Jan 2, 2010

Query: The Rough on the Diamond

Dear Agent,

The Rough on the Diamond takes game of baseball where it's never been before: the barren plains of West Africa.

Blake Portis is an ex-backup catcher who has failed as a ballplayer, a broadcaster, a coach and a human being. All he has to show for his years in the major leagues is enough money to buy anything he could ever want and not a single thing he truly needs. Fed up with the game that turned its back on him and on the verge of a personal breakdown, Portis gets one last chance through a job as a scout in the baseball wasteland of Africa.

Portis soon realizes prospects are nowhere to be found and plans to give up, but a chance encounter takes Blake to the small nation of Senegal, where a peculiar doctor has started a baseball program out of the dust. What he finds in Senegal – young boys with a passion for the game and true, unadulterated talent – makes Blake remember why he loved baseball in the first place. In partnership with the doctor, Portis helps guide the baseball program toward its ultimate goal: an African-born player in the major leagues. Along the way, Blake Portis finds love, hope and, ultimately, his own salvation in the land of the griot storytellers.

For over 10 years I worked as an editor, reporter and sportswriter at newspapers and magazines of all sizes across the Midwest, winning numerous writing awards from the press associations of Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.

The Rough on the Diamond is complete at 80,000 words. Thank you in advance for considering it. May I send you a synopsis, sample chapters or the full manuscript?


Matt Kelsey


Suzan Harden said...

Matt, this sounds like a fabulous story!

In fact, it's so fabulous, I'm going to be a little harder on this query than I normally would be because I think you need to send this out soon.

1) First sentence - insert a 'the' between 'takes' and 'game'. Doesn't sound quite right otherwise.

2) On second paragraph, delete the second sentence. It doesn't add anything that isn't covered in the rest of the paragraph.

3) I think you need to work 'griot' earlier into the query if you're going to use it. Otherwise, most westerners aren't going to know it's the term for African oral historians. Heck, the only reason I knew is Neil Gaiman makes me look up stuff every time I read one of his works.

4) What's the genre? It sounds like literary fiction, but I could be wrong. Add that info to the word count paragraph.

5) Don't end with a question. It weakens the query. Thanking the agent for his/her time is sufficient.

Best wishes and let us know what happens with your submissions

Holly said...

Great query.

To second Suzan, add 'the' in the first sentence.

However, I liked the second sentence in the second paragraph and would keep it. I also thought griot was fine as is.

IMPORTANT: in the bio in your real letters, I would mention one or two of the bigger publications you worked for, plus one of the bigger awards. Be sure to italicize the name(s) of the publications.

I've heard that busy agents and busy readers sometimes scan query letters, looking for italics -- what you've published, or newspapers, etc. where you've worked.

Holly said...

Also, one last constructive critism... can you think of another title? The one you have now didn't do it for me. Maybe Diamond something?

Scott Daniel said...


This does sound like an interesting story, and it's right up my alley as certified baseball geek.

I think your journalism background has helped you a lot in writing this query ... good lead paragraph, makes me want to read more(I'm a former sports scribe myself).

I've only got one minor thing to pick at. I would start the second graph off: Blake Portis is a former Major League catcher...

Throwing that in sooner adds another element of interest. My first reaction when I read that sentence was, ex-backup for ... a college team, minor league team, what? Don't make the reader wait to find out!

Rick Daley said...

This has a welcome air of originality to it. Great way of making it about sports, but not being entirely about a single game. You have a full story to back up the baseball.

Good luck!

I wouldn't worry about the title. The publisher will be the umpire on that call.

Scarlett said...

This really seems like a great query and an original idea for a story.

The one thing that tripped me up a little was the MC's motivation for going to Africa. If he's fed up with the game and has plenty of money, why would he take a baseball-related job? Is it more that he's fed up with something about American baseball than the game itself?

Good luck!

Joshua McCune said...

Working Rachel's got a good point, though I think that question is one why an agent would request pages. Makes me think of a cross between Bull Durham and The Air Up There. As others have said, sounds like a great story (and the query's strong, IMO). Nice job and good luck.

Matt Kelsey said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody! And thanks, Rick, for putting this on the site. This is all very helpful. Let me address a couple thoughts I have.

* Yes, there definitely should be a "the" in the first sentence so it reads "takes the game..."

* I think the genre would be literary or mainstream fiction, although I'm sure there's a sub-genre for sports fiction. Hopefully an agent will see it's not just a baseball novel, much like "Field of Dreams" is not just a baseball movie.

* Holly, great idea about putting in specific newspapers and awards. Thanks.

* Working Rachel, the reason he goes to Africa is multi-layered, as you can imagine. I thought it was one of those issues too broad to include in the query. If I had to boil it down in a short answer, I'd say he goes to Africa out of boredom - yes, he's rich and lives in a fine house, but he wants to work, and baseball is the only profession he's ever had. The job in Africa is the only way he could stay employed, really.

* Bane, it's funny you mentioned "The Air Up There." I hadn't even heard of that movie until I had finished writing the first draft of the book! They're both about sports in Africa, but that's really where the similarities end.

Again, thanks everyone, and keep the comments coming!

Hollie Sessoms said...

My Daddy always said that opinions are like . . . well, nevermind, we're PG-13 here, I'm sure you've heard it. I just wanted to let you know that the title grabbed me right away and I really like it. This is one of the best querys I've read in a while. Your story feels fresh and orginial and it left me wanting to read more. Good job and good luck!

dolorah said...

I like the title.

In fact, I really like the query. I'm not sure I'd read the novel as a sports write (from Rick's comment) unless it was something like literary fiction. So, adding the genre will strengthen the query. Otherwise, it really reads well.

Excellent work.


Matt Kelsey said...

Thank you, Holly S. and Donna. Your comments are very inspiring. Donna, I definitely think it might be at least close to that "literary fiction" category, but I think it's probably more mainstream.