Tag Archives: Query Letter

Query Critique

Original Query:

Dear (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it.

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain on the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world, they have no choice but to work together, despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And when his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories.

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The Critique:

Dear Ms. (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it. (How old is he? We find out it’s YA at the end, but you want to ground the reader (agent) in what kind of book you’ve written up-front. That can be fixed easily by adding: Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old…etc. Also! You can tighten this and make it more present by moving a few words around. Ex: Seventeen-year-old small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.)

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. (This can also be condensed a bit for more impact. It’s a wordy way of continuing to talk about Tristan’s hanging when the reader should be thrust into the action/conflict faster. So far we’ve read a lot about the stuff that happens BEFORE the action. Since most of the conflict occurs after this, flesh that out more.) Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain (this is unnecessary) On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world (since they were sucked through a portal, the “foreign world” part is assumed. You can cut this extra info so you have more wordage to add to the conflict and obstacles) they have no choice but to work together (by saying “they are forced to work together” it conveys the same message and chops extraneous words), despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And When his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories. (Who steals her memories? The henchman or the evil god? It’s a little unclear. A fast way to fix that is like this: When a henchman fails to capture the girl, he steals her memories instead. Or better yet, do we need to know the henchman steals her memories? It might be best to remove that element completely to avoid character soup.)

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god(dess) of Earth. (What conflict does that pose for the evil god? We need a little something here about why the evil god wants her and what the consequence will be if he succeeds. What are the stakes or choices? Will capturing her soul destroy their world?)

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy. (Good ending. One minor tweak; I would say that it’s a stand alone with series potential.)

Thank you for your time and consideration. (Perfect!)

Your Name

Phone Number

Email

Other Contact Info/Website/Etc.

A couple of nitpick-y things: Be aware of using too many words that end in “ly”, there are quite a few that are “telling” instead of showing. I.e. Tightly, accidentally, desperately, suddenly, reluctantly, etc. It’s okay to use some – just know that for a short blurb they start to stand out when they aren’t necessary.

The Aftermath:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.

Just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky, smashing the gallows and freeing him. While attempting escape in the midst of the chaos, he’s accidentally sucked into another dimension.

On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped, they are forced to work together despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. When his plan of capturing the girl fails, he steals her memories instead. Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the goddess of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It’s a stand alone with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Your Name

Okay…so with this condensed version, you now have extra word space to flesh out the conflict and choices the characters face once they are in the other world MORE. Don’t be afraid to lay the stakes out there for the agent. 

Thanks so much for sharing your query and for letting me dig my little fingers in. Your book sounds like a really fun read, and the query has a great voice!

Say what? Publishing Terms Defined

Publishing has a lot of jargon we take for granted because we’re around it ALL the time. Over the weekend I was asked a few questions, so here are some definitions if you’re seeing things floating around twitter or the blogosphere and feel out of the loop…

Please note: This list isn’t all inclusive, so if there’s something you’re a little unsure of – or if there’s something you’d like to include – please ask or add it in the comments.

Agatha Awards = awards for mystery and crime writers who write via the same method as Agatha Christie (i.e. closed setting, no sex or violence, amateur detective).

ARC = Advanced Reader Copy. (These are used for book reviews.)

ALA = American Library Association (they have a GREAT annual conference)

Auction = when more than one publisher offer on the same project and bid against each other.

BEA = Book Expo of America (it’s like Disney World for new books, check the link out.)

Beta Reader = a person who reads your manuscript with a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, etc.

Critique = in-depth feedback on areas where you can improve your manuscript.

Critique Partner = someone who you exchange manuscripts with to offer helpful feedback.

Edgar = Award given for the best in the mystery genre.

Elevator Pitch = is a short summary used to quickly and simply describe your book.

Full = when an agent requests your entire manuscript

Frankfurt = Frankfurt Book Fair aka the largest book and media fair in the world.

Hook = One sentence pitch on what your book is about. (The more gripping, the better.)

Hugo = Award given for the best Science Fiction or Fantasy novel from the previous year

MS = Abbreviation for manuscript

MWA = Mystery Writers of America

Nebula = award given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the previous year.

Partial = when an agent requests part of your manuscript. (Normally they will specify how many pages to send them. I.e. 50 pages.)

Pre-empt = a preemptive offer from a publisher. (Usually a large sum to avoid going to auction.)

Query Letter = a 3-5 paragraph business letter that introduces your book, a short author bio, and reason for contacting a particular literary agent. Normal length is 250-350 words. (check out QueryShark for excellent examples.)

RWA = Romance Writers of America

SCBWI = Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

SFWA = Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

Sublist = submission list. (Your agent sends you a list of publishing houses/imprints that are currently considering your manuscript.)

Synopsis = extended summary of your book. (Including the ending.) (The best examples of summaries are on wikipedia for any given movie.) Usually range in length from 1-5 pages, single spaced. The tighter the better.)

WIP = Work In Progress

Great sites for writers to check out:

Absolute Write: A wonderful forum/community for writers at any stage in the game. Ask any writing/publishing question/share your work & find critique partners, and do research before querying agents here. (Not to mention meeting and hanging around with other amazing/knowledgeable writers.)

Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog: A fantastic resource for new agent alerts, and tips for EVERYTHING.

Hey, there’s a dead guy in the living room blog: I’m going to link you to my agent’s (Barbara Poelle) blogging days here. I may be biased, but I think reading through her blog archives is AMAZING.

Miss Snark: The mysterious secret agent who will live on in blogger history. She may not be blogging anymore, but there’s a WEALTH of information worth checking out.

Nathan Bransford: This former mega-agent’s (now author) blog is the guide to publishing BIBLE. Countless hours were spent there when I first started researching everything I could about publishing. It’s like the Holy Grail of the book world. Seriously.

Preditors and Editors: If there’s one site you add to your MUST list before querying, it’s this one. It’s a great resource for finding agents/agencies that are not scammers.

Pub Rants: Agent Kristin Nelson dishes on everything industry related. There are also some great examples of query letters that worked posted on the sidebar.

Publishers MarketPlace: I highly recommend that you get a subscription. Daily deals are posted as well as breaking industry news. I peruse my Pub Lunch every single day.

QueryShark: A phenomenal blog dedicated to the art of crafting a great query letter, run by super agent Janet Reid.

Query Tracker: Keep track of your query letters, search for agents who represent your genre, and hang around other writers in the query trenches. Another amazing site that has a forum where you can have your query letter critiqued by your peers.

Writer Beware: Is basically a watchdog blog for writers to avoid scammers and bad eggs. Highly recommended.

A Day in the Life: Querying Phase

Regular blog followers know I’m just beginning to query my latest shiny manuscript. So I thought I’d interject some humor for others who are, or have ever been a part of the query-go-round. Enjoy!

Day in the writing life: Querying Phase

  1. Morning coffee
  2. Open special query email
  3. Gasp when you see 10 new messages
  4. Swear when you see they’re not from agents
  5. Check OTHER non-query email account
  6. Keep query email window open
  7. Check it again
  8. Scan new deals on Publishers Marketplace
  9. Check query email again
  10. Check out Guide to Literary Agents blog
  11. Did the email ding?
  12. Check again
  13. Swear at your over active imagination. No wait! You need that.
  14. What day is it? Blog
  15. Tweet
  16. Check email
  17. Sip coffee
  18. Check other, other email account
  19. Head over to Query Tracker
  20. Obsessively check for agent updates in the comment section
  21. New message!
  22. Heart flutters
  23. Comment pingback, awesome
  24. Respond to comment. I love blogging
  25. Check out Absolute Write
  26. Check email
  27. Open your manuscript
  28. Read the opening chapters
  29. See an error on page seven
  30. Why do commas FORSAKE me?!
  31. Email dings
  32. Rejection
  33. Expletive
  34. Re-read query letter
  35. Decide your writing sucks
  36. More coffee
  37. Mooore coffee
  38. Check email
  39. Check twitter
  40. Chat with writerly friends
  41. Check email
  42. Check sent mail
  43. Laugh manically
  44. I must be crazy
  45. Check email again
  46. Stomach flips
  47. New message alert
  48. Prepare for the worst
  49. Blink.
  50. FULL REQUEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

All this before lunchtime… Hope your weekend is filled with requests, writing, reading, laughter, and sparkling butterflies. XO

Query Letters Dissected By Those Who Know

Click image for source

Last week I posted some query letter tricks that I’ve learned over the last year or so, HOWEVER there’s a weekly post you should check out on your own, by people in the biz.

BookEnds (a fantastic literary agency) posts a query letter each Wednesday, then gives feedback on what works, and what doesn’t.

Be sure to check it out, then click on some of the popular posts on the sidebar, they’ve got A LOT of great information.

Psst! Click here—> BookEnds Blog (Wednesday Query Letter AKA Workshop Wednesday) 

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Query Letter Hell? Not Necessarily…The ABCs of #Query Writing Made Easy

Its been a little while since I last blogged about the wonderful world of writing. Since many of my blog readers, are…well, readers I try to keep the behind-the-scenes writing stuff to a minimum. You’re welcome, BTW ;)

That being said, I’ve gotten a few questions regarding query letters in recent weeks from friends, family, fellow writers, and even some tweethearts.

Why? I’m not sure. (That’s a lie. It could be that my friends and family worry about me, methodically/psychotically crafting pitch letters, and manuscripts for days, weeks, and months at a time. I’m normal Mom – all the writers are doing it. Pinky swear!)

It could be because I tweeted that I was an absolute query-lovin’ sicko, and enjoyed writing them. Or, it could be that I spend A LOT of time on Absolute Write assisting other writerly types with their query letters.

Why? Because I’m a sick, twisted little girl that’s why. Oh, and I love helping other writers out when I can. Aww… Fuzzy moment alert!

So what’s my secret to writing a good query letter?

That’s the easy/hard part to explain. There are TONS of agent blogs out there, that give STELLAR advice on query letters. By all means, please check out some of the sites listed below. (I’ve included links to make it REAL easy for you. XO)

Always take the advice that works best for you, above anything/everything else. Okay so enough disclaimer shiitake.

Here’s the breakdown of a query letter:

Paragraph ONE

This is really up to you / the agent you’re querying. If the agent specifically says they like writers to get right into the heart of the book, then of course DO THAT! I myself, fluctuate between starting with my hook, or personalizing it – depending on what the agent I’m querying specifies.

Am I speaking Chinese right now? If yes, then stop reading and check out the QueryShark. Go on, I’ll wait. Now that that’s settled, let’s continue.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Example One: Personalized Intro (Per Agent Guidelines, again, each agent is different, so do your homework.)

Dear Ms. Dream Agent:

Recently I read an interview you gave on ABC blog, stating that you’re seeking XYZ in a manuscript. My young adult novel SUMMER DIE-VER is complete at 60,000 words, and contains XYZ.

(Or you could write, I recently finished reading TITLE BOOK, by awesome AUTHOR and saw you represented the work. I hope you might find my novel, SUMMER DIE-VER a good fit for your list as well.) (You get the idea, right?)

Example TWO: Gettin’ Down and Dirty Right Away

Dear Ms. Dream Agent:

Fifteen-year-old Olympic diver Lillian Awesome’s been having a hard time fitting in with the other, less talented kids at Summer Swim Camp, but that’s about to change with the mysterious arrival of her super cute, and equally talented dive partner, Gill.

See the difference between the two intros? Good. (And no, this is not one of my books, it’s just the first thing that popped into my head during the writing of this entry.)

I should point out quickly what NOT TO DO so you can easily tell the good from the bad right away.

Things to AVOID: DON’T write your query like this:

Dear Ms. Dream Agent:

My young adult novel SUMMER DIE-VER delves into the inner psyche of what it’s like being a successful young swimmer in a world filled with jealousy, and deceit. The title is a play on words, expertly crafted to show a mystery lies deep within the novels pages. It talks about friendship, death, betrayal, and summer crushes. The reader embarks on a journey through adolescence, and learns what’s right, and wrong along the way.

This is what agents are talking about when they say SHOW don’t TELL. See what I’m talking about? The first example is showing, and the second example (To avoid) is telling. Got it? Good. Let’s continue.

The first sentence of your book intro, (no matter if you have it in the first, or second paragraph) HAS TO BE CATCHY.

How do you accomplish that?

Write it, over, and over until your eyes cross, AND bleed, then write it over some more. If you had to introduce the conflict, and basic premise in just one sentence, this is where you do it. What does your main character do, where does the story take place, and what’s the conflict? If you can capture that in the first sentence, and build from there, you’re on the right track.

Helpful Hint: If your book is fun, don’t have a sterile query letter. Make sure the tone of your work matches the tone of your query letter.

Remember, your query letter is your sales pitch for your book. Read the back covers of books that you already own, (and have read) and see how it matches up to their story. Once you get the idea of how it worked for them, start crafting yours the same way.

Heck, write yours the same EXACT way as your favorite book blurb, to get the format down, then rewrite it until it’s in YOUR voice. Practice makes perfect. I swear.

So here’s what the whole thing would look like: (Following Ex. 2’s Jump Right In Method.)

Dear Ms. Dream Agent:

Fifteen-year-old Olympic diver Lillian Awesome’s been having a hard time fitting in with the other, less talented kids at Summer Swim Camp, but all that’s about to change with the mysterious arrival of her super cute, and equally talented dive partner, Gill.

The other campers are jealous of the dynamic duo’s constant winning, and conspire to take them down. Permanently. After a close-call at the bottom of the lake, the young divers find more than just a terrible plot to end their swimming supremacy. They find a local swimming coach, that’s been missing since last summer, and apparently he’s been sleeping with the fishes. Now it’s up to Lillian and Gill to solve his murder before the Summer’s over. But who can they trust, when everyone’s a suspect?

SUMMER DIE-VER is a young adult novel complete at 60,000 words. Recently I read an interview you gave on ABC blog, stating that you’re seeking XYZ in a manuscript, and hoped you might enjoy my work.

Currently I’m a member of (Whatever writing group, SCBWI, MWA, etc.) (If you’ve been published, here’s where you can include that too. FYI it’s okay if this part is short and sweet. Less is more if you don’t have many writing credits behind you. For realzies.)

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Awesome Author Who Did Their Homework

Phone Number

Email

Link to blog/website/whatever

(AGAIN: This isn’t my book, or query letter. It’s just a five minute mock-up for this blog post.)

Check out the following links for excellent #Query Letter Tips:

YA Fantasy Guide recently broke each paragraph down expertly. Read it HERE.

Agent Kristen Nelson posted winning query letters HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Agent Jessica Faust also posted query letters that worked for her HERE, HERE, & HERE

Agent Janet Reid gives the best query letter help in the shark tank, so check out her entire blog dedicated to helping writers create stellar query letters HERE.

Q: Did I forget anything? Don’t be afraid to ask any questions I may have missed. I hope this helps you, my super talented friends! <3333333

Literary Agents, a writer’s best friend or agents of the dark side?

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While the majority of writers appear to be genuinely grateful for agents, others seem less enthused. I’ve read blog posts where agents are put right up there as Satan’s right hand man or woman.

