The Red Room - Query letter

Share your blood sweat tears query for feedback and lend your hard-won expertise to others
Post Reply
JMD
Posts: 2
Joined: June 23rd, 2010, 7:08 pm
Contact:

The Red Room - Query letter

Post by JMD » June 23rd, 2010, 7:37 pm

Hi all,

I'm just learning the art of query-writing, and would really appreciate some feedback on my own if possible. It is basically a chick-lit novel and difficult to write a plot that is based mainly in emotion and not actions, but this is the best I've come up with so far -


Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my novel The Red Room, the modern-day story of an English artist and her family, and the secret that threatens to tear them apart.


"Your mother... she loves you... one day you will know...". Michel Vautier's dying words to his grand-daughter, fifteen years ago. Only, Sophie doesn't realise she is separated from him by a whole branch on the family tree. Rather, she has been raised by Michel and his wife Jean as their daughter; as Josephine's sister.

Josephine is a London-based artist who, thanks to her selfish mother Jean, has lived the last twenty-eight years under a cloak of lies. She has been conditioned to hide her maternal love for Sophie, and disguises her feelings with a defensive dry wit. Sophie discovers a faded photograph of an old French country house on Josephine's studio wall, marked ‘Our Palace in Lauzerte’, and the fabric of their family begins to unravel, revealing the lies trapped within the threads. When Sophie, along with her devoted boyfriend Costa, visits the French bastide town of Lauzerte to search for the house in the photograph, she learns the truth about her birth-mother, and Josephine’s relationship with the daughter she didn’t dare love will forever be changed.

My Adult Fiction novel is complete at 62,000 words.

Meredith
Posts: 85
Joined: June 9th, 2010, 3:55 pm
Contact:

Re: The Red Room - Query letter

Post by Meredith » June 23rd, 2010, 8:39 pm

JMD wrote:Hi all,

I'm just learning the art of query-writing, and would really appreciate some feedback on my own if possible. It is basically a chick-lit novel and difficult to write a plot that is based mainly in emotion and not actions, but this is the best I've come up with so far -


Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my novel The Red Room, the modern-day story of an English artist and her family, and the secret that threatens to tear them apart.
Don't start with this. It's not the most interesting thing about your book. Start with the next paragraph.

"Your mother... she loves you... one day you will know...". Michel Vautier's dying words to his grand-daughter, fifteen years ago. Only, Sophie doesn't realise she is separated from him by a whole branch on the family tree. Rather, she has been raised by Michel and his wife Jean as their daughter; as Josephine's sister.
Granddaughter is not hyphenated. The last two sentences are awkward. And, since we don't yet know that Josephine is her mother, not her sister, it doesn't have much impact. I think you need to come right out and say what Sophie doesn't know at this point.

Josephine is a London-based artist who, thanks to her selfish mother Jean, has lived the last twenty-eight years under a cloak of lies. She has been conditioned to hide her maternal love for Sophie, and disguises her feelings with a defensive dry wit. Sophie discovers a faded photograph of an old French country house on Josephine's studio wall, marked ‘Our Palace in Lauzerte’, and the fabric of their family begins to unravel, revealing the lies trapped within the threads. When Sophie, along with her devoted boyfriend Costa, visits the French bastide town of Lauzerte to search for the house in the photograph, she learns the truth about her birth-mother, and Josephine’s relationship with the daughter she didn’t dare love will forever be changed.

My Adult Fiction novel is complete at 62,000 words.
If it's chick lit, call it that rather than adult fiction. You really don't ever want to put the words fiction and novel next to each other in a query. Some agents really go off on that. (All novels are, by definition, fiction.) Put the title, in all caps, not italics, here, too.
MeredithMansfield.WordPress.com

notw
Posts: 79
Joined: January 7th, 2010, 4:36 pm
Contact:

Re: The Red Room - Query letter

Post by notw » June 23rd, 2010, 9:05 pm

JMD wrote:Hi all,

I'm just learning the art of query-writing, and would really appreciate some feedback on my own if possible. It is basically a chick-lit novel and difficult to write a plot that is based mainly in emotion and not actions, but this is the best I've come up with so far -


Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my novel The Red Room, the modern-day story of an English artist and her family, and the secret that threatens to tear them apart.


"Your mother... she loves you... one day you will know...". Michel Vautier's dying words to his grand-daughter, fifteen years ago Really liked this sentence.. Only, Sophie doesn't realise she is separated from him by a whole branch on the family tree. Rather, she has been raised by Michel and his wife Jean as their daughter; as Josephine's sister. I would agree with Meredith that the last two sentences feel awkward

Josephine is a London-based artist who, thanks to her selfish mother Jean, has lived the last twenty-eight years under a cloak of lies. She has been conditioned to hide her maternal love for Sophie, and disguises her feelings with a defensive dry wit. Why has she been conditioned to hid he maternal love? Sophie discovers a faded photograph of an old French country house on Josephine's studio wall, marked ‘Our Palace in Lauzerte’, and the fabric of their family begins to unravel, revealing the lies trapped within the threadsI like the visual this provides :). When Sophie, along with her devoted boyfriend Costa, visits the French bastide town of Lauzerte to search for the house in the photograph, she learns the truth about her birth-mother, and Josephine’s relationship with the daughter she didn’t dare love will forever be changed.

My Adult Fiction novel is complete at 62,000 words.

Good luck on the revision :)

User avatar
fivecats
Posts: 30
Joined: June 11th, 2010, 9:16 pm
Location: Outside Raleighwood, NC
Contact:

Re: The Red Room - Query letter

Post by fivecats » June 23rd, 2010, 10:16 pm

JMD wrote: I'm just learning the art of query-writing, and would really appreciate some feedback on my own if possible. It is basically a chick-lit novel and difficult to write a plot that is based mainly in emotion and not actions,
True, but your query shows there is a considerable amount of action. Your story may not have fiery car chases with guns blazing down the highway but that's another type of writing entirely. Your story does have action. Would you consider Jane Austen's novels to be without action? People make things happen in Austen's works, lots of things. This is exactly the type of action your novel has.

but this is the best I've come up with so far -
JMD wrote:Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my novel The Red Room, the modern-day story of an English artist and her family, and the secret that threatens to tear them apart.
I've read different agents take on the opening paragraph. Some want to see exactly what you've written here, a quick genre summary. Others want to be drawn into your character and their story right away.

My personal take is that if your query (like mine) is going to find its way to an agent through their slush pile, you have somewhere between two and five seconds to get their attention. Assuming you're going to only be querying agents who represent your genre (which, of course you'll be doing) this type of paragraph takes up valuable seconds of reading time that you would rather an agent spend meeting your character and discovering their story
JMD wrote:"Your mother... she loves you... one day you will know...". Michel Vautier's dying words to his grand-daughter, fifteen years ago.
Nice start, but I think it would be stronger if you had Michel delivering them directly to Sophie instead of telling them. ("Michel Vautier's dying words...ago." is a sentence fragment, unless you're attributing a quote to him, in which case you'd need to format the lines differently and that would stand out too much in this query)

"Your mother... she loves you... one day you will know..."

Sophie still remembers her grandfather's dying words. etc. etc.
JMD wrote:Only, Sophie doesn't realise
Realise is the UK spelling; realize is the US spelling.
JMD wrote:she is separated from him by a whole branch on the family tree. Rather, she has been raised by Michel and his wife Jean as their daughter; as Josephine's sister.
She, Sophie, has been raised by Michel...who? The only Michel we've met is the dying grandfather. Did her grandfather raise her? If so, and it was a secret, shouldn't your query state it was her father's dying words?
JMD wrote:Josephine is a London-based artist who, thanks to her selfish mother Jean, has lived the last twenty-eight years under a cloak of lies.
This much focus on Josephine changes the focus of the story in your query from Sophie to Josephine. If this is Sophie's story (which it appears to be) you should keep the focus on her. You should describe Josephine in terms of Sophie -- "Sophie's older sister, Josphine, is a London-based artist..." I'd leave out the "cloak of lies" (cliché) at this point. You could always put it at the end where you describe the implications of her trip to France.

"thanks to her selfish mother" isn't exactly a cliché, but it should be stronger. I'm also not sure "selfish" is the right word here. Why is her mother insisting Josephine deny her status as Sophie's mother? Fear of family disgrace? (If so, that's a more Victorian fear than modern day) I think the reasoning behind Jean's insistence will give you the key to a stronger word and phrase here.
JMD wrote:She has been conditioned to hide her maternal love for Sophie, and disguises her feelings with a defensive dry wit.
Towards life in general, or only towards Sophie?
JMD wrote:Sophie discovers a faded photograph of an old French country house on Josephine's studio wall, marked ‘Our Palace in Lauzerte’, and the fabric of their family begins to unravel, revealing the lies trapped within the threads. When Sophie, along with her devoted boyfriend Costa, visits the French bastide town of Lauzerte to search for the house in the photograph, she learns the truth about her birth-mother,
"the fabric of their family begins to unravel" is a cliché.

I don't understand how a photograph and some writing lead to all of this. I know you shouldn't tell all of the story in a query but the events you describe do need to hold together logically. Just a bit more description that explains what it is about the photograph that would make her travel to France to search for a house would help.
JMD wrote:and Josephine’s relationship with the daughter she didn’t dare love will forever be changed.
Again, this changes the focus from Sophie to Josephine. If your story is really about both women, your query should reflect that. If it focuses primarily on Sophie, the query should be presented from her perspective.
JMD wrote:My Adult Fiction novel is complete at 62,000 words.
Leave out "complete" -- you only query on completed works.

"Adult fiction" or "chick-lit"? Chick-lit tends to be more light-hearted and sassy. This doesn't strike me as that type of book.

Don't forget your obligatory "I'm sending you my query based on..." sentence along with a "thank you for your time and attention".


Rewrite from your true character's (or characters') perspective and you'll have a much clearer, more powerful and engaging query.

Good luck!
______________________________________
Tom M Franklin
Franklin, Ink: Writing about Writing & Reading
http://tommfranklin.blogspot.com/

JMD
Posts: 2
Joined: June 23rd, 2010, 7:08 pm
Contact:

Re: The Red Room - Query letter

Post by JMD » June 25th, 2010, 1:25 am

Thank you all so much for your thoughtful advice and for taking the time. I will need to think about it for a while. This part of the process is agonising. I hope I'm not just overthinking it. Of course I can see all your points right there, and they all make so much sense, but I'm a jumbled mess when it comes to putting them into action for some reason. Hopefully I'll get my act into gear and make the necessary changes. I've spent the last 2 days staring at my computer screen, trying to rewrite this query, and it's the hardest, most painstaking writing I've ever done! How do you all do it???

User avatar
Bryan Russell/Ink
Posts: 430
Joined: December 20th, 2009, 10:44 pm
Contact:

Re: The Red Room - Query letter

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » June 25th, 2010, 1:09 pm

It helpls to stop thinking about the end and what you want from it. Just think of it as writing a little story. Hook, character, conflict, climax. Craft a little story. After that it doesn't seem so bad.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

User avatar
fivecats
Posts: 30
Joined: June 11th, 2010, 9:16 pm
Location: Outside Raleighwood, NC
Contact:

Re: The Red Room - Query letter

Post by fivecats » June 25th, 2010, 2:40 pm

JMD wrote:Thank you all so much for your thoughtful advice and for taking the time. I will need to think about it for a while. This part of the process is agonising. I hope I'm not just overthinking it. Of course I can see all your points right there, and they all make so much sense, but I'm a jumbled mess when it comes to putting them into action for some reason. Hopefully I'll get my act into gear and make the necessary changes. I've spent the last 2 days staring at my computer screen, trying to rewrite this query, and it's the hardest, most painstaking writing I've ever done! How do you all do it???
Writing a query is a balancing act: what to leave in, what to leave out, how much is necessary to give a real flavor for what makes your story special.

The real craft of the query, I think, lies in the writer's ability to look past all of the energy, sweat, thoughts, hours and hours of writing and rewriting of your story and to see it in terms of the essential elements of Story and then to communicate that to someone else.

The art of the query, I think, is to do so with your own, unique voice that must come through in all of your professional writing.

Over at AdvancedFictionWriting.com there's a great post about the one-sentence summary. (http://bit.ly/bdcpzP) The idea of distilling a story down to a single sentence is even harder than a query, but it's good distillation practice. If you read the examples at the web site you'll see that the richness and the flavor of the full story and of the writing are missing. A good agent/editor will, however, be able to tell from that one sentence, if your project interests them enough to pursue.

You'll note that all of these one-sentence summaries were written by people other than the author. I think, especially those of us starting out, might benefit from the advice of a critique partner/trusted friend who has read our work, to help with an emotionally detached retelling of our stories back to ourselves.

If you can condense your project down to one sentence you can then expand it to one paragraph. Then two paragraphs. Then three. Then you have the start of a concise query.

Good luck -- and know you're not alone in this!

...
______________________________________
Tom M Franklin
Franklin, Ink: Writing about Writing & Reading
http://tommfranklin.blogspot.com/

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests