If you look at my two previous posts, Still trying after all these years, and How not to sell your novel to an agent you will see my two previous attempts to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis for my novel A Half Life of One. Well, here are the positively final versions, available as a sneak preview. Tomorrow I parcel up the first three chapters of my book and send it off to an agent.
This is the first time I've ever taken seriously the task of actually selling my book to an agent. And it's much harder than it looks. I've benefitted enormously from lots of sage advice from readers of this blog and maybe I can single out two people for special mention. First off there's Debi Alper, herself a published novelist. Debi went through my efforts in detail with the eye of a professional writer who knows exactly what an editor wants, and gave me detailed feedback on where I was going wrong. Thanks, Debi.
Then, and it's a big then, there's Lynne Scanlon, The Publishing Contrarian. What can I say?
Many months ago, not long after I first posted the book up on my other blog, Lynne read the book from cover to cover. And in the process she bombarded me with comments, questions and suggestions. Her eagle eye noted factual errors and inconsistencies. At the end of it all she gave me her honest opinion of the book and its shortcomings. She even persuaded a novelist friend of hers to do the same. But that wasn't the end of her involvement. A couple of months later, following the book's rejection by Macmillan New Writers she demanded to see my query letter and synopsis. Synopsis? I remember thinking, what synopsis? And then she spent a lot of time and effort cajoling me into writing out that first attempt which I posted earlier. An attempt which she tore apart. She was a little less savage with my next effort, but still she told me in no uncertain terms that it wasn't right. I finally begged her to stop and produced the versions you see below.
I asked Lynne to stop because this is what she does for a living and she was doing it on my behalf for nothing. Why? I think she believes in the book. I know she believes in the book. And actually, if it wasn't for her there wouldn't be a book. If I ever get it published - and I'm beginning to think I might - I'll dedicate it to Lynne. Thanks, Lynne, you're an amazing lady.
Any shortcomings left in the Query are, I hasten to add, entirely mine and mine alone. Blame it on stubbornness - I had to leave some of me in there. Of course, I may still not attract an agent, and the query letter may not be perfect. But at least I have the satisfaction of knowing WE gave it our best shot. Didn't we.
The Covering Letter:
14th October 2006
The Top of the Slush Pile
Book Proposal: A Half Life of One – 75000 words
Dear Ms Smith:
What would you do if your business had failed and the bank was about to re-possess your house and throw you and your family out onto the street? How would you fight back if you and your spouse were going to spend the rest of your lives paying off the enormous debts which you alone had incurred?
Like the “hero” of my novel, A Half Life of One, I am an entrepreneur who has started and run companies both here and in the Middle-East, all related to the Oil Industry. Fortunately I have been rather more successful than Nick Dowty, the protagonist in A Half Life of One, for whom business failure triggers a horrifying chain of events. These include the killing of an innocent bystander and the assault upon, and subsequent abandonment of, his chained kidnap victim, apparently left to her fate in a secluded ruin.
I have used my blog The View From the Pundy House to gain feedback for my book. The well-known blogger, The Publishing Contrarian, read A Half Life of One online and described it as “Good. Very good. It reminds me of ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’”. Over 90% of readers who start the book online go on to finish it. Here are some comments different readers have left:
“You have a wonderful story-telling capacity. Very well developed.”
“Thank you for a great read.”
“There’s real power in your story.”
“I love your book.”
“If I was a publisher I’d be ringing up and arranging an advance right now.”
Thank you for taking the time to consider this submission.
The Synopsis: (Don't read this if you want to read the book!)
A Half Life of One - Synopsis
Nick Dowty, is a decent, hardworking, middle-aged family man and entrepreneur. He lives in a rural village in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. Due to changes in the purchasing supply-chain within the international oil industry he faces financial and personal ruin when his business collapses.
In order to support the large capital investment required by his business Nick has unwisely given unlimited personal guarantees and put up the family house as security to the bank. His wife has been a trusting party to these arrangements. The bank is now threatening to re-possess the house and arrest his – and his wife’s – future income to pay off his debts. He faces a lifetime of penury – a harsh punishment for a minor business miscalculation. In addition to the bank, other trade and personal creditors are circling. Phone call after phone call and every post bring threatening demands. Nick tries to hide the escalating terror he feels from his wife and son, even as he tries to intercept the calls and the post. His failure to find and retain a secure job adds to the pressure.
Under the mounting stress his 25-year marriage begins to implode. His son is about to go to University, but there is no money to support him and pay the fees. His growing sense of failure as a loving husband and caring father increases his despair. As the time of their eviction approaches and their money runs out the family is reduced to eating from tins and borrowing from Nick’s mother-in-law to survive. A relentless debt collector arrives at the house and makes an inventory of the furniture. Nick, at his wit’s end, and close to a complete breakdown after his latest attempt at gainful employment ends in failure, hatches a desperate plan. Wrestling with the moral dilemma that confronts him he makes his decision.
Nick decides to kidnap and ransom a wealthy female entrepreneur who owns a nearby country estate.
Although he is determined to use the minimum of force, the plan goes badly wrong. The woman is fly fishing on the river Dee. Nick has an unexpected encounter with the ghillie, and the ghillie is killed when Nick overreacts. Nick and the woman they watch in horror as the body floats downstream, the ghillie’s hand waving forlornly as it rolls with the current. He kidnaps the woman and imprisons her in a remote, ruined cottage in Aberdeenshire. . The once-familiar Scottish landscape now assumes a nightmarish quality for both of them. On the way to the cottage, in a moment of madness, Nick realizes the woman is powerless before him, and to his own horror he subjectss her the woman to a degrading and humiliating assault. The once-familiar Scottish landscape that he has loved so much assumes a nightmarish quality for both of them.
While the woman is still chained to an old stove in the derelict cottage without food, water or electricity, Nick’s wife, a highly competent teacher who is totally unaware of these events, has been to see her own lawyer. Apparently, Nick’s agreement with the bank has been drawn up under English law which has no jurisdiction in Scotland. Their home, and their future are no longer under threat. Nick realises in horror that the kidnapping, and killing, was unnecessary. At the same time Nick is unexpectedly offered a job in a government-sponsored business development agency. It is a position for which he is ideally suited. He forgoes the ransom, abandons his hostage to her fate and goes on to establish a new and successful career working for the agency.
At the end of the novel Nick has suffered no retribution for his crimes, nor is he apparently repentant. He believes, or at least hopes, that the circumstances justified his actions. He may have made the wrong moral decision but he survived his crisis. In his mind he has re-written the history of those terrible events. He appears normal to those around him. Only the reader knows the truth.
I enclose three chapters from the completed manuscript which is 75,000 words long. The entire book can becan be viewed online at: