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QueryDice #30

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

Amelia Ben Ari is beautiful, talented and icy cool. She drives a ’67 Mustang and wears wait-list-only Nicholas Kirkwood shoes. She’s bilingual and first in her AP Calculus class. She was even a bridesmaid in her father’s wedding – but that’s just one side of the story.

This last sentence didn’t work for me. I don’t see how being a bridesmaid in her father’s wedding is a reflection on Amelia, personally, positive or otherwise.

This is the other: her stepmother is her favourite parent and they’re not even related.

The last half of the sentence, about Amelia and her stepmother not being related is a waste of words. We already know this.

She’s first in calc but practically failing almost everything else. Prep school? It’s hell: the boys think she’s easy and the girls call her a slut.

The new boy next door only knows the good side of her, the one that tells funny stories and raps along to A Tribe Called Quest and bakes cupcakes for her half-sisters. Ryan doesn’t know about her horizontal past, and she never wants him to.

You can only keep secrets for so long, though.

This query has no well-developed conflict. You’ve spent all your words telling me how great Amelia is and implying that this doesn’t go much deeper than the surface. This could be accomplished in a single sentence, leaving you the rest of the query to tell me why this matters.

Also, I don’t get a sense of Amelia’s personality or why I should like her. She seems to be a flat character. This may or may not be true, but it is what I’ve taken from this query.

[redacted] is a YA novel complete at 54,000 words. I believe it will appeal to fans of Gabrielle Zevin, Rachel Cohn and Sarah Dessen.

Some agents disagree with me on this point, but I advise against name-dropping or comparing to other authors in a query. You don’t know if the agent reading your query likes those authors. If they don’t, you risk turning them off. If they do, and your writing or your book is not close enough to those authors’ work, they’ll feel lead-on and disappointed. If someone tells me I’m going to read something that is like the work of Sarah Dessen, and after reading through it this turns out not to be true, I will be disappointed and this will color my reading of the manuscript and of the query.

Previously I have been shortlisted for the Franco-British Council Short Story Prize, and I was the 2010 recipient of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust Prize for Best Writer Under the Age of 21. <— This is excellent. I love to know if authors have any kind of writing experience or accolades.

I would reject this query because it doesn’t reflect a manuscript with a solid conflict or story arch.

Thank you for taking the time to review my query.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

 

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QueryDice #6.1 : 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!

This is the second time this author has thrown his query into the Dice. The first go is here. Big improvements. There was one paragraph of my critique that I feel still stands, although it has improved some in this area: “I think the conflict in this, while I do get a general idea of it, could be fleshed out better. I need to feel like I care about the decisions of the characters and their conflict.”

Dear Ms. Ruth:

Twenty-four-year-old Andre Reyes is a world-renowned and gifted technology consultant who will soon (I think you should add an adverb here to let us know how Andre feels about his retirement) trade in the rat race for the simple life. But when he falls for British tennis star Gemma Lennon, all his plans—and hers—take a nosedive as the love of these kindred spirits destabilizes years of hard work, planning and sacrifice.

Meeting Gemma in Paris was not in his plans, nor was falling in love. With six months left in his contract, focus is Andre’s new mantra. Complete the contract and he’ll retire in style. Breach it and the punitive damages will devastate his plans of a new start. Gemma has anxieties of her own. She is arguably the best, but without a grand slam championship, she risks going down as another celebrity-athlete who’s more celebrity than athlete. She wants to win—must win—to discredit her critics. With Andre, she’s free but unfocused. Since childhood, they’ve dedicated everything to develop their innate gifts. For the first time, youthful joy and passion replace logic and planning—at precisely the worst time.

Now, as Wimbledon looms, the paparazzi escalate their assault, Andre’s employer pressures him, Gemma’s sponsors question her commitment, and personal details leak to the press—details that only their inner-circle could have known. And when she’s blackmailed, everything unravels. Their love is a threat to those who stand to lose millions. And in love and war, anyone can be the enemy within… even those in love.

There is no longer anything technically wrong with this query. It is well-written, explains the plot briefly and accurately. It is even free of errors. I believe its only problem has nothing to do with the query itself, but rather with the manuscript. I can’t help but think there’s a huge plot-hole here: why don’t Andre and Gemma just manage their time, rather than allowing their romance to usurp their work-time? It seems like the major conflict of the novel could be so easily solved. This might be because you’ve left out a detail or two, or it could be that the conflict is just weak. Either way, I’d reject this because the conflict doesn’t seem strong enough.
As an aside, I would like more details about the main characters’ personalities. I always like a quirk or two.
[redacted], a contemporary romance novel, is complete at 94,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

 

 

A Visit from Published Author, Stacey Kennedy

  Writing the Dreaded Query Letter…

No doubt, the query letter is scary! How are you able to sum up your book into one page to snag the agent’s/editor’s attention? Lauren’s blog has been so fantastic at showing examples of queries, explaining what works and what doesn’t. I wish I had this resource when I first started out. When I sent out my first query, I had no idea what I was doing…so today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned to maybe help an author who is staring at their computer wondering what to do.

I’ve seen some queries from Lauren’s postings that, in my opinion, are too long. As authors, we want to put as much as we can on the page to show our story’s potential. But the truth is, you don’t need to. Too much information can work against you and only confuse the agent/editor. I saw a perfect example of this from a query posted on SlushPileTales where it read like a synopsis. The problem with this is, unless you can give a full synopsis of your story—4-5 pages—then avoid this type of thing. What happens is you can only give minimal details, which makes it then seem like your story has plot holes and is all over the place. If you leave the agent/editor scratching their heads, wondering how to figure out your story, they’re going to reject it.

Here is my advice to you:

Start out with a hook—a tagline that sums up your story.

Example :

Love is born between strangers, yet built upon a bond soul deep―one Alpha’s vow to protect his mate from looming danger, all the while, mending her soul and stirring her wolfish desires.

By doing this you have summed up your entire story in just a few lines and have set out clearly what your story is about. It’s punchy, bold, and clean.

Next, don’t summarize your entire story, such as every plot point. You want the agent/editor to be excited over your concept, not confused by it. How do you do this? Exactly like you would with a reader. Back cover blurb it, baby! Write something that jumps off the page and snags the agent/editor to ask for more.

Example:

A vicious werewolf attack in Plymouth, Minnesota leaves a young woman violated, bitten and now, transformed into werewolf. But Rynn Murphy doesn’t have to face this transformation alone—she has her mate by her side. And the charming Briggs―Beta to the Patriarch, Valor―is eager to ease her into this new life and mend her battered soul.

With only weeks to adjust to her new fur, Rynn, follows Briggs while he assists in locating the daughter of the Montana’s Alpha, who was abducted from her home.  But this journey is not without danger. And soon, they discover the ones who have taken this young wolf do not want her found and will stop at nothing to keep her hidden. Or so it may seem, as bodies begin to drop around them, the murderous attempts start to appear more as a hit than a smoke screen—leaving only one question, who is the intended target…

So, the opening intro to your query so far is your tagline and blurb. Bam—you’ve hooked the agent/editor from the first line and kept up the interest highlighting your story. It’s clean, which shows the agent you’re style of writing is organized, and that if they request a partial, what they’ll find in the story is much the same.

Next, you move onto the book information. How many words is your story? What genre does it fall into? Who is your target audience? What publisher are you aiming to sell to? All of this is necessary for the agent to see if they are a good fit to represent you.

Lastly, the agents/editors want to know a little about you—and I don’t mean your journey to becoming a writer, anything about your personal life, or that your story has been compared to a Nora Roberts book—all it needs is a one paragraph bio. Exactly like you’ve done up above, you need to make it pop off the page. What makes the agent and editor want to work with you? Are you involved the writing community? Have you won any awards? Have you taken a course? Has your work received some great reviews?

Even if you’re a brand new author, there are still things you can say. You want to show the agent/editor that you’re serious about your writing. Try to get involved as much as you can. Join the RWA (for romance authors), volunteer, get your website up and start blogging. Do anything and everything to show that you are promoting yourself, and that if an agent/editor picked you up, you would work hard.

Always remember, the point of a query is to get them to ask for more. I know how tempting it is to want to put in as much as you can, to give all the information about your story, but it’s not necessary. They will learn all the fine details once they read the opening chapters and synopsis. At this stage of the game, you only want them to send that email requesting a partial or a full.

Of course, this is only my opinion, and there are many ways to write a query letter. Good luck and I hope my experience with queries assists one of you in your journey toward success!

Thanks, Stacey!

QueryDice #10

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 Mr. Schneider, (I am not Mr. Schneider.)

