Monday, April 18, 2011

Query 76

Looking For Me

Dear xxxx

My debut fictional novel, Looking for Me, is a completed 128, 356-word, drama suffused, mainstream literary narrative topped with an urban twist.

Mona’s existence had been defined by a single choice—one impulsive decision. The morning she’d lowered her head and inhaled drugs through her nostrils had altered her course. What happens when a wife becomes heroine addicted and discovered sharing the bed of her husband’s arch rivalry? Mona found herself in the last place she’d hope to be. Homeless, a self-declared failure, her husband has abandoned her and she does not know the whereabouts of her only child. Without Big Momma to turn to for advice, love or support, she spirals out of control—lost. Unable to forget him, aching for his tender touch, his warm kisses, and his erotic scent, will she ever be reunited with the love of her life?

Gang raped, left for dead soaking in a pool of blood and the urine of her assailants, fate intervenes. Mona is found. Her wounds are bandaged and the tedious journey of physical and emotional healing begins. After rehab, bouts with relapse and struggling to face her demons, she is offered the job of facilitating a women’s group held in the basement of her church. But these are not just ordinary girls. Their scripts don’t include sugar and spice and everything nice—quite the contrary. Resistant, defiant, and carrying suitcases overstuffed with emotional baggage, the girls make Mona’s job next to impossible. CC, Sherri, Tina and Tee, have lived it, done it, and been through it all. Worn out, and beaten down by the tragedies of life, the meetings are the end of the road—the last pit stop for them. But for Mona, the newly appointed facilitator, the meetings are where it all has to begin, including real love.

Looking for Me, lyrically written, explicitly details the emotional life journey of five girls whose tragic lives have been shaped by tragic circumstances. They riot against themselves, their circumstances and the voices in their heads desperately trying to find their authentic selves. Ultimately, it is a story of hope, resolve, of women digging deeper than they thought possible until they find the strength not to completely crumble. Colorful, graphic, a brutally honest exploration of topics considered taboo and too racy for most traditional Sunday morning sermons. Sure to have jaws dropping and eyes weeping, this radical, riveting page turner is so invitingly infectious, the readers will soon find themselves swallowed up in the lives of the characters and unable to put it down. To read this novel is to take a painful journey traveling the road less taken. A road paved with heartbreak, anger, betrayal, and loss of innocence, which ultimately leads to true sisterhood and self-discovery.

Now, about me in a nutshell; I began my writing career at the tender age of six. True. Stapled notebook paper in booklet form, I was sure my four page masterpiece would be a bestseller. Funny, I still carry that same child-like faith regarding my work today. Allow me to toot my horn by briefly stating, I have won and been a finalist in numerous contests, recently, receiving the 2010 first Annual Soul Sister Creative Writing Award.

Enclosed for your convenience is a SASE. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind Regards,

Comments

Author, let me commend you up front for the passion you have for your work. It's that passion that drives us to be writers and keeps us writing. It's not just good to have passion, it is absolutely necessary to have it.

Channeling that passion into a query letter is tricky. Taking all that passion and all our hopes and stuffing them into a single page is hard. And then having to observe conventions that aren't natural to our true writing self is harder still.

It's obvious you're just starting on your journey toward publication, and I'm delighted you found this site! Thank you. We all started out with that single step and have been right where you are. Now it's time to take the right next step and study the conventions of the query letter: what goes into one and, just as importantly, what doesn't. And I can think of no better places for a crash course than the Query Shark and Evil Editor sites. There are several mis-steps here that mark you as someone who hasn't studied the business, and few agents want to work with complete newcomers. That means you want to present yourself as professionally as possible. I'll get you started, but really, reading the examples and critiques of others is just as useful for understanding how to apply the conventions to your own query.

First of all, this came as an attachment. You probably weren't sure how to send it for critiquing purposes, but no agent will open an unsolicited attachment. I almost didn't open it myself. I did google your name before opening it and saw you were attached to a querying community so I figured the file was safe from that. (Kudos, btw, for getting involved with such sites -- you'll be a pro at this before you know it!)

Secondly, the query is way too long -- almost twice as long as it should be. Since it's a literary novel and writing style is important, you have a fine line to walk between showing us your lovely, lyrical prose and getting your story across succinctly.

My debut fictional novel, Looking for Me, is a completed 128, 356-word, drama suffused, mainstream literary narrative topped with an urban twist.

  • "Fictional novel" is redundant. Many agents have said using this term is an automatic rejection for them.
  • No need to spotlight the fact this is your first novel.
  • Cap your title. If sent electronically, italics don't always translate well. 
  • Round your word count to the nearest thousand.
  • No need to tell us it's drama infused. If we don't get that from the description, the description isn't doing its job.
Mona’s existence had been defined by a single choice—one impulsive decision. The morning she’d lowered her head and inhaled drugs through her nostrils had altered her course. What happens when a wife becomes heroine addicted and discovered sharing the bed of her husband’s arch rivalry? Mona found herself in the last place she’d hope to be. Homeless, a self-declared failure, her husband has abandoned her and she does not know the whereabouts of her only child. Without Big Momma to turn to for advice, love or support, she spirals out of control—lost. Unable to forget him, aching for his tender touch, his warm kisses, and his erotic scent, will she ever be reunited with the love of her life?
  • Pay very close attention to your word choices (such as the misused "rivalry").
  • Watch out for haphazard tense changes (for example, "happens" followed by "discovered")
  • Construct your sentences carefully. As written, it's her husband who is homeless and a self-declared failure, not Mona.
  • Whatever question you set up in your first paragraph needs closure in the last paragraph.

