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QueryDice #1.1 Take Two!

The following is a query critique of the very first QueryDice! 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, Great opening. Simple and professional. This is my favorite greeting in a query.

Angela-Courtney Maddeus has not been a happy or healthy child. She has been called crazy for claiming that she and her ex-best friend snuck out to a Midsummer’s Eve Party and nearly got killed. First, no one holds parties on Midsummer’s Eve. Second, she insists that magic was involved, since there was a moving statue that attempted the actual killing.

You know, there is still too much in this opening. It’s overload. Is Angela a child? Then don’t call her that, because I’ll think she is. Something about the words, “She has been called crazy…” makes my brain work too hard. I’m wondering if she is, in fact, crazy, who called her that, why it matters, if it was only just one time and that traumatized her, or if the whole world thinks that of her. Then there is the ex-best friend. I’m wondering why this person is an ex and if it matters. What’s Midsummer’s Eve? Further, claiming that she snuck out and almost got killed if it wasn’t true would make a person a liar, not crazy. This is a classic case of what I like to call Useless Author Syndrome. That sounds really mean, but put down that torch and call off the lynch mob for a sec. What I mean is, you, as the author, are now useless because you have read your book so many times after creating it from nothing. You’re so close to the material that you have absolutely no perspective. You have to work very hard to figure out what readers need to know. This is dangerous. The cure? Forget about it for a while. Like, weeks. Read a lot in the weeks. Then, come back with a fresh, clear mind. 

But, if you just can’t wait, give us the bare bones only: “Everyone thinks Angela is crazy. She swears a moving statue used magic to attack her at a party last Midsummer’s Eve and she’s been raving about it ever since.”

It’s been a year since that horrible night; Angela’s father has been mysteriously killed, and her mother moves her to Terran, a small California town, to start a new life. Angela hasn’t forgotten what happened and is determined to find out why no one else remembers. She finally gets some answers when meeting another girl, Mina Wren, has run away from this year’s party. Unfortunately, Mina comes along with a talking wolf who claims to be Angela’s grandmother, and the wolf has the answers.

This paragraph continues to divulge too much information at once–information we don’t fundamentally need. Do we absolutely need to know that Angela’s dad died? You don’t bring this up again in the query, which makes it irrelevant, and forces me to assume you added it for gratuitous drama. It’s just like the theatre: don’t introduce a gun on the stage unless you intend to shoot it. Because otherwise, it becomes an unnecessary distraction. Also, we don’t really need to know that Angela and her mother have moved. It is not integral to the plot at this basic level, so telling us about it only distracts us from the information we really need about your story. The second sentence in this paragraph does not make sense, probably due to a typo. Then, I have to ask: I thought no one had Midsummer’s Eve parties. Why is there a “this year’s party”? Lastly for this paragraph, why is it unfortunate that Mina comes along with a talking wolf, especially one who has answers?

Wolves convert human memories to supernatural energy; the party hosts have exploited this ability to steal their guests’ memories to build a perfect life with magic.

I have so many questions about the wolves’ abilities. Most importantly, how does supernatural energy create the perfect life? Also, this is a very stiff sentence and I can see all the work you’ve done on it. I’m not supposed to know you worked hard on that sentence. How about this one: “Wolves convert human memories to supernatural energy and the party hosts are well aware of it. They take full advantage of their abilities, stealing their guests’ memories and…(add very, very brief description of how and why this is done).

Angela does the opposite, converting magic back into memories, but she doesn’t have her gift under control.

What?! Angela has a gift and we’re just hearing about it now? Here’s the thing: when you introduce a detail about your story that is so key, like this one, at the end of a query, you lose our trust. Even though we’re not consciously thinking it, we feel like we can’t depend on you because you’ve withheld something this important. Now, I feel a little out-of-control, like anything could happen. I thought this story was going to take place in the modern world as I know it, then talking wolves were introduced, then the main character has a power I didn’t know about. Readers are kind of like toddlers in this way: we need structure and rules to feel secure. If you just let anything fly without a moment’s notice and whenever you feel like it, we’re not going to do what you need us to…we’re too distracted and fraught with possibility because the rules are made up as we go along.

And I might like to know what funny or interesting types of things happen because Angela doesn’t have her gift under control.

She also has little time to learn; the party hosts have caught wind of Angela’s power and don’t approve of it, or her stubborn defiance. Their next Midsummer celebration may just be Angela’s last.

[redacted], a young-adult urban fantasy, is complete at 75,000 words.

In 2005 and  2006 I won second place in the Miami Dade County Youth Fair writing competition for the short stories “Teacher’s Gone” and “The Boundless Pirate” respectively. In 2007 I got first place in the same division (Fantasy) with “Persona Sin Corpus” as well as a Silver Key in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. Alienskin Magazine in their August/September 2001 issue published “The Red Pen Crossed Out,” while Hungur Magazine published “About Love for a Man’s Art” in their November 2010 issue.  I have a webcomic at [redacted] and a blog of my writing adventures at [redacted].

This is a great bio paragraph.

