Saturday, June 11, 2011


Dear Query Shark

Maya will do anything to save Matthew, including pose as Arthur’s girlfriend, if he makes sure her young protégée’s medical treatments are fully paid in exchange.

See the difference?

Of course, things would be easier if Arthur was not so far from her image of the ideal boyfriend. Let’s face it: he’s arrogant, he’s snob, he discards women like toys and he bends to his father’s heartless commands without a protest. At least he's... Well, hot. And with her family’s charity foundation under financial scrutiny, Arthurs is also the only one who can help her to save the boy’s life.

In Arthur’s world, Maya feels out of her league and unwelcomed. He adjusts to hers so well she wonders if there’s more to the man than first meets the eye. She really should focus on his motives, or the threats against the Foundation, instead of listening to her foolish heart’s whispers about second chances. Because she agreed to kiss him only for Matthew, didn’t she?

SECOND CHANCES is my first romantic novel and it counts 50 000 words.

Romantic novel? No. Romance novel is a category. Romantic novel is a novel blowing kisses off the shelf.

It counts 50,000 words? Novels don't count words. Novels are comprised of words. It's 50,000 words.

These are the mistakes of a non-native speaker and let me tell you, they raise a HUGE red flag. When you have these kinds of mistakes in the query, you'll have them in the novel, and no matter how much I like a novel, that's going to be a problem.

This is one of the very few instances where I'd suggest you hire a good freelance editor to help you polish up the manuscript. Find a good one cause you'll need him/her on your team for the long term.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is much better but still needs polishing.


This query arrived in blue "ink". Always ALWAYS email your query to a couple friends  who use different computer platforms and different emails than you as a test.  Blue won't keep your query from being considered but it makes it harder to read. You don't want ANYTHING standing in the way of your query looking great.

Dear Query Shark,

My novel, SECOND CHANCES, is a 48 000 word fiction, targeted for contemporary romance.

Your novel is targeted for contemporary romance? I'm sorry, that makes me laugh out loud at the charming idea of all the novels on my bookshelves having parties, hooking up, and generally making merry while they await their chance to be read.

Do you mean the category is "contemporary romance?" You say: My novel is a contemporary romance of 48,000 words. Which is REALLY short by the way, even for category romance.

And you put all this housekeeping info at the bottom. Start with the story.

It will take you within Maya's world, some days before Christmas.
This is telling not showing.

Maya Finnegan has a job she loves, being the intendant at the Vallon Hospital;
I didn't assume you misspelled attendant until I looked up "intendant"

she also gives time to the Make-a-wish Association and the Gerald Finnegan Foundation. When an orphan named Matthew arrives at the hospital, Maya is instantly drawn to him and she knows he will need the resources of the Foundation to receive the proper treatments for his cancer.

This is all backstory.

However, the bank account is frozen, (what bank account) apparently due to her godfather’s (who?) intervention. Robert (who?) never accepted the Finnegans’ money escaped his control, and he will stop at nothing to get the money back under his ‘care’. For him, a small child’s death is just collateral damage in his war against the sisters (what sisters?). And he seems also very sure the Finnegan family has something to hide.

I've stopped reading here. I'm utterly confused about who the main character is. I'm absolutely stymied about why you think any of this describes a romance of any kind, and I'm here to tell you that if you kill that kid, you're going to be toast in the query process even if you revise this thing to perfection.

His son is no better.

The story starts here------>Arthur Pendleton is conceited, arrogant, snob, he considers women as toys, and he uses sarcasm the way others play the piano. Maya should know better than trust him when he presents her with a deal, quite simple. Maya will pose as his girlfriend for a while. In exchange, Arthur will make sure Matthew’s operation is paid, and he will take care of any financial difficulty until the child recovers fully. Arthur claims his father has decided it is time for him to find a proper wife, one mighty Robert will of course choose, and that getting married, especially to his father’s idea of the perfect spouse, is not in his immediate plans. Maya is suspicious, but to save the child, she accepts. Damned the consequences…

As requested on your guidelines, the synopsis is pasted below.

My experiences with publishing are linked to my job as an geotechnical engineer, with my master thesis, and co-writing a scientific article published with the XXX proceedings in 2010. I enjoy writing and have done so for a very long time, in both English and French.

