Saturday, August 14, 2010


Dear QueryShark:

Alix Luvbochic’s back from Afghanistan and she's traded in Marine ops work for Hollywood security. There’s good money in foiling paparazzi.

This is a great opening line that has me eager to read more.

Her big break comes from Sunny, engaged to an A-lister. The more wedding prep Alix does, however, the more she worries. Turns out the groom likes to sit in an egg-chair dangling off a cliff. Its hook is rigged to occasionally detach. His first wife sat there ‘til she dropped.

And then it goes splat. Almost an entire 180 from "yes I want to read this" to WTF?

First: "wedding prep" sounds like what a wedding planner does. And I don't associate wedding planners with Marine ops (although....there's an idea!)

And then "likes to sit in an egg-chair dangling off a cliff." I had to look up egg-chair, but it turns out I've seen plenty of them, just not hanging off cliffs. And the visual just doesn't make sense. I'm confused now. That's a very very bad thing in a query letter.

And the logic of the problem of the groom sitting in a device that killed his first wife eludes me totally.

My interest in reading on has dropped from 100% to zero.

Unfortunately, Sunny doesn’t find a taste for Russian roulette, furniture edition, reason enough to cancel. She can’t be in it for the money, Alix thinks. The pre-nup’s so tight Sunny’d get more down on the corner with a cup.

Russian roulette, furniture edition is utterly hilarious. And that's the problem. You've got what looks like a terrific premise and some really great lines, but there's the confusing stuff. I look at that and think "I'm going to be editing a lot if I take this on." That's not a good thing.

Sunny’s found another angle, though. Wedding pics are worth a bundle to the tabloids and Sunny’s cut a deal. Her pap gets the shots, then she speed-dials for divorce.

So, she's marrying the guy for the wedding pictures, even though he appears to be have homicidal furniture? That's pretty cold...I love it.

That’s enough for Alix. It’s a tough decision--the money’s great--but she signed on to screw the paparazzi, not to sneak them in. Besides, it’s cruel to the groom, however weird he is.

And I like this too.

Then she finds out why Sunny needs the money. Now she feels terrible. And the groom’s not taking humiliation well. Forget the paparazzi--it’ll take all her training to stop the second bride from ending up as splattered as the first.

Ok, I surrender. You've got me. In the preceding paragraph my sympathies weren't with Sunny; now they are. I like that. It's enticing. It makes me want to read more. That's the sole goal of a query: entice me to read the book.

The Bride Bit Back is suspense, complete at 82K. My stories have appeared in (redacted), (redacted), (redacted), and the (redacted), anthology.

I'd read pages, and if they were really really good, I'd read the full.

This query isn't perfect. In fact, it's got some serious problems, BUT it's enticing. That's all a query letter really has to be. Get that part right and you can screw up on almost every other thing and still get your pages read.

But, and here's the problem, almost every agent I know is trying to do less editing rather than more.

Investing edit time in a ms is a good decision IF you know you're going to get serious money for it. Right now serious money is in commercial thrillers, hot YA urban fantasy and big-ass non-fiction.

For a book like this, editing isn't the difference between $5K and $50K; it's the difference between unsold and $12.5K . The commission on $12.5K is $1,875 paid out over the course of probably six months.

It doesn't make much sense to spend a lot of time editing for that kind of money particularly if I know, as I do, that I can probably find something ELSE to sell for $12.5K that doesn't require the editing.

The less time I need to invest in something before it's publishable, the better.

So, fix that second paragraph, make sure you have a ms that's as polished as you can, and you're off to the races.


Irene Troy said...

Reading this query I am both intrigued and confused. The premise of the story – at least that part I understood – intrigues me and makes me want more. However, at least to my read, the query seems all over the place. I can well understand why Janet – or any agent – might ask for pages, but I can also understand the hesitancy and why an agent might skip this one. If the writing is tight and clean, then the story would probably be a good sell. To the writer: is your work as confusing as the query, or did you simply get a bit lost in sharing the bare bones of your novel? The query has some really good stuff, a likable protagonist, an interestingly different premise and some true humor. Polish the query, clarify what is confusing and then resubmit, I suspect you have the makings of a good novel somewhere.

Livia Blackburne said...

Gotta ask. What's the difference between bigass and smallass nonfiction?

lora96 said...

I really like this one. Apart from the confusing second para, the author seems very sharp and witty. I would definitely read this book!

Stephanie Barr said...

I didn't get caught up in the opening, largely because it didn't seem my kind of book, but I did start to find the ins and outs intriguing as I went, not because I have any interest in the premise (Hollywood, parapazzi, etc. don't interest me in the slightest), but because I became intrigued in the character and her struggles.

I'll read a good character under almost any circumstances.