Thank you for your consideration. The first two pages are enclosed below.

Please note that I appreciate it when authors tack on a couple of pages so I can see the writing (and this is probably why the author chose to do this) but this is not common. Make sure an agent wants this before going ahead and doing it.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I would reject this because the author didn’t appear to have control of her own world or her own story. This may or may not be the case, but I can’t speculate about that. I have to judge things based on a query letter, not what I think might perhaps be in the manuscript.

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 #31

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:

Some lessons can be hard to understand, even when your life depends on it.

This is a a lukewarm sentence. It’s not horrible, but it has no punch either. It’s just okay. I advise never to accept “just okay” from yourself. The first sentence of a query letter is hugely important because it sets the tone for the rest of it. Think about it like this: if you’ve already failed, you’ll have to spend the rest of your query redeeming yourself. But if you start off like a rockstar, the query will ride on that success and the agent will overlook small mistakes here or there. Here’s what makes this first sentence weak:

1. It is unclear. Why would your life depend on understanding a lesson? I can think up situations in which this would be the case, but you don’t want me to be reading your query with narrowed eyes, or thinking up scenarios which are NOT in your book.

2. I already know the first part of the sentence–that some lessons can be hard to understand–so my initial reaction to your query is a bored, “Yeah, so?” I’m also thinking I’m about to read the summary of a story about someone learning a hard lesson, which in itself is not really that interesting.

Melina Rowe never wants to see her friend Lee again after his startling kiss and confession of love caused her jealous fiancé to leave her. So when a guiding angel named Walter comes to show her that her life would actually be worse without Lee, she laughs in his face and calls him crazy. But as Walter grabs her arm to stop her from leaving, a surge of energy passes between them revealing Melina to be a rare type of human who can absorb angel powers, a problem that quickly forces her to change her mind.

I feel like this paragraph is also “just okay.” It’s not awful, but it’s not very compelling to me. There is so much packed into it. Do we need to know that Melina was angry with Lee? That she had (and now has not) a fiance, and that said fiance was jealous? It seems like it took you this entire paragraph to get around to telling us what you really mean to say: that Melina discovers she can absorb angel powers and has actually done so. Sometimes writers need to just write before getting to the point, which is why we do revisions. You need to cut the fat here and fluff up the actual meat, specifically about the paranormal elements.

The powers are too strong for humans and will eventually kill Melina unless she can gain control of them.  And the only way she can do that is to open her stubborn mind and understand the lesson Walter is there to teach her.

What? This just doesn’t make any sense, which was my issue with the first sentence. How on Earth can Melina’s learning that Lee is someone she needs help her to gain control of powers neither she nor Lee knows anything about?

Still skeptical but now scared for her life, Melina has no choice but to go to an alternate world where she never meets Lee.

What world is this? Where is it and what are its laws? What is different about it, besides the absence of Lee? Also, I’m wondering if there is a plot hole here: why couldn’t the guiding angel just show her a vision of life without Lee…or sit her down and tell her what it would have been like, instead of dramatically whisking her away to a new land? And by the way, what would it have been like? What is at stake if Melina never speaks to Lee again? What will make me care about these characters and their situation?

Once she arrives things only get worse. An elder guiding angel, who thinks humans like Melina are abominations, sends a trio of soul-snatching demons to destroy her.

The biggest trouble with this query is there is no world-building. I don’t get a sense of what this alternate world is like. Since I’m just now learning there are demons in the world, I’m wondering what else is there? Why can’t Melina just high-tail it back to her own world.

Melina must now fight for her life against relentless demon attacks while she struggles to understand her feelings for Lee and awaken to the shocking truth about her former fiancé.

This query is a bit disjointed. I can’t see how Melina’s troubles with Lee and her nameless fiance have anything to do with her new powers or the demons.

If she can’t understand why Lee’s meant to be in her life and her ex-fiancé isn’t, then she’ll never gain control of the powers.

I don’t understand why this is the case, and I worry that the manuscript will have the same problem.

But if the powers don’t kill her, the demons will. They will? I thought they were soul-snatching, not life-snatching.

Complete at 89,000 words, [redacted] is a supernatural romance with an inspirational theme.

I didn’t get the feeling this was romance, exactly. The relationship between Melina and Lee (I’m assuming this is the hero, but then why is Walter’s name in the title?) is not developed enough. It doesn’t come to the forefront, but instead hangs in the background. This felt more like urban fantasy to me. And what inspirational theme?

It’s a stand-alone novel but has series potential and should appeal to an older teen and adult female audience.  

Unless this is YA, you should leave any mention of teens out of the picture. I want to know if this will have a place on a YA shelf or on the romance shelf. Or on a different shelf.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I would reject this query because I don’t feel for the characters, I don’t get a strong sense of the world and I don’t know what exactly it is.

Sincerely,

[REDACTED]

 

QueryDice #22

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.

