Sunday, December 8, 2019


I wrote LOST IN LA as a retelling of Pretty Woman with “modern” social issues, but I don’t know whether to focus on the characters, the fake relationship trope or the social issues that bring the characters together. I’ve chosen to highlight the social issues to convey a fresh approach, but I’m worried the query is too serious and the characters don’t come across as feisty and likable.

You've hamstrung yourself with the Pretty Woman framework.
Pretty Woman was made in 1990.
A lot has changed since then.
Readers tastes in particular.

And always and evermore the thing to focus on in a query is the story.

Dear Query Shark,

Wylie’s Los Angeles roommate kicks her out of her apartment.
Is this a killer first sentence that draws me in and makes me want to read more?

Desperate to finish her yoga accreditation and land a stable job,
or this?

Wylie decides to live in her car and save money for a new apartment.
Here's where you finally engage my interest. That means this is the place to start.

Wylie decides to live in her car to save money for a new apartment after her roommate kicks her out.
Food truck vendor Nolan laughs at her social media influence and she focuses on leading beachfront yoga classes and working at a pretentious bar.

So, Wylie's living in her car. Then you whiplash your reader to Nolan the food truck guy. 
An important thing to remember in all writing, not just queries, is sentences should flow.
That is, a connection from the first to the second, and on down the line.

Whiplash your reader on purpose only.

For this to flow, there needs to be a onnection between Wylie and Nolan.

As in  

Wylie parks her "home" near a food truck owned by Nolan, the Taco King of Pismo Beach...

except laughs at her social media influence is a strange thing to say about someone, particularly if it's the FIRST thing you say about him.

Does he laugh cause he's jealous? Cause he thinks real life only happens off the grid?
Give us some context here.

 After the city tows her car, Nolan learns she’s homeless and offers her a job at the food truck and a room in a co-living commune if she'll give up the pretentious bar.

Why does he care about whether she works at a pretentious bar?
And a guy who starts demanding things as a condition of anything ...well, I hope she gives him the downward facing dog.
As Wylie works and lives with Nolan, she poses as his girlfriend for business reasons and learns the food truck the first step toward a series of fast casual restaurants for impoverished neighborhoods. She falls for him and the allure of a partnership until a roommate reveals Nolan comes from a wealthy family and owns the commune house.
At this point, there's no plot.
Plot is about choices.
So far we have what Wylie decided, not what her choices were.
And there's nothing at stake for her here on the page.

If she doesn't take the job at the food truck, and pose as his girlfriend what will happen?
How will she have to change to get what she wants?

Right now all she needs to do is earn money and keep studying for her accreditation. That's just working toward a goal, not a plot.

It's the difference between working the speed bag and a boxing bout.
Both involve punching but one has something at stake  and the other does not.
Betrayed by Nolan’s omission, Wylie tells him if he wants to make a difference, he needs to spend time in the trenches instead of selling food outside a business park. She proves her point, but an asthma attack sends her to the hospital and illustrates the stark differences between their lives. Nolan offers to take care of her and pushes her to weigh the allure of his life against the value of her independence.

This is too far in to the book to be in the query.
A query should cover just the start of the book.
The purpose of a query is to make your reader, in this case me, want to read more.

LOST IN LA is an 80,000-word contemporary romance like
The Cinderella Deal (Jennifer Crusie)
pubbed in 2011 which makes it too old for an effective comp.
Comps need to be recent, within two or three years.

Here's the rundown from Amazon on Cinderella Deal

Daisy Flattery is a free spirit with a soft spot for strays and a weakness for a good story. Why else would she agree to the outrageous charade offered by her buttoned-down workaholic neighbor, Linc Blaise? The history professor needs a makeshift fiancée to secure his dream job, and Daisy needs a short-term gig to support her painting career. And so the Cinderella Deal is born: Daisy will transform herself into Linc’s prim-and-proper fiancée, and at the stroke of midnight they will part ways, no glass slippers attached. But something funny happens on their way to make-believe bliss, as a fake engagement unexpectedly spirals into an actual wedding. Now, with Linc and Daisy married and under one roof, what started as a game begins to feel real—and the people who seem so wrong for each other realize they may truly be just right.

