Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

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Laura516
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Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by Laura516 » March 16th, 2011, 11:58 am

I have two versions of a query letter but am unsure which – if either – I should use. One may be too jokey, and the other may be too detailed. I’m also concerned that both lose the deeper story of Liz coming to terms with the futility of childhood dreams, and realizing that her bias against the wealthy is just as bad as their bias against anyone else. The murder is the greatest test for her new job, but isn't the main plot. It doesn't even happen until halfway in. I know everyone screams "murder! mystery!" but that's not the case here, so I'm worried that starting the query at that leaves the wrong impression. In other words, I need tons of help! Be brutally honest if necessary... and thank you very much.


VERSION 1:

One mistake.

One tiny, botched attempt at ruining her cheating boyfriend’s life and suddenly Elizabeth Mitchell is unworthy of teaching Shakespeare to a bunch of horny 13-year-olds.

Where’s the justice in that?

Great, her parents took her in. And sure, writing for the Stockhill Chronicle isn’t Hell on Earth… but if only she could send all those helicopter moms and grown-up bullies to detention for a few days.

Not that it matters now.

Just when she was getting used to the whole change-with-world-with-her-pen thing, what does Liz do? She falls for two (count ’em, two) gorgeously infuriating men – one a privileged son of her wealthy readers and the other her chief suspect in a murder everyone wants to write off as suicide.

So, what’ll it be? What’ll ruin her second life – another man’s betrayal or her nosing into a crime no one in pristine Stockhill wants solved? Choices, choices…

UTOPIA UNRAVELING (117,000 words) is a debut chick-lit satire. Currently a freelance journalist, I spent five years as a reporter and editor of a weekly newspaper in [redacted]. My work has also appeared in Westchester Magazine and the Improper Bostonian, and has earned awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association and the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists. I am currently working on my second novel.

I would be happy to send a full or partial manuscript for further review. Thank you for your time and consideration.


VERSION #2:

Newbie journalist Elizabeth Mitchell wants to change the world – not wrap a veil around it. But in steeple-dotted Stockhill (a Manhattan suburb she hopes will lead to a national byline elsewhere) nothing negative is on the record; Lance Wharton, her millionaire watchdog of a boss, makes sure of that.

Those domestic violence reports? Misunderstandings. That lingering swinger culture? Just rumors about good friends. The he-man woman-haters club disguised as a seniors group? Nothing but feminist paranoia.

Liz plays along – sacrificing her morals for bake sales and Stockhill’s utopian facade – because a good recommendation could skyrocket her career but prematurely churning the waters could sink it.

Then the story of the century hits. Not even Lance can hide the public death of a young woman. But the victim is an outsider with no family, and the police hastily rule it a suicide. No one can argue except Sgt. Cole Parker, a local cop who knew the victim but has been ordered to hold his tongue.

He can’t.

Behind the backs of 8,000 residents determined to keep their rose-tinted outlooks, Cole presses Liz to remember why she became a journalist and to help him solve a murder. The deeper she digs, the more the clues implicate both Cole (whom she simultaneously detests and wants to slather with chocolate syrup) and the town’s first family. What she uncovers could either expose the dirt behind Stockhill’s silken fabric or bury Liz six feet beneath it.

From the comical to the diabolical, UTOPIA UNRAVELING (117,000 words) peeks into a society more concerned with the placement of garbage bins than corruption among its most respected families. The debut novel brings The Devil Wears Prada to the suburbs and adds a twist of mystery.

Currently a freelance journalist, I spent five years as a reporter and editor of a weekly newspaper in [redacted]. My work has also appeared in Westchester Magazine and the Improper Bostonian, and has earned awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association and the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists. I am currently working on my second novel.

The full manuscript is available. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Last edited by Laura516 on March 16th, 2011, 3:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

enewmeyer
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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by enewmeyer » March 16th, 2011, 2:50 pm

Version 2 is definitely better but needs to be shortened. The query needs to focus on the main character, what they want and what gets in their way. Here is how I would rewrite it. Take it with a grain of salt. Also, you need to include the genre. Good luck!

***
Newbie journalist Elizabeth Mitchell wants to change the world, which is proving to be a lofty and improbable goal working in the boring steeple-dotted Stockhill. Then the story of the century hits when a young woman is murdered and the police hastily rule it a suicide to avoid a scandal. Only Sgt. Cole Parker is willing to put his job on the line to find the truth. Cole presses Liz to help him solve a murder. The deeper she digs, the more the clues implicate both Cole and the town’s first family. What she uncovers could either expose the dirt behind Stockhill’s silken fabric or bury Liz six feet beneath it.

From the comical to the diabolical, UTOPIA UNRAVELING (117,000 words) peeks into a society more concerned with the placement of garbage bins than corruption among its most respected families. The debut novel brings The Devil Wears Prada to the suburbs and adds a twist of mystery.

