3rd SR Crapometer #71

Dear Miss Snark,

I am just beginning my search for an agent and I read about you online. I very much enjoy your blog, and am pleased to see that you represent ______, whose work I love. You'll find the opening of my novel below. Please do let me know if you'd be interested in seeing some more.

I am a British writer, currently living near Boston. Since I moved here, I've taken time out to write. It has been an inspiring year for me, and now that I've completed "When Flowers Open and Stars Dance Round Your Head", I'm eager to take the next steps. (leave this out)

"When Flowers Open..." is about an eclectic group of friends, who secretly meet at midnight to escape their difficult lives. As their liaisons grow intense, they begin to trust one another and gradually learn to be themselves outside of the midnight hour. (this is too general to be a hook. Why will I care?)

Since I've been in the USA, I've sold some of my work. I have had short stories accepted by a number of UK magazines, including "Tears in the Fence" and "The Quiet Feather". My erotic novel has been signed by "eXtasy Books" and, as far as nonfiction goes, I have published educational articles in a variety of journals and newspapers.

I started out as an English and Drama teacher, and went on to work at a charity for those that are learning to cope with, and recover from, bullying. During this time, I studied for a Psychology degree at nights, with a focus on social development. I am, of course, an avid reader, and books have been a great source of pleasure in my life. (you can leave all that out too)

A few months ago, I took a "Grub Street" fiction course, and I felt very privileged that my tutor put me forward to read a story at a literary event, in advance of the evening's headliners. I enjoyed sharing my work, and a lot of people asked after my novels. All in all, it was a fantastic night! (while fun, this has nothing to do with the novel you're querying right now)

Thank you for taking the time to read my query. I look forward to hearing from you.



Chapter One

There's a boy on Nina's doorstep and he's kicking at the ground. His eyes are as blue as hers. "Ray?" she says. "Raymond *Dawes*? What are you doing here?"

He is chewing gum with his mouth open. When his gaze meets hers, he makes a sucking sound. He shrugs. His mouth is sullen. His eyes are hard and stark. His hands lounge in his pockets and a rucksack's slung over his back. His freckles make him seem darker than he is, and there's a rage in his eyes, like two hard bullets. "Fuck!" he says. And then again, "Fuck!" He seems to relish the sound of the word: the spit at the beginning, the snapped back end. He looks like he's just hurled a rock through a window. He's trying to say something, but she's not sure what.

This stepbrother of hers was once silent for two whole years. Nina wasn't with him, then - by the time he was born, she'd left to live with Dad. But she's heard the stories, and she knows the crazy Ray, and she's aware that this F-word means everything and nothing.

"What are you doing here?" she says. "Why did no one phone?"

He laughs without smiling. He squints as if he can't see. "Fuck!" he shouts, as if she's somehow thick. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!" He points at his wet lips. He stands there, a statue, a reminder of her guilt. She glances up and down the street, nods and lets him in.

this is the novel you're describing in the query letter? Could have fooled me. The writing is good, the query letter stinks. This one is the poster child for why we're doing this crapometer.

Focus that query. If it's about a group of friends, give us ONE person to focus on at first and tell us she's part of a group. Leave out all that personal stuff, make me want to READ your writing. I'm not going to read this novel cause I like you (although Im sure you're a very nice person) I'm going to read this cause your query is enticing.


Anonymous said...

"Leave out all that personal stuff, make me want to READ your writing. I'm not going to read this novel cause I like you (although Im sure you're a very nice person) I'm going to read this cause your query is enticing. "

This is one of those contradictory bits that shows up when you research how to write a query letter. I agree with Miss Snark that my personality (outside of being able to conduct myself professionally) shouldn't matter at all. But, there are many agents who make a big deal in their guidelines, asking for a paragraph about "me." Do they want to know my favorite color? That I like going to the movies by myself? That I'm swell at pinball? *sigh* Miss Snark, thank you for not caring. I'm a nice person and all, but it doesn't make my writing any better or worse.

Liane said...

I agree, the query and the sample writing didn't even feel as if it came from the same writer!

I'm hanging on for page 2 because of the sample page!

Thanks Snarkster for the educational process taking place here. Just goes to show that there are no crapometer lottery losers.

Anonymous said...

Another bleeping present tense story.

