Wednesday, April 29, 2009

#112-REVISED-2nd Revision and a **WINNER**

Dear Query Shark:

Where was her dog?

She felt the first splinter of worry when Hope didn't come in for dinner.

Emily Hunt lived through her dogs. When her dogs succeeded in the show ring and field trials, Emily owned their success. She watched them lounge in the sun when she needed to warm her own soul. She saw her God in her old dogs’ eyes.

It made no sense to keep the runt from an otherwise impressive litter, but Emily had a feeling. A strange, magical connection. And the little white whippet proved her right. Hope became Emily's star - a running phenomenon that showed her disappearing fanny to the fastest sighthounds in the country. But more, Hope became Emily's heart.

Hope had known only kindness from the humans in her life. Granted, humans make idiotic mistakes; dogs were used to that. The species was basically blind and deaf with noses that did nothing but decorate their faces. The poor dears had lost nearly all ability to communicate truth because they relied on their clumsy spoken language. "Blah, blah, blah," they'd babble on, saying nothing at all. Dumb, dependent, sweet creatures. Hope adored her Emily.

She was no ordinary dog. She could make humans hear her. Of course humans would mistake Hope’s words for their own thoughts. Most humans did, anyway. But dogs knew.

After she was grabbed her from her yard, Hope encountered a new breed of human. She stared through crusty cage wires at indifference, greed, and evil. The indifference hurt the most. She was sick, she was sad, she was so tired. She felt madness licking closer.

Emily's search to find Hope uncovered the dark underworld of stolen dogs. They auction dogs like cattle. Emily had known about puppy mills, where dogs were kept in criminally abhorrent conditions and literally bred to death, but only as a distant, shameful concept.

The thought of her dog at a place like that.

Hope had been gone for two years. Even Emily was thinking maybe it was over. Could she give up and go back to her comfortable life, as her friends and husband advised, (dogs get lost all the time, you don't let it ruin your life, for God's sake move on), or would she keep trying to search for Hope? She had her other dogs to train, to compete, and there was a waiting list for puppies. But the dreams were so damn real.

And then she got an email. A lead that changed her life in a way she never imagined.

Because of one very special little dog.

Little Hope is 78,000 words.

I believe this book, told from the both the human and distinctly canine points of view, would appeal to young adults and the world of adult dog lovers.

I have self-published two editions of a collection of short stories, essays, and poems. The first edition of 800 sold out, with twenty-five copies not yet offered for sale. The last three copies to sell on eBay sold for more than $150 apiece. The second edition, which contains thirty new writings, is currently selling. I have been published in national and international dog magazines. I write commentary for my local NPR station, and maintain a blog with a small following, getting from 3500 - 10,000 page views per month, depending on the number of posts.

You had me in the palm of your hand right up to self-published. That's why I'd advise taking it out. Even if you think it unfair, it's true there is a prejudice against previously self-published writers at the query stage. You don't need this in a query; it's not a writing credit. Leave it out. You can always mention it later after your agent has signed you up and sold your book.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

All the best-

wow! You REALLY improved this query. Congratulations on all your effort and hard work!!

Dear Query Shark:

Childless landowner Emily Hunt lives through her whippets, especially a little bitch named Hope. Other dogs immediately recognize Hope's extraordinary gift: humans can hear her. Humans, hampered by their clumsy reliance on the spoken word, mistake hearing Hope for their own thoughts.

What do "childless" and "landowner" have to do with the story? Are these the two most important things we need to know about Emily? My guess is no, they are not. Therefore, don't put them first in a query letter.

When Hope disappears, Emily is determined to find her, haunted by memories of her first dog, taken away when six-year-old Emily was placed in foster care. She will not have another dog taken from her, though her obsession threatens her friendships and her marriage.

I'm not sure we need to know why Emily is determined to find Hope. It makes sense that if she lives through her dogs, she's not going to just let them be dognapped and not do something about it.

Hope has entered the dark world of stolen dogs: dog auctions, commercial breeding facilities, and puppy mills. After two auctions in as many years she is halfway across the country living in deplorable conditions. But here she connects with Caleb, a scrawny ten-year-old boy, whose alcoholic widower father terrorizes him and criminally neglects his 'breeder dogs'.

Alcoholic and widower! Evil incarnate! Oh wait, it's the "criminally neglects" part that is important isn't it? Focus on what's important. Leave out all the description.

Caleb is determined to save Hope when his father consigns her to yet another dog auction. An Internet search convinces him that his little white whippet is the same one that is advertised as stolen on the pretty lady’s website.

Why does he want to save her?

Caleb thinks Emily hasn’t arrived in time and tries to stop the auctioneer from taking Hope, getting beaten by his dad for his efforts. With the gavel banging, a weak Hope feels Emily’s presence and turns toward her. In horror, Emily realizes that the pathetic dog is her Hope. A dirty little boy with a blood-smeared face is screaming as loud as she is.

You've given us a synopsis of the book, not a reason to read it. You'd do well to revise this and focus on the dilemma Emily faces, not the series of events that happen. Right now this doesn't make me wonder "what happens next" because you've told me.

Little Hope. The manuscript is 78,000 words.

Thank you for your valuable time.
My time isn't any more valuable than yours.

Use this: Thank you for your time and consideration.

Better, but still a form rejection.
Remember the goal in a query letter is to entice me to read this book. Clearly it's a subject you're passionate about. Get some of that passion on the page. This is a list of events, not a siren call to the page.


Dear Query Shark,

Emily Hunt lives through her dogs. Whippets. Elegant, art deco creatures built for speed with eyes deep as God and just as knowing. Emily's youngest whippet, a little bitch named Hope, blasts into the quirky world of sighthound enthusiasts and quickly establishes her unlikely self as a star. Dogs instantly recognize Hope's extraordinary gift: humans can hear her. Humans, with their diminished capacities, are clueless.

I'm confused. (This is not a good sign) Who is the book about? Hope or Emily? Because you start with Emily and the fact that she "lives through her dogs" I'm thinking this is a story about Emily. Then it sounds like it's a story about Hope's ability to communicate with people (I"m going to forgo the Bitch Whisperer jokes here because, despite the last sentence, I don't think you're going for a sardonic tone.)

Emily lives on a secluded estate in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, passed down to her husband over generations of horsey landed gentry. Though the couple is childless, Emily has her dogs, her rescued thoroughbreds, and her friends. Her husband, Edgar Emerson Hunt, III, has a busy law practice in Washington, DC. Life is good.

This is pointless. What happens?

Hope vanishes from the yard, and Emily's world disintegrates. When a well-meaning friend says, "It's just a dog," Emily slaps her, hard. She will find her dog. It is a matter of trust.Through her searching, Emily's own past as a foster child in Baltimore is revealed.

A matter of trust? I don't understand what you mean. The dog trusts Emily to find her?

Hope survives in the seedy underworld of dog auctions, commercial kennels, and puppy mills. At the end of the end, a back yard puppy mill in Missouri where she's one of 110 dogs in a rickety garage, Hope meets Caleb, a scrawny ten-year-old boy, whose alcoholic widower father terrorizes him and criminally neglects his 'breeder dogs'. Caleb hears Hope, loves her, and is determined to save her when his father consigns her to yet another dog auction.

whoa! Missouri? Caleb? Where's Emily? What does any of this have to do with the first two paragraphs?

The dramatic conclusion gets Emily past the gun-toting guard at the auction barn just in time to not recognize Hope on the auction block. When she 'hears' her dog, she can't hear her own screams, and dismisses the vision of a dirty little boy with a fresh black eye who is screaming as loud as she is.

You're mixing show and tell here, and neither come out well. Emily doesn't recognize Hope. She can't hear her. Why is she screaming if she doesn't recognize the dog? Why is she having a vision? Do you mean she is seeing the boy?

The conclusion is relentlessly rewarding.

Please please please don't tell me how I'm supposed to respond to a book. It just makes me say "wanna bet?" SHOW me what I might find relentlessly (an odd modifier for) rewarding, instead of TELLING me.

Little Hope. The manuscript is 78,000 words.

(two paragraphs from novel redacted)

Don't include lines from the book in your query letter. Include the first 3-5 pages, at the end.

Thank you for your valuable time.

all the best-

Who is the main character? What happens to her? What choices does she need to make and what are the consequences.

Have I yammered about that enough? I guess not.

Answer those questions. That's the basis for the query letter.

People like to read about dogs. You might have a good story in here. This query letter is like an Springer Spaniel with a winter coat. It needs a bout with the clippers to spruce it up.

Form rejection.


Adam Heine said...

"Hope survives in the seedy underworld of dog auctions, commercial kennels, and puppy mills."This sentence made me laugh out loud. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the intent.

What kind of seedy underworld can there be here (unless "puppy mills" means they're being turned into food or something)? I read this the same way I might read: "Big Bird learns how to survive in the seedy underworld of Sesame Street."

I think you need to explain what you mean by "humans can hear [Hope]." In the first paragraph, it strikes me as some kind of superpower, but it's never explained so later when it talks about people hearing and not hearing the dog, I think it means literally.

Anonymous said...

I'm so confused. This story makes no sense to me.

I think it gets confusing because you've involved too many of your characters. It would be better if you just focused on the protagonist (is emily the main character?) and her side of the story.

Is Hope a magical talking dog? I just don't get it. Also, why would adults want to read about magical talking dogs? Maybe you should make it a YA novel instead. I can't imagine adults wanting to read about a talking dog, unless it's supposed to be funny.

Sorry, I just can't give any constructive advice because the story has me utterly baffled. Maybe you could try imagining yourself writing a blurb for your book. what do you think would tempt readers?

none said...

If you really know nothing about the cruelty (and often illegality) of "puppy mills", Adam, maybe you need to do some googling :).

It struck me that there's a contradiction in claiming that Hope has the ability to make humans hear her--an ability recognised by dogs--but then saying that humans don't hear her. So which is it? Not much of an ability if it doesn't work.

Barb said...

Ok wait. Are you saying:

A lady owns a dog with a special gift. The dog gets stolen. After lots of searching and unpleasant things happening to the dog, the lady finally rescues it as it is being auctioned. Then there is the relentlessly rewarding conclusion.

I only ask, as that is what I took from your query, but I'm still not sure I've got it.

none said...

Childless landowner Emily Hunt lives through her whippets, especially a little bitch named Hope. Other dogs immediately recognise Hope's extraordinary gift: humans could hear her speak, if they would only listen.

When Hope disappears, Emily is determined to rescue her, but her search brings unwelcome reminders of her childhood in foster homes in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, Hope has struck up a friendship with scrawny ten-year-old Caleb, in whose abusive father's puppy mill she's imprisoned. At last, she's found a human who listens.

But when Hope is thrust onto the auction block, and Emily fails to recognise her, can Caleb save the day?

Anonymous said...

wow buffysquirrel. That was perfect. The writer should buy you lunch.

sally said...

Oh, Buffy, you're good. I'd like to have you rewrite mine.

Tere Kirkland said...

lol, Buffy, even if that ISN'T what the story is about, it sounds like something I'd like to read!

Matt said...

I think this query would interesting if it were written entirely through Hope's eyes...Maybe using her voice so that we get a sense of her personality?

Melissa said...


I do dog rescue and we've saved several dogs from puppy mills. It's a very seedy world and has all the makings for a great thriller novel (death threats, police raids, sometimes trying to get the backyard breeders to give up their dogs is like hostage negotiations).

Anyways, I have a little whippet mix named Hope, so I really want to like this story, but it looks like the main problem is that it's told from two different viewpoints (the dog's and the owner's) and if that's not clear in the query, I don't know if it'll be any clearer in the book.

In addition, the story seems stolen, owner devastated, finds out about her past in of these things doesn't fit in here.

Finally, the little boy Caleb who helps the dog seems extremely cliche to me.

The story has a lot of potential, but it needs to be streamlined and made more coherent.

Adam Heine said...

Fair enough. I'm not familiar enough with the subject matter for that particular sentence to make sense. For whatever reason (e.g. because I'd never heard of puppy mills), the images in my head were of dog shows and the kennel where my parents dropped off our toy poodle one weekend so we could go camping. Obviously that's not what it says. Sorry about that.

Anne R. Allen said...

