Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Questions: I use Mary Shelley in the opening line despite the fact that she is Mary Godwin at this point in history. Do you feel like it adds unnecessary confusion when I name Percy Shelley later on as her lover (and not husband)? My second question is if I should include the information that this is a planned series of five books, is that relevant at this stage?

Dear Query Shark,

Mary Shelley's Godwin's nightmares are going to kill her.
Your instinct that this is wrong are correct. Any reader who knows the "characters" here will know who Mary Godwin is.  Getting historical facts wrong drives most of them up the wall. Or maybe just me up the wall. In any case, use her correct name.

The added benefit is this: if the person reading the query doesn't know that Mary Godwin is Mary Shelley, it's a nice reveal. In other words win/win.

When a monster from out of dreams takes hold of a broken man and compels him to kill, Mary will do battle against a creature that has as its ally every inner demon she possesses. In the waking world, it stalks the streets as a possessed serial killer. In her dreams, it feeds on all the pain she can't let go— of losing her mother, of being disowned by her father, and of watching her two-year-old son die.

And splat.
I'm totally lost here. 

If you cut the entire paragraph here, and start with the set up, it helps.

The year is 1816, and through strange weather and relentless rain, Mary has arrived at the home of the infamous poet-in-exile, Lord Byron. Together with her exuberant lover Percy Shelley, her vexing stepsister, and Byron's awkward personal physician, they find equal parts inspiration and irritation as the dreary summer unfolds. 

Don't be afraid to be plain: In 1816 Mary Godwin arrives at the home of..

And "they find equal parts etc" doesn't seem to have much to do with what follows.

They have assembled under the promise Lord Byron can explain the cause of their unremitting night-terrors, insomnia, and sleepwalking. All of these afflictions, he reveals, are the byproduct of their special heritage. They are Benendanti, an ancient legacy of powerfully lucid-dreamers able to move through the dreams of others.

In Geneva, a string of murders goes unsolved, and the shadow is cast on Lord Byron. He and the others sense the force behind these brutal killings to be not of the waking world, but a creature borne out of dreams. Mary and the new Benendanti must each confront their own inner darkness to have any hope of bringing such a monster to light. It is a race to free the ravaged mind of the killer in dreams, before his bloody hands find them first in the waking world.

The shadow is cast: do you mean suspicion is cast?
Also, the shadow implies there is only one shadow and it's on Lord Byron. A shadow means one of many. Yes, a/the matters. That's the kind of detail I notice. 

And I'm not sure if "ravaged mind of the killer dreams" actually makes sense. Again: plain is good.
It's very hard to write plainly. VERY hard.

A YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER is a historical fantasy (in the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) complete at 115k words with more than 50+ illustrations by the author. Thank you for your time and consideration.

50+ illustrations by the author? INSTANT NO. 
Putting this in your query is a huge HUGE red flag. For starters, most adult novels don't have illustrations. Second, even if there were illustrations, there aren't going to be 50. Third, the fact that you include this makes me wonder what else you don't know. Like, there are going to be edits, and no you don't have control over the title or the cover.

If you want this book to have illustrations, most likely you're a good candidate for self publishing. Total artistic control etc etc.

To answer your other question from above: I'd leave out that you plan this to continue over five books. You'll need to get one published before you have two, let alone five.  The conversation about sequels can take place at a later date.

I've had editors say no to debut novelists cause they were leery of the "it's five books total" plan. That was a brutal lesson let me tell you.

Revise this. Think plain.
Even if you want your book to be not-plain, working in the short format of a query means you have to get to the point and communicate clearly. This is not the time for your reader to wonder what you mean. That's for chapter XXIX, footnote z.


Standback said...

Mary [Shelley's/Godwin's] nightmares are going to kill her.

IMHO the problem here that you're dancing around is that the querier is using this as a logline. What's really being said here is "[The reknowned author of Frankenstein]'s nightmares are going to kill her."

It doesn't work as a logline if the reader fails to identify Mary Shelley. And it doesn't work with historical accuracy if the author identifies her explicitly.

I think the correct solution here is: don't use a log line. Log lines that aren't basically perfect do more harm than they're worth...

nightsmusic said...

Once again, Le Sharque is so very correct. If I'd read that first paragraph in a query that was submitted, I'd have to wonder how the story goes from Mary as the protagonist to a group of protagonists. Who and where is the focus here? Because you go from her arriving to Byron and a group doing battle. I have to wonder if your story is as confusing as your query. At first, I was expecting Mary to be the sole focus and that's like crack for me. Mary Shelly? Demon fighter? But then it devolves into something I'm not likely to read. I'm not big on 'group' protagonists. They're rarely written well and most often a confusing mess.

Your query isn't any different than your story in that, you need to start where it will grab the agent's attention. That doesn't have to be where the action starts, in a query, but it has to be somewhere that is unique to your story. If you must use a logline as your first sentence, you better be prepared to follow it up with something that's going to keep the agent reading, not shaking their head and scratching their chin trying to figure out what's going on.

Irene Troy said...

The inclusion of illustrations (images, etchings, etc.) in story submissions is something I've seen in a number of queries posted on writer sites for peer critique. When told agents typically don't want these extras, some respond with "the rules have changed. I want to be original." This makes me nuts! Yes, publishing is changing, but you must understand that what agents want reflects what publishers want - which, in turn, reflects what is selling. The idea that someone should choose self-publishing if s/he is unwilling to adapt to the demands of traditional publishing is flawed. Consider that 99% of what agents want is based on what publishers want and that both reflect what readers want, not bending to these standards puts your success in peril. Be creative - of-course - but know your market.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I totally agree with the Shark's commentary here.

Based on the premise, though, I would read the heck out of this. You've got a great idea, and I wish you luck as you go through the query editing process. :)

RachelErin said...

On the illustrations, it might be helpful to search for the story of how Ransom Riggs queried Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children. (And you should read it, if you haven't). I did a quick look but couldn't find the story...
The characters and situations were inspired by vintage photographs, and while they definitely add a layer of creepy to the book, I doubt he shared them at the query stage. If the writing and the book were flat, creepy vintage pics weren't going to save it.

Maybe you could say you are also an illustrator in you bio, and link to your portfolio? You could even have a mini-gallery of pictures related to the book (maybe 3-5), and call them inspirational illustrations, or similar. That way if an agent is interested she could follow the link and see what you do, and if not you would avoid the pass-inducing red flag. It could start discussion but not sound like you thought all fifty HAD to be in the book (unless that is the case, in which maybe you want to make a graphic novel?)

Quietly Quixotic said...

The illustrations have been a particular dilemma for me, A YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER actually began as a graphic novel proposal picked up (but later shelved due to financial issues) by Tokyopop. It was my editor there who first suggested the story I was writing sounded more and more like a novel- fast forward a few years and now it is. I have endeavored to write the story as a stand alone novel, but to me at least, the illustrations seem intrinsic. I conceptualize so much of it visually, and the writing and illustrations informing on one another is a part of my process. My background and degree is in art, so with writing I have worked hard to chip away at the mountain of things I don't know, and add slowly to the small pile of things I do... Working with gracious Queryshark will hopefully chisel away at it some more. I love my story, I love my characters, and I love the illustrations, I don't know what form they may take in the end, but I am determined to make them into something!

DLM said...

(Janet - your instinct is correct.)

Mon said...

This sounds like such an awesome story. I'd read it in a second. But If I were the writer I'd leave out the reference to Susanna Clarke because the story already sounds a little too similar to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Byron is even a character in Clarke's book.

Unknown said...

Not sure whether the query writer will see this, but as I research agents, I'm noticing agent Dan Lazar of Writers House expressing an interest in illustrated manuscripts (and some directions for how to show him the illustrations). There may be other agents who are interested as well.

Good luck!