Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Workshop Wednesday

Thanks to all of your contributions, Workshop Wednesday has been a success. We're going to continue on with it for as long as we have entries and the energy to comment on them. If you haven't yet submitted but are still interested, 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.

In Morning Glory gardens are used as family escapes in to and out of abuse, silences, solitude, and depression, and through the revelations of both family and landscape history, the author slowly discovers how nature—specifically as gardens—has confronted his own dark character.

First, I really like to see some sort of greeting in a query letter. Call me a nit-picker, but otherwise, I feel like you dumped something in my lap without warning and walked away.

This ”parasentence” confuses me. Why would anyone want to escape into abuse or depression? After the word “depression,” you’ve lost me already. I’m still trying to figure out what could be so bad that someone would want to escape into abuse while you’re rambling through this run-on sentence.

However, if you could find a more concise way to get your idea across to me, I do find it intriguing that a person’s gardening history could make such an impact.

MORNING GLORY: A STORY OF FAMILY & CULTURE IN THE GARDEN is my completed 75,000 word memoir. At once a history of my mother instructing me how to be a gardener as a child, it is also an exploration of our careful relationship, and an unearthing of who my mother and I are in the shadow of her own childhood.

Memoirs are tough. The reason for this is that no one really cares about anybody else’s life unless you make it spectacularly interesting. Unless you are a celebrity, have a life that is heartbreakingly poignant and can write like a master, a memoir is going to be a tough sell. I do not think a mother teaching a child to garden is intriguing, nor do I particularly want to know how anybody else shaped their relationship with their mother. Who you are and who your mother is are very interesting topics to you, but to me — a person sitting miles and miles away who has never met you — they’re boring as white rice. I would like to point out, though, that I like your word choices. “Unearthing,” “exploration” and “shadow” make me feel like I’m in a garden.

As I grow older and begin writing this book, my mother forces herself to reveal her past and how it has shaped her and a larger family obsessed with silence, fear, and distrust.

Is your family well-known on a huge scale? Otherwise, I can’t say I find it interesting that your mother reveals her past or that your family has issues like anybody else’s. If the issues are unique to your family, that’s something I’d love to know.

These revelations ultimately help me to identify and confront my own harmful nature in a young marriage. Through narratives on topics such as science, religion, ecology, philosophy, and garden design—as well as lyrical sections on landscape and place—Morning Glory proposes that the answers to ending our violence toward each other may rest in ending our violence toward the planet, and vice versa.

Now I’m really confused. This began as a memoir of a mother, child and the larger family surrounding them. Gardens were a focal point. But now you tell me science, religion, ecology and philosophy are involved. I have a hunch that you’ve given smaller threads of your book grandiose mention here with these puffed-up words. Ecology would be present in this book, as would religion and philosophy—as they apply to the gardens involved and to the family involved here. But you make it sound as though this is a preachy diatribe, a plea to the world to treat the planet better. I’m not sure which is the case, but I have trouble believing this could be both.

I have an MFA and PhD in writing, and have received several fellowships, awards, and Pushcart Prize nominations. My creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in almost fifty literary journals, anthologies, and textbooks, while I have also published two poetry chapbooks: [redacted]. I am the author of a top 80 blog on the #1 gardening blog portal Blotanical, which features over 1,500 international sites; I often post material from my manuscript and am frequently asked when it will appear in book form. Including my many blog readers, and the over 40 million intermediate and advanced gardeners in America, there is a ready audience for my work.

This is great information. Knowing that you’ve published work before, even if it is not in the same genre, is helpful. However, I don’t think that just because there are 40 million gardeners in America those 40 million people might buy your book, which is a memoir and not a gardening book.

If you’d like to see more material please let me know and I’ll send it out immediately. I look forward to hearing from you.

This last sentence is fine.



Anonymous said...

I was surprised by the credentials at the end because many of the sentences are awkward and ungrammatical.

Anonymous said...

I'm just curious, every week do you throw out the queries that weren't chosen and start anew? Or do they get recycled?

Julie Daines said...

I don't understand most of this query.

I just finished reading "Traveling With Pomegranates" a memoir by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann. Their story/memoir sounds very similar to this one, only instead of gardening, they come together over travel and Greece.

I don't recommend that book.

Kim Batchelor said...

I have to agree with comments about the vagueness of the language in the query. Can you give more concrete details about these family secrets? I want to read about lives that I connect with, or by writers I can laugh with, or that will take me to places I've never been, and there's just not enough here that I personally would connect with that would make me want to read the book.

Elissa M said...

This sounds harsh, but to me this query's language is convoluted and the subject is dull. It makes me think the book would be the same.

Like many queries, this one is too coy, hinting at secrets and revelations without telling me anything about them. I need to know what, specifically, is special about this garden and this family that will make it worth my time to read about them.

For instance, you would pique a lot of peoples' interest if you said the roses bloom better because they are fertilized with the bodies of missing children. But that, I hope, would not be a memoir.

Anonymous said...

Could you clarify what you mean by wanting a greeting? Does "Dear Agent" suffice, or would you prefer a short sentence about how/why an author chose to query you? Thanks!

Lauren Ruth said...

Anon 12:14

Dear [enter agent's name] is an excellent greeting.

--Lauren Ruth

Jeannie said...

I'm a certified high school English teacher, and to be very blunt, there's a huge gap between the credentials you claim and the writing skills you show in this query. Your first paragraph simply does not make sense.

I'm sorry if this sounds at all unkind, but if you intend to make a career of writing, you need to revisit basic grammar and composition as taught in freshman (college) level English, and go from there. Simple clear sentences are your friends.

Best of luck, and if you are serious about this, I hope you'll do the work it will take to succeed.

Jeff Carney said...

I can't help wondering if the author is deliberately attempting an "elevated" style in this query, but failing because the elevated style is unnatural to her.

A query should not be more "formal" than the book it represents. Ideally, the style of the query should suggest the style of the book.

Apologies if I'm misreading the situation.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the memoir sounds inherently boring because the writer isn't famous. I read this over and over when agents talk memoir, and as someone who has read dozens of memoirs--none of which were penned by celebs (save for the author celebs who gained notoriety because they wrote a killer memoir)--I can tell you some of my favorites do not focus on extraordinary events, but rather center on a beautifully written, well-crafted, artfully exploited universal theme. Can someone explain the discrepancy between this oft cited "rule" and what is sitting on the bookstore shelves?

That said, I agree the writing in this letter does not reflect the talent one would expect from someone of the given publication history. And if it is true that this author has a terminal degree in creative writing and 80 pub credits to her name, then certainly there is hope for us all.

But again, I don't dismiss this query on its book's subject matter; I just wonder about the quality of the writing.

Laura said...

The writing in this letter seems like it's trying too hard -- like s/he is trying to cram too much information into as few sentences as possible.

Anonymous said...

I don’t remember the exact words, but Janet Reid said something recently about a memoir being written like a novel, except that it is true. With that in mind, it seems to me the trick would be not to call it a memoir but a novel, and figure out how to make the story compelling, even if that takes some dramatic license. If there is no way to make it compelling, you could market it as literary and not commercial fiction. Maybe your garden could be a portal to a fairy world, or maybe you discover an object digging in the dirt that came from another planet, or was planted there by gangsters or foreign spies. Those ideas are pretty far out, but you can see how you could start with a garden and end with commercial real estate in written form.