Oct 19, 2010

QUERY: THE ODD I SEE (first revision)

Click here to read the original query.

Dear Agent,

I am writing to you because I read your interview on xxxxx, your submission guidelines, and (novel you represented). Please consider representing my novel The Odd I See, a 71,000-word work of slipstream fiction.

Following a half-assed stay in the loony bin and entry into the “real world” by way of graduation from college, Fifi wants to know why she ought to bother with existing.

Fifi, is twenty-two, working an underachiever’s dream job, and struggling to reconcile her worldview with modern middle-class American living. Her (maybe-imaginary) vampire lover tries to convince her that she'll become part of a constellation if she kills herself. On the other hand, her real-life boyfriend (who she met while having an adventure in pretending to be a prostitute) seems a solid case for divine intervention in a world Fifi deems just shy of apocalypse. Unsure of her continued interest in the business of existence, she uses blue (and sometimes black) humor to systematically reason her way towards the meaning of life.

An excerpt of this novel was published in the spring 2009 edition of the Newport Review literary magazine. A separate excerpt was published in the 2006 edition of Loyola University Chicago’s annual literary journal, Cadence. I very much appreciate your time and consideration in reading this letter. I have pasted the first chapter below and would be delighted to send you the rest. I can be reached by phone at xxx xxx xxxx, by e-mail at bre@jamstage.net, or by postal mail at 123 Main St.

Best regards
Bre Kidman


Stephanie Lorée said...

So this is better, more concise, and the plot progression is apparent. The hook is good too.

The problem I have is with some of your punctuation and prepositional phrases. My concern is these small errors may point to larger problems throughout the manuscript. You don't want an agent thinking this, so you need to eliminate the little things. I'll go point by point on them.

1) Cut down on words by eliminating unnecessary prepositions. "college graduation" as opposed to "graduation from college" also "bother existing" as opposed to "bother with existing" and again in "adventure pretending" rather than "adventure in pretending"

2) Watch out for punctuation of interrupt phrases. For example, your 1st line, 3rd paragraph should read, "Fifi is twenty-two," Notice the lack of comma after Fifi. When you use 2 commas, you're setting that off like you would parenthesis, saying that it's extra explanation but not part of the core sentence. The litmus test is to drop what you set off with commas and see if it still reads right. Example: "Fifi working an underachiever's" does not make sense. See what I mean?

3) Verb choice should be present tense wherever possible. In queries, you want to try to not use past tense, perfect tenses, gerunds, or passive "to be" verbs. For example, I suggest eliminating the gerunds from your 3rd para, 1st sent: "Fifi is twenty-two, works an underachiever's dream job, and struggles to reconcile..." alternatively, "Twenty-two year old Fifi works an underachiever's dream job and struggles..."

4) Whom versus Who. Who is for subjects, whom is for objects. I'm fairly certain that you should say whom she met as "she" is your subject and whom (the boyfriend) is the object. Honestly, I recommend dropping it entirely to avoid the who/whom issue and saying, "that she met"

5) Parenthesis overload. Consider dropping some of the parenthesis. Her maybe-imaginary vampire lover, doesn't need parenthesis. A couple ()'s is fine, too much and it's overload to read.

You would benefit from going over sentences individually. Spend a few minutes on each, focusing on the importance of each word (especially prepositional phrases) and see if can be removed. Also, make sure you're using the strongest noun/verb combinations possible.

The content is there, so is the voice with the unique turns of phrase. I think once you hammer down the grammar, you'll have a winner. And after eliminating some unnecessary words, you can add more about the character and conflict. This sounds like an interesting piece of slipstream. Best of luck!

Scribbler to Scribe

Natascha said...

Your first paragraph I would suggest to be your last, looking something like this: "THE ODD I SEE is a completed work of slipstream fiction at 71,000 words and can be compared to such authors as... An excerpt of which was published in the spring edition of the..." Cut down on words. The plotline is much clearer in this revision. Good job :)

Hollie Sessoms said...

I agree with the other two comments with regards to punctuation and the placement of the first paragraph. I love your voice in this! And I have to say that “half-assed” is my favorite cussword ever. Good luck!

