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 conflict development, disjointed query, dos and donts, Lauren Ruth, making your query interesting, making your query stand out, queries, query, query example, query for YA, query problems, querydice, rejection, romance, slush pile, standard query format, urban fantasy, world building, writing, young adult. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.