Friday, July 9, 2010


Today's guest blogger is Guinevere Robin Rowell from This is Not My Day Job. Please make sure to visit her blog and become a follower!

I'll let her get right to it then, but remember her analysis is in blue and my own stupid thoughts and pointless ramblings will be in red.

Take it away Guin!

The life and death of my query: I spent hours tweaking this query letter until I felt it was perfect. Each sentence has been overanalyzed and re-written constant times with an obsessive precision I usually reserve for separating jelly beans by flavor. I sent the query to ten agents, and received four responses, including one request for a full. My story didn’t make it, but hey, at least I think I learned to write a decent query letter! I wasn’t too disappointed by the rejections, but I realized I needed to revise my novel as thoughtfully as I had the query before I sought representation – it just wasn’t ready yet. Hopefully, I’ll be back on the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment with a letter that led further someday!

As long as you never give up, I know you will!

Dear (Agent),

April Mitchell killed her father while Mom was at a PTA meeting.

This is actually the first sentence of my novel, too. I felt I had a strong hook for the beginning of the novel – why not get every mile out of that hook possible?

Boy that's good! Like literally laugh out loud good. The thing is this is funny, snarky as hell, but it also has that hint of a dark, sinister side that pretty much covers all the bases. Of course we don't know WHY yet, or even WHAT HAPPENS, but I bet the rest of you want to find out just as badly as I do now!

April is a high school senior when her father, dying of a terminal illness, asks her to assist him and then cover up his suicide. Her lie that he died alone devastates her mother. She seeks comfort from her grief and anger in the oh-so-not-legal arms of her English teacher, destroying her relationships with high school sweetheart and friends (Prom is overrated, anyway).

Fast forward six years – April has become a pathological liar, putting an extra gloss on her already "perfect" life as a shiny blond medical student with a gorgeous boyfriend. But appearances are about to be destroyed, because someone found out about April's role in Daddy's death. Between blackmail threats, an estranged mother who nonetheless sometimes offers April unsolicited advice or pie, her old English teacher's re-entrance into her life, an investigation for life insurance fraud, and April's new sociopathic and bubbly rocker chick arch-enemy, life just got very, very messy (again). But how does April put her life back together – as more than just a lovely façade this time?

I tried to reflect the voice in the novel here by interjecting a little bit of levity into a stream of rather horrid things. The novel cuts back and forth between April in high school and April six years later, but I felt for clarity’s sake – and to keep everything in present tense – it was best to make these two paragraphs chronological.

I really like this concept you've got going here. It's almost like a Jekyll and Hyde of tragedy and comedy. Dark things are happening to April, many through her own fault, but we're hearing about them in a unique and zany way! Sounds fun.

SHARDS OF GLASS is approximately 127,000 words of literary fiction with attitude – a snarky and sassy main character, two charmingly imperfect male leads, vindictive but witty villains, a bank robbery, a kidnapping rescue, and lots of chocolate. This is a novel for the woman who loves both Jane Austen's Emma and Ian Fleming's Bond.

So many things I deliberated over here. Is SHARDS OF GLASS really literary fiction? I won’t be marketing it as such this next go-round, but identifying genre can be tough! I debated the use of “snarky and sassy” (after all, Word spellchecker doesn’t even recognize “snarky”), the chick lit cliché of “lots of chocolate”, and especially the bit about Emma meets Bond. I wanted to indicate there was lots of action in this story– I didn’t want an agent who requested pages to be surprised when April crawls into the second-story window of a house to rescue her kidnapped boyfriend!

I love the bit about Emma vs. Bond, but of course that kind of thing is so subjective.

This novel is vaguely inspired by my own experiences, having lost my father to cancer and being the difficult daughter of a difficult mother (though no patricide or pathological lying in my own past). I have been previously published in Cicada and Windhover.

I am enclosing the first page of my novel below, in the body of my email, as requested on your site. I hope you enjoy reading it! Thank you for your time and consideration,

It’s important to follow whatever that agent’s particular requirements for querying are, and I don’t think it hurts to make it clear that you’ve done so in your query.

Polite and professional. Nicely done Guinevere.


Guinevere Robin Rowell

So what do you guys think? For a second I was thinking YA, but of course it looks like the bulk of this story takes place after April grows up. I know the prevailing wisdom says it's nearly impossible to publish a debut novel over 120,000 words but I applaud Guin for trying. I for one prefer longer books and have my own very long MS, so there is that!

Please thank her for sharing this with us in the comments and let us know if you have any questions. Thanks for visiting!


Vicki Rocho said...

Ahhhh, I love Fridays! I can't read enough query letters, I'm obsessed.

Interesting book concept. Good luck with your revisions and second round of querying!

Matt, haven't heard an update on your book lately. Are you still whittling it down? Have you split it into several independent volumes yet?

Unknown said...

Great job you two!!! I love fridays too Vicki!!! These query letters are helping me now more than ever since I feel that the wip I have is the one!!

I love the concept of the book and am really impressed that you are trying with the word count. Sometimes it's good to break the rules, you never know you might just get lucky!!!

Great job Guin!!!!

Oh I'm with Vicki Matthew, I'd love to know your book progress!

Matthew MacNish said...

Hmm, I was planning on taking the next week off, but I may have to update you guys on WARRIOR-MONKS next week. We'll see.

Ted Cross said...

It's got the word 'Shard' in it; it must be pretty good!

Stina said...

Yep, another query friday lover too. :D

I only read YA, but I love the concept of this book (and the voic). I would totally read it if it were ever published.

Hannah said...

I'll read that!! Love it. Soon you will be posting mine, Matt. And by soon I mean in the next year. :P

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Twisted idea. I'd say it definitely falls outside of young adult, though.

Christina Lee said...

Yeah I was going to say YA too. Hmm, have you considered making it fit into YA, Guin? Just sayin', the snarkiness and all ;-) Definitely sounds interesting!

Candyland said...

What a solid query. It must be hard with 127,000 words, but I wish her the best of luck!!! Sounds like a cool story.

Heather Kelly said...

I'm wondering if this book would sit in that "New Adult" category that is emerging following the boom in YA. That would be a good thing, I think! This story sounds really interesting. Good luck!!

Lydia Kang said...

That was an entertaining query! I'd ask for pages if I was an agent!

Creepy Query Girl said...

This sounds like a really intriguing story and the query letter was well done! What are you going to market the genre as now?

Old Kitty said...

Hi Guinevere and thanks Matthew for having such a fab writer as your guest blogger today!

I'd buy this book! :-) I love the "literary fiction with attitude" line! That seals the deal for me!

Take care

Tahereh said...

wow what an interesting storyline! best of luck, guin -- i hope to be able to find your book on the shelves one day!!

Anonymous said...

YA to new adult all of the way. And I pick it up in a heartbeat. I love love love big books and my entire family only looks at the larger ones. We pass right over the wimpy word counts. There isn't enough story building in them. Love the concept.

Elana Johnson said...

Very cool -- another great query to learn from. Thanks Matt and Guin

Arlee Bird said...

Always interesting to read these query analyses. YA yeah probably, but not too young.

Tossing It Out

Lia Victoria said...

Thanks for posting this! What a cool blog :]

Theresa Milstein said...

I was hooked in the beginning. If this novel reflected the aftermath of the "suicide", and the protagonist coming to terms with the death of her father and behavior of her mother, this could've been even better. Would you consider it?

Guinevere said...

Thanks for your comments, all! I really appreciate you taking the time to read my query and your feedback. :)

I don't think this one will fit into YA - I'm thinking of it as just plain fiction, not literary fiction, these days.

Theresa, the aftermath of (and explanation for) her father's decision and her mother's behavior are both explored in the book, although that's really the challenging part I want to be perfect before I pitch this again. It was a lot of ground to cover in one novel - that's how it ended up so long! :)

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks so much for sharing this with us Guin!