QueryDice #13

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 Agent, (I’ve said this before, but always address your query letter to a specific agent so we know you’ve done your research rather than querying blindly all over the place.)

On the first day of camp, Abbey realizes a horrible mistake has been made—she’s stranded at the wrong camp.

I’m interested, I know the audience, and I’m definitely going to read on. However, I’m immediately wondering how this is even possible. They call attendance at camp and account for the children. Abbey would have been noticed immediately as someone who does not belong there. How did she even get to the second day? I’m worried, now, that your manuscript will be problematic because events are not explained properly or are unlikely. After reading the whole query, I don’t think you need this sentence at all. It is irrelevant to the ghostliness that happens in the story, based on this query, and it only makes me question the logistics of that happening.

On the second, Abbey is faced with the consequence of being a lifetime “spook magnet.” The River Falls camp—which has its own spooky history—turns Abbey’s spook-ometer up to 11.

This paragraph makes little sense to me, although I vaguely get the sense that if I had written this or read the whole thing, it would make a lot more sense. What is a “spook magnet” and why was she faced with this consequence? What is a spook-ometer?

This is a case of being too close to the work you’ve done. You’ve lost perspective. Take a few weeks during which you won’t think about the story, the manuscript or the query and then come back to it with a fresh mind.

The third day begins with cold spots and moving furniture, quickly escalating to a paranormal freakshow with a field of dead frogs, a ghostly stalker and mysterious symbols carved into the wall.

This is pretty interesting and fun.

The first week ends with Abbey trying to figure out the meaning behind the symbols—as they intrude into her life with increasing urgency.

How have the symbols intruded into Abbey’s life if she’s only been there a week and the first day had nothing ghostly about it?

Abbey’s ghostly experiences were a curse growing up, costing her dearly and leaving her scarred and friendless at 14 years.

This sentence seems thrown-in. I’m not sure it needs to be in this query letter at all, but if you must put it in, I think it belongs in the first paragraph.

The final week of camp features a scavenger hunt which turns deadly as lightning strikes—leaving Abbey trapped in a burning building with a boy she likes, a mean girl she doesn’t and her drama queen roommate.

Are these people—the roommate, the mean girl and the crush—integral to the story? If not, they have no business stealing so many of your 250 query-words.

Abbey can use her curse to save their lives by reaching into another world for help.

She can? What?! She has a special power she knew about and we find out this late in the query? If the ghostliness of the camp is mixing with her ghostly past, and she has a power of some sort, all of this should be exposed in the first or second paragraph.

The trouble is, this help threatens to consume her, which could cost Abbey her new friends—as well as her very humanity.

What exactly is the conflict here? Abbey is stranded at the wrong camp. That certainly is a problem, but she doesn’t work to solve it so this is not the central conflict, I take it. The conflict, then, must be that she risks something to help herself and her new friends. But this seems to happen so far into the query that it doesn’t seem central to the book. Also, it seems more like a conclusion since it happens at the end of the query and in Abbey’s last week of camp.

This query read more like a very incomplete synopsis. I don’t need to know what happens on each day or what happens at the end of each week. What I do need to know is what conflict is central to this story, and how and why Abbey rises to meet that conflict.

Lastly, you haven’t introduced any other themes that are in your novel. There is just a ghostliness. How about Abbey’s emotional landscape? What else is going on in her life? Successful YA literature tends to incorporate themes important to young adults with something fun, scary or shocking. I do not see that here and for that reason most of all, I would reject this query.

[redacted] is a 56,000 word young adult novel with a paranormal theme.

I have written professionally in advertising and marketing for over a decade.

I’m querying you because of your passion for young adult literature and your love of scary ghost stories.

How do you know I like scary ghost stories? I’ve never publicly announced this. Be wary of claiming you know the agent likes something. Make sure they’ve announced that somewhere official or that they’ve told you this directly.

Thank you for your time,



Posted on October 6, 2011, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The storyline of Abbey being in a camp and many things happening to her and others will appeal especially to the many children and teens who have been to camps. The main event is that Abbey and others are trapped in a burning building, and I assume that there is a happy end where Abbey saves everyone with her magic power. But this main event by itself can’t carry the book. Many things are happening to Abbey, but it isn’t clear that they are connected to one storyline. They just happen to fill the pages.
    Lauren is very good in dissecting queries and as she shows the query is confusing and assumed that the reader already read the novel. On a positive note, the story of Abbey in a camp is good. My suggestion for the author is to write on a paper the sequence of all the main events in the novel and then connect them into one strong story. For example, don’t wait to introduce the boy she likes only when they are all in the burning building. Introduce him in her first or second day in the camp. Best wishes in improving your query.

  2. I too understood “spook magnet” and “spook-ometer” But you need to make sure an agent would understand. You had bits of voice poking through the fabric of the query but overall it was too disjointed to really let the character out. Keep working though, it sounds like the story is interesting.

  3. For me, when Lauren said this is a case of being too close to the work you’ve done, that was a light bulb moment. Of course we want to put the best of our writing, enough to whet an agent’s reading appetite, and still not too much detail into a query letter. It’s hard to do in 250 words, but being too close to your story can cause the jumbled approach because, well, you know what’s going on and why everything is important and fits together.

    But, when this is a first taste to readers, it’s easy to forget how much is implied simply because it’s such a part of you. So, after reading Lauren’s comments, I read through the query again. And I thought, there’s potential to this story. Good luck on making your query letter solid!

  4. Lauren articulated much of what I would say is wrong with this query. The only part where I differ with her is I completely understood what the author meant by “spook magnet” and “spook-ometer.” And I think using these terms help give a sense of the voice. Unfortunately, I’m not an agent, and if one agent tripped over these terms, it’s possible others will too. I just looked over Lauren’s areas of interest (see the BookEnds tab), and I don’t see paranormal listed. Perhaps I’m wrong, but maybe this isn’t a genre to which Lauren is sympathetic? Maybe an agent that specializes in YA paranormal would be more comfortable with this voice? I don’t know… just some thoughts. It sounds like the author needs to do a major re-write of the query anyway. And that would be worthwhile, because it sounds like all the elements of an interesting story are there.

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