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.





Posted on April 26, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. While I agree this isn’t the most compelling query as it stands, I’m one of the few who voted to request more. That was because of this paragraph:

    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.

    Obviously without seeing the actual book I have no idea how the author handles things but by requesting more I hope this story is about a girl who’s been superficial and “easy” in the past but who finds a nice guy in Ryan and wants to be different, maybe even a better person than she’s been in the past.

  2. I was turned off by the opening paragraph. I assumed an adult until I got to the AP calculus class, and an adult who sounded shallow, interested only in externals. Had this been a book I’d picked up in a library or store, I actually would’ve stopped reading at “wait-list-only Nicholas Kirkwood shoes” and not gotten to the AP calculus class.

    Agree with others that you haven’t told us about the story here– just given a description of a character who doesn’t sound very likable.

    About naming “comp” authors– I’ve done it a few times in queries and never gotten a positive response. Except once, when the agent I was querying actually represented the “comp” author. That agent is now my agent.

    I think there’s no harm in it as long as you are sincere, have read the authors you’re naming, and avoid naming J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.

    • Ella, that’s a great a point. If you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the agent likes the work your comping (or at least knows she can sell it, in the case of naming an agent’s clients) AND your work really is like that of the author you’re comping, then this can be a great idea.

      However, it is often difficult for authors to accurately say their work is like that of someone else, because without stepping back for quite some time, an author has no perspective on their own work.

      Great comment and thanks

  3. The query seemed empty. Everything in it could be covered in two intro sentences, dropping the name dropping, and giving something of the story. The conflict should be mentioned, even if it’s nothing more than saying she’s a bad girl trying to hide the bad from the good boy next door. Except for reading through the query dice I lost interest from the first, using tag lines about a hot old car and shoes didn’t do anything unless there’s a car chase or a lot of running or losing of those shoes.
    I suppose I said what I think in my first line, it was empty.

    • Anon 11:43: The best part of your comment was that everything in the query could have been covered in two intro sentences. This is absolutely true. I think this query is a case of word-wasting. You have 250 words. They should be spent as wisely as though they were the author’s last 250 dollars.

  4. I’m fishing through the query to find the story, and that’s not a good sign. I agree with Lauren that the bridesmaid line doesn’t tell us anything–at least anything we don’t already know. What I get from this query is the MC is a girl leading a dual life. At school she’s a calculus whiz, good with languages, and has an unsavory reputation. But at home, she’s kind, funny, and a joy to be with. Ryan knows her home side, and not her school side. The conflict is how Ryan might react if he ever found out what she’s like at school–but Amelia may not be able to hide that from him.

    If this is anywhere close to the mark, then I think (my opinion) that it’s not enough. This is a popular story type, which means there has to be more to the novel to make it stand out. Maybe some scandal that pulls Ryan into the other Amelia’s world, and threatens more than just Ryan’s impression of Amelia–perhaps trouble with the law, pregnancy… I don’t know, but something bigger than whether Ryan will like her bad-girl side.

    Is there something like this in the actual novel? If so, then the query really needs to bring that out.

    I hope this is helpful. Of course, it’s just my perspective. 🙂

    • Colin, thanks for participating. As you know, I agree, but it was helpful to hear precisely how the query was received by another reader. I thought there must have been something bigger at stake, some taller conflict than just Amelia hiding herself from the boy next door. If this is not true, then this manuscript will not be well-received. I have a hunch there is another element to this, though, that the author left out.

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