Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXV

March 12th, 2010 • Kate

lamb-t-strap-sandal-yellowWe’ve got a special treat for you here today at kt literary. Not one, but TWO About My Query posts! The first one comes from EB, who won a contest sponsored by Elana Johnson for a query critique by yours truly. So, EB’s letter is addressed to me and has some personalization about winning the contest, but I know we can look at the juicy part in the middle, right? No further delays, then. Let’s do this!

Dear Daphne,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to have a critique of the query letter for my latest work IF ONLY YOU KNEW, a Christian based thriller that combines page-turning suspense and culture driven characters.

The mysterious disappearance of Ellie Halifax’s closest friend threw her ordinary, good girl life into a world of suspicion, interrogation, and some very strange, nearly fatal accidents. But the strangest thing of all might be that her hard-rock, soon to be stepbrother, Adam, seems to be her only chance of survival.

IF ONLY YOU KNEW is a fast paced 90,000 word contemporary Christian suspense novel set where Miami’s hotspot nightlife and the up and coming business word collide in two people struggling to uncover a secret much deeper than one girl’s disappearance.
It will appeal to fans of works by suspense authors like Terri Blackstock and Colleen Coble, but carries plenty of next generation twists and as much humor as heart-stopping moments.

After working as a research assistant for two non-fiction writers, I switched to fiction and published my first mystery novel, ONLY ANGELS ARE BULLETPROOF, through Tate Publishing in November of 2008. I am also actively involved in marketing through social networking as well as bookstore events and local media.

I am excited to read your comments. I know critique is one of the most valuable things a writer can have.

Sincerely,
EB

So, after I just said we could concentrate on the juicy middle, I do want to start with the introductory line, which would be similar in any email to an agent. Namely, your reference to your book as a “a Christian based thriller that combines page-turning suspense and culture driven characters.” First of all, I don’t think you need to say “Christian based” — I think just “Christian” is fine. I assume a thriller includes suspense — that’s sort of one of the hallmarks of the genre. And “page-turning” is one of those phrases that writers use that doesn’t actually add anything. Go ahead a stripe it. As for “culture driven characters” — I just don’t know what that means. What culture are you referring to? Christian? South Floridian? A statement like this should be followed up with a sense of the characters’ culture, but I don’t get that in this. Let’s keep looking, though.

Next, “The mysterious disappearance of Ellie Halifax’s closest friend threw her ordinary, good girl life into a world of suspicion, interrogation, and some very strange, nearly fatal accidents.” Again, I see what you’re trying to say here — her friend’s strange disappearance turns Ellie’s ordinary life into something vastly different — but it’s awkward. Maybe it’s the grammatical disconnect of throwing someone’s “life” into a “world.” I feel like you could throw Ellie into a world of suspicion, etc., and you could throw her good girl life into disarray. In either case though, it reads as a bit overdone. How else can you express this in a way that feels more organic to the story?

Moving on, just what exactly is so strange in the idea “that [Ellie’s] hard-rock, soon to be stepbrother, Adam, seems to be her only chance of survival”? Why? What can you tell me about how the characters relate to each other that will make this statement make sense?

In the next paragraph, I like “fast-paced” better than “page-turning,” but note again that you’re telling, rather than showing. The phrase “where Miami’s hotspot nightlife and the up and coming business word collide in two people struggling to uncover a secret much deeper than one girl’s disappearance” also feels awkward — even though I assume you mean “world” not “word.” I also think, if you use this phrase, that “up-and-coming” should have hyphens. But what I really want to know is WHY the nightlife is colliding with the business world? Who are these two people from these (to my mind) not-so-different worlds? Can you give a further hint about the disappearance? What does it mean? What does it suggest, rather, since you don’t want to give away the whole plot?

In the final paragraph, the fact of you working for two non-fiction authors doesn’t seem to necessitate a “switch” to fiction. Your publishing credit looks nice up until an agent realizes it’s a self-publishing credit. You may want to be more upfront and name it as such, or leave it out altogether unless you can provide sales numbers of more than one or two thousand copies.

Readers, what do you think? Please share your thoughts on improving EB’s query in the comments.

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4 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXV”

  1. Corinne Says:

    My main problem with this query is that it's not very specific. Her friend's disappearance changes things – how? Why? Where do the accidents come from? How does Adam tie into things? In the next paragraph you mention Miami's night life and the business world, both of which come out of the blue. They don't seem to tie into what we just read. Queries don't need a blow-by-blow, far from it, but specifics are necessary to get a feel for the story and how it's different from everything else in the genre.

    Overall I do like the writing, and I think this would be a good query if you focus more on the actual story. All of the above comments are also important – the book being self-published, the hyphens, and the way you describe the book. (For example, you really don't need to mention it's contemporary. Unless it's explicitly stated to be a historical, we'll generally assume it's contemporary, and the rest of the query makes it clear anyway.)

  2. Kristy Colley Says:

    Wow, Kate. I think you hit it right on. I'm not sure I have anything to add.

    (This is where I prove myself wrong.)

    I feel as if I don't know enough about this story, or am persuaded to read THIS book out of thousands. It also seems to lack a strong voice. I think addressing Kate's observations will fix this.

    Good luck!

  3. Rissa Watkins Says:

    I felt no connection to the characters mentioned in the query. They are names, not quite human beings that I would want to read about. Tell me something more about them to make me want to read more.

    I don't understand what is going on with the story- what is the plot. Her friend gets kidnapped- but why does she go through all of that and why does her step-brother need to help?

    I know you've probably read a million times to keep the query brief, but I think this is too brief. Add more about your story because it sounds like a kick butt idea.

  4. Janet B Says:

    Be specific. Don't tell me that Ellie is a good girl, tell me she is a librarian, school teacher, housewife, etc. Tell me why/how she gets involved in finding out what happened to her friend instead of just letting the police do their job.

    What is so special about Adam that survival depends on Ellie getting him involved. And what is a 'hard-rock, soon to be step-brother?'Is she a teenager with a parent about to get married to someone with values very different from her own? Since you didn't say it was Young Adult, I assumed the protagonist was a grown-up until I saw the soon-to-be phrase. So now I'm thinking they are both in high school: Ellie is a member of the Chess Club and Adam is in a rock band?

    If it is a Christian novel, then I assume that Ellie is struggling to maintain her values in the seedy-side of Miami. It might be good to tell us what the stakes are. What will happen to her friend if Ellie fails? How far will Ellie go in terms of compromising her values to get the friend back?