The Incredible Race Query Letter

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The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Username » June 14th, 2010, 12:28 pm

I posted an excerpt of my story in the excerpts section of this forum.

Thanks to a few of the forum members, who encouraged me to write this, I've finally written a query letter for this novel. I hope you like it.

Note that I've been revising this according to the suggestions made by the helpful people who frequent this forum.

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THE INCREDIBLE RACE (60,000 words; comedic literary fiction; influenced by P.G. Wodehouse)

Sir Hugo Cornelius Crumpet, the multimillionaire owner of the world's largest toothpick manufacturing company, Crumpet Toothpics, has passed away.

Sir Hugo’s offspring have assembled at Crumpet Towers, in London, England, believing his estate will be divided equally amongst the seven of them. But much to the dismay of the Crumpets, they learn that Sir Hugo digitally recorded an alternate will, which was delivered to his barrister’s office just days before his death.

And so, from beyond the grave, Sir Hugo communicates the shocking news to his children, that only one of them will benefit financially from his death. The Crumpets learn they must race each other around the world in competition for their deceased father's fortune.

Join Father Charles Crumpet, Lucy Lou Crumpet, Comrade Joseph Crumpet, the evil Garth Crumpet, the twins, Bertha and Gertha Crumpet, and young Waldo Crumpet, on a race around the world.

When Waldo finds himself walking a tightrope over a river filled with ravenous crocodiles, and the evil Garth on the opposite bank attempting to cut the rope, it's up to Bertha and Gertha to save the day. Can Comrade Crumpet in his canoe, and without any oars, grab hold of the rope to avoid certain death from the looming waterfall? Will Father Crumpet, hanging upside down from a nearby branch, manage to free himself before the local cannibals return to collect him for the pot? Can Lucy Lou maintain her present lead, having recently been shot from a cannon? Betrayals and broken alliances abound - but in the midst of all this chaos there is also the possibility of reconciliation, as one by one the Crumpets attempt to repair old family wounds.

What matters is not the destination, but the journey. Cheer on your favorite family member as the Crumpets race to determine which member will become the sole recipient of Sir Hugo’s toothpick fortune.

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The excerpt can be read here:

viewtopic.php?f=15&t=1467
Last edited by Username on June 24th, 2010, 10:50 pm, edited 31 times in total.

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Meredith » June 14th, 2010, 1:44 pm

Three things spring to mind on first reading.

If Sir Hugo died at ninety, I'm guessing that his kids are in their sixties and seventies. If this isn't the case, you might want to make it clear early on.

You don't give a genre. From the humorous feel of the story, my first guess would by YA, but the putative age of the characters seems incongruous with that.

Is there one character that is the protagonist? If so, there should be some indication of that right at the beginning. (I'm guessing the orphan, but I don't know how he got into this.)
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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by lachrymal » June 14th, 2010, 2:48 pm

Sir Hugo Cornelius Crumpet, the multi-millionaire owner of the world's largest toothpick manufacturing company, Crumpet Toothpicks, has passed away at the age of ninety.

Happily believing that [you probably don't need this "that"] his estate will be divided evenly amongst the six of them, Sir Hugo's offspring assemble at Crumpet Towers for the reading of his Last Will and Testament [why can't you just say "his will"?]. Before the reading commences however [if you keep this "however", you need commas around it. However, you could also say "Just before the reading commences, ..."]the Crumpets learn that Sir Hugo, at the last possible moment, digitally recorded an alternate Will, and had it sent to his barrister’s office just days before his death [you've got some redundancy here--"at the last possible moment" and the final clause of this sentence mean the same thing, so choose one and delete the other].

And so [comma] from beyond the grave [comma] Sir Hugo communicates the shocking news to his children - that [you could delete this "that"]only one of them will benefit financially from his death.