Options for this editor:

a) Mail back to writer;

b) Recyle;

c) Take it to the bar so all the other editors can look at it and shudder, too;

d) Choose A or B, sing in the Karaoke bar, knocking back chocolate martinis all night to forget;

e) Become a serial killer of writers who use present tense knowing that NO jury who can read will ever convict me

Anonymous said...

I was at the Grub event when this writer read a short story. Her writing is amazing! I'm stunned she doesn't already have an agent.

It was months ago, but still I think of her story. The knife, the leather chair, the waiting for him to walk through the door.

Present tense, past, past perfect, or fast forward, this woman can write. I fully expect her to win a prestigious award one day.

Jeb said...

Query letter: 4 paragraphs is WAYY too much about 'Me'. When agents say they want a 'paragraph about you', they want to know what you've written and where it was published, with a rider about any special credentials you have that relate to this project. If you have nothing to say about that stuff, say nothing. They'll get the message.

Miss Snark is (as usual) right on the money: we need one character to tag along with, not a motley collection of nameless people who are afraid to 'be themselves' in daylight.

The Opening: amazing difference from the query letter (present tense aside), and I'd read on.

We have two characters with names and attitudes and histories and a large potential conflict happening on a doorstep. All kinds of questions appear: did Raymond run away? Why can't he speak normally? What is he so clearly furious about? Why did Nina go live with her dad before he was born? And is he her HALF brother, rather than her step-?

This is very engaging. Fix the query, and good luck.

blissbat said...

*Love* the intro. You have such a great voice.

If you have the chops, you can make just about anything work, present tense included. You appear to have the chops. Plus, anyone who drinks chocolate martinis is hardly in a position to judge someone else's taste. :P

Anonymous said...

I'm the writer and I'm so grateful for these comments! A big thank you!

Miss Snark is truly helpful. My letter needs lots of work!

xiqay said...

I hated the query. I don't like the title of the novel. But I liked this opening a lot.

I like the woman opening the door-in a short scene, we know she's got a life that she cares about, she's got a crazy brother that makes her feel guilty, and she's got to do something now because he's on her doorstep trying to say something important.

Very well done, imho. I want to keep reading.

BJ Nemeth said...

I agree with Jeb about the personal information in a query letter. Keep it to a single paragraph (or less), and focus on your writing career (if any), and anything else that makes you an expert or gives you insight into your topic.

For example, if you're a bioengineer writing a sci-fi book about the dangers of cloning, you should mention that. If you're a military veteran writing about a war, you should mention that.

Leave out generic "expertise" like being a parent or working in an office. That's too broad. (Unless it's something specific and relevant like being the parent of an autistic child, if your novel covers that.)

Writing credits should focus on published works and awards. If you don't have any writing credits, don't write anything about your lack of experience. (Definitely avoid phrases like "This is my first novel.")

Don't include the reason you chose to write the novel (change of careers, divorce, a workshop, etc.), unless it directly inspired events in the story. (For example, "I was stranded in the middle of Alaska during the Iditarod, and was rescued by race officials. Here is a fictional account of that story.")

Your personality probably won't show up in your query letter, but that's okay. Let your professionalism show through, and everyone will want to work with you. (Assuming the novel sparks their interest.)

I hope this helps, and good luck!

voicedriven said...

I write in present tense too, but change it to past when I'm done. My agent says if a piece works in past tense, do it that way. I've heard good teachers say that too. (Ditto first person: both my agent and my best teacher say if a piece of fiction can be written just as well in third person as in first, then write it in third.)

So, dear anonymous author, what do you think of your own opening when you rewrite it in past tense? I actually typed it out that way (I won't take the liberty of posting it here, they're your words) and I gotta tell you--it looked fine to me. If it were my writing I'd probably fine-tune the sentence rhythms because of the way past tense adds words. I suspect you're so voice-obsessed you'd do the same. What have you got to lose but a few critics?

wonderer said...

Wow. Good work on the pages, Author!

But what happens next? :-(

Anonymous said...

here's a hint about descriptions: drop it throughout the story, not in one long paragraph. i stopped reading after the second paragraph.

heather said...

This is what you consider GOOD writing?


Anonymous said...

? Since when did 'good' writing teachers emphasize the past tense and the third person? Ever????

Present tense tends to pull your reader into the experience, as it is happening as they read, not hearing about it later.

As for person, there are advantages to all. (BTW this IS written in third person.)