Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

Well we're no Query Shark, but we're going to take a stab at this query workshop thing anyway. So far we've received over 200 entries. We are choosing at random so if you're still interested in participating please read the guidelines in our original post.

Dear Agent,

I toiled endlessly to formulate my "form query letter" before realizing neither my manuscript, nor me as an author, fit any sort of mold. So, it is only fitting that I submit my query in a format as unique as the writing itself.

Do you know what I absolutely hate about this opening? I hate that you say "form query letter" in quotes, as if you are so much better than the other authors who are simply writing to some sort of formula. That kind of thing always sits wrong with me. I've said over and over that there is no formula for queries, there are only guidelines. I think you'll also see through the course of this workshop that the best queries are those with their own voice and can be completely different from one another.

Another red flag about this opening statement is the phrase "neither my manuscript, nor me as an author, fit any sort of mold." What that says to me is that you haven't done your research. You've made the assumption that you are so unique that there's nothing else out there like your book, which, frankly, is rarely the case. And if it is the case, then my first question to you is who is your audience? Where are they going to find your book? If it's shelved in the bookstore, which shelf is it going to be on? If an online retailer wants to sell readers on your book, what list are they going to put it on when they email readers with, "Since you bought this you might also be interested in . . ."

Don't try to pitch me on your book by telling me it is so great or so different it doesn't fit anywhere. That leads me to believe there is nowhere for me to sell it. It also makes me think you just don't know your market.


My name is Kate Windsor. I've been a vampire for a hundred years. And like countless others before me, I have fallen for my prey. Little did I know that he was infinitely more rare than even I, and posed more of a danger to me than either of us could have ever imagined.

The irony of this first line is that it doesn't at all match your opening paragraph. In other words, it really doesn't sound like something that doesn't fit any sort of mold. It sounds like a fairly typical vampire book. Keep in mind that's not necessarily a bad thing, unless you open your query by implying that your book is revolutionary.

I thought that my biggest problem was deciding whether or not to Turn him. I was wrong.

To complicate matters further, my powers - inevitable but unwanted - decide to show up at the worst time. They're volatile and unpredictable. But if I don't get a handle on them, they could kill me. Not something an immortal typically worries about.

It takes a lot to unnerve a vampire. I've survived tragedy, witnessed the horrific, seen the impossible. But nothing could've prepared me for Lucas Wilde. Nothing.

You hint at a lot in these opening paragraphs, but I have a feeling the really fun and different things about your book are what's missing. I don't mind telling the story from the character's point of view in a query. I think this can work, as long as I am getting an idea of what the real hook of your query is.


My name is Lucas Wilde. A simple guy from Wyoming. I came to Hidden Pines to escape the misery of a recent family tragedy. And I found my literal light in the darkness: Kate. She was sexy, smart, beautiful. Oh, and did I forget to mention, a vampire?

But not just any vampire. Her father - ahem, Maker - is, for all intents and purposes, the king of every vampire in the country. He is none too pleased about me. Not that I blame him. Parents are always trying to get their kids to stop playing with their food.

But you know what? That's not even the HALF of it.

Because not only is the world I believed in nothing like I thought it was . . . neither am I.

I think there are some things here, some elements, that might get requests for you. I would be on the fence. Kate's version doesn't sound that different to me, but I sort of like Lucas's voice. I'm intrigued by some of the more humorous things he says, especially about children playing with their food. That made me laugh. The problem is that I don't know anything about your story or the hook of your story. What about this vampire romance makes it different from the dozens out there on the shelves? What makes it stand out?

The overall format of this query could work if you punch it up a little bit more. My gut feeling, though, is that it's an interesting idea, but it's just not there yet. I would probably pass.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you set me up to be really wowed and you didn't follow through. If you're going to open your query by telling me it's so different from anything else out there that it doesn't fit into a mold, then you better deliver and send me a pitch that sounds mind-blowingly different. This doesn't. It sounds like a typical vampire love story.

Complete at 125,000 words, LUST is a dark and romantic fantasy with series potential. It is my debut novel. The manuscript is available upon request.

This works for me and, believe it or not, I'm not at all scared off by the word count, which I bet surprises a lot of my readers.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to speaking with you.



Laurel Cremant said...

I'm a newbie to writing and I'm in no way near the query writing process but I'm soaking up as much info as possible. I'm still biting my finger nails over plot, good to know there's more to come lol. Great post.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Thanks for doing these critiques. Seeing actually queries and the responses to them are so helpful.

