Wednesday, September 8, 2010

#176-revised 4x

Dear QueryShark:

Former priest Stefan is desperate. His greatest desire is an end to his tortured existence as a vampire. He cannot commit suicide. He had tried and failed. His vampiric nature prevents it--both morally and physically, he cannot act as his own executioner.

The punctuation in the third sentence makes the sentence awkward. I think you're using it here to mean a pause. Generally dashes meaning a pause are used as interruptions, from one speaker to another.  The reason this doesn't work is what follows: the clause both morally and physically, he cannot act as his own executioner. 

Do you mean he can't be his own executioner because of his vampiric nature? If so, his vampiric nature prevents it is the conclusion, not the start, of the sentence: He cannot act as his own executioner; his vampiric nature prevents it both morally and physically.

Stefan’s plan (what plan; so far all we know is his desire) is set into motion when he discovers an ancient dagger, the one used to slay the original vampire. He finds the dagger in the possession of William, a man painfully unaware of its value and origin. Stefan is exuberant when he discovers that William also has the bloodline to wield the dagger’s power. Now he must convince William to end Stefan's suffering.

This paragraph feels like a list of events. A query letter isn't like a recipe: beat one cup flour into one cup sugar and one cup butter.  It's the overview:  "bake a cake."

We don't need to know he discovers an ancient dagger and where. Or that William has the bloodline.  Those are the ingredients.  What we need to know is that Stefan has found a way to have himself killed.

Stefan lures William to Romania. William’s situation and aging mother have left William financially wrecked - a perfect situation for Stefan to take advantage of.

This makes William sound like he'd kill someone for money. Generally speaking that's not a quality one would deem sympathetic.  

As the two grow close, Stefan is left torn. His desperation to his own misery could equate to eternal night for William, if blood is exchanged. The priest that still dwells within him cannot accept that fate for William, nor can he endure a gruesome, blood stained eternity.

The dilemma here is Stefan's: Can he bring himself to condemn William to "eternal night" (whatever the hell that is) to end his own suffering. You might actually want to lead with this because it makes Stefan MUCH more sympathetic than he seems at the start right now.

IMMORTAL DECISION is a 105,000-word urban fantasy debut. Thank you for your consideration.

I'm confused about who the antagonist is here. And the protagonist for that matter. Whose story is this? If it's Stefan's (and that would be my guess given we're hearing what he wants and why he can't get it) that makes William the antagonist. 

If however, you're trying to have the antagonist be Stefan, in that he's trying to suck William into doing something evil, you're going to need William to be more than a cipher. He'll need to be much more developed here.  He finds himself wooed by Stefan, persuaded to come to Romania by the lure of money, only to find the money is contingent upon him killing a vampire who wants to die.  What could be so bad about a true mercy killing? Well, there is the fact it would send him into "eternal night" (whatever the hell that is) and make him a vampire as well.

This is a LOT better than the first query, but you've still got clunky writing and it's hard to see much story here. 

Form rejection.

Dear QueryShark:

A former priest, Stefan’s greatest desire is to end his two hundred years of tortured existence as a vampire. He knows his prophesized death is at hand, but two centuries have taught him that prophesies are often flawed.

Suicide is impossible.

Notice you've switched here from Stefan's POV, to an objective statement.  You need to keep the same POV as much as possible.  Consider: He can't kill himself.  It means (mostly) the same thing, and keeps us with Stefan.

Vampiric natures prevent him from intentionally losing a battle.

Again, keep us with Stefan: His vampire nature prevents him from intentionally being killed in a battle.

The means to his end presents itself in the form of an American named William, a man possessing the very relic Stefan needs, and the heritage to use it.

While the end may present itself, it's a  passive construction.  Consider: he decides to use an American etc...
Stefan lures William to Romania with the promise of a substantial inheritance, an answer to William’s current debacle (debacle isn't really the right word here). Complications arise when Stefan grows fond of William, leaving him (which him?) torn. Stefan’s plan to end his own misery could mean eternal night for William.

Failure equates to an eternity of sunless, Godless existence that Stefan cannot suffer any longer.

IMMORTAL DECISION is a 105,000-word urban fantasy debut. Thank you for your consideration.


Form rejection: this is still awkward and I'm not really taken with either of the main characters.


Dear Agent seeking Queries low on the suckitutde meter, (ha!)

Stefan, Executioner by decree of the Order, has just slain another rampant vampire. Being the eldest and strongest vampire certainly has its downfalls.

It's not clear that Stefan is a vampire (another

And don't get me started on rampant. I looked it up. It's not exactly incorrect, but it seems a strange word choice to me, one that is initially perplexing not illuminating.

He struggles with his duties recalling his days as a priest, but that hasn’t been since 1808.

This is a very awkward construction. You're trying to squeeze in information like it's Cheezewhiz going into a straw.

The executed has left a sizeable Romanian estate to contend with, and no heir. As Stefan searches through the victim’s lineage, a discovery compels him to contrive a plan.

"compels him to contrive a plan" One of the skills a writer must develop is being able to hear clunky constructions like this. One way is to read your work aloud sentence by sentence. I do that here in the office much to the dismay of the other reef-dwellers, but it's one of the most effective ways to hear clunk.

He sends for William, an American in possession of a relic lost since the 1600s: the crucifix of the Archangel Michael.

this is actually the start of the story ------>Stefan’s greatest desire is to end his two hundred years’ of tortured existence. Suicide impossible and vampiric natures preventing him from losing a battle, his options are limited.

All the stuff before this paragraph just gets in the way. Right here is where you've got the answer to a big questions: what does the protagonist want, and what's thwarting him?

Stefan manipulates the young man to read two hundred years worth of journals, concealing that he is the author. The mere human will fold reading the psychological warfare contained in the memoirs of a priest-turned-vampire. Fearful the young man may flee home to the states, Stefan, convinces a cohort to manipulate William into falling in love with a housemaid, cementing his desire to stay in Romania, at least until Stefan is dead.

This is clunky writing here but you're on the right track for what you should be talking about.

Upon completing the journals, William discovers Stefan is the vampire priest. Desperate to end his suffering, Stefan pleads with William to use the crucifix, and dagger contained within, to kill him. Stefan’s fate rests in the hands of William, who must choose if his pity for the priest is worth risking his life, or his mortality.

NO NO NO. NO! Did I mention no yet? Here, let me screech it again:


DO NOT write the entire plot and the ENDING in a query letter.


Write only enough to entice me to read on.

IMMORTAL DECISION is a 105,000 urban fantasy debut. Thank you for your consideration.


This is both better and worse. The writing is worse because it's hurried; you're rushing to revise and not letting it sit long enough. You've got typos and missing words. That's fixable.

Once you get rid of everything before "Stefan’s greatest desire" you've got the structure of the query in working order.

This is still a form rejection but it's better than it was.
Dear Query Shark,

It is 1808; a sadistic vampire stalks a priest and attacks him. Lying on the ground, the priest prays for the monster’s soul. Enraged, the vampire does the unspeakable, dropping his tainted blood into the mouth of the priest, turning him into a vampire. The priest keeps journals, from that point on, detailing his emotional struggle with what he has become.

This is all backstory saying essentially the priest is a vampire who keeps a journal. It's not really the start of the story.

Two hundred years later, William receives an unexpected inheritance, removing the black cloud of unemployment and poverty that has hovered over him for years.

A 200-year-old vampire receives an inheritance? From whom? His mom?

His new inheritance requires him to go to an acquired estate in Romania. He is summoned there by Stefan, the current resident and master at the estate and he knows more about William than he should.

The first sentence says the will or terms of the inheritance requires him to go to Romania. The second says he's summoned there by Stefan. That seems either contradictory or unclear.

Also, we're still not at where the story starts yet.

Stefan’s demeanor is frightening and he even admits to murder. Stefan has one request of William, and that is to read the journals of the vampire priest. William struggles to believe Stefan’s promise to keep him safe as he pours over the journals, and comes to grips with the reality of the supernatural world.

Wait. Wait. William isn't the vampire priest? I'm REALLY confused here. In the second paragraph you introduce "William" as though we've seen him before. I thought he was the priest.
Only now does it seem he's not (which also explains the inheritance snafu.)

We're still not where the story starts either.

Upon completion of the journals he comes face-to-face the reality that Stefan is the vampire priest and the real reason he has been asked to read the journals. The priest wants William to kill him, and he believes William needs to live through the gamut of the priest’s emotions.

Here's the start of the story ----->;William must decide whether to keep his soul and life intact, or to risk it all to end the suffering of the vampire priest.

I have this horrible feeling we're at the end of the book. If this is the first choice William has to make it's really where the story starts.

You've got the entire story listed here, instead of the enticing (we hope) first bit. Narrow down what you're going to tell me. Focus on the first choice William has to make so we get a sense of the plot.

Remember a query letter is not a synopsis. Entice me to read on, don't tell me everything that happens.

IMMORTAL DECISION is a 100,000 word debut fantasy novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

I don't think this is a fantasy novel. I think it's urban fantasy, or paranormal suspense. This isn't my area of expertise though, so listen to what the commenters say.


I'm confused by who is what. The plot seems to start at the end of the novel.
This makes for a form rejection.

Dear Query Shark:

I am the author of (redacted), published by Publish America.

And that's where I stop reading. If you've had a book printed by any of these template houses that profess to publish but in fact do not offer any of the additional value of a publisher, for the love of Mike, don't mention it. Ever.

This is not a publishing credential. It's also a huge disadvantage. Once you've published a book, you're no longer a debut author. It's MUCH easier to sell a debut novel than a second or third from a writer who hasn't enjoyed robust sales.

Now that I am finished writing my next piece of work, I am seeking representation.

This is pointless. I know you're looking for an agent because you queried me. I know the work is finished because you know not to query before the work is done.

My point here is you have 250 words to get my attention. Don't waste them on warm up stuff that doesn't get us to What Is Your Book About?

Through my extensive search of the web, I discovered your blog.

You're joking right? If you needed an extensive search of the web to find this blog, I can't even imagine what keywords you started with. "Kind and gentle literary agent" probably. If you simply google Literary Agents my agent blog is #15.

More to the point though, this is again pointless. Unless you have a specific connection for why you found me or are querying me, you don't need to mention it.

My manuscript is a contemporary 114,000 word fantasy, that’s sure to please both male and female readers.

Because of course saying it would please "everyone" is too general right? This again says nothing.

People's reading tastes are more specific than gender. Not all women like the same book. Nor do all men. If you're trying to say it will appeal to men as well as women, that's slightly better but that's not what you said.

This is where you want to start your query. ------->Will is a thirty-four years old, dirt-poor, laid-off yet again, in the depths of depression and hoping for a better life when he is given the gift of a lifetime, an unexpected inheritance that changes his life.

With this new life comes a daunting task when he is whisked away to Romania to read two hundred years worth of journals. These are not journals of any ordinary man or woman, but a priest that was maliciously turned into a vampire.

Well, they're clearly not even the journals of an un-ordinary woman, since they are the journals of a priest. This kind of over writing is what kills a query. Hone your prose.

While Will struggles to wrap his mind around the reality of the supernatural world, his life and future hang in the balance.

Why? Here's where you actually get to the point that's interesting. Here's where the plot starts. Who's the antagonist? What choice does Will have to make?

For the journals lead Will to the truth about his future and the truth of those that surround him. Fate brings Will face-to-face with the Vampire Priest and is forced to make the Immortal Decision.

This is movie announcer phrases, and meaningless without visuals. What specifically is going on?

I appreciate your time and would be humbled if you would consider reading sample chapters of Immortal Decision.

NEVER EVER EVER dismiss yourself this way. Be humbled my ass. You are not a beggar. Don't act like one.

You've made every single mistake in the book, including being published by PublishAmerica but you are a writer, and as such you deserve courtesy and respect.

Pleased, sure. Grateful, ok. Humbled, no, no, no.

I never want to see this in a query from a writer EVER. I don't care if you ARE, don't ever say it. Don't even think it.

If you become my client, we are on the same team. We are colleagues. You're not a fucking supplicant.


This is form rejection for a lot of reasons, but mostly cause you didn't tell me what the book was about in a way that made me want to read it.


Tom M Franklin said...

imHo, teaching is one thing. venom is another.

yes, the query was a mess. however, i don't think it warranted this level of language.

-- Tom

Anonymous said...

I think that word 'supplicant' sums it up Shark. I've read many queries where the writer almost apologizes for querying. Be proud, be professional, and make someone love your book as much as you do, so wave your flag! (After you perfect the query itself) ;)

Jeff Beesler said...

The sad matter of fact is that PublishAmerica will publish just about anyone. I had the opportunity to read a sampling of someone who got published by PA. The piece lacked quality, to put it nicely.

Bob said...

I used to not be a fan of public critiques of queries by agents. But it's a hard world and my opinion is changing. And the comments are all on target. First sentence has to pop and give the kernel of the book. No begging allowed. Being an author is a job, not a favor to be gained. Pretty much exactly what I would say in a submission critique. And you got it for free.

Michelle Kollar said...

Whoa Shark let 176 go. I HUMBLY implore you to spit out the rest of the body of this query and try to enjoy Alaska. Snap all you want at me. Poor 176 didn't even know what was even coming.

I do suggest that he/she read the other queries on Query Shark, before attempting a revision.

Ask a Manager said...

Is it wrong that it absolutely fills me with rage when it's clear that a query-writer has not read the blog?

Writing for publication is hard work. If you are not even willing to do some basic research (research that you are specifically directed to do before submitting to QS), how on earth are you going to do the much harder work of writing a good book?

Also: Proofread. Or get someone to proofread for you. When you don't, it speaks to the amount of care with which you approach writing and language.

Virginia said...


If you can find an agent's blog, you can find lots of information on how to write a decent query letter.

Anonymous said...

There are a couple sentences in there that don't seem to be sentences, as well. Writer, I assume you're going to completely rework this query. When you do, read it aloud --carefully-- before you hit "send".

Lyla said...

If you're looking for a way to tighten up the plot description, you repeated "life" three or four times in the first and second paragraphs. That kind of stuff really distracts me as a reader and they weren't all necessary.

Publish America... ouch. I'm sorry.

Suzan Harden said...


Not because of what the Shark wrote, but because I chewed on a co-worker at the Day Job this week about the esteem issue. And I wasn't half as nice.

Stephanie Barr said...

I saw this advice in the comments, but I want to highlight it. Far better than doing an "extensive search of the web," read this blog. The whole thing. Believe me, it's worth it.

Secondly, understand why QS became angry. She's angry, at least partly, on your behalf. She's defending you from you because the waters you're going into are dangerous and no one takes prisoners. If you won't stand up for yourself, no one will do it for you.

When you do a revision (please do a revision!), cull everything QS said to cull. Focus on the story. Better yet, focus on Will. Most of us have played "what-if" we had a sudden windfall. Most of us are savvy enough to believe it comes with strings. That means you have a tailor-made situation where readers could identify with your character.

It's also been done. So tell us why we care about Will, why we care what happens to him. It might also help if we knew why this Vampire story stands out.

Ocean Archer said...


Well said. This is supposed to be a PG forum, so I'm surprised QS launched the 'F' grenade. I'm just glad I wasn't the casualty of one in post #175.


Renee Miller said...

I would NEVER use PA as a publishing credit. It isn't. It is a mistake, made by naive writers or writers who only care that they are published. PA is a bunch of **mumble, mumble** asshats. Bitter much? Yes.

The humbled thing made me cringe too, and I think the right language was used in response. A backbone is a must-have in this industry. Humbled? I don't think so. True, you're trying to get the agent to read your work, but don't kiss their ass or grovel. Write a query that grabs them by the throat and they'll be happy to read it.

No, I haven't written that query yet either, but I'm working on it.

Unknown said...

At the risk of beating an equine corpse a little:

"that's sure to please" is not a conjunction that's likely to raise confidence in your writing.

Wherever possible, sentences should flow. Developing voice in a query is just as important as developing it in your manuscript. If you read a query aloud before you send it, you will pick up areas where the flow breaks - a good rule of thumb is "if you want to change it when you say it aloud, change it on the page."

It's a small point, but reading this aloud probably could have saved you a few bites.

Shannon Duffy said...

You are to queries what Simon is to American idol contestants. Bold and to the point. But seriously....what do you REALLY think? ;)

A3Writer said...

The waste stands out to me on this. All the bits and pieces that should've been spent getting to the point actually work against the query instead of helping it.

The space is small, and 250 words is nothing to describe an entire novel. Every f*!@ing must be absolutely essential, or to be nicer about and use Strunk, "Omit unnecessary words!"

froggfeathers said...

Hmmm. I think that was your outside voice.

Has anyone seen her SDT?

M. G. E. said...

Frankly I find the Shark's tone and comments refreshing. I'd rather learn than be coddled, were it my query.

This could be the worst (real) query we've seen on the site. That's amazing.

Admitting you went the Publish America route is the same as saying you're a rube.

It's the last thing an aspiring professional author should be claiming as a credit. PA is not a publishing house, it's a vanity press. They have no standards for acceptance and do not sell retail. I don't think you even get an ISBN number with them.

As for the plot, the details you gave were pretty shallow. You say protag faces the choice to become a vampire. That sounds like the end of the novel's setup. Does the book end with a yes/no answer? Is there any more depth here?

It'd be different if you intimated that he spent the book trying not to become a vampire, running away.

The whole thing's rather Anne Rice as well. Her vampire books even had a maxim for this very question, that no human being could possibly resist the dark gift were it offered them.

Theresa Milstein said...

A query letter should be professional.

The end of a letter should be the easiest part. There are countless examples all over the Internet about how to end a query. It's the part about the book that's so tricky.

Good luck with the rewrite.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Oy vey. That's all I can muster on this Happy New Year.

Vickie Motter said...

Everything that was wrong with it, I agree most of all that the query told nothing about the story. I had one today that was a good five full paragraphs long and two of us stared at it, stared at each other, stared at it, and asked "I'm not sure what it's about." Not good.

Janet Reid said...

This is not a PG forum. Just fyi.

Adam Heine said...

Re: PublishAmerica.

Re: harshness of the Shark's comments. The Shark makes no secret of the fact that bad queries get chewed up. Submitting to the blog is voluntary, and snark is part of the blog's voice and one reason readers come back. There are lots of places online to receive kinder query critiques.

Re: the query. The sentence "Will is a thirty-four years old..." is very long and not a sentence. Removing the 'a' will help, but it's still long.

And "Fate brings Will face-to-face with the Vampire Priest and is forced to make the Immortal Decision." makes it sound as if Fate must make the Immortal Decision (whatever that is).

Don't give up. Read the blog. Revise. Repeat.

Nicole said...

Yeah! All right!

*stands up and claps with gusto*

Right on, Janet. Love the intensity at the end about being humble (or rather, not being humble).

Marian Perera said...

Specific comment on the query:

"Will is a thirty-four years old, dirt-poor, laid-off yet again,

Is there a noun missing here? Will is a 34-year-old what?

And what's the significance of him being 34?

"in the depths of depression and hoping for a better life when he is given the gift of a lifetime, an unexpected inheritance that changes his life.

With this new life

Way too many repetitions of that word.

PublishAmerica will print any standard of writing and unfortunately, that won't help writers hone their skills.

Anonymous said...

I know it is difficult to avoid cliches in queries, but I advise you to do so wherever possible. I've come to the point where things like "life hangs in the balance" makes me queasy.

Another thing I'd love to remind query writers of is that I, as a stranger, have no idea what your titles and place names mean. I skimmed parts of this because I had very little to anchor me.

Anonymous said...

Also unless Query Shark is suggesting your mother has a history of sexual congress with goats, my advice is to take her advice silently, smile and nod, and move on. If you think she's being harsh, you are entitled to think so, but don't expect her to be otherwise.

Fins make for poor hugs.

Unknown said...

@ Tom

Nah, it wasn't venom. The Chum just got shark-bit. :-) Also, notice there were several points where Janet very carefully did NOT dance on this writer's head.

Dear Chum, you certainly have your work cut out for you. Or maybe I should say, chomped out for you. Read the queries here, and then dash on over to PubRants, where Kristin Nelson has an archived workshop on pitching (way down on the sidebar on the right). Then check out Nathan Bransford's Essentials section (left sidebar of his blog) and see what you can do with his formula. Or try AbsoluteWrite's Query Letter Hell, which is a much nicer and more useful place than it sounds like.

Kristin Nelson's Blog
Nathan Bransford's Blog
AbsoluteWrite Forums

I have to warn you, the learning curve here is going to feel steep--possibly vertical--for some time. However--see link below--you could have done worse.

Don't be this guy

Wordver: doopods

There's a meaning here, I just know it.

Anonymous said...

>>This is not a PG forum. Just fyi.

What's a PG forum?

Jill Thomas said...

Come on, people, this is not a preschool blog. If you can't take the bite of direct, candid critique, don't swim with the Shark.

Stephanie Barr said...

Am I the only one disturbed that the title was never mentioned?

Margaret Yang said...

I used to wonder why the Shark posted queries that were so far off the mark as to earn a form rejection. I thought readers could learn more from queries that were almost there, but needed tweaking.

However, I learned a ton from the comments in this query.

Thank you, brave chum, for letting the rest of us learn at your expense. But really, all it cost you is pride and I bet you learned a ton too.

Charity Bradford said...

Tom, That's why people come here. So we can hear exactly what an agent is thinking when they read our queries. We can't improve without hearing the truth.

Ok, what I really wanted to talk about was the last conversation. The one about being humble, but never admitting it. This is actually something I'm working on as well. A good friend told me I needed to hang out with a consultant for a day. They believe, or at least act, like they have the greatest product or idea since sliced bread.

As writers, we need to exude confidence in ourselves and our work if we want agents to take notice. Don't apologize for writing what you wrote. People will like it or they won't, but that's because we all have different taste. Thank goodness!

Kim Mullican said...

Thank you for ripping me apart, spanking my ass and slamming me against the wall! I know PublishAmerica was a horrid mistake. Other agents suggest including in the query letter. I know my query needs (A LOT of) work, which is why I'm here. Don't hate the shark - she donates her time and expertise to help us. I'm a big girl and can take it. If I can't take criticism I asked for then I'm pursuing the wrong thing here.

I've read so many agents blogs my eyes are spinning. So much advice that is all bunk...I needed help, that much I knew.

I obviously have a ton of work to do and appreciate the harsh and honest criticism.

Orlando said...

It sounds like you may have a very good story here. My suggestions are;
1- Lose the 1st 3 sentences.
2- Combine the title of the book with the word count, and place it at the end of the query letter.
3- With no more than 250 words explain the story. Don't leave it hanging otherwise it leaves the impression your plot it weak.

