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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 #1.1 Take Two!

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

Dear Ms. Ruth, Great opening. Simple and professional. This is my favorite greeting in a query.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a great bio paragraph.

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

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

Sincerely,

[redacted]

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

LR

QueryDice #22

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

GIMME, GIMME GIMME!

LR

QueryDice #17

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

Dear Lauren,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration,

[redacted]

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

LR

QueryDice #16

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

Dear Ms. Ruth,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #14

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, Sidewalk Flower, my dark, romantic women’s fiction novel which is complete at just under 104,000 words.

In Sidewalk Flower, a musician’s assistant determined to leave the seedy grit of Rock Star, California for the downhome love of her southern boyfriend must endure one last cruel night in her old world first.

Ironically, the above sentence, which serves as both the introduction to and summary of your book, is too long but doesn’t tell us enough. Unfortunately, the result of this is a shrug from me. I’m thinking, “So? And?”

My gut tells me there’s something interesting here. The title is intriguing, as is the main character’s vocation. You’ve got 104,000 words that you’ve attempted to sum up in less than 40. I’d like your query to be roughly 250 words, give or take.

I think I can speak for my readers, too, when I say I’d like to see a do-over!

While as yet unpublished, I am a member of RWA, my local WRW chapter, and the 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 #1

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

Dear Ms. Ruth, Great opening. Simple and professional. This is my favorite greeting in a query.

Last year a statue chased Angela off a cliff during a Midsummer celebration. Angela now has to rescue two thousand girls and their memories after this year’s festivities make both disappear, even though she’s sickly and grieving for her dead father.

This first paragraph is very confusing. There are three main points here: a statue chased Angela off a cliff, two thousand girls and their memories are missing and Angela must save them, and Angela is sick and grieving. How do the three points tie in with each other? Why do statues chase people and how can someone’s memories go missing?

Her troubles only start, however, as Midsummer kicks off with explosions: a talking wolf claims to be Angela’s grandmother, a mysterious couple kidnaps the girl who saved Angela from the statue, and she can’t control her ability to turn magic back into memories. She also has little time to learn when the couple targets her for their final celebration.

This query needs more world-building. I need to get a sense of what kind of world allows statues to chase people and talking wolves exist. What is the main characteristic of this world? Is it the talking wolves, the objects that have human abilities?

So much for summer being a vacation.
[redacted], a young-adult urban fantasy, is complete at 41,000 words.

Until now, I did not get any hint that this was YA. That’s a problem. Does Angela go to school? What teenage issues is she handling on top of everything else? This makes me worry that you just made your character young enough to fit into YA and then didn’t flesh out any young adult themes.

Your word count is a problem in your query, and is probably a problem in your manuscript. To build an entire world that is not Earth as we know it, flesh out characters thoroughly and drag a careful plot from beginning to end is not easily done in so few words. The low-end of typical YA word counts is about 50,000 words, but since you’re writing fantasy (which means you need to explain the world in which your characters live and its rules) your word count could go as high as around 70,000 to 80,000 or even higher. I don’t get a very good feel of or handle on your world or your characters in this query, which is vey short, so I’m convinced that if I read a proposal the problem would persist.

In 2005 and 2006 I won second place in the Miami Dade County Youth Fair writing competition for the short stories “[redacted]” and “[redacted]” respectively. In 2007 I got first place in the same division (Fantasy) with “[redacted]” as well as a Silver Key in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. Alienskin Magazine in their August/September 2001 issue published “[redacted],” while Hungur Magazine published “[redacted]” in their November 2010 issue.  I have a webcomic at [redacted] and a my writing adventures at [redacted].

Be careful with typos. We all do it, but this makes you look like you couldn’t be bothered to double-check your work. It’s like a spelling error on a resume. Yikes. Otherwise, this paragraph is great. I always appreciate information about an author’s credentials and past writing experiences.

Thank you for your consideration. I hope you have enjoyed reading this query.

This is purely a personal preference, but it is one other agents share: I don’t like the last sentence. It makes you seem like you lack confidence. You should know that I would like the query, so your hope that I might makes me think even you doubt yourself.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I would reject this because I don’t get a strong enough feel for the characters, the plot or the world. Thank you for submitting your work to the QueryDice and I wish you the best of luck.

Lauren

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