Wednesday, April 27, 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 Secret Agent Person,

I'd like to assume that you know to use the agent's name, but since I've learned in this business to assume nothing, I'll simply remind you, and everyone, to always use the agent's name. Although this did crack me up.

Avery knows all about secrets. She’s heard them all. But some secrets shouldn’t be heard.

I liked this opening. I thought it was intriguing and it definitely grabbed my attention. The only thing I would say is that I think the writing could be stronger here. It almost has the oomph, but not quite. It feels like you're trying a little too hard.

Seventeen year old Avery Gardener can make rain in the middle of a drought. She can make a flower bloom in the dead of winter. And she could deal with those abilities a whole lot easier if it weren’t for the noise. Avery lives with a constant racket. Thoughts, secrets, dreams. You name it; it’s in her head, but none of it is her. Not once in her seventeen years has Avery been alone in her mind.

I'm still intrigued. If I received this query I would keep reading. Since I'm critiquing the query, of course, I'm going to be harder on you. The trouble is that now you're throwing a lot at the reader. Since you opened with the line "some secrets shouldn't be heard," I think it's important to lead with that information in the next paragraph. In other words, start the paragraph by talking about how she lives with the noise and make it clear that the noise has nothing to do with her own secrets, but the fact that she can hear those of others around her. A nice transition might be that her own secret is that she can make rain. . . .

The other concern is that the query seems all about her hearing other people's thoughts, but I'm also curious about these other powers she has. Do they play a big part in the story? Are they even necessary to mention in the query, or is it better to focus primarily on the secrets as a way to streamline?

I think you need to edit the sentence "none of it is her." This would be stronger if you say none of the secrets/thoughts (whatever you want to say) are her own. I do like the last sentence about never being alone in her mind.

Sebastian Caldwell knows about strange powers just as well as Avery. In fact, he claims to know more. He claims he can help with the noise. But can Avery trust him? It’s not like she trusts all that many people – not since her abusive father went to jail for breaking her arm.

This paragraph tosses a lot of information, unnecessary information, in. I think the transition needs to be that while Avery has never been alone in her mind she's always been alone with her secrets, until Sebastian comes along and knows more than anyone, including, or so he claims, how to stop the noise. I would skip the part about the father. It might be integral to the story and who Avery is, but it's totally unnecessary in the query and only bogs things down.

But as Sebastian introduces Avery to his world, it becomes increasingly hard not to believe in him, especially as she realizes he might just need her as much as she needs him. Because somebody has decided they want to hurt people with powers, and they are far from indestructible.

I don't think this is adding anything to the query, and I think this is where the query falters and where you might lose a request or two. You've built up the story and introduced the characters, but you haven't told us anything about the plot, and this is where you need to do that and you need to hit it home. My concern at this point is maybe you don't have a plot. Skip the "Sebastian introduces Avery to his world" since that bogs things down again. I wonder if there are too many worlds. Instead, I want to know what sort of conflict pushes these two together and threatens to tear them and their lives apart.

SPYDER is a young adult paranormal romance complete at 78,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


All of these ending lines are fine.



Laila Knight said...

Clearly I wouldn't make it as an agent. I think that story sounds adorable, and I wouldn't mind the extra information. So what I'm getting here is that agents prefer to see more about the plot and less about the characters.


BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


Be careful that you aren't making assumptions on what agents want based on one critique and be careful that you don't assume all agents want the same thing. I want a balance of plot and character. I want to know what's gong to draw readers to the book and it's going to take both. If a query is all plot I'm going to assume there's no character in there.


Rebecca Knight said...

It's cool to see a query being workshopped that gets such a positive reaction. This one seems like it's just a tweak or two away from being *awesome*.

Also, if Spyder gets snatched up, it's exactly the sort of book I love to read! Best of luck to the author :).

Whimsical Prompt and Other Musings. said...

It is very hard to get the balance between information needed in a query and what you can skip on. Here I got it completely. Note taken. I think the hardest part is being concise and not seeming like you "tried to hard".

Anonymous said...

Jessica, today's workshop was very useful. I'll bear in mind what you said about balance between characters and plot. Thanks for the advice, and thanks to the writer for sharing!

Touch of Ink said...

My concern is totally different. If Avery can hear everyone's thoughts, how come she can't just "listen" to Sebastian's thoughts and know whether he's legit?

Maybe if you remove the part that tells about Sebastian knowing all about powers and show that he's the first person that Avery can't "hear". That's why she's willing to risk her hard won safety and open up to him.

Or whatever.

Because if she can hear everyone's thoughts, and can't tell if he's a bad guy, that looks like a huge plot problem to me.

Laila Knight said...

Jessica, thank you for the clarification on the balance of plot and character.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I think I want to know what Avery DOES with her power. And what types of secrets shouldn't be heard? It sounds like there's a setup here in the first paragraph that isn't followed through on. There's a bit of ominous hint to what she might be overhearing in that first paragraph. It doesn't just feel like it's the power that's the problem -- and that has to do with using the word "secrets" rather than "thoughts." If this word choice is intentional, then we really should know more about it as it does some integral to whatever plot there might be.

Think about being sure whatever problem is brought up in the first paragraph is at least touched on in the last. That gives the reader a sense, not just of closure, but of authorial purpose.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

some = seem *head desk*

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think this query is already pretty good, but would be stronger with the edits suggested for the second paragraph, especially switching it around so we learn about her hearing everything first and then about her own powers. As it is now, the two seem really disconnected, and it's a bit disconcerting to go from the first paragraph about secrets to the part about rain and flowers and back to the voices/thoughts/secrets. All the other advice sounds like it could really boost this query to stellar, because it seems like you've got a good story and just had trouble picking what details to include in the query.

Unknown said...

As a reader and writer, I thought you have "something" with your story. One recommendation, you may take or ignore, is the second paragraph, reading it I didn't feel as if I was learning about the character and how the secret affected her. I have one thing to say, I want to know the secret!!! Good luck and happy writings

S. A. Soule, Creativity Coach said...

The query is good, I get so many that aren't even professionally written that they make this one sparkle.

One should remember that your query should look professional, be proofread, and have a strong hook.

Keri Neal said...

As an agent, do you comment on grammar in a query?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jessica. You need more plot info. I submitted a query for fun to Miss Snark's blog and she wrote: "There is no plot. No dice." There was also no book, but there was a message and I got it. Here is a suggestion based on what I guess your plot might be:

"Avery has a strange talent. She can hear the thoughts of others. She doesn't know what to do with this until she meets Sebastian, who has the same talent. Sebastian wins her trust and then convinces her to help him save the world."

More detail would be in order, but since this is a guess I did not supply it. You do notice this implies your story is a thriller, that the heroes are gifted with paranormal powers, and even though I don't read this stuff, d**it I want to read yours.

Get it published soon so I can.

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