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QueryDice #36

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

Dear Ms. Ruth,

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

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

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

How does this new roommate interfere?

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

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

2. She’s a student at some Academy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, [redacted]

LR

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 #9.1: Take Two!

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 Ruth:

When Prudence O’Brian uncovers a human skeleton in her landlady’s backyard, she doesn’t expect the police or the press to be too concerned. Her mother was brutally murdered and the newspapers didn’t print a blurb. The police were too busy hunting down bootleggers and raiding speakeasies to apprehend her mother’s killer. Pru doesn’t want justice to slip through the cracks again. She decides to uncover the identity of the skeleton herself, but she’s uncertain on how to begin.

I’m already seeing a potential problem. In a mystery, the amateur sleuth needs to have a very solid reason for taking the investigation into her own hands. It is hard to like a person who is a busybody or who is meddlesome. I don’t think Pru’s motivation to get involved in the case of this skeleton is strong enough. She needs a solid connection to this crime…like being forced to investigate it because she or someone close is blamed for it. Now, that’s not to say that you haven’t fleshed this out more in the book, making it believable and acceptable that Pru would investigate this on her own, just that it’s not solid enough here in this query.

That being said, this opening is a huge improvement over the last draft. You’d opened with a question, which is a huge pet-peeve of mine, and you’d provided us with a bunch of information we really don’t need.

Gus Ashton is intrigued by Pru’s quest. He offers her his knowledge as a trial attorney to go places and interview people she wouldn’t dare do alone.

Why? Who is he and why would he offer his assistance to Pru when he could be billing hours? Also, as a side note, this sentence is poorly written. 

Gus is old enough to be her father, but he’s the first man she’s encountered who isn’t intimidated by her intelligence or her dangerous right hook. The farther (further is correct. Farther refers to spatial distance) they delve into their investigation, Pru realizes she and Gus have different definitions of justice, and his is silencing anyone who knows the truth.

This is very vague, which irks me. The difference between a back-of-the-book blurb and a query is that a cliffhanger is ineffective in a query, but intriguing on the back of a book. When I see a cliffhanger like this, it doesn’t make me request just to see what happens, it makes me want to move on to a query that’s made itself clear.

I’m not so sure we need to know anything about Gus. It takes you two paragraphs to get to the most compelling part about him: that his idea of justice is silencing anyone who knows the truth. I would cut the two paragraphs and just keep that one compelling sentence from your first draft: “But discovering the skeleton’s identity also means unmasking a killer whose own idea of justice is silencing anyone who knows the truth.”

I received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Drake University. After graduating from college, I worked as a tour guide at a living history museum. Most of the information we conveyed to the public had to be learned by research. I applied these skills to my novel to accurately portray life during The Great Depression.

This is an excellent improvement to your bio.

Another issue: this is the first we hear that this is a historical novel. Since you unfolded your query and it was unnecessary to mention that this was historical, I worry that you just set the story in the past without weaving that into the story.

My 100,000 word historical mystery, [redacted], is complete and available for review.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #32

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,

Assistant to the Royal Advisor, Adalmund Port returned home to Norwyn from her first job with an arrow in her shoulder and a murdered princess in her arms.

This sentence takes too much work from the reader. My brain hurts. I know this is a different world, but you so casually toss information to us as though we should already be familiar with it. I’m not so sure you need any more information here than just the fact that Adalmund has an arrow in her shoulder and a dead princess in her arms. That was a compelling and intriguing line that you’ve saddled with unnecessary details.

A war veteran at seventeen, Adalmund was sent to advise her country’s princess during a routine, perfectly safe peace treaty signing. Needless to say, it didn’t go as planned.

Why is a seventeen year old girl advising the country’s leadership?

Sent back to Amleth, the country that murdered her princess, Adalmund is tasked with finding the man who ordered the attack and killing him. It’s an old law between the nations—the life of a noble for another noble life—but it doesn’t take into account the revolution brewing in Amelth. Adalmund didn’t take it into account either.

You might be able to begin your query with the above paragraph. We don’t need to know that Adalmund returned home wounded with the princess in her arms. It’s compelling and intriguing, but it is best reserved for the synopsis, in which you’ll have more words to play with. For now, it might be best to begin with something like, “As assistant to the royal advisor of [enter brief two-word description] Norwyn, seventeen year old Adalmund Port is charged with exacting revenge on the country’s princess….”