Perhaps fewer specifics on the Russian Roulette, but implying daredevilry that already cost the first wife would be less confusing to potential agents, including those caught by your first paragraph. Just a thought.

Anne R. Allen said...

I don't care if it's confusing. I LOVE this book. It has a kind of Coen-brothers goofy wit that is rare in book-length fiction. Sounds like Carl Hiassen in Hollywood. Please, author-person, streamline this query so agents will like it and get this published!

E.D. Walker said...

The premise sounds fantastic. I definitely want to know if this ever gets published. :)

Anonymous said...

I had a different problem altogether. I didn't know whether "Sunny" was male or female for some time. I also didn't know whether Sunny had directly hired Alix or whether she'd referred Alix to the A-lister, who may have been either the bride or the groom due to Sunny's unknown gender.

A.M. Guynes/Annikka Woods said...

This is one of those books I'd probably read the back and leave it on the shelf. It doesn't interest me in the slightest. However, I can see how a query like this might be of interest to the right agent. Assuming, of course, the manuscript wasn't a total mess.

Suze said...

This sounds hysterical... PLEASE have another run at it with the Shark.. I really want to read it!

Kate said...

Unfortunately, I didn't get it. Pretty confused. And, I'm not much for thrillers so that could be why I'm not connecting the dots. Those mind muscles are a little underdeveloped.

M. G. E. said...

I'm with Arhooley, I couldn't figure out whether Sunny was the bride or the groom, the fiance or the A-lister--for a minute there I thought it was a lesbian wedding--and, well... confused.

Most queries leave too much in but perhaps this one leaves too much out. There's a loss of logical flow.

Also, at one point you seem to shift POV to Sunny when you begin explaining his/her motivations--we have to infer that he's telling Alix all of this up-front?

Why is he/she telling the security contractor at his/her wedding his/her motivation for getting married and future plans--that sounds like the sort of thing you really don't want others to find out.

So, a quick blurb on how Alix discovered the plot might help.

The Wolf In Me said...

I liked it. I even got the second paragraph. I was picturing a Howard Hughes-ish crazy guy with somewhat schizophrenic tendencies.

I do have a question for her sharkness...

What is considered commercial thriller? I Googled, but ended up a little confused. I thought that this story might have fallen under that category after my search.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a REALLY cool book. A few glitches in the query (which the shark already bit) but I would want to read more. One question I had was whether it was suspense or humor, or a sadistic mix of both?

Melissa said...

Parts of the query lost me, but I agree that it has an intriguing storyline. Loved the part about wanting to stick it to the paparazzi...

Also, I wanted to thank Shark for sharing the project editing insight. That's good to know!

Kim Z said...

Thank you so much to Shark and remoras all!

Basically, what’s going on in the second paragraph is this: the groom is an adrenaline junkie, California style. He’s too cool for extreme sports and too 'evolved' for drugs. He likes to meditate. But thinking’s boring. Gotta spice it up. So he rigs his meditation seat to hang off the cliff of his estate and sets its hook to detach at random intervals, once every few days on average.

Alix uncovers this after spotting a) a stack of egg chairs in the shed (what’s he planning, an entire suspended garden party?) and b) a bunch of egg rubble at the bottom of the cliff.

The thing is, it works for him. Every time the groom finishes his meditation and jumps off his chair alive, he feels good. His gloom’s banished for a while. Whatever, Alix thinks, until she finds out his first wife died that way.

First wife had garden variety depression and groom-boy thought it would do her good to sit in the chair of doom. So he made her. Again and again and again, and if her depression and anxiety was worsening, it must be because she wasn’t sitting in there long enough. Then the inevitable. But hey--it was an accident!

Now, how to compress that to thirty or so words? I don’t even know if it’s good to reveal the extent of his pathology up front because then the reader jumps to hate him mode. In a novel, you’ve got the space to manage the reveals, so the character’s actions always make sense for what they know.

Maybe I should just leave it out? Easier, but on the other hand first wife’s death needs to be mentioned to explain the risk to Sunny.

Off to go think some more about it. Suggestions definitely appreciated!

JS said...

Kim, read the query letter out loud to yourself. Or read it out loud to a friend. If the friend can't follow it, the agent won't be able to follow it.

Maybe something like "The groom has a dangerous habit of dangling his meditation chairs from a cliff--and that's how his first wife went splat" might work. You don't have to get into the egg chair (which took me several reads to figure out) and the other details, just trim it down. The "Russian Roulette, furniture version" makes the point clear enough for the query.

I think this is a fantastic idea: a super-tough Marine turning her skills to Hollywood security. Series potential!

One minor niggle: "Luvbochic" doesn't make sense as a name. It would have to mean "someone from Luvbo" and "Luvbo" doesn't sound right as an Eastern European placename.

Making up names is generally not a good choice--they always look funny to readers who know anything about onomastics (the study of names). Why not give your character a real surname that exists in the world?

