Monthly Archives: August 2011

QueryDice #8

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,

[redacted], is a 55,000 words YA novel with a dark new twist to urban fantasy.

Re-reading this query, I do not see a dark, new twist to urban fantasy.

The quiet town of Rosewood, Michigan has a disturbing history. For a century and a half, young women have vanished. Locals whisper of monsters residing in the old theater house and in the woods surrounding Rosewood, but no one has ever seen one.

Until sixteen-year-old, Delilah Drislore moves to town.

I think it is best, since Delilah is the main focus of this query, to mention her before Rosewood. This query would be less disjointed if you began with the following paragraphs and worked the first paragraph into them.

Ten months ago, Delilah died for five minutes. Revived, she expects to see paramedics, but instead she stares up into the eyes of a savage little monster wearing eighteenthcentury clothing and a skeleton mask. The doctor fears her five minutes of death left her with brain damage, so he condemns her to a psychiatric hospital for hallucinations and paranoia.

That seems a bit harsh. Wouldn’t the doctor just chalk it up to hallucinations? Brain damage and psychosis seem like a bit of a long shot.

Strong-willed and in complete denial about her “disability,” Delilah intends to live a normal life when she moves to Rosewood. There, she finds new friends and even starts dating the handsome Jerald Jenkins. Unfortunately, she cannot avoid the monsters forever, so when a strange man – who claims to be the King of the Rosewood monsters – develops a romantic interest in Delilah, her control over her “disability” starts to unravel. She delves into the town’s folklore and realizes she is caught in a century and a half old feud between a demon – who holds a strange resemblance to her boyfriend – and the mysterious king.

How is Delilah caught in the feud, exactly? What specific danger does she face? I think this is actually the biggest problem in this query: the conflict is not fleshed out enough. I need to know what she’s up against and how she overcomes it.

One of them is responsible for the young women who vanished, one of them keeps bringing her back from her suicide attempts, but they both have plans for Delilah. Absorbing the danger of her reality, Delilah wonders if those five minutes cost (you mean caused) her to lose – not only her parents – but her cousins, friends, boyfriend, sanity – everything.

Wait. Why did Delilah lose her parents and her cousins? Why did she lose her friends and her boyfriend? What are the plans for Delilah? The suicide attempts are thrown in very casually and I don’t know if it is realistic for a “strong willed” young woman who denies there’s anything wrong with her to be emotionally desperate enough to attempt suicide. Because all of this information, previously unknown to the reader, is piled up in this two-sentence paragraph, I’m confused and searching for answers.

I would reject this because there is information thrown down that is not explained. I have no choice but to believe this continues in the full manuscript. Remember an agent’s only impression of you and your writing is this one-page query. Whatever you do here, I’ll assume you do always.


THE CURSE OF ROSEWOOD will appeal to readers of Carrie Jones’ NEED and Clare B. Dunkle’s THE HOLLOW KINGDOM.

I always advise authors not to list the works of other authors. Here, you’re spot-on: this story is very much like NEED and THE HOLLOW KINGDOM. But this is not a good thing. Your plot seems almost exactly like that of THE HOLLOW KINGDOM: a town has mysterious folklore and women have vanished, a situation that is spun-up by the arrival of a newly arrived teenager (or teenagers), there is a king involved who seems to be the mastermind behind everything and who has devious plans for the new teenager.

I have been a member of Verla Kay’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s message board for five years and have taken two college English courses to enhance my writing.

Others might disagree with me, but I’ll advise against listing credentials unless a.) you finalized in or won a contest or been given formal accolades on your writing b.) you’ve had something published, even a short story c.) you have work experience that is very relevant to the material in your query d.) You have an MFA in creative writing.  Otherwise, it’s like putting the fact that you graduated high school on your resume: you’re only highlighting your lack of higher credentials.

The good news is, you don’t have to have credentials to become a published author. For fiction, no agent is going to reject you solely because you’ve never been published or won a contest. But, if the agent is on the fence about requesting more, your credentials might be the tipping point. For this reason, I’d rather see either big credentials or no credentials at all. Let your writing speak for itself and focus on the strengths of the book you’re querying.

