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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]

QueryDice #43: Women’s Fiction

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 greeting card world was in crisis. Hook Up cards were outselling Engagement cards, Divorce cards were more popular than Wedding Cards and Valentine’s Day looked like it was on the chopping block.
Amanda Downing is about to change all that.  Of course she hadn’t planned on writing greeting cards, she really wanted to be writing best selling books about love.   And she definitely hadn’t planned on falling in love with the man who specialized in Divorce cards, but  I don’t really need the information that comes before my words here, the tenses are mixed and I’m a little confused…begin your query here —> when her graduate school plans fell through, twenty two year old Amanda finds herself accepting a temporary job at Sunshine Greeting Card Company.
However, Sunshine Greeting isn’t an average place.  The company was founded on love letters and it’s its owner has extremely eccentric hiring practices.  As Amanda moves from Humorous Birthday with Kathy (I don’t really need her name), the vegan (is Vegan an adjective used  to describe a person?), depressed, Slam Poet, to the Infertility Department where she works with an ex convict and a rapper (this is funny!), she learns enough about love to fill a book.  Her book.  But does she know enough about love to rescue Valentine’s Day (the holiday or the department?) from a cynical, heartbroken man?  It’s worth a try.

It sounds to me like the conflict here is not that Amanda started working at a greeting card manufacturer, but rather that someone there has decided to cut Valentines Day out. I need to know why this is important to Amanda, how she sets about fixing the situation, and what sort of relationship she has with the antagonist. This query was very short, but if you cut out the beginning and focus on the conflict, it’ll be leagues better than the one I’ve just read. That being said, stick with it, author! This story sounds like so much fun. Good luck!

        Sunshine Greeting is a completed 84,000 word women’s fiction novel.  As a physician and a mother, I have found that humor is often the best way to get someone’s attention.  And I want their attention.  This novel is fun and over the top, but, at it’s core, [redacted] uses greeting cards to show how devalued love has become in our bad news obsessed society.  Thank you for your time.
[redacted]

QueryDice Hijack #4: Women’s Fiction

The QueryDice has been HIJACKED by avid reader, Scribble Orca! 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. Scribble, take it away! (Scribble’s comments in green.)

Dear Ms. Ruth, Excellent – addressing the agent!

When Emily Matthews returns to the small Oklahoma town she ran away from as a teenager, she’s the last person in her family to arrive.

This sentence works because we know 1) our MC’s name; 2) setting = a small Oklahoma town (although I would add in the name of the town before “..a small..” to be specific); I don’t mind the omission of the name of the town. This is a matter of personal taste, really. 3) Emily is no longer a teenager (so this is not YA) and she was a runaway; and These are extremely important things to know, so I also give the author kudos on that first sentence. 4) she’s still a black sheep because she’s the last person to arrive.  I’m not so sure Emily’s lateness necessarily means that she is a black sheep. It could mean other things as well. This is why it is important to be clear in your query letter; don’t leave too much up to interpretation. Even though this sentence is unclear, it is obvious that the effect is intentional and like Scribble, I think the sentence works. What’s missing in this sentence is “…at her estranged grandmother’s deathbed.”  I would suggest scrapping all of the next sentence except for that piece of information. I’ll respectfully disagree with Scribble, here. I like the mysterious leaving-out of important details here because I can tell it is intentional. There is a big difference between an author lazily or ineptly leaving information out and an author skillfully knowing when to leave things unsaid…for now.

I’m also being nit-picky here: I prefer “…from which she ran away as…” rather than “…ran away from as..”.  If you had written “She ran away from the town as…” that would be fine.  However, I don’t think this would mean the agent would decline to read further, if you chose not to insert “from which”. Like Scribble, I have trouble with dangling prepositions. It grates on me. I actually winced. That being said, this particular mistake has been made so often that it has become familiar to most people. I don’t think the error is so glaring that I would stop reading. I’d keep going. 

As a first sentence goes, I think it is terrific.  I’m really keen to keep reading. Agreed.

Everyone else is already there holding vigil around her estranged grandmother’s deathbed. Call her old fashioned, but she thinks you should wait for the person to die before you hold the viewing.

Here is where I stumble, because I don’t think ‘holding vigil’ equals ‘a viewing (of a casket)’, or being ‘old-fashioned’.  In fact, most families gather around the death bed of an aged relative who is dying.  What is it you want me to know here?  That Emily is, despite her history, conventional?  Has morals?  We know that she’s willing to put her own feelings aside because she has come to see her ‘estranged’ grandmother in a place that’s obviously uncomfortable for her – “the town from which she ran away”.  What else do you want to add to this picture of Emily that contrasts her with her family and specifically, her grandmother?

I also had trouble understanding what it was you were trying to tell us with this sentence. A query letter should be restricted to only the barest bones of information, and since this one detail doesn’t seem to be central to the plot, I wonder why a a whopping two whole sentences have been wasted on it. Above, I liked the mystery of the first sentence, but even so, I’d rather you simply (as Scribble suggested) add “at her grandmother’s deathbed.” However, I’d leave out the word “estranged” because it implies that the grandmother has been alienated, which is not the case. Emily is the one who is estranged from the family, not her grandmother whose whole family has gathered around her.

After a suspicious fire destroys her car, she reluctantly accepts help from Miller, the boyfriend she left behind when she ran.

I would avoid ‘suspicious’ fire, because the fire isn’t suspicious – the circumstances are.  So I suggest being direct here without saying arson – “After a deliberately-lit fire destroys her car…” or “After her car is deliberately destroyed by fire….” depending on your preference for passive or active voice.  That was a great catch, Scribble, but your fix then sets us up to ask more questions. Author, can you find a way to tell us concisely that a fire destroyed Emily’s car and she thinks this was foul play? The next part of the sentence is fine, however the last part is using up your hectic agent’s limited attention on redundant words.  You’ve told us Emily ran away, so that means she left everyone behind.  What would you like to tell us here?  That she and Miller were still girlfriend and boyfriend when Emily left?  Perhaps you could reword the sentence as “…she reluctantly accepts help from Miller, the boyfriend she deserted when she left.”  If I’m wrong about thefeeling you want to evoke in your reader here, you can use a different verb.  Bear in mind that the choice of verb has to go some way to explaining why Emily is reluctant to accept help from Miller. I agree with Scribble about the redundancy, but I acknowledge how difficult it is not to be here. How about this fix: “…destroys her car, she accepts help from her old high-school sweetheart, Miller, even though she feels [describe her feelings in line with her personality–this is a great way to build character in the query] about accepting help from some one she deserted so long ago.”

It doesn’t take long for old feelings to reignite. But then she discovers evidence that her grandmother has spent the last seventeen years lying to Miller to manipulate him into covering up one of the family’s darkest secrets

Your first sentence in this paragraph brings me to a halt – I’m guessing the feelings are on Emily’s side – but also Miller’s?  You also start the next sentence with “But…”.  That means that what follows ‘but’ will contrast with the first sentence.  It doesn’t – your second sentence goes into information-dump territory and tells me nothing about the romance between Emily and Miller.  

I disagree with Scribble, here. I assumed the feelings were mutual, and I thought the sentences separated by the word “but” did in fact contrast: Emily is beginning a new romance with Miller, but something complicates that.

It also hints at a link between Miller and Emily’s grandmother but doesn’t give me any background to this and I’m asking ‘But why would Emily’s grandmother have the opportunity to be lying to Miller – how have they been connected in Emily’s absence?’  Agreed. This is a big problem. Because it is unexplained, and even seems a little unlikely, I have no choice but to think it’s not well-developed in your manuscript. Also,  “evidence” and “cover up” might give your query an unwanted police-procedural feel.  I don’t mind that so much. I could take it or leave it. My rewrite suggestion would be:

“But as Emily’s feelings for Miller re-ignite, she discovers that her grandmother has used her [something about grandma’s relationship or position with Miller – so we know how she has the chance to manipulate him] to manipulate Miller into concealing one of the family’s darkest secrets.” Great suggestion.

The key pieces of information for me are that Emily’s old feelings are aroused, after seventeen years.  So Emily is in her early to mid thirties and must be single – otherwise she wouldn’t have old feelings for Miller to arouse.  I assumed she was single as well. If she is, it is fine for the author not to have mentioned her status, but if she is NOT single, that’s huge and we need to know how that complicates things. Miller has been manipulated by Emily’s grandmother to hide a dark family secret – so now I want to know what it is.  But that isn’t what I find out in the next sentence.

Emily realizes that when she left, he became easy prey to her horrible family.

What does Emily realise that has made Miller fall easy prey to her family – and what has her family done that is horrible?  My best re-write suggestion here is: “Since Emily left, Miller has succumbed to the influence of Emily’s family.”  And if you look at my re-write, it’s  rather poor, because it’s still not telling us new, important information – because we already know that Miller is under the influence of Emily’s family since he’s also hiding their secret.  Do you see why this sentence doesn’t work as it is? I think it’s interesting that he became easy prey to her horrible family, but this comes out of left field and we wonder why and how and is that why she left, and my brain is so busy asking questions that it’s not paying attention anymore.

The guilt she feels is enough to make her want to run again. But she can’t. Someone has gone to great lengths to make sure she stays in town.

Why does Emily feel guilty – because she left Miller, because Miller has been duped? And why does she only feel guilty now and not before she came back?  She feels guilty for something, so she wants to run away, despite her feelings for Miller being re-aroused.  I’m wondering the same things. Sadly, it isn’t Emily’s depth of feeling that prevents her running away, it’s because someone has done something to make her stay in town.  Yikes. I’d missed that, but now that Scribble brings it up, how are we supposed to like Emily and sympathize with her character if she’s such a coward that she would desert Miller a second time? What is the something and is it valid to stop her from leaving – how can it provide more reason than her feelings for Miller?  As a teenager running away is fine, but she’s in her thirties [exactly] – how deep are these feelings now if it’s something else that’s keeping her in town?

Emily has a choice to make: Tell Miller the truth about her grandmother, which would expose the family secret she ran away from years ago, or let him go on believing that he’s based his entire life upon a bad promise from a good liar.

Based on the preceding information, I don’t see that Emily has a choice to make.  She feels guilty, wants to leave town, someone else is forcing her to stay, and not her feelings for Miller.  So why expose a family secret (and we don’t know how terrible it is)?  I’m confused by the next sentence as well.  Emily wants to stop Miller believing his life is based on a bad promise – does this mean Miller already knows the promise is bad and that Emily’s grandmother is a good liar – so when Emily tells Miller about the family secret Miller will stop believing his life is based on a bad promise?  Or do you mean that Emily is considering letting Miller know that he’s based his life on a promise which is a lie and he doesn’t yet know the promise is a lie?  Do you see why it’s not clear for me, your *ahem* agent? I agree with Scribble. I’m thinking, “Okay, so expose a secret that her family has kept (so what? She doesn’t even talk to them and she deserted them) or hurt Miller who’s been nothing but helpful. That seems like a no-brainer. But there are too many questions to ask here, so I’m having trouble really getting a handle on what happens in the book. 

That being said, I have an inkling that there is a great story here and the query just didn’t do its job. 

[redacted], a work of women’s fiction, is complete at 97,000 words. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas, and I’m a member of RWA and its North Texas branch.

Thank you for your time, 

[redacted]

I was absolutely certain I’d request my first Dice…but I’m not sure whether this is actually meant to be a romance (unless women’s fiction means romance) or something else [it’s definitely women’s fiction, which differs from romance mostly in its focus on a larger issue than just a romantic relationship between two people], and I’m not sure what the real conflict is [me neither].  The hints aren’t enough to make me say “yes, I’d like to know more.”  If those missing gaps in the story were instead filled in and the query was stronger, and if I were an agent who knew the market for your kind of women’s fiction very well, then I could imagine requesting at least a partial to look at your writing style.  But at the moment, there’s a sneaking suspicion that the choice of words you’ve used in your query might reflect an imprecision in your manuscript, and I really don’t know enough about your story to be hooked.

What does everyone else think?

Thank you for having me as your QueryDice Hijacker and I’m looking forward to Lauren’s, the querier’s and everyone else’s comments.

Good luck! 🙂

Scribble Orca is based in Singapore and loves to read, discuss books and anything book related, and write.

She has lived and worked on every continent in the world, with the exception of the polar caps, doing everything from washing cars to advising government ministers, helping refugees to fleeing from pirates, interviewing terrorists to almost dying from malaria.   In her own words: I fixate a lot, procrastinate some, and I lucked out in the patience stakes.

 

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 #14.1: Do-Over!

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 would be delighted to submit for your consideration, [redacted], my dark, romantic women’s fiction novel (there is no such thing as a novel that isn’t fiction, so you only need to write “fiction” or “novel.” This is a huge agent-peeve) which is complete at just under 104,000 words.

A thirty-two year old musician assistant, Trista Hart knows she needs to find a way out of the nocturnally persuaded world of her best friend and boss, Jaxon James.  

Nocturnally persuaded. This is a creative turn-of-phrase, and I love those, but in a query, I just want to get the low-down on your book. Making me think too hard will aggravate my totally abused brain and turn it off. I’m not sure what nocturnally persuaded means because I’m not familiar with your book and its themes, and I’m not willing to try and figure it out because on the heels of your query are thousands of others and I’ll go in search of something with more clarity. Sometimes the simpler the language, the better, even though it doesn’t show your literary prowess.

But no matter how dark that route (what route? Are you referring to his world, the way of out his world?) has become lately, he and his band Sin Pointe are her family and she’s not prepared to desert them for Jaxon’s cousin, Lucky Mason, if it’s just going to take her down another of life’s pot-hole littered highways.  