Yout said...

Paragraph 1: You read these things that had to do with the agent and, what... liked them? Didn't like them? Have no opinion? Also, this information should come at the end of the query, after you've established interest in your plotline.

Paragraph 2: This sentence is long and a bit awkward. Cut it up. And what's a "half-assed stay in the looney bin"?

Paragraph 3: Ah, here's the conflict. This should come in paragraph 1. Make sure the first sentence is a good hooker (unlike Fifi turned out to be... ha. ha. ha.) - it shouldn't be focused on Fifi's stats (age, job etc.) but rather something really interesting, like how she thinks the apocalypse is near, or the thing about her imaginary vampire lover.

Paragraph 4: Great! You're previously published. Looks good. Just list your contact info after your name, and you're all set to go.

Overall, I don't think the query gives a good enough sense of the conflict in the novel, but any reader would be able to see that there's a plot in there, and definitely a unique one. If you made it a bit clearer, it would be a really strong query. Good luck!

Unknown said...

You guys are awesome.


You're a godsend. You've given me more constructive feedback in two or three posts than any of my family or friends. It's much appreciated.

The comma splice was a typo... which is what I get for trying to work on my query after an overnight shift. I definitely see what you're saying about the gerunds and the parenthesis overload. The preposition-thing is kind of a slip into Fifi's occasionally-grandiose speech patterns, which are generally funny in the book. Looking at it now, though, I suppose they're awkward in most other places. I've been trying to rework those sentences to the point where I'm a little frenzied. It's good to hear that I've gotten closer, though, and I really, REALLY appreciate the very targeted feedback. It definitely gives me a better idea of where to look heading into draft #3.

The Las Vegas Writer:

Thanks so much for the feedback. I guess it WOULD make more sense to move that to the end. I've been kind of e-stalking this agent and stole this format from a successful query she posted but, reading it over, it is a little dry for an opener.

Hollie Sessoms:

It's great to have another voice chiming in and letting me know where to head next... and the little ego-stroke about my voice was SO needed after today :) Thank you!

Maria Kenney:

Like I said to Las Vegas, this was a format I stole from the agent I'm shooting for. After re-reading, I'm definitely going to do some paragraph moving. In terms of what I felt about what I read, though... it's tricky to explain it concisely. I want to say that the articles and book indicated that I'm writing the sort of fiction she's looking for, but I don't know how to do that without sounding cocky or pushy or... something.

The second paragraph is kicking my ass. It is, for all intents and purposes, supposed to be my hook because the main conflict is whether or not Fifi wants to continue existing. A half-assed stay in the loony bin is what happens when a person doesn't necessarily believe she's crazy but winds up institutionalized for a few days anyhow. I know Stephen King says to kill your darlings but I SO love this turn of phrase. Is it unclear to the point where the concept is lost?

Maybe all the paragraphs are kicking my ass, actually. In the third one, I tried to start by reiterating the conflict, (which, I think, is Fifi vs. Life) but the sentence keeps falling flat. I'll keep fussing with it, though. Thanks for pointing it out and for giving me a good sense of what to target in revision!

Stephanie Lorée said...


Mesmerix: You're a godsend. You've given me more constructive feedback in two or three posts than any of my family or friends. It's much appreciated.

My deity-level status is on the rise, or so my fortune cookie tells me. :P Humor aside, I cannot emphasize enough in finding a critique partner who shares a similar writing level to your own, or better. It is a difficult struggle to find one (trust me, I know) who is responsive, helpful, and is able to give quality critiques, but once you do find your writing-mate, you'll hear choirs of angels sing and throw confetti. Totally worth it.

Check out forums like absolutewrite and Nathan Bransford's forum page, the latter actually has a thread where you can solicite for a partner. Establish relationships with fellow bloggers. Check out your local writing groups and workshops. You may get lucky.

Having a partner that is NOT friend/family, who will give you knowledgeable honest critiques is key to success in this biz... my opinion, obviously. Hope all my opinions helps you along your way to being published. :)