16-year-old Emory Stone (love the name) has always felt like an outsider. Being part alien, it kind of comes with the territory. (This is a nit-pick, but something about this sentence bothers me. I think it is because the word “being” is actually modifying the word “it.” Because “it” is a pronoun used in place for “the outsider feeling,” this sentence would technically mean that the outsider feeling is an alien. This is overly technical, and I really can’t say with any confidence that other agents would have cared. But my immediate thought was that the writing might not be up to par.) And her weird, extraterrestrial powers— like the sometimes-useful, always-disturbing ability to learn everything about an object just by touching it—don’t make fitting in any easier. (I’m not confident that Emory’s ability to know things would make it difficult for her to fit in. I can stretch my mind to imagine how this might be possible, but the point is you shouldn’t depend on an agent to do this.) If she could understand and control those powers, that would be one thing, but Emory has no idea about her alien ancestry. (Then how does she know she’s an alien? My agent-brain is wondering if this is a plot hole, or if you’re just being concise.) And even if she did, it’s not like they teach “Harnessing Your Alien Powers For Beginners” at Eden Falls High. <–I really love sentences like this one. It’s funny and shows the author’s voice, but it also helps us feel Emory’s problem. Nice job on that.

Unfortunately for Emory, though, there are others in the universe who know all about her ancient, powerful bloodline. They know she is a descendant of the all-knowing Sentient, a godlike creature responsible for the creation of the once utopian planet of Aporia. Since the Sen (what is (or are) the Sen? This is probably short for Sentient, but since this paragraph already feels like you’ve just gone from 0 to 60 in 12 seconds, it’s best not to introduce anything unfamiliar that you don’t have to.) abandoned the Aporians and fled to Earth hundreds of years ago, the planet has been steadily falling into ruin. Now, a group of warriors have shown up on Earth, intent on using Emory to get their paradise back. By the way, I knew after this sentence, that I’d be requesting this. Hello, Flash Moment, long time no see.

Among them is Cael, (again, love the name) who has spent his entire life living in the shadow of his father, the most feared, most respected general in the Alpha Centauri Star System (what is the Alpha Centauri Star System?). Hunting down Emory Stone is his chance to prove himself, to be known as someone other than “the general’s son”. But when the mission takes a deadly twist, Cael ends up owing his life to Emory instead. As the threat to Earth—and Emory—escalates, Cael will have to make a decision: keep fighting for a cause he isn’t sure he believes in anymore, or betray his father and try and keep Emory safe. But even he might not be able to save her from her past, and from the dark family secrets that will threaten the very future of Earth.

Equal turns action, romance, and sci-fi nerdiness, [redacted] is a YA novel of 90,000 words (this is technically just a tad too long for YA, but it made me happy here because this introduces a new world and I expect that since this is so long, the author has spent those words on exposition of that world.), which alternates between Cael and Emory’s POV. It is the first in a planned trilogy, which will chronicle the war for the planets and unravel the mystery of the Sen.

Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

GIMME, GIMME GIMME!

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 #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 eighteenth-century clothing and a skeleton mask. The doctor fears her five minutes of death left her with brain damage, so he condemns her to a psychiatric hospital for hallucinations and paranoia.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[redacted]

QueryDice #7

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,

His eyes are dark with black shadows, and his lips curl up at the edges.  Maybe I’m being paranoid.  I wasn’t alone, it’s Mardi Gras, and the streets are full of people. Daniel is close by, still giving interviews for his movie.  Security is everywhere because of this party, so why is every hair on my body standing up?

He’s still coming towards me.  His eyes now tearing into mine.  I want to look away, act like it’s nothing, but I cannot.  His steps increase as his expression darkens.  I try to move but remain frozen.  My breath speeds up and I will myself to not panic.  I force myself to take a step, but it’s too late.  I hear the sound, (what sound?) feel the pain, and fall to the ground.

People say when you’re dying your life flashes before your eyes.  I see faces of my family and friends rapidly flashing across my mind.  I think about Daniel and smile inside.  He chose me out of countless girls to be his girlfriend.  I hear faint screams around me.  I feel remorse about everything I didn’t get to do in life.  Faces kept flashing before me, but one was constant, Cary’s face. <—There is a tense conflict in the past two sentences. Flashes of Cary’s smile, the burning of his eyes and the blush in his checks when he looks at me.  The thought of never seeing him again… I want to rip those evil eyes out of the socket of the man who did this to me… and I will.

[redacted] is a completed 70,000 word young adult romance involving angels and demons.

I would be honored to send the completed manuscript at your request.  I have included a sample for your review.  Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

I would reject this. I have absolutely no idea what the premise of the story is, what the conflict is, or really anything about the characters because all I’ve been given is the writing sample the author said was included. The writing isn’t half bad, but writing style or voice can rarely move an agent or editor to request more material just on its own.

After reading this, the most solid thing I knew about this author and his/her book was that he/she hadn’t done enough research on how to query agents.

Note to the author: this isn’t a dead-end for you, though. Why don’t you write a standard query letter and resubmit it to the QueryDice. I’m sure we’d all like to know what brought your characters to the moment in which we’ve seen them here, and what they do after. Good luck.

Lauren Ruth

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