Category Archives: submissions

QueryDice #42

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.

There is no greeting in this query. This won’t get you an immediate rejection, but agents would rather you address them personally, otherwise, they’ll feel like you’ve just dropped something in their lap and walked away. 

It’s the question that women in every century, in every part of the world have asked.

It’s the question that I asked myself four years ago, before a frantic trip to Rite-Aid during my senior year of college.

Am I pregnant?

The above is a great way to turn the oft-scorned hypothetical or rhetorical question into a definitive statement. This author could have written, “What would you do if you found out you were pregnant when you were in college?” That question, even if it is a compelling one, would have had me rolling my eyes. Who cares? Tell me about your book instead of asking me useless questions. Great job, there.

For me, and the one-million college-aged women in the U.S. who face unplanned pregnancy, two tiny blue lines announced one life lost, one life just beginning.

I’m not sure how I feel about the word “lost” in the above sentence. Remember that anyone reading your query brings his or her own baggage to it, and that baggage is going to color it. I happen to be a mother, and I happen to have found out I was pregnant as a very young wife on my college campus, and I happen to have thought my life was totally done-for. I cried all the way home on the A-train, like one of New York’s numerous psychos. There is a Duane Reade I cannot pass without thinking of that page of my life. Turns out, being a mom is not the death sentence I thought it was, but something entirely different and awesome. So the words “one life lost” are offensive to me. I suspect that what you meant to get across is that college girls who find out they’re pregnant invariably feel like they’re losing their life. But don’t leave the impact of your words up to the reader’s ability (or lack thereof) to infer and be reasonable.

Struggling with the difficult emotions, stigmas, and decisions surrounding an unplanned pregnancy, I searched for an inspirational and practical book directed towards women like me, but found nothing.  Non-fiction books in the market focused on older mothers as well as teenage mothers, with a noticeable absence on the college-aged mother.

After I successfully navigated college as a pregnant student, found the resources and help I needed, and joyfully (albeit painfully) delivered my daughter sans-epidural one week after graduation, [redacted] was born. [redacted] is the non-fiction book I sought while pregnant; A slightly irreverent, hopeful and humorous, yet realistic and down-to-earth account of my story and the stories of other women, in dealing with pregnancy, classes and a newborn, telling the parents, and defying societal stereotypes.

I would rather know, right off the bat, about your book, rather than about your personal story. Very often, authors use a query letter to tell the reader how they came to write the book, but this information is not very important. What is important, is the book’s ability to sell. An agent is thinking, who would buy this? Is there a place for this on bookstore shelves? Use the words you have to tell us what the book offers to college-age moms and to the scared crying-on-the-A-train girl. The following sentence is the tip of the iceberg I want to see.

College-aged mothers are not “Teen Mom” material, nor are they ready for the soccer-mom and mini-van crowd; [redacted] reaches this new generation of mothers under the veil of what they really are–smart, successful, and driven individuals searching for a way to be accepted as mothers.

As the former College Outreach Program Coordinator for the  pro-woman organization Feminists for Life, I have helped hundreds of student activists bring pregnant and parenting resources to their campuses.  Continuing now as a professional speaker for Feminists for Life, I deliver lectures and workshops on Capitol Hill and across the country.  My work with Feminists for Life has been featured in national publications, such as The Boston Pilot, and on Catholic TV.

Currently, I work as a labor and delivery nurse, continuing a passion for caring and advocating for women and their children. Now married and the mother of two daughters, I am pursuing a life-long dream of writing, with work published on Yahoo Shine, Babble, Scrubs, and in online health publications

The last two paragraphs, while they can be boiled down a bit, are great and they are the most important part of your query. When I was an agent–and I know I wasn’t alone–I would read the bio paragraph of a nonfiction query before reading the synopsis portion. Why? Because if the author has no platform or means by which to market herself and her book, there’s no point reading further.

[redacted] is the first book of its kind to reach out specifically to the one-million college-aged woman who have unplanned pregnancies each year in the United States. This is a book that will change the face of young motherhood.

A completed book proposal is available at your request. I look forward to hearing from you and I thank you for your time.