Who says she has to desert them, and who the hell is Lucky Mason? That came sailing out of left field. Why are Lucky ad Sin Pointe mutually exclusive? Also, nit-pick: the words “pot-hole littered” irks me. Littered would mean someone has dropped something negligently. I think you can find something more accurate.

She has valid reasons to question Lucky and his beloved south—having experienced at an early age the sometimes hypocritical underbelly of the region’s good manners and charm.

What does the south have to do with it? In fact, what does Lucky have to with anything? I’m asking: what does Trista want? What is keeping her from getting that? How does she endeavor to solve that conflict?


Her hourglass has been turned upside down and now with Lucky’s heartfelt proposal before her,
(ah ha! Why are we discovering now, after you’ve confused us and given us every reason to stop reading, that this was a proposal?) she has to decide one for the other at the most inconvenient of times—just as Sin Pointe’s tour is taking off and on the heels of a horrendous late night attack on her and Jaxon that leaves her sure of only one thing…
It’s time for Trista to be her own savior.

Well I, for one, am not sure of anything and that’s the problem with this query. What I really want to know is what the problem is. If Jaxon is her best friend, why would he or his band prevent her from marrying (was this a marriage proposal?) Lucky?

I would reject this query because it lacks compelling conflict. I wonder why can’t she just have both? Her job, her best friend and family, and Lucky? What’s preventing that from happening? I worry that the answer is nothing and your manuscript has a huge, glaring plot hole that would mean it needs an overhaul.

When this query was diced here, the problem was that we didn’t know enough. We needed a better description. Now, we know a bit more, but we still need to know what the conflict is.

While as yet unpublished, I am a member of RWA, my local WRW chapter, and the fantastic women fiction writers group Waterworld Mermaids.

I greatly appreciate your time and consideration and hope to hear from you if my work seems a good fit.
Sincerely,

[redacted]

QueryDice #33

Dear Lovely and Talented Agent, While I appreciate the compliment, you still have not used my name, and that would have been a bigger compliment.

I am looking for representation for my novel [redacted]. I know. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be reading your query. You’ve wasted valuable real estate telling me this.

Professionally, Abigail Kelly is a rockstar. But personally, she’s at the bottom of the charts. This should be one sentence with the independent ideas separated by a comma. Aside from that nitpick, though, this is a good start.

More than anything, Abby wants balance, but her life is seriously out of whack. After her brother is tragically killed, Abby dives into her singing career, allowing the bright lights of Hollywood to block out her grief. When the band takes the summer off, Abby banishes herself to the secluded beaches of Florida—finally slowing down enough to deal with her demons. When she meets ex-Marine Todd, she begins to feel the balance she’s been desperate for.

Just as Abby is beginning to unclench, Max, her sadistic manager—who makes Simon Cowell look like an angel—demands that she gets her tail back to LA. Under the pressure of the hot spotlight again, Abby’s grip on her new-found balance begins to shake. Torn between her love for Todd, and her loyalty to the guys in the band, she must find a way to confront her past, and take control her present, or risk losing everything.

[redacted] is a work of women’s fiction and is complete at 97,000 words.

Thank you for your time.

Notwithstanding my comments above, the structure of this query is technically fine. You’ve told me who your main character is, what she wants, what’s in her way and the challenges she faces in wrestling the in-the-way. I completely understand what you’ve written, who its audience is and whether or not I would want to read this. 

The trouble is, I don’t think it is compelling enough. My critical mind asks, “Okay, so she has to make a choice between a boyfriend and her band and she must confront some demons. And?” Things like this happen to everybody. We’ve all had to make a choice and we all have demons. What makes Abby’s experience so different from our own that we would want to spend 97,000 words with her? Also, I worry that there are potential plot holes, here. Abby is a rockstar, which means she must have lots of money, fans and power. Why can’t she find a way to fix her problem?

This story needs external conflict–something big that affects (or has the potential to affect) not only Abby, but other people too. For me, women’s fiction can’t just be about an issue that often affects women. It also needs to be a little controversial and unique so that I’m forced to stop in my tracks and wonder what I might have done in the protagonist’s shoes. Women’s fiction very often aims to warm the hearts of women, and I didn’t find this as heartwarming as I would have liked.

Sincerely,etc (I wonder if you put this “etc” in to be cute, or if somehow the monster named Technology added it for you. If the former, best to stick with the tried-and-true.)

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #18

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

Dear Ms. Ruth,

At seventeen years old, I was a voracious reader.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best regards,

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #17

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

Dear Lauren,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration,

[redacted]

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

LR

QueryDice #16

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

Dear Ms. Ruth,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

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