Friday, April 30, 2010


Today’s guest blog post is by Jessica, better known as The Alliterative Allomorph. Does she not have the coolest screen name in the blogoshpere? Please be sure to visit her blog and become a follower.

I’m sure you’re all used to this by now, but if this is your first time here Jessica’s thoughts are in blue and my own are in red.

Firstly, I’d like to say this query is a mess. I don’t think it’s such a bad piece of writing, it might actually work for a marketing piece with a little tweaking, but as far as queries go, it’s bad, bad and more bad. I have no idea how I got a full ms request from this query. It says nothing comprehensive about the story whatsoever. All it does is touch upon my ms’s themes and my intentions in writing it. But, I guess this is a breath of fresh air. It means that if your writing is up to par, the query means squat. I’m so grateful for agents who make their decisions based upon sample pages – queries are very difficult to master. I think it’s quite sad when agents don’t allow us to submit sample pages. I don’t think it does anybody any good – neither the author, nor the agent. The difference between writing a business letter and writing fiction is huge. Anyway, here’s my query:

I’m making these comments before actually reading her query but even if it is that bad (which I doubt) I would like to thank Jessica for sharing an example of her point. Ultimately it is the actual writing and voice in your manuscript that will land you an agent. A query is just an introduction to give them a taste that will hopefully get them to want to read more.


In DEAD IN THE CORNER OF MY BEDROOM Jane’s ordinary life is about to be transformed. She's a devoted mother and a hard-working wife, dedicated to her day job but still harbouring hopes of becoming a singer. With her guitar in her hands she feels real – but as she reaches for her dreams one moment shatters her world for ever.

Ok, this isn’t too bad. At least I’ve included a log line. I think I could have done without “Jane’s ordinary life is about to be transformed”, and “singer”, should have been “rock star”.

I’m not going to critique specifics of her query, but sure there is room for improvement here. I will certainly agree that singer should be rock star though. Hell all singers want to be rock star isn’t that why shows like American Idol exist?

My novel sways between edgy women's fiction and literary fiction, as it deals with some very complex and dark subjects, such as life changing decisions, memories of an emotionally abusive childhood and frustrated ambitions amid the all-consuming minutiae of the everyday, in a largely commercial way. Its intimate style draws the reader in; as though they are too inside Jane's mind. Despite Jane being quite a quirky, yet gritty heroine, she still mulls over her neglected aspirations, marital problems and nostalgia for a time when she had a firmer sense of self – issues I believe will strike a chord with many female readers.

“novel sways between edgy women's fiction and literary fiction” – bad bad bad! Never mix genres. Agents tend not to like that. They want to know immediately what shelf to put it on in a bookstore. Plus I think the first sentence is way too long. This paragraph says nothing about the plot. It talks about themes and style. Also, the last sentence is SO not necessary. The agent is sure to be able to see this after reading what precedes it.

Boy do I have this problem. I once called my novel a young-adult commercial-fiction/literary-fiction/fantasy crossover novel. In a letter. To an agent. I had no idea what I was talking about. Narrowing down to a single genre can be difficult for a lot of writers.

My ultimate goal is to break into the women's fiction market and steer it away from the stereotypically glorified woman that is most commonly portrayed today with pure honesty instead. Not every women in this world lives without regret, knows exactly what they want, and has the courage to put every essence of their being into achieving their dreams. Not every woman is inspirational. Not every woman can leave their comfort zone to better their future. But, so what? Does that mean a less strong-minded woman doesn't have an interesting story to tell? Definitely not.

I quite like this paragraph. It’s kind of like my motto – I have it on my web site. Although it’s probably against query ‘law’, I think it says something about me as a writer. It says I have a real motivation for what I’m doing, a passion – that I’m not just writing because I want my name to be seen on a cover in a book store. But again, it’s not really doing much, is it? Still no real info here about my story. Ugh.

I’m not an expert, but I have learned a lot about querying in the last several months. Technically Jessica’s right. By normal query standards this is entirely unnecessary. That being said I have a suspicion that it was largely this paragraph that interested this particular agent. It’s just a hunch, but that’s what I think.

Although this is my first novel, I have been working in ELT (English Language Teaching) publishing for the past five years, both as an editor and freelance writer for Macmillan Hellas, Cengage Learning, Pearson/Longman, Education First and Signature Manuscripts. I am also a singer/songwriter and guitarist. These factors, and my experience as an Australian living in Greece, have greatly influenced my novel. I also have a Bachelor of Arts with an English major.

I think this is ok. Every query needs a little bio. I have, however, changed the first line to be less specific, and have directed them to my website for a list of publications in my name. I did this because they’re not really relevant to novel writing. They’re just English text books. So if they want to see them, they know where to go.

I’d say this is a little better than okay. Sure, Jessica’s never been published for fiction but proof of having the ability to write coherently enough to get published in a text book is not a bad start.

Please see below for the first two chapters (3365 words) of my work and a synopsis.

Thanks goodness for the sample and synopsis!


