I've only just joined this group and am unsure of myself. I'm feeling very low about the query letters I've sent out to different agents for a first novel (the base remains the same, but is tailored to different aspects of the agencies that interested me). After twenty rejections and one bite (that finally turned into "despite much I admire here, I do not feel I could represent this..."), I stopped sending queries. Rejection was too painful. Yesterday I started up again and sent out a query with no sample pages of the MS. Desperately need feedback! I'm leaving out here the first paragraph with length, genre, why I chose the agent:
After twenty years living as an expatriate painter in Paris Louisa is bilingual, but the English-speaking half of her brain still interprets the French word for “bread” as “pain”—a linguistic joke that makes buying baguettes difficult: the Pleasure of Bread and the Art of Bread are transmuted into their darker counterparts, Art of Pain and Pleasure of Pain.
Not a willing masochist, Louisa’s favorite food is bread. The abundance of excellent pain (sic) in France allows her to reflect on the idea and taste of pain. Her own as well as the hurtful, warping moments that molded family, friends and lovers into the people they are, squashed by life into rusty baking tins. Hard to change once you’re baked into a crusty loaf. We first meet the child Louisa on a beach, improbably paired with Connie, her ancient, tightly corseted Nana—a woman in perpetual mourning. They dislike each other intensely, seemingly linked only by the rogue gene that has given them both webbed toes. Unraveling Connie’s past back to her transatlantic crossing from Scotland to New York in 1901, and following Louisa’s trail back across the Atlantic as an adult to a life in France, we learn that both women have been marked by dreams, diffident lovers and an insidious gene that made them prone to flee men who loved them. Connie always curbing her impulses, Louisa ineptly following hers. After Connie’s death, Louisa braids together the disparate threads of their lives; discovering Connie’s crucial fear of risk-taking and the suffering it caused, Louisa may learn to believe in herself enough to have faith in others. Satellite characters are introduced chapter by chapter, contributing their angles on Connie, Louisa and the daily pains that knead us all together. The POV is usually omniscient narrator, but for the chapters concerning Louisa, she has taken the reins and speaks in the first person.
I have a BA in French and English literature (Mount Holyoke College, 1987), but have lived in Paris ever since, working primarily as modern dancer and choreographer. Over the past three years I’ve shifted from movements to words. Nothing published as yet. I am currently exploring the genre “microfictionphoto” (25-word short stories embedded in photos of my Parisian neighborhood.) Some of these are posted on my blog: http://www.headlessladythinks.com/ .
I’d be glad to send you the first chapters of The Taste of Pain if you so wish. Thanks for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Too long, too convoluted, too something else?
Normally I would tell you what I think of your story in general, however this query is over 400 words long and I have no idea what this story is about.
From the little I was able to gather I would say. A girl who doesn't get along with her aunt realizes they have more in common then she thought after he aunt dies. That's what I got out of reading the query 4 times.
I understand you are trying to compare people to bread, however, you spend approx 125 words discussing something that doesn't tell us about the story. The query is not a place to spread your philosophy. If this is an important part of the book, fine, spend one or two quick lines as your hook. “People, like bread,…”
“Satellite characters are introduced chapter by chapter, contributing their angles on…” Don’t tell us how the book is structured let us know how they contribute.
Bio: Mentioning your degrees is fine. Since the book is set, at least in part, in France you can leave in the fact that you live there. The rest of it is irrelevant and takes up your word count.
Your personal blog is not writing experience. If you want the agent to know about your blog, but it in your contract in.
“Thank you for your consideration.
This might seem harsh but I think you need to start again. May I suggest that you go to a site called QueryShark.com. It is run by an agent in New York, she critiques queries and has great information.
I agree with Michelle (& Nancy). And since a query letter needs to clearly state what the story and is about and show the style of it, I too would recommend that you start over. In addition to Queryshark.com, if there are agents you are interested in, I would try to find what those agents are saying about queries, either in interviews or their blogs.
And as Nancy mentioned, where is the title? Oh wait, I just saw it when I scrolled up to reference something else. Yes, it needs to be stated clearly, closer to the beginning of the query. And when you do that, I would include genre & word count.
As for this : I’d be glad to send you the first chapters of The Taste of Pain if you so wish. Thanks for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon. I would remove "if you so wish". Snarky agent would probably pounce on that one.
Query letters are hard, but the good news is that there are resources online, and feedback from the lovely ladies here to help!
Don't know if I'm missed it, but where is the name of your book? I don't see it. The first graph should be a hook to intrigue the reader and you have plenty here that sounds intriguing. I think if you reorganized it somewhat, it would read better. And the parallel between bread (pain) and the pain of life is not fully developed, nor clear. The second graph is way too long and I feel you have a lot of superfluous info that should be substituted with something more meaty and explanatory (as I'm somewhat confused as to what the story is all about).
I think you have something here...an interesting concept, which could make for great reading. My suggestion is to start over and reorganize.
Hello, fellow MHC'er! I very much agree with Michelle & Nancy. I think you need to really trim this and one way you might want to get started is to think about your novel in 3 main bullet points. What's the story? What happens? What does it mean for the main character? Right now, it feels like reading a list of "and then, and then, and then" with small details that while quirky, might not be essential (webbed toes). The result is that it's ultimately confusing. Additionally, I would offer the complete manuscript simply to let the agent know that it's well and truly finished and they can decided if they want samples or the whole thing.
Please post back your revision. We would love to see it!
Erinn Kindig Richards
Thank you for your feedback. I knew the query was much too long. As to genre and word count I did not include them in what I posted here, but they are there in the query. The title, The Taste of Pain (also in the first paragraph I didn't include here), is important and WHY the book exists. Also why I speak so much about bread in the query. The character lives in Paris and cannot help but see the word "pain" every day, even though she does not see that something is painful is going on inside her that she needs to sort out. I will revise, but it will be a while. I urgently have to get on with job-hunting.