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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

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QueryDice #44: Women’s Fiction…I think

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 QueryDice, (the author noted that she would have used the agent’s name when querying. The proper way to do this is a simple “Dear Mr. or Ms. SoandSo.”)

Randi hopes rejoining her old band, ‘Raptor Snatch,’ [no quotation marks necessary for the name of a band] will cure her depression. [From how deep into Randi’s past has she unearthed her involvement with the band? How old is she? Age helps to create relatability in a query.]Music is more than just a job for Randi – it’s the rock and roll fuel for her rise from the ashes of the past eleven months.  [What happened in the past eleven months?]Nothing is going to stand in the way of her comeback. Nothing! Certainly not a jealous rival band hell bent on stealing Raptor Snatch’s place in the spotlight.

They may call themselves, ‘Slutmaster,’ [again, no quotation marks or comma necessary] but their combined sexual conquests don’t equal a trip to third base. What they lack in sexual – and musical prowess, they make up for in sabotage. [what does Slutmaster’s sexual prowess have to do with Randi’s life?]

Slutmaster lingers at Raptor Snatch’s performances, slinging glares around like Mardi Gras beads. They cancel some of Raptor Snatch’s gigs. [How?] They give anonymous tips to  night club security accusing Randi’s band members of theft.  Slutmaster’s weaselly tactics are getting under Randi’s skin more than Kelvin, her sexy lead guitar player. But Randi didn’t claw her way out of an emotional abyss to give up without a fight.

Can Randi hold her band – and herself   together, and hit the stage singing? Or will this rock and roll phoenix’s comeback go up in flames?

[I like this. The band names are hilarious, and I love Randi’s endeavor to use a band to revolutionize her life. But something is missing. I need to know what it was about Randi’s life that inspired her to join a band called Raptor Snatch, of all things, and how she expects being in that band will make her life better. The most important things to divulge in a query for any story are 1. what the main character wants 2. what is in her way and 3. how she plans to get around that. From this query, I am unsure what Randi really wants. What is it about her life that is unsatisfactory to her? In other words, what exactly is at stake here? I can see that Slutmaster is in Randi’s way of achieving a goal and that she is going to get around that by fighting back. But how will she fight back, and what, aside from Raptor Snatch, might Randi lose if she can’t defeat Slutmaster. 

Aside from that, I’m curious about this story…I might like to see it if I felt Randi had something more than the band at stake.] 

[redacted] is complete at 83,000 words. [This is, I believe, women’s fiction, but it is helpful to an agent to know what YOU think it is. Because if you think this is mystery, then I’m sorry to tell you this really sucks. If you think it’s romance, then you’ve placed the focus of the query on all the wrong things.]

I am currently a librarian; I lurked there for so long recommending books to patrons and shushing people, that I suspect they only hired me so it would be less creepy. Now I’m armed with a name tag, and a thin veneer of credibility. I’m also a musician with synesthesia which is as interesting, and more irritating than it sounds! <– I like this paragraph, not because I care that you’re a librarian, but because it is chock-full of personality. I’d love to hear more of that voice in the query! 

Thanks for your time and consideration.
[redacted]

Final comments: QueryDice Hijack #5: Memoir

The QueryDice has been HIJACKED by aspiring author, Gillian! The following is a query critique performed by a reader of SlushPileTales. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. The Hijacker can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours. After all comments are in, I will re-post the Dice with my own thoughts in purple. To apply to be a Hijacker, please contact me using the contact tab above. Gillian, take it away! (Gillian’s comments in green.)

Dear Ms. Ruth,

My 8th-grade social life is totally lame—my friends do nothing but collect lip gloss and decorate study guides for fun. You want the first line of your query to grab the reader. This is not particularly enticing or unique, though it’s not completely horrible. I was thrown by the first person, until I read to the bottom and realized this was a memoir and not fiction. I am not a big an of first-person queries from the protagonist’s point-of-view. I also did not know this was a memoir until I read to the bottom, and so for most of this query I assumed you were trying to be cute or unique by having your protagonist speak to me. I also agree with Gillian that the first line of the query was not as compelling as you might think it is.