I would be happy to provide the complete manuscript for further review. <— The agent already knows this. This sentence does not hurt your query, but it is unnecessary.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[redacted]

QueryDice #7

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,

His eyes are dark with black shadows, and his lips curl up at the edges.  Maybe I’m being paranoid.  I wasn’t alone, it’s Mardi Gras, and the streets are full of people. Daniel is close by, still giving interviews for his movie.  Security is everywhere because of this party, so why is every hair on my body standing up?

He’s still coming towards me.  His eyes now tearing into mine.  I want to look away, act like it’s nothing, but I cannot.  His steps increase as his expression darkens.  I try to move but remain frozen.  My breath speeds up and I will myself to not panic.  I force myself to take a step, but it’s too late.  I hear the sound, (what sound?) feel the pain, and fall to the ground.

People say when you’re dying your life flashes before your eyes.  I see faces of my family and friends rapidly flashing across my mind.  I think about Daniel and smile inside.  He chose me out of countless girls to be his girlfriend.  I hear faint screams around me.  I feel remorse about everything I didn’t get to do in life.  Faces kept flashing before me, but one was constant, Cary’s face. <—There is a tense conflict in the past two sentences. Flashes of Cary’s smile, the burning of his eyes and the blush in his checks when he looks at me.  The thought of never seeing him again… I want to rip those evil eyes out of the socket of the man who did this to me… and I will.

[redacted] is a completed 70,000 word young adult romance involving angels and demons.

I would be honored to send the completed manuscript at your request.  I have included a sample for your review.  Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

I would reject this. I have absolutely no idea what the premise of the story is, what the conflict is, or really anything about the characters because all I’ve been given is the writing sample the author said was included. The writing isn’t half bad, but writing style or voice can rarely move an agent or editor to request more material just on its own.

After reading this, the most solid thing I knew about this author and his/her book was that he/she hadn’t done enough research on how to query agents.

Note to the author: this isn’t a dead-end for you, though. Why don’t you write a standard query letter and resubmit it to the QueryDice. I’m sure we’d all like to know what brought your characters to the moment in which we’ve seen them here, and what they do after. Good luck.

Lauren Ruth

QueryDice #6

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:

This will not make or break your query, but you tend to use ellipses (…) and em dashes (–) a lot in your writing. They are sometimes used incorrectly and to excess. The purpose of an ellipsis is to indicate words that have been omitted or a pause, where a period does not add necessary emphasis to the pause. The purpose of an em dash is to create a break in thought to introduce a new, but connected and brief thought.

Twenty-four-year-old Alex Reyes has it all—he is gifted, has a brilliant career, has achieved more than most will in a lifetime, and is just about ready to give it all up.

How is Alex gifted? Why is it important that he is 24? Is he a wunderkind? What is his line of work? I should not have to ask these questions. Tell me about your character and what is important to him.

On his road to success, Alex bypassed everything— youth, happiness and balance. Now, he’s ready for a do-over. And if he remains focused (on what?) for six short months, he’ll get that chance. Six months…simple.

Meeting British tennis star Sophie Lennon in Paris was not in his plans… nor was falling in love. Sophie, like Alex, is stuck in a self-imposed trap. She is one of the best, but without a grand slam championship, she risks going down as another celebrity-athlete who’s more celebrity than athlete. She wants to win—must win—to settle old scores. (What old scores?) But with Alex, she’s free—she can be herself, without pretense or concern.

What is Sophie like when she’s being herself? In order for me to like her, I want to see her quirks and personality. Also, I don’t get much of a sense of Alex’s personality either. What drew Sophie to him? For the first time in their lives, youthful joy and passion replace logic and planning.

But they serve demanding worlds. They are part of the moneymaking machine (which one) that expects laser focus—without distractions. Their relationship threatens years of hard work and sacrifice. But mostly, it threatens those who stand to lose millions. (Like whom?) Soon, Alex and Sophie will face a choice: professional ambitions or profound happiness? A choice that may not be theirs to make. (Why wouldn’t it be?)

