Sunday, January 21, 2018

#295

Questions:

1) This novel has a lot of action, but it's about the complications and mounting tension in the main character's life. You mention a thriller has larger stakes than one person's life, so how would you categorize this? Suspense?

2) The book has 3 acts with tension and stakes building. This query is about the final conflict. Is that okay?

3) I feel the current title would grab attention, but is it a bad idea to tip my hand? Other titles I've considered include DISARMING THE BEASTS, and PREDATOR'S TITHE.

4) While the protagonist is a woman, I don't consider this is chick lit. Cassie is an emotionally damaged, socially awkward Jason Bourne with a medical degree. Should I query chick lit agents or stick to thriller/suspense (or however you categorize this?)



Dear QueryShark:

Cassiopeia Gordon (Cassie) has spent 12 years trying to erase one night—not easy for someone with a photographic memory. When she was an 18-year-old virgin, her drill instructor savagely raped her.

One thing that just drives me bonkers is listing a character's name and then her (nickname) in parentheses. This is not a newspaper article or a police report. Call your character what you call her in the book: Cassie Gordon.

A close second on the bonkers list is putting a character's age in parens for the same reasons. You avoided that here, thankfully.

And I'm not sure why you mention her memory; it doesn't seem to be a plot point later on. And no one needs a photographic memory to have problems forgetting a savage rape. 


Determined she'll never be victimized again, Cassie has trained relentlessly in hand-to-hand combat, while becoming a trauma surgeon to repair bodily damage. Those skills and a facility for language have led her to join an elite Marine strike force where she proudly keeps her team members safe.

This is a total hodge podge of information. She's trained relentlessly so she'll never be a victim, and then becomes a trauma surgeon to repair bodily damage? Whose body? Trauma surgeons by definition are repairing damage. You don't need to say both things.

She's a member of an elite Marine strike force and a trauma surgeon? Really? Where did she find the time? Oh and she's got a facility for languages. And let's not forget the photographic memory.

You're making the classic mistake here of creating a caricature, not a character. A character's flaws are what make her interesting, not the fact that she's superwoman in camouflage scrubs.

A more interesting story is how someone who ISN'T Superwoman responds to an attack and seeks vengeance.

Now the CIA has recruited Cassie to join its operation. Onboarding will happen at headquarters near where Cassie's best friend lives. Not only is Melody the closest thing Cassie has to family, she's also the only person who really understands Cassie's past. A fellow victim of the serial rapist drill sergeant, Melody has channeled her experience into helping others as a rape counselor.



When a series of Melody's clients reveal their attackers admitted—even bragged about—the number of women they've raped, Melody can take no more. If the system won't stop these monsters, Melody decides she must.

Why won't the system stop these monsters? It's not as though rape is the unspoken-of crime it was 40 years ago. Women and men report rapes all the time. What makes these beyond the law?

Though equally sickened by the revelations, Cassie recognizes the dangers of Melody's plan and tries to dissuade her—unsuccessfully.

What's Melody's plan? Kill the rapists. I'm very much in favor of that. Slowly too. This is where the book would get much more interesting: how these lovely ladies take their revenge, and what it costs them (ie what's at stake for them.)  You can't brutalize the brutalizer without being yourself becoming a brutalizer. 


If Cassie doesn't act, the only sister she's ever had could be imprisoned for the rest of her life. To save Melody, Cassie will have to break the law and risk losing everything — her medical license, CIA career, her freedom, and possibly the only man she's ever loved.

Melody will get imprisoned only if she's caught, right? So Cassie's dilemma is whether to report her, try to stop her, or do nothing. You need to be specific about what's at stake here for each of those choices. Breaking the law brings possible prison. Losing her medical license, her career? What's the down side of that for her? 



You've created a too-good-to-true character and set her up as an avenging angel. This is textbook first novel syndrome. A character has to have some flaws to be interesting. She has to make tough choices. Maybe even wrong choices. There's really nothing better than someone doing good for the wrong reason and getting in trouble for it.

Also, the villains here have zero nuance. Thus they are uninteresting. This is why it's very very hard to write compellingly about child abuse and sex crimes. The perpetrators aren't all that interesting; they're just ugly souls I don't want to spend much time with. 

It tells you something that a lot of people thought Omar the rip and run artist was the most interesting character on The Wire; that Satan is more interesting than Christ in Milton's Paradises Lost and Found.

What makes both Omar and Satan interesting is the choices they make. We have sympathy for them. We see their flaws. We know they're doing the wrong thing, but we see why they are doing it.


DISMEMBRISTS is a 95,000 word adult thriller exploring themes of trauma, vulnerability, friendship, betrayal, sacrifice, and love.

Mentioning themes in a query is not the way to go. Tell me about the story.

This is my first novel, though I've spent 20+ years conceiving and writing advertising. After reading so many accounts of campus and military sexual assault, I had to write a response. This is it, in time for the #MeToo movement.

Even if I sold this book tomorrow, it wouldn't be on the shelves for another 12-18 months. Don't put anything in your query that will make me think it's going to be outdated any time soon. And sorry to say, what's of interest to people in social media today doesn't always last. Do I hope we continue to talk about sexual violence? Damn straight I do. But don't bet your query on it.


Thank you for your time and consideration.



1) This novel has a lot of action, but it's about the complications and mounting tension in the main character's life. You mention a thriller has larger stakes than one person's life, so how would you categorize this? Suspense?

Suspense novels have an uncertain outcome. Generally in a thriller we know Our Hero will prevail, we just don't know how, or at what cost. In suspense novels we're not so sure of the outcome. This is neither a thriller nor a novel of suspense. It's a crime novel.

2) The book has 3 acts with tension and stakes building. This query is about the final conflict. Is that okay?

No. You want to tell me about what happens in the first act. If you're querying with what happens at the end of the book, it's sign that you don't have enough plot or enough at stake. 

3) I feel the current title would grab attention, but is it a bad idea to tip my hand? Other titles I've considered include DISARMING THE BEASTS, and PREDATOR'S TITHE.

Don't worry about the title. But yes, the one you have makes the book sound like a horror novel. That said, I don't even consider the title when I'm looking at a query. This isn't even close to the terrible titles that actual clients have chosen for their mss (yes, they got changed!)

