Workshop Wednesday

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 31 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 Jessica

The ideal time to meet the love your life is probably not when you’re stalking your ex. Unless the love of your life is also stalking your ex that is…

I think this is a strong and interesting opening. My only hesitation would be that it sounds a little chick lit, but I’ll hold judgement at this point. I’d also delete “that is”; I think it weakens the point.

Josie Stephenson is not just accident-prone – she’s so intimate with disaster that she could probably have its baby and no one would ask questions. Thankfully she’s still a virgin, so that’s one thing she doesn’t have to worry about. That just leaves her glamorous career at the mortuary, owing her godmother eleven new gnomes, and her fiance leaving her for another woman.

I’m totally thrown by this paragraph. It has nothing to do with the preceding paragraph and now I feel like you’re tossing a lot of information of me, but none of it fits into a story, at least from my perspective.

All she wants to do is survive her heartbreak – and maybe get a new job, a new place to stay, and a dinosaur bone for her dog. Instead she finds herself falling for (in front of, on top of, and over) the mysterious new guy. But is he going to be the best thing she’s stumbled upon since shin pads? Or will he convince her that the only safe men are dead ones?

I think this could be a strong paragraph if I understood what the book was about. Honestly, if feels like you’ve brushed the hook away and you’ve definitely downplayed it. I assume, given the title, that the gnomes play some significant part of the book and are quite possibly a paranormal element, and yet I have absolutely no sense that this is paranormal. Or maybe it’s not since you call it contemporary romance. See, I’m confused.

What exactly is this book about, what’s the hook, what’s the chief storyline. That’s what I need to know, not fragments of who the character is.

Naughty Gnomes is a finished, contemporary romance of 83,000 words, set in a large rural town in Australia. Please find the first chapter and synopsis below.

Unless the gnomes are playing a large part in your book, and presumably the query, this title doesn’t work. If you can show me in your query why the title would be “Naughty Gnomes” it would make sense.

And lastly, I miss that you didn’t give me an bio. I assume (from your address actually) that you are from Australia, but I’d like to know a little about you, a tidbit of who you are.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



17 responses to “Workshop Wednesday”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This is definitely the kind of book I'd read (you know, as long as I get some sense of the plot). And I actually like the character description. It's fun and well-written (in my non-agent opinion).

    I have a question about the bio though. I thought that the only thing that really matters is previous publications, so what do you do if you don't have any? I guess what I'm really asking is; what kind of bio are agents looking for, other than previous publications?

  2. Avatar JO says:

    I like the way this is witty – lines such as 'the best thing she’s stumbled upon since shin pads' are clever without being intrusive. So if you can give us clearer idea of story (I was also confused by the second para) I'm sure I'd enjoy the writing.

    Good luck!

  3. Avatar Kristan says:

    I think this query is trying a little too hard to inject voice, and that's muddling up the most essential part: the plot. Perhaps trying a second version, where the basics of the story are written down first, and then the voice is layered in, would be a good idea?

    To be clear: It's not that voice is bad in a query. In fact, this voice is good! It's funny and interesting. But right now it's also obscuring the other important elements of plot and character arc. I think it needs to be dialed down a notch, while the other elements get dialed up.

    Also, I could be wrong but I assumed the gnomes were the lawn ornament kind, not paranormal. There was no confusion on my end (if I'm correct, lol) but perhaps just specifying "lawn gnomes" would help?

    Lastly, to answer Anonymous's question, I think most agents would like at least a one-liner to get a brief sense of you. Such as, "I live in Texas with my husband, dog, and six lawn gnomes." Or "Originally from India, I studied creative writing at the University of Somewhere." Doesn't have to be impressive, just human. 🙂

    But I don't mean to presume to answer that question for Jessica. She may want something different.

  4. Avatar Lehcarjt says:

    Ditto to what the first poster asked about the bio. I kind of don't get what you are looking for. The mailing address would give the writer's location. (It seems a little repetitive to me to put 'I live in Australia' followed by Jane Smith, 555 Jones St. Sydney, Australia). So if the writer has no publishing credentials and their education is in science (for example), what else could she write?

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Unless this is a time-travel book, the dinosaur bone would break the poor dog's teeth. And that threw me.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    The book sounds too cutsie for me. I long ago tired of the female lead who just can't stop tripping over footstools, running into doors, etc.

  7. Avatar newmancht says:

    The voice is good, but I was clueless about the story. Also, there's entirely too many "that" uses in this short query. I counted at least 4 of 'em, and most were in the 2nd paragraph. I have a sneaking suspicion this book could be trimmed by about 3000 words just by performing a "that" search and eradicating all the unnecessary ones. A "just" search would probably be beneficial too, because "just" just seems to fit in just the right places, but just some of the time when you're going around "that" subject that is needing a little of "that" kind of help for just this reason or that….catch my drift??

    This query needs lots more plot focus while retaining the good voice injected. Leave a teaser at the end, but get the main point of the plot across. Don't feel bad author – I've had all the same problems too. 🙁

  8. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    Writing a decent query letter is hard. I hate doing them, but reading these is always helpful, so thank you for submitting yours.

    Too much voice and they sound fluffy or ditzy, too little voice and they sound dried up and withered like a raisin left too long in the sun.

    I liked the voice in this one. With a little fine tuning, a bit more plot, it will sing.

  9. Avatar Elise B. says:

    As for a bio, if you don't have any past credits and your education isn't in literature, then perhaps a sentence or two explaining why you're the best possible person to tell this story will suffice?

    For me a short bio is incredibly important because an agent isn't just taking on a book, she's taking on the author, as well. The agent needs to get a sense the author is someone she would like to work with on future projects, someone who is more than a one-book-wonder.

    That has been my experience, at least.

  10. Avatar Tricia says:

    I love the tagline. But the rest of the query didn't match it. She is stalking her ex, and so is her new love interest. You have a nice set up there. If your story is about that the rest of the query should focus on the "why" of it. If not, leave it out and use your great writing voice to focus on what it's really about.

  11. As for the bio, I didn't have any writing credits yet when I was querying, so I just made sure I had some relevant memberships and mentioned them. For instance, I said I'm a member of RWA and its online Women's Fiction chapter. It fills that spot and says you are serious about your writing career.

  12. The first paragraph is a great hook, but seems totally divorced from the rest of it, and even contradictory. If she wants to just get over her heartbreak, get a new job and house, etc., why is she stalking her ex? That plot thread seems totally abandoned in the rest of the query. The voice is strong and I could see a market for this, but the plot needs some clarification. Then you should be good to go!

  13. You can definitely tell us about your plot in a query AND keep your voice. Don't sacrifice one for the other, especially when the voice and humor are so good.

    Start with the romance basics. Who is your heroine and what does she want? What (or who) then complicates things? What stands in the way of the h/h getting together? Show us that, keep your humor, and I bet you'll get a ton of bites. Good luck!

  14. Avatar girlseeksplace says:

    This is a little too chick lit for me. The gnomes really throw it over the edge for me. I am not a fan of inanimate objects playing a human role, and the title indicates that they do in this story.

  15. Avatar Kelly S says:

    I liked this author's voice. A lot. However, as other posters have pointed out, it is pretty thin on describing what the darned book is about. 🙂

    But I'd read it. For sure.

    The author's voice reminds me of a book I recently read, "Making Waves" by Tawna Fenske.

  16. Hi Jessica!
    I read above that the author is from Australia, and I was wondering how hard it is for an author who lives abroad, either in English-speaking countries or non-English-speaking, to get an agent in the US and get published there. Are their chances smaller than those of native Americans and US residents because of that, or if they have a good book, and send good queries, they have as many chances? Thank you for your posts, they are very helpful.

  17. Avatar Jonathan says:

    Is it a transcription error or a typo in the very first line – "The ideal time to meet the love OF your life". Would a typo in the first line not make you want to reject it?