Apr 10, 2010

Query- Four Thousand Miles

Dear Ms. (AGENT NAME),

When twenty-eight year old Natalie Spencer’s entire life unravels in a single morning, she hops an impromptu flight to England where she drops into the life of Gavin Ashby, a reclusive songwriter from rural Kent. Four Thousand Miles is a completed 93,000 word, character driven novel written under the influence of Diana Gabaldon, Kristen Hannah, Jennifer Weiner and Jane Austen with the quarter-life crisis in mind. Female readers will relate to Natalie’s perfect-on-paper life and her need to discover herself in order to start over again.

Natalie Spencer has a good life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - not an exciting life, or even a very interesting one at that, but a good life nonetheless. However, when her career meets an abrupt end and she returns home to find her perfect husband in bed with his best friend, Jeremy, Natalie learns just how fragile her world is. In a state of shock, Natalie’s instincts take over and she boards a plane to the first English speaking destination on the United Airlines flight board – London, England. Alone and armed with nothing but her purse, Natalie narrowly escapes being mugged in a Tube station and is rescued by a Brit with rugged good looks by the name of Gavin Ashby. Having spent most of his adult life in a self-imposed limbo, Gavin Ashby recognizes his kindred spirit in Natalie. He invites her to recuperate from her emotional trauma at his home in Pluckley, Kent, where he lives above his family’s restaurant with his possessive sister and her deaf daughter. Through their strong friendship, Natalie and Gavin are able to heal from their wounds and discover the strength to go after the lives they’ve always wanted.

After falling victim to the tidal wave of corporate downsizing myself, I have pressed my own reset button by dusting off my Bachelors in English and re-kindling my love of writing. Four Thousand Miles is my first completed novel and fits solidly into the chick-lit genre. My only other publishing credit is a short story entitled “Death of a Woman,” which had been published in the Detroit literary magazine, The Furnace in 2000. Attached you will find the first three chapters of my novel for your review. The completed manuscript is available on request. Thank you very much for taking the time to consider Four Thousand Miles. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Jessica Riggles
(MY INFO HERE)

14 comments:

chicagowriter said...

I'm going to keep it short and to the point.
I think I will like your story, but it is jumbled and hidden inside too many meaningless words.
Keep the focus on your story, not everything you want to say.
Pare this down and please repost- I think the idea is great!

Jesilea said...

Thank you for the feedback! I took your advice and cut about a third of the words from my letter. Let me know if you think this is better...

Dear Ms. [AGENT],

When twenty-eight year old Natalie Spencer’s life unravels in a single morning, she learns just how fragile her world is. After losing her job and finding out her flakey mother is pregnant again, returns home unexpectedly to find her husband in bed with his business partner… Jeremy. In a state of shock, Natalie’s instincts take over and she boards an impromptu flight to the first English speaking destination on the United Airlines flight board – London, England.

Alone and armed with nothing but her purse, Natalie narrowly escapes being mugged in a Tube station and is rescued by a Gavin Ashby, a reclusive British songwriter. Having spent most of his adult life in a self-imposed limbo, Gavin recognizes a kindred spirit in Natalie. He invites her to recuperate from her emotional trauma at his home in Pluckley, Kent, where he lives above his family’s restaurant with his possessive sister and her deaf daughter. Once there, Natalie discovers the depth of Gavin’s wounds. Through their strong friendship, Natalie and Gavin are able to heal from their wounds and uncover the strength to go after the lives they’ve always wanted.

After falling victim to corporate downsizing myself, I dusted off my English degree and re-kindled my love of writing. Four Thousand Miles is a completed, 95,000 word, manuscript in the Chick Lit genre. Female readers will relate to Natalie’s perfect-on-paper life and her need to discover herself in order to start over again.

Attached you will find the first three chapters of my novel for your review. The completed manuscript is available on request. Thank you very much for taking the time to consider Four Thousand Miles. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Jessica Riggles

Lisa Amowitz said...

