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.



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.



Posted on March 8, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I see where the writer was going with the concept, but at first sight I thought it was going to be realistic fiction…and then it turned fantasy.I hope that the writer will rethink a few things, because the conecpt is something I think would be good with a little rewording.

  2. i’d echo all the other feedback here that recommends tightening up the focus in this query. As it currently reads, it hops from genre to genre. Of course the MS may well be a lot sharper, as writing queries is an art/science in itself! But I was a little bit wary of some of the cliches coming through as well. I’ve read other thrillers/seen movies/TV programmes where the stakes are the lives of the world’s children. Unimaginably horrific as that would be in reality, to make it a real threat in fiction requires something special. The second potential cliche was the ‘stroke of midnight’ reference. Again, many, many thrillers have the clock countdown device and it has to be particularly skillful to work. As i’ve said, this was the query and not the MS, so these issues may not be a problem. Thanks to the author for sharing and best of luck.

  3. I had to read this again after a couple of days, thinking maybe my brain was just muddy when I read it the first time. But I still had the same reaction: huh? I agree with Lauren and the other comments – the query jumps all over the place (likely trying to cover too much of a 100K novel in 250 words) and doesn’t focus on the basic story. I think if the writer shares this with a critique group, he/she will glean some good ideas for tightening it up and improving it before submitting again. Good luck, and remember we must always endeavor to persevere!

  4. From the first line, I was expecting something comedic, which was evidently not the intention. I agree that this query lacks focus. Agents want to know primarily what the story is about so they can determine whether they are interested to read more. As busy people, often reading queries before and after hours, they don’t want to have to hunt for this information. I wasn’t at all clear from the outset what the main problem was in the story, and it seems Lauren had difficulty discerning this too. I would advise the author to simplify: don’t get too wrapped up in things the agent doesn’t really need to know at this point.

  5. As always, it’ interesting to read how Lauren dissects the sentences and the logic of the query. Her comments should help the author to improve her/his query. The storyline is okay, although we have many stories about a mad man wishing to live forever. The auhtor should eliminate the backstory in the query .. being in the Gulf War has nothing to do with the basic story. The query should start at .. “Noah accepts a new job ….”. Best wishes with the novel.

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