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QueryDice #47: Nonfiction?

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion, so the author of the query and I would like to hear yours! 

What is this, a new trend? This query had no greeting. While this is not immediate cause for deletion or rejection, it could wind up being that one infraction of many that caused the agent to look elsewhere. “Dear Ms. So-and-so” is always best. Quite like ladies picking up the tab on a first date, some trends don’t work out.

Ants and Candy. What? You might like this–think it’s witty or funny–and it might be, but since I have no idea what you’re talking about, this doesn’t make me sit up straighter.

We humans spend much time fighting, kicking and screaming over many things on Earth that seem so monumental; while elevating the marginal, we devalue the paramount—and place the capital letters of Life where lowercases should be: We’ve turned stuff into Stuff. <—what capital and lowercase letters? Metaphors only work if the figurative and literal both apply. 

In other words…

When the casket or urn is sealed, what will really matter? Depends on whom you ask…and at this point, I’m wondering what the point is. You’re into your first paragraph and I have no idea what you’ve written, for whom, or if I will like it. That’s a problem. It may be “business as usual” for most of us while we careen along in our 75 miles-per-hour lives; surf our 56 megabyte-per-second data connections; and text-while-driving with our lightning-fast opposable thumbs. Wait, wait. This  sentence–which has been split into two sentences because even you knew it rambled too much–began with a conditional phrase, “It may be…” but where’s the punchline? It may be business as usual to us, but to whom is is not business as usual? And what is business as usual? Life? Death? But, if we run this Race and miss the Scenery (why is this capitalized?) and the other Racers (and this?) along the way, have we really even run at all? Yes, actually. Never ask an agent a question that might make you look stupid when they answer it. [redacted] provokes us to consider and truly value the most important thing ever—people and how we treat them. How? How does it provoke us? How does it make us value anything? Quite frankly, if you’re not able to make me value this query letter, I doubt your ability to make me value anything. In clearer terms, I mean to say that if you can’t use your words to provoke me to want to read more, I don’t imagine that your book will make me think. That might be completely off-base, but you have given me nothing to judge you by except for these few words. That’s why they count for so much. If ever there was a forest that has been occluded by some very big trees…. Um, what?

About me. <— you do not need this.
I’m an freelance writer and national award-wining songwriter. <— good to know! After many years in the funeral and cemetery profession, one gets a slightly different perspective when considering the things that really matter in the End. I am a member of the Florida Writers Association and the Clay County Writers (great to know!) and reside in Orange Park, Florida. (Doesn’t matter at all) My passion is provoking people to dive deeper into this “life thing” we’ve been given. In my literary writing, I do just that; hopefully with a chuckle; and a “hmm” along the way. This is literary? Wow. This whole time I thought it was prescriptive nonfiction. That’s a big problem. If this is literary, then it must have a plot, unless you’re Virginia Woolf, in which case I don’t want to read anything you’ve written. If you’re not Virginia Woolf, then I will still need to know the plot of your book.
Thank you for considering my 32,000-word non-fiction: [redacted]

[redacted]

QueryDice #46: What the F*ck?

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion, so the author of the query and I would like to hear yours! 

This query had no greeting. While this is not immediate cause for deletion or rejection, it could wind up being that one infraction of many that caused the agent to look elsewhere. “Dear Ms. So-and-so” is always best.

[redacted], tentatively titled, (we know it is tentatively titled. If it was finally titled it would be published) is my real life memoir/proposal (whoa, whoa, whoa… “real life” and “memoir” essentially mean the same thing here, so use only one to avoid redundancy and looking like an amateur, even if you are one. Also, is a memoir or is it a proposal? If you haven’t written it yet and it is only a proposal, then you have no business querying anyone with it. Stick with just “memoir”) that begins as all good fairy tales must .. [an ellipsis is always three periods (…) with no spacing] a fashion disaster: a broken shoe that flies under a car while crossing Santa Monica Boulevard. Do all fairy tales begin with fashion disasters? I don’t think they do…and specifically, I know they don’t all begin with a broken shoe. More to the point, what do you mean? I walk into what looks like just a shop. It’s as magical as the pages of a fresh Vogue I might have dreamed of, littered with designer dresses from Halston, Rudi Gernreich, Sonia Rykiel – and shoes, of course. The handsome prince shopkeeper smiles at my dilemma, before asking for my phone number.

Okay, so I’m assuming the shop is not really magical, and the shopkeeper (which is a really antiquated term) is not really a prince. Knowing that, what is interesting about a girl walking into a shop with a hot sales rep? And at what dilemma is the “prince” smiling? And what does any of it have to do with a broken shoe, a fairy tale, or Santa Monica Boulevard? This first paragraph was so confusing, that I would have stopped reading right here.

My memoir tells the story of fashion as it begins (this sounds like your memoir tells the story of fashion’s roots…which would be impossible), the prêt-a-porter (for the uninitiated, and unFrench, this means ready-to-wear, or off-the-rack, and I’m having trouble figuring out how it makes sense here. I could use some help), with the very young and unknown creators in New York, Paris, London, Milan, Tokyo … a pony-tailed Karl Lagerfeld at Chloe sketching a long-sleeved dress and crisply nodding his head, agreeing to send the sketch with the fabric and pattern in a taxi to the dressmaker on the outskirts of Paris who could best do that type of work. Buying the first collections of Giorgio Armani, men and women, eating lunch with the boy models because Mr. Armani had so little experience with tired, hungry buyers. Thea Porter, Zandra Rhodes, Jean Muir, Chantal Thomass, Gianfranco Ferre, Gianni Verscace, Claude Montana, Jean Paul Gaultier, Missoni … we bought them all for our Beverly Hills shop that a few years later Judith Krantz used as partial inspiration for Scruples, and bought her wardrobe from our shop for her book tour. (Scruples, much to my delight, is actually being brought to the small screen as a series next season.) <–a great example of what I call Synopsis Splatter, or when the synopsis just adds too much information here, not enough there, a big blob here, etc. 

I literally just sighed before writing this sentence. There is a TON going on here. Intuition tells me this is an awesome story that you tell in bits and pieces verbally at parties, but you’ve failed to cohesively transfer it to a narrative on paper–screen, whatever. The paragraph above is like one of those hodge-podge projects where you glue clippings of magazine pages to a stool or a picture frame. We get the basic gist of the theme, if there is one, but the story is too abstract for us to draw anything out of it except maybe a feeling of glamour. Or maybe I’m giving the author too much credit. Maybe the feeling isn’t glamour, exactly, but an ambition for glamour. Also, the name-dropping , to me, seems to be in service of your own agenda rather than in service of the book’s description, which is in poor taste. 

Juxtaposing our (whose? I thought this was YOUR memoir? Who is this other person whose point-of-view is in the book?) work and marriage, so like my almost twinned life with Tina Chow and her husband Michael Chow at Mr. Chow’s across the street, until I couldn’t any longer. Falling apart harder as we open an Azzedine Alaia chez Gallay boutique on Rodeo Drive and close our Camden Drive shop, the divorce is harsh and yet we work together until the Sunset Plaza shop is opened.

The construction of the sentences in the above paragraph, particularly the first one, forces the reader to concentrate really, really hard and maybe even read through twice. If agents don’t stop reading after the hodge-podge or after the confusing first paragraph, this is where you’ll lose them.

The shop across the street (Mr. Chow’s? What?), the one with room for a rose garden, is available and I fly to Paris (why would you fly to Paris? I thought it was across the street), hoping for a lease, hoping for a life and make it work. It sounds like your life is already working…I get the feeling there is some serious money and connectedness here. Adam Shankman is my assistant and Mary Rae McDonald makes custom hats for me. Rock stars, movie stars and the Brat Pack hang in my shop next to Le Dome, agents peeping in after starry lunches. Manolo Blahnik, Dolce & Gabbana, Todd Oldham, Kenzo  … pink-washed walls and happiness. Again, with the name dropping. And the hodge-podge thing. Tina Chow has left Michael and is in Tokyo working with craftsmen to make her jewels when she becomes ill, hospitalized with the pneumonia that means AIDS.  My friend knows she will die soon.

In the middle of a rainstorm while scowling at a leaky ceiling (the construction of this sentence makes it sound like the man was scowling at the leaky ceiling), a man walks in and won’t stay away. We fall in love and have a child together. On his first birthday, I close my dream shop to become a Hollywood wife.

Wow. Okay, so this was actually spectacularly interesting, in the way abstract art is interesting…there is something there, and you know that the person next to you is probably seeing something different, but you are both interested anyway. I would have rejected this, though, because if the whole book is written in this fashion–and I can only assume it is–it would hurt my head too much to read it all the way through. A query letter, while it should have voice and give the reader an idea of atmosphere, should not be saturated in both the way this is. While your book is narrative, your query letter should be expository, and this was closer to a literary narrative than an explanation of what your memoir is about. 

Additionally, there is no salutation or signature. Agents will feel like you don’t think they’re important enough to garner your respect. No matter who you are–short of, maybe, Angelina Jolie (God, I hope Angelina Jolie is not the author) you still can’t drop a bunch of names in the lap of an agent and expect that to carry you.

Let’s take a poll, though: Who wants to see what this was all about, who the author was, and read a great query for this story? *raises both hands*

LR

QueryDice #37: THE QUERYDICE LIVES!

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,

I am seeking representation for my young adult novel, [redacted], complete at just over 61,000 words. Your web site described an interest in young adult and fantasy fiction, and I hope you will enjoy a blend of the two.

Very nice. Any agent representing those genres would continue reading. This is professional and to-the-point. The only criticism I have here is a matter of personal taste and honestly I hesitated to even comment. I’m not a fan of an author telling me in a query that she is “seeking representation” for something. I already know that. Also, if you need to save words, you don’t have to write “…complete at…” If you simply wrote, “…novel, [redacted] (61k)” it would be more concise and it would save some precious real estate.

When Grace Branford crashes her car, killing her two best friends, her life is turned upside down. (Wow) The once-popular eighteen-year-old is now ostracized by her classmates, teachers, and even her parents. Throughout the turmoil she faces daily, she cannot help but wonder how she survived when her friends did not. For answers, she turns to an old book of poetry left to her by her dead cousin and becomes immersed in a world of ghosts, angels, and the afterlife.

Double wow. Not only is this well-written, it’s compelling. This screams YA from the rooftops, but it also hints that the author has gone beyond the boring ol’, tried-and-true “teen is ostracized” thing. 

Grace soon meets a mysterious, handsome boy named Jack, who always seems to know her thoughts and can find her whenever she is in trouble.

Hmm. A handsome boy? Voice is very important and “handsome boy” sounds like something my 80-year-old grandma would say.

As she gets closer to him, she finds out the truth about her own past, his present, and their future – and what exactly it means to be a Guardian Angel.

We didn’t know she needed answers to questions about her past, and this paragraph seems like a departure from the first half of the query. What does this mean for her guilt and confusion over the accident? I’d like to have a stronger grasp of what exactly the conflict is. What does Grace want? Why can’t she have it?

More precisely, a Fallen Guardian Angel, because that’s what Jack is. Now the two are falling in love, but Grace is still hesitant. Why, after all, would a stranger be her Guardian Angel instead of her beloved cousin? Cousin? What cousin?

Determined to find answers, Grace and Jack embark on an adventure that will surely end in disaster – or death.

You wrote above that Grace finds out the truth, but a sentence or two later you write that they embark on a journey to find it. Which is it? You cant tell us she finds the truth and then afterwards mention there is a journey before she does find out.

I am currently working on an MA in creative writing
(good to know)and have received several awards for my writing, most recently the Woodward Prize for Writing Distinction at Pace University. The completed manuscript is available for your review, should you wish to see it. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

This was a professional, largely well-written query. Agents will request more material.

