Monthly Archives: July 2011

QueryDice #4

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!

Lauren Ruth

BookEnds, LLC.

This information is unnecessary. I know who I am and where I work.

Attn. Ms. Ruth

I like “Dear…” better just because “Attn…” makes me feel like you’re commanding me to listen to you and then you can’t even bother to spell it out. To me, it’s like waving your hand at someone rather than speaking.

When Caitlynn Manning, a Chicago defense attorney with not enough cases (“with not enough cases” sounds very clunky and probably grammatically incorrect) to keep her occupied, notices suspicious activity surrounding her boss she decides to do some investigating; her decision not only changes her life, but the lives of those around her forever.

Did you forget a comma or two in this sentence? → The first in a series Chicago: Kidnapping in the Loop is a 79,900 word mystery novel that follows the lives of a group of young professionals trying to succeed in their respective corporate worlds as they fear for their friend’s life.  

What does this have to do with Caitlynn’s boss and the decision she made that changed the lives of those around her forever?

Caitlynn’s brother and his PI partner are working on a huge case involving a mobster that is supplying the streets of Chicago with heroin.  When someone they love turns up missing they have to use their PI skills to search for them (them? I thought only one person they loved had gone missing) and soon the two cases become one.

What two cases? The one involving Caitlynn’s boss and the one involving Caitlynn’s brother’s friend? What does any of this have to do with Caitlynn—why would she need to be involved—and what do the two cases have to do with each other?

Will Caitlynn’s decisions (I thought she only made one pivotal decision) put her in more danger?  Will her brother and his partner be able to save the one they love?  Will their friends, fearing the worst, be able to surpass the professional hurdles they face? 

What do the friends’ professional hurdles have to do with the crimes and with Caitlynn?

And how will Caitlynn’s decisions affect them all? Yes. How?

I currently live in Jonesboro, Arkansas, but I fell in love with the city of Chicago the first time I visited it as an adult, so naturally it became the setting of my first novel.  I work in the corporate world in accounting in a bank, so I can identify with the career related struggles that most of my characters face.

You have a habit of using small prepositions too closely together. “I work IN the corporate world IN accounting IN a bank…” “follows the lives OF a group OF young professionals…” While this won’t make or break your query, it does stilt your writing and I worry it will continue through your manuscript.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my query letter, and I appreciate your consideration.  My full manuscript is available for you to read upon request.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

I would reject this because I don’t believe the writing is quite strong enough, based on this sample, and because it is so disjointed. How do the main threads of the story relate to each other?

Lauren

QueryDice #3

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,

I’m querying you with my completed 90,000-word (“completed 90,000-word” is redundant) sexy paranormal romance that asks if love can survive the keeping of secrets.

The phrase, “The keeping of secrets” is very clunky. Can you find a single word for this? Sorry. I’m listening…

An attack in Peru forces tomb raider Mia Langdon to hunt for the deadly flaming arrows of the goddess Sekhmet.

This is too much information for one sentence. I like that Mia is a tomb raider. This is very interesting, but who is Mia, exactly. I don’t get any inkling of her personality or the rest of her life. Why would the attack in Peru force Mia to hunt for Sekhmet’s arrows? What is her connection to the goddess and to the attack?

Her quest triggers a chain of events that shove her and her ex-lover into the middle of a war between the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt.

This seems very vague…

Will the woman with a Grand Canyon-sized independent streak and a man who disapproves of everything she is, find a way to build a bridge between two souls meant for each other? Or will their secrets destroy any chance at rekindling their love?

I love that she’s independent and that he disapproves of her. But what secrets are you talking about? I’m also not crazy about finding out that he’s her ex-boyfriend before I even know his name or his significance to her.

Blood on the Moon features the half-immortal children (are they under-age or do you mean the descendants of the gods and goddesses?) of Ancient Egypt’s gods and goddesses born to protect mankind against deadly relics. What’s so deadly about the relics?

I’m an active member of RWA and my local chapter. My writing credits include crafting and presenting workshops, writing articles for the chapter’s newsletter and writing columns for a promotional website, 1st Turning Point. In the recent past, I won the Golden Claddagh, Golden Rose and Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal contests and have published a paranormal romance with Samhain Publishing and recently sold a post-apocalypse novella to Lyrical Press.

I especially like hearing about your writing credentials.

Thank you for your consideration.  

[name and website redacted]

I would request this, because I like your writing credentials and I feel like I

be able to like Blood on the Moon. But I wouldn’t request enthusiastically. In order for me to raise my eyebrows and click send with a flourish, I would need to get to know Mia and her ex-lover a bit more, including their relationship with each other, their relationship with the gods and Mia’s vocation as a tomb raider, which I love by the way.

