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  1. #61
    bmalone.blogspot.com BrianC's Avatar
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    I'm back and determined to conquer this query letter. Maybe I should just send out video queries on disc, because Gary introduced me to an agent at World Fantasy. The agent asked what RoseThorn is about, and I launched into my "it's actually more like a Shakespearean tragedy than Tolkienesque; more like Othello and Macbeth and Hamlet; more a family tragedy set against the background of a war that no one wins than a quest for the magic Macguffin" spiel. I now have his card and an invitation to send him the first few chapters. Of course there's no guarantee that he'll like it or take it on but . . . (Yeah, I owe Gary big time). So, I'll get around to conquering that query letter after I get this package in the mail.

    Kat, your comments, especially about focusing on the emotional elements of the story and not trying to draft cover copy, are pure gold. *genuflects*

  2. #62
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Ranke -- sounds like quite a lot in the story; no wonder you're grappling with how to describe it. I think taking a note from Brian's oral pitch at the convention might be helpful. Are you doing Dante, Shakespeare, Slavic origin myth, etc.? And the child abuse stuff -- that needs to be worked in somehow maybe.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rocket Sheep View Post
    When I've read novels and then later read the query letters that got those novels read and ultimately picked up... there seems to be very little that is fact in the query letter.

    I wouldn't get too hung up on what actually happens in the novel if it interferes with the mood of the query letter. It would be better IMHO to get the editor interested in some important aspect of the novel. Older male editors especially, seem very interested in the "big picture".

    In Abby's rewrites she seemed to be trying to incorporate a "bigger picture" and that's a good thing. She didn't put where the slavery/telepath stuff was set and whether there was any threat to Earth. I had my older male editor hat on and I looked for that.
    Have we heard from Abby lately? How's she doing? The "big picture" is the emotional content of the story. It's just that if it's very vague -- this book's about love, conflict, grief, etc., then it doesn't tell them much, whereas if you say you've got a Hamlet-like conflict between two brothers, that gives them a better idea. In every story, you've got emotional power punches, usually connected to the characters, and it's those that usually need to be highlighted.

    The worlds, sf and fantasy, well mostly those are all very similar whatever flavor they are. It's like when you go looking at a lot of houses or washing machines -- they start to run together in your head. So a query that says the kingdom of X is invaded and the knights vanquish the evil with the super sword of glitter, it just may not be enough of a hook.

    But if you give the emotional high points, it can I suppose create a mood for the query letter. A direct advertising pitch is usually ignored, but something that seems evocative in a certain way may not be. I don't know about the certainty of getting an older male editor nowadays. Perhaps there are a lot still in Australia. But we need all the fodder we can get -- can you sling us any excerpts from those query letters, RS?

    I'll be honest -- I used to counsel that query letters were no big deal, that agents for instance would agree to look at ms. from 8 out of 10 of the letters they read. But that was a long time ago. I don't know what the situation is now. I know a lot of people have had trouble getting their ms. read. That's because there are so many more of us now trying to get through the doors in sff, a market that is always smaller than general fiction, and since they are importing a lot more sff authors from other countries than they used to in each English-speaking territory, it narrows the opportunities still further. Small presses and e-presses may present new chances.

    But I do know that if you think you have gold, there's no sense hiding it under a bushel either.

  3. #63
    Ranke Lidyek
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    emotion

    Kat,
    I think you nailed it there. The main thing is the "big" concept, a "template" shown, and then trying to nail the emotion. But emotion, I think, is likely the key. It is what makes a story personal and powerful.
    Granted, who knows how someone will process what you've written? Editors, like all human beings, have tastes. Sure, they also have broader instincts as to what will make their publisher money as well.
    It's harder than ever to break through as a result. It takes a combination of timing, persistence, luck and talent.

    From what I see here, it's nice to know there are such passionate and intelligent writers out there. People who write for the sake of the story and for art rather than artifice. Too many people would lead one to believe that everything is formulaic and derivative, calculated to sell the maximum number of books across the lowest common denominator. I don't believe that's true. Just as I don't believe the idiots claiming that there is nothing new under the sun. These are the same morons who sat down in caves, laughing at shadow puppets, telling their fellow neanderthals that the wheel was a pointless invention.

