Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXV

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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