Friday, March 5, 2010

Second Pretty Bad Too

Here is a query I sent out on May 7th 2009, even before the worst one. It is still pretty bad but not quite as glaring as the first one I posted. It has a couple of good points but is mostly horrible and too long winded.


I am writing to you seeking representation for my young-adult fantasy-adventure novel which has the working title, Warrior-Monks, which is complete at approximately 475,000 words. I selected you out of all agents in your agency because your bio states that you are looking for stories that capture a sense of magical realism. The sequel, which is untitled, currently exists only in outline form. I am enclosing a brief synopsis but will not include any sample chapters because the REDACTED Agency website clearly states that you will request a manuscript if you have an interest. I will say though, that this story really has to be read to be appreciated as the synopsis included here simply does not do it justice.

Mentioning a sequel and saying the synopsis does not do the story justice are both pointless comments that make the query longer and more laborious than necessary. If the first book can't stand (sell) alone than no one is going to care about the second and an agent knows the synopsis doesn't do justice to the actual voice of the story - it's not supposed to. Telling them that in a query is insulting to their intelligence (I imagine).

I love Eastern Cultures and art forms – Martial Arts, Calligraphy, Japanese Swords, Tea Ceremony etcetera and all the tradition and high level of art that go into them. I also love magic and fantasy and eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Warrior-Monks incorporates all of these themes in a fantastic way which has never been done in young-adult fantasy-adventure to my knowledge.

This is kind of a good idea because these themes are what sets my novel apart in interesting ways. Good idea but as you can see executed horribly. Hopefully you will notice once I get to posting some of the more successful queries how this concept evolved.

Lee is a troubled young man from a broken family. After being expelled from boarding school and having experienced several brushes with the law, his adopted parents, who also happen to be his cruel aunt and uncle, decide to ship him off to a strange and distant reform school which is in the remote wilderness in the panhandle of Northern Idaho. He becomes a member of a group of 12 other students who arrived at the school at the same time as him. They are all very afraid and apprehensive about what will be going on at the school but they are soon pleased to discover that it is not nearly as bad as they had feared. After working in the Wood-Corral for several months they begin taking classes like Aikido, Kenjutsu, Calligraphy and Meditation. It is some time before they discover that through meditation they can imbue their calligraphic scrolls with ancient magic. The book consists of many themes such as the beauty of nature, the life-energy that exists in everything and the awkward struggles that teenagers go through as they grow into themselves and become adults. Lee’s coming of age and struggling with the loss of his mother and the breaking of his family form the core of this introspective but also character driven tale.

This reads like a readers digest condensed synopsis written in crayon on the bathroom wall. The last couple of sentences are okay, but the first part - ugly. This happens, then that happens. I just got bored re-reading it myself, and I wrote it. I know the actual story doesn't sound like this at all, why would I allow my query letter - the only lifeline for the book ever being read by anyone - to make it sound so dull? It's like trying to sell a portrait you painted by showing the buyer the empty cans (or tubes) of paint left over afterward.

I have never been published but I am confident that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book. Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or to write to me at home at:

I'll just say that obviously agents know fist time authors can write great books, they represent them all the time. See the link to Mr. Bransford's post about Publishing Credits in queries.

Street Address

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matthew M. Rush

So, still pretty bad right? Yep. Unfortunately this one did not end up with an exciting rejection, just form.

Dear Matthew

Thank you for sending me your Query. Unfortunately, I didn't connect enough with the description of your book to want to see more.

I wish you the best of luck in finding the right representation.



REDACTED Agency, Inc.

Honest. Gentle. Informative. The important thing here is the two words: connect and description. And she's right. Reading it again I can't connect with it either. She probably didn't even read the synopsis (which I didn't include here for obvious reasons) after that awkward pitch. At least I got some direction as to what needs to be improved - if only I had paid attention at the time.


Suze said...

Hi Matthew.. welcome to the query-dome :) I have one initial sharp-intake-of-breath comment... is that word count correct? I'm not sure you would get any takers at that length no matter what the genre. Anyway, I hope you've sumbitted your most recent efforts to the Shark.. she's the Obi-wan of queries! Good Luck :)

The Swivet said...

The word count has to go. You need to get that down to under 90k if you can or you'll continue to get form rejects.

Emily J said...

I second (or is that third?) the comment that your manuscript is far too long.

That said, I think this blog is a great idea. I too am suffering through the query process and really my only goal is either (1) a personalized and actually helpful rejection letter or (2) a partial!! If only...

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks for reading and commenting everyone and you are all right. I've already cut 125,000 words and I am continuing to edit more. I've been thinking about trying to add some kind of conclusion in the middle and splitting it into two books.

Suze, I have submitted to the Shark, but I'm still waiting to see if she'll bite. I did get selected for a query review over at Ask Daphne! and it helped a lot, so the query part has actually gotten much better, I just have to cut the book.

Clindsay, I don't know about 90k. Can't figure a way that would be possible. I may have to start calling it something other than YA. But then again maybe after cuts and if I can cut it in half ... 90 becomes more of a possibility. I really don't get the word count thing though. Even 120k sounds awfully short to me. I mean the books I read and even the YA books my 14 yo daughter reads are longer than that. Then again this is a debut so ...

Emily, thanks for saying so! I hope people like the blog. It is pretty tough to put myself out there so much, especially since some of these early queries are really bad, and embarrassing. But they did, or will, get better.

Anyway, thanks again and please come back and feel free to follow.

Matthew MacNish said...

Dang Colleen, I just realized who you are. Thank you so much for visiting! I really appreciate your advice and I will do my best to take it to heart. I will cut as much as is humanly possible from my novel, I knew it was too long but I didn't realize HOW MUCH too long.

I do have to ask though, how concrete are these word count rules? These are some examples of debut novels I consider SOMEWHAT similar to my own:

Eragon: 151,000 words. I realize this is unique because he self published first and it is fantasy not YA, but my daughter and I both loved it and as far as I recall it sold really well among teenagers.

Twilight: 115,000 words. Okay, I admit this book is nothing like mine. I tried to read it and got bored. Admittedly it was not written for me. I am a 32 yo man. My daughter stayed up all night to finish it. The movie wasn't bad. Still a long debut YA though.

The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus Trilogy part 1): 115,500 words. God I love this trilogy. If you haven't heard of Johnathan Stroud please look him up. Anyway I find this book different but similar to mine. It's much funnier. It is designed for a slightly younger reader. Still a little long for debut YA though...

Inkheart: 133,500 words. Apparently this book gets criticized for being too long. If that's true I'm in trouble. But I loved this book.

Anyway Colleen I'm not trying to say you're wrong. You obviously know what you're talking about. I just hope that people love to read as much as I do and eventually it works out for me...

Thanks again for visiting and I'll get back to work on Monday.

Unknown said...

Hi Matthew, thanks for the follow :)

Good luck with your querying process! Yes, unfortunately, as I understand it, it's very difficult to be a debut author with a work over 120,000 words published, even in fantasy. Nonetheless, best of luck with it!

Matthew MacNish said...

You're welcome Steph, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the well wishes also!