I thank you for your time and consideration and I hope my story will be what you are looking for.


If you are pitching a romance, start with the two people involved in the romance, and what the barrier is to finding happiness. You don't need a lot of set up and backstory in a query (you don't need it in a novel either.)
This doesn't do what a query letter must do: entice me to read on.

Start over.


Lehcarjt said...

I'm pretty sure I've seen this in a MUCH edited revision over at Allwrite Query Letter Hell. It got better.

Anonymous said...

To Lehcarjt : yes, you did :) I am still working on all the very helpful comments I received there and will apply those too! Major problem is trying to figure out if my novel classifies as a romance or a romantic suspense... Working on that too. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

The Make a Wish Foundation is called the Make a Wish Association in Belgium and France, Google tells me.

There are several small errors --mostly missing words-- which QS didn't point out. I'm assuming the manuscript has the same problem.

I'm very impressed that you'd undertake writing a novel in English. But you need to have a native speaker go over both your manuscript and your query to root out these little problems.

Josin L. McQuein said...

This one's been on AW, too (also revised now).

Kreuse, there's no romantic set-up as described in this query, and certainly nothing that qualifies as suspense. I think maybe you're trying to write a genre you aren't familiar with. Go read a selection of books that fit your genre assumption and see what does and doesn't sound like your book.

Anonymous said... translates "intendant" as "bursar".

But that's not the right word for the money person at a hospital. Head accountant? Anybody know?

Katrina S. Forest said...

Another suggestion to avoid the "blue ink" thing: send the e-mail in plain text. In Gmail, you'll see the option for it right above the text box. If you're in "rich formatting" mode, you'll see a series of buttons to italicize, underline, change the font color, ect. If you're in plain text, you won't see any of that.

Marissa Doyle said...

@Alaskaravenclaw--Probably Chief Financial Officer.

I agree that this query (and probably the book itself) would benefit from a reading by a native English speaker, preferably an American one if you're looking for an American publisher. And if you're interested in writing romance, consider joining the RWA (Romance Writers of America)--a wonderful resource for budding romance writers. Good luck!

Irene Troy said...

The major problem I have with this query is, after multiple readings, I can’t figure out the story line. The confusion as to category may be related to this lack of clear story. At the moment this query leaves me feeling as if I had picked up a novel and began reading in the middle rather than the beginning. You need provide us with the basic frame of your story and your characters if you expect to garner the interest of a legitimate agent. While a query doesn’t have to show the entire story, it does have to contain enough information to entice the perspective agent into asking for pages. As written this query fails in that regard.

Katrina – the person in charge of financial matters at most hospitals (and most businesses of all types) generally carries the title chief financial officer (CFO).

Theresa Milstein said...

That last paragraph of the query that talks abut the romance does sound interesting. I'd love to see the revised version kreuse has worked after Allwrite Query Letter Hell and here.

This sounds like a romantic suspense to me.

I echo the need for a native speaker to fix the errors. My husband is a scientist, and helps non-native English speaking scientists with their papers often.

QS, waiting three weeks for a new query is too long!

Adele said...

Where is the novel set? If it is set in a country that has a hospital position called "intendant", you can use the word - it might even be a nice atmospheric touch - but you have to tell the agent that the novel isn't set in the US. If you query an American agent and just say "It's a romance" she will assume it's set in the States and infer that you don't know what you're talking about.

If it is set in the States, try to get a born-and-bred American to read it over and flag any of these little problems.

48,000 words is only 2,000 words shorter than the current Harlequin guidelines for the Presents and Romance lines. That sounds close, but it is still 4% too short - maybe it wouldn't hurt to bump it up by enough words that you can call it 50,000.

Anonymous said...

I had a good laugh at the line "he uses sarcasm the way others play the piano", since I play piano like a two-year-old with a full diaper.

I've written (as exercises in learning the language) novels in Dutch and French.

It's a fun exercise, but you kind of have to be a Nabokov to pull off writing in a langugae you're not 100% fluent in (in other words bilingual). And even then, I'm sure Nabokov had a lot of help from his editor.

Michelle Krys said...

Unless this is set in Europe, it's the Make a Wish Foundation, not Association. Many other spelling errors.

Kitty said...

Maya should know better...

