Query Seal #3

Dear Ice Cube Press:

THE DANCER’S FIELD is a story of a ballerina releasing her talent and beauty in 1950’s and 60’s Nebraska. When people imagine a woman in the fifties, they imagine a housewife who submits to the demands of her husband and cares only for the happiness of her family rather than her own. But talented, witty, and feisty Fiona Jensen breaks these stereotypes.

 Once again, we begin with a telling phrase. DON’T tell me what your book is about. Don’t tell me what your character is like. Show it!

Also, I have a problem with stories about “oppressed” main characters breaking the stereotypes in historical fiction. Characters who are “ahead of their time” are clichés to me. If a character is different from the portrayals of whatever history tell us, then let that character be different because that’s who the character is, not because you’re trying to break stereotypes. I want to know what your character is, not what your character is not.

 And you want to begin with the story. This is all set up that is not interesting.

In 1950, twenty-year-old Fiona marries John Jensen and moves to Lincoln Nebraska. As John works as a high-scale restaurant manager, Fiona stays home, despite how she wants to travel the world and perform ballet. John hates traveling, so Fiona is stuck in Nebraska, though she practices ballet whenever her husband is not at home and is at work.

Again, this is all set up. You want to begin with the story. You’ll only need about a sentence or two for the background of your book. Besides that, we want the plot.

Fifteen years later, John dies from cancer and leaves behind an inheritance bigger than any government grant going to the State. Now that her husband is gone and her pockets are full of money, she can become the ballerina she always wanted to be. Fiona and John never have any kids, so she has nothing holding her back. She begins to take ballet classes, and her classmates and instructors are amazed by her talent. After just a few months of classes, she tries out for her first audition for a ballet performance and gets the lead role. On the night of the performance, everyone in the audience loves her and her talent, and she receives acclaim from her critics.

This is still set up. What’s the plot? There’s nothing at stake. She’s getting everything she wants. That’s boring. What is the conflict?

 Also, an “inheritance bigger than any government grant going to the State” is an awkward sentence and a weird comparison.

 You have mentioned Fiona’s talent four times in this query, but I don’t have a sense how Fiona is talented. And since she just started taking classes, wouldn’t she be behind the ballerinas who have taken lessons for years? I don’t think she could be more talented than the ballerinas who have been dancing since childhood.

After a few years, she is now in a famous ballet in Nebraska, but Fiona still wants to travel and perform in other countries. Meanwhile, a once-famous, French choreographer whose popularity has been declining in the past few years, is also trying to save his theater from going bankrupt. Desperate to save his fame and theater, the chorographer finds out about Fiona’s talent and hopes to cast her in his upcoming performance.

Okay, finally we are getting some plot, though the plot revolves around the choreographer, not Fiona.

 And are they still in Nebraska?

He contacts Fiona and asks her to be in his show. However, Fiona does not immediately agree. Baffled, the choreographer does everything to get Fiona to perform at his show. He promises to invite famous critics who will write positive reviews about her in the newspapers. He also promises to give her solo performances. Fiona almost accepts, but sticks to her plans. At the end of the book, readers will find out what Fiona’s plans are and how her wittiness helps the choreographer and fulfill her dreams at the same time.

…What? I’m confused. This doesn’t make any sense.

 If she accepts, she would help the choreographer. If she’s so talented, then the choreographer should get the money to save his theater through his show. Then he would give her contacts to other choreographer in France and other countries so she could travel. And she won’t accept why? Your plot needs to make sense.

 And why does he want Fiona? There aren’t any other ballerinas he could ask?

THE DANCER’S FIELD may be classified as a literary-commercial novel. It may also be a comic novel, as Fiona’s witty behavior will make the readers laugh. No one has read the entire novel, but if this novel sells, readers will smile and love Fiona. Readers will be fully engaged to read the kind and talented Fiona from the beginning to the end of her journey. Readers will also gain insight on ballet and ballet history.

Uh… no…

First, there’s no such thing as literary-commercial. Your book is either literary or commercial. Not both.

 There’s nothing in this query that shows that this book is a comic. Just because a character is witty doesn’t classify a book to be a comic.

 Also, it’s one thing to tell me how I’ll like a book or character, but it’s another thing to tell me how the reader will like your book. Nobody can guess what readers will like. The readers get to decide that.

 And there is nothing in your query that shows me that Fiona is witty, kind, feisty, or talented. In fact, why doesn’t she help the poor choreographer right away? If she has so much money, why doesn’t she donate it to him? To me, Fiona comes across as a stuck up, selfish woman who gets everything she wants. And that’s not a good thing.

Forgive me for my next claim, but I believe this book is movie-potential. This novel, after all, tells an outstanding but believable story that flows from scene to scene, and each scene is full of suspense, characterization, and twists. Because this novel is an original story, I also believe it will be on the backlist of a publisher for a long time.

Don’t focus on the movie. Focus on book publication first. If you really want to see your story become a movie, then change your book into a screenplay and send it off to the movie industry.

If you love my characters, I would be delighted to send you the whole manuscript in either hardcopy or by a Microsoft Word document. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Queries should be between 250 to 400 words long. This query was over 550 words. And most of those words focused on the back-story rather than the plot and conflict. While I might read the whole query on a good day, about 99% of agents and publishers will delete it or send you a rejection the moment they see your query is too long.

 Also, most publishers don’t take hardcopy submissions anymore, and if they do, they will say so on their guidelines, though 9 out of 10 times they will ask for a Word document. Most companies won’t take a hardcopy to save trees, shipment cost, and space in their offices. Read the guidelines.

 This is what I want to know in your query:

 Who is the main character?

What is his/her problem? What does s/he want?

What is keeping him/her from getting what s/he wants?

Who is the antagonist?

What is at stake?

 I don’t know what problems Fiona faces. She gets what she wants, and I have no interest in reading a story of a character getting everything. There’s nothing at state for her. There’s conflict around the chorographer, but he’s not the main character.


No plot

Too much set up

Too much telling

Query too long

 The Query Seal will send a rejection.