Apr 21, 2009

Query-The Release (Revision 1)

Click here to read the original query.

Dear Agent:

I am currently seeking representation for my novel The Release is a 65,000 word suspense fiction that shares several similarities with The Escape by Robert Pierce, which I understand is a favorite of yours. Both novels share certain similarities in that they deal with the struggles of a young man trying to escape the horrors of an abusive past.

A brief synopsis of my novel follows:

John Michaels has just spent the past 7 years in a Texas sanatorium. His crime? Meting out only a small fraction of the brutal abuse, he suffered at the hands of his alcoholic father on a classmate. Now at the age of 22, John Michaels hopes to find the release from his all-too-real prison, his past. To do so, he must convince Dr. Holt, the chief psychiatrist that he's been rehabilitated and can safely be released into society.

It takes every ounce of his inner resolve and cunning, but John's charade prevails. He's released. However, the John Michaels that's set free is no longer a child - he's a ruggedly handsome man that is extremely attractive to the ladies. Unfortunately, for him, it's because of his sexual attractiveness that he finds himself implicated in the murder of a beautiful young girl less than twenty-four hours after his release. Karen Weeks was a girl that he only had dinner with, but because of his past, he immediately becomes the prime suspect in her death. Now, he must rely on complete strangers to fight for his freedom and release. Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. I look forward to hearing from you.


Robert Meacham


judall said...

I'm going to be direct and specific in my feedback as I think it is the most helpful in the editing process. Please do not get offended.

I think you can take out the entire first paragraph and put portions of it at the end. Take out is from your first sentence and add a comma. "For my novel The Release is a..." And saying novel and fiction in the same sentence is redundant- all novels are fiction.

Describing the similarities of the book with The Escape doesn't create any interest in me for your story. doesn't sound correct. I'd start with the John Michaels paragraph.

Also- it is not a synopsis, it's a pitch so don't include the "A brief synopsis of my novel follows:". A synopsis tells everything that happens in your story, your pitch should be like jacket copy that tells enough to get the agent/reader interested.

I'd recommend rewriting the following sentences:

"Meting out only..." It sounds awkward and doesn't really convey violence to me. I think you could put the abused info and the beating into two sentences.

"However, the John Michaels..." You don't need the extremely. We just learned he's ruggedly handsome so he's likely to attract the ladies. You use attractive twice in two sentences, I'd change that spot up a bit.

There are some items I don't understand the logic of. If he beat the classmate- why did he get 5 years in jail? That seems excessive. If he killed the classmate you should indicate that.

Aren't juvenile records sealed? I don't know much about that, but if they are sealed it doesn't seem like he should be suspected because of his past.

Put the "Thank you for taking time..." into it's own paragraph. It doesn't have anything to do with the paragraph it's in.

Overall, it doesn't make me care too much about your character. What's at stake here? If he's pulling a charade and hasn't been rehabilitated, why should I care that he hasn't killed Karen? I mean, he would've killed someone eventually. I don't really have a sense of who he is or what's important to him. All I know is he's been abused, he's handsome, and he's now a murder suspect. (And why are they fighting for his freedom and release? Was he convicted? Why not fight to prove his innocence?)

This is all just my opinion, so take it or leave it as you like. Best of luck with your endeavors.

Unknown said...


I think you have a compelling plot, but this query is really, for me, excessively wordy.

I have taken the liberty of paring it down as a really rough example of how this could be made more concise.

I agree that the opening paragraph delays the WOW! factor by making a comparison that likely doesn't matter to the agent. You are selling YOUR story, not how your story is like someone else's. Let your creativity and story be the focus of your query.

Good start! I wish you a lot of luck.

Here's the rough example:

John Michaels is a victim. Brutally abused by his alcoholic father, he has spent 7 years in a Texas sanatorium for (what did he do to a) classmate.

Now 22, John must convince Dr. Holt, the chief psychiatrist, that he is rehabilitated and worthy of release.

Using every ounce of his inner resolve and cunning, John (Cunning implies trickery here. Insert how he fooled Dr. Holt) and is released.

But the John Michaels that's set free is no longer a child; he's a ruggedly handsome man popular with the ladies who finds himself implicated in the murder of a beautiful young girl less than twenty-four hours after his release.

Now, he must rely on complete strangers to fight for his freedom and release. (This should be spelled out a bit more as it is vague. Who is fighting for him? What do these people have to gain in doing so? What is the desired outcome? And what, besides John’s past, are the obstacles to obtaining it?)

The Release is a 65,000 word suspense fiction.

Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. I look forward to hearing from you.


Robert Meacham

Suzan Harden said...

Hi Robert!

I agree with most of Judall's analysis, but would add a few other things to think about:

1) How'd John end up in the sanatorium? It's notoriously difficult to cop an insanity plea here in Texas. And depending on the severity of the assault and any priors, the prosecutor would push for John to be tried as an adult.

2) Be specific about why John beat the classmate. Was he bullied by the other kid? Defending a classmate?

3) You say John commits a charade to get out of the sanatorium. Is he really psychotic? A sociopath? There needs to be something the reader can bond with in John.

4) How'd John get a date less than 24-hours out of a sanatorium?

5) How's the second situation more perilous for John than the first incarceration? Is the prosecutor's pushing for death row?

6) Does John have a goal in this story other than getting out of trouble?

hope101 said...

Besides the other points that have been made, I'm concerned about the passive voice in this sentence: "now he must rely on complete strangers to fight for his freedom and release". What does your main character do to make us want him to succeed? Right now you have him sounding like a manipulative psychopath who uses his past victimhood as the means to rationalize a brutal act.

Rick Daley said...

I'd like to add on the prior commetns, which are very worthy. As you see the questions your query envokes, realize that you don't need to answer them all in the query, and sometimes what you may need to do is cut parts of the query back that invite the quertions.

Most novels do not have a single story arc - they have many sub-plots. Your query should focus on the maim story arc. If a sob-polt opens a can of works, leave it out of the query.

You want the agent to meet your protagonist and understand his struggle, and many agents want a glimpse of the resolution.

Another tip: read it out loud. This helps solidify sentence contruction (syntax), and the overall flow of your writing.

scott g.f.bailey said...

How much of the story takes place before John is released from the sanatorium? Is this all backstory? Then skip most of it in the query and start at his release:

"John Michaels has just been released from a 7-year stay in a Texas sanatorium." or something.

Here's the main thing: an agent is going to look at your query and think that because of the problems in your pitch, there are deeper problems with your book. I'm just confused about what this story is.

It sounds like John is a nasty piece of work, with his cunning charade. It also sounds like you feel he's justified in beating up/killing his classmate because of his childhood abuse. That's just icky and I wouldn't read this book. I also don't see how "escaping the horrors of his abusive past" has anything to do with his being a suspect in Karen's murder. If he's struggling to escape that past, maybe he should've been forthcoming with Dr. Holt.

You use the word "release" four times in this query. Don't.

Try this experiment, and reformulate your query into one or two sentences along the lines of:

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting].
But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's
quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].

Robert A Meacham said...

Thank you all for taking time to give your direct and specific feedback. Offended? Never.

I will do a print out, study your comments, and then do another revision.

John Michaels is not at all how I've painted him. You guys are helping me see this. Hopefully, I will get it right the next time. If not, I will try try again.