Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Dear QueryShark,

Penn, a free-spirited and tenacious baby peachick, is unafraid to speak his mind - even when it’s just him, up against all five of his rambunctious older brothers. So, when his brothers begin to tease him for the “girly” pink hue of his feathers, Penn decides to lead the group on a short walk through their prolific jungle home.

Along the way, each peachick marvels at the many different shades of pink they notice decorating the rich landscape. Wandering through the jungle’s tall clusters of snapdragons, tasting the succulent Sri Lankan jambu fruit, and even stopping to watch their very first sunrise, all five of Penn’s brothers feel increasingly silly for ever teasing him about his feathers in the first place. After offering Penn a heartfelt (and slightly embarrassed) apology, the brothers conclude that there is beauty in their diversity, and that all of the jungle’s many colors, even pink, are for everyone to enjoy and share in, equally. However, just before Penn can thank his brothers for their open mindedness and kind attitudes, a faint cracking sound is heard coming from underneath the foot of the nest.

As their twelve tiny eyes peer over the edge, another peachick finishes poking its way out of its partly-concealed egg. To Penn and his brothers’ surprise, a final peachick hops out of the egg, covered in short, stubby, brown feathers. With a wave of her tiny wing, she oh-so-cheekily introduces herself as their new and very first little sister.

I was once featured in Saugus High School’s Literary Magazine, and am currently working as a child care counselor at an elementary school in Los Angeles, California.

Penn the Peachick, a book of 600 words, is Juvenile Fiction.

No it's not. It's a picture book.
It's a picture book even if you are only writing the words (text), not providing the art.

The fact you don't know this means you don't know enough yet to query.
That's not a character flaw. It doesn't mean you're stupid.
I don't think either of those things when I get a query like this.
What I do think is you haven't done enough research about querying.

Picture book queries are unlike any other kind of query.
They include ALL the text.
You don't have to describe the plot. You don't need anything but the actual words of the story.

Picture books are INCREDIBLY difficult to write well.

I have ONE client who writes picture books and he sweats over every word, every pause,
every line break.
It's like writing poetry.

Thank you kindly for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response!

I'm pretty sure you didn't look forward to this.

Now, what to do: first of all, join the Society of Childrens Writers and Illustrators, one of the very best places to learn about this kind of publishing.

Second, do some research using "querying picture books" or "how to query a picture book" that will get you info on this particular form.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Questions: I use Mary Shelley in the opening line despite the fact that she is Mary Godwin at this point in history. Do you feel like it adds unnecessary confusion when I name Percy Shelley later on as her lover (and not husband)? My second question is if I should include the information that this is a planned series of five books, is that relevant at this stage?

Dear Query Shark,

Mary Shelley's Godwin's nightmares are going to kill her.
Your instinct that this is wrong are correct. Any reader who knows the "characters" here will know who Mary Godwin is.  Getting historical facts wrong drives most of them up the wall. Or maybe just me up the wall. In any case, use her correct name.

The added benefit is this: if the person reading the query doesn't know that Mary Godwin is Mary Shelley, it's a nice reveal. In other words win/win.

When a monster from out of dreams takes hold of a broken man and compels him to kill, Mary will do battle against a creature that has as its ally every inner demon she possesses. In the waking world, it stalks the streets as a possessed serial killer. In her dreams, it feeds on all the pain she can't let go— of losing her mother, of being disowned by her father, and of watching her two-year-old son die.

And splat.
I'm totally lost here. 

If you cut the entire paragraph here, and start with the set up, it helps.

The year is 1816, and through strange weather and relentless rain, Mary has arrived at the home of the infamous poet-in-exile, Lord Byron. Together with her exuberant lover Percy Shelley, her vexing stepsister, and Byron's awkward personal physician, they find equal parts inspiration and irritation as the dreary summer unfolds. 

Don't be afraid to be plain: In 1816 Mary Godwin arrives at the home of..

And "they find equal parts etc" doesn't seem to have much to do with what follows.

They have assembled under the promise Lord Byron can explain the cause of their unremitting night-terrors, insomnia, and sleepwalking. All of these afflictions, he reveals, are the byproduct of their special heritage. They are Benendanti, an ancient legacy of powerfully lucid-dreamers able to move through the dreams of others.

In Geneva, a string of murders goes unsolved, and the shadow is cast on Lord Byron. He and the others sense the force behind these brutal killings to be not of the waking world, but a creature borne out of dreams. Mary and the new Benendanti must each confront their own inner darkness to have any hope of bringing such a monster to light. It is a race to free the ravaged mind of the killer in dreams, before his bloody hands find them first in the waking world.

The shadow is cast: do you mean suspicion is cast?
Also, the shadow implies there is only one shadow and it's on Lord Byron. A shadow means one of many. Yes, a/the matters. That's the kind of detail I notice. 

And I'm not sure if "ravaged mind of the killer dreams" actually makes sense. Again: plain is good.
It's very hard to write plainly. VERY hard.

A YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER is a historical fantasy (in the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) complete at 115k words with more than 50+ illustrations by the author. Thank you for your time and consideration.

50+ illustrations by the author? INSTANT NO. 
Putting this in your query is a huge HUGE red flag. For starters, most adult novels don't have illustrations. Second, even if there were illustrations, there aren't going to be 50. Third, the fact that you include this makes me wonder what else you don't know. Like, there are going to be edits, and no you don't have control over the title or the cover.

If you want this book to have illustrations, most likely you're a good candidate for self publishing. Total artistic control etc etc.

To answer your other question from above: I'd leave out that you plan this to continue over five books. You'll need to get one published before you have two, let alone five.  The conversation about sequels can take place at a later date.

I've had editors say no to debut novelists cause they were leery of the "it's five books total" plan. That was a brutal lesson let me tell you.

Revise this. Think plain.
Even if you want your book to be not-plain, working in the short format of a query means you have to get to the point and communicate clearly. This is not the time for your reader to wonder what you mean. That's for chapter XXIX, footnote z.

Friday, June 17, 2016


My novel weaves back and forth between 1991 to present, but the query letter focuses on the present timeline, with a few references to the past. I'm not sure if I've been successful or if it's a muddy mess.

Dear Query Shark:

Heather Cole has a secret. When she was twelve, she killed her best friend. A mythical figure called The Red Lady made her do it and helped her get away with it, too. Twenty-five years later, Heather, now a child psychologist, receives a half-heart necklace in the mail. The last time she saw it was on the body of her friend.

Construction crews are about to dig up a field near her parents' house, and she has to find the evidence buried there before they do. More pieces of her past arrive in the mail, each one telling a different story. And someone's lurking outside her office. Someone who reminds her of the Red Lady.

Since she "got away with it" what evidence is there? In other words, did Heather  get away with it, or just avoid suspicion. Two very different things.

You might consider leaving the question of whether the Red Lady is real more ambiguous. Ambiguity is good in a novel like this. Given the next paragraph, it seems like there IS ambiguity already!

As much as Heather would like to believe the Red Lady's real, she knows better now, which makes her a cold-blooded murderer. Unless someone's been playing a masterful game of manipulation all along. Even with all her experience in the workings of the human mind, the search for the truth might drag her into a labyrinth of lies she can't escape.

THE LIAR'S TRUTH, a thriller that weaves back and forth between the present and the summer of 1991, is complete at 83,000 words.

This is a very good way to handle the two timelines. Just from reading this query I can intuit that 1991 is the year Heather killed her best friend.

This is not a thriller. This is psychological suspense. And that's good for you, cause thrillers are harder to sell right now.

I'm the author of THIS (Small Publisher, 2016), a novel, and THAT (Small Publications, 2015), winner of the This is Horror Award for Short Story Collection of the Year. My short fiction has been nominated twice for a Bram Stoker Award, reprinted in The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror and The Year's Best Weird Fiction and published in in various anthologies and magazines, including Cemetery Dance Online, Nightmare Magazine, and Black Static.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Have confidence in yourself. This isn't even close to a muddy mess.

I'd say make a few minor revisions and you're good to go.

And don't forget to put me on your query list. I'd read this.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

No, no and no

Your query letter should NOT include large blocks of text in italic.

Your query letter should NOT have anything decorative in it, like this pretty blue stripe. (Watch for "image.gif" as an attachment, when you're not sending attachments.) TEST your email on a different computer if you're not sure if this is happening.

Your query letter should NOT be a big bloc O'Text.

Break up paragraphs into 3 or 4 lines, then add a blank line to create white space.
Big blocs o'text are almost impossible to read. Making your query harder to read is
not a good idea.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Dear Query Shark,

The only thing Walt Dempsy’s father left him, before getting locked up for good, was the ability to take a punch. Which comes in handy when you are the only guy who won't play along in a dying beach town run by vicious drug dealers and dirty money.

I like this. It engages my interest and while my sox are still on my toes, this looks good.

A once epic brawler Walt now spends his nights working a security gig at the hospital, and his mornings flirting with Piper the bartender over breakfast beers. It had been years since he’d had been in a real fight, or since anyone had noticed him at all.

What gives this paragraph heft is that last phrase "since anyone noticed him at all." Right there we know a lot about Walt. In fact, this feels like the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks.

Everything changed the night the nor'easter storm hit and Walt was the sole witness to a deadly car crash. Inside the burning wreckage he finds a man drawing his last breath and a small fortune in drug money. In a desperate moment Walt steals the money from the burning car and sets off a chain of events that force him down a dangerous road filled with drugs, dirty cops, con men, and deranged killers.

I'd change Walt was to Walt is. I have a fondness for queries in the present tense because I think it pumps up the energy, and in a short form like a query it's not too tiring for the reader.

Now we've all seen this plot before. There've been novels, and movies with this. But, because I like the writing here, I'm going to keep reading.

As he struggles to cover his tracks from that night an old flame shows up in town with fresh hell in tow. She was blonde now, and calling herself Eve, but she was still the same beautiful troublemaker from when they were teenagers.

And again She is a blonde now is much better.
And she is still the same.

And the reason I'm glad I kept reading is that lovely turn of phrase "fresh hell in tow."

This is the kind of thing I look for in a query: turns of phrase, word choices that give me confidence that even with a plot I've seen, you're going to write so well I won't be able to put the manuscript down.

Eve had a desperate need for money and the dangerous man he was in his youth to protect her. The dirty money was more than enough to make all her troubles go away. The only problem is he can’t show a dime of it without raising the suspicions of Shudo, the deranged and ruthless drug kingpin, and risking certain death.

Now Walt is faced with an impossible choice: dig up the violent man he used to be and risk blowing the lid off his safe but stagnant life for a shot with the girl who got away, or stay in the shadows and watch his world slowly fade away around him.

And I'm in. At this point, I'm reading pages and PRAYING they're good.
Your query has done her job.

COLD SNAP is a complete, 73,000 word thriller I would describe as "No Country for Old Men" meets "The Town". Thank you for your time and consideration.

Now, if you really wanted to knock my socks off, you'd mention that "The Town" is based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, and then mention that you think it's an example of a perfect novel, which I might have raved about once  or twice

If you've only seen the movie, stop reading right now, and go order the book and read it.

Now back to the query.

This query works not because it's fresh and new but because the writing is good. It catches my attention. There are lovely turns of phrase. 

If the book needs work on the plot that's a whole lot easier than trying to fix the writing.