Warmest regards, <–There’s something really nice and comforting about this send-off.
[redacted]

This query needs some work, but as an agent, I probably would have wanted to see a proposal. My last suggestion has more to do with your book than your query: expand this to reach the largest possible audience while still focusing on the niche audience you’ve already targeted. Publishers (and agents) will want to know how to get the highest sales numbers for your book and that means they will wonder how many people are going to buy this…how many college-age moms are really out there? I advise against using the word “college” anywhere near the title, and overusing it in your query, proposal and manuscript. Make this a guide for women between the ages of 18 and, let’s say, 25. Then, in your query, tell us about what you’re offering to those women. Insight? Comfort? Know-how? Do you touch on money? Social services programs for young moms? What will it be like to juggle motherhood, maybe school, a job, dating if that’s the case, the naked ring-finger but big belly embarrassment? Lastly, you have not given us a word-count.

Good luck. I would have liked (and bought) a book like this back when I was the girl on the A-train.

LR

 

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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.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

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.

QueryDice #41: Conflict and Voice in YA

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,

Sometimes you have to freeze everyone out. . . to avoid getting burned. This’ll make an agent think too much. And since they’ve got thousands of queries to get through, they won’t gift you their extra time to figure out what you meant. Instead, they’ll skim the rest of your query in search of something that stands out clearly. As writers, it is sometimes tempting to be poetic–after all, writers have a “way with words.” It’s something that comes naturally…but resist the urge. This sentence won’t get you a rejection on its own, but it is a waste of space and it doesn’t leave the impression on an agent you think it will. No one will know what this means until AFTER they’ve read your query…and don’t expect a person who has very little time to backtrack.

Sydney’s had seven foster families in seven years. <— far better.

It’s not like they were all her fault—well maybe a few. Now she is moving on to her next family, the Claytons. She knows immediately that she won’t fit in with their extravagant life and their spoiled daughter Brooke.

Sydney refuses to get close to anybody. She resents the snobby kids, especially Brooke’s boyfriend Corbin, who flirts with Sydney. Corbin is just like all the other overprivileged kids; but he’s hot and Sydney can’t help being attracted to him, even as she hates him.

When she discovers Brooke and Corbin’s relationship is a sham, Sydney begins to learn that the perfect kids are not so perfect. Corbin is pretending to be Brooke’s boyfriend and in return, she is helping him learn to read and write. Corbin likes Sydney, but Brooke refuses to let him go. She’s terrified that everyone will discover that she’s gay.

But even if Brooke breaks up with Corbin, Sydney doubts it will ever work with him. He’s the popular, rich kid and she’s the daughter of a crack whore. And really… if her own mom had given up on life… had given up on Sydney, how could anyone else ever truly love her?

[redacted] is contemporary young adult novel, complete at 64,000 words. Thank you for your consideration. <–Where is your goodbye?

This query was so-so. It, on its own, would not have gotten a rejection from me, but nevertheless, this would be a rejection for me. I liked  the idea of this story and many of its elements were appealing to me. The gay foster sister, Sydney’s questioning how anyone could love her if even her mother and slew of foster families presumably didn’t, the poor vs. rich theme. All of that worked for me. But that’s it. There is no overarching conflict. Boiled down, this is just the story of a girl who wants a guy and how her backstory interferes with her ability to reach out and take him. Who hasn’t been there, regardless of the particulars? That works for romance, basically, but I don’t think this is romance because the story is really not about their relationship, exactly, but rather Sydney’s development of her self-esteem and identity. I agree with the author that this is straight YA, but I would need something more, something that affects other people. I need the stakes to be higher so that not only Sydney comes out of the story differently, but others as well. For example, in Harry Potter, he has sort of a development of the self as well, but there is so much more at stake for Hogwarts, for the magical community, etc. This story is good, but if you want it to be so good that editors and agents pick yours over thousands of others, it needs to be better. Keeping it contemporary, and without adding a paranormal element, can you add something that affects the community? 

Lastly, I could have used more teenage voice in the query.

What say you, readers? Does this story need a boost?

LR

 

QueryDice #40: YA or MG

Announcement: SlushPileTales will have a new feature called Hijack a QueryDice, in which one QueryDice commenter gets to take the reigns and Dice a query. Other commenters can comment on either the original query or the Hijacker’s Dice (or both). I will provide feedback in the comments section. Peer review is an important part of honing skill as a writer, and there is nothing quite like examining the work of someone else to improve upon your own self-editing skills. If you’re up to the challenge of hijacking, please contact me at laurenruth2 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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,

I am currently seeking representation for my 71,000-word YA fantasy novel, [redacted]. Since I see you are interested in young adult stories, I hope my book will intrigue you.