4) While the protagonist is a woman, I don't consider this is chick lit. Cassie is an emotionally damaged, socially awkward Jason Bourne with a medical degree. Should I query chick lit agents or stick to thriller/suspense (or however you categorize this?)

This literally made me laugh out loud. You don't know what chick lit is do you? It's ok if you don't, it's a term that has to be learned like everything else. It's not a character flaw to not know everything. But chick lit is a term for  girl comes to city for job, finds love, battles love and bad boyfriends. In other words, books where the main character is the polar opposite of Jason Bourne.

Before you query anyone I'd suggest revising both the query and making sure the novel has enough plot, and three dimensional characters. I think you've got a problem there that this query illuminates.







Saturday, January 13, 2018

#294


I've been wading in the shark tank for countless hours, slushing through every single archived post. My eyes sting and I'm dehydrated from all the salt water, but it's been worth it! Harpooning all the advice in the archives, I've brutalized my original query so much that I feel as vicious as a Great White. Still, writing can always be improved!

Q1: Way back in the archives you asked an author why he/she would look for an agent if they already have 19 published novels. Do you think the sentence after my bio explains why I'm seeking representation? Is it okay to leave in?

Q2: Agents are looking for ethnically diverse characters, especially in children's stories and fantasy, right? I touch on this in the query AND state it in the housekeeping part. Is this okay or am I stuffing it in the agent's face?



Dear Query Shark,

In the realm of Edynfell there are magical beings called larsts. Conrad doesn't know what larsts are or that he's supposed to be one. In fact, Conrad knows very little about himself. Is he black, white, or mixed race? Is he actually thirteen years old?

The only thing Conrad knows for sure is he's stuck in Pennsylvania's Foster Care system. When he's adopted under bizarre circumstances, he discovers larsts, his own incredible background, and Edynfell.


I like that second paragraph a whole lot better than the first. It gives me a MUCH better idea of the story.  Even if you just switch the order, you'll be better off.

Conrad faces more than magic and monsters in this medieval-like realm. All teenage boys must train for the honor of becoming a knight, but greater things are at stake than knighthood. There are two possible larsts who can unite the divided clans of Edynfell: Conrad and a powerful dark larst whose cruel heart will destroy the realm.

This is all set up and background. I know you want to get us into the world, but it's more important to introduce us to Conrad so that we care about what happens to him. You haven't done that here yet.

This is also pretty abstract. Why are the clans divided? Why does anyone care? Why do they need to be united? Why are we so sure Conrad isn't the dark larst? (Now THAT would be a good story!)

The clans will unite when the twelve missing jewels from the Crest of Edynfell are collected. The problem is Conrad's lack of powers keeps him from believing he's a larst. Conrad needs to have faith in himself and his new friends to unite Edynfell before darkness rules.

Well, that's just not enough to carry a book. Something has to be at stake here, even in a middle grade novel. Something has to be at stake for us to care about what happens to the characters.  

Also, if he doesn't have powers, how is he a larst?
And what does his being multi-racial (paragraph one) have to do with anything? I actually like it better when race is just something a character is, not a plot point. But that means you don't mention his racial makeup till the housekeeping section since it's not a key part of the story.


CONRAD OF EDYNFELL: THE KING'S JEWEL is a MG fantasy with 75,000 words and has potential to be a series. The protagonist is bi-racial and I understand agents are seeking ethnically diverse characters.


Please leave out any kind of statement about what we're looking for. We know what we're looking for.

I am an experienced author of twelve published novels with Small Company Pubbing Books Inc. I am seeking representation to help grow my career into larger publishing companies and wider distribution. 


You want someone who can grow your career. You don't need to say anything else.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


This just doesn't stand out. It's not terrible. It's not even bad. But it's not fresh and new. It doesn't do what a query must do: entice me to read on. I don't read a lot of mg fantasy, but I've started to recently, and the ones that just heat up my enthusiasm teapot are the ones where I really care what happens to the characters. I don't care about Conrad yet, so this query  isn't effective yet.

Yes, we're looking for books with diverse characters, but that's in addition to a compelling plot, not in lieu of.

I think the problem here is the book, not the query.

As to your questions:


Q1: Way back in the archives you asked an author why he/she would look for an agent if they already have 19 published novels. Do you think the sentence after my bio explains why I'm seeking representation? Is it okay to leave in?

Yup. Yup.
You can actually leave it out too unless you want me looking up sales figures for your previous books.

Q2: Agents are looking for ethnically diverse characters, especially in children's stories and fantasy, right? I touch on this in the query AND state it in the housekeeping part. Is this okay or am I stuffing it in the agent's face?

Just tell me about the story. You can leave out anything about what I'm looking for. 


Sunday, January 7, 2018

#293


Question: 
It has taken me countless edits of this query to get it where it is now, but it still garners no positive responses. I am wondering if I'm doing anything jarringly wrong and have yet to realize it. I also have a specific concern about mentioning so many characters and plot points in the query that may or may not make it confusing.


Dear Query Shark,

America in 2050 has never been in a better state, but military prodigy Alyssa Scarlet is at her very worst.

Let's start with military prodigy. Prodigy is generally defined as someone who demonstrate an exceptional talen at an early age. Mozart is the go-to example. Shirley Temple was another.

Your use of it here doesn’t tell me anything. Is Alyssa a six-year-old sniper? A twelve-year old general? (ok, that's a bad example, cause ALL twelve-year-olds think they're the family general.)


And it's quibbling, I know, but describing a country as being "in a better state" sounds off to me, given that states are geographical components of a country. At first glance when you hear America and state in the same sentence it's confusing. This is the kind of writing that tells me you're not stepping back to look at this with an objective eye. You know what you mean here and you're assuming/believing/hoping everyone else will too.

Revision is where you step back and think: how can someone misunderstand this, and then fixing/clarifying/changing words. (I should mention it took me YEARS to learn this, and only after daily blog posts with comments from readers that showed they didn't get what I was bumbling around trying to say.)

The pressures of being a politician’s goddaughter are becoming unbearable, especially with her obsessive compulsivity tearing away at her heart.

What?

This sentences has NO connection to the preceding sentence. Unless being a politician also means you're in the military.

