Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Dear Query Shark,

I can see the future. Great, right?

Not really.

Five minutes. That's what I get. Five minutes of the future.

Five minutes of fog so thick I can barely see, and, most often, vomit-inducing nausea to greet me when I come back to the present.

It's okay though. It's taken half my life for me to get a grip on this thing I call the Vision, but I've gotten used to it. Got a buddy to clean up after me. Got a girl. Well, she's a hooker, so I suppose
I bought a girl. Even scraped out a decent little life finding the occasional winning slot machine.

At least, it was okay. Until I started seeing the murders.

FIVE MINUTES is complete at just under 56,000 words. I'd be happy to provide a partial or complete manuscript for further review.

Thanks in advance for your consideration,

Holy moly, forget the critique, send this to me, all of it, at once. Word .doc attachment since I read everything on my spiffy new Kindle. NOW. I'm waiting.

Here's the critique: This arrived at 9:19am in my SharkTank mailbox. My normal procedure is a quick scan to make sure it's something I will consider (the shark doesn't chew on non-fiction or memoir, or picture books.) I read this, and posted it at once because I want to read it right now. That's EXACTLY the response you want in an agent: NOW! send NOW!

I was immediately drawn to the voice. It's vibrant and full of energy. More than anything I look for voice.

I don't even care that it's written in the voice of the protagonist, something that is mostly viewed as a gimmick.

I don't care there isn't much here in the way of description. The rudiments of a conflict or a dilemma are here: the murders. I can intuit that's a problem for the main character.

I don't care there's nothing else here, no pub creds, no bio, no nothing. I will read this with alacrity because it has the one essential thing: voice.


Sarah Laurenson said...

Bingo. We have a winner.

Loved the voice, too. Good Luck!!!

Happy New Year, QS!

Jill Wheeler said...

Wow. That's amazing. Looking forward to reading the rest. Which I'm sure I will, one day.

Liana Brooks said...

This could be fun. But 56k is a little short, isn't it?

JS said...

That's pretty cool, and I want to read this, too.

That said: this hardly ever works. Hardly ever. If you think this querying approach is a good fit for your book, get a bunch of opinions from other people, because you are almost certainly wrong.

And read the thing out loud. Because it isn't going to work if it doesn't work out loud.

This is great. This works out loud. I'm imagining Nicolas Cage's voice reading it.

Rebecca McKinnon said...

Amazing. I want to read it, now. Great job!

Jena said...

I think this is a winner too, but I really wish JS hadn't mentioned Nicolas Cage, because that made me think of his 2007 film, Next, in which he played a psychic who could see two minutes into the future. It's a perfect example, though, of how a strong voice can override the fact that a pitch might have a similar plot, similar theme, whatever, to something that's been done. It's HOW you do it that counts, and this wonderfully strong voice says #86 very likely can.

(I'd prefer something longer than 56K, personally.)

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I was drawn in, hooked, you bet. But if something so off-the-wall can work, how do we compete with a regular, yet stellar, pitch? Seems all else would pale and now QS will get a boatload of "original" type pitches!

JS said...

But if something so off-the-wall can work, how do we compete with a regular, yet stellar, pitch?

Because off-the-wall pitches almost never work.

It's like animation: "South Park" is a huge success, but it has purposely crappy animation.

Crappy animation is almost never the perfect vehicle for a comedy cartoon show; off-the-wall approaches are almost never the perfect vehicle for a query letter.

You've got to do the query that works for your book, not for somebody else's. Usually, that's a classic format.

David said...

I'm not asking this to be clever or tricky - I want to learn not to miss opportunities, or waste time querying agents with material they don't represent.

Your website says you don't represent science fiction, so I would never have thought to query you with the idea you just requested a manuscript from. Do you not classify this as science fiction, or am I misunderstanding your website, or looking at an out of date page?

Amie Stuart said...