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

Best wishes,
Jessica C. Bell

This got me a full ms request from an Australian agent around the end of March – a full two months after submitting the query. This was the response:

Dear Jessica,

Thank you for your email regarding DEAD IN THE CORNER OF MY BEDROOM. REDACTED has now had a chance to consider your submission and has requested the full manuscript to be sent via email to submissions@

Kind Regards,

I’m so excited about this. They’re my top choice. They represent the screenwriter of my favourite film Strictly Ballroom, and Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet. Apparently it can take up to seven months to hear back! Ouch! So I’m waiting … patiently … hoping and praying!

I didn’t realize your MS was still out on submission. Best of luck with it Jessica!

For those that are interested to know what my novel is actually about, here is the bulk of my latest query:

Jane dislikes her job, but has been preparing for a possible promotion as chief editor, to provide a better upbringing for her four-year-old daughter. A year later, she has still neglected to tell her husband, Max, because it will mean relocating from Athens to London. But when Max, who organises music events for a living, and who has got used to treating her like a housewife instead of a musician, dismisses her effort and refuses to support the idea, it’s the final straw. Jane’s abandoned aspirations, marital problems and nostalgia for a time when she had a firmer sense of self, have been consuming her thoughts long enough. It’s time to bring back the rock star within, before it’s too late. In an attempt to improve her marriage and quench her thirst to play music again, Jane tells Max that she will relinquish the job opportunity, but that she’d like his help to play gigs. He agrees. But just when their relationship shows signs of improving, Jane discovers Max’s infidelity.

In a situation like this, Jane would usually give up—but not this time. Determined to escape this domestic rut, she contacts her Australian heavy metal-head ex-boyfriend via Facebook, and he offers her the opportunity to play guitar on an American tour. Jane not only decides to seize both the job and the tour opportunity, despite feeling guilty about becoming like her mother and neglecting her daughter, but she also tells Max she’d like to temporarily separate. But when discovering that she’s pregnant, puts her plan to tour on the back burner, little does she know what a minor setback this is, until tragedy shows its frightening face, and realises she’s been seeking fulfilment in the wrong place.

So that’s it for Jessica’s query, post and correspondence with her (hopefully) soon to be agent. Please take a moment to thank her in the comments for being brave enough to share this with us and also don’t forget to visit her blog and become a follower.

So what do you think? Isn’t it great when an agent accepts pages and or a synopsis with the query?


Vicki Rocho said...

Wow! I don't think the query was that bad - you obviously intrigued them enough to earn a request. But I'm glad you included the last bit covering more of the story.

I appreciate your goal of depicting real women who don't have all the answers, and yet are still strong, independent thinkers!

Good Job, Jessica! And thanks to you Matt for bringing this to us!

Unknown said...

Hey, your query worked and got you a full manuscript request. I do like when the agent wants sample pages.

Great job, Jessica! And thanks, Matt, for doing these awesome query dissections.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for sharing this Jessica.

Laura Pauling said...

Good job sharing Jessica (A.A.)! It just makes you realize that sometimes it's the story idea or sometimes just one line from your query that sparks interest.

Good luck on the full that is out there! Waiting is so much fun. Not.

Unknown said...

I didn't think the query was that bad at all!! I'm intrigued about the bookk and it seems that they were as well!

Great job Jess!! I'm so glad that Matthew had you on as a guest blogger! You rock my socks off!! So do you Matthew!

JE said...

Your submission is still out? GOOD LUCK!!!! That seven months will be long, I feel for you.

I really like the third paragraph of your query. It was inspirational. But again, not really needed for your query. But hey, I loved it!

Best of luck on your submission and your new query (which is also very nice).


Kittie Howard said...

Congrats, Jessica! If this were Las Vegas you would've hit a jack pot. I echo what MissV said. I also think your passion is contagious, that you pull others into your orbit. Your waiting will prove fruitful!!!

Unknown said...

Reading Jessica's query and commentary have been informative and inspirational. My fingers are crossed for her!

Thanks for sharing, Matt and Jessica!

About Me said...

Jessica, congrats on the full request. I like the updated version of your query, it lays out the stakes very well.

I wish that all agents asked for pages with the query. It seems to make the most sense, but I think that a lot of them do....

Jaydee Morgan said...

Jessica - thanks for sharing. I find it very inspirational that you can write a query that doesn't conform to the "rules" and still get a request. Good job and good luck!

Candyland said...

Awesome, Jess! You rock more than you know:)

Hannah said...

I think the agent should request at the very least a synopsis because you can't tell very much from a query, it's like reading the back of a book. It never tells you exactly what the book is about even though, that's what readers look at, they're supposed to help YOU sell yourself. Why do they think we're looking for an agent to do all that part of the job?

Bish Denham said...

Excellent. Congratulations Jessica and best of luck!

Unknown said...

I love these analyses. I know writer's who have landed requests from top agents even though their queries sucked. Fortunately the agent read the sample pages and not just the query.

Michelle McLean said...