Laura M. Campbell said...

Not only am I learning how to query without sticking my foot in my mouth, but I'm learning what my novel needs to make it in this business. Keep the critiques coming. Thanks for the post.

Rosemary said...

While I am generally not a fan of having characters "speak" in a query letter, there's a nice voice here. (I'd lose the "My name is. . ." line though, since the writer already provides that info in a sub-head.)

The "playing with food" line is clever, and hints at real potential.

But I cringed a bit at that opening. And the grammatical error--the phrase should read "nor I as a writer," and not "me," tends to undercut the writer's claims about the work.

Angela said...

I too love the voice(s) in the query, and the characters do sound intriguing. However, I think this is a good example of a query that doesn't really tell you what the book is about. We get a good idea of who the character are, but I'm not sure I get what the conflict is.

Thanks for taking the time to do these critiques! Looking forward to the next one!

Martin Willoughby said...

I like that you, and presumable other agents are more interested in simplicity than people being clever.

As a mere man that gives me hope. :)

Hillsy said...

Awesome. I could read agent impressions of query letters all day - especially ones like these that are in the category of "Good but not good enough"...You don't see a lot of them workshopped.

Eye-opening for sure, my assumptions were of agents having to love the whole thing to request partials, wheras straight of the bat you say there's some elements that'll generate requests.

1 down, 199 to my letter will be reviewed sometime in the next 4 years...WAHOO!!!

Dara said...

Great critique. The voice was interesting but as others said, I'm not sure I got the idea of the story from it.

Anyway thanks for doing this--it helps us writers see what works and what doesn't.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised at the word count. A paranormal like this will most likely do far better these days in digital sales than print, with anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 words. Voracious digital readers can't get enough of this sort of thing, but I'm not so sure about those still reading print books. Unless, as the case might be, there is something truly unique about it and it winds up being the next Twilight.

Mastering Investments said...

Well, my hats off to the author for this query...for breaking out of the mold so to speak. Indeed, it is not one's typical query as featured in some of the agents' blogs. However, it just shows that it will all boil down to the story...and of course subjectivity to whoever reads it. What works for one does not work for the other.

LupLun said...

Suggestion: Do yourself a favor and Google your characters' names setting them in stone. A quick search turns up not one, not two, but three different Lucas Wildes in the PNR genre. And that's just three pages in.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Not only is the plot very much "in the mold" of vampire books, the "playing with your food" bit is a horribly cliched joke in the category. I've read it - repeatedly, and heard it - repeatedly (on TV shows).

The "superpowerful" vampire girl (Wait! Not just any vamp-girl, but the king's daughter!) and the "unusual" male protag feel like Mary Sue/Gary Stu in the making.

Bkloss said...

Question...what POV should your query 'pitch' be? Same as your story?

A.M. Kuska said...

I always thought my stories were totally unique and different...till I started reading obsessively and stumbled across a book so similar to mine that I checked the publishing date to make sure my idea hadn't been stolen.

Nope. Never read this guy, he wrote his version before me...which means I need to do some serious rewriting if I want to have a different book. >.< It made me come to the rather abrupt conclusion that there are no original plot lines. Only original ways of telling old stories.

Robena Grant said...

Excellent critique. This is very helpful.
Kudos to the author for submitting the query. That takes courage. ; )I also related more to the voice of Lucas, but I also wanted to know what the story was about.

Stephanie McGee said...

I'm with the others. I want to know more about the story, what sets it apart. I also rather enjoyed Lucas' voice.

Eileen said...

One of the challenges with query writing is that balance between trying to intrigue the reader and giving them enough information about the story. I liked the voice of the characters- but I'm not sure it would be enough. Keep in mind agents are getting hundreds of queries- if they're going to request it they have to be really interested. In my experience they aren't interested because "gosh I have no idea what going to happen" but rather because it is a "Interesting idea, I want to see how they're going to pull this off."

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me? It's a superstrong vampire girl/ mere mortal human male romance that DOESN'T fit any sort of mold? The author must be one hell of a writer, because that looks pretty damn formula to me.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I'm going to hazard a guess that this writer couldn't wrap their head around the query formula after several attempts and decided the failing was with the query conventions and not with them.

I'm pretty sure getting exasperated and just sending something in isn't unique to this one author either.

I applaud the author reaching out for a critique. But couched in the "only fitting" language, I'm concerned this author was hoping more to wow with what they have than to learn how to do it better.