Complete at 94,000 words, ACES is a commercial fiction novel. (Use either “fiction” or “novel” because both is redundant. All novels are fiction.)

This sounds more like contemporary romance to me, since you’ve focused on Alex and Sophie’s romance. I worry that you’re not sure what you’ve written, or you’ve presented it incompletely or inadequately in your query. You’ve actually called your manuscript commercial fiction, but I do not see much development of that claim in this query, since the budding relationship is placed at the forefront. I see contemporary romance.

I think the conflict in this, while I do get a general idea of it, could be fleshed out better. I need to feel like I care about the decisions of the characters and their conflict, and because I think you’ve rushed this a bit, I just don’t. But I could. I like the small description of the plot and I think if I knew the characters better, I could like them too. My worry is that since you’ve rushed this and I don’t have a firm handle on exactly what happens, to whom it matters and why, your manuscript will echo that. For that reason, I would reject this.

Readers of Nick Hornby novels or fans of the movie Notting Hill will connect with Aces. I am endorsed by New York Times bestselling novelist, Michael Levin.

Others might disagree, but I don’t like name-dropping in a query. The only way an endorsement from Michael Levin is going to help you, is if he allows you to place his name and endorsement on the cover of your book or decides to review it favorably. We haven’t arrived at that stage yet, so you seem like you’re trying to let the success of others, including Hornby and Notting Hill, inflate your query, which makes me wince. Use your own chops to build up the platform section of your query. If you don’t have any, just skip it and focus more on developing a strong handle on your characters and plot.

Nick Hornby writes up-market commercial fiction, and his particular brand is sometimes informally referred to as “lad’s lit” (a guy’s answer to chick lit) and Notting Hill was definitely romance. Are you saying your book is romance, or are you saying it is commercial fiction? Or something like “lad’s lit”? This is precisely why I advise against comparing your work to others’: you don’t know what the agent will make of your claim, or if she will like the work of those others.

The first chapter (ten pages) is included below.

I actually like it when authors include a few pages in the body of their query email. But this is a personal preference on which no one seconds me. Other agents do not like this, probably because they’re a lot more established and busier than I am. Please do not include anything but your query in your query, unless you know the agent wants or has requested this.

Thank you for your consideration.

Lauren

QueryDice #5

The following is a query critique–our first non-fiction! 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,

“Mom, how does this old Bible passage relate to me?”

I always say you should never begin your query with a question, but this works for me. Since you’re not asking me a question, I consider it a line from the manuscript, regardless of its punctuation. After reading this sentence, I knew what this was about and what its purpose was. Well done.

Christian parents, grandparents, and youth group leaders know the importance of the Bible, but many lack confidence to answer a question like this.

This is good. You’ve given me your book’s aim right from the get-go. Now, I know exactly what this is and to whom it might be beneficial and marketable.

[title redacted] meets this need by acting as a bridge to help children transition from reading story Bibles to understanding the whole Bible’s story and how it applies to them. [redacted] offers a user-friendly approach for young people ages 10-14 to discover for themselves the fascinating, big-picture message of the Bible as it covers every book of the Bible in bite-sized pieces.

I do not like specific, target age-groups mentioned in queries. Can you guarantee that this is inappropriate for a 9-year-old? A 15-year-old? If you cite an age group that’s too narrow, I’ll be thinking, “Is that market big enough?” If you cite an age-group that’s too broad, I immediately think you stretched it and it’s probably not appropriate for the low or high end. It’s better to express that this is appropriate for middle-grade readers.

That being said, this paragraph was otherwise excellent. You concisely outlined what the book’s purpose is, who it is for, and how it achieves its goal. Very nice.

Parents and pastors like how [redacted] promotes Biblical literacy, Christian worldview, and structure for daily Bible reading. Children like that it is easy to use and that it helps them find out for themselves how the Bible addresses real problems and questions they face.

How do you know? Have you shown the completed manuscript to parents, pastors and children? It is best to replace the word “like” with the words “will benefit from.”

[redacted] works as a stand-alone resource, family read-aloud, or supplement to other Bible study or worldview curricula.

