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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

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QueryDice #19

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

Dear Ms. Ruth,

Nadine Sterling’s world is covered in darkness.

Flash moment. This snagged me. I knew this was going to be a good query just from this sentence.

The sun and the blue skies have not been seen for many years. Natural catastrophes, disorder, and crime are running wild. People believe God has abandoned them.

Still interested…

In this chaotic world, Nadine tries to be a normal girl—NYU student, barista in a coffee shop, talent singer, loyal friend, and dutiful daughter—except for her visions of Victor Gianni, her imaginary boyfriend.

What? Imaginary boyfriend?? This is interesting. Don’t mind if I do…

She comes up with excuses for them: exhaustion, daydreaming, and hallucinations, but she is obligated to cross out those options when she bumps into a real Victor, one who does not know her and shuns her away.

Besides having her heart instantly broken, Nadine’s visions change and now she sees eerie fates, gods she never heard of before, demons with sharp claws they are not timid to use … and instructions.

To find out if she is losing her mind or involved in a larger and yet obscure scheme, Nadine has to follow the instructions—with the real, rude Victor—(he’s rude and angsty? Yes! I love a romance hero who’s a complete jerk…on the surface.) before the evil behind the darkness catches up with them.

[Book Title] is a new adult paranormal romance novel complete at 80,300 words. It stands alone, but can be developed as the first in a trilogy that I call [Trilogy Title].

I have taken five creative writing courses (four from Writer’s Digest University and one taught by Margie Lawson).

Per your guidelines, you’ll find the first chapter of [Book Title] pasted bellow (I’m sure this was just a typo. Since this query is so good, I think I’ll just overlook it.)

This was intriguing. Please send me the first three chapters and a synopsis. LRuth@Bookends-inc.com. As an aside, and this won’t hurt you in the larger scope of things, most agents do not want you to send any material except your query. You might have been responding to my personal preference to have the beginning of your manuscript—maybe 10 pages or so—tacked onto the body of your email.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

LR

 

QueryDice #18

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

Faith and belief are are common themes in the supernatural and horror genres: “You must have faith for the cross to work,” or “You must believe in the magic.”

There’s something about the lack of a greeting line that bothers me. I feel sort of like something really heavy just fell into my lap.

 

While your opening line is true, I’m not sure I appreciate being told this in a query. It sounds too much like you’re justifying your work, and too textbook. I don’t want to know about the genres—I know them well enough—I want to know about your book.

 

In The Unbeliever , a supernatural adventure/romance novel, it is the principle character’s lack of belief that gives him the ability to battle dark forces and return long lost humanity to the victim of a 400 year old curse.  Former Major Max Bradley struggles with the loss of his leg and the emotional scars from an unending war and finds within himself a new power and a new cause.

 

This is my first novel, but my experience as a military physician enables me to bring the main character, a disabled Iraq war vet who is dealing with both physical disability and emotional trauma, to life.

 

I feel that this book will appeal to both male and female readers.  Male readers will appreciate the realistic action and the military background of the hero.  Female readers will respond to the strong romance that builds between the hero and heroine.  Elena, the heroine, is a woman existing under the curse of the undead since the Sixteenth Century and in Max, the hero, she finds that she finally can have what she has been missing for centuries: the return of her humanity.

 

The problem, here, is that you’re trying to be concise, which is necessary, but you’re excluding important information. What I need to know is this: what is the major conflict, what does it place at stake for Max? I need to know just a little about Max and Elena. What about the world? How does it differ from ours, and does it place limitations on the characters, or enable them?

 

Also, you might consider omitting the paragraph about who the book will appeal to. While this is important information, an agent knows already where your book would be placed or sell best, so your words are better spent on the book itself.

 

I think there could be a great story here, but I don’t know enough about your book to request more information.

 

It is a complete manuscript at 113,000 words and is available for your immediate review.

You haven’t included a salutation, here. To me, this felt like you approached me, dumped your idea on me, and then without so much as a half-hearted wave, just walked away. A query is a business letter, fundamentally, and should always read like one, even if its an e-query.

LR

 

QueryDice #18

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

Dear Ms. Ruth,

At seventeen years old, I was a voracious reader.

This is not important information and since you have so little space to tell us about your book, I would leave this out. I’m not going to request more information based on this, nor will I reject based on it.

Still, there were never enough of the kind of books I liked to read- the ones with characters so real and flawed that they were like old friends, or people I’d met at school- so I wrote one myself.

