Monthly Archives: April 2012

QueryDice #30

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

Amelia Ben Ari is beautiful, talented and icy cool. She drives a ’67 Mustang and wears wait-list-only Nicholas Kirkwood shoes. She’s bilingual and first in her AP Calculus class. She was even a bridesmaid in her father’s wedding – but that’s just one side of the story.

This last sentence didn’t work for me. I don’t see how being a bridesmaid in her father’s wedding is a reflection on Amelia, personally, positive or otherwise.

This is the other: her stepmother is her favourite parent and they’re not even related.

The last half of the sentence, about Amelia and her stepmother not being related is a waste of words. We already know this.

She’s first in calc but practically failing almost everything else. Prep school? It’s hell: the boys think she’s easy and the girls call her a slut.

The new boy next door only knows the good side of her, the one that tells funny stories and raps along to A Tribe Called Quest and bakes cupcakes for her half-sisters. Ryan doesn’t know about her horizontal past, and she never wants him to.

You can only keep secrets for so long, though.

This query has no well-developed conflict. You’ve spent all your words telling me how great Amelia is and implying that this doesn’t go much deeper than the surface. This could be accomplished in a single sentence, leaving you the rest of the query to tell me why this matters.

Also, I don’t get a sense of Amelia’s personality or why I should like her. She seems to be a flat character. This may or may not be true, but it is what I’ve taken from this query.

[redacted] is a YA novel complete at 54,000 words. I believe it will appeal to fans of Gabrielle Zevin, Rachel Cohn and Sarah Dessen.

Some agents disagree with me on this point, but I advise against name-dropping or comparing to other authors in a query. You don’t know if the agent reading your query likes those authors. If they don’t, you risk turning them off. If they do, and your writing or your book is not close enough to those authors’ work, they’ll feel lead-on and disappointed. If someone tells me I’m going to read something that is like the work of Sarah Dessen, and after reading through it this turns out not to be true, I will be disappointed and this will color my reading of the manuscript and of the query.

Previously I have been shortlisted for the Franco-British Council Short Story Prize, and I was the 2010 recipient of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust Prize for Best Writer Under the Age of 21. <— This is excellent. I love to know if authors have any kind of writing experience or accolades.

I would reject this query because it doesn’t reflect a manuscript with a solid conflict or story arch.

Thank you for taking the time to review my query.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

 

QueryDice #29

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.

“No sense wishing the past was any different because you can’t change anything.” Those were the words Magnis lived by until the morning he woke injured, not far from the presumed remains (the presumed remains? Was he hurt in a graveyard, or is there a corpse somewhere it shouldn’t be?) of his wife Laura. Grief stricken and lost without his other half, he sets out to find her killer.

This sentence was passable to me until I read the rest of the query. I don’t think you need it. Why waste the words? It’s more frugal to begin your query with something like, “When Magnis’ wife, Laura, is murdered, he joins ranks with Nowhere, a group of mechanically enhanced fighters with goals that will change the entire planet. Nowhere’s mission is to ___________, and Magnis is on-board. But he also has an ulterior motive: to find Laura’s murderers and avenge her untimely death.This way, you’ve done away with the need for the entire first paragraph and the following sentence. Obviously, you would use your own (hopefully adding adjectives, so we can get to know your character and his world/organizations) You can tie in the thought about Magnis’ intent on avenging Laura’s death with his being sent to investigate the Institution, further paring down the next paragraph.

His search puts him in league with a group called Nowhere—a capable band of mechanically enhanced fighters with goals that will change the entire planet. He soon makes a link between a powerful collective that recently attacked one of Nowhere’s recruiting parties and Laura’s murderers. When he is sent to investigate the hostile group’s presence in the same town they attacked his brethren, it becomes an opportunity to draw the clues together.

Over the course of his mission, he discovers the source behind the assault is The Institution, a well-organized grouping of people group able to tap into hiddenpowers of the brain they call a spark. Are the hidden powers called a spark, or is the ability to employ them called a spark? If that latter, this sentence needs some re-arranging.

They absorb individuals possessing this strength into their ranks to one day purge the world of all non-spark humans, ultimately evolving humanity—and they’ll be damned if Nowhere’s existence hinders their plans.

Ah-ha! That’s your major conflict: that Nowhere and the Institution have competing motives. They both want to change humanity, but the plans of each will hinder the other. The who’s-gonna-win thing is always useful, but what I’m really wondering is what effect the outcome will have on Magnis. He’s the focal point, not necessarily all of humanity. It’s great that the stakes are so high in this, because I’m always thinking, “Jeez, if the stakes were just higher…” but the stakes being really, really high only works if that’s an extrapolation of the stakes for the protagonist. Think about it: who cares if all of the world will suffer if the eyes and ears to that world–your protagonist–doesn’t care, suffer or have enough to lose?

As Magnis eagerly pursues a greater purpose (and what purpose is that?) and foreseeable revenge, a vital detail lies masked within the walls of The Institution; Laura is alive.

Well, well. The ol’ but-she’s-alive twist. I’m not making fun of you. I happen to really like this twist in a book, if its done properly. I’m the person who gasps audibly at the pages and then tells my mom about this great story. The thing is, though, that Laura’s being alive has nothing to do with the struggle for the power to change the world going on between Nowhere and the Institution. This twist might be great for the book and for the synopsis, but I’m not so sure it belongs in the query, and it feels like you threw it in as a cliffhanger.
[redacted] is the separated couple’s entwined tale of two organizations battling (that doesn’t make any sense. How can it be the couple’s tale of organizations battling? The organizations battling is not the couple’s tale any more than the couple is the battling organizations’ tale. What you mean, I’m sure, is that the couple’s tale is entwined with that of the organizations) for the right to control the world’s future in the mid-22nd century after a global nuclear war ended the complications of government a hundred years prior.

I really like that you put the “what-makes-this-post-apocalyptic” information at the end. Because, really, it doesn’t matter that much except as backstory and you’ve let the other, more important aspects of your story shine while still letting us know that you have built a world into your story. Nice.

[redacted] is a completed sci-fi novel of 155,000 words (this might be a bit long) and is the first in a proposed series, yet is capable of standing alone.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I would reject this query because I didn’t feel like the conflict was big enough, at least in the query.

LR

 

Author Business Cards (Part 2)

“This is a great post, Lauren, and your advice is sound. I would just like to suggest that conferees not overlook one fact: that the agents will not the largest segment of the intended audience for your business card. We all get excited about meeting agents at conferences, and once in a blue moon, an agent/author match is made. More important might be the networking you do with other writers and even presenters. Your relationships with these people will inspire and sustain you through many years of polishing your craft, and may eventually lead you to that perfect advocate for your work (my friend’s agent is looking for exactly what you write…). You might also meet other writers with expertise that can help you with your project in one way or another (research, ms swap, etc.). So include at least an e-mail address for that reason, and distribute your cards widely—and the agent, especially as one as kind as Lauren, can feel free to ignore it! ;)“–Kathryn Craft, on “Author Business Cards” 4/6/12

This is an excellent point, which is why I’ve created a new post about it. Kathryn is right: there are more contacts to be made at conferences than just editors and agents. Critique partners in particular are a huge help when you’re learning and honing your craft, and even when you’re continuing with success. And of course events like Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention which is in Chicago right now, are well-attended by fans and readers, booksellers, librarians and of course other authors.

Also, many authors provide services to their peers. One aspiring author comes to mind who specializes in marketing, because she is marketeer for a living. Some authors offer freelance copyediting or proofreading services. Some specialize in web design. If you offer one of these services, it would be a travesty not to include it on your business card. I still think the following things are important to place on your card, no matter who you hand it to:

1.Your name (and your pseudonym)

2. Professional-looking photo. Also to jog the memory.

3. Email address.

4. Your genre or subgenre (or both).

5. Your tagline.

6. QR code. This was Dotti Enderle’s idea and I just had to include it. Excellent idea. QR codes could link to your author site, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon sales page, etc., or some combination thereof. They’re free to generate and they’re a great link between your physical presence and your virtual presence.

7. Pitch on the back of the card. Your peers might also find it difficult to remember having made a connection with you, and if you’ve spoken about your book with that person, the pitch will jog his or her memory.

I’d love to hear more smart marketing ideas!

QueryDice #11.1

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!

This query was previously Diced here.

Dear Ms. Ruth

Jaden might live in a small town, but she has everything, family, friends, love, and a set of wicked daggers. It’s all taken from her when men in camouflage cloaks burn her city in search of four children born the night of the Blood Moon.

I see what you’re trying to do here. You wanted to give us a sense of atmosphere–the small town–you wanted us to know Jaden was once very fortunate and now is not–the conflict–right from the get-go. You’ve accomplished this, but I’m still not pleased with this paragraph and here’s why:

For one thing, I don’t see what the daggers have to do with anything. For another, I know from the word “cloak” that this is fantasy, but I get no sense of world-building. I would have appreciated some mention of the fact that this is not the world we know, but instead some other, different world.

Jaden has heard of the four; they have the power to defeat the sorceress queen and save the dwindling race of Forest Folk.

In the last sentence above, I almost want to stop reading because I don’t know what the Forest Folk are, why they are important to anyone, much less to Jaden, why the sorceress queen needs to be defeated and what would happen if she was. This query needs deeper world-building.

Definitely not a destiny Jaden wants, but a destiny that’s hard to argue against when everyone she loves sacrifices themselves for her escape.

You’ve lost me. What destiny doesn’t Jaden want? From what is she escaping?

And even harder when she meets Logan, a man who claims to be her protector. She feels a strange connection to him which terrifies her, because his camouflage cloak is identical to those of the men who destroyed her life.

Logan has been protecting the four children of prophecy for the last eighteen years—by staying as far away from them as possible.  He doesn’t want the job, especially when it involves protecting the same four kids his wife is hunting.

How can he protect the children by staying as far away as possible?

He’ll fight. (Fight whom?) He’ll even die for his people. (Why would this be necessary?) But he won’t face that betrayer again.

What betrayer? His wife? Is she the sorceress queen?

Except, it’s never that easy. As the last remaining Protector, Logan alone can locate the four. But when he finds dagger wielding Jaden, his duty to protect becomes a harder task; she threatens to kill him because of his unique cloak. A cloak Logan’s wife would know how to duplicate.

It seems like you’ve meant the last sentence to be heavy-hitting and compelling, but it just confuses me. Are you saying his wife duplicated his cloak and then gave the duplicates out to men who are now hunting Jaden? Why would she do that? And why would he care if others had his cloak? Why is the cloak important at all?

I would reject this query because I still don’t have a firm handle on the motivations of the characters, and I still don’t completely understand the world, its limitations and its conflicts. I fear that this might continue through the manuscript.

[redacted] is a 105,000 word fantasy novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

Author Business Cards

I’m going to go out on a limb and be riskily honest. When authors hand me business cards at conferences, I politely take them, glance down at them for the three seconds etiquette dictates, and then I never look at them again. I throw them out when I get home.

Hang on, hang on. Quit your outraged rabble-rabble and hear me out. Please. By throwing out an author’s business card, I’m not throwing them out. I just can’t remember who they are by that business card. It’s a generic-looking piece of cardstock with butterflies on it. Even though the author claims to write women’s fiction in which no butterflies are featured. I’m not calling that author’s cell. I’m not emailing her to see what’s up. And here’s the last nail in the business card’s coffin: there is only one reason I would need to be in contact with the author, and that is if I requested material. And if I requested material, I’d have the author’s email address when the proposal or manuscript was delivered to my trusty inbox.

At my last conference, The Portland Rose City Romance Writer’s Conference in Vancouver, WA, I received the typical stack of author business cards. I glanced them over with bored, half-lidded eyes. Yeah, yeah, more business cards. That’s not to say I didn’t like the authors–I did!–just not the cards so much.

And then an author handed me a business card after pitching her very interesting book to me in the lobby of the hotel. I took one look and my attitude about author business cards was forever changed. I saved this business card not only because I liked the author’s book and her professionalism and apparent dedication to her dream, but because her pitch was on the back of the card! Looking at this card days later, I knew exactly who this author was. I knew what her book was, I remembered our conversation and her energy. I even remembered how we laughed about the faces people make in their Facebook photos. (Ever see the duck-face teenage girls make? Or the classic shot taken from the ceiling?)

Here are some suggestions for stellar business cards:

1. Print your pitch on the back of the card. It’s okay if your card needs to be a little bigger than a business card. The agent or editor isn’t putting it in her wallet with her kid’s school photo anyway. But don’t hand them an index card, either.

2. Put your photo on the front of the card. This doesn’t make you vain, and it doesn’t make you look self-centered. Make sure, however, that you’re not making the Facebook duck-face, and that it’s only a head shot. You might have a great body, but we don’t care because we don’t recognize you by it. We want to see your face, because that’s what we were looking at when you were pitching.

