Ask Daphne! About my Query IV

October 30th, 2008 • Kate

Brown patent leather shoes for the patient Margay, who sent in her query for our review, as follows:

Dear Daphne:
I am seeking representation for The Scent Of Humanity, an 85,000 word novel that answers the question: What would you do if lightning struck your family twice in one lifetime?
Lightning strike #1: On her way home with a friend, ten-year old Silvie Childs is nearly kidnapped by a stranger with the lure of candy. But quick thinking on her part saves them both from a tragic fate.
Lightning strike #2: Sixteen years later, the adult Silvie must deal with the repercussions when her nine-year old niece is victimized by an attempted kidnapping.
How is it possible that two girls from the same family, growing up in the same small town, can suffer the same fate years apart? That is the question that propels Silvie to take action when her niece’s case is closed after a few short months due to a lack of new evidence. She wants answers – to her own near-kidnapping as well as her niece’s – and the only thing standing in her way is the man who nearly killed her brother in a car accident ten years prior, Nick Fahey. Once, Silvie adored Nick and fantasized about a life together, but then the accident changed everything. Now her brother is in a vegetative state in a rest home and Nick is virtually unscathed. Unfortunately for Silvie, he is also the detective who investigated her niece’s case – and the department’s unofficial spokesperson, sent to divert Silvie when she starts making waves at the station with her inquiries. It’s not long before Nick becomes fully engaged in Silvie’s life once again and not just on a professional level. Soon, they embark on the relationship that was cut short by her brother’s accident and Silvie is faced with a new question: What do you do when you fall in love with the man who nearly killed your brother?
Although this is my first novel, I have participated in a number of contests and this year I was a finalist in Stella Cameron’s 2008 Scarlet Boa Contest.
Thank you for your time and please note that this is a multiple submission. I hope to hear from you at your convenience.
Sincerely,
Margay

First of all, Margay, on the whole I think this is a very well written query. You introduce only your main characters, develop their relationships and the problems in such, and set up the driving force of the narrative. So I’m just going to concentrate on some of the nitty-gritty, and will ask my readers, as always, to add their comments as well.
First of all, when you present the question about lightning striking twice, I kinda want to see lightning. Yes, I know, it’s a metaphor. But it’s a metaphor that you repeat THREE times in the opening, and for an agent who may see hundreds of queries cross her desk, what you’re telling her is that this is a book about people getting struck by lightning. Maybe leave in the opening question, but cut the two “lightning strikes”.
Secondly, you posit two questions: What would you do if lightning struck your family twice in one lifetime? and What do you do when you fall in love with the man who nearly killed your brother?. It may work for others, but it feels to me like the story you’re setting up with the first question is then superseded by the second. And unless Silvie does, in fact, give up her quest for answers in her own attempted kidnapping and in her niece’s, then you don’t want the readers thinking she does.
I’d also consider if there’s any other way to get across the scope of the story in terms of past events. You mention “sixteen years later” and “ten years prior” — it may make an agent wonder if the book’s going to all be about backstory rather than a forward-moving plot.
So that’s me. Although not a book I’d consider representing, I think, because I’m steering away from thrillers, it’s certainly something I can imagine picking up in a store. Readers? What do you think?

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3 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About my Query IV”

  1. dust Says:

    1) If the hook is the lightning strike, why is the title about scent?
    2) I'm stuck on the idea that a ten-year-old – a fifth-grader – is seduced by candy. Um, no. Also, it sounds like (unclear pronoun reference) that Sylvie's quick thinking saves her and the stranger, not her and the friend.
    3) I would say the niece is victimized during an attempted kidnapping, not by – an event cannot act, but people can.
    4) I agree about the plot with Nick – but you could work that in: not only does lightning strike twice, but so does this relationship. Could come across as cheesy, though.
    5) Break the big paragraph into something easier to read.
    6) I haven't heard of the contest; it doesn't sound like a writing contest. If it isn't common agenty knowledge, I'd point out that it is – is it for short fiction, since this is your first novel?
    7) I don't come away from the query letter with an idea of what the story's about. "Coincidence" is my best guess, but that doesn't sound right.

  2. Margay Says:

    Hi, I just wanted to thank Daphne for showcasing my query and for the great advice she gave. One thing I would like to clear up is that this is not a thriller, it is a mainstream; the fact that there was a misconception has pointed out another weakness in the query to me, so I thank you for that, as well.
    I would also like to thank dust for the comments, as well. You point out some valid things and I will use these to build a better query.
    Again, thank you for this opportunity.
    Margay

  3. E. Says:

    I would ditch the part about lightning altogether (without any context of what your story is about, I was expecting that to be literal — I'm glad it wasn't!), and start from Sylvie's position when her niece is kidnapped. Then you can explain that her determination to dig deeper is because this previous kidnapping attempt sixteen years prior seems awfully coincidental to her.
    I think this would also address Daphne's worry about having the beginning of the query feel like backstory, by starting where your story probably starts. We'll be in Sylvie's frame of mind from the beginning.
    I agree that this is a well-written query and it sounds like a book I might read.