Sunday, June 4, 2017


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.


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


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.


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

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.

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
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.