Query Critique 57

Dear Fabulous Agent,

Tova’s ambitious husband, Andrew, is often gone for a month at a time on business, but this is the first time he’s left without a word. Frustrated, she meets Neil, a private investigator who tempts her with his all-knowing blue eyes, dangerously curly hair, and witty banter. I would be a little interested in being more specific about how she met him. Did she hire him to find her husband? Run into him at a bar? She thinks she’s safe, until he turns out to be her new neighbor. What do you mean by safe? Safe from his charms? Is he a physical threat to her?

Beyond attracted to Neil, he makes her question resuscitating her marriage or breaking her deeply held moral code and giving into a temptation she always assumed she could walk away from. The wording in this sentence is a bit awkward. But fighting her attraction to Neil only points to what is missing in her life—passion—and magnifies her loneliness and the sacrifices she’s made for her husband. The wording could be a little more condensed by saying something to the effect of “only points to the missing passion in her life.” Magnified loneliness seems a little redundant beyond missing passion.

When Andrew unexpectedly comes home during a party and embarrasses Tova, Neil sees her farce of a marriage. Tova’s frustration boils over into anger. She confronts Andrew, but he attacks her in a rage. Could you be a little more specific about how he attacks her? She’s rescued by Neil’s good friend and employee, yet Andrew’s secrets, and Tova’s life starts start to unravel under a threatening promise. Hang-up calls and a hit-and-run accident convince Neil something sinister is going on. Together, they must unravel the mystery behind the lies she’s believed throughout her marriage as their friendship—doused in sexual tension—heats up and Tova lands in the crosshairs.  I don’t think you need to say it’s doused in sexual tension. I think that’s been established. It sounds like there is some danger, which could be worked into the query to create more specific stakes than “caught in the cross-hairs.” Why should we be worried about Tova? What do we think Andrew will do to her if she can’t figure out what’s going on in time?

I’m seeking representation for my contemporary romance novel with a suspense edge. Given your information on Publishers Marketplace I thought you would enjoy GREED & JEALOUSY. It’s complete at 95,000 words.

I’ve been a retail store owner for the last 21 years and write technical handouts for my business on the mechanics of making jewelry.  I’m a member of RWA and Midwest Fiction Writers. I share a similar career with my main character and I’ve also been duped by a lover, but that’s a story for another time.

 Thank you for your time and consideration,

Two of Seven

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Query Critique 52

Dear [agent name here],

September 28th, 2013 is just a normal day for most people. And for Grace Kincaid, it would seem to be just that— normal. She has coffee, takes a shower, and goes to work as she usually does. But in the evening, she sits in her bedroom and cries for the first time in nearly a year. You see, September 28th, 2013 marks the 364th day since Grace’s husband died in Afghanistan. This is what the hook needs to talk about. It takes way too long to get to anything specific about the conflict of the story. Also, the “you see” part reads a little awkward to me. It’s also the day her life will change for the better. This last sentence is also sort of vague. I want to know what exactly happens that causes such a turn around.

There are bumps on the road to recovery, of course. Again, this sentence is sort of vague and doesn’t do much to develop the plot. Grace will discover that she’s infertile. Two of her sons will be murdered in a brutal school shooting. But when she finds the woman of her dreams, and her daughter (assigned male at birth) comes out as transgender, Grace will remember what’s really important in the world—her family, her friends, and her happiness. These are all interesting things, but I’d like to see them tied together. I also want to get more of a sense of stakes. She has all these things that happen to her, but how do they really affect her? What does she still stand to lose? Why do we need to continue worrying about her? The query is pretty short, so you have room to develop something.

DAY 364 is a completed novel of 75,000 words. It is aimed toward adult readers, and is entirely fictional. Unless otherwise specified, we tend to assume that it’s an adult book. I’d also maybe call it contemporary fiction.

Thank you very much for your time.

Sincerely,

Road to Healing

Query Critique 48

Dear Agent,

Twenty-one-year-old Lea Cobb has a legion of fans at her feet, but the man she wants keeps running away.

A former KidCast actress, Lea is making a comeback on a new hit show. I almost like this better as a hook. The leading role of sexy-nerdy African-American college student should get her back on the cover of popular celebrity magazine, Rules of the Stars. I’m a little distracted by the name of the magazine. Is it important? To solidify her rise to fame, she only needs one thing: a steamy guy to show off on the red carpet. Lea sees her chance in the smoking hot Australian body of the last actor to join the show.

Thirty-one-year-old star Joshua Housten accepts the small part hoping for a change of scenery after his catastrophic divorce. Is this the Australian guy, or a different guy? Make it clear. Desperate to escape his past while rebuilding his career and image, he’s determined to follow three hard-and-fast rules: no relationships, no co-stars and no younger women. Easy enough–until he meets Lea, the former child star that makes his body react in a very grown-up way. 

Joshua tries to stymie Lea’s seduction attempts, and as her feelings for him grow, she uses every seductive tool she possesses to convince him rules are meant to be broken. She’s set on winning his love, but the closer she gets, the more he throws up walls. Lea knows one thing for sure: she isn’t ready to take no for an answer, because if Joshua chooses his rules, he’ll break her heart. Overall, I would say this is a pretty solid query letter. Good sense of setting and conflict. If at all possible, I’d like to get a little more indication what their personalities are like. 

Told from Lea and Joshua’s POV, RULES OF THE STARS is an Adult Contemporary Romance novel complete at 69,000 words.  I think you could easily pitch this as New Adult. I also don’t think you need to capitalize contemporary or romance.

Upon your request, I would be delighted to send the complete manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely,

Rising Author Star

Query Critique 42

In the 1990’s, half-black David escapes his crazed mother and flees to Chicago with the dream to become Gatsby, not work as a janitor and live in the city slums. He can’t entirely despise janitor work, though: he met Mary after sweeping the floors together, and months later they exchanged rings in the most romantic marriage the Chicago Courthouse ever witnessed.

But then their seven-year-old daughter is diagnosed with a rare, organ-destroying disease that can only be treated by a costly medicine. With no way to pay for Penelope’s life, Mary resorts to desperate tactics to get the money—and David’s desperate for her to stop. What desperate tactics? Be specific. His mother’s words crash around his mind once again, “Don’t be black, they’re worthless,” and with a white wife who seduces their white insurance manager, David feels nothing but worthless. The transition into this idea feels a little awkward to me. This time, Mary’s can’t heal him. Mary’s what? This is the paragraph where we really get the first taste of conflict. While the first paragraph establishes some relevant information, it’s lacking in conflict. You may want to consider reorganizing your query so that  more of the conflict found here appears in the first paragraph to grab your reader. Also, be specific about conflict. 

Their wallet gets tighter and the only other option to save enough money is to move to the Chicago south side, almost entirely made up of blacks. How are these south side folk going to help them get the money they need. Who are they, and what is their connection to David and his family? Cue David’s sleepless nights and sweat-drenched pillows. But the thing is, these south side blacks aren’t who he imagined. In fact, they might do the most to save both Penelope and David. This paragraph could use some elaboration.

SAVING PENELOPE is an Adult Contemporary with a strong literary bend. Neither adult nor contemporary needs to be capitalized. It is complete at 76,000 words and, if it was nonfiction, would fit easily in Jonathan Cohn’s SICK. Italicize Sick to set it apart from your title.

Query Critique 38

Coby married a man who ought to be dead—and he’s starting to regret saying ‘I do.’ This is a good hook. It did sort of set up expectations for something speculative fiction, but that may just be my reader’s bias because I gravitate towards spec fic.

The night Coby pulled Jimmy, half-dead at seventeen, out of a seedy back-alley, everyone told him not to get attached. They said Jimmy was going to break his heart. But he told them he could handle Jimmy. After all, fate brought them together when Jimmy needed a friend the most. And for the last ten years, despite all of the hell Jimmy’s gone through, Coby’s never given up. My one complaint with this is that I feel like it uses Jimmy’s name a lot. Obviously you have to avoid pronoun confusion. But it’s like when you say a word a bunch of times and it loses meaning. Or maybe that’s just me.

Coby made a promise to Jimmy when they got married: he’d stand by him, give him a family, and never leave him.  But when Jimmy has an atomic meltdown at work, gets admitted to the psych ward, and loses his job, Coby, the man who swore he had no breaking point, breaks.

When Jimmy is released from psych, a vicious cycle begins: Jimmy refuses to stay on his meds and starts falling back into drugs.  Coby isn’t sure anymore if his obligation is strong enough to make things work.  But with Jimmy off his meds and back-peddling into addiction, Coby is about to admit that everyone was right.

RESCUE ME is LGBT, dual POV, Commercial Fiction, complete at 82,000 words with series potential. I don’t know that you really need to specify commercial fiction or LGBT (though you can). I’d maybe say adult contemporary instead. As far as the dual POV, there’s nothing in the synopsis to suggest that it’s told from the POV of anyone besides Coby because the query essentially tells everything from Coby’s point of view. My short story ‘Anguish’ was published in Winter’s Regret by Elephant Bookshelf Press in 2014.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Breaking Point

Query Critique 35

Dear ______________,

Missy Foxx found one thing more frightening than being bullied.So, having this in past tense feels weird. The query is usually in present tense, even if the novel is past tense. Love. Missy spent the better part of four years being terrorized and pranked during high school. Getting called Miss Piggy on a daily basis by the popular crowd is enough to bring her self-esteem down.This sentence shows what the last sentence told. Both sentences basically give the reader the same information, but the second sentence does it a lot more effectively. I read a lot of queries that begin by saying that the main character is bullied, and it gets easy to tune out. But being called Miss Piggy is vivid and demands the reader’s attention. On that note, I think you should work that into your hook. To me, it’s much more powerful than the sort of vague bit you have about love. She leaves the small town of Kennesaw, TN after graduation determined to change things.“Things” seems a little vague. She’s off to change her life? Her future? Missy is off to college to pursue her dream of being an actress.

While getting passed up for acting roles due to her weight she encounters the attractive personal trainer L.C. He starts to fall for her but the years of insecurities and being teased because of her weight she, at first, rebuffs his advances.This transition seems a little abrupt. Possibly because you say “at first” she rebuffs his advances. That sort of implies that then she starts to fall for him, but we don’t fully get there before we’re suddenly in NYC. Missy uproots to New York City to start her acting career and leaves L.C. devastated. After many struggles and only landing small roles, with the help of fast talking playboy agent, Quinlan Porter, Missy achieves her goal and becomes a successful actress.

When her mother suddenly passes away, Missy finds herself back in the town where all her problems started and now she’s a celebrity. It is there she reconnects with her old flame L.C. Now leading completely different lives she is torn between choosing her second shot at love and her lifelong dream. It needs to be more clear why she has to choose between the two. Why can’t she date the hottie and be an actress at the same time?

INTRODUCING MISSY FOXX is a diversity friendly I would just say diverse. new adult manuscript complete at 65,000 words.New adult is an age range, not a genre. I would specify that it’s contemporary. Also, some comparative titles would be great.

I have included the first ______________ pages for your review.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Very sincerely,

Limelight

Query Critique 30

Dear Ms. Nelson,
A VOICE AMONG THE THORNS is a 71,000 word contemporary YA novel.
Seventeen-year-old Jersey Alexa (Jax) Mason is allergic to drama. But that’s what she gets when her boyfriend dumps her on a crowded dance floor. I sort of think these two sentences could should be combined into one compound sentence, but that might just be personal preference. She would have preferred a text message. Amanda Rosenbaum’s reappearance and rumors of her time in the “looney bin” help take Jax’s mind off the break-up thing. This seems a little abrupt, since we’ve been given no clue to who Amanda is before now. I know it’s explained in the next paragraph, but the transition here could be a little smoother. Maybe say something like “Luckily, local runaway Amanda Rosenbaum’s reappearance…” The luckily connects it to the drama mentioned before a little more smoothly and the local runaway would explain briefly who she is.
Amanda ran away when she was seventeen and Jax was four. Thirteen years later, Amanda returns to their sleepy town of Rudds Mill to live with her mother. Jax escapes to Amanda’s moss-covered patio when things get tense at home. She’s drawn to the fragile, unstable Amanda despite the fact that they spar over everything. Amanda has one foot in this world; the rest of her lives in a dark place inside her mind. But she’s aware of things that Jax has never considered. Important things about hope and life. And she knows all about the secrets Jax hides. How can someone so lost in her own world see inside of Jax’s?
Ethan, the new guy in town, starts hanging out on Amanda’s patio too. Chemistry sparks between him and Jax, but Amanda cryptically predicts they’re not meant to be. They try to blow her off. Amanda’s crazy after all. And she can’t always be right. As summer marches towards autumn, Amanda slips deeper inside herself, battling her mysterious past. Jax and Ethan need to save her before she disappears altogether. This is good. It establishes the stakes. The wording seems a little abrupt maybe? Maybe just a little transition word in the last sentence, or something.
I’m aware that authors need to promote and market themselves. In addition to writing a blog and maintaining a Facebook author page and Twitter account, I’ve hosted A Voice Among the Thorns Gab Sessions for teen girls at a local coffee shop to get their perspective for the novel. I successfully raised $5000 through crowd-funding on Indiegogo in order to attend a writers’ conference in New York. This campaign also introduced many people to my work.
I strive to improve my writing by attending conferences and workshops, and taking college level courses in creative writing. I enjoy facilitating the Lake St. Clair Writer’s Group of Metro Detroit and am a member of SCBWI. My husband and five children keep me sane amid the insanity of writing. I’d maybe find a way to trim down the bio part while still keeping critical information. It’s sort of a small thing, but two paragraphs of bio is pretty long, even though it has relevant writing credentials.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Warmest Regards,

Every Rose