Thanks for sharing, Jessica, and good luck with the request! Hopefully you'll hear soon :)

Rachele Alpine said...

Ohhh....I have a copy of the first 30 pages of her book (because she won my blog contest), and I have to say that what I've read so far is fabulous! :)

Tracy said...

Goodness gracious, Jessica. My fingers will turn blue if I have to keep them crossed for seven months for you -- but, by God, I'll do it!

You made me smile when you berated yourself for listing two genres. Like Matthew, my first attempt was an atrocious abomination of genre mush. I believe I actually called it a Historical/Urban Fantasy with Romantic undertones. *face palm*

Ted Cross said...

The thing that strikes me about this query and about Matt's is how long they are. Everything I have read indicates that they should be shorter and more to the point. I don't like these rules myself, as I can't figure out how to tell my story in only 300 words; perhaps I should take heart that longer ones like this can still get a request.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Ooh, good luck Jessica!
I, too, love me some strictly ballroom.


Wow I thought the interview with Jessica (Iam a follower of her) was excellent.I hope all goes well with her book.

Have a great wek-end.

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks for dropping in everyone! And thanks again Matt for having me :)

Ted: It's not really that long. It's fits on one page. As far as I know the rule is that it must fit on one page. Maybe I'm wrong?

Lydia Kang said...

Good luck to Jessica!
Thanks for this post Matt. I love to see in-depth query evals, it really help me with my own query issues!

Lola Sharp said...

Another fun Friday guest post, Matt.

*hi Jessica!*
I'm still crossing my fingers for you, Jessica! Sending out the Contract for Representation vibes for you. :)

Happy weekend, peeps!

Emily White said...

As far as queries go, I wouldn't say it was bad, bad, bad! :) Clearly, the agent liked it enough.

Good luck, by the way!

Shelley Sly said...

Jessica, thank you so much for sharing, and Matthew, thank you for posting this!

I think your story idea sounds terrific, and I wish you best of luck with it! Plus, the title is freakin awesome! That alone piqued my interest.

Shannon said...

Hey Matt and Jess,

I've been following you both for a while so it was kind of cool to see you hook up here for Jessica's query.

I love the premise of Jessica's novel and can see why an agent requested pages. I can't wait to hear what comes of it.

Thanks for sharing!

Raquel Byrnes said...

Bad query or not, you got a positive response so enough intriguing information must have kept them interested enough to read the synopsis and sample chapters.

Great job pulling it apart and explaining the details.

Tahereh said...

wow what a comprehensive breakdown!! a million thanks to jessica for granting us a look into her querying world!

my fingers are crossed for both of you!!

great post!

Talli Roland said...

Well done for getting a full MS request, Jessica - and thanks so much for posting this on Matthew's site. Thanks again Matthew!

Angie said...

It must not be too bad if it got you a request from your top choice. Sounds like an intriguing novel. Thanks for sharing.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Thank you Matt and Jessica for sharing this! I especially liked your synopsis- totally drew me in. I wish you lots of luck with your submission!

Jess said...

Great post! Jessica, I am eager to read this book of yours. Here's to hoping that agent works out for you! :)

Ann Best said...

Good query. I'm glad I came over here and found it. Good luck.

Wanda said...

Good luck Jessica on getting published.

Angie Paxton said...

Thanks again for a wonderful guest post, Matthew. Jessice, congrats on the request for the full! Ouch! Seven months. My full has been out for six weeks and I'm dying here.

Lindsay said...

Good hob Jessica. Its always great to see a query that gets a request. Keeping my fingers crossed for you.

Thanks for posting this Matthew.

Lindsay said...

Okag, that was good job, not good hob. lol.

Katie said...

I definitely think the third paragraph was what drew me into it. Sure, it didn't really talk about the plot, but it instantly gave you a platform.

Old Kitty said...


Just popped over to say hello!

Thanks for this eye-opener. I, like many here, didn't think the query was that bad - I quite like the mixing of genres myself - shows a lot of moxy!

I think Jessica does herself an injustice by thinking this query letter somehow wrong! It

For me personally it sounded confident, lucid and succint. Good for her and well done Jessica!!!!

Thank you for this great and informative guest blog.

take care

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I sometimes paste the first 3 paragraphs into the body of the query. That's about all most agents read anyway before coming to a decision to reject or accept.

Four agents who asked to see partials or fulls seemed not to mind.

Good fortune, Jessica, in finding that right agent. And pause before signing with the first one that asks. What did that famous Sioux chief, Lightfoot of the Gordon clan, say : "Only the foolish test for quicksand with both feet."

May your right agent come quickly, Roland

kah said...

Freakin' queries. *sigh*

Love that you both give your feedback. And yes, all agents should accept sample pages. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Jessica! Congratulations to you! I'm so very HAPPY for you!! WOOOOOT!!

Unknown said...

*falls over* I love Strictly Ballroom! I would have flipped to get a req from them!

Jo Schaffer said...

This was helpful as I craft my own query. Painful. Gut twisting. Good to know there are many people dealing with the same ordeal. (=