The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

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Melissa LR Handa
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The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by Melissa LR Handa » December 15th, 2010, 10:49 am

Please look for my newest draft, posted around 8 AM EST.

Hello, forum-ites.

I've quit obsessing about querying my first novel (The Iron Pillar) long enough to get a fresh perspective on it. I've reworked my query letter to strengthen the hook, provide more specific details, and lessen the verbosity (I hope). Once I get your invaluable feedback, I plan to send out a batch of five-ish queries. Later on, once draft #1 of novel #2 is written, I plan to re-revise novel #1 and query with a vengeance--makes sense, right?

Thanks for your help!



Dear Agent,

Although she is a talented painter, Daly prefers to live her life in black and white—her journey to India, the irrepressible land of color, just may change things a bit.

Throughout her life, Daly English has faced continual set backs including the death of one parent and the emotional estrangement of the other, abandonment by her long-term boyfriend, and unemployment. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Daly decides to numb herself to the world by locking any bout of emotional intensity away in her journal. Safeguarded from both pain and joy, this technique works well until Daly meets someone who cares too much to let her fade into the background of her own life.

A light-hearted charmer from India, Kashi is a firm believer in the power of destiny, refusing to take Daly on a date until they have met a chance total of three times. Comforted by his perennial optimism and carefree attitude, Daly allows herself to fall in love. Their romance unfolds quickly after a captivating first date at the zoo and a sensual second date at a starlit summit. Together they travel to the vibrant, enchanting city of New Delhi, where Daly must win the approval of Kashi’s family so that the two may wed. But finding happiness now would have been too easy for Daly. First she must face the ghosts of her past, if she is to build a future that she can live through.

THE IRON PILLAR is an 85,000-word piece of multicultural women’s fiction.

Like my protagonist, I have been captivated by India, my husband’s homeland. In our seven years together, Hitesh has taught me his cultural customs, religious philosophy, and even his mother tongue. When I’m not working feverishly on my second novel, I serve as the Lead Books Contributor for AnnArbor.com.

Thank you for your time and your consideration.

Sincerely,

Melissa LR Handa, MA
Last edited by Melissa LR Handa on December 16th, 2010, 8:09 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by Jaligard » December 15th, 2010, 4:10 pm

Welcome back!
Melissa LR Handa wrote:Although she is a talented painter, Daly prefers to live her life in black and white—her journey to India, the irrepressible land of color, just may change things a bit.
I don't have time for any real criticism right now, but this logline doesn't help. Here's what QueryShark had to say about them.

We go from her journey to India happening already to it not happening yet. It's confusing and out of order.

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by Melissa LR Handa » December 15th, 2010, 4:53 pm

Hi Jaligard! Nice to "see" you again.

As far as the highlighted sentence goes, I'm a bit out of sorts--I thought it was the hook, not a logline. If I take it out, then I don't have my one sentence hook any more. What do you suggest?

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by alienbogey » December 15th, 2010, 4:53 pm

Melissa,

My feedback (don't forget how much you paid for it):


Melissa LR Handa wrote:

Dear Agent,

Although she is a talented painter, Daly prefers to live her life in black and white but her journey to India, the irrepressible land of color, just may change things a bit. The use of the '-' struck me as not quite right, because what you're doing is contrasting an expectation established in the first half of the sentence with a contradiction in the second half, which to me calls for the word 'but'.

Throughout her life, Daly English has faced continual set backs including the death of one parent and the emotional estrangement of the other, abandonment by her long-term boyfriend, and unemployment. [Hmm. This is backstory, which is normally recommended to be minimized in a query] Instead of wallowing in self-pity,[Perhaps shortening and writing the backstory so it doesn't feel so much like backstory, something along the lines of.....] Faced with the death of a parent, estrangement from the other, plus the loss of her boyfriend and her job, Daly decides to numb herself to the world by locking any bout of emotional intensity away in her journal. Safeguarded from both pain and joy, this technique works well until Daly meets someone who cares too much to let her fade into the background of her own life. [ I really like that expression. ]

A light-hearted charmer from India, Kashi is a firm believer in the power of destiny, refusing to take Daly on a date until they have met a chance total of three times. [ I'm being picky here, but as written what is 'chanced' is the total three. Is that what you intended? Or is it that Kashi wants them to meet by chance three times? ] Comforted by his perennial optimism and carefree attitude, Daly allows herself to fall in love.[ 'Comforted' strikes me as a weak verb for falling in love....do people fall in love because they're comforted? Maybe so, but it seems to me like a stronger verb would be more dynamic and believable.....'Entranced' by his perennial optimism.....or 'Charmed' ..... or 'Delighted' .....' Awakened'.....or '______' ] Their romance unfolds quickly after a captivating first date at the zoo and a sensual second date at a starlit summit. Together they travel to the vibrant, enchanting city of New Delhi, [Okay, here is where India is brought in again after being introduced in the first sentence of the query, but it's inconsistent with the first sentence. It looks like her life started to change by meeting Kashi, it didn't start to change when she went to India, which is implied in the first sentence of the pitch.] where Daly must win the approval of Kashi’s family so that the two may wed. But finding happiness now would have been too easy for Daly. First she must face the ghosts of her past, if she is to build a future that she can live through. [Whoa -where did the ghosts of her past come from? See following commentary.]

I'm having a hard time time seeing which is the primary conflict here. A woman goes through hard times (parents, boyfriend, job) and closes herself off, then she meets and falls in love with an exotic man who shows her a new world. All good, but then in the last sentence we find that she must confront the ghosts of her past (rather a cliche'd phrase, sorry), but the problems listed in the backstory (parents, boyfriend, job) don't seem (to me) to warrant ghosts. Can you show (not tell) why the problems of her past are serious enough to cause ghosts that must be confronted?

THE IRON PILLAR is an 85,000-word piece [I'm being picky again, but I don't care for 'piece' (JMO)] work of multicultural women’s fiction.

Like my protagonist, I have been captivated by India, my husband’s homeland. In our seven years together, Hitesh has taught me his cultural customs, religious philosophy, and even his mother tongue. [I like that you put this in, it should show an agent that you have the background to write about India and its culture] When I’m not working feverishly on my second novel, I serve as the Lead Books Contributor for AnnArbor.com.

Thank you for your time and your consideration.

Sincerely,

Melissa LR Handa, MA

Respectfully submitted,

alienbogey
Last edited by alienbogey on December 15th, 2010, 6:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by Melissa LR Handa » December 15th, 2010, 5:33 pm

Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback, alienbogey. I've done my best to incorporate your suggestions. Right now, I'm working to ensure that the main text of the query is at or under 300 words--I'll be doing a WD webinar about querying and agents tomorrow, and 300 is the limit.

I'm having difficulty reducing this novel to "love story," but the query seems to demand it--it also seems to be the part of the story that my beta readers identify with most. Through scrupulous editing, I've removed any tell of the strong mother-daughter storyline or the unlikely mentor Daly finds in a pregnant teenager.

Also, of note, the "backstory" is actually the first two chapters of the novel, so it's not really backstory, it's the catalyst for everything that happens later on. And, just an FYI, Kashi dies about 50 pages from the end and Daly retreats back into herself once more. It's the mother-daughter thing that forces her to see that life is a painting and that each emotion is a different color--you need all of them to create the most beautiful portrait. "Ghosts of the past" was my way of actually referring to the dead father, the dead lover, and the emotionally dead relationship with the mother. No matter how clever I thought that was, you're right, it's a total, unstomachable cliche.

Here's a new draft!


Talented painter that she is, Daly prefers to live her life in black and white, while Kashi, a flamboyant foreigner, would like nothing more than to introduce her to the heart’s entire spectrum. It was only a matter of time before she saw things his way.

Throughout her life, Daly English has faced continual set backs including the death of one parent and the emotional estrangement of the other, abandonment by her long-term boyfriend, and unemployment. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Daly decides to numb herself to the world by locking any bout of emotional intensity away in her journal. Safeguarded from both pain and joy, this technique works well until Daly meets someone who cares too much to let her fade into the background of her own life.

A light-hearted charmer from India, Kashi is a firm believer in the power of destiny, refusing to take Daly on a date until they have met by chance a total of three times. Inspired by his perennial optimism and carefree attitude, Daly allows herself to fall in love. Their romance unfolds quickly after a captivating first date at the zoo and a sensual second date at a starlit summit. Together they travel to India, the irrepressible land of color, where Daly must win the approval of Kashi’s family so that the two may wed. Unfortunately for Daly, fate refuses to grant her a happily-ever-after, at least not without a fight.

THE IRON PILLAR is an 85,000-word work of multicultural women’s fiction.

Like my protagonist, I have been captivated by India, my husband’s homeland. In our seven years together, Hitesh has taught me his cultural customs, religious philosophy, and even his mother tongue. When I’m not working feverishly on my second novel, I serve as the Lead Books Contributor for AnnArbor.com.

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by Quill » December 15th, 2010, 7:22 pm

Melissa LR Handa wrote:
Dear Agent,

Although she is a talented painter, Daly prefers to live her life in black and white—her journey to India, the irrepressible land of color, just may change things a bit.
This is a pretty fair log-line. I'd break it into two sentences, though, since the portion after the long dash doesn't really stem from the first part, it is more a new thought. Also, I'd simply say "that" rather than "things a bit," which seems weakish.

"Although she is a talented painter, Daly prefers to live her life in black and white. Her journey to India, the irrepressible land of color, just may change that."

I suppose a semi-colon might work there as well, but these sentences are each quite effective on their own.
Throughout her life, Daly English has faced continual set backs
I'd omit "continual" as redundant to "throughout".
including the death of one parent and the emotional estrangement of the other,
Why not be specific and say which parent in both cases.
abandonment by her long-term boyfriend, and unemployment.
Hmm. Going back up to "Throughout her life..." I'm wondering if it shouldn't be "...adult life" or some such, as these strike me as all stuff that's happened to her after childhood.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Daly decides to numb herself to the world by locking any bout of emotional intensity away in her journal.
Hmm. As written it seems you are treating these as her only two choices. How about, "Instead of seeking therapy...". Or do you mean to really imply that instead of choosing one unhealthy response she chooses another? What kind of person does this make her?
Safeguarded from both pain and joy, this technique works well until Daly meets someone who cares too much to let her fade into the background of her own life.
Good thoughts here but there's a grammatical issue: what you are saying is that the technique is safeguarded from pain and joy: "Safeguarded, this technique works." You've made "technique" the subject, when it should be Daly.
A light-hearted charmer from India, Kashi is a firm believer in the power of destiny, refusing to take Daly on a date until they have met a chance total of three times.
Nice, but slightly convoluted. First, you repeat the sentence structure of the previous sentence: Safeguarded, this technique works. A charmer, Kashi is a believer. Second, you tell us she meets someone, then hold us off meeting him ourselves until after you've told us he is a charmer. I wished you would have said Kashi first, and then let us know he is lighthearted and a charmer. I wanted to know who is this man who cares so much, not what are his attributes, first. Finally, I found it this a bit awkward: "...a chance total of three times." Seems it would be clearer to just say, "by chance". As is it sounds like the total is by chance, not the meetings. Like you are saying it could have been twice, or four times, but by chance he accepted thrice (like maybe for his last girlfriend he had stipulated five times).
Comforted by his perennial optimism and carefree attitude, Daly allows herself to fall in love.
Good.
Their romance unfolds quickly after a captivating first date at the zoo and a sensual second date at a starlit summit.
Again, nice, but a sentence structure issue, feeling like the cart before the horse. I would have liked to hear about the dates first, since they happened first and as it is the dates are old news (we already know the romance unfolded by the time we hear of the first date!):

"After a captivating first date and a sensual second date at a starlit summit their romance unfolds quickly."
Together they travel to the vibrant, enchanting city of New Delhi, where Daly must win the approval of Kashi’s family so that the two may wed.
Good.
But finding happiness now would have been too easy for Daly.
Why not keep it present tense? "But finding happiness now would be too easy for Daly"
First she must face the ghosts of her past, if she is to build a future that she can live through.
Why? Why must she face these ghosts? She seems to have found a way to effectively deny the past through journaling? What is different now? This seems important. It seems like it might be the crux of your book and query. A few words of further detail might really put this over the top.

Except for a few sentence issues, some grammatical, some dramatic, this seems like a solid query.
THE IRON PILLAR is an 85,000-word piece of multicultural women’s fiction.

Like my protagonist, I have been captivated by India, my husband’s homeland. In our seven years together, Hitesh has taught me his cultural customs, religious philosophy, and even his mother tongue. When I’m not working feverishly on my second novel, I serve as the Lead Books Contributor for AnnArbor.com.

Thank you for your time and your consideration.
Good. I'd leave out the second novel part. And I'd clarify what you mean by "Lead Books Contributor" (it is not immediately apparent what that is) and "AnnArbor.com" (I'd say a few words about what this site is/does).

Also, MA? Is that a college degree? Not sure that's a good idea to add to your name.

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by Quill » December 15th, 2010, 7:23 pm

I just now see you've done another version since this morning's. I believe most of my points may still be useful.

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by fishfood » December 15th, 2010, 10:07 pm

Hey there, I liked the other comments so far and I think you'll change it again probably based on these, but I was going to offer a general tip for some of your writing. It's something I have been catching in my own writing. I've highlighted them below in your query, but using weak words like "decides to..." and "allows herself..." are sort of filter words and they add to your word count. Rather just be bold and say: "She numbs herself..." and "She falls in love..." I'd also leave out "must win approval of Kashi's family." While it may be relevant to the story, it's not relevant to the query and just adds more words. Just say "Together they travel...and wed."

I think it's almost there!! Good luck!!
Melissa LR Handa wrote:Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback, alienbogey. I've done my best to incorporate your suggestions. Right now, I'm working to ensure that the main text of the query is at or under 300 words--I'll be doing a WD webinar about querying and agents tomorrow, and 300 is the limit.

I'm having difficulty reducing this novel to "love story," but the query seems to demand it--it also seems to be the part of the story that my beta readers identify with most. Through scrupulous editing, I've removed any tell of the strong mother-daughter storyline or the unlikely mentor Daly finds in a pregnant teenager.

Also, of note, the "backstory" is actually the first two chapters of the novel, so it's not really backstory, it's the catalyst for everything that happens later on. And, just an FYI, Kashi dies about 50 pages from the end and Daly retreats back into herself once more. It's the mother-daughter thing that forces her to see that life is a painting and that each emotion is a different color--you need all of them to create the most beautiful portrait. "Ghosts of the past" was my way of actually referring to the dead father, the dead lover, and the emotionally dead relationship with the mother. No matter how clever I thought that was, you're right, it's a total, unstomachable cliche.

Here's a new draft!


Talented painter that she is, Daly prefers to live her life in black and white, while Kashi, a flamboyant foreigner, would like nothing more than to introduce her to the heart’s entire spectrum. It was only a matter of time before she saw things his way.

Throughout her life, Daly English has faced continual set backs including the death of one parent and the emotional estrangement of the other, abandonment by her long-term boyfriend, and unemployment. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Daly decides to numb herself to the world by locking any bout of emotional intensity away in her journal. Safeguarded from both pain and joy, this technique works well until Daly meets someone who cares too much to let her fade into the background of her own life.

A light-hearted charmer from India, Kashi is a firm believer in the power of destiny, refusing to take Daly on a date until they have met by chance a total of three times. Inspired by his perennial optimism and carefree attitude, Daly allows herself to fall in love. Their romance unfolds quickly after a captivating first date at the zoo and a sensual second date at a starlit summit. Together they travel to India, the irrepressible land of color, where Daly must win the approval of Kashi’s family so that the two may wed. Unfortunately for Daly, fate refuses to grant her a happily-ever-after, at least not without a fight.

THE IRON PILLAR is an 85,000-word work of multicultural women’s fiction.

Like my protagonist, I have been captivated by India, my husband’s homeland. In our seven years together, Hitesh has taught me his cultural customs, religious philosophy, and even his mother tongue. When I’m not working feverishly on my second novel, I serve as the Lead Books Contributor for AnnArbor.com.

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by Jaligard » December 15th, 2010, 11:06 pm

Melissa LR Handa wrote:Hi Jaligard! Nice to "see" you again.

As far as the highlighted sentence goes, I'm a bit out of sorts--I thought it was the hook, not a logline. If I take it out, then I don't have my one sentence hook any more. What do you suggest?
Your one sentence hook/pitch/logline is for explaining your novel to people when they ask, "What's it about?" It should form a foundation of your query letter, but it's not something that should be seen. Everything in the logline is in the rest of the query letter anyway (except for the painter bit).

You're essentially telling the story twice; once very briefly and then a second time in greater detail. It's a little unnerving, as in: "I thought I just read that. Didn't she just go to India?" Just tell it right once. Be brief, but paint a picture.

I still think you've got some passive language in here:
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Daly decides to numb herself to the world by locking any bout of emotional intensity away in her journal.
First of all, that sounds like text-book wallowing in self-pity. Secondly, you can trim this: Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Day numbs herself by locking her emotions in her journal.

You've got extra phrases and extra verbs peppering this letter. Throughout her life. Decides to numb herself. Allows herself to fall in love. Try some simple, declarative sentences. They are powerful.

