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QueryDice #52: Attack of the Cliche

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,

For sixteen-year-old Brynn Hartwel prophetic dreams are like living in Cloverdale, painful, annoying and there is no way to get around it. <– This is a personal preference, but this first sentence is a huge turn-off for me. It’s not that the content of the sentence is problematic–because it’s actually interesting–but rather the technical errors tell me this manuscript must be a complete mess if even 250 of this author’s words can’t step in line.

They started when she was six, got worse after her father’s death and became a secret when her mother forced a psychiatrist on her. Now with Junior year on the horizon Brynn knows she is two years closer to escaping Cloverdale and hopefully leaving all traces of her dreams behind. <–why would leaving Cloverdale put an end to the dreams? Leaving out important bits of information like this just make me think the manuscript has plot holes.

Then all hell breaks loose. <–this is a cliche. For the record, I would stop reading right around here. I was already on the fence with the missing commas, but this pushed me over. 

Her ex-best friend is found murdered and due to another one of her prophetic dreams, Brynn knows she’s next. At this point, I’m wondering what is special about this story. We’ve all heard the story of the teenager with paranormal abilities whose friend got murdered and now she’s next…what makes your story better than all the other stories just like it? But the killer isn’t your average, small town sociopath. He’s part of an ancient society of demigods, has gone rogue and is wickedly determined on seeing Brynn dead. Okay. As if on cue, you answer my question: a wicked demigod. That’s kind of cool, except you left out some really important bits of information: why would he want Brynn dead, and why has he waited so long?

But he isn’t her biggest problem. Griffin is. With his pouty lips and devilish charm, Brynn is suddenly fates fiercest opponent and will do anything to stay alive. Wait, wait. Are you telling me a love interest is more problematic for Brynn than a sociopathic demigod whose only goal (that we know of) is to kill her? I don’t buy it, and now I don’t like your main character because she seems to have her priorities in a woeful mess. Lucky for her Griffin has a secret of his own and everything from Brynn’s dreams to her father’s death is connected to Griffin and The Society of The Devine. A society created of demigods, a society created to rule man in secrecy and a society in which Brynn had been purposely hidden from till now. The staccato-style of these sentences is dramatic, but what they contain is anticlimactic for me. Since I don’t know anything about Brynn that is very specific to her and is rooted in my own world, and because of the aforementioned priority crisis, I don’t like her one bit. The world in this query is not unique enough to make me sit up straighter. This needs some salt.

Brynn was born a Devine oracle just like her father. But he refused to have her torn from her family to live a life dedicated to The Society so he made a deal with The Devine to hide her true identity.

All of the information in the last two paragraphs except for Griffin’s name, his status as a love interest and his pouty lips and devilish charm is unnecessary and confuses the plot. 

But nothing stays hidden forever. A rival group of demigods is after her and she must put her faith in three young Devine warriors sent to protect her.

As the secrets, lies and betrayals pile up no one is safe and not even a Devine oracle could predict that the true threat to The Society is the one person they are trying to protect, Brynn.

The last few sentences here are very confusing. I would reject this query letter on that alone. Author, the best thing you can do for this query letter is to start over: tell us the following things:

1. Who is your character? What makes her different from everybody else in the world, aside from her paranormal ability.

2. What does she want? If she wants nothing and life is grand for her, what throws a wrench in that?

3. What is in her way?

4. How does she set about circumventing that?

5. What is the single element of your book’s world that makes it different from Earth?

And tell it to us in fewer than 250 words. 

[redacted] is a young adult, paranormal romance novel complete at 100,000 words.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

While this query letter needs some serious work, don’t get discouraged. We all have to start somewhere, and this is yours. Save it. Because when you write something better, the improvement you see will be your reward for your hard work. Best of luck, author, and if you re-write, let us see! 

 LR

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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 #29

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.

“No sense wishing the past was any different because you can’t change anything.” Those were the words Magnis lived by until the morning he woke injured, not far from the presumed remains (the presumed remains? Was he hurt in a graveyard, or is there a corpse somewhere it shouldn’t be?) of his wife Laura. Grief stricken and lost without his other half, he sets out to find her killer.