Stephsco said...

Interesting feedback. I see the difficulty in how to balance giving away too much of the story and not telling enough. I'm thinking a query is not the place to avoid spoilers; most likely you want to show your twist or whatever is making the story unique so the agent will be interested.

I want to give the author of the letter some credit for their effort. I think it's a lesson learned that no matter how original we think our story ideas are, in many cases something similar has already been done. The point is to make your story special enough so that people will want to revisit a theme they like. For awhile, I was very into vampires and looking for more books on a theme I was interested in. As long as it offers something new and interesting, I think it can be done.

Kristan said...

My guess is that this author was trying to imply that they did their research, and they knew what a query was supposed to look like, but that they couldn't find a way around doing this dual point of view.

That said, it does set up a huge expectation, and it doesn't live up.

THAT said, I too liked the Lucas section. His voice and humor were appealing. There are still a lot of details missing, but that is the "feel" that I would try to retain when revising this query.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the "play with the food" thing is such a cliche. Even J.K. Rowling used it with Bellatrix Lestrange, saying she "likes to play with her food before she eats it."

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I didn't like anything about this query.

The author is smug, the characters bored me to death, and I'm willing to bet it's a self-insert book. You know the kind... the "I had these daydreams in highschool where I was the vampire princess of awesome and I decided to write a book about it because this is the single most unusual daydream a teenager could have," type.

The author could prove me wrong, of course, but it's so unlikely she(?) will, my attentions are better focused on the next query, or a current client.

Melissa (ATX) said...

Hmm. I actually see potential in this query. Having worked on the editing/publishing side (literary fiction), what I found was that the quality of the query was almost always inversely proportionate to that of the finished product. The query is a lot like writing ad copy; it takes only a modicum of marketing savvy on a writer's part to make a m.s. sound as exciting as Christmas.

I (personally) enjoyed the novel approach of letting the characters speak for themselves, because it shows innovation on the writer's part and suggests that she might be the type of person to "question authority; think for yourself." Which, of course, can be a very, very wonderful thing or, alternately ... (meh).

However, I also get the impression that the author was desperately trying not to tip her hand as to the conflict in the plot. There is not enough "actionable" in this query for me to get a feel for what's going on. Vampire novels, by mere virtue of subject matter, will be formulaic -- isn't that the goal? After the mad success of "Twilight," I suspect that the desks of literary agents all over America are groaning under the collective weight of similar manuscripts, so querying an agent about yet another has to be daunting for any writer. If I were reading this query, like to see the specific formula the author employs and how it differs from similar titles, by nuance and character development, if not by plot.

Terri Tiffany said...

I really didn't like the opening of this query as it does set it up to have to be spectacular. Thanks for doing these-- I will be learning a lot I see:)

Kristin Laughtin said...

The problem with opening a query by claiming how unique or awesome you are is that you REALLY have to deliver in the rest of your query letter or it's going to work against you. See here how many are claiming the story isn't as original or unique as the author made it out to be. If you raise expectations like that, you have to live up to them.

Query Shark has a couple of great examples where the querier did something different and original with their query and blew the agent away. The difference is that they didn't announce they were going to do something different and original; they just did it.

Trisha said...

I think it's great you guys are doing this :) I haven't submitted anything yet, but look forward to seeing how this goes, and would like to submit something in future :D

Anonymous said...

The first paragraph is totally off-putting and unnecessary and the story line is so cliched.

The two voices, however are compelling, good writing skills there.

But, really, vampires? i'm so sick of vampires...please, please...somebody help me, somebody out there come up with a new theme...

make this boring vamp thing go away!! Make like the scarecrow and get a brain! I'm drowning here!

Anonymous said...

I read the opening line with interest... and then snorted my tea the moment the word 'vampire' came into sight. Oh... it only matches the mould of every other Vampire novel on the market... all sixteen kazillion of the suckers.

It sounds like Twilight in reverse. It reads like Twilight in reverse. And maybe that's not a problem, but it certainly doesn't warrant the opening line.

Great critique though.

Anonymous said...

I was excited to see the first critique here on BookEnds, since I'm usually reading them on Query Shark. As expected, the critique here was great.

However, I confess I'm a little surprised at some of the comments. Query Shark is indisputably more harsh with her opinions, but the majority of commenters on her blog tend to be quite a bit more constructive in their criticism.

To the author, I would say take the message behind the 'generic vampire book' criticisms: To make your query really stand out, we need to see more of the originality in your plot and not just the unique voices of the characters.