Notice the power balance?
He needs her more than she needs him.
He's got a LOT more to lose than she does.

That's what I mean by saying things have changed since Julia found love at the opera.

and Roomies (Christina Lauren).
Marriages of convenience are so...inconvenient.

For months Holland Bakker has invented excuses to descend into the subway station near her apartment, drawn to the captivating music performed by her street musician crush. Lacking the nerve to actually talk to the gorgeous stranger, fate steps in one night in the form of a drunken attacker. Calvin Mcloughlin rescues her, but quickly disappears when the police start asking questions.

Using the only resource she has to pay the brilliant musician back, Holland gets Calvin an audition with her uncle, Broadway’s hottest musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until his reason for disappearing earlier becomes clear: he’s in the country illegally, his student visa having expired years ago.

Seeing that her uncle needs Calvin as much as Calvin needs him, a wild idea takes hold of her. Impulsively, she marries the Irishman, her infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves and Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway—in the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting—will Holland and Calvin to realize that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?

Notice the power balance here too?
He has the problem, not her.

I have self-published several novels

Put this in your query letter and I will look up those books on Amazon.
and have lived in California.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Facebook Page:

Bottom line: the query needs a plot and stakes on the page.

Revise, resend.

Sunday, September 15, 2019


I have so many questions, but I’ll whittle them down to two. First, do you think I’m correct in describing this as literary fiction? Second, some agents I’m interested in querying require bios... but would admitting that I’m in high school lead them to dismiss my query or my writing? If so, could I just conveniently leave that bit out?
Thank you!

Dear QueryShark,

First of all, this query is 498 words, so it's double the target word count. The first thing we need to do here is start trimming.

Anamaria huddles in her family’s barracks with her best friend Julio. Together, they listen to the sick pattern of gunshots and radicals’ bodies falling into the dust. The detainment center guards— the executioners— scare everyone, but she knows she’ll be safe if she does everything just right.

Then her childhood ends.
When you need to cut, look for set up and backstory.That's often the info you can leave out without any loss of clarity.

Anamaria is sent to Moonhaven Academy, where her name and identity are stripped away and replaced. There, she must bleach her skin and hide her accent until she can pass as the perfect white woman. And Anamaria, now Anna Clara, knows she is lucky. Had the Academy not accepted her, she would have become one of the women in red who supposedly cook and clean for white men.
But everyone knows what they really do, behind closed doors.

Or, rather, what’s done to them.

She could still become one of them if she fails.
At this point, I'm salivating.
I am thinking of editors, I'm plotting submission strategies.

Anna escapes as her dream-self, Indigo, into a fantasy world where the rainforest teems with dragons. Not too long ago, her dream-planet was colonized by the humans who made Earth uninhabitable. They genetically warped the planet’s indigenous life into creatures designed to serve. Now, one revolution later, Indigo and her only friend Oak are stuck on opposite sides of an imminent war between two of the human-created tribes.

What just happened here?
We were all set for The Handmaid's Tale Redux and along come...dragons??
I've stopped salivating cause what you had was strong commercial fiction, and now I'm looking at fantasy.

Indigo must choose whether to betray Oak and live in safety with the tribe that took her in, or to leave the tribe and risk her life, alone, in the rainforest.
Yea, but it's all a dream, right?
Meanwhile, Anna is forced to either abandon her heritage for the illusion of whiteness, or let herself be given away to any man with a few dollars to spare. Her heart aches against both.
I'm pretty sure she's got a stronger reaction than heart ache here.
Three years later, Anna finds out she has been married to Julio, now Julian Taylor. He has changed beyond recognition.
Ok, and?
Ten years later, Anna must make her first autonomous choice.
are we done with the dragons?

Anna’s former classmate, tiny genius Amalia, is the leader of an underground organization intended to smuggle women to safety until the law no longer threatens them. Now Amalia has only days to find her successor before she is executed for crimes including treason, blackmail, and loving another woman. She begs Anna to take on her duties when she’s gone. After all, her wife can’t stand the thought of replacing her, and Anna is the last person the police would ever suspect. She’s pale, unassuming, well-mannered (at least in public): the perfect facade.

