Query #4 September 2014

querylara

Below is the fourth public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. This will happen once a month (as long as I get a response). I choose one query per month. If your query is not selected one month, it will be in the drawing for the next month. Please do not resubmit unless you’ve made significant edits. To enter, see the rules here. If you want a guaranteed critique (plus line edit) of your query or synopsis, private ones cost $35 each.

Dear –,

Book Title Titles need to be in ALL CAPS, not italics, in a query. is an Urban Fantasy, complete at 120,000 words. 120K is a hefty manuscript. Opening with this makes me assume that you can cut at least 10,000 words, and I’d aim for cutting 30,000. To date, it has earned a first place in the paranormal category of the RWA’s Winter Rose contest and the Celtic Heart’s Golden Claddagh, which have resulted in full manuscript requests. This is impressive, but saying that it resulted in full requests implies to me that the fulls were rejected. If you have fulls out with agents, say so. If not, leave this part out (the underlined section).

The size of the paragraph below also makes me assume that you might need to do some serious cutting in your manuscript. White space helps readability. Each of your sentences below could be its own paragraph. I checked your word lengths for the paragraph: 28, 30, 28, 45, 41, 29, 43—average 35. This is a great article on word lengths. Try to keep your sentences in the 10-20 range. Then you can throw in a couple longer and a couple shorter. Cutting your sentence lengths and varying lengths will also help readability.

Eliminating the monsters that prey on humanity isn’t everyone’s dream job, but backed by a good truck, charmed silver, and plenty of caffeine, Sloan Carr makes it work. When her oldest friend calls begging for help as murdered women are dropped on his rural doorstep, all with supernatural clues implicating his family, it should be just another job. Except Brennan Tabor is also a vampire and helping him threatens to solidify the divide between Sloan and what is left of her once tight-knit, monster hunting family. The one’s ones she loves are already at odds over her belief that not all supernaturals are monsters, but Sloan owes Brennan for helping her gain her family’s independence from the shadowy organization that trained them and may have been complicit in her extended family’s demiseAccepting the case, she faces off with Brennan’s brother, who may be a serial killer in his own right, and a secretive ex-hunter who refuses to explain why he chose to retire to a magic infested town in the bible belt. Through it all, she’s also tracking a new kind of supernatural threat who leaves cryptic messages about Sloan’s old organization and her duty as a hunter with each kill. Sloan battles to reconcile the promise to her friend and her duty to protect the town’s human population, suspecting that stopping the murderer could ultimately sacrifice her happiness and turn her into the kind of monster her family will have to hunt down.

All of the underlined sections are parts that need to be rewritten for clarity and brevity. Break sentences up and break paragraphs up.

I would love the opportunity to send you a one or five page synopsis and the first three chapters, or more, of Book Title.  Follow the agent’s submission guidelines. If they want anything else, they’ll ask for it. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Fix the lengthiness, resubmit, and then we can work on the content itself.

Query #3 August 2014

querylara

Below is the third public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. This will happen once a month (as long as I get a response). I choose one query per month. If your query is not selected one month, it will be in the drawing for the next month. Please do not resubmit unless you’ve made significant edits. To enter, see the rules here. If you want a guaranteed critique (plus line edit) of your query or synopsis, private ones cost $35 each.

Dear Lara Willard,

Just a note, when I received this query, half was double-spaced Times New Roman, and half was in single-spaced Arial. Make sure to paste without formatting when querying agents, so that the entire query appears the same.

I am submitting for your consideration BOOK TITLE, a 78,000-word YA Fantasy that will appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore’s GracelingGRACELING and Tamora Pierce’s Song of The LionessSONG OF THE LIONESS series.

Titles need to be in all-caps. Also, you need to mention up here that it is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, and what makes it different from the original. P.S. Did you know that [your title] is the name of an Anime? 

Seventeen-year-old Alice never considered herself the suicidal type. Good hook That is until she finds herself trapped between the men who killed her mother,[no comma] and a five-hundred500-foot drop. Rather than face the killers’ dark plans for her, Alice jumps. Of course the killers have dark plans for her. This is unnecessary. But instead of death, Alice wakes up in a blood-soaked battlefield, where men in armour are slaughtering peasants. This is awkward grammatically. Change it to “instead of dying” or “Expecting death” or “Surprised to be alive”… Terrified, she flees and encounters a seer who believes she is destined to save this unfamiliar world from the evil queen,[no comma] and the tyranny of her army.

You have three sentences in a row that start with similar constructions:
“Instead of death, Alice…”
“Terrified, she…”
“Disguised as a man, Alice…”

If you fix the first one, they will all begin with participial phrases. Having one is fine. Two is pushing it, and three is too much. Three right in a row tells me you haven’t read this aloud, because while I read it (even in my head), I keep accelerating, then stopping, accelerating, stopping, and so forth. Participial phrases are less important than the main clause, but when they are set apart at the beginning of the sentence, the reader is forced to look at them. Participial phrases are like bridesmaids. They aren’t as important as the bride, the main clause. Bridesmaids need to be discreet. If they are jumping up and down and pointing at the bride, screaming (“Look at my friend the bride! Isn’t she important?”), we aren’t looking at the bride, we’re getting distracted by the bridesmaid. You can fix this my changing the first sentence to “Alice thought she’d die. Instead, she wakes up…” and the third sentence to “Alice disguises herself as a man to…[why is she disguising herself as a man?]”

Disguised as a man, [see above] Not only must Alice must survive the war between the queen and rebels, and she also has to evade the flesh-eating monsters stalking Wonderland. This is the first time you mention Wonderland. This is why you need to say it’s a retelling at the beginning, otherwise this transition will be lost. You don’t want the agent reading along and then all of a sudden going, “Oh, so this IS a retelling of Alice in Wonderland,” in the last sentence. Her growing lust for vengeance makes her determined this is passive. Say “determines her” to find her way home. As Wonderland falls into chaos, Alice discovers slaying monsters might have its price–being hailed as a hero–or becoming a monster herself. You had me up until this point, but this is where you lose me. Not my interest, just my understanding. I had to reread it because I didn’t understand how being hailed as a hero could be a “price” for slaying monsters. It sounds like the opposite to me—it sounds like a reward. Simplify. And I’m guessing that her lust for vengeance starts to grow after she starts slaying monsters. If so, combine the sentences and put them in the right order: “As Wonderland falls into chaos, Alice discovers that slaying monsters has its rewards, but it also has a price. When her lust for vengeance grows, she’s determined to find her way home before she becomes a monster herself.”

I’m an accounting graduate who won several writing competitions in the past. You should list these. Otherwise it doesn’t sound legitimate. I’m also a book blogger on young adult fiction. Include your blog under your signature.

As per your submission guidelines, xx pages are pasted  below. [find/replace double spaces]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[Redacted]

This looks like a great story! The problem is, it’s been told before.However, if you state at the top that it’s a retelling, you should also in a couple of words describe how it’s different. “YOUR TITLE replaces the silliness of ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and ages it for more mature YA readers”—something like that. It’s your story, you’ll figure it out.

Your query pitch suggests the emotional stakes and theme. Part one: she runs away from monsters. Part two: but then she learns to fight them. Part three: she may become one herself. I’d focus on that as your difference. For ALICE IN WONDERLAND, the strength is in its nonsense. What makes your novel better in its own way? Yours seems to have the armature of theme, and the inner conflict of a reluctant hero.

If you want to revise and resubmit, I’ll take another look at it.

Do let me (and the other readers) know if you get requests for partials or fulls so we can rejoice with you!

Readers, please share any additional feedback you have, but note that comments are moderated, and if you don’t have anything constructive to say, or if you’re playing the troll, your comment will be deleted.

Query #2 July 2014

querylara

Below is the second public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. This will happen once a month (as long as I get a response). I choose one query at random per month. If your query is not selected one month, it will be in the drawing for the next month. Please do not resubmit unless you’ve made significant edits. To enter, see the rules here. If you want a guaranteed critique (plus line edit) of your query or synopsis, private ones cost $35 each.

Dear Lara,

Sending to me might be practice, but any initial email to someone in this business needs to be addressed “Dear Mr./Ms. [Last Name],” and if you are not sure on whether to use Mr. or Ms., look at their website and see which pronoun is used there. Some people say it’s okay to use Dear [First name Last name] if you aren’t sure of gender. I say do your research.

Melissa Stratten puked on a senior basketball player while hooking up, and nobody will stop whispering about it.  Even worse[,] her mom’s ex-boyfriend stole her college money.  Now she has to find a way to pay for college or else she’ll never get out of Valley Pines.

