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QueryDice #36

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

Dear Ms. Ruth,

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

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

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

How does this new roommate interfere?

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

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

2. She’s a student at some Academy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, [redacted]

LR

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QueryDice #35

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

Dear Ms Ruth,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your consideration.

[redacted]

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

LR

 

 


QueryDice #34

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

Dear Ms. Ruth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours truly,

[redacted]

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