    Writing is important, I feel. Even what I write, to some degree, illuminates the darker corners of my soul. So, though nothing may come of it in terms of a broad audience, at least I had the pleasure of taking the journey.
    I would encourage others to feel the same.
    Keep writing and don't apologize for it!

  4. #64
    Creator of "SENTI" G W Pickle's Avatar
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    Thumbs up RE to infamous Query letter

    Abby & other interested in Query Letters & book proposals:

    I'm fairly new to writing books. When I started my first book I was about 18k on the word count before I knew what POV was. That was 3 yrs ago, since then I learned that and much more from writing books & an online crit group. Sorry to say this group is no longer around.
    After several fustrating attempts at Query's & synopsis, I started thinking about hiring someone to write them for me, Then I found this book from Writer's Market Books "Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript. by Cynthia Laufenberg.
    It gives plenty of examples and shows you things to do or to avoid. It really helped me. FYI, It helped me to get my first book sold. I'm a firm beliver in this type of self help books. Some I've wasted money on were nothing more than someone telling me how they got published. This one really has usful info. Even Marshall also has an excellent book called "Getting Your Novel Published" Mr Marshall is famous for his book on writing "The Marshall Plan"
    If you're into outlining your story first then this is the book for you. I don't outline, but it still has plenty of useful info.
    There are plenty of good books out there written by agents & editors who know what they're talking about. All I can do is tell you my limited knowledge about the mechanics of writing these things.
    I hope this helps.

    G W Pickle

  5. #65
    Ranke Lidyek
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    Smile a thanks

    Kat and all,
    Thanks for the help with the query. I incorporated as many of the suggestions as I could and sent out a round of queries last night. This morning I already had a request for a partial. A minor victory, to be sure, but one I don't take lightly. My other queries produced only form letters and I know that this one is near the mark. I also know that the first chapter is dead on, and that I can accept being judged on the merits of my writing.
    Now it's a matter of finding someone who believes enough and knows someone who they feel they can sell it to. I found the right bale of hay, and hopefully I'll stumble on that needle.
    Thanks again and wish me luck.

  6. #66
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
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    For what it is worth, my latest query letter... (come on BrianC, if I can do it I am sure you can do better)

    Dear

    I would like to submit the following query for my 160,000 word romantic fantasy novel, Oracle, for your consideration.

    In an ancient and mystical world, visions of possible futures can only be seen by a Glimpser. A Glimpser is not born, but made, by the pseudo-scientific actions of a religious sect, the Inner Ring. This sect is bent on bringing about the return of the Goddess’ prophet, the Seer, to lead them into an era of secular power. Oracle is one such Glimpser, an autistic Cassandra.

    The maelstrom that exists in Oracle’s mind is mirrored in its world, for Timeholm is in the grip of an industrial revolution. Steam power is now king; trains criss-cross the land, huge smoking factories tower over once sleepy towns. The governing body, the High Forum, is under attack from within by reform-minded activists. The rigid class system, once the glue that held Timeholm society together, is being challenged by a bill brought forth before the legislature by member Joshua Calvinward that will emancipate the working class.

    Oracle’s arrival at a train station sets in motion a series of events that plunge Captain Pugh Avinguard into the heart of these turbulent times. Pugh has been charged with protecting Joshua Calvinward, but train crashes, riots and the murder of Calvinward at his moment of triumph, all send Timeholm into chaos.

    Laced through this is Pugh’s personal horror, for the person Oracle once was, was his wife, who by a twist of fate is partly restored to him, yet in the wings the Inner Ring are waiting to claim her as their Seer re-born. Pugh is forced to act when she is kidnapped, but the rescue attempt becomes the signal for the Goddess herself to act through Oracle, both to right an old wrong and ensure a future of continued change and growth for the world.

