Titles!

This post is more of a nuts and bolts sort of thing. But I’ve seen it come up several times in the critique letters. What do you do with book titles in your query letter?

The manuscript should be in all caps. It helps the reader quickly identify it.

Other titles you mention (for instance, to compare to) should either be italicized like in normal writing or left alone (I personally prefer italics).

Example:

My manuscript WHY CAPTAIN AMERICA IS AWESOME is complete at 200,000 words and will appeal to fans of Comic Lover Dude’s Everyone Loves Captain America and Hero Lady’s Girls Love Cap for More than the Muscles.

And yes, I do need 200,000 words to talk about why Cap is awesome.

Anyway, that’s the conventional way to do titles. All caps (haha, pun. Actually not intended.) for your manuscript because it’s the important one in your query. Italics for everything else.

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My Vlogging Debut

I have several very lovely friends who vlog for a group called the YA WordNerds. Their videos are great, and I definitely recommend you check them out. Especially if you like to write YA.

A couple weeks ago I was invited to guest vlog for the WordNerds. I chose to talk about 4 Reasons You Might Not get a Request.

Check it out here!

As a side note, this blog only exists because WordNerd Erin talked me into it. So you can thank her too.

Query Critique 12

Hello lovely readers! Before I dive into this query, I just want to announce that I’ll be hosting a contest on Twitter soon. So follow me and keep up with Twitter and the blog so you don’t miss out on details.

And now the Kyratique. You know the drill.


 

Dear Ms. Nelson,

My manuscript, Piece of Your Soul, Put in all caps. is a feel-good I’d rather get the feel-good vibe from the tone of the letter, rather than having the author say it., small town love story aimed at college-aged kids, and therefore, I would place it in the New Adult Romance Just say that it’s New Adult. That implies that it’s aimed at college-aged kids.  category with approximately 57,350 words. Go ahead and round to 57,000. We’re not actually going to count. This story is told with two points of view, both the girl, and the drool-worthy boy. Drool-worthy is another thing I’d like conveyed through how he acts rather than being told he’s drool-worthy.

It’s the late 90s. This fact alone brings the reader back in time before everyone had a cell phone! This sentence seems unnecessary. Even the youngest people in agenting will remember the 90s. People (and couples) had to result in actually talking to one another on the phone. Oh the torture! Someone might actually get to know one another without texting back in forth all night!  And, of course, no social media to help you creep on someone before a first date! I feel like this is a lot of space devoted to talking about things that don’t actually tell me about the plot. It could be shortened to a single phrase, I think, and I also don’t think I would lead with it. 

Emily has just graduated from high school, and is desperately trying to start over and get away from her past. This might be more interesting if you were specific about what her “past” is. Is it just the ex? Other things? Her spirit is broken, as she feels used by her former boyfriend. But, she’s excited about her future when, due to an outrageous set of circumstances, she meets Landry. Landry is irresistible. And Emily has never felt so alive since that morning fate forced them to meet. He has this fun, joyful way about him that bleeds into all his words and actions. He’s a mix of bad boy and good ‘ole southern chivalry wrapped up in a package to salivate over.  Amidst fully clothed cannonballs, piggy-back rides, sultry kisses, and four-wheelers, This sentence has some of what I mean about showing rather than telling.I’d like to see more of that. Emily realizes her brokenness begins to heal with every second spent with this man. I think this could be shortened a little by condensing some of the sentences. I would also like to see more 

But, Landry is only home in Georgia for the summer, before he has to go back to the “land of the fields” to play football at his little college in Missouri. Really, fate must be playing a sick joke.  They have exactly two weeks together before Landry has to head back to the mid-west.  Fate surely brought them together, and fate is surely pulling them apart…

I am a young 30s wife and mom of two young children living in the suburbs of Atlanta.  But, I have held many titles other than “wife and mom”. I have been a schoolteacher, real estate agent, and theologian. Until recently, I held a day job as a children’s ministry director.  I got to make stories come to life on a weekly basis.  I may not be gifted in organization, but I can tell a story in a fun and exciting way.  My day job gave me the opportunity to mentor many teens and young college students over the years. This experience is why I felt compelled to tell a different story than what I see on the best-selling new adult novel list, and on goodreads. Though I read many of those books, Piece of Your Soul, is a story I needed to hear, and one many of my friends needed too.  In a world rampant with sex, drugs, alcohol, depression, suicide, bullying, and cutting beginning at such young ages, I realized that some of my past mistakes and decisions could possibly be used to help someone else.  The best way I know how to do that is to tell a story.  And so, I began writing…. In general, I don’t care about bios very much (unless the author has some fairly impressive credentials). I do think it’s interesting that you talk about how you became interested in writing the story. Yet like everything in the query, it needs to be shortened. It sounds like this might fall under the category of “clean” romance. Which is great, because there is a demand for that (consider submitting to Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance line). If that’s the case, I would state it explicitly. So maybe just keep it brief by saying something like “My experiences as a wife, mom, schoolteacher, real estate agent, and theologian inspired me to write PIECE OF YOUR SOUL because I feel it’s a story people need to hear. In general, I recommend bio paragraphs be no more than one or two sentences.

Thank you so much for your time!

Sincerely,

Warm Soul


 

This entire query letter needs to be condensed. The best way to do this is by doing more showing than telling.

If I’m trying to convince my friend to go on a blind date with a guy I know, and I say “He’s nice” she’ll probably be like “Eh. That’s not very convincing.” But if I say, “This guy spends his weekends volunteering for a soup kitchen and he also runs a non-profit dedicated to providing education to children in impoverished areas” my friend will know the guy is nice without me actually saying he’s nice. I’m using specific details to SHOW her. And that’s just a more convincing way to convey that he is nice.

You can do the same thing with a query letter (and a statement of intent or cover letter, I might add).  SHOW me. Don’t just tell me.

Query Critique 11

So I’m legitimately going to start calling these Kyratiques. Mostly because I’m vain, and I like the idea of having my own hash tag. Orange comments.

 


Dear Kyra Nelson,

Blood Reign All caps is a YA fantasy novel complete at 78,000 words, that will appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series. Italicize titles of comparative books.

Seventeen-year-old Alice never considered herself the suicidal type. That is until she finds herself trapped between the men who killed her mother, this comma shouldn’t be here. Is there a comma here because you don’t want it to sound like the men also killed the five-hundred-foot drop? Maybe rephrase to “finds herself trapped between her mother’s killers and a five-hundred-foot drop.” and a five-hundred-foot drop. Rather than face the killers’ dark plans for her, Alice jumps. But instead of death, Alice wakes up in a blood-soaked battlefield, where men in armour American spelling is armor are slaughtering peasants.How does she know they are peasants if this world is so unfamiliar? Terrified, she flees and encounters a seer who believes she is destined to save this unfamiliar world from the evil queen, this comma should not be here either. But maybe consider capitalizing queen throughout, since you use it as a proper noun. and the tyranny of her army.

Alice doubts she can save anyone. Disguised as a man, Why is she disguised as a man? So far we’ve had no clue from the query why this would be necessary to save Wonderland. Alice must survive the war between the queen and rebels, and the flesh-eating monsters stalking Wonderland. This sentence is structured so that I’m not sure if the flesh-eating monsters are part of the war or just something else to survive. Her growing lust for vengeance Establish why she has a lust for vengeance. Make it clear what the queen has done to make her so mad. makes her determined to find her way home. As Wonderland falls into chaos, Alice discovers slaying monsters might have its price–being hailed as a hero–or becoming a monster herself. This is a good clincher.

The Wonderlander


So here’s a thought about grammar and punctuation. I minored in editing in college, and I definitely notice things like missing commas when I read. On the other hand, I don’t consider myself the grammar police, and I’m not totally turned off from a query just because somebody misuses a comma.

However, if I start noticing a lot of little grammar errors, or one big one, it can be a little distracting. For something as short as a query letter, I suggest finding a friend who’s good with the language to help it get cleaned up.

 

Query Yourself First

After beta readers have helped you fine tune your query, the first person you should send it to is yourself.

That’s right. Send the query to yourself. And I don’t just mean read the version you typed up in Word (or wherever you typed it). I mean actually paste it into an email and email it to yourself.

When you’re trying to distinguish yourself from hundreds, maybe thousands, of queries, first impressions matter. Inevitably, one of the first things I see when I open up a query letter is the formatting of the email (indenting for paragraphs can get real messy, real fast).

How much white space is there? Did the line breaks do something weird? Is the font actually the right size? Were there weird symbols inserted where punctuation is supposed to be? Excerpts in particular tend to have the formatting messed up when transferred from a word processor to an email.

While I’ve never rejected a query just because the formatting was goofy, it never makes a good first impression. I look at it and my brain goes, “That looks like more work to read than a nice clean email. You’re probably not going to like it.”

But, if you send the email to yourself first, you see what it’s going to look like when it gets to the agent. You’ll be able to tell if anything is goofy looking.

Also, I think you’re more likely to notice mistakes within the query itself (whether it’s misspellings or grammar, or just things you wish you worded better). When we reread something we wrote, our brain tends to fill in gaps and overlook things. But putting it in a different format (an email, or printing it, or even just changing the font) forces the brain to pay more attention to what’s written. I don’t actually have research to back that up, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

So send the query email to yourself first, because it won’t hurt to double check one last time.

Query 1 Rewrite

As a special perk to being our very first query critique, I’ve given Daring Cobra a revision critique. I’ll post her rewrite here so you can see the improvements (special thanks also her writing group who also helped). See the original here to compare.


