Sunday, March 20, 2011


Dearest Agent;Ha!

Dear QueryShark:

Emily Jacobs, a senior at Maryland, is off for the summer. The last thing she remembers is walking through the woods by her parents’ Long Island home. Now she’s in a locked room, wearing strange clothing, with no idea when or how she got there.

A slight quibble: it would be better to say she's a college senior UNLESS the fact she's attending that specific school is important. If it is important, say the whole name of the school: University of Maryland.

Then the heavily disguised voice of some asshole calling himself Harold tells her she’s been kidnapped, although she’ll be treated well and released whether her parents pay or not. Of course she will…of course. Emily hasn’t believed in the tooth fairy for years.

Then again, maybe she’s wrong. Maybe they will release her. Meanwhile, the walls seem solid, but Harold and his friends have given her some CDs and a nice, large mirror. Maybe she can cut her own way out instead.

THE ABDUCTION OF EMILY, a mystery/suspense novel of 84,000 words, is an account of a kidnapping as seen from three points of view: the kidnapper, the kidnapped, and the people left behind.

This last paragraph is the reason I chose this letter for QueryShark. I've never seen the problem of multiple viewpoints addressed quite this elegantly. The main part of the letter is in Emily's viewpoint, and we get a strong sense of her voice and character.

The writer then did NOT try to do the same thing for each of the other viewpoints, and that restraint is a VERY.Good.Thing. Instead, simply saying there are three POV's and whose they are tells me what I need to know.

This should be a template for anyone with multiple POV novels.

I have attached…, as requested. Most likely it will be pages IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL. Make sure you don't attach something unless the agent's very own website says to do so.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


Phone numbers
Favorite Color ha!

This is a very good query letter.


Anonymous said...

Oh wow, I just finished a multiple viewpoint novel and was wondering how I'd tackle that in a query letter. Thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

Nice job #199. I would read this book because you have made me VERY curious. What is the backstory? Was it just about money? Will she cut her way out of the room? Will you create sympathy with the kidnappers? Interesting.

Brian Smith said...

The first paragraph is awkward. I think this is better.

"The last thing Emily Jacobs remembers is walking through the woods by her parents’ Long Island home. Now she’s in a locked room, wearing strange clothing, with no idea when or how she got there."

I don't like this either:

"Then the heavily disguised voice of some asshole calling himself Harold ..."

I don't see the need for profanity in this query letter. I think we can infer that anyone who kidnaps another human being is an asshole, and certainly we can infer that that the kidnapper's victim will think he's an asshole.

Carolyn Arnold said...

Thank you for posting this. My thriller has a complex plot and is told from several POVs. There are quite a few plot lines that end up meeting at the end.

Although, my query focuses on the main character, I was wondering if it was hurting me not to mention these other elements. Now I know how I can handle this.

lexcade said...

i have one in the works and was wondering how to handle it. thanks for posting this one!

Perri said...

I agree. The part about multiple viewpoints is elegantly done. I'm going to give something like this a try with my over-complicated query.

Thank you, Query Shark!

Unknown said...

A quibble with the shark's slight quibble: "a senior at Maryland" is perzactly how a senior at the University of Maryland would say it, so the shorthand is cue #1 that the query is written in a character's, rather than in the voice of a recounting-the-story author. And the shift to neutrality of POV in the final paragraph is not only clear, but clearer thereby. No?

Charli Armstrong said...

I just finished a multiple POV YA (four in my case) and I was wondering how to address it in a query. This helps loads!

Nick said...

I, too, am struggling to grapple with multiple viewpoints in my query.

Great choice for a post - but more importantly, well done author!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Brian. I also found that 'graph awkward and that word offputting.

Actually, "asshole" would have stopped me from reading further. It's possible all agents are tough and inured to crude language, but writer, don't stake your career on it.

I also found the heavily disguised voice distracting, because it made me wonder how she could tell. Also it raised the unaddressed question of whether she would have recognized the voice if it hadn't been disguised.

This query is concise, though, and focuses on the story.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm hooked. I have Emily's voice and plot in the beginning. Then I learn about multiple POV in a succinct way.

My WIP goes from past to present. I'm going to borrow how you write the end so I can make my query letter better.

Thanks and good luck!

Alex said...

Brian, the sentence:

"Then the heavily disguised voice of some asshole calling himself Harold ..."

Shows the characters voice and sets up the following voice driven paragraph. This is clearly the tone of voice in a book that will most certainly have profanity. To stifle that voice would be to misrepresent the book.

Without the kidnapped character showing her personality why would we care? There is no hook here other than a standard kidnapping. Without a strong character there is no point to read a run of the mill kidnap story.

This demonstration of voice is also what sets up our excitement to learn that we will get to see the engaging POV's of two more presumably distinctive voices and characters.

Irene Troy said...

The first thing that struck me about this query is its short to-the-point nature. The writer showed us the outline of the story, provided enough information on the main character to stimulate interest and that was that. So many of us – I include myself – tend to over-write, particularly in a query. It’s this over-writing that gets us into trouble and leads readers to lose interest before that interest is even fully engaged.

As far as the story itself is concerned, the idea of telling the story of a kidnapping from the kidnappers POV is intriguing enough to entice me into reading the book. Good luck, author.

Meg said...

This query shark post was a god send! I'm currently working on a multiple viewpoint novel and have been wondering how I was going to compose a query letter for my piece.

Lehcarjt said...

Definitely a solid query. It didn't jump-off-the-screen for me (although admittedly I'm not the audience for this anyways).

My first thought was that since the author did a great job of making it clear what the book is about without too much extraneous junk (they did their homework!), the same is probably true of the book (in terms of having the book ready).

Unknown said...

Oh shoot-- I just stepped in this one. Two weeks ago I sent out a query letter with four (short) paragraphs -- each showing a different POV. I thought it offered a quick snapshot of the four women, their voices, and their individual hurdles... but now I'm sweating. Janet, I'd love to hear your thoughts on why tackling it this way isn't a good idea! Thanks so much!

Ask a Manager said...

I enjoy profanity, personally, but I too found its use here jarring. There are better ways to establish character.

Val said...

This is a book I would read. The first two paragraphs lured me in. But they also tripped me up.

I had to back up at the "senior at Maryland" part, to see if maybe it said "senior IN Maryland. I teach high school, so the first thing I thought of was a high school senior. Perhaps a college that's not also a state would have made a better impact. For example, "a senior at Loyola."

The tooth fairy statement took me out of the story, but I can't say why, or offer a suggestion. It seemed too immature for a college senior.

The last paragraph sealed the deal. I like to get into the heads of multiple characters.

flibgibbet said...

I agree that this query presents an elegant solution to multi POVs. Moreover, that solution piques my curiousity, makes the book sound that much more interesting.

Some minor quibbles:

"as seen from..." reads awkwardly to me. Would "written from" or "told from" be an improvement?

The tooth fairy reference strikes me as odd given the circumstances and the MC's age. How about a simple statement of fact: "Emily doesn't believe him for a second, but hopes she's wrong". This would get rid of 2 or 3 "maybe's" in para 3.

Also not loving "cut her OWN way out instead". What's the purpose of the word "own"? The sentence makes better sense without it.

As for "asshole", I don't think it's crude; but it does make me wonder why the MC is taking this so casually so early in the game. I'd expect her to be terrified---see Harold as a monster.

Thanks author and QS for an enlightening post.

Anonymous said...

I like the way the query focuses on the main character then breaks it gently to the reader that the novel is, in fact, more complex than just that.

And this works also because the other voices -- the kidnappers, the parents -- have already been introduced.

On the other hand, I found the writing of the query to be rather slack - plenty of superfluous information that slows down the reading or otherwise doesn't serve its purpose.

When I read a mystery/suspense novel, I want taut, tight writing, and this query doesn't show me that.

Also, the word 'asshole' doesn't shock me in real life, lord knows I use it quite often, but I felt that what precedes it in the query doesn't prepare for it.

nilla|utanpunkt said...

The writer loses me in the second paragraph. She's KIDNAPPED, and doesn't know where she is etc. Wouldn't that make anyone scared, rather than having a mindset for clever comments about the abductor, and particularily, comparing the likelyhood of her release with the TOOTH FAIRY? This takes the story from being a thriller to one of a students' prank.

I am starting to wondering if there is an over-emphasise out there, generally, of smart, clever protagonists. At the loss of context.

Anonymous said...

About "asshole"-- different words have different levels of understood crudity within different microcultures. (It's particularly easy for a native English speaker to notice this in Spanish-- there are places where the words "gringo" and "pendejo" elicit gasps, and places where they're considered perfectly innocuous.)

Clearly some of the chum-- and Ms. Shark herself-- occupy microcultures where the word "asshole" isn't too crude to use. And that's fine.

But unless you only intend to query her, and no one else, you'd do better to find another word. Here's the thing: a query is a business letter. The word "asshole" has no place in a business letter.

Except, of course, one addressed to the phone company.

Unknown said...

Thanks for showcasing a good query letter. This gives us an exemplary template to personalize.

Joseph said...

I dunno. Emily doesn't sound very scared for having been abducted. The flippant tone is throwing me.

Unknown said...

Re: the use of profanity. If the author sues it in the novel, why hide it in the query letter? If the agent hates profanity, then they can pass, as they likely would have passed on the novel had they requested pages off the non-profane query. (Or so it seems to me.)

Oh, dingleberries! I've been kidnapped, thought Emily, politely. Hmm. Not the same.

I love the use of it here - it establishes character. Please don't change it, author. Well done.

jesse said...

I also had a problem with the tooth fairy line, but my issue is that it is disruptive to the flow. I understand that the line in necessary for the transition to the next paragraph, which works; but, it feels awkward with the preceding sentence, and the rest of query.
The voice is mostly clear and detached, even with the asshole line; making the tooth fairy jump out.
But, maybe it's just me...

Congrats overall.

Joel Q Aaron said...

Nice job, but one thing bugs me...

Senior years at college usually don't have a summer vacation. So I question the set up. Not that it's wrong, but that it is unusually which leads to more questions.

The word "asshole" has no place in a business letter.

Except, of course, one addressed to the phone company.

Anonymous said...

You can put lots of things in novels that you can't put in query letters.

Identifying which goes where is a large part of the novice query writer's task.

The reason is simply that you can create context for anything in a novel. In a query letter, you can't. There's no time.

If I were the author, I'd take the fact that some chum objected to the word as an indication that some agents will. If she wants to weed all those agents out, that's her choice. But she should be aware she's making it.

Joel-- thanks :)

wizardonskis22 said...

This sounds like a great story. For the profanity thing, I don't think the problem is that it's there, it might even be good for establishing voice, but it doesn't feel like the right word. This situation just feels like it warrants something more than asshole.

Still, great job, it sounds like a great story!

Anonymous said...

One can't argue with success, and yet -- one does.

I'm piling in with flibgibbet and nillaunlanpunkt.

Emily has been rendered unconscious, abducted, and undressed. This is hardly the time to conjure the "tooth fairy" (which made me scroll back up to see whether Emily was a college senior or a high school senior), but a time to start calculating how to escape a sociopath.

"Some asshole" is the person who cuts you off in traffic or yells an obscene compliment at you on a crowded street -- not the person involved in rendering you unconscious, abducting you, and undressing you.

Indeed, this crisp, snappy way of talking is no substitute for depth of character or even wit. Its toll is some amount of psychological veracity.

"Own" does not belong in the sentence with "cut her own way out." Was someone else going to cut her out using the mirror?

lena said...

I like the query, and I like that we get a sense of the character's voice/personality. BUT I also agree with the other comments here. Maybe you could find a way to show voice and also show a realistic reaction. I know if I was abducted, stripped, dressed in someone else's clothes, and locked in a room with a mirror (creepy--I have to wonder if it's 2-way and I'm being watched, but maybe that's just my own paranoia :) I think I'd be a lot more scared. And a lot more interested in getting out than wondering if someone's voice was disguised or if he was, indeed, an asshole. I'd probably be more worried he was a psychopathic rapist/cannibal.

Lehcarjt said...

Ditto to what Arhooley said on the 'asshole' controversy. The use of the word bugged me not because of the profanity, but because it was wrong for the context.

TraciB said...

I agree with the points already made regarding Emily's school status and mindset, so I won't rehash them. I do have a couple more questions for the author:

1) How did Emily know Harold had any friends? We go from one kidnapper to plural abductors with no explanation while still in Emily's POV.

2) Was there a boombox or CD player of some sort left in the room with the CDs? The mention of CDs seems unnecessary, unless there's a sound system to go with them.

I recognize the author may have been including just enough detail to pique the potential agent's interest and cause her/him to ask for pages, but to me those disjointed bits of information were jarring rather than intriguing.

