Friday, April 14, 2017

#287-Revised 1x

Dear Query Shark:

Realtor Reed Winford suspects something is wrong with the historic house he has agreed to sell for an old client but he thinks at worst it is bad plumbing or a leaky roof. The last thing he expects is the ghost of a young jazz-age woman who lived in the home in the 1920s and who was murdered a hundred years ago.



And here's where I stopped reading this revision.
This paragraph is an exact replica of the first revision; the one I wrote four paragraphs of notes on last time.

Failing to revise is fine. You don't have to follow my advice at all.

What you can't do is not follow my advice and then ask for more. That seems a poor use of time for both of us.

I see this less in queries, and more in novels. When I give notes to prospective clients, there's always the chance they think I'm delusional, off my rocker, have no taste, or a myriad of other reasons they think the advice is flawed.  Such is the way of subjective evaluations of any art form.

But then sending the novel back for further consideration, that's where I lose my cool. If you think I'm wrong, why the hell would you want me to represent your work.




Winford knows he must find a way to remove the haunting in order to sell the house. His business is selling homes and he has a job to do. He uses clues from old records, maps and antiques found at the home to track the woman’s prior locations when she was alive. As he’s drawn deeper into this woman’s tragic life, he begins to have real feelings for her. Now he wants justice for her death. He talks to the police, title researchers and the ghost herself, trying to find out who killed her and why.

When someone tries to murder Winford, he discovers that she may not be the only ghost, and that the evil which killed this wonderful woman is still in the city and must be confronted and destroyed.

Winford tracks down the source of corruption using smuggler’s maps and old photographs dug up from a grave. His skills pay off when he is able to discover the crime family’s headquarters as well as their secret to remaining in power even after death.

Writing books like this is the best way I've found to combine my two biggest hobbies: writing and real estate. I’ve been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Boy’s Life and Capper’s Weekly. I’ve won the Crowder College Golden Quill Award.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
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First revision
Realtor Reed Winford suspects something is wrong with the historic house he has agreed to sell for an old client but he thinks at worst it is bad plumbing or a leaky roof. The last thing he expects is the ghost of a young jazz-age flapper who lived in the home in the 1920s and who was murdered a hundred years ago.

These sentences convey information but not vitality. Remember the purpose of a query is to entice your reader (ie me) to want to read more, not just tell me about the book you've written. A query is more like a sales pitch than an informational interview.

One of the fastest and easiest way to punch up the vitality of a query is to ditch those long ass sentences. Short, sweet, hubba hubba.

For example: Realtor Reed Winford suspects something is wrong with the historic house he has agreed to sell for an old client. At worst it is bad plumbing or a leaky roof. The last thing he expects is the ghost of a young jazz-age flapper who lived in the home in the 1920s and who was murdered a hundred years ago.

You don't always need complete sentence: At worst, bad plumbing or a leaky roof.
You don't need to repeat yourself: jazz-age flapper, 1920's


Winford knows he must find a way to remove the haunting in order to sell the house. His business is selling homes and he can’t let a ghost ruin a deal. He uses his real estate skills and clues from old records, maps and antiques found at the home to track the woman’s prior locations when she was alive. As he’s drawn deeper into this woman’s tragic life, he begins to have real feelings for her. Now he wants justice for her death. He talks to the police, title researchers and the ghost herself, trying to find out who killed her and why.

You don't remove the haunting, you remove the ghost.
You don't need every single piece of information that you've got here. This is not a checklist for a home inspection!


When Then someone tries to murder Winford with an old car and an ancient safe, he discovers that she may not be the only ghost. The evil which killed this wonderful woman is still in the city and must be confronted and destroyed.


Winford tracks down the source of corruption using smuggler’s maps and old photographs dug up from a grave. His real estate dective skills pay off when he is able to discover the crime family’s headquarters as well as their secret to remaining in power even after death.

Don't reveal the entire plot in the query. At MOST you want the first act.

I’ve been published in (this), (that)  and (them). I’ve won the (That) Award. I live in the Seattle area and the locations in the book are real.

The fact you live in Seattle and locations are real isn't a selling point. It's a novel; you can make it all up if you want. That the locations are ACCURATE is my big sticking point. I can't stand when writers get the geography of a real place wrong. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Thank you for changing the name of the main character. That helps a lot.

Now, it's time to spruce up the writing here. A query needs to be vivid. It's not just a conveyance.

And if your query reflects the writing in your novel, you'll need to take a look at that too. Remember a query is intended to entice me to read the novel. If the novel isn't spruced up that's not the fault of your query!

Reflect, revise, resend.


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Original query

The centennial of the Roaring Twenties is coming, and there will be a resurgence of interest in that era. This novel combines the mystery, romance, fantasy and history of that time. Realtor to the Dead, a paranormal mystery of 118,000 words, describes how a modern day real estate agent handles a house haunted by a crime from that era. 

Your query doesn't need a prologue. Start with the story.
And it's almost always a terrible idea to project where readers interest will be going. Given the popularity of Downton Abbey right now, a "resurgence" in interest in the 20's may very well have come and gone.


(MC NAME) is an agent who enjoys his career but always seems to get stuck with the difficult house listings. He thinks his luck is about to change when he gets to list an early 1900's beach-front house in the suburbs of Seattle. GERTRUDE SEDGWICK is a 99-year old woman who is selling the home, which has been in her family for many years, although she suspects something is wrong with the house she's trying to sell. And she’s right.

Start with something interesting. That MC enjoys his career is nice, but it's not very interesting.


(MC) finds a ghost in the home during an open house. He discovers she is a young jazz-age flapper girl who used to live in the home in the 1920’s, and who was murdered nearly a hundred years ago. (MC) uses his real estate skills (and a dug-up bootlegger relic from the Antiques Roadshow) to track down the woman’s prior locations, using historical property documents and maps. He finds an underground speakeasy in Seattle’s historic district. This leads to talks with police, title researchers and the ghost herself. Who killed this woman and why? What connection does it have to one of the city's richest immigrant families? Who is trying to kill (MC) through antique automobiles and an ancient safe? It gets worse when they try to destroy the house (MC) is trying to sell, by attacking it during the filming of a reality TV show.

You're getting lost in events here. What's at stake for our MC? Why does he want to solve her murder?


(MC)is also drawn deeper into feelings for the dead woman. This sends him on a quest to get closer to her by using antique telephones, eyeglasses and phonograph records. He takes it a step further in an intimate scene involving an antique magic trick!

This is so abstract I don't know what you mean. For starters you HAVE feelings, you don't get drawn deeper into them. I've jumped up and down about plain writing here more times than I can count but it bears repeating. Plain and simple is almost always the best way forward.


(MC) tracks down the criminal source using smuggler’s maps and old photographs dug up from a graveyard. His real estate detective skills pay off when he’s able to discover the crime family’s headquarters, as well as their secret to eternal life.

oh. Eternal life huh.
Well, that moves it right off the crime shelf and into something else.

I have published short works in Chicken Soup for the Soul, THIS and THAT. I have won THOSE College's SPLENDID Award. It was more fun and personal to name the agent/detective after myself. I live in the Seattle area, and the book’s locations are real.

Naming the protagonist after yourself is textbook confusion for an agent reading this. I thought it was memoir when I read it first. If I'd gotten this in the slush I would have rejected it instantly cause it looked like you were talking about yourself in the the third person.  

I STRONGLY urge you to revisit this choice. It doesn't add value, and it makes your query ripe for misunderstanding. That is not what you want.

Please be an agent to this agent!

I'm also at work on another novel.

(MC name)


It's pretty clear you haven't read all or even enough of the Query Shark archives yet. There's a template for getting plot on the page, and a template for a closing line. You've missed both of those. You don't have to follow all the rules, but if you break them it should be for a reason, not cause you don't know them.

Read the archives.
Revise.
Resend.




8 comments:

kathy joyce said...

The multiple lists of how the MC finds information (old phonographs, digging up maps, and so forth) is very distracting. Doesn't add value, delete, IMO.

nightsmusic said...

(MC) finds a ghost in the home during an open house. He discovers she is a young jazz-age flapper girl who used to live in the home in the 1920’s, and who was murdered nearly a hundred years ago.

This is where my eyes crossed. There's way, way too much information in here and none of it is constructed well enough to make sense.

You have someone selling a house. You have a MC who is her listing agent. He finds a ghost. He helps the ghost. This is what happens in the end after helping said ghost.

I agree that you need to read through this site and then try again. I wish I could tell you that this story sounds interesting, but I can't at this point. You don't want stew, you want a steak. ONE thing. Query with a steak. One thing. Save the stew, well layered, for the story.

Colin Smith said...

Janet's advice is golden, of course. But if I might share something that really jarred for me:

He takes it a step further in an intimate scene involving an antique magic trick!

This comes across as if you're looking for something in the novel to pique interest, whereas the novel itself needs to grab the agent's attention. It has to be a story she wants to read, with characters that intrigue, and a conflict she wants to explore. A particularly good scene here and there is all well and good, but she's not going to pour her heart into representing a novel because it has "an intimate scene involving an antique magic trick."

I know there's more to your book than that, so these are wasted words. You only have 250--use the best ones, and use them well. :)

All the best with the revise. I look forward to seeing version 2. :)

Leila Rheaume said...

This reads more like a synopsis than a query. Try giving just enough of the conflict and stakes to make the reader want more.

Some notes:

-I wouldn’t mention the home owner. She’s mentioned once and doesn’t come into play again, so she’s probably not integral to the query.

- Use the ghost’s name at some point? She’s an important character, and I assume if MC has such stellar real estate skills, he finds out the names of the previous occupants in his investigation.

-You’ll want to set up MC’s initial motivation for helping the ghost. He might fall for her later and be genuinely motivated to help her, but at first, he needs a reason to go out of his way to investigate. Helping her move on so he can sell the listing haunting-free, perhaps?

- It might be nice to be specific about the antique car. i.e. – a 1922 Renault KZ, a 1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, etc. The word ‘antique’ is used four times in the query.

-I think it’s good to build the romance angle, but it’s almost like it was taken too far and not far enough at the same time. Too many specific details that don’t really come out and say he’s falling for her and how it deepens his stake in helping her.

-What is the ultimate goal of the investigation? To help her move on? If so, does he start to question letting her go once he comes to care about her? Is there a way for him to be with her if he finds the answers? Whatever it is, it needs to makes sense he wouldn’t quit searching even though PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO KILL HIM.

-Maybe the biggest issue with the query, for me, is a lack of character. I really don’t get a sense of either of the main characters beyond their vital statistics. (SWF, dead, looking for SWM to solve murder. Successful career not a must.) What’s one of your MC’s defining characteristics? What characteristics draw him to the dead woman? The only thing that comes across is that your MC is a little bit obsessive in a creepy way, which I doubt is intended or even true in the larger context of the story.

A general framework to possibly help you move forward:

Real estate agent (MC) believes the beach house property he just signed will end his streak of difficult to sell listings—that is, until his first open house is crashed by the resident ghost. After losing all of his potential buyers, (MC) discovers the ghost is a jazz-age flapper girl who was murdered in the 1920s.

--Set up MC’s initial motivation for investigating. A good spot to show some personality. I can’t even make an educated guess here because this info isn’t hinted at in the query.--

As (MC) investigates her murder, it’s clear someone doesn’t want him digging deeper into her past. Outside an underground speakeasy, he barely dodges out of the way when someone guns a 1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost over the curb and nearly over him, too—a warning to back off the case or else. The closer he gets to the truth, the deadlier the attempts on his life become. Who would care enough to cover up a hundred-year-old murder?


(^ Obviously, those particular details differ in the story. Just make sure to introduce the immediate conflict preventing him from learning who murdered the woman.)

He’d gladly wash his hands of the whole thing and move on to the next doomed listing, but (ghost’s name) is [qualities about her/reasons he’s falling in love with her]. If he can’t find the answers before the evidence is destroyed, then [the consequences of failing].

Thanks for sharing and good luck with your revisions!

DLM said...

This feels more like a plot summary than a query; it tells (and what do we say about show-don't-tell) everything that happens, but doesn't try to entice. Interestingly, the story DOES sound pretty enticing. I think Janet's edited first line is genius - because it withholds crucial information, it is the most interesting thing here. Even with the rest of Janet's deletions, though, this is a lot of words.

Publishing credits are great, but honestly Chicken Soup for the Soul threw me a little bit. I was thinking this might be a magical murder mystery (no tour), and more dark, and/or strangely sexy (intimate magic trick?), than cozy. Then, seeing Chicken Soup, I questioned that. Is this a cozy? Is this a paranormal romance with mystery, or mystery with romance/erotic elements?

Janet, is it ever advisable to leave off any publishing credits in a query? Like, if I'm querying dino porn, do I want to mention that I've been published in Guideposts? Would two such different genres cause confusion?

Brittany Constable said...

A big problem I often have with story premises is the "screw you guys, I'm going home" factor. That is, what reason does the character have for getting caught up in the plot and going to extraordinary efforts, when a reasonable person would take one look and nope out? Yes, realtors do need to sell houses, but their careers rarely hinge on making a single sale. When confronted with a haunted house they can't sell, a reasonable person will look for a different house to sell, not embark on an in-depth quest that will take time away from their actual job of selling houses.

That's not to say you can't have this plot, not at all. But I think you'll sell it better if this guy has a clear reason for not being able to just walk away. Dying wish for a friend, trying to win a bet, first chance he's had to sell a house in a year, promised a promotion if he pulls it off, just crazy stubborn and incapable of passing up a challenge... There are tons of options, any of which would help establish stronger stakes and make the character more relatable. That reasoning may be clear in the novel, but it should be in the query too.

Leila Rheaume said...

This revision definitely answered some of my questions from the 1st version. But I still have a couple of nitpicks.

- I don’t get a good sense of either of character beyond their vital statistics. (SWF, dead, looking for SWM to solve murder. Successful career not a must...) Particularly your jazz-age flapper. She comes across in the query like a vague prop to motivate the MC. I’m sure that’s not the case in the book. What specific actions/characteristics draw him to her? This is tricky but not impossible to add without derailing the query.

- Use the ghost’s name? I assume Winfred learns her name pretty early on. Leaving her nameless keeps me kind of distant from her plight.

- “flapper girl” – ‘girl’ is redundant.

- “Winfred knows he must find a way to remove the haunting...” – A good spot to reveal something about his character. He just found out the house he’s selling is haunted. Presumably, this is shocking or frustrating or a challenge. Presumably, this is not par for the course. How he reacted initially might tell us a lot about his character. Was he scared, angry, intrigued?

You know the finer details of the story and I don't, so none of the following may match the mss. But I know how frustrating it is to be given the transatlantic-length list of details needed in a 250-word query. Without an example, it can seem impossible to include all of the “necessary” components. Especially when it all feels necessary and you don’t know what to leave out. This is just an example framework to maybe help you move forward with your next revision:

Realtor Reed Winford believes the historic house he just signed will end his streak of difficult to sell listings—that is, until his first open house is crashed by the resident ghost. The ghost is [name], a jazz-age flapper who was murdered a hundred years ago and thinks it’s a real gas to spook off Winfred’s potential buyers.

Winfred’s too stubborn to let a minor thing like a haunting stop him from doing his job. To help [name] move on, he’ll have to use her fragmented memories and clues from old records, maps, and antiques to solve her murder.

As Winfred investigates, it’s clear someone doesn’t want him digging deeper into her past. Outside an underground speakeasy, he barely dodges out of the way when someone guns a 1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost over the curb and nearly over him, too. A warning to back off the case, or else. The closer he gets to the truth, the deadlier the attempts on his life become.


(^ Just make sure to introduce the immediate conflict preventing him from learning who murdered the woman.)

Any other guy would gladly wash his hands and move on to the next doomed listing, but Winfred finds himself falling for [her name]’s mischievous humor. She can be charming when she’s not blowing doors closed or leaving messages in foggy mirrors. She deserves to know the truth.

If he can’t find the answers before the evidence is destroyed by someone intent on covering up a hundred-year-old murder, then Winfred could lose the listing, [her name], or even his own life.


I hope this helps. Thank you for sharing and especially for sending a revision! It's so satisfying to watch these evolve into a FTW.

Steve Stubbs said...

Yes, I agree with Ms. Reid. Use shorter sentences. Like this.

I would also re-arrange the ideas and edit them down. Like this:

Reed Winford has agreed to sell an old house for an old friend. But this is not just a fixer upper. The house is haunted. He has to evict the current occupant (a ghost.) And he thought bad plumbing was the worst of it.

You could make this more interesting if you make the dead flapper a succubus. A succubus is a female ghost who wants to get it on with the living. I don't read paranormal, but if that trope has been abandoned for a few hundred years, it will come across fresh and new.

I don't have the biblio details, but there was an article in PLAYBOY some years ago about real people who believe they really do consort with succubae, and I don;t mean just to chit chat. That may sound nutty, but apparently these people exist. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. I live alone.

I have spoken to widows who have decided they don't want to date and who have conveniently resolved to spend their rest of their lives wearing mourning black. Fiction works by subtly tapping into popular fantasies. So you have two popular fantasies here that you can plug into.

In this case, lonely Reed gets his jollies with the dead flapper and in the process gets to know her personally. I am assuming he is not a cad. He can confirm what she tells him using old maps, etc. But she is the principal source of info.

You have a couple of plot problems. Anyone who murdered someone in 1920 was born earlier than 1910, and is more than 100 years old now. That is getting long in the tooth unless the villain is immortal. Calling the villain "the evil" is not specific enough.

I have a vague recollection that in times of yore earthbound spirits were thought to hang around for the purpose of finking on someone who done 'em wrong. In that case the flapper would be gone by now, since her killer would be a ghost himself. If Reed solves the crime, the ghost would be "laid" (as in laid to rest) and he would be a forlorn lover. So he has a conflict of interest.

Also, this is 2017, so the 1920s are not 100 years ago.

It is an interesting idea. I would probably read this, although it is not my thing.