Monday, July 11, 2016


Questions about this query:
1. Is the f-word taboo in a query? I looked through your archives but didn’t find anything on that, although I also didn’t see anybody else use it.

2. I travel full-time internationally so I don’t have a permanent mailing address or phone number. Will my query suffer for lack of contact details or how would you advise handling this?

Dear Query Shark,

Petty officer third class Simon Aster is a poet, and he’s out for blood. Make no mistake about it – Aster might be serving in Bill Clinton’s Navy but he’s damn sure no believer in America. Hell, his main goals for military service are to get back to Italy and write something destructive, not to mention spending his non-working hours as far from Americans as he can get. Especially cowboys. Aster fucking hates cowboys. So when he’s reassigned to Sardinia, Italy, on the half-female crew of the USS Robert English, everything seems to be going according to plan.

That first line is brilliant. It's brilliant because of the juxtaposition of "poet" and "out for blood" two things that seem quite opposite. Setting the time period with "Bill Clinton's Navy" is very deft.
And then the punch: He's no believer in America.

This is one of the best first paragraphs I've ever seen for enticing me to read on. Do I want to know what happens? Hell yes I do.

As to fucking cowboys, well, that's a problem and you were smart to realize it.
Not everyone is as relaxed about the f-bomb as the Shark.
Thus, unless you absolutely must use it, I'd take it out.
Do you need it here?
No you do not. You've got all guns firing here, you're ok with ramping down the invectives.

But that’s before he finds out he’ll be working in the Crane Shop; and once Aster gets a look at those powerful cranes on the upper decks of the submarine tender, all bets are off. Because as much as he loves poetry, and as much as he loves Italy, he might just love this job more. To make matters worse, Aster discovers that he actually likes the bunch of fucking cowboys who work in the Crane Shop.

Although of course now, with this second use of fucking cowboys, it's clear that it adds a layer of nuance to the description that you really wouldn't find with any other word.
So, I'm going to revise my earlier statement: I think you DO need "fucking cowboys" here and if an agent rejects based solely on the appearance of that word, you know s/he isn't reading for nuance and style, and that tells you something.

Anyway, if Aster can’t find a solution to his anorgasmia none of it’s going to matter. So far as he’s concerned, you can be the best damn crane operator in the Navy but you aren’t much of a man if you’ve got to take it out every time and use your hand to finish – poet or not. At first, Aster believes Italy will heal his inadequacy, then thinks maybe the cranes will, but as the stakes get higher and his disillusionment darker, Aster realizes that his very survival depends on whether or not he can get his pen working. Only, by now, he’s not sure if he should be attacking America or defending it.

Wait what??? WHAT? All of a sudden this is a novel about a guy who can't achieve orgasm?

If "out for blood" is some sort of euphemism for the sex theme, you've outsmarted yourself here. This reminds of the old joke about "get screwed by a beautiful woman" in which the object of the joke is expecting sex only to discover he gets fleeced instead. Only this time, your reader is the object of the joke, and the response is not to laugh, it's to hit the reject button.

What happened to the "doesn't believe in America?" thread?
And if you tell me that cranes is just some sort of metaphor I'm going to weep, because the idea of a novel about cranes on a submarine tender is really cool. 

You totally lose me in this third paragraph, and it's fucking breaking my heart because those first two were as good as I've ever seen.

Either you've lost the thread of the plot here, or you're writing a book I don't want to read. Both options are bad. One you can revise. One is just my bad luck.

Right here is where I'd send the form rejection. (notice I don't even read pages here)

THE CRANES OF KNOSSOS is a work of upmarket fiction in the K├╝nstlerroman tradition. It is complete at 102,000 words. I have included the first five pages below for your convenience.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Clearly you are a very good writer.
I really hope you're writing about something more than a guy's sex life cause I'm just not interested in that and I'm having a hard time thinking of anyone else who would be either.

As to your second question, just include the information that you travel full time at the bottom of your query right before thank you for your time and consideration.

I hope you have a US bank account cause otherwise getting you paid is a pain in the asterisk.