They sit back in their office on the 32nd floor of a Manhattan high-rise, grab a cup of coffee and then mull over a newspaper for an hour or so. The phone rings, but they surely won’t answer it since they’re too consumed with the happenings on Page Six. Emails ding away in their inbox, but they don’t bat an eye–they’re too busy setting fire to your query letter while toasting marshmallows in the conference room with their colleagues. They forward your email to other agents in their office and mock your storyline until it’s time to place the lunch order.

Silly scribes.

Literary Agents aren’t sitting back wasting the day away thinking of how to ruin your career before it begins. They don’t have time. They make money if your book sells. I imagine them to be more like the judges on American Idol, sifting through the hundreds of thousands of hopeful contestants until they find their top 12. It’s a tough job, but someone has to go home unhappy.

On the bright side of this analogy, the people who made it to the top 24 are great singers (writers), they just need some more polishing.

If you send out a query letter that doesn’t follow the format, how can they make a split second decision regarding whether or not your manuscript will follow the format? Is that a  chance they are willing to take while sorting through the other 300 query letters that came in this week? Probably not.

Most importantly don’t be discouraged. Keep improving your query letters and keep sending them out to agents who rep your genres. If you get a rejection, pick yourself up-brush yourself off and try it again. Don’t send a nasty follow up to the agent that rejected you either. It may feel satisfying for a second, but it’s just bad karma in the end. Send them happy thoughts and move on; you’ll feel better playing nice. Like my mother always says, you catch more flies with honey.

Photo credit cinie.files.wordpress.com

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to think of my agent as my best friend or partner in book selling crime. The Huck Finn to my Tom Sawyer and not the Darth Vader to my Luke Skywalker. XO

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Rhetorical questions…useful metaphor, or query kiss of death?

Let’s start with the meat and potatoes of what a rhetorical question actually is. I can think of no better offering than the Merriam Webster’s Definition. It states: nothing. There is no definition for a ‘Rhetorical Question’ in the online dictionary. So I did the next best thing. I broke it down even further for you kids. According to the online version of the famed dictionary the word ‘rhetorical’ can be defined like so:

Main Entry: rhe*tor*i*cal

Pronunciation: \ri-ˈtȯr-i-kəl

Function: adjective

Date: 15th century

1 a : of, relating to, or concerned with rhetoric b : employed for rhetorical effect; especially : asked merely for effect with no answer expected <a rhetorical question>

But what good is the definition if you are left without any examples? I’ve made a little list of some popular rhetorical questions you’ve probably come across a few times over the course of your life. If you haven’t, I’d like to shake your hand and bake you a pie because you deserve a gold star.

If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?

Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?

If practice makes perfect, and no one’s perfect, then why practice?

A lot of us writers feel that throwing in a well thought out rhetorical question will add a certain je ne sais quoi to our query letter. If Shakespeare could use them in his plays (like the Merchant of Venice where he throws this gem out there: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”) then why shouldn’t we?

From all of the blogs and print literature I have read on this subject, it’s like dousing your query letter with poison and watching it die a slow, painful query letter death. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT use a rhetorical question as the opening line to your query letter or you can kiss that agent goodbye. The verdict is out on this one, and it’s a definite kiss of death for your query, so fellow writers take a look at your query letter. If it starts off asking a rhetorical question, it’s time for another revision.

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Hello world of strangers, wallflowers & internet nerds! Let’s be friends

photo credit thelifedigital.com

Hello new friends, old friends and silent passersby stalking my site from a far. That’s right lurkers, I’m on to you. I’ve been spending countless hours, energy, and more time than I care to admit ripping my hair out learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry. I’ve stared at the computer screen until my eyes have bled and my brain has turned to oatmeal. Almost.

Simply put, I’m beginning the quest of finding my literary agent partner in crime. The chocolate to my vanilla, the peanut butter to my jelly, the Huck Finn to my Tom Sawyer, the Ethel to my Lucy…the…do you really want me to go on?

If you’re interested in the world of writing, quotes and snark, then welcome. Pour yourself a shot, pull up a chair and kick off your shoes. We’re going to be great friends, me thinks. XO

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