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by Melissa LR Handa » December 16th, 2010, 8:07 am

Thank you for the feedback all. I remember how helpful you were with my last draft, Quill. Thanks for coming back to offer your suggestions once more!
I've tried to incorporate most of the suggestions made.

You guys are right, I do employ a lot of passive language. I think it may be something about the character's voice, or it could be that this is my first novel (the one I wrote while learning to write)--even though, there has been substantial editing. My second novel does not seem to have this problem, but it is an entirely different genre (Paranormal YA) told from the first person POV of a much stronger character.

Here's my new draft.


Talented painter that she is, Daly prefers to live her life in black and white, while Kashi, a flamboyant foreigner, would like nothing more than to introduce her to the heart’s entire spectrum. It was only a matter of time before she saw things his way.

Throughout her life, Daly English has faced a number of set backs including the death of her father, emotional estrangement of her mother, abandonment by her long-term boyfriend, and unemployment. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Daly numbs herself to the world by locking any bout of emotional intensity away in her journal. Safeguarded from both pain and joy, Daly is served well be this technique until she meets someone who cares too much to let her fade into the background of her own life.

Kashi is a firm believer in the power of destiny, refusing to take Daly on a date until they have met three times by chance. Inspired by his perennial optimism and light-hearted charm, Daly allows herself to fall in love. After a captivating first date at the zoo and a sensual second date at a starlit summit, their romance unfolds quickly. Together they travel to India, the irrepressible land of color, where Daly must win the approval of Kashi’s family so that the two may wed. Unfortunately for Daly, fate refuses to grant her a happily-ever-after, at least not without a fight.

THE IRON PILLAR is an 85,000-word work of multicultural women’s fiction.

Like my protagonist, I have been mesmerized by India, my husband’s homeland. In our seven years together, Hitesh has taught me his cultural customs, religious philosophy, and even his mother tongue. When I’m not working feverishly on my second novel, I serve as the lead books writer for AnnArbor.com, the city’s primary news source.

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Re: The Iron Pillar: Women's Fiction Query (REVISED)

Post by Jaligard » December 16th, 2010, 2:04 pm

Melissa LR Handa wrote:Talented painter that she is, Daly prefers to live her life in black and white, while Kashi, a flamboyant foreigner, would like nothing more than to introduce her to the heart’s entire spectrum. It was only a matter of time before she saw things his way. I STILL THINK THIS SHOULD BE WORKED INTO THE REST OF THE QUERY; IT SUMMARIZES THE WHOLE FIRST PARAGRAPH.

Throughout her life, REDUNDANT, WHO'S LIFE WOULD SHE HAVE EXPERIENCED? Daly English has faced a number of DOESN'T ADD ANYTHING set backs including the death of her father, emotional estrangement of her mother, abandonment by her long-term boyfriend, and unemployment. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, CONSIDERING TRIMMING OR REWORDING; WHAT FOLLOWS SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE WALLOWING TO ME Daly numbs herself to the world by locking any bout of emotional intensity away in her journal. Safeguarded from both pain and joy, Daly is served well be this techniqueThis technique serves her well until she meets someone who cares too much to let her fade into the background of her own life.

Kashi, is a firm believer in the power of destiny, refusinges to take Daly on a date until they have met meet three times by chance. Inspired by his perennial optimism and light-hearted charm, Daly allows herself to fall in love. REWORD; IT'S PIVOTAL AND IT COMES ACROSS WEAKLY After a captivating first date at the zoo and a sensual second date at a starlit summit, Their romance unfolds quickly. TogetherINCLUDED IN "THEY" they travel to India, the irrepressible land of color, where Daly must win the approval of Kashi’s family so that the two may wed. Unfortunately for Daly ALSO UNFORTUNATE FOR KASHI, fate refuses to grant her a happily-ever-after, at least not without a fight.

THE IRON PILLAR is an 85,000-word work of multicultural women’s fiction.

Like my protagonist, I have been mesmerized by India, my husband’s homeland. In our seven years together, Hitesh has taught me his cultural customs, religious philosophy, and even his mother tongue. When I’m not working feverishly on my second novel, I serve as the lead books writer for AnnArbor.com, the city’s primary news source.
I would still prefer to see some smaller, declarative sentences. The strongest line in your query is, "It was only a matter of time before she saw things his way." Short, simple, and in the wrong tense. It's very easy to get lost in long, flowery language. You need to show that language is not just a tool in your hands; it is a weapon.

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