I hope you try it again. It's the only way to get things right.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Seriously folks? 176 entries on the query shark and you think she's being mean? Query SHARK. If you submit here, you're throwing yourself to the killer. If you want coddling, go somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

@ Ask A Manager, no, it's not wrong to feel rage when the chum has clearly not read the blog. But on the upside it does give a lot of fodder for QS to chew on.

For the author, please listen to what QS and the commentors say, you have the opportunity to re-work and greatly improve your query. Take it!

As for language, I'm here for honesty and clarity and the f-bomb was both. It's not as if the QS runs around swearing. She uses it when sparingly giving it even more impact.

angela robbins said...

Jaws, step aside...

I agree with Joseph. If you can't stand the heat, don't bother inviting yourself into the kitchen.

Christine Tripp said...

The Author did add her book title at the end of the query.

jjdebenedictis said...

Yo, commenters. This writer has obviously had their self-esteem crushed, probably by the evil that is PublishAmerica. No need for you to be just as predatory, okay?

The Shark has some good points. Some of you have good points.

And some of you are just being mean.

"This could be the worst (real) query we've seen on the site. That's amazing."

How does that statement help the writer improve? It doesn't, so why did you say it?

"Is it wrong that it absolutely fills me with rage when it's clear that a query-writer has not read the blog?"

Yes, it is wrong. Because it's not clear to me the person hasn't read the blog, and regardless, they came here to learn. How can anybody learn from someone who feels "rage" over the simple fact that they tried their best?

My outrage isn't spent, but I'll stow it now. The rest of my comments are for the writer.

Start where the Shark told you to start, and when you get to the paragraph starting in While Will struggles to wrap his mind around the reality... delete what comes after and focus on the story--the hard choice Will has to make--instead.

I actually think your setup sounds really intriguing. An immortal vampire priest? Cool! But, as the Shark said, there needs to be more here to convince me this is a story I need to read. Give us more detail.

Good luck with it!

Ali said...

And THAT is why you are the Shark. Because as much as you rip queries apart, it's because you treat authors as your COLLEAGUES. Maybe beginning, maybe still learning, but not beggars or supplicants. And I'd rather have strongly worded HELP from a colleague than any amount of kindly meant jollying-along from someone who doesn't respect authors.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Kmullican, I don't know who these other agents are, but they are oh-so-wrong. Unless your book sold thousands of copies, it's not a publishing credit. Because anyone can get published by them.

Furthermore, because so many self-published and vanity-published books are cringe-inducingly bad --and I'm certainly not implying that yours is-- there's a stigma attached to it.

Sheila Deeth said...

Ouch. And thank you. Lots of helpful advice for this wannabe.

Janet Reid said...

arhooley, "pg forum" means the language is PG--ie not a lot of swearing tossed around.

This blog, and my other blog as well, are NOT that.

Anonymous said...

Janet, thanks. I realized it after showinguptowrite mentioned the f-bomb. Duh.

Kregger said...


You have the perfect attitude.

In the past year since I was gnawed on by Ms Shark. I have spent time in QL Hell and on forums having my work critiqued. A good way to learn is to teach, so I also critique. It takes courage (or naivety, sometimes both) to submit work for criticism and no small amount of time to offer help. Nothing is more disconcerting than having a writer say your opinion is completely wrong. Facts can be wrong, an opinion is...

Thank you for being gracious under fire. Keep trying, rewrite, revise and repeat. Besides, we only nibble where others devour.

Leigh said...

There is actually a bit of a back-and-forth going on about the 'merits' of self-publishing on the Children's Writer's listserv right now. I sent the list a link to THIS post. Excellent points.

And thank you for telling us writers to treat ourselves with respect. You get extra points for doing it while using the word 'fuck'.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Will is a thirty-four years old, dirt-poor, laid-off yet again, in the depths of depression and hoping for a better life when he is given the gift of a lifetime, an unexpected inheritance that changes his life.

Even if the query had started here, it would have cast an unfavorable light on the whole query. The sentence is unedited. There shouldn't be "a" before the MC's age. It could also benefit from some action verbs / voice.

Anonymous said...

If the Shark doesn't think a comment is helpful, she doesn't post it. Let her do the job and keep the preaching about the tone of other people's comments to yourself. If you think a comment is mean, write a better one that you think is more helpful to the author.

dana e donovan said...

There is not much more I can say here that has not already been said. instead, I have a question regarding something the shark said.

I have not sold thousand or even hundreds of copies, but I do have all my books available in POD & e-downloads. I maintain all rights to these titles. The idea is to get them out there, right? An author wants to gain all the exposure he can.

So my question is this. Is it to a book's detriment to have it out there when looking for an agent? Clearly, I am not making real money from them. Am I poisoning their chances of someday going mainstream?


Catherine said...

Way to take your gashes!
Janet ripped my first chapter. There was more red ink than black after she gnawed. All the blood was worth it. I've sliced thousands of words from my manuscript and I'm still working.

Stay strong. Listen to the Shark. Revise your query. Resubmit. And stop by Merit Badger to get your "shark bait" merit badge.

Joel Brown said...

I believe the politically correct term for 'fucking supplicant' is intern.

Team. This is hard work, and it requires two people working together to make it happen--and not just whining about the cover and the type--about the choices you make when it's still a manuscript.

That's what caused the Reid to snap.

It's not drycleaning. It's not daycare. It's not magic. It's not mysterious. It's hard work. (And that is over-writing.)

Diane_Holmes said...

Lucy, Great resources.

jjdebenedictis, Well said.

kmullican, love the vampire priest, love the journals! Those items really intrigued me.

What I can't tell is which direction this book will go from there. (In other words, I can't tell the book's structure.)

Is this story actually an existential struggle between priest/man on the nature of life after death?

Is this more of a horror/suspense, where the man becomes the target of the priest, and it's all about trying to escape a plot to "kill" him?

Yes, I know from your query that this is a fantasy, but it could go in so many different directions.

I also wonder how the journals tie in? Is this a mystery where he's trying to uncover what happened to his own family?

Does he have some special power, and the journals are the key?

Does the priest use the journals to lure the man into a trap?

As you re-work your query, just remember, don't through out the stuff that works!

Diane_Holmes said...


You get to shape your career however you want to, and make the publishing choices you think will benefit you most at any given time.

Those books have now been published. They don't really influence looking for an agent for your next book... especially if you don't mention them (as QS advised in the current query).

But it's not likely to work to look for an agent for a book you've already published, unless it was a huge success.

Southpaw said...

And this is where I stopped reading, as I almost choked on my coffee,“"Kind and gentle literary agent.” ;)

arhooley PG means Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Kim Kouski said...

To the writer of 176, Please listen to Janet. She has really helped me lately. Remember her rules, focus on the main character (This is what really helped me.), who is the MC, who is the antagonist, What is the problem, what are the consequences of that problem, how is the antagonist trying to stop the MC. We make is so blasted hard!!

Shelby Rebecca said...

Okay, does it make me crazy that I cried a little in the corner of my eye when I read Janet's "you are a writer" speech at the end? I don't know if you read these comments "Shark" but if so, thank you for that. It boosted my spirits tonight. With my arms in the air I say "I am a writer too!"

wizardonskis22 said...

Hi kmullican!

a of all: love your attitude. From what I've read, only that type of attitude will keep your head above water in this particular area. Keep it up! Way to be brave!

b of all: yes, your query could use a lot (a lot a lot) of work. You can do that, too. Besides what people said, I noticed a few things.
"that’s sure to please both male and female readers" this seems to be swimming on the line of telling, not showing. Maybe try saying more that it's not solely directed towards one particular gender. This way, you don't generalize that they will all love it, and you aren't saying it'll please them without showing us why.
Also, I don't get a sense from the query about what it's actually about, which leads into

c of all, I think you need something to show how this is unique. There is quite a vampire phenomenon going on, and, although yours definitely sounds much better than most, if I picked it up in a store and read that, I'd think it was just another stupid vampire story. Yes, I may be biased. However, I would not say no to a vampire story just because of that. Yours sounds like it has a unique premise and idea, and I'm sure you can convey that in your query, so that I actually want to read it, not run around screaming about how much perfect, sparkly vampires drive me crazy.

All that said, I'm sure you can do this. I don't know whether or not you've read the entire blog, but the comments on other posts definitely help. I know it takes forever to read this whole thing (I got almost no sleep for three days because I was so addicted), but it only gets longer... Also, you have a pretty special oppertunity, now that you've been posted, because you can have a revision. make it a good one! You can do this! Good luck! Enjoy! I look forward to your (much improved and extremely enticing) revised query.

abogash said...

This query feels like the author sat down for ten minutes and sent off the result. Brave but foolish.

When starting a new book I write a prelim query to myself and file it away until the end. I ask all the tough questions of a character for my character guide upfront and add as the story unfolds. Along with a ton of other fun facts regarding plotlines, settings and other stuff I put into folders and attach to my computer with post-its.

In other words (too many sorry!) I know the characters, backstory, plotlines inside out and backwards.

An important factor when writing your query is the actual reader does not know one iota of the above information. It is your job to make sure the query has enough juice (or raw guts) to entice the reader to want more. It's easy for you to understand what's going on since you wrote the MS. Try to make the query a peephole into your story. Entice them with enough they will want more.

You have a fantastic concept with a few twists but I can't wrap myself around what Will's problem really boils down to or why he is different from every other vampire wanabee. Not good, but I know you have all the information needed to tell us why we need to spend 350 pages with him.

Start over and think about it for more than an hour. Then resubmit and take the abuse again, you will be happy you did. Good Luck!


M. G. E. said...

@ Stephanie Barr: I believe the title is "Immortal Decision" which is why it was capped.

@ KMullican: You're attitude is great, and that's often a bigger determiner of eventual success than any other factor.

@ JJdeBene: It's just a fact, man, not trying to be mean. Sure, it's a tough pill to swallow for the writer, but I'm not here to coddle either. You'd be more correct if that was all I said, but I did in fact offer guidance.

Aemilia Grace said...


Sometimes "venom" (or what I would call harshness) is needed. It's going to hurt, sting, whatever, but the hardest, harshest comments are sometimes the way to go to the get the point across (note, it's different from trolling and flaming the writer).


o_O Since when was it a "PG-forum"? This is Janet's blog. She's swore before. She doesn't say anywhere about it being PG whatsoever.

I think you might be confusing it with something else, but I rather not assume.

On topic, I'm not sure what to think or what to say. PA is definitely not something you want to mention.

Secondly, there's a couple of things missing. "dirt-poor, laid off again_____," what? What is he? Not like it really matters (even though it really does) since it doesn't pull me and I feel like it's a bit cliched.

It reminds me of two animes and Dracula. Way too similar, almost.

Stephanie Barr said...

@M.G.E. Is it? Given that Vampire Priest was capitalized in the same sentence, I missed the significance. How do we know it's not called Vampire Priest?

I maintain that the title of the book should be clearly (and unambiguously) stated.

Lumpy Dog said...

I think your input in this case might best be summed up as, "Cut the bullshit and grow a pair."

Am I close?

Jenna said...

Besides everything everyone else mentioned, the plot laid out for us sounds suspiciously familiar. Romania, reading lots of 200-year-old journals, priests turned into vampires? It's been done, and to great success: "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova.
Of course, I have no idea if your book deals with Dracula at all, but since you can't really write a vampire book set in Romania without at least mentioned Dracula, I'm going to say it's a safe bet.

Me, Myself and a Rubik'S Cube said...

I'm not good but I'll ad my 2 cents worth.

The plot seems to hinge on him reading Romanian journals which I assume are not written in English and seeing as they date back 200 hundred years, would require certain knowledge understand . I assume your MC has knowledge or a special skill that makes him the only one who can read these texts and if it were me, I'd put it in the query since the whole book hinges on it.

DeadlyAccurate said...

I had to laugh when I saw your use of the phrase "you're not a fucking supplicant." Because I'm pretty sure I've used those exact words to other writers myself.

JS said...

In general, folks, any self-published/vanity-published/PublishAmerica or Tate or WestBow or DellArte or any of the other vanity publishers who claim not to be vanity published books is not to be used as a prior publication credit unless you've sold 5,000 copies.

(Yes, there are very prestigious small presses that do print runs of less than 5,000 copies, but note the "very prestigious" there. If you are market-savvy enough to have been published by one of those presses, you are market-savvy enough to understand the above.)

So in answer to the "But Scott Sigler! But The Shack! But Brunonia Barry! But E. Lynn Harris! But Christopher Paolini!"--when you, like they, sell more than 5,000 copies of a self-published title, you can claim that as a publication credit. It's a lot harder work than you think, too.

Christine Tripp said...

>The idea is to get them out there, right? An author wants to gain all the exposure he can.<

Dana, in my opinion that is not the idea. Not if your an Author with ambitions to find an Agent and/or an Editor and be Commercially Published.
From what I've seen and heard, Author's guard their books AGAINST exposure, other then to their critique group, Editors or Agents.
If the authors goal is to self publish, then certainly get the book out there and "expose" it, otherwise where will the sales come from.

Irene Troy said...

I’m not sure where all the anger toward QS is coming from. Come on, people, if you’ve been following this blog, reading the posts, reading the instructions (gee, this alone would help in this case) and paying any sort of attention to what any agent asks, you would know not to send this type letter. And, if you are a writer hoping to land an agent and, even more hopefully, a book contract, a word of gentle advice: Get a tough skin! No one wants to be drawn and quartered, but if you violate so many rules at a time, you probably deserve what you get.
Publish America is a scam. If you don’t already know, do a Google search and you will see multiple (thousands?) of references to this particular “printer”. Here are just a couple of sites you might want to check:
If you, sadly, were na├»ve enough or simply inexperienced enough to be taken in by PA, then, for heaven’s sake, don’t tell everyone! This alone would send many agents screaming into the darkness and certainly marks you as less than aware.
Underneath the many errors in this query may lay a great story. I would strongly suggest taking all the advice you receive here and spending some time re-reading your story. Check for all grammatical, syntax and other structural mistakes. [We all make them, I am a horrific speller and tend to drop in odd punctuation wherever it seems to fit] I caught a few in this piece:
Will is a thirty-four years old, dirt-poor, laid-off yet again, in the depths of depression and hoping for a better life when he is given the gift of a lifetime, an unexpected inheritance that changes his life. You need to remove the “a”.
… but a priest that was maliciously turned into a vampire. Do you really mean maliciously? If so, we need for information.
For the journals lead Will to the truth about his future and the truth of those that surround him. Huh? Perhaps you mean Will the journals…
Writing is hard work and I know it can be really daunting to send a query asking for representation. For many of us, it feels as if we are sending our first-born child out into the cruel world with little or no protection. I can well appreciate why you might feel “humbled” and even shy about asking an agent to read your work. Nonetheless, never, ever, ever, sell yourself so short! You’ve made it to this point, have gathered the courage to send your draft query to a website where you know it will get torn to shreds and yet, you do it anyway because you want to be published. Give yourself some credit here – you wrote this piece, believe in this piece and are hoping to bring an agent some income. You deserve respect, start giving some to yourself!

Amy Ashley said...

Whatever happened to, "Dear Agent, I wrote a book about a vampire priest that I think you, along with many others may enjoy..." AND THEN ADD THE OTHER 230 WORDS. There were an awful lot of adjectives used to say only that.

Suja said...

Sure, 176 did not read all the instructions in his/her hurry to get the query out. QS has been very clear in her blog about the way the query has to be presented, so I can understand her frustration.
But my 2c worth for #176, you'll get more such critiques/comments as you go along, and those are the ones you learn from. The ones who mollycoddle you, don't teach you anything. So keep writing, query when you're ready. Don't lose heart. And don't give up. Best of luck!

St0n3henge said...

About the whole self-esteem issue:

I was on a public forum and someone was requesting some simple grammar advice for a term paper. Others had commented, but weren't sure if their advice was correct. I was sure about my advice, so I wrote at the beginning of my comment, "I am a writer," so the student could feel confident taking my advice.

Someone who hadn't posted before attacked, saying I sounded "pompous and egostistical." This, just because I mentioned the fact that I was a writer. I didn't say anything else about it, just the fact of it.

I sent him a message saying that, had I been a plumber posting plumbing advice, I would have mentioned that I was a plumber.

I got an answer back, saying- get this- THE GUY IS A WRITER. He said he'd had some stories published, but "I don't call myself a writer." I wrote back and said I thought he should. I told him it was nothing to be ashamed of.

Since when do we feel we have to apologize for being writers?

dana e donovan said...

Diane Homes, Christine Tripp.
Thanks for responding to my question. But now I am really confused.

I know an author who, like me, is self-published. Her work is available on Amazon, Lulu, etc. I believe she has two books of a planned continuing series.

Recently, an agent from a legitimate agency contacted her. He noticed her work, unsolicited, and offered her representation.

Is her experience extraordinary?
Do agents scout for new authors that way?
My books are self-published, but I can easily "retire" them if I need to.

And maybe Janet can chime in here, too, but have I killed my chances (realistically) of peddling any of these books to an agent?

Your comments are greatly appreciated.
My apologies to #176 for diverting from the query. However, I suspect other readers might be wondering the same thing.

Again, anyone have thoughts on this?

Kim Mullican said...

Dana - I don't mind at all getting a break from the abuse while I rewrite (and read, and rewrite and read etc. ;)

Thank you to those that gave me constructive criticism. Especially thank you to those that stopped by my page for words of advice, encouragement and extra websites to burn out my eyeballs.

I hope the lessons I'm learning help those that follow. I learned a few non-writing lessons here as well. With a stiff drink in hand, I clicked the send button....REWIND...I had to go back and fix all of the typing my kitty cat did while I made said drink... I missed an "a". Got my ass handed to me (I think) a total of four times over said "a" -nothing to do with the crappy query, just the first letter of our alphabet.

Friends don't let friends drink and email the shark ;) or mention PA...EVER again.

I would like to defend myself for all the other stuff...but alas, I cannot. I dare not enter the world of the nit-wit. (I got it - no apologizing!) I'm not sending my revision in until I feel I'll get a slight gnawing, rather than a full out bite. Even then, I'll be ready, wait... appreciative of the advice I receive.


M. G. E. said...

@Kmullican: Gmail actually has a drunk-check feature you can turn on that requires you to do a quick and normally-easy math problem before you can hit 'send' just in case you're trying to email drunk :P Assuming you use gmail of course.

But I don't use it as I don't tend to drink, at home :P

@Dana: I wouldn't publish an ebook version of my novel unless I'd given up hope of it ever being published through retail channels and trunked it.

I even shut down my short-story blog when I learned most editors wouldn't buy a short-story that had -ever- appeared online in any form.

If you're just aiming for a strike of lightning-good-luck like your friend you mention who received an agent solicitation (not that that's always a good thing either), you might put up chapter samples on some site as a kind of teaser.

That would be enough for anyone to decide if they want to ask for more pages and rep you.

Christine Tripp said...

Dana, the worry about this author you mention who has been contacted by an agent is.... There are as many bogus agents as there are Publishers. They troll the Internet. I would first need to know the rep's name and company before I would be impressed. It may be a legit agency, it may be a legit offer but odds are against it. It's not unheard of for a self pub book to be picked up by an agent or a publisher but still, it's a slime to none.
I really think, if one enters into self publishing, do it for that reason and not with the vague hope of being "discovered".

Lehcarjt said...

Dana - I'd argue that legitimate agents do not troll around looking for clients on the internet ever. Why would they when they are receiving hundreds of queries each day that they can spend their time on?

There is a high probability that your friend is dealing with the other kind of agent. Have him/her check out (preditors and editors) to research the background of the agent.

Uma said...

A lot of writers don't take charge and lead the reader, they beg and pray to the imaginary inhibitions of the reader and get shunned. So I think dismissing a query on those grounds is valid.

lora96 said...

How many times was the word "life" used in this query?

Doesn't "two hundred years worth" need an apostrophe?

I'm nitpicking.

Open with the vampire priest.

I'm not averse to the plot. It's in there somewhere.

In the submitter's defense, I think the extensive internet search referred to the amount of time spent reading less specific industry blogs and web sites before zeroing in on the Shark. I don't necessarily believe the individual had trouble finding it.


Anonymous said...

It was hard to understand what was really going on in your query. The summary in your query IS NOT like the back cover summary of a paperback. Don't be mysterious. Let the agent know the why's and how's. I checked out your blog site and noticed you had another query up. That one tells your story better, but you need to work on making your sentences flow better. The first paragraph is too much back story. You don't need it. start by revising your second paragraph. The about the priest maliciously turned into a vampire needs to be the hook that sets up the rest of your query. Hope that helps

Anonymous said...

Mm... I wouldn't e-publish or self-publish a book that I'd given up on ever getting published. I'd trunk it, and have done so.

Unless you're willing to publish them under a pseudonym that you don't intend to use again. The reason is that the Nielsen Bookscan figures for that self-published book will follow you.

Under Cover Editor said...

And yet, in spite of the flaws, there's a hint of a good idea that comes through in this query. Based on what we've seen, I suspect that execution is poor, but the premise has possibilities.

Kim Mullican said...

Thank you Rita. I like your advice, my only concern is if I start there - have a request for pages and the first 3 chapters are all about Will and no vampires, that the agent would feel misled.

The query up on my blog is just my work in a rough draft. It is better, but yes, not ready yet. I won't make the mistake of rushing.

M.G.E. I envisioned the Breathalyzer tube attached to my CPU and got quite the chuckle. Thank you for that. As a sidebar - I had not yet started drinking...foolish mistakes yes - complete =)

Fanfreakingtastic Flower said...

Ah, Shark, have I mentioned lately how I love you so? The supplicant thing DRIVES ME NUTS.

dana e donovan said...

you said...

Mm... I wouldn't e-publish or self-publish a book that I'd given up on ever getting published. I'd trunk it, and have done so.

Does that mean you would e-publish or self-publish a book that you had not given up on ever getting published?

I mean I would never publish anything I'd given up on. I would retire them (which I have done thrice) or destroy it, which I've done once.

Sorry to beat this dead horse, but it's kind of important.

Janet, any thoughts on this?

again #176 thanks for the white space here to probe.

lauren sylvan said...

umm-- about the spell check idea?

It's beggar, not begger. Unless perhaps you meant bugger?

Otherwise very enlightening.

Janet Reid said...


Fixed it, thanks.

Kim Mullican said...

Hello all - I went out and purchased a pair of Kevlar pants, steel toed boots and a bulletproof helmet. This time, no kitties, no beverages... I clicked 'send'.

Can one go from chum to tiramisu??? I doubt it, but I dare to dream!

