Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

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 BookEnds Query Workshop,

Kudos to the author who actually got the spelling of BookEnds correct. That's rare.

Victor Bartleby will do anything to get his novel published. He’ll even start writing it.

Yep. LOL here. Of course you hit a soft spot for me because you're writing about publishing, but this was great.

Forty and newly divorced, Victor is facing down an identity crisis. He is, he realizes, desperately afraid of reaching the end of his life without having made a mark on the world. His legacy will be – must be – his novel, the fictionalized account of his childhood friendship with Darren Vigo, the rock star who changed the world and died of an overdose at the height of his fame.

Unfortunately you lose me for a number of reasons here. The biggest is that I thought there was a bigger reason that Victor wasn't writing the novel, and it turns out he just isn't writing it. I feel manipulated. You came up with a great hooky line to grab the reader's attention, you used it, but it really only has a little bit to do with your story (at least as far as I can tell). More important, though, the story at this point feels very blah. Some guy who is having a midlife crisis and decides to write a book. Nothing spectacular about that (at least in my world).

As his writing gathers pace, so the relationships with those around him break down, and in their place grows an unhealthy obsession with a New York author who is topping the bestseller list with his own debut novel. And the more Victor writes, the more he is willing to sacrifice in pursuit of his dream.

This is it. This is closer. This is where your query really needs to go. Dump most of the paragraph before this and make this the focus of your query, but actually show us the crux of the story. What I really want to know about, because it's what I assume your book is really about, is this obsession he has and how it's slowly destroying his life. How this obsession relates to your first line about starting to write his novel. That's what's going to bring this query home.

Semi-Autobiographical Debut is a work of literary fiction, complete at 85,000 words.

This is fine. I don't love your title. I don't think it's horrible, but it needs a little oomph.

I have a BA in English Literature from the University of York, and an MA in Feature Film Production from Goldsmiths College, London. Susan Fletcher, writer of Eve Green (winner, 2004 Whitbread First Novel Award) has described my writing as “lively, credible, witty, contemporary.”

This is good. It's all fine.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Giora said...

As you said, the first two lines are great. If the novel is about obsession, then it will be nice to have some examples in the query about acts of obsession in the book.

Laura Maylene said...

Like many other writers, I too am a sucker for publishing/writing plot lines. But I wonder what editors/publishers think about it. Do these books tend to sell well or find an audience more general than just other writers? I know there are plenty of examples of books about novelists; I'm just curious if currently, in this market, it's still a good sell.

I also have noticed the trend of writers including blurbs/testimonials from writing teachers and authors in their queries. I was under the impression that this makes a writer look unprofessional. An agent, in the end, won't care much if someone else praised your book (unless it's from a direct referral, of course). They have to decide for themselves if they love it, so the whole testimonial/name-dropping thing seems pointless, or that it could do more harm than good. Thoughts, anyone?

I wish the author (and Victor!) luck with this project.

Lucy said...

I can't be the only one who saw your character's name, and thought "Bartleby the Scrivener." If you're drawing from that story, it might be appropriate to mention it in the query--especially if this is a retelling.

Good luck!


Lisa said...

I'd want to read it. Usually don't feel that way.

I wonder if someone can make those Captcha tests a little easier? Being of limited intellect, I have to have several go's before I can enter my one line comment. You know, it's slightly discouraging to fail a test which merely proves one is human. There are greater achievements in this world, I think.

MissFifi said...

Funny someone said they thought of "Bartleby". The first two lines actually made me think of "Wonder Boys". Not that it's a bad thing to associate one novel with another.
I think a rework of the query, showing obsessive behaviors, and a much catchier title will get this book read and published. Best of luck!

Tricia said...

So, you're saying BookEnds is often misspelled? Really?

FoolPlusTime said...

I didn't find the second para terrible, but having read the third, I agree it would be better struck.

If the author is planning to submit to UK agents (as suggested by their credits), they require a covering letter, not a query letter on their submission - at least one top UK agent has expressed her dislike of "blurb style" covering letters.

Lisa said...

Tricia said...

So, you're saying BookEnds is often misspelled? Really?

That one surprised me, too! Have to say, it shows great creativity.

Laura Maylene said...

I assumed this meant that a lot of people write "Bookends" or "Book Ends" instead of "BookEnds." Just my guess.