Workshop Wednesday

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 16 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.

Dear Ms. Faust,

Noah Pressman has survived the IRA, the Taliban, and both Gulf Wars. Now the documentary filmmaker faces something far more threatening – old age. Retirement means only one thing; he’ll finally have to deal with the traumatic death of his son. Desperate to escape the painful memories, Noah accepts a job over the Christmas holidays – direct a TV show about the strangest places in America. When he arrives at the abandoned Fairy Tale Forest, Noah glimpses a startling apparition of his son – alive, and soon unearths a cryptic message: HIDE THE KIDS.

I love this opening. I think you’ve given us a clear description of Noah and his demons and I’m fascinated by where this might be going. The only thing I might add is how long his son has been dead and if he was a child when he died. In other words, something like “death of his son over 15 years ago” or something like that. If you give us a long time frame we can figure he was probably a child. The only thing I might delete is the retirement forcing him to deal with the death of his son. That rings a tad forced to me, but I get where you’re going with it and I don’t think it hurts the query.

After discovering video evidence linking the property to a wave of mysterious child abductions, Noah is determined to unlock the secret buried inside crumbling wonderland. Aided by Caleb Rafferty, the teenage host burdened with an alcoholic father, Noah uncovers a plot orchestrated by Professor Dominic Ballard. Obsessed with gaining immortality, Ballard has found the key in ancient Druid lore and its long-forgotten but profound association with Christmas.

Let’s clarify in this paragraph that, I assume, Fairy Tale Forest is some former amusement park or something like that. I think we need a better image of where the character is. I’m still liking this; my concern at this point is that it starts to feel a little too over the top, and that might just mean the book isn’t for me, or it might be your query. I really like the fact that he’s aided by a teenager. I find that appealing and I like that the teen definitely has his own demons. I wonder if it’s best if we don’t get into the specifics of who orchestrates the plot or what it is, but instead simply say a plot to use children in an attempt to gain immortality. In other words, keep the plot vague and continue to focus most closely on the characters.

By performing a ritual sacrifice on midnight of Christmas Eve, Ballard will trigger the deaths of children everywhere, ensuring himself never-ending life. For Caleb, it means the grave. For Noah, it means suffering the unbearable pain of losing a surrogate son. They must stop Ballard before the stroke of midnight, but standing in their way is a sadistic creature with powers of illusion, a creature that has just found some new toys to play with.

I think this is too specific again. It seems pretty obvious that they need to stop this guy. Even if children everywhere won’t die, he’s presumably abducted children. I think you’d be better off bringing it back to his son somehow. Since that’s how the query started, I’m curious to see a little of how that’s going to play into the book.

A paranormal thriller, FEAR THE UNKNOWN is complete at 100,000-words. It’s my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

I love how this query started, but I wonder if it gets a little too “out there” for me. I’d skip the mention of this being your first novel. To be honest, if I’m on the fence that will push me toward a rejection. If I have concerns, based on the query, about your book, the fact that it’s a “first novel” will make me feel that it’s probably not as sharp as I need it to be or that my concerns will probably be founded. A bias? Maybe, but aren’t we doing this to get a sense of what might bias agents?


12 responses to “Workshop Wednesday”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    On it's face, this sounds like an adult novel with middle-grade story elements. I suspect there's more to it than that. So I'd like to know more about the way it will appeal to adult readers. YMMV.

  2. I feel that it's telling you too much about the story. The best part of a query is leaving some information out leaving you wanting to know more.

  3. Avatar Julie Daines says:

    I think if it started with the mention of it being a Paranormal novel, we would have been more mentally prepared for the weird stuff later on.

    As it is, it starts off with the feel of realistic fiction, so when there is mention of Druids and immortality and ghosts, it's too jarring.

    I love the Workshop Wednesday posts. Thanks!

  4. Avatar Kristan says:

    Oh, I want to add that it's obvious from this query that the writer can, in fact, write. The prose is clear and compelling. There isn't a ton of voice, but I don't think there needs to be. (This doesn't seem to be a voice-driven novel anyway.) The query's style is very "clean," and I always think that's a safe way to go.

  5. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    I think it's an excellent query though I agree with Jessica on the abundance of specific details, but I can't tell what the targeted audience (genre) is from this–is it YA? Is it adult paranormal suspense? I guess the one thing that's missing for me is the story's focus–on the old man's search or the younger character.

  6. Avatar Danielle says:

    Because it is a paranormal and a thriller, 100k might be ok (based off of what I've read elsewhere). I also read that book trends are showing thicker books, readers want more pages.

    I agree with Julie Daines, I think it should've started out with mentioning it was paranormal. I was a little taken aback as well.

  7. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    The first paragraph drew me in. I got that wonderful tingle of suspense. Then it lost me in the middle so yes, I agree with others comments, tone that down. Also, I wouldn't worry about the word count. Even Harlequin have upped their word count to 80-85,000 words for the new Cravings line.

  8. Agree with Julie about mentioning Paranormal earlier in the query. I do like the first paragraph and would have read MS if writer had the second paragraph more general and the word count wasn't so large.

  9. Thanks Jessica!
    Having been charged (lovingly) by my brother, a published author in Portugal, to get his books published in North America, and having no clue how to go about it, I came upon your blog… such a wealth of information!!
    Thanks again. I will be working on that query with some sense that I know what I am doing :D!!

  10. I agree with Jessica's critiques, but it must not have been too out there for me, because I was really intrigued by this query! Certain parts could be more general, but just be careful not to lean too much that way, or you'll get the "I want to know more about [a specific thing]" comments. As it stands, though, I'd bet you would get some requests. Like Kristan said, it is evident you can write, and none of the critiques were in relation to that.

  11. Avatar Julie Nilson says:

    This story really intrigued me, but I think I agree with Jessica that perhaps there's too much detail after the first paragraph. It's too jam-packed with names and details that are confusing in a short letter, but will be fine when introduced over the course of a novel. But the plot sounds really good to me–this is the kind of novel I'd like to read!

    Also, I would suggest a different title. I don't have any ideas myself, because I'm terrible at titles, but I feel like "Fear the Unknown" is too generic for this unique story.

  12. Thanks for the Workshop Wednesday, I have since reworked my query. Thanks to all you brave souls that have put your queries out there.