Sunday, November 27, 2016

#285

Dear Query Shark,


Hi, I'm Emma Slate. (this is where I'd stop reading) I was born in the New York Public Library, where the magic leaked out of the books and into me. At least, that’s what I suspect. One thing’s for sure—I never knew how fully words would become my gift and my curse.

If I hadn't stopped reading after the first sentence, I'd stop here.

"Hi I'm Felix Buttonweezer" is a huge red flag. It screams inexperienced writer. It's how we wrote letters in the fourth grade.  It's almost always followed by a description of a book I don't want to read.


And frankly, it's bad writing.

Don't start your letter with Hi I'm (your name)

And what's worse is that what follows makes it clear this is not actually the writer.
It's the character.

Do not EVER write your query in the voice of your character. It's not fresh and new and fun. It's gimmicky.

I wish someone had warned me.


It started the day I almost hitchhiked to Poland, when I learned my dad had married a woman I’d never met. In Brussels, of all places. Could there be a worse combo than Brussels sprouts and stepmoms? Poland was definitely an option.

You'll notice there's nothing about the New York Public Library here which is why even if I hadn't stopped reading by now I'd be confused here. That is not what you want.

Then my stepbrother Jack woke me one night in the Shadowlands, which changed everything. I befriended a troll, met the Runaway River, and toured a house filled with escaped book characters. Jack says I’m the last guardian of magic.

Notice that Dad and stepmom have fallen out of the picture?
At this point I don't know whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt**

Thing is: we only have seven days to save the Shadowlands before it’s overrun with the soul-feeding, despair-filling (probably smelly) Hadrelenus. You know what sounds even more impossible? I’ll have to work with Jack, come to grips with my mom’s death, and figure out where I belong.


Because I have an obtuse narrator breathing down my neck, I’ll tell you the boring part.


THE SHADOWLANDS is 85,000 words, and, even though said narrator thinks it’s middle grade fiction, I’m telling you, this stuff happened.

This is Ms. Blackwell’s first novel, though she has been featured on Blog Her from time to time. In her spare time, Ms. Blackwell corrals five book-hungry children and commandeers various vessels down the Snake River.


She took my tale to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, where some book-loving types like Heidi Taylor (Shadow Mountain) and David Farland showed interest in her work. She was personally mentored by David Farland. Diann Read provided professional editing, and a critique group provided snacks.

These are not writing credentials. These are nice things that happened to you and your work. I'm glad they happened, but I don't care. How your book came to be doesn't matter. The story matters, and I have no idea what the story is here.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Repent. Revise. Resend.




**This is one of Truvy's lines from Steel Magnolias

Saturday, October 1, 2016

#284-FTW

Dear QueryShark:

In 1957 a scream awakens 21-year-old Adina Claypool, who discovers she is on a mental ward. Again. The psychiatrists have diagnosed schizophrenia and recommended Thorazine and shock treatments. Again.


There is a standard agent-response of 'ewww" to stories that start with someone waking up. Yet, this works here, and works very well. This is a classic example of how to break "the rules" of querying. Do it well, and do it on purpose.




One psychiatrist believes both diagnosis and treatments are wrong. He thinks she is hiding something. He warns her to admit what she has done or she might doom herself to a life of unneeded medication and institutionalization.

The other, admittedly overworked, doctors are getting impatient. If psychoanalysis is what she needs, she'd better start talking.

But what if her story hurts her beloved grandmother? Someone might try to lock her up, too. No one must know that even Adina doesn't think her grandmother is perfect.

Or what about Adina's friend Charles, a Negro? He could end up like Emmett Till, murdered for whistling (or maybe not) at a white woman.

As for Adina's boyfriend--if he is still her boyfriend--he would be horrified if people knew what she is really like.

Yet she can't endure more shock treatments or deal forever with the horrors of the mental ward. All she wants is to return to the world of people she loves, a small but safe village that she envisions surrounded by walls to keep her mother out.

No, the psychiatrist insists. She can't keep her mother out. She must deal with her mother.

Impossible! Every time her mother re-enters her life, she makes Adina act "crazy."

On the other hand, can she stay in this place where old women throw crayons and pour hot coffee on her? Where people in blinding white clothes strap her so she can't move? They force icy metal into her mouth and onto her temples that burns her flesh and jolts her into flame-colored terror? And afterwards--just as her mother did--the nurses leave her wordless and uncomprehending, hugging nothing but herself at the foot of a dark and narrow stair.

A QUESTION OF SANITY: ADINA'S STORY, is a historical novel taking place in the post-War years in the Appalachian mountains. It is complete at 120,000 words.

"Thank you for your time and consideration" is how to close a query letter.

This is intriguing enough to get me to read pages. It's clear what problem the main character faces, and what choices she has to make. 



I'm a little reluctant to let the word "historical" describe a novel set in the 40's or 50's but that's a quibble.



Question:

The ultimate stakes do not come clear for the main character until Part III. If I start my query at this point, am I implying that this is the place that the novel begins?

Yes. When I read a query I assume I'm reading about the start of the story not the end. 

You use the phrase "ultimate stakes" but a query needs only what is at stake in the FIRST choice a character needs to make. What's at stake when you choose the road less traveled by?



This query does its job. It entices me to read more.
It doesn't follow the template set down in earlier examples, but it has all the elements a query needs.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

#283

Question:

My story has a feminist approach and my target agent would ideally be looking for such. However, in order to be concise and straightforward, I skip out on any details that make it feminist. I’m afraid it even comes off as the opposite.

Also, my protagonist is Latino and bisexual. I added his last name, Sosa, but made no mention of his sexuality. I only added the word romance in the query, which I am also not sure about.




Dear QueryShark,

I am seeking representation for my first novel The Once and Future Queen. Given your interest in fantasy novels for young adults, I thought it would be a good fit for your list. 

You don't need to state the obvious. You wouldn't be querying if you didn't want an agent, and you wouldn't be querying me if you didn't think I'd be interested. This is like "um" in conversation. It's warm up, it's filler.  Don't signal that the agent should start skimming in the first line. Start with what's important: the story.




Liam Sosa is in his senior year of high school and is on the verge of impending doom— adulthood. Between homework, nagging parents, sucking at sports, and of course girl trouble, Liam feels like life could not get any worse. But things get unexpectedly shaky when one night, Liam gets into a car crash after deciding to drive home his drunken schoolmate Tristan.


This sentence clunks: "But things get unexpectedly shaky when one night, Liam gets into a car crash after deciding to drive home his drunken schoolmate Tristan"

Short form writing (ie querying) absolutely requires clarity. You can not write a sentence that requires an agent to re-read it to understand what's going on.  The best way to do this is short, standard organization: subject, verb, object.

