Sunday, August 11, 2013

#247-revised once

Dear QueryShark:

After her mom’s death, Jen McKenna developed an obsessive fear of losing the people she loves. Forced to make a decision that could put her grandmother’s life in jeopardy, her fear becomes justified.

Her When Jen's beloved Grams falls ill and it’s up to Jen to care for her farm. She thought it would be as simple as running Grams’ booth at the flea market and taking care of the herb garden. Instead, life becomes more complex than Jen could have ever imagined. With no explanation why the cut on her face healed overnight, or why the mayor trumped up charges against her to shut down Grams’ booth, Jen’s search for an answer leads to one conclusion. There’s much more to her past than she’s been told.

The last thing she needs is another complication, but
when Jen meets Mike, the attraction is instant and mutual. As their relationship grows, she realizes it was more than a chance encounter. Mike holds the key to information revealing the truth about Jen’s heritage. The old rock slab beneath the willow in Grams’ backyard is a Bullaun Stone, an ancient artifact that gives her descendants powers Jen thought only existed in Irish folklore.

Unfortunately, twenty-two years ago her mother made the ill-fated decision to tell a college classmate about the Bullaun Stone. Now he is blackmailing Jen. Either she uses the stone for his benefit, or Jen will lose the only family she has left.

That's not blackmail, it's extortion.  

THE BULLAUN STONE is a mystery with magical elements, complete at 90,000 words.

This isn't a mystery. You're not trying to figure out whodunit. It's more of a suspense novel: how will it end.

And what's Mike's part in the plot. If he holds the key, he's got to be an integral part of the plot but we don't see that.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

There's nothing enticing here. The stakes are too low and grandma (beloved only to Jen, not me) should have kept her trap shut all those years ago. She caused all this ruckus and now we have to care if she lives or dies? Not bloody likely.  Defenestrations all around.

Jocularity aside, if the stakes are that Gran dies, we better care about her.  

And I've cut and chopped and sliced and diced enough on this query to have a suspicion that the writing isn't yet ready for publication level consideration. You absolutely must develop an ear for what makes good sentences and paragraphs.

Your query is about the book but it shows your writing. It needs to be precise, elegant and full of voice.  

This isn't and doesn't. 

This isn't an improvement on the initial letter.  

Take some time to really work on this. 
Revise. Resend.

Dear QueryShark:

An old diary, a stone bench, a poisonous flower, Irish folklore. Jen McKenna has to find the connection in order to save her grandmother’s life and possibly her own.

I'm voting for both of them to die in a wolverine attack. 

The problem with starting out with stakes like "she'll die" is that I don't yet give a rat's patootie about the characters.  Thus I can channel my inner Queen of Hearts and shout "off with their heads" with nary a second thought.

That response (and believe me it's not a response limited to sharks) is why you start with the main character and the problem s/he faces.  

Further, the list itself is just plain boring.  Now if you started with: a wolverine, a shark, an author and a jetpack, I'd be intrigued.  You absolutely positively cannot be boring in the first line of your query.

Jen hasn't been back to her grandmother's house since the car accident that took her mom's life, an accident for which Jen blames herself. Now she returns to care for the homestead when her grandmother is hospitalized.

Ok, here's the sentence you should have started with.  Jen is at Grandma's house and  she's in distress about killing her mother. Ok. Now, what's the problem?

Her curiosity is aroused when she finds her grandmother's dairy (best typo of the week) and an old burlap bag containing a tin box and a worn stone. But right now Jen has a bigger question -- why are her cuts and bruises disappearing overnight?

huh? what? These two paragraphs don't flow at all.  You've done more than take a right turn at Albequerque Albuquerque (oops!) here my Wile E friend.  You've gone straight off the cliff.  The paragraphs are disjointed in the extreme.  You solve that problem by starting with the cuts and bruises. THAT'S the big problem, not her guilt about poor dead Mum.  "why are her cuts and bruises disappearing overnight?" is the first sentence (obviously you'll rework, not just copy and paste.)  It's a WHOLE lot more enticing than that list.

Jen becomes romantically involved with Mike, who offers to help piece together the clues that unlock the mystery of her grandmother's past and Jen's present.  Irish folklore becomes reality when they discover the slab bench under the willow tree is a Bullaun stone. Gifted to her grandmother by her first love, it endows her descendants with special powers the year they turn twenty-one.

Gifted is not a word, and I don't care who says otherwise. 

And this paragraph doesn't really explain anything about the cuts and bruises does it? And Mike is sort of thrown in there without having a real purpose.

Her grandmother's health is deteriorating so Jen devises a way to use ther new-found gift to keep her alive and young forever.  And maybe assuage the guilt she feels over her mother’s death. But Jen and Mike aren’t the only ones who know about the Bullaun stone. Twenty-two years ago, Jen’s mom made the ill-fated decision to share her secret with a college classmate. Now he’s willing to kill for its power.

You might want to get to this a little sooner.

When Jen’s plan to save her grandmother begins to unravel, she must decide to what length she’ll go to preserve the life of those she loves.

 Let me guess here--she'll go to GREAT lengths. She might even volunteer for dangerous duty.  This is too obvious to be enticing.  Only if she would NOT go to great lengths to save the ones she loves would I find this enticing. Me, I'd just throw them to the wolverines and swim off into the sunset.

THE BULLAUN STONE is a women’s light fantasy, complete at 83,000 words.