God I hope it's as good as the query and you sell it quick. I'd totally read it! LOL

David... I *think* this falls under suspense (murders) with paranormal elements? like that movie with Nicholas Cage and um Memento?

Amy...FWIW my query to my current agent was good (IMO) but nothing out of the ordinary. I've done much better to be honest, but she was hooked, immediately requested the partial and the rest is history. It's like JS have to do what works for you and your manuscript.

JS said...

Do you not classify this as science fiction

I don't think anyone would classify this as "science fiction" unless the reason he can see five minutes into the future is because he developed a machine that makes it possible, or he was given that power by aliens from Alpha Centauri.

As Amie says, this is a paranormal ability, not an ability that could be described through science (even speculative science).

God Girl Goth said...

Loved the voice, too.
Glad to know that sometimes the unexpected, if done well, works to get agents' attention. Way to go, author of #86.
Thanks QS for showing one query that gets you excited. We all want to write those.
Happy New Year!

Lumpy Dog said...

Thanks to all of you for the positive feedback. Encouraging words are often difficult to come by as a newcomer to this industry, so all the comments are much appreciated.

I chuckled at the comments regarding the gimmicky nature of my query. I hemmed and hawed over that very thing. In the end, every time I tried to insert introductory comments it felt stilted and boring. I’m a fan of Kristin Nelson’s blog (Pub Rants), where she advocates writing the query synopsis as thought it were the back cover copy of the actual book. I think that worked well in this case.

The manuscript is now with Ms. Reid. Fingers crossed.

Margaret Yang said...

I had the exact same reaction that Ms. Reid did. I want to read it right now.

I'm also thinking, no bio? No problem! Many writers get hung up on the bio when it matters not one bit.

Unknown said...

Doubly awesome: that you wrote it, Matt, and that you posted it with such exclamation, Janet. It's not the kind of example people want to imitate exactly, but it's really really helpful to see how a person can create urgency -- no matter what type of book you're writing, that's a key query lesson.

Merry Monteleone said...

Congratulations, Matt!

I got about three sentences in and thought, "If she doesn't say she loves this, there's something really wrong."

I do think though, that the writers who read the ones that resonate with an eye for trying to make their queries the same are missing a bit of the point.

The query should be representative of both your story and your writing. They won't be, or shouldn't be, the same as everyone else's. I think we get a little stuck in 'the rules' trying to make sure ours is read and requested, but comparing your query directly to other writers' might make you eliminate something essential - your own voice.

Just my 2 cents. Good luck, Matt. This sounds amazing.

Vodka Mom said...

THAT gave me hope.

Vodka Mom said...

AND, it sounds JUST like something I would write. (of course. who WOULDN'T say that???)

none said...

Science fiction has been known to include evolutionary advances in humans--telepathy, for example.

Julie Rowe said...


I want to read it too!!

Anonymous said...

That's an awesome query! Congratulations.

Having said that, I wonder if the genre lends itself to first-person letters from the protagonist. I can't see this working well with historical novels, for instance, and it's not for lack of trying.

QS: Would you expect the manuscript to be told in exactly the same POV as a 'voice override' pitch, or does it simply convey enough of one's skill as a writer?

Jim Lamb said...

I agree that the query is unique and works because of its voice. Still, the first person approach threw me. I believe that very few queries would work in this PoV. Also, 56,000 words seems quite light for a thriller.

That said, the voice here is strong and the word choice shows a level of mastery that does deserve the attention of an agent.

Well done, #86.

Good luck with the project.

Unknown said...

Congratulations, Matt. I agree with whoever said she got three sentences in and worried that it wouldn't be received well. I thought it was awesome. Nice job.

Beth said...

I agree --it's got voice, it's got punch, it's got that special something.

But isn't it a tad short?

J.M. said...

Matt, I read your query and nearly cried... honestly! Because it was exactly what I've been trying so hard to do! To get a query that speaks! Congrats on accomplishing this, and with such ease!

