Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXVIII and XXXXIX

March 27th, 2010 • Kate

duelingshoesI’ve got a special About My Query for you this week (and apologies that it’s a day late). Tying into Rexroth’s post about the numbers game that can be an agent’s perusal of the query pile, I’d like to give YOU a chance to play agent. Today, I’m posting not one but TWO queries, and I’d like you to tell me which one you would want to read more, and most importantly, WHY. (This is a learning exercise, after all.) What works for you? What doesn’t? What compels about one query versus the other?

Now yes, I do judge every query on its own merits, and not in comparison to any other one I receive, so this is a purely theoretical exercise. But I’d like to know — which query works for you? I look forward to reading the comments! Query number one:

Dear Daphne:

College freshman Chloe Shepherd is resolutely ordinary and, unbeknownst to her, explicitly forbidden. It explains a lot, once she understands – like why after an amazing first date Dylan doesn’t speak to her for months. And why he drives a car, shovels snow and orders pizza.

Dylan and his family are part of the great Rayhm clan of witches. The edicts of the clan clearly state that falling in love with an outsider is prohibited. His real life is full of magic and myths and the symbol of the clan burned into his skin is testament to how powerful he is.

The fact that Dylan is falling in love with Chloe is only slightly less surreal to her than what he tells her about the Rayhm. He’s not any different now that she knows. They are just two ordinary people falling extraordinarily in love. Who knows how long it might have stayed that way if Chloe hadn’t eavesdropped on him in the library?

Even as she listens, Chloe is filled with guilt and immediate regret. She realizes why he hasn’t told her now, what he’s been keeping from her. It’s not his power, it’s hers. She is the catalyst; because of her Dylan will be forced to defend his birthright. Chloe is the one person in the world who can give Dylan everything he’s never wanted – the power to rule the Rayhm.

Snare is a YA/New Adult paranormal romance, complete at 95,000 words.

I have a background in journalism, as well as magazine editing (American City & County Magazine), and spent several years using my BA and MA in English — from teaching English in Japan to Rhetoric & Composition at Binghamton University and just a little high school English — before (wisely) deciding I would rather read books than teach them. I would welcome the opportunity to send you pages. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
B.B.

Or Query number two:

Dear Daphne,

Kate Donovan lives everyday with a ceaseless chatter of voices in her head. She’s not schizophrenic; Kate can read minds, an ability she’d gladly be rid of, were she able. Kate successfully keeps her ability secret by trying to appear as ‘normal’ as possible. Until an attempted school shooting forces her into action.

Kate’s heroics trigger a series of bizarre events, culminating when a mysterious stranger named Alex reveals to Kate that he shares her ability. Kate can’t read Alex and struggles to trust him, so when he insists she leave home and come with him to learn to control her talent, Kate refuses.

Alex presses her further, disclosing the darkest secret yet. Kate’s long-dead mother was murdered by assassins who hunt Readers like Kate, and they will likely return for her. Determined to keep her family safe and find her mother’s killer, Kate chooses to follow Alex into the world of Readers. Here, Kate will have to learn how to trust without reading, how to love amidst betrayals and how her mother really died. But eventually, Kate must choose who she will be: one who will hide––or one who will stand and fight?

READ MY MIND is an urban fantasy for YA, complete at 98,000 words. I’ve enclosed XX. Thank you for your consideration. May I submit the manuscript for your review?

Best,
D.W.

You can only request one. Which will it be, and how do you justify your decision?

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27 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXVIII and XXXXIX”

  1. Julia Says:

    After reading each through several times (how do you do this on one read, Kate?!), I think I would go with READ MY MIND. Although SNARE sounds interesting, too, I feel like the writing in RMM is stronger, at least here in the query. And, that's the first place writers must prove their ability.

  2. Krista V. Says:

    I'm with Julia – although SNARE's story sounded a bit more interesting, if I had to choose between them, I'd pick READ MY MIND because the writing was a little more polished.

    BB, the first paragraph confused me a bit. Chloe's forbidden-ness explains why Dylan won't speak to her – but not why he drives a car, shovels snow, or orders pizza. Also, you use some variant of the phrase "falling in love" three or four times in three or four paragraphs. But that last line – "Chloe is the one person in the world who can give Dylan everything he’s never wanted – the power to rule the Rayhm" – is definitely a keeper.

    DW, one small note: "Everyday" in your first sentence should be "every day."

    Good luck to both of you!

  3. BB Says:

    I agree, but I didn't want to annoy Kate by sending her a 3rd version of said query. I think this version is clearer:

    Three seconds ago, college freshman Chloe Shepherd was giddy from her post-date flirtation with Dylan Hughes. Now, she’s reeling as the girl with the smug stare and ominous warning walks away. Dylan’s last girlfriend ended up…dead?

    Chloe can’t ask him. Dylan won’t speak to her; he won’t even look at her – until the day he admits that he’s missed her. And the dead girlfriend, well, she’s the least of it. Dylan and his family are part of the great Rayhm clan of witches. The symbol of the clan burned into his skin is testament to his power.

    Chloe thinks that Dylan’s confession explains everything until she eavesdrops on him that night and realizes that for every secret he’s revealed, there’s a deeper one. A darker one. Because of her, Dylan will be forced to defend his birthright. Chloe is the only person in the world who can give him the one thing he’s never wanted – the power to rule the Rayhm.

    SNARE is a YA/New Adult paranormal romance, complete at 95,000 words.

  4. Allison Says:

    I'm intrigued by both stories here, but I'm still afraid that I prefer READ MY MIND's query. To me, that one is just a little more straight forward and clear about what happens. B.B., this is just my opinion, but I actually prefer the opening in your first version to your second– the only thing that doesn't make any sense is that last sentence about him driving a car, etc. I really don't just don't know what you were going for there.

    Again, that's just me. But thanks for sharing, and good luck with this!

  5. Noortje Says:

    I would definitely go with the second query letter of Read My Mind. First off, the query letter is well written and easy to understand. It gives a clear view of the story and the main characters. It actually made me read the story to find out what is going on. Second I think that the story idea is original and appealing to a big public.

    The first query letter may be of a great story, but it's really not understandable. The way the story is described is really confusing and with too many detail. It also describes things like 'now she knows why …." and then names a number of things that in all doesn't make sense to us unless you've read the story (probably). What I could make out from the query was rather interesting, but just too vague and poorly written. If the author changed the query letter it would have more chance of being accepted. If a simple query letter isn't good, there is less chance that the actual story is good, I think.

  6. Catherine Says:

    I would go with READ MY MIND….the prose flows. The premise is more interesting to me – or rather, more unique, than the first one. In the first one, the opening paragraph seemed to have too many details that didn't make sense or contribute to the hook. With the second one, I felt most of the information was important and added to the overall impact of the query.

  7. Samantha Clark Says:

    Based on the two queries in the post, I'd also choose Read My Mind, and for the same reason, because it's more polished.

    However, BB, I really like your story idea, and I like this new version of the query you've posted much better. It has more voice, and it's a lot easier to understand. I'm a little unclear on the second sentence, Now, she's reeling as the girl… Is she the girl with the smug stare or is there another girl? I think it might be better keeping it more straightforward and saying something like: Now, she's reeling as she finds out Dylan's last girlfriend ended up dead!

    And for DW, I really like this idea too. For the query, though, one suggestion I'd have is leaving out the part where Kate refuses Alex and Alex presses her. I think it's detail that's not necessary for the query. Her refusing him stops the story instead of moving it foward. I think you could go straight from Kate can't read Alex and struggles to trust him… to Alex telling Kate about her mother. Then you'll have set up a bigger conflict for Kate. She doesn't know if she can trust him and he's just told her something she desperately wants to know the truth about.

    Also, the keep her family safe part seems to come a little out of nowhere, because we didn't know they were in danger. Again, for the query, I don't think you need to say that. I think focusing on the story with Kate, Alex and the mystery of her mother is enough.

    I think it's really tough as the writer to distill a story to so few points. I'm doing the same with my novel right now.

    Both of these story ideas are great. The best of luck to you both, BB and DW.

  8. Erin Schultz Says:

    I have to go with Read My Mind, as well, for similar reasons as those already given. The query was laid out logically and flows well. I can tell who the main character is and what challenges she will face in the story. The one thing this query is lacking is a paragraph of personal credits. Have you been previously published or have any related educational background?

    The query for Snare sounds interesting, but I'm a bit confused about who the main character is. I assume it's Chloe, but the query also gives a lot of information about challenges that Dylan has to face.

    For both queries: 95k and 98k seem like a high word count for YA. Cutting down to approx 90k might be beneficial, so as not to risk an agent/editor rejecting the project based on word count.

    Good job, both of you!

    ~Erin

  9. Vivienne Grainger Says:

    "Snare." The query is written in a much less blah, quotidian manner than that for the second book (the title of which I can't remember, having read it only long enough ago to get to the "Submit a Comment" bits). Further, the second query tells me about the book; the first one shows me what it's about, and demonstrates the questions the characters must answer for themselves.

    This gives me reason to hope that the writer will be able to show me, not tell me, the characters' process in the ms.

  10. Lindsay F Says:

    I'd choose Read My Mind over Snare, but mainly because I feel like the query for Snare is mainly about Dylan and not Chloe. Maybe if the query was more Chloe oriented I'd be more interested in Snare that Read My Mind. Snare sounds more original to me that Read My Mind.

  11. Karen Says:

    My vote is for Reading my Mind. Although I'd like to read opening pages for both, I felt like the query for Read My Mind was clearer and I understood the plot better.

  12. Adam Heine Says:

    I'd choose READ MY MIND as well. The concepts of both stories sound really cool, but the first query was harder to follow. I don't have the experience to know if that's a reflection of the novel, but since I have to pick one that's what I pick.

    I LOVE the idea that Kate Donovan has to learn to trust without reading. That's a very cool concept.

  13. Alana Says:

    Read My Mind sounded more interesting. I think I'd definitely go for that one over Snare if I was picking the books up off a shelf and reading the blurb. I think Snare has potential if it was written well but Read My Mind just appeals to me more. I prefer books where there is an exciting and interesting plot with the romance underlying it all rather than having romance centre stage. Read My Mind sounds like it could deliver that.

  14. Lorelie Brown Says:

    I'd vote READ MY MIND. Not only 'cause the writing flows better, as people have said, but because the heroine sounds active. She gets out and DOES stuff.

    Chloe in SNARE reads like a conduit for other people's action. Even in the second version.

    And I'm sorry, but what is this "New Adult" stuff? I know it's spreading everywhere, but until I walk into a bookstore (or surf an ebookstore) that has a section labeled "New Adult," I'm not buying it in a query letter.

  15. Vivian Says:

    I would have to go with Read My Mind. The first paragraph of Snare's query letter is really confusing. I have no idea what driving a car, shoveling snow and ordering pizza have to do with Chloe being "forbidden". Honestly, those things sound completely ordinary.

  16. Mark Wise Says:

    Definately would choose READ MY MIND over SNARE. While both stories appear interesting enough (slight edge to RMM), the first paragraph of the query to SNARE killed it for me. It is vague and confusing.

    Consider the following:

    "…resolutely ordinary…" that conveys the idea of the girl knowingly and deliberately trying to be ordinary. To quote the Princess Bride, "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

    "College freshman Chloe Shepherd is resolutely ordinary and, unbeknownst to her, explicitly forbidden." – First the comma should be before "and". Second, the way the sentence ends made me ask myself, "expressly forbidden to do what?" Only until a few sentences later did it become clear the meaning.

    "It explains a lot, once she understands – like why after an amazing first date Dylan doesn’t speak to her for months." – Once again, the way the main clause ends made me ask myself "once she understands what?" The words are vague and confusing.

    "And why he drives a car, shovels snow and orders pizza." – This is just a plain sentence fragment.

    So clearly, I would choose READ MY MIND because it is a good story idea and a well written query.

  17. Bill Giovannetti Says:

    I'd go with Read My Mind, by a nose. Snare has a great voice, but left me a bit confused as to protagonist and plot. The query could be tighter. RMM offered simple, direct prose and an engaging plot. It wasn't an easy decision, and I went back and forth a few times. Both authors are to be commended for cool characters and interesting premises.

  18. Katie Says:

    There is a clear consensus that the second query is well-written but what I would love to know from KT is whether the underlying plot of the second query interesting enough to get it picked up. I have to be honest, a lot of the elements of RMM seemed to be fairly common in the YA genre: the dead/missing parent, the school where you learn to use your special powers, the quest, the love interest who shares your power. It was all very Harry Potter/ Percy Jackson to me and I'm just not convinced by this query that RMM takes these conventions and manipulates them in a new and interesting way. However, there were two things in this query that stood out for me. I love that Kate is forced into action by a real life or death situation (the school-shooting) as opposed to something trite like Sally loves Timmy. I also like the idea of the Hunters- it reminded me of the film Jumper- I think they could be an interesting (although not unique) device within the story. I was seriously put off though by this "learning to trust without reading" concept that ended up taking center stage in the query- it sounds incredibly cliche and I don't believe that it is enough to push forward the plot. What would make me pick up this book was if it were pitched to me as a fast paced action novel. What about you KT?

  19. Rebecca Says:

    I would choose Read My Mind. I think the writing is tighter, which tends to mean, in my opinion, that the writing of the ms would be better. Then again, I'm not much for paranormal, so I probably would pass on both of them because I'm not the right person to represent the book. But I am interested in Read My Mind enough that I would probably respond.

    This is where I would have a really hard time as an agent. Would the first query be an interesting book to read? Yeah. Does the author seem like a good writer? Yes. Is it hard to tell everything about a person in a one-page letter? Yes. But there's something about the second query that gives me confidence in the author as a person to work with in addition to being a good story and tightly written. I would hate to have to make these decisions.

  20. Hillsy Says:

    I'm going to buck the trend (probably why I wouldn't make a good agent), and choose SNARE.

    SNARE's QL started poorly but got better (because of the plot) whereas READ MY MIND started well and I got less entusiastic as I went along. I forgive a lot in writing for good ideas and SNARE has more of them based on the QLs.

    'Gun to my head' choice I'd prefer sample pages, but I'd go SNARE purely because it sounds like a better story.

  21. Rowenna Says:

    I have a really hard time picking which one of these I'd want pages from…hands down, Read My Mind has a sharper, better-written query letter, but I think there's a more interesting premise behind Snare. Would I take the risk that the writing in Snare would be a bit limp or confused, like the query itself, or would I take the risk that the storyline in Read My Mind would stay a bit too familiar, as the query seemed to represent it?

    I think in the end I'd pick Snare, but only by a nose and because I'm feeling like a gamble today…I can't get excited about the Read My Mind plotline or characters (and that's just me being subjective) but I did get intrigued by Snare's concept. So I'd have to take a risk with that one. Plus, despite the foibles that have been pointed out by the query, there's also some interesting wording–I liked resolutely ordinary (if that's really what the author means, it says a lot about the character in an interesting way in just two words).

  22. Niti Newtfinger Says:

    Actually, I'd probably pick SNARE as well, simply because I love the idea of witches more than reading minds. This is purely a subjective thing, as I tend to enjoy paranormals, and because of the glut of fairies/vampires/werewolves, I'm desperate for something new.

  23. Prince Says:

    I will also go with Read My Mind. i liked it in every way. But I also believe snare might have a good work in the ms. I like stories that are lyrically prose. But also like stories that are wordily denser. I have contradicting interesting when it comes to reading, yet i will put Snare second to Read My Mind.

  24. Kimber An Says:

    #2 READ MY MIND

    I haven't seen a dozen just like it at the store lately. Opinions vary on whether that's a good thing, but I prefer a buffet.

    The query is also to the point and makes me think the novel will be concise with no extra words to scatter my attention.

  25. StudentOfLife Says:

    I liked READ MY MIND, until I finished the first paragraph and was like "Didn't I see this episode of Buffy?" It goes on to become original from that point, but I would still be stuck with its resemblance to the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode Earshot to really enjoy it.

    With SNARE, I like the story idea, but I've heard that the college protagonist is a hard sale. It's not YA, but not yet Adult. I've heard some writers are trying to push this "New Adult" category as a middle ground, but as of this query it has yet to catch on. So good story, but no market for it (wow, I almost sound like an agent)

  26. Kimber An Says:

    Ah, yes, but I think it's important to remember today's teens were just getting into BLUE'S CLUES and potty training when BUFFY was on the air.

    😉

  27. Suze W Says:

    I would choose Snare – particularly with the new query letter in the comments. Read my Mind sounded too like Sookie Stackhouse, who can read minds, but can't read the mind of (the vampire) Bill… etc etc. Done to death I think. However the dating a witch – and the witch is the guy – sounds interesting, with great voice (in the second version of the query).