Anonymous said...

"William struggles to believe Stefan’s promise to keep him safe as he pours over the journals"

I think the word you mean to use is "pores" and not "pours".

The former implies close reading while the latter indicates the spilling of a liquid of some kind.

Stephanie Barr said...

Rev #1 - In my opinion, you don't need to tell anyone how the vampire is created or make it horrifying.

Start where Janet said *unless* we have some decisions from Will when he receives his inheritance.

I mean, you could start from the fact Will is financially in despair when an inheritance comes from apparently nowhere - but there's a catch. In order to receive this, he must go to Romania and read through X number of journals (a condition that seems a little off to me, but maybe there's more to it).

People like the idea of fortunes from nowhere (or lotteries wouldn't be so popular) and expect there to be strings. If you want the story to be interesting, you need to tell us a conflict throughout the book, something he's struggling with, whether it's a tangible something or feelings of unease, a sense of danger, or a feeling that the price to be extracted for his fortune is more than he's willing to pay.

If you don't have that, the query may not be the problem.

Stephanie Barr said...

By the way, good for you trying again. At least this query is about the story and no abject humility, which makes it a definite improvement.

You were listening. That's always a good sign.

Kim Mullican said...

Thank you - back to the drawing board.

wizardonskis22 said...

Way to try again! The mistakes in this one were way better than your old ones! The query seems very long to me, though. Really, what do you need? Do we need to know every last detail of backstory? Will the world explode if we don't read in the query about how the priest-vampire was created? I certianly hope not, because that would be unfortunate either for your query or the world. Either way, assuming this will not happen, I can only say to delete a lot of it. When you have only the sentence that the Shark said was the beginning, work around it. That sentence was good. Next, add a good hook. A priest-vampire with journals is good. A preist vampire created long long ago in complete detail, however, is not so good in the query. Specific is good, but moderation is key. Even too many carrots is bad for you!
Good luck, you can do this!

Bethany said...

I think some of the crueler and less helpful comments had to have come from people who have never drafted a query letter before.

Keep trying, keep revising, and don't give up. I've seen much worse letters posted here and also seen some amazing transformations.

Your first ones' problem was more your own generosity and your own sweet attitude. Dive in with the priest vampires and be vicious. Let us see some of your writing talent in your query.

I'm rooting for you. Keep the upbeat attitude!

Kim Mullican said...

Thanks Bethany! Yes, the forked tongue can get out of hand, but it is just training wheels. I've read time and again that thick skin is a necessity in this art. Harsh critiques are par for the course and I'm a big girl.

I've joined a writer's forum to be further critiqued and polish this up before resubmitting here.

Admittedly - I was seriously bummed at the last results. But, it made me think harder. I made my protag weak...on purpose. Seems as if that was a no-no, and I have to raise the stakes for him.

I've had 5 people read my MS and they loved it...problem is when I went back (after a break), the beginning was slow...slow slow slow. Considering that these are the sample pages an agent will request - I had knitted myself a noose. This is what has affected my ability to write a catching query.

If I want to keep my query true to the story - I have to fix the story. The shark's words drove home.

Thank you to all who have given me your time and advice. Even babies learning how to walk get bumps & bruises and I can take my licks.

Happy writing!

Stephanie Barr said...

Rev #2 - I'm actually further away from liking the story than I was. I *got* the idea of a windfall with strings when the mere mortal was the protagonist. Changing to the story of yet another whiny-I-wish-I-was-dead vampire pretty much squashed my interest. But that could just be a personal preference.

It seems to me the key components, coming at it from this side is:

(a) Priest turned vampire has yearned for 2 centuries how to truly die.

(b) He finds out a mortal has the weapon that can kill him so he tricks the mortal into coming to Romania (I think your description of this is too convoluted in your query)

(c) Using his journals, Stefan tries to manipulate the mortal into ending Stefan's existence.

What I don't understand is (a) why, if the mortal has the power, it's a challenge getting him to kill the vampire (who wants to die) and (b) why I should care about Stefan's "torment".

During these iterations, we seem to have two characters: the user and the passive, neither of which are the kind of characters that appeal to me. What is it about one (or both) of these characters make us want to know more? Make us want to follow them on this journey?

People like vampires, but I still think you need something to make this story, this journey stand out, to make it appeal. I'm still missing it here.

Zoe said...

I agree with Stephanie (above). Why does William have to read the journals in order to have a motive to kill the priest? Why can't the priest just say "Hey, I'm a vampire and I want to die. Kill me please?" and why wouldn't William just say yes?

Anyway, that's something to keep in mind but I think it was a good choice to leave the journals out of your third revision. You've got an interesting concept here, but the writing is kind of detracting from it at this point.

I think you're trying too hard to be dramatic. A vampire who doesn't want to live, some kind of magical artifact, and a person struggling with the decision to kill somebody or not, are dramatic elements in and of themselves. They don't need help. Just set up the story plainly and you might find it has more impact that way. I would also focus on defining your protagonist (the priest or William?) and really showing that character off as somebody I want to read about for 400+ pages.

The relationship that develops between William and Stefan sounds (to me) like an interesting plot point, maybe one that could be elaborated on, rather than the prophecy of his imminent death and the means he uses to get William to Romania - that's all the set-up. What causes them to become friends? What would happen to William if he were to go through with Stefan's plan? Why does it matter what happens to William or Stefan? My advice is to focus on those aspects of the story in your query (but I'm not a shark so don't quote me).

Keep up the revisions. I think you can get there.

Jo-Ann said...

I've been following your query with interest, #176, and it's great to see your revisions gaining form and definition.

However, in reading the latest installment, I cant help wondering if there's a contradiction inherant in the plot.

You've told us that Stefan has killed vampires. Now you tell us that Stefan wants William to kill him to end his pain - a kind of vampiric euthenasia. However, he (Stefan?) starts to feel concerned that doing so will condemn William to "eternal night".

It's the "eternal" bit I'm having trouble with- it suggests that by killing a vampire, William will be damned for the rest of his life and the hereafter. However, Stefan has knocked a few of them off in his 200 years - doesn't that mean that his pain will continue after his demise? If so, what's the point of getting William to kill him?

I'm sure that you have an explanation for this in the plot, but in reading your query, I was left feeling puzzled, and wondering if I'd missed something. I'm not sure if this is a good thing in a query.

Keep going, you'll get there!

dana e donovan said...

Revised 3.
Honestly, maybe it should be accepted etiquette to start a comment this way. Often with weeks between revisions, it's difficult to determine where previous comments leave off and comments on the newest version begin.

Just saying.

Kmullican, I think you are almost there. I like this one so much more than the previous two. I like the bullet point approach to putting the info out there, and I like that you kept it to around 150 words.

I do agree with others, however, that I don't know who the true protagonist is. I get the feeling it's supposed to be Stefan, but since William is the one faced with making the difficult choice (the IMMORTAL DECISION) I cannot be sure.

If it is William we are supposed to be rooting for, maybe the query should start with him.

Anyway, I really do think you are almost there. Nice job.

Stephanie Barr said...

Rev 3 -

I like that you're simplifying it.

I hate that I still have nothing to compel me. What's at stake? Why should I care? Someone who's lived for several centuries, worst case, keeps living? Hard to get worked up about that.

The mortal, what's at stake for him? Not death, since the vampire's wanting that. No reason he has to become a vampire. So, what's the down side?

You have three revisions, and I still don't see what the real conflict is, what the real problem is and what's at stake. You want to entice? That's what you have to give someone so they *have* to read the book and find out what happens.

Stephanie Barr said...

Check out #162 where we see the progression of revisions until, at last, the conflict was crystal and we had an interest in the characters. That's what I'd recommend you need to do with this.

St0n3henge said...

Well, I'm not going to be very supportive in this comment, dear author. I'm taking you on your word that you prefer honest criticism.

Here is a list of sentences and phrases you wrote. I've added my comments. I explain why at the end.

"the truth of those that surround him"
If this means what I think it does, "of" should be "about."

"Fate brings Will face-to-face with the Vampire Priest and is forced to make the Immortal Decision."
This makes it seem like fate is forced to make the decision.

"The priest wants William to kill him, and he believes William needs to live through the gamut of the priest’s emotions."
I'm not even sure what this means. Must William experience the priest's emotions? If so, that's the word you want. Also, one RUNS a gamut. I guess one usually lives through it as well, but nobody says that. Also, the priest-William-him-he-William-priest thing is confusing.

"as he pours over the journals"
Pours WHAT over them? :)

"to an acquired estate in Romania"
I'm assuming you mean William acquired it, but that isn't clear.

"Stefan manipulates the young man to"
Manipulates him INTO, or convinces him TO.

"compels him to contrive a plan"
Or contrives him to compel a plan. :)

"The executed has left a sizeable Romanian estate to contend with, and no heir."
"To contend with" doesn't seem to refer to anybody here. I'll assume you mean William has to contend with it.

"has just slain another rampant vampire."
Did you mean rogue?

"an answer to William’s current debacle"
Debacle here should be something like "trouble" or "difficulty."

Those are not the only problems, just the ones that stood out to me the most.

I'm not the best writer there is, and I know I'm not. Keep in mind this is just my opinion. I don't think you're yet ready to write a novel. You don't seem to have a good understanding of word usage, sentence structure, and all the other things a writer needs to know.

It's true I got this information from the queries alone, but the manuscript will probably show similar problems. It is highly unlikely that you forget how to write in English only when you're writing queries.

I'm pretty sure you can fix this, though. Try this: Get a list of the 100 Best Novels and read as many as you can in a year without skimming or speed-reading. Then go back and look at your manuscript and queries again. I'll bet you see a lot of things you should have written differently. You might also consider getting a textbook and brushing up on mechanics.

This is the best advice I can give you. Good luck. I hope everything works out.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm the only dork who watches "The Vampire Diaries" on CW, but the star vampire boy is named Stefan. The books, while terrible, were published in 1991. I don't think, even if all the writing/query issues become resolved, that you can write a vampire book using this name for the main character. Unless, of course, you're being meta, and then you should just call him Tedward Mullen.

Teagen said...


Your latest version is much cleaner, clearer, and intriguing than the past attempts. However, now that you've gotten a fairly solid skeletal frame to work with, bring in more about the characters. What kind of people are they, why should we relate or sympathize with them, why does Stefan take a liking to William specifically?

You're almost there.

JS said...

Revision #3 is a big improvement. If you keep it up at this pace, version 5 or 6 should be a complete winner--good for you for keeping up the work.

Are you on Because on the forums there, there is a subforum for query letter critique, and I think that could help you a lot. There are also some samples of successful query letters that folks have shared, so that might also be a useful resource. It's free to register and use the forums at, though folks who can afford to like to make donations from time to time.

Elvis Henry said...

I'm surprised no one jumped on this part of Janet's comments:

"And that's where I stop reading. If you've had a book printed by any of these template houses that profess to publish but in fact do not offer any of the additional value of a publisher, for the love of Mike, don't mention it. Ever.

"This is not a publishing credential. It's also a huge disadvantage. Once you've published a book, you're no longer a debut author. It's MUCH easier to sell a debut novel than a second or third from a writer who hasn't enjoyed robust sales."

To me it sounds like self preservation-ism. Agents are running scared because of self publishing and ebooks. Let's get real about "debut authors" -- I found that comment completely lacking credibility.

Just wrong, wrong, wrong!

St0n3henge said...

Elvis, I don't see anyone around here "running scared" about self-publishing houses. They're still known for producing a good amount of crap. There are lots of vanity presses out there that will publish anything at all, regardless of quality.

Self-publishing still carries a stigma: "You couldn't get published by any reputable agency so you had to do it yourself." Maybe unfair, but the connotations are there.

And if your book doesn't sell well after it's published this way, that's even worse. It could be because of lack of promotion or advertisement, but an agent might think the book just wasn't very good.

Kim Mullican said...

Hey - I haven't given up...but I don't think this thing is Shark worthy yet...

Problem is, after everyone got done with it in the online was a mess! I took really really bad advice with the good...then went back to this and started over. All of your comments have been so helpful, well almost all ;)

TY all for contributing here.

Stephanie Barr said...

12/4 revision:

Here's what I got when I read the latest revision: "William can end the unhappy existence of Stefan the vampire by "killing" him. If he drinks Stefan's blood in the process, he'll become a vampire instead. If not, all's well.

105K words seems like a lot to say that and, truthfully, there doesn't seem to be much dilemma, like Stefan could say, "When you kill me, make sure you don't drink any of the blood that splatters."

The dilemma and heartbreak alluded to seem contrived and melodramatic. What's really keeping William from just killing Stefan, taking the fortune he wants and everyone going home happy with their prizes? I guess that's the part I'm just not getting.

Gisele said...

The archetypes of priest and vampire (or, the struggle between good and evil within one man) make for a compelling character. I like it!

Now, let’s get down to the dirty business of query writing.

“His vampiric nature prevents it--both morally and physically, he cannot act as his own executioner.”

I understand that being a vampire (immortal or, at least undead) prevents him from killing himself – physically. But "morally"? The a priori knowledge about vampires is that they don’t have any moral codes (on suicide or anything else). If in your novel there is such a moral code within the vampiric community, it needs to be better explained.

“...he discovers an ancient dagger…”

He “discovered” a dagger, to me means that it's in his possession. But, actually William has it. A quick fix to clarify who’s got the dagger, would be “he discovered (the existence) of a dagger” or, “he (finds out about) an ancient dagger”.

“...eternal night for William…”

The “eternal night” is poetic but elusive in meaning. If you mean that William could become a vampire, it’s best to say that.

“If blood is exchanged.”

“Exchanged” has a very specific meaning. It requires a two-way street. It implies a give and take. It means that if Stephan gets some of William’s blood and vice versa, (only then) will it result in William turning into a vampire. Was that the intended meaning?

Teagen said...

The 4th revision is much much better and it's sounding more and more like something I'd actually read. Some of the pieces that were too vague in earlier versions are even starting to come together. The Shark has made all the comments on improvement I can personally think of. I'm excited to see the next one because I think you might finally be there in Revision #5.

word verification: exests
(Just thought it was interesting considering the query letter. *shrugs*)

Bethany Christiansen said...

Whoa. Wait a minute.

Humility IS a strength.

Before God, that is. Not a shark.

(kmullican, God is kind, merciful and really the only one to help you through this journey. Be humble before Him. Janet is only doing her job. Listen to her wise words, but trust only in God to help you maneuver your manuscript to success. And remember, "Before honor is humility" (Proverbs 15:33). Good luck!)

St0n3henge said...

Cami 777:

Please don't confuse this author. You can't have gone too long without noticing that words in the English language have different meanings in different contexts, and also that they change meanings over many years.

You know the word "humble" in the Biblical sense means not prideful, not vain, not having a false sense of pride. In the example given here, though, the word is used in the context of begging. A person with no self-worth or low self-esteem may claim to be humble, but in fact they are disrespecting themselves.

Suppose you were to put on rags and go beg from your neighbors.
Presenting yourself as well as you can in a job interview or query letter doesn't mean you are prideful or vain. It means you have a sense of your own worth and present yourself in a way that others can see your worth. Why would they do business with you if you have no worth?