JS said...

Clearly some of the chum-- and Ms. Shark herself-- occupy microcultures where the word "asshole" isn't too crude to use.

That would be the US publishing industry as a whole, except for the Christian Booksellers Association market and (perhaps) the university presses.

Once the President of the United States is caught on mike saying a word at a press conference, I don't think it's too edgy for a letter to an agent.

Bravo, this querier! I agree with those not loving every single thing in the query but that last paragraph is masterful.

Anonymous said...

I'm not certain 'asshole' qualifies as profane. Scatalogical perhaps.

The real problem I have with the word is that it's just not very inventive. Granted, people really do use this word, but it rarely serves to make the user seem more intelligent or likable.

Instead, the main character, because of the snooty "Maryland" without the "U of" and the fact that she's been wandering through the "wooded" regions of Long Island, and is being held for ransom presumably because her parents are wealthy, comes off as a spoiled schoolgirl.

Why would I care if she gets rescued or escapes?

Using the word 'asshole' here, meanwhile, in place of other, more revealing vocabularly, is part of why I've complained that I find the style and tone of this query to be slack, and almost lazy. I wouldn't want to read a suspense novel written like this.

Although the Query Shark has labeled this one FTW -- is this because the treatment in revealing the novel's structure overrides the query's use of language?

Anonymous said...


I meant to chime in on your finding of "slackness." I agree.

Of course she will…of course. Emily hasn’t believed in the tooth fairy for years. Then again, maybe she’s wrong. Maybe they will release her.

I'm surprised the shark tolerates this much mental meandering in a query letter.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the query is particularly good. In the tension, the writer makes much of the question will they or won't they release her? It would be much stronger if they told her what they had in store for her (something gruesome), said they were going to start at midnight, and in the meantime they wanted to see her squirm. Then the tension is heightened dramatically, a lot more is at stake.

Rose Transpose said...

My thoughts while reading the query:
1) What does strange clothes mean? Is she in a clown suit?
2) The tone of the second paragraph feels very off to me. I also spent a while trying to figure out what the Tooth Fairy had to do with any of it.
3) The third paragraph feel very stilted. Why bring up the possibility of them releasing her? The detail of the mirror being nice and large also feels random. And while the walls are said to be solid, I have no idea what they're made of. Brick? Metal? Cardboard?
4) The last bit works well, and I would be interested to see the viewpoint of the kidnapper in all this.

- Nicholas

Wanton Redhead Writing said...

You multiple posters, you know who you are I don't need to give you unworthy publicity, should remember that Janet Reid is called the Query Shark because she is just that. And she liked it.

You, on the other hand, are supposed to be learning from her blog. I am a firm fan of debate, yet I only see you 'quibbling' among yourselves.

There were things I didn't like about the query. But if I were writing a kidnapping or thriller type book with multiple POVs. I would take this shite to heart.

Please note I used 'shite' and not 'shit' as I wouldn't want to alarm those of you with sensitive eyes, or the 'overly concerned with vernacular' of whence I come.

All in all, the novel isn't my cup of tea, but the letter did the job and I will scaling back my own overinformative queries.

Thank you Miss Shark!

Anonymous said...

I'm not quibbling, I'm asking a question, and sort of hoping the Query Shark will provide an answer, as I don't recall this having been directly discussed in the archives.

Namely: at what point does the artifice of a query compensate for its language?

Also, the Query Shark (or her minions) approves all comments posted here. So, there's no need to suck up to her. And I do believe she can handle herself in a street brawl.

In fact, commenting and showing interest in the material is the best compliment a blog can receive.

I appreciate that most of the commenters here do not feel the need to insult the others. Something I wish everyone would take to heart.

Alison Miller said...

Perfect. Thank you for this. I'm finishing up a story with two POVs and while querying's several revisions away, I now know what to do when I get there. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Mercy sakes, Wanton. I already have an agent. And a publisher. And I'm hardly the only QS follower in this condition.

I didn't query Ms. Shark when I was looking, because I could tell she wouldn't care for my stuff, but I enjoy reading her postings and enjoy the discussions about writing that go on in these comment threads. And that's why I'm "here".

Really, why any of us are "here" is for us to decide.

Second point. Anyone who's been out there in the query wars knows that a query that will garner requests from some agents will get form rejections from others. If Ms. Shark likes something, it's probable other agents will too. And it's also probable that other agents won't.

For most of her "FTW" queries I can clearly see why she liked them.

Anonymous said...

In fact, now that I think about it-- if we are "here to learn", we are doing it largely from each other.

For example, I originally thought that I disliked the use of the word "asshole" because it was unprofessional, but now that I've read others' comments on it, I see the problem with it is more complex than that.

Anonymous said...

I only see you 'quibbling' among yourselves.

By "quibbling" do you mean critiquing specific expressions? Read other posts on this blog, Wanton. For the Shark as for us, little words make a big difference. Your dismissal of our discussions is misguided.

By the way, I challenge your assertion that you chose "shite" because of the readers here. I note you also use the term in your google profile.

Matthew MacNish said...

That final line was phenomenal. Never have I seen so much conveyed in so few words.

Rowenna said...

Just a random thought on a$$holery language...isn't just about everything you do in a query letter a risk? Some agents will appreciate the gritty, honest, or authentic voice profanity lends to the query. Others will see it as unprofessional. Some will love a trim, neat, unrisky letter. Some will find it dull. Aside from researching agents to the best of your ability (of course, step 1), at some point, you take a risk by putting an extra dash of voice in the letter or by going on the safe side and leaving it out. The most successful letters probably hit a sweet spot in between--I don't say "best" but "most successful" meaning garnering the most requests. But at some point, you pays your money and you takes you chance, and that might mean risking a curse word--or risking leaving it out.

My personal opinion...a-hole didn't add enough here for me to risk leaving it in (assuming I didn't know for sure that the agent would appreciate it). But that's me. And I'm more likely to be hung for a lamb than a sheep, anyway.

Theresa Milstein said...

I miss Query Shark. It's been two whole weeks.

Diane Theron said...

the last paragraph is good. However I question if an agent would get past the second paragraph?

Anonymous said...

I think I like the use of the profanity for two reasons:
1. It tells the agent VERY QUICKLY and CLEARLY Emily's take on her kidnappers and "the situation".
2. It's such a bold word to use in a query so it makes me question the narrator's reliability. So I'm looking forward to hearing the other POVs and figuring out who is the most reliable.

Marius said...

Kidnapping from two POVs, the kidnapper's and the kidnappee, is done in a great way in "The Collector,"
a masterpiece by
John Fowles.
Nothing new there.

But good luck.

CourtneyC said...

I'm wondering about that third point of view.

"THE ABDUCTION OF EMILY, a mystery/suspense novel of 84,000 words, is an account of a kidnapping as seen from three points of view: the kidnapper, the kidnapped, and the people left behind."

If there are three POVs and two are already named, the last can't be "people left behind," but must be someone specific. Is it the mom, brother, teacher, mailman? It would be better to say, " told from multiple points of view: the kidnapper..."

Also, since she's already named the characters, sliding back to referencing them by role seems odd, and yet more powerful as a list of, for example, "Emily, Harold, and Emily's mom." in this case, perhaps it is best to move this paragraph to the top of the letter, before we get character names (though I know the Shark vehemently dislikes this info. coming first in a query).

Melinda Chapman said...

I agree with QS's quibble in the first para. Even if a student would not make the distinction of what kind of senior they are, if it's not clear to the reader then I would prefer to see harmless clarification. At first I pictured a senior citizen in Maryland, an old people's home. :)
I got jarred by the 'arsehole' sentence, too. Only because it wasn't immediately clear that it was the character's inner voice as opposed to the narrator's voice.
Also, I got thrown by the idea that there are three individual POV plus one more for a bunch of people...but if agents are up with that, who cares what I think. ;)

Tam Francis said...

I'm late to this party, but was recommended I read and read the comments as well. I've recently been not just bitten, but eaten alive by the shark on query 259. I am struggling with a third try. If I've got the balls or the skill.

I've got two POVs.

I will try 199's approach with going with one POV and mentioning the second, but the book is perfectly balanced between the two POVs. It feel like cheating or misleading the reader?

I'm no expert, but this query felt a bit awkward at the start, and I could not see the eloquence of it.

From a readers point of view, if this were a back cover blurb, I would want to know a little bit more. I'm baffled why Janet doesn't need more. I wish I could understand. I think it would help me.

In the meantime, I'll keep re-arranging words...