    My story “Death won’t be Cheated”, was accepted for publication in the award-winning graphic literary magazine Event Horizon, published by Mam-Tor Publishing. My flash fiction story “Aftermath”, was published in the Australian anthology FlashSpec. I am the co-author, with Dan Beiger, of the short story anthology, "Seven Threads, by EQ books.

    I would be glad to send a part or full manuscript if you wish to read further, and I thank you for your time in considering this query.


    Regards

  7. #67
    Ranke Lidyek
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    Thumbs up Much better

    Quote Originally Posted by Holbrook View Post
    For what it is worth, my latest query letter... (come on BrianC, if I can do it I am sure you can do better)
    Holbrook,
    This is much better. Romantic fantasy is a big seller right now, so I think you've done the right thing by mentioning this. My only reservation is the term, Glimpser, which feels a bit too obvious to me. The plot itself appears rich and interesting from this summary.
    I think you're onto something and wish you luck!

    Hopefully, those more credible will offer feedback as well.
    For me, this appears intriguing enough that I would ask for the first three chapters at least.

    Keep writing and get it out there!

    Ranke

  8. #68
    bmalone.blogspot.com BrianC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Holbrook View Post
    Laced through this is Pugh’s personal horror, for the person Oracle once was, was his wife, who by a twist of fate is partly restored to him, yet in the wings the Inner Ring are waiting to claim her as their Seer re-born.
    May I suggest:
    Laced through this is Pugh’s personal horror, for Oracle once was his wife,
    I'm still working on a rewrite and I've got a long weekend for it.

  9. #69
    sorry if this has been mentioned but ive only read the first page (yes im lazy)

    i read somewhere that you tried to include a synopsis of two books.


    imo you shouldnt try to do this unless you are a well known author who is garunteed sucess

    just pitch the first book, then if it sells well then introduce the other 7 odd book :P

  10. #70
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Overall, very nice, Holbrook. Couple of edits from me:

    Try: "Laced through this is Pugh’s personal horror, for the person Oracle once had been, was his wife, who by a twist of fate is partly restored to him. Yet, in the wings, the Inner Ring are waiting to claim her as their Seer re-born."

    And, author bio:

    My story “Death won’t be Cheated”, was accepted for publication in the award-winning graphic literary magazine Event Horizon, published by Mam-Tor Publishing. My flash fiction story “Aftermath”, was published in the Australian anthology FlashSpec. I am the co-author, with Dan Beiger, of the short story anthology, "Seven Threads, by EQ books.

    Editor adds much oomph to author. So you do really need to mention that you are the fiction editor for Event Horizon. If you are worried that this invalidates your short story pub. credit with Event Horizon, put it as: My short story, "Death Won't Be Cheated," was accepted for publication in the award-winning graphic literary magazine Event Horizon, put out by Mam-Tor Publishing, and I subsequently became Event Horizon's fiction editor. Etc.

    I am not at all certain that calling "Oracle" romance fiction is the right way to go. I realize you've not had much luck with various avenues and are now trying some of the romance publishers doing fantasy, but to call the novel a romance is a big misnomer, in my view. Not that "Oracle" does not contain a love story -- and a powerful one -- but it is not a romance, in which two people encounter each other and fall for each other. It is likely to confuse the folk you're approaching with that label. Plus, your short credits are not romance ones at all.

    I did run into some Luna books on the shelves this week, and they are definitely aggressively branching out, and will likely be a full-flung fantasy operation in another five years or so. So it's certainly not a bad idea to try them. But I think the nature of the Oracle may short-circuit you in pushing the romance angle. It's really the devastating tragedy of what has happened to her -- of what has been lost -- that is the emotional power cell of this story, IMO. But hey, all you've got to do is get them to yes, right? Then the real work begins!

  11. #71
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
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    Thanks for the comments Kat, all duly noted

    As to the romantic fantasy bit I put that on a couple of the queries to see what would happen , others just have fantasy. I have a batch of 8 email queries out, though two I have given up on, it being over 2 months and the agents saying they only get back to you if interested.

    To be honest I am not expecting to hear from anyone before Christmas now.

  12. #72
    Ranke Lidyek
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    Talking Latest attempt at query

    Here's my latest query. Eviscerate at will. I need to get something that works. Thanks!

    HER DRESS IS DARKNESS
    (94,000 words, dark, epic fantasy--Book One of the Darkwood Chronicles)


    A girl's soul, trapped.
    A boy, who will risk his own to save her.


    From a windswept tower above the Nyghtmear, a forgotten power gathers, hungering for children in another land. There, a boy named Walter will plunge into darkness to save a little girl's soul. Terrible secrets lurk in Enheas, the Pale Queen's tower, a place of magic and Making rooted in Walter's own forgotten bloodline, endangering his very being, positioning him as an unwilling pawn in a game of the gods below. Thrust in the midst of a harrowing descent, Walter will do anything to keep his promise to find Lydia, a prisoner of the Pale Queen of the Unborn. In the world of Temeres, nothing is as it seems. Dead gods stir in the Groves of the Deep, preparing for a return to the world of light, while an eleven-year-old boy, a wooden knight, a glass dragon, and an ancient warrior strive to protect what remains of innocence.


    Her Dress is Darkness (first stand-alone novel of a three book series) bears a structure rooted in Slavic and Russian myth: a dark, unrelenting tale of how passion makes creatures of men.

  13. #73
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    HER DRESS IS DARKNESS
    (94,000 words, dark, epic fantasy--Book One of the Darkwood Chronicles)
    Good title. Clear info delivery. But the "epic" label may be a problem. Does Walter start out living in a pre or post-industrial world? Is that world our regular world or an imaginary land? If Walter is living in regular Earth in current day or thereabouts, then calling your work epic will confuse them. If he's living in an imaginary land, but it's post-industrial, calling the story epic may confuse them. If he's living in pre-industrial Earth or an imaginary land that is pre-industrial, calling it epic is fine. Remember to keep in the "dark" part, though.

    A girl's soul, trapped.
    A boy, who will risk his own to save her.
    A little melodramatic, but fine. Perks interest.

    From a windswept tower above the Nyghtmear, a forgotten power gathers, hungering for children in another land. There, a boy named Walter will plunge into darkness to save a little girl's soul.
    Walter is in the tower? Does he live in the tower?

    Terrible secrets lurk in Enheas, the Pale Queen's tower, a place of magic and Making rooted in Walter's own forgotten bloodline, endangering his very being, positioning him as an unwilling pawn in a game of the gods below.
    Again, is the Pale Queen the forgotten power? And the gods below what?

    Thrust in the midst of a harrowing descent, Walter will do anything to keep his promise to find Lydia, a prisoner of the Pale Queen of the Unborn.
    Descending what? The tower? Is the Pale Queen of the Unborn the same as the Pale Queen? Is Lydia the little girl that Walter is trying to save?

    In the world of Temeres, nothing is as it seems.
    Got ya. And the world of Temeres would be where exactly?

    Dead gods stir in the Groves of the Deep, preparing for a return to the world of light, while an eleven-year-old boy, a wooden knight, a glass dragon, and an ancient warrior strive to protect what remains of innocence.
    Is Walter the eleven-year-old boy or is there another one? Who are these other creatures? Are they important?

    Very succinct, but a little lacking in the clarity department still. Gives something of the big picture, I guess, but it comes out kind of blurry. Nothing is mentioned about the abuse that Walter suffers as a child, or his missing father, or the corruption that is occurring in Walter's world from the servants of the stirring gods, or that there is a war between old and new gods. Now, you don't have to necessarily mention any of that, but some of those details might cause ears to perk. Are you attaching a plot synopsis to the query letter -- in which case detail in the query letter can be slighter and more basic -- or no?

    Her Dress is Darkness (first stand-alone novel of a three book series)
    It's either a stand-alone or a series. Pick one, at least for now.

    bears a structure rooted in Slavic and Russian myth: a dark, unrelenting tale of how passion makes creatures of men.
    Passion makes creatures of men -- where did that come from? How is this related to the story described above?

  14. #74
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    So here is what we know of Ranke's story, from previous posts:

    There is a realm below, where the gods lurk, called Temeres. (Possibly just the old gods.)