That being said, we don’t need to know the old law between the nations. It is interesting, but keep it out, and if you have room later, put it in. And, especially for words we don’t even know, inconsistent spellings give readers the feeling even you don’t know your world. And that’s just chaotic.

Peace is rising in Amelth. Peace, a masked man with the same magical powers as Adalmund (what? Adalmund has magic powers? We need to know how this comes into play and what is means to the story and the main character. Preferably, we need to know this from Jump Street.) and a desire for sweeping, if misguided, social change, is leading the revolution against the Amleth Royal Court. He also knows which Amelth prince was in charge of the military unit that murdered the Norwyn princess.

This last sentence lets the cat of the bag with a thud. In fact, I don’t think you need the sentence at all.

Peace wants Adalmund’s help.

Adalmund wants Peace’s information.

She also wants nothing to do with him, but Norwyn’s Royal Court strikes a deal with Peace: Adalmund’s unlimited help in exchange for a magically binding agreement that he’ll never declare war on Norwyn.

Adalmund will do anything to save her country. She’s been to war, she’s been an assassin, and she’s sacrificed her arm to save the princess.

But asking her to work with Peace might be too much.

Without further exposition, I don’t find it believable that Adalmund, after all she’s been through, would care about working with Peace. What’s so horrible about him?

I don’t see a strong enough conflict here. The princess is already dead, so you’ve snuffed out any tension around that. We also didn’t know or care about her so we don’t care that she’s dead. There’s an external conflict surrounding Norwyn’s vulnerability, but we don’t know the country’s people, so this is not compelling enough. Aside from Adalmund’s (whiny, to me) refusal to work with Peace, I’m not sure what the problem is and for that reason I would reject this.

[redacted] is a young adult fantasy novel of 75,000 words with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

QueryDice #31

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:

Some lessons can be hard to understand, even when your life depends on it.

This is a a lukewarm sentence. It’s not horrible, but it has no punch either. It’s just okay. I advise never to accept “just okay” from yourself. The first sentence of a query letter is hugely important because it sets the tone for the rest of it. Think about it like this: if you’ve already failed, you’ll have to spend the rest of your query redeeming yourself. But if you start off like a rockstar, the query will ride on that success and the agent will overlook small mistakes here or there. Here’s what makes this first sentence weak:

1. It is unclear. Why would your life depend on understanding a lesson? I can think up situations in which this would be the case, but you don’t want me to be reading your query with narrowed eyes, or thinking up scenarios which are NOT in your book.

2. I already know the first part of the sentence–that some lessons can be hard to understand–so my initial reaction to your query is a bored, “Yeah, so?” I’m also thinking I’m about to read the summary of a story about someone learning a hard lesson, which in itself is not really that interesting.

Melina Rowe never wants to see her friend Lee again after his startling kiss and confession of love caused her jealous fiancé to leave her. So when a guiding angel named Walter comes to show her that her life would actually be worse without Lee, she laughs in his face and calls him crazy. But as Walter grabs her arm to stop her from leaving, a surge of energy passes between them revealing Melina to be a rare type of human who can absorb angel powers, a problem that quickly forces her to change her mind.

I feel like this paragraph is also “just okay.” It’s not awful, but it’s not very compelling to me. There is so much packed into it. Do we need to know that Melina was angry with Lee? That she had (and now has not) a fiance, and that said fiance was jealous? It seems like it took you this entire paragraph to get around to telling us what you really mean to say: that Melina discovers she can absorb angel powers and has actually done so. Sometimes writers need to just write before getting to the point, which is why we do revisions. You need to cut the fat here and fluff up the actual meat, specifically about the paranormal elements.

The powers are too strong for humans and will eventually kill Melina unless she can gain control of them.  And the only way she can do that is to open her stubborn mind and understand the lesson Walter is there to teach her.

What? This just doesn’t make any sense, which was my issue with the first sentence. How on Earth can Melina’s learning that Lee is someone she needs help her to gain control of powers neither she nor Lee knows anything about?

Still skeptical but now scared for her life, Melina has no choice but to go to an alternate world where she never meets Lee.

What world is this? Where is it and what are its laws? What is different about it, besides the absence of Lee? Also, I’m wondering if there is a plot hole here: why couldn’t the guiding angel just show her a vision of life without Lee…or sit her down and tell her what it would have been like, instead of dramatically whisking her away to a new land? And by the way, what would it have been like? What is at stake if Melina never speaks to Lee again? What will make me care about these characters and their situation?

Once she arrives things only get worse. An elder guiding angel, who thinks humans like Melina are abominations, sends a trio of soul-snatching demons to destroy her.

The biggest trouble with this query is there is no world-building. I don’t get a sense of what this alternate world is like. Since I’m just now learning there are demons in the world, I’m wondering what else is there? Why can’t Melina just high-tail it back to her own world.

Melina must now fight for her life against relentless demon attacks while she struggles to understand her feelings for Lee and awaken to the shocking truth about her former fiancé.

This query is a bit disjointed. I can’t see how Melina’s troubles with Lee and her nameless fiance have anything to do with her new powers or the demons.

If she can’t understand why Lee’s meant to be in her life and her ex-fiancé isn’t, then she’ll never gain control of the powers.

I don’t understand why this is the case, and I worry that the manuscript will have the same problem.

But if the powers don’t kill her, the demons will. They will? I thought they were soul-snatching, not life-snatching.

Complete at 89,000 words, [redacted] is a supernatural romance with an inspirational theme.

I didn’t get the feeling this was romance, exactly. The relationship between Melina and Lee (I’m assuming this is the hero, but then why is Walter’s name in the title?) is not developed enough. It doesn’t come to the forefront, but instead hangs in the background. This felt more like urban fantasy to me. And what inspirational theme?

It’s a stand-alone novel but has series potential and should appeal to an older teen and adult female audience.  

Unless this is YA, you should leave any mention of teens out of the picture. I want to know if this will have a place on a YA shelf or on the romance shelf. Or on a different shelf.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I would reject this query because I don’t feel for the characters, I don’t get a strong sense of the world and I don’t know what exactly it is.

Sincerely,

[REDACTED]

 

QueryDice #29

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.

“No sense wishing the past was any different because you can’t change anything.” Those were the words Magnis lived by until the morning he woke injured, not far from the presumed remains (the presumed remains? Was he hurt in a graveyard, or is there a corpse somewhere it shouldn’t be?) of his wife Laura. Grief stricken and lost without his other half, he sets out to find her killer.

This sentence was passable to me until I read the rest of the query. I don’t think you need it. Why waste the words? It’s more frugal to begin your query with something like, “When Magnis’ wife, Laura, is murdered, he joins ranks with Nowhere, a group of mechanically enhanced fighters with goals that will change the entire planet. Nowhere’s mission is to ___________, and Magnis is on-board. But he also has an ulterior motive: to find Laura’s murderers and avenge her untimely death.This way, you’ve done away with the need for the entire first paragraph and the following sentence. Obviously, you would use your own (hopefully adding adjectives, so we can get to know your character and his world/organizations) You can tie in the thought about Magnis’ intent on avenging Laura’s death with his being sent to investigate the Institution, further paring down the next paragraph.

His search puts him in league with a group called Nowhere—a capable band of mechanically enhanced fighters with goals that will change the entire planet. He soon makes a link between a powerful collective that recently attacked one of Nowhere’s recruiting parties and Laura’s murderers. When he is sent to investigate the hostile group’s presence in the same town they attacked his brethren, it becomes an opportunity to draw the clues together.

Over the course of his mission, he discovers the source behind the assault is The Institution, a well-organized grouping of people group able to tap into hiddenpowers of the brain they call a spark. Are the hidden powers called a spark, or is the ability to employ them called a spark? If that latter, this sentence needs some re-arranging.

They absorb individuals possessing this strength into their ranks to one day purge the world of all non-spark humans, ultimately evolving humanity—and they’ll be damned if Nowhere’s existence hinders their plans.

