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QueryDice #53: The Bio Paragraph

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,

     With an eternally seventeen-year old body and supernatural powers to defend an ancient covenant that keeps hitting the snooze button on the world’s Armageddon alarm clock, Jayke Wolff has a big responsibility on his shoulders.  <– what? This seems like too much. I had to read the sentence twice to get a firmer handle on it.

Because he doesn’t remember anything about his life before coming out of a coma seven years ago, he’s not too stressed about it.  Unfortunately for him, the world-conquering cult, the Aduro, has a longer memory.  They’ve dispatched their most seductive and dangerous emissaries to either move Jayke to their side of the game board or knock him off it completely.
     With the fall dance, geometry class, and the girl in his business class with the devastatingly long legs competing for his attention, Jayke isn’t getting any closer to learning about his past with so much looming in his future.  Jayke has to either take control of his own life, give himself over to a secret society vying for world domination, or just let an ancient prophesy decide his fate for him.  Where does a guy find the time to save the world?  You are only young once, even if it is forever.
     Thank you for considering my 98,000 word YA, fantasy manuscript [redacted].  TeensReadToo.com said Jayke’s “humor and insight made me laugh.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read a story with such life-like characters that I actually cared about”.  Flamingnet Young Adult’s reviewer said she “could not put it down until (she) discovered how Jayke’s story turned out” and awarded the book a Top Choice Award from the site.  This manuscript is currently being considered at Curtis Brown and Nancy Coffey.

This query is not perfect. I would like to see a more vivid character, maybe a friend or two, and some personal ambition. But I would have requested it anyway, because it was pretty good, and more importantly, it has been read and lauded before and two other agents–respected agents at that–have seen a glimmer of hope. Also the quote from teensreadtoo.com addresses the issue I had: characterization. Maybe this author has great characters in the manuscript, but a flat character in the query…which wouldn’t be a first. The take-away: the bio paragraph of your query letter is extremely important. Many authors tack it on the end without much thought, but it could be key!

LR

Sincerely,

[redacted]

 

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QueryDice #51: Awesome YA Query

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,

When sixteen-year-old (If this is YA, then I’m pleased you’ve told me that up-front. If it’s not I’m pissed off that you’ve tricked me into thinking it was.) Emma Hawthorne finds the body of her best friend, Lily, floating in the river, (you have my attention. Let’s see if you hang on to it) her hard-fought control of her empathic ability crumbles. Capable of picking up emotions from other people like a radio signal, she is too damaged to tune out the constant static. Emma wants to move beyond her grief and be free from what everyone else is feeling.

Then an encounter with a stranger’s violent emotions triggers a vision of Lily’s tortured soul and Emma is faced with a terrifying sense that the drowning wasn’t an accident – and that Lily isn’t resting in peace. Her search for answers attracts unwanted attention from Patrick, a man without emotions. Simultaneously repulsed and intrigued, she allows him into her life. And when he offers to take away her ability, along with the pain it causes, she is ready to accept.

But Lily is trying to warn Emma from beyond the grave. Patrick’s offer isn’t without a price – a price that cost Lily more than her life. As Emma unravels the twisted threads connecting Patrick to Lily, she discovers he’s more dangerous than she ever thought possible. Emma must find the strength to fight the growing supernatural hold Patrick has on her – not only to give Lily the peace she deserves, but to save her sanity and possibly her soul as well.

[redacted] is a 64,000 word YA urban fantasy with romantic elements.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

There is nothing wrong with this query. It was stellar! I know what the conflict is, that conflict has intrigued me and it has enough punch for YA. The way you divulged your book’s particulars flowed nicely and I wasn’t left needing information. I would even like to read this! My only criticisms are that I didn’t feel enough of Emma’s personality–what makes her unique–and also the only thing that made this YA was the character’s age. There is no mention of school, or typical internal conflict teenagers face.

