Wednesday, May 22, 2013

#243-revised 3x

 3rd Revision

Dear QueryShark:

Britain is at a crossroads. It's AD403 and Patrick, aged fifteen, doesn’t know he’s going to become a saint. He’s only just coming to grips with the disappointment of not enlisting in the army.

Patrick’s Roman father has chosen not to rejoin the crumbling empire in Rome. Instead, he’s bought a quiet farm near Wigton, Britain, and that means Patrick must now become a farmer instead of going to centurion training.

Patrick and his younger brother must spend their mornings with their tutor, and their afternoons learning to work the farm.

This repeats the information in the preceding paragraph.  But (note 2) Irish raiders invade the farm, burn the buildings, murder three significant (note 1) people and kidnap the fittest.

Note 1

Murder three significant people: either tell us who, or leave it out.  I can hear you thinking "Oh, it will ruin the surprise if you know ahead of time who gets killed" but that just means you phrase it differently: killing people and kidnapping the fittest.  Coy hints in queries drive me batshit crazy.

Note 2

You want to segue from what happened previously to what is happening NOW (Irish raiders arrive)  When you move the query into a more immediate, urgent timeframe it gives the query energy.

This is where one-word revisions matter. You have: But Irish raiders invade the farm…

Consider: When Irish raiders invade the farm OR Then Irish raiders invade the farm.

Both When and Then move the reader from past events into the immediate present. 

It's more engaging.  It makes me wonder "what happens next" and right there is the first time

you engage my interest.

ONE WORD makes the difference. Part of your job as a writer is to know this, and be able to revise for this.  Sure your first or second versions didn't have it, but when you think you're

done, that's when you go back and look at every single word and think: is this the best word

for enticing a reader to want more.

And Patrick is one of the fittest. 

It will really help if we have a sense of what's at stake here. I know I implied in Revision 2 that a biography doesn't need an antagonist or choices, but a good story has these. If you can find them in this story it will help immeasurably. It's what entices a reader to turn pages, which is what you want.

Patrick The Younger, at 43,000 words, is historical fiction for 10- to 14-year-old’s. It could stand alone or be followed by one or two (partially drafted) sequels.

 I believe Patrick The Younger will appeal to readers who liked books like Catherine Jinks’ Pagan series and Jackie French’s The Oracle.

Thank you for your consideration.

Better yet, but not quite there.

2nd revision
Dear QueryShark:

Britain is at a crossroads. It's AD403 and Patrick, aged fifteen, doesn’t know he’s going to become a saint. He’s only just coming to grips with the disappointment of not enlisting in the army.

Stunning improvement from the last effort.  This is very good.

Patrick’s Roman father has chosen not to rejoin the crumbling empire in Italy. Instead, he’s bought a quiet farm near Wigton, Britain, and that means Patrick must now become a farmer instead of going to centurion training.

This is very plain and simple. That's a VERY good thing here.  Technically I don't think it's called Italy yet. It's the Roman Empire isn't it? "Crumbling empire in Rome" is probably more accurate. I have a feeling some of the blog commenters will set us straight.

Patrick and his younger brother must spend their mornings with their tutor, and their afternoons learning to work the farm.

But Irish raiders attack the farm, burn the buildings, kidnap the fittest, and murder anyone who gets in their path.

"murder anyone who gets in their path" is too removed from what you tell us in the first half of the sentence. If the raiders are on Patrick's family farm, and they burn the buildings, kidnap the fittest, and murder anyone…who do they kill?  Be specific.

And this is where Patrick’s journey to saintdom begins – he gets kidnapped.
Consider simply saying this: Patrick is one of the fittest.

See the difference?

Here's where you allow your reader to make the leap with you.  You don't need to say this is the start of his journey--we  intuit that.

And don't be afraid to leave it at this point: Patrick being kidnapped.  You've set the scene nicely.  I'm enticed to read on.  What follows isn't any where near as good and just weakens my desire to read more.

Normally I'd ask for antagonists and choices, but this is a biography, not a novel. 

Not training as a centurion is suddenly far from Patrick’s mind. The chains on his wrists and ankles, the foul belly of a ship tossed on the sea, the tiny, locked hut, the madman beating him, the plunge over a cliff – these are what strip his soul. When he wakes one day in a hole of human bones, Patrick all but surrenders to his fate.

Until someone unexpected turns up.

Patrick The Younger, at 43,000 words, is historical fiction for 10- to 14-year-old’s. It could stand alone or be followed by two (partially drafted) sequels.

I believe Patrick The Younger will fit well in [Publisher Name]’s  catalogue.

