Friday, May 6, 2011

Query Revision 83

Face-Lift 699: Along the Beach

Dear [Prospective Agent],

I would like to introduce you to my 99,000 word New Age novel, ALONG THE BEACH. The reason I am querying you specifically is [reason 1, reason 2]. With this in mind, I believe my novel would fit nicely into your repertoire.

For travel photographer Lee Merrick, the extraordinary is the ordinary. From a swarm of killer bees in Borneo to an armed robbery in Los Angeles, a mysterious vision of a lady in white guides him to safety each time. His pursuit of the reasons why just may cost him his family, his freedom – and his sanity.

Filled with self-doubt about a childhood prophesy involving a woman on a beach, photojournalist Lee Merrick travels the globe in search of the perfect shot always beyond his camera’s reach—a mysterious Lady in White who appears only in his visions and dreams. Ethereal, untouchable, and intangible, this ghostly apparition calls to him over a decade. Though his relentless pursuit of her jeopardizes college and career, she often saves his life. Could the Lady in White and his prophesied soul mate be one and the same?

Psychiatrists diagnose Lee as delusional, and his mother agrees. But a little girl along the Baja Coast tells Lee she saw a spirit lady who said she loves him. The woman’s invisible hands guide him to perform a delicate piano movement he never knew. Then his cousin claims she sent him a vision. Refining Lee’s inner sight would be enough of a challenge to find her. But the prophet who launched him on a journey of self-discovery also confided to his mother that her husband would suffer a painful death. Lee’s mother vows to disprove the prophet by using any means to halt Lee fulfilling his own prophecy—drawing up papers to institutionalize her own son to bar him from the mystical locales serving as a conduit for his encounters. His only hope is to discover who or what she truly is before his obsession robs him of his family, friends, and freedom.

My metaphysical piece “Atlantis, Arise” appeared in the national magazine {magazine title listed here}. The pyramids, temples, and mysterious places highlighted in ALONG THE BEACH are written with feet-on-the-ground authenticity based on my nearly two decades of research travel to those locations across the world with metaphysical societies. Please let me know if you’d like to see more and I’ll send the complete manuscript immediately.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

(full contact info)

Comments

First off, I suspect you know this is waaayy too long, right? As is, it fits on a page, yes. But when you add in the agent’s address, the date, your signature, your contact info, and reason 1 or 2 to personalize, you’ve moved into 2nd-page territory.

I would like to introduce you to my 99,000 word New Age novel, ALONG THE BEACH. The reason I am querying you specifically is [reason 1, reason 2]. With this in mind, I believe my novel would fit nicely into your repertoire.

As you think about cutting word count, think about your word choices. “I would like to introduce you to” is a long, round-about way of starting off the query. And I know the “The reason I am querying you specifically” part is just placeholder, but I’ll point out you don’t want to use that lead-in in the real deal. And “With this in mind” is likewise a pointless phrase that can be cut. “repertoire” isn’t the right word; it refers to performance pieces.

For travel photographer Lee Merrick, the extraordinary is the ordinary. From a swarm of killer bees in Borneo to an armed robbery in Los Angeles, a mysterious vision of a lady in white guides him to safety each time. His pursuit of the reasons why just may cost him his family, his freedom – and his sanity.

I’m assuming this is your log line pitch as most of the information in this paragraph is repeated later. A log line can be effective when it crystallizes the essence of the book clearly – and when the rest of the query is succinct and falls within proper word count. I think you’re going for a literary feel in the book to complement the mysticism; however, the writing here needs to demonstrate you have a mastery of language to accomplish that. The second sentence here is quite convoluted and confusing.

Filled with self-doubt about a childhood prophesy involving a woman on a beach, photojournalist Lee Merrick travels the globe in search of the perfect shot always beyond his camera’s reach—a mysterious Lady in White who appears only in his visions and dreams.

prophesy=prophecy

I like the “perfect shot always beyond his camera’s reach,” but the segue between Lee’s self-doubt and traveling the globe isn’t clear. I think these two thoughts need to be split into their own sentences. I also think the soul mate bit should be added in at the first mention of the prophecy to give the reader a hint what the prophecy is.

Ethereal, untouchable, and intangible, this ghostly apparition calls to him over a decade.

These descriptions all say the same thing – and are redundant with what you’ve already said about her.

Though his relentless pursuit of her jeopardizes college and career, she often saves his life.

If his life is in need of saving “often,” I’d begin to start suspecting she’s the one fabricating the danger. I get photojournalism can be dangerous, but where is he pursuing her that he keeps running into danger he needs to be saved from?

Could the Lady in White and his prophesied soul mate be one and the same?

I think this point is made between his self-doubt and his pursuit without it needing to be spelled out (as long as you fill the reader in on what the prophecy is on first mention).

Psychiatrists diagnose Lee as delusional, and his mother agrees. But a little girl along the Baja Coast tells Lee she saw a spirit lady who said she loves him. The woman’s invisible hands guide him to perform a delicate piano movement he never knew.

These are good specifics.

Then his cousin claims she sent him a vision. Refining Lee’s inner sight would be enough of a challenge to find her.

This is where I start to lose the threads of the story. The “then” make me think this is a turning point, but I have absolutely no idea what these two sentences mean. I’m not even clear who the “she” is in the first sentence.

But the prophet who launched him on a journey of self-discovery also confided to his mother that her husband would suffer a painful death. Lee’s mother vows to disprove the prophet by using any means to halt Lee fulfilling his own prophecy—drawing up papers to institutionalize her own son to bar him from the mystical locales serving as a conduit for his encounters.

Notwithstanding that we aren’t clued in earlier that Borneo and Los Angeles are mystical locales -- which does tend to up the coincidence factor of Lee being put in mortal danger only in mystical locales – I don’t understand how Lee’s mom can simply draw up papers and have her adult son institutionalized if he doesn’t agree. Is he harming himself? Harming others? Is he so far into his delusions that he’s incapable of caring for himself? Aren’t these the only reasons an adult can be forcibly admitted to a hospital? And even so, can’t a hospital only hold a person 72 hours for evaluation? Lee would have to be pretty far gone to be held and, of course, rounds of meds would be first option.

Of course, knowing what the prophecy is would help the reader in understanding why the mother doesn’t believe the prophecy has come to pass yet. If the apparition is his soul mate, then he’s already found her in the most general sense.

His only hope is to discover who or what she truly is before his obsession robs him of his family, friends, and freedom.

Grammatically, the “she” here refers back to Mom. In context, we know better. Still…

Does Lee really have friends if his obsession has him gallivanting around the world?

My metaphysical piece “Atlantis, Arise” appeared in the national magazine {magazine title listed here}. The pyramids, temples, and mysterious places highlighted in ALONG THE BEACH are written with feet-on-the-ground authenticity based on my nearly two decades of research travel to those locations across the world with metaphysical societies.

I think alluding to these places in the descriptive part of the query would go far in making this statement relevant. As it is, we have Borneo and Los Angeles, neither of which scream mystical to the uninitiated.

Please let me know if you’d like to see more and I’ll send the complete manuscript immediately.

Thank you for your time.

When you’re running long, condensing the niceties is probably your better way to go.

My Version

It’s a trade-off: personalization or description. If you really have personal things to personalize with, then you’ll need to trim the descriptive section even more. Most of the time, you won’t really have anything to personalize with, though, so that first paragraph can go.

Ten years ago, a prophet told Lee Merrick's 14-year-old self he would find his soul mate on a beach. The idea quickly becomes an obsession -- one that takes a turn when a mysterious Lady in White begins haunting his dreams. When he [has his first brush with death at a mystical pyramid], his Lady intervenes and saves his life. Determined to find her again, Lee takes up photojournalism, a profession that funds his pursuit of the ghostly apparition that continues to appear at the most opportune times. At the [sacred place] in Borneo, she leads him to safety when he disturbs a nest of killer bees. When armed robbers threaten him in the temple of [sacredness] in Los Angeles, she [does something else to ensure his safety].

Despite the increasing frequency he's seeing her, the Lady eludes his camera's lens, refusing to be captured. Psychiatrists diagnose Lee as delusional, and his mother agrees. Yet a little girl along the Baja Coast tells Lee she met a spirit lady who said she loves him.

Then his mother receives her own prophecy about her beloved husband: that he will die a painful death -- and soon. Convinced the only way to deny the prophecy laid on her husband is to refute the one hanging over her son's head, she sets out to break Lee so she can have him institutionalized. Lee has only a short time to discover who or what his Lady truly is before his obsession robs him of his family, his freedom, and maybe his very sanity.

My metaphysical piece “Atlantis, Arise” appeared in the [month/year] issue of [magazine title]. In addition, my close involvement with metaphysical societies lends authenticity to ALONG THE BEACH, a New Age novel. I'm happy to forward the completed 99,000-word manuscript at your request.

1 comment:

batgirl said...

I hesitate to bring this up, because the query is already so long, but the issue I'm having with the story as presented is - who provided this prophecy, and why does anyone believe it or even worry about it?
In a fantasy quest, there's an expectation that prophecies are always true, but this is our mundane world, right? What makes this 'you'll meet your love on a beach' more compelling than a fortune-cookie?
The prophet seems to be the one screwing up Lee's relationship with his mother, so how is it he has this power over people? Why do they either believe him or sacrifice their children in an attempt to prove him wrong?

Secondarily, why does the prophecy drive Lee to become a photojournalist and not a surfer or beachcomber?