Wednesday, August 03, 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.

"Murder in Montana" is a cozy, with just enough edge to remain modern. It is complete at just over 80,000 words. Followers of Laura Child's Tea Shop Mysteries will enjoy this novel.

I wish you had more of a "dear agent" opening. Personally, I like being eased into my letters and introductions with a little bit of "small talk." Your first sentence, title included, makes me worry that you might not fully understand what a cozy is. You mention Laura Childs, which makes it sound like you know cozies, but after reading your query I question whether you've actually read Laura Childs's tea shop books or if they just happen to be a name you know.

The title is definitely not cozy and has nothing to do with your hook. In the grand scheme that's not a problem, but because you describe your book as having "just enough edge to remain modern" I worry that this isn't a cozy at all, but something you're trying to squeeze into the market. Cozies tend not to have edge, and plenty these days are modern without it.

Murder is always ugly, and it doesn't matter how much lipstick the victim is wearing.

I'm usually not a fan of taglines, but this is cute. I like it.

Pageant coach, Anne Thomas lives in a world of high heels and manufactured smiles. Corpses are not an everyday occurrence. When the state pageant director is murdered, and Anne's protégé is implicated, Anne knows that she must find the truth or forfeit her clients chances at the Miss America Pageant.

I like the first sentence in this paragraph, but the rest feels incomplete, like a collection of taglines rather than a true summary. I'd rather have you spend a little more time setting up the story, a few sentences or so that help us understand the setting and who exactly Anne is and maybe what a pageant coach is. One question, isn't Miss America copyrighted? I think, but I could be wrong, that you need to get permission to use it.

Adding to Anne's problem is the presence of Detective Andrew Cartwright. A transplant from the Los Angeles police department, Andrew is a savvy homicide detective who knows that a pageant should be Anne's last priority. Anne's biggest problem is staying alive.

This paragraph doesn't connect with me at all. Why should a pageant be her last priority if she's a pageant coach? It seems that would be her first priority.

******** has been involved in the Miss America Pageant system both as a contestant and as an executive director for seventeen years. She spent over seven of those years as a legal librarian for a private law firm. This is her first novel and she is working on her second.

This bio aside bugs me, especially with the long line of asterisks. It really feels like this query was sent as a rough draft and not a lot of thought was put into it. And, honestly, since the query is so rough and you've told me this is your first novel, I'd probably pass. My feeling is that your book is probably equally rough, if not more so, and needs a lot more work before it's ready to be seen.



Kristan said...

Just my opinion, of course, but I thought the query did a good job of telling me what the basic story was. What I didn't get, however, was a sense of voice/personality. In some ways I think a "clean" query like this is safe, because it transmits the necessary information, but it doesn't really stand out or entice me.

Anonymous said...

I see this error more and more lately:

Pageant coach, Anne Thomas lives in a world of high heels and manufactured smiles.

There should be no comma here.

If your sentence were:

As a pageant coach, Anne Thomas lives in a world of high heels and manufactured smiles.

...then you could have the comma.

collectonian said...

"The Miss America Organization" and likely "The Miss America Pageant" are indeed trademarked to The Miss America Organization (you can't copyright a title/name :-) ). You can "use" it, however it would be a really bad idea. I'd highly recommend the author rework the novel to use use fictional pageants versus state and nationally known ones.

Joyce said...

I agree the query needs work, but I think the story has potential, especially with the author's pageant background.

I'd suggest instead of saying it's a cozy with an edge, just call it a mystery.

J E S S I C A said...

I thought the asterisks were just the author editing out her name, so that didn't bother me.

I think the query itself is a good start, but I agree with Kristan who noted that the voice isn't really coming through. I also think we could use more information about the conflict - okay, so her client has been implicated in a murder, but Anne is a possible target as well? I think the query would be more interesting if you spelled that out a little more clearly, because I had to read it twice to get that much out of it. "She could be murdered" is definitely a more intriguing conflict than "she may have to forfeit her client's chance at the Miss America pageant."

Just my $0.02! Also, this reminded me of Drop Dead Gorgeous, so points for that. :)

Colin Smith said...

"Anonymous" is correct about the comma. Author beware! Even small grammatical errors in a query might give an agent the wrong impression about your writing skills. A few grammatical boo-boos in an 80,000 word manuscript might be overlooked. But in a 100-200 word query--I would imagine (I'm not an agent) there would be less tolerance.

I would also encourage using a fictional pageant, even if it's okay to use "Miss America." First, a fictional pageant gives you more freedom to create the rules and the environment. Also you *know* there will be readers nit-picking every detail if it's supposed to be set in a real pageant. Lastly, if any part of the novel does anything to make "Miss America" look bad, you might have legal issues.

Just my thoughts.

Sharla Lovelace said...

I agree with using a fictional pageant and calling it a mystery instead of a cozy. In the query, at least, I see nothing resembling a cozy.

That said, the plot idea sounds interesting.

Buffra said...

I really dislike the bio parts being in the third person. It makes me think that someone other than the author is writing the query or that the author is really weird. Neither of which is great.

The rest is fairly nondescript. It's definitely not terrible and, like Kristan said, it conveys the basics, but it doesn't really entice me to want to read more.

The Other Stephen King said...

Thank you for doing something that seems, at least to a neophyte like me, a bit unusual. It's easy to pick the low-hanging fruit by blasting the obviously bad queries. What I appreciate is that you've taken a query that's not obviously bad, that actually has a few things done right, and critiqued it in an honest, reasonable manner. That's far more useful to me. Please, please, please, keep this project up.

ellisonblog said...

It's a small thing but I didn't like how the bio was told in third person. In a query letter, which is YOU sending a letter to an agent, that just felt wrong.

I didn't hear the voice either. And I didn't catch what the story was about. Apparently there's a murder at a pageant and a detective thinks the main character is about to get offed. But that doesn't really add up to a fully realized story description to me.

Sally said...

I was confused by: "Murder in Montana" is a cozy, with just enough edge to remain modern. When I read the rest of the query - I am not sure cozy and modern fit. It's seems like those words are being used as a hook to get the editor/agent to read more. I agree with several other comments - just say fictional pageant.

Laura W. said...

Writing your bio in third person makes you sound kind of pompous. Also, I agree with Anonymous -- the typos in this letter (and there were several others s/he didn't point out) do not fill me with confidence. Either this person didn't spend enough time on the query to catch them or similar typos and grammar/punctuation errors exist throughout the book.

Michael Seese said...

If I may ask a question for knowledge...

You said, "I wish you had more of a 'dear agent' opening. Personally, I like being eased into my letters and introductions with a little bit of 'small talk.' "

I would assume this means that you want something along the lines of, "Hi, I'm looking for an agent, and have enjoyed reading your blog. I would like to pitch my book..."

I've read elsewhere (probably QueryShark) that I should NOT open like that. The reason being, the agent KNOWS why I'm querying.

So am I missing what you mean by "small talk?" Or is it just a case of every agent has his or her own personal preferences?


BookEnds, LLC said...


I don't necessarily need the small talk, but I do like an address "Dear Ms. Faust" or something along those lines. I guess I'm old-fashioned that way, I still like any professional correspondence to have a bit of a formality to it.

That being said, I can't say I always do as I say and I don't think it's a killer if the author misses this.


essays said...

interesting thoughts

Anonymous said...

Seems like a missed opportunity with the title. Could be more attention getting, and lead people to the world of pageants right away, while still saying mystery.

"Murder and Tiaras" (playing off that reality pageant show)

or something along those lines

Though I know titles will most likely ultimately be changed, it would still be beneficial to start with a good one.

Scooter Carlyle said...

I agree that the title is confusing. If there is a tie between the plot and the title it needs to be made apparent. My first impression was, "Montana, huh? I wonder where she chose to set it."