The Crumpets, emotionally divided [you could move this to the beginning of the sentence: "Emotionally divided, the Crumpets..."], learn that [another unnecessary "that"]they must race each other around the world in competition ["race each other" and "in competition" is another example of redundancy.] for their deceased father's fortune.

Join Father Charles Crumpet, Lucy Lou Crumpet, Comrade Joseph Crumpet, the evil Garth Crumpet, the two twins, Bertha and Gertha Crumpet, and Waldo - a young boy from Tunbridge Wells who has yearned to see what lies beyond the boundaries of the orphanage - on a race around the world, as one by one the Crumpets follow in the footsteps of the Jules Verne fictional character, Phileas Fogg. [this is a loooooong sentence. Break. It. Up! Also--the orphan boy comes from nowhere. Is he one of the children? I guess not, since you list six characters before him and you say there are six kids, so I have absolutely no idea who this kid is or why you're mentioning him, especially because you don't say anything else about him. And finally, your reference to Around the World in 80 Days--"one by one" they follow in the footsteps of Phileas? I thought they were racing simultaneously? This confused me. Apart from the fact that it's a race around the world, is there any other significance to this Verne reference?]

The Incredible Race, a sixty-thousand word novel, will have you cheering for your favorite family member, as the Crumpets race to see which member will inherit Sir Hugo's toothpick fortune.
I suggest you don't tell the cynical agent that he/she will be cheering for his/her favorite family member. It's just baiting the agent, and I've read so many of them commenting negatively on stuff like this. Just say the title, which should be in all caps (INCREDIBLE RACE), the word count (don't spell it out! It should be "60,000 words"), and the genre (because it's really not obvious, and you need to say what it is. It reads a little like a children's book query, but the characters are all older except for the orphan). And of course, a little about your background as a writer.

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Username » June 14th, 2010, 3:25 pm

Iachrymal, thanks for the suggestions. I've implemented a few of them - but not all.

Clearly, you dislike the word 'that'. LOL!

I actually believe that editors (whoops, I did it again!) have gotten a little carried away in the past decade or so in attempting to remove this word from sentences - yes, it's redundant in many cases, but removing this word can drastically alter the 'sound' of the sentence. I prefer having it in there myself. Nevertheless, it's a stylistic decision.

Also, the omission of the comma in certain sentences - which was something you spotted - was a deliberate decision. Commas can get in the way and slow down the reader. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and have posted about it at other forums - I have no idea why, but the omission of a comma where 'it's supposed to be' can make people insanely angry. To comma, or not to comma! Or rather, to comma or not to comma!

Long sentences? Again, that's deliberate.

Have you read 'Heat' by Bill Buford? If you want to find out what a long sentence is then check it out.

Two people have posted so far, and both have been confused by the mention of Waldo, which was meant to intrigue the reader. Guess it's not working. Ah well, back to the drawing board then.

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Username » June 14th, 2010, 3:30 pm

Also, a few of you have actually read this excerpt. Maybe you could help me out here.

The two forum members above have both wanted to know what genre this novel fits into? But how do I classify a novel that doesn't really fit into any genre?

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Username » June 14th, 2010, 5:21 pm

Okay, thanks, guys. I made the changes. Hopefully it's better now. Thanks, Lachrymal, you were right about mostly everything.

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 14th, 2010, 7:17 pm

Better than I expected, Username! It would be interesting to compare this to the one you sent to 47 agents.

I see you have already incorporated some useful suggestions from other commenters. I agree with Meredith that this might best be sold as Young Adult, probably Young Adult Comedy. Waldo is twelve, Middle Grade in the strict sense, but the other characters are adults.

The category labels do not have to fit exactly. Just chose the best fit. I classify my own series as YA steampunk, as my first person narrator is sixteen, but most of the other characters are adults, and the technology is more 1930s than Victorian.

A YA label does not preclude older or younger readers, of course. Mayor Bransford suggests using bookstore shelving categories, but Irish bookstores perversely refuse to follow Nathan's excellent advice and have no Middle Grade or Young Adult sections! They DO have sections for 'Children' and 'Teenagers', whatever they might be. Small humans, I think.