This sentence is one of my pet-peeves. I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but here’s what I hear in your sentence: “I’m a better writer than anyone I’ve ever read (and I read voraciously, so that’s a lot).” Now, I think you’re cocky and difficult to work with, which is never good, and I think this before I’ve had a chance to learn anything about your book. While I’m learning about your book, which will happen in the next 10 seconds, I’ll be looking for genius work, which is what you’ve set me up for. Anything less than that will turn me off because it isn’t what I’ve been promised.

Eight years later, [redacted] is complete at 101,000 words, and I’d like to submit the end-result to your agency for consideration.

[redacted] follows Karli and Marián, two cousins with almost nothing in common: she scores goals, and he writes scores; she breaks bones, he breaks hearts; she creates drama, and he embodies it… (you’ve spent precious words making the same point three times here, and I still know nothing about your characters) but they really aren’t as different as they think. Their story, like a hockey-game, (I’m assuming hockey is a thread in your book, but you’ve left me guessing. You don’t want to leave my understanding of what you’ve written up to chance) is a fast-paced, emotional ride, but also a tale of love, in all forms— friendship, first romances, family-ties, and, above all, learning to love oneself.

We’re at the end of your query and I have no idea what your book is about. Loosely, it is about two cousins who are both similar and dissimilar. Hockey is a thread. They go through some journey or other and come out the other side different people. This is just about as generic as you can get. I would reject this query because I don’t know what it is and I worry that I’ll read a partial and still not know what it is.

Other considerations: Marian is a very ethnic name. Is this cross-cultural fiction? Is there a romance involved? How do the cousins’ stories interact or converge?

[redacted] is geared primarily toward older teens, specifically girls between the ages of 14 and 21, and, as such, is equal parts tender, dark, and humorous. This is my first novel, and I am sending it to you exclusively— I can be reached at [redacted] and [redacted] or emailed at [redacted]

Thank you for your consideration, and I eagerly anticipate your response.

Best regards,

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #17

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,

I see that you are interested in sci fi and fantasy as well as romance. My novel [redacted] combines these three genres and I thought you might be interested.

Talia Shannon dreams of scaled aliens burning her world, Sendek. (What kind of world is Sendek? A different planet? I need a sense of atmosphere. What is the most striking difference between Sendek and Earth?) Determined to find a way to survive the coming invasion (Well, how does she know that her dream will come true? Is this a power she knows she has?) without revealing the magical source of her information, Talia searches for scientific proof of extraterrestrial life. Her work leaves no time for personal relationships, but Landry Sutton isn’t looking for a friend. <—I understand what you’re saying here, and I think it’s an excellent transition. But it just missed the mark for me. You could improve this by adding that Talia thinks he’s looking for a friend. Or show us that by adding a sentence before this one about Landry’s association with Talia.

As nephew to the King, Landry protects the monarchy from a malicious group responsible for his own father’s death, and he thinks Talia works for them. When a brief touch sizzles between them, they find they can communicate mind to mind. Turns out Landry has magical secrets of his own.

I think it would be helpful if you could transition into this next paragraph better, because it seems disjointed, although I’ve got a hunch it really isn’t.

The Draguman, a human-dragon hybrid created in Sendek’s past, returns from exile. Smarter and stronger than ever, they plan to wipe out their creators and claim Sendek for their own. After they cripple Sendek’s military in a matter of hours, they seem unstoppable.

As a direct descendant of the mage who created the Draguman, Talia is the key to their destruction—if she can trust the magic coursing through her veins. When science fails to protect her way of life, magic becomes the only hope.

[redacted] is a science fantasy novel, complete at 87,000 words. It is the stand alone first novel in a set of four.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

[redacted]

This query is fine. There’s really nothing technically “wrong” with it. I would like to know more of Talia’s personality and more about her world. How is it different than Earth? The query is at around 250 words, and this is probably why you’ve chosen not to include any further information, which is fine. I would prefer you go past the 250 words (but not too far) and show me how Talia differs from other characters and how her world differs from ours. Great job, though!

LR

QueryDice #16

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 castrated leprechaun lands in Dr. Jamie Grey’s morgue. Since the detectives are busy with their own case, Jamie is assigned to find the killer.

I would have stopped reading after this sentence. First, I’m disgusted by the thought of a castrated leprechaun. Because leprechauns are mythical creatures that I thought were neat when I was a kid (think Lucky Charms) the thought of them having genitals at all is upsetting to me and the visual I’ve just been given of a leprechaun not having them anymore is just too much for me. That’s a very personal opinion. Keep in mind someone else might think it’s dark and dangerous or hilarious.

Additionally, I’m not sure why a doctor is assigned to a criminal investigation as a detective. This would never happen. I don’t buy that the detectives are too busy to do their jobs. I worry that I won’t be able to get into the story because I’m too distracted by plot holes.

