- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 15 2011
By repeated request we’ve started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we’ll just have to see. We’ve received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don’t be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.
For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that’s great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I’m leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don’t make me feel the need to change that policy.
And for those who have never “met” Query Shark, get over there and do that. She’s the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.
What’s a girl supposed to do when she sends the wrong man to another universe for the sins of his twin brother? When Karen was asked by an ageless being, Malin, to use her new found talents to rid the world of some unsavory characters, he soon found that the wealthy orphan was used to doing things her own way.
The trouble with query critiques is that it’s a critique. In other words, many times the critique you’re getting is far more critical than I would be if simply reading the query. Of course, sometimes I will be as critical when reading as I would in a critique, so it never hurts to be thorough.
One of the things that bugs me about this query right off the bat (though I didn’t reproduce it here) is that it’s double-spaced and indented. I know that’s not a big deal, but we read email differently than we read snail mail. We like to have as much of an email as possible fit into a screen, and formatting for email is different than formatting for snail mail. Therefore, single space with double spaces between paragraphs is best. It simply reads better.
I prefer some sort of salutation at the beginning of the letter. It eases me into things and helps me know you’re addressing me. That being said, it’s not a big deal if you don’t include it.
Okay, into the actual query . . .
Blech. Opening the query with a question. Some say this is the death knell. I don’t think that’s truly the case, but it does bug me. What if I don’t care what a girl is to do? And frankly, I’m not sure I do. I also don’t like the phrase “what’s a girl to do.” This is funny coming from the queen of cliches, but cliches in the query make me feel that the author is not as inventive or imaginative as she should be.
Beyond all of that, though, the real concern with this opening paragraph is that it doesn’t make any sense. It’s completely disconnected. You open with a question about what a girl is to do, but don’t touch on that, and then you introduce us to some fellow named Malin and I don’t see how that connects to the question or how doing things her own way connects to anything else. My best advice is to dump this entire paragraph and start over, or, maybe you don’t need it at all.
Karen, and identical twins, Paul and Phillip have made their separate ways to the City, where life has deteriorated under the rule of Grand, a psychotic gang leader and the Mayor, ambitious and amoral. Phillip gets a job working with orphaned boys rescued from the streets; Paul tries to hook up with Grand because he senses they are disturbingly alike.
I’m not understanding the connection between these characters and the connection between this paragraph and the first one. Are Karen and these twins connected? Does it matter at all that they’re identical? You keep saying that, but I don’t know why it matters? They make their way to the City from where, for what, what is this City? And if they aren’t connected (these people), why would you lump them together in the same sentence? And in the end, I don’t think this paragraph matters. It all feels like backstory to me and none of it feels important. So far I’ve read two paragraphs and I still have no clue what your story is about.
Malin oversees that a balance between positive and negative energy is maintained in multiple universes. He recruits and directs human partners to help achieve his objective. He contacts Karen, revealing that she has inherited an unusual ability to transform energy, and asks for her help in sending Paul and Grand to the Plains, to live out the remainder of their lives in an arid purgatory of a universe that receives the outcasts from all the universes under Malin’s control. In the act of transferring Grand and Paul, she accidentally sends Phillip to the Plains too.
Again, this paragraph feels disconnected from the rest. It feels to me like you are trying too hard to tell me about everyone instead of focusing on the hook or high point of the story, the key conflict.
You start the entire query with Karen sending the wrong twin back, and then you take three paragraphs to get to that. Skip the backstory and get to the heart of the book.
So does Karen know Paul and who is Grand? Sorry, I had to look back to see that. Why the two of them?
It seems to me that we finally get to the point here. It seems that the entire book is about the fact that Karen sends the wrong twin away by accident. If that’s the case, I’m not sure we need to know who Grand or Malin are. Could you just focus on the fact that Karen has special powers and lives in a certain type of world, she’s charged with sending a man away for whatever reason, but when she learns she’s sent the wrong fella then what happens . . .
Karen is distraught at condemning a good man to an existence of isolation and alienation and urges Malin to improve his lot. In desperation she enters The Plain against Malin’s warning that she won’t be able to return.
So the biggest problem is that she’s distraught? My immediate concern is that you don’t have a big enough conflict in the book. If the only thing to be worried about is Karen’s feelings, that doesn’t seem like enough.
She manages to return Phillip to their world and eventually Malin figures out a way for her to return also, but only after Karen starts to have feelings for Paul. Thus a triangle is created between Karen and the twins as she struggles to decide between the two men and the two universes.
This sounds to me like the end of the story and not something we need to worry about in the query. This is fine for the synopsis.
However, if you opt to keep it in, it doesn’t sound that interesting. Like you’ve tossed this in at the end. Why does Malin care if she comes back? I’m totally confused.
In the human world, the books deal with topical issues such as drugs, joblessness, sexual slavery and political graft, in a hypothetical city; those relegated to live out their existence in the Plains have their own challenges, particularly when the boundaries between worlds are blurred.
This is one of my pet peeves in query letters. I do not care what issues your book deals with. No one reads fiction because they want to read about social issues. People love it when they learn something or can identify with something in a book, but no one picks up a book and buys it because it deals with social issues, and no back cover describes the social issues in a book.
In other words, this paragraph adds nothing to your query. Just delete it.
I’ve been a writer all my life, but never tried to publish. This story has been rattling around in my head for fifteen years; Karen became very real to me and I decided I wanted to share her adventures. I am a former senior vice president with a Wall Street firm; a long time small business owner; women’s health activist and fund raiser for breast cancer research; and a blogger on economic issues and writing.
Delete the first two sentences. All too often I hear from people who have been “writers all their lives.” It just makes me wonder what took you so long. I also don’t care that the book has been rattling around in your head. It concerns me, actually, that maybe you’re too entrenched in it. I think the last sentence about your experience, maybe less the semicolons, is fine.
The first book, The Energy Collector is 95,000 words; the second is 65,000 words; and I have an outline and about 30,000 words completed of a third book. I have written each of them to stand on their own merits.
I’m only worried about the book you’re pitching, which, by the way, has a great title. How come I couldn’t see how that title played into the book?
I am not a serial submitter, but I have queried several other agents who haven’t responded. Maybe I’m not patient enough.
I don’t like this at all. It’s fine to see that you’re querying other agents, but I don’t like the fact that you’re basically criticizing yourself.
Thank you for your consideration,
One thing you did do here that I didn’t include was add your phone number and town under your name. I liked that. It’s great to include that contact option.
Overall this query is way too long, and not because it’s long in length, but because you ramble about various pieces of the book, but haven’t really told me anything about the story. I worry that your book does the same thing. Most important, though, I don’t see that this book is special enough or different enough from anything else.