Monthly Archives: March 2012

QueryDice #27

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.

Ms. Ruth,

All Zach wants to do lately is fight. It doesn’t matter with whom or what.

He’s always had a problem with his temper, but never like this. Never to the point that he gets into fights and can’t remember why. Ever since he and his mom up and left their home in Florida for Dave-her new husband, he’s gone into uncontrollable rages. Zach knows there’s a trigger since he isn’t always mad, but needs helping figuring out what it is.

It is not believable to me that Zach’s rage started right after he and his mom moved in with Dave and Zach has no idea what’s causing his anger.

His latest psychiatrist thinks there’s something going on at home that’s triggering these rages. And she’s right, there is. That sonofabitch Dave is what’s going on at home. He prefers leaving Zach bruised and sore to spending time together as father/son, not to mention the black rings around his mom’s eyes that are becoming a regular occurrence.

For Zach, thanks to three fights in the last three weeks, any chance of a future hinges on learning to control his anger. He hopes his psychologist and her assistant, the girl he loves, can help with this. He wants to go to college, he wants to date, and he wants to survive Dave.

There is nothing specifically wrong with this query. I don’t think the conflict is complicated enough, though. We’ve already heard the story of the boy whose step-dad abuses him and his mother. What makes yours markedly different from those? While I agree that this is a theme welcomed and sought by YA readers, I think there needs to be something else, something big, specific and external, at stake.If there isn’t, then I can easily predict the outcome of this story: Zach figures it out. Who would write or read a story about an abused boy who has uncontrollable rages at the end of which the boy still has uncontrollable rages and is still abused? That’s why there needs to be a complication to the conflict here, or an added conflict.

This has more to do with the manuscript than it does with this query, though. The query was well-written. I know what the conflict is, who stands to benefit or lose-out, and what the challenges to solving it are.

ZACH’S FIGHT is my contemporary young adult novel and is complete at 60,000 words. I am a member of SCWBI and RWA.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

As always, please remember to say goodbye! A simple “sincerely, so and so” suffices.

Best of luck, LR

 

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QueryDice #26

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,

As a result of your interest in women’s fiction, I hope you will enjoy A Shift in the Wind, contemporary women’s fiction with a speculative bent. Hmm. Speculative? I really like speculative fiction…I wonder how this turns out…

Augusta Collins was born in the wrong century. A lover of the elegance and slow pace of times gone by, she never liked the technology-crazed, faster-is-always-better life, so it’s a strange, but exciting occurrence when a solar flare storm knocks out electricity and she finds herself experiencing first-hand what her life would’ve been like had she any say in the time frame of her birth. How long is the electricity out? Also, this is not striking me as a noteworthy story.

The resurgence of beauty in the form of elaborate balls, the popularity of performing arts, and leisurely strolls in the rose garden are perfection, but change has the ability to both heal and kill – and it does.

Hold the phone. Have elaborate balls, performing arts and leisurely strolls in the rose garden returned to everyday life, or that this would be very nice? What do you mean they are perfection? Do you mean they are Augusta’s ideal, or do you mean they’re pleasant, or do you mean everyone in the world agrees that these things are perfection? The last sentence, for some reason, doesn’t sound wise to me. Its sounds like a reach, because you could swap any ol’ noun for “change” here. Chairs (to pick a noun off the top of my head) also have the twin abilities to heal and kill because you could knock somebody over the head with one, but also use one to get a healing rest from a day’s work. My point is, yes, change can kill and it can heal, but so can many other things, so what significance are you trying to highlight?

And what has changed so much that the world is significantly altered? Again, is the electricity out indefinitely, for months, forever? If it’s an extended period of time, I wonder if it is believable that engineers would not correct it. What changes has this brought about? Better yet, what changes has this brought about that we weren’t expecting?

It’d taken Augusta’s father a year earlier, murdered in split-second madness by a stranger, but it’d given her family 28-year-old Griffin Alexander, a former capital investor who, conveniently, knows nothing about how to run the Collins’ sheet metal manufacturing company and everything about money and combat.