    In Temeres, overlooking the plain of Nyghtmear, stands the ancient Enheas tower of the Pale Queen of the Unborn.

    Walter, possibly an eleven-year-old boy, does not know where his dad is. Or dad is dead? Walter has suffered abuse. (We don't know exactly where Walter lives, but we know that Temeres exists below it.)

    Walter promises a young girl named Lydia (age unknown,) that he will "come for her." Don't know why he makes this promise.

    The Pale Queen wants children from Walter's land, and steals Lydia. Walter is able somehow to descend into Temeres to try and find Lydia. This may be because the magic in Temeres, the Making, is directly related to Walter's bloodline through his missing? dad.

    The gods in the Groves of the Deep in Temeres (possibly the old gods who once warred with and lost to new gods,) stir and send out their memory servants to Walter's world, corrupting? or effecting people there. Walter's mission to save Lydia may also help stop this campaign?

    There is a wooden knight, a glass dragon and an ancient warrior who try to help Walter. That's all we know about them.

    Most of this I know because I asked -- it isn't in the query letter samples. Some of it sounds very interesting. It has sort of a similar feel to Pullman's YA Golden Compass or Neil Gaiman's fairy tale Stardust, and you may get confusion over that, as your story sounds outside the query letter like it is grittier and more horror/goth-oriented.

    I would suggest again that it is easier to write lots and lots of detail -- more than you'll probably need -- and then pare it down, then it is to go immediately short. You may want to do what I recently taught my daughter to do for her book report, which is to put down notes of the events that happen in each set of chapters in the story, and then build a description from those.

    And you might want to start the description in the query letter of the story with Walter, rather than with the Pale Queen and tower. For me, Walter is a lot more interesting than the Pale Queen, but it's more that it may help you focus more easily if you "follow" Walter's journey in the beginning.

  15. #75
    Ranke Lidyek
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    Talking Yup

    Kat,
    As usual, you are right. I dodged the abuse angle because it isn't "in" with so many in the publishing industry. I was worried I would not be judged in terms of story. This is very much a story of a boy's abuse, with the internal struggle shown outwardly in mythic approach.

    The story is quite powerful and the structure solid. It is both a stand-alone and part of a series as each novel deals with a phase of the boy's life and how the abuse affects him later on. This could be read as one book, though the later books may take understanding of what comes before because the world is increasingly complex. The story works without full comprehension of the subtext, but there is more as well. The overarcing plot is driven by the idea of the primordial impulse of man, the very dark corner of the soul. Love, even, has great power and it can prove even more damaging than hate insofar as it can trap those within it. They often cannot see what is being done. It is a cautionary tale of allowing passions to drive one's actions, rather than looking clearly at what damage one can cause--especially to our young. I do firmly believe that our youths have been devalued in society. And this is what drove my need to write the book.

    I see your second post following this and I agree. When you said before that this is very difficult to describe because of the layers, you are right. I've written query after query, but none captured the feel of the novel. It is very atmospheric, disturbing (most common adjective readers have given), and unique (second-most). I don't flinch. What truly happens to Lydia is worse than the nagging fears of the reader suggest. What happens to Walter would test anyone (and break most), but he is stronger than he realizes--and truer. He has a nobility of spirit that I think many children possess, despite the questionable examples and influences in their lives.

    While I'm not a big fan of horror, there is an element of that structure laced within the mythic tone (think: the return to the womb...) that lends an intimacy and desperation to the action sequences--a brutality.

    The question is how I can lace all this together in a query without making someone nod off.

    I'm not sure. Granted, I still believe that most books have this trouble. How do you describe something in one page? So much of a book stems from voice, and more from the overlying thematic elements that add weight to the events.

    The story is pre-industrial (in Walter's original world), and in Temeres, there is a "technology", but it is driven from Craft. So, epic might best describe it, though dark definitely is closer. Still vague, though... lol

    Thanks again. You've been a great help, even if I'm too dense to figure out how to apply your suggestions!

    Take care,

    Ranke

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