Wednesday, July 29, 2009

54 Query Contest

Dear Ms. Meadows,

Do you remember that house at the end of your block, the one your friends dared you to enter and your parents warned you to stay away from?

Maybe it was a stately mansion haunted by the ghostly victims of a murderous caretaker. Or maybe it was an abandoned hunting cabin tucked away beyond the treeline, housing some deranged killer. Perhaps it was a sand-blasted beach house where the spirits of sailors past still walked upon the foggy shoreline. Whatever the building, every neighborhood has that house upon the hill, a house of mystery and murder. “Crawl” is the tale of one such house in a community not unlike your own.

“Crawl” stands apart from the same-old horror story by giving readers intimate access to the observations and thoughts of the title character, a primitive monster in contemporary times. She roams the close, dark spaces between the walls of a dilapidated Victorian era house, with nothing to keep her company but the vermin she hunts for food and a pile of dusty bones she calls Mother. She is alone in the dark, until one day a young family comes knocking.

Will the creature’s horrific origin be revealed? Will the not-so-wholesome suburban family bring Crawl out into the light or join her down in the darkness? The answers will leave you not only stunned, but questioning the assumptions you’ve harbored all along.

I am currently seeking representation for my debut novel “Crawl,” a horror tale complete at approximately 70,000 words and a recent quarter-finalist submission in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. The subject material in “Crawl” is nearly as dark as the hidden spaces she calls home, so this particular novel is best suited for adult readers.

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon!


Sincerely,





Her first memory was of Mother. So still, Mother. Always staring, always smiling. Quiet Mother.

She could also remember hearing muffled noises from the Others outside. Screams mostly, sometimes crying. But that was long ago. After a while the sounds had stopped, leaving just her and silent Mother. That was fine. More food for the two of them.

Her room was small and cold and very dark. No windows, no doors she could open. One way in and one way out. The flies and spiders found other ways, yes, but through paths too small even for her.

She had learned to be quicker than those she stalked. Starvation through failure, survival through success. The eight-legged weavers taught her patience. The winged ones preached quickness and vigilance. The hard-backed scavengers showed her that a meal can always be found when you really need it. The creatures of the dark were her teachers, her friends, her food. She turned on them in order to survive.

She grabbed them before they could scurry back into the shadows, back through the cracks in the wall. The spiders, grown fat on flies, squished soft and spindly in her mouth. The flies themselves, helplessly wrapped in silky coats, easily plucked from their captors’ webs. Beetle shells crunched between her teeth. Worms slithered down her throat. They were her prey, she was the hunter. She had no name. Mother had not given her one, silent Mother. If she had a name, it would be for what she did best. It would be for the way she moved on the hunt, the only way she knew how to survive.

If she had a name, it would be Crawl.

32 comments:

  1. Until the third paragraph I had no idea what this story was about and even then, other than knowing a monster somehow interacts with a young family, I still don't know. Sorry I like the idea of a story from the monster's pov, but I'm not hooked.

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  2. So I was going to tell you to get rid of your rhetorical questions (I rarely like them in queries). Then I was going to tell you to get to your point sooner. Then I really liked the last sentence of the first para: "Crawl" is the tale of one such house in a community not unlike your own. I liked how it personalized the query, making me think about THAT house in the neighborhood where I grew up.

    So I read the sample page. Very good writing. It's not my genre, but I think this could be good. Really good.

    Oh, wait. I do have one paragraph I didn't like much. The "Will the creature's horrific origin be revealed?" Honestly, I think you should just take out the paragraph. I love the last sentence of the previous one. "She is alone in the dark, until one day a young family comes knocking."

    That leaves me NEEDING to know what happens.

    I hope this query works for you. The only thing I suggest is not calling it your debut novel. Agents don't want to know this is your first book.

    Great job! It'll be interesting to see if others liked this too.

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  3. I became disinterested in the second paragraph. Even if the manuscript follows Crawl through these types of homes, it's not integral to the conflict and action of the novel. I'd rather get to who/what/how!

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  4. I love the concept, but I almost stopped reading the query twice before I got there. You see, my neighborhood didn't have such a house and I got tired of the presumption that you could talk to a non existent shared experience.

    Start with your character, what is important to crawl, and how will the changes that happen in the novel bring about change to crawl.

    good luck.