I don't know what light fantasy is but I'm sure the blog readers will.  (Is it like light bondage?)

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

A word about your typos:

dairy for diary.  This tells me you didn't read this aloud before you hit send. You're either writing too fast, or not letting your query sit long enough before sending. Fresh eyes would have caught it.

ther new-found gift. This tells me you didn't even run spell czech, and that's a problem

I'm not rabid on the subject of typos unless they indicate you simply aren't paying attention.  These two say exactly that.  The reason this is a red flag for me is that I envision copy-editing your manuscript for these little errors, and honestly that's not the best use of my time.

Your query letter is NOT the time to be casual about spelling.

This needs to be tightened up to focus on the things that matter. You also need to avoid unenticing cliches and obvious stakes.  Your job in a query letter is to entice me: obvious things and cliches do not do that.

Revise. Resend.


Iola said...

"Gifted is not a word, and I don't care who says otherwise"

Please can I share that at my son's school, which has a 'Gifted and Talented' program? Actually, no, I won't. I want him to get into the program, not ignored because he has a mother who is concerned about correct spelling and grammar.

Ellen said...

Am I the only one who thought this was YA until the mention of the genre?

Janet Reid said...

Iola, I'd actually NOT object to gifted as an adjective. It's the verb usage that makes my fin fail.

Huntress said...

LOL. I was typing "adjective" not "verb" when you left a comment Ms Sharkness.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

In the "not paying close enough attention" category, this sentence – "she must decide to what length she’ll go to preserve the life of those she loves." Those she loves is plural, and presumably they have more than one life that they share between them, unless that stone has other powers as well.

Theresa Milstein said...

What about re-gifted?

Explain this query through the protagonist's eyes-- her stakes, her dilemmas. I think too many writers want to paint a picture of the book, so they introduce too many characters and ideas.

The spelling errors made me cringe. I can see how one can slip through even after several careful readings and another set of eyes. But more than one... . Clearly the writer hit send too soon.

I read everything aloud now. It's takes time and energy, but it's the best way to catch clunky sentences, typos, and parts that don't adequately convey what I'm trying to say. Read the query, synopsis, and manuscript out loud. Another option (if you have a willing family member or close friend) is to have someone read it to you. You'll hear even more. But then you'll owe that person big time!

BP said...

"aroused...her grandmother's dairy..."

Wow that is literally the hardest I've laughed all day OH DEEEER

Anonymous said...

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and comment on my query. I will submit a revision in the near future.

. said...

by "light fantasy", i think she means "low fantasy", which is a sub-genre where the magical/fantastical elements are downplayed (like game of thrones) as opposed to high fantasy, where magic plays a central role in the story (like lord of the rings)

Myra King said...

Back off a bit on the feeding frenzy, guys. I think QS chose this query because she sees potential - she's here to help, and knows with a word make-over and a touch of polish this could shine.

AlFromTDP said...

Adding this blog to my favorites immediately! As someone preparing to begin the querying process, I'm finding this to be one hell of a valuable resource. Thanks!

Theresa Milstein said...

It should just be contemporary fantasy. Or contemporary with magical elements.

Laura said...

Um...does anyone know what "women's" light (or low, as one commenter suggested) fantasy means? It would hardly be the first fantasy novel ever to have a female protagonist, so I don't understand the significance.

GillyB said...

Actually,I'm pretty sure Game of Thrones is high fantasy. High fantasy indicates that the story takes place in a different world or universe entirely (Game of Thrones, Finnikin of the Rock, Throne of Glass), while low fantasy is set in our world but with fantastical elements (Harry Potter).

Ah, Wikipedia proves me correct.

Anyway, the query. This story has a lot of potential, but I feel like the query needs to be boiled down to plot essentials. The exact stakes, the exact consequences, the exact desires of the characters. Also, what are the lengths she's forced to go to? It's much more interesting if they cost her in some way.

Good luck with your novel!

french sojourn said...

Myra King; nice comment.
I was surprised at a couple piling on...casting stones as it were.

The beauty of Query Shark is the constructive criticism for the good of the writer. Albeit with a little seasoning.

Jan11555; Keep it up. Sounds like a fun potential read.

Dionna said...

Shouldn't the query focus on the BIG problem the main character faces, how he or she tackles that problem, and then tell us who is trying to hinder the main character's success? Doesn't this query contain too many problems? The cuts and bruises, sick grandma, someone trying to kill good ol' granny, unlocking the mysteries of the past, new romance, a burden of guilt....

Theresa Milstein said...

I hope I'm not considered part of the feeding frenzy. I think this story has an interesting premise, but it's got to be made to shine in this query. I mentioned read-aloud solution for typos because it helps me.

It's not easy to have work publicly critiqued. I've recently had my query and pages on the WriteOnCon forums and two blogs.

I wish the writer luck. Can't wait to see the rewrite.

Melissa Haegert said...

Dear Query Shark... it's spelled Albuquerque.

Janet Reid said...


Rob LightBearer said...

awesome resource here learning a lot just by reading,

Theresa Milstein said...

This query is a lot clearer, especially after QS's cuts. It will be interesting to see how you weave in some info about the grandmother to make her a more sympathetic character.

There are great places to find out of genres and subgenres to see what type of manuscript you have. Most stories have mysteries in them. There's information a protagonist needs to find, but it doesn't put the story in the mystery category. And if it has magical elements, I think you should state it.