Sunday, June 24, 2018

#315-revised 2x

* one of the people commenting on my pitch on your site mentioned that he thought it was speculative fiction. I’m not sure if a couple of ghosts qualify a novel as speculative fiction. Could it be Magic Realism?

I can never remember the distinctions on these, so I'm always looking it up. Here are some places to start. And category can be more fluid than genre for sure.

Magical realism:

Is speculative fiction also magical realism?


Revision #2

Dear Query Shark,

In 1977, seventeen-year-old psychic Alice discovers a young man in antique clothes — and he’s been murdered.

She asks Rona the housekeeper if she knows if there had ever been anyone murdered on the old Georgian estate? Rona reacts annoyed, and when Alice tells her about a ghostly swan with human eyes that tried to warn her about the forest, she becomes agitated and changes the subject.

“reacts annoyed” is incorrect usage. You mention in an earlier query that English is your second language. I think you’ll need a native English speaker for a the final once-over on this. A native speaker would catch this (I hope!)

I’m also confused by this entire paragraph. What ghostly swan? What warning?

Alice finds a dead guy in antique clothes. The first thing she does is ask the housekeeper if knows of any dead people? I’d think she’d check his pockets for ID. Or call the police. Or someone who could help her.

Is Rona the only other person on the estate? If so, and that’s why Alice inquires about this of her (Rona), then you don’t need to tell us much more than she (Rona) becomes agitated and changes the subject.

Determined to find answers, Alice searches her room and discovers a secret compartment containing old letters dated 1803. The letters, written by the eighteen-year-old Melissa, intrigue Alice and slowly a tragic life lived 174 years before starts to unfold.

So, you’ve got a dead body and your first course of action is to search your own room?

That doesn’t make sense to me.

You’d be better off to place less emphasis on the discovery of the dead body, and instead starting with the search: 

After Alice finds a murdered young man in antique clothes in the garden, something no one on the estate seems to want to talk about, she decides to search for clues about his identity.

The cache of letters from 1803 that she finds in a secret compartment in her own room seem to hold the answer.

Then Alice meets and falls in love with Rona’s nephew Connor and she experiences true happiness for the first time, but when she finds her dog poisoned in the forest, she begins to wonder if meeting Connor wasn’t orchestrated by Rona to stop her investigating the historical murder.

So that’ a long ass sentence of 48 words.

Anytime you have something this long, revise into shorter, blunter sentences.

You’re also awash in what happens rather than giving us the plot. (Lack of plot is a consistent problem in ALL these iterations of your query)

Consider this revision: Alice’s investigation slows down when she meets and falls in love with Rona’s nephew Connor.

There’s no connection here between the dog being poisoned and Connor. Why would Alice suspect him? And if she thought Connor killed her dog, why hasn’t she kicked him to the curb?

In trying to lay Melissa’s brother’s ghost to rest, Alice must face a devastating truth about the swan — with Connor’s eyes.

Again, what swan?

I grew up in Ireland and have always loved the stories told me by my teachers at the various convent schools I went to. THE GHOST SWAN is set in Ireland, and inspired by Irish legends and history. The novel is told in a dual time narrative and complete at 96,000 words, targeting a YA Crossover readership.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

There’s nothing at stake here for Alice. Facing a devastating truth is NOT stakes. What’s at stake is what Alice is going to lose, have to give up, etc. What choices she has to make.

Stakes are why we care about what happens. Without them, the book is just a series of events, and that’s not what you want.

There are templates on this blog for how to get plot on the page. Use them as the starting point.

Since it's  not in the query, first make sure it IS in the book.

Yes, it is entirely possible to write a book without a plot.

I’ve read some. Great writing, great voice, but no plot. Those break my heart.

Make sure you’ve got a plot in the book THEN revise the query to reflect that.

Revision #1

I’ve put in two comparable titles, Atonement which inspired me to want to write a heart-wrenching love story and I wanted the mystery of The Miniaturist, but how do you compare yourself to such great writers?

Dear Query Shark,

It’s 1977, Leda recently moved with her father to a mysterious Georgian estate in rural Ireland.

This isn't a compelling first sentence.  If you show us why the Georgian estate is mysterious, or why Leda and Dad are moving there, you'll have a better chance of engaging your reader. But really the best way to start is with what Leda wants, and what's getting in her way.

In the throbbing heart of the forest not far from the house, where shadows duck away from sunbeams like wild cats, she stumbles on the murder of a young man dressed in strange old-fashioned clothes. She realizes she must have witnessed something from the past.

Forests don't have throbbing hearts of any kind, and this kind of metaphor makes me roll my eyes. That shadows duck away from sunbeams is telling me something I already know, and not in a way that makes me see shadows or sunbeams in a new light. If you start with "In a forest not far from the house Leda finds a young man dressed in antique clothes. And he's dead" you've got my interest.

In other words, don't try to be fancy. Not here, not in the novel. Too much fancy is like an overdecorated cake. Save the marzipan filigree for the top of the cake, not covering the entire thing.

Terrified and lonely, she finds old letters hidden in her bedroom written by a teenage girl dated 1803. The letters strangely comfort her, and visions of past events start to trickle into her daily life.

This is too abstract to be compelling. We have no idea why she's terrified, why she's lonely, why she's finding letters hidden in her bedroom.

And if she's having visions, what is she seeing? Is that what's scaring her? If so, you have this in the wrong order: visions, then tell us she's scared.

But the big problem here is we still haven't gotten to the plot.  I really need to know what the problem is, and what's at stake for Leda.

Then, she meets the first kind person in the village, slaughterhouse worker Connor, and it doesn’t take long for her to fall in love with him. As she uncovers the secrets of the letters, she discovers that the murders that started 174 years ago have never really stopped and Connor may be hiding the darkest secret of all — she might lose more than just her heart.

Still no plot. What does Leda want? What's keeping her from getting it.

Written for a readership that also enjoyed Atonement and The Miniaturist, The Ghost Swan is a general fiction novel of 96,000 words, set in 1977 and 1803, and told from two perspectives, the young, murdered man in 1803 and Leda.

There isn't really a "general fiction" category when you're talking about your novel. You'll see that in libraries maybe, but here in a query you can just say fiction (but NEVER EVER "fiction novel")

Atonement isn't a book you'll want to use a comp. First, it's now too old to be useful (it was pubbed in 2003). But, more important, Atonement sold very very well. You'd think that would be a plus as a comp, but it's not. More than anyone, agents know what a crapshoot it is to get a novel to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. (Hell, tens of thousands of copies is hard enough.) And of course, it was nominated for the Booker Prize.

Comparing your book to an outlier like this is akin to saying "The woman who won Miss America played the trombone for her talent. I play the trombone, so I could be the next Miss America." And no matter how well you play the trombone, that is not something people will take seriously. Even if you are young and lovely.

You can use Atonement if want to compare tone or style, but even that isn't a great idea.

The Miniaturist is a better choice, since it was pubbed in 2015, but it also has more than a thousand reviews on Amazon, thus might be a big reach.

Comps are very difficult to get right.  You're safer to say "the tone of my book is reminiscent of X or Y" or "the two time lines of my novel are similar to Z and A."

Readers who liked B and C should have B and C no more than two years old, and not runaway best sellers. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The answer to your question, how do you compare yourself to such great writers, is "you don't."

While I would LOVE it if your book moved me like Atonement, it's better for me to discover that it does, rather than be disappointed if it doesn't.

I remember when I read the very first draft of Lee Goodman's INDEFENSIBLE. I put my monocle down at about page 30, took a breath, and thought "holy moly, this guy writes like Scott Turow."  Lee hadn't mentioned Scott Turow, or even Presumed Innocent  in his query at all. He let me figure it out on my own. And because I saw it on my own, I was sure I was right. (I am right!)

You've still got the same problems you did in the first version: no plot.
This leads me to think that the problem might not be the query, it's the novel itself.

Make sure you have a plot in your novel. Yes, it is entirely possible to write a novel without a plot.
It's not a character flaw, or a sign that you're a bad writer, or you should throw up your hands in despair and become a taxi dancer at a waterfront dive bar.  It means you should figure out a plot and get it in the book.

Original query


1. I was raised in Ireland but born in the Netherlands; technically English is my second language, should I mention this in the query or would I be better off keeping my background a secret?

2. I’ve lost count as to how many agents I’ve queried; my novel was requested twice. I’ve had it assessed by official assessment agencies twice as well, both were very positive but had different views to what I should adjust. Could it than be the query that is posing the problem?

3. Is this query too short?

4. Should I mention the courses I did?

Dear Query Shark,

Florian relives one day over and over again, 11th February 1803, the last day of his life.
Leda discovers 174 years later who murdered him.

Your sentence structure is robbing that second line of any zing.
Consider: 174 years later, Leda discovers who murdered him.
See the difference?

But the problem of course is that reliving one day over and over again has been done so often that it's not only NOT fresh and new, it's tired and cranky.

This opening does not catch my interest. That's not fatal in a query, but it's not good either.

Although Florian and Leda live in their own time, each simultaneously embarks on a quest for truth, not knowing what the other discovers will affect them both in ways they never dreamed.

I don't understand what that means. Specifics really help in a query. And as far as I can tell there's no plot and nothing at stake. I really need to know about those in the query.

The Ghost Swan is a literary novel of 96,000 words set in Ireland in 1977 and 1803, and told from two perspectives.

And here's what's really amiss about this query. You're calling it a literary novel, but this query is the antithesis of literary. There are no lyrical turns of phrase, no deftly wrought metaphors, no words tangoing the reader across the dance floor of the novel, beguiling them to read on.

In other words: your query shows me what kind of writing to expect in the novel, and after reading this I do not expect literary fiction.

Plain is good. Plain is very good. But plain as in the beauty of an Amish quilt or the negative space of a spider web on a dewy morning.

I am an artist, and divide my time between writing and painting large watercolors. I’ve completed the writing a Novel, course at (School) in London, and (named) course in Scotland, and the (another name) Short Story Course. I published a short memoir in (another) Magazine in Dublin, and also made the artwork for the cover of (another) Literary Magazine, which was published last January.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


To answer your questions:
1. I was raised in Ireland but born in the Netherlands; technically English is my second language, should I mention this in the query or would I be better off keeping my background a secret?

There's a difference between keeping it a secret and not announcing it in a query. If you were raised in Ireland my guess is your English is pretty darn good. I didn't see anything in the query that made me wonder if it was your second language.

2. I’ve lost count as to how many agents I’ve queried; my novel was requested twice. I’ve had it assessed by official assessment agencies twice as well, both were very positive but had different views to what I should adjust. Could it than be the query that is posing the problem?

This query doesn't work at all. It starts with something that doesn't sound engaging, and there's no hint of plot, or what's at stake for either main character.

3. Is this query too short?
It doesn't have any mention of plot or stakes, so yes. That said, don't just add that. Think about how to entice your reader.

4. Should I mention the courses I did?
 No. The only thing that matters is the book.

Start over. Get some plot on the page here in the query.
SHOW me that you're writing literary fiction. 
If you're not, it's ok, but call it something else (like commercial fiction.)

Sunday, June 17, 2018


I've queried fifty-six agents. Five requested my full manuscript. They all passed. I now have these questions: Regarding my MC's name, I know your mind turns to CODE NAME VERITY. This isn't what I want. But, I want to use the name and there's an etymological reason. Is this foolish? Should I mention that the novel is told in two points of view? Would it be relevant to mention my writer's group in my bio? And should I include my published novel even though it didn't achieve robust sales?

Dear Query Shark,

Sixteen-year-old Verity Callahan has the ability to know the true answer to every question she's asked. When she was fourteen, she learned minutes before it happened that her father would die in a car crash — and yet, she failed to save him.

She's tried to bury her ability, but now it's manifesting in new ways. She's burdened with more information than ever before. What's worse, she's compelled to blurt it all out. She never asked for this. She wants to be normal.

Her younger brother Lucas Callahan is an empath whose power is growing. He will manipulate anyone's emotions to get what he wants: access to the best Ivy League institutions and a life of power and prestige. And once he understands what Verity can do, he imagines all they could do together.

But Verity has found happiness with her new boyfriend, Will McConnall. Lucas wants Verity and her abilities under his control. Realizing he'll never get that with Will in her life, Lucas devises a drastic plan to eliminate him.

By answering one fateful question after another, Verity learns of Lucas's scheme. She must hone the very abilities she detests to thwart Lucas's plot, or lose Will forever and become Lucas's puppet.

TRUTH BE TOLD, a young adult contemporary fantasy novel, is 101,000 words.

My first novel, (title), was published by (press name) in 2009. I wrote the novel while earning a master's degree in creative writing at (named) College. I completed the Creative Writing Summer Programme at the University of (other name).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regarding your questions:

I've queried fifty-six agents. Five requested my full manuscript. They all passed. I now have these questions: Regarding my MC's name, I know your mind turns to CODE NAME VERITY. This isn't what I want. But, I want to use the name and there's an etymological reason. Is this foolish?

No. Verity is a fine, old-fashioned name.

Should I mention that the novel is told in two points of view?

It doesn't matter.

Would it be relevant to mention my writer's group in my bio?

No. Your writers group is absolutely irrelevant.
And should I include my published novel even though it didn't achieve robust sales?

And here's the answer to the question you didn't ask: what's wrong with my query.

Nothing. You're getting requests. The agents are passing after they've read the ms. That means you have a problem in the manuscript, not the query.

There are a couple of ways to work on that. All of them are going to require some financial investment. You can engage an outside editor to look at your novel and identify areas that need to be revised. You can enroll in a class about novel writing. Grub Street in Boston offers these. You can bid on (and win!) an auction item wherein an agent offers a manuscript critique.

When you're considering who to work with look for actual, and recent experience in trade publishing on the acquisitions side of things.  You need help from people actually in the publishing trenches, because what agents want is a book they can sell.
Your query has done her job. Time for the manuscript to step up.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

#313-revised 1x

Revision #1

This really is a book without a main character. You said that can't be done, so I guess that means I did the impossible. I do not know how to say that politely. I literally counted words and mapped out the appearance of each of the eight points of view so that none of them had significantly more length or prominence than the others. I had placed a subtitle on the work because the title, by itself sounded like a science fiction novel. But it can be removed. When I wrote "sans editing" I was thinking of a professional editor (I am done with the work) and did not realize how it would be taken by a literary agent.

Because of the unique construction of the book I have decided to try and focus on the plot, which is the main character. I also kept paragraphs shorter and tried to tone down the academic weasel words which is a hold over from my career as an associate professor.

Dear Query Shark:

I am seeking representation for a completed crime novel titled Master of all the Stars.

This novel is unusual because it ignores the standard format for a crime novel. There is no all-knowing but tragically flawed detective solving impossible crimes. Nor is there not a world-beating villain out to conquer the universe. There isn’t even a main character in the standard sense. The plot, itself is the main character. The plot is driven forward by eight, diverse, carefully balanced, rotating points-of-view that are presented in discrete sections within each chapter. It is the cumulative effect of each point-of-view not an individual character that drives the plot and entertains the reader.

In and of itself, this is not a deal breaker. I'm always looking for things that are new and different. Even though this isn't the standard opening to a query, I'd keep reading.
The main plot is very simple. It is the struggle to control the 200 million Swiss franc fortune, worldwide real estate holdings, and money laundering operation of the Church of True Astrology after the death of its founder.

And here is where you shoot yourself in the foot. No matter what, you have to make your book sound enticing. This paragraph makes it sound boring.

Consider this change up: After the death of the founder of the Church of True Astrology there is a struggle to control the real estate, the money, and most critical the money laundering operation.

This main plot is divided into two primary subplots.

The first subplot involves a group of criminals who outwit the police, cooperate with, bribe, double cross, and murder each other as they attempt to gain control of the Church which they have been clandestinely using as a money laundering vehicle.

I'm hard pressed to think how you could make a band of ruffians bent on murder, revenge, extortion and general skullduggery of the greenback kind sound more bland.

The second subplot revolves around the actual believers in True Astrology attempting to locate a set of lost prophecies that will confirm the church's theology and rescue it from the first group.
Now you're doubling down with  a coven of astrologer prophecy hunters, armed no doubt with crystal balls, tarot cards, and bullwhips pursuing the crooks around the world, and they too sound like a major yawn

Beyond the two main subplots, each of the characters who contribute one of the eight points-of-view is developed, and each has their own subplot arch. Some of these are sympathetic, others are genuinely evil.

I'm all for genuine evil, but again, this isn't specific enough to be interesting.

A great deal of world-building and went into this book. An entire religion had to be created including scriptures, theology, and history. It required custom-designed star charts, astrological tables, and communal prayers. The book is also set in three locations, Hong Kong, Zurich, and Guam which must be described to readers.

I honestly have a hard time comparing this work to other crime novels, and I have literally read dozens of them. There may be other works that have used this approach, but I have not seen them. It is clearly a crime novel but told in an unconventional way, using a seldom seen format. What I do know is the combination of multiple, rapidly changing points-of-view, richly built world and exotic locations (all are places I have lived) combine to create a unique, sophisticated, gripping, plot-driven novel.

And here is where I say no thanks if I'm reading this query.

You've read dozens of crime novels?
Honestly, that's fewer than you should be reading every year if you plan to be part of this category.
You should have read HUNDREDS of crime novels, starting with the classics.

And given what you're writing, you shouldn't limit yourself to crime. You should be reading James Clavell, Aurthur Hailey, James Michener. They wrote great epic novels with vast lists of characters.

But more than that, you don't need any of this in a query.

You need to entice me to read the pages you've included.

That's all.

And I would have, if you'd made it sound interesting.

You can break every rule of querying IF you do it with style and flair, on purpose, and you entice me to read pages.

Instead, you made your work sound bland.

I have included the sample pages your agency ask for.
Thank you for your time

Revise. Give your characters some panache on the page.
Give your plot some zest.


Initial query

Greetings (Agent’s name)

When someone uses Greetings as the salutation, it always reminds me of the now cliche "Greetings, earthlings. Take me to your leader." Or worse, a letter from my draft board letting me know Uncle Sam has need of my services.

 I'm not sure why you don't want to use Dear; it's standard business form. Hello works too.

This sounds nit-picky. It IS nitpicky, but you want to set the right tone at the start; Greetings doesn't do that.

Title: Subtitle is a mystery/thriller novel that appears to correspond to the types of manuscript you prefer to represent.

No. Never ever put this in a query. Either tell me what SPECIFIC book your book is like, or leave it out. This is so general as to be meaningless.

Also, novels generally don't have subtitles.

And you don't need novel to modify mystery/thriller. Those are, by default, novels.

Again, I can hear you saying "don't be so damn nit picky" but if you've got excess words here, you're going to have them in your novel. Your query tells me what kind of writer you are, in addition to telling me what your book is about.

This is the kind of writing that leads to "french fried potatoes" instead of just french fries, or better yet, fries; and, "she looked down at her toes". Generally one is not looking UP at one's toes. If you are, then you'd include it. If you're just toe-gazing, you don't need down. Your reader will fill in the expected words.

The main plot of the book revolves around the struggle by several groups and individuals for control of the theology and especially the vast fortune of an astrology cult which has become a money laundering vehicle for powerful criminal cartels and organized crime.

Again,  is so general it's meaningless. Start with something interesting. Like what happens to one of the main characters that is important.

As in works by Russian authors such as Tolstoy this book has an ensemble protagonist. Which is to say there is no single main character. Instead, the plot is moved forward by several individuals or groups who, in some cases are not even aware of each other. The most important members of the ensemble are Izaak Houser a professional conman and the cult’s Head Astrologer. Sophia Chin-Robinson, an alcoholic housewife and cult member who lives on Guam. Xi, Shinwai a 93-year-old Hong Kong real estate tycoon who is also the cult’s wealthiest convert. Zack Xi, Shinwai’s sociopathic illegitimate son who is the CEO of one of his father’s subsidiaries which is used in the money laundering operation. Jacque Eider, the ethically challenged managing director of Zurich International Banc-Corp. Wilson Chau, a venal and corrupt law enforcement officer in Hong Kong. Gerald Morris a bitter, amoral, ex-mob lawyer. Thomas Saint-John, the leader of an Interpol team based in Geneva who is investigating money laundering and William Ngan an ICAC officer (The Hong Kong equivalent of the FBI) who is investigating what appears to be an unrelated crime. I believe this makes for a convoluted but ultimately engrossing storyline.

Never ever describe your novel as convoluted. It means difficult to follow. This is not what you want me thinking NOW. Complex, layered, multi-faceted, sure. Convoluted

There are 198 words in that paragraph and it doesn't tell me anything about the story.

You've got textbook character soup.

Here are the characters you mention by name:

(1) Izaak Houser a professional conman and the cult’s Head Astrologer

(2) Sophia Chin-Robinson, an alcoholic housewife and cult member who lives on Guam.

(3) Xi, Shinwai a 93-year-old Hong Kong real estate tycoon who is also the cult’s wealthiest convert

(4)Zack Xi, Shinwai’s sociopathic illegitimate son who is the CEO of one of his father’s subsidiaries which is used in the money laundering operation

(5) Jacque Eider, the ethically challenged managing director of Zurich International Banc-Corp

(6) Wilson Chau, a venal and corrupt law enforcement officer in Hong Kong.

(7) Thomas Saint-John, the leader of an Interpol team based in Geneva who is investigating money laundering

(8)William Ngan an ICAC officer (The Hong Kong equivalent of the FBI) who is investigating what appears to be an unrelated crime

Eight people.And not a one of them sounds interesting because you haven't given us a reason to care about any of them. We care about people when we see what choices they face.

I'd stop reading here if this was an incoming query.

I can get past all the format screwups and weird salutations, but at this point, you haven't done the one thing your query MUST DO: entice me to read more.

The manuscript is completed sans some editing. It is actually a prequel to another work which is also completed in what I plan as a series.

If I hadn't stopped reading when served character soup in the preceding paragraph, I'd stop here. Never query a novel that isn't ready to go on the day you send your query. Some of us surprise y'all by asking for things within minutes of receiving the query.

And just so you know, that last 10% of the editing? It takes forever if you do it right.

I hope that the work reminds my readers of books by authors such as Nury Vittachi because I am dealing not just with the crimes but with the subtle ways that people from different cultures and generations misunderstand each other. I also hope that readers of an author like Kurt Vonnegut would appreciate this book because it portrays imperfect people thrown into an absurd world and coping with the sometimes random consequence of both good and bad life choices. Lastly, I believe that readers who enjoy works by authors like Dan Brown would possibly enjoy my novel as it deals with alternative religious ideas particularly what most astrologers would consider a heterodox system.

Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Brown both huh?
Kurt Vonnegut writes literary work, Dan Brown doesn't even come close. When you select books to compare yours too, you need to be aware of style and tone, not just subject matter. 

I like the first sentence of this paragraph a lot. I think really terrific novels come from cultural and generational misunderstanding. Done well, this kind of novel can pack a very subtle but very powerful wallop.

The problem here is that you're telling me, not showing me. And you're telling me too much. I have no idea of the story here.  Even Tolstoy's ensemble casts novels had something that unified them.

War and Peace has 580 characters (no, I didn't count, I looked it up on Wikipedia) but it can be described without identifying more than a few:

The story moves from family life to the headquarters of Napoleon, from the court of Alexander I of Russia to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. Tolstoy's original idea for the novel was to investigate the causes of the Decembrist revolt, to which it refers only in the last chapters, from which can be deduced that Andrei Bolkonsky's son will become one of the Decembrists. The novel explores Tolstoy's theory of history, and in particular the insignificance of individuals such as Napoleon and Alexander.

I underlined insignificance here because if this arrived in a query, that would be the word that would catch my attention. Normally we think of Napolean and the Czars as significant. Here's a book that challenges that. I'm in!  (and that's exactly what you want a query to do)

This is an unusual mystery of just over 80,000 words. It is set primarily in the cities of Hong Kong and Zurich as well as on the island of Guam.

Well, I don't see anything unusual here about the story at all because there is no story.

Thank you for your time. I truly appreciate your diligence in reading this query and reviewing the sample chapters that I have submitted.

I know you're trying to be polite here but it comes off as smarmy. You don't have to thank the meter reader for looking at the gas meter. Reading and evaluating queries is my job.

You can reach me via my author email:

Leave this out. If you're querying by email, I have your email address already. If you want to include it, put it under your name

I look forward to your response.
You probably don't, but you're trying to be polite.

End a query with Thank you for your time and consideration. That's all you need.

What you've failed to do here is figure out how to query for an ensemble cast. The answer is not to list the characters and hope for the best.

There are some terrific ensemble cast books.

What you do is talk about what UNIFIES the characters. What do they have in common? Are they working at, coming to or leaving an AIRPORT (by Arthur Hailey). Are they living in the SOUTH PACIFIC (James Michener). Are they living/working/living/dying in Charm City (The Wire created by David Simon and Robert Colesberry.

There's simply no way all eight people can be the main character. They can be important to the plot, sure, but which character starts the plot moving forward? In Noble House by James Clavell it's not the prologue, it's the arrival of the Americans.

In Shogun, it's not the shipwreck, it's the decision to save the English sailor.

At some point in your novel, hopefully at the start, something changes. That's where your plot is.

Start over. Tell me about a story I'll want to read.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


Question: Should I hire a manuscript editor to correct my “broken” English or if my plot is interesting enough an agent will ask for ms anyway?

Dear Query Shark,
My background is diverse. English is my second language and my writing has a "Russian" voice. I migrated to the states from Russia with a dream to be a writer. Twenty years later, after life’s whirlpool, I decided to go back to my true calling. During my visit to Germany, the idea of this romance novel was born.

Never start a query with this kind of information.  Start with the book.

Inspired by true events and real people, ROSWELL PROVISIONS is a new adult contemporary romance, about 140,000 words. It offers glimpses into the childhood of a Russian immigrant, savors the flavor of romantic places, introduces peculiar characters, and is a simply a charming love story.
ROSWELL PROVISIONS is the story of a Russian divorcee who immigrated to the states at a young age.
Ekaterina Caldwell a broken-hearted writer working on her first novel. On a trip to New York, she meets a charming Scotsman, Aaron. After spending two days with him, they part without exchanging personal contact information.

And when I say start with the book, I mean start with the character and what changes, or is about to change in their life; what they want and why they can't have it. In other words, where your story starts.

And 140,000 words is a big ass book. It's not a deal breaker but it's a problem. Those first pages of your manuscript that you include with a query MUST be taut. When I see a big ass book, and flabby first pages, I pass. 

A few months later, Aaron visits Atlanta and their paths cross again. The relationship grows deeper as they spend several romantic days together. Aside from sharing love for history and travel, they both share the pain of broken marriages. While Kate is open about her family and past heartache, Aaron keeps a veil of mystery about his family and previous marriage. This secrecy does not stop Kate from falling in love with him. The mystery gets resolved when Kate visits Aaron in Germany at a grand castle during her research for a historical novel.

There's no plot here.
You refer to a mystery, but I don't have any sense there is a mystery. That Aaron isn't forthcoming about his family or previous marriage isn't a mystery, it's How Men Are.

Right now, the problem isn't your "broken English" (which I didn't see, this reads fine to me) it's the utter lack of plot.

There are several QS entries that list guidelines for getting plot on the page. Maybe it's time for a refresher.

An effective query is most often plot focused:
a Who is the main character?
b What does she want?
c What is keeping her from getting what she wants?
d What must she sacrifice to get what she wants?/what's at stake


a Jack Reacher
b wants to see the grave of a old, almost forgotten blues musician
c when he is suddenly, inexplicably arrested for a murder he could not have committed

d 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.

Your query will ALWAYS simplify the plot. (This example leaves out all references to Reacher's brother for example)

How to get stakes on the page:

e The main character must choose Path A or Path B
f If she chooses Path A, the dire consequences/outcome/peril she faces are:
g If she chooses Path B, the even more dire consequences/outcome/peril she faces are
h what will she have to give up to achieve her goal?


e When her younger sister is called to be their district's entry in the Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen must decide whether or not to go in her place.

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

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

Hint: no backstory. Your reader will jump right in to the story with you

This will not be the exact wording for your query. It will help you distill your plot to the essentials. You need the essentials of Act One, not a rundown of the entire plot.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.

To answer your question: if you're not confident of your command of English (and honestly, English is such a bitch, none of us should be all that confident) hiring an editor is a good idea. While I did not see any overt red flags here, taking an extra step is a good idea.

You can also mention at the close of your query that you're writing in English but your native language is whatever it is. That way an agent knows that if you have some oddities it's probably just English having her way with you, not that you're careless.

There are several stellar writers working in English as a second language. My favorite example is Aleksandar Hemon. His writing is often very interesting precisely because he's working in his non-native tongue. I highly recommend his books.