Jun 3, 2009

Query - HOLLOW SOULS (revisited)

Click here to read the original query.
Click here to read the second revision.

Note: I really appreciate all the advice that I received for my first query attempt. I've tweaked it a bit (based on your suggestions) and humbly ask you if this is an improvement or not... I didn't change the word count issue (as the novel still needs to be edited), and I wonder if I should mention the targeted audience. Please let me know what you think. Thanks again!


Dear Mr./Ms. Agent:

Following the worst day of Olivia Marconi’s young life, her mother, Devi, soothes her with a unique bedtime tale, the first of many about Ruby Hollow – a secret, subterranean haven in southern Kentucky that unites families from all cultures and persuasions, supports innovation while preserving old-fashioned ideals, and enables lost souls to find solace and purpose. Despite Devi’s evident passion for this made-up utopia, she remains disillusioned about her life as a middle-class housewife and mother in 1970s-era New Orleans.

Years later, Olivia, now a teenaged artist, has wearied of her mother’s inexplicable depression, until she discovers a cache of love letters from the “hero” of Devi’s bedtime tales, and suddenly realizes the Hollow is an actual place. Through these illuminating pages, she learns about the unexpected pregnancy that prevented her mother’s return to the strange underworld into which she’d stumbled as a child. Despite her doubts, Olivia confesses her find, yearning to know more about Devi’s long-lost home. But it isn’t until a road trip to Kentucky that Devi is finally able to introduce Olivia to the beloved cave-dwellers that once inspired her stories, and to the only place where she’s ever truly belonged...

Since growing up in New Orleans and studying film, literature, and creative writing at Northwestern University, I’ve held a variety of positions, from ecotourism journalist to travel guide author – with publishing credits that include MOON MICHIGAN(Avalon Travel, 2009). Once, on assignment in Kentucky, I toured the dark, twisting passages of Mammoth Cave, which eventually sparked HOLLOW SOULS, my first novel – a 150,000-word literary/mainstream saga that proves it’s never too late to find one’s place in the world.

For more information, please visit my website: www.rubyhollow.com. If you would like to view the complete manuscript, please contact me via the email address, phone number, or mailing address listed above. I’ve enclosed a synopsis and the first five pages of HOLLOW SOULS, plus an SASE for your convenience. Thank you for considering the possibility of representing my work.

Laura Martone


jbchicoine said...

I think this is better—I get a clearer sense of the overall story. Makes me very curious about how you develop the potential conflicts. Personally, I’d be inclined to read it.

Natalie N. said...


I like the concept for the book, it sounds interesting! I was a little confused about the "lost souls" because I took that literally - souls that are lost and unable to go to the afterlife go to this magical world - but I don't think that's how you meant it.

You need a space between "Michigan" and "(" (MOON MICHIGAN(Avalon Travel, 2009)).

My research into queries has said that you shouldn't include stuff like "that proves it’s never too late to find one’s place in the world" because it's a cliche and agents hate cliches (I learned this the hard way).

Also, I don't think you need to tell the agent to contact you via email, phone or snail mail - they already know they can contact you in those ways if you include your contact info. You don't want to bore the agent at all.

One last thing because I'm anal, I'd say "Please find enclosed a SASE for your convenience" not an SASE - SASE is pronounced "sassy"

I can't wait for this book to get published so I can read it! Good luck!

Bane of Anubis said...

Laura, definitely flows well - I think it's fairly obvious that you can write.

Other than what's already been pointed out (e.g., reducing contact info, and a SASE - though I hope it's not pronounced "sassy", I've always heard it pronounced to rhyme with ACE), I have just a few minor nits (which should be taken w/ a grain of salt):

1. The opening line has more of a punch - but it would be more impactful if you could show us Olivia's worst day (briefly - e.g., After OM's monkey dies in a horrible banana accident...); also, consider eliminating ancillary info (e.g., "her mother, Devi, soothes her with a tale of Ruby Hollow" - the secret, subterranean part shows us that it's unique - i.e., resist the urge to tell what you're gonna show).

2.) Similarly, you can probably condense paragraph 2 (e.g., "Olivia wearies of her mother's inexplicable depression" - though it's years later in the book, it's inconsequential to the query - and the fact that she's a teenaged artist is just fluff for the query, IMO).

Overall, both story paragraphs read well, but given the attention span agents allot each query, I'd suggest tightening where possible... the personal paragraph reads well and nicely explains your story's genesis and your unique perspective on the subject matter. Also, you do mention your target audience, in general (i.e., literary/mainstream) - I don't think you need to go beyond that unless you know the particular agent really identifies w/ a given subset.

Anyway, hope this makes sense.

Natalie N. said...

B of A-

I work in the legal field (I'm a debt collector, the worst kind of person I know) and we always say sassy. We have to send SASEs to the Court with everything we file.

I'm not sure I could get use to saying it as you indicated but to each his own, right?

Bane of Anubis said...

Natalie - I don't think I'll ever be able to work in the legal field then :) -- unless it's given a french twist - sassay :)

I feel for you - now's gotta be a hard time in your field... you've gotta have a thick skin and an iron will.

Natalie N. said...

B of A -

Just like trying to find an agent/get published.

I should write a book about the lame excuses people give for not paying their debts!

Anonymous said...

Ack! I had a lovely long post for you and it got poofed. So the gist:

I do enjoy your voice, but for query purposes, this has a way to go, IMO. For starts, its waaay too long.

1. Follow only one character for the query, even if your novel switches between PsOV.

2. Cut the backstory. As far as I can tell, things only get moving when Olivia discovers the love letters. You've got one or two sentences to get us there maximum.

3. Where's your conflict? You may have goal-motivation-conflict up the wazoo in your mms, and your characters may actually *do* things, but little actually happens in this query. (They discover, talk, and travel.) Even less seems to oppose them.

If this story is about Devi's metaphorical journey home, then why didn't she just go there for the past many years?

I can't actually tell what your story is about--other than a return to an idealized world--because of the lack of plot specifics.

3. Don't waste space on discussing themes or inspiration. Show us.

4. Don't restate the obvious. The entire last paragraph can be something like "HOLLOW SOULS is a literary fiction novel, complete at XXXX words. Thank you for your time and consideration." Then your name and contact should follow.

I hope I'm not earning a reputation as a "crit bitch". :) I'm on the steep part of the learning curve myself, and for all I know, this opinion isn't worth the electrons used in its production.

Good luck!

Bane of Anubis said...

I second cherry's point about conflict; there's an underlying, inferred conflict, but a more tangible one is probably needed.

jbchicoine said...

Got to agree about the conflict thing. I'm sure it's there in your story, but I think the agent will want it more explicitly spelled out in the query.

Cherry, just a side point: it was brought to my my attention (regarding my original query post) that "a literary 'fiction novel'" is redundant.

Anonymous said...

See??? That's what happens when I omit important things, like sleep and food. :(

Good catch, jb. "Lit fic novel" is a big no-no.

Rohit Gore said...

Hi Laura,

I am yet to become a query critter. But I think this one reds better than the earlier one.

Your novel sounds intriguing.


Laura Martone said...

Thanks, everybody, for the wonderful feedback. Guess it's back to the drawing board I go. Hi-ho, hi-ho!

P.S. Would it be terrible if I took another crack at the letter and posted it again? Or are people sick of it already?

Rick Daley said...

If you revise it and submit it I'll post it. I think the record is five.

The biggest risk is no comments. No harm the way I see it.

jbchicoine said...

Of course, I would say go for it! People seem willing to play along until your 5th version.(If they no longer post comments,it's probably becuase they don't want to be enablers to an obsessive personality—just as well). Therefore, you still have plenty of leeway!