Sunday, November 11, 2018



1) I know Shark Rules state housekeeping goes at the end. And I know my first paragraph goes completely against that. But it seems to be exactly what this particular agent is asking for on their website. And I know they're looking for thrillers. Should I still follow Shark Rules?

2) A friend who directed an Oscar-nominated movie has suggested I query this agent. The movie was adapted from a book by an author who is repped by this agent. A lot of the agent's clients have had their books made into movies and apparently that's important to them. My friend is up for helping me adapt my novel into a screenplay. Does that carry any weight? Does anyone give a rat's behind?

Dear Query Shark:

(Movie director), screenwriter and director of (Oscar-nominated movie), suggested I query you since you represent (author whose book was made into the movie). SEA BLADE is a 98,000-word adult thriller. It is the first book in a planned series. The main character is a man of color I would describe as James Bond meets Indiana Jones. As a former (military) officer, I think you'll like the concept.

Never tell an agent what you think they'll like.
It's like saying "this is funny" before telling a joke.
Half the fun for us is the sense of discovery.

It's one thing to mention the connection you have to the agent in the first paragraph. Don't go overboard by putting all that other info there as well.

It was supposed to be a routine job for Jet Morgan and his ex-girlfriend Maggie. Recover a Mayan artifact that holds the key to a billion dollars in gold from a pyramid in Belize. Then smuggle it past the drug dealers into Panama. But then Nathaniel Lynch, Jet's old boss, Nathaniel Lynch, at the CIA, shows up. Things rocket from routine to insane in 2.9 seconds. And Jet and Maggie are thrust into an international incident - China's imminent invasion of Taiwan.

If you put the name Nathaniel Lynch first, we don't know who he his.
If you let us know he's Jet's old boss FIRST, then, it has a connection to what we've read, and it makes sense. This is flow. It's making sure your reader doesn't stop and think "huh?"

I hate artifact-driven plots with a passion, but that's just me.
(I did manage to watch all the Indiana Jones movies without any trouble at all.)

Lynch stole Ultra Top Secret U.S. naval plans for Sea Blade, an unprecedented new class of submarine, and sold them to Taiwan. Now he needs Jet, once the CIA's top covert operative, to steal them back and stop the invasion. And to skip the 'being killed for treason' part, he'll need the artifact to personally finance the unsanctioned mission.

Well, this is actually a rather good use for an artifact.

But Jet's no longer a spy. He steals Mesoamerican antiquities now, not secrets. So Lynch desperately offers up his new business partner Ricardo Lopez, the reclusive Mexican billionaire who murdered Jet's wife and child, to lure him back in.

The mere thought of killing Lopez calls to Jet like a needle to the vein calls to a trembling junkie. But pulling the trigger on that fix could backfire on him. Helping a traitor like Lynch is suicide.
He Jet and Maggie will be dodging CIA assassins the second Lynch gets what he wants. But if Jet doesn't help, the unthinkable will happen - war with China.

It's very easy to throw too much into a query.
You only need to entice me read the pages, not tell me about all of the plot points in Act One.

Put the word count, and other housekeeping items here.

With my science background, I was compelled to do proper research. In the process, I was shot at in Mexico, got hammered in Key West, dove with sharks and climbed pyramids in Belize, and fell in love with Panama.
I'm a chiropractor who now cracks creative-writing books. I studied writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and with Bret Anthony Johnston, internationally bestselling author and former Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University. Bret is up for providing a blurb, and (movie director) is up for helping me adapt SEA BLADE into a screenplay. With my science background, I was compelled to do proper research. In the process, I was shot at in Mexico, got hammered in Key West, dove with sharks and climbed pyramids in Belize, and fell in love with Panama.

Start with the interesting stuff.
You don't need the creds for your blurbers. If I know them, I already know it. If I don't I google.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

You can break the rules all you want, but it helps to understand WHY they are rules first. Putting the housekeeping stuff at the end is a rule because it forces you to put the story first.

Thus, putting something ahead of the story is ok, but you know to keep it to a minimum; just the info that will boost your chances of the agent reading the query. 

Early interest from someone about the screenplay is great, but you're querying an agent about selling  a book. "Interest from Hollywood" doesn't help sell a book; we know how nebulous that is. 

"Optioned for film" is better, and "started principal photography yesterday" better yet.  In other words, the closer you are to actually getting something made, the more it will help.  

Right now it's all hot air.  The reason you DON'T include it is that if you do, an agent is likely to think you don't understand how nebulous it is.


Melissa said...

I participated in a group critique session with a well-respected agent at a conference. (We sent 15 pages and our query ahead of time.) Of the authors assembled, I was the last to receive my critique. The other authors all wrote YA while I submitted a thriller (the agent represented both).