Currently a freelance journalist, I spent five years as a reporter and editor of a weekly newspaper in [redacted]. My work has also appeared in Westchester Magazine and the Improper Bostonian, and has earned awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association and the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists. I am currently working on my second novel.

The full manuscript is available. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by Joel Q » March 16th, 2011, 5:22 pm

Go with the second, it has good voice.
I am assuming the voice of the second is more in line with the voice in the manuscript.

At just under 230 words, you've got a good description of the story, the setting and characters.
JQ

I really dislike it when people rewrite entire queries. It destroys the author's voice.
It's better to let people know what points, phrases and words are disliked and liked about the query.
That really gives the most help, unless someone is totally clueless.
But here that is not the case, a solid first draft.

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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by glj » March 16th, 2011, 5:37 pm

I like version 2 better, also.

With apologies to JoelQ, I think Enewmeyer did a good job of providing an example of how version 2 could be shortened, but without losing important material. The author can study the example in order to come up with his or her own take, if desired.

One point. Don't break your query up into so many little paragraphs. The first three paragraphs of version 2 are all on the same subject--Liz's work life.

The "He can't" seems unnecessary.

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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by brandileigh2003 » March 16th, 2011, 6:28 pm

I like the 2nd one better, definitely. I hear voice, and I know more what the main character is like and what she wants. It could use a bit of shortening, but not too much. Does it fit on one page? If so, disregard my length.
I agree with the poster who said you needed to include genre.

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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by enewmeyer » March 16th, 2011, 6:35 pm

Author, I didn't mean to offend you or Joel Q by rewriting your query. I simply don't know how to use the buttons to do what I want quite yet. I've been told that you need to stick to under 200 words (150-180 would be ideal) in your query. In totality query 2 has 357 words. Writing a succint query that still shows voice is tough but I think you've got a great storyline. Good luck!

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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by Laura516 » March 16th, 2011, 7:10 pm

No offense at all, Enewmeyer. I completely understand what you're getting at. Thanks so much to all of you for your feedback. I've been in a little writing cave with no idea how anything sounded, so this has been extremely helpful. I'll go ahead and revise version two, but feel free to leave more feedback in the meantime! Thanks!

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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by sarahdee » March 17th, 2011, 11:43 pm

It sounds interesting. If the manuscript has as much humour as the query I would buy it!

I made a few small points below which might, or might not, help! I liked version 2 better so my comments are on that.
Laura516 wrote:
Newbie journalist Elizabeth Mitchell wants to change the world – not wrap a veil around it. But in steeple-dotted Stockhill (a Manhattan suburb she hopes will lead to a national byline elsewhere) nothing negative is on the record; Lance Wharton, her millionaire watchdog of a boss, makes sure of that.

Those domestic violence reports? Misunderstandings. That lingering swinger culture? Just rumors about good friends. The he-man woman-haters club disguised as a seniors group? Nothing but feminist paranoia. This is a very catchy para!

Liz plays along – sacrificing her morals for bake sales and Stockhill’s utopian facade – because a good recommendation could skyrocket her career but prematurely churning the waters could sink it.

You could shorten these three paras above as there is some repetition in the 1st and 3rd. I would consider moving the 'Liz plays along at first to the end of the first para and deleting the rest of the third para.

E.g.
Newbie journalist Elizabeth Mitchell wants to change the world – not wrap a veil around it. But in steeple-dotted Stockhill (a Manhattan suburb she hopes will lead to a national byline elsewhere) nothing negative is on the record; Lance Wharton, her millionaire watchdog of a boss, makes sure of that. Liz plays along at first in the hopes a good recommendation will get her career back on track.

The para 2 and delete 3


Then the story of the century hits. Not even Lance can hide the public death of a young woman. But the victim is an outsider with no family, and the police hastily rule it a suicide. No one can argue except Sgt. Cole Parker, a local cop who knew the victim but has been ordered to hold his tongue.

He can’t.

Behind the backs of 8,000 residents determined to keep their rose-tinted outlooks, Cole presses Liz to remember why she became a journalist and to help him solve a murder. The deeper she digs, the more the clues implicate both Cole (whom she simultaneously detests and wants to slather with chocolate syrup) and the town’s first family. Ok, I know you need to lose rather than add word count but I'd like to hear just a bit more about this first family. What sort of excitement they might add? What she uncovers could either expose the dirt behind Stockhill’s silken fabric or bury Liz six feet beneath it.

From the comical to the diabolical, UTOPIA UNRAVELING (117,000 words) peeks into a society more concerned with the placement of garbage bins than corruption among its most respected families. The debut novel brings The Devil Wears Prada to the suburbs and adds a twist of mystery.

From what your query says, it doesn't sound that much like Devil Wears Prada apart from it is about a journalist so I don't understand that comparison. Maybe explain why (I guess if we knew more about the first family and their influence that would help - is there a Miranda Priestly grandmother character) or use a different comparison.

Currently a freelance journalist, I spent five years as a reporter and editor of a weekly newspaper in [redacted]. My work has also appeared in Westchester Magazine and the Improper Bostonian, and has earned awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association and the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists. I am currently working on my second novel. not necessary - it is this book you are trying to sell, they will assume you are still writing

The full manuscript is available. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by androidblues » March 18th, 2011, 3:36 pm

The second query, definitely. The first one is too vague. It made me think she was a school teacher. The second one captures your voice and tells me exactly what the book is about. But like others have said, shorten it to under 250 words.
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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by AllieS » March 19th, 2011, 2:31 am

I like the second one best. I tried not to read the other comments, so what I say is what comes to mind after reading it.

Newbie journalist Elizabeth Mitchell wants to change the world – not wrap a veil around it. But in steeple-dotted Stockhill (a Manhattan suburb she hopes will lead to a national byline elsewhere) This part takes me out of the flow a little. I think the query would be more effective without it. nothing negative is on the record; Lance Wharton, her millionaire watchdog of a boss, makes sure of that.

Those domestic violence reports? Misunderstandings. That lingering swinger culture? Just rumors about good friends. The he-man woman-haters club disguised as a seniors group? Nothing but feminist paranoia. I really like these lines. They add a little flavor to the query.

Liz plays along – sacrificing her morals for bake sales and Stockhill’s utopian facade – because a good recommendation could skyrocket her career but prematurely churning the waters could sink it. I don't know if it's the phrasing of this line but it doesn't work for me. I think you get the point across without it.

Then the story of the century hits. Not even Lance can hide the public death of a young woman. You could probably find a way to combine these lines to make the query shorter. But the victim is an outsider with no family, and the police hastily rule it a suicide. No one can argue except Sgt. Cole Parker, a local cop who knew the victim but has been ordered to hold his tongue.

He can’t.

Behind the backs of 8,000 residents determined to keep their rose-tinted outlooks, Cole presses Liz to remember why she became a journalist and to help him solve a murder. I think starting with the next line is more effective. This whole sentence seems a little lackluster compared to the rest of the query. The deeper she digs, the more the clues implicate both Cole (whom she simultaneously detests and wants to slather with chocolate syrup) and the town’s first family. What she uncovers could either expose the dirt behind Stockhill’s silken fabric or bury Liz six feet beneath it.

I think this sounds really good!

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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by Netti » March 20th, 2011, 9:11 pm

Laura516 wrote:VERSION #2:

Newbie journalist Elizabeth Mitchell wants to change the world – not wrap a veil around it. But in steeple-dotted Stockhill (a Manhattan suburb she hopes will lead to a national byline elsewhere) nothing negative is on the record; Lance Wharton, her millionaire watchdog of a boss, makes sure of that.

Those domestic violence reports? Misunderstandings. That lingering swinger culture? Just rumors about good friends. The he-man woman-haters club disguised as a seniors group? Nothing but feminist paranoia.

Liz plays along – sacrificing her morals for bake sales and Stockhill’s utopian facade – because a good recommendation could skyrocket her career but prematurely churning the waters could sink it.

Then the story of the century hits. Not even Lance can hide the public death of a young woman. But the victim is an outsider with no family, and the police hastily rule it a suicide. No one can argue except Sgt. Cole Parker, a local cop who knew the victim but has been ordered to hold his tongue.

He can’t.

Behind the backs of 8,000 residents determined to keep their rose-tinted outlooks, Cole presses Liz to remember why she became a journalist and to help him solve a murder. The deeper she digs, the more the clues implicate both Cole (whom she simultaneously detests and wants to slather with chocolate syrup) and the town’s first family. What she uncovers could either expose the dirt behind Stockhill’s silken fabric or bury Liz six feet beneath it.

From the comical to the diabolical, UTOPIA UNRAVELING (117,000 words) peeks into a society more concerned with the placement of garbage bins than corruption among its most respected families. The debut novel brings The Devil Wears Prada to the suburbs and adds a twist of mystery.

Currently a freelance journalist, I spent five years as a reporter and editor of a weekly newspaper in [redacted]. My work has also appeared in Westchester Magazine and the Improper Bostonian, and has earned awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association and the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists.I am currently working on my second novel.

The full manuscript is available. Thank you for your time and consideration.

The second one is much better and I think it works even without the paragraphs I striked out. The title makes more sense too in the version. Good luck! It sounds interesting.
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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by Falls Apart » March 21st, 2011, 11:43 am

Personally, I like the first version best. It sets a good tone.

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Re: Query: Serious vs. Jokey...

Post by Chazemataz » March 23rd, 2011, 8:55 pm

Falls Apart wrote:Personally, I like the first version best. It sets a good tone.
Agreed. The second one seems to be too "wordy" and beats around the bush too much. Also, be careful of the references to popular works (Devil Wears Prada). I understand the reference, but some agents seem to look down on it.

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