The second version is much better. Clearer and with a stronger hook. I suggest you rethink calling this chick-lit and call it women's fiction. I'm also wondering at the length of the ms. Have you combed it for excess, low tension passages? Your first query makes me worry the ms is filled with the same extra language. 95,000 words seems long (to me) for a book like this. Just a thought. Remember..your query needs to be awesome, but it is the quality of your book that matters in the end. I do think this is a strong premise, though!

gj said...

The revision is better, but it has some issues still.

First, kill the bio paragraph. It's nicely written, with good voice, but it's largely irrelevant, taking up words that would be better spent on the story, and it contains some elements that might work against you. Among other issues, chick lit is generally considered dead, so you're better off calling it women's fiction or romance, depending on whether it's WF or R. Also, it's generally a bad idea to TELL who the readership is, rather than showing it by the nature of the story, and it's an even worse idea to suggest that people will identify with anything "perfect," because that's what we do NOT relate to (although I believe you meant to suggest her life was NOT perfect in reality, but it's better to focus on the problems, rather than the perfection, seeming or otherwsie).

Similarly, you can cut your first sentence about unraveling life -- it's a pretty sentence, useful for back cover copy, but it takes up space in the query without saying anything. It "tells" what the story is about (albeit in vague terms that don't work to make the reader care), and then you proceed to "show" what the story is about, detailing the unraveling. Just show it, since that's much more compelling than telling it.

With respect to the substance of the query, it's virtually all set-up and backstory. In romance terms, it's the "cute meet": heroine running away from problems meets the hero. That's the first 30 pages or so of the 400-page manuscript. What happens in the rest of the story? What's the conflict that sustains the rest of the story? Is the story about the progress of the relationship (romance) or the growth of the heroine (women's fiction)? What does the protagonist want, what's she doing to get it, and who's stopping her? You need to answer those three questions in concrete terms.

Forget (most of) what you learned in creative writing classes (especially about themes and morals of the story), and focus on the core of the story -- the struggle between protagonist and antagonist over a goal they both care about.

Working Rachel said...

I agree the second version is much stronger. You're starting with the action here and showing us why we should be interested.

I strongly suggest cutting the first sentence of your bio paragraph--you want to come off as a committed, career novelist, not someone who wrote a novel as a way to fill time between jobs.

Jesilea said...

Third time's a charm???? ;) Thank you all so much for your comments!

After suddenly losing her job and finding out her flakey mother is pregnant again (in her 40’s!), Natalie Spencer returns home unexpectedly to find her husband in bed with his business partner… Jeremy. In a state of shock, Natalie’s instincts take over, and she boards an impromptu flight to the first English-speaking destination on the United Airlines flight board – London, England. Alone and armed with nothing but her purse, Natalie narrowly escapes being mugged in a Tube station and is rescued by a Gavin Ashby, a reclusive British songwriter. Having spent most of his adult life in self-imposed limbo, Gavin recognizes a kindred spirit in Natalie. He invites her to recuperate from her emotional trauma at his home in Pluckley, Kent, where he lives above his family’s restaurant with his possessive sister and deaf niece. Once there, Natalie discovers the depth of Gavin’s wounds.

Together, Natalie and Gavin spend a summer turning a 500-year-old stable into a guest house. Town gossip buzzes about the American woman drawing Gavin out of his shell. The pair continually claim their relationship is platonic, but their chemistry is undeniable. With her encouragement, Gavin begins hoping for the future again, writing songs and taking steps to further his music career. Gavin’s family and friends begin to accept Natalie into their lives, particularly Gavin’s niece. Natalie finds healing in the Kent countryside, but continues to look at her time in England as a break from her “real life,” not a permanent option. When Gavin’s best friend, Avery, asks Natalie on a date, Gavin realizes his feelings for Natalie go beyond friendship and makes his move. Just when the pair seems to be heading in the right direction, a car accident involving the niece and a verbal attack on Natalie by Gavin’s sister bring the budding relationship to a halt. Natalie must choose whether to abandon her old life for Gavin or to flee once again.

Four Thousand Miles is a completed, 95,000 word manuscript in the Women’s Fiction genre. This is my first novel. In 2000, my short story entitled “Death of a Woman” was published in the Detroit literary magazine, The Furnace. Attached you will find the first three chapters of my novel for your review. The completed manuscript is available on request. Thank you very much for taking the time to consider Four Thousand Miles. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Lynn Colt said...

I took a shot at paring down your third version:

Fleeing the sudden loss of her job and her marriage, Natalie Spencer impulsively boards a plane to the first English-speaking destination on the United Airlines flight board – London, England.

Natalie has barely disembarked when she's mugged in a Tube station, but she's rescued by reclusive songwriter Gavin Ashby. Recognizing a kindred damaged spirit in Natalie, Gavin invites her to recuperate from her trauma at his home in Pluckley, Kent.

Together, Natalie and Gavin spend the summer turning a 500-year-old stable into a guest house. Gavin starts to see Natalie as part of his future, but to Natalie, England is only a healing break from 'real life'. In the end, Natalie must choose whether to abandon her old life for Gavin or to flee once again.

Complete at 95,000 words, Four Thousand Miles is women's fiction. My short story “Death of a Woman” was published in the Detroit literary magazine, The Furnace. Attached you will find the first three chapters of my novel. Thank you for your time.

--
Couple of notes:
-IS this women's fiction? It sounds like a romance. Are there any chapters from Gavin's POV?
-Don't mention it's your first novel. Agents don't need to know that, and it won't impress them.
-I'm not really seeing the stakes in the novel. Natalie's choice is basically: commit to a life with this awesome-sounding guy or ... what? Go back to her broken home and lack of a job? Kind of a no-brainer :) I get the feeling the choice is more about her being able to trust again after her husband cheating on her (right?)

Anyways, keep at it - queries are so hard to get right, but you're making progress, and it sounds like a sweet story. Hope this helps!

Jesilea said...

@Lynn Colt - Thank you for your help! I have debated back & forth on the genre. The couple doesn't really get together until the end. There are no hot & heavy sex scenes. I was afraid that by calling it a romance, it wouldn't fit in with the rest of the group. I think the core issue is two people in their late twenties who got off of the path and have to find a new direction. I guess I need to make that a bit more obvious in the query.

Amy said...

The first version was repetitive; the second version is better because it cleans up the repetitiveness, but it doesn't tell us much about the story's conflict.

The third version goes into a lot more detail, but it's not really hooking me. Maybe it's just not my kind of story--I don't read women's fiction (and I do think that's what this is; it could be a romance, but like the previously submitted query, it sounds too quiet and introspective for romance).

I'm imagining 200 pages of no real conflict while Gavin and Natalie have a friendly, platonic relationship and build the guest house. Then she has to make a decision about whether to stay with Gavin or run away again, and I'm 99% certain she's going to choose Gavin, because that's how this sort of story always turns out. I'm not seeing enough conflict. Maybe that's an accurate reflection of the novel, and maybe it isn't. I suggest fewer plot specifics (because you're pushing it on length already with that 3rd version), more playing up of the conflict.

Another thing to consider is, will a reader want to spend 300 pages with this protagonist? She aimlessly runs away from her life, and seems to just stumble into a lucky relationship. But protagonists are most sympathetic when they have a problem and take decisive action to solve it (and fail, and try again, and fail, and try again, until finally they succeed). Is this protagonist taking action, or is she sitting passively while things happen to her?

chicagowriter said...

It's getting better! Still too many words to decribe what I'm still not sure is the conflict.
For instance, losing job and husband in bed with a man. Good strong points to send her running. Mother pregnant in her 40's, lots of women are pregnant in their 40's. '..learns just how fragile her world is.' Get back to the husband in bed with a man feeling. I would not be thinking a fragile state of mind. Give the woman some power and send her on a journey we want to follow.

In a state of shock, Natalie's instincts take over...
Could be: In shock, Natalie boards the first flight out of ? in hopes of ???
On that note it seems weird she carries her passport around. In Chicago that means a different terminal (International) with more possiblities than Des Moines, Iowa for example.
I need to feel more of Natalie- She's obviously armed with her passport, some cash and a sense of adventure to head off to what I'm assuming is overseas with only her purse (here is her power). But yet, after you reveal more she seems boring, but I don't think she is in your ms.
And I'll keep going- why is Gavin reclusive? In self-imposed limbo doesn't describe anything about HIM. If he's reclusive why is he on the Tube which is packed with people ALL the time?
Kindred spirit? Does she have any spirit left after getting kicked in the gut by what happened in paragraph 1?
I sense this is WF not romance and I want to care about what happens to these characters.
Try to describe your ms in 5 sentences- 50 words or so, then build. It's harder at first but the end result is the story, which is what will sell in the first place.
Good luck and I think you've made good progress so far.

Jesilea said...

ChicagoWriter,

You've been more help that you could imagine. Your honest critiques are exactly what I was looking for. All of your questions are answered and make sense in the book (the whole passport thing), but having trouble condensing what's important and what isn't for the query.

Jesilea said...

Hopefully, this is the last version...

When Natalie Spencer loses her job, she returns home unexpectedly to find her husband in bed with his business partner… Jeremy. In shock, Natalie boards the first flight to the English-speaking destination on the United Airlines flight board – London, England. Armed with only her purse, Natalie is nearly mugged in a Tube station. Her attackers are scared off by an introverted songwriter Gavin Ashby. Recognizing Natalie’s fragile state, Gavin offers help and eventually invites her to recuperate from her trauma at his home in Pluckley, Kent.

Unaccustomed to the role of “damsel in distress,” Natalie gets her strength back by helping others. She encourages Gavin to reinvigorate his music career, provides mentorship to girls at the farm, and very reluctantly supports her husband via email while he deals with his new, publicly gay life. Gavin’s family and friends begin to accept Natalie into their lives, particularly his niece. Natalie finds healing in the Kent countryside, but continues to look at her time in England as a break from her “real life,” not a permanent option. When Gavin’s best friend, Avery, asks Natalie on a date, Gavin realizes his feelings for Natalie go beyond friendship and makes his move. Just when the pair seems to be heading in the right direction, a car accident involving the niece and a verbal attack on Natalie by Gavin’s sister bring the budding relationship to a halt. Natalie must choose whether to abandon her old life for Gavin or to flee once again.

Complete at 95,000 words, Four Thousand Miles is women's fiction. My short story “Death of a Woman” was published in the Detroit literary magazine, The Furnace. Attached you will find the first three chapters of my novel. Thank you for your time.

Rick Daley said...

I just entered the most recent version in this comment thread as its own post.

http://openquery.blogspot.com/2010/04/query-four-thousand-miles-revised.html

chicagowriter said...

Better, but still not done I'm afraid.

Don't start with when, it's one of the seven "try not to use" ms words. If you haven't already, do a search in word for the seven words in your completed ms. Get right to the point.

(Something descriptive about her?), Twenty-eight year old Natalie Spencer loses her (what kind of)job, walks in on her (perfect?)husband in bed with his business partner- Jeremy and quickly decides her life isn't anything near what she thought it was...

Unsure of her future, she boards..I think the word first is missing here. Leave out the english-speaking part, don't explain the english part just let it be London.

The last part of para 1 is way too vague. How were attackers scared off? What was her frame of mind? More concise description and conflict here is important. Choose your words to make the most impact. It still feels like you are explaining not giving us the visual.

As an agent I would stop reading after para 1 but ...para two lacks any reason to continue. Again, I feel the story is good but it's not coming across in the words at all. Leave out Avery's name and specifics, address the situation between your protag only.

Third para should start with "I was published..." and finish with the genre, word count and title.

I hope I am helping! Keep trying, this is more difficult than writing the ms sometimes! :)