Ah-ha! That’s your major conflict: that Nowhere and the Institution have competing motives. They both want to change humanity, but the plans of each will hinder the other. The who’s-gonna-win thing is always useful, but what I’m really wondering is what effect the outcome will have on Magnis. He’s the focal point, not necessarily all of humanity. It’s great that the stakes are so high in this, because I’m always thinking, “Jeez, if the stakes were just higher…” but the stakes being really, really high only works if that’s an extrapolation of the stakes for the protagonist. Think about it: who cares if all of the world will suffer if the eyes and ears to that world–your protagonist–doesn’t care, suffer or have enough to lose?

As Magnis eagerly pursues a greater purpose (and what purpose is that?) and foreseeable revenge, a vital detail lies masked within the walls of The Institution; Laura is alive.

Well, well. The ol’ but-she’s-alive twist. I’m not making fun of you. I happen to really like this twist in a book, if its done properly. I’m the person who gasps audibly at the pages and then tells my mom about this great story. The thing is, though, that Laura’s being alive has nothing to do with the struggle for the power to change the world going on between Nowhere and the Institution. This twist might be great for the book and for the synopsis, but I’m not so sure it belongs in the query, and it feels like you threw it in as a cliffhanger.
[redacted] is the separated couple’s entwined tale of two organizations battling (that doesn’t make any sense. How can it be the couple’s tale of organizations battling? The organizations battling is not the couple’s tale any more than the couple is the battling organizations’ tale. What you mean, I’m sure, is that the couple’s tale is entwined with that of the organizations) for the right to control the world’s future in the mid-22nd century after a global nuclear war ended the complications of government a hundred years prior.

I really like that you put the “what-makes-this-post-apocalyptic” information at the end. Because, really, it doesn’t matter that much except as backstory and you’ve let the other, more important aspects of your story shine while still letting us know that you have built a world into your story. Nice.

[redacted] is a completed sci-fi novel of 155,000 words (this might be a bit long) and is the first in a proposed series, yet is capable of standing alone.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I would reject this query because I didn’t feel like the conflict was big enough, at least in the query.

LR

 

QueryDice #11.1

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!

This query was previously Diced here.

Dear Ms. Ruth

Jaden might live in a small town, but she has everything, family, friends, love, and a set of wicked daggers. It’s all taken from her when men in camouflage cloaks burn her city in search of four children born the night of the Blood Moon.

I see what you’re trying to do here. You wanted to give us a sense of atmosphere–the small town–you wanted us to know Jaden was once very fortunate and now is not–the conflict–right from the get-go. You’ve accomplished this, but I’m still not pleased with this paragraph and here’s why:

For one thing, I don’t see what the daggers have to do with anything. For another, I know from the word “cloak” that this is fantasy, but I get no sense of world-building. I would have appreciated some mention of the fact that this is not the world we know, but instead some other, different world.

Jaden has heard of the four; they have the power to defeat the sorceress queen and save the dwindling race of Forest Folk.

In the last sentence above, I almost want to stop reading because I don’t know what the Forest Folk are, why they are important to anyone, much less to Jaden, why the sorceress queen needs to be defeated and what would happen if she was. This query needs deeper world-building.

Definitely not a destiny Jaden wants, but a destiny that’s hard to argue against when everyone she loves sacrifices themselves for her escape.

You’ve lost me. What destiny doesn’t Jaden want? From what is she escaping?

And even harder when she meets Logan, a man who claims to be her protector. She feels a strange connection to him which terrifies her, because his camouflage cloak is identical to those of the men who destroyed her life.

Logan has been protecting the four children of prophecy for the last eighteen years—by staying as far away from them as possible.  He doesn’t want the job, especially when it involves protecting the same four kids his wife is hunting.

How can he protect the children by staying as far away as possible?

He’ll fight. (Fight whom?) He’ll even die for his people. (Why would this be necessary?) But he won’t face that betrayer again.

What betrayer? His wife? Is she the sorceress queen?

Except, it’s never that easy. As the last remaining Protector, Logan alone can locate the four. But when he finds dagger wielding Jaden, his duty to protect becomes a harder task; she threatens to kill him because of his unique cloak. A cloak Logan’s wife would know how to duplicate.

It seems like you’ve meant the last sentence to be heavy-hitting and compelling, but it just confuses me. Are you saying his wife duplicated his cloak and then gave the duplicates out to men who are now hunting Jaden? Why would she do that? And why would he care if others had his cloak? Why is the cloak important at all?

I would reject this query because I still don’t have a firm handle on the motivations of the characters, and I still don’t completely understand the world, its limitations and its conflicts. I fear that this might continue through the manuscript.

[redacted] is a 105,000 word fantasy novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

QueryDice #23

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 war started with a drunkard in her library and an arrow in her arm.

The first sentence needs work. I had to read it twice to figure out that you were saying that someone had a drunkard in her home and an arrow in her arm, rather than a drunkard sitting in her own library with an arrow in her arm. Also, I’m wondering how this could possibly start a war.

Seventeen-year-old Adalmund Pratt is one of the last remaining people who can see and weave the threads of magic in her plague-ravaged country, and as such, she is the newly-appointed Advisor to the Theodyn Heir. During a peace treaty signing with the neighboring nation of Amleth, an Amleth advisor drunkenly slurs in her ear that his nation is on the brink of a revolution against the royal family, and she realizes that she and the Heir of Theodyn are in enemy territory.

This paragraph needs some serious work. First, what is the significance of seeing and weaving threads of magic? What benefit or detriment does this lend to Adalmund? Then, some world-building is necessary. What’s a Theodyn Heir? Is the Amleth advisor talking about a revolution against his country’s royal family, or that of Adalmund’s country? What is the significance of that?

The attack comes before they planned. <–You don’t need this sentence. If you want us to know the attack happened without notice, that can be done as an adjective in this next sentence. An unknown division of the Amleth army attacks and it’s an arrow through Adalmund’s shoulder and another through the throat of the Heir, who dies in her arms.

You’ve written that “it’s an arrow through Adalmund’s shoulder and another through the throat of the heir…” What is? Further, why would they attack Adalmund? Her political weight is unclear. We don’t know anything about the heir, either, so we don’t care that he died in her arms, no matter how gruesome his death. We at least need to know his importance to Adalmund if we’re expected to care about this death.

Adalmund knows that her ability remains the only chance to save Theodyn. (How? Why is this the case?)Pushing aside her own grief and feelings of failure, she doesn’t hesitate to obey when the grieving Queen sends her to spy on the Amleth army and bring the murderous army unit to justice.

My intuition tells me the real meat of your story begins with the above sentence. Since the heir dies early, and the attack doesn’t mean much to the rest of Adalmund’s journey, begin with the above sentence, which will give you much more room for world-building.

It’s not an impossible assignment until Adalmund realizes that the soldiers who attacked aren’t a part of the normal army, but are the private guards of a Prince. (What prince? Why does this matter?) The only way she can succeed is to forge a precarious truce with Peace, the mysterious leader (is this the Prince?) of the revolution in Amleth, and she’ll do it to save her country—even if the price of Peace is her life. <–This sentence is confusing. Are you talking about the price of the mysterious leader, or the price of peace?

The first in a planned series, [redacted] is a young adult fantasy novel of 75,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

I would reject this query because the important pieces of the story are not exposed properly, and I worry that will continue in the manuscript. More importantly, though, I would reject it because Adalmund has no internal struggle and doesn’t appear to face the same challenges that teens face. All the conflict is external and I like to see interplay between external and internal conflict in YA. I also know nothing about Adalmund’s personality or that of any other characters, and this is necessary for me to like the characters enough to want to see more of them.

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 #20

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 Ruth,

I would like to introduce you to my adult love story called A struggle of the heart. This is a Contemporary romance. My completed manuscript consists of 71,539 words. A young woman faces the age-old dilemma: what to do when you are torn between two lovers?

 

Unless your work is written for young adults or children, there is no need to mention what age-group you’ve targeted. The agent will assume it is for adults. Your second sentence is redundant. You’ve already told us in the first sentence that this is a romance by using the words “love story,” although I prefer to see this genre called “romance.”

The story you’ve set me up to receive certainly is age-old. Right from the first paragraph, I need to feel there is something different about your romance, something new or exciting that would make me choose yours among the hundreds I see. Romances are a dime a dozen—I’m looking for the one that’s a dime a piece.

 

Annette, a beautician in Norman, Oklahoma, (these are the first words that catch my eye in your query. I’ve never read a romance about a beautician in Norman, Oklahoma. Interesting…) does not believe she’ll ever find love, let alone two men who fall head over heels for her. Aaron, a handsome and virile Native American (again, I’m interested. This is different…) with long dark hair and sensuous brown eyes, draws her to him like a magnet. Tim, a good-looking, happy-go-lucky fellow, is always there to help, care for and comfort her.

 

While I understand your temptation to succinctly describe these men in as few words as possible, this felt too punchy for me. I would prefer to see a description of her love affair with the first man, and then the other man stepping in to distract her instead of a bland description of the men. Additionally, Aaron seems much more interesting than Tim—who reads to me like a lukewarm guy-next-door—so I can’t feel any tension. Of course she’s going to pick the more interesting one…or she should, if the book is going to be interesting.

 

With Aaron, it is love at first site, while Tim grows on her over time. ß-you do not need this sentence. This is one of those things that a query can do without, but the synopsis she show. How will she ever decide? It seems at first that fate might make the decision for her when Aaron joins the army and is stationed overseas. While he is gone, Tim fills the huge void left in her aching heart.

 

I’m not so sure you should explain that she had her eye on both men before Aaron joined the Army. You might consider saving Tim’s introduction for after you explain that Aaron joined. This would free the men from being lumped together in the same paragraph.

At the same time, Annette knows she must follow her own dream. After the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, she yearns to find a more fulfilling job helping others. This leads her to begin emergency medical training and after that, to attend paramedic school.

 

You do not need the above paragraph at all in this query. It is a good idea to give Annette this extra depth of character, but it could be exposed in passing, as in, “…taking Aaron’s cue to follow her own dreams, Annette enrolls in paramedic school…” We don’t need to know anything beyond that.

 

Upon graduation, Tim asks for Annette’s hand in marriage but what about Aaron, who just returned home from Afghanistan?  It is truly “A Struggle of the Heart” as Annette finds herself torn between two lovers.

 

The biggest problem with this query is its lack of tension. It is not very interesting that she has two men who love her and must choose between them. This is not extraordinary. I have a feeling, however, that this is not a problem with your query, but rather with the story itself. For the torn-between-lovers plot to work, there must be something overarching the story that is at stake. Perhaps Annette has something valuable that one man wants to help her cultivate and the other wants to exploit for his own gain. Maybe Annette stands to lose something if she goes with one man, but has something else to lose if she goes with the other. These two things should be extremely important—like loved ones or her career or her life. Either way, there must be another element to this that extends beyond a girl making an emotional decision. Maybe your manuscript already has this, but if that’s the case we all want to know about it.

I hope this query letter interests you and you will want to pursue reading more. I am looking for a publisher to help me in my endeavor to share this love story.  Your experience is very impressive and I would like to congratulate you on joining BookEnds as a full time literary agent. It would be an honor to work with you on this novel.  

 

This is great. Agents love it when you prove you’ve researched them and made an educated decision to query them, rather than blindly sending your query to everyone and her mother.

 

As I read through the FAQ on your website, it states fiction writers should copy and paste the first three chapters or no more than 50 pages, a synopsis, and an author bio stating what writing experience that we may have.

The first three chapters and a synopsis are the components of a fiction book proposal and are never to be attached to a query. Most agents these days do not want you to attach anything and want your 250-word query in the body of an email. I personally do not mind when authors paste the first ten pages or so after their query in the body of the email.

 

For my author bio I only have one thing that I have written. It is a book called Alzheimer’s A Caretakers Journal, which is a diary about taking care of my father in law with Alzheimer’s. I wrote and published this book in the hopes that I could help others with this terrible disease. I do keep a Alzheimer’s Blog which I have written since 2008.

 

While it is helpful to include an author bio if you have writing credentials, it is not helpful to include non-fiction credentials if you are querying with a work of fiction (unless that work is loosely related or has lent you a platform) or vice-versa. These are two very different skill-sets. Because your bio consists of one published work of non-fiction, I immediately think writing is a hobby to you, rather than a career aspiration, and that your writings are unfocused. In this case, it is better to just leave the bio out and skip right to your polite closing.   

 

I have copy and pasted my synopsis and the first 50 pages of my manuscript. Thank you for reading my query letter.

 

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

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