There’s an extra space after your first sentence. Yes, I notice these things. No, you won’t get in trouble for it. But I see a couple of other double spaces, too. Find and replace. Agents skim hundreds of queries each day. You don’t want to include any annoyances if you can help it. Using “even worse” is another one of those annoyances I just saw an agent tweet about today, actually. (Update: I can’t seem to find that tweet ANYWHERE, even using the search function. Keep it if you want, but use a comma if you do!)

That aside, how old is Melissa? Is she a junior? If she’s a senior, then why mention that her hook-up was a senior?

So these things happened to Melissa. What I want to know is how she feels about it. Is she angry? Secretly upset but trying to play cool?

When her best friend Jack, the school drug dealer, suggests they create an app based on school scandals, an ostracized Melissa is all for exacting revenge on her classmates. Chaos, anonymously unveils the hottest dirt to everyone at school, gives Melissa a way to make some cash, and shows off her design skills to colleges.  It’s epic. 

“Epic” is one of the most overused words in the English language. I’d like to see voice in a YA query, but done seamlessly, not tacked to the end. How does this make Melissa cash? Is the information unveiled only to paid subscribers? Or do people have to pay to submit the dirt?

Commas don’t follow titles. It’s not clear on first glance that “Chaos” is the title. Be clear. Also, the app isn’t anonymously doing anything, it’s the users that are anonymously posting. Try something like “Students are eager to purchase the app, Chaos, which lets users upload dirt on their classmates anonymously.” It’s not great, but at least it’s clear.

Then Melissa finds out Jack wants to use Chaos to release a sex tape of a student and a teacher, a teacher who knows about his dealing. If Melissa doesn’t go along with Jack, she can spare a girl’s reputation–like she wishes someone spared hers.

So the teacher knows about Jack’s dealing? Is the teacher also threatening to get Jack expelled? Why doesn’t Jack just blackmail the teacher? This makes no sense to me.

But, tThe more Melissa pushes Jack to kill Chaos, the more paranoid and threatening he becomes, pinning the entire app, and the video[,] on her. Melissa has to stop Jack before she ends up expelled, in jail, and kissing her college dreams goodbye.

Why is Jack getting paranoid? Why won’t he just kill it? If he has already pinned it on her, how can she stop him? And why would she be put in jail?

BOOK TITLE, no comma after the title is a 60,000 word YA contemporary novel.  It will appeal to fans of ABC’s Revenge and The Social Network.   Thank you for your consideration.

Most agents are fine with TV or movie comp titles, but some might consider it bad taste to compare books only to television shows. It has subtext that says “My book will get even people who watch TV to read.” Consider adding a book as a comparative title too.

While the premise is interesting, it’s a Veronica Mars episode. If you want to compete with a cult classic, you’ll have to show me what makes this story different, and show me that Melissa is a Veronica Mars for the next generation, interesting enough for me to pick up a book instead of watching reruns.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

Sent from my iPhone

I have too many questions and this had enough minor annoyances to add up to one major annoyance—that this doesn’t seem professional. As soon as I opened this email, this is what I saw:
queryfwd

It tells me that I’m at least the fourth person to read this query. The signature was “Sent from my iPhone.”

Be professional, be clear. Make the agent want to read your book, and make him or her want to work with you.

Query #1 June 2014

querylara

Below is the first public query critique I’m offering up on the blog. This will happen once a month (as long as I get a response). I choose one query at random per month. If your query is not selected the first month, it will be in the drawing for the next month. Please do not resubmit unless you’ve made significant edits. To enter, see the rules here. If you want a guaranteed critique (plus line edit) of your query or synopsis, private ones cost $35 each.

Dear [agent],

I am submitting my contemporary young adult novel BOOK TITLE for your consideration because of your desire for international stories that deal with teen’s prevalent issues.  Focusing on bullying and ethnic hate crimes, BOOK TITLE is a simultaneous submission complete at 78,000 words.

Young Adult is an age category, not a genre. I’d prefer having the “this is why I chose you” paragraph at the bottom, but I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker for anyone. Unless an agent specifically tells you to mention if you’re simultaneously submitting, leave it out. Agents expect you to query widely. If another agent requests your full or partial manuscript, then you can mention something.

As for making each first mention of a character’s name in all-caps, I know Writer’s Digest suggests it, but it’s borrowed from screenwriting. Pros: It shows the agent at first glance how many characters you’re mentioning. Cons: It shows the agent how many characters you’re mentioning. You mention Petr once but never again. Unless they are the protagonist(s) or antagonist, don’t mention their names in the query.

For TESS, a Russian student alienated from her school’s state championship bound basketball team in suburban Ohio, forgiveness is a foreign word.  Tess’ crush on upperclassman ELLIOT, a hot upperclassman basketball player, is naïve and misguided.  Elliot struggles with his own feelings for Tess’ gay friend PETR, which complicates the strained tensions between the Russians and the basketball team.  Tess is torn between trusting Elliot—who is pressured by his friends to participate in a hate crime against the Russian Orthodox Church—or her fellow Russians who plant a bomb at the brand new basketball gymnasium in retaliation.  Forgiveness is the only way to survive the hate of high school.  Someone will die if Tess learns the lesson too late.

A breath unit is the number of syllables between two breaths. (Hint: we take breaths at punctuation marks, including parentheses.) A nice average is 8 to 15 syllables. More than 22 without a break isn’t just difficult to read aloud, it’s difficult to read, period.

That first sentence is insanely long. From “a Russian” to “Ohio,” you’ve got one breath unit that’s 30 syllables long. Twenty syllables is pushing it. Thirty, and you’ll turn a reader blue in the face. Read aloud, divide up these sentences. What’s really important? What does the reader HAVE to know? How is forgiveness a foreign word to her? The only question an agent should have from reading your query is “What happens next? I must know!” Never “But why…”

Why is her crush naive and misguided? Are there more Russians than Tess and Petr? Is there a large population of Russians in Ohio? Is she a first-generation immigrant, or is she Russian-American? Why / how could she trust Elliot if her crush on him is misguided? The “Tess is torn” sentence is also a doozy. At this point I fear the manuscript will have longwinded sentences, too.

“Someone will die if Tess learns the lesson too late.” Wait, what? THAT’s what I want to know about. 

What does Tess really want, deep down, and why should we like her? What external things get in the way of her deepest need (my guess would be, in this case, violent bombings), and what internal conflict does she have?

I am a 32 year-old avid reader, student, wife, and mom. Save personal info for the phone call from the editor, or for interviews. Query letters aren’t the place.  My poem [title redacted] won the 2014 [contest, redacted].  This spring, I will continue my education with a MFA an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

An MFA in writing says you’re serious about the craft. Since you WON the writing contest, you can include that even if it doesn’t relate to this manuscript. If this manuscript was a finalist in a contest, you could include that. But if something wholly unrelated to this manuscript got third place, I wouldn’t include it. If you won obscure awards or were published in collegiate literary magazines that no one else has ever heard of (cough, cough—me), I’d leave that out. I’d focus on more remarkable things about your character. 

Inspired by THE OUTSIDERS, BOOK TITLE depicts the fine line between love, hate, and self-loathing that is also prevalent in LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green and Sara Zarr’s STORY OF A GIRL.   The topics of violence, hate, and strained ethnic tensions are timely considering the impending threat in Ukraine and the recent discovery of pressure cooker bombs in a teen’s storage unit in Minnesota.

Don’t mention the timeliness of your book. By the time it finally sees shelves (~2 years), it won’t be timely for those reasons anymore. I’m not a huge fan of comp titles, but if your manuscript is really a good mixture of those, then you can leave it in. What I really want to see is the “love, hate, and self-loathing” IN the text of your query, though. And by that, I mean I want it to be evident that those are themes of your book without you stating them. Show, don’t tell.

Below is the first chapter of FORGIVENESS.  May I send the completed manuscript?

I don’t mind the “may I send” part because it sounds cordial to me, but I’m not sure how a New Yorker would feel about it. “Thank you for your consideration” is the standard way to finish. If they want a full or partial, they’ll request it.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I want to know what Tess is doing, what changes, why she does what she does, what’s at stake, and what’s getting in her way. I just wrote a post about Characters, Obstacles, and Goals. Read it, revise, resubmit, and I’ll take another look at it.

And do let me (and the other readers) know if you get requests for partials or fulls so we can rejoice with you!

Readers, please share any additional feedback you have, but note that comments are moderated, and if you don’t have anything constructive to say, or if you’re playing the troll, your comment will be deleted.