LR

QueryDice #36

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,

Amniese prefers books over her peers. Who wouldn’t with the way the other girls belittle her? Besides, Amniese has friends. Two to be exact. One is a Dryad entrapped [something about this word is problematic for me. What’s wrong with “trapped”?] in a tree. The other is Llyr, a mysterious unicorn she meets through dreams.

You never mention the Dryad again, and it remains nameless. Why waste your words?

She enjoys spending her days at the Academy alone. Having her own room gives Amniese the freedom to practice magic undiscovered. Her dream is to grow powerful enough to unseal the Ancient Magics and free her friends. However, a new roommate interferes.

How does this new roommate interfere?

You’ve used too many words to get the following things across to us:

1. Amniese has special magical powers that are unknown to everyone.

2. She’s a student at some Academy.

3. She is a social pariah and her only friends are magical beings.

I’ll bet–and I’d love everyone’s opinion on this–that you could accomplish that in a single sentence and then get right along to the conflict. Attempts at this are welcome. Let’s see what you guys can come up with. You have one sentence. And I’m a huge fan of the semicolon, the colon and parentheses. I’ll choose a winner and announce via Twitter. (Don’t forget to include your handle)

As if having an intrude
(“intrude” is not a noun) isn’t enough, Llyr is unreachable. Desperate to contact Llyr and equally concerned about keeping her powers hidden, Amniese secretly attempts dangerous spells. Despite the fear of her abilities being discovered, she must grow stronger.

Amniese learns that freeing the Ancient Magics will unleash Shilon’s (Shilon?) greatest threat, the Sorcerer of Darkness. What Amniese doesn’t know is her destiny is already intertwined with the Sorcerer. She will have to choose: let the Ancient Magics remain sealed or risk Shilon’s future for the ones she loves.

The paragraph above is the most interesting part of this. Everything else is just details. The meat of your query should not be a three sentence mention at the end. You might feel like you’re leaving the reader with an impression and enticing them to want to read more by ending your query this way, but how can an agent feel impressed or enticed if they never got to the end?

Sometimes authors need to write to get around to writing what matters. This query is a draft of the one that’ll work for you, and it’s not bad as such. Focus on the conflict: what does Amniese want more than anything? What is keeping her from getting it? What is at stake? Why should I care?

Because this is fantasy, you’ll also need to do some world-building even in your query, and you’ve done a pretty good job of that, and you’ve intertwined it with an introduction to the YA themes present in your book: fitting in, friendship, etc. I suggest you do that in fewer words, though.

Lastly, there is no voice in the query, and perhaps especially for YA, I need to hear at least an echo of what kind of voice I can expect in the manuscript.

[redacted] is an 82,000 word YA fantasy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, [redacted]

LR

QueryDice #35

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,

A cardboard box is hidden in an empty room. Initial thought: this start is very intriguing. My interest is piqued and I’m wondering where this will go…

Inside the box, there is a stack of black and white photographs, somewhat grainy, somewhat blurred. These photos are all that remains of a young man who has died. They are the memory of him, and they come to represent the time that will slowly pass, leaving nothing else behind. They are the only clues into his life. They are the things that, still, are left.

These words set the stage for my first novel, titled [redacted].

I’m  turned off by your copy-and-paste of the beginning of your novel into the query. First, it is all tell and no show, which is a turn-off in a manuscript. Then, also, while it is great to get a taste of the author’s voice in a query, I feel tricked. I’m part of the way through your query and I still don’t know what your book is about.

Set in the tradition of Kazuo Ishiguro, John Banville, and Ian McEwan, [redacted] explores a shifting web of memory, family and friends. The novel is about a young man, named Ennan, who must come to terms with the loss of his brother. In doing so, Ennan must struggle to understand both his brother and himself, and must answer the question, what do our loved ones leave behind?

This is a bit dry. I’m not compelled enough to read more. What makes Ennan’s loss-of-loved-one story any different than all the rest? Also, the question at the end of this paragraph was surely meant to be compelling, but I’m just not as intrigued as I think the author intended.

