Jun 7, 2011

Query- ***

Dear Ms. Dream Agent,

I am writing to you because you represented BLAH BLAH by WHATSHIS NAME and I feel my novel has a similar spirit.

Split into two interwoven parts, *** is a 96,000-word work of literary fiction. Like THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, or a Diane Arbus photograph, it peers beneath the comfort of expected storytelling into the recesses of the human experience.

Set in Kyoto, New England, Africa and Kathmandu, *** connects the mental illness of a Japanese English teacher with the wandering spirit of a jaded American. Incorporating Trichotillomania, 9-11, religious yearning and sexual consolation, the relationship between Machiko Yamamoto and Krista Black develops over a two year period, as Machiko’s health fails, and Krista’s brutal past unfolds. Their desire and their love, their rage and their hope, create a story of humanity, told by two women, across two cultures.

I am a graduate of FancyPants University, and have spent two years in a Japanese village similar to the setting of ***. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Aspiring Writer


scott g.f.bailey said...

Yes, but what's the book about? What's the through-action, the thing that happens? Do these two women even meet? You have discussed a whole lot of narrative elements but you haven't told me anything about a story.

Machiko Yamamoto is a mentally ill Japanese English teacher in Kyoto. Krista Black is a jaded American somethingorother. They are brought together by something specific and dramatic tension is created by some other specific thing. *** tells how that dramatic tension develops. And like that.

The second paragraph, aside from the word count, basically says that the book is literary fiction and you can likely cut it. Agents will assume that lit fic will have depth and themes you can't even hint at in a query, so don't worry about dragging all that in. Just introduce the protagonist(s), the bones of setting and show us the drama.

Anonymous Author said...

Mr. Bailey is correct on all points.

I'll just add that the title isn't going to work. How do you pronounce it? I wanna say "Stars", but maybe it's "Asterisks" or even (who knows) "Sphincters".*

Don't talk about themes. Don't even talk about Fancypants U. It might convey the false impression that you think rather too well of yourself. It could even backfire if you're tryna impress those of us who went to Welfare State**. Instead, talk about the plot. If there is no plot, try to conceal that by talking about the characters. But don't talk about 9/11. There are already plenty of good books about 9/11.

And don't diss the good professors at Fancypants U. by implying that they let you get away with sloppy capitalization.

*Footnote. Yeah, I did get that you're concealing the title. Did not get why.

**Footnote 2. All right. I admit all the editors and agents I know went to Fancypants U. But I know a helluvalotta authors who went to Welfare State. None who went to FU.

thecompassioknitter said...

Thank you for your feedback! I really appreciate it. I've been struggling with my query for over a month now-I've reworked it at least 30 times.

I guess my primary difficulty is conveying the "action" in a book where almost everything is internal...and this difficulty brings about the anxiety that, if a book is all internal, maybe it's not any good...

And I put the university bit in because it's the only thing I've got! Ha ha, if I were published, or had ANY credits to my name, perhaps I wouldn't feel the need to include it.

Thanks again! Any others?

Anonymous said...

I suggest you choose one of the two characters as the focus character for your query -- show the action the character takes, the conflict this character faces (which presumably will include her interaction with the other character).

Start with the action.

And be careful. You already lost me with "Split into two interwoven parts" (if the parts are interwoven, they're not split). And comparing the novel to another novel or to someone else's photograph is a no-go.

As is "peers beneath the comfort of expected storytelling into the recesses of the human experience" -- this is quite precious, of course, but shows nothing about the novel (and means very little).

Same goes for "story of humanity."

Start with something like: "Krista Black, jaded American with a dark past..." or "Machiko Y, ailing teacher of English in a small Japanese village..."

You get the idea.

Avoid words like trichotillomania, since you don't want to force an agent to have to double-check the meaning -- unless the novel is about the illness, although that doesn't seem to be the case.

And unless 9-11 is a major plot element, there's no need for that here. Sure, it's tempting to speak about all of the different interlinking elements of the novel, but they'll only confuse things.

'Religious yearning and sexual consolation' tell but show nothing.

I think referring to FancyPants U will work if you're contacting a fellow alumnus of your university. Otherwise, it's non-essential information.

Rick Daley said...

Internal or external character development doesn't matter. Your query is a professional sales pitch. Try to focus on what sets your story apart from others in its genre.

Start with one sentence. If you can distill your story to a single sentence and then build up from there it will be easier than trying to trim down a longer query.

Focus on your protagonist. If you truly have an even split between two protagonists, then include both, but if one is primary and one is secondary, focus on the primary. Give us a reason to root for her, to want to learn more about her struggles.

This draft is a great example of telling instead of showing...you need to flip that around. Use the description of the story to show us that this is a deep work of literary fiction.

Don't worry about your credentials. Most debut authors don't have an impressive bio to start with. What matters is that you've written an outstanding book. For fiction, the experiences that contributed to your writing and/or research you have conducted is not important. I've heard agents use a good cooking analogy in this regard: I don't care how you made the dish, I just care how it tastes.

Anonymous Author said...

Tck, I apologize for the tone of my response. It had been a hard day.

I wouldn't bother with any biographical info at all unless the specific agent specifically asks for it in her query guidelines.

An internal plot can still be a plot, but you've got to describe it. Who's the protag and what's the central conflict for her, and how does she attempt to solve it and how does that make things worse?

(Don't tell me... tell your query.)

scott g.f.bailey said...

Internal actions can be just as dynamic as external ones (hell, they'd better be if that's the primary action of your book). Think about Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway: one of the through-actions is a man returning to London after years in the British Foreign Service in India. He's optimistic about asking his well-placed friends for a job in England. They have all tacitly agreed that they can't help him at all because they see him as a fuckup, always causing scandals. So he thinks one thing but the truth is totally the opposite of this, and it all takes place inside people's heads, not out in the open. But it's very good drama.

A character going mad, I think, could be good drama. So maybe think about the long-range emotional arc of the characters and how that drives the story.

Also, remember that a query does not "sum up" your book! It's just supposed to pique your interest.

thecompassioknitter said...

Thanks everyone,

I'm going to rework this and submit a revision in a few days, if that's ok Rick?

But more comments are still welcome! Brint it on!

thecompassioknitter said...

Bring, rather