 This paragraph is also a home-run. I like knowing how the book can be read and utilized.

The average chapter is 450 words. Readers can start – or restart – at any point during the year or continue over two or more years.

 This is confusing. Since I don’t see why readers couldn’t begin the book at any time during the year, your pointing this out makes me wonder what I’m missing.

My platform to write this book is based on both the experience of being a cross-cultural missionary with [redacted] for over twenty years, and the online presence I have developed since 2005 through my [redacted] website. Through the numerous Bible studies I have written, as well as my website, ebook, and coaching service, I support people as they navigate complex issues by helping them see the big picture, much as I do with [redacted]. I have also developed relationships with a number of notable pastors, ministry leaders, and churches across the United States who could help promote this book.

Well done with your platform paragraph. But your first words, “My platform to write the book is based on…” seems overly stiff. You can just launch right into your experience and we’ll gather that it serves as a platform. We’re expecting you to tell us this. Also, it is always great to know exactly how developed your web presence is. How many unique visits does your site get? Are you active on social media outlets?

Thank you for your interest in [redacted].

 I haven’t shown interest yet, as far as you know.

I believe this is a resource that will bless and equip future leaders in God’s Kingdom and look forward to learning how you might be involved with this project.

Thank you and blessings upon you,

[redacted]

Great job with this one.

 Lauren

 

One Author’s Journey…

 

*waves* Big thanks to Lauren for letting me stop by today! I thought I would share a little about me before we get to chitchatting!

I’m Stacey Kennedy. I write urban fantasy/paranormal and erotic romance. I’m published with quite a few epublishers and have two new releases coming out this year with Ellora’s Cave and Loose Id.

I started writing as an escape from dirty diapers and screaming kids. As a stay at home mom—which all moms I’m sure will agree with me—it became a necessity to be creative and keep my brain active. What better way to do that then get lost in another world for a little while.

Originally, I had tried to go the agent route but rejection after rejection told me something was amiss. Clearly, right?! Now looking back, I can see I was in no way ready to submit to agents and had a lot to learn. Luckily, for me, an editor at an epublisher saw potential in my story and took me under her wing. From there, I wrote and wrote…and wrote some more. I submitted to different epublishers to work with new editors to learn as much as I could. I soaked up all the knowledge they had to offer and over the year I have been published, my writing improved and I owe all my editors a huge thank you for that.

After about eighteen ebook releases—some novellas—I had written an urban fantasy romance that I submitted to a few epublishers, only to get the “BIG R”. Bummer! Yes, I pouted, cursed and would not dare look at the story. I let it sit on my hard drive for a good four months until I got over the rejections, and then decided I needed to do something with it.

That story introduced me to self-publishing. I did a lot of research, talked to other self-published authors, made connections to find an editor, cover artist, etc. Then I went for it and uploaded my book to online stores. To my utter shock, the story went straight to Amazon Kindle’s bestseller list and stayed there. By far this is my bestselling book so this tells you that just because your story is rejected doesn’t mean there is no potential there.

Lastly, just this past week I signed with the lovely agent, Lauren Ruth to start another journey in my writing career. To say that I’m excited would be a huge understatement. I’m thrilled and eager for see what the future holds for team, “Lauren and Stacey”!

So where am I going with this all?

Whatever choice you want to make for your career is your choice. No matter what you’ve heard—and we’ve all heard many opinions—there is no “right” path to take in publishing.  I have done nearly all of them, epublished, self-published and now I have an agent. All three I have loved for different reasons and plan to continue using these methods of publishing.

If you want to have an agent represent you, go for it. You want to self-publish, go for it! You want to epublish, go for it! If one doesn’t work out for you, write another story and try something else. That’s what is so fantastic about the publishing world, we as authors have so many options.

Personally, I think as long as you are doing what you love and capture that in a story then readers will take notice. At the end of the day it’s not really about how you get your books into the hands of readers, it’s only that they read the story you’ve slaved over and is your baby.

I’d love to hear from you all, what method of publishing have you used or what’s your “dream” publisher?

 

Stacey Kennedy blogs here and maintains a website here.

 

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