that sacrifice can lead to the greatest fulfillment of all.

First, you don't have an architectural career unless you are a building. You have a career as an architect or a career in architecture. Yes it seems like a minor point, but when all I see is the query letter, every single word needs to be right.

What do Libby's failed career aspirations have to do with being married with children? Why is her passion for life dead? And really, that's all set up and back story. The story starts when her daughter falls in love with Dylan's son.

And why is this a problem? What's the wrenching choice? Divorce?

And the central problem is I don't sense any life here. There's no reason to care about Libby or her daughter. They've got problems. Who doesn't. Your words have to be chosen to show us (not tell us) why Libby will matter to us.

I have worked in publishing for many years, during which time I founded a women's journal that is still in publication. My name is well known within that journal's circulation. I have published numerous articles, a few poems,and one short story. "The Former Desolations" is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Revision #1

Dear Query Shark:

I hope you will consider representing my novel, "The FormerDesolations" (women's fiction of about 115,000 words).

Libby Veronin thinks herself content until she discovers that her daughter Meredith is in love with Aaron Murray—the estranged son of Libby’s own first love, Dylan. As her memories of Dylan grow into an obsession, Libby realizes she is not happy at all; she’s traded all her dreams for the crushingly ordinary sort of life she left her hometown to escape. Then, jJust when Libby feels she’s about to explode, she finds out Meredith is pregnant and Aaron doesn’t want the baby.

Libby grabs this opportunity to meet Dylan at their children’s university, hoping to resolve both Meredith and Aaron’s situation and her own relationship with Dylan. But i Instead of closure for a buried passion, she finds the reopening of one that never died. If she and Dylan leave their families to pursue the life they always dreamed of together, Aaron will abandon Meredith and the baby. To save her daughter’s prospects of happiness, Libby will have to sacrifice her own—unless she can find another way to rebuild her dreams.

I have worked in publishing for many years, during which time I founded a women's journal that is still in publication. My name is well known within that journal's circulation. I have published numerous articles, a few poems, and one short story. "The Former Desolations" is my first novel. It runs 115,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

yup, you got it. Give it some more polish -take out every single word you don't need, and use the most vivid words you can- and you're good to go.


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.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Dear Query Shark:

When Katie Bennett went to Florida she expected to have a great time--what she got were friends who hate her, a boyfriend she put into the hospital, and a lust for blood.

When Katie became aggressive, and attacked a guy in a bar--she thought that she'™d grown up. When she bit her boyfriend during sex--she thought that she'd developed a fetish for biting. When she lured women into dark alleys and seduced them for their blood--she knew there was a problem.

Katie's parents got word that she was in a motel room in Daytona, Florida. They flew down that night, only to find that Katie had gone to the hospital to be treated for an illness-an illness which does not exist. After her parents forced her to leave the hospital, they removed all evidence of her existence. Once they had Katie back, they had to convince her that they were vampires, and she would become one too.

PAINS OF CHANGE is a 90,000 word Fantasy novel. Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to your response.


Katie is a vampire. And?

This is set up. I see "she became a vampire/lesbian/killer/apple pie biker babe" 100 times a week. The important thing to mention is what happens next, why it matters and what's at stake.

Form rejection.


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.


Dear Query Shark:

Emily Daggett spent her childhood devouring fantasy novels, and she’s been disappointed with real life ever since--until she stumbles upon a wizard at the Midwestern college where she teaches. The possibilities thrill her: Magic! Adventure!

But reality keeps intruding. The wizard, the college’s sharp-tongued IT director, refuses to play the role of helpful mentor. Worse, Emily learns she’s incapable of doing magic--is, in fact, involuntarily destroying it. When adventure overtakes her, she must finally look at fantasy like a cold-eyed realist, or her bookish expectations about good and evil will get her killed.

The novel, CONVINCED, is a 106,000-word contemporary fantasy. I’m a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, where I’ve won awards for my writing, and as part of the job I regularly blog, do occasional radio interviews and--when asked--speak to large groups without wishing I were dead. Previously I worked in Iowa , the setting for CONVINCED.

