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QueryDice #33

Dear Lovely and Talented Agent, While I appreciate the compliment, you still have not used my name, and that would have been a bigger compliment.

I am looking for representation for my novel [redacted]. I know. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be reading your query. You’ve wasted valuable real estate telling me this.

Professionally, Abigail Kelly is a rockstar. But personally, she’s at the bottom of the charts. This should be one sentence with the independent ideas separated by a comma. Aside from that nitpick, though, this is a good start.

More than anything, Abby wants balance, but her life is seriously out of whack. After her brother is tragically killed, Abby dives into her singing career, allowing the bright lights of Hollywood to block out her grief. When the band takes the summer off, Abby banishes herself to the secluded beaches of Florida—finally slowing down enough to deal with her demons. When she meets ex-Marine Todd, she begins to feel the balance she’s been desperate for.

Just as Abby is beginning to unclench, Max, her sadistic manager—who makes Simon Cowell look like an angel—demands that she gets her tail back to LA. Under the pressure of the hot spotlight again, Abby’s grip on her new-found balance begins to shake. Torn between her love for Todd, and her loyalty to the guys in the band, she must find a way to confront her past, and take control her present, or risk losing everything.

[redacted] is a work of women’s fiction and is complete at 97,000 words.

Thank you for your time.

Notwithstanding my comments above, the structure of this query is technically fine. You’ve told me who your main character is, what she wants, what’s in her way and the challenges she faces in wrestling the in-the-way. I completely understand what you’ve written, who its audience is and whether or not I would want to read this. 

The trouble is, I don’t think it is compelling enough. My critical mind asks, “Okay, so she has to make a choice between a boyfriend and her band and she must confront some demons. And?” Things like this happen to everybody. We’ve all had to make a choice and we all have demons. What makes Abby’s experience so different from our own that we would want to spend 97,000 words with her? Also, I worry that there are potential plot holes, here. Abby is a rockstar, which means she must have lots of money, fans and power. Why can’t she find a way to fix her problem?

This story needs external conflict–something big that affects (or has the potential to affect) not only Abby, but other people too. For me, women’s fiction can’t just be about an issue that often affects women. It also needs to be a little controversial and unique so that I’m forced to stop in my tracks and wonder what I might have done in the protagonist’s shoes. Women’s fiction very often aims to warm the hearts of women, and I didn’t find this as heartwarming as I would have liked.

Sincerely,etc (I wonder if you put this “etc” in to be cute, or if somehow the monster named Technology added it for you. If the former, best to stick with the tried-and-true.)

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #9.1: Take Two!

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:

When Prudence O’Brian uncovers a human skeleton in her landlady’s backyard, she doesn’t expect the police or the press to be too concerned. Her mother was brutally murdered and the newspapers didn’t print a blurb. The police were too busy hunting down bootleggers and raiding speakeasies to apprehend her mother’s killer. Pru doesn’t want justice to slip through the cracks again. She decides to uncover the identity of the skeleton herself, but she’s uncertain on how to begin.

I’m already seeing a potential problem. In a mystery, the amateur sleuth needs to have a very solid reason for taking the investigation into her own hands. It is hard to like a person who is a busybody or who is meddlesome. I don’t think Pru’s motivation to get involved in the case of this skeleton is strong enough. She needs a solid connection to this crime…like being forced to investigate it because she or someone close is blamed for it. Now, that’s not to say that you haven’t fleshed this out more in the book, making it believable and acceptable that Pru would investigate this on her own, just that it’s not solid enough here in this query.

That being said, this opening is a huge improvement over the last draft. You’d opened with a question, which is a huge pet-peeve of mine, and you’d provided us with a bunch of information we really don’t need.

Gus Ashton is intrigued by Pru’s quest. He offers her his knowledge as a trial attorney to go places and interview people she wouldn’t dare do alone.

Why? Who is he and why would he offer his assistance to Pru when he could be billing hours? Also, as a side note, this sentence is poorly written. 

Gus is old enough to be her father, but he’s the first man she’s encountered who isn’t intimidated by her intelligence or her dangerous right hook. The farther (further is correct. Farther refers to spatial distance) they delve into their investigation, Pru realizes she and Gus have different definitions of justice, and his is silencing anyone who knows the truth.

This is very vague, which irks me. The difference between a back-of-the-book blurb and a query is that a cliffhanger is ineffective in a query, but intriguing on the back of a book. When I see a cliffhanger like this, it doesn’t make me request just to see what happens, it makes me want to move on to a query that’s made itself clear.

I’m not so sure we need to know anything about Gus. It takes you two paragraphs to get to the most compelling part about him: that his idea of justice is silencing anyone who knows the truth. I would cut the two paragraphs and just keep that one compelling sentence from your first draft: “But discovering the skeleton’s identity also means unmasking a killer whose own idea of justice is silencing anyone who knows the truth.”

I received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Drake University. After graduating from college, I worked as a tour guide at a living history museum. Most of the information we conveyed to the public had to be learned by research. I applied these skills to my novel to accurately portray life during The Great Depression.

This is an excellent improvement to your bio.

Another issue: this is the first we hear that this is a historical novel. Since you unfolded your query and it was unnecessary to mention that this was historical, I worry that you just set the story in the past without weaving that into the story.

My 100,000 word historical mystery, [redacted], is complete and available for review.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

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 #27

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.

Ms. Ruth,

All Zach wants to do lately is fight. It doesn’t matter with whom or what.

He’s always had a problem with his temper, but never like this. Never to the point that he gets into fights and can’t remember why. Ever since he and his mom up and left their home in Florida for Dave-her new husband, he’s gone into uncontrollable rages. Zach knows there’s a trigger since he isn’t always mad, but needs helping figuring out what it is.

It is not believable to me that Zach’s rage started right after he and his mom moved in with Dave and Zach has no idea what’s causing his anger.

His latest psychiatrist thinks there’s something going on at home that’s triggering these rages. And she’s right, there is. That sonofabitch Dave is what’s going on at home. He prefers leaving Zach bruised and sore to spending time together as father/son, not to mention the black rings around his mom’s eyes that are becoming a regular occurrence.

For Zach, thanks to three fights in the last three weeks, any chance of a future hinges on learning to control his anger. He hopes his psychologist and her assistant, the girl he loves, can help with this. He wants to go to college, he wants to date, and he wants to survive Dave.

There is nothing specifically wrong with this query. I don’t think the conflict is complicated enough, though. We’ve already heard the story of the boy whose step-dad abuses him and his mother. What makes yours markedly different from those? While I agree that this is a theme welcomed and sought by YA readers, I think there needs to be something else, something big, specific and external, at stake.If there isn’t, then I can easily predict the outcome of this story: Zach figures it out. Who would write or read a story about an abused boy who has uncontrollable rages at the end of which the boy still has uncontrollable rages and is still abused? That’s why there needs to be a complication to the conflict here, or an added conflict.

This has more to do with the manuscript than it does with this query, though. The query was well-written. I know what the conflict is, who stands to benefit or lose-out, and what the challenges to solving it are.

ZACH’S FIGHT is my contemporary young adult novel and is complete at 60,000 words. I am a member of SCWBI and RWA.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

As always, please remember to say goodbye! A simple “sincerely, so and so” suffices.

Best of luck, LR

 

QueryDice #26

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,

As a result of your interest in women’s fiction, I hope you will enjoy A Shift in the Wind, contemporary women’s fiction with a speculative bent. Hmm. Speculative? I really like speculative fiction…I wonder how this turns out…

Augusta Collins was born in the wrong century. A lover of the elegance and slow pace of times gone by, she never liked the technology-crazed, faster-is-always-better life, so it’s a strange, but exciting occurrence when a solar flare storm knocks out electricity and she finds herself experiencing first-hand what her life would’ve been like had she any say in the time frame of her birth. How long is the electricity out? Also, this is not striking me as a noteworthy story.

The resurgence of beauty in the form of elaborate balls, the popularity of performing arts, and leisurely strolls in the rose garden are perfection, but change has the ability to both heal and kill – and it does.

Hold the phone. Have elaborate balls, performing arts and leisurely strolls in the rose garden returned to everyday life, or that this would be very nice? What do you mean they are perfection? Do you mean they are Augusta’s ideal, or do you mean they’re pleasant, or do you mean everyone in the world agrees that these things are perfection? The last sentence, for some reason, doesn’t sound wise to me. Its sounds like a reach, because you could swap any ol’ noun for “change” here. Chairs (to pick a noun off the top of my head) also have the twin abilities to heal and kill because you could knock somebody over the head with one, but also use one to get a healing rest from a day’s work. My point is, yes, change can kill and it can heal, but so can many other things, so what significance are you trying to highlight?

And what has changed so much that the world is significantly altered? Again, is the electricity out indefinitely, for months, forever? If it’s an extended period of time, I wonder if it is believable that engineers would not correct it. What changes has this brought about? Better yet, what changes has this brought about that we weren’t expecting?

It’d taken Augusta’s father a year earlier, murdered in split-second madness by a stranger, but it’d given her family 28-year-old Griffin Alexander, a former capital investor who, conveniently, knows nothing about how to run the Collins’ sheet metal manufacturing company and everything about money and combat.

This paragraph continues with that reach, which I think you’ve tried to use as a transition. Change did not take Augusta’s father, Augusta’s father’s death was itself a change. Why is Griffin’s age important, why is his former life important, why is it significant that he knows nothing about how to run the company, and why is this convenient? Why is it significant that he knows everything about money and combat? Is he an employee and if so, to whom does he answer?

This paragraph also signals the complete departure from the electricity outage and speculative world you were beginning to introduce, which makes for a very disjointed query.

 

If you hadn’t told me, I would be wondering if this was romance or women’s fiction, and that is a problem, because I worry that I’d read the manuscript and it would turn out to be some sort of hybrid. Hybrids are hard to sell–publishers are afraid of them–and many just won’t sell. (As an aside, don’t ever tell me your manuscript is “genre-bending” if you want me to read without suspicion.) I think this is probably women’s fiction with a strong romantic element, but the problem is I’m not sure. It could very well be romantic suspense.

Since that day, (since what day? The day of Augusta’s father’s death? The day of Griffin’s initial hire?) Griffin has protected and provided for the friends he considers family, but when Augusta discovers that Griffin may have risked their livelihood for the sake of his own, she makes a decision that may hurl her family into danger and swat down the affection growing between them – unacknowledged yet intricate and fragile as a spider’s web.

This paragraph generates even more questions. We have heard nothing of Augusta’s family, but now you’ve brought them into the query, so they’re a distraction. You have a choice here: either include some exposition of Augusta’s family, if you think they are major characters, or leave them out of the query entirely. Why does Augusta’s family need Griffin’s protection? The rest of this paragraph tells me you understand that writing a query is the art of leaving things out, but there is a fine line between successfully telling us only the need-to-know, and just confusing us.

Ask yourself what you really need in this paragraph for us to understand the main story, here. For example, do we need to know exactly what Griffin may have done wrong, or just simply that he may have done wrong?

Stuck in the narrow, unaccompanied middle between clutching governmental control and the radical members of an opposition group, the decision to stay neutral may be fatal – and ultimately impossible.

Whoa. Clutching governmental control? Radical opposition group? Is this is same query? Neutral would indicate there were opposing sides to some conflict–what conflict? Focusing on the threats (what threats?) around her, Augusta attempts to ignore the heightening conflict between her heart’s urging to risk it all for the love of her soul (do you mean she loves her own soul, the love her soul expresses, or possibly Griffin?) and her mind’s persistent encouragement to settle for another. Another what? Is there a character who should have been introduced?

As all of the elements come crashing together like the conflicting fronts of a tornado, Augusta finds that although turmoil and deception are plagues in any age, love always tends to find you right where you belong.

You know, for this sentence to have the punch that you want it to have, it needs to have a set of opposites on either side of the word “although.” So, since plagues don’t keep you from finding where you belong (maybe you belong there, plagued) this sentence didn’t resonate with me. Since it is the closing of your synopsis-portion in this query, I would have liked to be left with something with a better kick. The language in this query–metaphors, etc.–hints that the you’re leaning toward the literary side (women’s fiction sort of straddles commercial fiction, genre fiction and sometimes literary fiction) so I’d like your last sentence to be just a tad more poetic or profound. Also, “always tends” contradicts itself. Always means it doesn’t ever do something else, while tends means it regularly or frequently does something, but not always without deviation.

A Shift in the Wind is 115,000 words and fully complete. I would love to send the manuscript for your review. Thank you for taking the time to consider this project!

This query had no salutation, which won’t earn anybody a rejection. It is a nice formality to say bye-bye, though.

I would reject this query not because I think there isn’t a story here, but because I’m not entirely sure what it is.

 

QueryDice #25

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,

Noah Pressman has survived the IRA, the Taliban, and both Gulf Wars. Now the documentary filmmaker faces something far more threatening – old age.

I’m not sure I understand why a filmmaker would have “survived” these. It is not clear that he put himself in the line of danger for the sake of his films, if that is what you meant to say.

Retirement means he’ll finally have to stop running (from what?) and deal with the traumatic death of his son.

This paragraph seems a bit all-over-the-place. The first sentence hints that Noah has led a dangerous life and it’s about to become even more dangerous. Then we learn he’s older, which tames that first thought a bit. The last sentence hints that he’s running from something, although we don’t know what and that his son died traumatically. How do these elements–the dead son, Noah’s flight from some sort of danger, his impending retirement, the IRA, Taliban and wars, and Noah’s filmmaking relate to each other? What is the focal point that gathers them at some juncture?

Desperate to escape the painful memories, Noah accepts a new job: (Job? I thought he was retiring…) direct a TV show about the most bizarre places in America. When he arrives at the abandoned Fairytale Forest, Noah glimpses a startling apparition of his son – alive, and soon unearths a cryptic message: HIDE THE KIDS.

Again, I’m not sure what Noah’s son has to do with his new job or with the cryptic message. I think the death of his son and his pain regarding that are details better left to a synopsis and the full manuscript.

After discovering video evidence (evidence of what? If you’re referring to the cryptic message, the way in which it was sent is better revealed in the same sentence as the message itself) linking the property to a wave of mysterious child abductions, Noah is determined to unlock the secret buried within the crumbling wonderland.

Why? Why would Noah, who is looking at retirement and is in his old age, be so determined to figure out this mystery? I have an inkling that this is where the death of Noah’s son is important. Was his son a child when he died? Was he abducted? Does he suspect that this is connected to that? We need to know this, because Noah needs to have a very good reason for meddling in things that are none of his business–and seeking closure or revenge for his son’s death is perfect.

Aided by Caleb Rafferty, the teenage host caught in a battle against his own traumatic past, Noah uncovers a satanic plot orchestrated by Professor Dominic Ballard. Obsessed with gaining immortality, Ballard has found the key in ancient Druid lore and its long-forgotten but profound association with Christmas.

By performing a ritual sacrifice on midnight of Christmas Eve, Ballard will trigger the deaths of children everywhere, ensuring himself never-ending life. For Caleb, it means the grave. (Why? How?)

For Noah, it means suffering the unbearable pain of losing a surrogate son.

Surrogate son? You didn’t reveal they were that close. I got the impression they’d just met.

They must stop Ballard before the stroke of midnight, but standing in their way is a sadistic creature with powers of illusion, a creature that has just found some new toys to play with.

You haven’t given us enough information about this creature or its motivations, so we don’t feel the impending doom you wanted us to feel by introducing the creature.

A paranormal thriller, [redacted] is complete at 100,000-words long. It’s my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best,

[redacted]

I would reject this query because it leaves out important information and it doesn’t tie the elements of the story together in a way that helps me feel the excitement of this thriller. I am concerned this will continue in the manuscript and I’ll wind up reading a thriller that’s not very thrilling.

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

.

 

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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