And "obsessive compulsivity" makes me reach for my grammar school instructions for sentence diagramming. In other words you've stopped communicating and started confusing. This is NOT what you want to do in a query.

Sentences and paragraphs should flow one from another UNLESS you're deliberately veering to a new place for effect.



At this point, Alyssa’s not sure if she has one left, which is what makes her the perfect goddaughter to a crime lord.


One what?

And here's where I stop reading.

You've got a lot of description but nothing is clear.




But to be the perfect goddaughter, Alyssa must commit a number of crimes.

I'm pretty sure I've never asked any goddaughter of mine to commit a crime. On the surface this sentence is ridiculous. If there's a reason GodPops wants Alyssa out on a crime spree, you need to tell us. It's not something your reader will intuit.

She reluctantly accepts a job with her older sister, Avarice, a girl perpetually stuck in a place between mania and depression. Their latest target: murder Jason Drake and steal Excalibur, the sword of lightning. Unfortunately for them, criminal prodigy Jason Drake is at the best he’s ever been. At least, that’s what he tells himself.


None of this makes sense. You've got too much information without answering the basic questions of plot: What does Alyssa want and what's keeping her from getting it?

Also, two main characters with sound-alike names is something I'd always ask you to change before a ms went on submission (Alyssa/Avarice.) And using Avarice as a name sounds like a Puritan morality tale where Prudence and Chastity the blacksmith's daughters are subjected to the advance of Lewd and Lust the sons of the town's evil overlord. In other words, consider a name change.


Jason has his personal demons, but he doesn’t let them stop him from doing what he does best.

Personal demons is such a cliché that one of my colleagues started saying she'd only consider manuscripts with professional caliber demons. No more amateurs.






Thievery is practically his middle name, and his next target is Excalibur. But getting past security is the least of his problems. Jason has to think of a way to get away from his controlling older brother, Connor, and the very pretty girl who is after his sword and his heart— quite literally. And those are the things he knows about. Neither Jason nor Alyssa know about the sequestered elves with a vendetta. The island of Avalon has a war to win, and they’re willing to sacrifice the human side of their captives in order to forge the perfect weapons. Alyssa and Jason must find a way off the island, or depend on their families to rescue them, which may end in disaster.

Since I've stopped reading, I won't see this but again you've got so much information here that my head is spinning. Focus!

Excalibur and Avalon are specific names we associate with an established story. Unless you're retelling that story, with a new twist, it's better to have your own names for things.


To help her find the pair, Avarice enlists the help of Jade, a schizophrenic girl who calls the basement her Wonderland, and Connor, the boy who is practically married to his money. Their goals are clear in the beginning, but the underhanded politics of their nation beg the question of where their loyalties really lie, ensuing America’s second civil war. Even if Alyssa and Jason escape Avalon, will they ever escape war?



I need a sword of lightning here to cut through the underbrush. You've got five named characters (three is the most you should have) not counting the swords and the locations.



THE LIGHTNING INHERENT is a YA Science-Fiction novel that includes LGBT themes, racial diversity, characters with mental illness, and social justice themes that give the book a dark contemporary twist.

Social justice is dark? Really? I'm pretty sure that's not what you meant to convey.

THE LIGHTNING INHERENT is complete at 95,000 words and is available upon request.

Of course it's available on request. You don't need to state the obvious.


Thank you in advance for your consideration,


This is over written.

It reads like a first draft, and yes, I know you have worked on it but you haven't honed it down to the essentials. Revise OUT everything that isn't about Alyssa and Jason. Focus on the main story.

And yes, you have entirely too many characters and plot points.




Revise, resend.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

#292

Question: I have revised my query until my fingers bled. And yet nothing. So I am wondering if I'm doing something in my query to put agents off without realising it.


Dear QueryShark:

Loren Blake is taking down the patriarchy one revenge plot at a time.

Well I'm all for that, but this doesn't give us any sense of of what's at stake.


As long as she can get away with it.

And this doesn't help. It's too abstract.



When she starts dating school goth Alexa their relationship is like pouring gasoline on the fire and she finds out just how far she is willing to go for the people she loves and what she's willing to sacrifice to protect them.


Too abstract. 
Gasoline on a fire is a cliche. 

She discovers that a boy in her school has raped her closest friend and knows that the only way to stop him is to kill him. Loren doesn’t believe in second chances.

Aha, finally!
Here's where the story starts. 
Why does she think the only way to stop him is to kill him?

And you can bet that by now, she knows how to get away with it.

The Gospel According to Loren Blake is my first novel, it is YA contemporary complete at 84,000 words. It has an lgbt protagonist and is #ownvoices. I am a thirty year old private tutor with purple hair that made me a poor fit for my previous career in teaching.


Your main character's name is an oddity. Laurell K. Hamilton wrote the Anita Blake vampire series. That info was just a squiggle in my brain as I read this, but my first thought was you were paying homage to those books, or that author. (The Goth reference above probably got me thinking like that.)
If you ARE, fine. If you're NOT, you might consider a name change.

I have included the first ten pages and a synopsis below. I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to hearing from you.

Of course you hope I enjoy it. That's like saying you hope I'll keep breathing while I read it. I'm picky about this stuff because I like to see a query that doesn't state the obvious. If you do that here, you'll do it in the novel.  Yes, persnickty and nitpicky. But there's a reason for that.

The only way to close a query is Thank you for your time and consideration.

The answer to your question is yes, this query doesn't do the job. 
You've got the goods, this is an interesting plot, and you've got voice (I know that from your description of yourself) but this query doesn't show that well enough.


Revise, resend.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

#291

Questions:
Will beginning each part of my book with a stanza be a total turn-off for agents? Not including it in a response to a request for pages would be dishonest; but I realize the only other creatures in the sea who share my love of poetry might be cryptozoological.

Is including supplementary/reference material at the end of a manuscript frowned upon? (Not as extreme as Operation Red Jericho)

Dearest Carcharodon Inquiro,
Filo is a glitch in a centuries-old U.N. plan. The Academy was designed to admit one child from each family. There shouldn’t have been any siblings. Filo and his brother must decide which of them is to attend and which must stay behind. When another child fails to show on Collection day, Filo secretly takes Silas’ place. He thinks he is merely an imposter protecting his frightened friend. He is trying to fit into a hole he was not designed for.


