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Author Topic: Writing Queries  (Read 9591 times)

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Offline Rev. Austin

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Writing Queries
« on: September 21, 2009, 04:42:27 PM »
I just wondered how you guys approach writing queries.  The way I understand it, the query sells your story not the plot, but I'm still trying to figure what the best way is to phrase/construct them/one.  I got some stick in the past on another forum because I didn't know American publishers want the former, not the latter, and am now terrribly afraid of mixing the two up.  How much should a query resemble a covering letter?  What a minefield!
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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2009, 01:59:02 AM »
Hi, Rev. I'm new here  but I'll throw my two nickels down. I have a couple of people (they're mentors, really, and they're awesome) helping me rewrite one of my novels and I asked them the same things.  An intrigueing query will get your foot in the door with an agent or editor--it'll get them to ask for more. Basically, give them the genre, word count, teaser of who your character is and what they face in the novel. Then a paragraph of back ground on yourself. I'm waiting until I have the novel done before I put my back ground paragraph in. But here's my basic query (still needs polished and a few things added) that I'm using for my novel : Nursery Rhymes for Dead Children:



Lee Thompson
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Mr. Henshaw,



Nursery Rhymes for Dead Children

Haunted by the part he played in his brother's death on the river, John McDonnell stumbles across four dead girls inside the Devil's Garden. Their severed limbs spell "Repent" on the forest floor. The coroner finds Mark's onyx skeleton key inside one of the cadaver's, right where her heart used to be. John had seen the key clasped in his brother's hand before they lowered him in the ground.

Hollow Brook's sheriff, Pat Andrews, tells John that the girls were probably runaways and that they need to keep a wrap on it, get 'em buried to protect Mark's name, and the name of their family. The mayor and coroner agree with the sheriff.

Angela Forte comes to caretake the Johnston Estate—the house full of sorrow perched on the north hill, hugged by the Endless Mountains. John has the key she wants. And she’s set on digging her fingers into the tender black soil of his heart.

Torn between his families name and giving the girls a proper burial, John tears into Hollow Brook’s past until things escalate and the storms in people's hearts shake their family secrets loose.

There are a lot of threads running through it, and as the town shatters John and his friends must find the tools to fix it or break beneath the pressure of these ghosts’ sudden weight.

Nursery Rhymes for Dead Children is the first in a series. I have also completed drafts of Book two:  Those fragile, forsaken; and Book Three: The Patron Saint of Infinite Sorrow written.

I have the completed manuscript (80,000 words) ready to send.


Sincerely,

Lee Thompson

Offline KatYares

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2009, 02:21:20 PM »
Lee's example is a good one.  The key to a one page query is to hook whoever is reading the letter into wanting to know more.  While I've only written the dreaded query letter for screenplays - the objective is the same.  Tell enough of the story to make it sound exciting, but not enough to make the reader have any idea of how it ends.

Always address the person you are sending the letter to by name.  Always offer to send a partial or full ms.  Allow the busy agent or publisher time - usually between 3 to 6 weeks before sending a follow up letter - but do send a follow up.  If you don't get any requests for a read - look again at your query letter.  Rewrite and try again with the next set of contacts on your list.

Kat
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Offline Ed

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2009, 03:13:20 PM »
Not that I'm any kind of expert on the subject, but I think the main criteria you want are to keep it short, relevant, respectful, enticing and, above all else, free of errors - your spelling and grammar needs to be spotless, otherwise it's like turning up to a job interview wearing an old pair of jeans and an "I'm with stoopid" T-shirt.
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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2009, 05:10:03 PM »
Hey, Rev. Kat and Ed are right on. Here's a link you can read through and glean a ton of useful info too: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

Lee

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2009, 04:00:23 AM »
Cool beans!  Very useful info, thanks everybody!  Do you think it would be worth trying to write a query in the voice of the main character, to further promote the theme/style? Or is this too much like a gimmick?

Lee, I noticed yours mentions how Nursery Rhymes... is the first in the series.  I keep hearing/reading two completely different view points, in that, if you have a series in mind, you should say so (as you've done) but the other view is, by telling them this, it shows, and I'm paraphrasing, "you don't have the ability to contain a story within a set number of words". 

Which I think is ridiiculous, but quite a few people seem to share this mindset.  Isn't that a bit damaging?  They seem to suggest, 'don't bother writing a series if you're a new writer because you'll never get anywhere with it.'
« Last Edit: September 23, 2009, 04:06:12 AM by Rev. Austin »
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Offline Pharosian

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2009, 07:56:24 AM »
Cool beans!  Very useful info, thanks everybody!  Do you think it would be worth trying to write a query in the voice of the main character, to further promote the theme/style? Or is this too much like a gimmick?

You want to grab the attention of the agent or publisher--but in a good way. Using the voice of your MC could go either way, depending on how well your letter is crafted. I've read that you *do* want your query to reflect your writing voice, so it should not be written like an office memo if your novel is full of street punks. On the other hand, it's probably not wise to address your prospective agent or publisher in the same derogatory or surly way your MC would do, if your MC is the "anti-hero" type... So use good judgment, and run any creative query letters by the nice people here at Cafe Doom for their take on whether you're likely to get a prompt rejection or an invitation to send the full ms.

Quote
Lee, I noticed yours mentions how Nursery Rhymes... is the first in the series.  I keep hearing/reading two completely different view points, in that, if you have a series in mind, you should say so (as you've done) but the other view is, by telling them this, it shows, and I'm paraphrasing, "you don't have the ability to contain a story within a set number of words". 

Which I think is ridiiculous, but quite a few people seem to share this mindset.  Isn't that a bit damaging?  They seem to suggest, 'don't bother writing a series if you're a new writer because you'll never get anywhere with it.'

I think there's a difference between a series and a series character. I can well imagine agents cringing at the thought of newbie writers thinking they're the next Robert Jordan with their own "Wheel of Time" series... can't you? On the other hand, everybody in the business loves repeat sales, so if you can wrap up a story complete in one book, but have the option of writing a series of books featuring the same main character--think James Bond, Jack Reacher, etc.--that's probably something to mention up front.

In the case of the "Nursery Rhymes..." query letter, it's not clear whether the second and third books are different mysteries involving John McDonnell (or the town or...), or whether the story that was started in Book One spills over into the other two books. I'd probably not mention the drafts of the other two books until I either got some interest for Book One or until they were also edited and ready for prime time.

Offline Rev. Austin

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2009, 11:32:51 AM »
Very sensible advice.  Thank you, Pharosian.  I might very well pop my query on here for comment, if that's okay fellow cafe-goers?
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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2009, 12:05:07 PM »
Well how about that.  I just received an email from a publisher about my novel:

I appreciate the opportunity to read your submission, but I’m sorry to say that in the current crowded market, this does not sound to me like a book that we can make into a success.

I don't know whether I should be offended by this honesty or not haha  ;) this is from a big publisher though, so it makes sense.

edit: this came after sending a query written in first-person...
« Last Edit: September 23, 2009, 01:05:38 PM by Rev. Austin »
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Offline Rev. Austin

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2009, 12:16:41 PM »
Alrighty, here's my query.  If it's crap, don't be shy in saying so!

Dear [insert correct name here],

Jack Green is a private eye with a problem.  Throughout his life, those closest to him have kept turning up as corpses – horribly mutilated, chewed-up-and-spat-out kinda corpses.  Now, not only does the mounting evidence point to a race of ancient, monstrous gods been behind the deaths, but it looks like someone’s trying to bring those same gods back to claim the Earth as their own.

That someone is Macallister Jones, a suave businessman who always knows the answer before the question.  He’s been mutating children and adults into nameless horrors, in a bid to give form to the old gods.  He tries to convince Jack to work with him, instead of against him, but Jack refuses to become involved with something so bat-shit insane.

Jack calls in the cops but it’s too late: by the time they turn up Jones is dust, leaving the only other witness behind as a corpse, along with the insidious promise that he knows they’ll meet again.

As Jack strives to solve his problems with a mixture of booze, bullets and wit, he moves inexorably towards another confrontation with Jones, and his own subsequent undoing as a result of his steadily unbalancing mind.

Along the way he encounters other deranged agents of the gods, and creatures, including a doctor who’s made his wife eat the flesh of one of the gods in order to gain ultimate knowledge; a large island that is actually part of a subterranean living factory; a creature made from sentient chaos; and a village, who’s inhabitants don’t realise they’re no longer human.

THIS VILLAGE NEVER DREAMS is an urban fantasy aimed at fans of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and similar television series such as Supernatural.  It is influenced by HP Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler, and complete at 87, 000 words.

I have used a different approach to the novel, by setting each case out as a separate story.  Although the events in the book continue on from one another chronologically, and reference each other, there are gaps spanning a number of months between them - hence the decision to present them as separate stories.

To date, I have had several short stories published online, with a number of other stories set to appear in anthologies by Library of the Living Dead and Library of Horror Press.

