Wednesday, August 10, 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 Ms. Faust,

I respectfully request your review of my query for the Bookends Workshop Wednesday. I hope that my writing does not get in the way of this story. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf.

If you think your writing isn't strong enough I'm unlikely to think it's strong enough. Never start a query, never start a pitch of any kind (for a job, for a book, for a marriage proposal) by telling your flaws. The truth is that your writing will get in the way. A great story is necessary for publication, yes, so is good writing. You really do need the total package.

It will never be the same. Jesse was looking for adventure, but this is too much. Ordinarily ordinary, she is a fifteen year-old girl from Boiling Springs. She did all of the right things to collect friends, please her teachers and make summer plans. Being nice and doing what she was told is no longer enough. Who knew that signing up for an exchange student program would put her in a trajectory for a collision smack dab with everything she knew about herself. She came up short. The wreck changed her life in a moment’s decision. She did not offer help when someone needed her, then she lied about it. A priority of fitting in with friends jeopardized everything she knew about human decency and being truthful.

This doesn't feel like a paragraph to me, it feels like a collection of thoughts, like a rough draft, and yes, based on this, your writing will get in the way. It's important to remember that your query is a representation of how your book is written, and based on this it feels like your book is going to be choppy and without much connection. In all honesty, there's something interesting about this idea, about the fact that someone on a foreign exchange program makes one decision that will change her life forever, but why be so vague? Why won't you simply tell me exactly what's going to happen and what that decision is.

I'm not sure if this is entirely about poor writing or just an author trying to be too clever. Based on the last sentence in your first paragraph I'm apt to think poor writing, which is too bad because the idea is somewhat intriguing, but I can't represent poor writing.

This is Jesse’s story. She was a nice person. She became a bad person. LEFT SIDE OF THE TRUTH, a Young Adult novel complete at 52,000 words, is the account of what she did about it.

This feels like you're going to tell me the story instead of show me the story. I also have a problem with "became a bad person." I'm not sure anyone wants to read the story where the character's growth, the protagonist's growth, actually makes them less desirable.

This is a debut novel. The right side of a lie is not to tell one. The left side is what I will tell you now.

I have no idea what you're saying here, and that pretty much clinches a rejection for me.




Anonymous said...

Huh ?
Love the title and the whole right side, left side of truth thing but...Huh? What's it about, a girl gone bad?
Honey, I got enough bad girls in my life, show me some good, please.

Kristan said...

I could be way off the mark (and if I am, I sincerely apologize) but this reminds me of some writing I've read by people who are dyslexic, illiterate, or speak English as a second language. If that's the case, I'd recommend asking a more literate or native-spekaing friend to help communicate the story in a smoother fashion. It would be a huge favor to ask -- in fact, it may be more like co-writing -- but I'm not sure there's any other way to get the writing up to par in that particular situation...

(And if not a friend, then a professional writer or editor.)

As Jessica said, I think there is an interesting story at the core of this query. Unfortunately, you can't copyright an idea, because it's the execution that matters most.

Rachel Menard said...

I agree with Jessica that this sounds like a promising idea, but I can't be sure because I'm trying to figure out exactly what the premise is. The first sentence, what is "it?" Life? School? The second sentence "too much." Too much what? It seems like the vagueness might be an attempt to incite interest?? As of now, it's only confusing.

I would re-write, going overboard with detail and trim from there. If this is a sample of your writing, you might want to revise the MS as well. 52,000 words seems a little short to me for YA, which suggests you might be missing detail in your novel as well.

Anonymous said...

As a card-carrying ESL teacher, I don't see any markers here to indicate that the writer speaks English as a second language.

There's a lot of vagueness and repetitiveness here, that's all.

Writer, everything you've said could be said much more briefly:

Looking for adventure, Jesse signs up for an exchange student program. But she fails to help someone in need, and then lies about it.

That's the substance of what you've told us. But here's what's missing:

Does she go overseas? Where? Does the disaster happen overseas? Whom does she fail to help, what happens as a result, what lie does she tell and how does that make things worse?

Couple of other notes--

You've used the male spelling of Jesse/Jessie.

You don't sign up to be an exchange student, you apply.

Anonymous said...

I agree this is a jumble of ideas. But I don't think this is accurate: "I'm not sure anyone wants to read the story where the character's growth, the protagonist's growth, actually makes them less desirable."

The author wrote: "She was a nice person. She became a bad person... [the story] is the account of what she did about it."

I think the "what she did about it" could make the protagonist interesting to read, relatable, etc. If the writer could show us the character's struggles while getting back to "nice person," then she might have something. Though I also agree "nice, bad" aren't at all specific and do feel like telling.

I find Workshop Wednesdays helpful, yet I do wish for more query examples that are less obvious rejections. Many of us might be close, but still missing the mark.

Unknown said...

You just need to give us more meat and story arc. Here are a few posts that I've found helpful:

The Secret Strength of Killer Queries: Specificity

Laura W. said...

I don't think this person speaks English as a second language. There are some clever phrases like "Ordinarily ordinary" that made me think this person's voice was trying to come through. But unfortunately, s/he was too vague and ended up sounding like s/he was trying too hard to sound clever -- which led to sounding the exact opposite.

SaraT said...

Hooray Workshop Wednesday!

I agree that it's sounds like an interesting idea - I actually like the left/right side of the truth thing. I think it's an interesting way to think about "truth." I also think the author might be trying to hard to be too clever. I'd stick with the simple query formula of (Character) wants (goal) but (conflict) stops her so she (action of the story). Or something like that.

Anonymous said...

This person is not yet ready to query. She's jumping the gun by querying when she's still trying to learn to write. She's got a big dramatic idea but hasn't yet figured out a way to actualize it. I say to the writer to focus on the writing for a year or two. Just write. And then try again. I promise it will do more for your career than anything else at this point.

MissFifi said...

All I kept saying was "What?" as I read this. The author needs to work on this query a little more to make it more coherent. I want a little more guts in the query which makes me wonder if there is a lot of detail missing throughout the novel.

Sam Mills said...

I just wasn't sure if she WAS the exchange student, or fostering an exchange student. I had a friend sign up for the program and his family housed some students from other countries. So my first impression was that the protagonist took in a kid and then betrayed him/her. But after reading other comments yeah, makes more sense if she's in another country trying to impress people...

Anonymous said...

"You've used the male spelling of Jesse/Jessie"

This is untrue. I know several women named Jesse, and it isn't a new or modern thing. One adorable little lady named Jesse is 85 years old.
So don't let the name you picked for your character discourage you.
Even if it had not been feminine there are a lot of factors that can cause a female to have a male name and possibly are part of the story.

Carmen Fox said...

If I was the author of this query, I'd be holing myself up in my room right about now. "Illiterate" (look up the word before you start throwing it around), "dyslexic" (dito), "still learning to write" (did you mean "honing your craft")??? And who are you to drop such scathing comments anyway? I agree with the original critique. I've seen better queries. But can we all just stop ripping budding authors to shreds in what appears to be a self-serving attempt to thin the pool of future potential competitors? Isn't criticism meant to be constructive?

Jenna Barton said...

Beyond the vague opening, this reads to me as style over function, a work built upon a philosophical stance rather than the basic framework of mass-appeal fiction. The submission does sound like an interesting concept, though. My concern is that this writer is allowing his or her style to overwhelm the factual purpose of a query, and while I admire and appreciate experimental writers who like to play with language and structure but a query isn't the place to do it.

The author even mentions style, which leads me to think s/he is aware of how this reads but is unwilling to compromise their stylistic POV to compose a straightforward query.

I don't have a problem with the MC being challenging but wonder if this particular ms is aimed at a reader who likes to take on books that are self-aware to the point of obscuring the simple things like plot, character, action, resolution. Those basic components need to be spoken to, clearly, in a query.

Good luck, writer. :)

Anonymous said...

Carmen, she is still learning to write. However you wish to phrase it ('honing her craft', if you like), the problem is she is still learning to write.

There is no shame in that. It took me YEARS to figure out how to write fiction.

I think it was Rachel Gardner who had a recent post about the "seasons" of a writer's life in which she stresses the importance of really learning how to write. (Found it:

If the querier is holed up in her room it only further proves my point: she's not anywhere near ready to query. If she can't take constructive criticism, or honestly given suggestions, publishing is not the career for her.

For whatever it is worth, I can remember writing stuff that sounded pretty much exactly like this. Then I improved. She can do it too.

Lucy said...


No, I don't think anyone is ripping the author to shreds. However, as several have pointed out, there is a sharp--and possibly a rather long--learning curve ahead.

This would be a good time for community college writing classes--creative writing, yes, but composition too. Let me explain. Any comp teacher worth their salt will demand specifics. They will not let you get away with vague or unnecessary verbiage. You'll have to improve all your writing skills, all the way around.

Best of luck, author, and I hope you can make the advances in your writing that will lead to a better book and a better query!

stephen matlock said...

I see it as a sincere attempt at a query, but it feels very first-timey. Just not clear.

May be fixable if the author goes back to the story. The idea is to sell the story. And sell it.

And yeah, I agree that it is terribly hard to learn how to write.

But if you want to have a book that people want to read, you have to learn how to write. Have to.

Cara M said...

This query feels overwrought, like it's trying to evoke the seriousness of the topic by being dramatic about it. This is probably not the right style for a query letter. It could actually be effective for the piece, in a very literary way, as long as it does fall out logically and convey the story.

It doesn't read like ESL. It does read a little like some people I know who are slightly Aspergers-esque, merely because of the contrast between the complex difficult to parse sentences, and then the very direct but still obscure 'she became a bad person' sort of sentences.

Possibly the sentences would be less confusing in a longer form, and the opaque style can be very readable if it has room to breathe. But definitely it needs someone looking over it for word choice and for straying relative clauses.

FoolPlusTime said...

Carmen, since when was suggesting dyslexia a scathing comment? Maybe the author *is* dyslexic. I am. It's really not an insult.

I can see what the author is trying to do here, but it's falling short because I don't really know what's happening. Ditto the final line, I understood it once I stopped and thought about it, but it still doesn't work for me.

Instead of being vague, hinting at stuff, just take a deep breath and tell me what happens. Be specific. Show me your story.

And forget "respectfully request". You may as well apologize for sending them the query in the first place. Be polite, be professional, but don't for a second feel you (in yourself) are not good enough to be querying an agent. You have every right to do so. Unless you send them something which will end up on Slushpilehell.