For me, this first sentence is all wrong. First, I know you’re seeking representation. You do not need to state the obvious. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with telling me the obvious, it is a waste of precious real estate. Then, don’t tell me you hope your book will intrigue me. It shows you’re self-conscious. Without actually coming out and saying “You will like this book,” that needs to be your attitude. 

Thirteen-year-old Cory MacGullin would have preferred a nice piece of birthday cake, some ice cream, and a candy-filled piñata to smack around. Instead, he’s just learned there’s a family monster named Snitch living in the attic, his parents are from a magical world hidden behind the local Renaissance Faire they attend every summer, and that he’s wanted by Mister-A, the Magical Realm Authorities.

Great. I do happen to be intrigued.

Well, he can’t complain he wasn’t surprised this year. But like birthday socks that try to bite off your feet, the surprises are just beginning.

The construction of this sentence is confusing. The way you’ve written it, it sounds like you’re trying to tell me that both surprises and feet-munching birthday socks are just beginning. What you really meant to say was: “Well, he can’t complain he wasn’t surprised this year. But the surprises are just beginning…like birthday socks that try to bite off your feet.”

When Cory’s parents thrust him into their magical world to save him from a band of mercenary Banglewooks, (what’s a Banglewook?) he soon learns some shocking news–he’s adopted. Even worse, his deceased birth parents, the Murdochs, were the most despised monster hunters in the magical realm. (Why would monster hunters be despised? That sounds like a good thing to have around, and if it isn’t, your world-building is lacking). To complicate matters, Mister-A has imprisoned the MacGullins for harboring him as a fugitive, and a necromancer named Zanderlin Hellian will do anything to acquire Cory’s unique ability to steal a monster’s magical energy. If Cory ever wants to see the only parents he’s ever known alive again, he’s going to have to learn to use his newfound power before Mister-A or Hellian catch up to him.

But Cory isn’t without allies. Super. I was just going to say, “Yeah, but where are his sidekicks for comic relief and world-building dialog?”

Snitch is sworn to protect Cory at all costs and spirits him away to Dragon’s Maw, a living castle where Cory will learn to become a monster hunter. But Cory must be wary. Taking power from monsters is a risky business, especially for a Murdoch. Can Cory defeat Hellian and rescue his parents or will he fall victim to the Murdochs’dark legacy…and become the most feared monster in the magical realm himself?

Why would he become a monster himself? If his parents turned into actual monsters at some point, something should be added two paragraphs ago when you introduced us to the Murdochs. If you just meant that people will despise him, then this is unclear. 

I think Cory needs more than just Snitch for an ally. He needs another kid, preferably one with a very, very colorful personality. 

This query isn’t half-bad, but I think it sounds more middle-grade than it does YA, and I don’t believe in that cross-over crap. There is no love interest, so I hesitate to call this YA. Teens are always concerned with love interests because this is a new arena for them. Even if the love interest doesn’t really come to the forefront, I think it is almost necessary to have some sort of girl around who catches Cory’s eye. In addition, this feels too fun and magical to be YA. YA, for me, is edgy and cool with some sort of taboo subject touched upon, be it drugs, sex, violence, shady politics, whatever…

Middle-grade, on the other hand, should have a dual conflict: one that can potentially affect the whole world (an external conflict), and another that affects only the protagonist’s life (an internal conflict). Those two conflicts should be born of the same situation. This story has that, it has a MG voice in my opinion, and it has fun and adventure. My advice, aside from just pruning your query around the edges a bit, is to make your character 11 or 12 and call this MG. Readers, what do you think? YA or MG?

The complete manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time in reviewing this, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. I may be reached via e-mail at [redacted]. (I know you can be reached by email…you just emailed me. Don’t waste your words.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

Overall, very good start!

LR

 

QueryDice #39: Voice

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.

Mia Tanaka made the decision to attend Vega Preparatory Academy so that she could write her own future; little did she know Vega specialized in rewriting the past.