In a land where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors, Liu Jie is haunted by past decisions that cost him loved ones.

I’m too busy wondering how heroes could possibly be traitors to absorb this first sentence. You vaguely introduce your world, your character and his conflict all in one very short sentence, so I feel a bit like you’ve dumped something really heavy in my lap and I haven’t seen what it was yet: jarred. Also, how do the two halves (separated by the comma) of the first sentence relate to each other?

Now all he wants is a safe life with his family.

Nit-pick: You’ve begun the above paragraph with the word “now” which implies that Jie’s wants were once different than they are now. Since we don’t know what they used to be, or even clearly what they are now, this sentence doesn’t work.

Then the Emperor sends a plea for protection from the Imperial Chancellor.

Who are the Emperor and the Chancellor? What do they (and the plea) have to do with Jie?

Jie tries to stop the coming civil war by assassinating the Chancellor, but the attack fails. The Chancellor escapes and retaliates by murdering Jie’s co-conspirators. Branded a traitor and with the death of hundreds on his conscience, Jie defends his people from armies, famine and fire. He launches a counterattack, yet when the Chancellor captures Jie’s brother, Jie faces a terrible choice: sacrifice his family or his country.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. There’s a story in here, and I love that Jie has to choose between his family and his country, which sounds extremely Chinese to me, but all of the details in the above paragraph have been shot into my head like rapid-fire, so I haven’t a clue what the heck is going on. How does Jie’s past tie in with his struggles in the above paragraph? Remember, I don’t know your world, your characters or their conflicts.

I think if you paced yourself a bit and took this more slowly, this could be a great query. After reading this three times, I think there’s an epic and intriguing story here, but I would reject this query because the world you’ve created is not well-explained and I’d fear that this would continue into the manuscript.

[redacted] is a 97,000 word fantasy set in the fictional Xing Empire. I based the story on the Chinese folktales about the Three Kingdoms period. The novel can be described as a cross between “Braveheart” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and will appeal to fans of Peter V. Brett or Alison Goodman.

I usually advise against naming names as you’ve done above. However, since I’m not intimately familiar with any of the titles you’ve cited, I have no criticism. I will advise that if you choose to do this, remember to make sure that your work truly is comparable to these.

I am a 2010 Sandy Writers Competition finalist and have published fiction in several online publications. In addition, I am a member of the Wuxia Society and The Historical Novel Review Board.

I invite you to experience [redacted] and look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

Best of luck,

LR


QueryDice #4.1

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!

This query was previously Diced on July 28th, 2011. The following is the author’s revised query, based on our suggestions and comments. Kudos to the author for her perseverance!

Dear Ms. Ruth:

When Caitlynn Manning, a Chicago defense attorney, notices suspicious activity surrounding her boss she decides to do some investigating, and this decision will change her life forever.

I like this sentence better than the opening of your previous query. However, I would really like to know why Caitlynn needs to pry into her boss’s affairs. What business is it of hers? In order for me to like this character, she needs to have a very good reason–one that will affect her, personally, in a big way–for getting involved in her boss’s business.

Caitlynn gets caught, (gets caught doing what?) kidnapped, and thrown onto a stolen yacht.  After multiple failed attempts at escaping, it’s time (why is it time? Is this a matter of course, or did the kidnappers move her to keep her under wraps?) for Caitlynn to be moved.  Her new location is close to home.  In fact, she’s being held in plain sight.  (How is this possible? I’m not saying it isn’t, I’d just like to know how it is?)

Caitlynn’s brother, Aaden, and his PI partner, Hudson, are working on a huge case involving a mobster that (who) is supplying the streets of Chicago with heroin.  When Caitlynn turns up missing they have to use their PI skills to search for her, and soon the two cases become one.

Who could gain from Caitlynn’s kidnapping, the drug trafficking mobster, her money laundering boss, or could there be someone else involved?  The first in a series Chicago:  Kidnapping in the Loop is an 80,000 word mystery novel. <—You’re still missing those commas in this sentence.

I currently live in Jonesboro, Arkansas, but I fell in love with the city of Chicago the first time I visited as an adult, so naturally it became the setting of my first novel.

The sentence above is information we don’t really need, which brings me to the biggest problem in this query: not enough information where we really need it. I have too many questions in my head after reading this, and I worry that since the answers weren’t touched upon here, they won’t be answered in the manuscript. Mysteries are difficult to write because of the sometimes very intricate plotting and I worry this author has left out too much information for this to shine.

Additionally, this was very short, and as a result, we have been given very little information about the character’s personalities. Will we like them? What makes them different? Why should we care about the characters?
I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my query letter, and I appreciate your consideration.  My full manuscript is available for you to read upon request.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

Best of luck,

LR

QueryDice #8

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,

[redacted], is a 55,000 words YA novel with a dark new twist to urban fantasy.

Re-reading this query, I do not see a dark, new twist to urban fantasy.

The quiet town of Rosewood, Michigan has a disturbing history. For a century and a half, young women have vanished. Locals whisper of monsters residing in the old theater house and in the woods surrounding Rosewood, but no one has ever seen one.

Until sixteen-year-old, Delilah Drislore moves to town.

I think it is best, since Delilah is the main focus of this query, to mention her before Rosewood. This query would be less disjointed if you began with the following paragraphs and worked the first paragraph into them.

Ten months ago, Delilah died for five minutes. Revived, she expects to see paramedics, but instead she stares up into the eyes of a savage little monster wearing eighteenthcentury clothing and a skeleton mask. The doctor fears her five minutes of death left her with brain damage, so he condemns her to a psychiatric hospital for hallucinations and paranoia.

That seems a bit harsh. Wouldn’t the doctor just chalk it up to hallucinations? Brain damage and psychosis seem like a bit of a long shot.

Strong-willed and in complete denial about her “disability,” Delilah intends to live a normal life when she moves to Rosewood. There, she finds new friends and even starts dating the handsome Jerald Jenkins. Unfortunately, she cannot avoid the monsters forever, so when a strange man – who claims to be the King of the Rosewood monsters – develops a romantic interest in Delilah, her control over her “disability” starts to unravel. She delves into the town’s folklore and realizes she is caught in a century and a half old feud between a demon – who holds a strange resemblance to her boyfriend – and the mysterious king.

How is Delilah caught in the feud, exactly? What specific danger does she face? I think this is actually the biggest problem in this query: the conflict is not fleshed out enough. I need to know what she’s up against and how she overcomes it.

One of them is responsible for the young women who vanished, one of them keeps bringing her back from her suicide attempts, but they both have plans for Delilah. Absorbing the danger of her reality, Delilah wonders if those five minutes cost (you mean caused) her to lose – not only her parents – but her cousins, friends, boyfriend, sanity – everything.

Wait. Why did Delilah lose her parents and her cousins? Why did she lose her friends and her boyfriend? What are the plans for Delilah? The suicide attempts are thrown in very casually and I don’t know if it is realistic for a “strong willed” young woman who denies there’s anything wrong with her to be emotionally desperate enough to attempt suicide. Because all of this information, previously unknown to the reader, is piled up in this two-sentence paragraph, I’m confused and searching for answers.

I would reject this because there is information thrown down that is not explained. I have no choice but to believe this continues in the full manuscript. Remember an agent’s only impression of you and your writing is this one-page query. Whatever you do here, I’ll assume you do always.


THE CURSE OF ROSEWOOD will appeal to readers of Carrie Jones’ NEED and Clare B. Dunkle’s THE HOLLOW KINGDOM.

I always advise authors not to list the works of other authors. Here, you’re spot-on: this story is very much like NEED and THE HOLLOW KINGDOM. But this is not a good thing. Your plot seems almost exactly like that of THE HOLLOW KINGDOM: a town has mysterious folklore and women have vanished, a situation that is spun-up by the arrival of a newly arrived teenager (or teenagers), there is a king involved who seems to be the mastermind behind everything and who has devious plans for the new teenager.

I have been a member of Verla Kay’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s message board for five years and have taken two college English courses to enhance my writing.

Others might disagree with me, but I’ll advise against listing credentials unless a.) you finalized in or won a contest or been given formal accolades on your writing b.) you’ve had something published, even a short story c.) you have work experience that is very relevant to the material in your query d.) You have an MFA in creative writing.  Otherwise, it’s like putting the fact that you graduated high school on your resume: you’re only highlighting your lack of higher credentials.

The good news is, you don’t have to have credentials to become a published author. For fiction, no agent is going to reject you solely because you’ve never been published or won a contest. But, if the agent is on the fence about requesting more, your credentials might be the tipping point. For this reason, I’d rather see either big credentials or no credentials at all. Let your writing speak for itself and focus on the strengths of the book you’re querying.

