Friday, September 4, 2009


Dear Query Shark,
Ambitious Senator Carinna knows something must be done: erratic young Caligula Caesar, the new Emperor, needs a companion and confidant. Carinna’s older son, groomed for the job, is dead – leaving only bad-boy Marcus, who has just returned from the German frontier trailing minor clouds of glory. And a hostage.

Marcus is persuaded that honor requires him to atone for his brother’s treason. But after painfully earning the Emperor’s trust, he is horrified to learn that Caligula himself uttered the statement for which Marcus’s brother took responsibility – and that the scheme to switch the blame was their father’s, devised to ensure the survival of the youthful Caligula, then heir apparent.

Aurima, the stubborn and bitter German hostage with whom Marcus has fallen in love, sneers at him for not seeking vengeance and tries to kill Caligula herself. Unless Marcus turns her in, the enraged Caligula vows to punish him by demanding the suicide of his dishonored father. In the end, Marcus achieves what he desired – to prove himself a better man than his father – but realizes that in protecting Rome from Caligula, he can rely on no one but himself.

ROMA AMOR, 160,000 words, is the richly plotted product of many years of research and revision. I appreciate your consideration, Ms. Shark, and will be glad to send a full or partial ms. if you’re interested.

This is a damn good revision.

The word count is still a problem.

Go through it one more time with Cntrl-F (find) for "that" Take out every single "that" you don't need.

Then check for was -ing verb forms. Replace with verb-ed forms. (was washing to washed)

Then just read it line by line and take out every single word that doesn't have to be there.

My bet: you'll chop 5000 words off this.

When you do, let me know. I'll read it.


Dear Query Shark,

Marcus Carinna, a young Roman aristocrat, was a womanizing scoundrel until his brother’s suicide drove him to become an officer in a Danube legion. There, as a convert to the Sun God Mithras, he dedicated himself to upholding truth and order. Now his father, a powerful Senator, wants him to take his brother’s place as a companion of the inexperienced new Princeps of Rome: Caligula Caesar.

You've introduced four characters in one paragraph. This isn't even the start of the story. You've saved that for paragraph 3.

In ROMA AMOR, my 190,000-word novel, that decision will force Marcus into a wrenching choice between “Amor” (love) and “Roma” (duty) – the words every Roman legionary used to carve on opposite sides of his battle knife.

Here's where I stop reading and say "form rejection." 190,000 words. It simply cannot be done. Not right now anyway. And before you start hurling examples of The Thorn Birds, all of James Clavell, and Gone With the Wind at me (books I read and loved) let me just say this: I'm not sure I could sell those books, at that length, today. I'm not guessing at this. I know for a stone cold fact that wonderful novels over 120,000 words get glowing rejection letters. Glowing. REJECTION. Frankly I'm not in this for rejection letters glowing or otherwise. I'm in it for sales.

Though it galls him to obey his father, Marcus feels that family honor requires him to make amends for his brother’s treasonous behavior, which endangered the young Caligula. While struggling to advise the increasingly unstable Princeps, he will confront personal betrayal, attempted murder, and a disastrous attraction to an enemy’s captured daughter before Caligula rewards his loyalty with the truth about his brother’s death.

This is actually the interesting part. Leave out all those generalities. Get to the next paragraph which also has interesting stuff.

Too late, Marcus discovers why Caligula told him when they met, “The point, O Theseus, is not to learn what waits at the heart of the maze. The point is to escape alive.” Reeling from what he has learned, he must choose between his reckless love for the German hostage Aurima and his duty to everything he holds sacred.

Be specific. What did he learn? And by duty to everything he holds sacred do you mean the duty to family mentioned above?

Because of the importance of Caligula’s reign in Rome’s transition from republic to empire, it’s been a passion of mine for years. A professional copywriter by trade, I co-authored four nonfiction books on business and finance while writing ROMA AMOR, my first novel. I’ve amassed scores of reference books and walked in my characters’ footsteps, from the Palatine Hill to the banks of the Danube.
None of this matters a whit.

ROMA AMOR is envisioned as the first book in a series that takes readers from the beginning of Caligula’s principate through his assassination, the accession of his uncle Claudius (of I, CLAUDIUS fame), poisonings and conspiracies, and the rise of Nero. It's told in the first person, allowing readers to share one man's experience of this treacherous and turbulent time.
This is telling not showing.

A synopsis of the plot follows. If you’re interested, Ms. Shark, I’d be pleased to send you a partial or complete manuscript.

Of course you would. You don't need to say so.

Thanks for considering ROMA AMOR. I look forward to hearing from you.


Form rejection due to word count.


none said...

I thought womanising scoundrel was pretty much commonplace for Roman aristocrats....


190k AND it's anticipated as the first in the series?

*runs with tail between legs*

Lehcarjt said...

“The point, O Theseus, is not to learn..."

I'd be a little concerned that much of the dialogue is written in this manner. I'd think it would get annoying quick.

Mimzy said...

I'll use the Lord of the Rings as my example as, to be frank, it's a freaking tome. Also, there are many scenes that probably would have been cut if Papa Tolkien had tried to publish it today.

The entire LotR series is about 520,000 words. It was divided into three books so for simplicity we'll assume they're even (even though they're not) and say that there's roughly 170,000 words in a volume.

BUT! When Tolkien was trying to publish LotR for the first time he sent it to his publisher as a six book series! Partly due to a paper shortage, partly due to costs associated with publishing 6 small books over 3 thick ones, and partly because the publisher thought that a trilogy would sell better then a longer series, each volume is made up two complete 'books' that were originally intended to be packaged separately.

So really, in the mother of all tomes, the LotR, the word count for each book in the series is roughly 87,000 words.

In conclusion: Take a box cutter to your novel. It's too long.

Unknown said...

I'm always eager to read long books; they make me feel good when I'm finished. I adored The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova,her first published novel coming in at a staggering quarter of a million words.

But that was a remarkable book by an immense writing talent. If you're determined to sell a book that long, you have to be a truly extraordinary writer. I don't have a sense, from this letter, that you are that good yet.

Story is interesting though, once you got to the meat of it. :)

JS said...

There is a great novel idea buried in those excess words, and ROMA AMOR is a fabulous title.

Querier, if you are interested in having a professional freelance editor (me) look at the manuscript FOR FREE and offer you some suggestions about cutting it to a publishable length, please send me an email at my Gmail account, the handle of which is juliacentric.

I can share my bona fides, which I assure you are considerable; I do this stuff for money, but I would be glad to donate a few hours of my time because your topic interests me enormously.

Unknown said...

Damn !

This sounds like something I'd LOVE to read :)

Along the lines of Colleen McCullough's Rome series .. which are also huge books, though as stated, she had the track record to get then published.

Aimlesswriter said...

I don't read this kind of book so take this with a grain of salt. I thought you were too wordy in this query. I need to know what the main problem is for Marcus. I think the way its worded now its too general. Paragraph two with the word count should either be at the top or the bottom. But they're right about the word count. Very hard for a first time writer to get something that long published. Third paragraph gives me more of the action but is too general.
Give me conflict, motivation and goals quick and concise.
Good luck!

Patience-please said...

Don't be discouraged! The good news is that
(a) Ms. Reid chose your query
(b) she had some very positive comments, and
(c) you thought you had only written one book, and you actually have already written three!


none said...

I keep wondering what happened to the rest of Marcus's name.

_*rachel*_ said...

190K? Yeah, I'm out, too.

But the title is a palindrome. I do like that.

bcbgirl84 said...

I have no interest in ancient Rome, so I won't comment on plot.

The discussion about word count is interesting. I have a friend who is writing a fantasy novel. At last count, he was at around 180,000 words! I told him that was too long based on what I'd read about the publishing industry. He assured me that most fantasy novels are huge so it won't matter.

I read some fantasy but never could get into LOTR. I think it was the antiquated language and huge paragraphs that put me off. I just found it hard to follow and downright boring. Shows what I know!

Saffron said...

I found it sort of confusing, actually. Tell us more about Marcus.

...I just realized one of the main characters in something I'm writing is named that too.

The Stray said...

I'm confused. Google Reader has entries going up to #130, and I know for a fact I saw #129 just a week or so ago. Where did the entries go?

Janet Reid said...

Entries disappear for two reasons: revisions are in process (the Shark has received them, and is chomping)in which case the entry will pop back up again; OR the author asked the entry be removed.

Meaningless Prose said...

You can't really use the Lord of the Rings as an example though, as J. R. R. Tolkien has previous works published prior to that series.
It also was a requested sequel to his populor novel, the Hobbit.
I'm pretty sure that changes things greatly, right, Ms. Shark?

M. said...

I adore Lindsey Davis' Marcus (!) Didius Falco series and my grandfather's house is a hop away from the place in the German woods where the Romans decided (with some help from the locals) "this far north and no further". Both of these things mean I'm a natural candidate to read this story.

Here's my "but..":

Reading the revised query makes me think the novel is about the father because he's in the 1st paragraph. It's only as I read on and into the original query that I realize it's really about the son. Yet it received shark approval.

This confuses me as a poor schmuck working my way through the archives, trying to learn how to build a query.