Anonymous said...

If one person pressured another to play actual Russian Roulette, and the second person died, I'd think the first person could face criminal charges, couldn't they? Criminal indifference? (I'm calling on my vast Law & Order legal expertise.) I'd think the egg chair setup--especially when another person's being pressured to participate--would be more extralegal than other extreme sports in which people may die, but the risk of death isn't the point of the sport.

Penelope Wright said...

How about: Turns out, the groom is an adrenaline junkie who needs a partner for his stunts. That's how his first wife died.

Or something like that?

Stephen Alix said...

I humbly provide my reworking of your query.


Alix Luvbochic’s back from Afghanistan and she's traded in Marine ops work for Hollywood security. There’s good money in foiling paparazzi.

She meets Sunny who’s engaged to an A-lister who spends his days meditating on an egg chair dangling off a cliff. Its hook is rigged to occasionally detach. His first wife sat there ‘til she dropped.

Sunny doesn’t find a taste for Russian roulette, furniture edition, reason enough to cancel. She begins to suspect it may not be true love after all when she comes upon her pre-nup and discovers that it’s so tight she would get more begging on a street corner.

Sunny’s found another angle: wedding pics are worth a bundle to the tabloids and she’s cut a deal. Her pap gets the shots, then she speed-dials for divorce.

Alix’s loyalty lay firmly with her client, no matter how weird he is but when she discovers their potential marriage could end up with the new Bride ending up as splattered as the first, it’ll take all her training to keep Sunny from ending up in the Tabloids for all the wrong reasons.

The Bride Bit Back is suspense, complete at 82K. My stories have appeared in (redacted), (redacted), (redacted), and the (redacted), anthology.

Stephen Alix said...

One more comment if I may. It appears to me as though Sunny is the primary protagonist in the story. You spend most of your query talking about her central conflict. Just something to think about.

NG James said...

This is great! I think the author's taste for the odd is what hooks me, but, odd is in the details, and too many details can leave people scratching their heads. I was lucky enough to know what an egg chair was before I read this, and the visual I got as I read was perfect. The fact that the chair is rigged to release is a little bit too much info.
Saying something like, "The groom to be likes to sit in a suspended chair from the edge of a cliff on the off chance that it'll drop him to his death like it did his first wife..." gives a more vague and character focused explanation.

Good luck, and I really hope I get to read this bad boy when it drops at the local B&N or

Touch of Ink said...

I'll read it, but I was hoping the protag would be Alix, not Sunny. The query sounds like it's all about Sunny, and Alix is the (what? mcguffin?) for the story.

Stephanie Barr said...

@ Commenters rewriting the query for the author - be really careful. Making a good query based on a book you've written or at least read is tough. Writing one for a book you haven't read, well. As the individual here did, at least stick to what's been provided. Don't embellish.

I'm not saying you're not giving good advice nor that those efforts aren't well-meaning, but, as authors, if we can't master this skill, our work will not ever leave desk drawers.

(As I had a well-meaning friend once rewrite my query taking out what he didn't like and putting in what he thought my book would be, well, let's just say I was aghast, horrified, and repulsed. Scarred.)

Kim Z said...

Thank you to everyone who helped with this. I've got some good ideas now, especially in regards to that troublesome second paragraph.

Much appreciation for everyone's time and brainpower!

Anna said...

I agree with Anne Allen-Carl Hiassen was exactly who I was thinking of when I read this query. As for egg chairs, I thought of Humpty Dumpty. It's a great premise for a book-good luck with it and let us know how it turns out for you!

Standback said...

I'm with those wondering about Alix's role in the story. The first line of the query presents a character that's both brilliant and believable, but I don't see Alix's background or character coming into play - just what's going on around. Is this typical of queries for suspense/thriller type books? I could see it making sense to have a quirky protag, and then there's not much need to reference the quirks repeatedly in the query; it's just assumed the quirks color the character throughout the novel. Yes? No?

Otherwise, definitely looks like an excellent query! It conveys very clearly a complicated plot, and what to expect of the book, along with some very shiny ideas. It makes the book sound like a great book. Well done :D

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

Kind of sound intrigued, got really confused through most of it though. It was the name that got me - most of the confusion was trying to figure out of Sunny was the groom or the bride-to-be. If that was clearer this query would probably read a lot better.

Wanton Redhead Writing said...

The query itself left me saying WTF? But hey, I'm not an agent, or else I'd sell my own book.

Thanks for the breakdown on how you guys decide the money versus the editing. It'll definitely make me check my own manuscript AGAIN!t

Sarah Hipple said...

I love that you included some cold, hard numbers in this one. It's great to get that sort of perspective on this.

Plus we writerly types have no clue what things sell for. We always want to be the exception and make the big bucks but a little reality is great.