QueryDice #1

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

Dear Ms. Ruth, Great opening. Simple and professional. This is my favorite greeting in a query.

Last year a statue chased Angela off a cliff during a Midsummer celebration. Angela now has to rescue two thousand girls and their memories after this year’s festivities make both disappear, even though she’s sickly and grieving for her dead father.

This first paragraph is very confusing. There are three main points here: a statue chased Angela off a cliff, two thousand girls and their memories are missing and Angela must save them, and Angela is sick and grieving. How do the three points tie in with each other? Why do statues chase people and how can someone’s memories go missing?

Her troubles only start, however, as Midsummer kicks off with explosions: a talking wolf claims to be Angela’s grandmother, a mysterious couple kidnaps the girl who saved Angela from the statue, and she can’t control her ability to turn magic back into memories. She also has little time to learn when the couple targets her for their final celebration.

This query needs more world-building. I need to get a sense of what kind of world allows statues to chase people and talking wolves exist. What is the main characteristic of this world? Is it the talking wolves, the objects that have human abilities?

So much for summer being a vacation.
[redacted], a young-adult urban fantasy, is complete at 41,000 words.

Until now, I did not get any hint that this was YA. That’s a problem. Does Angela go to school? What teenage issues is she handling on top of everything else? This makes me worry that you just made your character young enough to fit into YA and then didn’t flesh out any young adult themes.

Your word count is a problem in your query, and is probably a problem in your manuscript. To build an entire world that is not Earth as we know it, flesh out characters thoroughly and drag a careful plot from beginning to end is not easily done in so few words. The low-end of typical YA word counts is about 50,000 words, but since you’re writing fantasy (which means you need to explain the world in which your characters live and its rules) your word count could go as high as around 70,000 to 80,000 or even higher. I don’t get a very good feel of or handle on your world or your characters in this query, which is vey short, so I’m convinced that if I read a proposal the problem would persist.

In 2005 and 2006 I won second place in the Miami Dade County Youth Fair writing competition for the short stories “[redacted]” and “[redacted]” respectively. In 2007 I got first place in the same division (Fantasy) with “[redacted]” as well as a Silver Key in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. Alienskin Magazine in their August/September 2001 issue published “[redacted],” while Hungur Magazine published “[redacted]” in their November 2010 issue.  I have a webcomic at [redacted] and a my writing adventures at [redacted].

Be careful with typos. We all do it, but this makes you look like you couldn’t be bothered to double-check your work. It’s like a spelling error on a resume. Yikes. Otherwise, this paragraph is great. I always appreciate information about an author’s credentials and past writing experiences.

Thank you for your consideration. I hope you have enjoyed reading this query.

This is purely a personal preference, but it is one other agents share: I don’t like the last sentence. It makes you seem like you lack confidence. You should know that I would like the query, so your hope that I might makes me think even you doubt yourself.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I would reject this because I don’t get a strong enough feel for the characters, the plot or the world. Thank you for submitting your work to the QueryDice and I wish you the best of luck.

Lauren

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Posted on July 7, 2011, in Query Dice and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Actually, I really like the idea of missing memories. This could be easily extended with a history of Post Traumatic Stress from a war zone or violent crime or crash.
    Many people from time to time may experience this. I think I could really dig deeper with this idea if I were the author.
    Something like: The protagonist , a woman who has faced her nightmares from a violent sexual attack when she was in high school, had a sudden return of memories, many of which she had lost after the attack. like most memories some were good; some were better lost or missing forever. The very idea of the attack so hurt her that…..
    Could be nicely explored.

  2. How about something like this? (I made up the age and names since I couldn’t find one in your query.)

    Sick with XX and still grieving for her dead father, 16-year-old Angela desperately needs a stress-free summer vacation in order to recuperate. This means no physical exertion and no magic practice. A talking wolf claiming to be Angela’s grandmother is only the first ill omen. Next, her dear friend is kidnapped by the mysterious Fred and Ginger. Then, two thousand girls and their memories disappear at a Midsummer celebration, probably taken by Fred and Ginger. Unless Angela can learn to control her magical ability, Fred and Ginger will use it against her in their final celebration, which could be Angela’s last.

    Obviously, this is rough (and maybe not accurately describe the plot), but I hope it helps. Good luck!

  3. Okay….ouch again (this was my query, which I previously submitted to the askdaphne blog). The reason why I made it YA was because the themes were too mature for MG (middle-grade).
    I set the word count as a goal, but I have superceded it since and can make it increase with revisions.

    In one sentence, Sometimes Beautiful is about a sickly teenager who has to save two thousand girls from a mysterious couple. How do I write a query around that premise? And can I submit revisions before I do an actual submission?

    • Jaya,

      The principle function of a query letter is to give an agent enough of a taste to motivate her to ask for more without saturating her with too much information at once. Some main objectives to meet are:

      1. Tell me what happens in your book. Tell me what the major conflict is, who must solve it, why this challenge is significant to this person, what the stakes are and what the importance of the outcome is.
      2. Show me why I should like your characters. If your main character is quirky, do not tell me “Angela is quirky.” Instead, tell me about how Angela’s favorite food is a peanut butter and onion sandwich on rye and she secretly likes polka music but would rather die than tell her friends this. After learning the particularities of your characters, I will be intrigued.
      3. Show me what your book has that other books in your genre do not.
      4. Show me what themes in your book will speak to readers of YA. How does this relate to them?
      5. If your book takes place in a world you have created, briefly explain or show (as needed) the rules of this world. For example, if in your world inanimate objects can chase people, is this a well-known and accepted fact, or are people shocked and terrified about this?

      A cap of bout 250 words (this post is more than 250 words) should help you keep your query clear and concise, but force you to give enough information for an agent to get a sense of your voice and what your book is about. After addressing the above points, you might have more than 250 words. This is when you can go back and pare it down. Ask yourself, “Does the agent really need to know this bit of information in order to know what happens in my book or to get just a taste of my characters?” If not, scrap it. If you have significantly fewer than 250 words, ask yourself what important information you have left out.

      Yes, you may resubmit your query to the QueryDice and we’ll revisit it.

      I wish you the best of luck and I hope this was helpful.

      LR

      • I’m working on my query to revise it, and here are the answers to all of those questions, with as much clarity of possible:

        Major conflict: Last year Angela went to a Midsummer party with her best friend and ended up in the hospital. Since then she’s been trying to explain what happened that night, but no one believes her because they don’t remember any party. Not surprisingly, Angela has stopped speaking to her friend after the latter calls her a liar and a freak. When another Midsummer rolls around, Angela finally finds two girls who believe her – as well as a wolf pack trapped in a nowhere land—but she also finds out that the party hosts, the insatiable Merdemars, are just as persistent in capturing her. They know that she can ruin their perfect life by telling the truth and won’t let her do so. They have a moving statue with a grudge against Angela, half of California under their thumb, and more than enough time to murder her.

        Why to like the protagonist: Angela is not “nice.” She is brutally honest, angry with her mother for not believing her, miserable when her father dies from extreme mauling, and angry at doctors who can’t figure out what’s wrong with her. At the same time, Angela is loyal and willing to be responsible, more responsible than she has ever been. She might blame other people, but it’s never without cause; she hates Lydia for taking her to the party and then denying it, and she hates herself for killing her brother by accident. She also learns from her mistakes and strives to get better at controlling her abilities and helping other people. The only person she can’t blame is her father, and that’s her inner conflict; the whole mess with the missing girls happened because of her father, but she won’t accept it. The Merdemars can sense that when they catch glimpses of her learning the facts and use her denial against her.

        Difference from other books: My book has good parents. In traditional YA fantasy and science fiction, adults are useless so that the protagonists have a chance to grow. My protagonist needs a good mother, however, because she can’t handle this whole mess with the Merdemars by herself. Parents screw up, like Angela’s dad did, but they also do the best they can under the circumstances; Angela’s mom knows about magic and appropriate self-defense, but she doesn’t have the ability to fix the mess. Mom is also a problem because she’d rather die than put Angela in danger.

        Themes: Coming of age, taking responsibility, good parents and bad parents, and how they affect the choices you make.

        Rules of this world: Wolves convert human memories to supernatural energy; the Merdemars have exploited this ability to steal their guests’ memories to build a perfect life with magic. Angela does the opposite, converting magic back into memories, but she doesn’t have her gift under control. The wolves can teach her, but the Merdemars have trapped most of them, and the only free one claims to be her grandmother.

        QueryShark has mentioned however, that they don’t like seeing themes being stated outrightly, so how would they be addressed in the story summary? I don’t know how to fit the good parents theme in, although coming-of-age should be easier. More importantly, how can these elements be compressed into 250 words or less?

        • I know this was posted a while ago, but I felt I should say something.

          I think what you mentioned in the “Major Conflict” section (your comment dated July 9, 2011) would make an excellent start of your Query. It gives an idea of who your protag is, her conflicts, the plot, and some of her choices/consequences. I think if you started with that paragraph and then sprinkled in a little (and I mean very little, only relevant) information from the other sections, you could have a solid Query with a good voice.

          Based solely on that Major Conflict section, I would totally be interested in your story.

          Good luck!

  4. Great advice! Thanks so much!

  5. I imagine you’ll do a sizable re-write based on the comments, but I just wanted to suggest that you specifically move up the line “So much for summer being a vacation.” to earlier. I think it’s a cute enough line (not sure how much it’s used in YA capacity, though) and it would convey the YA-ness a lot sooner. Good luck!

  6. This sounds like a lot of story to boil down into a query! I really like some of the phrases you used, but I was really confused as to the overall plot. Maybe the plot is getting bogged down in details, or maybe the line connecting these elements isn’t strong enough. I might try pulling back and simplifying the paragraphs describing the story–easier to embellish a strong foundation with some spicy details than to try to explain a plot using only details. Good luck!

  1. Pingback: QueryDice #1.1 Take Two! « SlushPileTales

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