QueryDice #15

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!

Set mostly in China, as well as New York, my 82,000 word commercial contemporary women’s fiction [redacted]  will appeal to both American and Chinese readers.

When aspiring author Shui Ying leaves her diary on a Shanghai subway car, little does she know that her dream will become a reality without her knowledge, and a quest to find her will span two continents, culminating in a legal battle to prove her identity.

Interesting pitch. I can’t wait to read more…

Shui Ying is forced to leave school and move from her poor village in Sichuan to Shanghai in order to support her mother and ailing father. With no time to write, she gives up her dream of becoming a writer. Emily, an American university student majoring in Chinese culture, finds Shui Ying’s diary on a trip to Shanghai and convinces her mother, who works for a publishing company in Manhattan, to publish it. Attempts to find Shui Ying fail and Chinese authorities erroneously believe she drowned.

Shui Ying fell in love with Liang, her best friend from the village. But one day after he tells her that he loves her, they are separated when she leaves for Shanghai. Her heart is broken, but she turns her attention to finding work. Shui Ying despairs after encountering a series of unscrupulous employers, and is reunited with Liang when he saves her life. Before reuniting with Liang, she gets involved with Lau, an owner of a pet food factory from Beijing with an office in Shanghai. She writes in her diary that she’s in a love triangle.

When Liang gets a job in construction for the Beijing Olympics, Shui Ying finds a job at Lau’s factory in Beijing. When she discovers that Lau has been tampering with the pet food he manufactures, she and Liang must go into hiding. While they are running away from the thugs Lau sent to silence her, she sees her name on a book in a bookstore in Shanghai and discovers she has become famous and that she has been the object of a search. She also discovers that Leona, a young Chinese woman, has impersonated her and claims to be the author of the diary. Leona takes the American publisher to court in New York, and a jury must decide who the real author is, Leona or Shui Ying.

This query is technically passable, but I lost interest somewhere in the fourth paragraph. The love-triangle among Shui Ying, Lau and Liang is not interesting enough for me to believe someone would find this diary and want to publish it. Something really incredible needs to have happened to Shui Ying in order for someone to want to publish her book. Also, there’s the logistical problem of figuring out how a publishing house would have contracted this book without Shui Ying’s signature, without meeting her. How did they edit the book? To whom are they paying royalties and an advance? It’s a neat idea, it’s just not very believable. I would reject this, not because I don’t believe the basic idea is marketable–it probably is–or because the writing was bad–it wasn’t–but because I don’t find it credible or interesting enough to draw sufficient attention from publishers. The issue, here, is not with the query, which has done its job–inform and entice while staying true to the manuscript–but with the manuscript.
Thank you for reading my query.


Posted on October 27, 2011, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I liked everything about the story until the paragraph about the love aspect. Which is funny because my favorite stories are love stories. I think what happened is you skimmed over the love triangle; I felt a lack of emotions and I think it’s just because you didn’t describe it well enough. The rest of your story sounded interesting.

  2. Actually the story follows too many recent headlines about a similar story and about pet food tampering. It would have to be really well written to be a stand out for publishers; not on a daughter’s notice alone.
    I do like the story line and I would suggest a whole lot of background in china and the United States with serious emphasis on the publishing world and the inside track of it.

  3. I felt the query sounded too much like a synopsis. A quick word count puts the query at about 390 words, which is a lot more than the 250-word maximum normally recommended. But with the story issues, this is a minor point.

  4. I was also intrigued by the pitch but got lost somewhere between the love triangle and the court case. I realise there would be untold amounts of reorganising and rewriting, but after reading the first two paragraphs I began to imagine an exciting and/or heart-breaking story told in Shui’s journal, and that perhaps a publishing house is desperate to find her in order to extend the author a publishing deal – not that Shui finds it already published in a store. That part seems highly implausible, but I dig the idea that there’s someone wanting to impersonate Shui and take credit; perhaps just make this happen without having the book already be published? And I also like that Emily’s so keen to see something good come of this lost journal. After reading the query, I feel like I want to know a bit more about Emily, and about her trying to find Shui.

    I’d love to read more, but I think a bit of a re-think might be a big help. Good luck!

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