I would be happy to provide the complete manuscript for further review. <— The agent already knows this. This sentence does not hurt your query, but it is unnecessary.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[redacted]

QueryDice #6

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:

This will not make or break your query, but you tend to use ellipses (…) and em dashes (–) a lot in your writing. They are sometimes used incorrectly and to excess. The purpose of an ellipsis is to indicate words that have been omitted or a pause, where a period does not add necessary emphasis to the pause. The purpose of an em dash is to create a break in thought to introduce a new, but connected and brief thought.

Twenty-four-year-old Alex Reyes has it all—he is gifted, has a brilliant career, has achieved more than most will in a lifetime, and is just about ready to give it all up.

How is Alex gifted? Why is it important that he is 24? Is he a wunderkind? What is his line of work? I should not have to ask these questions. Tell me about your character and what is important to him.

On his road to success, Alex bypassed everything— youth, happiness and balance. Now, he’s ready for a do-over. And if he remains focused (on what?) for six short months, he’ll get that chance. Six months…simple.

Meeting British tennis star Sophie Lennon in Paris was not in his plans… nor was falling in love. Sophie, like Alex, is stuck in a self-imposed trap. She is one of the best, but without a grand slam championship, she risks going down as another celebrity-athlete who’s more celebrity than athlete. She wants to win—must win—to settle old scores. (What old scores?) But with Alex, she’s free—she can be herself, without pretense or concern.

What is Sophie like when she’s being herself? In order for me to like her, I want to see her quirks and personality. Also, I don’t get much of a sense of Alex’s personality either. What drew Sophie to him? For the first time in their lives, youthful joy and passion replace logic and planning.

But they serve demanding worlds. They are part of the moneymaking machine (which one) that expects laser focus—without distractions. Their relationship threatens years of hard work and sacrifice. But mostly, it threatens those who stand to lose millions. (Like whom?) Soon, Alex and Sophie will face a choice: professional ambitions or profound happiness? A choice that may not be theirs to make. (Why wouldn’t it be?)

Complete at 94,000 words, ACES is a commercial fiction novel. (Use either “fiction” or “novel” because both is redundant. All novels are fiction.)

This sounds more like contemporary romance to me, since you’ve focused on Alex and Sophie’s romance. I worry that you’re not sure what you’ve written, or you’ve presented it incompletely or inadequately in your query. You’ve actually called your manuscript commercial fiction, but I do not see much development of that claim in this query, since the budding relationship is placed at the forefront. I see contemporary romance.

I think the conflict in this, while I do get a general idea of it, could be fleshed out better. I need to feel like I care about the decisions of the characters and their conflict, and because I think you’ve rushed this a bit, I just don’t. But I could. I like the small description of the plot and I think if I knew the characters better, I could like them too. My worry is that since you’ve rushed this and I don’t have a firm handle on exactly what happens, to whom it matters and why, your manuscript will echo that. For that reason, I would reject this.

Readers of Nick Hornby novels or fans of the movie Notting Hill will connect with Aces. I am endorsed by New York Times bestselling novelist, Michael Levin.

Others might disagree, but I don’t like name-dropping in a query. The only way an endorsement from Michael Levin is going to help you, is if he allows you to place his name and endorsement on the cover of your book or decides to review it favorably. We haven’t arrived at that stage yet, so you seem like you’re trying to let the success of others, including Hornby and Notting Hill, inflate your query, which makes me wince. Use your own chops to build up the platform section of your query. If you don’t have any, just skip it and focus more on developing a strong handle on your characters and plot.

Nick Hornby writes up-market commercial fiction, and his particular brand is sometimes informally referred to as “lad’s lit” (a guy’s answer to chick lit) and Notting Hill was definitely romance. Are you saying your book is romance, or are you saying it is commercial fiction? Or something like “lad’s lit”? This is precisely why I advise against comparing your work to others’: you don’t know what the agent will make of your claim, or if she will like the work of those others.

The first chapter (ten pages) is included below.

I actually like it when authors include a few pages in the body of their query email. But this is a personal preference on which no one seconds me. Other agents do not like this, probably because they’re a lot more established and busier than I am. Please do not include anything but your query in your query, unless you know the agent wants or has requested this.

Thank you for your consideration.

Lauren

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