This sentence was passable to me until I read the rest of the query. I don’t think you need it. Why waste the words? It’s more frugal to begin your query with something like, “When Magnis’ wife, Laura, is murdered, he joins ranks with Nowhere, a group of mechanically enhanced fighters with goals that will change the entire planet. Nowhere’s mission is to ___________, and Magnis is on-board. But he also has an ulterior motive: to find Laura’s murderers and avenge her untimely death.This way, you’ve done away with the need for the entire first paragraph and the following sentence. Obviously, you would use your own (hopefully adding adjectives, so we can get to know your character and his world/organizations) You can tie in the thought about Magnis’ intent on avenging Laura’s death with his being sent to investigate the Institution, further paring down the next paragraph.

His search puts him in league with a group called Nowhere—a capable band of mechanically enhanced fighters with goals that will change the entire planet. He soon makes a link between a powerful collective that recently attacked one of Nowhere’s recruiting parties and Laura’s murderers. When he is sent to investigate the hostile group’s presence in the same town they attacked his brethren, it becomes an opportunity to draw the clues together.

Over the course of his mission, he discovers the source behind the assault is The Institution, a well-organized grouping of people group able to tap into hiddenpowers of the brain they call a spark. Are the hidden powers called a spark, or is the ability to employ them called a spark? If that latter, this sentence needs some re-arranging.

They absorb individuals possessing this strength into their ranks to one day purge the world of all non-spark humans, ultimately evolving humanity—and they’ll be damned if Nowhere’s existence hinders their plans.

Ah-ha! That’s your major conflict: that Nowhere and the Institution have competing motives. They both want to change humanity, but the plans of each will hinder the other. The who’s-gonna-win thing is always useful, but what I’m really wondering is what effect the outcome will have on Magnis. He’s the focal point, not necessarily all of humanity. It’s great that the stakes are so high in this, because I’m always thinking, “Jeez, if the stakes were just higher…” but the stakes being really, really high only works if that’s an extrapolation of the stakes for the protagonist. Think about it: who cares if all of the world will suffer if the eyes and ears to that world–your protagonist–doesn’t care, suffer or have enough to lose?

As Magnis eagerly pursues a greater purpose (and what purpose is that?) and foreseeable revenge, a vital detail lies masked within the walls of The Institution; Laura is alive.

Well, well. The ol’ but-she’s-alive twist. I’m not making fun of you. I happen to really like this twist in a book, if its done properly. I’m the person who gasps audibly at the pages and then tells my mom about this great story. The thing is, though, that Laura’s being alive has nothing to do with the struggle for the power to change the world going on between Nowhere and the Institution. This twist might be great for the book and for the synopsis, but I’m not so sure it belongs in the query, and it feels like you threw it in as a cliffhanger.
[redacted] is the separated couple’s entwined tale of two organizations battling (that doesn’t make any sense. How can it be the couple’s tale of organizations battling? The organizations battling is not the couple’s tale any more than the couple is the battling organizations’ tale. What you mean, I’m sure, is that the couple’s tale is entwined with that of the organizations) for the right to control the world’s future in the mid-22nd century after a global nuclear war ended the complications of government a hundred years prior.

I really like that you put the “what-makes-this-post-apocalyptic” information at the end. Because, really, it doesn’t matter that much except as backstory and you’ve let the other, more important aspects of your story shine while still letting us know that you have built a world into your story. Nice.

[redacted] is a completed sci-fi novel of 155,000 words (this might be a bit long) and is the first in a proposed series, yet is capable of standing alone.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I would reject this query because I didn’t feel like the conflict was big enough, at least in the query.

LR

 

QueryDice #28

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,

       Calista Hall wakes one morning to find her servants gone, her bank accounts empty (I’m assuming this is historical because Calista has servants…but then how would she know her bank accounts are empty when she wakes in the morning?) and a debt collector knocking on her door, demanding whatever she can give as compensation. Against all social expectations of a once-wealthy woman of the times, Calista takes a job as a seamstress with a family friend. When she finds this isn’t as profitable as she thought, Calista posts an ad in the local newspaper for boarders to fill the empty rooms in her large manor by the sea.

This first paragraph divulges too much information. All we really need to know at this point could fit into two sentences: Calista Hall is living a nightmare. Her considerable fortune depleted (and, as briefly as you can, tell us how), she has no choice but to take boarders into the many rooms of her large manor by the sea.” If you feel it is integral to the story, you can add a sentence about how this is difficult for a woman of her station, or how she feels about it. Showing us how she feels about it is a good way to show us her personality a bit, something that is lacking in this query.

Days later, Nathan Ridley shows up on her doorstep, a man with a mysterious past and a mute boy brother by his side.

I like the mute boy brother. It is the most interesting part of this query. It sounds like Nathan is going to be a major character, yet I know nothing about him or his mysterious past (and we all love a man with a mysterious past). Show me what is going to make him a sympathetic character. Fold in a little of his personality or his quirks…or at least his sexiness, if in fact he is sexy. Show us what it is Calista sees in Nathan, so that we can like him, even from the get-go here in this query.

As a love that neither of them expected blossoms, Calista must maintain the home she loves, the ailing father she was left to care for five years before, and her status as a wealthy woman.

This doesn’t seem to be a big enough conflict. I don’t care about Calista’s ailing father, who I can’t see because you’ve only just dropped breadcrumbs about him, and at the end of your query, no less. This sounds to me like the story of a rich girl who is now poor and is fighting to be rich again, and of course she meets a love interest. That is not a very unique story, and I have trouble mustering up sympathy for a girl whose biggest complaint in life is that she’s not rich. I’m sure there is more to your story than that, but that’s all you’ve given me in this query, so I have no choice but to take it at face-value and pass on this.

Taking place over six months in early 1870s New England, (we don’t need to know a timeline, but the year in which the story takes place is helpful) [redacted] is a 92,000-word historical novel of a wealthy woman turned poor, who all at once is trying to keep her family together, battle the expectations of her station, and finding herself falling in love at the worst possible time.

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

Sincerely,
[redacted]

LR

 

QueryDice #23

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,

The war started with a drunkard in her library and an arrow in her arm.

The first sentence needs work. I had to read it twice to figure out that you were saying that someone had a drunkard in her home and an arrow in her arm, rather than a drunkard sitting in her own library with an arrow in her arm. Also, I’m wondering how this could possibly start a war.

Seventeen-year-old Adalmund Pratt is one of the last remaining people who can see and weave the threads of magic in her plague-ravaged country, and as such, she is the newly-appointed Advisor to the Theodyn Heir. During a peace treaty signing with the neighboring nation of Amleth, an Amleth advisor drunkenly slurs in her ear that his nation is on the brink of a revolution against the royal family, and she realizes that she and the Heir of Theodyn are in enemy territory.

This paragraph needs some serious work. First, what is the significance of seeing and weaving threads of magic? What benefit or detriment does this lend to Adalmund? Then, some world-building is necessary. What’s a Theodyn Heir? Is the Amleth advisor talking about a revolution against his country’s royal family, or that of Adalmund’s country? What is the significance of that?

The attack comes before they planned. <–You don’t need this sentence. If you want us to know the attack happened without notice, that can be done as an adjective in this next sentence. An unknown division of the Amleth army attacks and it’s an arrow through Adalmund’s shoulder and another through the throat of the Heir, who dies in her arms.

You’ve written that “it’s an arrow through Adalmund’s shoulder and another through the throat of the heir…” What is? Further, why would they attack Adalmund? Her political weight is unclear. We don’t know anything about the heir, either, so we don’t care that he died in her arms, no matter how gruesome his death. We at least need to know his importance to Adalmund if we’re expected to care about this death.

Adalmund knows that her ability remains the only chance to save Theodyn. (How? Why is this the case?)Pushing aside her own grief and feelings of failure, she doesn’t hesitate to obey when the grieving Queen sends her to spy on the Amleth army and bring the murderous army unit to justice.

My intuition tells me the real meat of your story begins with the above sentence. Since the heir dies early, and the attack doesn’t mean much to the rest of Adalmund’s journey, begin with the above sentence, which will give you much more room for world-building.

It’s not an impossible assignment until Adalmund realizes that the soldiers who attacked aren’t a part of the normal army, but are the private guards of a Prince. (What prince? Why does this matter?) The only way she can succeed is to forge a precarious truce with Peace, the mysterious leader (is this the Prince?) of the revolution in Amleth, and she’ll do it to save her country—even if the price of Peace is her life. <–This sentence is confusing. Are you talking about the price of the mysterious leader, or the price of peace?

The first in a planned series, [redacted] is a young adult fantasy novel of 75,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

I would reject this query because the important pieces of the story are not exposed properly, and I worry that will continue in the manuscript. More importantly, though, I would reject it because Adalmund has no internal struggle and doesn’t appear to face the same challenges that teens face. All the conflict is external and I like to see interplay between external and internal conflict in YA. I also know nothing about Adalmund’s personality or that of any other characters, and this is necessary for me to like the characters enough to want to see more of them.

QueryDice #22

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.

16-year-old Emory Stone (love the name) has always felt like an outsider. Being part alien, it kind of comes with the territory. (This is a nit-pick, but something about this sentence bothers me. I think it is because the word “being” is actually modifying the word “it.” Because “it” is a pronoun used in place for “the outsider feeling,” this sentence would technically mean that the outsider feeling is an alien. This is overly technical, and I really can’t say with any confidence that other agents would have cared. But my immediate thought was that the writing might not be up to par.) And her weird, extraterrestrial powers— like the sometimes-useful, always-disturbing ability to learn everything about an object just by touching it—don’t make fitting in any easier. (I’m not confident that Emory’s ability to know things would make it difficult for her to fit in. I can stretch my mind to imagine how this might be possible, but the point is you shouldn’t depend on an agent to do this.) If she could understand and control those powers, that would be one thing, but Emory has no idea about her alien ancestry. (Then how does she know she’s an alien? My agent-brain is wondering if this is a plot hole, or if you’re just being concise.) And even if she did, it’s not like they teach “Harnessing Your Alien Powers For Beginners” at Eden Falls High. <–I really love sentences like this one. It’s funny and shows the author’s voice, but it also helps us feel Emory’s problem. Nice job on that.

Unfortunately for Emory, though, there are others in the universe who know all about her ancient, powerful bloodline. They know she is a descendant of the all-knowing Sentient, a godlike creature responsible for the creation of the once utopian planet of Aporia. Since the Sen (what is (or are) the Sen? This is probably short for Sentient, but since this paragraph already feels like you’ve just gone from 0 to 60 in 12 seconds, it’s best not to introduce anything unfamiliar that you don’t have to.) abandoned the Aporians and fled to Earth hundreds of years ago, the planet has been steadily falling into ruin. Now, a group of warriors have shown up on Earth, intent on using Emory to get their paradise back. By the way, I knew after this sentence, that I’d be requesting this. Hello, Flash Moment, long time no see.

Among them is Cael, (again, love the name) who has spent his entire life living in the shadow of his father, the most feared, most respected general in the Alpha Centauri Star System (what is the Alpha Centauri Star System?). Hunting down Emory Stone is his chance to prove himself, to be known as someone other than “the general’s son”. But when the mission takes a deadly twist, Cael ends up owing his life to Emory instead. As the threat to Earth—and Emory—escalates, Cael will have to make a decision: keep fighting for a cause he isn’t sure he believes in anymore, or betray his father and try and keep Emory safe. But even he might not be able to save her from her past, and from the dark family secrets that will threaten the very future of Earth.

Equal turns action, romance, and sci-fi nerdiness, [redacted] is a YA novel of 90,000 words (this is technically just a tad too long for YA, but it made me happy here because this introduces a new world and I expect that since this is so long, the author has spent those words on exposition of that world.), which alternates between Cael and Emory’s POV. It is the first in a planned trilogy, which will chronicle the war for the planets and unravel the mystery of the Sen.

Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

GIMME, GIMME GIMME!

LR

QueryDice #21

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:

Allie and Orson are in the wilds of southern Colorado hiking with their father, when a tragic misstep leaves them alone at the top of the mountain. Two days away from help, they descend to the bottom of the mountain valley in search of their father, Trey. All the while, a black bear watches.

Trey decides to take his 8 and 9 year old on a four-day backpacking trip through southern Colorado. It’s the type of vacation he took with his father when he was their age. The excursion is the beginning of his new life as a full-time dad, and a way to start the kids’ childhood anew.

