- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jul 27 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. Agent Last Name,
What would you do if…
Your mother is kidnapped? You are stranded, all alone in a foreign country? A strange man with electric blue eyes threatens your life unless you turn over some key you’ve never heard of?
Oh no, you begin with one of my biggest query pet peeves: the hypothetical question. And there isn’t just one of them, there are three! You might say this is simply an unreasonable personal preference of mine, but I am not alone in this. Many agents and editors can’t stand this. Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure why. Most of the time, my answers to these questions are “I don’t care,” “That would never happen to me,” or to clench my teeth in frustration. Or perhaps because it’s a cliche, and we just see so many queries that begin like this. Also, it makes the assumption that the reader will be able to relate to your character. What if I hate my mother and wish someone would kidnap her? What if my mother had just died and I’m overcome with grief? Even worse, what if I can relate all too well, and my mother really had been kidnapped? It feels like you’re trying to force my emotional involvement in your story. But as a plus, if they hadn’t been phrased as questions, some of your plot elements might have intrigued me.
Let me nitpick at your specific questions. At this point in your query, I don’t know that this is a YA project, so the second question doesn’t have the impact you want it to have. As an adult, if I were stranded in a foreign country, it would be frustrating and perhaps even frightening, but I’d deal with it. As for the “man with electric blue eyes,” you have me wondering why his eyes are relevant. Are you trying to tell me that there’s some kind of sci-fi or paranormal element? Or is this man a perfectly normal human who just happens to have striking eyes? My questions don’t get answered in the rest of your query, and they really need to be addressed.
If you’re fifteen-year-old Jim Winters and his nine-year-old sister Erica, you set off in search of your long absent father. Beating a trail from the north of England to the hills of Tuscany and hidden passageways beneath the city of Venice, the two dodge skeptical adults, fend off shadowy assailants, and uncover friends in unexpected places.
Aha! It’s a YA! But wait, in the previous paragraph, you ask what I’d do if I were all alone and here I find out that your character isn’t alone–he’s with his sister. This paragraph makes me ask another question–why don’t your characters just go to the police? I think that would be the logical reaction to one’s mother being kidnapped. I do, however, like the second sentence of this paragraph. It’s concise but gives me something to go on, and road stories frequently appeal to me. Still, I think it would be better if you elaborated some on this sentence–what type of shadowy assailants (and again, is shadowy a clue word for paranormal?) and unexpected friends?
But that’s the easy part! When a final clue leads them high into the Swiss Alps, the two siblings realize their father is not who they thought he was and are forced to make a choice that will either save their family or tear it apart forever.
I’d scratch the first sentence. If it’s easy, it’s probably not going to make for compelling reading. This paragraph raises more questions. Final clue to what–finding their father or mother? And, connected, I’m also wondering how your characters are defining family. Just the siblings and their mother? Or is the estranged father now considered part of their family? Unfortunately, at the end of your plot summary, I have so many questions that I feel like I don’t have a good grasp on your story. And while there are appealing elements, I’m not intrigued enough to ask for more.
This is the story of Paraglide, 71,000 word young-adult novel geared toward preteen and teenage girls and boys. I read your online bio with great interest and share many of the same favorites in children’s literature. I would be thrilled if you would consider representing my work.
The first sentence seems redundant to me. You could just say, “This is the story of PARAGLIDE, a 71,000 word young adult novel geared at both sexes.” Your sentence about the agent’s bio feels phony–it almost always does when someone tells me something general in my bio made them query me. Maybe I’m alone in this, but it really doesn’t matter to me why you queried me, specifically. My assumption always is that a writer is querying as many agents as possible, and you won’t have your heart set on me just because we both might happen to love American Idol or kumquats or whatever.
I am a native Minnesotan, but recently returned from three years living and traveling in Europe, tramping through the various locations visited by the characters in Paraglide. I have published essays in The Christian Science Monitor and The Arizona Republic. I have included ______________ and would be delighted to send you a copy of the entire manuscript.
Thank you very much for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
The last few paragraphs were fine. Just make sure that whatever material you’ve sent is what the agent wants to see. Don’t send a synopsis or chapters unless it’s specifically stated in the guidelines.