Saturday, April 11, 2009


Dear Query Shark:

Set in France, ONE WAY TO PARIS is one woman’s voyage to the outer limits of her comfort zone.

In a short form work like a query letter, every single word counts. It's almost like a prose poem, and probably more difficult to write; not that I've written a query letter or a prose poem!

That means you don't want to waste words. This sentence does that. It doesn't tell us anything more specific than the title and setting, the second of which we intuit from the paragraphs that follow, the first of which can be mentioned at the end.

Always always start with what the book is about.

Do you sometimes dream of leaving the United States behind and experiencing the city of lights, its joie de vivre, its gourmet food, its magic? Would you then consider renting out a room in a beautiful ancient house in the heart of Paris?

I'm confused. "Renting out" is what landlords to. "Renting a room in Paris" is what tenants do. This implies I'm the landlord, but if I'm also leaving the US behind and experiencing Paris, it sounds like I'm the tenant.

Abandon the "you" construction. Start with Annie. The story is about her.

Annie has no choice but to bank on it. Bankruptcy has reared its ugly snout and if she is to keep her beloved house, she has to find renters, and quick. No need to trumpet all the details of the woman she has become, and even less need to get into what exactly happened the night her husband was killed.

Let's forget the background of how she came to this point and get on to what the story is about.

Lured by Annie's ad, which promises them to ‘Start over in Paris’ -- a concept Annie has no intention of applying to her own life -- the tenants bring the kind of baggage that doesn’t fit neatly in suitcases. Lola, the model is hiding from her husband and has abducted their children, Althea is clearly anorexic and Jared might very well be a drug addict. And then there is Lucas, Annie’s blue-blooded, Lanvin-wearing tenacious friend who simply refuses to be scared away
by her bad attitude.

So, why is she reaching out for people who want to start over? With all the people who want to visit Paris, why exactly would she want applications from the Dirty Dozen? Why doesn't she just advertise in the AAR newsletter for query-sharked agents who need a vacation?

The story can't just be these characters arrive cause you need them there (unless you are Pirandello of course.) They have to arrive for a reason that makes sense to the story, and Annie has to rent to them for reasons that make sense to the story.

Annie’s protected universe is soon threatened in more ways than she had anticipated. When she finds herself reluctantly but actively engaged in the rescue of her tenants, Annie discovers that she might just save herself in the process.

Protected universe? What? I though she was facing bankruptcy and unfortunate inquiries from les flics re le mort de monsieur.

Thank you for considering my work. The manuscript of ONE WAY TO PARIS is completed and 96,000 words long.

Please do not hesitate to contact me and I’ll gladly forward the material you need. Thank you for your time and consideration.


DON'T FORGET YOUR CONTACT INFO!!!!!!!! (even if I redact it for the Shark attack, make a habit of inserting it)

This is a mess right now, but you actually have an interesting idea. Revise this to tell what the story is first.

This is one of those form rejections I always feel bad about cause there's probably something good in there but I can't see it yet.

This is the exact kind of query that prompted me to start this blog.


Meg Spencer said...

I really like when you post queries like this. Some of the other ones are entertaining in a /facepalm sort of way, but I could see myself making the same sort of errors the author of this query makes.

The story definitely sounds interesting... I think. Good luck to the author!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't pick it up in the store, it's just not my cup of tea, but I do see a potential behind it! Paris, rediscovering oneself, saving lost souls along the way, I get it. ;)

Good luck!

Teagen said...

I agree with the others, there is a glimmer of promise in the query (especially for me since I adore Paris to begin with), but that glimmer isn't enough for most people to pick it up and read. I couldn't tell you at this point if I would put it back on the shelf or read the first few pages in the bookstore and take it home with me, but I think if you clean it up a little and make every word count, you could definitely get me to read the first few pages at least.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem with this story is that iit starts with the idea of escaping to paris, which (like the shark mentioned) is confusing because then there's a shift to Annie who's actually living in paris. I think the story would be much clearer if the writer were to start with Annie herself. And I also am quite confused about what nationality Annie is and why is she specifically looking for american tenants.

And the whole bit with the dead should either be focused on more if its a central part of the story, or done away with altogether..

Story sounds lkike a fun read though. Are the characters going to be speaking to annie in french?

Anonymous said...

oops, soory made a mistake in my previous post. When I said "I think the problem with this story" I actually meant "I think the problem with this query". Sorry.

There's nothing wrong with the story.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I agree this is a mess right now but sense there's a great story here. Like I recently posted on my blog, when Michelangelo was asked how he carved David he said, "Easy. I simply carved away everything that wasn't David." There's too much "not David" here. Cut, chop, snip, revise. I hope to see this query posted again in a sleeker, sexier format. And...

"Why doesn't she just advertise in the AAR newsletter for query-sharked agents who need a vacation?"

Too damn funny.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi author: Unfortunately, you've done some of the same things in this query that you did in the one you posted on Evil Editor's site a while back. However, while that query was a bit too long, it was much less vague than this one.

Evil Editor gave you a very nice revision that focused on Annie and the story. Please revisit that post and take Janet's comments to heart. Between the suggestions from the two of them, you should be able to come up with a winning query for a story with real potential.

McKoala said...

Ah, Phoenix, I thought I recognised it. I also thought I remembered seeing a more detailed version of this somewhere; thanks for remembering! I also think I remember quite liking the first version, if that's any help.

corine said...

Thank you everyone, I do appreciate the glimmer of hope!
I sent the Evil editor query about a year ago, and this one perhaps six months ago. Since that I did two rewrites, I'm talking book rewrites, not query rewrites. The truth is, it wasn't until I wrestled with the query that I began to understand what the novel and the characters were really about. Now I'm really ready to query.. or I think I am. I could be wrong again this time.

Anonymous said...

The spark of a great story is there. If you followed the advice of The Shark and a new version of the query was more succinct, I would read this.