Saturday, October 31, 2015

#272-Revised 1x

Revision #1
Dear QueryShark,

Drew Nolan knew cooperation could make his life easier, but only if he betrayed everything that mattered to him.  Day after day, he entered an interrogation room and faced Ceked Mirko.  Day after day he sparred, verbally and mentally, with that cold, arrogant bastard.  Then the interrogations got worse, then the torture began.  How long could he, or his shipmates, hold out?

Drew Had visited a dozen star systems as a young officer, but nothing prepared him for the bitter reality of Kasdech.  He knew the cramped confines of starships, not the mud of planets.  Yet, after the Kasdech attack, that is exactly where he finds himself; locked in a frozen prison camp beside his fellow survivors.
At this point, we don't know anything more about the plot than we did after the first sentence. You're giving us backstory and set up. Get to what's at stake here!

War between Kasdech and Earth is coming, and Mirko knows it.  Interrogation is his business, and he will stop at nothing to extract the information his superiors require.  Drew has learned much in war, but one lesson stands above the rest: you take care of your crew.  He isn’t ready for command—he is too young, too unproven—but his crew needs him, he is all they have left.
This still isn't plot. What's going to happen? War? Ok. What's at stake? What bad thing will happen to Drew if he betrays everything that matters to him? What worse thing will happen if he doesn't?

In the camp, under Mirko’s ungentle hands, is only suffering and misery.  In escape is the smallest hint of hope, the tiny chance to save this crew and bring home a warning.  Even if escape’s likeliest outcome is death, some things are worth dying for.
We still don't have a sense of the plot here at all.

THE VOLGA INCIDENT is science fiction, complete at 120,000 words, and is my first novel.

Thank you for you time and consideration

There's a formula for getting the basics of your plot written down. 

I copied this from my handout on effective query letters that I've posted a couple times:

3.  A query letter MUST tell an agent what the book is about 
            3a  Who is the main character?
            3b  What does he want?
            3c  What is keeping him from getting what he wants?
            3d  What must he sacrifice to get what she wants?


            3a Jack Reacher

            3b wants to see the grave of an old, almost forgotten blues musician

            3c when he is suddenly, inexplicably arrested for a murder he could not have committed.

            3d When the guy behind the false arrest is also killed, Reacher can stay in town, at great peril to himself, to solve the case or he can leave shake the dust of this crazy town off his sneakers and get on with his wandering.

How to convey what the book is about:

            3e The main character must decide whether to: do THIS or do THAT

            3f If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:

            3g If s/he decides NOT to do this:  the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:


            3e Katniss Everdeen must decide whether to take her younger sister's place when she is called to be their district's entry in the Hunger Games.

            3f If she goes in her sister's place, her family will suffer because Katniss' hunting skills are what keeps them from starving now;

            3g If she decides not to go, her sister will surely die in the Games.

Notice: no backstory. Your reader will jump right in to the story with you.
This is not intended to show the exact wording you use in a query, but will help you distill your plot to the essentials. You need the essentials of Act One, not a rundown of the entire plot.

 You're going backwards here.
the first query was actually more effective than this one.
That kind of thing can happen. Don't let it damage your confidence.
Just look at the original query again, and use the good parts (there were a lot) and improve the parts that need it. 


Dear QueryShark:

Drew Nolan knew cooperation could make his life easier, but only if he betrayed everything that mattered to him. Day after day he entered an interrogation room and faced Ceked Mirko. Day after day he sparred, verbally and mentally, with that cold, ruthless bastard. Then the interrogations got worse, then the torture began. How long could he, or his shipmates, hold out?

This paragraph does something quite amazing: it uses my own assumptions to surprise me. The first four sentences allow me to assume that Drew Nolan is conducting the interrogation. I'm used to the good guy being the one in charge in an interrogation room (one too many crime novels!)  Yes, that first line gives us a clue, but it's not until the last line that I thought "oh! Ceked Mirko is the one running the show."

This is a Really Good Thing to do in a query because it engages my interest from the get-go.
I'm keen to read on and find out what's happening here.

