Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Query Critique: Knowing Your Reader

I am a first-time writer and have done quite a bit of research about how to write a query letter, but without feedback I feel like I am throwing darts blindfolded. I've found your posts dissecting others' queries very helpful. Please let me know what you think of this query letter. I sacrifice it on the alter of your expertise and your readers' thirst for blood. Or education.
Ok. But what about MY thirst for blood?

Maria Black’s 2,477-day normal streak is destroyed by a song.
Intriguing first line.
She hears the latest single from rock star Sam Montgomery on the radio and begins to fantasize about him.
Um... bit of a let down? Fantasizing about rock stars is among the most normal things for teenage girls.
When Sam and Maria meet and learn that they have each been dreaming of the other,
Oh! Is that what's going on? Clearer sooner, please.
they choose to accept their extraordinary friendship. But only Sam is willing to question its meaning. If Maria lets herself believe there is a larger purpose in their seemingly fated friendship and affair,
Affair? I thought it was a friendship?
she would also have to question whether there is a reason why she has the phoenix-like ability to burst into flame and fly.
Ah... what? Is this flaming/flying before or after she breaks her "normal" streak?? Do you think you should maybe lead with this element?
And Maria is not interested in posing questions that don’t have answers.
How can she not be interested in why she is BURSTING INTO FLAME? Your readers are.
Flight is a 72,000-word novel. Readers who enjoy Paulo Coelho’s literary fabulism—grounded in the real world but seasoned with fantastical elements—will enjoy this book. As will those that like Jeanette Winterson’s playful wielding of language and strong female protagonists. This is my first novel. I am happy to send the complete manuscript upon your request.
This part is just right-- except that you're referencing adult writers! Readers who enjoy Paulo Coelho and Jeanette Winterson will NOT enjoy this book because mostly they read adult fiction. If you don't know some YA writers to compare your book to, WHY THE HELL NOT?
Many thanks for taking the time to read my query. I look forward to hearing from you.


Anonymous Children's Author said...

Okay, my reaction to this query would be that I'm oh, so tired of YA novels with female main characters where the main premise is A Guy.

I'd like to see more books where the girl is focused on something else. And you have plenty else for her to be focused on. She flies and bursts into flame. What does she need a guy for?

And if she has to have the guy, can he be reduced to the level of an actual teenaged relationship? (Chant it with me: We gotta beat, back, the Twilight attack!)

Suze said...

Maybe it isn't a YA? There's nothing in the query to suggest it is... or did I miss something?

Anonymous said...

Sacrifices are not made on the alter; they are made on the altar. Professional readers will notice this type of mistake.

(I understand the first paragraph is not technically a part of your query, but this is correspondence with a publishing professional.)

When I find out a protagonist has supernatural powers, I want him/her to need those abilities before the book's over. The query should show that.

Unknown said...

Are there really people who like Coelho and Winterson? It's one or the other, surely.

Tricia said...

I think you should lead with the phoenix stuff. Why does it happen? What does she with it? Is it a hindrance or help? Way more interesting than the guy thing. Good luck

Laurel said...

The first line confused me. Now, I'm not good at math, but doesn't 2,477 days equate to somewhere around 6 years? I'm assuming the MC isn't 6. So, has she only had a normal streak for 6 years? If so, what the heck happened before then?

And if my math is wrong, feel free to mock me mercilessly.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I re-ordered the sentences to bring the more interesting info up front, but it still needs the hook - and smoothing out.

Maria Black is not interested in posing questions that don’t have answers – like why she has the phoenix-like ability to burst into flame and fly. Her 2,477-day normal streak is destroyed by the latest single from rock star Sam Montgomery. Sam and Maria meet and learn that they have each been dreaming of the other, but only Sam is willing to question their seemingly fated friendship and affair.

Nicole said...

My reaction is confusion. It wouldn't appeal because it seems to contradict itself. Theres nothing wrong with the cliche story of a female obsessed with a guy but you need to make it sound like something special. I have a agree with first response in that i'm getting a 'twilight alert' flash here.
I would be cautious in comparing it to other books in your query..

Literaticat said...

Eliza Readsalot is a perfectly normal girl until she meets Hottie von Rowrenstein.

Now she has the uncanny ability to ______ (burst into flame, fly, turn into a dog, drink a gallon of blood, sleep upside down, speak Urdu). She and her rag-tag band of ______ (vampires, vampire hunters, wolf-men, firemen, bats, bat-wranglers, anthropologists) have to save the world... but first she has to make sure she's not late _______ (to algebra class, for the prom, for her shift at Dairy Queen, you know--pregnancy-wise).

Just teasing. But really - I've kind of seen this before. I would suggest that the author figure out the ways it is NOT like a thousand other books, and lead with those.

Anonymous said...

Are we not saying anything about the various sentences that are in fact not sentences? Or do agents not care about that? Or am I just mean?

JS said...

You are burying the lead.

Every heterosexual teenaged girl (and most bi ones) is obsessed with a male singer at one point in her life.

Bursting into flames and flying--now that's a story.

kellion said...

Sarah's version is a big improvement, although I think it would be more immediate with a much shorter normal streak, like less than two years and maybe even one. But that's an issue with the book, not the query...

Anonymous said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. no problem no life, no matter did not learn, so enjoy it :)

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