Sunday, June 9, 2013

#244-revised 7x

Revision #7

What if the world you think benign, isn't?

You've been revising so much you've forgotten one of the basic rules of querying: do not start with a rhetorical question. This isn't a philosophy class, it's a business letter. Get to the point.

On September 10, 2010, the inhabitants of Christchurch, New Zealand, are woken from the illusion of living on firm ground by an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale. As aftershocks lay waste to the city, Daphne Smith's life is shattered from seismic events set in motion by husband, Henry.

The inhabitants of Christchurch New Zealand are not the main character in this novel. Start with the main character.  What choice does she have to make?

You don't need to say Richter scale since that's how an earthquake is measured. You can just say "7.2 earthquake"

And the earthquake has no relevance to the story as far as I can tell.  You're using it to be all artistic and stuff ""seismic events set in motion"

Don't be afraid to be plain.  
Don't be afraid to write very simple sentences.
Fancy is not the equivalent of good.

They're losing their debt-laden dairy farm from a tax audit, with Henry's subsequent foolhardiness incurring a Serious Fraud Office investigation. When Henry is killed (stalking the tax auditor), Daphne is forced on the run with mysterious new friend Beth to escape the meth-tweaking gangster commissioned by Henry to sell their dairy herd out from under the bank. When the gangster catches up with them, Beth's association to him and hacktivist past are revealed, but she's wounded on intercepting a bullet meant for Daphne. Beth demands a dreadful promise of Daphne, which may mean Daphne's incarceration to secure her own freedom.

Now you're getting to the good stuff but it will help if you're specific here. What promise?

At every turn Daphne is unable to claw a way back to the settled life wrenched from her; grieving Henry, her fate decided by lovers, friends and enemies, until her choices pare down to a single act above a roiling sea on the crumbling cliff tops of Bank Peninsula, where she holds Beth's tenuous life in a death caress.

You don't need this. You only need the first act in a query. Leave us wondering what happens next.

Daphne's story will confront your notions of living and loving in the dawning era of Big Data, where the illusion may be volition itself.

 This is classic tell not show.  Don't tell me about what the story will evoke. Evoke it.
The only way to do that is with the story. What happens. What's at stake. What are the choices being made.

You have no idea what your readers "notions" about anything are. Don't assume. 

And I don't understand what "where the illusion may be volition itself" means.  If I can't understand a sentence, you might dismiss me as stupid,  but it's not going to get you what you want: a request to read the manuscript. I'm not urging you to dumb down anything here. I'm telling you that trying to be fancy is NOT an effective strategy in short forms like queries. 

Woman Alone is a 130,000 word literary fiction novel.  

This is better but it still needs work.

Revision #6

Daphne's story begins with betrayal from her increasingly erratic and secretive husband, Henry. His pig-headed failure to take advice has landed them in a disastrous tax audit leading to the bank filing for their bankruptcy. Then his written threats to the Revenue result in a brutal police raid on their farm. Daphne leaves him, hoping he will come to his senses, but there is to be no reconciliation when he is run over and killed by the auditor, the circumstances to be subject of a police inquiry and sensationalist media scrutiny.

At her most vulnerable Daphne is befriended by ex-employee Beth, bearing the offer of using her hacking skills (from a past she is trying to escape) to defraud two million dollars from the farm's bank by selling the dairy herd ahead of a mortgagee sale and converting the proceeds to Bitcoin. But Daphne has lived an honest life, and struggles with her conscience. Worse, Beth's plan is a double cross, her eye on the herd money for herself, in league with an anarchist lover from two decades past.

What's at stake here? Daphne struggles with her conscience, sure, but there has to be something more important at stake then guilt. If she accedes to Beth's plan to sell the dairy herd, what bad thing happens? If she does not, what worse thing happens? What will she lose in either case? What's at stake for her in these choices?

You've got something at stake later on in the paragraph marked *** but that's too late in the query. And it's too late in the book.

