Thursday, February 23, 2017

Abhinav Bhat's Current Query

Today we have Abhinav Bhat's query for his current Adult Fantasy project THE BURNT STATE.

Here's the letter:

Dear Mr./Ms. Agent

Indy Ramsay has trained her entire teenage life for the day she would be recruited to the Reverend Council—the elite corps that runs the Ever Empire. Instead, it is her grandfather, Eldritch, who is inexplicably chosen and then promptly sent away on a mission, leaving behind a shattered and dejected Indy.

The very next day, the Council is under siege from an unknown enemy; the annual market has been burnt to cinders, the Parliament stands destroyed in an earthquake, and Eldritch returns home to find his entire family murdered, all except his grandson.

He will get his grandson back, he is told, if he betrays the Empire—a simple act . . . Millions of lives weighed against his grandson. Eldritch wants to not care . . . The Empire has heroes and patriots and omniscient deities enough. Let them save whoever they can.

Unbeknownst to him, Indy is also alive. Targeted for death as Eldritch's blood, she manages to defeat her assailants and learn of the enemy's plan for the Empire and Eldritch.

Humanity, kindness, justice, and above all else, the Empire. This is what Eldritch has taught her.

She will live by it. As riots rage throughout the city and the enemy brings its true might to bear upon the Empire, Indy will prove herself worthy of the Empire and the validation she was denied. She will find and stop Eldritch, she will save the Empire at any cost.

Then what if the cost be Eldritch himself?

THE BURNT STATE is an adult fantasy novel about a girl and her grandfather, and the Empire that tilts on their decisions. It is complete at 113,000 words.

I have had a short story titled "Blah Blah Blah" published in Apex Magazine in 2016. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
Abhinav Bhat

That's it!

Please thank Abhinav for sharing this with us, and save your feedback for tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Colleen Fackler's Current Query Critiqued

Today we have Colleen Fackler's current query for her Picture Book GOOD GUY MEETS SCHMOOSH.

The query:

Dear FULL NAME:

This may very from agent to agent, because after all, agents are human beings, but it would be most professional, in a cold query email, to refer to the agent as Ms. LAST NAME or Mr. LAST NAME. If they reply to you at some point and sign it with just their first name, it's fine to start referring to them by their first name, but until then, use Mr. or Ms.

Below is Good Guy Meets Schmoosh, my 500-word picture book for your consideration.

What does this mean? Are you trying to point out that the entire text of the book is included below? If so, mention that below, not here (and be sure to adhere to submission guidelines for the agency, to make sure they allow the entire text to be included). If not, and this is just some sort of introductory line to your query, skip it.

I would recommend you use this space, however, to introduce why you're querying that specific agent. Obviously you can't include it here, because this is a generic letter, but if you are querying a particular agent because of a specific book or author they have represented, or because you met them at a conference, or because you read a blog post of theirs you liked, be sure to mention that.

Good Guy Meets Schmoosh GOOD GUY MEETS SCHMOOSH is the heartwarming This reads as a little pretentious to me. I don't know, maybe "heartwarming" is a category for PBs, like "Sweet Romance" or something, but calling something you wrote "heartwarming" just makes me cringe a little. The entire text of the story is included, right? Maybe let the agent decide if it's heartwarming. Unless that's a category thing for PBs. If so, ignore me. story of Guy, a young boy who is rewarded by his parents for his consistently moral behavior Don't take this the wrong way, but that's the driest character description I've seen in a query in a while. "Consistent Moral Behavior," sounds like something that would be fitted to a rubber stamp that would go down on "Your Permanent Record." Can you be more specific? And colorful? I realize this is a picture book, so there's not a lot in the way of character arc going on, but this reads very dry. I'll say more below. with the opportunity to purchase a puppy. On his way to the pet store, Guy spots a stray dog that he cannot stop thinking about, even once faced with puppies galore. His mom, initially concerned with the potential danger associated with rescuing a dog, is hesitant to introduce Guy to a stray, but soon realizes that Guy wants nothing more than to save Schmoosh from a lonely life on the streets.

Okay, so much of this is actually pretty good. I realize that PBs are very compact by way of plot, and leave little room for things like characterization, but you've actually got some good stuff going here, both in terms of the mom, and in terms of Guy. I would probably only recommend (and keep in mind, as I said in our emails, that my expertise, if you can call it that, with query letters really lies more int he realm of YA and MG novel length works, so I could easily be wrong about the "rules" for Picture Books), that in general, story is story, and when it comes to queries, there are three things which are the most important (actually only two, but I'll get to that).

CHARACTER. When we read, all of us who are human at least, we want to be entertained, sure, but mostly we want to care. Give us someone to care about, and we will follow you anywhere. So, with that being said, the most important thing any query letter can do is introduce us to a complex, sympathetic, interesting character (protagonist) that we can immediately begin to care about and root for right away. You have Guy here, and with his reaction to the stray on the street I do like him, but get that Save the Cat moment (or some other likable moment) introduced in the query right away. In other words, do away with "Consistent Moral Behavior," and come up with something better. Something more specific, more vivid, and more interesting (but unlike the moment with the stray, this is something from his backstory, something that makes him GOOD Guy, rather than just Guy). Obviously this won't be something actually from the book, since this is a 500 word PB, but it can be something very basic, as long as its not vague. Vagueness is the number one aspect that can make a good story into a poor query.

CONFLICT. When you take a character the reader cares about, and throw them into some conflict, that's when it becomes a story. The character must overcome something in order to make their narrative interesting. You've clearly got that here, with the decision between purchasing a pet store puppy and saving a stray from the street who needs a home, and I actually think you nail it quite well here. It's simple, it's straightforward, it's the kind of decision many many people have faced.

CHOICE. In a query for a novel length work, it's relatively standard to wrap up with what's known as a sadistic choice [Fair Warning that's a link to a TV Tropes article. You've been warned]. I don't know that that's really a requirement for Picture Books, but you've actually got one built in here already. At least, it's implied. You might consider laying it out specifically, the difficult choice Guy must make between an adorable Poky Little Puppy, and and good family-less dog named Schmoosh who truly needs his love, and what some of the implications of that choice are, but I would also say if you left it how you have it now it's not bad.

Each year, of the 7.5 million animals that even make it into rescue shelters, 2.7 million are euthanized. A stigma of poor upbringing and therefore danger and illness is often associated with rescuing a homeless animal. Families often opt to buy puppies or kittens from breeders instead. Good Guy Meets Schmoosh aims to kick this reputation to the curb.

This is mostly good. I would do a little research on the phrase "kicked to the curb," though. I'm not sure it fits that well with the aesthetic of the rest of this letter.

Good Guy Meets Schmoosh is my first children’s book. I am 30 years old, I just had my first child in July, and CUT THIS. I have worked in the media industry for 12 years. Doing what? Be SPECIFIC. I have been published in the form of editorials, church bulletins, If you can't list specific magazine titles (which would go in italics for titles of published works, then skip this). and work-related POV’s, I have no idea what this means. Cut it. but I always only written poetry as an outlet. Cut. I'll explain below. As a rescue dog mom myself, if the success of this book saves even just one homeless animal’s life, it was worth my time. This is pretty good. Keep this last line.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a first time author. Agents sign them every day. If you have excellent and extensive writing credentials, and dozens of magazine article and short story credits to your name, that's great. But if you don't, don't worry about it. No biography, no matter how good it is, is going to sell a bad story. If you're a first time author, let your story speak for itself.

This is a multiple submission. Nope. Cut. This is understood to be implied. If an agency's (or an agent's) submission guidelines specifically ask for exclusive submissions, then send a query only to that agent if you want them to represent you. Do not query anyone else until you have heard back from them. But weigh this choice against your other options, of course, and don't give them forever. I truly look forward to your feedback and I thank you kindly for your review and consideration.

Respectfully,

Colleen M. Fackler

That's it!

Please share your thoughts and feedback below.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Colleen Fackler's Current Query

Today we have Colleen Fackler's query for her current PB project GOOD GUY MEETS SCHMOOSH.

Here's the letter:

Dear FULL NAME:

Below is Good Guy Meets Schmoosh, my 500-word picture book for your consideration.

Good Guy Meets Schmoosh is the heartwarming story of Guy, a young boy who is rewarded by his parents for his consistently moral behavior with the opportunity to purchase a puppy. On his way to the pet store, Guy spots a stray dog that he cannot stop thinking about, even once faced with puppies galore. His mom, initially concerned with the potential danger associated with rescuing a dog, is hesitant to introduce Guy to a stray, but soon realizes that Guy wants nothing more than to save Schmoosh from a lonely life on the streets.

Each year, of the 7.5 million animals that even make it into rescue shelters, 2.7 million are euthanized. A stigma of poor upbringing and therefore danger and illness is often associated with rescuing a homeless animal. Families often opt to buy puppies or kittens from breeders instead. Good Guy Meets Schmoosh aims to kick this reputation to the curb.

Good Guy Meets Schmoosh is my first children’s book. I am 30 years old, I just had my first child in July, and I have worked in the media industry for 12 years. I have been published in the form of editorials, church bulletins, and work-related POV’s, but I always only written poetry as an outlet. As a rescue dog mom myself, if the success of this book saves even just one homeless animal’s life, it was worth my time.

This is a multiple submission. I truly look forward to your feedback and I thank you kindly for your review and consideration.

Respectfully,

Colleen M. Fackler

GOOD GUY MEETS SCHMOOSH (a snippet)

On a little city street,
Where buses would pass by,
Lived a young and stellar lad
Whose parents named him Guy.
He always did the right thing
Or at least he’d try,
And when his neighbors would see him, they’d wave
And say, “there goes that Good Guy!”
Because their son behaved so well
His parents finally agreed
Guy could pick out a dog of his choice
Any age, any breed!
Guy decided that getting a puppy
Would surely make him content.
So on a cloudy Saturday,
Off to the pet store they went.
As they waited at a light,
Guy began to stare
At a dog he’d seen before
With no owner to care.
It appeared he had no tags
A blanket, but no bed.
And by the looks of his frailty
He clearly hadn’t been fed.
“I think that dog could use some help
Could you pull over Mom, please?”
“I think we better keep going, Guy.
That dog could have a disease.”
They drove along and Guy did try
To forget the dog on the street
Instead he tried to focus on
The puppies he would meet!

That's it!

Please thank Colleen for sharing this with us, and save your feedback for tomorrow.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Minki Pool's Current Query Critiqued

Today we have Minki Pool's current query for her Spec Fic novel SPADILLE. Be sure to check out Minki's website.

The query:

After the death Suicide? Murder? Freak Accident? Be specific. of his twin sister, Christopher Langley WHO IS CHRIS? I mean, we can assume he's an adult male, since you don't call this book YA in your housekeeping details below, but what kind of person is he? Why should we care about whether or not he achieves his goals? Why should we root for him? Even just a little bit goes a long way. Have you seen Mr. Robot? The protagonist in that show, Elliot, is not the most likable guy at the beginning, but we root for him. We care about him because he is vulnerable, and while he isn't perfect, he tries to do what he thinks is right. You have to introduce us to Christopher the CHARACTER before you introduce us to Christopher's STORY, or we won't have a vested interest in whether or not he succeeds. Right now the biggest problem with this query is the lack of a sense of CHARACTER. spends his nights hacking the multi-player virtual reality dream world of Spadille, This is going to be very difficult to describe in a query. I'm sure it makes sense in the book, but it's not clear here how this works. Is Spadille a game? A dream? A virtual reality? I get the feeling it's all three, but you need to try to make it clearer how that works. Is there data stored on a server somewhere? On many servers? There kind of has to be in order for Christopher to be able to hack it. Or is it more like a neural network, or something newer and stranger? Try to watch and read in this genre, to see how other creators have dealt with this. Read and watch stories like STRANGE DAYS and NEUROMANCER and so on. looking for answers. Answers to what? And why would Spadille have them? I get that you probably mean answers to why his sister (killed herself, was murdered, etc.) but the reader has no idea why answers to those questions would be somehow kept in Spadille. But then he gets caught and has to cut a sinister deal to stay out of prison: he must hack into Spadille one last time and kill its Goddess Queen, Desiderata. This is pretty damn good. A great inciting incident that's still a bit WTF because we don't know how a lot of this works, but this is really specific, and sets up a very interesting concept of an antagonist.

It sounds easy enough, Not to me. Maybe the hacking part, since he's done it before, and will now be sanctioned (I assume, by whoever caught him, the government? Or something?) but the killing part doesn't sound so easy. Unless, I guess, she's just a program like agents in THE MATRIX? Either way, I would suggest you maybe touch on something about why killing her sounds easy. until he finds himself holding his partner’s Why this word? Do you not mean girlfriend? Lover? Partner feels cold and clinical, but if that's really what you mean, it might help clarify their relationship. avatar as she bleeds to death in the dream. He has never met her in real life, but when he wakes up, he is covered in blood. Again, this is really good. Keep this.

Chris investigates his partner’s fate, but instead ends up responsible for a dream junkie called Myr. How? Myr’s addiction has destroyed her career and her health in the waking world (or something like that?), but in Spadille she is a revered handmaiden of the Goddess Queen. Chris hopes to use Myr in order to finally get to Desiderata, but it looks like Desiderata has become more powerful than any one human As opposed to someone from another species? Just cut the word human, unless there really are aliens in this story. can handle.

Every night, through wireless oneirotech implanted into the brain, THIS. Put this up above. Now the details and specs of how Spadille works make sense. millions of people log into Spadille as they go to sleep. Every morning all of their dreams are consolidated and televised like an endless soap opera. The dream is big, it is popular, and through the oneirotech Desiderata has found a way to download her religion straight into the minds of all the dreamers. This probably goes on a bit long, but this is strong. If you can make this more concise, this would fit really well coming earlier.

More and more people are starting to worship her, and their blind belief is bringing the dream to life. Their conviction is somehow turning Spadille into an alternate reality that threatens to become more real than the original. Cut all of this.

Neither Chris nor Myr knows whether Desiderata is a human avatar with incredible power, an intelligent virus, Again, make this point above. or something even more sinister, but they know that if they don’t manage to kill her, the very fabric of reality may be at stake.

In Spadille Chris and Myr are enemies, but in real life they are allies on the verge of becoming friends. Now they have to decide whether they are willing to sacrifice each other, the dream, or even themselves, for a reality that has never given them anything. This is pretty good as choices go, but at this point this query is far too long and you need to start cutting.

SPADILLE, a novel of speculative fiction, is complete at 102 000 words.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time and consideration.

This query is 373 words long. That's too long. Try to cut it to 250 if you can, but definitely under 300. I get that it's difficult to pare this stuff down, and I know I've harped on specificity with you when we've worked on this before, but you're really treading into synopsis territory here.

CHARACTER, CONFLICT, CHOICE. That's all you need. You don't even HAVE to have CHOICE, but it's pretty standard for most queries to end with a sadistic choice of some kind, so agents are used to seeing it.

That said, this is getting much, much better. You've got details of the world and details of the characters in here that you did not before, and this is really starting to come together. It's clear you listened to me about specificity, and although that makes many improvements here, it also means you're sharing too much with the reader in this query. Remember, a query has only one job: to get the agent's assistant to read the pages, or request some if the agency's guidelines don't allow pages to be included. That means entice the reader, but also get it over with quickly.

Here are your beats:

  • Chris, a lonely hacker with no relationships to speak of outside the virtual reality, loses his twin sister to (some kind of death).
  • He gets caught hacking, and turns spy.
  • His in game partner dies, and her death somehow leaks into the real world.
  • He meets Myr (more on how this works or why it happens would help).
  • Together they must decide how to take down Desiderata (great reference by the way, I assume you know the poem?).

That's it. I mean, at least as far as plot points go, that's all you need to touch on. Anything else is too much.

That's it.

What do you all think? Would you disagree on anything?

The query, again, so you can see it without my notes.

After the death of his twin sister, Christopher Langley spends his nights hacking the multi-player virtual reality dream world of Spadille, looking for answers. But then he gets caught and has to cut a sinister deal to stay out of prison: he must hack into Spadille one last time and kill its Goddess Queen, Desiderata.

It sounds easy enough, until he finds himself holding his partner’s avatar as she bleeds to death in the dream. He has never met her in real life, but when he wakes up, he is covered in blood.

Chris investigates his partner’s fate, but instead ends up responsible for a dream junkie called Myr. Myr’s addiction has destroyed her career and her health, but in Spadille she is a revered handmaiden of the Goddess Queen. Chris hopes to use Myr in order to finally get to Desiderata, but it looks like Desiderata has become more powerful than any one human can handle.

Every night, through wireless oneirotech implanted into the brain, millions of people log into Spadille as they go to sleep. Every morning all of their dreams are consolidated and televised like an endless soap opera. The dream is big, it is popular, and through the oneirotech Desiderata has found a way to download her religion straight into the minds of all the dreamers.

More and more people are starting to worship her, and their blind belief is bringing the dream to life. Their conviction is somehow turning Spadille into an alternate reality that threatens to become more real than the original.

Neither Chris nor Myr knows whether Desiderata is a human avatar with incredible power, an intelligent virus, or something even more sinister, but they know that if they don’t manage to kill her, the very fabric of reality may be at stake.

In Spadille Chris and Myr are enemies, but in real life they are allies on the verge of becoming friends. Now they have to decide whether they are willing to sacrifice each other, the dream, or even themselves, for a reality that has never given them anything.

SPADILLE, a novel of speculative fiction, is complete at 102 000 words.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Now that's really it.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Review of The Memory of Things, by Gae Polisner


Before I get started on my review, here is the jacket copy, from Goodreads:

The powerful story of two teenagers finding friendship, comfort, and first love in the days following 9/11 as their fractured city tries to put itself back together.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows. She is covered in ash and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a New York City detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.


THE MEMORY OF THINGS, by Gae Polisner is one of the best young adult novels I have ever read. It's poignant, and powerful, and oh so painful. It's told in this brilliant kind of uneven, stumbling rhythm to the prose that would probably ruin the pacing of most stories, but works wonders for this tale, leaving you feeling like you're reading wounded, crawling haphazardly away from the wreckage of your own despair.

We all remember 9/11, but there are many points view through which that horror can be recalled, and Kyle and his silent, nameless friend's are simultaneously two of the most harrowing and deeply moving lenses through which to recall those memories. This isn't so much a story about that disaster, or about tragedy in general, as it is a story about hope, and how the power of human kindness, and the resilience of mankind's spirit allows us to survive almost anything, and then, with time, eventually heal.

It's not the most exciting or epic tale, told almost exclusively from Kyle and his friend's points of view, almost the only two characters in the novel with speaking parts, and it almost all takes place in side of Kyle's little apartment in Brooklyn, and yet the emotions and the truths and the interactions of the characters are as grand and as sweeping, and more importantly-as authentic, as any narrative.

Anyway, assuming, with the obvious caveat of the potential trigger warning for anyone who lived through it, I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough. It touched me deeply, and I believe it will move you too.

You can find out more about Gae Polisner, on: