Sunday, July 24, 2011


Guess the Plot

Black Butter- flies White Fences

1. Can Mike Buchanan, a severe ADD sufferer and international spy, remember his enigmatic password without the help of his meds? And what’s on the line if he can’t? Well, just a little thing called . . . the WORLD!

2. In this alternate history, General Mills incites race riots in 1962 Golden Valley, Minnesota when they choose inappropriate marshmallow shapes for their new kids' cereal, Lucky Charms. Sambo the Cuckoo Crow, who’s “wiggin’ for Darkie Puffs,” doesn’t help either.

3. She's rich, white, and married. He's single, black . . . and her son's basketball coach. Will their love lead to heartache? Or to the NBA championship?

4. In the cover of night, a band of rogue butterflies are defacing fences throughout the city. Can Detective Bumble assemble a dragnet to catch them?

5. Tasha Cohen's essay about an African-American girl's experiences in an all-white town won her a scholarship. But there's a problem: she wrote it in first person. What happens when the scholarship panel finds out she's not a sistah, but a JAP?

6. White paint is causing the rapid extinction of the black-winged air cleaner moth, but no one is listening to environmentalist Bill Blossom. Can he stop the chain of destruction in time to preserve the environment's only hope against Global Warming? Also, a talking vulture.

Original Version

Dear Mr. XXXX;

I’m writing to you because back in 1997, I sent you a query for my first completed novel; you promptly wrote back, said that I had talent and should keep writing, but that you were not “enthusiastic enough” about that particular work; [Are you going to end all your sentences with semicolons?] I misinterpreted your comment, and to my now chagrin, sent you balloons to show my enthusiasm. [Let me get this straight. You misinterpreted a rejection slip as a purchase order for balloons?] Does this sound at all familiar? [On the off chance that it will sound familiar, I recommend against opening with an admission that you're the one who sent the balloons.] [Now, are you going to talk about your current book?]

You have always been my first choice for an agent and have been keeping tabs on your agency from the time you first launched XXXXX's career, [A little research is a good thing; if you've been keeping tabs on an agency for ten years, you have too much time on your hands.] to the more recent and previously unknown, XXXXX. I also remember reading somewhere that Mr. XXXX credits you with “plucking him from obscurity,” and may I say that I wouldn’t mind the same plucking. [WTP? Do you just like to correspond with agents who've sent you rejection slips, or do you actually have a new book?]

Your early encouragement was taken to heart and during the past ten years have continued to write, raised twin boys, completed an English degree and graduated cum laude, (I’m an RN by trade, but my heart has never been in medicine), [Nice to know that when my nurse is drawing my blood, her mind is on getting plucked.] but more importantly, have continued to work on the craft of writing and tried to learn as much as I can about publishing. [Apparently you missed the lecture on writing a query letter, possibly while keeping tabs on agent XXXX. Your book. You're supposed to be talking about your book.]

BLACK BUTTERFLIES WHITE FENCES is commercial fiction and approximately eighty-two thousand words, and is about the lasting bond of friendship and love that develops between a white married woman of means, and her son’s black basketball coach. [That's all we get? Half of a sentence? Your paragraph about Mr. XXXXX had more information. Heck, My Guess the Plot was more informative.]

I have enclosed the first thirty pages for review and appreciate your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Agents don't remember ten-year-old query letters, and until you're their client, they don't care about your life story. They want to know about your book. You're selling a product, and you need to make that product sound so interesting the agent simply must check it out. Read the other "Face-Lifts" on this blog. Then start over.

Selected Comments

Anonymous said...I can only imagine that even if the agent remembered you after this many years, there isn't enough information about the story for anyone to decide if they'd want to read it. The one-sentence hook isn't bad though.

Anonymous said...Start with that one sentence hook - leave the rest out and focus on the meat of the book. What are the main events? How do the main characters change?
EE said it well, your goal is to make this story so interesting that an agent wants to read pages.

Anonymous said...I don't think this letter could be classified as a query. It reads like the rough draft of bad fan letter.

blogless_troll about the lasting bond of friendship and love that develops between a white married woman of means, and her son’s black basketball coach.
Until his team gets smoked by the Warriors in the playoffs and Mark Cuban fires his ass. Now, struggling with self doubt, Ms. Nowitzki must finally admit her son is overrated.

writtenwyrdd said...Oh boy. You make yourself sound like a wannabe stalker with those first three paragraphs! Delete them and give us the story. It sounds like it could be interesting, based on what you say in that single, lonely sentence.

Dave said...That is a scary letter. Unless you are going steady, or want to go steady, or in love with a person, or seriously involved emotionally with a person, NEVER write a letter like that. This is the start of a business relationship not a personal relationship. Write about your book. Your agent is merely that, an agent - nothing more or less.

takoda said...Oh my. But I've made sooo many mistakes, and I've only been writing a year. I am pretty sure I've made every single mistake Miss Snark warns against. Just once though, and I move on to other mistakes. What's my biggest one? At a conference last year, when I just barely started writing, I wrote a poem making fun of an agent. I knew it was funny because it made an editor of a mid-size company crack up. As well as half the people in the hallway after lunch. I wrote it FOR the agent, because I wanted him to remember me. I was sure he would think it was hysterical. Everyone else did. Oh well. I guess balloons would have been better.

Robin S. said...Hi Author, Sounds like you are a caring and sincere person. Also looks like you may have a tendency to wear your heart on your sleeve, which I think is offputting and really has a bit of a backfire effect when speaking/writing to a stranger about the potential for the beginning of a working relationship. (That was one helluva long sentence, even for me. Sorry.) Hope you're not offended by the comments, but, instead, use them to revise your query letter.

150 said... Oh, wow. Author, please write a query about your book, not yourself! If you do a rewrite (following the format of previous queries posted on this site), we'll critique that for you. There just ain't much to go on right now.

Anonymous said...Author, don't take our nastiness to heart. The fact is, 90% of the minions haven't gotten any further than you have with agents. Don't let us fool you with our haughty criticism. Ignore the shock and indignance expressed about your query letter. If you spend a few hours reading this blog and Miss Snark's Hook Crapometer you'll get an idea of what a query letter should be.

Robin S. said...Author, Anonymous 7:19am is absolutley correct. It's much easier to do a double-take on YOUR query than it is for most of us to write an amazing version of our own. Believe me when I say, mine was (and remains) the opposite of artfully done. Best of luck to you.


150 said...

It's always nice to find that I still agree with myself.

Anonymous said...

Did the author ever get back to you with a revision?

Stephen Prosapio said...

"until you're their client, they don't care about your life story."

I've had my agent for 4 years. I worked with her 7 months before even signing on. We've experienced two rejections and 1 acceptance. She transferred agencies and took me with her. We've met in person 5, 6 or 7 times...the last time we had dinner we DID discuss certain personal issues in our lives but 95% of our conversations focus on....PUBLISHING.

I've never sent her flowers or balloons (I have sent her books and promo materials).

All that said. If I were to write her a personal note about what's going on in my life...I can't quite imagine what or how she'd respond. It's just not that type of relationship. I recently wrote her an email outlining my writing plan over the next year/s. I got a great guidance email back the next day. THAT's what agents are for....not to stalk them.

It's about writing and business. Don't put the cart before the horses kids. Just my 2 cents.

All that said, I'm heading out on a nowadays rare 4/5 city book tour over the next few weeks and may not be around. I love this blog. Keep writing folks!!!


Anonymous said...

"You have always been my first choice for an agent and have been keeping tabs on your agency...."

Apply some of your English degree skills toward correcting this sentence.

"Your early encouragement was taken to heart and during the past ten years have continued to write...."

And this one.