Stakes are what create tension, and if nothing is at stake till 2/3 of the way through the book, the pacing will seem slow.

Until Beth falls in love with Daphne. She knows her love will be unrequited, but double crosses her old partner in crime. Beth and Daphne's fates become bound together, desperately trying to escape Beth's meth-tweaking accomplice who is out for revenge. They are pinned down by him and in their narrow escape Beth takes a bullet meant for Daphne, leaving her grievously wounded.

While both women are on the lam in the remote hills above Bank Peninsula, New Zealand, Daphne learns what matters to her. She is living, but the knowledge is too late given her constricting circumstances. And she is trying to deal with Beth's feelings for her, yet carrying the tumult of unresolved loss for Henry and her previous life. Although more pressing are her responsibilities if Beth's wound is mortal. If she seeks the medical attention Beth requires, then her friend's hacktivist past will see her in more trouble than Edward Snowden and she is likely to do more time than Chelsea Manning. Beth would rather die than be caught by the authorities and secreted to the US on the next FBI flight out of Wellington.

***So Daphne's life turns full circle; betrayed by the man she loves, hounded by the authorities, will she betray the woman who loves her, in order to be able to start a new life on the right side of the law?

And throughout Daphne's journey, from toiling on their dairy farm toward a future with Henry, to holed up with Beth on the cliff tops above a roiling sea, another character reeks its violence; the series of over eighteen thousand aftershocks that followed the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, which reduced the lives of that city and surrounds to rubble.

Last Woman Down, my first novel, is 126,000 words.

A query is not a synopsis. You've got way too much information here. You need to set the stage only so the reader will want to dive in to the pages you include with the query. You do NOT want a complete run down of the book.

This is MUCH better than the earlier efforts. 


Fifth revision

Dear QueryShark:

Daphne Smith could not have cared less when informed of her husband's death. By that time the farm was lost, as she had assumed was their dairy herd; her girls. Now Daphne was forced by Henry's antics from being a wife sleep walking through her life, to legal plaything swatted back and forth between interrogations and court appearances at the whim of bewildering bureaucracy.   

Former farm employees, Beth, and farm manager John Paul, rally to her aide. But Beth is revealed to have has a criminal computer cracking history, and John Paul - if that's his real name - will never give a straight answer to a simple question about himself. When John Paul informs Daphne that on Henry's instructions he's sold the herd from under her creditors‚ noses creditor's noses and converted the proceeds into untraceable Bitcoin currencyShe faces an impossible choice. Slow, public bankruptcy through the courts and local media, with possible jail time for being partner to a fraud she had no knowledge of. Or trusting John Paul's plan for her fantastical escape, at the price of having to and leave behind everyone she loves. Her decision complicated by a suspicion But are John Paul and Beth may be acting secretly in concert, for a purpose unknown to her?
You're getting the hang of paring down (just look at that first query and you'll see the progress you've made)  But you've still got these godawful awkward sentences** and if I see them here, I know I'll see them in  your novel.  This is INSTANT rejection.  No matter how interesting the concept, no matter anything else, if I think I'm going to be editing at this level on your manuscript I'm not going to read on.  It's imperative that your sentences flow smoothly in a query. (And also your novel of course) 
**But Beth is revealed to have a (Beth has)
**her decision complicated by a suspicion (she's suspicious)

Daphne throughout is preoccupied by the puzzle her husband became. How could he have changed so much to do what he did? How did she let her life leak away for a man who would not allow her a family, and who took and took, never gave back, with the final reward for her love being police and tax officials on her door with truncheons and tasers?

At 71,000 words, AUDIT 4891 is a first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Even this sentence is awkward. The fact that it's 71,000 words has no relation to the fact it's your first novel.

This is the better arrangement: AUDIT 4891 is my first novel. It's 71,000 words. OR AUDIT 4891, my first novel, is 71,000 words.

See the difference?

If you don't, your eye isn't keen enough to self-edit. You need to do a couple things to train your eye:

1. Help other writers edit their work. I don't mean hang out your shingle as a professional editor. I mean join a writers' critique group, or get involved with online crit groups, or in some way get involved with other writers at the editing level.

2. Read more. And I don't mean read for pleasure. In fact, you should probably just start with writing out by hand the text of a novel you love. This will get you in to the bones of the novel. You'll really see it for the first time if you're writing it out. The physical act of writing also helps your brain to see what works. Not typing on to a computer screen. Actual hand writing.

This is also a very good way to memorize poems.

Take some time to work out the kinks here, and also take a look at your novel.  It's not going to do you any good to have a nice taut query letter if your manuscript is a mess. (There was a question about just that problem on my blog this week)

Fourth revision
Dear Query Shark:

Henry Smith had been a foolish man, his litany of mistakes, lousy judgement and foul moods, precipitating a series of events that would end his life on Christmas Day of 2012. Daphne Smith, by the time she was informed of monomaniacal Henry's death, couldn't have cared less. At least that's what she told herself, forced from being a wife sleep walking through her life, to legal plaything swatted back and forth through interrogations and court appearances at the whim of bewildering bureaucracy.

Consider this:
By the time she was informed of  her husband's death Daphne Smith couldn't have cared less.

See the difference?  Instead of telling us that Henry is monomaniacal and his litany of sins, let's get to the heart of it: his wife doesn't care. Leaving his sins uncatalogued actually gives the sentence some appeal:  it's not the norm that a wife wouldn't care that her husband is dead.

It also has the benefit of starting with the right person.

Nothing in a life of dairy farming and marriage had prepared her for the relentless forces dispassionately unleashed against her. Her only allies two unlikely strangers with murky histories and unstated agendas: white suited, pot smoking John Paul, and feral cracker, hacker, Beth.

You're using adjectives here to prop up one-dimensional characters.  That's not a good sign. If I see it here, I know I'll see it in the novel. If I know I'll see it in the novel, I know there's heavy lifting ahead for revisions.  I'm very very unlikely to ask for the full novel if I know there are major revisions required.

"white suited pot smoking" doesn't actually tell us much. Neither does "feral cracker, hacker" although it is a phrase that belongs in a poem. These phrases give us images but no sense of character.

And "relentless forces dispassionately unleashed against her" is as blank a slate as "shadowy forces" "billionaire recluse"--in other words, not good writing.

And in the end an impossible choice. Slow, public bankruptcy through the courts and local media, with possible jail time for being partner to a fraud she had no knowledge of. Or a fantastical chance to escape, but at the price of having to leave behind everyone she loves. All the time trying to piece together the puzzle her husband became: how he changed so much; how he could do what he did. But mostly, how she could have missed her life seeping slowly away for a man she once loved, who took and took, never gave back, until the police were on her door with truncheons and tasers.

I actually like what you've set up here as the impossible choice, I just wish you'd write it more simply.  I keep hammering on the need for simple straightforward writing in queries.  It's VERY HARD to do.  It looks easy until you try it.  But try you must.  The way to do it  is make every sentence start with the subject, then the verb, then the clause.  Once you have things in the write order, and the sentences in chronological order, you can see where the bones are. THEN you can  

Using the first sentence as an example:

By the time she was informed of  her husband's death Daphne Smith couldn't have cared less.

If you revise that to subject/verb/clause:

Daphne Smith could not have cared less when informed of her husband's death.

Which sentence is stronger?   

You can see here that paring down got us to that first sentence, then putting the words in the "right" order got us to the next place.  PLAN ON MULTIPLE REVISIONS as you work on your query.  It's not a matter of revising just words.  Sentence order, paragraph order---all those change as you get things streamlined.  This is why it takes a while to revise.  You simply can not hurry this process.

At 71,000 words, AUDIT 4891 is the first in a trilogy of literary fiction novels.

I always urge you to leave off the "this is the start of a series" even in genre fiction, let alone literary fiction. The novel must be able to stand alone.

