This Writing Life--Mark Terry
Thoughts From A Professional Writer

don't try this at home...especially mine
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December 13, 2005

I received this (slightly edited) e-mail today from a novelist who for some reason thought I was my agent. Or perhaps she intended for me to forward this to my agent. I don't know, but I e-mailed her back with, "Why are you sending this to me?" and I edited her letter. Here's most of the letter, though I've cut out her name to protect her.

Here it is:

Dear Ms. Kraas:

I am seeking agency representation for my novel, XXX, a 132,000 literary novel. A short synopsis follows. I am a married mother of two grown children and I have made my living as a medical transcription service provider for more than twenty years. This is my third novel, but I am yet unpublished.


XXX is the story of XXXXXXXXXXXX, who finds a home for herself and her two children on the estate of a generous but lonesome soul. XXXXXXXXXX childhood disappointments and lack of parental love compel him to create the family he never enjoyed. Ramona Henry, Daniel's assistant, who lost the only love in her life twenty five years before, is inexplicably bewitched by Marjorie's daughter Maddy. It is in this wonderful household that Marjorie reinvents life for her family The love that both women (Marjorie and Ramona) have for Maddy is the force that drives their parallel growth, making them dual protagonists as the story unfolds. But, Maddy is a vengeful antagonist who erodes each woman's hopes and dreams.

When Maddy conceals critical evidence, Marjorie is wrongly indicted for the murder of her son's father. In Rhea Prison, an experimental institution built on doctrines of dignity and rehabilitation, Marjorie meets a tough but resolute murderer. Through Alice Livingston, she examines and accepts her shortcomings – both as a mother and as a daughter. When she is exonerated, Marjorie is prepared to forgive Maddy, but Maddy's continued obstinacy and lack of remorse forces Marjorie to reject her.

The themes of fate, love, loss, redemption and rebirth are the framework upon which these characters come alive. While this is the story of Marjorie and Maddy, it is a story about families – the natural and the invented -- those from which we run and those to which we must return.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my work.


Okay. There are so many thing wrong here, I don't have much hope. I don't want to ridicule this woman. But first, I suggested she rewrite this. I suggested that 132,000 [words] might be too long for a first novel. I told her if her characters weren't medical transcriptionists, the agent doesn't need to know that. And for God sakes, don't advertise your failures.

I find this synopsis, personally, to be at the very best, confusing and dull, and at the worst, well, confusing, ungrammatical and dull. Treat your query letters like a job interview--work on them, show up nice and clean and presentable, be on your best behavior, put your best foot forward, all that jazz. I'm not a huge fan of the "make it read like a book jacket synopsis" bit because as I've mentioned before on this blog, when I sense a high-pressure sales pitch I tend to turn off my brain. But getting to the point would be much better.


I have completed a 132,000 word legal thriller called OUT ON BAIL. Jeremiah Jimsonweed, a North Dakota cattle rancher, has been accused of murdering Jimbob Johanssen, a gay ranch hand. Nine people had recently witnessed Jeremiah threatening to kill Jimbob if he didn't stop making passes at his teenage son, Jeremiah Jimsonweed, Junior. Now, having turned over the deed for his ranch in exchange for bail, Jeremiah must find out who murdered Jimbob Johanssen in order to keep from losing his ranch, the love of his son, and his own freedom.

I am a cattle rancher in North Dakota. OUT ON BAIL is my first novel. I have published 326 book reviews in CATTLE RANCHER'S DAILY, six short stories in THE FARGO GAZETTE and 27 articles in publications like BULL TODAY, CATTLEMAN'S DIGEST, MAD COW WEEKLY and LADY'S HOME JOURNAL.

Would you be interested in reading OUT ON BAIL?

Larry Calfcuddler


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