Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXI

September 3rd, 2010 • Kate

fall-bootsIt may not yet be officially fall, but why not celebrate the season (or at least September) with a lovely pair of fall boots? Personally, I can’t wait to have a legitimate excuse to pull out my Duo Boots! But that’s still likely a few weeks away. Until then, let’s take a look at F.K.’s query, shall we?

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

I would like to introduce you to my first novel entitled, LOVE IN HUNI VALLEY. A contemporary young adult romantic suspense that is fully complete at approximately 51,000 words.

You can warn a good girl off a bad boy. But what if it rather piques her interest to meeting him? What if she finds out badness is not all he’s made of? LOVE IN HUNI VALLEY is this unlikely love story between Evelyn Kallin and Henry Raw, students at Huni Valley high. Henry was a recalcitrant boy and a desperate folk living up to dreams and his family’s reputation, a legacy that expected him to make good grades and be a womanizer all together at the same time and not flopping somewhere in the middle. In his quest, there’s one thing he needed to keep in mind–that as a Raw, love comes after legendary status. Evelyn was a daughter born to a Catholic Father. Sure, she lived life on different standards. But when she’s paired with Henry–a boy she’s warned off–in the high school most beautiful contest, their coupling became something that couldn’t be separated. They formed a bond that even the pressures of family, friends, and past mistakes couldn’t break. Being with each other led them to things they never thought would happen, to feelings that reached deep and changed everything around Henry Raw–in a story that will touch the strength and weakness of your deepest emotions. LOVE IN HUNI VALLEY stands up with wry humor, romance, and a genuinely passionate conclusion–a fast-paced novel that will grip you from the first to the last page.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
F.K.

I’m going to be brutally honest, F.K. This is rough. To start, the second sentence of your query isn’t a full sentence, but a fragment, and “fully complete” is redundant.

Moving on to the bulk of the book’s description, you’ve got two rhetorical questions following a hook sentence I’d rewrite as “You can try to warn a good girl off a bad boy,” although even that is rough. And “What if she finds out badness is not all he’s made of?” is poor grammar, among other issues. I’d cut the first three sentences of this paragraph altogether, and start right in with your characters: “LOVE IN HUNI VALLEY is the [not ‘this’] unlikely love story between Evelyn Kallin and Henry Raw, students at Huni Valley High [not ‘high’].”

When you get into the detail of Evelyn and Henry, beware switching back and forth between tenses: Henry or Evelyn was, versus “when she’s paired with Henry.” More specifically, this paragraph doesn’t really tell me anything about the characters beyond some gross generalizations — Henry’s expected to live up to his family’s reputation as a “legend”, whatever that means, and Evelyn is a good Catholic girl. Tell me more about how these two students live in vastly different social circles, never meeting until the contest that names them both “Most Beautiful” pairs them together. What does that mean for them personally? What is it about what they see in each other that causes Evelyn to disregard the warnings she’s heard about Henry? And how does that change him?

In general, I dislike queries that promise to “touch the strength and weakness of your deepest emotions”, because I’m an ornery old cuss, and a cynical New Yorker to boot. In addition, you dive right back into clich‚ with “a fast-paced novel that will grip you from the first to the last page.”

Finally, you don’t tell me anything about yourself, and in this case, given what I’ve seen already, I will admit that it makes me wonder how old you are, or if English isn’t your first language. Most aspiring authors have some relevant credits to list, even if it’s just a degree or time spent on a school newspaper or literary magazine.

Readers, what do you think? How would you fix this emotional Romeo & Juliet-esque story? And am I the only one who expected some Native American color with a title like LOVE IN HUNI VALLEY? To the comments!

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11 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXI”

  1. Karen Says:

    Okay, so I too had a hard time reading this. I have no idea what the actual plot of the novel is, other than a good girl falling for a bad boy–which is pretty vague. Tell us what's so bad about him. Tell us why Evelyn is warned off of him. I'm not saying you don't have a plot or any of these elements in your novel. I'm just saying it's not expressed in this query. Can you Tweet this plot? Meaning, can you describe this book in 140 characters or less and give give us more than a 'good girl meets bad boy?'

    A good way to flesh out this query would be to look at certain comments you've made and turn them into questions.

    –How is Henry's family a legend?

    –What were the pressures from friends, family and past mistakes that they had to over come?

    –What were those things they never thought would happen?

    –How did everything around Henry Raw change?

    If you give us a bit of that, you'll be on your way to a well-rounded query.

    Hope that helps! 🙂

  2. Shannon Says:

    This is a telling query letter, not a showing query letter. Show me the "wry humor, romance, and a genuinely passionate conclusion–a fast-paced novel that will grip you from the first to the last page." If it's in your MS, it shouldn't be difficult to put into your query.

    The conflict: A boy who is expected to be a notorious lady's man and a girl who is expected to remain virtuous.

    That part I get, and it waxes 1950's, 60's. Nothing wrong with that. The social glass ceiling – the last great frontier. Something along those lines?

    I have to agree with Ms. Unfeasible though, it leaves me wondering if English is your first language. If it's not, it's imperative that you find a top notch beta reader – that, or write it in your native language.

    Good luck!

  3. Kater Says:

    I'm afraid the poor writing turned me off. Proper grammar, spelling, punctuation and clarity of prose are useful for everyone, and absolutely essential for writers. The writing in this query feels "passed High School English", and it needs to be "graduated from a University, Summa Cum Laude." Not that F.K. needs an M.F.A. in creative writing or a degree in literature to be a writer, but F.K. needs to read more. One can't be a good novelist without reading hundreds of novels, and if one reads hundreds of novels, one generally picks up good grammar.

    I've met several aspiring authors who feel that good grammar, spelling, and punctuation are mere details that they need not concern themselves with. Perhaps they think that their story overcomes that, and that copyeditors will clean up their prose. But why would a publisher select a novel that has a good story with mediocre writing, when there are so many good stories with good writing out there to choose from? This is like trying to make it as a professional singer without being able to sing on pitch, figuring that auto-tune will fix your warbles, or like trying to make it as a fashion model, assuming that they'll just digitally change your photo so that you'll look 4 inches taller and 20 pounds underweight. Yes, the problems can be fixed, but you're competing against those without problems.

    This might be a great story. This might be the story that blows us all away. F.K. just doesn't show in the query letter that he/she can write clearly enough to do it justice yet.

    Mediocre writing ability is fixable. Read more. Write more. Try again.

  4. Krista V. Says:

    Daphne and the others have already pointed out a lot of the bigger issues (relating to character, tension, and stakes). I'll focus a little more on the writing itself.

    First paragraph: You've got a lot of spare words here. Kate already pointed out the redundancy of "fully complete," but you could cut this down even further. One revision idea: "I would like to introduce you to LOVE IN HUNI VALLEY, a contemporary young adult romance complete at 51,000 words."

    We don't need to know this is your first novel, and agents will assume the word count is approximate. Also, I didn't get much suspense from the pitch, so I just called it a YA romance.

    Second paragraph: As Ann Shirley (or Gilbert Blythe) would say, your prose comes across as a bit high-falutin'. You're trying too hard with sentences like "But what if it rather piques her interest to meeting him?" and "Henry was a recalcitrant boy and a desperate folk living up to dreams and his family’s reputation, a legacy that expected him to make good grades and be a womanizer all together at the same time and not flopping somewhere in the middle." And because you're trying too hard, we kind of lose these sentences' meaning.

    I just tried to rewrite that second sentence, but I'm honestly not sure I understand what you mean. Are you saying the men in Henry's family are all rich bums who get good grades and chase women and Henry doesn't want to be that guy, or are you saying that's all Henry's family expects of him and he rises above it?

    One last suggestion: You might break up that main paragraph into several, just to make it easier to read. Agents are notorious skimmers (no offense, Daphne), so you want your story to still come across even if the agent only skims.

    Good luck with this. As Kater pointed out, all you have to do is read more, write more. You have plenty of time. That's one of the nice things about being unagented and unpublished – no deadlines:)

  5. Adam Heine Says:

    You have a lot of great comments here already, F.K. I'll just say don't get discouraged. All of our first queries sucked, even the ones we sent to real live agents. (Was that just me? Oops).

    I don't question whether English is your first language with this, but I do question whether you revised. And I'm pretty certain you didn't have other writers look at it. There are lots of places you can go online for quick turnarounds on query help. I'd recommend the query critique forum on Agent Query Connect, for starters.

    And even though Daphne says that "most" aspiring writers have relevant credits, understand that it's okay to have none whatsoever. I had none when I started out, so my closing paragraph consisted entirely of: "I have included X sample pages and a synopsis. Thank you for your time and consideration." I've never heard anyone complain about that.

  6. Lorelie Brown Says:

    What I would have said about the query itself has been fully covered. So, moving on.

    "And am I the only one who expected some Native American color with a title like LOVE IN HUNI VALLEY?"

    I don't know why, but I actually expected some Indian culture. (As in the country, not Native Americans.)

    I googled. 'Cause that's the type of person I am.

    The only Huni Valley I could find is in Ghana. Considering that Ghana was a UK colony pre-revolution, which means that the protagonists' names are not inconsistent with being set there. I'm beginning to expect the cultural color *is* there – but that the author didn't think to delineate it because it's what she/he lives with. Hence the author thinking that establishing the heroine as from a Catholic family is sufficient characterization. It also explains (though doesn't excuse) the cant-like rhythm to the writing.

  7. Adam Heine Says:

    Lorelie's comment got me curious, so I did some Googling of my own. I guess there's an Egyptian Pharoah, a New Zealand plant used by the Maori, and an Australian boxer (which fits with the Maori connection) all named Huni.

    Honestly when I read it, I was thinking some kind of Asian connection or else a fantasy term. If it is Native American, though, I can see there being no foreign connection if it were, for example, set on the East Coast. In my experience, there's lots of Native American place names there, and nobody bats an eye.

  8. F.K Says:

    First of all, thanks to Daphne for the opportunity. Then, thanks to everyone for sharing. I read though there are only few books here. And I will keep practicing to get better. Is there a site I can find a mentor? Greetings from Black Star Square, Ghana.

  9. Katie Says:

    F.K., I would make sure to give a flavor for the culture and setting of your novel in your query.

    I automatically assumed that Huni Valley was a place in America and I feel that, unless they are told differently, many others will make the same assumption.

    In your query you should at minimum tell the agent that the ms is set in Ghana, it's even better if you can work details into the fabric of your query about the way Ghanaian culture colors your narrative: does being Ghanaian bring with it different societal standards for your protagonist? What does it mean to be a Catholic in Ghana? Is the world of Huni Valley familiar to an American market or exotic?

    Good luck.

  10. Adam Heine Says:

    Heh, yeah, I fully agree with Katie. Even after Lorelie's comment, I still assumed the novel was set in America. "Surely," I thought, "if it were set in Ghana, the author would've mentioned that." 😉

  11. Red Boot Pearl Says:

    Keep trying F.K. It'll get there!

    My first query was HORRIBLE.

    And Daphne… I love, love, love those boots.