I'm jealous but I'm so happy for you :)

Cari said...

I want to read it too!

BJ said...

Short? Perhaps, but short can be fixed. The voice is the hard part.

Anonymous said...

It draws you in. I hope the voice in the query is the same as the book. It's unpretentious and fun. Kind of reads like the back cover of a book. Every once in awhile it's good to see the rules get smashed in such a rewarding way.

Best of luck to you and your novel!

Jessica Milne said...

The word count is a bit low, personally, but I don't mind. The query made me want to read the novel, so I believe that we do have a winner. :)

Good luck with the industry, and tell us when this baby is out! =D

ArchersOfLoaf said...

The voice is great and all, but most of what I've read in the way of advice on queries has always (strongly) suggested staying away from queries that pitch a story from a character's perspective. Doesn't that sort of fall under the gimmicky sort of query that will get turned away more often than not? Seems a little cheap--but whatever works, right? said...

I will be a dissenting voice: this query didn't blow my skirt up, sounded like a simplistic potboiler. Sorry, no dice for me.

MayorMilo1 said...

Hm. A gimmicky pitch (character POV) for a short book (less than 60k) describing a Phillip K. Dick novel (and later Nicholas Cage vehicle) gets a glowing response? If this is the route I should be taking... no wonder I'm getting rejected so much!

PurpleClover said...

Okay as I was reading it I didn't realize it was labeled as a "good" query and all I could think was, "Wow! This is awesome. I can't believe they didn't like this."

Kudos. I will buy the book.

Anonymous said...

That is very good to know - VOICE IS EVERYTHING.

*writes this slogan on the walls a million times*

Cook Zoo said...

Okay, it's been a few months now. I'd love to know if you decided to represent this - and if not I think it would be really instructional to know why. I thought this was a great query and am curious to know whether or not the novel met expectations (especially with the low word count). Thanks for your great blog!

Vacuum Queen said...

Umm, it's been awhile now since this query was submitted. I'm curious to know the follow up on this story. Is it a real book by now? Do you have a Shark victory page on this site?

Lumpy Dog said...

Since a couple of you have asked, I thought I'd provide an update on the progress of Five Minutes.

In mid-January, Ms. Reid passed on what was then the current draft of Five Minutes. She provided two great insights along with her rejection:
-Too much backstory upfront
-The pace/tone/level of detail in the manuscript didn't match the query

Regarding the first observation, in the draft Ms. Reid read, the conflict wasn't introduced until the fourth chapter. I felt like hitting myself with a brick. It was such an obvious error.

On the second point she was also correct. The draft was overwrought and ill-paced, relative to the query.

Since then I've gone through several rounds of revisions to the manuscript, using the query itself as the litmus for every deletion and addition. The query captured the tone of what I want the manuscript to ultimately achieve.

It's been a painful process. I culled out well over 100 pages during the first edit. Deleting that much work, well, it hurts.

But doing so gave me a wonderful framework to reorganize and build on, telling more actual STORY.

I'm currently in the midst of a final revision (barring a last review for fine-tuning). We'll see where things go agent-wise from there.

Most of you are more interested in the process, I know, but I've posted the first chapter of Five Minutes on my recently-minted blog, should you like to read a little of the work.

Check it out at

Vacuum Queen said...

Lumpy Dog...enable your comments on your blog, man!

Lumpy Dog said...


I think. Thought I already had comments turned on. I've changed the settings, so maybe it will work now.

Stijn Hommes said...

Yep, I'd read this too. It's a bit on the short side which would make it a hard sale, but like the Shark I love the plot and the voice.

Scribble Orca said...

Did you eventually agent for Lumpy Dog? That was a killer query and then the writing didn't make the often does that happen?

Anonymous said...

Gimmicky queries rarely work, but this one is the rare exception. It might be the best query I've read up to this point. I hope things worked out for you Lumpy.