I wake up from a long depression (this worries me, since depressed characters are not always easy to connect to) the spring before high school, take one look at these shiny-lipped losers (this I like– it shows your voice), and decide I am destined for greater things. I like the voice here too, but I’m still not hooked. I agree with Gillian that depressed characters, unless there is a humorous or satirical spin on them, are never very likable or interesting.

I want passion and adventure, and I want it in the form of romance. Nevermind (it should be “Never mind”, two words– and yes, I am that picky) that I never talk to boys (except to bribe them to eat pencil lead) (this completely threw me. You do WHAT? I think I get what you’re saying– fourteen-year-olds are not so smooth in the romance department– but this comes off very strangely) (I agree. This was really strange and not very funny.) or that my ultra-conservative parents have strictly forbidden me from dating until I am thirty-five (this doesn’t feel unique) (Yeah, not at all…that’s most young women). I am ready for love. Big love. The kind that inspires movies like Clueless and songs by *NSYNC (this threw me until I realized your memoir set in the 90’s. Then I felt nothing but pure nostalgia). Or that will at least give me a reason to stay up late on school nights chatting on AIM.I would have stopped reading here. The most interesting thing about this query is that it is told from the point-of-view of a teen in the nineties. Having been a teen in the nineties, I’m unimpressed. So the readers in our age-bracket will be bored with their own story (which is exactly what this memoir is), older age-brackets won’t necessarily understand the references or their importance, and younger age-brackets won’t care at all. That’s an issue with your book, not your query though.

The problem so far is that my interest isn’t piqued. The writing is pretty solid, there’s a fair amount of voice, but your stakes are non-existent. A teenage girl wants love. Which teenage girl doesn’t? What’s special about this story? Where’s the real conflict? What choice are you going to make that gets the story rolling?

But instead I find Nick. When he physically attacks me the night of our freshman band concert (this is where you should start. This is the inciting incident) (agreed), I know that I’ll be leaving my first relationship with more questions about love than answers (too vague. I want to know the specifics of your situation. This is the heart of your book, after all) I completely agree with Gillian, here. This is entirely too vague…did he think you were a prowler under the bleachers and accidentally beat you up? Did he viciously rape you? The weight of this, for your book, is huge. I don’t yet know that each new relationship will just bring more questions than the last (Again, too vague, and too philosophical for me. A freshman in  high school wouldn’t immediately leap to thoughts like this. I’m not sure I even leap to thoughts like this, particularly after something traumatic).

[redacted]: A Memoir of Young Love is the story of my high school quest for love [when I read this, I automatically think, so what? We all have high school quests for love. Why does YOURS deserve to be told? What’s special and compelling about it that would make people who don’t know you want to read it? Also, I’m not sure why, the phrase “young love” strikes me as sickly sweet and a bit too nostalgic. Teenagers don’t think their love is young. They just think it’s love (says the very wise and elderly twenty-one-year-old)] and all the things I find instead. It is complete at 73,000 words.

I studied creative writing at Indiana University, where I wrote weekly columns for the Indiana Daily Student and won 2nd place in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ student columnist contest judged by Ellen Goodman of The Boston Globe. I also have a short story published in the North Central Review. I currently work as a therapist, and I keep a popular blog. I would include the blog link, but I’m not an expert on what agents like in a bio. I defer to Ms. Ruth and the comments here. I’d include the link in your signature. That way, you’re not being so presumptuous as to assume the agent cares to look at your web presence, but if they really wanted to (which isn’t far-fetched) they could. My impression is that in memoir and non-fiction, platform is uber important, and the agent would want to know what kind of readership your blog gets. Yes, agents want to know everything about how you can market yourself as an author…including a built-in readership by way of a blog.

Thank you for your time. I am ready to send any or all of the manuscript and can be reached at [redacted] or at [redacted].

Best wishes,

[redacted]

There could be a story here. I’m just not certain what it is. Is it solely about your younger self being disappointed in love and boys? Is it about you healing from a sexual assault? I want to know. And I want to know why this book is different from the myriad other books dealing with the same subject matter. You can clearly write and I like your voice. This query could do with spicing up, stronger word choice, clearer conflict. I want to be so hooked that I can’t wait to read pages.