With regards,

Wayne Goodchild

I would typically insert a relevant author in place of/before the Jim Butcher, so the publisher knows I'm aware of the people/genres they put out...I'd also class it as 'horror noir' but I know how much publishers like these easy pigeonholes  :cheesy:

edit: removed the reference to it being a first novel, as per Kat's suggestion!
« Last Edit: September 23, 2009, 02:34:37 PM by Rev. Austin »
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Offline KatYares

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2009, 01:46:36 PM »
Only one thing caught my eye immediately...

Leave out that it is your first novel.  Never say it's the first anything.  Do mention your credits, that's fine.  But saying that it is your first novel is giving them the first reason to reject.

Reading over it again...sounds good. 

Kat
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Offline Rev. Austin

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #11 on: September 23, 2009, 01:52:36 PM »
Cool.  Thanks for that, Kat!
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Offline Pharosian

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2009, 03:30:26 PM »
Rev, you asked for honesty, so here it is: if I were the prospective editor, I'd pass for the following reasons:

1) The story doesn't appear to have any element of urgency to it. These weird things have been happening to Jack all his life. You don't say specifically where the story opens, but my guess based on the query letter is that one more corpse shows up (the last straw), and shortly after that the meeting with Macallister Jones occurs. Jack calls the cops, and by the time they arrive, the person I assumed was the antagonist has turned to dust. Jack starts what appears to be a slow unwinding of sanity, and all manner of weirdness occurs in loosely connected tales.

2) The "real" antagonists seem to be the race of ancient monstrous gods. They seem to be evil for evil's sake, bent on "claiming the Earth for their own." The concept of "sentient chaos" which apparently delights in mutilation, horror, blood, gore, fear, etc., etc. is nowhere near as interesting or believable as an opponent with more human motivations (lust, power, greed, etc.).

3a) Macallister Jones stands in as the human face of the evil, being their agent, I guess, but what believable motive is there for anyone to unleash such chaos? You're going to have to do some fancy writing to get me to believe a suave businessman happily creates horrible mutations in his spare time. Why? "He's just insane" doesn't cut it. How did he get that way? What's in his background that warped him? You can't put an entire character sketch into a query letter, but you can do better than "suave businessman." Unless, of course, that's all you've got.

3b) Jack Green is a private eye. So what? There are thousands of private eyes in the world. Why does Macallister Jones want THIS private eye to work with him? What's special about Jack? Why did you choose him as your MC? Do he and Jones have a long-standing relationship? Has Jones been responsible for any of the deaths in Jack's past? Why have these ancient gods been killing people close to Jack? I think you can do a better job of making a case for why Jack Green is the go-to guy for Jones. Remember, this isn't the blurb on the jacket, so don't be afraid of spoilers.

If I have misunderstood key elements of your book, you probably need to redo the query letter.
If I have essentially understood it, perhaps there is still a market for it, and I'm just not the type of reader that you're looking for. Or maybe you can change the emphasis of parts of your query to address these concerns.

LeeThompson

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #13 on: September 24, 2009, 07:19:28 AM »
Good points, Pharosian!

Offline Rev. Austin

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #14 on: September 24, 2009, 11:00:16 AM »
Thanks Pharosian - I did ask for honesty  :cheesy:

Not in my defence, but wouldn't the synopsis be used to answer some of these questions?

However, I do take the point that these things should at the very least be answered a bit more in depth/clearly within the query, and you have essentially understood the idea, which is a relief :) Soooo:

1) These things've been happening to Jack (sporadically) throughout his life, but he's never had a chance to do anything about them, mainly because he has absolutely no understanding of what's behind them.  Basically, the book starts with Jack finding out both about the gods themselves, and that Macallister Jones is an agent of these gods - so Jack finally has a definite lead related to the 'weirdness' (the level of which also esculates during the course of the book), and it's one he can act upon.  

Jones is linked with the gods as he's in pursuit of knowledge, as knowledge is power, and these gods can help him unlock a true understanding of everything.  I'd use the phrase 'ultimate knowledge' except this is a) stale and b) doesn't really do justice to the idea that the knowledge that's 'unlocked' is completely beyond comprehension.  Although if you want to be pedantic (not you Pharosian, I mean 'in general') you could just say...'ultimate knowledge' haha.

The 'dust' remark is old slang, for 'disappeared', which I used rather than 'he's disappeared', as Jack Green uses old slang as part of his mannerisms, so this is supposed to act as a hint as to the language used within the story itself  :/ I can see why it would be confusing though, and would have no qualms is replacing it.

All the stories are linked together, with recurring characters, and themes, with everything having a 'knock-on' effect.  I'm not sure how to make this blatantly clear within the query without actually saying exactly this.  Mind you, I mentioned they're linked, but I suppose I could really stress the points above.

