Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Sometimes Short is not Sweet

We get a lot of queries that go something like this:

The Secret Life of Frankie P opens in present day Minneapolis with a damaged, but strong protagonist who sets out to turn her life around by joining a group of misfits like herself who are determined to assist victims of domestic abuse. By opening her suburban home to those in need she begins her new life, one where people pay handsomely to disappear. However, things go horribly wrong when she starts to question the group she's joined. She suspects that things aren't all that they seem and when one of the women she's helped is found brutally murdered she looks to discover the truth. When she finally figures out what is going on the secrets are darker and more evil than anyone could ever imagine and knowing the truth might mean her death.

Here's the problem. This query says absolutely nothing to me. I don't know anything about the protagonist. She's damaged and strong? That's pretty much every single suspense protagonist. She wants to help victims of abuse and by helping she's risked her life. Let's face it. We've all read this book a million times before.

So what makes this book interesting? It's probably in the part the author tried to downplay. What's really interesting, what's probably really the hook, are the secrets that she doesn't seem to want to tell us. After all, isn't that what this book is really about? The rest is just backstory.

Another picky thought question, is this how you'd describe the book to your best friend? In other words, would you use the word protagonist and tell us where it opens or where it's set? Keep that in mind when pitching the book. How would you pitch to your best friend. It likely wouldn't be using writerly terms.



RobynBradley said...

This example is incredibly helpful. I can understand why the author wrote the pitch the way she did (trying to tie it up all pretty and hoping the murder was enough to pique interest), BUT all of your points make perfect sense. Thanks for sharing it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Technically it’s like the writer is saying,
I experienced a vasodilation of dermis, epidermis and subcutaneous facial-tissue due to anti-societal accepted comportment while surrounded by peers awaiting governmental assistance.

Why not just say,
I blushed when I passed gas while standing in line at the DMV.

DLM said...

This isn't a pitch, it's a synopsis. Maybe not even that.

Whatever it is, there is no voice. How can a query engage without the character's voice, urgency, drive coming through? My novel's in first person, and even removing that to do a proper query I tried to convey the tension dramatically. It's possible (if not necessary!) to contain drama even in the pithy constraints of a query letter.

BookEnds, LLC said...


It sounds like you very clearly understand what a query needs to be. This is the perfect definition. I might have to use this again. THANK YOU.

DLM said...


I'm a slow learner, but I read agent blogs. But be careful what you say, you'll make me want to query you. :)

You made my day, though - that'll hold me for a while. Thank YOU!

Michelle said...

I am just beginning the process of drafting a query letter and choosing an agent, or two, to send it to. (Until last week, I didn't even know what a literary agent was, let alone a query letter!) As an administrative assistant, I am familiar with writing professional letters. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation come naturally because of that. It's the idea of condensing my story into a few short and intriguing paragraphs that has my blood pressure a little higher than normal.

Your blog has helped me understand what it takes to get an agent's attention, and I am beginning to feel more confident about my ability to craft a compelling letter.

I look forward to being able to submit one that is effective after reading the examples you've provided.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience!