Sunday, February 12, 2012


Dear Query Shark:

My name is  (redacted). I am a junior currently enrolled at (redacted) in (city)  (state.)

I always hate to see a query writer put their age in a query. I particularly hate it when the query writer is young. Nothing good comes of this. Agents aren't looking for "young"; they're looking for good projects. 

Your project needs to stand on its own. And, it's possible if not likely that a good project will be summarily rejected because of your age. There are many published novelists who are young of course. The one I am most familiar with (Kody Keplinger) did not include her age in her query.

I'm almost 100% certain to reject a project if the querier is this young (you're 16 or 17 I assume.)  I don't want to inflict my sharkly self on kids.  I know you don't think of yourself as a kid, but I do.  There's time enough for you to be brutalized by the real world. College for starters.  
So, don't give me the chance to not fall in love with your work by leading with your age.

This applies only to kids who are nearly adults-16 and 17.

If you're under 16, do tell me.  I don't form reject anyone under 16. I reject them, but always with encouragement. 

I have recently completed an 80,000 word novel, Point Blank, an adult, military fictional piece implementing a technique of suspense similarly found in a Michael Crichton thriller, yet also containing a strong moral backbone that deals with racism found between cultures. The story relates greatly to the present political and economic situations in the US, and brings up a possible scenario of what might happen if compromises aren’t reached soon.

This sounds so formal that it's off-putting. And it's not enticing. Start with the name of the main character. Tell me what challenges he faces.

I don't care much about the themes of your novel. I care if it's enticing.

Economic fallout and political turmoil arise in the year 2014 after China refuses to let the US debt ceiling rise any further. War breaks out in 2017, and by 2022, the United States has initiated mandatory drafts for the first time since the Cold War.

Joseph Stephenson, a twenty-three year old American computer specialist, was drafted and has just finished going through training camp. The US has invaded Chinese soil and is pushing an aggressive campaign to cover the entire Chinese nation. In order to see this goal through, a new system of warfare has been initiated by the US government. Soldiers’ kills are tracked and used to create currency-like points.

Start with Joseph Stephenson. He's drafted. He finds himself in a deadly competition for survival.

These points then become the key to survival. A soldier’s supply of food, water, and ammo, even his opportunity to go home, are all dictated by the number of points he has. This system, kept hidden from public eye, has chained soldiers to the battlefield, turning heroes of peace and freedom into mechanized murderers. Now, trapped in the heart of this twisted conflict with no food, no water, and no way home, Joseph Stephenson must fight not only for his next breath, but also because he stands as the only soldier in this corrupt war with the ability to restore justice to the collapsing system he is shackled to.

You're missing a key point here: what is Joseph Stephenson's ability, and why is he blocked from using it?

I recently submitted a modified and shortened chapter of Point Blank to a local literary festival competition and won. This piece can be provided upon your request. I am also able to provide my complete manuscript and a synopsis if you would like.

Send what the agent asks for in the submission guidelines.

I read that you are looking for a good, well written commercial fiction thriller, filled with a dexterity of voice and a powerful narrative push, and my story, through its reinvention of the typical war story formula, mastery over tone and voice, deep connection to modern day politics, and revival of the moral questioning of war, fulfills your requests, so I hope it is a good match for you.

Don't tell me why I'm going to like your novel; show me. That means tell me about the book in a way that makes me want to read it. When you urge your friends to read a book you've loved you don't ever say "it's a good, well written commercial fiction thriller filled with dexterity of voice and a powerful narrative push with master of tone and voice...etc."  A query letter must be enticing, not a analysis of the prose.

Thank you for your time. I hope very much to work with you and look forward to hearing from you.

Respectfully yours,

This query doesn't have much verve to it. You're trying to hard to be formal and businesslike. Cut loose. Give us something to chew on.

Revise. Resend.


Caitlin said...

As the Shark says, far too formal. I'm worried the novel reads like this, which would make it a hard slog.

When you're young, and you want to be taken seriously, you can do what I did, which is be artificially formal and correct in your written interactions with others.

You can see from that sentence I still do it now, and I'm 26.

But doing that sucks all the life from your writing. If you want to be read, you need to be enjoyable to read. Correctness is important, but not as important as enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Or, to put it another way:

This isn't a term paper. Have fun.

JO said...

I agree with Veronika - this reads like a well-scripted essay. This query has a totally different purpose.

Having said that, if you an develop such an ambitious, coherent narrative while still at school, then you may have a great future ahead of you. Good luck.

Beth said...

What everyone else said, but...

You can actually string a sentence together and if you can just relax and get out of your own way, I see a promising future for you as a writer.

Also, I was intrigued by the premise of soldiers racking up kill points to exchange for food and supplies. That has a ton of built-in conflict right there. But instead of using that to moralize about the current geopolitical situation (which will swiftly become dated), why not make it transcendant and universal by transplanting the story to a science fiction setting? I think you'd have a winner with that.

Taryn said...

Interesting to look at this. I queried first at 17, and I didn't put my age. I never had a problem with sounding overly formal because I'd done my research. Age doesn't excuse the writer from research. At 18, when I got offers of rep, the agents went to my blog and learned my age, but the story must stand alone.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm also intrigued by the point accumulation system and what that would do to soldiers and how it would change war.

I'd like to know more about the MC--what's his ability, why won't the government let him use it, and what's at stake for him personally if he can?
There's so much you can cut out in order to add this information. I like dystopian, so I can't wait for your rewrite so I get a better sense of plot. Good luck!

remedypeter said...

I suspect the writer wrote the query letter in this formal manner because, for some reason, that's what the writer thought was expected in a query letter.

Very impressive to see this book written by such a young author. I look forward to seeing the revised query letter.

E.Maree said...

"If you're under 16, do tell me. I don't form reject anyone under 16. I reject them, but always with encouragement. "

Yet another reason why the QueryShark is awesome.

As a girl who foolishly decided to query a handful of small publishing houses at age 13, I'm so grateful that I received gentle rejections with encouragement and tips. A standard or particularly harsh rejection could have sent me down the entirely wrong path, but instead someone took time out of their day to help me out. :)

There's a lot of potential here - it seems like a huge, complex story and it's a very ambitious piece of work for a young writer.

I hope this writer keeps at it, with a bit more investigation (and a thorough read of the Queryshark archives) they'll get the hang of how to write a query.

On a side note, I've got my fingers crossed that they do plenty of research when submitting to agents--there are a lot of scam agents and vanity publishers out there who will try to take advantage of a young writer.

Stephsco said...

Two years ago, I didn't have a clue what a query letter was. With a little research and rewriting, I think this can be pitched well.

Terri Coop said...

I eat military thrillers for breakfast and this is an intriguing premise. Get it done and done right and I'm your first reader. I would love to see a fresh voice in a somewhat hidebound genre.

I was still writing soapy short stories at your age, so:

#1 Do not stop.

#2 Drop all the geo-political analysis. I go to Fareed Zakaria for that, not a novel. Your query invites argument about your views on where society is going and you don't want that. Sum up your "world" as a given in a sentence or two, "In the post-American decade, China has ascended and war is inevitable," or some such. You may want to set it out a bit farther than 2014 as well. That's too immediate for me to buy into your strange and brutal new world.

#3 Get thee to

a group of well-pubbed professional mystery and thriller writers who are generous with their time and advice.

#4 If you haven't read every word written by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond, I recommend it because I am only going to buy into your new vision of the military if is it grounded in the old.

The military honors its traditions and morphs them into new ways of doing things (such as calling units air cavalry or mechanized cavalry). Your jargon has to ring true or I'll put it down.

#5 Your character is paramount, not his fight against "corruption." That is preachy sounding. I want action and conflict. His, no doubt, victory over the system is a consequence of his conflict, not the reason for it.

#5 I'm a lawyer and I fight formal-itis every day. Your voice will come if you relax.

#6 Oh yeah, and, don't stop.


PS: There is an anthology open to subs right now called Battlespace where the theme is military based sci-fi. It is for charity and the editors are all skilled military and sci-fi writers. Might be a good place to flex some writing muscle and get feedback.

laurathewise said...

I think this person is just trying too hard to sound formal, mature, and serious -- too nervous to let their real voice come through.

Taymalin said...

Education can make your writing formal, because academic writing (even in high school) is formal. Due to university writing I battle formalitis too. It can be difficult to retrain yourself and have a more conversational style, but it can be done. Or so I've been told. I'm still working on it :)

When I was in high school I was writing thinly veiled comic book fanfic, so kudos to you!

Gabrielle Prendergast said...

This query is all over the place, but I really dig the premise. I specialize in mentoring gifted young writers and I'd be happy to take a look at a few pages, young writer. Tweet or contact me via my blog.

