Sunday, April 29, 2018


After a lot of back and forth with critique partners, I ended up writing a non-standard query letter. It got better feedback by far from betas/CPs than any other letter I've tried.

However, I won a free query critique on social media, and the query expert who I subbed it to was adamant that it was unacceptable.

I trust both groups but they can't both be right?


Dear Query Shark,

Remy is a waitress, scraping by in the waking world. Ro is her dream-self, fighting monsters in the dreamworld.

Remy has depression and a catalogue of failure. Ro has magic guns and kickass friends.

Remy is planning to commit suicide. Ro is pretty sold on staying alive.

If Remy dies, Ro is fucked.

Because this is how it works: dream-selves don't survive the death of their dreamers. If Ro wants to live, she must breach the divide between worlds (no problem) to save someone who doesn't want saving (little harder), while not breaking reality in the process (no promises).

ANCHOR (TO YOUR OTHER SELF) tells the story of two different women in two different worlds, who share one life between them. This standalone novel of speculative fiction (93,000 words) may appeal to fans of Michael Marshall Smith, or anyone with a bleak sense of humor.

[Bio here]

Thanks for your time and attention. I have included [whatever material you asked for].

Kind regards,

Delicious Chum Jr.

What exactly makes this non-standard? Did the so called expert have anything specific to offer?
And anyone who says this is unacceptable is an idiot. You can quote me.

This query is terrific.
It sets up stakes. It's crisp. The writing is clean.

The only thing I'd worry about here is that the stakes aren't high enough: the only thing bad that can happen is the protagonist might die. Usually heroic stakes involve the fate of another person as well. You die for a cause, for a person, for something larger than yourself.

But that's a problem with the novel, not the query.

Which brings me to self-described query letter experts. There aren't any. Not even the Shark. The closest you can get are agents who actually read and evaluate queries and we can disagree with each other about some pretty weird things. Other people, like editors, can be trusted, IF they actually did acquisitions in a previous career iteration. To be avoided are those folks who've never actually used queries to find work they sold, or bought.

An effective query is the one that gets your pages read, and hopefully generates a request for your manuscript. That's the ONLY measure of an effective query. "Bad" queries can work. "Good" queries can fail.

The purpose of QueryShark is to get a second set of eyes on your query; eyeballs that actually dive into incoming queries on a regular basis and can see some things you don't.

I like this query a lot. If I took on projects in this category, I'd read the pages.


Botanist said...

The only golden rule in writing is "do what works". I'm not an agent or an expert, but IMHO this works. If the writing is as snappy and engaging as the query, I'd want to read it.

KariV said...

I echo the Shark. This is a great query. It answers all the questions - who, what, where, when, and why. The flow is great. It's straightforward and easy to read.

My concern would be the language. That might have been what the agent reviewing it meant by "unacceptable." I've heard from a lot if agents that any language in a query is an automatic rejection.

This query would make me read on. Try sending it out to a handful of agents. If you get requests, don't change a thing. If it's crickets, consider taking out the curse words and try with some more agents.

Best if luck. You've really got some solid here!

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I like it too.

Mary L said...

I also love this and would buy the book right now if this was jacket copy. I'm even going to (politely, humbly, with trepidation) disagree with the Shark about the stakes seeming too low. As someone who reads and writes speculative fiction, I think the bit about "breaking reality" implies that while Ro's stakes start out low/personal, the plot likely balloons into something much bigger once the action starts. But perhaps a more explicit hint wouldn't hurt.

I seriously hope this gets published because I want to read it!

Francesca Strada said...

I like this query. The humor is clearly noticeable, and the story is somehow interesting.
I agree with Janet, the stakes aren’t enough.

ikmar said...

I like this too. The tone is certainly set well. Sounds cool!

One issue though: 'in the dreamworld' seems dull. It's certainly not as fun as the rest of the query.

And I'm note sure about 'pretty', since every other comment is definitive.

Anais said...

The stakes do need to be higher and I am hoping if you review your manuscript you can find you actually wrote them and just chose the wrong ones to express. Otherwise, the concept is very interesting and something I, as a consumer, would buy if a publisher published it.

Mon said...

I got so excited reading this. It's incredible! I would pick up this book. I can't imagine any agent passing on this

french sojourn said...

This query really spoke to me, I love the concept. The flow worked, and the voice was engaging. Well done and good luck.

Harley Bishop said...

Heya - many thanks for the responses! That's very kind, and very unexpected. I've been a little down about this query lately.

Re query advice - I won a free query crit from a popular query expert. When I sent her the query she returned it with a note saying it wasn't standard format, and to rewrite it in three paragraphs that explain the plot. Same thing happened with another query letter service.

I also submitted it for critique to the Query Kombat forums, thinking I'd participate this year. The judges didn't like the non-standard format, and I don't think I would make the qualifying round. But if it's working as a letter, I'll just send it out and see what happens :-)

The personal stakes are mostly tied up with Ro's dream-world girlfriend, who is missing at the start of the novel. (She turns up again later - I haven't fridged her :p) But every time I try and squeeze her girlfriend in, I get bogged down in world-building and that reads as boring to me.

Chelsea P. said...

I love it.

Rio said...

This reminds me of the short story Dirae by Peter S. Beagle, which also involves a kind of dream self and a real self. Except in that story, the "monsters" are the monsters on our own streets, and the stakes are so high it breaks your heart. It's possible the stakes are in this story too, but because the query focuses on Ro, who seems unconcerned with the world outside herself, we just don't see them yet. I'd certainly read to find out.

unavoidablytiger said...

I want to read it now, it sounds great. I was iffy on the stakes until it mentioned breaking reality. Sold. The book might not deliver on that, but I'd give it a shot.

Lee Ann said...

I want to read this book - the query is bare bones, but tells enough story to whet the appetite. I really, really like this set-up.

Rachel Hailey said...

I really hope your book finds a home because I want to read it! I'm just another struggling writer and reader, but I think you nailed it.

Lenora Rose said...

I was fine with "breaking reality" as a probable high stake. It's not clear in the query why Ro thinks she can do this without destroying reality (And thinking you can save yourself by screwing the world is a terrible plot unless you're telling the story from the villain's POV) -- BUT. this would be the kind of thing I would read the book or at least the synopsis to learn, not the short blurb version.

That being said I certainly wouldn't *mind* it if you found a way to wedge a line about the missing girlfriend in there. Maybe the fact that Ro is pretty sure she can find her - but only if she convinces Remy to stay alive long enough.

Does Remy have a bright spot in her life, even a small one? Because you possibly could do it as another compare and contrast; Remy's sole plus to Ro's sole negative ("where is my girlfriend?")

Mon said...

I was reading this query again and I got excited anew. Speaking purely as a reader, the stakes are totally fine to me. I don't want Ro to disappear. She sounds awesome.