Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Workshop Wednesdays

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 Ms. Faust:

I am submitting "Coffee, Ghosts, and College," a 76,000 word completed urban fantasy for your consideration.

This is a fine opening; basic and to the point. The only thing you might want to work on is your title. I know I frequently say that your publisher will probably change the title anyway, and while that's true, it doesn't mean you don't what a strong title to grab the attention of everyone else along the way. This title does nothing for me; it gives me no real picture of what I can expect from your book, other than the fact that your book includes ghosts, coffee, and college. It doesn't sound original or exciting.

Brigid started the night by setting her hand on fire with magic, freaking herself out and proving her parents weren't deluded Wizards after all. Her friends weren't entirely convinced it wasn't a trick.

On the way to dinner, she slipped on the ice, tripped over a homeless man, and saw his ghost walk off. "I'm even pissing off the ghosts today," she thought. Then it hit her--ghosts meant murder.

These first two paragraphs about Brigid are kind of intriguing. Not great, but not horrible either. What's missing is a real sense of understanding. You mention a lot of things, but I still think we need more context.

More great news.

She had to persuade her friends that magic was real, ghosts existed, and there was a magical murderer running around. Oh, and she hadn't studied for her Environmental Economics test.

Why? Why did she have to persuade her friends and what does any of that have to do with setting her hand on fire? The answer to these questions seems to be the heart of the book, and instead you've pitched the lead-up or background. When thinking about your query, think about what happens in the middle of the book (or roughly), not what happens in the opening pages. In other words, what makes this book interesting centers around the climax. Why does she need to convince her friends that magic is real, and, honestly, what does that have to do with your opening paragraph, in which we seem concerned that her friends might think it's real?

I think it would be more powerful to get to the point. Brigid spent her life scoffing at her parents' belief that they were Wizards, but when . . . Now it's up to Brigid to . . . how you finish these sentences are probably your query.

One thought about the title again—from the description I could have sworn this was YA, but yet the title says "College." I'm confused. Make sure your title is not only eye-catching, but that it helps define the genre you're pitching to.

Gotta love Mondays.

I get what you're trying to do with this line, but it feels lost.

Thank you for your time.



Kristan said...

In addition to Jessica's comments, I'm wondering, What's at stake? Who or what is in danger?

Lehcarjt said...

Brigid spent her life scoffing at her parents' belief that they were Wizards, but when . .

This is the thing that for me seemed to be missing. It is never stated clearly that (or why) Brigid didn't believe in magic. It seems like her journey is about that discovery.

I'm also unclear why the murder is so important to her. Why doesn't she call her parents to deal with it if they are wizards and she doesn't believe?

Candace Dietz said...

I agree with just about everything Jessica said about this query.

Please keep in mind that I am NOT an expert, but the thing that was really missing for me was a clear goal. First, she wants to keep her magic secret(even though she doesn't really believe in magic?), but then for no apparent reason, she needs to convince her friends that magic is real. Why the change of heart? And is the story goal to convince her friends, or to solve these magical murders?

This particular critique helped me a lot. I'm currently writing my query and getting stuck trying to squeeze in stuff that happens in the beginning(but it's so cool!).
Reading this query made me realize that as interesting as the beginning might be, it's not the meat of the story. And without the meat, even an interesting beginning can turn dull.

So my advice: Figure out your protag's main goal--the big thing she needs to acomplish by the end of the book. Now what/who is standing in her way? Why does it matter whether she gets her goal or not?
Those are the things I really want to know. I'll find out what happens in the beginning when I read the book.

I think you have a solid premise here, but it's hard to tell without the more relevant info. Good luck!

Whitney Bailey said...

This query is short, which is great, but I don't know if it's "to the point." Take the following paragraph:

On the way to dinner, she slipped on the ice, tripped over a homeless man, and saw his ghost walk off. "I'm even pissing off the ghosts today," she thought. Then it hit her--ghosts meant murder.

For the purpose of this query, do we need to know she was on the way to dinner? That she slipped? I don't think so. Instead, I'm left wondering, "Is the homeless man dead? Did she trip over the man or just his ghost? You don't have to explain everything, but the most important parts are the ones you didn't flesh out. We don't know the rules of your fantasy world from this query.

Kevin Ott ( said...

This workshop was very helpful. Thanks Bookends, and also thanks to the author who submitted their query!

Robena Grant said...

Thanks. This is helpful. Writing a decent query, or synopsis, frustrates the heck out of me.

I think there's a good story in here. However, the way this query opens and closes it gives the reader the sense of one day. And, unfortunately, when the focus of the query is all on the opening it makes one wonder if the story is completed.

I'd suggest taking it back to basics. Look at the goals and conflicts, especially the major turning points of the story and the climax. Who is the protagonist, what does she want? Who is her antagonist how does he/she prevent her from getting what she wants? What is their struggle?

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you BookEnds for doing this workshop.

Thank you writer for offering up your query. I agree with the comments but really needed to add one thing.

My question goes to the ghost... how does seeing a ghost equal murder? How does the murder than become a magical one?

Stephsco said...

Great workshop! I agree with the other commenters; there are intriguing ideas here, but the point of the query is to sum up the heart of the book. I think it's tempting for us to not give spoilers, but you won't get a chance to tell the story if the person you're pitching it to doesn't know what the hook is.

I think this critique could give the writer a very good launching point for a decent query. Nice work!

Kristin Laughtin said...

I agree with Jessica's comment, especially the idea of "After scoffing... Brigid discovers". What really threw me in the query was that Brigid has just come to discover her magical abilities and seems to accept them too easily, barely blinking at the ghost until she realizes a ghost indicates murder. Even if she made the mental connection ("Wizards are real; I bet ghosts are, too"), her reaction just seems too quick and blasé to be believable. So you may want to punch up the intrigue there. Maybe connect it to the previous paragraph: "Then, on the way to dinner, she tripped over a homeless man and saw his ghost walk off--another delusion her parents were right about, and which they always claimed meant murder" or something like that.

Good luck!

JVRC said...

Wow! You are brutal! And I love it. Now, I'm really hoping that mine gets picked because I have a feeling you're going to rip it to shreds. And I really need it if you pick it and you do. I stink out loud on query writing and I need this kind of brutal to improve.

So much sense and none of it wasted. Thank you for that.

Melissa (ATX) said...

I have the same questions and concerns as does Ms. Faust in her critique.

My advice: focus on economy of words. You have only x-many in your query, and every one should count toward the total. Unless your protagonist going to dinner and failing to study for her exams are absolutely pivotal to the plot, nix that info -- you don't need it. Your query should show the broad arc of your plot in actionable terms -- but there's such a thing as actionable minutiae, too.

Be your own gatekeeper. Lots of folks have questions about the plot of your novel, based on your query. Does the m.s. answer those questions? Style is nice, but you have sufficient conflict that keeps the reader intrigued? What about your overall structure -- does your plot have a nice ebb and flow? Build up to crisis, crisis and resolution?

AmyJo said...

Thanks to the query writer and Jessica. The points Jessica makes, and the queries themselves, will be a big help when I'm writing a query.
I like the concept of the story but also think it sounds like she accepts everything too quickly. Is the ghost of this homeless man an important part or mentioned as an example of things to come?
Not sure if her believing happens that quickly in the story itself, but reading the query makes it sounds as if she does. It sounds as if there's no struggle to deny, or believe, before she gives in.

Richard Levangie said...

I think the premise is intriguing, but I would work harder to make the writing tighter and to, as Robena and Jessica suggested, tell us about more than one day. A couple of specifics are fine, but I think an agent needs to see the bigger picture.

Congratulations on having the courage to do this exercise. Writing ain't for sissies!

Shannon said...

I'm no expert so I wanted to wish the writer good luck on the rewrite and keep trying. You have a good start and you can get there!

Jessica, thank you. Your comment to keep the focus on what happens in the middle of your book was an "aha" moment for me.

Christine Long said...

Thank you for this workshop. I struggle with writing a query or synopsis despite the huge stack of books I've read on the topic. It is a great help to see an example and have it explained piece by piece.

I will definitely stop by every Wednesday for class!

Unknown said...

I think you're trying to sell the mystery in this query. Giving us little paranormal details and hoping we'll be intrigued enough to read pages.

But these weird events aren't connected to anything, so they lose all meaning. They're just interesting imagery floating out in limbo.

You need to give us more of a framework if you want to make us care about these characters & this world.

Also I think this might be New Adult, not YA.

Anonymous said...

So...this might seem a bit random, but I discovered this blog because a piece of paper blew into my front yard. On one side, it was a shopping list, but on the other side, it was a piece of a story titled: "Coffee, ghosts and college." So, I googled it, just for the heck of it, and this turned up...I've never written a book, but I like writing in general, and this is a really neat blog. If I ever do write a book, now I know where I can come. Thank you random person who accidentally dropped part of the story on my front lawn :)