Marina J. Lostetter said...

I'd like to point out that not only does 2014 sound too soon for the story's socio-political concepts to be realistic, but also because it's likely to be at least 2015 before the book is published (if you land an agent soon). Your timeline needs tweaking not only because of political realities, but also publishing realities (assuming you don't intend your story to be set in the near-past).

That being said, I too find the premise intriguing.

JS said...

Yes, setting a future novel in 2015 is a giant mistake for the reason Marina J. Lostetter mentions. Give yourself at least 10 years of wiggle room, always.

And Terri Coop's advice is right on point. Don't infodump in your query letter!

Best of luck to you. The book sounds ambitious and intriguing.

Colin Smith said...

There's a lot of really great advice here, not just from Janet, but in the comments too. I just want to encourage this writer by agreeing with others: the premise of this novel sounds great. Stripping away the formal-eze of the query, I think there's the makings of a really good novel here.

Author: Please please please, listen to all the advice given, take it on board, re-write the novel if necessary, and re-submit. I think you'll find an audience for your work once it's *really* ready. :)

T.D. McFrost said...

Beth nailed it! Political topics become dated quickly, and writing is all about leaving an everlasting imprint.

You have a fascinating story! I have no clue if your writing is this stiff but a solid piece of query writing advice is to let your voice shine in the thing; select one theme and character from your work and illustrate that.

All the best! ^_^

Uma said...

Advice on how to sound less formal: Do a google search for 'sales letter'. These are letters written by marketing people (copywriters) to sell stuff by mail-order to ordinary people. The principle of writing query letters is the same.

Miss Emma said...

gotta say, i love the premise of this. I don't even like military thrillers, but i love this idea of "kill points." It's like a vido game, verry apropo of modern times. So, you don't have to tell us this story is meant to be political commentary, that's already evedent from the premise. Trust your readers to come to their own conclusions.

What we want to know is the spesific human things. Who is the story about and why should we care about him? What is his spesific conundrum? what is the big question/decision he must face?

Elemarth said...

I've noticed that the few queries I've read from young authors have been overly formal. There is another type of extreme formality that sometimes shows up when people who learned English as a second language try to write in it. I wonder if too much formality is a giveaway that you are somehow inexperienced.

For me, "Economic fallout and political turmoil arise in the year 2014 after China refuses to let the US debt ceiling rise any further" is much too close to home for comfort. And don't forget that it's likely to be 2014 or later before your book is published.

On the other hand, I wonder about that paragraph from a realism point of view. It is VERY against China's best interests to hurt the US in any way. They want their money back, remember, and they depend on our markets, to name a few reasons. And really - three years for war, then FIVE MORE YEARS before there's a draft? Finally, "mandatory drafts for the first time since the Cold War" has an thing or two in it that make me think you may not have done your research. This only has to do with what's in the book, though. How to fix it in your query? Get rid of it! That's all backstory, and I'm not interested at all. Tell me about Joseph.

Uma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wizardonskis22 said...

Hey! I'm a junior, too, and congrats on making it onto the blog! Personally, I think your story sounds cool, especially since I haven't ever tried more than YA, but the short-term future issue everyone has been mentioning does sound like a problem.

As for the formal voice, I think it's fun to write in it, but, seeing as the query ought to reflect the voice of the novel, you would be better off using that voice.

The age issue is interesting because in an earlier post, either on this blog or on her other, Janet Reid said she liked to know if someone is under 18, but not all agents do. I have been wondering if the best approach is to just leave that particular information out of the query. I think you would probably do better to let it come up later (the earlier post said she did not like that to surprise her as a problem later, but that other agents might see things differently, and this post seems to contradict a large portion of the earlier one).

Good luck with your rewrite, and I hope all goes well for you!

wizardonskis22 said...

Oh, and the post I mentioned was #73.

"I don't care where you are educationally, but I do care if you're under 18. That means I have to behave myself around you and talk to your mom before I talk to you, so if you're sub-18, mention it. Otherwise, nada"

The part about other agents wasn't there; I was imagining it (other agents' blogs say otherwise)

Sorry for the inaccuracy.

Criticus said...

A military fictional piece? Yikes. Can't believe you didn't catch that one, QS.

Terri Coop said...

See . . . @Elemarth argued with your geo-political premise and I had to restrain myself from doing so.

Your character got lost.

Dump it!