To wit: Things get unexpectedly shaky the night Liam drives his drunken schoolmate Tristan home. (You'll then need a sentence about the car crash).

Liam and Tristan wake up in a strange forest, with no sign of another car, a road or even houses. Bewildered, they search around until they are met by a strange woman with bizarre clothing and a shining sword. She takes them to a massive fortress complete with knights and peasants, where they realize they’re no longer in their small town in Virginia. They’ve been transported back in time to medieval Great Britain by sorceress Morgana to help the woman that found them, Queen Guinevere. She is in the midst of a war against her brother King Arthur. In a twist of events, Arthur was not the one to take the Sword from the Stone, his sister Guinevere was. The enraged Arthur took Camelot from her with an army of immortal soldiers and attempted to steal Excalibur, which vanished at his touch.

It's not a twist of events, it's a twist on the whole story.


Morgana enlists Liam and Tristan to find Excalibur, the only weapon capable of destroying Arthur and his immortal army. Although the adventure seems compelling, Liam finds that medieval times are dark and violent. Furthermore, he struggles to see what he, a simple teenager, can really do against the legendary warrior, King Arthur. With Tristan and Morgana at his side, Liam embarks on a journey of self-discovery, romance and adventure.

Of course the problem here is that you have not specified what makes Liam and Tristan the Men For The Job.  What do they bring to this adventure other than the fact they are there?  You're using a tried and true motif here, and that's all well and good, but you have to tell us what makes L&T special.

The novel delivers a 75,500 word provoking twist on the ever-popular Arthurian legend, all through the eyes of a twenty-first century teen.

 Don't laud your own novel in a query. Just the facts please. It's 75,000 words, a re-imagining of the Arthurian legend through the eyes of a modern guy.

As requested, I have attached the first X pages of the manuscript.

Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.


Answers to your questions:
1. I don't think you need to worry that this doesn't sound feminist. Any story that has Guinevere pulling Excalibur out of the stone signals the reader to expect a feminist take on an old story.

2. If you think Sosa makes me think a character is Latino, you've forgotten that Liam is Irish. I wouldn't make any assumptions about ethnicity based on this name.

The way to convey ethnicity is by what the character does and says, not by his name. Is it important that Liam is Latino? Is something about his background key to how he survives in Camelot, or why he's called upon to save the day.

Ethnicity shouldn't just be adjectives you assign a character. 

This query doesn't do the job yet. Unclunk the sentences, and tell us why L&T are Our Heroes.

And of course, the irony of telling a feminist version of Arthur with two main characters who are of the testosterone persuasion is not lost on your reader.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

#282-revised

Dear QueryShark:

Princess Allisane Kent is done struggling to earn the respect of her uncle, the King of Æled. She's spent years training on her winged horse, yet still the King bars her from his council, preferring the advice of his spineless lords—even as a powerful empire hunts the winged horses vital to Æled's survival. Allisane's people lost their fire magic generations ago, a secret they've kept from the winged men of Voluce. Taming the winged horses is their only protection. When Volucians massacre a wild herd on Æled land, Allisane forces her way into the King's council, determined to keep her horse safe and prove she can lead.

Jeeze, is everything winged here?

Also, what's the connecting between training on her winged horse and giving advice? I don't see the connection intuitively.

I don't understand why losing their fire magic is important. 
I don't understand why the winged horses are their only protection.





Captain Damien Ardeo struggles to earn respect as the only common born officer in the Volucian military. His people rule the skies with their wings and the land through their huge numbers. They only fear Æled's control of fire—but not for much longer. Damien's glory-obsessed commanders hurtle the empire towards war, intent on exterminating Æled's winged horses and driving out the fire-wielders. Damien pushes his officers to stop the killings, but the bloody nobles don't give a damn. Their homes won't burn if Æled retaliates. Their families won't suffer. His will.



That's an awkward use of hurtle. Generally objects hurtle, you don't hurtle the object. Hurl the object yes indeed, and many an arrow has hurtled across my desk toward an unwary minion, having been hurled by me.


However.

I suggest you reverse the two paragraphs.  The one with Damien sets up the fire/no fire thing much better. 

Captain Damien Ardeo struggles to earn respect as the only common born officer in the Volucian military. His people rule the skies with their wings and the land through their huge numbers. They only fear Æled's control of fire—but not for much longer. Damien's glory-obsessed commanders hurtle the empire towards war, intent on exterminating Æled's winged horses and driving out the fire-wielders. Damien pushes his officers to stop the killings, but the bloody nobles don't give a damn. Their homes won't burn if Æled retaliates. Their families won't suffer. His will.


 Princess Allisane Kent is done struggling to earn the respect of her uncle, the King of Æled. She's spent years training on her winged horse, yet still the King bars her from his council, preferring the advice of his spineless lords—even as a powerful empire hunts the winged horses vital to Æled's survival. Allisane's people lost their fire magic generations ago, a secret they've kept from the winged men of Voluce. Taming the winged horses is their only protection. When Volucians massacre a wild herd on Æled land, Allisane forces her way into the King's council, determined to keep her horse safe and prove she can lead.
Simply turning the paragraphs around makes me understand almost everything I didn't get after only reading about Princess Allisane.

You can now take out all the stuffe about Voluce in this paragraph because we know about it already and polish up the other things (like the connection between training on winged horses and advice giving)

When zealous Volucian soldiers attack Princess Allisane during her training, tensions ignite into war. Damien's commanders order his division to invade Æled's capital and eliminate the remaining winged horses. Following orders means killing innocents—and keeping his family safe from Æled's fiery retribution. But Allisane's not about to let anyone hurt her horse or threaten her people, even if it takes defying the king and leading troops against the Volucians herself.

This paragraph doesn't contribute much.

ASCEND is an adult high fantasy that should appeal to readers of Brandon Sanderson and V. E. Schwab. It is complete at 115,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Reverse the paragraph order, pare down what will now be the second paragraph, and move the plot forward in the third paragraph.

Revise, resend.




 Questions
 1. No critiques from agents—save your Royal Sharkness! Agent critiques are (understandably) hard to come by. The critiques were from freelance editors and authors represented by SFF agents.

Yea, in other words, nobody who's actually making the decision of yes or no on a query. Valuable sure, but not binding. Look around for those agent queries. I know they're out there. I see them on Twitter all the time.

2. Word Count—Because I found conflicting info on SFF word count, I contacted a handful of SFF agents through Twitter a year ago and asked what they considered the WC sweet spot. Almost all echoed the Writer's Digest recommendation: 100-115k for SFF. I'd love to take it higher, but several agents said 120k+ is a hard sell. Is 115k high enough to escape a "too low" auto-reject?