You might specify Waldo's age in the query, and disclose that he is Sir Hugo's seventh child. And I think you are correct to name all the seven offspring, as it is an ensemble piece with multiple points-of-view.

I must say (that!) I agree with Lachrymal regarding 'that' and commas. I use Word's 'find' function and find an average of one unnecessary 'that' on each of my pages. Commas and short sentences both divide and separate things, but paradoxically smooth the flow of writing and reading. Likewise short paragraphs, which you use in your query, and short chapters, which we discussed in the EXCERPTS forum.

You might give a highlight or two from the race itself, though I must admit I like to see more of the story in a query than do some commenters. Bravo for doing this, Username, and I look forward to other comments with interest.

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Username » June 14th, 2010, 7:48 pm

Thanks for the encouragement.

I'm still not sure (that!) it's good enough. I wonder if it will convince anybody here to click on the link and read the excerpt - LOL! Ah well, I'm trying... I'm trying.

Thanks for the help, guys.

EDIT: Jesus, now that I look at it from the distance of six hours, I can see that the changes made it much better. Wow, feedback can be vital?

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Username » June 14th, 2010, 10:48 pm

For whatever it's worth, here's one of the crazy things I was thinking about this afternoon (sadly, this is the sort of thing that happens when you've got too much time on your hands).

Apparently The Beetles, when writing songs, would often take their ideas and mull them over in front of family members, friends, and acquaintances - people coming into the studio, randomly, would be asked their opinion of a lyric or a riff. If, say, fifty people hated something, then The Beetles reasoned it was likely that five hundred thousand other people would probably hate it as well. In consequence, they would make the necessary changes to whatever song they were working on at the time.

Essentially, they would listen to The Great Unwashed. The Great Unwashed, would, after all, be listening to their music.

I then thought about a game designer named Will Wright.

More than ten years ago, Will Wright was working on what was essentially a people simulator. He had a working beta version of the program, and took it to Electronic Arts, the eventual publisher of the game. EA assembled a focus group and asked the members what they thought of the game. The members unanimously hated the game, and said they wouldn't want to play it at all. They hated it, hated it, hated it.

The game was called The Sims, and, to date, 100 million units in the franchise have been sold. It's the best selling game in the history of video gaming.

So the question is: at what point, as a commercial artist, do you just shut up and listen to people - and at what point do you decide that THEY'RE the ones who are wrong?

Supposing you've written a novel that's a bit unusual? People might not 'get it' right away for that reason. If you were to abandon the novel then you might be giving up on something that could potentially save you. Then again, your novel might be absolute crap, and you'd be better off abandoning it, and moving on. Or maybe all you'd need to do would be to make one or two changes in order to save it?

Any thoughts or opinions about this?

Have you ever felt that somebody was just plain wrong about your work? Have you ever decided that they were right after all?
Last edited by Username on June 15th, 2010, 2:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Meredith » June 14th, 2010, 11:47 pm

Username wrote:For whatever it's worth, here's one of the crazy things I was thinking about this afternoon (sadly, this is the sort of thing that happens when you've got too much time on your hands).

So the question is: at what point, as a commercial artist, do you just shut up and listen to people - and at what point do you decide that THEY'RE the ones who are wrong?

Supposing you've written a novel that's a bit unusual? People might not 'get it' right away for that reason. If you were to abandon the novel then you might be giving up on something that could potentially save you. Then again, your novel might be absolute crap, and you'd be better off abandoning it, and moving on. Or maybe all you'd need to do was to make one or two changes in order to save it?

Any thoughts or opinions about this?

Have you ever felt that somebody was just plain wrong about your work? Have you ever decided that they were right after all?
As with any criticism, you have to take what you can use and forget the rest. I try never to ignore a critique. It's best to remember that a reader can never be wrong about their experience of your work. That doesn't mean that you have to act on every critique. Some people just aren't your target audience. Some have a pet peeve (like the word 'that' :) ). In the end, it's your work. You have to believe in it or no one else will.

One of my short stories (which is still seeking a home), is a story within a story. The inner story is told as a fable. One of its first rejections came back that the reader didn't care for the fable-like feel of the story. Well, that just means I achieved what I was trying to do. That reader didn't care for it. But that doesn't mean I need to change anything. I just have to find an editor that likes it. :D
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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Emily J » June 15th, 2010, 10:37 am

Username wrote:I posted an excerpt of my story in the excerpts section of this forum.

Thanks to a few of the forum members, who encouraged me to write this, I've finally written a query letter for this novel. I hope you like it.

-----------------------------------------------
(Revised - based on the suggestions so far)

Sir Hugo Cornelius Crumpet, i luv this name! the multi-millionaire owner of the world's largest toothpick manufacturing company, Crumpet Toothpicks, has passed away.

Sir Hugo’s offspring have assembled at Crumpet Towers for the reading of his Will, does this need to be capitalized? *not sure* secure in their belief not thrilled with "secure in their belief" feels a bit weak to me his estate will be divided equally between them. But much to the dismay of the Crumpets, they soon learn that Sir Hugo digitally recorded an alternate Will, which was mysteriously is this adverb necessary? i think the delivery is probably not the most mysterious thing here delivered to his barrister’s are we in england? i bet we are office just days before his death.

And so, from beyond the grave, Sir Hugo communicates the shocking news to his children, that only one of them will benefit financially from his death.

The Crumpets learn they must race each other around the world in competition for their deceased father's fortune.

Join Father Charles Crumpet, Lucy Lou Crumpet, Comrade Joseph Crumpet, the evil Garth Crumpet, and the twins, Bertha and Gertha Crumpet, on a race around the world. THE INCREDIBLE RACE is a 60,000 word novel, written to be humorous and fun - cheer on your favorite family member as the Crumpets race to determine which member will become the sole recipient of Sir Hugo’s vast toothpick empire.
-----------------------------------------------

The excerpt can be read here:

viewtopic.php?f=15&t=1467

Can the Nobel Prize for Literature be far off?
I really like your character names. This feels a lot like It's a mad mad mad mad world in book form. It sounds like MG not YA to me as others have commented. And I am assuming that it deals with all the Crumpet descendants equally, if there is a central character, however, it might make sense to give the MC a bit more characterization.

But honestly I think this reads pretty well right now. Good luck!

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Username » June 15th, 2010, 2:18 pm

I'm beginning to re-think the word 'that'.

I think that maybe I do over-use it?

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Username » June 15th, 2010, 2:22 pm

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World - in book from... yes!

I would agree completely with this. I might even use that in the query letter! Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!

Also, I made the changes, Emily. Thanks.

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by Username » June 15th, 2010, 2:47 pm

Thanks again for the comments, guys. This has been a very positive experience.

How amazing, the suggestions people made! Of my original query, people said that commas were out of place, or not used at all, that the word 'that' was... er, over-used, that there were unnecessary adverbs, and redundant or weak phrases. Also, people were confused by the mention of Waldo, which I decided to omit entirely.

I think that this edited version is much stronger than the original. I encourage you to follow the link and have a look at the excerpt itself! Jesus, I wish this forum had been erected ten years ago. Erected?

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Re: The Incredible Race Query Letter

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 16th, 2010, 8:18 pm

The stories about the Beatles and THE SIMS focus group do not surprise me, Username. Everyone is wrong some of the time and some people are wrong all of the time. Luckily, the first group greatly outnumbers the second. And someone who is very right about one thing may be very wrong about another. The person with the best sight may also have the biggest blind spot. I have strongly disagreed with some critiques on these forums, but never completely. Probably millions of people hate Harry Potter and TWILIGHT, but tens of millions love them.

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