I’d be pleased to send you the manuscript. Thank you very much for your time and also for your blog.

This generates an immediate request for pages. Yes, it's not perfect, but it's vivid, fun and it's clear the writer has a sense of joie de vivre. Of course I want to read it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

#20- 2 revisions

Dear Query Shark:

I'd like to submit my novel The Raptor to you. It's the first in a projected trilogy featuring a psychic detective who works for the FBI finding missing children.
It is complete at 80,000 words.
Thank you for your kind attention,

This isn't a query letter. It's not even the hook for a query letter. It's not a log line.

Synopsis: Some people have nightmares...Others live in them. Rachel Martin works in the F.B.I. as a crime scene expert but her dreams solve the mysteries. She can visit that place between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and the dead show her
what happened to them. Then three girls vanish without a trace. The only clue is the date they disappeared. Rachel knows who committed the crime, but without proof and without
any bodies, she can't accuse anyone. And the person she wants to accuse is above reproach, who kills for pleasure, and who has decided to destroy Rachel.

This isn't a synopsis either, it's the set up for the story.

Biography: (redacted.)


First five pages:

The purpose of a query letter is to entice an agent to read on. This is a packing list instead of a of a word picture of the contents of the box, or a list of ingredients for a cake rather than a taste of the cake itself.



Dear Ms. Reid,

Rachel Martin is a crime scene expert who talks to dead people and finds missing persons to help Scotland Yard. When her husband and baby son are killed in an accident, Rachel returns to her hometown and locks herself in her house.

Talks to dead people is a cliche now, after the Bruce Willis movie.

She doesn't count on Stan Wheeler, one of her mother's best friends, seeking her out to be on his team at the FBI. He needs her talents. And out of love for Stan, Rachel agrees. But her first case may be her last.

If she's helping Scotland Yard, I've assumed she's in the UK. The FBI is in the US. Without any linkage here, it looks like a mishmash. And what does "locking herself in her house" or the death of her husband and son have to do with any of the plot that follows?

Three young girls have vanished on the same day a year apart, and no trace of them has ever been found. Were they runnaways or victims of a kidnapper? Only one thing links them together - a park in the middle of the city with a rowing club, a school for troubled teens, and a psychiatric hospital on the vast grounds. And then a fourth girl vanishes.
One of the girl's visions tell Rachel that the girls weren't runaways, but victims of a monster - a killer who commits perfect crimes.

This is actually your hook paragraph. Put this first.

Rachel knows who the killer is, (how?) but knowledge is not proof, and a dead girl's words are worthless in court. There's no way to prove the killer's guilt. To save the missing girl, Rachel has to lure a monster from its lair. When the killer discovers what Rachel knows and decides to destroy her, everyone around her is in danger.

If the only thing Rachel has going for her is that she talks to dead people, this is a non-starter, cause it just doesn't feel fresh any more. Once a gimmick like this has been in a movie, it's really hard to use it in a book without sounding derivative.

The completed manuscript of The Raptor, 80,000 words, is available. This is not a multiple query.

You're going to waste a LOT of time if you only query one agent at a time. No one expects exclusive queries. Some agents want exclusives if they are reading the entire ms, but exclusive queries..nope.

Thank you for your kind attention,


Three young girls have vanished on the same day a year apart, and no trace of them has ever been found. Were they runnaways or victims of a kidnapper? Only two things link them together - the date they vanished and a park in the middle of the city with a rowing club, a school for troubled teens, and a psychiatric hospital on the vast grounds. And then a fourth girl vanishes.

You don't need every detail. Right now you're building interest. We need to know there isn't much to link the three girls but we don't need a run down of all the buildings in the park.

Rachel Martin has been working for the FBI as a psychic consultant for years now, but psychics get no respect in the police department and Rachel hears the whispers behind her back. At work and at home she tries to play down her psychic abilities, telling everyone that she's a crime scene expert and that she's simply good a puzzles. But she can't get rid of her reputation - the 'loony lady'.

There's no segue between paragraphs one and two.

Then her boss, Stan Wheeler, gets permission from the FBI to make a whole new crime-expert team. A team especially trained in finding missing children. Rachel goes from consultant to full-time member of a brand new team of agents. There's Chris, the kidnapping and crime scene expert, Jesse, the profiler, Omar, the information and computer expert and Rachel - who feels like a fraud in the middle of the highly trained professionals. But none of them can hear the voices of the dead, or see the things they saw just before they died.

Too many names. It's impossible to keep them all straight, and you end up with this crazy quilt of names and description. We need to know Rachel is now a member of a brand new team that takes her psychic abilities seriously..or doesn't. That's ALL.

When the fourth girl vanishes, the girl's visions tell Rachel that the girls weren't runaways, but victims of a monster - a killer who commits perfect crimes. Secretly in love with her boss, Stan, and trying to find a way to work with Chris Winter, who hates everything about her psychic abilities, Rachel makes a mistake - and the murderer finds out that Rachel knows everything - but can't prove anything. Now the killer is killing Rachel's family and friends, and is determined to drive Rachel insane before killing her too. But the killer has underestimated Rachel. She's more dangerous than anyone can imagine, and she's already thought of the perfect way to kill the monster.

Again, you've got so much extra stuff here it's hard to see the plot of the book. Pare DOWN. This isn't the place for a lot of detail.

The Raptor is the first of a projected trilogy and is complete at 80,000 words.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Dear Ms. Reid

I would like to submit for your consideration 2 completed 120 000 word manuscripts. Although both stories stand on their own, they are part of an on-going paranormal series I am currently working on.

I have a short story published in Reader's Digest and was first place winner in the Saskatchewan Romance Writers 2006 "We Dare You" contest.

I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Well, you certainly have mastered the art of brevity, but this query letter isn't effective.
There's nothing about the books, other than the length. It's also considered clueless to talk about two books in one query letter. Talk about one, mention there's more on the horizon.

I look forward to hearing from you soon is one of those phrases I personally loathe. It doesn't matter, I just don't like the idea of you telling me when to answer my query letters. Yes, I'm being a bitch, but I'm ok with that.


Dear Super-Cool Agent Person: (ha)

THE CAIN LETTERS is a completed novel of 74,000 words, aimed at the horror/thriller audience. Merging a religious drama dynamic (a what?) with the thrill of vampire action and intensity, this dark thriller about a fierce God-fearing vampire hunter named Alexandra Glade takes the vampire premise and the Christian fantasy-philosophy to a completely new level. She uncovers the secret of vampirism, the origin of it all: the biblical figure, Cain. Against all her training as a hunter, she must do the unthinkable. To save the world from God’s wrath, she must save the awakened, unredeemable Cain, the greatest vampire in history, from his eternal sin.

First leave out all the telling. "thrill of vampire action and intensity" is a movie trailer voiceover, not a hook. Start with the character. Tell us what she does. Talk about what's at stake (not the vampire silver stake!)

THE CAIN LETTERS is a completed novel of 74,000 words, aimed at the horror/thriller audience. Merging a religious drama dynamic (a what?) with the thrill of vampire action and intensity, this dark thriller about a fierce God-fearing vampire hunter named Alexandra Glade takes the vampire premise and the Christian fantasy-philosophy to a completely new level. She uncovers the secret of vampirism, the origin of it all: the biblical figure, Cain. Against all her training as a hunter, she must do the unthinkable. To save the world from God’s wrath, she must save the awakened, unredeemable Cain, the greatest vampire in history, from his eternal sin.

What's so special about God's wrath? Is He getting impatient now? What's at stake here right now?

I am a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago; I have a B.A. in English. My goal with this manuscript is to stretch and challenge the genres in such a way that it redefines them. I believe I’ve done that with this manuscript.

