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.


Posted on August 11, 2011, in Advice, publishing, queries, Query Dice, slush pile, submissions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. There were too many “dropped in” questions without answers in the query. I couldn’t follow what you were saying and skimmed, rather than reading. Try a three part query. 1. Who’s the MC 2. What does he want. 3. What’s or who is stopping him. Good luck!

  2. I’m so glad I found your blog. The explanations of your thinking process help explain the ‘whys’ of query ‘rules’. And the polls at the end are a really clever idea. I haven’t seen that anywhere.

    I wrote a post to let my readers know about your blog. Thanks for all your work! http://bit.ly/pSOS9h


  3. I don’t know about “bypassed youth” at 24. What happens in six months? What is the money making machine? Too many words for too little information. Is the rest of this work too wordy? I didn’t like the name-dropping either.

    • Joey, both you and Authorguy mentioned the male protagonist’s bypassed youth. I’m pretty close to 24 myself, so maybe that’s why this didn’t stand out to me. But now that I think about it, 24 is too young an age to have bypassed his youth. Perhaps the author might want to revise this to express that he’s bypassed his college years, which were supposed to have been fun, and might have held some romance for him.

      This actually proves an interesting point: everything is relative. Some people will take issue with things others won’t, which makes writing a query very difficult. For this reason, I love when QueryDice posts get a lot of comments. We get to hear many different points of view and the author and readers are able to take so much more away from the exercise.

      • Lauren, this last paragraph here prompted me to ask if you have an idea of why this one is receiving comments and I’ve noticed others have not. Is it because this one is closest to being ready or just more interesting even if it’s a reject because not enough of the story is told? You have a lot of readers – I’ve seen the poll results so people are reading these. Why aren’t a lot of them commenting? I find the query process fascinating – mostly because of the subjective nature of the whole thing – what someone doesn’t like, others do and so on. And that’s not just with the agents.

        • Curious Kim:

          What a great question. The queries that come in for the QueryDice are usually one extreme or the other: they’re near perfect, or they’re in dire need of help. The perfect ones are always boring. People nod and move along, nothing to see here. The ones in need of the most help don’t get it because there’s so much to say that readers just raise their eyebrows and move on.

          But when there’s a query that is so close, if the author would just…that’s when the readers speak up and that’s when this gets really interesting. I love hearing the points of view of my readers, not only because it is so invaluable to the author, but because it makes me think outside of my own little box. When I read queries, I imagine myself trying to sell the same material to a jaded, cynical editor at a publishing house. But when writers read queries, they often imagine selling that idea to themselves, or to their readers or to an agent, all very different audiences with different needs.

          Many readers vote, using the polls I attach to the end of the posts, which is helpful. Honestly, I wish every reader of this blog would give his or her opinion on QueryDice posts. The author would have hundreds of valuable pieces of advice. For free!

  4. I thought the writing style here was crisp and engaging, but I started out totally confused about what our male protag does and why it’s a conflict. We “show don’t tell” so much that I think we forget we have to just come out and say some stuff! If you told me “He’s the world’s most prestigious ski mask designer and is glued to his cell phone and his knitting needles; she’s a strugging tennis star who does nothing but train” I’d see the conflict more clearly than….he’s really bright and has an unnamed, demanding career? And I didn’t get his “second chance” at all–why? Why does he get a second chance, and why does he have to wait for it? Plus–doesn’t that eliminate the conflict of goals for him?

    I actually think the choice is a really interesting one to examine–professional goals vs a relationship. So many people come across this in their lives that it’s really relateable. But–I don’t think I quite get how it’s working for these two, or why it wouldn’t be their choice. I mean–Sophie could quit tennis and change careers, right? So isn’t it her choice? Or are you hinting at something darker here–extortion or blackmail? If so–interesting! Bring it out!

    • Rowenna, I agree. I think professional goals vs. a relationship is interesting and something I and probably everybody can relate to. I would have loved to see it fleshed out better. The male protagonist is, in some way, a heavy hitter, which can be sexy and interesting, so I definitely wanted to know more about that.

  5. Lauren, I am quickly reminded of the book you gave me on writing a book. I won’t name the book, but you know it. In it the “Fleshing out” of a character, a location , a statement, and a viewpoint is essential to good reading and thus good writing. As you know, I need to be “Captured” in the first few pages of what I am reading. I won’t be if the information is spotty or non-existent. I love when an author thoroughly covers key elements of the story without beating a dead horse. Then I am ready to dig in, break out the Bon-bons and curl up with my Kindle for a great escape from this “Veil of Tears” . Love your Querydice.

  6. At 24 years old, he’s ‘bypassed youth’?
    You say ” 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.” But I’ve also heard lots of agents want comp titles. Or is the problem here simply that the comp title is being offered too early? In any event, I’ve seen Notting Hill and it doesn’t sound anything like this plot.

    • Authorguy,

      You’re right. Many agents do want comp titles. My issue with this, is that it is risky. In the case of the QueryDiced author this morning, the titles were not necessarily comparable to the query. If you compare your work to Nicholas Sparks, for example, you have no way of knowing how the agent feels about that author. What if the agent rolled her eyes and rejected you thinking your work would be just like Nicholas Sparks, who she doesn’t like? Worse, what if your work would have been something she loved and had nothing in common with the work of Nicholas Sparks, except that it was romance. Bummer. Thanks for commenting!

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