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Post by johnh27 » November 21st, 2011, 2:07 pm

I took to heart the suggestions several of you offered and have implemented them in my new query letter. I'd love feedback on this effort.

Subject line of email: Annie and Will, her adopted brother, have fallen in love. All hell is about to break loose.

Dear Ms. Agent,

Janet Powers is dying and wants to secure a future for her ten-year-old son, Will. It is 1958 and the single-mother has no family to turn to, so she brings Will to her hometown where she hopes her best friend, Beth, and her husband, Reverend Carl Gunderson, will become Will’s guardians and eventually adopt him. She also wants Will’s father, local businessman Duke Callahan, who is unaware of his son’s existence, to play a role in the boy’s life. Carl Gunderson is initially opposed to Janet’s request, but when he learns that she is quite wealthy and has made lucrative provisions for Will and his caretakers, he relents. He agrees to become the boy’s guardian and trustee of the various trust funds that Janet has set up with his friend and attorney, Bob Dietrich. Gunderson and Dietrich soon come up with a plan that will allow them both to benefit handsomely from Will’s funds.

Eight-year- old Annie Gunderson is delighted to have Will in the household and they become very close as Will struggles with his mother’s death. Duke Callahan’s son, ten-year-old Dennis, becomes Will’s best friend and protector as Will tries to acclimate to his new situation and surroundings. He slowly begins to flourish in his new environment as he and Annie share experiences and secrets, enjoy jousting with the stuff-shirted Reverend Gunderson, and bask in the love of Beth Gunderson. Annie, Will, Dennis, and Diane Callahan, Dennis’ younger sister, share a happy suburban childhood together.

As Will begins his teen years and enters high school, several things become apparent: he is an excellent student and talented athlete; Annie adores her “big brother” and Diane is infatuated with him; his friend Dennis expects repayment for past help in the form of homework assignments and term papers; and, Will’s relationship with Reverend Gunderson is tepid at best and often antagonistic. During Will’s junior year, he begins dating Diane, unaware that she is his half-sister, and several incidences further drive a wedge between Reverend Gunderson and his adopted son. Dennis and Will have a falling out during their senior year over Will’s reluctance to continue doing school work for Dennis. Their relationship deteriorates further when Will wins a football scholarship that Dennis had expected to receive.

The summer following Will’s high school graduation, Annie and Will realize that they are falling in love. Reverend Gunderson picks up on this and confronts Will about it. Their fragile relationship is now irreparably broken. About the same time, Dennis Callahan conjures up a scheme to get even with Will for the perceived wrong that Will has done him. When Will and Annie are arrested for possessing drugs which Dennis has planted in Will’s car, Reverend Gunderson and attorney Dietrich seize upon the opportunity to separate Will from both Annie and his money.

ANNIE AND WILL, my first novel, is complete at 100,000 words. I'd be thrilled if you would consider "Annie and Will" for representation. Thanks very much, and hope to talk with you soon.

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Re: Query for ANNIE AND WILL

Post by cheekychook » November 21st, 2011, 8:06 pm

Let me start by saying that your story sounds very interesting. I love complex sagas that span several years and I'm particularly fond of richly drawn characters with complicated relationships, and it appears your novel fits that bill on both counts. That's great. An interesting plot and three dimensional characters are exactly what agents are hoping to find in the slush pile. Unfortunately, agents also like queries to be a lot more concise than this one. Believe me, I fully realize how difficult it is to boil down a lengthy, complicated plot with lots of key players, but for a query letter it really needs to be done.

Your current letter weighs in at 570 words. Ideally a query should be between 250-350. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Not only do agents want to see that you're able to be concise while catching their attention, they also want to be able to get a sense of how they're going to be able to pitch your work to an editor and they're going to have to do it in as few words as possible.

I notice that you've got a line about the email subject. I don't know if you intend to use that for the query, but my advice would be don't. A tag line or log line like that can be useful, but it doesn't belong in the subject heading. Most, if not all, agents want the query subject line to read QUERY: Title. or Query for AgentName, Title. This helps insure that your query letter doesn't get eaten by a spam filter, and it immediately identifies your email as a query letter so they know what pile/box to put it in when they're sorting.

Your writing style is good, which is part of what makes the story sound appealing, but as written it's a bit confusing as to who is who. There are way too many characters referred to by name. I'm less sensitive to "character soup" than many people, but even I felt a need to draw out a family diagram to make sure I was understanding which characters were related and how they fit into each other's lives. I understand that the interrelationships are at the heart of your plot, but for the sake of the query itself you need to choose the most important characters and the most important plot points and focus on getting those across to the agent.

Since your title is Annie and Will it is certainly reasonable to have a paragraph describing each of them (and weaving in how they impact one another), which you already do. It's the mention of the additional characters that you need to try to pare down as much as possible. For example, instead of naming Will's mother and naming the adoptive parents can you just say something more like "When his mother dies ten-year-old Will is sent to live with the Gundersons" (or something along those lines)? You can say he become a part of their family and becomes particularly close with their daughter Annie (this introducing Annie by name, because she's of extreme importance, but reducing the overall name clutter).

I'd use a similar method for simplifying out other names. You can explain that he becomes best friends with Dennis, who, unbeknown to Will is his half brother (that will beg the question "How do they not know they're brothers?" but that's okay, you don't have to explain everything in a query, you just need to generate interest/intrigue). I don't know that it's necessary to name the lawyer, you can just mention him in context---when Will's adoptive father finds out about the love affair between Will and his daughter he enlists the help of his trusted attorney to bring Will down (obviously use your words).

Based on my understanding of your story from this query it would seem to me that Dennis is the character with the 3rd most significant storyline (after Will and Annie). If that's true, and since he seems to be a main source of Will and Annie's downfall/trouble, describe how he comes into play (as you have) but keep it simpler. Try to choose the most cliff-hanger-y moment from the last part of the story and end the query with that, so the agent is wondering "what will happen? how can this possibly resolve itself?"

I went back and looked at your earlier query version. I think if you can hit on a version that's somewhere in between this one (long and detailed) and that one (concise but a little too brief plot-wise) you'll be in good shape. Congratulations on getting your word count down to 100k (I know first hand how hard that is, too). Depending who you query I'd consider adding back in a line about who this story might appeal to, and I'd definitely add some sort of personalization to each agent ("I've chosen to query you because....you rep so and so, who has a similar style/I read your blog about such and such and think we'd make a great match...").

I hope this is somewhat helpful advice. Good luck with trimming and focusing this query. I really do think you have a good story here. I look forward to reading further query attempts should you choose to post them.

Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing

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Joined: June 13th, 2011, 11:09 am

Re: Query for ANNIE AND WILL

Post by johnh27 » November 21st, 2011, 8:54 pm

I can't thank you enough for your in-depth, thoughtful critique.

Your suggestions are spot-on. I'll be back at work on it tomorrow.

Thanks again for giving me your time, expertise, and valuable advice.

John H

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