Apr 14, 2009

Query--Doesn't Matter Anyway

Dear Mr./Ms. Agent-for-a-day:

I am writing to gauge your interest in representing, “Doesn’t Matter Anyway,” a 120,000-word (390-page typescript) work of adult fiction. I understand [because of my careful research] that you have a particular interest in literary coming-of-age novels.

Alan is an eleven-year-old boy in a small Midwestern city just starting to understand that the frightening violence his dad inflicts on his mom at night is something he needs to keep secret outside the house. Increasingly resentful and unsure about who to trust, Alan only succeeds in isolating himself—from his best friend since first grade, who is more cool and outgoing and impatient with Alan’s clinginess; from his friend’s parents, who offer a seductive vision of a normal family life; and from his mom, who seems more interested in keeping Alan a little kid than in getting away from the violence. We follow Alan over the next two years as he grows more independent and more confident that he can ride out this situation without anyone else’s help. But he’s unaware of how he is becoming a volatile ingredient to the situation himself, nudging his parents out of their old patterns and into dangerous new territory.

I am a freelance journalist and copywriter and a college writing teacher, and “Doesn’t Matter Anyway” is my first novel. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

R. E. Dacted


Lara said...

The middle paragraph is too long and needs to be broken up somehow. The last sentance there about the dangerous new territory was something that sparked an interest in me, so maybe that can be the hook at the beginning.
I would put the first paragraph at the end.

Sarah Garrigues said...

The premise certainly has potential, but I have two big questions.

1) Typically coming-of-age novels are considered middle-grade or YA (young adult) fiction. What would make a publisher consider a book with an 11-year-old main character adult fiction?

2) And if it is really better suited for YA (which I believe it is, based on the query at least), then 120,000 is way out of the typical word count for YA (40K-60K). It is even high for adult fiction (which is usually under 100K). So my second question is this: have you taken a serious look at this manuscript to see if every scene (and even every word) is needed? Has it been peer reviewed or critiqued by a group?

Now for some more nit-picky comments:

1) You only need to list the manuscript's word count; do not include the page count.

2) "[because of my careful research]" sounds a bit presumptuous. If the agent accepts coming-of-age manuscripts, but it is not their favorite genre, you will appear ill-informed. I would just leave that out.

3) Typically, it is best to start a query with your 'hook,' so I would move the first paragraph after your pitch paragraph and edit it down to simply: 'Because of your particular interest in literary coming-of-age novels, I invite you to consider my 80,000-word [hint, hint] young-adult [nudge, nudge] novel, DOESN'T MATTER ANYWAY.' (Just a side note, most agents prefer the title to be capitalized, so they can easily pick it out of the query.)

4. Jumping to your bio paragraph, your first sentence is a bit of a run-on. Rewrite the paragraph to read: 'A freelance journalist and copywriter, I also teach college writing. DOESN'T MATTER ANYWAY is my first novel. [New paragraph] Thank you for your time.'

5. Now onto the meaty pitch paragraph...two big pointers here:

A) You need to create a 'hook' opener/log line. Check out the two links below by Editorrent:
How to create a log line pitch
Examples of log line pitches.
Your 'hook'/log line pitch should be a one-sentence paragraph that opens your query letter. The rest of your novel pitch will follow it in a separate paragraph.

B) The pitch paragraph seems like a summary or book synopsis, which reads a bit boring (even though I think the premise is interesting). Agents want the query to read just as exciting as your book. They want to see 'the voice' of your book come through the query. This version 'tells' me what is going on in the book, rather than 'shows' me. For more info on the difference between 'showing' and 'telling,' check out this post:
The Art of Showing Vs. Telling.

I know that's a lot to take in. Again, overall I like what you're going for and would like to see a revised query. I guess that's the genius of The Public Query Slushpile--it allows us to learn how to make our work stronger. Keep at it!


Judy said...

I would delete the first sentence with gauge your interest. I also don't think that the page count is necessary.

I agree that 11 year old boy would probably appeal to YA audiences and I think 120,000 words might be too long for the genre.

I do not think you need the dash between himself and from.

I think the last paragraph can be deleted too. Unless the agent requests a short bio. Otherwise, just end with a closing of Thanks.

Good luck your story sounds interesting.

Robert McGuire said...

Thanks. One point of clarification: It's definitely a grown-up's book--in the way that The Lovely Bones or The Bluest Eye for example have child narrators and child protagonists but are nevertheless written for adults (though younger readers might be interested in them also). My use of the term "coming-of-age story" may be confusing and/or incorrect.

Anette J Kres said...

“gauge your interest” doesn’t sound right. Gauge means to find out or learn how much interest they would have, but the point of your query is to GET their interest. Engage their interest.

Please don’t put book titles in quotation marks.

You don’t need the type-script page count. Word counts say enough.

“just starting to understand” … if he didn’t understand this before, wouldn’t he have said something to someone already out of ignorance?

“…more confident that he can ride…” awkward phrasing. Perhaps “…more confident in his ability to ride…”

The last sentence is probably your biggest hook, but it’s so obscure. I want to know how he becomes a volatile ingredient? What specific events happen? You’ve told us the growth experience Alan goes through, but not what actually happens. Spoilers are okay for agents. :)

What is Alan’s objective? Just to survive the turmoil in his home? (which is not a bad objective, btw) What’s standing in his way?

What you have here is beautifully written and I feel I understand Alan’s journey. But I don’t feel I understand your novel. I don’t think there is one right way to do a query, so this may work for you. I read the query Nicolas Sparks submitted for The Notebook and it reads similarly to yours, lacking the concrete detail and all that. But I do think yours would be stronger with a bit more of the tangible and a little less of the abstract.

Also, we definitely needed to know that he isolates himself, but for the purpose of the query, do we really need to know that its from his friend, his mom, and his friend’s parents? The descriptions of each are great, but also vague. Might it be better to say “He isolates himself. His friend [event from your book]. His friend’s parents [event from your book]. His mom [event from your book]” That way we get a sense of who these people are by what they DO, rather than just saying what they are.

Anyway, like I said, this is already well written. You can take my suggestions or throw them out the window. Good luck.

Robert McGuire said...

This is all really helpful advice. Thanks very much.

Sarah Garrigues said...

You know your own manuscript. If you say it is written for adults, I believe you. But the query, as it is, does not feel like adult fiction to me. You are going to have to nail that--and the best way is by punching up the 'voice' (see my previous comment). The language and tone of the query should match that of your manuscript. It should feel like (but not actually be) a page out of your novel. Then the audience should be more clear.

Also, even with it as a piece of adult fiction, I still recommend another line-by-line edit to see if you can bring the word count down any. If it is as tight as you can make it at 120K, then submit it that way. But realize that there will be agents that do not request material because of the word count alone. And there may be agents that request material (and even like it), but still ultimately pass on it, because they do not think they can sell 120K to an editor (or they are not willing to put in the time to help you edit it down to 100K). That's why I recommend you do yourself a favor and make life easier by cutting it down to around 100K. If not, just realize what you'll be up against. You still could be published, but it will be a harder road.

I don't mean to sound hard. I do like your concept. I'm just trying to help. The toughest part of writing is editing. As Editorial Anonymous has said, 'It is not the willingness and ability to write well that separates the amateurs and hobbyists from Real Writers. It is the willingness and ability to rewrite well that makes you Real Writers.'

So Happy Editing!


Robert McGuire said...

I hear you. Not resisting any of that at all. I am in the process of knocking down the length in my next revision, and I can see how the way I try to summarize ends up misdirecting and focusing on the wrong things (not on voice, for example.)

Sarah Garrigues said...

Sounds like you are on the right path! Hopefully, you have a good beta reader or critique group that can help you with the manuscript. If you work up another draft of the query, I'd love to take another look. Good luck to you.