It's all in the writing. I find that historical novels and fantasy novels simply need to be bigger to feel big enough. It's really easy for agents to say "no 120K is too high" but honestly we've all sold things with that kind of word count. They just need to be the RIGHT 120K words.  A lot of times, 120K is a signal of flabby writing. Those 120K need to be just as taut and lean as a 60k high octane thriller.

INITIAL QUERY
Questions
1. I know log lines are forbidden and place names unwelcome, but every time I cut that first paragraph, readers are confused about the setting. Since the conflict revolves around a setting of rival nations, I cannot figure out how clearly convey that without the first paragraph.

2. I have had 8 professional query critiques. Every single one contradicted the previous - on everything from structure to worldbuilding to plot. At this point, I feel like the old man trying to get the donkey to market, and the query's about to drown. Please chomp on it.


Dear QueryShark:

Princess Allisane Kent and Captain Damien Ardeo will sacrifice everything to protect their people. Unfortunately, they're on opposite sides, and the fragile peace between Æled and Voluce is disintegrating.

This isn't a log line. A log line synthesizes a story by using recognizable comps to create a new image: Jaws In Space; Heathers meets The Shining; Die Hard meets The Berenstain Bears and Mama's New Job.  It's a tool used by our film guys to attract attention.  It's worse than useless in a query because it forces you to try to look suave in a suit made for someone else.  

Start with the story.  I don't know who the hell can be confused about the setting here since it's clearly Not Earth. What the hell else do they need to know? It's SF. Run with it.

Allisane struggles to earn the respect of her uncle, the King of Æled. As a Wind Rider, she trains in combat on her personal winged horse, and any lord who disapproves can go hang. Her people's ability to control light and fire vanished generations ago. Training the wild, winged horses is their only protection against the superior might of the flying Volucians.

Did the power to control light and fire vanish or was it lost? That seems to me to be a pretty important distinction. Words are your tools here, and you want to use them with precision.

Damien is common born, struggling to earn the respect of his high-born military commanders. His people fear Æled's control of fire, and every winged horse Æled trains threatens Voluce's very existence. He should follow orders and slaughter the tamed horses - if his conscience can handle it - but flying to war means leaving his family unprotected from a sociopathic nobleman.


Wait wait wait.  I read in your first paragraph that the AEled's ability to control light and fire "vanished generations ago" but now Damien's people "fear AEled's control of fire"  This seems contradictory. Contradictory confuses me. I don't like to be confused in a query letter. 

And how exactly is it that he has "tamed horses" if all they do is kill them? In other words, you've confused me here, and that's not a good thing.


When overzealous Volucian soldiers attack Allisane, mistrust ignites into war. Her kingdom under attack, lives in the balance, Allisane must choose between saving her family or leading her people. When following orders sparks a war, Damien must decide who deserves his protection - his nation, the innocents under attack, or the Æled Princess caught in the fray.


And now I'm just totally lost. How can be soldiers be overzealous if the two countries are at war? You have Damien flying to war in the second paragraph. And how is he flying if he's killing all the winged horses?

Right here is where I'd stop reading and send a form rejection. If I can't follow the query, I don't assume I'm stupid. I assume the query isn't well-organized, and from that conclude the book is probably a mess as well. That may not be fair, or even accurate, but it is the truth. Use that to your advantage when revising.

Remember you can NOT skip ahead chronologically in a query letter. What happens in paragraph two should precede what happens in paragraph three. Queries are too short for any fancy back and forth timing.

I like the mirroring you do with both main characters trying to earn respect. I like horses in any kind of book which means you've got my interest. Then it goes splat. I think you're trying to explain too much.

A query need only to entice me to read the pages you've included in the query. You don't have to do anything more than that.

You've got too much going on here. Pare down.


One wrong choice, and they're all dead

Yea  yea yea, that's such a cliche I don't even pay attention. Anything that sounds like a voice-over in a movie trailer should be revised out. We all write this kind of stuff on the first or even second pass. The trick is to recognize it when you're revising and CUT CUT CUT.

ASCEND is an adult high fantasy with YA crossover potential complete at 105,000 words.

Well, for starters, you don't have enough words here. High fantasy is world building at its finest. You need 125K minimum to do that. More can be better.  If I hadn't already sent a form rejection, I'd do it here.

I'm MORE likely to reject a query for a book that's too short than too long. I can suggest revisions to cut word length. A book that's too short lacks some essential infrastructure and that's a whole lot harder to revise IN to a book.

Don't put anything like "with crossover potential" in a query. That's like telling me a book has film potential. We all hope for sales to as wide an audience as possible, but how a book is marketed and publicized has a whole lot more to do with the audience it reaches than the content does.


A recent graduate with a degree in English, I am a recipient of multiple academic awards for writing but am not yet published. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Sincerely,

8 professional critiques? Wow, that's a lot. And they're all telling you different things? Not surprising. Any of them from the actual target audience (agents?)  

The acid test for a query is whether it gets results. That's the ONLY test that matters. If you haven't taken this out for a spin on submissions, you don't know if it's effective.

I don't think it's effective yet because even though I love love love horse books, I'm not yet tempted to read this book.

Simplify this down to the precipitating incident and resend. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

#281

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?
SPLAT.

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 Künstlerroman 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.





Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#280


Dear QueryShark,


Penn, a free-spirited and tenacious baby peachick, is unafraid to speak his mind - even when it’s just him, up against all five of his rambunctious older brothers. So, when his brothers begin to tease him for the “girly” pink hue of his feathers, Penn decides to lead the group on a short walk through their prolific jungle home.


Along the way, each peachick marvels at the many different shades of pink they notice decorating the rich landscape. Wandering through the jungle’s tall clusters of snapdragons, tasting the succulent Sri Lankan jambu fruit, and even stopping to watch their very first sunrise, all five of Penn’s brothers feel increasingly silly for ever teasing him about his feathers in the first place. After offering Penn a heartfelt (and slightly embarrassed) apology, the brothers conclude that there is beauty in their diversity, and that all of the jungle’s many colors, even pink, are for everyone to enjoy and share in, equally. However, just before Penn can thank his brothers for their open mindedness and kind attitudes, a faint cracking sound is heard coming from underneath the foot of the nest.


As their twelve tiny eyes peer over the edge, another peachick finishes poking its way out of its partly-concealed egg. To Penn and his brothers’ surprise, a final peachick hops out of the egg, covered in short, stubby, brown feathers. With a wave of her tiny wing, she oh-so-cheekily introduces herself as their new and very first little sister.



I was once featured in Saugus High School’s Literary Magazine, and am currently working as a child care counselor at an elementary school in Los Angeles, California.



Penn the Peachick, a book of 600 words, is Juvenile Fiction.