This is better-you've got the length under control, and the character soup is gone-  but it still needs work.

Remember the goal here is to entice a reader to want more, not argue the merits of a case.
Revise. Resend.


Third revision

Dear QueryShark:

Henry Smith has been a foolish man, and on Christmas Day of 2012, it's going to cost him his life.

This is a very good start to the query. Notice it's NOT a log line.  It's a classic hook.  Do I want to find out what happens next? You bet I do.

Why does this work?  We don't know anything about Henry Smith, but we've all done foolish things.  Raising the stakes to "it's going to cost him his life" makes us wonder what he's done that's been THAT foolish.

(2) Henry has hit the wall of his middle age, barely coping with the small decisions, let alone the important ones. His marriage is faltering and stress level peaking trying to keep a debt-laden farm afloat. Now dire consequences result from not telling wife, Daphne, they have been selected for an income tax audit.

And then...oof. Lots of exposition. Lots of exposition that doesn't entice me at ALL to read on. You went from enticing to splat in record time here.

(3) Worse, on receiving the audit notification Henry finds the thought of having to hand over their lives in annotated bank statements and source documents for examination by a complete stranger makes him physically ill, and cannot bring himself to comply. He foolishly replies to the investigator that he has always voluntarily paid the correct amount of tax, and so is no more obliged to cooperate with the tax department than a Jewish mother had been morally obliged to show the SS officers where she was hiding her children.

We're on the third revision and fourth iteration of this query. I'm starting to get the feeling that you're writing this book to make a point.  That's a VERY dangerous thing to convey in a query.  I don't read books to be "educated" about stuff. I read for entertainment. If I learn something along the way, that's all good and well, but this paragraph makes me think you're going to be soapboxing about the evils of the tax system.

None of us like to pay taxes (well, ok  I know a couple people who don't actively hate it but that's as far as I'll go.)

But we've all become accustomed to the requirements of the internal revenue machine.  Showing someone your bank statement isn't some sort of "oh my god, hide the children, the Visigoths are upon us moment."

And asking us to care about a guy who thinks that this IS a Visigoth moment is very very tricky.  Our sympathies are much more likely to be engaged if Inland Revenue has done something untoward.

The more Inland Revenue try to reason with Henry, the more intractable he becomes until he fatefully threatens there will be consequences for the investigator if he and his wife are not left alone. The Department has only the single option: to raid the Smiths on their farm, in a joint operation with police.

Oh good, the Visigoths ARE arriving.  You might be better off leaving all the stuff in paragraphs 2 and 3 and just saying something like Henry refused to cooperate and now the Visigoths are upon him.

Technical irregularities are discovered in Henry and Daphne‚s tax returns, and they are forced into bankruptcy, which finally breaks the unravelling thread of their marriage. Having lost everything Henry moves to Christchurch, keeping his promise to the investigator there would be a price exacted of him. Daphne is pulled into events her former life of certainty and known futures has not prepared her for. Henry is killed; whether by accident or intent is not initially known. Daphne is faced with ruination in the courts, or a seemingly fantastical chance to escape; but can she trust the two people offering to save her?

This is too much of the story.  A query needs to leap nimbly--this gets us down in the trenches of things and plods.

At 71,000 words, AUDIT 4891 is the first in a trilogy of literary fiction novels. Novel two will be the detective story of Daphne‚s parents searching for their daughter who has disappeared. Further tragedy envelopes the family when Daphne‚s mother is diagnosed with a terminal illness. The final novel follows a harried, grief-stricken, but stronger Daphne fighting for her freedom, if not her life, in a situation that appears impossible. Plus she must find how she can support her father through events that have overtaken him surrounding the death of his wife.    

No No No.

Don't waste a single one of your 250 word allotment on what the next book is about.  Focus solely on this book.

I'm still convinced the protagonist here is Daphne, who through no fault of her own ends up bankrupt and widowed, but that's just me.

