Sunday, September 27, 2009


Dear Query Shark,

I have an incomplete fantasy novel

here's where I stop reading and send a form rejection letter

that I'd like to know whether I should bother with. I know this is a bit unusual but you seem like a brutally honest person and that's what I need. I want to know whether I should continue with my idea.

Word count so far is 5,828 out of what I expect to be 60,000.

I know this is unusual but even if you don't critique it on your blog I would love even a tiny response with your honest opinion.
I understand if you don't reply.

SYNOPSIS: (redacted)
FIRST FIVE PAGES: (redacted)

You have to have a finished novel.
There are no exceptions to this.

If you send a query for an unfinished novel, don't say so. It's bad enough to actually do it, it's worse to say so. I don't read queries for unfinished novels.

The first step for writing a query letter is to finish the novel.

And the query shark blog is a critique of query letters, not synopses or first pages. That's why it's called QUERYShark, not WritingShark.


Cege Smith said...

It is unfortunate that you had to have a "Back to the Basics" query response. I look forward to these critiques and that seemed like a waste of everyone's time when there wasn't something there to work with.

BJ said...

Hm. I don't think it was a waste of time. If it was, the Shark wouldn't have posted it -- she doesn't *have* to post it, and she says in her guidelines that she might not.

Just the fact that the Shark felt the need to critique this tells me this sort of 'query' is more common than it should be.

Jm Diaz said...

I agree, this was a waste. It is said time and time again that for works of fiction, it must be completed.
I would like to ask though, in you all's experience, how long does it take the query shark to post a query after she has received it? I'm trying to decide if I should assume that mine will just not get posted because of some gross mistake I may have committed. I submitted mine about a week ago. Safe to assume its not coming up? Or should I still remain patient?

Jennifer Roland said...

But people continue to send queries--not just to Query Shark but also to agents and editors--for novels they haven't finished. Thus, this query critique is necessary and not a waste of our time.

Serious writers from nonfiction backgrounds are used to querying partials or article ideas, not completed manuscripts, so it's not just rank beginners who can benefit from this reminder.

Cege Smith said...

BJ I am certain you are right that this is probably a common query issue. (Watching other agent blogs, etc. speaks to that truth.) For me though, and anyone else who knows that is a fundamental rule to querying, this is disappointing. I hope QueryShark is devouring some more queries for us soon. That is really all I meant when I said that this seems like a waste.

Botanist said...

Jm Diaz: I don't know how long it takes the successful few to get posted. I last sent one in in June, and this was the 5th or 6th revision of a query I first submitted in April 2008 -- all without the slightest little nibble.

Writers are desperate for feedback on their efforts, so blogs like this are bound to be popular. I suspect there must be hundreds in the shark pool, and you can see for yourself how few get critiqued.

My advice is: don't bank on getting posted. Trawl the blog for good & bad examples and learn what you can from them. Even without the benefit of a critique (though it would be nice ... here Sharky Sharky ...) my own query is so different from what I started off with as a result of doing that.

N.B. I did find another site which still seems to be active over at You stand a good chance of getting *some* feedback, but you have to filter it more carefully as it is an open forum and doesn't have the benefit of an agent's view.

Good luck!

Jm Diaz said...

Botanist, thank you kindly for your response... really.
I will continue to look over the other queries and enhance mine as much as I can. I just hope that Madame Shark doesn't mind if submit another one without getting feedback from the previous one. After all, her bite is worse than her bark... in fact, sharks don't really bark do they?

Janet Reid said...

As of today, 9/27, at 8pm there are 1709 unposted query letters in the QueryShark holding pond.

Queries are chosen at random based on what catches the shark's eye; what seems to be an example of something not previously discovered; and if the shark is in a real feeding frenzy, a good one just to show it can be done.

Sara J. Henry said...

Members of Backspace online writers group can post their query letters on the forum and have them critiqued by the group, which includes many very successful published writers. You can also post manuscript excerpts for feedback. Everyone gets feedback - some you have to ignore, of course.

Membership I think is $40 a year but there's a trial period - and it's cheap at the price if you're serious about writing.

Chris Eldin said...

I just think it's a shame that the Shark didn't put 133 with 134. It's a match made in heaven.

Adam Heine said...

To the author, I highly recommend you join a critique group, either in person or online. Critiquing others' work helps immensely with your own, and you can get an idea of what works and what doesn't. Plus, of course, you can get feedback on your own writing.

Since you're writing fantasy, I'd recommend, but there are lots of others you can look into.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

To the Author, we would all like to know if our idea is good enough to pursue. Unfortunately you can never really know that until you actually carry it out. Writing is an act of faith. And if you finish and it's not good enough, stick it in a drawer and start on your next idea.