Gillian is a full-time student and aspiring author, because that’s the only thing she can think of doing with her English degree. She is a crazed bibliophile who scares people sometimes with the depths of her geekiness and uncanny ability to make pop culture references at any moment. She loves her rescue dog beyond the realms of sanity.

Gillian has just started foisting her ideas on the internet with her own blog, Writer of Wrongs, where she rambles on about the trials of writing, publishing, living in Los Angeles, and baking the perfect apple cinnamon cake.

Thanks, Gillian!

QueryDice Hijack #3: Middle-grade

The QueryDice has been HIJACKED by soon-to-be published author, Sage Blackwood! The following is a query critique performed by a reader of SlushPileTales. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. The Hijacker can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours. After all comments are in, I will re-post the Dice with my own thoughts in purple. To apply to be a Hijacker, please contact me using the contact tab above. Sage, take it away! (Sage’s comments in green.)

Dear Ms. Ruth,

The last person Ricky Wilson expected to meet in the boys’ bathroom at Bramlet Junior High was Dolly, the ghost of an eighteenth century British noblewoman. I wouldn’t start with a logline. Loglines knock the story out of order and can be confusing. Instead, start around here:

I respectfully disagree with Sage. I like the line above. It drew me in. I was intrigued by the ghost of a girl in the boys’ bathroom of a junior high school. There’s something kind of wacky about it and I definitely wanted to keep reading.

But ever since waking from a bone-chilling nightmare about an ax-wielding logger, Ricky’s life has been full of unexpected (and mostly unwanted) surprises.  <–This sentence feels like it runs off course a bit. I would like to see a connector just before the sentence. Something like, “But Ricky isn’t that surprised. His life has been full of unexpected (and mostly unwanted) surprises…like waking up from a bone-chilling nightmare about an ax-wielding logger.” Of course then you’d need to modify the following sentence a bit.

One such surprise is the ghostly occupant of the family’s newly purchased vacation house, a spirit called Red, who is the very logger from Ricky’s dream!  Bound to the house, but determined to wreak vengeance, Red conjures up a second ghost to haunt Ricky wherever he goes, the beautiful and unpredictable Dolly. This is a good set-up. I’m hooked; sounds like an interesting story. I agree. I’m interested.

As Ricky struggles to navigate the rough seas of junior high and home life, Red threatens to capsize him. Can you be more specific? Yup. My thought exactly. What struggles? Struggles happen to be the heart of middle-grade, and if they’re not bad enough (like poor Harry Potter and the powers he has but doesn’t understand amidst his little identity crisis) the story won’t work the way you want it to. And how and why would Red threaten to capsize him? Instead, Dolly leads Ricky on an unforgettable journey that will bring him a new understanding of friendship and family, and reveal some astonishing truths about himself. Again, be more specific. What’s the journey? What challenge does Ricky face and how does he rise to the occasion? We expect the character will grow in some way, but it’s generally a better idea to focus on character and plot rather than on themes or morals. Remember, your main job here is to make the query-reader eager to read the story. I’ll agree and somewhat disagree. I think themes and morals are way, way, way more important in middle-grade than they are in some other genres or age-groups. So I do want to know exactly what themes or morals are discussed, but I agree with Sage when she calls for specificity. We need to know the conflict too. What does Ricky want, what’s in his way, how does he overcome it and why does he need help from Dolly. This conflict should have larger consequences for the world around him and more personal consequences for Ricky.

[redacted] the first of a three book, middle grade series.  In today’s middle grade market, you’re best off calling it a stand-alone with series potential. Sage is right. Unless you have all three books finished and polished to your satisfaction (and be honest with yourself) then “stand-alone with series potential” is not only best for you, but let’s face it…it’s accurate. Unlike the pure fantasy and alternate reality books flooding today’s Middle Grade and YA markets, (Oops—that sounds negative. I’m sure you don’t mean it that way, but it’s not really necessary that you compare your book to those already on the market, anyway) (Again, I agree with Sage. It is highly likely that you’ll be querying the agents who have sold some of the books you’re talking about, which means they’ll have an emotional attachment to them…making yourself out to be “above” that will not work in your favor) the main character in this series is grounded in the real world, facing the same problems as many readers.  The appearance of a ghost and the plausibility of reincarnation challenge him, (I thought you said he was grounded in the real world, facing the same problems as readers. I wouldn’t imagine readers grapple with ghost appearances and the plausibility of reincarnation, as a rule. You’ve probably juxtaposed these things against real-world problems, but the placement of these sentences puts them in conflict.) as well as the reader, to question the boundaries of what is possible.  I’d leave this out. You don’t need to tell us what the book will do for the reader. We assume reading in general does this for children. Great point, Sage! Each book of the series will introduce a new ghost as well as reveal clues about Red’s past and how Ricky is linked to him.  The ghosts are based on actual reported sightings which are discussed in an Afterword. That’s an interesting idea. Yeah, that is interesting…and fun.

Growing up in California, I would rouse my younger sister out of bed to conduct midnight seances.  Having never successfully summoned an actual spirit, the ghosts in my stories are based solely on the reports of others and my own invention.  After graduating college, I moved to Seattle, Washington to design and test airplanes for the Boeing Company.  While living in the Northwest, I learned to bungee jump and play the marimba.  I left Boeing to pursue the arts of child raising and writing.  I’ve had articles published in local newspapers and school newsletters and am a member of SCBWI Western Washington.  [redacted] is my first novel. I’d generally omit a bio unless a specific agent’s submission guidelines ask for one. Or unless you’ve got paid publishing credits you want to mention, eg previously published books. It’s also not necessary to say this is your first novel. Since that won’t help, leave it out. Would you care to know about the childhood of someone you don’t know, and who happens to be just one person in a long line of other people you have to read that day? Nope. And neither do agents. They want to know about your book, and about your professional credits. That’s all. And I too would have left out the mention that it is a first novel. Sometimes I think authors put that in as a pride-mention, but it has the potential to work against you. Leave it out, since it is unnecessary.

The completed manuscript of [redacted] is available upon request. Give a word-count here, rounded to the nearest thousand. Say something like “[Redacted] is complete at 45,000 words.” Agreed.

Thank you for your consideration! That’s good; thanking people is always good.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

Author, it sounds like you’ve got an interesting story here, but we’re not hearing enough about it. Your query runs 380 words, which is about 100 words long. On the revision, take out the bio and any reference to what you hope the book will do for the reader. In my experience, some parents like useful lessons in children’s books. But editors, agents, writers, booksellers, and the kids themselves do not.

So just emphasize the story. Tell us more about the challenges Ricky faces—be specific—and how he overcomes them through his own resourcefulness. I’m not sure you should spend time talking about future books. At this point you really want to interest the agent in just this one book. “Stand alone with series potential” –and leave it at that—is the current parlance. Best-case scenario is when the agent or editor says “Have you got more?”

Hope this helps you with revising your query. Good luck!

Sage Blackwood’s middle-grade fantasy JINX, the first of a trilogy, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in January 2013.

Find Sage Blackwood on GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13643494-jinx

Thanks, Sage!

QueryDice Hijack #2: YA, Adult or Crossover?

The QueryDice has been HIJACKED! The following is a query critique performed by a reader of SlushPileTales. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. The Hijacker can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours. After all comments are in, I will post my own thoughts in the comments section. To apply to be a Hijacker, please contact me using the contact tab above. Shelver, take it away! (Shelver’s comments in green.)

Dear Ms. Ruth,

[redacted] is a 95,000-word horror novel about a girl haunted by premonitory visions, and a decades-old curse she uncovers. Okay, one sentence in and you already have me wrinkling my nose. Don’t tell me what a story is about. Show me. (I checked the rest of your query. You don’t show me.) I would suggest cutting the entire bit from “about a girl…” onward and moving the rest of the sentence to the end of the query. All of that is business and belongs with the rest of the business (bio, etc.). You only get one first impression, so don’t waste it.

