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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 #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 #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

 

QueryDice #24

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 Agent X: (Readers, please note that this author probably wrote “Agent X” just for this exercise. You should always use the agent’s name, as in “Dear Ms. Ruth”.)

Have you ever wondered if parents can love an adopted child as much as “one of their own”? When you first heard the story of the mother who sent her adopted son on a plane back to Russia with a note pinned to his jacket stating she “no longer wished to parent this child,” were you horrified?  Were you empathetic?

I normally abhor questions at the beginning of a query, because you just don’t know what the agent’s internal response is going to be. What if my answer to the first question is, “No. I don’t really care.” In that case, I would read the rest of this query thinking I don’t care about what you have to say. In this case, I just so happened to be intrigued by the questions, but that’s left up to chance. Don’t leave it up to chance.

In Children of My Own: Bringing Borya Home, I bring first-hand perspective to thoughts like these in the tale of the adoption of my 13 year old son, who struggles with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Memoir is tough. Unless you’ve been through something no one has ever been through, or that is extremely compelling or extraordinary, a memoir is hard to sell. I’m already thinking about this after this paragraph. Many people write memoirs about their parenting experience, but unless it’s radically different from everyone else’s experience, it won’t be enough. I’m going to keep reading to see if this is different enough. The query itself, though, minus the questions in the beginning, has a good start.

In this 22 chapter (a word-count is good to know, but since we have no idea how long your chapters are, this is not helpful) memoir, readers will first be introduced to Borya in the dusty play yard of an orphanage in Kazakhstan when I was there adopting another child.  (This is interesting because there are not many books set in Kazakhstan) They will learn of the five year quest to find him, adopt him, and bring him home.  They will come to realize, as I have, that there is more to bringing someone home than changing their address.  For children with RAD, bonding and attaching to a family does not come naturally, or easily, and sometimes it never comes at all.  For a parent to love a child without reciprocity can be heartbreaking, and has led to parents disrupting adoptions, abusing their children, and even sending them back on a plane.

I’m mildly interested. I do think this is radically different enough to have potential.

This book describes my initiation into the world of RAD.  There is raw honesty (always awesome, in a memoir) as I share my successes, my failures, my moments of weakness, my fear at thinking that I would not be able to do this.  By weaving a few tales of my own upbringing throughout the book, I hope to give the reader some perspective as to who I am as a person, as another flawed and imperfect parent.

When I searched for books on RAD, I found many titles.  After all, of the roughly one million children adopted annually, more than 10% will present with severe challenges related to RAD, and all prospective adoptive parents are instructed to educate themselves on this frightening “what-if”.   The books I found, however, discuss treatment strategies for RAD, or delineate the ordeal of families who have struggled to come to terms with this disorder, only to end in sadness, with broken hearts and feelings of failure all around.  To my surprise, I found no books that recounted personal tales of success in raising a child with RAD.  My son, who has made so much progress towards becoming a part of our family, tells me I need to write this book so that others can see that it can be done.

Children of My Own has evolved into a book from its origins as a blog.  The blog was begun during the adoption process, but continued once the kids were home so I could share both the comedy and insanity of raising six children while RAD unfolded itself before my eyes.  The blog’s readership has grown to roughly 6,000 per month  and has given hope to many other parents who are also struggling to raise a child with RAD.

Even outside of the adoption community, my story has served as an inspiration to many, and my platform is growing rapidly. In addition to the blog, I have several published essays/articles in the magazines Adoption Today, Adoptive Families, and Country Magazine, as well as two essays published in the book The Foster Parenting Toolbox, published by EMK Press. Through my blog, I have been contacted by an agent from the Magical Elves production company, who expressed interest in doing a segment about our family in an upcoming show.  I have given permission for an adoption counselor to use posts to help educate prospective families.  My blog is also featured periodically on the blog Five of My Own, which receives more than 60,000 hits per month.

