Ask Daphne! About My Query XCIII

April 13th, 2012 • Kate

Congrats to Ryann Jansen, who won a query critique on my new client Krista Van Dolzer’s Mother. Write. Repeat blog. Without further ado, here’s Ryann’s query:

Dear Ms. Unfeasible:

Seventeen-year-old Audrey thinks having a hooker for a mom means her life can’t get any worse. At least, until her mom is murdered and she and her sisters are sent to separate foster homes. Because being torn from her sisters and starting a new school will make her life better. Yeah. Right. To top it all off, she can’t go out with Zach now. Actually, that’s about her only break. She was only going out with the creep to piss her mother off anyway.

The bright side? Audrey’s foster brother, Caleb, isn’t too bad on the eyes and man, can he kiss good. Not that she should be kissing a boy who is supposed to be her brother, but she just can’t resist him. His lips are like crack to a junkie.

Just as Audrey falls in sync with her new life, Zach shows up, ticked that she’s ignoring him. When he starts to act a little psycho, she avoids him. Seriously. Like she has time to deal with a jerk. With the murder investigation and her little sister walking around like a glammed up version of their mom, there’s more than enough drama in her life. No need to add crazy Zach to the mix. It’s bad enough she’s creeped out at night, like someone is watching. And Audrey has no idea that she’s about to do what she’s feared all her life. Follow in her mother’s footsteps.

My Contemporary Young Adult novel, HEARTS DON’T BREAK QUIETLY, is complete at 48,000 words. Thank you for your time and attention.


First of all, GREAT opening line. Notice the word choice: not prostitute or call girl or escort, but “hooker.” That is the word choice of a 17-year-old girl incredibly pissed at her mom. And already, I know so much about her. Then we twist the knife even further – her mom is murdered and she and her sisters are sent to separate foster homes. However, I don’t know that you need the repetition in the next line of “being torn from her sisters”, or the casual “Yeah. Right.” The words don’t add much to the impression I have already formed of Audrey. And I think the next couple of sentences, starting with “To top it all off,” really reduce the tension.

I’ll be frank — I kinda hate the next paragraph. I have no problem with your introducing a new love interest to move the story along, but I sort of cringe at “man, can he kiss good.” I also wonder about your assertion that Caleb is “supposed to be her brother.” To me, that seems like accepting her new circumstances very quickly and very comfortably, which isn’t the impression I got of Audrey from the opening paragraph. If I’m wrong, I want to know why — are her new foster parents super welcoming, like the Huxtables, or some other idyllic tv sitcom family? What’s the story with that?

With the next paragraph, I’m completely thrown for a curve. Zach is back, but Audrey avoids him, and that seems to be the end of it (although it very well may not be, to judge from the drama coming, but he is dropped from the query letter). She’s worried about her little sister, but you’d previously told me they were at separate foster homes — but they are still in contact? How’s that? What about her other sister(s)? I also didn’t get the impression that her mom being a hooker was something that Audrey “feared” becoming, and I’d have loved to see that before you bring it up here, though it seems to be there’s a lot more to the story than just the fear that she’d become a hooker like her mom — I don’t know, I just don’t buy it.

Ultimately, I think there’s a strong opening here, but you lose a potential reader with either possible red herrings or misdirects instead of staying with the core of the story. Readers, what do you think? How would you fix this?

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

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

  1. Adam Heine Says:

    I definitely agree with all of Daphne's comments. The second paragraph made it seem as though the murder was a much smaller deal than I assumed it was (though I was glad to see the murder investigation comes back and isn't dropped completely).

    What threw me more than anything was the final realization that she might follow in her mother's footsteps. Not only is this the first time we know she fears it, but why might she become a hooker? The query makes it sound like it's something that will happen against her will, not a choice she will have to make. I guess I want to know why she will have to make that choice, and what the stakes are if she doesn't.

  2. Stephanie M. Says:

    I would rephrase to "starting in a new school." Saying it as is kind of makes it sound like she is starting a new career. Small detail, but the slightest word choice can make a huge difference. You nailed it with the word "hooker." Already I see how Audrey views her mother, and can sense that undercurrent of resentment.

    Zach just sort of pops in unexpectedly. Consider a smoother segue.

    Also, the phrase "his lips are like crack to a junkie" doesn't really paint a good picture in my head. I immediately want to refrain from kissing the guy. LOL!

    The third paragraph kind of got me lost. I found myself asking a lot of questions. Zach just showed up? So was this how he was being psycho? I didn't really see it as the kind of relationship where she was puddling on about where she going to him, so I wanted to know if he had tracked her down in some creeptastic way. How else was being crazy? Was he stalking her, following her to school, leaving notes here and there? Then, as Daphne pointed out, her sister was there, yet you said they were separated, not giving any indication they had still been in contact.

    Overall, there seems to be a lot of pot holes and unnecessarily pointed phrases. I can see there is conflict, but none of it seems to be directed toward Audrey. Zach shows up, but nothing is said about how it affects her. There is a murder investigation going on, but, again, doesn't seem to affect Audrey. The most poignant concern of hers seems to be her sister, but really, what can she even do? Her sister is her own person and Audrey is separated from her anyway. Yes, I can see how that would grieve her, but I don't know that it is best to make that your biggest source of conflict in a query letter.

    Great opening, love the title!, but go back and fill in those gaps, and I think you'll have a fantastic query.

  3. @lizwrites Says:

    I think there are a bit too many plot elements and characters in the query. Is the book about the murder mystery? The love triangle between Caleb and Zach? The conflict with her sister? The fear of following in her mother's footsteps? Pick the main conflict or inciting incident and focus on that.

  4. Krista Van Dolzer Says:

    Finally remembered to change my name to "Krista Van Dolzer." Phew!

    First off, great title. It's very evocative and has wonderful rhythm. And I also liked how the first paragraph set up the conflict and the voice.

    But the second paragraph, I thought, got a little bogged down. My biggest problem was that this paragraph made it sound like the romance between Audrey and Caleb was going to be the main plotline and, since I don't think it is, this paragraph really slowed the pitch down.

    In the third paragraph, I liked that Audrey's got a lot on her plate, but as several others have mentioned, I had a hard time picking out the main conflict. You can give us hints that she's dealing with all these other things, but for the most part, I'd try to focus on the major conflict and what choices Audrey has to make while dealing with it. I suspect it has something to do with Audrey's following in her mother's footsteps, so I want to know more about that. I think that's where the meat of your query really lies.

    Good luck!