No, it isn't. Your goal is to write a gripping story that leaves readers begging for more and your publisher throwing money at you. All that stretching the genre stuff is best left to Michiko Kakutani's review of your book in the Times.

Thank you for your consideration. If you would like to see more, I will be happy to send a synopsis and/or partial or any other materials.

#17- revision

Dear Ms. Reid:

In my YA thriller, the day before Rick Hunt’s sixteenth birthday begins like any other, right until a government operative dressed like Saddam Hussein’s stunt double decides to start “training” him.

This sentence reminds me of the surrealist joke: "Knock knock!" "Mustard."

All the words are in English, I recognize and understand the meaning of each one. I just don't understand the meaning of the sentence. I know what it says. I have no clue what it means. I honestly don't even know where to start. Here's just a random list:
what government? why is Rick Hunt targeted? Targeted for what..he's 16, he's a walking erection with acne and an ipod, what the heck good is he?

Warning Hunt about this apprenticeship, however, might ruin the surprise. But when a one hundred and thirty year old German suffering from visions of a Fourth Reich mistakenly abducts the girl Hunt is secretly in love with, he joins forces with the man known only as the Generalissimo (and his merry band of lunatics from ARDVARC) in their never-ending battle against evil, and the search for the world’s finest cheese Danish.

Enter the Nazis? Why not. Again, there's no internal logic here, and I'm not sure Nazis are all that funny without some sort of context. And of course ARDVARC is undefined.

You're being funny, and I'm missing the joke.

And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, he’s got a history test the next day.

From the streets of Alexandria, Virginia, to the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, Hunting Aardvarks, subtitled Lesson 1: Keep up or take notes!, weighs in at 63,500 words. This is the first in a series of novels involving these characters. I am an Associate Member of the SCBWI
and received First Place in the 1,000-Word Fiction Contest at the 2007 Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. You can read the first chapter of Hunting Aardvarks – Lesson 1 at my website,, or upon your request I can send you the complete manuscript.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing from you.


Dear Query Shark:

It’s hard to tell your best friend you’re in love with her. It gets a bit more difficult if she’s been kidnapped.

Five years after foiling an armored truck hijacking, high school junior Rick Hunt’s biggest challenge in life is figuring out how to tell Heidi Pinkowski that he wants to be more than “just friends.” Unfortunately for Hunt, a U.S. Government operative dressed like Saddam Hussein’s
stunt double has other ideas. The man known only as the Generalissimo is convinced that Hunt is the fulfillment of a prophesy about a boy who could defeat his nemesis (a one hundred and thirty-year-old German suffering from visions of a Fourth Reich). He decides to start training
the young man. Warning Hunt about this apprenticeship, however, might ruin the surprise.

Well, you've got it organized better now.

But the first lesson doesn’t go as planned when a team of mercenaries mistakenly abduct Heidi. Hunt joins forces with the Generalissimo and his merry band of lunatics from the Advanced Rapid Deployment Verification Assault Retreat Command (ARDVARC) to get her back. The rescue goes wrong when the mercenaries capture Hunt and deliver him to their boss. Hunt escapes and retrieves Heidi, but now they’re lost in the woods at night, with the German’s goon squad hunting them down.

And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Hunt’s got a history test the next day.

From the streets of Alexandria, Virginia, to the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, my YA thriller HUNTING AARDVARKS, subtitled Lesson 1: Keep up or take notes!, weighs in at 63,500 words. This is the first in a series of novels involving these characters. I am an Associate Member of the SCBWI and received First Place in the 1,000-Word Fiction Contest at
the 2007 Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. You can read the first chapter of HUNTING AARDVARKS – Lesson 1 at my website, Upon request I can send you the complete manuscript.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.


You'd get a rejection letter from me on this one but that is why I yammer on about querying a lot of agents. Here is the classic example of why "not right for me" means just that. Someone else might find it hilarious. There are things I don't like that sell zillions of copies.

This is a much more coherent query though, good job on the revisions.