This plot reminds me of the classic anti-animal cruelty novel, Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. It may be written with an omniscient viewpoint, like Sewell's. (Which, m-m, was originally written for adults, but has now become a children's classic.)

The problem seems to be with the query, not the story, which is one that obviously needs to be told, if people like Adam have never heard about it.

Ms. Squirrel does a magnificent job of rewriting the query with a single viewpoint. Maybe she should start a query-help business?

talpianna said...

This might appeal to me more if it were about a cat.

Adam, I used to read a lot of dog stories in my far-distant youth (during the second Cleveland administration), particularly Albert Payson Terhune's Sunnybank collie stories. Respectable breeders raise their dogs in healthy conditions, with lots of handling to make sure they are people-friendly. Would-be owners visit to meet the breeders and puppies and may have to furnish references. If the pups are bred from champion show dogs, they may cost hundreds of dollars. In any case, they are AKC registered.

In puppy mills, bitches are kept in small cages and bred repeatedly until they die of it.

I don't know what "commercial kennels" are, unless the author means the sort that breeds for sale to pet shops, better than puppy mills (so named because they grind out indistinguishable puppies like so much flour) but not in the class of professional show-dog breeders.

I've never heard of dog AUCTIONS. Is it something to do with illegal dogfights? If so, the only use they'd have for a whippet would be to let the fighting dogs kill her for practice.

WV: inkabi--farewell to the Peruvian empire

hschinske said...

_Black Beauty_ (subtitled _The Autobiography of a Horse_) is actually in first person, if it matters.


Anne R. Allen said...

My bad, Helen. You're absolutely right. After I wrote my post, I unearthed my copy and saw, to my chagrin, that it is indeed told entirely from the point of view of the horse.

I think that "Beautiful Joe", another anti-animal cruelty classic that made a heavy impact on my young mind, has multiple points of view and I garbled the memories.


Clare K. R. Miller said...

The setting in the beginning reminds me of another series--I've never read it, but my mom does. (No idea what it's called or who the author is, unfortunately.) It's basically about some humans out in the country and their rescued dogs and horses, all of whom talk to each other.

Patience-please said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
batgirl said...

Damn, buffy, that was awesome.

Julie Weathers said...

"sometimes trying to get the backyard breeders to give up their dogs is like hostage negotiations)."

It would be good if we don't lump all "backyard breeders" into some kind of abusive, underworld scenario. I was a "backyard breeder" for years and our bloodlines produced multiple world champion working dogs.

Melissa said...

Sorry Julie, no offense intended. The way we use the term "backyard breeder" in dog rescue circles (at least the circles I hang out in), it's not meant to be applied to someone breeding dogs responsibly out of their home, it's meant for people who breed for money, not for health, and don't really know or care what they are doing.

I should've been more clear in what I meant. Again, I'm sorry.

Aimlesswriter said...

There's a good premise for a story here but the query is confusing. Give me one point of view. I'm assuming the main character is Emily? Tell her goal, motivation and conflict.
Re Adam's comment on "seedy puppymills"- Look up puppymills. They are indeed seedy, often underworld-like places that abuse dogs for profit.

Girl said...

There are three things that the Shark says to leave out because they are unimportant details: Emily is childless, Caleb's dad is an alcoholic widower, and Emily's childhood dog being lost when she goes into the state system (which just might be a way for the author to mention that Emily was an orphan).

I am pretty sure the author wants to include those three details because they hint at a story development that the author doesn't want to spell out in the query letter. I think they are clues about what Emily does about Caleb after she gets Hope back.

I'm not sure if it would be better for the author to just say what happens, or if it is a good idea to hint at it as a way to draw interest, but that is what I think they are doing.

uenduphere said...

Everything Query Shark said and...

Grammar issues abound.

Other dogs immediately (use adverbs sparingly) recognize Hope's extraordinary gift: humans can hear her ( Other dogs, is the subject, and gift is the indirect object. Her should refer to the preceding anticedent.)

hampered by their clumsy reliance on the spoken word. (this is a long clause that doesn't tell us anything different than: Human's mistake Hope's thoughts for their own. )

When Hope disappears, Emily is determined to find her ( Like the sentence above you have two anticedents, Hope and Emily. You need to define her... period after to find her "whippet"), (H)haunted by memories of her(Emily or Hope) first dog, taken away when six-year-old Emily was placed in foster care. (There is no subject.... I think this sentence is trying to say: Emily is haunted by her first dog, which, she was forced to give up when she was placed in foster care. The trauma resurfaces when Hope is stolen and Emily will (insert favorite cliche) to find hope.)

She(Emily or Hope) will not have another dog taken from her Emily or Hope), though her (Emily or Hope)obsession threatens her (Emily or Hope)friendships and her marriage. (Emily or Hope)(This paragraph is riddled with pro-noun issues. It's also trying to clarify the preceding paragraph. Restructure the previous paragraph and delete this one.)

Hope has entered the dark world of stolen dogs: dog auctions, commercial breeding facilities, and puppy mills. After two auctions in as many years she is halfway across the country living in deplorable conditions. But here she connects with Caleb, a scrawny ten-year-old boy, whose alcoholic widower father terrorizes him and criminally neglects his 'breeder dogs'. (Grammar, grammar, grammar... aside from that, you're previous paragraphs were about Emily and her trauma. This one is all about hope. Who's POV is this book? If it's the dogs, we need less about Emily and more about Hope)

Thoughts: I'm not convinced the dog being sold one more time is really a climax. It's an auction. If you want to find out who bough the dog you go to the office, or ask the person next to you, or ask the auctioneer. Then, you go to to the person who bought the dog and offer them money they can't refuse. In the seedy world of dog auctions, it's about fifty bucks.

Mostly, the grammar problems suggest to me, now is not the time to be querying your novel. You need to find a good crit group and book on grammar. Then go over your novel. At least three edits- plot and element edit, grammar edit, and the "comb" but more isn't unheard of or even unusual.

You've got an interesting topic and pet novels are popular, but the writing needs to hold up. Don't sell yourself short, by submitting when its not ready.

The overuse of emotionally charged words feels like an attempt to overwhelm the agent into asking for more. Emotion is not enough. The writing needs convey a clear meaning. Simply put, subject-verb-object. Too many of your sentences lack these elements.

none said...


Stephanie Barr said...

"Beautiful Joe"! I remember that book (though, I'll be honest, I thought it was from the dog's point of view - perhaps it switched later?). I wish I could remember who wrote it.

Very much a book of my formative years. Now I'll have to look it up.

laughingpaws said...

I have two logic questions. If Emily rescues thoroughbred horses, she would presumably know about, and or have contacts with, dog rescues and she'd already know about puppy mills. Especially in VA with 200+ dog rescues in the DC Metro area alone. (I live in Vienna, VA and have spent the past 12 years as a dog behaviorist specializing in aggression rehab for dogs and their people. It's a world that I know.)

My second logic question is about the animal communication. From my understanding it's not about the dogs' having the ability to talk to us but about us shutting up long enough to hear what they have to say. So, it wouldn't be Hope's special gift but Emily's.

Great job on finishing your novel and putting yourself out there!

Marius said...

I'm just surprised at the [b]word count/length[/b] of the final version.

Do agents like something like this **in terms of length**?

I thought everything was supposed to be in the range of 250-words, or one page.

Would appreciate feedback from the Shark.

Marius said...

uenduphere said:

Other dogs immediately (use adverbs sparingly) recognize Hope's extraordinary gift: humans can hear her ( Other dogs, is the subject, and gift is the indirect object. Her should refer to the preceding anticedent.)

You're wrong about the object:

The verb "recognize" is most of the time [b]transitive[/b]
(including in this case), thus has a [b]direct object[/b] which is supplied by the [b]noun phrase[/b] "Hope's extraordinary gift."

Anonymous said...

Going through the archives per your instructions (started in 2004) and I saw this one that addresses a concern of mine. I know this is a 2009 query, but would you still say the same about self-publishing? I had a previous agent of mine say that I needed to mention it in my query (and in this day and age, wouldn't there be a chance a potential agent could find it out there anyway?)

patience-please said...

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.
Very first query.
Manuscript requested.
Oh my God.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.
Oh my GOD!!!!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the transformation from original to final. Congratulations.