Ms. X, I know I will need the guidance of a professional to help polish this manuscript (my first), (so, then you admit to being unpolished? This is risky. Even if you are a newbie, don’t wave that flag) and when I read your bio and saw that you specialize in blog-to-book projects, (it does not say that in my bio. And I don’t. I wonder whose bio you were looking at? Did you just assume?) I had such a strong feeling that you are the person to champion this book.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts and I hope you will see something in my story that you feel is worth telling.

This query is a bit long and rambling. Paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 are fine. The only truly helpful information in paragraphs 5 and 6 are the statistics on how many kids are adopted and how many face RAD-related challenges, the fact that you have a successful blog with an audience (is it 6,000 or 60,000? You’ve used both figures.) and that you have six adopted (?) kids. This information should be concisely incorporated into paragraph 7. The rest can be scrapped without consequence.

All in all, this wasn’t half-bad. And while I think this query rambles a bit, and I have a hunch the rest of the manuscript does too, I would like to request it anyway. This subject matter is compelling to me, and I’m curious to see what the author does with it.

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

 

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 #12

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:

Superstes Island is a completed 90,000 word young adult novel narrating the first person perspective of two main characters. This fast-paced read is the first in a trilogy and should fit in well with the popular science fiction slash romance genre that captivates young adult readers.

I would have stopped reading after this paragraph. “Superstes” looks like a spelling error and I’m wondering how to pronounce it. The paragraph is extremely wordy. A novel doesn’t “narrate” anything, it’s characters or narrators do. We don’t need to know, at this stage, anything about point-of-view or even who is telling the story. I worry, at this point, that your thought-process is not focused enough to write a book. There is no “science fiction slash romance genre.” You have lumped two very different, huge genres together, which tells me you might not be very knowledgeable about your target market. Finally, no one, even a hard-core genre reader, is captivated by a specific genre. They might like one fantasy novel and not another. I assume that you were trying to express your awareness of young adults’ attraction to romance and science-fiction, but this was not clear. None of these issues on their own would have earned a rejection from me, but lumped together, all in two sentences, I’m confident that this query is not ready to be sent to agents and I can only assume the same is true of the manuscript.

Adah Trevino is a handpicked orphan who stars as a member of the newest type of reality show. The producers of the show have assumed legal guardianship over three dozen orphans who make up the cast, and the memories of these orphans have been wiped clean of their lives prior to arriving on Superstes Island. These orphans were then genetically engineered to become a new type of being, ones with superhuman abilities from altered DNA strands injected into their bodies. These genetically engineered orphans, or GEOs as the whole world has dubbed them, are the most innovative version of reality show stars known to man. They’re glorified teens who lead a life above ordinary; lives that have captivated an international audience for ten years.

We really don’t need a breakdown of how the orphans became altered. I think it might be better to simplify that into a single sentence and focus instead on building your character and your world.

I also think you should establish Adah’s life as she knows it in a couple of sentences. How is her life above ordinary and how is she glorified. Is she happy this way? Then, you can introduce to the reader that she’s actually a GEO, stolen and abused to be cast in a reality TV show.

But Adah has no idea she is a contender in this reality show that airs twenty four hours a day. She thinks she is the survivor of a nuclear world war that has caused her mutated abilities.

Like millions of viewers around the world, William Harrison watches Adah Trevino every day of his life. Like millions of other males around the country, he is also head over heels for this gorgeous GEO on the show. But his attachment to Adah goes far beyond superficial attraction. Will knew Adah before she became a legendary icon. Not only does their past link them together, but Will’s father is also the network producer for the show. Through this insider connection, he begins to realize that Adah’s life is in real danger.

Suddenly, Adah’s dreams of escaping the island one day become a necessity, and Will plans on doing whatever it takes to help set her free.

How did Will know Adah? Was their relationship significant? More importantly, why is Adah’s life in danger, why should Will care this much, and what obstacles do they face in saving Adah’s life?

The best thing you can do for your query is to build up your story’s world. In what kind of world would something like this happen? How would the authorities allow orphaned children to be abused in this way? Is this set in a dystopian future in which the government no longer cares about its people?

My name is Raiza Jaimes and I have a true passion for writing and Literature. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English and I am a high school English teacher. I hope this short taste of Superstes Island captures your interest. Please contact me if you are interested in reading more. Thank you for your time and your consideration.

We already know your name from your salutation. Personally, I don’t need to know that you have a true passion for writing and literature. I’ve already assumed this, since you’ve written 90,000 words. This won’t make or break your query, but I wouldn’t waste space on it. I normally disregard any personal information in the platform/credentials paragraph that does not directly contribute to a platform. Things that directly contribute to a platform are contest wins, previous publications, writing experience, industry affiliations, etc.

Lastly, this story is actually really intriguing, especially the fact that she’s an engineered orphan who doesn’t know what she is, that she’s being constantly watched, and the element of danger in her life. If this query were organized better, I would have been more interested, but I’m concerned that the manuscript will have the same problems as the query.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #9

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!

Sociopaths are people without consciences. If you have a conscience, how do you spot someone who has none?

I’m not crazy about this opening. First, I don’t think having a conscience would inhibit your ability to spot someone who doesn’t. In fact, I think the opposite would be more likely. A question as the first line of a query is also a big pet-peeve for me and many other agents. The reason: my immediate reaction, most of the time, is, “I don’t know. You tell me. You’re the one who wrote the book.” The only glimmer of hope in this sentence is the word “sociopath” which immediately grabs my attention. Crazy people are entertaining–at least from afar.

In 1932 the use of forensic evidence is in infancy and the mere thought of DNA is a dream. If a skeleton pops up in someone’s backyard there’s little hope of finding out who they were–unless you’re Prudence O’Brian.

This paragraph is very disjointed from the one above it. You’re half-way through your query, and I still don’t know exactly what your book is about. Also, a nitpicker at heart, I have to point out that DNA was first isolated in 1869 and was understood to contain genetic material in 1927. I can assume you meant to convey that DNA was not used in forensics at this time due to a lack of knowledge and technology, but that’s not what you’ve said. When I read this, I questioned your fact-checking, even though I’m actually quite certain you didn’t mean to write anything incorrect. Clarity is very important in such short-form writing.

Pru isn’t a coroner or a detective. She’s a twenty-four year old woman with a penchant for justice and a dangerous right hook.

How can a woman who has no credentials other than being female, tough and into justice, trump the knowledge and experience of the police force or those in the medical fields when identifying a skeleton? This seems far-fetched and overdone.

To find the skeleton’s identity, she’ll brave grimy gin mills, locked office doors, and three story mansions on Grand Avenue.

Without the use of DNA, in a time when there was little hope–even for the police or medical practitioners–of discovering the identity of a skeleton, how could Pru possibly identify the skeleton by braving gin mills, locked office doors and mansions?

But discovering the skeleton’s identity also means unmasking a killer whose own idea of justice is silencing anyone who knows the truth.

I like this sentence. It’s well written, engaging and draws my attention. Whatever you do, keep this sentence.

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 or by personal experience. I can milk a cow, cook over an open hearth or on a wood burning stove, and lead oxen. I believe the small details of a character’s everyday life are what draw people into a story.

The strongest point in your bio is your B.A. in history. You’ve drawn from this by pointing out that most of the information conveyed during your tour-guide days was learned informally by personal experience. Can you personally experience history? I would consider omitting the latter.

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

Thank you for your time.

[redacted]

I would like to get to know Pru (by the way, I love her name) better. I like that she has a killer right hook, but what is her personality like? Why should I care about her? And why is involved in the justice system? Is she just a meddler? A P.I.? This is unclear, which brings me to another point: clarity is something you’re lacking here, and I think the query would improve with more fleshing out of characters, plot, and logistics. Lastly, where’s the sociopath? That’s the most interesting part!

I wish you the best of luck. I believe there’s a story in there.

LR

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