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.




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

  1. I also saw this on another blog. I didn’t feel much sympathy with the protagonist, because she was rich and suddenly became like the rest of us. And I was worried (still am) that the man who showed up was going to solve all her problems.

  2. I found this article to be extremely helpful. I was contemplating having business cards made as I will be attending SCBWI-LA summer conference this year. Now I know what to avoid, and what to be sure to include. Thank you for your advice.

  3. I saw this query posted on another blog and I believe similiar comments were made about the stakes possibly not being big enough. I like the setting and I think there’s a good foundation, but I agree, either we need to hear more in the query about the central conflict, or if it doesn’t exist, it may need to be written in.

    I say this from a place of humility having presented the first few chapters of my draft to a writing contest only to find people aren’t into reading a book with conflicts only hinted at, no matter how precise the grammar is. 🙂

    Best of luck to the author to tweak the query and/or story. “Writing the Breakthrough Novel” by Donald Maass was helpful for me in crafting more plot and tension.

  4. I agree with Lauren, that this query lacks a compelling reason to want to read more. Yes, there’s struggle and difficulty in this poor girl’s life. And I’m sure she’ll overcome it in the end. But it needs more. Perhaps a tangible antagonist? Unless I missed something in the query, the only antagonist I see is her circumstance. Is there someone trying to keep her poor, or perhaps working against her to claim the family’s riches for him/herself? Maybe there’s a rival love interest who would go to whatever lengths necessary to steal Nathan’s heart? At the moment, the query reads as if it’s for a biography, or a memoir, not a novel. And even as a biography or memoir, it would need to give me good reason why I should read *this* story of struggle and hardship over a million others. If the problems I see are addressed in the novel, then the query needs to do a better job of bringing that out.

    That’s my 2-cents. I hope it’s helpful. 🙂

%d bloggers like this: