Workshop Wednesday

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Mar 30 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,
In my novel BOUND TO YOU, an emotionally reserved woman struggles to reconnect with the adoptive family that raised her after discovering a natural affinity with the biological one she’s just met.

If I have to read a sentence twice to figure out what the author is saying you need to rework the sentence. You’ve got a lot of information in here, but honestly, it doesn’t say anything. This is a common mistake in queries, an attempt to give your book an overall theme. Besides the fact that this is an awkward sentence, it doesn’t grab me. There’s nothing here that makes me care about the book. There’s nothing in this sentence that feels special and, frankly, I think you could just keep it simple. Bound to You is an 84,000-word women’s fiction novel about a woman coming to terms with her own adoption.

At 28, Aden Crawford relegates most of her relationships to the backburner. In the ten years since she uncovered adoption papers in the attic—and was met with silence in place of answers—she’s almost convinced herself she’s better off alone. But that’s easier said than done. Especially when her adoptive parents, sister and long-time boyfriend are determined to change her mind.

For some reason her age hit me wrong. The way you described her in the opening, “an emotionally reserved woman,” made me think this character was going to be a lot older. Discovering she’s 28 shifts my thinking on the book. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I just think your description above made her sound older. It might make a difference in your character if you make her five years older; that way you clearly move out of the realm of chick lit.

It seems like there’s a lot of potential in this paragraph, but no oomph. There’s also the potential for a lot of conflict, but I don’t see the conflict as being that big of a deal. She’s moved her relationships to the back burner, and yet she clearly has a lot of people in her life. You need to take this to the next level. Frankly, this query suffers from what I think is the biggest reason queries get rejected. The book just doesn’t sound that interesting. It sounds a little “eh.” There’s nothing special here, nothing that makes it stand out from any other book about an adult who discovers she’s adopted.

They convince her that meeting her biological father, Shawn Channing, will erase any lingering questions about who she is. Aden tracks down Shawn and is baffled by his unquestioning acceptance. She bonds with her two half-brothers through hours-long phone calls, rounds of 20 Questions via email and a few cross-country visits. And she slips into the family dynamic as if she’s always been there.

If she was met with silence then why are those same parents suddenly working so hard to help her connect with her biological parents? That doesn’t make sense. When I see things like this, conflicts in the query, it makes me believe that there are a lot of plot errors in the book. These might be small, but let’s face it, I’m judging your book on the query, and if you don’t see the conflicting information here then it’s likely you aren’t seeing it in 400 pages.

The ease of her new family life, however, leaves her desperate to regain that same closeness with her adoptive family. Insecurity from years of estrangement keeps her from reaching out to them. Aden must find a way to let go of the past if she hopes to wind up with everything—and everyone—she’s ever wanted.

It feels like I’ve totally missed the conflict in the story. This just seems like a nice tale about a woman who has two families. I’m not at all connecting with what her growth is or what she needs to overcome. She seems upset that she’s adopted, but in the meantime both her families seem incredibly supportive. Frankly, it makes her sound a little whiny. Again, this all ties into this book not feeling special.

BOUND TO YOU is a completed 84,000-word women’s fiction novel. I earned my BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington.

This is good. Great bio. This is all I really need.

Thank you for your consideration.


12 responses to “Workshop Wednesday”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    That was my reaction to the character as well. Compared to the problems I'm dealing with in my own life right now, Aden's problems sound, well, non-existent. Can she really bond seamlessly into a family that made the decision to give her up for adoption? Is everyone around her going to be quite so supportive of her angst?

    If there's more to the story– a deep dark secret about her birth parents, for example– put it in the query.

  2. I don't see much conflict in the query, so if there's more in the book, it needs to show. It sounds to me like a lucky lady finding out she has two great families and lots of people to support her. If that's the case, she needs to start out from somewhere very dark where I can root for her to have all these great people appear in her life.

  3. Avatar Bonnie says:

    I thought you weren't supposed to say "fiction novel."

  4. @Bonnie: I think it's generally OK if the genre include the word "fiction" in it, such as women's fiction or science fiction.

    As for the query, I agree with the critiques given already; the character's desires confuse me. She's put everyone on the back burner for ten years because her adoptive family was silent when she discovered the adoption papers, but they convince her to meet her biological father. She connects well with him and his family, and this makes her want to repair her relationship with her adoptive family. Why? I'm not saying it can't happen, but it's not clear in this query, nor is the depth of her conflict. It sounds like she's surrounded by pretty awesome people, and that makes her look like the brat. If that's not the intention, then you need to make her thoughts and motivations clearer. And if she is the brat, you need to play up that aspect of it and the fact that she needs to overcome something within herself in order to be close to everyone again.

  5. Avatar Seleste says:

    For me, this query reads more like a mini-synopsis than an enticement. I've had it hammered into my head that the query should be character, goals, & conflict. Of those three, the only one I feel like I got was character, and as Ms. Faust pointed out, she kind of comes across whiny. Let us know what she wants and what's standing in her way, and maybe that will help to make her more appealing.