No it's not. It's a picture book.
It's a picture book even if you are only writing the words (text), not providing the art.

The fact you don't know this means you don't know enough yet to query.
That's not a character flaw. It doesn't mean you're stupid.
I don't think either of those things when I get a query like this.
What I do think is you haven't done enough research about querying.

Picture book queries are unlike any other kind of query.
They include ALL the text.
You don't have to describe the plot. You don't need anything but the actual words of the story.

Picture books are INCREDIBLY difficult to write well.

I have ONE client who writes picture books and he sweats over every word, every pause,
every line break.
It's like writing poetry.

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

I'm pretty sure you didn't look forward to this.


Now, what to do: first of all, join the Society of Childrens Writers and Illustrators, one of the very best places to learn about this kind of publishing.


Second, do some research using "querying picture books" or "how to query a picture book" that will get you info on this particular form.



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#279

Questions: I use Mary Shelley in the opening line despite the fact that she is Mary Godwin at this point in history. Do you feel like it adds unnecessary confusion when I name Percy Shelley later on as her lover (and not husband)? My second question is if I should include the information that this is a planned series of five books, is that relevant at this stage?

Dear Query Shark,

Mary Shelley's Godwin's nightmares are going to kill her.
Your instinct that this is wrong are correct. Any reader who knows the "characters" here will know who Mary Godwin is.  Getting historical facts wrong drives most of them up the wall. Or maybe just me up the wall. In any case, use her correct name.

The added benefit is this: if the person reading the query doesn't know that Mary Godwin is Mary Shelley, it's a nice reveal. In other words win/win.

When a monster from out of dreams takes hold of a broken man and compels him to kill, Mary will do battle against a creature that has as its ally every inner demon she possesses. In the waking world, it stalks the streets as a possessed serial killer. In her dreams, it feeds on all the pain she can't let go— of losing her mother, of being disowned by her father, and of watching her two-year-old son die.

And splat.
I'm totally lost here. 

If you cut the entire paragraph here, and start with the set up, it helps.


The year is 1816, and through strange weather and relentless rain, Mary has arrived at the home of the infamous poet-in-exile, Lord Byron. Together with her exuberant lover Percy Shelley, her vexing stepsister, and Byron's awkward personal physician, they find equal parts inspiration and irritation as the dreary summer unfolds. 

Don't be afraid to be plain: In 1816 Mary Godwin arrives at the home of..

And "they find equal parts etc" doesn't seem to have much to do with what follows.


They have assembled under the promise Lord Byron can explain the cause of their unremitting night-terrors, insomnia, and sleepwalking. All of these afflictions, he reveals, are the byproduct of their special heritage. They are Benendanti, an ancient legacy of powerfully lucid-dreamers able to move through the dreams of others.



In Geneva, a string of murders goes unsolved, and the shadow is cast on Lord Byron. He and the others sense the force behind these brutal killings to be not of the waking world, but a creature borne out of dreams. Mary and the new Benendanti must each confront their own inner darkness to have any hope of bringing such a monster to light. It is a race to free the ravaged mind of the killer in dreams, before his bloody hands find them first in the waking world.

The shadow is cast: do you mean suspicion is cast?
Also, the shadow implies there is only one shadow and it's on Lord Byron. A shadow means one of many. Yes, a/the matters. That's the kind of detail I notice. 

And I'm not sure if "ravaged mind of the killer dreams" actually makes sense. Again: plain is good.
It's very hard to write plainly. VERY hard.

A YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER is a historical fantasy (in the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) complete at 115k words with more than 50+ illustrations by the author. Thank you for your time and consideration.


50+ illustrations by the author? INSTANT NO. 
Putting this in your query is a huge HUGE red flag. For starters, most adult novels don't have illustrations. Second, even if there were illustrations, there aren't going to be 50. Third, the fact that you include this makes me wonder what else you don't know. Like, there are going to be edits, and no you don't have control over the title or the cover.


If you want this book to have illustrations, most likely you're a good candidate for self publishing. Total artistic control etc etc.

To answer your other question from above: I'd leave out that you plan this to continue over five books. You'll need to get one published before you have two, let alone five.  The conversation about sequels can take place at a later date.

I've had editors say no to debut novelists cause they were leery of the "it's five books total" plan. That was a brutal lesson let me tell you.

Revise this. Think plain.
Even if you want your book to be not-plain, working in the short format of a query means you have to get to the point and communicate clearly. This is not the time for your reader to wonder what you mean. That's for chapter XXIX, footnote z.



Friday, June 17, 2016

#278

Question:
My novel weaves back and forth between 1991 to present, but the query letter focuses on the present timeline, with a few references to the past. I'm not sure if I've been successful or if it's a muddy mess.

Dear Query Shark:

Heather Cole has a secret. When she was twelve, she killed her best friend. A mythical figure called The Red Lady made her do it and helped her get away with it, too. Twenty-five years later, Heather, now a child psychologist, receives a half-heart necklace in the mail. The last time she saw it was on the body of her friend.

Construction crews are about to dig up a field near her parents' house, and she has to find the evidence buried there before they do. More pieces of her past arrive in the mail, each one telling a different story. And someone's lurking outside her office. Someone who reminds her of the Red Lady.

Since she "got away with it" what evidence is there? In other words, did Heather  get away with it, or just avoid suspicion. Two very different things.

You might consider leaving the question of whether the Red Lady is real more ambiguous. Ambiguity is good in a novel like this. Given the next paragraph, it seems like there IS ambiguity already!

As much as Heather would like to believe the Red Lady's real, she knows better now, which makes her a cold-blooded murderer. Unless someone's been playing a masterful game of manipulation all along. Even with all her experience in the workings of the human mind, the search for the truth might drag her into a labyrinth of lies she can't escape.

THE LIAR'S TRUTH, a thriller that weaves back and forth between the present and the summer of 1991, is complete at 83,000 words.

This is a very good way to handle the two timelines. Just from reading this query I can intuit that 1991 is the year Heather killed her best friend.

This is not a thriller. This is psychological suspense. And that's good for you, cause thrillers are harder to sell right now.

I'm the author of THIS (Small Publisher, 2016), a novel, and THAT (Small Publications, 2015), winner of the This is Horror Award for Short Story Collection of the Year. My short fiction has been nominated twice for a Bram Stoker Award, reprinted in The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror and The Year's Best Weird Fiction and published in in various anthologies and magazines, including Cemetery Dance Online, Nightmare Magazine, and Black Static.

Thank you for your time and consideration,



Have confidence in yourself. This isn't even close to a muddy mess.

I'd say make a few minor revisions and you're good to go.

And don't forget to put me on your query list. I'd read this.



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

No, no and no

Your query letter should NOT include large blocks of text in italic.



Your query letter should NOT have anything decorative in it, like this pretty blue stripe. (Watch for "image.gif" as an attachment, when you're not sending attachments.) TEST your email on a different computer if you're not sure if this is happening.



Your query letter should NOT be a big bloc O'Text.



Break up paragraphs into 3 or 4 lines, then add a blank line to create white space.
Big blocs o'text are almost impossible to read. Making your query harder to read is
not a good idea.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

#277-FTW

Dear Query Shark,

The only thing Walt Dempsy’s father left him, before getting locked up for good, was the ability to take a punch. Which comes in handy when you are the only guy who won't play along in a dying beach town run by vicious drug dealers and dirty money.

I like this. It engages my interest and while my sox are still on my toes, this looks good.

A once epic brawler Walt now spends his nights working a security gig at the hospital, and his mornings flirting with Piper the bartender over breakfast beers. It had been years since he’d had been in a real fight, or since anyone had noticed him at all.

What gives this paragraph heft is that last phrase "since anyone noticed him at all." Right there we know a lot about Walt. In fact, this feels like the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks.


Everything changed the night the nor'easter storm hit and Walt was the sole witness to a deadly car crash. Inside the burning wreckage he finds a man drawing his last breath and a small fortune in drug money. In a desperate moment Walt steals the money from the burning car and sets off a chain of events that force him down a dangerous road filled with drugs, dirty cops, con men, and deranged killers.

I'd change Walt was to Walt is. I have a fondness for queries in the present tense because I think it pumps up the energy, and in a short form like a query it's not too tiring for the reader.

Now we've all seen this plot before. There've been novels, and movies with this. But, because I like the writing here, I'm going to keep reading.


As he struggles to cover his tracks from that night an old flame shows up in town with fresh hell in tow. She was blonde now, and calling herself Eve, but she was still the same beautiful troublemaker from when they were teenagers.

And again She is a blonde now is much better.
And she is still the same.

And the reason I'm glad I kept reading is that lovely turn of phrase "fresh hell in tow."

This is the kind of thing I look for in a query: turns of phrase, word choices that give me confidence that even with a plot I've seen, you're going to write so well I won't be able to put the manuscript down.


Eve had a desperate need for money and the dangerous man he was in his youth to protect her. The dirty money was more than enough to make all her troubles go away. The only problem is he can’t show a dime of it without raising the suspicions of Shudo, the deranged and ruthless drug kingpin, and risking certain death.


Now Walt is faced with an impossible choice: dig up the violent man he used to be and risk blowing the lid off his safe but stagnant life for a shot with the girl who got away, or stay in the shadows and watch his world slowly fade away around him.

And I'm in. At this point, I'm reading pages and PRAYING they're good.
Your query has done her job.

COLD SNAP is a complete, 73,000 word thriller I would describe as "No Country for Old Men" meets "The Town". Thank you for your time and consideration.


Now, if you really wanted to knock my socks off, you'd mention that "The Town" is based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, and then mention that you think it's an example of a perfect novel, which I might have raved about once  or twice

If you've only seen the movie, stop reading right now, and go order the book and read it.

Now back to the query.

This query works not because it's fresh and new but because the writing is good. It catches my attention. There are lovely turns of phrase. 

If the book needs work on the plot that's a whole lot easier than trying to fix the writing.



Thursday, April 28, 2016

#276-revised once

Revision #1

Mira is a thirty-two year old writer in Brooklyn whose past relationship, soul-sucking job, and frequent writer’s block all drive her to drink. This would be very bad except the local bar owner is Tom, a smart, sardonic, self-made man who is easy on the eyes and who looks at Mira in a way that makes her knees buckle. Mira’s past keeps her from acting on her attraction until a beautiful woman walks into the bar and starts hanging on to Tom’s every word. Suddenly, it is no longer easy for Mira to keep her feelings for Tom at arm's length. But Tom has had enough of Mira's push and pull.



This is better than the first iteration, but let's look at what you're doing here: you're using a LOT of cliches. "Soul sucking job" is a good example. Unless your job is an actual dementor (and yes I had to look that up to make sure I was using the right word) this isn't a phrase that sheds much light on things. What makes it soul sucking? The people? The customers? The literary agents who critique your every memo and tweet?  


And "drive her to drink" is another. It's a trite phrase. How much is she drinking? What is she drinking? Is she pouring vodka in her coffee cup at 6am or is she having two old fashioneds at the bar instead of one Shirley Temple?


Details make a story come alive. Right now this is bland. Bland does NOT entice. 


At work, Mira is presented with a distraction - a girl from the neighborhood has disappeared amidst whispers of a local drug ring. Mira starts covering the story but unfortunately her snooping catches the attention of the wrong kind of people. After spotting Mira witnessing a shakedown gone awry, these gang members give her chase making Mira run to the first place that comes to her mind - Tom's bar.





You'll want to ditch that whole first paragraph and start here. Here is where something interesting happens, and that's a whole lot more enticing than trying to suss out what kind of hooch Mira is guzzling and when.


But, honestly, if thugs are after me, my first stop is the local police station, not a bar. You might think about whether it's the first place that comes to mind, or the first place she actually sees. Again, details are what make the story work. 


And it's "give chase" not "give her chase" meaning to chase after her. Give her chase means they're handing her a bank.

While the gang members now lay siege outside, Mira and Tom must figure out how to get past their heated emotions in order to escape and Mira must accept that feelings are not resolved by keeping them at arm's length.


Wait, what?? There's a siege in Brooklyn? At a bar? Call the cops! For starters, how is someone laying siege in this day and age? Well, ok, I've laid siege to my liquor cabinet but I don't think that's what you mean here.


And we've gone from being chased by thugs, to figuring out our emotions? Does this actually make sense when you see it written down like this? (no, it doesn't)  Here's where you need to step outside your writerly self, and read with an objective eye. Does this make sense? Is this how someone would behave? If it's NOT, why are they behaving oddly? If Mira and Tom are reviewing their relationship while being threatened by thugs, there must be a reason it's more important to them. 


THE CHRONICLES OF MANIA is an upmarket women's fiction complete at 70,000 words.



This is better than what you had in the first iteration, but you're still on the wrong side of bland. We also need a better sense of the plot.



What does Mira want? What's keeping her from getting it? What's at stake for her with that desire?



Query #1
It’s the late eighties in New York and Mira is a thirty-two year old single woman living in Brooklyn. She works at a dead end job writing corny ad copy for a living. Her evenings are spent drinking with the old bartender at her local bar and thinking about her past love. She has a strong chemistry with the bar’s owner, Tom but she actively ignores it and refuses to let him come close.


There's nothing technically wrong with this paragraph, but I'd stop reading here and send a form rejection.  The purpose of a query letter is to entice your reader (in this case, me) to read more.


Honestly, Mira sounds like someone I'd actively avoid. 


Think about it: if someone asked you what your book is about, would you tell them what you wrote in this first paragraph?

I have no sense that you love this story and can't wait to tell it.

Also troublesome: why is this set in the 80's? That's practically historical fiction for youngish readers, and for those of us who were actually there, why go back? It hasn't become chic like the 40's or the 20's, and unless you need to have Ronald Reagan or Duran Duran in the book, why?

This has all the hallmarks of a "based on my life" kind of novel. Remember, most lives don't let themselves to well-plotted enticing novels (and thank goodness!)  If you are using events of your life, remember, this is a novel. You get to make stuff up. In fact, you can make it ALL up.

When you hear "not right for my list" this is the kind of thing we mean. It's not grabbing me.

On New Year’s Eve, alone and drunk in her apartment, Mira decides to finally take charge and do what she had always planned to do with her life - she decides to write a book and gives herself one year .

The only thing more painful than writing a novel is reading about someone writing a novel.

But fortunately it doesn't look like Mira's novel is actually a very important part of the plot....

For the next twelve months, we see Mira constantly trying (and mostly failing) to write while having a series of misadventures. Her job duties become more unbearable, she meets Jim Buckley, a persistent drunk who brings disaster wherever he goes, Tom leaves for Italy and comes back with a beautiful girl, and Mira’s neighbor, Lollys, disappears one day raising suspicions about a neighborhood drug ring.


What does this have to do with Mira's novel? It's also a series of events, rather than a plot.
And I'm sure this is just me but a character who is a "persistent drunk" is so unappetizing I don't know where to start. Drunk people are funny if you're also drunk with them. Reading about them, or being around them sober is excruciating.


Through a bizarre twist of events Mira finds herself one night being the witness of a drug dealer’s murder. She is chased by the murderers into Tom’s building where for five nights Mira and Tom stay trapped without a telephone while armed thugs guard the front door.

Wait, what? What happened to the novel? I thought Tom came back from Italy with a girlfriend?

And "bizarre twist of events" leaves me shaken and afraid. It's code for "I'm going to do something awful to these people" or "I'm going to show you what deus ex machina REALLY looks like."  If I'm reading your novel, a twist is great, I love the twists. Bizarre turns of events are where I put the book down and say "yea, not so much."

“The Chronicles of Mania’ is a novel finished at 70,000 words.


The only way to save this query is to energize the writing. You can do that with sentence structure and word choice.  I'll read almost anything if it sounds interesting. Your job is to make this sound interesting.


Right now it's not.
It's not a red hot mess.
It's got the fundamentals, but it doesn't do the job.


Don't be afraid to be bold in your query. Get some sizzle on the page.



Saturday, February 6, 2016

#275

Dear Query Shark,

Blind Trust (fact-based fiction) is complete at 83,000 words.

Right from the start my eyes are rolling. "Fact based fiction" is a HUGE red flag. Limiting your story to what really happened is a choke chain on creativity. If you want to write something factual, it's called narrative non-fiction. If you want to write fiction, don't let facts get in the way. (Of course, you can't make it unbelievable either--that's the art of writing)


There were all those questions from Arthur… damn him and his questions! Life was grand for Ted and Ellen Rivers before their forty year old daughter brought home her latest husband, Arthur Ferguson. Arthur’s ambitious inquisition threatens to upset the family’s blueprint for success. They had more money than they knew what to do with... and they had Max Custer. Ted and Ellen were intoxicated by Max’s astonishing brilliance. He was awash in red carpet clients and espoused that he and his global staff of experts could insure their newly found prosperity would keep the whole family well off for generations to come.

The first two sentences are in the wrong order. Unless we know who Arthur is, the first sentence doesn't make much sense. You're also awash in words here: Ted and Ellen's daughter brings home a new husband who says he can keep them rich for generations to come. Your paragraph has 103 words; my sentence has 20 and is easier to understand.


Arthur dares to challenge the sophisticated professional. He obviously doesn’t appreciate that Max is the expert. Surely, Max must have been an altar boy or maybe even a boy scout before he became an international finance wizard. Arthur claimed to be an accountant, but was for some nebulous reason between jobs. The innocent but colorful lives of Ted and Ellen Rivers are changed forever when Arthur launches his own investigation to expose Max Custer’s skeletons.

At this point I"m too confused to keep reading. I have no idea who the main character is. I have no idea what's at stake. I have no sense of where or when the story takes place.

Countless unsuspecting victims have been similarly duped. A writer friend of mine was also seduced by one of these financial experts. The proceeds from her best seller vanished. Suddenly she was broke. She described it as being mugged, or even T-boned, but was too ashamed to write the story. This eye opening revelation should appeal to a broad audience, because nearly everybody knows somebody that has experienced a similar humiliation.

None of that belongs in a query for a novel.

This is Ted and Ellen’s story; a dramatized version of actual events. I personally researched every intimate detail of the ominous scheme Max hatched. In fact, I was there. Names were changed, but actual documents and much of the ostentatious verbiage and techniques that were used by Max (and his “global staff of experts”) is included. Ted and Ellen were from another generation and had more fight and resilience than anyone expected. While not victorious, they were not entirely defeated either.

It sounds like you're writing an expose here, not a novel. I see this a lot from people (and friends of people) who have been victimized by some scurrilous ne'er do well.

What you're forgetting is that the story must come first. Accuracy in relating events and dialogue is not something I give a whit about in novels. I care about plot and story.


Blind Trust is rife with events and details so bizarre it is sometimes hard to believe they are really true.

You know that truism "truth is stranger than fiction?" There's a reason it's a truism, and this is it. What you don't realize is this is NOT a selling point for a novel. When I read a novel I want to believe it's true, not think it isn't. That's why you get to make stuff up: so it sounds authentic.

I realize this seems odd, particularly to people enamoured of facts and truth, but often the things that sound most authentic and illuminate points of darkness are in fact made up.


After returning from Vietnam, I earned a B.S. in Business Administration and have had an extensive career in corporate and forensic accounting. I have been published in the Birmingham Business Journal, The Smoking Poet and CJ’s Writer’s Blog. I live in Wisconsin with my wife and two dogs in our ongoing 1890 farmhouse restoration.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

This is a mess. Are you sure you read the QueryShark archives?

Who is the main character? What does s/he want? What's keeping him from getting it?
If you are intent on telling this story as a warning to others, you might think about a different form. Murder mysteries are seldom seen as warnings not to be killed.

Dupe novels seldom keep people from being duped.