As she started to give me feedback, the agent thought I'd submitted YA. While nothing in my query mentioned YA, she had it on her brain because of the previous queries. Once I corrected her, she had to rethink her critique. She told me to always put the genre at the top so that the agent has the right framing when reading the query.

The Shark has her preference but other agents have theirs. If the agent specifically requests something, I would follow their preference.

E.Maree said...

If the submission guidelines ask for housekeeping first, then housekeeping should go first.

It's fairly standard for a lot of agents, and it was a UK-wide standard as part of the 'covering letter' format until a few years ago, when things shifted to accept US-style queries.

Ron Schalk said...

First of all, thank you very much! To each his/her own, but this is really not an artifact-driven plot. The artifact is a crucial but small part of the plot, just a way for Lynch to finance the unsanctioned mission. Most of the story is about Jet plying the mine-infested waters that Lynch has left in his wake in order to force/lure Jet into doing his dirty work and saving his hide. And in the process, Jet comes to the rescue and prevents a war with China. Hopefully I show the dichotomy of Jet's character - the blending of James Bond with Indiana Jones - heavy on the JB but in a tropical setting. (Three of my personal obsessions...uh, favorite things.) A shark might be surprised and even find it tasty if they took a bite. Kind of like trying penguin for the first time.

The issue of the first paragraph has bothered me for a long time. I see all kinds of conflicting advice on different agents' websites...of what they describe as the perfect query. It's confusing and frustrating, to say the least, for a novice like me. In my case, this was only going to be for one specific agent and then I was going to follow the Shark-suggested format for my other queries. Your comments have been invaluable!

Frankie said...

I would suggest to follow submission guidelines, always.

As for the query. The story is interesting (personal note, I can totally see it turned into a movie) but the query has too many story details I felt overwhelmed by all the information.

Sometimes just hinting things keeps the curiosity high.

Unknown said...

I don't mean to pile on, but why would you ever ignore the submission guidelines of the agent you're querying? Janet is pretty clear that she considers it a strike against to ignore Shark Rules when querying her (not enough to delete the query unread, usually, but still a strike), so what benefit is there in ignoring other agents' preferences?

Reese said...

I realize I am a little late to the fray, as it were, and for that I apologize. But I think your QL starts off heading in the wrong direction. I was going everywhere with your QL and, as the Shark saw it as a “archeological/artifacts driven” story, so did I. When I got to your follow-up comments, the whole story took a hard U-Turn and pretty much left my head spinning.

In the fourth sentence of that message you clearly state, “…the story is about Jet plying the mine-infested waters that Lynch has left in his wake in order to force/lure Jet into doing his dirty work and saving his hide.”


This, clearly, is not the story for which you offered up the ‘teaser’ in your QL. Perhaps taking a harder look at clearing out the secondary story, picking and choosing with a bit more discretion what needs to be fed into the query description to bulk up the primary story as necessary might help to clarify what the ‘real’ story is.
Not wanting to step on toes, I will push my intrusion a bit further into your writer’s closet.

1) Generally, you want to sell your story right out of the gate so, unless an agents requests otherwise, let him/her know what you’re selling. (HINT: it’s not a film director’s movie.) Letting an agent know that the aforementioned director referred you? Good. Going in-depth into that director’s work at the top of YOUR pitch? Not so good. You might want to start by telling Agent X that “Superdirector, recommended that I submit my ms to you.” That tells the agent that someone “in the business” thought enough of your work to encourage you to pursue it through a particular agent. GREAT! But, let it end there. Now’s the time to SELL YOUR BOOK so jump right into that or even postpone the Superdirector comments until later.

“Jet’s got a problem and his name is Lynch.”

That's what you want to sell. Tell the most provocative one/two-paragraph version of your story in such a way that an agent is left salivating, begging for more. That’s when you add, “Oh! BTW, Superdirector is the one who suggested I contact you. This is my background. And… here’s the rest of the pertinent information you want to know.”

2) ABOUT AGENTS: It’s a good idea to research each and every agent you query. Every one is going to have a different background to bring to the table and you want to be sure you know who you are querying. Know your audience. Make sure your approach to Agent 1/2/3 is skewed to appeal to that background. Agents are neither robots nor Stepford Wives; they are individuals. Treat them as such and respect their wishes.

3) Finally, keep it short and sweet. Pretty much every agent you are going to query has hundreds of other queries to consider on a daily basis. Don’t ramble or go on about non-essential things. A few kind words are nice but, bottom line, you want to stick a hook in them as quickly as possible and reel them in as succinctly as possible. Make yourself unforgettable on your first page so you don’t get lost in the slush.

Again, this was not intended as an intrusive or offensive addendum to comments but, hopefully, something here will help someone.

Unknown said...

I'm sure giving someone the name Lynch in a story whose hero is a man of color was on purpose, right?