Dear Query Shark,
Fia Colibri, 26, wants two things: to hide from her father and to recreate herself. Neither is possible
I yammer a lot about looking at every single word to make sure it's the right word in the right place. Here I've changed one word. It seems like a small thing but when keeps us in the moment AND guides the reader to think "why is that not possible now? What happens next?" It's just a matter of style. Both words are grammatically correct. One word though is better than the other.
Raised in Cirque du Soleil and trained as an aerialist, Fia was just 12 years old when her father forced her to steal jewelry for him. After he abandoned her at a heist on her 17th birthday, she served eight years in prison as an adult. He’s been chasing her for more than a year now, determined to get his cut of the $10 million in diamonds she cached before her arrest.
This paragraph is SO MUCH BETTER than the one you have at the start. It has tension. It has what's at stake. It sets up the plot. If you flip the order of these two paragraphs, you've got a MUCH better query.
But it’s hard work staying hidden. Fia’s lonely, tired of moving all the time, and bored. Worse, she’s stuck in a podunk town. After meeting Aiden, a lawyer who’s searching for his missing sister Kylie, she decides that spending a few days helping this charming man is worth the risk of being found. After all, it’s North Dakota, right? Her father couldn’t possibly find her here. Surely she can find Kylie before her car’s repaired.
Fia and Aiden track Kylie to a nearby Cold War radar station that’s been converted into a private Russian orphanage. When they investigate, they’re surprised at every juncture by duplicitous townsfolk, belligerent thugs, and a corrupt police force. As they plumb the secrets of the orphanage, they uncover a heartbreaking scheme—and Fia’s new fear isn’t that her father will find her, it’s that she won’t survive.
And you lose me with "private Russian orphanage." As far as I know, North Dakota is in the United States. True, they're uncomfortably close to that looming giant Canadia, but I think they're still one of us.
You don't have a lot of room to explain things in a query. Sometimes the better part of valor is leaving out detail. If I'm intrigued enough to read the full, there's time enough to set up how the hell you have a Russian orphanage in the United States. (What the hell do they do? Import them?)
UNDER THE RADAR is an adult action thriller complete at 86,000 words. I’ve worked as a book designer, editor, and website manager in the nonfiction trade publishing arena and am currently writing full time.
action thriller is redundant. It's just a thriller.
Thanks very much for your time and consideration.
I’ve received a request for a full manuscript for UNDER THE RADAR from a publisher. If the stars align and they offer a contract, do you think it’s wise to sign with them without agent representation? I’ve done some due diligence--they’re a good fit for my book and so far I can’t find any red flags.
Answer: I'm an agent. I think it's insane to do a deal without an agent however, I'm not untethered from reality (right now) and realize that not all authors secure representation before submitting books and receiving offers.
If you do not have an agent and you receive an offer, you get a publishing attorney or a contract review specialist to go over your contract before you sign. You do NOT sign the contract they give you thinking "oh gosh, if I don't, they'll withdraw the offer." Publishers expect to negotiate terms of a publishing deal.
Dear Query Shark,
I know you think it's polite to start off with "I'd be grateful" but honestly, you don't need it here. Are you grateful if your real estate agent answers her phone? Same thing. You're proposing we enter in to a business relationship. Just tell me what your book is about. Save the grateful for when I sell the book for wheelbarrows of cash.
And leave the housekeeping stuff like word count and category till the end.
A former Cirque du Soleil aerialist and ex-con who’s hiding from her father is drawn into the perilous world of human trafficking when she agrees to investigate the disappearance of a journalist in rural North Dakota.
And here's where I stop reading. I can hear your screams of anguish when I say this but it's true. I don't want to read about human trafficking for entertainment. I see news reports, I hear fund raising appeals, it's an awful awful topic.
And here's the kicker: you could avoid that instant rejection by leaving out this worse-than-useless, actually detrimental, LOGLINE! I've railed against loglines for years. They're an import from the film business and they have no place in a good query. A good query entices me to read on because it engages me with the STORY. A logline is all about concept. Useful if that's what you're pitching, but that's not the case here.
Fia Colibri, 26, wants two things: to hide from her father and to recreate herself. Neither is possible after her car breaks down in East Ridge, North Dakota, a blip of a town near the Canadian border.
If you'd started here, I would have kept reading. When you start with your main character, not a news headline, you've increased your chances I'll keep reading.
While stranded, she meets Aiden, a lawyer who’s looking for his missing sister Kylie, and agrees to help him with his search. Her acrobatic skills—and prison savvy—are just what he needs. When they investigate a nearby Cold War radar station that’s been converted into an orphanage, they become immersed in the dangerous world of the Russian bratva and discover that the orphanage is a front for child porn, prostitution, and slave trading. Kylie is being held prisoner there, but she won't leave until she’s amassed evidence to expose the Russians.
Why does Fia agree to help Aiden? You've told us she wants to hide from her father and recreate herself. How does helping Aiden do that? And what's at stake for her? If she helps Aiden, what will she lose?
There's a logical inconsistency between "Kylie is being held prisoner" and "she won't leave." Being held prisoner means she doesn't get to leave even if she accumulates enough evidence of anything.
Frustrated by secretive townsfolk, belligerent thugs, and a corrupt police force, Fia and Aiden ultimately save the children, rescue Kylie, and evade her father.
Never Ever EVER give away the ending in a query. Your job in a query is to entice me to read on. Now that I know what happens, why would I read the book? And in revealing the end of the book so hurridley you've taken all the verve out of the story. That's absolutely fatal in a query.
Get the plot and stakes on the page, and that's ALL.
I’ve worked as a book designer, editor, and website manager in the nonfiction trade publishing arena and am currently writing full time.
Thanks very much for your time and consideration.