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  5. Not hooked. I grew up in a trailer park, so none of your rhetorical questions really pertained to me. Not only that, but the questions completely took me out of your query, and by the end of the first paragraph I didn't care what it was about anymore.

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  6. The second paragraph, apart from the final sentence, isn't necessary. You aren't trying to sell descriptions of theoretical creepy houses, you're trying to sell THIS BOOK. So tell us about THIS BOOK!

    I don't mind the opening rhetorical question but the others became a bit too much. You're the author! Own the story.

    So with all the extra space that frees up, tell us *about the story*. Crawl is a character, but the story doesn't begin until the young family gets there. What happens to them? Why should an agent (or a reader) want to know what happens to them?

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  7. Do you remember that house at the end of your block, the one your friends dared you to enter and your parents warned you to stay away from? No I don't...

    Maybe it was a stately mansion haunted by the ghostly victims of a murderous caretaker. Or maybe it wasn't. Was it or wasn't it?

    Or maybe it was an abandoned hunting cabin tucked away beyond the treeline, housing some deranged killer. Ummm...no....not in my neighbourhood. Get to the point!

    Perhaps it was a sand-blasted beach house where the spirits of sailors past still walked upon the foggy shoreline. But I didn't live by the seaside....

    Whatever the building, every neighborhood has that house upon the hill, a house of mystery and murder. No, not in my neighbourhood. Sorry. Perhaps in a cliche'ed one.

    “Crawl” is the tale of one such house in a community not unlike your own. Hmmm...I think not. And I think I wouldn't read further than this.

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  8. I like the concept of your novel. If I were an agent, I would probably request a partial... if... your query letter didn't have so many rhetorical questions and if you got to your story right away instead of paragraph 3. Also the sentence "The answers will leave you not only stunned...." is not appropriate for a query. You should never tell a reader how they will feel when they read your story. Tighten the query and I think you have a good shot!

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  9. I was hooked but agree that if I grew up in an apartment building or trailer park instead of a creepy old house (which I did!) I might be put off by the rhetoricals. Good writing in the first 250.

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  10. I'd cut the second paragraph, except the last sentence. It isn't about your book. I'd also cut the paragraph that begins, "Will the creature's horrific origin be revealed?" Tell us more what the book is about instead of hinting at things it might be about. Unusual concept, but I'm not hooked.

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  11. The query hooked me with the first sentence. However, I think it can be tighter if you cut the following paragraph: "Will the creature’s horrific origin be revealed? Will the not-so-wholesome suburban family bring Crawl out into the light or join her down in the darkness? The answers will leave you not only stunned, but questioning the assumptions you’ve harbored all along." Leaving it in sounds more movie trailer like. I also think that eliminating the final sentence in the last paragraph would be good as well.

    The sample page didn't capture me as much of the query, but that may be because there wasn't any action. It felt more like a prologue, even though it was well written. I would probably ask to see more however.

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  12. Remove all of the rhetorical questions.

    Do it.

    DO IT! ahahahaha

    Really you should remove the first two paragraphs entirely. I understand what you're trying to do here, but those are all wasted words.

    My problem with your query is one I see all the time. You're talking about the book instead of telling us the STORY of the book.

    I don't care that it stands apart from the same-old horror story, or what it gives readers, and I hate questions that only elicit the answer, "I don't know. You tell me."

    I want to know that a Crawl, a monster, lives a horrific, hidden life within the walls of a dilapidated Victorian. She lives alone until a young family decides to buy the place and restore it(?). (Why are they there?)

    I want to know what the whole paragraph that starts "Will the creature's..." even means. Because right now it's vague.

    Also, delete the sentence about how dark the subject material is, because it's unnecessary.

    Your query blurb should reveal the darkness of the story. It should spook me out and crescendo to a cliffhanger that makes me desperate to read more. ESPECIALLY since it's a horror novel.

    Basically, don't tell me about CRAWL... tell me the story of your book.

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  13. I echo the comments above. Cut the questions and get to the meat of the matter. I don't care about creepy houses. I want to know about the monster. Because of the long buildup and all the rhetorical questions, I wasn't hooked.

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  14. I'm sorry... the query doesn't hook.

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  15. Too many rhetorical questions. I didn't have a house like that in my neighbourhood so after the first sentence I was thinking, "Enough already!" There's some good writing here but both the query and the partial need paring down to the important stuff.

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  16. Sorry, couldn't work my way through all those questions. And there was too much emphasis on Crawl crawling through an empty house rather than giving us some insight into what the action is...I assume the story starts when the new family moves in, but you only touch on that.

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  17. some agents, who are very busy, and make a partial form letter and then personalize it. I’m in this contest because I have difficulties writing queries, so my simple critique has to be taken with a grain of salt. I’m not going to address grammar or style, because, usually the agents don’t and you know who you are. I know what I like and am not sure of, so . . . I'm hooked. I enjoyed the for me unusual "Crawl" in the walls and think this would be a lot of fun. After reading your 250, I was still hopeful, although I wasn't presented with the inciting incident...which doesn't have to be in the 1st 250...I'd read on.

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  18. Yeah, the rhetorical questions got to be a bit much. I didn't mind the first one, but by the second paragraph, I really just wanted to know the story, not foster this shared-experience connection to it.

    I like the idea of a monster story told from a monstor's POV. But I almost thought this was going to be a story of redemption--the almost childlike-innocence to the shared-experience rhetorical questions, the "young" family that might bring Crawl to light... but then it seems to become darker in tone, and I'm not sure. I'd like more of a hint in the query whether this is going to end with happy monster and happy family, or is this is more along the lines of Steven King's early work?

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  19. I would get rid of the rhetorical questions. They're distracting. I would ax the entire second paragraph as well. It's not telling us anything about the story, and to be honest with you, my squeaky clean suburban neighborhood DIDN'T have one of those houses (which means that it's possible your favorite agent's didn't have one, either).

    I'd like to know more about Crawl. Set up that moment when the young family comes knocking; give us more of a blow-by-blow account. Then sprinkle in some of the back story to make us feel...what? Sympathy, revulsion, terror? I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about her, so making that clearer will go a long way.

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  20. You had me at the end of the first question, but then you kept on going about the house (we got it). You may have a good story, but a bad query here. Start with the idea as you did, then tell that crawl is about such a house, inhabited by a monster, add family. Now show us the dangers.

    In the snippet 'She could also' is weak. Then it becomes very telly. Start with something happening, rather than telling us about her. Show more. You can summarize what we missed later.

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  21. I am noticing a trend with my process here. I think about my responses as I am reading your query and snippet and feel one way, then other posters make their valid points, and they are so valid it sways my own thoughts. Reminds me of being in speech and debate. : )

    With that said, my first thought was that your question worked. I liked the second paragraph. But the points made by the others (not the Others in your book, haha) are so valid. Every neighborhood has that haunted house. Hm. Maybe it's more like every neighborhood where a creepy haunted house story is set has one. So, they are familiar to us, sure. But like the one poster said, you are speaking to an implied shared experience. Think how big our urban centers are and how many people live there. Because I grew up more rural, I didn't think about it. But they bring up a GREAT point that many, many people did not grow up in suburban neighborhoods with that *one* unkempt house. Or in the country, where there was a creepy castle-looking place at the end of a dead-end lane. After I reread it your letter with that in mind, it sounded something more out of a newspaper lead for a feature story- it reads very well. But doesn't work here.

    Maybe your hook is nestled in graph #3- Crawl roams the close, dark spaces between the walls of a dilapitated..... and continue to the end of that paragraph.

    I would take out "leave you stunned" too. I don't think when we query would should do that, as someone already noted.

    Finally- on the the mean, or shall I say pile of spiders? I love the premise of the monster's POV. And also that she's within the walls- so not your traditional haunting.

    Regarding the snippet... The first paragraph didn't really grab me. I'd start in paragraph 3. Get to mother later. Get right to Crawl. Maybe even take a little of graph 4 into 3, like have her eating an insect right away. Either way, get to that great, gritty stuff. Once you got to Crawl, I was hooked and had an image in my head of a tween girl with dark hair in a dirty nightgown. I could see and feel and hear the bugs. I loved how you introduced her. She had no name, down to if she had a name, it would be Crawl.

    I really thought this was well done for the most part. The beginning of the query lost me and the beginning of the snippet did too- but once I got to see your good stuff, I was hooked. (I am having my own Chap 1. challenge now).

    So... I was hooked. Then unhooked. Then hooked again. With a little tweaking, you'd definitely snag me. However, that I did go back and forth so much means that you made me think and you made me interested.

    Good job.

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  22. CORRECTION
    Finally- on the the mean, or shall I say pile of spiders?

    ---That should have said, "finally, on to the meat..."