Are you writing to editors directly? If so, it's probably ok to leave this as a general statement. If you're querying AGENTS you'll need to give comps: what books are like this one. Pick books published recently and books you liked.  You say Patrick The Younger will appeal to readers who liked "This" "That" and "The Other."

This is a vast improvement over the first try.  Good revision.  Now, once more into the breach.

 Original Query
a. Word Count: 43,000
b. Title: Patrick – The Younger [Children's Historical Fiction]
c. Contact Info: (author name)

You know not to start with this because you read the archives. Don't start with this. Don't start with ANYTHING except Dear (name)

email: (author email)
phone: (phone number plus international dialing code)
web: (website)

You put this at the bottom of the query. It's housekeeping. Don't waste the most valuable real estate in a query on this stuff.

Because you include the international dialing code, I know you're not in the US.  It will help if you tell me where you are.  

And because you included your website I  took a look: You have a page labelled Publishers/Editors/Agents.  You can bet I clicked on that. An error 404 message popped up. Then you include instructions on how to click on a link--information that pretty much everyone knows by now.  And you have spelling errors.  And then the kicker: turns out you've got a book being published this year. A book you don't mention in your query.

The reason I mention all this is because when you send a query with a link to your website, you want to make sure the website is spruced up first.  No 404 error messages.  No missing pages.

And it's clear that your page is intended for your readers, younger kids.  You might want to rethink including the site in your query.  Because the tone is for young readers it sounds odd to me.


I know this is a query. You don't need to label it. 

Dear Editor [N.B. I searched then phoned but the publisher would not give me a name to send to... just 'Editor'.]

If you're submitting directly to a publisher, follow the directions on the publisher's website. Do not telephone to get a name if it says to submit to Submissions, or Editorial or Department XYZ. You'd be surprised how often people outsmart themselves by simply not following basic directions.

The most important reason to do that is that if you follow the directions, you're more likely to look competent.

The second reason to do that is that when the mail comes in, the person who sorts and delivers it is following a list. Mail for Editorial goes to the person whose job it is to sort incoming queries.  Mail to Editor Amazing goes to Editor Amazing, who puts it in a corner and there it sits. A publisher is not trying to trick you with submission guidelines. They're trying to give you information to get your query to the right person.  Trust them.

Patrik’s father has a plan for his son’s future, but the plan fits with Patrik’s heritage and not with Patrik’s desires or his personality.

 I"m sure there's a reason you're spelling Patrick without the C, but if you read as many queries as I do, this says dystopian or science fiction fantasy to me.  Since that's NOT what you're writing, you're sending the wrong signal. Even if his name is spelled without the C in the first part of the book, you don't have enough room here to explain that.

Also, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a LESS compelling hook for a book: a son doesn't want to do what his father has planned for him. 

Patrik will turn sixteen soon and then must follow his father’s footsteps. But on a sunny afternoon, raiders plunder their estate, murder family and workers, burn buildings, steal family treasures and snatch those people suitable for slavery.

What footsteps?
Is it important that we know the raid took place on a sunny afternoon rather than in the gloom of night, or the mist of dawn?  And frankly I'd be shocked if the raiders didn't do those things you mention.  They are, after all, raiders.

The core of the problem here is that you haven't started with anything unusual let alone enticing.  We're two paragraphs in and my Interest O'Meter is flat. Your language is flat, your word choices are flat, and you're telling us about murder and mayhem like it's a weather report.

Patrik is kidnapped with three others. He frees his mother’s maid, Finola, but in the process loses his only weapon. The raiders take Patrik and workers, Ardon and Nia, by cart then ship, and carry them far away. The three are separated and auctioned as slaves.

This is dull.  I'm sorry, but it's just plain dull.  It's like a police blotter report rather than an adventure novel.  I'm not going to read pages here because you are not showing me good writing.

One will never see the other two again.

This is the high point? We don't even know who you're talking about.

This is the true story of a real boy. A boy whose life is still spoken of and celebrated around the world over 1500 years after his death – for this boy grew to be the man who is now the Patron Saint of Ireland. Today he is known as Saint Patrick.

Oh good, he found his C.  At this point, you have failed to do the one thing you must do in a query letter: entice me to read on.  If there is interesting material in the book, you haven't gotten it on the page here.

Patrik – The Younger, at 43,000 words, is historical fiction for 10- to 14-year-old readers. This book could stand alone or be followed by one or two sequels, some of which has been drafted.

I believe Patrik – The Younger will fit well in the (name) catalogue and I thank you for this opportunity to submit my writing.