Author, we’d love to hear the story of your query…was it rejected? How many requests did you receive? Most of all: did you get an agent?!

LR

 

QueryDice #50: Middle-Grade and Conflict

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,

1952 San Angelo is a boy’s paradise providing ten-year-old Allan with endless adventure. But when his mother becomes ill, Allan discovers it’s not excitement he longs for, but the comfort of family and the gift of friendship. <—Nice. Great beginning. One of the most important elements in a middle-grade story is internal conflict. Kids in this age-group relate more strongly to internal conflict. Even if they see an external conflict (like war, for example, or the illness of a parent) they are not completely feeling the external conflict–they are feeling what effect that has on them. Additionally, the setting is a strong point for this query, because librarians, parents and teachers will be attracted to a historical setting (kids can learn history through reading.) Now, what I’m looking for is a strong external conflict that has big stakes for more people than just Allan and his mom…that would get a yes from me. Let’s read on…

Allan spends most of his days riding on his best friend’s handlebars while looking for escapades like hunting blood-spitting horny toads, riding a bucking bronco, and winning the best Concho River storytelling contest. <–cute. I can see the book’s personality, which makes me think the author might have a great voice.

For three years, Allan watches the construction of the town’s 128 foot dam and all he can think about is riding down its long slope. Nitpick: you should change this sentence to, “For the past three years, Allan has been watching…” because otherwise it sounds just a tiny bit like we experience these three years in your book!

He just has to convince Raymond (is Raymond the best friend?) to take the ride with him. When Raymond finally agrees, Allan hesitates. His mother’s illness—knots in her lady parts is how the doctor puts it—causes Allan to feel something he’s never felt before—fear.

He remembers his mother’s words and discovers the courage he needs to conquer the adventure of a lifetime. He begins to understand what his mother has tried to teach him about the give and take of life and the importance of family, friends, and a special little town. <–hmm. I think there is more to this story that you’re not telling us…

[redacted] is a humorous, yet tender, coming-of-age MG novel complete at 40,000 words. I have extensive experience with middle grade readers and their triumphs and challenges.  I have been an elementary school counselor for nine years and a university school counselor educator for thirteen years. Currently, I am a school counselor in a 6th-12th grade school in the largest school system in the Southeast.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

Technically, this query is fine. I know what the conflict is, I can see at least a little of the main character’s personality. I even like the premise. But I would reject it, and here’s why: remember at the beginning of this Dice, when I said I was looking for a big external conflict? I don’t see one here. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, of course. Maybe there is. But a kid worrying about his mother’s illness and endeavoring to ride down the slope of a 128-foot dam just doesn’t have the zing I was hoping for. Something in this story needs to involve the entire town while also being an internal conflict for Allan. For example, if he instead endeavored to save the town from something and his mother’s illness tied into that, and his riding down the dam was somehow part of everything, I’d bite.

Best of luck, author!

LR

**Success story: The author of this query now has an agent! The author hopes her query will encourage writers. Of her success, she says, “Even if the query letter isn’t perfect, your manuscript can still find its way to the perfect (for you) agent! Congratulations, author!

QueryDice #49: World-Building in a Query Letter

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,

The only thing worse than finding out you’re part of a secret magic species is finding out you’re a necromancer, and not a very good one. Aisling gets waves of nausea and cold chills around the dead, and can’t even stomach the reanimation of corpses. In what world would she need to be able to stomach this? Your use of the word “even” leads me to believe that this is something that is expected of her, but it’s a detail that comes too early and without satisfactory explanation. This query letter is a bit short (at 188 words), so I would suggest using this first paragraph to introduce us to both Aisling and her world. 

Then she meets a haunted young man named Kenneth. Death has touched him, and together they can help each other deal with this world. What world? I do not have a firm grasp of this world. Which creatures live in it? What is the one thing about this world that sets it apart most from the world we know? Additionally, what do you mean by “deal”? What’s so bad about the world? And how can they help each other? What I’m getting at with these questions is this: I don’t know enough.

When Aisling feels like she may just fit in with the others a female student turns up dead. <— What does the first part of this sentence have to do with the end of it? Suspecting eyes fall upon Aisling and soon the female body count increases. She must learn to master her abilities to uncover the truth to find the killer, before her she or her friends are next. Aisling wants to point the finger at her friend’s new boyfriend, but the clues point in one path while her heart points in another. Her heart? Like, love? Or did you mean she has a hunch that is unsupported by evidence? Being the only one equipped with the magic for the task, Aisling knows failure is no option, even at the risk of her personal safety, and against her parent’s wishes. <–Do her parents know that she is a necromancer? Do they know her world exists?

With academy halls filled with teenagers learning dangerous new powers, everyone’s a suspect. Oh, so she goes to a school for the magically gifted? Setting is important in YA, and we should know this early on because otherwise this reads like a query for fantasy with a YA-aged protagonist, which is not the same thing as YA.

[redacted] is a young adult fantasy with mystery elements completed at 72,00 words; a stand-alone with sequel potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind Regards,

[redacted]

Look, I get it. It is SO tough to try to boil down a never-before-seen world into a query letter while still boiling down plot structure. Fantasy is the toughest genre for which to write query letters. That is exactly why this query has failed. There are too few details where we need them, and too many details in the wrong places at the wrong times. I think you’ve got an interesting and cute story here, but it just needs to be presented in the right way. I would suggest making a list of the elements of your world that your readers MUST know about in order to appreciate your story. Limit yourself to fewer than six. Then cut out anything outside of those and re-write your query letter accordingly. 

Lastly, the main character seems to have no personality. I’d like to see some of her quirks, and if you can, a piece of her voice here in the query letter. That will be the difference between a ho-hum query, and one that gets attention. 

Good luck! 

LR

QueryDice #48: Voice in YA

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.

To Lauren Ruth,

Hope Murdoch was born dead.

Great first line. I’m hooked.

She took breath a minute later and despite her that quick trip through the veil sixteen years ago, she’s an almost-normal teen. She has an impossible crush on the boy next door, she struggles to pay attention in class, and she’s adopted. All of this–even the adopted part–makes the normal list. The not-so-normal list is short. In fact, there’s only one thing on it. Hope can read minds.

I made the word change in the first sentence to affirm to the reader that “the veil” refers to her being dead and then alive when she was born. Also, if this is something unique to this story, I’d recommend capitalizing The Veil.

I don’t think being adopted is something I would put on a list of normal things. It does not belong in the most-normal category of high-school crushes and waning attention in class. I wonder if you might consider rewording this paragraph. Something to the effect of, “…thought being adopted was the most abnormal thing about her, until…”

Lance Hampton used to be normal until a car accident killed his parents and, temporarily, him. How about adding, “On that night” here —> Paramedics brought him back to a life he doesn’t want: orphaned, uprooted and living with his uncle, and cursed with the ability to see how people die. At his new school, he hides behind his attitude (what kind of attitude?) and overgrown, unkempt hair. He knows it’s better if he doesn’t make any attachments. Seeing how complete strangers die is hard enough, let alone friends. Wow. Yeah, that would be problematic. This has my interest.

Hope and Lance are barely aware of one another until she accidentally slips inside his mind and witnesses a vision of murder . . . her own. She can’t see it clearly and only knows it happens in the dark. She needs Lance’s help, but he won’t face death again (what do you mean by “face death again”?) for just anyone. Hope will have to become more than a stranger, even more than a friend. After that, it’s simply a matter of tracking down a murderer before he kills. A murderer who could be anywhere. Anyone.

Even psychics have trouble seeing in the dark. <—well, why wouldn’t they have trouble seeing in the dark? Night-vision isn’t their power. I see that you were trying to be witty here, but it falls flat for me.

[redacted] is an 85,000-word young adult novel, the first of a trilogy. <–you do not add what genre your book is.

There was no salutation to this query. A simple “Sincerely, soandsso” can’t fail. Regardless of that and the other kinks in this query I think need to be ironed out, I’m sure this author has received requests for more material. The conflict is clearly outlined, as are the stakes, and the paranormal elements are clear. Most importantly, the author appears to have done a great job of leaving out what is extraneous information, and what we need to know. The only thing I think could make this query better in a major way is characterization. I have no idea what Hope’s personality is like…is she clumsy? Sophisticated? Introverted? Who knows? The same goes for Lance, to a slightly lesser degree. The voice in the paragraph about Lance should change to reflect his personality. If you’ve like to know more about voice in your writing, please see my earlier post, If You Build it, They Will Come…

Best of luck to you, author!

LR

QueryDice #46: What the F*ck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LR

QueryDice #41: Conflict and Voice in YA

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,

Sometimes you have to freeze everyone out. . . to avoid getting burned. This’ll make an agent think too much. And since they’ve got thousands of queries to get through, they won’t gift you their extra time to figure out what you meant. Instead, they’ll skim the rest of your query in search of something that stands out clearly. As writers, it is sometimes tempting to be poetic–after all, writers have a “way with words.” It’s something that comes naturally…but resist the urge. This sentence won’t get you a rejection on its own, but it is a waste of space and it doesn’t leave the impression on an agent you think it will. No one will know what this means until AFTER they’ve read your query…and don’t expect a person who has very little time to backtrack.

Sydney’s had seven foster families in seven years. <— far better.

It’s not like they were all her fault—well maybe a few. Now she is moving on to her next family, the Claytons. She knows immediately that she won’t fit in with their extravagant life and their spoiled daughter Brooke.

Sydney refuses to get close to anybody. She resents the snobby kids, especially Brooke’s boyfriend Corbin, who flirts with Sydney. Corbin is just like all the other overprivileged kids; but he’s hot and Sydney can’t help being attracted to him, even as she hates him.

When she discovers Brooke and Corbin’s relationship is a sham, Sydney begins to learn that the perfect kids are not so perfect. Corbin is pretending to be Brooke’s boyfriend and in return, she is helping him learn to read and write. Corbin likes Sydney, but Brooke refuses to let him go. She’s terrified that everyone will discover that she’s gay.

But even if Brooke breaks up with Corbin, Sydney doubts it will ever work with him. He’s the popular, rich kid and she’s the daughter of a crack whore. And really… if her own mom had given up on life… had given up on Sydney, how could anyone else ever truly love her?

[redacted] is contemporary young adult novel, complete at 64,000 words. Thank you for your consideration. <–Where is your goodbye?

This query was so-so. It, on its own, would not have gotten a rejection from me, but nevertheless, this would be a rejection for me. I liked  the idea of this story and many of its elements were appealing to me. The gay foster sister, Sydney’s questioning how anyone could love her if even her mother and slew of foster families presumably didn’t, the poor vs. rich theme. All of that worked for me. But that’s it. There is no overarching conflict. Boiled down, this is just the story of a girl who wants a guy and how her backstory interferes with her ability to reach out and take him. Who hasn’t been there, regardless of the particulars? That works for romance, basically, but I don’t think this is romance because the story is really not about their relationship, exactly, but rather Sydney’s development of her self-esteem and identity. I agree with the author that this is straight YA, but I would need something more, something that affects other people. I need the stakes to be higher so that not only Sydney comes out of the story differently, but others as well. For example, in Harry Potter, he has sort of a development of the self as well, but there is so much more at stake for Hogwarts, for the magical community, etc. This story is good, but if you want it to be so good that editors and agents pick yours over thousands of others, it needs to be better. Keeping it contemporary, and without adding a paranormal element, can you add something that affects the community? 

Lastly, I could have used more teenage voice in the query.

What say you, readers? Does this story need a boost?

LR

 

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

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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