The investigation takes the coroner into Tara, a community of mythological creatures just south of Philadelphia. But the very beings Jamie vows to protect don’t want her there, fearing her presence may attract “the nut stealer.”

When she visits the victim’s wife, she is drugged and kidnapped and injures herself in the escape. Assisted by an elf, a vile creature whose race nearly eradicated her late husband’s people, Jamie wakes up two days later healed and with abilities only possessed by elves. While Jamie deals with the changes and keeps them hidden from her brother-in-law as he attempts to court her, another victim signals the urgency to find the killer before he castrates another leprechaun again. All the while the trail leads her deeper into elf territory than she ever wants to go.

The above paragraph reads more to me like a very brief synopsis. We don’t need a play-by-play, here. We need to know the large threads that are the meat of the story. What, besides the mystery of who castrated the leprechaun, is the conflict? What are the stakes?

Further, why don’t we know that Jamie was once connected with mythological creatures until the last paragraph? Why is the brother-in-law who is courting Jamie mentioned only in half a sentence? Is this further conflict that needs to be exposed here? This is a big problem in many queries I see: the author presents information that makes me ask further questions to which no answers have been provided. My advice is always to answer these questions right within the query (if you’re not too close to it to know what the questions might be) and if you can’t without answering more and more, find a way to leave that part for the synopsis.

I think you’ve spent too much time giving us a play-by-play of what happens and when. This is just a hunch, but I have a feeling there’s more to the brother-in-law courting Jamie than you’ve told us (I think it is a bigger piece of the story than you’ve let on) and I have a feeling the thread of the elf territory is also a much larger part of the story.

[redacted] is a mystery with fantasy elements complete at 72,000 words. I worry, too, that 72,000 words is not enough to fully flesh out and characterize a new world that you’ve created, execute a mystery plot carefully and include a love interest, if that’s what the brother-in-law is. You might have pulled it off, but I assume you’ll need more than 72,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #15

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!

Set mostly in China, as well as New York, my 82,000 word commercial contemporary women’s fiction [redacted]  will appeal to both American and Chinese readers.

When aspiring author Shui Ying leaves her diary on a Shanghai subway car, little does she know that her dream will become a reality without her knowledge, and a quest to find her will span two continents, culminating in a legal battle to prove her identity.

Interesting pitch. I can’t wait to read more…

Shui Ying is forced to leave school and move from her poor village in Sichuan to Shanghai in order to support her mother and ailing father. With no time to write, she gives up her dream of becoming a writer. Emily, an American university student majoring in Chinese culture, finds Shui Ying’s diary on a trip to Shanghai and convinces her mother, who works for a publishing company in Manhattan, to publish it. Attempts to find Shui Ying fail and Chinese authorities erroneously believe she drowned.

Shui Ying fell in love with Liang, her best friend from the village. But one day after he tells her that he loves her, they are separated when she leaves for Shanghai. Her heart is broken, but she turns her attention to finding work. Shui Ying despairs after encountering a series of unscrupulous employers, and is reunited with Liang when he saves her life. Before reuniting with Liang, she gets involved with Lau, an owner of a pet food factory from Beijing with an office in Shanghai. She writes in her diary that she’s in a love triangle.

When Liang gets a job in construction for the Beijing Olympics, Shui Ying finds a job at Lau’s factory in Beijing. When she discovers that Lau has been tampering with the pet food he manufactures, she and Liang must go into hiding. While they are running away from the thugs Lau sent to silence her, she sees her name on a book in a bookstore in Shanghai and discovers she has become famous and that she has been the object of a search. She also discovers that Leona, a young Chinese woman, has impersonated her and claims to be the author of the diary. Leona takes the American publisher to court in New York, and a jury must decide who the real author is, Leona or Shui Ying.

This query is technically passable, but I lost interest somewhere in the fourth paragraph. The love-triangle among Shui Ying, Lau and Liang is not interesting enough for me to believe someone would find this diary and want to publish it. Something really incredible needs to have happened to Shui Ying in order for someone to want to publish her book. Also, there’s the logistical problem of figuring out how a publishing house would have contracted this book without Shui Ying’s signature, without meeting her. How did they edit the book? To whom are they paying royalties and an advance? It’s a neat idea, it’s just not very believable. I would reject this, not because I don’t believe the basic idea is marketable–it probably is–or because the writing was bad–it wasn’t–but because I don’t find it credible or interesting enough to draw sufficient attention from publishers. The issue, here, is not with the query, which has done its job–inform and entice while staying true to the manuscript–but with the manuscript.
Thank you for reading my query.

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

 

 

QueryDice #6

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

Dear Ms. Ruth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first chapter (ten pages) is included below.

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

Thank you for your consideration.

Lauren

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