Saturday, January 3, 2009


Dear Query Shark:

I found your name in Publisher's Weekly and read your biography on your agency's website. Since we share interests in urban fantasy, I thought you would be interested in my novel.

Alex changes her last name to elude the rapist stalking her.

Start with the most interesting thing about your novel. This isn't it. It's probably the dragon part.

She doesn't remember why he is stalking her, or much of anything anymore.

If she doesn't remember anything, how does she know he's stalking her?

But having strange powers, no memories and a rapist holding the key to it all, is enough to keep her far away from her past.

Far away from her past what? I'm far away from my past shenanigans in undergraduate school simply by virtue of time passing...stalker not required.

When she unwittingly rescues a dragon, her enemies have now doubled and she must decide what information she can, and can't, live without.

This makes zero sense to me particularly after all the other stuff about stalking, rapists, and steering clear of her past.

My manuscript is urban fantasy chick lit, approximately 90,000 words, and will appeal to the well established audience who enjoys a strong female protagonist.

Chick lit is funny, bright, and insouciant. You know something is chick lit cause it's first and foremost FUN. You've conveyed none of that here.

Form rejection



what? Is that the title? Generally you want to start with something more standard like "hello"
Alex, whose last name changes to elude the rapist stalking her, bursts into a New Orleans alley to rescue a mugging victim.

The last name thing is utterly confusing in this sentence, and is never referred to again.
After she has driven off the attackers with her fun neuro-electric powers, she realizes that not only has she interrupted a dragon hunt, she has helped the dragon. Perfect. But the dragon, Gabe, is more human than the criminals Alex fights, and saves her when the rapist, Morgan, returns. Alex flees with Gabe back to his brothers, Rile and Cale, who explain that they have been sent from their own world as a Calling to help others.

I'm totally confused here. You've got two masculine names, and two made up names and one gender neutral name. You don't have to name your characters Sylvia and Mabel but "Alex" and "Gabe" and "Rile" and "Cale" and "Morgan" are impossible to keep straight in one paragraph. Also, focusing on one character is best. Two at the most.

If I have to read a paragraph three times to parse out what's going on, it's a form rejection. I read this three times, slowly, and I'm still not sure I could tell you what's happening.
Alex reveals that she awoke recently, with strange powers and amnesia, in Morgan's bed, but she broke free to fight crime, preferring to die from a drug dealer's bullet. Cheerfully ignoring the psychopathology behind her actions, Alex makes advances to the non-human Gabe, using her powers as a euphorice and inflaming Rile's jealousy. When the brothers offer to discover her past, she flatly refuses. Having strange powers, no memories, and a rapist holding the key, is enough to keep her far away from her past. Instead she is drawn into their adventures, toppling dictatorships and rescuing victims of sexual slavery. The book shows how she handles new powers, memory loss, an obsessed rapist, and a team of quarreling brothers, with a mixture of humor, strength and a dash of understandable fear.
And where did the drug dealers come from? Drug dealers, dragons and rapists oh my. You've got too much going on here.

And there's more! Toppling dictatorships and rescuing victims of sexual slavery. Really too much going on here.

My manuscript is urban fantasy chick lit. There is a well established audience who enjoys a strong female protagonist, but are uncomfortable with the increasingly over erotica, as well as witchcraft and vampirism, the current mainstay of fantasy heroines.

Really? Those books sell pretty well. You're better off to stress what your book is about rather than taking pot shots at the bestsellers.

Focus on your main character. Describe the challenge she faces in simple straightforward sentences. Query letters needs to flow. It doesn't right now.

You've also not mentioned the word count. When you've got this much going on, I'm deeply suspicious the word count will be very high.
Form rejection.


Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Oh dear. Who would've thought the hardest part of writing is the query letter. I always failed English precise exams at school. Now, they're back to haunt me in the form of query letters. My old English teacher Mrs Goldschmidt must be laughing!!

none said...

Toppling dictatorships feels like it should take up a whole book.

Prius Dei Servus said...

While sexual slavery and rape are certainly not erotic subjects, I wonder if it occurred to the author that their proposed demographic might be sick of explicit sexual content of a non-erotic nature too.

Jim Lamb said...

One of the hardest lessons I learned was that a simple plot carries a book and a complicated plot destroys it. I have attended workshops with bestselling authors who said this to me, but until I "got it", my writing suffered, as yours will.

Stick with a single premise and build your world around that. A term that seems so overused but one that is so true: less is more.

Try to be succinct like this:

Alex, a girl tired of the corruption in New Orleans, uses her newly found powers to clean up the streets. But first, she needs to remember who she is and why she just rescued a dragon named Gabe from a team of hunters. Magic Powers? Dragons in the French Quarter? Holy crap. She needs to find out who she is, and fast.

This is probably not your story, but I hope you see how condensing your idea is important.

Good luck with your project.

Janet said...

I found most of this query incomprehensible. That doesn't bode well for the quality of the writing in the novel itself.

talpianna said...

If you want good urban fantasy chick lit without erotic content, try Shanna Swendson's Enchanted, Inc. series for a model--or, for YA readers, Esther Friesner's Temping Fate or Nancy Springer's DusSie.

dmciii said...

Im a terrible breacher of my own advise here but perhaps shorter declarative sentences would help break down the confusion. Obviously you have alot going on but just what is nearly unimaginable. The sentences require reading, rereading and rereading just to attempt to comprehend. Perhaps a list of the topic in each sentence (an outline of sorts) would organize the idea into a cogent list. From that you can build the paragraph and maybe (MAYBE) merge two idea's into a single sentence

I know this helped me fight my run on grammar and worse my run on ideas that just said to much all together. (Try writing it without a comma. It won't be pretty but it should be clear.)

The Geeky Quill said...

I'd read this book. It sounds very interesting and fun.

Anonymous said...

Jim Lamb, that's a very general statement that isn't applicable for everyone.

Yes, it is true there are more bestselling books that have a simple plot structure, but there are a large number of bestsellers and award winners that have complex or advanced plot structures. If you've never written a book before, I would suggest working on a simple plot structure before tackling a complex one. There are a number of simple plot structures to choose from, and once you learn the basics of them all, only then should you try working on a complex one.