This is a hot mess of backstory and explanation. SIMPLIFY! I should be able to read this paragraph straight through without pausing to think "huh??" and at the end know what problem the main character faces. Yes, it's really hard to get it right.  It helps to prune out everything that doesn't matter, AND go in chronological order.

Filo is a glitch in a centuries-old U.N. plan.
The Academy was designed to admit one child from each family.
The Academy admits one child from each family.
There shouldn’t have been any siblings.
Filo and his brother must decide which of them is to attend and which must stay behind.
When another child fails to show on Collection day, Filo secretly takes Silas’ place.
(I'm assuming that Filo's brother is NOT Silas' but that is not clear here at all.)

He thinks he is merely an imposter protecting his frightened friend.
He is trying to fit into a hole he was not designed for.
But: he's not. And this is where the query goes flat. If he's not just an imposter, what is he?

At the Advancement Academy, 21 students are instructed in the ways of an ideal Humanity. A perfected gene-pool, crafted ethics, and dogged morals. Their charter from the United Nations is to restore mankind to a better state.

Eleven years later, all Filo wants is to complete his training unnoticed. To maintain calm and order. A resurgence of suppressed memories and the appearance of Silas dissolve this balance and bring Filo under the microscope. He can either escape the compound with Silas or stay and let the Academy run its course. Escape would jeopardize not only the success of his fellows, but the entire species. If he stays, he might be collateral damage.


And here's where I've stopped reading. That entire first paragraph is now backstory. It's clear the main part of the plot takes place here, eleven years later. And what you've written is too abstract to be interesting. I'm confused about who Silas is, I have no idea what happened to his brother, and I thought "The Academy" was an institution not something like a disease.

Then there’s the matter of being an asexual male charged with repopulating the planet.

Huh? Where the everloving holy moly did that come from?


INITUS is 47,000 words of young adult fiction and deals with the paradoxes of ethics and diversity from the revolving viewpoints of Filo, his brother, their co-conspiring classmates, and Silas. INITUS is GENESIS with a human instigator -- a real-life macrocosmic ‘Take Two’.

I don't understand any of that. 

And there's no way you can write any kind of complex world-building-required fantasy in 47,000 words. You'll need twice that.

Thank you for your time and consideration!

As to your questions:


(1) Will beginning each part of my book with a stanza be a total turn-off for agents? Not including it in a response to a request for pages would be dishonest; but I realize the only other creatures in the sea who share my love of poetry might be cryptozoological.

 It wouldn't be dishonest at all. I'm not sure why you think it would be. Lots of things get added to a book betwixt submission to an agent and publication. Glossaries, indexes, timelines, maps, and epigraphs (which is what you're talking about.)

You can include them if you want of course. I personally find them distracting and useless but I just skip over them. I don't stop reading if you include them.



(2) Is including supplementary/reference material at the end of a manuscript frowned upon? (Not as extreme as Operation Red Jericho)

This is added later if the editor thinks it's beneficial.  For example, there are extensive author notes in Gary Corby's historical novels about the real life events and timeline for the world he's created. All of that is added after the book has been edited.


Those things aren't even close to your problem here though.

Your problem is two fold: a hot mess of confusion in the query, and word count in the book.

First things first: figure out what you left out of the book if you think it's finished at 47K. Then rework the query to show us:

Who is the main character?
What does he want?
What is keeping him from getting what he wants?
What must she sacrifice to get what he wants?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

#290-Revised once

Revision

Dear Queryshark,

Aisha Batu is not a typical housemaid. She is educated, she wears expensive clothes, and her employers Henry and Teju Cole have become her informal, foster parents. But her old this tranquil life suddenly changes when she is raped. By Henry.

It's not an old life that's disrupted, it's the way she's living now, in the present day, as the story unfolds.

Physically broken and emotionally shattered, Aisha stumbles through her days with only one thing on her mind: getting back to her home village, Gaa Sabi. Gaa Sabi means her dysfunctional opportunistic family, her betrothed - Attahiru, and more importantly, it means keeping the terrible betrayal to herself.

Show us how she feels by what she does. Stumbles is a good word to convey that she's not doing well. Why does she have to keep the terrible betrayal to herself? That's the part of the story that creates tension. If this is discovered, what bad thing will happen?


 But nothing in Aisha's life is that simple anymore... Not only is her return to Gaa Sabi complicated by a positive pregnancy test  – but Teju has just been diagnosed with terminal leukemia and with less than three months left to live, specifically requests for Aisha as her end-of-days caregiver. Torn between grief and loyalty, she puts aside her intense fear for the man who has assaulted her and chooses to stay.


 Why the everloving hell would she do that?

 You have two very separate things in one sentence: "Not only is her return to Gaa Sabi complicated by a positive pregnancy test  – but Teju has just been diagnosed with terminal leukemia"

Since Teju is NOT in Gaa Sabi, it doesn't make sense to have it follow the "not only is her return to Gaa Sabbi" clause.

 Consider this:
Torn between grief and loyalty, she puts aside her intense fear for the man who has assaulted her and chooses to stay can she put aside her intense fear to help a woman she loves like a mother during her final days? And then of course, there's the pregnancy.





Amidst caring for Teju, avoiding Henry without raising suspicion and discouraging a hell-bent suitor, Aisha manages to keep her pregnancy to herself and negotiate her life as normally as she could
manage. Until yet another potential tumult is thrown at her, revealing what she's fought so hard to hide, and threatening to take away all she has; her unborn child, Teju, and even her chance at love. Aisha must decide what is most important to her, face her fears and fight her battles, and learn how to hope again in the face of devastating heartbreak.

So you've set this up nicely and now you throw in all this other stuff, and it's so abstract as to be meaningless. 


WHEN I WAKE, is a women's fiction complete at 95,000 words. I have included the first chapter as required and would be happy to send the completed manuscript on request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

You don't need to say the first chapter is requested. Most agents are pretty familiar with their own submission guidelines.

You're getting closer.
Revise, resend.

---------------------------------------------------

Question, I'm an African, and this novel is African-themed, do I need to query agents who strictly represents African writers or do I generally query agents who represents books in my genre?

Dear QueryShark,
When Aisha, a young Fulani maid, chooses to stay with her dying foster mother, she has no idea she'd be investing her heart for an emotional whirlwind. 

This isn't a log line (which I think you intended it to be.) You don't need a log line in a query, and if you did, a good log line is less about description (a young Fulani maid) and more about action.

Aisha Batu is not a typical housemaid. She is educated, she wears expensive clothes, and her employers Henry and Teju Cole has have become her informal, foster parents. But her old tranquil life suddenly changes when she is raped. By Henry.

This paragraph is a much more dynamic set up than what you had for a log line. It's specific. It gives us a sense of the characters, and we have an emotional response to what happens. In other words: start with this.

Reeling emotionally from the storm caused by her foster father's betrayal, she Aisha resolves to return to her home village to heal. However, Teju - her foster mum - gets devastating news; she has leukemia and has less than three months left to live. Torn between grief and her sense of duty, Aisha is forced chooses to put her intense fear and hatred for Henry at bay and stay with her dying foster mom.

Aisha isn't forced, she chooses. That's the actual strength of the story.  You don't need to tell us Teju is Aisha's foster mom again since you introduced her in the preceding paragraph.

Reeling emotionally from the storm is just overwrought writing and really out of place here. Don't be afraid to be plain. Aisha was raped by a man she trusted. We don't need to be told she's reeling; WE are reeling with her.

 With the clock ticking out the seconds of Teju's life, and the struggling through hospital visits, endless tests and fainting spells, the extraordinary bond between both women deepens. As Aisha works on piecing her life together, she watches Teju's own fade away. Determined to make Teju's final days as joyful and painless as possible, she keeps Henry's brutal attack to herself. 

 The charade is kept up until she When Aisha discovers she is pregnant, and soon her secret is out. Her reticent friendship with Teju is disrupted, and she faces the risk of losing everything she has ever cared for. She must decide the depth of her loyalty, how far she could go for love, and, in the face of devastating heartbreak, learn how to hope again.

 Reticent is the wrong word here. It's a word that describes a person not a friendship. You might have meant nascent. But, nascent would imply she's just now becoming friends with Teju, and that doesn't feel right. Aishu is choosing to stay with her; surely that means they were friends of long standing.

I also don't understand what any of "risk of losing everything" etc means. She is going to lose Teju. I hope she's kicking Henry to the curb in terms of any kind of filial devotion. What else does she have to lose? Be specific here. Specificity will engage your readers; generalities will not.

WHEN I WAKE, a one sided narrative adult fiction is complete at 95,000 words. I have attached included the first chapter as required and would be happy to send the completed manuscript on request.

I'm not sure what one sided means here.  
Unless instructed otherwise, you'll include the pages in the email NOT attach them as a document of any sort.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


You should query every agent who represents commercial fiction, literary fiction or women's fiction. Do not limit yourself to agents who've expressed interest in African stories. As far as I can see here, there is nothing uniquely African in this story. It's much more of a universal story. That it is set in Africa (I assume) is a bonus.

 I'm not sure if English is your first or second language. If it's your second, get a native speaker to review this with you to pick out problems like "reticent." If it's your first language, get a good copy editor to help you find problems like "reticent."

Revise with an eye to being very specific about what's at stake for Aisha.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

#289

Question: So in my end paragraph as you'll see that I included comments about the representation that's in my story. And yes, I'm trying to think of a less generic title. But anyways, do you think it's alright to put that there? We need representation in books and I know that many agents and readers are looking for that, so I thought it might be a good idea.

Dear Hungry Query Shark,

All that beautiful and intelligent Tinkerbell wants is to survive, though granted she does it differently than other UnSeelie Fae. Neverland is a fun-filled wonderland, and Tinkerbell has happily spent her centuries luring children there with the help of her brainwashed, broken, and beloved Peter Pan. There children are safe from that nasty outside world full of horrific pain, and can be carefree and always happy. Until the day prior to their thirteenth birthday.

That sound you hear is me screeching with frustration at "beautiful and intelligent." Wait, I hear you saying, what?? How can that be bad??

It's not so much bad as boring.  Compare it to "brainwashed, broken and beloved" or even better "useless, nasty, scum filled" both of which are MUCH more interesting. And I have a real thing about female characters being described by how they look first, rather than what they do. You've escaped the full cauldron of rage with "intelligent" but you're still in the soup cause intelligent really doesn't have much zip.

If Tinkerbell is your main character, you want some zip in her description. You do NOT want boring.

You could actually chop that entire first sentence and be better off.


But now some useless, nasty, scum-filled imaginary friend by the name of Wendy has come along. She thinks Tinkerbell’s Neverland is barbaric, that Peter Pan needs to be saved, that Neverland needs to come crashing down and Tinkerbell must die. So naturally, Tinkerbell wants her gone. But paradise has gotten boring, so she decides upon a game rather than just sending the snivelling little thing to whatever afterlife imaginary friends have.

This is vivid writing. I love it. I'm not sure I completely understand why Wendy hates Neverland, but I don't really care. Right now I'm enticed. That's all you need.

Thus it’s a chess game to keep control over Peter Pan; whoever captures the king’s his mind wins the chess game. If Tinkerbell wins she’ll make sure a fate worse than evisceration awaits her opponent. But if Wendy wins, one way or another Neverland will fall.

It took me a second to realize that Peter Pan and "the king" are the same guy.  You can avoid that by using him, rather than calling Peter Pan by a new designation in the same sentence.

In short form writing like query letters, one trick for clarity is not calling the characters more than one thing.

NEVERLAND is a 61,000 word YA psychological thriller retelling of Peter Pan, and is told from the point of views of both Tinkerbell and Wendy. There are examples of racial diversity as well as LGBTA+ diversity in my manuscript, as I believe diversity in literature is essential. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


As to your question: I think this is a nice concise way to alert agents and editors that your book is inclusive. And yes, editors are telling us they're looking for inclusive books, so it's a good idea to have it there.

I don't hate the title. 