What does Amalia do that  makes her a genius?
Why is "tiny" something we need to know about her.

And honestly, I'm so confused here the only reason I'm still reading is that you had a GREAT opening, and I can see possibility.

If Anna accepts, she will surely die.

If she refuses, she will be a traitor to every woman on Earth.
What you're missing here is why she doesn't want to be a traitor to every woman on earth. You're assuming she doesn't. Watching a person struggle with choices, especially ones you might think are no-brainers creates tension, and tension boosts interest.

JADE AND INDIGO is just over 90,000 words of literary fiction, narrated primarily from the perspectives of Anna and Indigo. I am a high school student with a deep love for surrealist art, the poems of Sappho, and musicals. I scavenge for time to write when I’m not juggling AP classes and horse shows— no flaming swords yet, but maybe someday. JADE AND INDIGO is my first novel.

Well, if this is literary fiction, how are we going to explain the dragons?

Thank you for your time and consideration!
I'm not sure how large a part the dragon thing plays in the book, but you're better leaving it OUT of the query. It's utterly confusing.

You can have it in the book (without seeing the book I'm going to assume your reader will understand what's going on) and NOT have it in the query.

Or you can allude to it in the query with Anna escapes into a fantasy world (without going into specifics.)

You've got the start of something I'd read but I'm not sure I've ever seen this big a splat in such a short period of time.

Fortunately, it's all fixable.

I suggest you leave out your age. It's nobody's business how old you aren't.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


Question: I do not have much as far as credentials are concerned other than personal experience driving my story but I do have a large and strong social media presence. How should I go about this? Have I represented that aspect well?

Dear QueryShark,
The universe was music before it was anything tangible.

I love this idea. Whether anyone else will is subjective, but I like it a lot. It's fresh and new (to me at least.) It's not a killer first line, but it does the job: it engages my interest.

Time was measured without signature, and worlds formed from the power of boundless melody, creation in song. Within this crucible of worlds lies Tellure Grand, a land wide, young, and full with possibility. Here, power is being found in the notes of destruction.

oh splat.  That first sentence was easy to read and easy to understand.
Now we get time was measured without signature: well, my guess is you mean this:

but unless you have some education in music (versus just listening and enjoying) you may not get the reference.

And I don't know what a boundless melody is. Is it like an Unchained Melody?

The last thing you want is the agent trying to parse out what you mean, and get diverted to YouTube and dive down the Dirty Dancing rabbit hole.

The world folds where Warsingers make music. Each striking sword and flying arrow is accompanied by the strum of a harp or the lilting of an aria. Minds mold, politics change, and ideologies bend in the wake of such music. Life tuning to the history they create.The land shaping by those who wield the ebb and flow of these powerful sonatas.

this is so abstract I have NO idea what you're talking about.
That means I've started to lose interest.
Now the era turns anew for Tellure Grand and her fledgling civilizations. Strains of glory hum against the strings, where baritones of tribulations rise. A young lordling, a foreign man, a blind girl, and a wild huntress find themselves caught in the orchestrations of a world steered toward discord. For in the distance a bell tolls, a powerful noise that resonates with annihilation, striking with insidious fury. And the gods?

And now I'm skimming.
Gods do not sing; they are the song.
THE WARSINGER OPUS:(Series) A BREAKING OF BELLS is an adult High Fantasy manuscript complete at 325,000 words. It is an epic for those that love The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson, The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, and The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.

You don't need me to tell you that 325,000 words is a total deal breaker.
I grew up telling stories, comfortable with the attention of a room.
This is not the selling point you think it is.

That joy only grew as my love for Dungeons & Dragons burgeoned, kindling a deeper appreciation for worldbuilding and immersion. I market myself well and have a loyal following of 152,000 followers on the social media platform Tik Tok where the videos I have made about my book and worldbuilding have garnered hundreds of thousands of views, tens of thousands of likes, and thousands of positive comments. A consistent flow of those followers are transferring to my twitter as well, with 1,250 following on that platform to date. I also boast 950 active Discord participants that enjoy in public readings of chapters bi-weekly.

Well, that's a platform indeed.
And you put the info on how to find you at the end, which is just where it should be.
Because this query is an utter mess (right now) if I'd gotten to this part, I'd go check it out because clearly you're doing something right.

BUT note that I lost interest, and was skimming after the second paragraph.
Don't risk losing an agent's eyeballs.
Get the story on the page.

Thanks you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

E-Mail: (just put your email address. We know gmail means email)
Phone: (and we know what that pattern of numbers means)
Tik Tok: (what you had) here is where you DO need the identifier because this isn't as well known to your audience yet.

Twitter: we know what @ means.

This query doesn't work because I don't know what the book is about.  

Here's the PW review of one of your comps, the first Brandon Sanderson book:

This massive tome is the first of a 10-part epic fantasy series from relative newcomer Sanderson (Mistborn), best known for his efforts to complete the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. 

In a storm-swept world where history has dwindled into myth, self-serving aristocrats squabble over mystical weapons that render their bearers immune to mundane attacks. 

The ambitious scholar Shallan learns unexpected truths about the present, the virtuous aristocrat Dalinar reclaims the lost past, and the bitter and broken slave Kaladin gains unwanted power. 

Race-related plot themes may raise some eyebrows, and there's no hope for anything resembling a conclusion in this introductory volume, but Sanderson's fondness for misleading the reader and his talent for feeding out revelations and action scenes at just the right pace will keep epic fantasy fans intrigued and hoping for redemptive future installments. 

There's not much sense of the plot here, but at least we have an idea of what's going on.

Here's the PW review of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (2007)

The originality of Rothfuss's outstanding debut fantasy, the first of a trilogy, lies less in its unnamed imaginary world than in its precise execution.
Kvothe ("pronounced nearly the same as 'Quothe' "), the hero and villain of a thousand tales who's presumed dead, lives as the simple proprietor of the Waystone Inn under an assumed name.
Prompted by a biographer called Chronicler who realizes his true identity, Kvothe starts to tell his life story. From his upbringing as an actor in his family's traveling troupe of magicians, jugglers and jesters, the Edema Ruh, to feral child on the streets of the vast port city of Tarbean, then his education at "the University," Kvothe is driven by twin imperatives—his desire to learn the higher magic of naming and his need to discover as much as possible about the Chandrian, the demons of legend who murdered his family.
As absorbing on a second reading as it is on the first, this is the type of assured, rich first novel most writers can only dream of producing. The fantasy world has a new star.

 And again, not much plot but a sense of what the story is.

Both of these books are too old and too successful to be good comps NOW.  Generally you need comps that are new (within the last three years) and from authors who haven't sold a gazillion copies.  That's a tough challenge, I know, and it drives me crazy too.

Bottom line: even in epic fantasy you have to tell me  the story.

Saving grace: That kind of platform can rescue a query that's an utter mess, but it's a risk  you don't need to take. A query that tells me the  story combined with this platform would be very very strong.

Take another crack at this and tell me the story.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


I broke the rules...unapologetically so.

I rhymed, alliterated, lyricized, used big words, topped it off with an adult narrative. And yes, my word count runneth over. Admittedly, I did it all wrong. Moreover--and perhaps to my own detriment--I firmly maintain that these supposed literary crimes were committed for all the right reasons. The story is better because of these so-called 'flaws', not in spite of them. Now comes the dilemma:

Can even 'the best query letter ever' not only overcome, but actually upsell the very characteristics that have been deemed genre pitfalls?

Dear QueryShark:

Life as I knew it forever changed the day I 'borrowed' that gnome.

So, you're a character in the book?
Using I in a query for anything other than the biography section is confusing.

What started as a harmless prank, soon backfired into a frenzied search for the missing muffin pan. Three pie servers, a rolling pizza cutter, and countless other 'displacements' tightrope toddle along the brink of madness spiraled into the tongue-twisted tale you are about to read.

At this point, I have no idea what kind of book this is.

Some call it 'crazy'. Others call it 'cuckoo'. I prefer to call it: 'clarity'.

I call it confusing.

The lost socks, the misplaced keys, when the 'displaced' are 're-placed' in those spots you searched thrice...

I'm losing my mind here, does that count?

Based on a true story, THE GREAT GNOME COLLECTIVE is a transitional picture storybook of 1250 words. Entertaining meets educational in this lyrical work of modern folklore: a fun read woven through an intricate maze of elevated vocabulary, emphatic punctuation, and eloquent wordplay, all set to complex rhythmic rhyme with a splash of Seussian flair.

Never compare yourself or your work to Dr. Seuss. Let other people do that.

I am best known as (nom du plume): mama to one, auntie to seven, and 'grammar nutsy' to the core. This is my authorial debut, though it is my hope and intent to grow THE..COLLECTIVE into a series of gnome adventures.

Authorial debut sets my teeth on edge.

I'm not sure if that's just me.

This is your first book. Just say so.

Fancy pants writing is best left for dialogue to illustrate hoity toity characters.

Miss Bickerstaff perhaps who refers to her serviettes, and would sooner go without food than sit at a table without flowers. She is someone who might use authorial debut.

One minor concession, if I may: THE GREAT GNOME COLLECTIVE must be--and is found most enjoyable when--read aloud...preferably, *with gusto*. Please do not dismiss this request. The gnomes will know.

I know you're trying to be whimsical and light hearted here.
But please do not dismiss this request isn't something agents find funny. Ever.

Thank you for your time & consideration.

Form rejection.

Because picture book queries include the entire text of the story.

You can break all the rules that you want, but if you do not give me what I need to evaluate your work, I'm not going to write back and tell you what you did wrong.  I'm going to pass with a form rejection.

Your question:
Can even 'the best query letter ever' not only overcome, but actually upsell the very characteristics that have been deemed genre pitfalls?
You're breaking the wrong rules.

Sunday, January 20, 2019



I have written a manuscript “Baked Lunch” and I'm soliciting agents and publishers.

Brief Synopsis: I have written an update (2018) of the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. The manuscript has sex, drugs, and violence, which are clichés, when Burroughs wrote his novel these subjects were more controversial. We live in a more jaded age. The clichés mean that someone could read this manuscript while waiting for a plane in an airport and be reasonably entertained. People have shorter attention spans, we’re more distracted. I simply tried to write something I believe is marketable. Same titles from the same chapters as Burroughs novel, but the content is not the same.

(list of chapters redacted for space)

William Burroughs original novel was considered unpublishable because essentially it had no plot. The Chapter 22 Hauser and O'Brien did have a narrative arc, but the rest of the book was essentially a stream of consciousness. A better insight into a synopsis of the novel would be David Cronenberg who essentially re-wrote the entire plot in his screenplay when he did a film adaptation of the novel. But the movie did not follow the book at all and neither did I. I wrote the novel because I don’t particularly like Naked Lunch and thought I could do a better job of writing a novel about beat culture than Burroughs did. It’s subjective I admit, but I really gave it my best effort.

Bio: I am a retired English teacher who has been working in China for the last 15 years.

Thanks for your interest. I have had a professional edit the manuscript and I am confident there aren't any major errors in the manuscript. Approximate word count: 100,000. There are graphics in the manuscript.

You don't get to "update" other people's work and call it your own.
The warranties and indemnities section of a publishing contract requires you warrant that the Work (the book) "is original."

You may think it is; you might even make the case that it is, but that doesn't matter. Any publishing house with something to lose in litigation (ie they have money; they're not running a printing press in their basement) is going to eschew publishing anything remotely like this.

And if you think publishing it yourself will solve that problem, the agent representing the Estate of William Burroughs will probably disabuse you of that pretty quickly.

And honestly, saying you can do a better job of writing a novel about beat culture that is now considered a classic, no matter what people thought of it when published, is an assessment better left to reviewers.