QueryDice #1.1 Take Two!

The following is a query critique of the very first QueryDice! 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.

Angela-Courtney Maddeus has not been a happy or healthy child. She has been called crazy for claiming that she and her ex-best friend snuck out to a Midsummer’s Eve Party and nearly got killed. First, no one holds parties on Midsummer’s Eve. Second, she insists that magic was involved, since there was a moving statue that attempted the actual killing.

You know, there is still too much in this opening. It’s overload. Is Angela a child? Then don’t call her that, because I’ll think she is. Something about the words, “She has been called crazy…” makes my brain work too hard. I’m wondering if she is, in fact, crazy, who called her that, why it matters, if it was only just one time and that traumatized her, or if the whole world thinks that of her. Then there is the ex-best friend. I’m wondering why this person is an ex and if it matters. What’s Midsummer’s Eve? Further, claiming that she snuck out and almost got killed if it wasn’t true would make a person a liar, not crazy. This is a classic case of what I like to call Useless Author Syndrome. That sounds really mean, but put down that torch and call off the lynch mob for a sec. What I mean is, you, as the author, are now useless because you have read your book so many times after creating it from nothing. You’re so close to the material that you have absolutely no perspective. You have to work very hard to figure out what readers need to know. This is dangerous. The cure? Forget about it for a while. Like, weeks. Read a lot in the weeks. Then, come back with a fresh, clear mind. 

But, if you just can’t wait, give us the bare bones only: “Everyone thinks Angela is crazy. She swears a moving statue used magic to attack her at a party last Midsummer’s Eve and she’s been raving about it ever since.”

It’s been a year since that horrible night; Angela’s father has been mysteriously killed, and her mother moves her to Terran, a small California town, to start a new life. Angela hasn’t forgotten what happened and is determined to find out why no one else remembers. She finally gets some answers when meeting another girl, Mina Wren, has run away from this year’s party. Unfortunately, Mina comes along with a talking wolf who claims to be Angela’s grandmother, and the wolf has the answers.

This paragraph continues to divulge too much information at once–information we don’t fundamentally need. Do we absolutely need to know that Angela’s dad died? You don’t bring this up again in the query, which makes it irrelevant, and forces me to assume you added it for gratuitous drama. It’s just like the theatre: don’t introduce a gun on the stage unless you intend to shoot it. Because otherwise, it becomes an unnecessary distraction. Also, we don’t really need to know that Angela and her mother have moved. It is not integral to the plot at this basic level, so telling us about it only distracts us from the information we really need about your story. The second sentence in this paragraph does not make sense, probably due to a typo. Then, I have to ask: I thought no one had Midsummer’s Eve parties. Why is there a “this year’s party”? Lastly for this paragraph, why is it unfortunate that Mina comes along with a talking wolf, especially one who has answers?

Wolves convert human memories to supernatural energy; the party hosts have exploited this ability to steal their guests’ memories to build a perfect life with magic.

I have so many questions about the wolves’ abilities. Most importantly, how does supernatural energy create the perfect life? Also, this is a very stiff sentence and I can see all the work you’ve done on it. I’m not supposed to know you worked hard on that sentence. How about this one: “Wolves convert human memories to supernatural energy and the party hosts are well aware of it. They take full advantage of their abilities, stealing their guests’ memories and…(add very, very brief description of how and why this is done).

Angela does the opposite, converting magic back into memories, but she doesn’t have her gift under control.

What?! Angela has a gift and we’re just hearing about it now? Here’s the thing: when you introduce a detail about your story that is so key, like this one, at the end of a query, you lose our trust. Even though we’re not consciously thinking it, we feel like we can’t depend on you because you’ve withheld something this important. Now, I feel a little out-of-control, like anything could happen. I thought this story was going to take place in the modern world as I know it, then talking wolves were introduced, then the main character has a power I didn’t know about. Readers are kind of like toddlers in this way: we need structure and rules to feel secure. If you just let anything fly without a moment’s notice and whenever you feel like it, we’re not going to do what you need us to…we’re too distracted and fraught with possibility because the rules are made up as we go along.

And I might like to know what funny or interesting types of things happen because Angela doesn’t have her gift under control.

She also has little time to learn; the party hosts have caught wind of Angela’s power and don’t approve of it, or her stubborn defiance. Their next Midsummer celebration may just be Angela’s last.

[redacted], a young-adult urban fantasy, is complete at 75,000 words.

In 2005 and  2006 I won second place in the Miami Dade County Youth Fair writing competition for the short stories “Teacher’s Gone” and “The Boundless Pirate” respectively. In 2007 I got first place in the same division (Fantasy) with “Persona Sin Corpus” as well as a Silver Key in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. Alienskin Magazine in their August/September 2001 issue published “The Red Pen Crossed Out,” while Hungur Magazine published “About Love for a Man’s Art” in their November 2010 issue.  I have a webcomic at [redacted] and a blog of my writing adventures at [redacted].

This is a great bio paragraph.

Thank you for your consideration. The first two pages are enclosed below.

Please note that I appreciate it when authors tack on a couple of pages so I can see the writing (and this is probably why the author chose to do this) but this is not common. Make sure an agent wants this before going ahead and doing it.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I would reject this because the author didn’t appear to have control of her own world or her own story. This may or may not be the case, but I can’t speculate about that. I have to judge things based on a query letter, not what I think might perhaps be in the manuscript.

LR

Posted on May 24, 2012, in Query Dice and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Chris, it depends on the agent. When I was looking for an agent only about one in four wanted sample pages, so it appears to be a YMMV situation.

    Author, this sounds like an interesting story. The query, alas, is a hot mess, but the story sounds original without being *too* original (ie it’s not bat#@$% crazy). At your age you are sure to get it right eventually if you just keep trying.

    Reduce your entire story to a single sentence, no more than 20 words in length. Boom, that’s your story. Your query needs to be built around that.

    • Thank you, Lauren, for critiquing this again and telling me exactly what to fix (no more melodrama in my queries or Useless Author syndrome). I hope that when I actually submit that I have a solid pitch. And in the query I will indicate if an agent wanted pages or not.

      @Chris: Thanks, Chris! And congrats on getting an agent!
      @ella: Thanks, Ella. Here was what my original one sentence was: Sometimes Beautiful is about a sickly teenager who has to save two thousand girls from a mysterious couple. The revised query’s a few lines below.
      @Tricia: We brethren are. And one has to fall a few times before learning to fly, like the baby winged horses in Fantasia.
      @Sara: Thanks! The elevator pitch is my Achilles heel, but practice over the summer should help. I’ve posted my single sentence above, but the current query is below, based on that sentence:

      Everyone calls Angela crazy claiming that she and her best friend snuck out to a Midsummer Party. First, no one holds parties on Midsummer’s Eve. Second, she insists a moving statue tried to kill her.

      It’s been a year since that night, but Angela hasn’t forgotten what happened. She promises to find out why no one else remembers, especially when another Midsummer passes, two thousand girls disappear overnight, and she finds out that the parties and the statue are real.

      Angela also finds out that the party hosts, the insatiable Merdemars, are equally determined to halt her investigation. They know that she can ruin their perfect life by telling the truth. If Angela’s not careful, their next celebration may just be her last.

  2. Ms. Ruth keeps on saying that most agents don’t want to see pages and that’s simply not accurate. As one who queried widely recently (and am now agented), I’d say at least two-thirds want to see a sample. (It may have been as high as three-quarters.) The key is to follow their guidelines precisely, whether they want to see 50 pages or five. And if they say query only, do that too. But don’t assume agents DON’T want to see pages–that may have been true at some point, but it’s clearly not the norm now.

  3. Useless Author Syndrome? I’m guilty. Good luck to the author and thank you, Ms Ruth for providing public feedback.

  4. Thanks to the author for bravely sharing and to Lauren for hosting and critiquing.

    My two cents is that there is good news: the book promises an imaginative world with lots of interesting twists and interesting characters.

    I think the work to be done is to develop and refine the good ol’ elevator pitch. If the author were on an elevator and was asked, “So…what’s your book about?” how would she/he respond in the short amount of time it took to descend five floors? I’d start there. That one sentence. Then flesh it out, slowly and strategically, and build your query letter from there.

    Good luck! Thanks again for sharing!

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