Tag Archives: voice

Query Wednesday – How short is too short?

Dear Agent,

                Few things happen in the snooty town of Pappington besides yachting, shopping, and gossip. But when Peter Aristot—a handsome teenager from a Kennedy-like family—is paired to do a science project with classmate Lizzie Willard—a misfit girl attending their prep school on a scholarship—the usual upper-class activities come to a standstill. In fact, everything comes to a standstill. Only after a plane falls from the sky, crashed cars clog the street, and hundreds of piles of clothes litter the town does Maxwell Frederick Axington III—a strangely informative eight-year old with a penchant for fireworks—inform Peter and Lizzie that they are the only ones left in Pappington and that they were paired together to do something much more than an eighth-grade science project.

                Timshel is my first, but hopefully not last, foray into fiction. It is a 50,000-word, upper-middle-grade fantasy novel.  I wrote it for the shy kid in the back of his middle school class who, more than anything, wishes he could be on an adventure far, far away from anywhere algebra is taught.

                I have a degree in English, an advanced degree in management, and a J.D.

                I’d be delighted to send you my complete manuscript for your review. I know you receive dozens of submissions each day, so I truly appreciate your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


We’ve all seen the recommendation: keep your query short. But how short is too short? That depends a lot on the kind of manuscript you have. A straight-forward contemporary romance, for instance, will probably take less explaining than an intricate high fantasy. But, no matter what you’re writing, the first thing you need to do is make sure your story is clear. Worry about the rest later.

This sounds like an interesting plot. The characters sound interesting, the events sound interesting. But I don’t really know what the plot is. Not really. I just have a vague idea. I don’t need to know every twist and turn, but I do have to be able to picture it. The way it is, it’s too summarized. What does “everything comes to a standstill” mean? Does it mean they walk out of school to find everyone frozen? Or just the things like planes and cars? And how do they find out? Is it when the plane crashes? Is it inside the school? What is the scene that gets this started? What happens? I want to picture this, but I can’t because I don’t have enough information.

The writing in this query is really good. It all sounds intriguing, all the sentences have sort of a cliffhanger quality to them… It’s all very well planned. But it lacks a bit of showing. And it lacks a POV. It would help if we saw this through someone’s eyes. For instance: “Few things happen in the snooty town of Pappington besides yachting, shopping, and gossip. That much is clear to Lizzie Willard, the only kid attending the local prep school on a scholarship. No money, here, definitely means no friends. So she’s sure being paired up with Peter Aristot—the cutest boy in school, with a family that acts like they’re hotter than the Kennedy’s—can’t be a good thing. She just doesn’t imagine how bad it could be. When the clocks in school stop working, Lizzie and Peter think it’s odd. But when a plane falls from the sky? Yeah, bad. Now the entire world is on standstill and they have no idea what to do.” (This is just an example off the top of my head, guys. I haven’t read this author’s manuscript.)

Do you know how many extra words that was, when compared to the first five lines of the original query? 45. That’s all. And there you have POV, voice and a clearer explanation of what is going on. You have showing rather than telling.

Of course I won’t tell you to write a four-page query. Please, don’t! But when you’re cutting, make sure it’s really worth it. This original query is 232 words. No agent would complain about a 300-word query. Really, for most, as long as you stay under 500 words, you’re fine—although I don’t see a need to go that long unless your plot is really complicated.

(Unless, of course, the agent tells you otherwise on his or her guidelines. Agents’ submission guidelines always, always trump anything I say here. When I say most agents, it probably doesn’t work for all agents. Check guidelines first and follow them!)

And if you need cutting? Cut at the end. The fact that this is your first foray into fiction? Not necessary. That you wrote it for the shy kid? Really cute (I’d probably keep that, I’m a softy), but in the end, not necessary. Your degrees? Nope. How busy the agent is? Nope.

If you really need to cut, the last three paragraphs could be reduced to, “Timshel is a 50,000-word, upper-middle-grade fantasy novel that would compare to XX. I thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.” That’s it.

But your plot? Your voice? That certainly cannot be cut. Make sure that’s in your query.

Thanks for the query! I hope this was helpful!

Want to have your query analyzed too? Send it to gabriela@gabrielalessaeditor.com with the subject line QUERY WEDNESDAY.

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