Best of luck!

Joanna said...

I like the voice of both characters in this query, but one thing I've learned from toiling over mine is that you can't just hint at the conflict- you need to tell us what it is. I was trying so hard to sound intriguing and not give any of the plot away that the conflict got buried in my words.

And the "playing with food" line is actually IN the Twilight rang a bell for me right away. I know, it's sad that I know that...

AmyJo said...

For me, writing a query is almost as difficult as trying to see the air in front of my eyes and I applaud everyone who writes one.
I like the idea of reversing the vampire role and giving it to a woman and I, like many others, enjoyed Lucas’s voice.
Although the query doesn’t say anything about the story itself, if it’s is written with the same style as the first paragraph I would pass on reading the book, I cringed a little when I read that paragraph, but, if it’s written like the rest of the query, I would probably read it.
Good try!

Bronte, Alt said...

I think the query could be said to say a lot about the author and what they might be like to work with. If they really think this work is super-special and unique, how are they going to react to edits? I could easily see this author refusing all major edits, because, of course, edits are only there to make their novel "fit the mold" and we know how they feel about that. Especially if Kate is as much of a self-insert as commenters here think she is. Having written a self-insert, I know that any attacks on that character are easily taken as attacks on oneself.

I could be wrong, of course, but that's the impression I get from this--they're convinced they've invented the wheel and they're sticking to that notion. Unless what they wrote blew me away, I'd pass. Go out, learn the market, and come back with a slice of humble pie.

Anonymous said...

The entire query lacks a hook, and is also riddled with cliches.
"Little did I know"
"could have ever imagined"
"To complicate matters further"
"get a handle on them"
"But nothing could've prepared me"
"light in the darkness"
"stop playing with their food"
That last line has been used in more books and movies than I can even recall.
I know this comment is going to be harsh, but you need to take a good, hard look at yourself and your writing. If you are using that many cliches in a short letter, the book is probably riddled with them. So...starting with a paragraph about how original you are isn't the way to go.
That said, I liked the format you used, and I think it could work if you spruce it up. PUT IN THE HOOK and kill the cliches. Lucas has potential(as long as he's not a werewolf in disguise), but I think your female vampire is trying too hard. She didn't do it for me.
I also have no idea how your book is supposed to break the mold when it sounds like a retelling of every other vampire story I've read/heard of in the last five years. Tell me why it's different!

Unknown said...

Lucas seems to be a hot name. It's my main character's name and I see it pop up all the time (might have to do some name changing). :-P

I'm intrigued that Ms. Faust wasn't totally put off by using first person POVs in the query (or the word count!)

It's reassuring that even if the query isn't great, the story it's hinting at might be enough to garner some requests.

I personally didn't get enough of an idea of what the central conflict in the story was. That actually would intice me to want to read it, but for some agents maybe it's too vague.

Good luck to the writer. I would also encourage query writers to post in Nathan Bransford forums. Very nice and helpful critiquers on there.

Brittany said...

The opening of the query letter turned me off. If I had been the recipient of the letter, I would have stopped right there. But thank goodness for persevering agents--they read on!

The story sounded cliche to me...right up until I reached Lucas. He sounds lovely. But I would have liked to have known the whole "catch" that the author was hinting at the whole time. I don't know if that's something you're supposed to reveal in your query letter or not, though.

Not a bad job, author!

Sydney Lakewood said...

Definitely lose that opening paragraph. Unless you're writing stream of consciousness with a 406-page sentence, you ain't breaking any mold. ;o)

Definitely love Luke more than the girl--she's reading like pretty much every urban fantasy heroine I've been reading in Romantic Times for the last five years.

And the 125000 words? Love it! I find books are way too short nowadays. ;o)

Good luck to you!


Taymalin said...

Barbara--Query letters are usually written in third person, no matter what POV is used in the manuscript. AFAIK writing a query in first person is seen as amateur.

Bkloss said...

Ok good. That's what I thought!

Anonymous said...

That 'playing with their food' line is actually in the Twilight movie.

QueryShark said...

Welcome to The Reef!

Rex Jameson said...

Came here from Query Shark at the promise of a weekly query workshop. These reviews are immensely interesting and highly informative. Thanks to the authors for braving the waters to bare themselves to the rest of us, and thanks to Jessica for giving the kind of straight-forward, no-frills critiques that we all need (I know I certainly appreciate it, at least!)