If you want to write a story using these events as your inspiration, don't stay wedded to the facts. It's fiction, you get to make it all up.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

#274-revised 1x

 

Dear QueryShark,
If the Ancients knew what Blackwater had been through, they would have asked someone else to save the world. The Ancients, a race of Phoenixian beings born of fire, and until their fall, thought to be immortal, had prophesied that a man born of water would come to save the world from Chaos and its minions. 
I like this. It sets up some expectations for Blackwater.  You don't need to explain the Ancients in the query. Keep the focus on Blackwater.

Blackwater knew the words of the prophecy all to well. He had been forced to memorize them as a child.
Blackwater is was a Key Master, the last Key Master, able to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye. All the other Key Masters have been where (you mean were here, not where) hunted down and killed, their power thought to (too) great to be allowed to exist. Blackwater was is walking death; his powers, coupled with the training he received from his father, made him one of the deadliest men in the world. 

Present tense provides an energy to your query that can really help.
So Blackwater IS, not Blackwater was, made him/make him
Now tucked away from the rest of the world in a forest where time moves much slower, Blackwater wonders what good power is if you cannot save the ones that mattered most. So many had died trying to save him. Blackwater’s father taught him that all life was precious, that he should preserve life and that he should not kill, unless absolutely necessary and in the defense of his own life.

And here you just fall off the story line in a big ol splat. "ones who matter most" "so many died" are all so non-specific as to be uninteresting. Uninteresting is death in a query.
And in fact, none of this really matters; you get to the gist of the book below.

Yet all he wanted to do was kill, kill those who had taken the lives of so many of the people he cared about. Doing so would disgrace his father's memory, and that was something he was not willing to do. So here he stood, still unable to preserve the life of anyone but himself. 
In a twist of fate Blackwater finds himself in the company of the Ancient forest god Arbor. Arbor reveals to Blackwater that the world is dying. Blackwater learns that the only way to save the world lies beneath it, in the underground city of Taenaria. The city is thousands of leagues from the forest where he now resides. In order to save the world of Tuarian, Blackwater must make a Keyway and travel to the Eastern Reaches, down into the depths of Taenaria.

I really can't tell you how much I hate the idea of a forest god named Arbor. It's like naming a dog Dog. It's funny if you're trying to be ironic. It's not really very funny here.  
In Taenaria, Blackwater’s choices go from bad to worse, when he must weigh his life against his newly found companions. If Blackwater saves his companions at the cost of his life, the prophecy might never be fulfilled and Chaos will reign, if he lets them die, the world will lose the only chance it has against the Chaos that is coming.

Because we know nothing about the companions I'm all for letting them die die die. In other words, I need something here to make me care about them. Are they sharks? Unicorn sharks? Let them live.
Fair maidens? Yea, not so much. Fair maidens are the source of much of the world's troubles.

The Key Masters Chronicles: Book I, The Last Key Master, complete at 100,843 words, is Science Fiction Fantasy. 
Thank you for your Cconsideration.

I'm still seeing a LOT of typos here.

Typos like this are just death in a query because you're not doing this for stylistic reasons, you're just making mistakes. When I see things like too/to, and where/were I know I'll find them in the manuscript. 

You simply must figure out how to handle this problem before you query further. No matter how enticing your novel sounds, this kind of mistake will mean form rejections.
 
 This is a vast improvement from the initial query, but you've got some problems to fix here.














Dear Query Shark,

(1) I don’t know if I can save her. I’m not sure I can save myself. I have failed so many times.My friends, my family, they all had a chance to live but I was never fast enough, never strong enough.

Because you've started with "I", my impression is you are talking about yourself.  This sounds like a memoir.

(2) Now they're gone, taken from me, their lives no longer bound to this dying land. Yet I remain, why, for what? To fulfill some Prophecy spoken four-thousand seasons ago.

Now it sounds like a memoir with religious overtones. This is where I stop reading. Two paragraphs and eight sentences. You're done.

This is a textbook illustration of why you do not write a query in the voice of your character. It's confusing. And when I am confused, I stop reading. I don't stop to try to figure it out. I don't skim past this to see what comes next. I stop reading, and go on to the next query. You'd get a form rejection from me; you'll get a vast silence from agents who practice No Response Means No.

(3) The Ancients couldn't possibly know me, or what I’ve been through, if they did they would’ve asked someone else to save the world.

When you revise this, you should consider starting at (3). Use the character's name instead of "me" and "I".  I like the phrase "if they did, they would have asked someone else to save the world."  That sentence snags my attention. I'm interested to see why someone else should have been asked to save the world.  (Too bad I wouldn't see it with this version of course)

Blackwater was a Key Master. Being blessed with the power to fashion magical keys, Blackwater could conjure Keyways, to travel from place to place in the blink of an eye. All the Key Masters that traversed the vast land of Taurian, have been hunted down and killed, their craft falling into myth and legend, yet Blackwater, the last Key Master, still lives.


You've got a lot of words here to say some pretty simple things: Blackwater can travel from place to place in the blink of an eye because he's a Key Master. The last Key Master; all the others have been hunted down and killed.

See the difference? You don't need all this information in the query. I'm going to assume that most of the backstory, and world building, will happen in the novel. Right now I'm keen to see whether you've got a plot, and whether the writing is taut.

Also, most queries are written in present tense even if the novel is not. Present tense gives you a boost of energy and verve here:  Blackwater IS a Key Master.

Aida cannot remember her name, nor where she comes from, or how she came to be with child. Confused and afraid, she stumbles into Blackwater’s forest. Aida is taken by the Taenarians who wish to steal the magic her child carries. Blackwater must now choose whether to use his Key Magic to rescue her, or watch another innocent lose their life because he did nothing to prevent it. Traveling into the depths of Taenaria, Blackwater seeks to rescue Aida, whose womb carries the essence of rebirth and the key to saving this dying world.

oh yuck yuck yuck. Here is where I lose interest very quickly. We've gone from something that looked appealing "wrong choice to saving the world" to saving some sort of fecund damsel in distress. (I'm really over the whole damsel in distress thing, but that's probably just me)

You've set up Blackwater's choice but there's nothing at stake. He saves her and what bad thing happens to him? He doesn't save her, and what worse thing will happen? Unless Blackwater has skin in the game, it's just a series of events with no tension.

Even without the problems in (1) and (2) I'd say no to this query because there's no sense of what's at stake. 

Also notice you dropped those evil Taenarians in without any explanation, and those poor doddering Ancients from (3) have disappeared.

If you think of a query as a piece of flash fiction it might help.  It has to hold together as a complete entity. You don't have to spell everything out (your reader will intuit things) but the query needs to be seamless. Mentioning a character only once leaves a gap. Seamless = no gaps.