This paragraph continues with that reach, which I think you’ve tried to use as a transition. Change did not take Augusta’s father, Augusta’s father’s death was itself a change. Why is Griffin’s age important, why is his former life important, why is it significant that he knows nothing about how to run the company, and why is this convenient? Why is it significant that he knows everything about money and combat? Is he an employee and if so, to whom does he answer?

This paragraph also signals the complete departure from the electricity outage and speculative world you were beginning to introduce, which makes for a very disjointed query.

 

If you hadn’t told me, I would be wondering if this was romance or women’s fiction, and that is a problem, because I worry that I’d read the manuscript and it would turn out to be some sort of hybrid. Hybrids are hard to sell–publishers are afraid of them–and many just won’t sell. (As an aside, don’t ever tell me your manuscript is “genre-bending” if you want me to read without suspicion.) I think this is probably women’s fiction with a strong romantic element, but the problem is I’m not sure. It could very well be romantic suspense.

Since that day, (since what day? The day of Augusta’s father’s death? The day of Griffin’s initial hire?) Griffin has protected and provided for the friends he considers family, but when Augusta discovers that Griffin may have risked their livelihood for the sake of his own, she makes a decision that may hurl her family into danger and swat down the affection growing between them – unacknowledged yet intricate and fragile as a spider’s web.

This paragraph generates even more questions. We have heard nothing of Augusta’s family, but now you’ve brought them into the query, so they’re a distraction. You have a choice here: either include some exposition of Augusta’s family, if you think they are major characters, or leave them out of the query entirely. Why does Augusta’s family need Griffin’s protection? The rest of this paragraph tells me you understand that writing a query is the art of leaving things out, but there is a fine line between successfully telling us only the need-to-know, and just confusing us.

Ask yourself what you really need in this paragraph for us to understand the main story, here. For example, do we need to know exactly what Griffin may have done wrong, or just simply that he may have done wrong?

Stuck in the narrow, unaccompanied middle between clutching governmental control and the radical members of an opposition group, the decision to stay neutral may be fatal – and ultimately impossible.

Whoa. Clutching governmental control? Radical opposition group? Is this is same query? Neutral would indicate there were opposing sides to some conflict–what conflict? Focusing on the threats (what threats?) around her, Augusta attempts to ignore the heightening conflict between her heart’s urging to risk it all for the love of her soul (do you mean she loves her own soul, the love her soul expresses, or possibly Griffin?) and her mind’s persistent encouragement to settle for another. Another what? Is there a character who should have been introduced?

As all of the elements come crashing together like the conflicting fronts of a tornado, Augusta finds that although turmoil and deception are plagues in any age, love always tends to find you right where you belong.

You know, for this sentence to have the punch that you want it to have, it needs to have a set of opposites on either side of the word “although.” So, since plagues don’t keep you from finding where you belong (maybe you belong there, plagued) this sentence didn’t resonate with me. Since it is the closing of your synopsis-portion in this query, I would have liked to be left with something with a better kick. The language in this query–metaphors, etc.–hints that the you’re leaning toward the literary side (women’s fiction sort of straddles commercial fiction, genre fiction and sometimes literary fiction) so I’d like your last sentence to be just a tad more poetic or profound. Also, “always tends” contradicts itself. Always means it doesn’t ever do something else, while tends means it regularly or frequently does something, but not always without deviation.

A Shift in the Wind is 115,000 words and fully complete. I would love to send the manuscript for your review. Thank you for taking the time to consider this project!

This query had no salutation, which won’t earn anybody a rejection. It is a nice formality to say bye-bye, though.

I would reject this query not because I think there isn’t a story here, but because I’m not entirely sure what it is.

 

QueryDice #25

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,

Noah Pressman has survived the IRA, the Taliban, and both Gulf Wars. Now the documentary filmmaker faces something far more threatening – old age.