Gang raped, left for dead soaking in a pool of blood and the urine of her assailants, fate intervenes. Mona is found. Her wounds are bandaged and the tedious journey of physical and emotional healing begins. After rehab, bouts with relapse and struggling to face her demons, she is offered the job of facilitating a women’s group held in the basement of her church. But these are not just ordinary girls. Their scripts don’t include sugar and spice and everything nice—quite the contrary. Resistant, defiant, and carrying suitcases overstuffed with emotional baggage, the girls make Mona’s job next to impossible. CC, Sherri, Tina and Tee, have lived it, done it, and been through it all. Worn out, and beaten down by the tragedies of life, the meetings are the end of the road—the last pit stop for them. But for Mona, the newly appointed facilitator, the meetings are where it all has to begin, including real love.
 
We get a good feeling of the hopeless and desperate environment here. You'll need to pare this down without losing that feeling and perhaps give the reader a hint that there will ultimately be redemption. Combining some of this paragraph with the beginning of the next will help get you there.
 
Looking for Me, lyrically written, explicitly details the emotional life journey of five girls whose tragic lives have been shaped by tragic circumstances. They riot against themselves, their circumstances and the voices in their heads desperately trying to find their authentic selves. Ultimately, it is a story of hope, resolve, of women digging deeper than they thought possible until they find the strength not to completely crumble. Colorful, graphic, a brutally honest exploration of topics considered taboo and too racy for most traditional Sunday morning sermons. Sure to have jaws dropping and eyes weeping, this radical, riveting page turner is so invitingly infectious, the readers will soon find themselves swallowed up in the lives of the characters and unable to put it down. To read this novel is to take a painful journey traveling the road less taken. A road paved with heartbreak, anger, betrayal, and loss of innocence, which ultimately leads to true sisterhood and self-discovery.
 
You want to sell the story by giving us the story, not telling us about the themes and the reading experience. Agents are a jaded lot and simply telling them that the story will have jaws dropping and eyes weeping will not sway them. Let the agents feel their jaws drop and eyes weep. Likewise for it being a riveting page turner and unputdownable. That's way too generic. Everyone thinks these things about their story. Your job is to convince the agent that yours truly is -- and simply saying so isn't going to do it.
 
Don't just talk about themes of betrayal and loss of innocence; give the reader a hint of how they manifest in the story itself.
 
All this to say have faith in the power of the story itself to convey how awesome it is.
 
Now, about me in a nutshell; I began my writing career at the tender age of six. True. Stapled notebook paper in booklet form, I was sure my four page masterpiece would be a bestseller. Funny, I still carry that same child-like faith regarding my work today. Allow me to toot my horn by briefly stating, I have won and been a finalist in numerous contests, recently, receiving the 2010 first Annual Soul Sister Creative Writing Award.
 
One quick sentence about you if you want to infuse some personality into your query is OK if you have no real creds. The stapled booklet is sweet, but not at all relevant in a professional world. An award won't really sway anyone either unless it's a biggie.
 
Enclosed for your convenience is a SASE. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
 
Word count is at a premium. Pick 2 of the 3 closing sentences to use.
 
Oh, I just saw that Agent Jessica Faust has a helpful query post up today.
 
I look forward to seeing your revision!

6 comments:

Jo-Ann said...

The drug is spelt "heroin".

smcc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
smcc said...

Phoenix, your advice is outstanding, as always. You beat me to everything I wanted to say. Except 'heroine,' which Jo-Anne beat me to!

Author, good luck. You found great sites to help you, and that's the big first hurdle to clear.

Edit-- Deleted my last comment because of a stupid typo I made.

AA said...

Author, you're going to have to watch your grammar more carefully. Here are some mistakes that stood out to me:

"What happens when a wife becomes heroine addicted and discovered sharing the bed of her husband’s arch rivalry?"

should be: "What happens when a wife becomes addicted to heroin and is discovered sharing the bed of her husband's arch rival?"

"Gang raped, left for dead soaking in a pool of blood and the urine of her assailants, fate intervenes."

This means that it was fate who was gang raped, left for dead, etc.

"carrying suitcases overstuffed with emotional baggage,"
Suitcases ARE baggage, so they probably aren't stuffed with baggage.

"until they find the strength not to completely crumble."
Should be," to not completely crumble."

"Mona found herself in the last place she’d hope to be."

Of course this should be "hoped," to go with the past tense "she'd."

I think the story is good. Most agents, though, probably aren't going to think you have the English skills to write it.
I suggest getting a guide to English mechanics, usage and style, and studying it. If you get better at the grammar and usage stuff I'm sure you've got the creativity part down.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hey Author,
If this is your first query congrats. I care about your mc. You have some technical problems as other comments have shown but they are very fixable.

Your ms inhaled heroin - not drugs. Big Momma came across as a man to me:
Without Big Momma to turn to for advice, love or support, she spirals out of control—lost. Unable to forget him etc.

I loved the pasion. Haven't read a good resurrection story in a while.

If you read Query Shark your opening is housekeeping, put that at the end.

Don't tell me this is lyrical writing, show me. I'd delete "arch" personally. Follow Phoenix's advice and the other critters.

Powerful stuff. I'm suggesting you start with "Gang raped" and go from there. Have to change "fate intervenes" though imho.

I look forward to the revision. I think you've got something here. Gritty.

Best,
Mac

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hi Author,
Another suggestion, please read ALL the archives here, and at Evil Editor and Query Shark. You'll see what the industry is looking for. Please note the rewrites Phoenix does. Her post on why you should listen to her and shouldn't is brill.

Shine on.