Jun 11, 2011

Query- ***- 1st Revision

Click here to read the original query.

Dear Ms. Agent,

I am writing to you because you represented Blah Blah by What’shis Name and I think my novel may interest you.

Machiko Yamamoto does not understand why she pulls out her hair, picks at her skin, or triple checks the locks to the small house behind the school where she works. She does not understand why, born brilliant and beloved into kindness and privilege, she spends her days alone, reading grammar books and watching travel documentaries. When a quiet foreigner moves into the abandoned thatched roof house next to her uncle’s ryokan, she decides it's time to venture forth from her loneliness.

Krista Black does not mind the weekly visits from the local English teacher. The scarred woman seems harmless, but she always wants to talk about travel and language and why Krista has come to the small, Japanese village. Krista avoids her questions; she knows the world and what it does to fragile people. Machiko may want to know Krista, but she must never learn her secrets.

Set in Kyoto, New England, Africa and Kathmandu, *** is a 96,000-word work of literary fiction, interwoven between two protagonists, across two cultures. Like THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, or a Diane Arbus photograph, it peers beneath the comfort of expected storytelling to investigate the nature of suffering, religion, sex and, ultimately, kindness.

This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Me

(I’m sorry- the working title has to remain anonymous. I haven’t come up with a good one yet, and it’s just too mortifying to publicise my shitty attempts.)

Thanks so much for this opportunity Rick!

6 comments:

Anonymous Author said...

MUCH more lucid. Now then.

The first paragraph isn't necessary, so I'd only use it in cases where it's actually true. Even though agents say they're flattered that you bothered to find out, it can be hard to find out and in my experience they'll request pages either way.

Second paragraph is fine until "born brilliant and beloved into kindness and privilege". This is over the top. Is anyone born brilliant? Besides, it takes away the sympathy we were feeling for this character: she's better than us. I'd leave it out.

In the third paragraph it gets whacky. You're changing protags on us-- I wouldn't do that. Even if the novel has two POVs, the query works better with only one. Also, this paragraph is much harder to follow than the previous one. We don't know who the English teacher is or why Krista's freaking.

This paragraph contains TMI:

Set in Kyoto, New England, Africa and Kathmandu, *** is a 96,000-word work of literary fiction, interwoven between two protagonists, across two cultures. Like THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, or a Diane Arbus photograph, it peers beneath the comfort of expected storytelling to investigate the nature of suffering, religion, sex and, ultimately, kindness.

Since you've only showed us Japan, the settings are confusing. Leave 'em out. Leave out the Diane Arbus photograph, since the agent won't have time to google it. The remainder of that sentence is things you hope reviewers will say about your book, not things you should say about it.

Leave out that it's your first novel. Your closing is a sentence and should be followed by a period, not a comma.

This is getting better.

Anonymous Author said...

Oh, and you're still not really telling us what the story's about, though you're getting closer to it than before.

gj said...

There are a lot of "not"s in this. Negatives like that are a problem, because you're telling us what the character does NOT know, what the character does NOT mind, instead of what they DO know, what the DO care about, what they DO want.

There are lots and lots and LOTS of things that I don't know. Like why the dinosaurs died out, why people can't remember to turn right on red, why advertisers think those horrible floating ads will convince anyone to buy their stuff instead of boycotting it. I don't really care about the answers, none of them affect my daily actions, and they don't really tell you much about me.

Tell us what the characters' problems are, what they want, and what they're willing to do to get what they want. Not the negatives of those things.

For the most part, you can simply omit all the "not" (and cut back the examples a bit, because they go on too long)-- what's important isn't the first character's understanding, but her habits: Machiko Yamamoto always triple checks the locks to the small house behind the school where she works. She stays safe behind those locks, reading grammar books and watching travel documentaries. When a quiet foreigner moves into the house next door, Machika is tempted to venture forth.

When Machika shows up on Krista Black's front door, and starts asking questions ....

yankinfrance said...

Yes, this is much better.

"I think my novel may interest you" is unneccessary. You wouldn't be sending this in order to waste an agent's time, would you?

The first paragraph is too long and contains too much background ('born brilliant and beloved into kindness' -- which makes no sense anyway --but also 'reading grammar books and watching travel documentaries -- which make her sound like a boring, unappealing drip).

And has been pointed out, writing about Machiko seems to force you to place everything in the negative. Perhaps you don't like her much? One of the great lessons I've learned from writing is that it's essential to develop an appreciation for one's characters, especially the flawed characters.

From this iteration, it now seems that Krista Black is the more active protagonist (possibly the one you identify more with) -- at any rate, her conflict/s come through more easily : 1) her ambivalence toward Machiko and 2) her desire to escape her own past.

Perhaps write the query from Krista's perspective? Don't shift perspective in the query, it's not necessary.

I still have a problem with some of your language choices. Apart from the awkwardness of 'born brilliant and beloved into kindness' (sticky with preciousness), there's "venture forth" (stilted) and 'knows the world and what it does to fragile people' (empty preciousness).

I wonder if the novel itself doesn't suffer from the same language problems. There's a difference between 'first published novel' and 'first novel I've ever written.' The former is a good thing, the latter usually belongs in one's archives. If this is the former, there's no need to mention it, since you have no publishing credits. If it's the latter, you shouldn't mention it at all.

The final paragraph needs to go. It does not matter where the novel is set (and you've already shown part of it is set in Japan). Do NOT compare your novel to someone else's work. Also, if the narrative structure is not essential to understanding the novel, then there is no need to mention it.

Besides pretty much every novel is "interwoven" (ick) between two or more characters. I suspect you mean that the narrative shifts perspective from one character to another? Say that then.

Anonymous Author said...

YIF, I generally agree with not comparing one's work to someone else's. But from the agent blogs, it seems like the actual rule is "Don't compare your work to J.K. Rowling's, Stephen King's, or John Grisham's."

I don't know where the god of small things stacks up there. It must've done well because I've vaguely heard of it. Still, AFAICT these comparisons are fairly pointless.

Basically I think on the next revision the writer needs to discard all (all!) desire to impress, and focus hard on telling us about the story.

TheCompassioknitter said...

Thank you all for your feedback-I will keep plugging away!