Monday, October 11, 2010

Query Critique #1

Thank you, aspiring_x, for being our first victim participant!

Here's how I'm doing this--the original is in blue; comments are in black; suggested text is red.  Hopefully this will keep things clear and not cause migraines or anything. Please feel free to disagree, discard, or ignore my advice--and to share your thoughts in the comments section. I tend to be blunt, since I hope every comment will help people become stronger, more successful writers.

Just for teaching purposes, I'll add the salutation here.  Queries should always be personalized to the appropriate last name and gendered salutation, e.g.:
Dear Ms. Bear,

Sixteen-year old Haley Martin doesn’t like conflict. She keeps her head down, stays out of trouble. She doesn’t know trouble has been seeking her for generations, and now it has found her.
This opening is intriguing, but need to be tighter. Since the heart of plot is conflict, starting out with a dislike of it doesn't sell your work.  Consider:
Sixteen-year old Haley Martin keeps her head down and stays out of trouble. She doesn’t know trouble has been seeking her for generations, and now it has found her. 

The rural town of Linney, Kansas guards its secrets well, but the secret things are sick of being hidden. When Haley moves to Linney, the ghosts of the town’s victims begin to creep out of the woodwork to make contact with her, literally. 
This sets the setting and the premise well, but it could be tighter, too. I like the phrase about the "secret things that are sick of being hidden," but I cut it to bring the essential focus--the ghosts--out earlier. Avoid phrases like "starts to" and "begins to," since they blunt the impact of the action.
When Haley moves to the rural town of Linney, Kansas, the ghosts of the town’s victims creep out of the woodwork to make contact with her--literally.

Just when she’s certain she has lost her mind, Haley stumbles across Beau- a homeless boy- asleep in her shed. Beau tells Haley of a malicious secret society that has controlled Linney since its inception. His father and sister have been murdered by the society led by The Mayor- his mother.
Okay, I'm hooked now.  You've set up the characters, the premise, the conflict, and the threat clearly.  I also like the capitalization on The Mayor, which adds a wonderfully ominous feel. My one concern is the phrase "Beau tells Haley" sounds like part of this revelation may be a fairly passive monologue (e.g., "telling" rather than "showing"). I can't come up with a better way to express this, though, and it's not a huge issue. I've replaced your n-dashes with doubles to simulate m-dashes, which often don't transfer.
Just when she’s certain she has lost her mind, Haley stumbles across Beau--a homeless boy--asleep in her shed. Beau tells Haley of a malicious secret society that has controlled Linney since its inception. His father and sister have been murdered by the society led by The Mayor--his mother.

Haley finds herself drawn into the battle between the society and the remnant who still resist them. Ghost stories, magic journals, and local legends blend into reality as Haley tries to figure out why the society orchestrated her move and what exactly they want with her. Pursued by ghosts, cloaked sociopaths, a wicked witch who just won’t die, and the romantic interest of two brothers on either side of the battle, Haley seeks justice, truth, and- above all else- the safety of her family.
The first two sentences really work well for me. However, the third needs refining, since there's something about the phrase "cloaked sociopaths" that threw me, and "wicked witch" is cliché.  I think that, to make the listed terms equal, perhaps the "ghosts" need an adjective, too.  Also, the "romantic interest" portion conflicts with the rest of the sentence.  If it's a major aspect of the story, it needs to be here somewhere (although I assumed the romantic potential when Beau showed up in the shed), but, if it's not central, I'd leave it out of the query. 
Haley finds herself drawn into the battle between the society and the remnant who still resist them. Ghost stories, magic journals, and local legends blend into reality as Haley tries to figure out why the society orchestrated her move and what exactly they want with her. Pursued by restless ghosts, cloaked sociopaths, and an unkillable witch, Haley seeks justice, truth, and--above all else--the safety of her family.

Folk Lore is a 95,000 word work of YA Magic Realism. I sincerely appreciate your time! 
Minimize the use of adverbs and exclamation points in your prose whenever possible. This letter is not only for communication with the prospective agent, but also serves as a writing sample. Keep it tight and polished.
Folk Lore is a 95,000 word work of YA Magic Realism. I appreciate your time. 


Sincerely,
XXX XXXXX

This is a solid query that only needs minor tinkering.  I would ask for a partial.

Thanks for participating, aspiring_x! 

Want to be next?  Post your query here.  

8 comments:

Disgruntled Bear said...

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Want to read the book when it comes out? Please share!

Vicki Rocho said...

Excellent!

I LOVE LOVE LOVE query letters, and like your format here so I can look at the before and after versions.

Emily White said...

Great query and awesome advice!

aspiring_x said...

"Hopefully this will keep things clear and not cause migraines or anything."- LOL!!!! you crack me up! :)

thanks for the tightening advice- and it isn't just a big mono w/ beau- but i couldn't think of another way to word it either (i hate queries so much!!) and *sigh* my beloved exclamation points! :( i do love them!!! :)

thanks for all the super advice! (and not mauling me disgruntled bear style! :) ) have a good one! :)

Deniz Bevan said...

Those are great tips - now I feel like running away and editing mine again.
Oh hey, the book sounds very interesting too!

Disgruntled Bear said...

Hi Deniz,

Wait until tomorrow--I have the critique ready to go on yours!

Ishta Mercurio said...

Great query! I'm hooked. And your advice was spot on, Ms. Bear.

So many manuscripts, so little access, not nearly enough time!

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