QueryDice Hijack #1

The QueryDice has been HIJACKED! The following is a query critique performed by a reader of SlushPileTales. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. The Hijacker can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours. After all comments are in, I will post my own thoughts in the comments section. To apply to be a Hijacker, please contact me using the contact tab above. Heidi, take it away! (Heidi’s comments in green.)

This is hard, because I am querying right now myself, and I know how difficult it is. As a peer, I want to congratulate you on your bravery. I hope my notes will be helpful. Good luck.

Dear Ms. Ruth:

How do you choose between hell and, well, hell?

From what I’ve read and seen, starting with a question is not usually the best tactic for a query. In addition, the question that you posed is really unanswerable. I’d leave it off.

Start here instead: In the novel [redacted] Neely Jane Richter, a neurotic and endearing (I’d leave off the endearing part. Show me, don’t tell me. Can you give me a glimpse into what makes her endearing?) young poet, is at her own personal crossroads: continue life in the clutches of OCD or battle the disorder head-on with a hard-ass therapist who doesn’t find Neely amusing in the least.

I’m intrigued. This could be interesting. I’m not getting a real sense of the conflict yet, but I’m interested enough to read on.

It’s a choice that will force her to embrace uncertainty—in her writing, in her spirituality, and in her relationships both with Matt Coty, the man she loves, and Gabe Reed, her attractive but wayward new friend who wants to take Matt’s place.  I have an idea that the relationship issue is the central conflict, what is at stake, but I’m not entirely sure. Help me be sure. At her end of her strength, Neely—supported by quirky friends and neighbors—clumsily tackles life, love, and healing.

The words “quirky” and “clumsily” sound to me like this may be humorous but your query is not showing me that. I’d love to have more of a sense of Neely’s character and voice.

This could be a fun, Diary of a Mad Fat Girl – type romp. Or it could be a serious journey through a young woman’s struggle with mental illness. Either one might be a good read; I’d like to have a better sense of which this is.

[Redacted], a [insert genre here] is complete at approximately 110,000 words.

I received my bachelor’s degree in English at Northwestern College in Minnesota, where I was regularly published in the school’s literary magazine; I also author a blog about obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I’ve drawn heavily on my own twenty-year struggle with OCD in the writing of [redacted]. Your bio is interesting and shows that you know what you are talking about.  The novel is complete at approximately 110,000 words.

Please let me know if you would be interested in reading part or all of [redacted].  Thank you for your time and consideration. and I look forward to hearing from you.


Heidi Schulz is an aspiring author, currently querying for the first time. She is a fan of the serial coma, green smoothies, puppies, and books of all sizes, shapes, and varieties. Sometimes she goes into a bookstore just to smell it. She writes, reads, folds laundry, homeschools, and cooks dinner in Salem, Oregon, though generally not all on the same day.

Heidi blogs at Frantically Simple and is a regular contributor to Mommy Authors.

Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Posted on August 30, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I agree that queries are grueling. So hard to get it right. But other pairs of eyes are the best way!

    Heidi’s comments as well as the others are great! The more that you can show instead of tell the better. What does Nelly do that makes her neurotic and endearing? She has OCD, so she has to lock her door five times to be sure, she checks the stove 10 times to be sure it’s off, what is it that she does? 🙂 You hinted that it’s humorous by saying that her shrink ‘doesn’t find Nelly amusing in the least’ so give me something to chuckle at, or let me know it’s serious business hampering her life.

    And what makes her friends and neighbors quirky? give me a short example, so I know they’re quirky without you having to use the word.

    But great start, and I wish you all the best!

  2. “at her end of her strength” sounds clumsy to me, but other than that, good points made.

  3. Thanks for you comments, everybody, and Heidi, excellent job! I agree with everything above. I liked the core of this story. I think the quirkier Neely is, the better, though. I would have liked to know her age, because in the beginning, this sounded like YA and then it turned into women’s fiction. Personally, I don’t think we need to know at this stage about the men in Neely’s life. I would have preferred a stronger grasp of how Neely lives her life, why this is problematic for her, and what she does to change things, if anything.

    Good luck!

  4. the OTHER ella

    I agree with what’s been said so far and would add that 110k seems pretty long for a novel.

  5. This are excellent comments! I agree with them–great job, Heidi. I too would like to see a bit more clarity in the focus of the novel. And is the word count really repeated twice (the single line, and at the end of the second-to-last paragraph)? Omit one, if so.

    As far as the bio: degrees in college, college literary magazines, and blogging aren’t usually worthy of a mention. The blog issue is related in that it deals with the OCD issues, but it’s not truly much of a credential–more of an interest. Bios usually are a place for actual publishing credentials, from what I’ve read. The only line that might be pertinent is the line about drawing on the author’s own experiences for the novel.

    Also, I see nowhere whether this is a young adult novel or an adult novel. What is the age category? This may be unnecessary, however, if the agent being queried only deals with adult novels. If you have no publishing credits and you are a member of the SCBWI and write YA, it’s good to mention that you’re active member. That’s a great “credential” that shows you are more serious about your writing than the average writer off the street.

    Good luck to the author with this query and novel!

  6. Nice start, overall! I agree, queries are really tough. I’m still working on mine.

    I agree with the comments above. Showing a little voice in the query will help show whether this is serious women’s fiction take, or if a more lighthearted tone exists. This will solidify when you state the genre (Women’s Fiction or Contemporary Romance).

    This is my personal opinion, but I think it’s important to pick a known genre. Even if you think your book is cutting edge and doesn’t fit conventional genres, if you’re querying then I imagine your goal is to be published,and the book has to be shelved somewhere. Women’s Fiction to me is broad enough that it doesn’t pigeonhole your work, and Contemporary Romance shows that the romance is the central conflict, even if the character is dealing with internal/external factors like OCD.

    Make sure you clearly state the stakes in the query: if character doesn’t do x, then y happens (or doesn’t happen), and what the threat is/why readers should care.

    Best wishes!

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