Hmm. I wonder what this means…

Mia Tanaka was forgettable.  You could have sat next to her in class, done a project with her, or been in the same club, yet when you saw her in the hallways, her name was just out of grasp.  Although she was a smart and talented girl, she had never risked enough to fail.  Consequently, she’d never really experienced success, either. (Getting into Vega Preparatory Acadamy isn’t a success?)  A hapa (half-Japanese, half-Caucasian) girl living in Idaho, Mia secretly dreamed of being significant and memorable, a feat that seemed impossible to accomplish unless something changed drastically.  

Being half-Japanese in Idaho seems memorable, even if just a little. The way you’ve constructed this sentence tells me you mean her status as a hapa to be unmemorable and insignificant, but I’m not so sure it is.

The opportunity to make that change was presented to Mia when she attended her high school’s annual college fair and was introduced to Vega Preparatory Academy by two incredibly good-looking boys, Rhys and Jesse.  Mia’s first reaction was to forget about it.  She was already following in her mom’s footsteps to the local state college, the safe and predictable path.  But when Rhys approached Mia again to let her know that she was precisely what Vega was looking for, Mia received the confidence boost she needed to remember that she wanted more out of life than just safe and predictable.  Vega Prep was a school that was shrouded in mystery and potential adventure, and deep down, that was exactly what Mia craved.  

The above paragraph is entirely unnecessary in a query. While this information would be necessary in your book, we don’t need to know every breath or step Mia takes. We need to know larger threads, and those words are just taking up valuable real estate.

When she reached Vega, she found out that it was not just a school for the best and the brightest; it was the training ground for Vega Corporation (she or her parents wouldn’t have put two-and-two together?), a company that was dedicated to time travel.  

The moment Mia heard about the opportunity to travel through time, (Get ready for it…here comes number one) she realized this was what she was meant to do.  (And here’s number two, close on its heels). She finally felt like her life had purpose. (And third time’s not a charm…) Mia wanted nothing more than to be the school’s sole female time traveler, but was thwarted in her attempts by the “mean girl”, Angelica, who seemed to have a vendetta against her, by Sophia, the beautiful but evil woman who felt that she was robbed of the job in the past, and most of all, by herself.

In the past three sentences, we’re told three times that Mia is excited about the prospect of time travel. Once is plenty. 

Sophia and Angelica don’t feel like real threats to me because I don’t understand what they’ve done to keep Mia from getting what she wants. What does Angelica do to deliberately get in Mia’s way? Who exactly is Sophia, and why is she present at a school? Is she a teacher? I assume this is the book’s major conflict (since its the only conflict I can see) but it’s not thorny enough. Or, rather, it might be…but you haven’t shown it to us.

I thought the time-travel concept was interesting in a YA environment (even though that makes it science-fictiony, which could make it a rough sell) but I was concerned that there’s no teen voice to this query. It sounds like a grown woman speaking about a teen girl, which it is. A query, while it should be written in third person, should also give us a taste of the protagonist’s personality. If I had to judge Mia’s personality from this query, I’d say she acts like she’s thirty, which is not good in YA. 

I’d love to see some sentences revamped by SlushPileTales readers in the comments section. Winner gets–drum roll–mention as THE WINNER OF QUERYDICE 39 on Twitter! =)

Lastly, you mention in your opening sentence that Vega specializes in rewriting the past, but you don’t mention their motive for traveling through time to do that. It’s dramatic that you open with that, but then it fizzles when you never mention it again.

Being a hapa kid myself, growing up on the sunny shores of Kailua, Hawaii, I read voraciously, and I dreamed of traveling to long lost times and being a part of different worlds.  As I grew up, I realized that dream was impossible. [redacted] is, in a way, my rebellion.  After gaining my bachelor’s degree in history from Utah Valley University and learning even more about the times I yearned to be a part of, I decided that if I wanted a world in which I could time travel to exist, I needed to create it.

None of this is important. The bio portion of your letter should include information on your past writing and anything relevant to your career as an author. If you have enough words left over after giving us that information, feel free to include a few tidbits of your journey to the book.

[redacted] is a YA fantasy novel complete at 100,000 words.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

[redacted]

QueryDice #38: BRAVO, AUTHOR!