The Key Masters Chronicles: Book I, The Last Key Master, complete at 111,843 words, is commercial fiction.

It's not commercial fiction; it's SFF.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The first thing to do is make sure your novel has something at stake. Even if you fix the query letter, it won't do you any good to send me a novel with nothing at stake. What's at stake for Blackwater needs to be clear in the first 20 pages or so. Generally I'll give a requested full about 50 pages to hook me, but you really want that to happen as soon as possible.

Once you've got the novel in shape, revise the query to remove the character's POV, and tighten up the paragraphs. Use present tense.



Saturday, January 16, 2016

#273


 When writing the query I had realized there was no possible way to write a succinct summary for so many timelines and character lines for (what I thought) was a finished 190,000 word novel. then, BAM, I realized, holy crap!

 Easily understood afterwards, of course, but, once I separated the timelines and characters, splitting and parsing it between seven (future) books to force it under the 100,000 limit- It all made sense.

 Hindsight is a dork we all know. But it took the Query Shark and many edits to realize what I had to do. Thank you for that. 
Dear Query Shark:

A seasoned captain. A passionate coman. Their duties performed from necessity, their choices from personality.

This doesn't tell me anything. It's the portentous voiceover in a movie trailer or the tag line on a book cover.

It doesn't serve any purpose in a query and worse, with coman, it's confusing. I don't have a clue what coman means. It sounds like a furry creature in a forest, maybe kin to a koala.

What appears to them in the languishing days of mineral extraction will test a captain's resolve for stability. It will test a coman's choices of personal humility.
And this is more of the same. Except now I'm thinking the coman is perhaps a robot of some kind?




 Prematurely set back towards Earth, Captain Quanta Strohm Lathif, a dutiful and proud veteran of Our World's Pride Fleet, and Coman Whittman Stahl, the captain's energetic subordinate, the crew of ship Yarppah bring with them an unfilled minera hull; three less baybots; Myryan, a first contact species, who has succumbed to his wounds in their botbay, and his trailing Avayrian ship bouncing off their tail.
There are 65words in this sentence. If you can speak them aloud without drawing breath, I'd think you're part fish. A sentence in a query should be fewer than 20 words as a general guideline--you should be able to say the whole sentence in one breath. Short form work like query letters benefit from succinct sentences.


In addition you have FIVE named characters in ONE sentence. The CAPS here are to emphasize this is too many. (The five are: Captain QSL, Coman WS; the ship; the first contact alien, his ship)


You've already told us Captain QSL is a "seasoned veteran". You don't need to repeat it. Do we need to know the name of the fleet? Do we need to know the name of the ship? (Hint: no)


You've got words I don't recognize: minara; baybot, botbay. Obviously in science fiction you'll have new words but it's really helpful if you keep those to a minimum in the query letter cause you don't have room to provide much context. And baybot/botbay is just begging for confusion in the novel, let alone the query.

In SF (and historical fiction) novels (let alone queries) you want to make double dog sure your prose is as lean as possible. Include only that which is absolutely necessary because you've got to save room for all the world-building, and providing context so your reader can intuit what botbay, baybot and minara means.

I sort of get the idea here: there's ship coming home with aliens on board.  The only thing I'm wondering about is why they're coming home early (a question you don't address at all.)


 On Earth, Jerrison Glanders, an appointed OWP Watcher under the Minders, languishes day to day in his office. As sudden as his coffee turns over on his desk and spills to the floor, his demeaning minute by minute transtanking of OWP's captains peaks and emulsifies from his life's journey into becoming a Watcher and the personal change he must now follow.
I literally do not understand what "his demeaning minute by minute transtanking of OWP's captains peaks and emulsifies from his life's journey into becoming a Watcher and the personal change he must now follow." means. This is death in a query. If I'm skimming along and I don't understand a sentence, I assume I was reading too quickly. I go back to the start of the paragraph and read again slowly. If I don't get it the second time, I'll look for things like a missing word, a misspelling, some sort of error that will allow me to figure out the sentence. If I come up empty on the third time  I stop reading.

In addition we now have two more names (Glanders, Minders) to remember. This makes seven. That's four if not five too many.
 

 Looking for change and leniency of both himself and those captains, Mr. Glanders sets out for a deal of reciprocity beginning an off Earth search for the scheming clandestine habitual needs of Senior Watcher R. M. Fahreel, who's multi-world rock collection is as pertinent and bonded to his personality as a rattle and blanket is to a child.

And there's eight. 
And bonded to his personality doesn't make sense. A good metaphor illuminates something, it doesn't make me try to figure out how you can bond something to an abstract concept.

 It is still a pang upon my gritted teeth to dispel and distill within this query letter from moving beyond a single page and flagrantly slipping into the entirety of a second novel.

This sentence is gibberish.  I hope you can see that when you look at it again. 


 My science fiction novel, CASIMIR LURE, lies in a future where there is no dystopia, only the political and scientific push that we as a species look to attain. The novel is completed (foil your prime limits) at 95,000 words. the first book of a six novel series, THE CASIMIR EFFECT, is in the works for continued enticement with an additional 130,000 words of story and additional character development within.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

I've read some long SF novels in my day. I've even requested fulls for novels that clocked in at 190K. I'm not intimidated by length and (given the length of City on Fire by Garth Risk Halberg, a BEA Book buzz novel in 2015) I'm confident long novels are making a comeback.

The problem here is not the length. The problem is I don't understand what you're talking about. I don't have any idea of what problem the captain faces. I don't understand who the main character is, or, if there are multiple focal characters,  what the precipitating incident is. 
Charles Dickens is the master of long-ass novels with multiple focal characters. If you consider Bleak House as an example, Dickens sets the reader down in London, and then describes the lawsuit that is the precipitating incident for the novel:

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.


So, yes, it's entirely possible to have a long-ass book described in 221 well-chosen, elegant words.  And if you say scoff and say "yea, well that's Dickens!" all I say to you is: that's exactly what you want to aim for.

And if you're thinking it can't be done in this day and age, and in your specific category, well, here's Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

The precipitating incident: trouble is brewing, the cold is returning. There's not a lot of specifics here but you get the sense of the novel: it's a grand adventure.   And notice: only ONE made up word: wildling, but the reader can easily intuit they are wild beasts/men/creatures of some sort.


As your query stands right now it would be rejected after the second paragraph but even if you polish this up, I worry about the novel. Remember, the purpose of a query is to entice me to read the novel.  A perfect query, with pages that go splat isn't any more useful to you than a bad query.

Time to get some outside eyeballs on the manuscript. A good crit group or beta reader is probably the best next step rather than simply revising and resending the query.