Monday, August 10, 2009


Dear Query Shark:

Fanfare for the Common Woman is a 90,000 word work of women’s fiction that revolves around the emotional development of Cris Pereira. She is a twenty-something Latina with a recent history of heartbreak: her first love confessed to cheating on her months after their engagement, and her father succumbed to cancer only a few weeks later. These events have made Cris quietly bitter and openly jaded about love and the possibility of finding happiness. Because she is an inherently strong woman with a low tolerance for pity, she hides her pain behind her sunny smile and acerbic wit. In private, she suffers recurring nightmares centered on her fear of being alone.

And why should I care? This is all tell, no show. Show us what Cris is like. This reads like an intake report of some kind. There's no voice, no spark here.

This is where I'd stop reading in a query letter.

One ordinary Sunday, she volunteers to take her cousins to a celebrity autograph signing. While there, she inadvertently attracts the attention of the young actor Tom Abramson. He is drawn to her unique sense of humor and spirited independence. Intrigued by her disinterest in him, he proceeds to contact her via text messages and emails. Against her better judgment, she cannot ignore the stirrings of her long-dead heart.

Again, this is all tell, no show. We have no sense of her unique sense of humor and spirited independence. You really don't need all the psychological set up. The start of this story is when Tom meets Cris. She's not interested, he stalks woos her.

Throughout the tale, Cris is constantly challenged by those around her to excise the demons of her past and believe in the plausibility of happiness. Her closest friends, Gita and Hana, offer contrasting perspectives that add humor and heartache to Cris’ journey of self-development. Tom’s carefree spirit is repeatedly juxtaposed alongside Cris’ penchant for thoughtful deliberation. He insists that Cris needs to think less, and do more. To that effect, he organizes experiences that push her outside of her comfort zone, with a wide array of results.

This is all so general as to be boring. What do they do? What choice does Cris need to make? What risk does she take?

Will Cris finally understand what it means to be happy? Will she relinquish her tight hold on the reins and learn to live in the moment?

I am a twenty-something woman with a multicultural background and degrees in English Composition and Political Science. A great deal of the experiences in this work are taken from my own life, and I hope to convey sentiments that many women will be able to relate to and understand.

I don't care about any of that. All I care about is whether this is an interesting and compelling novel.

I came across your blog when I was searching for information on query letters, and I really appreciate both your humor and your efforts to make such a daunting process easier. You truly are filled with "salacious badassness" - in the best kind of way.

Well, ok, sucking up is never wrong artful compliments are never out of place (and thank you.)

Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you. Below is the text from the first five pages of my novel.


Form rejection.


Masha said...

Intrigued by her disinterest in him, he proceeds to contact her via text messages and emails.

To that effect, he organizes experiences that push her outside of her comfort zone, with a wide array of results.

This would be why I'm really cautious with Kimani books. It must be really popular, because it shows up in their line over and over, but it just makes me think that he's a creepy stalker.

I get that she's got issues from her past, but why is she not getting help from Gita and Hana (or a licensed professional)? IRL boyfriends usually are not so good at helping with issues from a girl's past.

But all that's just me. Janet's right about us not seeing Cris's acerbic wit and sunny personality. We have no sense of who she is, what is important to her, what's kept her interacting with the world despite her issues, etc. What is her comfort zone and how is she going to be pushed out of it? She's got cousins, she's got two best friends, so she's got some sort of life beyond the nightmares, right?

Livia said...

Hmm, I'm confused. Did you have her cross out the bio section because you don't like that particular bio section, or you don't like bio sections at all?

Aimless Writer said...

Start with the conflict. When Tom meets Cris sparks fly-but only on his side. As he tried to pry off the hard shell she's built around herself...blah blah blah...what happens?
Pretent you're telling us how exciting this all is. Fire us up!

Lehcarjt said...

Love the title. I also agree with what has been said about seeing her wit and humor. Make the query representative of who she is. Bring her to life rather than telling us about her.

One other thing bothered me though. She is bitter and angry because she got dumped and her dad died. That doesn't seem like enough to drive an entire story. WHY are these two things so difficult to her. Bad things happen all the time. People deal. What makes her fall apart rather than do so?

Sheila Deeth said...

Okay, I really need to keep reading these.

Buffra said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention that the first paragraph needs more white space.

I agree with the others (and the Shark) -- there's no sense of who Cris is or why we like her.

The strength, wit, and thoughtfulness of Cris don't seem to be on display here, which makes me wonder if they are present in the manuscript or if we're just told about them.

Michelle Teichman said...

Just a quick note: "disinterested" does not mean "uninterested". It means fair. Look it up in a dictionary older than to get a real definition. The best example of this is probably in "A Tale Of Two Cities" when Carton says, "Dear Doctor Manette, I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her."

Southern Writer said...

I think Tom is my therapist.

Marian said...

I agree with Lehcarjt - it wasn't clear why the dumping + death had such a terrible effect on her. Other people have lost parents to cancer without suffering nightmares.

I'd also like to have seen Cris play more of a role in her own recovery, rather than being the recipient of an emotional makeover from Tom.

Gather said...

While I understand that agents get deluged with queries, it is clear from this blog that their process of analyzing input from potential writers is seriously flawed. The agents posting here use cliche justifications for rejection that have no logical foundation. To the point, the queries I have been reading here, while not perfect, nonetheless paint interesting stories. You seem to equate the query letter with the work. Maybe there is a connection, maybe not, but people, all people, have a different style in a query letter, and I have a hard time believing that this is lost on you. A letter is a form of communication. Fiction is a display of art. Two different things. If you really want to find good writers, you had better find a different way of looking, because all the queries here followed the rules that are drummed into writer's head ad nauseum. You simply made a conscious choice to tear them apart.

Janet Reid said...

One agent posts critiques here: me.

If you think the query letter system, or this blog is flawed, fine. Don't participate.

It works for me.

It works for a lot of the people who participate.

I make no claim of "this way is the only way"

julian said...

You're wrong. The ability to compose an effective query letter in just 250 words shows the agent two things;
1. The story is compelling.
2. The author can write.

Alternatively, agents could just throw all the query letters they get into the air and choose the ones that land on their side.
It reminds me of a top chef who interviewed prospective employees by asking them to fry an egg. He said it told him more about the abilities of the chef than any complicated dishes they could prepare.
A query letter is the literary equivalent of frying an egg.

glovin said...

She is bitter and angry because she got dumped and her dad died. That doesn't seem like enough to drive an entire story.

Best Affordable Security Systems Suitable for Renters and Apartments, Business and RV