Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Query Critique #1

Thank you for this opportunity to share with you my story, Storm Shadow, an 80,000 word paranormal romance. The book is part Practical Magic meets The Twilight Zone, and part The Sixth Sense meets Rebecca.

Don’t thank me. I didn’t give you an opportunity and it sounds sniveling. Be strong right up front. There’s no need to thank me, because your story is so good I should be thanking you for giving me the chance. Try: Enclosed is Storm Shadow . . .

This book is way too many things. The only reason you compare your book to someone or something is to give your reader an easy description. I have no idea what kind of book this could possibly be. If your book is part something and something it can only be two somethings. I also think that it’s stronger to say Storm Shadow, an 80,000 word paranormal romance, is Practical Magic meets Rebecca (although I can’t see how that would work). Using the word “part” makes it sound like they aren’t fit or blended together.

Faith Carmichael never intended to get stuck on the interstate in the worst thunderstorm of the century (who does?), but when her car blows a tire she's forced to wait out the storm. The rain is so heavy, she can barely see the overpass in the distance. When the storm finally eases, she gets out to change her tire, and finds a set of Samaritans who seem to appear out of nowhere to help her continue on her way.

She arrives in the sleepy little town of Badger Creek, the birthplace and now the final resting place for her paternal grandmother, a woman she barely remembers from her childhood. She hadn't planned to attend the funeral when she first heard about it, but a call from her grandmother's lawyer explained it was imperative for her to go to the funeral and be at the bequest afterward.

The good people of Badger Creek mourn the passing of Lynella Rose Carmichael. But as the storm returns and grows into a fury, they prepare to welcome their new weather witch, and are quite prepared to do
anything to keep her.

Isn’t this your entire hook here? The two paragraphs preceding this feel like backstory. In fact, I would delete them. They add nothing. If you’re comparing your book to Practical Magic, Twilight Zone, and Sixth Sense, I need to know in the next paragraph how it compares.

Why don’t you try something like, “Strange events start occurring the minute Faith Carmichael arrives at her grandmother’s funeral. The townspeople seem intent . . .,” and since I don’t understand how the paranormal fits in, I’ll have to leave it to you here.

At present the book is only half finished, but I was curious if you thought it had merit. Thank you for your time.

If you don’t think it has merit why should I? Agents aren’t in the job to critique ideas or work, we read submissions ONLY to find new clients. If you want advice on your idea or a critique, join a writer’s group.

And don’t thank an agent for her time. Your time is just as valuable as mine. Simply let me know that you look forward to hearing from me. Stay strong. Think car salesman.


Check back Thursday for the next query critique.


Anonymous said...

I think there's nothing wrong with thanking the agent for her time and consideration. It doesn't imply the writer thinks her or his own time isn't valuable; it's just politeness. Car salesmen are pretty distasteful to a lot of people; another agent might be annoyed at the writer not thanking them.

I agree on every other point of the advice, however, and obviously a writer should never query a half-finished novel.

Anonymous said...

You're not supposed to thank anyone for their time? I thought that was just being polite and having common courtesy to thank someone for their time.

I understand maybe the wording at the beginning of the writer's query might sound a bit meek, but at the end?

written voize said...

WOW! ... I'm here learning while observing.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

No, I don't think you should thank someone for their time. It softens the strength of your letter and gives the impression that my time is more valuable than yours. I would never thank an editor for her time since she should be happy that I'm calling her with the projects I have and giving her the same chance I'm giving other editors.

Of course, I'm not going to reject someone just because they thanked me, but I'm trying to make this the best sales pitch it can possibly be and as much as we might dislike car salesman or other salesman, they do know how to sell and we can learn from that.


Anonymous said...

People query on unfinished novels? I've been doing this for more than 10 years, but that's the first I knew of this concept.

What a rotten idea.

Anonymous said...

Oh... also: I don't think there's anything wrong with the standard closing of "thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you." However, it does sound a little odd to thank the agent as the first words of the query.

Then again, if you're asking an agent to tell you if you should finish your novel, which is wasting her time (doesn't result in her getting a client), maybe you should thank her.

I might never have gotten published, but I got a lot of requests, leading me to conclude that I can definitely write a query... just maybe not a saleable novel.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the camp who must respectfully disagree that thanking someone makes your sales letter somehow weaker.

I write proposals and sales letters for a multi-billion dollar IT company, and we always thank the prospect for allowing us to submit a work proposal. (Heck, we do it for companies who haven't even earned their first billion yet.) And they thank us for submitting.

Just as most agents, in their rejection letters, thank me for submitting.

I thank you; you thank me. It's polite, meaningless, and only noticed when the formal pleasantries haven't been observed.

Unknown said...

Off to a great start Jessica. Very insightful. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm really, really surprised that thanking an agent for their time is inappropriate. (Given that I had a 50% response rate to my query letter last year, I guess none of the agents held it against me.) To me, it's just common professional courtesy.

I actually think it's funny to write, "I look forward to hearing from you" because odds are, the agent is going to send a form rejection. And what writer looks forward to that? ; )

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised at the remark not to thank an agent for his/her time. To me, it's just common courtesy to thank any publishing professional for their time. I'd put it at the end of the submission, though, not the beginning. However, if I'd met an agent at a conference and they requested material, I would probably reference our meeting in the opening paragraph and might even thank them for the request. I don't think doing so in any way implies that the agent's/editor's time is more valuable than the writer's. Just politeness.


kris said...

I'm also disagreeing on the issue of thanks.

I don't think anyone's time is more or less valuable than my own - but I do know how very precious it is, for all of us. When I thank someone for their time, as I did back when I was querying agents, it's not because that time has more meaning than mine. It's because ALL time is precious, and when anyone gives some of it to me - be it for their job or just because - I want them to know how much I appreciate it. Maybe it was only 30 seconds, but that's 30 seconds that can never be recaptured.

Someone opened the envelope. Someone read the query. Someone spent time considering an answer. To me, that means someone deserves a word of thanks.

Besides, if I didn't say "thank you," my mother would rise up from her grave and slap me silly!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that thanking up front ruins the rhythm of a sales pitch but thanking at the end is just plain polite. I think you have some very good insights in your critique and look forward to future ones but in a world where politeness is beginning to disappear I feel that thanking a person for their time is the proper thing to do.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Hmm...I think I understand what most of the posters are saying, but I also think I get what Jessica is saying. It has to do with attitude, not politeness. One should be polite, but as one business person to another--not as a supplicant asking someone to unlock the keys to the publshing kingdom or validate one's writing.

Perhaps I'm coming at this a little differently because I was already published when I went looking for an agent. At pitch sessions, I was less interested in whether the agent liked me, but in whether I liked the agent. Whether I got good vibes, thought we could have a good working relationship. The agent had to impress me to get my business--though that sounds way more cocky than it really was. I'm a writer. I'm just as insecure as the next writer. But I had a clear business need and some definite criteria--well, if "vibes" counts as a definite criteria.

When I signed with Jessica, I had a book that had sold well, another in the production pipeline, and a new two book deal on the table. She was lucky to get me! (Stop laughing, Jessica!)

Sure, I think this is much easier if you currently being published, but I think perhaps the pre-pubbed--and the inbetween contracts--can also approach the agent search in a somewhat similar way. Agents need writers or they have no business! We can sell without an agent, but without writers to represent, agents would be looking through the want ads, right?

So yes, be polite, but be self assured, too--wihtout being obnoxious, of course. You are offering the agent the opportunity to represent your wonderful work. (And if you don't think it's pretty wonderful, then maybe it needs another round of revisions.)

So...Jessica isn't doing you a favor, you're giving her an opportunity--one she may decline, of course.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your critique of this query letter, and can see how a half-way finished manuscript would be a time-waster for you.

That leads to my question: how do you feel about unfinished manuscripts from a published--but not "multi"-published--author.

And, thank you! :-)

Kate Douglas said...

I agree with what Sally said about projecting confidence. So much of this business, as in any business, is based on perception. If the agent "perceives" an author as self-confident and sure of herself, I think she's definitely going to be more interested. I'm as neurotic as the next person, but if I didn't think I could write a decent book, I'd never have considered trying to get published. If you believe in yourself, you want that sense of self-confidence to shine in your query. Sort of an "I'm good, dammit, and you're lucky I've decided to query you" attitude...without being totally obnoxious about it. (You're right, Sally...Jessica is rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically...)

Stacia said...

Author, by "Practical Magic" meets "Rebecca", do you mean the book is a gothic mystery?

Because that might be a more concise way to put it, and you don't have to drag other works in there.

The plot you describe doesn't really seem like a gothic, but that's what the use of "Rebecca" implies to me.

Babe King said...

Ho-kay, taking notes.

1. Tell lies and distortions in a zitty-skinned, comb-over manner while wearing a bad tie.

2. Allow agent to kick your tires while you smile indulgently.

3. Did I mention how sexy you'll be if you buy my manuscript?


Dan Leo said...

I just want to thank Jessica for her time in sharing her critique with us.

Oh, wait a minute, on second thought I take that back...

Cassandra said...


Some things are ingrained so deeply in a person that it can be hard to break the habit. And now, because I am a southern woman and not a car salesman, I have to thank you for picking my query to critique. I declare, it surely is a vicious cycle! ::wink::

I plan to finish the manuscript and when I do write the query, I will use your advice.


Cassandra said...


When I referenced Rebecca, I wasn't thinking gothic mystery. I was thinking unsettling love triangle.

Perhaps I should omit all the referencing, which I believe was Jessica's advice.

Jessica, must fight urge to thank you again for advice..almost there...need to...oh hell–thank you.

::slaps forehead::