3. Have a tag-line that you use during your pitch that is quick and compelling. The line should be simple and should express a.) what you write b.) your personal brand of that genre. For example, here’s a great one from Christina Dodd: “Classic romance that sizzles.” From four words set in a snappy way, we can tell she writes historical romance and specifically, it’s very hot. But she didn’t say “I write hot historicals” either. She was witty about it.

4. Personally (and I can’t speak for other agents) I do not need your address and phone number. I’m not stopping by your house, and I’m probably not dialing you (or really, anyone else. Email is king). You can include your email address if you want to. But I probably won’t be emailing you. If I requested material, I’m expecting you to email it to me. Make sure that email address is professional, as in Lauren@LaurenRuth.com. If I see that your email address is PinkKittenGurl@gmail.com or “Holla!@aol.com, I’ll assume you’re out partying and not serious about being an author. A website or blog address is great to have on your card.

5. Don’t get cute. You might really love butterflies. They’re iconic to you. You might enjoy the aesthetics of lighthouses, or the calm the comes over you when you see puppies. I don’t care. If I see a puppy, I will rightfully assume your book is about puppies. And if you write mysteries about a P.I., you’re giving me the wrong idea. If you write erotic romance and you have a huge lighthouse in the middle of your business card, I’ll think it’s phallic humor. Is this a joke to you?

6. Be clear and concise. If you have a branded look with colors and graphics, go ahead and put it on the card if you’re going to be consistent about it. Otherwise, a white background is fine. Making your card neon will not make you stand out, it will hurt my eyes. And that’s all I’ll remember about that card. Do not use a font you think is pretty, but I have to strain to read. I won’t strain, I’ll just put it down. Times New Roman is ol’ faithful.

I’d love to hear your great marketing ideas!

 

LR

 

QueryDice #28

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,

       Calista Hall wakes one morning to find her servants gone, her bank accounts empty (I’m assuming this is historical because Calista has servants…but then how would she know her bank accounts are empty when she wakes in the morning?) and a debt collector knocking on her door, demanding whatever she can give as compensation. Against all social expectations of a once-wealthy woman of the times, Calista takes a job as a seamstress with a family friend. When she finds this isn’t as profitable as she thought, Calista posts an ad in the local newspaper for boarders to fill the empty rooms in her large manor by the sea.

This first paragraph divulges too much information. All we really need to know at this point could fit into two sentences: Calista Hall is living a nightmare. Her considerable fortune depleted (and, as briefly as you can, tell us how), she has no choice but to take boarders into the many rooms of her large manor by the sea.” If you feel it is integral to the story, you can add a sentence about how this is difficult for a woman of her station, or how she feels about it. Showing us how she feels about it is a good way to show us her personality a bit, something that is lacking in this query.

Days later, Nathan Ridley shows up on her doorstep, a man with a mysterious past and a mute boy brother by his side.

I like the mute boy brother. It is the most interesting part of this query. It sounds like Nathan is going to be a major character, yet I know nothing about him or his mysterious past (and we all love a man with a mysterious past). Show me what is going to make him a sympathetic character. Fold in a little of his personality or his quirks…or at least his sexiness, if in fact he is sexy. Show us what it is Calista sees in Nathan, so that we can like him, even from the get-go here in this query.

As a love that neither of them expected blossoms, Calista must maintain the home she loves, the ailing father she was left to care for five years before, and her status as a wealthy woman.

This doesn’t seem to be a big enough conflict. I don’t care about Calista’s ailing father, who I can’t see because you’ve only just dropped breadcrumbs about him, and at the end of your query, no less. This sounds to me like the story of a rich girl who is now poor and is fighting to be rich again, and of course she meets a love interest. That is not a very unique story, and I have trouble mustering up sympathy for a girl whose biggest complaint in life is that she’s not rich. I’m sure there is more to your story than that, but that’s all you’ve given me in this query, so I have no choice but to take it at face-value and pass on this.

Taking place over six months in early 1870s New England, (we don’t need to know a timeline, but the year in which the story takes place is helpful) [redacted] is a 92,000-word historical novel of a wealthy woman turned poor, who all at once is trying to keep her family together, battle the expectations of her station, and finding herself falling in love at the worst possible time.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

LR

 

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