Drew had come to Kasdech a rising young naval officer on a simple first contact mission. Over the course of twenty-four hours he had seen his captain killed, his ship destroyed, and his few fellow survivors locked beside him in a frozen prison camp. He wasn’t ready to be in command—he was too young, too unproven—but his crew needed him, he was all they had left. Drew had learned much in war, and one lesson stood above all else: you took care of your crew.

Ok, so we get the larger picture of what's going on here.

Mirko would will stop at nothing to break the prisoners, he he's proven that, and Drew refused refuses to let that happen. In the camp, under MIrko’s Mirko's ungentle hands, lay only suffering and misery. In escape lay the smallest hint of hope, the tiny chance to get his men home. Even if escape’s likeliest end was death, some things were worth dying for.

You've gone from what's happened before to what's going to unfold in the novel. Change from past tense to reflect that, as per the first sentence mark up.

Why Mirko is trying to "break the prisoners."  They're in a prison camp, so my expectation is simply that they're being held prisoner.  This interrogation and "breaking" leads me to think something more is at stake. You say "cooperation will make things easier" in paragraph one. Spelling out what this cooperation is would be a good idea.

THE VOLGA INCIDENT is military science fiction, complete at 120,000 words, and is my first novel.

I don't get much sense of the science fiction angle here other than the names, "first contact" and "his ship." I'm not suggesting you drown the query in world building at all, but some hints would be good.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

As it stands right now, I'd probably read the pages. The pages will need to drop us right smack dab in to the middle of something happening, and give us a sense of the world these people are inhabiting very soon.

Polish up, resend. You're almost there.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Question: Frankly, I'm bumfuzzled. I've attended break-outs at conferences, talked to a former-agent, read all your archives (really), and spent hours on other blogs about querying. All the advice seems conflicting. I need to make you care about the character...but not include backstory. I need to make my teenage protagonist's voice come through...but I need to write professionally. I need to follow all the rules...and know when to break the rules. I need to include biographical information...and not waste your time with my irrelevant bio. Please help me have the best chance of getting through the slush pile!

Dear Query Shark,

Ingrid’s amazing spring break trip to Rome is about to go up in fifty-foot flames.

One of the ways you convey voice is through word choice. "Amazing" is both over-used and tepid. It doesn't really tell us much about why Ingrid is looking forward to the trip. Is it the trip itself or the destination? Is there a more vivid word that will capture Ingrid's expectations about the trip?

And fifty foot flames is hyperbole. Hyperbole can be very effective, but here, it feels slightly hysterical.

How about you start with showing, rather than telling:

Her seatmates on the plane turn up dead.
All of them? Are they her travelling companions or just random strangers? Did she kill them?

She discovers she’s carrying a jump drive worth 400 billion dollars.
Does it have a price sticker?  In other words, how does she know?

And the next thing she knows, the Mafia is trying to kill her and her family.
Revenge for her killing her seatmates?

You've got too much and too little going on here. That's kind of a neat trick actually. Lots of stuff, but zero context.

Back to basics:

What does Ingrid want?

Why can't she have it? Who's getting in the way?

If  she chooses to (do something here)

she'll have to (what she'd have to give up)

If she chooses NOT to (the something from above)

she'll lose (something else)

Just when it seems things can’t get more mucked up, Ingrid meets Alessandro, the epically hot heir to the Mafia throne. If only he would stop duct taping her to chairs and stealing her stuff, they might have a future. All Ingrid wanted was to eat gelato and speak lousy Italian. Now she’s got a new spring break bucket list:

1. Save her family.
2. Thwart the crime of the century.
3. Make out with Bad Hottie.
4. Get out of Rome with her head still attached to her body.

Too bad she has zero skills to ensure any of those outcomes.

Senseless Things is a 64,000 word YA romantic suspense.

Thank you for your time.

There's a lot of conflicting advice, but I hope you'll see that getting down the basics in a query is the first step. Do that, and the rest will follow.

Start over.