Make sure we don't think your protagonist is a witless curmudgeon. It's hard to make me sympathize with a guy who refuses to do what I do all the time: cough up financial info. It's harder yet because part of my job is insisting that book publishing contracts include an audit clause that lets me be the Visigoth storming the gates of a publisher.

Revise. Focus on enticing us to read more, not reciting what happens.

 Second Revision

Dear QueryShark,

You're sorting through your office e-submissions, QS, query after query, perhaps reading first paragraphs to get a feel for the ones with promise. Your snail mail is delivered, stacked on an in-tray that is already full, your eyes drawn to the letter sitting on top, pressing the pile below it down by the sheer weight of the state. It’s a brown window envelope with HMRC printed in bold, ominous font on the front.

You realise that cliché one’s heart flutters and stops
has a firm basis in reality.

In reality, your heart flutters, stops.

You’re beginning to understand the significance of bypassing the salaried option with your Agency, and taking the independent contractor route.  That entertainment expenditure you claimed last year, and the conference in Fiji may have been a bit hopeful as tax deductions go.

There’s nothing for it. Gritting your teeth, you pick up the envelope and in a single fluid motion, put your finger under the fold-over flap on the reverse, running it down to break the seal of the glue before losing your resolve. And your nerve.

Damn. It’s as bad as you thought.

You're up for an all-taxes audit. The investigator wants your bank statements, both business and private accounts, every withdrawal and receipt annotated. Also other relevant source documents, plus a narrative, up to three A4 pages, please, setting out your financial and business interests. The audit will begin with a two hour interview you have no legal choice but attend.

Faced with the shock and awe powers of the tax department, far greater than the police, what are you going to do?

If you are prudent, QS, you will suck up the discomfort at this invasion of your privacy and comply, hoping you’ve missed nothing in your returns.

Unfortunately, Henry Smith was not such a prudent man. If you want to know how it ends for him, you’ll find out by reading AUDIT 4891, a 71,000 word literary fiction – best I can describe it - first novel.  This is the initial novel of a trilogy following the story of Henry’s demise, killed on Christmas Day of 2012, and how his wife, Daphne, is pulled into events her former life of certainty and known futures has not prepared her for.

This is a classic CLASSIC example of why you don't want to use gimmicks in query letters.  For starters, we get letters from the tax guys all the time. Between the tax forms for certifying residency in the US, the tax forms and notices for any of the myriad of taxes we pay, and just the general notices we get every year cause a name and a number don't match on the 1099s, tax notices are a daily event.

And if the tax man is coming to call, most likely he's sending that notice to my home address. The address I use to file my returns.

So, right from the start you have not made me bond with your protagonist.  You've just made me think "no no no." And that's bad bad bad.

And "if you want to know what happens, read the book" is one of those phrases that sets my teeth on edge. I'm sure you didn't know that or you wouldn't have used it.  

A query MUST tell me the protagonist and the choices s/he faces.  I know it's hard to do with this book, but you can't dodge the bullet with a gimmick.

No gimmicks in queries.

That's a rule. A big one.

Revise. Resend.


First revision
Dear QueryShark:

Henry Smith has been a foolish man, and on Christmas Day of 2012, it's going to cost him his life. His marriage is faltering and stress level peaking trying to keep a struggling, debt-laden farm afloat. Then dire consequences result from not telling wife, Daphne, they are up for a tax audit. Worse, refusing to cooperate with the auditor, he gives the tax department only one choice; to raid the couple on their farm, jointly with police. So begins a psychological cat and mouse struggle between Henry and the auditor in the dangerous streets of earthquake damaged Christchurch, New Zealand, as the citizens of that city try to claw their lives back to normalcy while living through two major quakes, and the sequence of over twelve thousand aftershocks that followed.

Keep the focus on the characters and what faces them specifically.

You're telling us that he doesn't cooperate with the auditor but not why.  That's a key element to understanding what choices Henry faces, and what the stakes are in the novel. Right now there's no choice, so Henry just seems like a intransigent old codger.

Daphne is left distraught by the events of the raid. Henry was tasered trying to punch the Inland Revenue supervisor, and taken away unconscious in an ambulance. She feels violated, helpless and alone. With no trust in Henry left, she leaves him and the farm to reconsider her life. Unfortunately she can‚t escape the repercussions of his leaving hospital and then increasingly anarchic actions stalking the auditor and his family, publishing their private lives to his public blog. Finally on Christmas Day, 2012, events in Christchurch come to their tragic conclusion, Henry killed. Daphne is faced with a cruel choice that a previous life of certainty and known-futures has not equipped her to make. In the end all she can do is choose between family, or saving herself, then step into her doubts

These are some very awkward phrases
"With no trust in Henry left"
"increasingly anarchic actions stalking the auditor"
"Henry killed"

Either this is incredibly sloppy proof reading or you don't recognize this isn't polished writing. No matter why, this kind of writing is an automatic rejection.  A query isn't just about the book, it's about how well you write and revise.

Also, you've listed the entire plot. This is more like a synopsis than a query. A query should just entice the reader to want more, not give the whole plot away.

This novel, while self-contained, is written as the first part of a series.

INCOME TAX AUDIT REFERENCE 4891-IRDCHCH - A MEMOIR BY DAPHNE SMITH is a 68,000 word literary fiction first novel, shifting in tone from the grim parody of Orwell, to the comedic satire of Tom Sharpe, and set in our age of big data where the Western taxing state, unleashed by the financial collapse of 2008, has become the surveillance state.

I'm not sure how you chose this title, but it doesn't make any sense to me at all. For starters the first four words make it sound like an IRS circular. While I've read IRS circulars (who among us hasn't) I don't pick them up in bookstores for pleasure reading. The next two words are gibberish. The last four words make me wonder if the book is a novel or a memoir.

You've got three strikes on the title. Normally I say it doesn't make any difference what you title a book in a query, but in this case, it actively dampens my interest in the book. Good titles are compelling. One or two words are best, four at the max. You're basing this book on 1984. Notice: one word. And when it was published in 1949, it was spelled out as Nineteen Eighty-Four. You may not know what it means if you haven't read it, but you don't think it's an IRS circular! 

This is better than the initial query, but it needs more work.  


Initial query
Dear QueryShark

Winston Smith has been a foolish man, and on Christmas Day of 2012, it's going to cost him his life.  

This is a great opening line. Do I want to find out what happened? You bet.

On top of a faltering marriage - and there’s been no sex for eight months - not only has he neglected to tell wife, Julia, their heavily indebted dairy farm is up for an income tax audit, but he’s corresponded with the auditor that "the thought of having to hand over my life in letters and source documents for examination by you, a total stranger, on pain of punishment, makes me physically ill," and he will not be cooperating with the Inland Revenue Department.

And then you take veer so completely off the path of taut, lean prose that it's almost like you've morphed into Prolix Man.

For starters, don't quote the novel in the query. Also, we don't need to know why the marriage is faltering, just that it is. And the only thing we really need to know is the audit is going to be a big surprise to Julia.

Tom Parsons life previously could have been summed up in a word: inertia. Married to mousy Sally, the one girl he dated at high school, their marriage has become routine since the birth of their son, Syme.

What? Wait. Who? What happened to Winston and Julia?  This abrupt segue is confusing. Remember, I'm not sitting on my sofa with a cup of tea, savoring your query. I'm not reading this like I read a novel. I'm sitting at my desk, I've got ten minutes before a scheduled phone call and I’m trying to find the queries that entice me to read on. In other words, I'm reading fast and mostly skimming. Whether you think this is a good idea, or fair is immaterial. It's reality and  a smart query writer will write to his/her audience.

What that means: You make sure I know who a new character is by telling me "Inland Revenue agent Tom Parsons"

And you don't have FIVE NAMED CHARACTERS in the first two paragraphs. At the most you have two.

Only planning on a four year stint when taking his first job at IRD, he’s still there after over quarter of a century(1). Now his teenage son has announced over saveloys and tomato sauce he’s got his school girlfriend pregnant, and the physical relief Tom has sought in the flesh of his mistress, Jill, IRD Customer Services, working the floor above his stalled career, is treading a complicated path: he doesn't get her jokes, he doesn't get her kink, his libido is all but destroyed by the stress of work, his audit of Winston and Julia Smith - culminating in a combined police / IRD raid of their house during a twentieth anniversary tea where a naked Julia had been trying to revive their love life - has entered the Kafkaesque with Winston now stalking Tom and his family and posting their movements to his public blog – ('if Winston and his wife have no right to be left alone, or privacy, neither will Tom Parsons.')(2) And were that not enough, Tom has a sore back giving him hell, and Sally has become an emotional wreck, pushed beyond her limits by Smith in his spotlessly clean overalls and shiny gumboots watching their house from the street, while trying to cope with life in a city caught in a civil defence emergency.(3)

This paragraph has 221 words and three sentences. This is an disaster of epic proportion in a query letter.  Remember, I'm reading fast, skimming even.  Even if your novel has Faulknerian sentence structure, YOUR QUERY CAN NOT.

So the lives of Winston Smith and Tom Parsons cross tragically in the streets of Christchurch, New Zealand, as its inhabitants survive hardship through the series of over ten thousand aftershocks following an initial  7.1 magnitude earthquake on September, 2010, and the subsequent fatal earthquake of 22 February, 2011, one hundred and eighty six people killed; the only constant being the unpredictability of the next shake, and the "sound of the demolition crews removing the jig-saw of the city from the Canterbury Plains a piece at a time."

You don't need all this detail.

The two men's modern day parable will change and devastate the lives of all involved:

Here's where I stop reading. Parable is an almost instant rejection.  Show me a good story, and if I can see the connections or the lessons implicit within, you'll have done a good job. Let me reach those conclusions on my own.

Winston Smith will go under the wheel of Parson’s car, but only after first seeing his marriage destroyed, and loss of the farm he has worked his life for, as the bureaucratic machine of IRD begins the serpentine process of liquidation and bankruptcy.

 Don't reveal the outcome of novel in the query. You destroy any desire to read the book to find out what happens.

Tom Parsons life devolves to failure and absurdity: his mistress's book club is reading Fifty Shades of Grey, and sex has become a gauntlet of humiliation, which he gets enough of at work; the Marxist feminist co-op running the corner fish and chipy won’t serve him because he’s a bloke; due to Smith's stalking, Sally has found out about his affair, confronted him in his y-fronts in his mistress’s kitchen, and thrown him out to live in their condemned, roofless Red Zone home; finally he can’t communicate with Syme in his son's first time of needing fatherly guidance, and then on Christmas Day of 2012, his nemesis stalker appears before the bonnet of his car, walking across an intersection - all witness reports agree to his initial acceleration, but did he then try to brake before impact?

One sentence. 138 words.

For Sally Parsons, ‘the sleep walk of her life was ended, an itinerary ... reporting her husband’s unfaithfulness shaking her awake, as the city had been, buildings and lives uprooted from the known and the safe;’ finding a strength to live alone with her anxiety. Her first task is to sort out the mother of the girl her son has made pregnant, ensuring access to the child when born.

Syme Parsons travels from boyhood to a nascent, ill-formed manhood with limitations already on his future. Albeit he's lucky to have made it out of youth, thanks to Winston Smith saving him from the violence of an out of control Facebook street party.