This needs some polishing up, but after that I think it's ready to go out.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

#288-FTW



QUESTIONS:
1) Initially I had more words dedicated to each section, but worried it’d be nothing but loglines and you’d eat me alive. Is focusing extensively on the first two parts the right way to go, or do I need to diminish them to slightly flesh out the other parts?
2) The "alliances form" paragraph describes events in the last ~10% of the novel. Since each part has its own arc and stakes, is it cheating to use the end of the book like this?

Dear QueryShark,

Abbi Abrams loves hunting demons. She also sucks at it. She's fired for letting a couchtar escape (a couch-human centaur, by the way). In drunken woe, Abbi quite literally falls into a clutch of demon eggs (apocalyptically bad, by the way). Abbi fears she's a mediocre screwup, but she's also the only one who can stop a demonic conspiracy from obliterating her town.

We cross the universe.

Oasa scours the cosmos, finding the last piece of her mother's crown in the claws of an old friend. He asks a favor: transport the son of the alien zealot who butchered Oasa's mother. Oasa reluctantly agrees, but so-called allies betray them. She flees, desperately seeking the human homeworld of legend. Instead, Oasa unearths the horrifying origin of her royal lineage.

We travel onward.

A self-loathing scientist chases a serial killer across time.
A lovelorn angel escorts a woman through demon country.
A British mother discovers the sorcerer shopkeeper in her neighborhood.
A C.I.A. agent hunts her terrorist ex-boyfriend.
A friendless tween survives an island of monsters.
A vengeful synthetic liberates his people.

Alliances form. Enemies are made. A bloody battle ensues. And when the negotiations begin, these eight must figure out how to save the world from each other, and how to make the world a place worth saving.

LEGENDS is my first novel, a genre-blending episodic adventure. At 176,000 words, LEGENDS is The Avengers without superheroes, Bone Clocks with more punching.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


The hell with the critique, send the manuscript toot sweet. (ok, I know it's tout suite) This query breaks almost every rule in the book. It also works. Why? Well for starters, the voice. It's vibrant. It's fun. It's enticing.

And there's a couchtar. How would I NOT read a book with a couchtar?
And yes, I know the author made that up, but still, it's hilarious.

And then there's the phrase "mediocre screwup" which made me laugh out loud.

At this point, I'm unplugging my laptop and carrying it out of my office and getting second reads on the query from my colleagues here.

And yes, they all thought it was funny and charming.

And of course, too long by a wide margin, but that STILL didn't stop us from wanting to read it.
It did make us demand a synopsis with the manuscript, but the key information here is WE WANTED TO READ A 176K novel!

Never let anyone tell you that 176K is a deal breaker. It may be to some (lesser) agents, but here at The Reef we sneer at such things. I'd rather pare something down than not have enough story.

This query works.

Now to answer your questions, cause even though I've already demanded you send me the full, you will KEEP QUERYING.

(1) Focusing on two is fine. I'm assuming these two are the characters who first appear in the book. It will help if they appear in the order they do in the query too. That means Abbi first, Oasa second.  If I start reading pages and neither Abbi nor Oasa appear fairly quickly, I'll probably start skimming to find them.

(2) It's fine to use it. And it would wreck the rhythm here if you didn't. Write what works, even if "the rules" say otherwise.

Did  I mention send this ASAP enough?

Friday, April 14, 2017

#287-Revised 1x

Dear Query Shark:

Realtor Reed Winford suspects something is wrong with the historic house he has agreed to sell for an old client but he thinks at worst it is bad plumbing or a leaky roof. The last thing he expects is the ghost of a young jazz-age woman who lived in the home in the 1920s and who was murdered a hundred years ago.



And here's where I stopped reading this revision.
This paragraph is an exact replica of the first revision; the one I wrote four paragraphs of notes on last time.

Failing to revise is fine. You don't have to follow my advice at all.

What you can't do is not follow my advice and then ask for more. That seems a poor use of time for both of us.

I see this less in queries, and more in novels. When I give notes to prospective clients, there's always the chance they think I'm delusional, off my rocker, have no taste, or a myriad of other reasons they think the advice is flawed.  Such is the way of subjective evaluations of any art form.

But then sending the novel back for further consideration, that's where I lose my cool. If you think I'm wrong, why the hell would you want me to represent your work.




Winford knows he must find a way to remove the haunting in order to sell the house. His business is selling homes and he has a job to do. He uses clues from old records, maps and antiques found at the home to track the woman’s prior locations when she was alive. As he’s drawn deeper into this woman’s tragic life, he begins to have real feelings for her. Now he wants justice for her death. He talks to the police, title researchers and the ghost herself, trying to find out who killed her and why.

When someone tries to murder Winford, he discovers that she may not be the only ghost, and that the evil which killed this wonderful woman is still in the city and must be confronted and destroyed.

Winford tracks down the source of corruption using smuggler’s maps and old photographs dug up from a grave. His skills pay off when he is able to discover the crime family’s headquarters as well as their secret to remaining in power even after death.

Writing books like this is the best way I've found to combine my two biggest hobbies: writing and real estate. I’ve been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Boy’s Life and Capper’s Weekly. I’ve won the Crowder College Golden Quill Award.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
 --------------------------------------------------------------------------

First revision
Realtor Reed Winford suspects something is wrong with the historic house he has agreed to sell for an old client but he thinks at worst it is bad plumbing or a leaky roof. The last thing he expects is the ghost of a young jazz-age flapper who lived in the home in the 1920s and who was murdered a hundred years ago.

These sentences convey information but not vitality. Remember the purpose of a query is to entice your reader (ie me) to want to read more, not just tell me about the book you've written. A query is more like a sales pitch than an informational interview.

One of the fastest and easiest way to punch up the vitality of a query is to ditch those long ass sentences. Short, sweet, hubba hubba.

For example: Realtor Reed Winford suspects something is wrong with the historic house he has agreed to sell for an old client. At worst it is bad plumbing or a leaky roof. The last thing he expects is the ghost of a young jazz-age flapper who lived in the home in the 1920s and who was murdered a hundred years ago.

