Sunday, January 18, 2009


Dear Query Shark,

In her youthful naivety, Ghuri, destroys her reputation by having an affair with a married man. She is on her way to becoming the worst sort of Indian woman, disgraced and penniless, when a naked man showed up on her doorstep. The man has been robbed and left for dead, he knocks on a dozen doors, but no one will help him because he is so shamefully, naked and seems drunk.

This is pretty clunky writing. Contrast "The man has been robbed and left for dead, he knocks on a dozen doors, but no one will help him because he is so shamefully, naked and seems drunk." with

"The man had been robbed and left for dead. He knocked on a dozen doors but no one would help him because he seemed to be drunk, and was shamefully naked"

Clunky writing in a query is always a bad sign. Even if I like the concept, I'm never enthusiastic about something that will clearly have to be heavily edited.

Only Ghuri opens her door to the stranger. She treats the man with as much respect and kindness as she would give a king. She nurses him back to health and later he returns, not as a king, but the Sultan.

Aren't a king and a sultan the same high-born, powerful kind of guys?

As a reward, the Sultan Abdul Rahim marries Ghuri and she becomes one of his 300 wives. The fairytale might have had a happy ending if it ended there, but Ghuri‘s story is just beginning.

Well, if this is the start of the story, this is where the query letter begins. Not the backstory.

In a palace full of princesses and prima donnas, the competition to become one of the Sultan‘s favorite wives is fierce. And as Ghuri discovers, even dangerous. When she becomes pregnant with the Sultan‘s son, Ghuri‘s life and the life of her unborn child are threatened by a group of scheming, powerful concubines who will do anything to bear an heir to the throne.

I don't understand why they are scheming against Ghuri if they want to bear an heir to the throne. Surely they should be scheming to leap into the sack with the Sultan. You've got two different kinds of conflict here and are not distinguishing them.

The Boy Who Had A Moon On His Forehead and A Star On His Chin, is complete at just over 45,000 words.

Whoa! The title of the book makes it sound like it's about the kid, not Ghuri at all. And 45,000 words? Is this a novel for adults? If so, it's WAY too short (75K is the norm). If it's a YA novel, it's still too short. And if it's a novel for middle grade kids, the focus on Ghuri, an adult, seems out of place.

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

This is a form rejection.


Lehcarjt said...

Two things I like about this: First - the opening set-up. A fallen woman willing to help a shamed man. It has a bit of the feel of 'the good samaritain' story even with the awkward sentences.

Second - the title. It's long but it catches me.

However, in the long run neither of the things that appeal to me actually work because neither seem to have anything to do with the main focus of the book (the harem) or each other.

I'm also unclear what genre this is. I was thinking indian lit until the Sultan appeared. Then I thought fantasy romance. But the title is YAish. I think this needs to be VERY clear.

Amy Kinzer said...

I would like to offer this author a comment and say I would read a book about a woman living in a palace in competition with 300 wives! It could be a lot of fun. I agree the query needs some more work but it may be worth it. Good luck.

none said...

Well, there's "The Aviary Gate", although I didn't rate it :).

Mimzy said...

The idea sounds very interesting! Or at least it sounds like something I might buy if I was in the mood. However, I do agree that it sounds like this book is way too short. I barely bought 'The Alchemist' despite all it's rave reviews because the novel seemed so thin in my hands.

I'd hate to say 'pad the book' but maybe there's something you could do to make it longer? Add a side plot or an extra twist of events? Something to fill out the book and make it an appropriate length without bogging it down with too many words.

I'd also cut the title in half. I like the title as it creates a setting in my mind, but I think it's too long. Cut it to a phrase and I think it would be much better.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting my query! The idea of writing a query is very intimidating to me. And you all have given me so much to think about!

1) I intended this to be a YA.

2) This is actually an old indian fairytale that I am putting my own spin on.

3) The story itself is JUST finished and does need a lot of editing in my opinion, but I felt like the job of writing a query that was acceptable would take some time as well, so I wanted to tackle the query now.

4)Query Shark made a beautiful point about one of my many errors--I forgot to mention that all of the wives have to undergo a hysterectomy upon marriage, except for 4 chosen by the Sultan. Those 4 become pregnant at the same time. They will only be allowed to be pregnant once, before they have to undergo the surgery themselves. Ghuri has a vision that she will have a boy who will be born with a moon on his forehead and a star on his chin and who will be the heir to the throne. The other 3 wives conspire to keep that from happening.

Thank you all for your advice and comments, I think this story is so facinating, I really love it and its a project I've been working on with my teenage sisters, so this is very special to me and I really want it to succeed.

I feel so blessed to be able to gain this sort of knowledge and advice from people who are actually in the industry, I can't even say how grateful I am. I'm going to save these comments and post to my computer ASAP! Thanks and did everyone see the Inauguration! What a wonderful day for America!

pulp said...

Someone has to say it. If your novel is written with the same poor technique as your query, you need a remedial course in punctuation and grammar before you attempt any more writing. Perhaps you tell a story well, but if you aspire to be an author you also need to write a story well.

I do not mean to be unkind, but if nobody tells you, how are you going to know? I assume you want to write well and get your work into the hands of readers. To accomplish this you have to know the conventions of the language.

This story is interesting, but I was repelled by the hysterectomies. Once you talk about the 300 wives threatening Ghuri, though, you pretty much have to go into it. Is this original, or is it your addition to the folktale?

Tracy Holczer said...

I'd definitely mention the folktale in your query. And you described the heart of the problem more succinctly in your comment. But I'm still not sure why the other pregnant wives would be after her specifically. Wouldn't they all be a threat to each other? Maybe one by one the other pregnant wives get offed? I don't know. It might need some tinkering.

Also, make sure Ghuri's age is clear. It doesn't read YA in your current draft.

Laina said...

I know this is an old post, but generally YA doesn't begin with affairs with married man. It is very rare to find that kind of thing in YA. And this is definitely not reading as a YA book.

Anonymous said...

This premise has a high potential, just not as YA.