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Thread: The Infamous Query Letter
November 8th, 2007, 06:40 PM #151The hardest thing is for an author to convey the atmosphere of his/her novel. I think the best writing is hermetically sealed and no description is going to fully represent what makes it special--high concept stuff aside.
Yes, there are only so many plots, but a good book is greater than the sum of its parts. I think we have trouble when trying to get that across in a two paragraph blurb.
There's nothing wrong with you having a plot synopsis. I again urge you to write one, start with a very detailed blow-by-blow one and then trim and condense, and attaching it to the query letter would be great. But writing that synopsis primarily might allow you to finally write down all the facts of the novel and what they mean to the characters. And from that, you can then concoct the two paragraphs. Brian, for instance, was able to revise and come up with the paragraph on Optimutt's novel because we asked Optimutt thirty questions about his plot before arriving at enough information for both Optimutt and then Brian to formulate that paragraph. Before that, Optimutt had this stuff and we were like, we don't understand this at all. Abby found your knight paragraph vague because unlike others of us on this thread, she hadn't been in on all the previous question asking.
As far as the authors listed above, I don't think I'm very close to any of them.
It sounds like a good story, but I still don't know half of it because you are reluctant to tell me. And you may not want to give all the details on this thread, and that's okay. But I asked you three times who the knight was and you wouldn't tell me. And now you finally coughed up the information that he's absolutely crucial to the story. You see the problem here?
To use an analogy, the conversation between an author and a publishing person tends to go something like this:
Author: It's the most luxurious, unique shirt, there's not been anything quite like it before, I'm not sure how to describe it.
Agent: Great, what color is it?
Author: It's shape is rather unusual, but it has depth.
Agent: Aha, what color is it?
Author: [With great reluctance] It's red, sort of a scarlett shade.
Agent: Okay, now we're getting somewhere. What sort of fabric is it made of?
Author: Well the fabric isn't that important. All the fabrics sound alike when you talk about them. You have to see the fabric, touch it to get the full nuances.
Agent: Yeah, sure, but what fabric did you actually use?
Author: I used a cotton/silk blend.
Agent: Any other details you want to tell me?
Author: I think this shirt may change the way you see shirts.
Agent: Right, but I mean specific, physical aspects of the shirt.
Author: Well, it has small buttons down part of the front, from the neck.
Agent: Buttons? That sounds cool. Send me the shirt and I'll look at it.
That's of course if they are at a writer's conference where the agent has agreed to talk to the author for a set period. Otherwise, the agent's attention may have wandered away by the time they got to: "the fabric isn't important." If the author would just say it's a scarlett shirt made from a cotton/silk blend with small buttons going half-way from the neck, it would save a lot of time.
It's not that the author has to be a mega-sales person with a slick pitch. But the author does have to communicate what he or she wrote a story about, so the agent or editor can figure out if it's at all interesting to them. It doesn't matter if all stories sound slight when boiled down; publishing people, even young ones, are used to assessing stories by their bones. Plot and impact on characters in as neat a turn of phrase as you can manage.
If you're willing, put up a plot synopsis on this thread. We'll ask you all other needed questions. And then you can write that query description.
November 8th, 2007, 08:21 PM #152
KatG, that dialogue between author and agent had me laughing ...
November 8th, 2007, 09:44 PM #153Ranke LidyekGuest
I'm not sure your agent conversation applies, Kat. My query has a few more elements than "it's a shirt" if you look at it honestly. If people want details, they ask for a synopsis. I'm not sure I want to foist a ten page, detailed synopsis on the innocent writers here. And I'd rather let the novel tell the story than a glorified outline.
I appreciate your advice and feel you are generally correct, but I think here you cling to a failed notion. Any query can be dismissed quite easily, no matter the skill or ability of the author--unless it's a knockoff of other novels (high concept)--the "true" story behind Alice and Wonderland, or some "literary (and cheap) reimagining rather than a whole-cloth world. THESE are the stories that "sell". THESE are the stories that agents seek. They want another novel with vampires in it (and if you can add a pirate or two they'll give you a higher advance).
How about an exercise? Write a query to sell The Game of Thrones. SHOW me how that will work and actually make someone want to read it. You pull that off, then I'll consider the merits of what you have to say. As of now, I feel that this is "agent-speak" to cloak a failed system.
Regardless, my query can be improved, I'm sure. I'll see what other details I can weave inside of it without making it too longwinded.
Last edited by Ranke Lidyek; November 8th, 2007 at 10:14 PM. Reason: edit
November 9th, 2007, 12:40 AM #154
I have been following this thread with interest, and think I have learned quite a bit. Now I'd like to join in and maybe get some more specific advice. I find the whole query letter situation uncomfortable, and will use as much help as I can get. My story is nearing the final stages of re-editing and polishing, sooner or later I should try to find an agent.
I do know the "Here is my story, read it and send me lots of money. " approach has never really worked for me.
Warning: If you are part of the sffworld crit group, the following letter is the very definition of a SPOILER.
Dear person or people, edited to suit the situation;
I would like to submit a/o recommend my story Escapade and Goodbye. It is a 59 thousand word Science Fiction novel.
In the near future it becomes popular among the rich and elite to have their children genetically designed. Two such children are Escapade and Charade, they are both healthy, beautiful and intelligent, just as most of their generation was designed to be. Their lives become intertwined with Sharpe Connely, a natural born human who was born in Tranqulity, the first city on the Moon, and who would have been considered a gifted child had he been born ten years earlier. Sharpe becomes a Generalist; a corporate efficiency expert and problem solver who works on a resort space station in Earth orbit. As Sharpe begins to realize his feelings for Charade, a bio-engineered suicide bomber attacks the space station. The suicide bomber is the first of an army, designed to protect the "real human race" by killing designed humans. Charade is severly injured. The doctors try a new, untested procedure, connecting the minds of Charade and Escapade to keep Charade alive while they treat her injuries. Charade dies while their minds are linked. As a side effect of the procedure, Escapade now has the memories of her sister. She has to use her sister's memories and work with Sharpe to prevent the bombers from killing anyone else. Of course, in the end, the good guys win and the bad guys lose.
Find enclosed a short synopsis of the novel, and possibly the first one hundred words or three chapters, according to whatever your guidelines may have suggested.
I have been published in Flashspec Vol 1 and Vol 2, Equilibrium Books, 2006 and 2007, respectively. I have also appeared in Flashshot webzine (November 25, 2007), and have won second place in the sffworld.com writing contest, 2006.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Your Name Here.
--I know, a little goofy. And I think, not quite right. Too much? Too little? What else would you like to hear? Those kind of things. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
November 9th, 2007, 08:33 AM #155Ranke LidyekGuest
Good luck with your novel. Put yourself out there (once you're happy with your query) and do your best. Don't worry about things you can't control. This story may hit a nerve with someone, so just trust your writing. Here are my thoughts.
Sharpe becomes a Generalist; a corporate efficiency expert and problem solver who works on a resort space station in Earth orbit. As Sharpe begins to realize his feelings for Charade, a bio-engineered suicide bomber attacks the space station. The suicide bomber is the first of an army, designed to protect the "real human race" by killing designed humans. Charade is severly injured. The doctors try a new, untested procedure, connecting the minds of Charade and Escapade to keep Charade alive while they treat her injuries. Charade dies while their minds are linked.
Perhaps mention the main antagonist and his motivations here? And, how does Sharpe need to grow or change to overcome these men?
I would rewrite the last bit and tailor it to wherever you send it to. Don't start with Find, I feel. Try: "As requested, a full synopsis and first three chapters are included below. The completed manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration."
Don't forget your contact information afterward, of course!
Hope this helps. I do think the bones work as we see what kind of story you have written. I'd like perhaps a little more focus on Sharpe and his prejudices and so forth. But well done.
November 9th, 2007, 10:01 AM #156
I think you missed the point of the analogy there a bit, Ranke. Abby seemed to get it, Abby who proved to have an interesting sf novel with interesting characters once I asked her two dozen questions and dragged the information out of her.
We've had this discussion before. Publishers and agents reject thousands of manuscripts with vampires, dragons, pirates, elves and barbarian warriors. They publish books without these things. So obviously that's not the only criteria involved. (Which is not to say that the system is fair or catches all the good stuff or anything like that.) And I don't think it serves anyone any good to say that all the published authors on these forums are formulaic hacks and that's why they were selected.
How about an exercise? Write a query to sell The Game of Thrones. SHOW me how that will work and actually make someone want to read it. You pull that off, then I'll consider the merits of what you have to say.
Mr.B, I'll take a crack at yours later when I can.
November 9th, 2007, 12:47 PM #157
Kat and Brian, and anyone interested. In the wake of Kathy's analogy about the shirt, I got to thinking about something. I rewrote the first two chapters of my story, and wrote a new "query" which I posted on the site here: http://www.sffworld.com/community/story/2703p0.html.
MrBf1V3, this is rough, but it cuts back the word count a little. Cutting, also, to the meat.
In the near future, Escapade and Charade are born to privilege, which means they have been genetically designed into healthy, beautiful, and intelligent individuals. In Tranquility, the first city on the moon, a natural-born man, named Sharpe Connely, develops feelings for Charade while working with her as a corporate problem solver at a lunar resort. Just before he admits his feelings for her, a bio-engineered suicide bomber attacks the space station in the name of “the real human race,” leaving Charade critically injured. During an experimental procedure that forges a mental link between the twins while Charade’s body recuperates, Charade dies. Conflicted by the presence of both hers and her sister’s minds, Escapade must now use her twin’s memories as she joins Connely in his attempts to thwart future bombings.
To add a little more excitement, you could add a bit about Escapade's struggles with her and her sister's emotions vying for control, as well as heigntening the tension (whether or not through a lie, it's immaterial) between the two, by saying that Escapade is a racist who does not particularly LIKE naturals. Whether or not it happens in the book, it might draw the agents or editors' eyes a little more prominently.
Last edited by Optimutt; November 9th, 2007 at 01:26 PM.
November 9th, 2007, 01:29 PM #158
In the near future, sisters Escapade and Charade are born to privilege, engineered with designer genes to enjoy perfect health, beauty and intelligence. In Tranquility, the first city on the moon, a natural-born man, named Sharpe Connely, falls for Charade while working with her as a corporate problem solver at a lunar resort. Just as he summons the courage to admit his feelings, a suicide bombing attack by a bio-weapon critically injures Charade. Desperate to save her sister's life Escapade undergoes an experimental procedure that forges a mental link with Charade. But when her sister's body dies, Escapade must now use their cojoined memories as she joins Connely in a race against time to thwart future bombings by a shadowy terrorist group in the name of the 'real human race".
November 9th, 2007, 01:32 PM #159
Hey, that's a nice edit, there Brian! I wouldn't think to use "Conjoined" in the description, but it's a good call.
November 9th, 2007, 02:14 PM #160
I agree that it's frustrating, and it would be nice to be that successful. I certainly aspire to it.
I recently read an article about Richard Adams, the author or Watership Down. Apparently he wrote the novel without any regard for the conventions of the YA/Fantasy industry at the time (1970s), and was rejected by every major publisher. They didn't want to take the risk of selling a YA book about bunnies that wage war and have sex. But a small press publisher took a chance on him, and now Watership Down is a best-seller turned classic.
November 9th, 2007, 02:52 PM #161
- Join Date
- Mar 2002
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Pitch, part and full are the three steps most US agents use. UK agents allow you to send a short synoipsis and usually the first three chapters with your submission, but nearly all require snail mail submissions, with a SAE included. For me that is a cost of £2 ($4) each time, the cost soon mounts up.
Ranke, do you visit the Absolutewrite forum. If not I suggest you do. It can be abrasive, but it helps you see the whole submission process as what it is, a business pitch. Like any other company tendering for a contract, you have to abide by the contractor's requests. It is hard to do, I know.
Last edited by Holbrook; November 9th, 2007 at 02:56 PM.
November 9th, 2007, 03:55 PM #162Ranke LidyekGuest
In a pitch I'd give the story and answer any questions asked without a problem. I have three chapters and I have synopses of various shapes and sizes with intimate detail. I'm arguing about the purpose and function of a query, nothing more. I know how it works. I've been to those forums. I'm not indicting the people involved, just the merits of a query.
November 9th, 2007, 03:56 PM #163Ranke LidyekGuest
November 9th, 2007, 05:15 PM #164Ranke LidyekGuest
No, I understood the point you were making (and I've heard it before). I disagree as far as application, but it's a fair point for many. I appreciate your input and I might privately share information if you'd like, but I don't feel it's fair to post a huge outline in this thread. It should be reserved for queries, I think. I do have several synopses of varying lengths, so that's not a difficulty.
I know how Martin got published. I also know that writers here won't have that opportunity (and I'm not saying we should!). My point was that what is considered the "best" fantasy series going would have zero chance of getting published using the current system and climate. Granted, agents and publishers don't exclude people on purpose--there are far too many submissions flooding the gates. I do think a better option would be a "round" system online where writers are given "permission" to submit based upon their first and last chapter (last chapter to ensure the novel is actually finished) of their working novels. If they pass a screening (only one submission allowed at a time), then the "door" is open and they may submit the novel itself. This could even be a peer review system of sorts (like oww or del rey's workshop). The higher rated pieces are then evaluated by an assistant or slush reader (again, only first and last chapter). From there they get the official invite. This will kill multiple submissions and allow writing to be submitted based on merit rather than letting anyone with a crayon deluge agents and editors with queries of their unwritten or half-finished novels.
Just a thought. I'm willing to bet people here have even better ideas, but I think something can and should be done for the sake of the overworked agents and editors and for the writers themselves.
I'm not trying to be negative, I'm just being honest. And this isn't to say you "can't" break through as a writer. I think, with persistence, one might eventually have a shot. But it IS a lottery and each query is merely a ticket.
I do hope one of us here will end up with a winning number, though.
November 9th, 2007, 09:14 PM #165
Ah Ranke, you are going to be so much fun for your agent to deal with. Back to the query letter, if you have a 1-2 page plot synopsis among your synopses, put it up here. We can make other arrangements, but then you won't hear from me for weeks, as others here can attest. You're more likely to get a quicker response if you put the info up here. Plus then you get Brian's nice re-edits.
Mr.B -- Nice shirt. You can either tweak it if Sharpe is the protagonist or adjust it if Escapade is the protagonist to focus the description on her. I agree with cutting the line about good guys and bad guys -- it's cute, but not informative. A little bit about what sort of confrontation occurs without going into too many details might be a better substitute.
Oh, and what Optimutt suggested about making stuff up in the query description that isn't actually in the novel? Don't do that.