Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXVI

March 12th, 2010 • Kate

jimmychootiedyedAnd now for Round Two, featuring these stunning Jimmy Choos. YSL is a good friend who kindly agreed to let me share her query here. As well as working on submitting her novel, she’s also in the process of deciding on a grad school to attend. If anyone knows someone who has experience with the Whidbey Island MFA program, please let me know! So, with no further delays, let’s get to it!

Dear Daphne,

I’m seeking representation for my women’s literature book, LIES MY MOTHER TOLD ME. It’s approximately 63,000 words.

My protagonist, Marty Wu, can’t admit that her status quo is woefully lacking. Take, for instance, her job. Four years running, it still pays through the nose, and there’s room for advancement. Never mind that she’s bored stiff with the work: Wouldn’t you be, working for something called Retirees’ Review?

Better yet, consider her twisted relationship with her mother. Marty knows there’s something wrong, but she’s in no hurry to either find out what it is, or change it. Flat-out lazy, some might call it.

But when Marty gets fired from her cushy job in a crash-and-burn, throw-up-on-the-bigwigs, sleep-with-her-best-client kind of way, she’s forced to take a good hard look at just how much of her life is constructed on a flimsy web of denial.

From New York to a trip in Las Vegas and an unexpected stint in her hometown in rural Taiwan, Marty’s on a personal quest to find out what it means to take responsibility for years of slacking off. Will she find what she’s looking for on the other side of the world?

I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for over 15 years. My short fiction has been published in Akkadian and 94 Creations, and won an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Winter Fiction Open. I am a contributor to The Origins of Nearly Everything, 100 Days of Monsters, and This is Brooklyn, among others. I am also the youngest-ever writer for the legendary J. Peterman catalog.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Now, just because YSL is a friend, it doesn’t mean I’m going to be anything less than completely honest. So, to start, I dislike the phrase “women’s literature book” in a query. I don’t mind “women’s lit” or “women’s fiction,” if you like those, and I usually save “book” for once a manuscript’s been published.

I don’t think you need to include the phrase “My protagonist,” since it’s pretty well understood as Marty is the only character mentioned. I’ll admit I had to look up the proper definition of “status quo”, since my brain kept trying to read it as just “status,” and take it to mean something about her standing within the community and perhaps her family. And speaking of family, I’d love to hear more about the “twisted relationship” Marty has with her mother. Can you give a little more detail?

But I love the inciting incident that makes the story take off! I don’t know quite what the flimsy web of denial you refer to is, though — can you show something a little earlier that indicates how Marty is hiding from the truth?

In the list of places Marty looks for herself, I think you can simplify it to “From New York to Vegas with an unexpected stint in her hometown in rural Taiwan.” It reads as smoother to me. Finally, I want to know more about what it is she’s looking for! It seems like it should be bigger than just “what it means to take responsibility for years of slacking off.” Your credits are awesome, but you know that. I still remember being impressed you used to write those J. Peterman catalogue descriptions. I have a bio from a show I did in college that states that was my dream job.

Readers, what’s your take on LIES MY MOTHER TOLD ME?

And for those who’ve stuck around to the very end of today’s post, the announcement you’ve been waiting for! I’m looking for a few more queries to get me well into the spring. Please follow the submission guidelines as listed in this post. I’ll see how many I get, and if I need to close the call at any point. If so, I’ll do so on Twitter and here. Thanks!

UPDATE: We are now closed to About My Query posts, at least for now.

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

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8 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXVI”

  1. Kater Says:

    It sounds like a very good novel to me. The only thing I'd change is make it a little less coy. I guess that's the same thing you said.

  2. Erin S Says:

    I agree with Kate about adding details of Marty's relationship with her mother. I assume this is the central (internal) conflict of the novel, and a very intersting one (makes me think of Amy Tan novels, which I love). I think it is this conflict that will make the reader care about Marty and what happens to her.

    I like the way you describe how Marty gets fired. Makes me think the novel has some humor, as well as the drama about her family life :o)

  3. ChristaCarol Says:

    I love the voice in this. I'd also like to know about the mother thing, what exactly IS wrong, if she knows something is wrong? And there doesn't necessarily have to be specifics, but a lone that gives me more of what it is between her and her mother (especially because of the title.) And "a personal quest to find out what it means to take responsibility for years of slacking off." What exactly does this mean? I ask only because, usually people don't think to themselves "I've been so irresponsible, now I need to go figure out how to change that." I don't get how that has her going all the way around the world. I'm definitely sure there's a reason, and more to this line that what I'm getting from it. I think Kate's suggestion on being less vague about what exactly it is she's looking for is spot on.

    I really liked the tone of this, though, and based on it I think I'd enjoy the book! Good luck in both ventures!

  4. Georgiana Says:


    There's a lot I like about your query but I'm confused by the second paragraph. Pays through the nose means to overpay for something, so isn't she getting a fantastic salary? Also, as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with room for advancement. A glass ceiling or the kind of job where the only way you'll move up is if your younger boss dies are the kinds of jobs that stifle. And again, and this could be because I work for a media company, specifically in the mortgage products group, if she's working in the media and she's got a job she should be grateful with so many out of work. Just because Retirees Review doesn't sound as exciting as working for say Entertainment Weekly doesn't mean she couldn't have a fun job. I love my job and have the absolute best boss in the whole world, despite putting out a product that nobody was interested in until the whole economy crashed. (Perhaps I'm wrong and Retirees Review isn't a pub, in which case ignore that last bit.)

    Or is all of that meant to show how she is in denial and digging for reasons not to upset the employment applecart? As I said, I was confused.

    That said, I was also reminded of an Amy Tan novel and I would definitely pick this one up if I stumbled across it.

  5. yi shun Says:

    Hi Kater, Erin, Christa, and Georgiana–Thanks so much for spending time and energy on my query! Your feedback is really, really valuable. I've already changed some of the verbiage on this and I think it's much clearer. Kate, as always, thanks so much for everything. You know I love you. Mwah! PS…Love the ChooShoosforMartyWu.

  6. Heidi Says:

    I also struggled with "pays through the nose"– I've always used that phrase in terms of buying something, not to describe an amount of money earned. That whole paragraph seems a little "off" to me, actually– I couldn't figure out why room for advancement would be a bad thing, and "bored stiff" is a little too cliche for me.

    The trip from New York to Las Vegas to Taiwan is intriguing… would love to see how this plays out!

    Overall, this definitely sounds like I book I would enjoy– the tone reminds me a little bit of Camy Tang's Sushi Series, which I love!

  7. Janet B Says:

    The query has some confusing phrasings but you can see that, underneath it, is a compelling story. The road trip. The strained relationship between mother and daughter. Getting fired from a boring job in a colorful way. Focus on those things and, as Kate said, tell us what Marty hopes to find, and you'll have a strong query.

  8. Virginia Degner Says:

    Thank you for your interest in new and aspiring writers. I like what I'm seeing. You gave the writer good feedback on her query.

    Are you open for a query,synopsis, and 50 pages of my

    manuscript? I'm interested in hearing your opinion.