    I should really go to bed. Too tired to work my fingers.

    Sorry about the incoherent slip there, everyone!

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  23. I don't like all the rhetorical questions. I almost stopped reading the query when I read the third paragraph. The concept was so different from anything I'd read that I skipped the rest of it and went straight to the first page. Good voice.

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  24. The problem with questions is that not everyone answers the way you want them to. I lived in several neighborhoods growing up and not a one of them had a house like that. I knew what was meant, I have after all seen Monster House. But I've read many agents state outright that if their answer is no on one of these types of questions, they stop reading.

    Personally, the letter didn't work for me at all. It moved from questions that assumed answers I didn't give, to saying why the story's better than all that boring stuff out there, to posing questions that I felt an agent shouldn't have to ask. Given just it, I would have tossed it. Which is sad because when I glanced at the writing anyway, I started to think that would have been a big mistake. The writing sample was wonderful and I hope this finds print because I want to read more.

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  25. I can see this query getting bites on premise alone. Great twist and you present it elegantly in the blurb. (with suggested deletions)

    And the writing - chilling, graphic and oddly poetic. What a voice! I'd read this book.

    The query can be tightened a little. I wouldn't want to distract agents from your premise.

    Suggestions for lines that might be cut:
    The first paragraph after the opening line was mostly filler. I could do without the first sentences: "Maybe it was a stately mansion haunted by the ghostly victims of a murderous caretaker. Or maybe it was an abandoned hunting cabin tucked away beyond the treeline, housing some deranged killer. Perhaps it was a sand-blasted beach house where the spirits of sailors past still walked upon the foggy shoreline. Whatever the building, every neighborhood has that house upon the hill, a house of mystery and murder."

    Also third paragraph doesn't tell us any more about your book. You can cut completely and it would strengthen the query: "Will the creature’s horrific origin be revealed? Will the not-so-wholesome suburban family bring Crawl out into the light or join her down in the darkness? The answers will leave you not only stunned, but questioning the assumptions you’ve harbored all along."

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  26. Echoing most everyone above about cutting the rhetorical questions and tightening up the query. I can handle the first one, but that's enough for me. The fourth paragraph beginning with "Will the creature's..." could be left out all together.

    It has a nice twist in comparison to all the others; can't say if it's enough to catch an agent's wandering attention, but it caught mine.

    The voice is VERY nice; dark and velvety with a healthy whallop of madness. Hmm...yeah, I'd read Crawl. I'd pull it off the shelf just because of the name. Makes me want to revisit my Poppy Z. Brite collection...

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  27. I read some of the comments, but not all (there's a lot there). I, and a lot of other people by the looks of it, didn't grow up in a neighbourhood with a creepy house, so your questions and assumptions didn't resonate with me. If anything, they were beginning to annoy me.

    All was forgiven when I read your sample though. The writing is really good. I don't think the story will be for everyone, but that will be a matter of personal taste rather than a reflection of your writing skills.

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  28. I love, love, love the premise of this story, and the sample paragraphs make me want to read more. I agree, however, that the query letter should omit all the rhetorical questions and other hypotheticals.

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  29. While I was reading those first paras, I was hearing a voice-over guy talking like this was a preview to a movie.

    I'm guessing this is not the way to go with a query letter.

    On the other hand, the spiders POV was intriguing. If the query had addressed that, it would have been a much more potent approach.

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  30. usvoter@earthlink.netAugust 1, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    Lose all the questions about what isn't in your book and start with what is. Give the creature a name up front and tell us its conflicts.

    I stopped reading. First, I'm not into horror and second, your query didn't hook me.

    Great possibilities though if you tighten your query.

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  31. The first sentence doesn't hook me. No, I don't remember that house. We didn't have one. (Also, my house *was* on the end of the block.) Don't assume everyone had the same experiences as a child.

    The next paragraph seems to really be into that, but I'm still shaking my head because I didn't have a house like that in my neighborhood. It's like those rhetorical questions to start off queries: Did you ever wonder what would happen if frogs grew wings and flew laps around the moon at night? No, most of us haven't.

    The paragraph describing various spooky houses slows down the query a lot. Start where the story starts.

    The paragraph with the story is too vague. I didn't get a sense of the story. The questions paragraph didn't work for me. People use them a lot, and they usually come across weak.

    That said, I did like the sample page, but I don't think I'm curious enough to read on.

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