And Julia Smith will be left with the biggest decisions of her life. Leaving her husband in the hospital after he was tasered in the IRD raid trying to punch Parsons boss, O'Brien, she moves to the Mahau Sound to decide if she loves Winston, if she can trust him again, and if she will ever move back. She begins a journal on their lives in the hopes of figuring a path through the startling and frightening mess her life has become - the press are using scary words like fraud and evasion with her name after them, which she knows are lies. Then when Winston is killed she is faced with two choices:

Watching helplessly while the bureaucracy slowly pulls her life apart: “Looking at the correspondence, all these suited, vicious men and women pushing and poking me, I can’t breathe. I can be sitting with a cup of coffee on the deck here in the Mahau, listening to cicadas in the manukas below, watching a seagull gliding freely in the wind, while on my lap is a letter that has politely separated my skin, leaving a tear from which my blood is filing out in an orderly fashion, commanded by statutory threats and court arraignments, to puddle around my feet, a sticky mass, until it slowly trickles through the gaps between the stained, splintered boards, and into the hard, dry ground beneath the house."

Or she can take the personal fortune offered to her in Bitcoin crypto-currency from an illegal sale of their dairy herd, and escape to the mysterious movement blossoming in the USA called Western Spring: a fishing boat can take her from the beach at Kaikoura to a sea-steading oil rig. Although to do so means losing everything she has known: leaving her life, not telling her parents or friends, nor seeing them again, in an act more selfish to them than what Winston has done to her, in order she can disappear into the silences where government spooks can’t hear. Although first there are two questions troubling her. What part in all that unravelled on the farm audit has been played by her new friend, diminutive, tattooed Beth Charrington, with her hacker past? More ominously, who is the pot smoking Philip K. Galt who has been installed to manage their farm, and who appointed him?

oh boy. MORE named characters.  At this point, frankly, I'm pretty lost about what the actual story is and who the protagonist is.

INCOME TAX AUDIT REFERENCE 19:84 - A MEMOIR BY JULIA SMITH is a 66,000 word literary fiction first novel, in which  the major characters of George Orwell’s 1984 are transported to the twenty first century

oh. It's Julia's story. Ok. You'll want to start with her then, and write this query about what choices she has to make.

and the age of Big Data where the taxing state has become the surveillance state, the taxing authorities unleashed in their police state powers by the aftershocks reverberating from the global financial crisis, tasked with extorting the money necessary to keep the crony zombie economies of the West on life support atop the  Keynesian hubris of debt built up over eighty years of profligate politicians bribing their electorates with the illusory promise of the free lunch offered by the welfare state. Depressingly, this is not a work of magical realism, fantasy or sci-fi;  no tax law, or privacy busting power of tax administration, have had to be changed or added to, for this novel to exist, which is written as the possible first part of a series set in the present day milieu of a coming economic collapse built on and dwarfing that from August 2008.

 You're writing a novel to make a point. This is always a huge red flag to me. I don't read novels to find out about the coming economic collapse. I read novels because I like good stories.

You're MUCH better off leaving out all the references to why you wrote the novel and just let the story entice me to read on. I'm a smart shark. I'll get what you're on about if you spin a good story.

Thank you for considering this work for representation.

[I have written to the literary agent of George Orwell's estate, A.M. Heath, for permission to use the characters of 1984 in this manner. Copyright for that work ends in six years. To date I've received no reply.]

Leave this out of the query

Summary of Submission:


Genre: Literary Fiction

Word Count: 66,000 words.

Status: Sixth edit, and I'm putting in words I've previously taken out, so document now final. Considering professional edit.

Leave this out. I really really don't want to know how many edits you've done or if you lack confidence the novel is ready to show anyone. That's what "I'm considering a professional edit" means to me.

My Website: [redacted]

 Contact Details: Per signature below.

You have 1334 words in this query. A good taut query is 250.
You have too many characters, and too much of the book.
Go back and read the damn archives and find the many many places I've listed how to set up a query template to get plot on the page.

Limit your sentences to 10 words on the revision. Then figure out which sentences need to be longer. No sentence should be so long you can't say it aloud without taking a breath.

Queries are not novels. The style you employ for your novel may not work in your query.  Write your query to be read by someone reading at a brisk pace.

Start over.