 

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Seventeen year old Susan Black’s ability to control all forms of earth helps her protect the city of Caperville from dastardly villains and monsters. No one suspects quiet, mild mannered Susan to be the mysterious and alluring Vine Vixen. When an arrogant new superhero called The Gray Eagle rolls into town and steals her thunder, he becomes an instant celebrity and a pain in her ass.

Thanks to his stupid x-ray vision, The Gray Eagle sees right through The Vine Vixen’s mask and finds her at school. The superdouchebag enrolls as his alter ego Grayson Clark, to spend more time with her. Susan is put off by his carelessness with the two personas. With each day, Grayson’s popularity grows and the line between him and The Gray Eagle blurs. His presence puts Susan’s own secret identity at risk.

In spite of their differences, the heroes become partners in crime fighting. Over time Susan falls for Grayson’s charm and compassion, but the closer she feels to him, the further away he seems. He’s spewing lies and half-truths, and as the secrets pile up between them, Susan wonders if her true enemy has been staring her in the face the whole time.

SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF is a 58,000 word YA superhero romance. It will appeal to the fans of Natalie Whipple’s Transparent and Rachel Hawkin’s Rebel Belle.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Daring Cobra

The sentence “the closer she feels to him, the further away he seems” could be tightened up to make it a little easier to understand. Otherwise, I think this rewrite is rad. Nice flow to it. And like I said, I’m a sucker for superheroes, so I think this is the bomb.com.

Query Critique 10

After a weekend off for a family reunion, I’m back! Here’s a word play challenge brought up at the reunion. How many animals can you think of that are named after the thing they do (a fly flies, an ant-eater eats ants)?

And now a query critique (the thing you’re actually here for). In true Irish spirit, comments are in green.


 

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I submit this query for my 76,000-word thriller, THE EMERALD EYE.

She came to protect a queen. She wasn’t expecting a quest. This hook doesn’t grab me as much as something more specific would. And the fact that it’s in italics is a little distracting.

Texan security specialist Colt Ryder is fixin’ to prove her worth. Colt—named for the gun, not the horse—holsters a fear of heights that almost keeps her from saving the day at the Royal Wedding. I’m not sure I know enough about her to care about the origin of her name, unless it’s important to the story. Her next assignment: Ireland, as part of the advance team for the British monarch’s historic visit. I’m a little intrigued why somebody from Texas is working for the British royals instead of something more homegrown like the secret service. You could either quickly mention it here or just leave the fact that she’s from Texas out of the first sentence. Also, this all seems like stuff that happens before the story rather than being what the story is about. If that’s the case it should either be shortened or cut out.

On a sweep of Dublin Castle, Colt unearths a cryptic letter hinting at the whereabouts of the long-missing Irish Crown Jewels. I think this is the part that should be in the hook. These are the specific details that most grab me out of everything I’ve read so far. She must enlist Chief Archivist Dec O’Brian—the dashing “pirate of the palace”—to help decipher clues hidden everywhere from the Book of Kells to “trad” music. Southern heat meets Celtic cool, and the two warm to each other. This is a great sentence. The IRA, rogue spies, and the Knights of St. Patrick also set their sights on Colt—targeting her as a means to the gems.

Promising the key to unlocking the treasure, Dec escorts Colt into a crypt and…Bam! The door slams shut, leaving her in the dark. How could he? I don’t think this needs to be italicized either.

Turns out, they’re trapped together. After wrangling an escape, the pair dig up the trove on a deserted island (the eerie Ireland’s Eye), only to have their bounty snatched away. Colt pursues the thief to the top of another “Ireland’s Eye”—the Ferris wheel overlooking the River Liffey. Lassoing her fears, Colt wins back the prize and discovers that even a pirate can be a prince. I almost feel like this reveals a little too much. I now feel like I know the ending, which takes away some of the “I need to request this manuscript so that I can find out what happens” feel that you want the reader to have. It sounds like when she first gets locked in the tomb she things Dec did it. If that’s true, I’d maybe leave it there so the reader is wondering if maybe she shouldn’t have trusted him. Or some other sort of cliff hanger.

I am a neurologist who has authored and edited multiple academic books. My debut novel draws from my experience living in Texas and Ireland. THE EMERALD EYE reads like a smart woman’s This suggests that it’s women’s fiction (in addition to being a thriller). I don’t think you need that, though, because I can see this appealing to men as well.“Dublin Da Vinci Code.” Excellent use of the X meets Y formula.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sláinte!

T.X. Kildare


 

Um, I don’t think I have any overall comments for this one. I’m just used to writing something down here…

Here’s a picture of the Trinity College Library (home of the Book of Kells mentioned in the query) that I took when I was in Dublin last year instead of a useful comment on the query.