    Also, this is probably just me, but seeing the title Bound to You, my head immediately went to romance (I'm guessing most people can figure out what sub-genre). Not that it's a big deal, but depending on the person reading the query, that could affect their opinion of it right off.

  6. Jessica,

    If the character was five years older does that mean it is no longer chick lit, even if its written in the chick lit style (lighthearted, funny, conversational)? What really makes chick lit chick lit? And if a book is genuinely funny and compelling, it the title chick lit still the kiss of death? This is perhaps a topic for another post. Love your blog.

  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Without seeing pages, I could be totally wrong. But this sounds like one of those cases where the actual writing might be better than the query.

    I've read where agents made strong statements that they never saw good pages accompanied by a weak query. And I personally disagree here. Most authors, even pubbed authors, suck at writing queries and back cover copy. I've written some really bad queries for a book that became a bestseller in its genre. It takes me a day to write a chapter and three days to write decent back cover copy.

    Be nice with these posts of the author gave permission to show at least two pages so readers can compare the query to the writing sample. I don't think anyone would be snarky; just curious.

  8. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    I could be wrong, but i sense the author is an adoptee herself and the story could be semi autobiographical. It takes one to know one. 🙂 I'm an adoptee and the entire situation surrounding my search for my birthmother was fraught with angst and drama. But it's not a common issue that's easy to relate to. That's the challenge in writing such a book, and then in conveying that punched-in-the-gut feeling in a query letter.

    As for conflict, yes, it's lacking in the summary here. There should be a secret, a threat, a ticking time bomb, something more intriguing than an angst-filled woman caught between 2 supportive families.

    I wrote a similar book and got my first agent with it. Did the book sell? No. And for the reasons Jessica outlined here. The conflict was iffy at best. I even had a pregnant mother searching for her birthmother because the safety of her unborn baby was at stake. It still wasn't enough, but i don't think the writing was where it should have been either. That was my fault. And that was almost twenty years ago. I'm a better writer now, but that first book resides in the "how i learned to write fiction" bin.

    The issue of adoptees searching and finding birthparents is potentially intriguing, but if you can't offer that extra twist to make it rise above the dozens of other Lifetime Movie of the Week plot lines, the book's success could be questionable IMHO.

  9. Avatar Khitty Hawk says:

    @Bonnie and Kristin
    Over at Query Shark, I read that if the genre has the word "fiction" in the title, it's safer to say "work of women's fiction". That way you avoid having the words "fiction" and "novel" right next to each other.

    I'll let the more knowledgeable people have at the query itself.

  10. Avatar Donna Hole says:

    Thanks for sharing this query. I'm writing in women's fiction also, I have some of the same issues with conflict. And voice.

    I'm sure there is a lot more intensity in the novel than what is showing here. I wondered why it took her ten years to "convince herself" she is better off alone; and what prompted her to make such a life decision. I'm not seeing that she was estranged from her adoptive family, or why she has "lingering questions about who she is."

    Having some specific insights on how her life changed (as in: close nit and loving before the papers; ostracized deliberately after) and how it improved after meeting Shawn would help strengthen the query.

    The novel concept sounds interesting with a complex character.

    Good luck with the revisions.


  11. Avatar jfaust says:

    Bonnie–You're right. You aren't supposed to say "fiction novel" and I'm thrilled you pointed that out because I think it shows something important. It shows how unimportant those little things really are. How an agent's focus is truly on the meat of the query. That being said, it probably should have just said women's fiction, romance, mystery, etc. Just skip the word "novel" all together.

    Sally–Truthfully chick lit is more about tone and style. The tone and style of this query read nothing like chick lit to me. Sometimes I'll read a plot that sounds too much like chick lit and for me that's primarily a young woman in an urban environment with little conflict outside of trouble at work and in love. Again, I didn't think this felt like chick lit, but her age threw me off because it felt like she should be older.

    Anon 9:09–And I think that's something you could say about any query, but I can usually get a sense of an author's voice through a query. Sure there are times a bad query results in a great book, there are also times when an author writes her first book at 12 and it hits the NYT list when she's 14. They are rare. The truth though is that the problems here are more than the writing. There's not much of a plot so it's two-fold. And, if I already have 30 potential manuscripts in my inbox to read, this doesn't make me want to take a chance. As for people being snarky, you'd be very surprised.


  12. Avatar Julie Nilson says:

    I agree with the others who said there doesn't seem to be any overarching conflict. There are some little ones, I think, that could still work sprinkled throughout the story, but there needs to be a bigger narrative thread.

    Also, I found that first sentence to be *almost* compelling. It was a little convoluted and I had to re-read to get the meaning, but I felt like there is definitely a kernel of something in there that just needs to be tweaked.