Wednesday, August 24, 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.

Before I get into the critique I want to say that I think this is a really good letter. Sure, there's always something to critique, but for the most part I think this query could go out to agents as is and I do think the author will have some success with it.

Dear Ms. Faust,

I am seeking representation for my 98,000 word mainstream novel, Doubting River.

This is just fine. My only comment is that I think you could come up with a better title. I don't see how this title ties into the book and I suspect you could come up with something a little more striking.

Former runaway, Charm Freeman, returns to his old life after his sister's husband is killed in a car accident. Initially planning to fulfill his brotherly obligation and then disappear for another twenty years, Charm reluctantly agrees to stay and help with his sister's injured son, but they clash over how to best help the ten year old deal with the death of his father.

I have to admit, maybe I read too many romance novels, but my first thought was that Charm was the husband's brother and that the two were going to fall in love. My second thought was that since it doesn't come into play in the query at all, do you even need to mention that he's a former runaway? Honestly, this makes the book sound like it's about Charm, but later I sense that the book is really about the boy and Charm. I think you could switch the focus and make it more about the boy and what Charm needs to do to help his nephew.

Before the accident, the boy and his father were training a neighbor's retriever for a field trial. The boy desperately wants to fulfill his father's dream, but his mother believes anything to do with the dog is a setup for heartache. The past belongs in the past; the way forward is forward. Against his sister's wishes, Charm and the boy join together to turn an injured retriever into a champion, a journey that forces the family to face the issues that tore them apart only to find salvation in the past they tried to forget.

My only concern with this is it lacks a little voice to me. It feels a little lifeless. If the dog is injured I think you should mention that from the beginning. The first time you mention it you say it's a neighbor's retriever. So are they training the same dog or are you talking about two different dogs? I also think you don't focus on the conflict enough. Since I assume this is women's fiction and there's a high level of emotion in this story, I want to get a sense of that emotion in the query since that is what will draw readers to the story.

An excerpt of this novel, Doubting River, won the mainstream category of the 2010 Sandy literary contest. I am a former dog trainer and the author of Click for Joy, the winner of the 2003 "Best Training/Behavior Book" award presented by the Dog Writers of America. I am also the owner of the 7000-member ClickerSolutions (dog training) mailing list, and I have published numerous articles in the magazine "Teaching Dogs."

This is all good.

My contact information is below. I look forward to hearing from you!




Carolynnwith2Ns said...


Harley, he's the one in the blog photo, said he'd read it. Me too.

Anonymous said...

See, that's why I'm not an agent. I would never have read past this error:

Former runaway, Charm Freeman, returns to his old life...

Kristan said...

The bones of the story are here, and they're good/interesting -- this is the kind of book I would read -- but the prose could use some smoothing out. Ex:

"After a car accident widows his sister and injures his nephew, Charm Freeman returns home to help care for the family he once ran away from."

I'm sure that's not perfect, but see how much can be conveyed in one sentence right off the bat? You don't want to pack TOO much information into every sentence -- if it's too dense it can become difficult to process -- but getting more mileage out of your words leaves you room to delve deeper into the characters' relationships and arcs.

Also, I'm a dog lover, but I don't know what a "field trial" is. Perhaps you should "dumb down" some of the industry terms? Ex:

"Despite his broken leg, Nate is determined to fulfill his father's dream: training their neighbor's retriever to compete in a dog show."

That brings up my last point: could you give the boy a name? He's obviously an important character, but I feel a little detached from him when he's nameless.

I think your query is very close! Just give it that one last edit/polish, and really push it to show off the heart of your story. Good luck. :)

Adele said...

I was thrown off by this:

"Former runaway, Charm Freeman, returns to his old life"

because if he's a former runaway, then he's not a runaway now so when you say he returns to his old life that means he runs away.

If the first phrase confuses me, what will the rest of the book do?

Giora said...

The book's topic isn't for me (although there is a story about a little book in my novel) but the potential commercial success for the book is good ... if story will focus on the dog and the boy .. especially on how to train a dog. Millions of Americans have dogs, and the author is an expert in teaching/treaining dogs .. and have access to 7,000 potential readers.

writing jobs at home said...

Nice post! Thanks a lot.

Melissa Alexander said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa Alexander said...

I'm the writer of the query -- hope it's acceptable to reply.

Thanks to Jessica and all of the commenters (especially Kristan). I appreciate the feedback!

Re: title. The dog's name is River. I left the dog's (and boy's) name out of the query, because I was trying not to overwhelm the reader. I can see how leaving it out leads to a disconnect with the title.

Re: former runaway. Again, I think everyone is spot on. Identifying him as a runaway isn't necessary. I do, however, want to ensure that it's clear that Charm is estranged from the family and returning temporarily with ZERO desire to stay.

Re: focusing on the boy. Well, although Lucas is an important character with his own arc, he's not the protagonist. Charm is. This is the story of Charm, his sister, and their mother trying to rebuild their own lives and finding that in order to do so, they have to heal and rebuild their family first.

Clearly I still have work to do. I *do* appreciate all the feedback.

Jessica, you mentioned women's fiction. Can you define that? I hesitate to call it that, because although Charm and his sister both flirt with dating (with other partners!), there is not a strong romantic element. Charm's sister's story is tied in with Charm's, but she's not the protagonist. Without a female lead OR romantic elements, is it women's fiction?

Lindsay said...

Wasn't Miss Snark the original? Or am I just getting old? Or has it been revealed that Query Shark IS Miss Snark and I somehow missed the momentous news?