Wednesday, September 21, 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 :

Sentimental Journey is a 98,000-word women’s fiction. My style has been described by writing instructors as having similarities to Anne Tyler, with some Maeve Binchy, voice of Barbara Delinsky, and the emotional appeal of Nicholas Sparks.

It's funny that I should open this just hours after we were discussing whether or not it's good to compare your book or writing to others. Our thought was that it's usually not. The reason? If the agent you're pitching happens to really dislike one of those authors you might be doing yourself a disservice. In this case you've picked a variety of writers so I don't think it's a huge problem, but I also don't think it adds much. You've pretty much just described what I would expect from women's fiction.

Meredith Fields’ formerly placid suburban life is shattering piece by piece. She feels guilty over placing her mother, Katherine, in a nursing home. Keith, her husband, has fallen in love with his young assistant, and wants a divorce. An accomplished author, she’s bored with her romance books, and has a tight deadline for her next book – which she hasn’t quite started.

Here's one of the problems with comparing your writing style to other writers: You've set me up to have really high expectations for your writing and you don't carry it through in your query. Either your voice isn't coming through in the query or your voice isn't what you described, and that's a concern.

That being said, so far I'm liking the description of your book, and this is where it gets personal. This is a plot that would interest me. I think part of the problem with this paragraph is that it feels very choppy. It doesn't really sing for me.

As Meredith sorts through her mother’s house and finds clues to the woman’s shadowy past, she recognizes much of her mother in herself. She begins to understand why her mother related so poorly to her children, and is shaken by parallels in her relationships with her own children. Her growing compassion for Katherine’s difficult life becomes the catalyst for her new novel, Hope’s Illusion, the early chapters of which are included in Sentimental Journey. Meanwhile Meredith finds a journal she kept in her twenties, she is reminded of the love she once felt for Keith, and the extent of his loss settles in. A series of crises forces them to confront their relationship, showing Meredith the way to restore her spirit and mend her shattered life.

Did she know her mother had a shadowy past or is that part of the discovery? I would skip using her mother's given name and continue calling her "her mother." I think that will make it clear who we're focusing on (Meredith) and prevent any confusion from too many names. The information about the new novel seems dropped in and unnecessary. In fact, it kind of throws me. I'm not sure you need it here.

Last, I think I'd change the title. It sounds rather flat and unexciting.

I am the author of Autumn Colors, a romance, released by Author House on March 23, 2011.

I’ve also published several articles in professional journals, an article in Runners’ World, and contributed chapters for two nonfiction books. More information and excerpts from Autumn Colors can be found on my website (

I’ve enclosed a synopsis and first five pages of Sentimental Journey. Thank you for your time and consideration.




Shannon said...

Isn't Author House an author mill, like Publish America? I thought those were the sorts of books you shouldn't mention in a query as "writing credits".

I also wanted to ask about the possible problem with "more excerpts" being on her site. How much is too much "more" before the book becomes unattractive for the amount posted as a free read?

Standback said...

@Shannon: Yeah, Author House is a self-publishing/POD service. Not a good credit to claim, as far as I know.

But note that the "more excerpts" refers to the self-published book, not the one being queried. So "too many free excerpts" shouldn't be a concern.

Kelly Shire said...

I like the author's scenario, but I feel that the "umph" is missing:

1) MC's life begins to unravel because of xyz reason(s).

2) MC discovers a secret someone in her life has kept kidden.

3) MC delves into that secret and learns more about herself in the process.

But... what happen after that? I do not feel a climax here, nothing bubbling up to catch my ultimate interest.

I'd like to see the query worded differently, and structured with a sense of urgeny.

-- What happens to the MC and her family if _________ is not resolved? I just don't know what the ultimate issue is.

I do not mind that the author illustrates that her writing style has been compared to other authors. And... I do not mind that she's a self-pubbed author.

Anonymous said...

One agent wants one thing, another wants something different. By reading each agent's site, writers will learn what's wanted in the query.

On the site of one agent I queried, it was specifically requested that I compare my writing with others. It felt immodest to do so, but I did.

— Sasha S

Cara M. said...

Women's fiction is not my thing, but I agree with Kelly Shire in that there's a very low key feeling to this which is less than gripping.

Why are these characters interesting?
What is at stake?

Even if it's just her family life, there has to be something specific and moving that has the potential for change.

Tara Lynx said...

I think you should start with "Meredith Fields’ formerly placid suburban life." Put the word count and title at the end with the other information about you.

You want to start with the interesting thing, the hook. The fact that it's 98k is not the most interesting about your book. (At least that's how QueryShark says to do--and QueryShark knows all!)

I also agree that "my writing style has been compared to..." hurts more than it helps--especially since the comparison was made by nameless "writing instructors." How do we know we can trust their judgment?

The story sounds interesting, and I actually like that she turns her mother's life into a novel, but I'd leave out the bit about the early chapters of Meredith's novel being included in your novel--that seems like a "too much going on" red flag to me. (You may well have done it excellently, but mentioning it here might work against you, since we can't see if you did.)

The overall idea of past and present touching through her discovering parallels between her mother's life and her own sounds great.

Good luck!

S.P. Bowers said...

Personally I don't like comparing to other authors. Be yourself, that's who you're trying to sell.

The story sounds interesting but the voice is missing. This could be any person in any novel. It feels a little clinical, show some emotion and personality and I think it will shine.

Melissa Dymock said...

I agree with S.P. In that it lacks emotion and voice. I don't feel that clincher compelling me to read on.

When comparing yourself to other authors, don't go after the big names. Try to find something recent that's done reasonably well. Bonus points if it's from the agent's house.

Anonymous said...

I think the query is mostly back-story. Things are happening to the main character, but the main character isn't making any choices, nor do I get the impression that the main character wants anything throughout the story.

When I think of story structure, I think of what the character wants, what prevents the character from getting what they want, and whether or not the character gets what they want at the end of the story. For example, Indy wants the arc of the covenant, and the story is all the stuff that happens to him to prevent him from getting the arc, but at the end of the story, he gets it.

Putting a novel within a novel feels like the book Freedom to me (without the freedom of a high word count), and I wonder how much story progresses given the low word count of the novel.