You don't always need complete sentence: At worst, bad plumbing or a leaky roof.
You don't need to repeat yourself: jazz-age flapper, 1920's


Winford knows he must find a way to remove the haunting in order to sell the house. His business is selling homes and he can’t let a ghost ruin a deal. He uses his real estate skills and clues from old records, maps and antiques found at the home to track the woman’s prior locations when she was alive. As he’s drawn deeper into this woman’s tragic life, he begins to have real feelings for her. Now he wants justice for her death. He talks to the police, title researchers and the ghost herself, trying to find out who killed her and why.

You don't remove the haunting, you remove the ghost.
You don't need every single piece of information that you've got here. This is not a checklist for a home inspection!


When Then someone tries to murder Winford with an old car and an ancient safe, he discovers that she may not be the only ghost. The evil which killed this wonderful woman is still in the city and must be confronted and destroyed.


Winford tracks down the source of corruption using smuggler’s maps and old photographs dug up from a grave. His real estate dective skills pay off when he is able to discover the crime family’s headquarters as well as their secret to remaining in power even after death.

Don't reveal the entire plot in the query. At MOST you want the first act.

I’ve been published in (this), (that)  and (them). I’ve won the (That) Award. I live in the Seattle area and the locations in the book are real.

The fact you live in Seattle and locations are real isn't a selling point. It's a novel; you can make it all up if you want. That the locations are ACCURATE is my big sticking point. I can't stand when writers get the geography of a real place wrong. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Thank you for changing the name of the main character. That helps a lot.

Now, it's time to spruce up the writing here. A query needs to be vivid. It's not just a conveyance.

And if your query reflects the writing in your novel, you'll need to take a look at that too. Remember a query is intended to entice me to read the novel. If the novel isn't spruced up that's not the fault of your query!

Reflect, revise, resend.


----------------------



Original query

The centennial of the Roaring Twenties is coming, and there will be a resurgence of interest in that era. This novel combines the mystery, romance, fantasy and history of that time. Realtor to the Dead, a paranormal mystery of 118,000 words, describes how a modern day real estate agent handles a house haunted by a crime from that era. 

Your query doesn't need a prologue. Start with the story.
And it's almost always a terrible idea to project where readers interest will be going. Given the popularity of Downton Abbey right now, a "resurgence" in interest in the 20's may very well have come and gone.


(MC NAME) is an agent who enjoys his career but always seems to get stuck with the difficult house listings. He thinks his luck is about to change when he gets to list an early 1900's beach-front house in the suburbs of Seattle. GERTRUDE SEDGWICK is a 99-year old woman who is selling the home, which has been in her family for many years, although she suspects something is wrong with the house she's trying to sell. And she’s right.

Start with something interesting. That MC enjoys his career is nice, but it's not very interesting.


(MC) finds a ghost in the home during an open house. He discovers she is a young jazz-age flapper girl who used to live in the home in the 1920’s, and who was murdered nearly a hundred years ago. (MC) uses his real estate skills (and a dug-up bootlegger relic from the Antiques Roadshow) to track down the woman’s prior locations, using historical property documents and maps. He finds an underground speakeasy in Seattle’s historic district. This leads to talks with police, title researchers and the ghost herself. Who killed this woman and why? What connection does it have to one of the city's richest immigrant families? Who is trying to kill (MC) through antique automobiles and an ancient safe? It gets worse when they try to destroy the house (MC) is trying to sell, by attacking it during the filming of a reality TV show.

You're getting lost in events here. What's at stake for our MC? Why does he want to solve her murder?


(MC)is also drawn deeper into feelings for the dead woman. This sends him on a quest to get closer to her by using antique telephones, eyeglasses and phonograph records. He takes it a step further in an intimate scene involving an antique magic trick!

This is so abstract I don't know what you mean. For starters you HAVE feelings, you don't get drawn deeper into them. I've jumped up and down about plain writing here more times than I can count but it bears repeating. Plain and simple is almost always the best way forward.


(MC) tracks down the criminal source using smuggler’s maps and old photographs dug up from a graveyard. His real estate detective skills pay off when he’s able to discover the crime family’s headquarters, as well as their secret to eternal life.

oh. Eternal life huh.
Well, that moves it right off the crime shelf and into something else.

I have published short works in Chicken Soup for the Soul, THIS and THAT. I have won THOSE College's SPLENDID Award. It was more fun and personal to name the agent/detective after myself. I live in the Seattle area, and the book’s locations are real.

Naming the protagonist after yourself is textbook confusion for an agent reading this. I thought it was memoir when I read it first. If I'd gotten this in the slush I would have rejected it instantly cause it looked like you were talking about yourself in the the third person.  

I STRONGLY urge you to revisit this choice. It doesn't add value, and it makes your query ripe for misunderstanding. That is not what you want.

Please be an agent to this agent!

I'm also at work on another novel.

(MC name)


It's pretty clear you haven't read all or even enough of the Query Shark archives yet. There's a template for getting plot on the page, and a template for a closing line. You've missed both of those. You don't have to follow all the rules, but if you break them it should be for a reason, not cause you don't know them.

Read the archives.
Revise.
Resend.




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#286-revised 1x

Revision #1

Lesa has always looked like her father. But after her mother left, Lesa began to take on her father’s worse traits: his overwhelming loneliness, his violent anger, his desire to be loved even if he had to force it. Lesa would give anything not to become like him.

One of the first things I notice here, and would if I were reading this in my incoming queries is that "overwhelming loneliness" is not a trait. It's a state of being, or a condition. While it may be picky, it's exactly the kind of thing I look for in a query because it's not a deft use of words.

However, at seventeen, Lesa becomes something else: an “outcast,” one of many people to spontaneously acquire a superpower. Lesa renames herself Chaos, hoping to distance herself from her father. But Chaos’s outcast ability—hearing thoughts—only makes her lonelier. Then, Chaos’s power becomes more frightening. She dreams other people’s dreams. She accidentally kills a man by tearing at his mind. Chaos fears she’s the monster everyone believes outcasts to be.

You can solve the problem of the entire first paragraph simply by inserting "who is prone to anger and trying to force love" after "father" in the second line:

 Lesa renames herself Chaos, hoping to distance herself from her father, who is prone to anger and tries to force love.

You can see from this awkward sentence that "trying to force love" doesn't really make sense here and that means you need to use different words to convey what you mean.