Told through a series of interlocking narrative strands, [redacted] follows both Ennan’s past and his present as he works to cope with his brother’s death. Ennan flies to New York to find an answer to his questions (what questions?), but once there, he soon becomes obsessed with his brother’s box. Isn’t he pretty obsessed already? He got on a plane a flew to New York because of this…

Nothing is as he thought it was, however, and as he digs ever deeper into the mysteries of the box, and the photographs that it contains, Ennan’s own memories begin to shift and mix together, forming a portrait of the shattered and failing relationships (with whom?) that his brother’s death has left him with. Ultimately, things between Ennan and his brother had never been as simple, or as easy, as he’d always led himself to believe.

Why does this matter? What is at stake? This story doesn’t appear to have a conflict. While Ennan has an internal conflict because he needs to find answers to lingering questions about his brother’s life, but this is not enough. Why should we care about that? What does Ennan stand to lose, and how will figuring out his brother’s puzzle prevent that loss?

My work has been published both in print and online in PARADIGM, LINE ZERO, PRICK OF THE SPINDLE, and the PLUM CREEK REVIEW. This is great to know. I have worked as a chef, preschool teacher, student filmmaker, and at an art gallery, This, not so much. and I am currently living in Venice, CA, where I have been hired to write the screenplay for an independent film. This is good to know as well.

Thank you for your consideration.

[redacted]

I would reject this, because I don’t feel like there is a story that is compelling enough to sell to discerning editors. That doesn’t mean there isn’t–it just means it wasn’t shown to me.

LR

 

 


QueryDice #14.1: Do-Over!

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,

I would be delighted to submit for your consideration, [redacted], my dark, romantic women’s fiction novel (there is no such thing as a novel that isn’t fiction, so you only need to write “fiction” or “novel.” This is a huge agent-peeve) which is complete at just under 104,000 words.

A thirty-two year old musician assistant, Trista Hart knows she needs to find a way out of the nocturnally persuaded world of her best friend and boss, Jaxon James.  

Nocturnally persuaded. This is a creative turn-of-phrase, and I love those, but in a query, I just want to get the low-down on your book. Making me think too hard will aggravate my totally abused brain and turn it off. I’m not sure what nocturnally persuaded means because I’m not familiar with your book and its themes, and I’m not willing to try and figure it out because on the heels of your query are thousands of others and I’ll go in search of something with more clarity. Sometimes the simpler the language, the better, even though it doesn’t show your literary prowess.

But no matter how dark that route (what route? Are you referring to his world, the way of out his world?) has become lately, he and his band Sin Pointe are her family and she’s not prepared to desert them for Jaxon’s cousin, Lucky Mason, if it’s just going to take her down another of life’s pot-hole littered highways.  

Who says she has to desert them, and who the hell is Lucky Mason? That came sailing out of left field. Why are Lucky ad Sin Pointe mutually exclusive? Also, nit-pick: the words “pot-hole littered” irks me. Littered would mean someone has dropped something negligently. I think you can find something more accurate.

She has valid reasons to question Lucky and his beloved south—having experienced at an early age the sometimes hypocritical underbelly of the region’s good manners and charm.

What does the south have to do with it? In fact, what does Lucky have to with anything? I’m asking: what does Trista want? What is keeping her from getting that? How does she endeavor to solve that conflict?


Her hourglass has been turned upside down and now with Lucky’s heartfelt proposal before her,
(ah ha! Why are we discovering now, after you’ve confused us and given us every reason to stop reading, that this was a proposal?) she has to decide one for the other at the most inconvenient of times—just as Sin Pointe’s tour is taking off and on the heels of a horrendous late night attack on her and Jaxon that leaves her sure of only one thing…
It’s time for Trista to be her own savior.

Well I, for one, am not sure of anything and that’s the problem with this query. What I really want to know is what the problem is. If Jaxon is her best friend, why would he or his band prevent her from marrying (was this a marriage proposal?) Lucky?