Dawn McKenzie moves to rural Ohio to start a new life, but the death of a visiting couple has put the entire town on edge. I fail to see how these two parts connect. There are other ways to mention (if necessary) that Dawn is new to town, and there are certainly smoother ways to bring in the deaths. Langston, the town’s aging sheriff, believes they were victims of a werewolf attack.What? Someone dies (you don’t even say they were murdered or mauled – you say they died) and the sheriff thinks “By Jove, it must be a mythical creature!”? Now he must walk a line: on one side is the town he swore to protect; on the other is a dark path of murder and conspiracy. Hold up. Who’s the protagonist, Dawn or the sheriff? This query is your protagonist’s chance to shine. Don’t give up the spotlight. Also “walking a line” usually implies balancing between two choices. Unless Langston is being pulled to commit murder, he’s not walking any line. Across town, Dawn’s visions of a dead friend–someone she calls The Boy in Black–beckon her to uncover a truth she would rather not know: that the werewolf may be real, and one of her new friends may be more than what she seems.

I feel like there are so many gaps in the paragraph above, which makes me worry about your world-building. Why would anyone bother to suspect werewolves? Are Dawn’s visions of a dead friend new? If he’s a friend, why does she call him by a title rather than his actual name? I think calling him “The Boy in Black” is supposed to add a spooky feel to the tale, but it doesn’t make any sense. I know you may not feel like you have enough room in a query, but you should be able to clearly and succinctly let the agent get a feel for your story and the world that it inhabits. He or she certainly shouldn’t spend most of the time feeling confused.

More than anything, I’m not sure why I should care about Dawn or her story. Two people died, but there’s no mention of any further danger. There may or may not be one werewolf somewhere in the world. Also, Dawn has a friend who may be “more than what she seems,” which could mean she’s secretly a world-renowned tap dancer. How does any of this affect Dawn? What makes any of this her problem? And once it’s her problem to handle, why should I as a reader care?  

The novel is aimed at adults and young adults. Wait, so would this be shelved in with adult fiction or YA lit? Crossover appeal happens, but you as the author need to write with the primary audience in mind.with an eye for small-town drama, women’s issues and horror that gets under your skin.I’ve seen none of this in your query. If you have to resort to telling me these elements are in your story rather than being able to show me, there’s a problem. The protagonist in [redacted] is a young girl starting college in a small town. Being a college freshman likely makes her too old for most YA lit publishers, but describing her as a “young girl” will hardly recommend her to adult readers. Either way, this sentence is unnecessary, but I added the critique to give you something to think about for your story. 

The jump into adulthood can be frightening, and I want this novel to be a companion to that while still holding the attention of older readers. Another sentence that makes my nose wrinkle. In addition to repeating sentiments regarding your proposed dual audience, you’re also perilously close to outright calling this novel New Adult, which makes it a very tough sell.

I have written two novels and over thirty published stories, one of which appeared in the horror anthology What Fears Become (italicize the title) alongside author Ramsey Campbell. Good information to know. Very nice. I have a B.A. in Cinema and Cultural Studies, a division of Comparative Literature. I would leave the college major part of the bio out. (Feel free to correct me in the comments, guys.) I would love to send the completed manuscript upon request. Of course you would. Anyone would. Don’t waste time on the obvious.

Thank you for your time[,] and I look forward to your reply. Classy touch.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

Shelver506 is an anonymous, bespectacled bookshelver (“bookstore associate”) working at a national bookstore chain. She loves peanut butter and Oxford commas. She despises Shakespeare and James Joyce, despite graduating with a degree in English literature. At the moment, she is content to shelve books and rag on poor Shakespeare, but hopes to one day become a literary agent.

Shelver runs her own blog, Bookshelvers Anonymous, where she talks about being a bookshelver and squeals over well-crafted books. You can connect with her at her blog, on Twitter, or on Goodreads. (See? Oxford commas are beautiful.)

QueryDice Hijack #1

The QueryDice has been HIJACKED! The following is a query critique performed by a reader of SlushPileTales. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. The Hijacker can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours. After all comments are in, I will post my own thoughts in the comments section. To apply to be a Hijacker, please contact me using the contact tab above. Heidi, take it away! (Heidi’s comments in green.)

This is hard, because I am querying right now myself, and I know how difficult it is. As a peer, I want to congratulate you on your bravery. I hope my notes will be helpful. Good luck.

Dear Ms. Ruth:

How do you choose between hell and, well, hell?

From what I’ve read and seen, starting with a question is not usually the best tactic for a query. In addition, the question that you posed is really unanswerable. I’d leave it off.

Start here instead: In the novel [redacted] Neely Jane Richter, a neurotic and endearing (I’d leave off the endearing part. Show me, don’t tell me. Can you give me a glimpse into what makes her endearing?) young poet, is at her own personal crossroads: continue life in the clutches of OCD or battle the disorder head-on with a hard-ass therapist who doesn’t find Neely amusing in the least.

I’m intrigued. This could be interesting. I’m not getting a real sense of the conflict yet, but I’m interested enough to read on.

It’s a choice that will force her to embrace uncertainty—in her writing, in her spirituality, and in her relationships both with Matt Coty, the man she loves, and Gabe Reed, her attractive but wayward new friend who wants to take Matt’s place.  I have an idea that the relationship issue is the central conflict, what is at stake, but I’m not entirely sure. Help me be sure. At her end of her strength, Neely—supported by quirky friends and neighbors—clumsily tackles life, love, and healing.

The words “quirky” and “clumsily” sound to me like this may be humorous but your query is not showing me that. I’d love to have more of a sense of Neely’s character and voice.

This could be a fun, Diary of a Mad Fat Girl – type romp. Or it could be a serious journey through a young woman’s struggle with mental illness. Either one might be a good read; I’d like to have a better sense of which this is.

[Redacted], a [insert genre here] is complete at approximately 110,000 words.

I received my bachelor’s degree in English at Northwestern College in Minnesota, where I was regularly published in the school’s literary magazine; I also author a blog about obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I’ve drawn heavily on my own twenty-year struggle with OCD in the writing of [redacted]. Your bio is interesting and shows that you know what you are talking about.  The novel is complete at approximately 110,000 words.

Please let me know if you would be interested in reading part or all of [redacted].  Thank you for your time and consideration. and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

Heidi Schulz is an aspiring author, currently querying for the first time. She is a fan of the serial coma, green smoothies, puppies, and books of all sizes, shapes, and varieties. Sometimes she goes into a bookstore just to smell it. She writes, reads, folds laundry, homeschools, and cooks dinner in Salem, Oregon, though generally not all on the same day.

Heidi blogs at Frantically Simple and is a regular contributor to Mommy Authors.

Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

QueryDice #40: YA or MG

Announcement: SlushPileTales will have a new feature called Hijack a QueryDice, in which one QueryDice commenter gets to take the reigns and Dice a query. Other commenters can comment on either the original query or the Hijacker’s Dice (or both). I will provide feedback in the comments section. Peer review is an important part of honing skill as a writer, and there is nothing quite like examining the work of someone else to improve upon your own self-editing skills. If you’re up to the challenge of hijacking, please contact me at laurenruth2 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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 currently seeking representation for my 71,000-word YA fantasy novel, [redacted]. Since I see you are interested in young adult stories, I hope my book will intrigue you.

For me, this first sentence is all wrong. First, I know you’re seeking representation. You do not need to state the obvious. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with telling me the obvious, it is a waste of precious real estate. Then, don’t tell me you hope your book will intrigue me. It shows you’re self-conscious. Without actually coming out and saying “You will like this book,” that needs to be your attitude. 

Thirteen-year-old Cory MacGullin would have preferred a nice piece of birthday cake, some ice cream, and a candy-filled piñata to smack around. Instead, he’s just learned there’s a family monster named Snitch living in the attic, his parents are from a magical world hidden behind the local Renaissance Faire they attend every summer, and that he’s wanted by Mister-A, the Magical Realm Authorities.

Great. I do happen to be intrigued.

Well, he can’t complain he wasn’t surprised this year. But like birthday socks that try to bite off your feet, the surprises are just beginning.

The construction of this sentence is confusing. The way you’ve written it, it sounds like you’re trying to tell me that both surprises and feet-munching birthday socks are just beginning. What you really meant to say was: “Well, he can’t complain he wasn’t surprised this year. But the surprises are just beginning…like birthday socks that try to bite off your feet.”

When Cory’s parents thrust him into their magical world to save him from a band of mercenary Banglewooks, (what’s a Banglewook?) he soon learns some shocking news–he’s adopted. Even worse, his deceased birth parents, the Murdochs, were the most despised monster hunters in the magical realm. (Why would monster hunters be despised? That sounds like a good thing to have around, and if it isn’t, your world-building is lacking). To complicate matters, Mister-A has imprisoned the MacGullins for harboring him as a fugitive, and a necromancer named Zanderlin Hellian will do anything to acquire Cory’s unique ability to steal a monster’s magical energy. If Cory ever wants to see the only parents he’s ever known alive again, he’s going to have to learn to use his newfound power before Mister-A or Hellian catch up to him.

But Cory isn’t without allies. Super. I was just going to say, “Yeah, but where are his sidekicks for comic relief and world-building dialog?”

Snitch is sworn to protect Cory at all costs and spirits him away to Dragon’s Maw, a living castle where Cory will learn to become a monster hunter. But Cory must be wary. Taking power from monsters is a risky business, especially for a Murdoch. Can Cory defeat Hellian and rescue his parents or will he fall victim to the Murdochs’dark legacy…and become the most feared monster in the magical realm himself?

Why would he become a monster himself? If his parents turned into actual monsters at some point, something should be added two paragraphs ago when you introduced us to the Murdochs. If you just meant that people will despise him, then this is unclear. 

I think Cory needs more than just Snitch for an ally. He needs another kid, preferably one with a very, very colorful personality. 

This query isn’t half-bad, but I think it sounds more middle-grade than it does YA, and I don’t believe in that cross-over crap. There is no love interest, so I hesitate to call this YA. Teens are always concerned with love interests because this is a new arena for them. Even if the love interest doesn’t really come to the forefront, I think it is almost necessary to have some sort of girl around who catches Cory’s eye. In addition, this feels too fun and magical to be YA. YA, for me, is edgy and cool with some sort of taboo subject touched upon, be it drugs, sex, violence, shady politics, whatever…

Middle-grade, on the other hand, should have a dual conflict: one that can potentially affect the whole world (an external conflict), and another that affects only the protagonist’s life (an internal conflict). Those two conflicts should be born of the same situation. This story has that, it has a MG voice in my opinion, and it has fun and adventure. My advice, aside from just pruning your query around the edges a bit, is to make your character 11 or 12 and call this MG. Readers, what do you think? YA or MG?

The complete manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time in reviewing this, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. I may be reached via e-mail at [redacted]. (I know you can be reached by email…you just emailed me. Don’t waste your words.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

Overall, very good start!

LR

 

QueryDice #39: Voice

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

Mia Tanaka made the decision to attend Vega Preparatory Academy so that she could write her own future; little did she know Vega specialized in rewriting the past.

Hmm. I wonder what this means…

Mia Tanaka was forgettable.  You could have sat next to her in class, done a project with her, or been in the same club, yet when you saw her in the hallways, her name was just out of grasp.  Although she was a smart and talented girl, she had never risked enough to fail.  Consequently, she’d never really experienced success, either. (Getting into Vega Preparatory Acadamy isn’t a success?)  A hapa (half-Japanese, half-Caucasian) girl living in Idaho, Mia secretly dreamed of being significant and memorable, a feat that seemed impossible to accomplish unless something changed drastically.  

Being half-Japanese in Idaho seems memorable, even if just a little. The way you’ve constructed this sentence tells me you mean her status as a hapa to be unmemorable and insignificant, but I’m not so sure it is.

The opportunity to make that change was presented to Mia when she attended her high school’s annual college fair and was introduced to Vega Preparatory Academy by two incredibly good-looking boys, Rhys and Jesse.  Mia’s first reaction was to forget about it.  She was already following in her mom’s footsteps to the local state college, the safe and predictable path.  But when Rhys approached Mia again to let her know that she was precisely what Vega was looking for, Mia received the confidence boost she needed to remember that she wanted more out of life than just safe and predictable.  Vega Prep was a school that was shrouded in mystery and potential adventure, and deep down, that was exactly what Mia craved.  

The above paragraph is entirely unnecessary in a query. While this information would be necessary in your book, we don’t need to know every breath or step Mia takes. We need to know larger threads, and those words are just taking up valuable real estate.

When she reached Vega, she found out that it was not just a school for the best and the brightest; it was the training ground for Vega Corporation (she or her parents wouldn’t have put two-and-two together?), a company that was dedicated to time travel.  

