When dinosaur rocker Doug Flynn croaks on stage at the end of his set, DJ Ronnie Fox is told by KXLA FM to wax poetic on the topic. Ronnie’s played this game before. What goes out over the airwaves sounds so sincere
that he is chosen by
listener Kellie Coogan
sees Ronnie as the one person she wants to confide in about what she saw backstage the night Doug Flynn died: someone messing with Doug's personal stash.
I can hear you hitting your head on the desk and saying "but you told me to make the sentences shorter and here you are making them longer! What are you DOING, SharkForBrains?"
My reply is this: that's the first revision. Then you see it's a huge sentence. What ELSE can you take out without ruining the rhythm?
Here's the next revision:
What goes out over the airwaves sounds so sincere
that he is chosen by listener Kellie Coogan . She sees Ronnie as the one person she wants to confide in about what she saw backstage the that night Doug Flynn died: someone messing with Doug's personal stash.
Revision is making a change, then making another change, then another. It's hard to see all the words that need to come out on just the first pass.
Ronnie handles what he sees as a potential for trouble in his usual fashion – he hangs up on her. Unfortunately, KXLA’s address can be Googled. Before Ronnie can make a clean getaway, Kellie shows up at the station. It turns out she’s not so bad looking, so Ronnie begrudgingly agrees to help Kellie prove Flynn was snuffed by what he sniffed.
The problem is someone saw Kellie backstage. They know she has something in her purse. In the span of a few short days Ronnie and Kellie will be drugged, mugged, tied, cuffed, stuffed, and boxed. Worst of all, Ronnie will have to spend the night at his parents’ house for the first time in more than a decade.
UNNATURAL ACT is a comic crime novel that comes in at 86,000 words. The book introduces Federal Agents Billy Dobson and Eldon Booth, who dive so deep undercover, they often forget that they are looking for criminals and not really members of a rock band, or Hollywood stuntmen, or pro surfers.
I have worked as a standup comic and as a comedy writer in radio. I am currently the producer of a weekly one-hour talk show on XM Radio that features conversations about aliens, ghosts and other paranormal phenomena.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
I'd read pages.
Make SURE you've got your sentences in fighting trim before you send your query out. You don't want to be revising madly when you get requests for pages.
(Your Name Here)
Ronnie Fox hates answering the request line; all he hears from are drunks and late night security guards - and they all want something – free tickets or a few hundred bucks in cold, hard cash. On the night after dinosaur rocker Doug Flynn dies onstage during his comeback tour, Ronnie makes the mistake of feigning reverence and is chosen by listener Kellie Coogan, who was backstage and is certain of foul play.
You've punctuated this first sentence oddly. If you take out the phrase between the dashes the sentence doesn't make sense: "drunks and late night security guards free tickets or a few hundred bucks." A dash is like a parenthetical statement. If you take it out the remaining part of the sentence should stand on its own.
The way your sentences flow is the difference between fluid or clunky writing. Consider this: Ronnie Fox hates answering the request line. All he hears from are drunks and late night security guards. They all want something: free tickets or a few hundred bucks in cold, hard cash.
I really REALLY like the phrase dinosaur rocker. You'll earn extra eyeball time on a query with phrases like that. It gives me hope.
You're trying to get too much information in to that last sentence so it's awkward. Shorter sentences help.
So Ronnie does the adult thing – he hangs up on her. Unfortunately KXLA is listed in the phonebook and before Ronnie can make a clean getaway, Kellie shows up at the station. Reluctantly, Ronnie agrees to help Kellie prove Flynn was murdered, but not before undercover rockers and FBI agents Billy Dobson and Eldon Booth apprehend them, figuring the sack of cash makes them the criminals.
One of my biggest complaints about crime novels with amateur sleuths is the lack of a compelling reason for the sleuth to investigate. "Reluctantly Ronnie agrees" doesn't tell us anything. And you're missing an opportunity here: Ronnie agrees cause Kellie is cute; Ronnie agrees cause Kellie threatens his dog. In other words, the reason he agrees gives us a clue about character.
And then you have a sentence with 34 count 'em 34! words. In other words: a lonnnng ass sentence. There's a place for long ass sentences. Treatises on Faulkner come to mind. Generally they are NOT a good stylistic choice for a 250 word total query letter. Short and sweet is good.
UNNATURAL ACT is a comic crime novel that comes in at 86,000 words and moves at a rapid clip. It is the first of a planned series of books featuring Billy & Eldon, who dive so deep undercover, they often forget that they are looking for criminals and not really members of a rock band, or Hollywood stuntmen, or pro surfers.
Comic? Um. Well, ok, if you say so, but I really hate to see you set yourself up like that. Telling me something is funny (or comic) means I'm always asking "is this funny?"
SHOW me it's comic. Dinosaur rocker is a good start.
Don't tell me it moves at a rapid clip. Anyone who writes 33 word sentences is immediately dis-membered from the Rapid Clip Club.
Just to be cruel, I toted up the word count in your first eight sentences:
Before you get hot under the collar about this, let me just tell you that I learned about counting words in sentences from a guy who is damn fine writer: T. Jefferson Parker. He's got a couple of Edgar Awards that show I'm not the only one who thinks so.
Jeff Parker once told me that he counted sentences in paragraphs and words in sentences as a way to increase tension. At the climax, the sentences and the paragraphs got shorter; the words fewer. In other words: short crisp sentences are more energetic and keep the reader moving along at that rapid clip you want to claim.
So when you tell me your book moves at a rapid clip, but what I see are looooong sentences, I conclude (perhaps erroneously) that you want your book to move along, but your sentences aren't actually doing the job. Show me a brisk query; I'll show a book that moves along at a good clip. SHOW don't TELL.
planned series of books featuring Billy & Eldon
WHOA! Holy CANNOLI!! WAIT. Leave the Cannoli, bring the gun! The protagonists are the FBI guys?
You introduce not one but TWO other characters, neither of whom are the antagonist before you bring on the main guys?
The problem with this is not that you break the rules. I'm happy to have you do that if you can make it work. The problem is we know nothing now about the guys who carry the story. We're all intrigued by Kellie the either hot-maiden or cold-conniver, and Ronnie Fox, depressed DJ, only to find out those aren't the main guys.
You've got to add more information about these good fellas if they're the main guys.
The author has I have
toiled as a standup comic, as a comedy writer in radio and is currently the producer of a one-hour talk show on XM Radio that features conversations about aliens, ghosts and other paranormal phenomena.
He keeps his own beliefs close to the vest.
Don't talk about yourself in the third person. The QueryShark finds it annoying.
I don't care what you keep close to your vest. I only care about your book.
Thank you for your consideration. I have enclosed ... (whatever the particular agent has requested per their submission requirements)
I don't have a real sense of this book from the query. It's not enticing cause it's too sprawled out. Four characters, no antagonist, no sense of what's at stake.
I might read pages if you sent them with your query but sadly, if I'm not utterly delighted with a turn of phrase on every one of those pages you send, I'll probably say no with a form rejection.
And those long sentences just fill me with despair.
This is a blisteringly tough category to break into and you've got to be spot-on from the get go.