 

Good luck,

Lauren

 

State of the Inbox Address…

I have responded to all queries sent prior to 6/26. If you sent your query on or before 6/26/2011 and have not received a response, my aggressive and rabid spam watchdog probably ate it. Please re-send.

I have responded to all requested material sent on or before 6/20/2011. If you sent me requested material on or before this date, the watchdog probably ate it. Please re-send.

Just because I think it is fun and interesting, here are some stats:

Number of queries waiting to be read: 534 and counting. (I had both a nightmare and a nice, unattainable dream about them last night. In the nightmare, they of course rose up out of my iPhone and swallowed me whole. In the wonderful dream, they were all bestsellers and then box-office hits and I became rich and famous.)

Average number of queries received per day: 41

Number of queries for chick lit: 15

” Crime: 7

” Fantasy and science fiction: 31

” Commercial or mainstream fiction: 31

” Historical fiction: 24

” Lesbian fiction: 1

” Literary fiction: 43

” Speculative fiction: 9

” Memoir: 34

” Middle-grade: 53

” Mystery: 33

” Non-fiction: 27

” Romance: 30

” Steampunk: 2

“Women’s fiction: 28

” YA: 126

Queries received for genres I do not represent:

Anthologies/collections: 3

Westerns: 1

Single short stories: 4

Spirituality: 3

Children’s picture books: 2

Horror: 2

Cookbooks: 1

Suspense/thriller: 23

Humor: 1

————-

Percentage of queries that entice me to ask for more: 5%

Percentage of proposals that entice me to request the full: 26%

Percentage of fulls to which I offer representation: 35%

Average time it takes me to respond to queries: 20 days (I reserve 6 weeks response time)

Average time it takes me to respond to requested material:30 days (I reserve 6-8 weeks response time)

Average hours per day I spend reading: 4.2

Average hours per day I spend writing email, rejection, revision, pitch and request letters: 3.1

Average hours per day I spend doing administrative tasks: 3

Hours per day during which I feel like I love my job: 24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QueryDice #2

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!

There is no greeting in this query. Now I feel like you’ve just thrown yourself in my face without warning.

A young girl, destesting the move to the gold rush territory in 1849, tries unsuccessfully to avoid the journey.  

 

There is a typo in the first sentence. It happens. It certainly won’t earn you a form rejection just on its own. But I hate typos. And now I know you ignored the wiggly red underline in Word or you didn’t bother to proofread this yourself. I don’t know you, so I’ll just assume you’re lazy and unprofessional. I know you’re probably not, so don’t make me think you are.

Judging by this sentence, it sounds like your whole book is about this young girl trying not to go on this journey. But since that’s not really the conflict, we don’t need to know this information. You should save it for the synopsis. Begin your query, instead with the main character or with the main conflict.

During the five hour trip from NYC to Philadelphia, she is annoyed by the endless chatter of her siblings, and the small size of the wagon that must carry her family of six.  

I like the idea of a young girl caravanning with her family across the country to get to the gold rush. I’d read that book. But I need to know more about it.

I thought she was going to gold rush territory, but now it sounds like she’s going to Philadelphia. In two sentences, you’ve mentioned three different locales, which seem to be disconnected.

Her perspective towards the journey changes when a widow joins her family’s caravan and invites her to sit in her wagon.  

This sentence is a bit ungainly since you’ve used the word “her” twice within five words to refer to two different women. I don’t think the young girl sitting in the widow’s wagon is even important at this point. I’d rather you use the space to tell me about their friendship.

Thus begins a friendship that involves the widow’s life stories of love, inheritance and possible deception through a little known California ruling.

What kind of deception? What ruling? Why is this important to the young girl? The significance and poignancy of their friendship needs to be clearer to me if your whole manuscript revolves around it.

The widow’s murder abruptly ends their wagon train’s friendships, yet the widow’s influence on the young traveler is profound.

Which friendships of the wagon train does the widow’s murder abruptly end? Just the one between the young girl and the widow, or is the murder the type of event that causes larger strife among the whole caravan?

A young black traveler is involved as an ally in helping track down the murderer.

So then this has a thread of mystery too. And another character. How thick is this thread? Is it just an aside? Who is this new character that gets mention only in the last sentence of you query?

My biggest problem with this query is that it doesn’t introduce a conflict strong enough to be the focal point of a whole novel. A young girl being forced to go to California is not conflict enough. I think part of the problem is the length of the query, which is only about 130 words. I need to know more about this young girl (including her name) what her troubles are and how she might overcome them.

There’s no salutation at the end of this query, so it feels a bit abrupt. Also, I like to know the word count. I would reject this.

“If You Build It, They Will Come…”

“Find your voice and you’ll find success…”

This is what an old creative writing professor told me years ago. And even though I did have some vague understanding of what “voice” was, she was so mystical and secretive about it, she might as well have been telling me, “If you build it, they will come,” while staring blankly off into space from her ivory tower.

Creative writing and old, pigeon-holed professors behind me, I think she was actually on to something. Because the best way to keep your readers coming back for more, or to snag them to begin with, is to make them fall in love with your voice.

But what the hell is “voice”? This sounds like the pompous, hoity-toity “theory-speak” only encountered in stuffy colleges. There are many definitions for voice. Every agent, author and editor has a different way of explaining what it is, exactly. I think we all mean the same thing and we’re using different words to define it. Here’s my explanation:

It’s the feel, the sound, the atmosphere that surrounds you when you’re reading that author’s work. Maybe it’s a distinctly English voice—very prim, and proper and as comforting as hot tea and crumpets, maybe it’s a very bachelor-esque, casually and drily funny voice like Jonathon Tropper’s.

Stephen King has an extremely casual voice. I always feel like I’m sitting in a crappy diner listening to Mr. King when I’m reading his novels. If he started using prim-and-proper speech like, “Dag-nabbit! You’ve made me cross!” we’d wonder if he was joking, and then when he discovered he wasn’t, we’d feel very disconnected. That would not be Stephen King’s voice and then whose is it? If these swings happen too often, it is hard to feel comfortable within an author’s voice and we start to dislike reading that book. Personally, I think this is because we don’t feel secure, we don’t feel like we’re heading in a defined direction. Who are we getting the story from?

Another example: Lauren Weisberger, who wrote The Devil Wears Prada, has an extremely youthful, fast-paced and hilariously funny voice. She can write this:

Attempting to drive this $84,000 stick-shift convertible through the obstacle-fraught streets of midtown at lunchtime pretty much demanded that I smoke a cigarette.

“Fuckin’ move, lady!” hollered a swarthy driver who chest hair threatened to overtake the wife-beater he wore.” I raised a shaking hand to give him the finger and then turned my attention to the business at hand: getting nicotine coursing through my veins as quickly as possible.”

But even though her skill-level might allow it, she cannot then also write something like this, from Stephen King’s Just After Sunset.

“Night came on and the stars unrolled across the sky from east to west like a rug with spangles in it. A half-moon rose between two peaks and sat there, casting a sickroom glow over this stretch of the highway and the open land on both sides of it. The wind whistled beneath the eaves of the station, but out here it made a strange open humming that was not quite a vibration. It made him think of Pammy Andreeson’s hopscotch chant.”

The difference in voice is so obvious its almost palpable. Both are excellent, I loved both books—differently. When somebody says you must find your voice, they mean you can’t write parts of your book in King’s more literary, more meandering and casual voice and then other parts in Weisberger’s laugh-every-other-line, fast-paced jaunty voice. When you mush different voices together—because you don’t yet know yourself as a writer—the result is always just as yucky as when you mush foods together.

However.

Some authors have or use more than one voice. Jodi Picoult is a great example. All of her books are told from the points-of-view of several very different characters. She happens to have great skill in pulling this off. She can allow us to inhabit the mind of a child just as comfortably as that of a cynical grown man going through a tough divorce—and the voice in each section is different, necessarily.  But there is still, even though the voices in the sections differ, an overarching Picoultian voice. It’s very calm, and very poignant, no matter who is telling the story for the moment. And that, I believe, is Picoult’s true voice—the calm, poignant, slightly literary sound that overarchs all of her books.

Some authors use different voices for different books. Jennifer Weiner is one of these. Good in Bed, which was chick-lit that I absolutely loved, had a voice similar to Lauren Weisberger’s in The Devil Wears Prada, above. Funny, down-to-earth, fast-paced, etc. But when chick-lit supposedly died, Weiner switched over to a more women’s fiction-y voice. I won’t speculate on her reasons for making the switch, but sadly, I haven’t bought a single book of hers since. Her voice just went away and that was what had kept me reading.

In sum, and perhaps what I should have said to begin with: the voice is what you hear in your head, the feel you get when you’re reading a particular book. You can’t see, hear or feel a story, so the author’s voice in a book becomes as meaningful and critical as aesthetics in a movie.

 

LR

 

 

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

The Bad, The Ugly and the Hideously Grotesque of Query Blunders

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