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Great lesson for writing a query letter


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This is a great lesson from Nathan Bransford  He does not like opening with rhetorical questions. There's a beginning to this article if you'd like to read it. Here's the gist:

 

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I’ll present the query without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

 

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to Ilanna Sharon Mandel, whose query is below.

 

Dear Agent (proper name of course)

 

Can seventeen year old Leslie Shaw ever break free of her toxic and suffocating life in rural Saskatchewan? For most of her life Leslie has been bound to care for Carol, her irresponsible and alcoholic. Leslie’s life sinks further into chaotic desperation when her mother’s lover from a one-night stand, and her dying grandfather move in to their tiny home. Amidst the turmoil her mother relapses and is sent to rehab – again. In the months of caring for her grandfather, Leslie is entrusted with decades-old secrets, and the shocking choices made by the two men she is forced to live with. Frustrated and angry she enacts a bold plan to become an emancipated teen to finally escape Carol, and the wounded life they have lived together.

 

Prairie’s Edge a story of inter-generational relationships, the impact of addiction, and a young girl’s desire for her freedom is set in modern-day rural Saskatchewan. It is complete in 80,000 words. As an author, I have published one fantasy adventure novel for middle grade readers entitled The Bridge of Haunted Souls. I have also published several short stories, poetry and numerous articles in peer and professionally-reviewed journals. My writing also includes work as an instructional and curriculum designer. As a native of Saskatchewan, I have infused this story with memories from growing up on the Canadian prairies In this space, I address my remarks to the agent, why I want to work with them, and the connections between my work and theirs. Then, a sincere thank-you.

 

Sincerely,

Ilanna Sharon Mandel/encl.

 

Longtime readers know of my blood feud with rhetorical questions in query letters. Well, it appears that I am losing the battle.

In this case, the rhetorical question at the start of this query letter just doesn’t really add much and is very similar to the type of empty question I saw thousands of times as a literary agent. It’s not an engaging way to draw an agent into the world of the novel.

 

But apart from that, because so much of the query letter is vague (“decades-old secrets,” “shocking choices,” “a bold plan”) and we don’t have any elements that show Leslie’s personality, I struggle to understand the contours of the plot and what makes this novel unique.

 

A teen dealing with an alcoholic or drug addicted parent is a very common archetype. What sets this novel apart? What makes Leslie unique as a character? What’s her unique personality and outlook on life? Why this novel instead of all the other similar ones?

 

With more character and personality infused into the query letter and more specificity, we’ll have a much keener sense of what makes this novel stand out.

 

Here’s my redline:

 

Dear Agent (proper name of course)

 

Can seventeen year old Leslie Shaw ever break free of her toxic and suffocating life in rural Saskatchewan? For most of her life, seventeen year old Leslie has been bound to care for Carol, her irresponsible and alcoholic mother [word missing]. Leslie’s life sinks further into chaotic desperation when her mother’s lover from a one-night stand [If this is her lover it’s more than a one-night stand, no?], and her dying grandfather move in to their tiny home. Amidst the turmoil [be more specific. What happens that constitutes turmoil?] her mother relapses and is sent to rehab – again. In the months of caring for her grandfather [Awkward phrasing. Try to be more specific about what she’s doing], Leslie is entrusted with decades-old secrets, and the shocking choices made by the two men she is forced to live with [Too vague. Be more specific. What secrets and what choices? Help us understand the s tory]. Frustrated and angry she enacts a bold plan [What’s the plan? Be more specific] to become an emancipated teen to finally escape Carol, and the wounded life [“wounded life” is vague. Missed opportunity to add more specific flavor] they have lived together.

 

My young adult novel Prairie’s Edge a story of inter-generational relationships, the impact of addiction, and a young girl’s desire for her freedom is set in modern-day rural Saskatchewan. It is complete in 80,000 words [Agents don’t really care about themes. If it’s important, weave it into the plot description]. As an author, I have published one fantasy adventure novel for middle grade readers entitled The Bridge of Haunted Souls [Where was it published?]. I have also published several short stories, poetry and numerous articles in peer and professionally-reviewed journals [Be more specific about some fo the journals]. My writing also includes work as an instructional and curriculum designer. As a native of Saskatchewan, I have infused this story with memories from growing up on the Canadian prairies In this space, I address my remarks to the agent, why I want to work with them, and the connections between my work and theirs [This belongs at the beginning of the query letter]. Then, a sincere thank-you.

 

Sincerely,

Ilanna Sharon Mandel/encl.

 

I don't think he mentioned it but the paragraphs seems way too long to me. Not his edit. The original part.

 

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