Ask Daphne! About My Query XXV

October 9th, 2009 • Kate

louis-vuitton-fall-2009-1I have discovered photos of shoes from Fashion Weeks around the world (these ones are from last fall’s Louis Vuitton show in Paris), and think I can die a happy Daphne now. Although, if I tried to walk in these, I’d probably fall down. Which ties in nicely with C.L.N’s About MY Query for her novel “Fallen”:

Dear Daphne:

I offer for your perusal the completed 384 page manuscript of my young adult novel, Fallen. It blends the paranormal suspense of supernatural beings in the natural world with teen romantic elements and a twist of inspirational fiction. I believe it is marketable to readers of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, Cassandra Clarke’s City of Bones and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty while offering something unique and relatable.

Abby Makana is torn; with the death of her confidante, her grandfather, and the slow decay of her family, she is spiritually lost and emotionally alone. When she begins her junior year, she is drawn to Seth Peters, a former childhood playmate and the friend she needs, and Gabe Daniels, the mysterious outcast. Bewildered by the combination of adolescent angst, the confusion of first love, and the onset of strange powers in her, Abby embarks on an emotional journey that tests her choices, risks everyone she loves, and helps her find the strength to stand on her own.

I am a literature and writing teacher and have worked closely with my target audience for over a decade. My writing credits include three short stories and a poem published in the writing anthologies, Strong Currents, Strong Currents II, and The Breakup Queen and Other Romantic Tales. I am currently working on a second title in the three book series, a companion book to Fallen called Broken. I look forward to doing all I can to make my dream of being a working writer to life.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

C.L.N.

Minor points first: I’d focus less on the page count and more on the word count, and I’d cut the last two sentences from your penultimate paragraph.

But as for the meat of this query — it just doesn’t DO anything for me. Yes, paranormal romance and suspense is doing very well right now, but there’s nothing that feels unique and unputdownable about this novel. Are Seth and Gabe dueling supernatural creatures, like in Twilight? Is Abby from another, previously unknown world, a la City of Bones? Is there a historical element, as in Libba Bray’s trilogy? And if the answer is yes to any of the above, well then, what makes FALLEN different from these books? What makes it “unique”?

You use a lot of rather generic descriptions: “strange powers”, “supernatural beings”, “teen romantic elements”, “mysterious outcast.” Tell me something specific to your novel! What kind of powers? Who ARE these beings? What elements? Why is he an outcast?

Otherwise, as someone who gets hundreds of queries a week, I can tel you that this query is not going to stand out in a crowded market.

Maybe I’m just jaded. What do you guys think?

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12 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXV”

  1. Stina Says:

    I didn't get any sense of a plot. I agree with Kate about the second two sentences. They're not important unless the writer explains how the book is similiar or different to them. And why waste what little space you have doing that? I heard you shouldn't mention if the book is part of a series. Tell that to the agent if she offers to rep you.

  2. Colleen Lindsay Says:

    I agree, it lacks specifics and there is no hook to speak of.

  3. Kater Says:

    It might be a fabulous story, or it might be a pastiche. It's hard to tell from the query.

    Except for the vagueness, it seems a clean and professional business letter. I agree that the last sentence doesn't need to be there, but I can understand her wanting to have some kind of closing sentence. It's hard to know when something is finished.

    The second to last sentence seems like it might have some merit, except that it mentions an unwritten manuscript. If we can brag about our unwritten manuscripts, I gotta tell you, my unwritten manuscripts are incomparable.

    I don't necessarily think that it's a bad idea to mention if there are sequels. For example, I submitted a novel to a publisher and mentioned it was the first of a series (of which the subsequent novels had already been written.)

    I spoke to that editor at a social situation a couple of years later, and he mentioned he had rejected it partly on these grounds; he doesn't have the budget to do more than a few books a year, and can't take on a series. That may sound like a bad thing, but my query provided enough information to the editor so that he could make a decision. I would have been unhappy if he had accepted it and told me somewhere down the line that he couldn't publish the sequels.

    When you get right down to it, a query is a business letter. You need to offer all -pertinent- information in a professional manner, so that the agent can make a decision.

    In this case, the author didn't provide enough information, and with a big slush pile to go through, "I don't know" becomes a "no."

  4. sally apokedak Says:

    Thanks for these posts. They are very helpful.

    As for the query…I stink at them so I'm not a good judge. But I was not saying, "Man, that sounds great!" Sometimes at a writer's conference someone will give a pitch and the whole room gasps. We all recognize greatness when we hear it. I think to make me want to read something you have to introduce me to a character I can care about and tell me what kind of trouble she is in.

    I agree with Daphne when she says the descriptions here are generic.

    I do not, I'm sorry to say, agree with her about those shoes, though. 🙂

  5. Sarah Laurenson Says:

    The firt part is telling what a great novel you have rather than showing it. The second part is too vague to understand what is going on though there are hints here of what might be a very interesting story.

    A query – which is hard to write and requires a skill set of its own – should reflect the style (voice) of the book. This one shows a lot of telling and no plot. What you're putting out there is not doing your book any favors. What's great about your story? What detail(s) can you include that shows us what's going on and helps us care about the characters?

    If you can spend two paragraphs on the plot and the great characters you have (from one character's POV) then you have a better chance of selling your query. Everything I've read on editor and agent blogs says they are looking for what makes this particular book stand out. If you can show that in a query, all the other info is optional.

  6. Paul Greci Says:

    You might have a great story here but right now, it's hard to tell. Focus your pitch on your mc. Be specific but don't tell too much.

    And, I'd definitely take the last couple sentences out. End with your publishing credits.

    And, if it was me, I'd take out the references to other published books unless the agent you're querying specifically wants that kind of info. You want your story to stand out as something different, not similar.

    Take my comments with a grain of salt. I'm not an agent, like Kate or Colleen Lindsay. Just a recently-agented writer, but I can say that when I revised my query, got specific, put some voice in it, and personalized it in a way that was professional but not necessarily conventional, my request rate shot up.

    Good luck. Just keep revising it until it sings.

  7. Jamie Harrington Says:

    When I read these queries I always look for something to jump out and grab me… and other than mentioning a few other well known novels, this one didn't really do it for me. I want to know what YOUR book is about specifically, and what makes it the book I love so much I have to take it with me to the dinner table because I just can't put it down.

    I think it's good because you see what's out there in the market, and you see what sales–so I think you have a real pulse on the YA industry, but so does an agent. They will recognize if your book should sell like those others.

    That isn't to say you shouldn't make the comparison… just don't make that the only thing your query is about. 🙂

    Good Luck!

  8. Sara Raasch Says:

    I agree — it sounds very unoriginal. Also, and this might just be me being, well, me, but misspelling Cassandra Clare's name is a bit of a turnoff, even if you spelled the agent's name right.

  9. ChristaCarol Says:

    Sara, I was going to mention the same thing about Cassandra's name.

    I can't say much without being an echo. There's no meat to this query, just bones. And bare, unoriginal bones when compared to every other YA paranormal romance. What happens with your MC? What happens to make the story begin? What must she do, and why? Figure out what makes your book YOUR book and not every other YA book out there and that's your pitch.

  10. Karen Says:

    I know this is a bit late but here it goes.

    I kinda think the word perusal sounds a bit pretentious. If you want to keep the letter as professional as possible, the first paragraph should just be a greeting with the title, genre, word count and hook. If you have something unique to tell the agent, like you met them at a conference, or were referred by a colleague, then you can put that in the first paragraph too.

    The next paragraph should introduce your main character, his/her dilemma and what he/she is going to have to do to overcome it, or something close to it. This paragraph should tell us enough that we want to know more about your character, and want to read your book.

    This last part…

    Bewildered by the combination of adolescent angst, the confusion of first love, and the onset of strange powers in her, Abby embarks on an emotional journey that tests her choices, risks everyone she loves, and helps her find the strength to stand on her own.

    …could be so much more detailed. Test what choices? Tell us. Why is she risking everyone she loves? We don’t yet know anything other than she has adolescent angst, confusing first love and strange powers so why the journey, what choices and what risks?

    Also, I know this has been brought up, but when you compare your novel to someone else’s work, it is just as important to get their name right as it is to get the agent’s name right. Also, With the over saturation of people wanting to write the next Twilight, I’m not sure how agents feel about getting queries who compare their stories to Meyer’s books. If the agent reads your book and thinks it compares to Twilight, then let them say that. Right now, it may lose you some agents because it’s so over saturated. Just my opinion.

    Hope this helps!

  11. Jenny Says:

    Try putting yourself in an agent's shoes. As Kate pointed out, they may get hundreds of queries a week which means that yours has to stand out. Remember that telling us your manuscript is great isn't going to get you anywhere. You have to SHOW us that it's great. Tell us what makes it fabulous, not simply that it is. No offense, but we aren't necessarily going to trust your word on that. Considering you've done your homework on potential agents, realize that they will more than likely have read all of the books that you compare yours to. In that case, you could leave out that particular sentence and concentrate on providing information about your manuscript. Best of luck!

  12. Emma Says:

    Frankly…it just sounds boring. There is nothing particularly original about this book. The last sentence seems too personal and ultimately it's just…bland. I didn't really get a main storyline out of it.