I’m not sure I understand why a filmmaker would have “survived” these. It is not clear that he put himself in the line of danger for the sake of his films, if that is what you meant to say.

Retirement means he’ll finally have to stop running (from what?) and deal with the traumatic death of his son.

This paragraph seems a bit all-over-the-place. The first sentence hints that Noah has led a dangerous life and it’s about to become even more dangerous. Then we learn he’s older, which tames that first thought a bit. The last sentence hints that he’s running from something, although we don’t know what and that his son died traumatically. How do these elements–the dead son, Noah’s flight from some sort of danger, his impending retirement, the IRA, Taliban and wars, and Noah’s filmmaking relate to each other? What is the focal point that gathers them at some juncture?

Desperate to escape the painful memories, Noah accepts a new job: (Job? I thought he was retiring…) direct a TV show about the most bizarre places in America. When he arrives at the abandoned Fairytale Forest, Noah glimpses a startling apparition of his son – alive, and soon unearths a cryptic message: HIDE THE KIDS.

Again, I’m not sure what Noah’s son has to do with his new job or with the cryptic message. I think the death of his son and his pain regarding that are details better left to a synopsis and the full manuscript.

After discovering video evidence (evidence of what? If you’re referring to the cryptic message, the way in which it was sent is better revealed in the same sentence as the message itself) linking the property to a wave of mysterious child abductions, Noah is determined to unlock the secret buried within the crumbling wonderland.

Why? Why would Noah, who is looking at retirement and is in his old age, be so determined to figure out this mystery? I have an inkling that this is where the death of Noah’s son is important. Was his son a child when he died? Was he abducted? Does he suspect that this is connected to that? We need to know this, because Noah needs to have a very good reason for meddling in things that are none of his business–and seeking closure or revenge for his son’s death is perfect.

Aided by Caleb Rafferty, the teenage host caught in a battle against his own traumatic past, Noah uncovers a satanic plot orchestrated by Professor Dominic Ballard. Obsessed with gaining immortality, Ballard has found the key in ancient Druid lore and its long-forgotten but profound association with Christmas.

By performing a ritual sacrifice on midnight of Christmas Eve, Ballard will trigger the deaths of children everywhere, ensuring himself never-ending life. For Caleb, it means the grave. (Why? How?)

For Noah, it means suffering the unbearable pain of losing a surrogate son.

Surrogate son? You didn’t reveal they were that close. I got the impression they’d just met.

They must stop Ballard before the stroke of midnight, but standing in their way is a sadistic creature with powers of illusion, a creature that has just found some new toys to play with.

You haven’t given us enough information about this creature or its motivations, so we don’t feel the impending doom you wanted us to feel by introducing the creature.

A paranormal thriller, [redacted] is complete at 100,000-words long. It’s my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best,

[redacted]

I would reject this query because it leaves out important information and it doesn’t tie the elements of the story together in a way that helps me feel the excitement of this thriller. I am concerned this will continue in the manuscript and I’ll wind up reading a thriller that’s not very thrilling.

LR

 

QueryDice #24

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 X: (Readers, please note that this author probably wrote “Agent X” just for this exercise. You should always use the agent’s name, as in “Dear Ms. Ruth”.)

Have you ever wondered if parents can love an adopted child as much as “one of their own”? When you first heard the story of the mother who sent her adopted son on a plane back to Russia with a note pinned to his jacket stating she “no longer wished to parent this child,” were you horrified?  Were you empathetic?

I normally abhor questions at the beginning of a query, because you just don’t know what the agent’s internal response is going to be. What if my answer to the first question is, “No. I don’t really care.” In that case, I would read the rest of this query thinking I don’t care about what you have to say. In this case, I just so happened to be intrigued by the questions, but that’s left up to chance. Don’t leave it up to chance.