Kind regards

e: (author email)
p: (phone plus international code)
w: (website)

One thing you have to be is interesting and exciting if you want to write for kids. This isn't. Start over. Sprinkle some cayenne pepper into your word hoard and try again.


Philip Heckman said...

I don't see the point in teasing Patrick's identity--that's the No. 1 reason for this book to exist. Does "burying the lede" like this ever work in a query letter for historical fiction?

Lanette said...

I don't have a problem with not adding the "c" in Patrik since it's historical fiction. I'm not sure when the letter c was introduced in the English speaking countries, but you may not find people named Patrick in Scandinavian countries, but you will find people named Patrik there.

Other than that, everything wrong with the query has already been said.

Anonymous said...

Is it ever a good idea to put a website link in a query? I've seen at least one QS entry implying that having a URL in a query could get it tossed as spam.

Anonymous said...

Essentially, it sounds like you're trying to sell this on the basis that Patricius/Patrick/Padraig was an interesting person who led an exciting life.

That's not enough. Your *story* has to be interesting and exciting, and it's not coming across that way.

(I am not sure when "Patrick" was spelled that way, since he was a Roman-Briton and would presumably have written his name in Latin. Wikipedia is telling me his name was *Qatrikias in proto-Irish; the asterisk means it's a hypothetical reconstruction of a word in an extinct language.)

Anyway, that's beside the point. St. Patrick's life has been fictionalized many times. Presumably you know that and think your story is something new, different and exciting. Make us feel that.

Janet Reid said...

Philip, you said it better than I did. That's exactly what's going on here: burying the lede.

Tomal: one link probably is ok. It's the multiple links that make my rough beast spam filter slouch toward your query, vexed and hungry.

Ellipsis Flood said...

Why do I feel like spam bots get triggered by talking about them?

As for the Query: The missing C intrigued me enough to look up the name. It's just as Slavic as it read at the first glance.

Cutting out the shark snark, all that remains is... not much.

And somehow I can't take "true story of a real boy" serious as a phrase. The Sharkly One herself has said that true stories doesn't necessarily make good stories.

Theresa Milstein said...

This query fails on so many counts. How can anyone actually put all that fluff on top when it's clear by reading just one query on your blog that contact info goes on the bottom. Not a good idea to put a note about not knowing who to address the query to. This query is vague. What does Patri(c)k want to do instead of what his father wants to do? What does he do about it? If the only thing he does is get out of it by having raiders kidnap him, it probably doesn't even need to be mentioned. But if he's doing something about it, that's obstacle one. He's kidnapped. That seems to be the real beginning of the story here, plot point one. Then the next obstacle (is he a slave?) is obstacle two. What does he do in an attempt to overcome that obstacle?

Unknown said...

This feels over-edited to me. The grammar is perfect, but there is no voice. GO back and find what it was about Patrick that made you want to write a story about him in the first place and put some of that passion in the query.

Raquel said...

I was a little confused when Patri(c)k -Thanks Theresa, for that spelling alternative- was sold into slavery. At first I thought this story took place in the present because nothing led me to believe otherwise. Then he is kidnapped and it made me wonder if it were in the past. Finally, in the last section we realize he lived over 1500 years ago. I think this is really important and should be brought up earlier, or handled in a different way.

While Patri(c)k not wanting to do something his father wants him to do is something that may appeal to younger readers, what is MORE appealing is what this thing is, and how it defines or defies your lead character.

There is more passion in the explanation that this story took place 1500 years ago than in the rest of the query. Can you infuse the rest of your query with more passion as well as cayenne?

pcwrites said...

As Lanette said, I have no problem with leaving out the "c" in Patrik. But the writer needs to be consistent! It's "Patrick" at the top of the page and somewhere near the end, and "Patrik" in the rest of the query. I can't imagine someone taking the query seriously, when the author can't decide how to spell the main character's name.

Anonymous said...

If anything I'd say the K is more confusing than the C, since his name was Patricius.

Rose said...

A new QueryShark always makes my day better. Today has been a very long day, so I don't have anything substantive to add, but the Shark Snark was particularly welcome.

Erica Eliza said...

The story starts when the action starts. The query should start there too. "When Patri(c)k is kidnapped by raiders..."
Internet tells me his father was a deacon, Patri(c)k didn't believe as a boy, and his captivity turned him to religion. Mention the raiders first and drop is something about his spiritual development later as it relates to his slavery. That's what kids care about.

Dor said...

It would also be really helpful to get an idea of what type of world this book is set in. Is this Patrick the Welsh Prince kidnapped by Irish raiders? Or is this Patrick the Roman? Or Patrick the Scot? (None of which explain this "Patrik" thing you've got going - I'll assume you're not going with a Welsh Fella because the letter K makes up gripe).

Then, I want to know what world he's going into. Show me this Ireland, the Ireland of Newgrange and ancient monuments, populated by tribes.

More importantly, show me the boy captured and set to work in a foreign land, who has come from Roman Britain to live in a field.

Anonymous said...

Snakes! There should be lots and lots of snakes!

On the Eire plains!

Unknown said...

Oh, the pain! Why me, Query Shark?

I know I'm whining, but I can't help it. My brain feels like it has been flagellated by a tiny gnome with a great big bullwhip.

Of what am I speaking? The cruelty of the Query Shark forcing me to read ALL 243 QUERY POSTS before submitting my own.

I have been at this cruel task for three days now. I just finished #143. I believe that I have slipped into an alternate universe (or Hell), with the devil (I know you like devils in literature) forcing me to be the judge of a never-ending bad writing competition.

Did I anger you in some past life? Did I run over your dog? Why are you torturing me like this?

I have taken notes, as you requested. I now have 62 of them. Isn't that enough? I'm getting a lot of duplication and redundancy here. I beg you: PLEEEEAASSE let me off the hook.

I wonder how many people actually read every post, as I am doing. Perhaps when there were only 100 or so, it made sense to read them all. By the 143rd, though, I think the points you wanted us to take away have been well burned into our grey matter. For God's sake, I'm dreaming about them. Help!

I will read them all, though, if for no other reason than because I am going to certify to you that I have done so, and I won't say that unless I have.

I have learned a lot from you so far. You are doing both writers and agents a service. You don't have to do it, but you do, and it is much appreciated. The least I can do in return is to live by your rules - you're only trying to help me, after all.

The greatest lesson I've learned from you so far? Writing is fun, but writing well is damned hard work. If I'm only willing to do the fun part and not the work, I'll never produce prose of a quality where others would want to read it.

Every parent thinks his or her children are smarter and more handsome/beautiful than other people's sub-par offspring. That's why God made impartial adjudicators of taste (read, "Agents").

Thank you for doing this. It is very much appreciated. That is really what I wanted to say, aside from the bitching, which is fun.

Enough kvetching. Time to get back (groan!) to work. Here comes #144.

I can hardly wait.

Unknown said...

Why reward those who clearly don't read the archives by giving them this opportunity to be critiqued? Aren't you rewarding bad behavior?

Anonymous said...

I'm the writer. I will only defend one aspect: If someone discovers the shark today, and reads all the archives over the next few weeks and then submits their query, then all the info is fresh in that person's mind. I read QS in blocks of various amounts and have done for years but I've not read it all in the last few weeks. It's not all fresh in my mind, but I was reminded of the relevant lessons with the knockout glove the shark delivered.

Lemur said...

@ tomalanbrosz There never were snakes in Ireland. The snakes referred to are the Druids. He is not our favorite person.

@ Bruce Yep. I've read the entire archives. Some entries I've read twice, some several times - especially the good ones.

Is it worth slogging through every one of them? Absolutely. Even if I were to never send out a query, this site has made me a better writer. Yes, some points are repetitive. And many are not. Or at least many writers do the same thing in a unique and interesting (and sometimes horrifying) way.

Another useful way of reading the archives: Read ONLY the query. Refrain from reading Janet's comments. Think about how you would respond if you were an agent/editor. Then go back and read it again with the Shark's comments.

Jenz said...

@Bruce — Keep reading. You only think you've gotten everything you can from them. Read all the comments, too. Sometimes there's questions and great info in those.

Laura said...

One thing this query does do well: it's short (after all that contact info nonsense at the beginning). With so many other queries, the writers belabor their point trying to make their story sound interesting. This query does the opposite. It describes the story...but in an uninteresting way. The successful query is the happy medium.

In a harsh medieval world, Patrik is kidnapped and sold into slavery. In spite of his hardships, he survives and becomes St. Patrick. That's the story, and I don't have any doubts about it being interesting. Now you just have to make it sound interesting.

Theresa Milstein said...

This query is much better. I love Query Shark's "Patrick is the fittest," line.

I know Italy wasn't Italy then. Was Ireland Ireland then? Would they be called Irish raiders?

Theresa Milstein said...

Definitely has a better beginning. I like the potential reader paragraph at the bottom of this query. The middle definitely needs more. Right now, your query is so short. There's definitely room to add info to entice someone to want to read.

Best QS line: "Coy hints in queries drive me batshit crazy."

I will NEVER put a coy hint in a query ever again.