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QueryDice #34

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:

According to our society, few people follow rules in regards to etiquette and manners. Do you want to know why? You are giving me the opportunity to say, “No.”

Today’s philosophy states that rules are made to be broken. What if etiquette and manners were made to be fun?

I’m not sure how the two sentences above relate to each other. They are two thoughts, loosely related, that do not build on or complement each other. I worry that your manuscript will be hard to follow.

Not fun, but saucy. Not saucy, but provocative. Well which is it? Fun, saucy or provocative? If you can’t decide, then how can I expect your writing to be authorial?

The proposed title of our book is, [redacted].

At this point in your query, I’m still not entirely certain what your book is about. Is this a how-to guide on etiquette? Is it a discussion about what manners mean to and say about society?

Being two young business women, who have played the game, (what game?) observed the rules and conquered relationships (friend and foe), we also have the knowledge and humor to address these issues beginning with Provocative Manners and continuing in several future books.

I’m not so sure that being businesspeople who have had interpersonal relationships uniquely qualifies you to write a book on etiquette. If you have the knowledge, I would like to know how and where you obtained such knowledge, and see a demonstration of it, not just be told that you have it.If you have the humor to write such a book, I do not see it here in the query, and voice is very important in both your manuscript and query.

Where should we start? You’re asking me? No, no…you should be telling me. You’re the authors!

Let’s cover the general basics which you will find in [redacted]. In a society where there is no common sense, we are here to dish it out!

Yes, we absolutely should do that…but then you don’t. Instead, you go right into your bio, leaving me wondering what those basics are.

With college degrees in Hospitality Development, Event Planning and Political Science, such a background gives us the starting criteria to educate our readers.

We do not want you to have the “starting criteria.” We want you to be experts.

Being particularly observant, and keenly critical, has given us the knowledge to write this book and with life’s experiences to intertwine the humor for both men and women.

This is not a credential. Many people are observant and critical. What makes you an expert on your subject?

A few chapter titles include “Cleavage, a Woman’s Best Friend or Worst Enemy”, “Hospitality is Dead”, “Sauciness In and Out of the Bedroom” and “Business Manners”.

These chapter titles confuse me. What is this book about?

Readers are ready for a book where manners do not have to be boring and stereotypical; etiquette can be funny and sarcastic while bringing out a saucy edge.

Please respond with the self-addressed stamped envelope. What self-addressed stamped envelope?

Thank you for your consideration and time. We look forward to hearing from you!

Yours truly,

[redacted]

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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 #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 #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 #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

The Writer’s Crescendo

You’ve queried widely. You’ve re-written your book a few times. No one wants to read it and no one’s listening to you. You’re shouting as loudly as your tiny voice allows, but the din of everyone else’s voice drowns your words. So what do you do? Hide your book under your bed and blame everyone else for not seeing your art? Give up? Maybe. Or maybe you become weathered to the tough world that is book publishing and you slog.

Recently, I received a comment on this blog from an author who was angry and hurt by the world’s failure to notice him. My heart sank for this author. I thought about that comment during my work day as I wrote rejection letters and joined my authors in their joy of getting published, during my 2-hour commute home, as I worked toward my master’s degree, during dinner and even as I put my kid to bed. I’m entirely too busy to let something that small irk me, but I couldn’t get that author’s frustration out of my mind. I can’t do much to help authors in this situation because the truth of the matter is, an author is the only person who has the power to amplify his own voice. My advice to aspiring authors: do all of the following to the absolute best of your ability and you will find success.

1. Love your work. Love it so much that you can’t not do it. Be obsessed with it. Live, breathe your work. Make it your devout religion. If you don’t passionately love your work so much that it defines who you are, stop.

2. Read. Read at least 30 novels (50 is better) in your exact genre. Make sure they are the best of the genre. Read them critically. What do they have that your book doesn’t? What does your book have that these don’t? What do neither of you have, but could? Then, read a few of the worst. Is yours better? Read as many relevant blogs as you can. Agent blogs, editor blogs, author blogs, blogs, blogs, blogs. Read Publisher’s Weekly. Check out Publisher’s Marketplace. Haunt the publishing industry by devouring every word written about it.

3. Write. Write part of your novel every single day, even Sunday. Blog. Tweet. Constantly.When you’re done with your novel, query agents with it. When you’re done writing your novel, write another.

4. Connect. Online, collect Twitter followers like nuggets of gold. They are. Tweet interesting things that others will want to re-tweet. That means don’t tell people your dog just got neutered. No one cares. When they do, all their friends might too and other people might be interested in what you say and follow you themselves. Then, when you need to market, you’ll have a captive audience of 1,000 people who share your interests. Write blog posts for others’ blogs, let other bloggers guest-post on your blog. Run a contest on your blog to spark interest. Then Tweet about it. Away from your computer, attend every writer’s conference you possibly can. Join a critique group and participate heavily. Submit your work to contests. Then tell everyone about it. Join every writer’s association, group and organization you can. Take every class you can on all things publishing and then network with all the people there. Attend all publishing events you’re able to. You should be able to find out about them from all your reading.

5. Improve. See opportunities to make your work better and let them sail. Always ask yourself how your work could be better. Because just when you think it can’t get any better, it can. Take criticism as seriously as you would a medical diagnosis. Because it is, to your book. Don’t discount the opinions of others. They are all expert opinions, because each critic–even that weird guy in your critique group whose own manuscript sucks–is the expert of his own tastes, and you have to market your book to wide tastes. Don’t hold on to what isn’t working. Trash what needs trashing, even if that means your whole book. Cut what needs cutting. Somebody (Faulkner? Twain? Both?) said, “Kill your darlings.” So, kill them if you need to. You’ll get over it and get stronger because of it.

All of the above, along with a day-job makes for a pretty busy person. And that’s okay. Because if you love what you’re doing, you’ll love doing it all the time. If you don’t love what you do enough to put that much energy and time into it, then put all of that time and energy into doing something you do love. Do all of the above and your work will get stronger and stronger, your voice louder and louder, until some agent hears you.

 

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

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]

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