In Children of My Own: Bringing Borya Home, I bring first-hand perspective to thoughts like these in the tale of the adoption of my 13 year old son, who struggles with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Memoir is tough. Unless you’ve been through something no one has ever been through, or that is extremely compelling or extraordinary, a memoir is hard to sell. I’m already thinking about this after this paragraph. Many people write memoirs about their parenting experience, but unless it’s radically different from everyone else’s experience, it won’t be enough. I’m going to keep reading to see if this is different enough. The query itself, though, minus the questions in the beginning, has a good start.

In this 22 chapter (a word-count is good to know, but since we have no idea how long your chapters are, this is not helpful) memoir, readers will first be introduced to Borya in the dusty play yard of an orphanage in Kazakhstan when I was there adopting another child.  (This is interesting because there are not many books set in Kazakhstan) They will learn of the five year quest to find him, adopt him, and bring him home.  They will come to realize, as I have, that there is more to bringing someone home than changing their address.  For children with RAD, bonding and attaching to a family does not come naturally, or easily, and sometimes it never comes at all.  For a parent to love a child without reciprocity can be heartbreaking, and has led to parents disrupting adoptions, abusing their children, and even sending them back on a plane.

I’m mildly interested. I do think this is radically different enough to have potential.

This book describes my initiation into the world of RAD.  There is raw honesty (always awesome, in a memoir) as I share my successes, my failures, my moments of weakness, my fear at thinking that I would not be able to do this.  By weaving a few tales of my own upbringing throughout the book, I hope to give the reader some perspective as to who I am as a person, as another flawed and imperfect parent.

When I searched for books on RAD, I found many titles.  After all, of the roughly one million children adopted annually, more than 10% will present with severe challenges related to RAD, and all prospective adoptive parents are instructed to educate themselves on this frightening “what-if”.   The books I found, however, discuss treatment strategies for RAD, or delineate the ordeal of families who have struggled to come to terms with this disorder, only to end in sadness, with broken hearts and feelings of failure all around.  To my surprise, I found no books that recounted personal tales of success in raising a child with RAD.  My son, who has made so much progress towards becoming a part of our family, tells me I need to write this book so that others can see that it can be done.

Children of My Own has evolved into a book from its origins as a blog.  The blog was begun during the adoption process, but continued once the kids were home so I could share both the comedy and insanity of raising six children while RAD unfolded itself before my eyes.  The blog’s readership has grown to roughly 6,000 per month  and has given hope to many other parents who are also struggling to raise a child with RAD.

Even outside of the adoption community, my story has served as an inspiration to many, and my platform is growing rapidly. In addition to the blog, I have several published essays/articles in the magazines Adoption Today, Adoptive Families, and Country Magazine, as well as two essays published in the book The Foster Parenting Toolbox, published by EMK Press. Through my blog, I have been contacted by an agent from the Magical Elves production company, who expressed interest in doing a segment about our family in an upcoming show.  I have given permission for an adoption counselor to use posts to help educate prospective families.  My blog is also featured periodically on the blog Five of My Own, which receives more than 60,000 hits per month.

Ms. X, I know I will need the guidance of a professional to help polish this manuscript (my first), (so, then you admit to being unpolished? This is risky. Even if you are a newbie, don’t wave that flag) and when I read your bio and saw that you specialize in blog-to-book projects, (it does not say that in my bio. And I don’t. I wonder whose bio you were looking at? Did you just assume?) I had such a strong feeling that you are the person to champion this book.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts and I hope you will see something in my story that you feel is worth telling.

This query is a bit long and rambling. Paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 are fine. The only truly helpful information in paragraphs 5 and 6 are the statistics on how many kids are adopted and how many face RAD-related challenges, the fact that you have a successful blog with an audience (is it 6,000 or 60,000? You’ve used both figures.) and that you have six adopted (?) kids. This information should be concisely incorporated into paragraph 7. The rest can be scrapped without consequence.

All in all, this wasn’t half-bad. And while I think this query rambles a bit, and I have a hunch the rest of the manuscript does too, I would like to request it anyway. This subject matter is compelling to me, and I’m curious to see what the author does with it.

LR

 

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