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,

Thirteen-year-old Sabrina Tate has a visibility problem. The local mean girl sees her as an easy target, her parents see her as a weak imitation of her sister, and the cute boy in her English class doesn’t see her at all. When Sabrina finds out about a competition to be the queen of her junior high school’s Arthurian Feast, she thinks winning might be her chance to become visible in all the right ways. After all, the competition only asks her to read books, watch movies, and show up to a few rehearsals—how hard can that be?

But Sabrina doesn’t count on mean girl attacks, cheaters in the competition, or detention as a result of a prank gone wrong. Sabrina especially doesn’t count on her best friend’s growing frustration with her focus on winning. As Sabrina learns more about the Arthurian legends that inspired the feast, she starts questioning herself, her friends, even her enemies. If Sabrina doesn’t win, she’ll stay the same loser she’s always been. But if she does win, she might lose the things she cares about most: her best friend and her identity as a nice girl. Is winning worth the cost?

As a junior high student, I participated in a similar medieval feast. Although the characters and events are fictitious, the backdrop for the story stems from personal experience. I have a PhD in English and teach college-level writing courses.

[redacted] is a contemporary upper-middle-grade novel, complete at 54,000 words, that may appeal to fans of Michael Beil, Erin Dionne and Wendy Mass. Thank you for your consideration!

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I tried really hard to find something wrong with this query. There are little things that are just a matter of preference (like the name-dropping) and something about the word “visibility” bothered me. Perception is really more accurate. The only large-scope criticism I have has to do with voice. I would have liked to see Sabrina’s personality a bit. But, aside from those tiny things, most of which don’t matter too much in the larger scope of things, this query has done its job. Bravo! 

LR

QueryDice #37: THE QUERYDICE LIVES!

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,

I am seeking representation for my young adult novel, [redacted], complete at just over 61,000 words. Your web site described an interest in young adult and fantasy fiction, and I hope you will enjoy a blend of the two.

Very nice. Any agent representing those genres would continue reading. This is professional and to-the-point. The only criticism I have here is a matter of personal taste and honestly I hesitated to even comment. I’m not a fan of an author telling me in a query that she is “seeking representation” for something. I already know that. Also, if you need to save words, you don’t have to write “…complete at…” If you simply wrote, “…novel, [redacted] (61k)” it would be more concise and it would save some precious real estate.

When Grace Branford crashes her car, killing her two best friends, her life is turned upside down. (Wow) The once-popular eighteen-year-old is now ostracized by her classmates, teachers, and even her parents. Throughout the turmoil she faces daily, she cannot help but wonder how she survived when her friends did not. For answers, she turns to an old book of poetry left to her by her dead cousin and becomes immersed in a world of ghosts, angels, and the afterlife.

Double wow. Not only is this well-written, it’s compelling. This screams YA from the rooftops, but it also hints that the author has gone beyond the boring ol’, tried-and-true “teen is ostracized” thing. 

Grace soon meets a mysterious, handsome boy named Jack, who always seems to know her thoughts and can find her whenever she is in trouble.

Hmm. A handsome boy? Voice is very important and “handsome boy” sounds like something my 80-year-old grandma would say.

As she gets closer to him, she finds out the truth about her own past, his present, and their future – and what exactly it means to be a Guardian Angel.

We didn’t know she needed answers to questions about her past, and this paragraph seems like a departure from the first half of the query. What does this mean for her guilt and confusion over the accident? I’d like to have a stronger grasp of what exactly the conflict is. What does Grace want? Why can’t she have it?

More precisely, a Fallen Guardian Angel, because that’s what Jack is. Now the two are falling in love, but Grace is still hesitant. Why, after all, would a stranger be her Guardian Angel instead of her beloved cousin? Cousin? What cousin?

Determined to find answers, Grace and Jack embark on an adventure that will surely end in disaster – or death.

You wrote above that Grace finds out the truth, but a sentence or two later you write that they embark on a journey to find it. Which is it? You cant tell us she finds the truth and then afterwards mention there is a journey before she does find out.

I am currently working on an MA in creative writing
(good to know)and have received several awards for my writing, most recently the Woodward Prize for Writing Distinction at Pace University. The completed manuscript is available for your review, should you wish to see it. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

This was a professional, largely well-written query. Agents will request more material.

LR

QueryDice #36

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,

Amniese prefers books over her peers. Who wouldn’t with the way the other girls belittle her? Besides, Amniese has friends. Two to be exact. One is a Dryad entrapped [something about this word is problematic for me. What’s wrong with “trapped”?] in a tree. The other is Llyr, a mysterious unicorn she meets through dreams.

You never mention the Dryad again, and it remains nameless. Why waste your words?

She enjoys spending her days at the Academy alone. Having her own room gives Amniese the freedom to practice magic undiscovered. Her dream is to grow powerful enough to unseal the Ancient Magics and free her friends. However, a new roommate interferes.

How does this new roommate interfere?

You’ve used too many words to get the following things across to us:

1. Amniese has special magical powers that are unknown to everyone.

2. She’s a student at some Academy.

3. She is a social pariah and her only friends are magical beings.

I’ll bet–and I’d love everyone’s opinion on this–that you could accomplish that in a single sentence and then get right along to the conflict. Attempts at this are welcome. Let’s see what you guys can come up with. You have one sentence. And I’m a huge fan of the semicolon, the colon and parentheses. I’ll choose a winner and announce via Twitter. (Don’t forget to include your handle)

As if having an intrude
(“intrude” is not a noun) isn’t enough, Llyr is unreachable. Desperate to contact Llyr and equally concerned about keeping her powers hidden, Amniese secretly attempts dangerous spells. Despite the fear of her abilities being discovered, she must grow stronger.

Amniese learns that freeing the Ancient Magics will unleash Shilon’s (Shilon?) greatest threat, the Sorcerer of Darkness. What Amniese doesn’t know is her destiny is already intertwined with the Sorcerer. She will have to choose: let the Ancient Magics remain sealed or risk Shilon’s future for the ones she loves.

The paragraph above is the most interesting part of this. Everything else is just details. The meat of your query should not be a three sentence mention at the end. You might feel like you’re leaving the reader with an impression and enticing them to want to read more by ending your query this way, but how can an agent feel impressed or enticed if they never got to the end?

Sometimes authors need to write to get around to writing what matters. This query is a draft of the one that’ll work for you, and it’s not bad as such. Focus on the conflict: what does Amniese want more than anything? What is keeping her from getting it? What is at stake? Why should I care?

Because this is fantasy, you’ll also need to do some world-building even in your query, and you’ve done a pretty good job of that, and you’ve intertwined it with an introduction to the YA themes present in your book: fitting in, friendship, etc. I suggest you do that in fewer words, though.

Lastly, there is no voice in the query, and perhaps especially for YA, I need to hear at least an echo of what kind of voice I can expect in the manuscript.

[redacted] is an 82,000 word YA fantasy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, [redacted]

LR

QueryDice #35

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,

A cardboard box is hidden in an empty room. Initial thought: this start is very intriguing. My interest is piqued and I’m wondering where this will go…

Inside the box, there is a stack of black and white photographs, somewhat grainy, somewhat blurred. These photos are all that remains of a young man who has died. They are the memory of him, and they come to represent the time that will slowly pass, leaving nothing else behind. They are the only clues into his life. They are the things that, still, are left.

These words set the stage for my first novel, titled [redacted].

I’m  turned off by your copy-and-paste of the beginning of your novel into the query. First, it is all tell and no show, which is a turn-off in a manuscript. Then, also, while it is great to get a taste of the author’s voice in a query, I feel tricked. I’m part of the way through your query and I still don’t know what your book is about.

Set in the tradition of Kazuo Ishiguro, John Banville, and Ian McEwan, [redacted] explores a shifting web of memory, family and friends. The novel is about a young man, named Ennan, who must come to terms with the loss of his brother. In doing so, Ennan must struggle to understand both his brother and himself, and must answer the question, what do our loved ones leave behind?

This is a bit dry. I’m not compelled enough to read more. What makes Ennan’s loss-of-loved-one story any different than all the rest? Also, the question at the end of this paragraph was surely meant to be compelling, but I’m just not as intrigued as I think the author intended.