I would reject this query because it lacks compelling conflict. I wonder why can’t she just have both? Her job, her best friend and family, and Lucky? What’s preventing that from happening? I worry that the answer is nothing and your manuscript has a huge, glaring plot hole that would mean it needs an overhaul.

When this query was diced here, the problem was that we didn’t know enough. We needed a better description. Now, we know a bit more, but we still need to know what the conflict is.

While as yet unpublished, I am a member of RWA, my local WRW chapter, and the fantastic women fiction writers group Waterworld Mermaids.

I greatly appreciate your time and consideration and hope to hear from you if my work seems a good fit.
Sincerely,

[redacted]

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]

QueryDice #33

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time.

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

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

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

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

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #9.1: Take Two!

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

Dear Lauren Ruth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is an excellent improvement to your bio.

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

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

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #32

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,

Assistant to the Royal Advisor, Adalmund Port returned home to Norwyn from her first job with an arrow in her shoulder and a murdered princess in her arms.

This sentence takes too much work from the reader. My brain hurts. I know this is a different world, but you so casually toss information to us as though we should already be familiar with it. I’m not so sure you need any more information here than just the fact that Adalmund has an arrow in her shoulder and a dead princess in her arms. That was a compelling and intriguing line that you’ve saddled with unnecessary details.

A war veteran at seventeen, Adalmund was sent to advise her country’s princess during a routine, perfectly safe peace treaty signing. Needless to say, it didn’t go as planned.

Why is a seventeen year old girl advising the country’s leadership?

Sent back to Amleth, the country that murdered her princess, Adalmund is tasked with finding the man who ordered the attack and killing him. It’s an old law between the nations—the life of a noble for another noble life—but it doesn’t take into account the revolution brewing in Amelth. Adalmund didn’t take it into account either.

You might be able to begin your query with the above paragraph. We don’t need to know that Adalmund returned home wounded with the princess in her arms. It’s compelling and intriguing, but it is best reserved for the synopsis, in which you’ll have more words to play with. For now, it might be best to begin with something like, “As assistant to the royal advisor of [enter brief two-word description] Norwyn, seventeen year old Adalmund Port is charged with exacting revenge on the country’s princess….”

That being said, we don’t need to know the old law between the nations. It is interesting, but keep it out, and if you have room later, put it in. And, especially for words we don’t even know, inconsistent spellings give readers the feeling even you don’t know your world. And that’s just chaotic.

Peace is rising in Amelth. Peace, a masked man with the same magical powers as Adalmund (what? Adalmund has magic powers? We need to know how this comes into play and what is means to the story and the main character. Preferably, we need to know this from Jump Street.) and a desire for sweeping, if misguided, social change, is leading the revolution against the Amleth Royal Court. He also knows which Amelth prince was in charge of the military unit that murdered the Norwyn princess.

This last sentence lets the cat of the bag with a thud. In fact, I don’t think you need the sentence at all.

Peace wants Adalmund’s help.

Adalmund wants Peace’s information.

She also wants nothing to do with him, but Norwyn’s Royal Court strikes a deal with Peace: Adalmund’s unlimited help in exchange for a magically binding agreement that he’ll never declare war on Norwyn.

Adalmund will do anything to save her country. She’s been to war, she’s been an assassin, and she’s sacrificed her arm to save the princess.

But asking her to work with Peace might be too much.

Without further exposition, I don’t find it believable that Adalmund, after all she’s been through, would care about working with Peace. What’s so horrible about him?

I don’t see a strong enough conflict here. The princess is already dead, so you’ve snuffed out any tension around that. We also didn’t know or care about her so we don’t care that she’s dead. There’s an external conflict surrounding Norwyn’s vulnerability, but we don’t know the country’s people, so this is not compelling enough. Aside from Adalmund’s (whiny, to me) refusal to work with Peace, I’m not sure what the problem is and for that reason I would reject this.

[redacted] is a young adult fantasy novel of 75,000 words with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

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