Monday, July 7, 2008


Dear Query Shark,

The Crichton Heir keeps you guessing from the prologue to the end of the book as to who the Crichton Heir actually is. You have a strong, although rather naive, Lady Margaret Sinclair, who seems to always have her foot in her mouth. It only gets worse (what gets worse? her foot in mouth?) when the mysterious but handsome Sir Patrick Graham shows up unexpectedly at Crescent Cove, per her father's request. Sparks fly, and Margaret wants to pursue these new feelings, while Patrick knows that he should avoid the Laird's beguiling daughter who has his body reacting with a mind of it's own!

Why should he avoid her? Is her foot in mouth contagious? Because this set up and these characters are so stale, it brings out my not-nice jokey responses. That's really not what you want in a query letter.

Margaret's world is turned upside down with the sudden death of her beloved father and she must agree to marry the Laird of Crichton Castle, Alexander Crichton, to save those around her from his threats. He is a deviant man who may have more than one death on his hands already. While Patrick struggles to save Margaret from a man he despises, he must learn to trust not only Margaret, but those that she would protect from Crichton; Josephine, her companion, who isn't what she seems, Frederick Kerr, the man that Margaret has always loved, and her own mother, Victoria Sinclair, who has her own secrets that may save all of them in the end.

Character soup here; a list of people reduced to glib adjectives that make them seem like cliches. Focus on Margaret and her problem. Why does she have to marry this joker? He's threatening her? Why doesn't she kick him in the kilt?

The Crichton Heir, is approximately 95,000 words. It will be the first in a series of historical romances, The Crescent Cove Series. The setting for The Crichton Heir is Northern Scotland, late eighteenth century.

I'm so over historical romances set in Scotland that I want to send you a Rand McNally map of the world. There are OTHER PLACES! Think Iceland! Lichtenstein! Andorra! Portugal! Anything but poor overused Scotland.

I sincerely thank you for your time and consideration.

I see this exact query three to five times a week. Every week. It's an auto reject. I want something I've not seen before. Give me Iberia in 1540 before you give me Scotland in 1770. I don't care how much you love Ren Faires, write about something else.


Dear Query Shark,

Patrick Graham is blissfully unaware of what fate has in store for him at Crescent Cove. Summoned by his benefactor, Angus Sinclair, Patrick will learn that his parents were murdered for greed when he was a baby, and he was given a new identity to protect him from those who had everything to gain from his death.

This isn't the hook for the novel at all. It's the setup for what happens. Lead with the hook.

Margaret Sinclair, Angus’s daughter, is a strong, outspoken young woman. When she wrongly suspects that her father has brought Patrick there as a potential suitor, she is not opposed to the idea, due to the mutual attraction they have for each other.

This isn't the hook either, it's just more set up.

Unfortunately for Margaret and Patrick , Angus Sinclair makes a horrible mistake. He assumes that Margaret is quite taken by Alexander Crichton, and to mend the two family’s differences, he promises Margaret to Alexander, instead. Adding to the problem is the fact that Alexander is a man of no honor. Abusive and sadistic to women, he is not opposed to using blackmail to acquire both Margaret and her inheritance and could be a cold-blooded killer.

So, why does Angus promise Margaret to an abusive sadist man of no honor? If we know this about Alexander, why doesn't Angus? This is closer to the hook for the novel: misunderstood motive.

Shortly after the surprise announcement of the betrothal, and before Angus can tell Patrick of his true identity, Angus mysteriously falls ill and dies. Margaret swears on her father’s death bed that she will abide by his wishes to wed Alexander. With no way out, she vows to keep her word; not only for honor, but to protect those that she loves from Alexander’s fiendish threats.

Fiendish threats are such a cliche that I root for the fiends.

To save her daughter, Margaret’s mother must divulge a family secret that Margaret is not the first and only child of Angus Sinclair. Therefore, Alexander cannot take possession of Crescent Cove through a marriage to her. She also resolves a decades-old mystery, naming Patrick as Alexander’s missing cousin and the true Crichton heir.

It is a race against the clock for both Patrick and Margaret’s brother.
Um, if Margaret has a brother, wouldn't HE inherit Crescent Cove rather than Margaret? And wasn't she an only child in the paragraph above?

They must try to rescue Margaret from her new husband’s deadly sexual pleasures. Both men have sworn to die to protect her. Both men may have to pay that price for her freedom.

Deadly sexual pleasures? What the heck is that? Do I even want to know?

At 95,000 words, The Crichton Heir is a completed historical romance with action, a host of memorable characters, and plot twists that keep you guessing until the very end.

I'd much rather see the characters as memorable from how you write about them, rather than have you tell me how memorable they are.

And truthfully, you're so caught up in giving me the plot that the characters aren't memorable at all. You're missing one key element: an interesting antagonist. Fiendish and evil aren't interesting at all. Historical romances have interesting compelling bad guys. You don't.

At least you don't mention Scotland though. That's a big plus.

Thank you for considering my work. I appreciate your time.


talpianna said...

How about my suspense thriller with an itinerant fourteenth-century Lithuanian meerkat trainer?

Unknown said...

I'd love to see a romance set in Lichtenstein, or even Luxembourg.

You've inspired me to get a map of a world, throw a dart at it and write about what ever country it lands on... And pray it doesn't end up on Scotland :)

Bad Author said...

Tal said- How about my suspense thriller with an itinerant fourteenth-century Lithuanian meerkat trainer?

Sorry, I think that's the premise of the new JKR Novel.

Query Tip Of The Day:
Reread your query after your buzz wears off. It'll save you tons of embarassment later.

And remember that he who does not submit, is always willing to comment.

JS said...

The biggest problem with this query (to me, at least) was the writing.

"You have a strong, although rather naive, Lady Margaret Sinclair, who seems always to have her foot in her mouth." That's odd and hard to follow--"You have" is a strange beginning to the sentence, and "a...Lady Margaret Sinclair" doesn't really make sense.

Describing a suspected murderer as "deviant" seems like a poor word choice as well. Then there are the grammar and syntax issues to be dealt with.

The plot issues have already been covered by others. Something that hasn't been addressed, though, is the lack of historical authenticity.

Lairds aren't lairds of "castles". If the old Laird of Crichton's surname is Sinclair, it's unlikely to the point of impossibility that he would be succeeded by anyone surnamed Crichton. A Scot named Patrick in the late 18th century? I think not! Similarly, a Scot named Frederick is almost as unlikely.

And "Cove" means "cave" in Scots. Gilmerton Cove, for instance, is a series of connected caves. If there were a place in 18th-century Scotland named "Crescent Cove," it would be named after a crescent-shaped cave, not a crescent-shaped harbor.

Good luck with your revisions. I'd think seriously about either doing more research or changing your setting.

EB said...

With the caveat that I don't read in this genre...the first paragraph was quite off-putting.

The opening sentence is rather awkward and stilted, particularly the repetition of "The Crichton Heir." But I'm not sure, having read the query, why the identity of the heir matters so much.

I'm a bit put off by the construction of "YOU have a strong..." I suspect you're trying to avoid the "There is..." beginning, but my first thought was to check my pockets to see if Lady Margaret was hiding with the coins and lint. Nope, I don't have her.

"Strong but naive...mysterious but handsome." These descriptions are bland and cliched.

Patrick's "body reacting with a mind of its (minus the apostrophe)own!" seems like you're trying to be sly or bawdy, but it comes off like a "y'know what i'm tryin to say, wink wink." Particularly when you use the exclamation point.

As for the story itself, I'll defer to The Shark. But I found Julia's comments truly fascinating. If you get details wrong, some agent or editor or reader will notice, and that has the potential to undermine their confidence in your whole work. Or merely piss them off: I slammed shut Stephen King's recent work because he goofed a simple detail that would've taken five minutes on Google to correct.

Liana Brooks said...

How do you feel about Alba Longa in 453 AD?

Read all above comments and then go browse the local bookstore. You really don't want to write a cliche. Authors who do write cliches tend to vanish very quickly replaced by the newest wave of eager slush pile victims at Romance Books R Us.

I think your strongest point is the question of who is the heir. That sounds different. According to the query all these people have secrets, great, get them out in the query. But focus on the secret that matters.

In the end, the romance is sweet but unless you are pitching erotica there needs to be substantionally more than sweaty bedroom romps to keep your readers interested.

Unknown said...

I think there are just too many characters in this query. I don't know who to focus on. While I think the idea of having a a confused heir might be good, the elements of the plot described do seem cliche in this query, and furthermore, I lack a connection with the characters because I don't know them and don't know who to focus on.

However, I respectfully disagree with Ms. Reid...I'd read a romance taking place anywhere in Britain, but not Iceland or Norway or such. It's a preference of mine--and I really don't have a problem with the overuse of Scotland as that's exactly the setting I would prefer.

Elissa M said...

Maybe Historical Scottish Romance should be its own genre, like American Westerns.

talpianna said...

The other night I watched a program on The History Channel about Alexandria, Egypt, in Hellenistic times, especially about Heron of Alexandria and his wonderful mechanical inventions (mostly steam- or water-powered) and how they were used in temples to pull off "magical" tricks like the statue of Cybele lactating during a ceremony.

This would make a wonderful setting for a historical.

I've always wanted to set a novel on the three-day pilgrimage from Athens to Eleusis to celebrate the Mysteries there. There were only two rules to be an initiate: one had to speak Greek (so as to understand the ceremony, I suppose) and not to be a murderer. The guy walking next to you could be a recently freed slave or the Emperor of Rome.

It would, of course, be a murder mystery.

talpianna said...

Fiendish threats are such a cliche that I root for the fiends.

MY hero, Baden ap Powell, is a fiend to all and a bother to every other Scout.