Told through a series of interlocking narrative strands, [redacted] follows both Ennan’s past and his present as he works to cope with his brother’s death. Ennan flies to New York to find an answer to his questions (what questions?), but once there, he soon becomes obsessed with his brother’s box. Isn’t he pretty obsessed already? He got on a plane a flew to New York because of this…

Nothing is as he thought it was, however, and as he digs ever deeper into the mysteries of the box, and the photographs that it contains, Ennan’s own memories begin to shift and mix together, forming a portrait of the shattered and failing relationships (with whom?) that his brother’s death has left him with. Ultimately, things between Ennan and his brother had never been as simple, or as easy, as he’d always led himself to believe.

Why does this matter? What is at stake? This story doesn’t appear to have a conflict. While Ennan has an internal conflict because he needs to find answers to lingering questions about his brother’s life, but this is not enough. Why should we care about that? What does Ennan stand to lose, and how will figuring out his brother’s puzzle prevent that loss?

My work has been published both in print and online in PARADIGM, LINE ZERO, PRICK OF THE SPINDLE, and the PLUM CREEK REVIEW. This is great to know. I have worked as a chef, preschool teacher, student filmmaker, and at an art gallery, This, not so much. and I am currently living in Venice, CA, where I have been hired to write the screenplay for an independent film. This is good to know as well.

Thank you for your consideration.

[redacted]

I would reject this, because I don’t feel like there is a story that is compelling enough to sell to discerning editors. That doesn’t mean there isn’t–it just means it wasn’t shown to me.

LR

 

 


QueryDice #14.1: Do-Over!

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,

I would be delighted to submit for your consideration, [redacted], my dark, romantic women’s fiction novel (there is no such thing as a novel that isn’t fiction, so you only need to write “fiction” or “novel.” This is a huge agent-peeve) which is complete at just under 104,000 words.

A thirty-two year old musician assistant, Trista Hart knows she needs to find a way out of the nocturnally persuaded world of her best friend and boss, Jaxon James.  

Nocturnally persuaded. This is a creative turn-of-phrase, and I love those, but in a query, I just want to get the low-down on your book. Making me think too hard will aggravate my totally abused brain and turn it off. I’m not sure what nocturnally persuaded means because I’m not familiar with your book and its themes, and I’m not willing to try and figure it out because on the heels of your query are thousands of others and I’ll go in search of something with more clarity. Sometimes the simpler the language, the better, even though it doesn’t show your literary prowess.

But no matter how dark that route (what route? Are you referring to his world, the way of out his world?) has become lately, he and his band Sin Pointe are her family and she’s not prepared to desert them for Jaxon’s cousin, Lucky Mason, if it’s just going to take her down another of life’s pot-hole littered highways.  

Who says she has to desert them, and who the hell is Lucky Mason? That came sailing out of left field. Why are Lucky ad Sin Pointe mutually exclusive? Also, nit-pick: the words “pot-hole littered” irks me. Littered would mean someone has dropped something negligently. I think you can find something more accurate.

She has valid reasons to question Lucky and his beloved south—having experienced at an early age the sometimes hypocritical underbelly of the region’s good manners and charm.

What does the south have to do with it? In fact, what does Lucky have to with anything? I’m asking: what does Trista want? What is keeping her from getting that? How does she endeavor to solve that conflict?


Her hourglass has been turned upside down and now with Lucky’s heartfelt proposal before her,
(ah ha! Why are we discovering now, after you’ve confused us and given us every reason to stop reading, that this was a proposal?) she has to decide one for the other at the most inconvenient of times—just as Sin Pointe’s tour is taking off and on the heels of a horrendous late night attack on her and Jaxon that leaves her sure of only one thing…
It’s time for Trista to be her own savior.

Well I, for one, am not sure of anything and that’s the problem with this query. What I really want to know is what the problem is. If Jaxon is her best friend, why would he or his band prevent her from marrying (was this a marriage proposal?) Lucky?

I would reject this query because it lacks compelling conflict. I wonder why can’t she just have both? Her job, her best friend and family, and Lucky? What’s preventing that from happening? I worry that the answer is nothing and your manuscript has a huge, glaring plot hole that would mean it needs an overhaul.

When this query was diced here, the problem was that we didn’t know enough. We needed a better description. Now, we know a bit more, but we still need to know what the conflict is.

While as yet unpublished, I am a member of RWA, my local WRW chapter, and the fantastic women fiction writers group Waterworld Mermaids.

I greatly appreciate your time and consideration and hope to hear from you if my work seems a good fit.
Sincerely,

[redacted]

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