The moment Mia heard about the opportunity to travel through time, (Get ready for it…here comes number one) she realized this was what she was meant to do.  (And here’s number two, close on its heels). She finally felt like her life had purpose. (And third time’s not a charm…) Mia wanted nothing more than to be the school’s sole female time traveler, but was thwarted in her attempts by the “mean girl”, Angelica, who seemed to have a vendetta against her, by Sophia, the beautiful but evil woman who felt that she was robbed of the job in the past, and most of all, by herself.

In the past three sentences, we’re told three times that Mia is excited about the prospect of time travel. Once is plenty. 

Sophia and Angelica don’t feel like real threats to me because I don’t understand what they’ve done to keep Mia from getting what she wants. What does Angelica do to deliberately get in Mia’s way? Who exactly is Sophia, and why is she present at a school? Is she a teacher? I assume this is the book’s major conflict (since its the only conflict I can see) but it’s not thorny enough. Or, rather, it might be…but you haven’t shown it to us.

I thought the time-travel concept was interesting in a YA environment (even though that makes it science-fictiony, which could make it a rough sell) but I was concerned that there’s no teen voice to this query. It sounds like a grown woman speaking about a teen girl, which it is. A query, while it should be written in third person, should also give us a taste of the protagonist’s personality. If I had to judge Mia’s personality from this query, I’d say she acts like she’s thirty, which is not good in YA. 

I’d love to see some sentences revamped by SlushPileTales readers in the comments section. Winner gets–drum roll–mention as THE WINNER OF QUERYDICE 39 on Twitter! =)

Lastly, you mention in your opening sentence that Vega specializes in rewriting the past, but you don’t mention their motive for traveling through time to do that. It’s dramatic that you open with that, but then it fizzles when you never mention it again.

Being a hapa kid myself, growing up on the sunny shores of Kailua, Hawaii, I read voraciously, and I dreamed of traveling to long lost times and being a part of different worlds.  As I grew up, I realized that dream was impossible. [redacted] is, in a way, my rebellion.  After gaining my bachelor’s degree in history from Utah Valley University and learning even more about the times I yearned to be a part of, I decided that if I wanted a world in which I could time travel to exist, I needed to create it.

None of this is important. The bio portion of your letter should include information on your past writing and anything relevant to your career as an author. If you have enough words left over after giving us that information, feel free to include a few tidbits of your journey to the book.

[redacted] is a YA fantasy novel complete at 100,000 words.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

[redacted]

QueryDice #38: BRAVO, AUTHOR!

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,

Thirteen-year-old Sabrina Tate has a visibility problem. The local mean girl sees her as an easy target, her parents see her as a weak imitation of her sister, and the cute boy in her English class doesn’t see her at all. When Sabrina finds out about a competition to be the queen of her junior high school’s Arthurian Feast, she thinks winning might be her chance to become visible in all the right ways. After all, the competition only asks her to read books, watch movies, and show up to a few rehearsals—how hard can that be?

But Sabrina doesn’t count on mean girl attacks, cheaters in the competition, or detention as a result of a prank gone wrong. Sabrina especially doesn’t count on her best friend’s growing frustration with her focus on winning. As Sabrina learns more about the Arthurian legends that inspired the feast, she starts questioning herself, her friends, even her enemies. If Sabrina doesn’t win, she’ll stay the same loser she’s always been. But if she does win, she might lose the things she cares about most: her best friend and her identity as a nice girl. Is winning worth the cost?

As a junior high student, I participated in a similar medieval feast. Although the characters and events are fictitious, the backdrop for the story stems from personal experience. I have a PhD in English and teach college-level writing courses.

[redacted] is a contemporary upper-middle-grade novel, complete at 54,000 words, that may appeal to fans of Michael Beil, Erin Dionne and Wendy Mass. Thank you for your consideration!

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I tried really hard to find something wrong with this query. There are little things that are just a matter of preference (like the name-dropping) and something about the word “visibility” bothered me. Perception is really more accurate. The only large-scope criticism I have has to do with voice. I would have liked to see Sabrina’s personality a bit. But, aside from those tiny things, most of which don’t matter too much in the larger scope of things, this query has done its job. Bravo! 

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

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