Victoria Kerrigan said...

Holy Hell - 1709 query letters in the queue!!!

And you do all this without thanks and without pay? Just as a public service?

Incredible. Just incredible. My hat is off to you, Ms Reid.

(And no, I'm not sucking up. I don't have a query to run through here and I write fantasy so won't submit in your direction. I'm amazed, just amazed, that's all.)

Diana said...

I'm curious whether posts like this do any good. Have you seen an improvement in the query letters, since you started blogging about it?

Adam Heine said...

"I'm curious whether posts like this do any good."

It's the Paradox of the Uninformed: the people who need to hear this the most are the ones who will never read it.

Still, it never hurts for the Shark to put this info up. New people Google the words "query letter" everyday.


Not to mention this isn't actually a query ... What is your story about?

Diana said...

Thanks, Adam. I started a small press about six months ago. I've been blogging about my end of the submission process. So, I am naturally curious whether my advice to follow submission guidelines and learn proper punctuation and grammar will make a difference. :)

Anonymous said...

Totally with Victoria.

Even though I'm likely to never submit to you, as I too write fantasy, I owe you a great debt and appreciate your devouring efforts.

HeyZeus said...

Fuming... I am fuming! The gall of this jerkoid! I don't know where Query Shark found the patience to handle this moronstrosity professionally.

I'd be like... wow, you just managed to string together five thousand words! What a stellar achievement! You totally have the right to know right away if any of your pearly droppings are going to be worth enough in solid gold to have you spend any more of your oh so precious time shitting them out.

Forget about all those "writers" slaving away on dense tomes for half their lifespans without even the blip of a chance to be published anywhere on the radar; you are so much better than them!

Oh and feel free to ask strangers if YOUR book is worth pursuing when you yourself have no idea if your words deserve a home in a published volume somewhere; that is totally the kind of asinine half-assedness great writers are made of.

Oh yeah, and the way you kept telling me that you knew it was "unusual", that was so cute. Totally made up for the "unusual-ness" (read, complete disregard for the ethics of "writing"); your just knowing it.

Jeez query shark... you're going soft.

HeyZeus said...

To # 134, don't bother. Since I haven't read your synopsis, this is not a comment on your work, it's a comment on YOU. You are not a writer. Not even a serious adult... probably only partially a human being.

There, I feel better now.

Ishmael said...

I keep hearing that querying an unfinished ms. is an absolute, no-exceptions no-no, and I understand the reasons for that and am willing to accept them. But then I read that Zadie Smith's White Teeth was accepted by Hamish Hamilton three friggin' years years before completion. So obviously there are exceptions, and I'm just wondering: how did those exceptions come to be? Do you have to write a dishonest query letter and say your ms. is finished, thereby tricking the agent into reading it, and then hope that she falls so hard for what she's read that she's willing to take a chance on an unknown author and set aside the inviolable rule of querydom? Just curious.

Adam Heine said...

Usually the exceptions are because somebody knows somebody, or the author met an agent at a conference, the agent said, "What are you working on?" and chemistry was made.

I haven't yet heard of an exception from a cold query.

JS said...

But then I read that Zadie Smith's White Teeth was accepted by Hamish Hamilton three friggin' years years before completion. So obviously there are exceptions, and I'm just wondering: how did those exceptions come to be?

If you were Zadie Smith, someone who had attracted attention from UK publishers for several short stories that had appeared in an anthology of "Best New Writing from Cambridge University," you could sell a book you haven't finished.

Obviously you know whether or not this applies to you.

Marian Perera said...

I write fantasies that routinely go over 100K words. I'd definitely put out more than 5K before I even thought of agents.

5K is nothing... it's my working notes and jot-downs. The manuscript has got to reach at least 30 to 40K words before I'm sure that it's solid.

Unknown said...

There are tons of good, free writing communities out there where you can get feedback like what you're looking for. Just Google "writing communities" and poke around. :)

Anonymous said...

I remember "meeting" a writer online once, back when I first began writing. She was so impressive! Her opening chapters were fascinating. That's as far as she ever got. She just couldn't write anything past that first chapter. I also recall once mentioning to a librarian I know that I was writing a novel. She snorted and said, "Everyone thinks they can write." I thought bitch, and that I would show her! Now I laugh about it because she was right. Everyone does believe they can write, and it's a lot harder than it looks.

HeyZeus said...

Hey Botanist/IanB,

Did you get an acknowledgement for your query?

I wonder if all queries that might potentially be posted one day get acknowledged or not.

sanjeet said...

If it was, the Shark wouldn't have posted it -- she doesn't *have* to post it, and she says in her guidelines that she might not.

Work from home India