QueryDice #31

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:

Some lessons can be hard to understand, even when your life depends on it.

This is a a lukewarm sentence. It’s not horrible, but it has no punch either. It’s just okay. I advise never to accept “just okay” from yourself. The first sentence of a query letter is hugely important because it sets the tone for the rest of it. Think about it like this: if you’ve already failed, you’ll have to spend the rest of your query redeeming yourself. But if you start off like a rockstar, the query will ride on that success and the agent will overlook small mistakes here or there. Here’s what makes this first sentence weak:

1. It is unclear. Why would your life depend on understanding a lesson? I can think up situations in which this would be the case, but you don’t want me to be reading your query with narrowed eyes, or thinking up scenarios which are NOT in your book.

2. I already know the first part of the sentence–that some lessons can be hard to understand–so my initial reaction to your query is a bored, “Yeah, so?” I’m also thinking I’m about to read the summary of a story about someone learning a hard lesson, which in itself is not really that interesting.

Melina Rowe never wants to see her friend Lee again after his startling kiss and confession of love caused her jealous fiancé to leave her. So when a guiding angel named Walter comes to show her that her life would actually be worse without Lee, she laughs in his face and calls him crazy. But as Walter grabs her arm to stop her from leaving, a surge of energy passes between them revealing Melina to be a rare type of human who can absorb angel powers, a problem that quickly forces her to change her mind.

I feel like this paragraph is also “just okay.” It’s not awful, but it’s not very compelling to me. There is so much packed into it. Do we need to know that Melina was angry with Lee? That she had (and now has not) a fiance, and that said fiance was jealous? It seems like it took you this entire paragraph to get around to telling us what you really mean to say: that Melina discovers she can absorb angel powers and has actually done so. Sometimes writers need to just write before getting to the point, which is why we do revisions. You need to cut the fat here and fluff up the actual meat, specifically about the paranormal elements.

The powers are too strong for humans and will eventually kill Melina unless she can gain control of them.  And the only way she can do that is to open her stubborn mind and understand the lesson Walter is there to teach her.

What? This just doesn’t make any sense, which was my issue with the first sentence. How on Earth can Melina’s learning that Lee is someone she needs help her to gain control of powers neither she nor Lee knows anything about?

Still skeptical but now scared for her life, Melina has no choice but to go to an alternate world where she never meets Lee.

What world is this? Where is it and what are its laws? What is different about it, besides the absence of Lee? Also, I’m wondering if there is a plot hole here: why couldn’t the guiding angel just show her a vision of life without Lee…or sit her down and tell her what it would have been like, instead of dramatically whisking her away to a new land? And by the way, what would it have been like? What is at stake if Melina never speaks to Lee again? What will make me care about these characters and their situation?

Once she arrives things only get worse. An elder guiding angel, who thinks humans like Melina are abominations, sends a trio of soul-snatching demons to destroy her.

The biggest trouble with this query is there is no world-building. I don’t get a sense of what this alternate world is like. Since I’m just now learning there are demons in the world, I’m wondering what else is there? Why can’t Melina just high-tail it back to her own world.

Melina must now fight for her life against relentless demon attacks while she struggles to understand her feelings for Lee and awaken to the shocking truth about her former fiancé.

This query is a bit disjointed. I can’t see how Melina’s troubles with Lee and her nameless fiance have anything to do with her new powers or the demons.

If she can’t understand why Lee’s meant to be in her life and her ex-fiancé isn’t, then she’ll never gain control of the powers.

I don’t understand why this is the case, and I worry that the manuscript will have the same problem.

But if the powers don’t kill her, the demons will. They will? I thought they were soul-snatching, not life-snatching.

Complete at 89,000 words, [redacted] is a supernatural romance with an inspirational theme.

I didn’t get the feeling this was romance, exactly. The relationship between Melina and Lee (I’m assuming this is the hero, but then why is Walter’s name in the title?) is not developed enough. It doesn’t come to the forefront, but instead hangs in the background. This felt more like urban fantasy to me. And what inspirational theme?

It’s a stand-alone novel but has series potential and should appeal to an older teen and adult female audience.  

Unless this is YA, you should leave any mention of teens out of the picture. I want to know if this will have a place on a YA shelf or on the romance shelf. Or on a different shelf.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I would reject this query because I don’t feel for the characters, I don’t get a strong sense of the world and I don’t know what exactly it is.




Posted on May 3, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. The subject matter seems disjointed–it needs to be more coherent. And it definitely doesn’t seem like romance or inspirational.

    Lauren, thank you for helping me to see weaknesses most of us tend to have.

  2. There are a lot of how-to-write-a-query sites out there that tell you that you must start your query with a log-line. But very few people can write a good log-line. You’re better off without one.

    Okay… I’m not a reader of the angel romance genre either, but here are a couple thoughts.

    You lost me at “…his startling kiss and confession of love caused her jealous fiancé to leave her.” Unless the jealous fiance was actually there for the startling kiss (which would be startling indeed) then it can only have been her telling him about it that made him leave… and I find myself thinking that either he was a jerk, and not worth lamenting, or else she gloated a bit.

    After that, everyone in the query seems to be reacting to Melina as if she were the center of their world. This seems strange to me because it’s not what happens to most protagonists. They have to struggle to get others to listen to them. So I don’t really feel sympathy for this character.

    Just my .02.

  3. Using Nathan Bransford’s “positive-constructive-positive” approach:

    It seems like the author has great imaginative powers. She/he can probably create a richly imagined world full of interesting plot twists. My opinion is that the author needs to refine her own understanding of the heart of her conflict/plot in order to better pitch it to agents (and maybe refine it within the MS as well?).

    Disclaimer: I’m not familiar with this genre and its devices (angels/demons/special powers/other worlds/soul-snatching etc.), so take this with a grain of salt, but as an outsider, I read it four times and still left feeling confused. As in, there seemed to be a lot of different elements/devices at play, but it came out as a laundry list of world-building and characters, and I still didn’t feel like I understood what the heart of the book was about. I didn’t understand the main conflict (Realizing she loves Lee? Winning back her jealous fiance? Leaving the human world and ending up with Walter as an angel-power humna? Or no love story and Melina is the next demon-slayer? Getting in touch with her own power? Other?? What is Melina’s end goal? What’s the resolution at the end of this story?)

    I’d suggest that the author engage in the “elevator pitch” exercise: In one sentence tell me what your book is about. Give me the MAIN conflict. The conflict that makes me want to read it because I’ve got to know what happens. Doing this repeatedly has helped me evolve and refine my own understanding of my work and therefore helped me pitch it to agents.

    Good luck and thanks for sharing your work! (And thanks to Lauren for providing the forum and her critique!)

  4. What powers do angels have? Why does that matter to the world? What’s the point of Melina having this talent on this planet? Why does she go somewhere else? To learn how to use them? For what purpose? Or is the other world only for her to be revealed as an abomination according to some crusty angel. Who is more in danger? The angels? Or humans, if she doesn’t figure it out?

    This query seems to be a story about power and control over humans by paranormal beings who may or may not need humans to use for whatever their agenda is… I’m not interested in humans as pawns to paranormal forces stories.

    However, if there is a romance in this story, why it mattered would be interesting to see. I’m not sure who is jealous about what, or why it matters, or how it is used as to benefit or challenge any of the characters. Does a transformation take place in this story?

    This would be a reject for me too.

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