2 / 3) Macallister Jones is the main antagonist, rather than the gods themselves.  They do actively come after Jack, but they're a bit of a Macguffin, as Jones is the real threat.  And the chaos angle is more about confusion and subtle unbalancing of the mundane, rather than full-on mentalness.  Should/Could this maybe be phrased as something other than 'chaos'?

As mentioned above, Jones' motivation is power through knowledge.  I keep his exact background from Jack, although it becomes abundantly clear that Jones's been involved with the gods for a very long time and if he's involved with a situation, it's because he's already manufactured/will benefit from the outcome.

3b) Jones targets Jack because he knows Jack is one of the few people aware of the gods, and also knows Jack's understanding is limited, which he hopes to capitalise upon (in a bid to get him to work with/for him).  When Jack refuses, it shows Jones can't control every situation (so isn't an unbeatable opponent) and gives Jack hope that he can put a stop to all the weirdness.  But, it may already be too late for his sanity... dun dun deerrr, as they say.

So there you go.  Thank you for the constructive criticism, Pharosian, I really appreciate it.  :smiley:
« Last Edit: September 24, 2009, 11:04:13 AM by Rev. Austin »
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Offline Pharosian

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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #15 on: September 24, 2009, 01:38:00 PM »
OK, I can totally get behind the quest for ultimate knowledge as motivation! Sounds like it suits the "suave businessman" you've described.

While I agree that "knowledge is power," it *might* help sharpen the focus of things if Jones is after a particular bit of knowledge among all the rest, or knowledge that will help him accomplish a specific goal... and that goal is in direct conflict with the health and well-being of Jack or someone Jack cares about. The reason I say this is that there should be a reason that Jack can't just say "fuck it" and run in the opposite direction. What keeps Jack in the game? Why can't he just give up? The consequences of doing that have to be worse than moving toward his ultimate confrontation with Jones. Er, I assume there *is* a final confrontation?

Anyway, glad I could help.



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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #16 on: September 24, 2009, 05:25:12 PM »
I wasn't having a dig at you, you nutter  :grin:

I see what you mean by sharpening the focus.  And, er, this is a standalone novel but the overall story arc would probably take three books  ::)  Well, it does take three books, because the sheer scope of what's going to happen is HUGE.  In this one though, it's all about Jack crumbling under the strain of all the fucked-up-ness that he's becoming involved in.  I definitely need a more polite way to word that  ;)
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Re: Writing Queries
« Reply #17 on: October 01, 2009, 10:02:35 AM »
Alrighty, here's my query.  If it's crap, don't be shy in saying so!

Dear [insert correct name here],

Jack Green is a private eye with a problem.  Throughout his life, those closest to him have kept turning up as corpses – horribly mutilated, chewed-up-and-spat-out kinda corpses.  Now, not only does the mounting evidence point to a race of ancient, monstrous gods been behind the deaths, but it looks like someone’s trying to bring those same gods back to claim the Earth as their own.

That someone is Macallister Jones, a suave businessman who always knows the answer before the question.  He’s been mutating children and adults into nameless horrors, in a bid to give form to the old gods.  He tries to convince Jack to work with him, instead of against him, but Jack refuses to become involved with something so bat-shit insane.

Jack calls in the cops but it’s too late: by the time they turn up Jones is dust, leaving the only other witness behind as a corpse, along with the insidious promise that he knows they’ll meet again.

As Jack strives to solve his problems with a mixture of booze, bullets and wit, he moves inexorably towards another confrontation with Jones, and his own subsequent undoing as a result of his steadily unbalancing mind.

Along the way he encounters other deranged agents of the gods, and creatures, including a doctor who’s made his wife eat the flesh of one of the gods in order to gain ultimate knowledge; a large island that is actually part of a subterranean living factory; a creature made from sentient chaos; and a village, who’s inhabitants don’t realise they’re no longer human.

THIS VILLAGE NEVER DREAMS is an urban fantasy aimed at fans of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and similar television series such as Supernatural.  It is influenced by HP Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler, and complete at 87, 000 words.

I have used a different approach to the novel, by setting each case out as a separate story.  Although the events in the book continue on from one another chronologically, and reference each other, there are gaps spanning a number of months between them - hence the decision to present them as separate stories.

To date, I have had several short stories published online, with a number of other stories set to appear in anthologies by Library of the Living Dead and Library of Horror Press.

With regards,

Wayne Goodchild

I would typically insert a relevant author in place of/before the Jim Butcher, so the publisher knows I'm aware of the people/genres they put out...I'd also class it as 'horror noir' but I know how much publishers like these easy pigeonholes  :cheesy:

edit: removed the reference to it being a first novel, as per Kat's suggestion!



That sounds an awful lot like Reanimator by HP Lovecraft.
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