The kids have shuffled between dilapidated apartments, slept on mattresses strewn on food-stained carpets, been baby-sat at their roach-infested Granny’s house, and have bruises on their backs reflecting the braided belt their mother’s live-in boyfriend used to beat them. When their mother loses custody, they are shuttled off to their weekend Dad.

Trey struggles with his new role, and feels the distance between himself and his children grow every time he raises his voice. Allie feels a sneaking resentment as she increasingly blames her brother for the troubles of their past. Orson sinks under the weight of his insecurities, and in his dreams, relives the savage nighttime battles at his mother’s apartment.

Despite an auspicious beginning, the trip deteriorates on the second day when Orson has a late night accident, and their delayed morning start sends them rushing down the trail to find camp before dusk. The steep grade sends Orson careening down the path out of control, and Trey stops his son’s tumble only to disappear over the mountainside.  

Now, Allie and Orson have to find a way to cope with the cold nights and their dwindling supplies. They have to go off the trail, and into the endless forest. All the while, a black bear is coming.

[redacted] (92,000 words) is literary fiction, and combines the realism of Into the Wild with the epic style of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I am a working writer and educator with an MA in Studies in Literature. [redacted] is informed by some of my experiences working with young victims of physical abuse and neglect, in education and at home.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

 

The biggest accomplishment of your query is that it hints to me the author has talent. Talent’s never enough, though, so I would have been on the fence about requesting more material. On the one hand, I’m curious to see what the author’s prose is like, and whether or not it can make me care about these kids and their dad and, perhaps most importantly, if it can do both of the following:

 

  1. Float the emotional, situational and familial issues to the forefront in a graceful way so that avoiding the bear doesn’t become the focal point of this novel, which would pop it out of literary fiction.
  2. Make it believable and authentic. The kids need to seem real, especially, which is no easy undertaking. Dialog, tendencies and the mechanics of their minds are limited, and because of that, so is the author.

 

 On the other hand, I might reject this because it didn’t excite me enough. In the first 19 days of this year alone, I have received over 300 queries. Because of this flood—which is, by the way, typical of agents—I have to be meticulously choosey. I’ll reject things that are basically quite good just because I was not as excited as I could have been. Sometimes I suspect that the manuscript is better than the query—as is the case here—but I’ve got tons of other manuscripts to evaluate that I know beyond the shadow of a doubt are good.

What this means for this query, is that it would depend entirely upon my mood at the time whether or not I would request a proposal. Don’t let that happen! You want agents to request more material regardless of mood. You want me to request this even if my boyfriend just dumped me for a supermodel, I suddenly discovered I gained 50 pounds and my kitten just died—right after I realized my kid has chicken pox. In other words, let your story’s clarity define it rather than letting it teeter on the fence.

 

For this agent at least, here’s what would make that happen:

 

This was too synopsis-heavy for me. I do not need paragraphs 2 and 5, for example. All I really need to know are the largest threads: after having his kids dropped into his life full-time, a weekend-dad takes them on a let’s-reconnect nature trip, only to be separated from them by a tragic misstep. The kids are suffering from heavy emotional issues stemming from their mother’s abuse and neglect and are now all alone in the forest trying to find their dad…all the while, a black bear is too close for comfort.

 

Those are the bare bones of your story. Puff them up to about 250 words, focus heavily on the emotions involved and the dangers present, and I would have definitely requested this. Also, I liked your paragraph about yourself. As you suspected, I do, in fact, need to know how your story of abuse and neglect is informed. I was wondering how you expected to make that authentic. That being said, please send me the first three chapters and a detailed synopsis. =)

LR

 

QueryDice #20

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 Lauren Ruth,

I would like to introduce you to my adult love story called A struggle of the heart. This is a Contemporary romance. My completed manuscript consists of 71,539 words. A young woman faces the age-old dilemma: what to do when you are torn between two lovers?

 

Unless your work is written for young adults or children, there is no need to mention what age-group you’ve targeted. The agent will assume it is for adults. Your second sentence is redundant. You’ve already told us in the first sentence that this is a romance by using the words “love story,” although I prefer to see this genre called “romance.”

The story you’ve set me up to receive certainly is age-old. Right from the first paragraph, I need to feel there is something different about your romance, something new or exciting that would make me choose yours among the hundreds I see. Romances are a dime a dozen—I’m looking for the one that’s a dime a piece.

 

Annette, a beautician in Norman, Oklahoma, (these are the first words that catch my eye in your query. I’ve never read a romance about a beautician in Norman, Oklahoma. Interesting…) does not believe she’ll ever find love, let alone two men who fall head over heels for her. Aaron, a handsome and virile Native American (again, I’m interested. This is different…) with long dark hair and sensuous brown eyes, draws her to him like a magnet. Tim, a good-looking, happy-go-lucky fellow, is always there to help, care for and comfort her.

 

While I understand your temptation to succinctly describe these men in as few words as possible, this felt too punchy for me. I would prefer to see a description of her love affair with the first man, and then the other man stepping in to distract her instead of a bland description of the men. Additionally, Aaron seems much more interesting than Tim—who reads to me like a lukewarm guy-next-door—so I can’t feel any tension. Of course she’s going to pick the more interesting one…or she should, if the book is going to be interesting.

 

With Aaron, it is love at first site, while Tim grows on her over time. ß-you do not need this sentence. This is one of those things that a query can do without, but the synopsis she show. How will she ever decide? It seems at first that fate might make the decision for her when Aaron joins the army and is stationed overseas. While he is gone, Tim fills the huge void left in her aching heart.

 

I’m not so sure you should explain that she had her eye on both men before Aaron joined the Army. You might consider saving Tim’s introduction for after you explain that Aaron joined. This would free the men from being lumped together in the same paragraph.

At the same time, Annette knows she must follow her own dream. After the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, she yearns to find a more fulfilling job helping others. This leads her to begin emergency medical training and after that, to attend paramedic school.

 

You do not need the above paragraph at all in this query. It is a good idea to give Annette this extra depth of character, but it could be exposed in passing, as in, “…taking Aaron’s cue to follow her own dreams, Annette enrolls in paramedic school…” We don’t need to know anything beyond that.

 

Upon graduation, Tim asks for Annette’s hand in marriage but what about Aaron, who just returned home from Afghanistan?  It is truly “A Struggle of the Heart” as Annette finds herself torn between two lovers.

 

The biggest problem with this query is its lack of tension. It is not very interesting that she has two men who love her and must choose between them. This is not extraordinary. I have a feeling, however, that this is not a problem with your query, but rather with the story itself. For the torn-between-lovers plot to work, there must be something overarching the story that is at stake. Perhaps Annette has something valuable that one man wants to help her cultivate and the other wants to exploit for his own gain. Maybe Annette stands to lose something if she goes with one man, but has something else to lose if she goes with the other. These two things should be extremely important—like loved ones or her career or her life. Either way, there must be another element to this that extends beyond a girl making an emotional decision. Maybe your manuscript already has this, but if that’s the case we all want to know about it.

I hope this query letter interests you and you will want to pursue reading more. I am looking for a publisher to help me in my endeavor to share this love story.  Your experience is very impressive and I would like to congratulate you on joining BookEnds as a full time literary agent. It would be an honor to work with you on this novel.  

 

This is great. Agents love it when you prove you’ve researched them and made an educated decision to query them, rather than blindly sending your query to everyone and her mother.

 

As I read through the FAQ on your website, it states fiction writers should copy and paste the first three chapters or no more than 50 pages, a synopsis, and an author bio stating what writing experience that we may have.

The first three chapters and a synopsis are the components of a fiction book proposal and are never to be attached to a query. Most agents these days do not want you to attach anything and want your 250-word query in the body of an email. I personally do not mind when authors paste the first ten pages or so after their query in the body of the email.

 

For my author bio I only have one thing that I have written. It is a book called Alzheimer’s A Caretakers Journal, which is a diary about taking care of my father in law with Alzheimer’s. I wrote and published this book in the hopes that I could help others with this terrible disease. I do keep a Alzheimer’s Blog which I have written since 2008.

 

While it is helpful to include an author bio if you have writing credentials, it is not helpful to include non-fiction credentials if you are querying with a work of fiction (unless that work is loosely related or has lent you a platform) or vice-versa. These are two very different skill-sets. Because your bio consists of one published work of non-fiction, I immediately think writing is a hobby to you, rather than a career aspiration, and that your writings are unfocused. In this case, it is better to just leave the bio out and skip right to your polite closing.   

 

I have copy and pasted my synopsis and the first 50 pages of my manuscript. Thank you for reading my query letter.

 

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

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QueryDice #19

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,

Nadine Sterling’s world is covered in darkness.

Flash moment. This snagged me. I knew this was going to be a good query just from this sentence.

The sun and the blue skies have not been seen for many years. Natural catastrophes, disorder, and crime are running wild. People believe God has abandoned them.

Still interested…

In this chaotic world, Nadine tries to be a normal girl—NYU student, barista in a coffee shop, talent singer, loyal friend, and dutiful daughter—except for her visions of Victor Gianni, her imaginary boyfriend.

What? Imaginary boyfriend?? This is interesting. Don’t mind if I do…

She comes up with excuses for them: exhaustion, daydreaming, and hallucinations, but she is obligated to cross out those options when she bumps into a real Victor, one who does not know her and shuns her away.

Besides having her heart instantly broken, Nadine’s visions change and now she sees eerie fates, gods she never heard of before, demons with sharp claws they are not timid to use … and instructions.

To find out if she is losing her mind or involved in a larger and yet obscure scheme, Nadine has to follow the instructions—with the real, rude Victor—(he’s rude and angsty? Yes! I love a romance hero who’s a complete jerk…on the surface.) before the evil behind the darkness catches up with them.

[Book Title] is a new adult paranormal romance novel complete at 80,300 words. It stands alone, but can be developed as the first in a trilogy that I call [Trilogy Title].

I have taken five creative writing courses (four from Writer’s Digest University and one taught by Margie Lawson).

Per your guidelines, you’ll find the first chapter of [Book Title] pasted bellow (I’m sure this was just a typo. Since this query is so good, I think I’ll just overlook it.)

This was intriguing. Please send me the first three chapters and a synopsis. LRuth@Bookends-inc.com. As an aside, and this won’t hurt you in the larger scope of things, most agents do not want you to send any material except your query. You might have been responding to my personal preference to have the beginning of your manuscript—maybe 10 pages or so—tacked onto the body of your email.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

LR

 

QueryDice #18

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.

Faith and belief are are common themes in the supernatural and horror genres: “You must have faith for the cross to work,” or “You must believe in the magic.”

There’s something about the lack of a greeting line that bothers me. I feel sort of like something really heavy just fell into my lap.

 

While your opening line is true, I’m not sure I appreciate being told this in a query. It sounds too much like you’re justifying your work, and too textbook. I don’t want to know about the genres—I know them well enough—I want to know about your book.

 

In The Unbeliever , a supernatural adventure/romance novel, it is the principle character’s lack of belief that gives him the ability to battle dark forces and return long lost humanity to the victim of a 400 year old curse.  Former Major Max Bradley struggles with the loss of his leg and the emotional scars from an unending war and finds within himself a new power and a new cause.

 

This is my first novel, but my experience as a military physician enables me to bring the main character, a disabled Iraq war vet who is dealing with both physical disability and emotional trauma, to life.

 

I feel that this book will appeal to both male and female readers.  Male readers will appreciate the realistic action and the military background of the hero.  Female readers will respond to the strong romance that builds between the hero and heroine.  Elena, the heroine, is a woman existing under the curse of the undead since the Sixteenth Century and in Max, the hero, she finds that she finally can have what she has been missing for centuries: the return of her humanity.

 

The problem, here, is that you’re trying to be concise, which is necessary, but you’re excluding important information. What I need to know is this: what is the major conflict, what does it place at stake for Max? I need to know just a little about Max and Elena. What about the world? How does it differ from ours, and does it place limitations on the characters, or enable them?

 

Also, you might consider omitting the paragraph about who the book will appeal to. While this is important information, an agent knows already where your book would be placed or sell best, so your words are better spent on the book itself.

 

I think there could be a great story here, but I don’t know enough about your book to request more information.

 

It is a complete manuscript at 113,000 words and is available for your immediate review.

You haven’t included a salutation, here. To me, this felt like you approached me, dumped your idea on me, and then without so much as a half-hearted wave, just walked away. A query is a business letter, fundamentally, and should always read like one, even if its an e-query.

LR

 

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