Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Attention Madam Shark,

But Surely They Don't Apply To ME is an absolutely marvelous story. I know you will be delighted with my attached partial manuscript of 285,000 words.

The protagonist, who is known for her skill at slinging burgers, Lily 'Princess' Lollipop, was born in a town.

She grew up there with Johnny and Ted and Alfred and Michael and George (who was actually a girl but she much preferred to pretend to be a boy and so she refused to go by the name Georgina and even cut her hair short which made her mom really mad but her dad didn't care just as he never cared about anything about her which was, of course, the reason she was pretending to be a boy in the first place) and a bunch of other people I won't tell you about because that would be Name Soup and I've read your blog where you say that is a bad thing.

Now Shark Soup, that could be tasty and even a good pot of Stone Soup can be fun, but I must remember to stay away from the Name Soup. Now where was I? Oh yes, the protagonist. I've told you about the protagonist so I'm supposed to move on now to the conflict.

But do you really want the conflict first? It really won't make sense unless I give you the backstory!

How Princess Lollipop got her name and who she met, it's all so much more important than what's going to happen. And trust me, you'll need to know about the real life character she's based on in order to understand the themes I'm using this character to illustrate. You are going to love these themes! And so will people from every walk of life.

People who enjoyed The DaVinci Code or Outlander or even The Road will adore But Surely They Don't Apply To ME.

You see, the Princess is really a secret alien. Her race is sort of like vampires but also crossed with were-rabbits (which are really nasty creatures, don't let those big eyes and long, soft ears fool you). That makes them very pettable aliens but also thirsty for blood.

They've been on the planet for a long time, as evidenced by the killer bunny in Monty Python's A Holy Grail. And because they are being hunted by the FBI (the CIA determining that the vampire-were-rabbit-aliens were strictly an internal American problem) they are very nervous and shy creatures.

Except when love could be involved. Then their lust for heart blood comes to the four.

But it's when Princess Lollipop starts stripping to support her younger brother and hopefully regain her family's birthright that everything interesting starts happening.

But Surely They Don't Apply To ME is a fantasy fictional novel that is a fabulous romp through the various countrysides of places I've visited. I've also spent hours googling were-rabbits and feel completely and utterly and assuredly confident that I am as close to an expert on were-rabbits as this planet, no, this universe has ever seen!

I know, I know, you've said that it's 130,000 maximum for a novel but I'm telling you that this novel is the best that you've ever seen and you will be exstatic that you'll get to spend so much longer reading and reviewing and editing my story. I did mention that my sister read it and she thought it was the best thing she'd ever put her eyes upon? Every one of the 318,000 words is completely precious and perfect.

As for me, I've written stories and essays and papers since first grade and every grade thereafter. I then got a job at a gas station.Then I went to work at a copy centre where I would sometimes get to bind people's writing into booklets. Now I'm a manicurist.

I've joined every writing group in the tri-state area (I don't actually live in a tri-state area, but it sounds good, don't you think?) and while somehow I keep getting dropped off their email lists, I'm still their biggest fan!

Thank you so very very much for reading my email and I know with all the joy my heart possesses that you are absolutely going to LOVE my story. I'm waiting by the phone to hear from you but don't worry, if you haven't called me within the next two days, I'll call you.

Or maybe stop by your office. That probably works better, don't you think?

Monday, June 14, 2010


Dear QueryShark:

The closest thing Marie Jensen had has to embracing God was is believing in angels. Too bad her angel wants to destroy the world.

Present tense gives your query more immediacy.

Wings for Marie is a 120,000-word religious fantasy that shares about the journey of an angel who has lost his way. In my novel, the angel Adierenor is guardian to Marie Jensen, Marie Jensen's guardian. who has lived a life of abuse, neglect, and heartache.

Novels don't share; they tell.
This is very general. You give it specificity in the next sentence. Specific is better than general almost always.

At the age of sixteen, Marie’s drug-riddled defeat and deep depression drives her to commit suicide.

I'm not sure what drug-riddled defeat is. It's more descriptive than abuse, neglect, and heartache but it's still not the most evocative phrase.

Adierenor is so angry at the world that led Marie to kill herself that he decides to embark on a quest for divine retribution.

This sentence doesn't actually work. You'll know that if you take out the clause "Adierenor is so angry at the world that" Without it you have "Led Marie to kill herself that he decides etc."

If a sentence doesn't work without the clause, you need to fix it. It's generally an EVENT that precipitates something, not a person. (A person DOING something, yes, but you see what I mean)

In attempt to obtain a weapon for his future vengeance, he journeys through worlds both familiar and unfamiliar: the slums of Denver, the blue-flamed river of Purgatory, and Hell’s Passage of the Damned, to name a few.

You're missing a word here: "In attempt"
And why does he need to go through all these places for a weapon? I can buy a gun on any street corner in Brooklyn, why is he having such a hard time?

Pulled into this quest are two key characters, Rebecca Strober and Thede Martone. After inexplicably entering comatose states, Rebecca and Thede become part of the realm between life and death. The two of them pursue Adierenor, who is unaware of their presence, all the while falling in love with each other. Without fully understanding why, Rebecca and Thede have been enlisted in stopping the angel’s unholy mission. Ultimately, they must confront humanity’s true nature and help an angel of God reconcile his faith in mankind—before he delivers the world to doom.

What the hell happened to Marie? If you start your query letter with a character, I assume s/he is the main character. If Marie is not the main character you need to start someplace else.

I am aware that a 120,000-word story is a bit lengthy for a first novel—however, I’ve noticed that angels as protagonists (or antagonists, depending on whether said angel is “fallen”) are on the rise, seen in recent book titles such as Angelology by Danielle Trussoni and Anne Rice’s Songs of the Seraphim series.

Don't excuse your word length. If you have 120K, you have it. And how popular angel books are don't have anything to do with word count. What you mean here most likely is that you've noticed that these popular angel books are longer than the norm. But, you still don't need to say it.

I have published several articles in (redacted) as well as authored a document solicited for inclusion in a manuscript under review for publication, (redacted)

Please let me know if my novel interests you; I would be happy to send you the manuscript or any other requested materials. Thank you for your time.

I don't have any sense of the actual story here. You haven't given us a sense of the stakes, or why we should care about the protagonist. In fact, I'm not actually sure who the protagonist is.

Form rejection

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Dear Query Shark:

It's not like Amber Crandall actually wants her little sister dead, but sometimes she thinks that a moment of silence sounds like a pretty good thing--until it actually happens.

This is an excellent first sentence. You might be tempted to "polish it up" by writing it thus: Amber Crandall doesn't actually want her sister dead, but resist resist resist.

The way this sentence is constructed right now, the rawness, is pretty close to perfect for conveying voice.

Late one night during the spring of her senior year, Amber's father returns home unexpectedly from his military tour of duty in Iraq looking like he hasn't taken a strictly paved route home from wherever it was the Marines shipped him.

Here I think we're running into a difference of idiom "Strictly paved route home" isn't the phrase I'd choose but I'd check the address/area code to see if the writer is Canadian or Australian. It wouldn't make me stop reading because I understand what you mean.

While her image-obsessed mother glosses over her father's increasingly erratic behavior, Amber struggles to maintain her customary role as family peacemaker. She definitely doesn't air the family secrets. Only her senile grandmother has the nerve to speak out, and nobody takes Gran seriously.

At this point I'm praying nothing goes wrong in the rest of the letter because I'm very very interested.

But when her father disappears the same night a bomb detonates in their community theater, Amber uncovers evidence of the double life her father kept hidden for over a decade.

And here's the sentence that every single query letter needs: the point at which the action starts. Where the protagonist must choose what to do.

Everything Amber has ever believed about her father, her family, and even her own identity begins to unravel. When the youngest Crandall goes missing, Amber finally speaks up--but it might not be soon enough to save her sister's life.

Notice that the writer has mentioned FIVE characters: Amber, Mum, Dad, Gran, little sister. Normally I'd be all over that as "character soup" but this WORKS. Why? Because the writer does not name the characters...she describes who they are to Amber: Mum, Dad, Gran, sister.

One Last Thread is a young adult novel of approximately 38,000 words that follows Amber's struggle to do the right thing while remaining true to the family she loves in spite of their imperfections--and her own.

Notice that the writer does not need to tell us anything more than "struggle to do the right thing" here. We don't need to know what she has to do, only that it is the right thing. Specificity is good, but it can get you bogged down in detail. This is an elegant way to convey what Amber must do.

(I know you prefer word counts between 50 and 200 thousand, but you also constantly snarl about extraneous information. So... I pared on the side of caution. The far side.)

This is a hilarious line because I DO snarl about paring down, and I was a tad concerned at 38K for a YA novel. Frankly I'd be ok with a novel on the short side of things because it's a lot easier to tell a writer to add scenes and flesh out characters than have them pare things away.

This also SHOWS rather than tells that the writer reads the blog and (more important!) pays attention. At this point I'm totally smitten.

Thank you for your time,

Contact Information redacted

This is as close to a perfect query as we've seen here in a while. You bet I'd request pages. In fact, I AM requesting pages. Send at once.