If you're going to use "outcast" as a proper noun, it will help to cap it in every use: Chaos fears she’s the monster everyone believes Outcasts to be.

And I have no idea what "tearing at his mind" means.  I think I know what you meant, but it's not what you said.  That's a problem in a query. If I don't understand something, I'm not going to assume it's my problem. I'm going to conclude that the writing isn't clear. That's exactly what you do not want to convey.

If you've been working on your novel and your query for a long time, you might be blind to some of these things. Always ALWAYS have someone not familiar with your book read over your query. Ask them to mark what they don't understand. Or what's not clear. Or where they were confused.



Chaos decides that her only chance is to find her mother. If she can convince her mother to love her, without any of her father’s tactics, then she’ll no longer be like him. But traveling is dangerous. Outcasts are hated by the public, hunted down by researchers, and easy to identify on sight. To go means risking capture and experimentation. Not to go means having no way to prove that she isn’t a monster.

And again, the word choice here of "tactics" befuddles me. Tactics aren't loneliness or anger. Tactics are actions. So far your reader has not seen any tactics.

And this is actually where you should end the query. You've got the set up, you've got what's at stake. You've got the choice Chaos has to make.


The dangers are more than Chaos could ever prepare for. Outcasts are being tossed dead onto the streets. Her mother is involved in their capture. Chaos is soon forced to make a choice: to become a monster and save herself or give up the only thing she’s ever wanted. Love.

This is just repeating what you said in the preceding paragraph. Other than the fact that Mum is involved in capturing Outcasts, which you could work in to the paragraph.

CHAOS is a YA speculative fiction novel with 75,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Marie Lu’s The Young Elites and fans of X-Men.

I hold a BA in writing and have short fiction published in Literary Orphans and Strangelet journal. Thank you for your time and consideration.


You've got the structure of the query down pretty well, but this would not survive my incoming query sorting (yes/pass) because the writing isn't clear and focused, and we have no sense of Chaos as a character.

 ----------------
Initial query
Question:
My character changes her name from Lesa to Chaos in the first chapter, and this fact is significant for clarity. Have I dealt with this information in a way that isn't confusing? I have other worries, but if I list them all, I'll start spiraling into self doubt. :) Thank you for your time and critique!

Dear Query Shark,

When Lesa becomes an “outcast”, she gains the ability to hear thoughts. But the thoughts make her scream, tear at her hair, and worst of all, they deepen her loneliness. Eevery time she hears people think of their families, she misses her mother. In seven years, Lesa has only seen her mother on television.

If you leave out the screaming and hair tearing, you get your reader to focus on what's important: Lesa misses her mom. It's really important to be as focused as possible in a query.

Like many outcasts, Lesa is captured. She Lesa renames herself Chaos and escapes with four other outcasts, making her first friends. But Chaos can’t ignore the fact that her power is becoming more frightening. She’s dreaming other people’s dreams, and She accidentally kills a man by tearing at his mind. She fears she’s the monster everyone believes outcasts to be. And who would stay friends with someone like that?

 The first sentence about being captured doesn't connect to anything else in the paragraph. By whom? What for? And the paragraph appears to be about Chaos learning what this new ability is going to do to her. Focus!

Worse yet, Outcasts are turning up black-eyed on the streets of the capital, stripped of their powers, and Foxwell, head of research, is seeking out more. The other outcasts want to go to the capital to fight, but Chaos isn’t sure. If she goes, she must leave friends, risk her life, and face her own monstrousness.


And here's where you go splat. You've introduced a character with no context (Foxwell) which is confusing. You've got some sort of fighting, also with no context. You've equated leaving friends, risking her life, and facing her own monstrousness as equal problems. My guess is they aren't.


But she could also, maybe, find her mother.

Unless she's a duckling in a picture book, finding her mom must have some additional value other than just reuniting with her. Some context here will help. 

CHAOS is a YA speculative fiction novel with 80,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Marie Lu (The Young Elites) as well as to fans of super-humans with flawed powers such as X-Men’s Rogue.

I hold a BA in writing and have short fiction published by in THIS and THAT.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Right now this is too general to be enticing. You've got to give us a compelling reason to care about what happens to Lesa/Chaos and HOW you talk about her is the way to do that.  Make us feel what she feels, what she's afraid of, what she hopes for, what she's willing to risk and why.

Answer to your question: I think the name change is handled very well. I wasn't confused at all.

Answer to your other worries: Stop. Focus on fixing your query. You can't control a lot of this stuff, but you are in absolute control of what you write. 

Revise. Resend.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

#285-Revised once

First revision
Dear Query Shark:
Eleven-year-old Emma Slate doesn't know she is the last guardian of magic. Not, that is, until her new stepbrother,  Jack, pulls her into the Shadowlands (even he doesn't know how he did it, and please-stop-asking-so-many-questions). There, Emma discovers a world peopled with skyscraper giants, fairies who love math, and tours a house filled with escaped book characters.

For the first time in her life, Emma belongs somewhere, as she discovers friends and her own growing magic.

When a half-human witch steals the Iris, it could mean the end of magic and the loss of everyone she Emmaloves, unless Emma she finds it in seven days. If she doesn't, the witch's (probably smelly) minions will feed on Emma's soul. Forever. You know what sounds even more impossible? Emma must work with Jack, come to grips with her mom's death, and confront her ideas of what it means to be family.

THE SHADOWLANDS, middle grade fantasy, is 83,169 words.

This is my first novel, though I have been featured on Blog Her twice. I drew on experiences raising a child with selective mutism in writing my main character, who shares this trait.

I currently attempt to shepherd five book-hungry children as a single mom. In my spare time (term used loosely), I commandeer various sea- and un-sea worthy vessels down the Snake River.

I love this bio. It's fun, it's interesting, and I want to go zipping down the Snake River with you.

Thank you for your consideration,


 This is so much better I'm in awe. 
I think you would have caught the minor revisions if you'd let this sit another week or so. 

Pare out everything you don't need. All the theres, howevers and buts. End on a climactic note. Don't try to stuff everything in the query.

I like this a lot.

Honestly, I'd probably read pages based on the bio alone. I know that will make all the non-Snake River wranglers moan with despair, but it's true. An interesting bio is a powerful tool.

------------------------------------------
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.