Supposedly smart people, especially women, acting like airheads is a turn-off for me. It bothers me to no end when I read about a character who "should know better" but doesn't. It's a cheap trick writers use sometimes to set up a character for a mishap or something worse.

But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

kreuse, I looked over some of your entries at Livejournal, and yes, you must hire a professional proofreader or even copy editor to go over your manuscript line by line. When you get it back, it will be bleeding with corrections. Expressions like "bored to my death" may look like minor mistakes -- all one has to do is delete "my" -- but that phrase is so wrong it stops a native English reader cold.

QS already pointed out problems like "targeted for contemporary romance." In other places, your meaning is intact but your prose is loose and wordy. "Maya Finnegan has a job she loves, being an intendant . . ." is an example. This could be much more active and lively. "Maya Finnegan loves her job at Vallon Hospital, finding funds for the needy and looking after the hospital's small budget" or whatever she does. "When an orphan named Matthew arrives at the hospital . . ." could also be punched up.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do love a challenge loll... I am doing my best, and I look forward to improve, thanks to your excellent comments and suggestions!
I had three persons looking at the manuscript and synopsis, so I do hope the grammar is okay there. I should have had them reviewing the query too...
Also, the revised novel is up to 50K now.
Still working on a review; by now I understand there is no point rushing into it...

Anonymous said...

Kreuse, I don't understand why you don't just write in French. Undoubtedly you have your own reasons. But this is a helluva competitive business. Especially right now. Why give yourself an extra handicap?

I know some people try to write in English because the English-speaking market is huge. But they're usually native speakers of fairly minor languages, not major world languages like French, which must have a pretty big publishing market.

Diana said...

I've worked with a Finnish author writing in English. The figures of speech and prepositions are the biggest things to watch out for. You also have to be careful of the differences in spelling between British and American English, for example realize (American) and realise (British). I suggest having an American proofread your story and query if you're submitting to and American. And a Brit, if you're submitting to a Brit.

JS said...

If you are writing a novel in English set in the US, you will absolutely need a US editor to help you with localization in addition to word usage--a copy editor alone will not be enough. (If the novel is to be set in the UK, you need a UK editor; if it is to be set in Canada, you need a Canadian editor.)

Find someone with experience in both editing and localization is probably best done through the Editorial Freelancers Association in the US, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders in the UK, and the Editors' Association of Canada.

This work is expensive; I would suggest that you're looking at investing at least 50% of the usual potential advance for a category romance before you get the manuscript to where it will need to be.

Writing something set in your home country in your native language (or perhaps setting it in France if you are Belgian) may be more profitable for you; even though the advances and royalties in the English-language romance market are larger, the upfront costs of hiring an editor may make that moot for you.

And your novel is not a novel of romantic suspense unless something that is associated with the "suspense" genre is a major plot point. In general, a novel of suspense has to have the protagonist or people dear to them in physical and even mortal danger from malicious enemies; interpersonal conflicts alone are not enough to make something a novel of suspense, and neither are serious medical issues.

Best of luck to you.

shopping said...

kreuse said: "Major problem is trying to figure out if my novel classifies as a romance or a romantic suspense... Working on that too."

In one post I know Ms. Shark said if you are unsure how to categorize your novel, just call it a novel. Chances are you will mis-categorize it anyway. The agent/publisher will deal with that, if the novel itself is good enough to pursue.

If this is true, whether this novel is "romance" or "romantic suspense" shouldn't be a "major problem" for this author. Just call it a "romance" and pour your energy into writing the best work you can.

Pina said...

I'm in love with your blog already.

Jilly said...

Why is the writer toast if the kid ends up dead?

Janet Reid said...

Jilly, killing children in novels is a troublesome selling point. I've had editors point-blank refuse novels that killed children.

It's not something I would mention in a query because of that. The only reason it would be in a query is if it's the reason for the novel a la LOVELY BONES.

Anonymous said...

". . . killing children in novels is a troublesome selling point. I've had editors point-blank refuse novels that killed children."

really? i wouldn't that thought that? what about a kid killing their parent? is that just as bad?

Thari said...

Remember: the specific comprises the whole, the whole is composed of the specific. Therefore, novels are composed of words, not "comprised of words". They used to teach that in journalism classes, but no more.