Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shark Lessons

I have spent the morning reading through Query Shark and taking notes. I only made it through the list of queries that won at query shark, through revisions or on first tries.

Here is what stood out to me

- In black is part of the query letter, and in blue is the query shark's opinion.

Query Shark: **WINNER**

Protected witness Jessica Reynolds is in deep trouble. The killer she helped put behind bars ten years ago has escaped, and thanks to a breach in cyber-security, knows her new identity. A federal marshal shows up at her home without warning, ready to immediately whisk her away for a second relocation. Jessica refuses to go, unwilling to walk away from her career, home and friends without a fight.

Yes! This is exactly how to start a query. We know what Jessica wants, and who is trying to thwart her.
I am seeking representation for ABIDE WITH ME, a 57,000-word crime novel about friendship, community, football, hope, and biscuits. Oh, and gangsters.

I like the juxtaposition of crime novel and friendship. I'm always looking for that kind of weird pairing. I think it bodes well for a fun read.

Thing is, John don't even know the fuckin' half of it.

And that's exactly why, in less than forty words, why I am eager to read the pages, and then the novel.

One week ago, Claire's cousin Dinah slit her wrists. 

Five days ago, Claire found Dinah's diary and discovered why. 

Three days ago, Claire stopped crying and came up with a plan.  

Two days ago, she ditched her piercings and bleached the black dye from her hair. 

Yesterday, knee socks and uniform plaid became a predator's camouflage. 

Today, she'll find the boy who broke Dinah. 

By tomorrow, he'll wish he was dead. 

Premeditated is a 60,000 word contemporary YA novel. Chapters or a synopsis are available on request.  

oh hell yes.  Send pages, send the entire manuscript NOW.

Here's why this breaks all the rules and still works:  

It's got menace in the very rhythm of the writing. It's short and not-sweet.  We know who the main characters are because she SHOWED us, not TOLD us.

THE ABDUCTION OF EMILY, a mystery/suspense novel of 84,000 words, is an account of a kidnapping as seen from three points of view: the kidnapper, the kidnapped, and the people left behind. 


At news of the When Emmy hears about the Las Vegas Stardust Resort’s impending implosion, Emmy emerges from exile for its farewell concert.

 I'm a big fan of starting sentences with the subject not a clause, particularly in query letters. I think it makes your writing sound stronger.  It's one of the things you teach yourself to notice in revision (those leading clauses) cause we all write like that ---on the first draft.

The reason I'm a fan of it particularly in query letters is that it's the easiest format for the reader to follow. There's no pause to think "oh, right, it goes with that person, not this other one."

So the top three things I learned:
  1. Hook the reader (that's the key, everything else is just suggestions to help do this.)
  2. Show, don't tell
  3. Rhythm matters, read your query out loud.
*Also what's written outside of the blurb matters. You can add a sentence or two describing the novel when you give word count.
I'm scraping my old query and rewriting. 
Another tip: personalize the query letter for each agent, more than just having the attachments, or inserting what they ask for. Mention something about them and why you'd fit.