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Public Critique: Lori's Query

You guys gave some great input on Lori's synopsis!  She's super appreciative and would love it if you'd take a look at her query as well.  If you have the time, please give it a read and offer any advice or constructive criticism you may have.  If you're interested in having a query, synopsis, or excerpt posted on Lit Rambles for critique, check out my contribute page.

BREATHE
(query)
By Lori Johnson

Dear (specific agent name):

Seventeen-year-old Taylor stumbles into chaos with an angelic face and an Irish brogue.  Breandán turns out to be an angel with a vindictive family. And they have no tolerance for humans, especially her. She holds the power to destroy them.

Breandán casts a spell over Taylor, and she dumps her boyfriend. An elderly friend that lives in the nursing home where Taylor volunteers declares Taylor is the Heir and gives her a bracelet that could start a war between the legions of angels and demons. Her friend dies before Taylor learns the power of the bracelet, and why Breandán and his family are terrified of it. Little does Taylor know that she is nothing but a pawn for an evil conspiracy determined to destroy the angels.

Breandán is temporarily banished from Earth for loving a human, which gives the demons their chance to obtain the Heir’s power. The demons need human hosts, and Taylor’s ex-boyfriend and his friends succumb to their lure. Girls from the community disappear, including one of Taylor’s friends. What Taylor doesn’t know is that she’s next. After Taylor betrays her ex and reveals the demon within him, the demons declare open warfare on the angels. Somehow Taylor must find a way to save her friends and Breandán, even if it means her own death.

I am querying you because (personal touch here). My YA paranormal romance, Breathe, is complete at 90,000 words. Per your submission guidelines I have (followed directions here). Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, (personal info follows)

11 comments:

  1. Hi Lori,

    I honestly found this query to be very difficult to read and confusing. You have lots of details in here, which is actually more confusing than anything else, and I had to read through this 3 times before I had everything straight.

    My best advice is to pare it right down to the very essence of your story. In one (not run-on) sentence, write down the main character, the conflict, and the stakes/choice. This is hard with paranormals because you have so much world-building, but it's possible. (You may have to rewrite it a hundred times, but you can do it.) One horrible example is: "Seventeen-year-old Taylor inadvertently becomes a pawn in a battle between demons and angels, and must find a way to save her friends and keep her angel guy without risking her own neck in the process." Except that you will do better.

    Once you've done that, you can flesh it out to one paragraph, then to three paragraphs. But before you add each element, you need to think hard about whether it is really essential to the central plot. If it's related to a subplot or an extraneous character, think hard about whether you really need it (you probably don't).

    And condense. A lot of the details you have here can be cut - this is more of a synopsis than a query. We don't need such a blow-by-blow.

    I've given you a line-by-line in the next post, to show you what I mean.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The query is overloaded. It's basically a shortened version of the synopsis. But because of the shortening it becomes confusing. In general you have 2-3 paragraphs max to grab the agents interest and a 4th one (either at the beginning or the end) with information about yourself, genre and wordcount.

    Start the query with a sentence that describes your setup in the most active way possible. In the next 1-2 para show what obstacles the MC faces and what is at stake. Leave it at that. Use specifics rather generalization. Use active story elements rather than mood setting ones. (Look at the query shark for the excellent ripping apart of queries)

    Since the synopsis was good, I am sure you will get a handle on your query, too. Good luck with it. Cat

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Lori,

    My line-by-line is below. I think this sounds like a really neat book - I'm going through a fascination with demons and angels at the moment, and this is the kind of thing I'd read - but as I said before, I think this query needs tightening and paring down. Remember that this is just my opinion, of course. Take what works for you and discard the rest. And best of luck with this!

    BEGIN LINE-BY-LINE

    Seventeen-year-old Taylor stumbles into chaos with an angelic face and an Irish brogue. I actually thought Taylor had the angelic face and the Irish brogue from the way you have this written. Breandán turns out to be an angel with a vindictive family. And they have no tolerance for humans, especially her. She holds the power to destroy them. Does she know she has this power? At this point, I'm not sure, and I think we should know.

    Breandán casts a spell over Taylor, and she dumps her boyfriend. So she's not genuinely in love with Breandan, after all? He sounds like a jerk, not an angel, which doesn't make me want to read about him. I'd cut this. An elderly friend that lives in the nursing home where Taylor volunteers declares Taylor is the Heir and gives her a bracelet that could start a war between the legions of angels and demons. We don't need to know about the elderly friend; we just need to know that Taylor has the bracelet, and that she isn't aware of its power. We can wait until we read the book to find out how she got the bracelet. Her friend dies before Taylor learns the power of the bracelet, and why Breandán and his family are terrified of it. Little does Taylor know that she is nothing but a pawn for an evil conspiracy determined to destroy the angels. This part here is your hook. This information should go at the beginning of the query.

    Breandán is temporarily banished from Earth for loving a human, which gives the demons their chance to obtain the Heir’s power. The demons need human hosts, and Taylor’s ex-boyfriend and his friends succumb to their lure. Girls from the community disappear, including one of Taylor’s friends. All of this can either be cut, or condensed. "When Breandan is banished from earth for loving a human, it gives the demon spirits an opportunity to take up residence in the bodies of Taylor's friends in hope of capturing her and gaining the power of the bracelet." Or your own better version of that. What Taylor doesn’t know is that she’s next. What's this got to do with it? Do they capture her, or does Breandan save her? Do they discover she has the bracelet? Do they already know she has the bracelet? See the last thing I said about them capturing her. It leaves me with more questions than answers, so I'd cut it in favor of something like "Before they can get to her, Taylor reveals the Demon spirit in her ex-boyfriend, and the demons declare open warfare on the angels." Or whatever actually happens. After Taylor betrays her ex and reveals the demon within him, the demons declare open warfare on the angels. Somehow Taylor must find a way to save her friends and Breandán, even if it means her own death.

    I am querying you because (personal touch here). My YA paranormal romance, Breathe, is complete at 90,000 words. Per your submission guidelines I have (followed directions here). Thank you for your time and consideration. This is all good.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Lori,

    Short and sweet always wins the race here. You should try to cut the synopsis paragraphs down to one about the length of the second or third. You could benefit from some conjunctions here, because they could definitely pull things together so your blurb is working on several levels at once. Start with something simple and formulaic (you can sophisticate it later) like: When Taylor _____________, _______ (happens). After breaking up with her boyfriend, and meeting an elderly woman at a nursing home, ____________________. This results in _____________________. Now it's up to taylor to ___________________. <<< you can build from there, but basically you want to lay out a set number of sentences so that each is doing the work they need to do.

    Also, this query says a lot about your story, but very little about you or the market. It would be nice to know what makes this YOUR story, or where you see it fitting.

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I agree with the other comments so won't do a line by line. I like Ryan's formula to get you going. I did love the last line with your stakes. What could be bigger than saving her friends even if she risks her own death.

    Queries are so hard so don't be discouraged. You've got a really interesting book here. You just have to make it more concise which I think are these important facts: smitten by Breandan (I'm confused if he's good or evil), dumps boyfriend, gets bracelet, realizes demons after her or something about the bracelet(?), friends missing, and hook.

    I wouldn't mind looking at this again if you want to resubmit it. Thanks for being brave enough to submit this all on line. I hope we're helping some.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Lori,

    I agree that there's too much information/summary here for a query. I know you want to tell the agent about all the wonderful things going on in your story, but it becomes confusing. And that means it's counterproductive. Remember that this is basically a one page sample of what the agent can expect to see in your writing and if it's confusing, he just won't bother to request to see the manuscript. It's frustrating and difficult work, but not impossible.

    Maybe it'll help if you break it down by writing a 1-2 sentence summary of your protagonist, what she ultimately wants, and what threatens/stands in her way. This will help you figure out the bare bones of your story, and that's basically all the agent wants to know...for now. Then you can build on that a little, but not too much.

    Also, don't forget to tell the agent what your work is similar to (but again, don't go into too much detail) just so he has an idea. And tell him why you are capable of writing such a story (you don't have to be an expert on demons, but definitely let him know you read and know this genre well enough to write a good..no, great demon/angel story)!

    And it's good that you're adding a personal touch. It's pretty much essential from what I hear. I wouldn't bother to restate the submission guidelines, though. Don't use up that valuable space, especially since the agent already knows his own submission guidelines.

    Queries vary and some agents do prefer more summary like the one you offer here, but most want just what's gonna hook them.

    Queries are such monsters, but it gets easier. Best of luck!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Lori,

    I agree that there's too much information/summary here for a query. I know you want to tell the agent about all the wonderful things going on in your story, but it becomes confusing. And that means it's counterproductive. Remember that this is basically a one page sample of what the agent can expect to see in your writing and if it's confusing, he just won't bother to request to see the manuscript. It's frustrating and difficult work, but not impossible.

    Maybe it'll help if you break it down by writing a 1-2 sentence summary of your protagonist, what she ultimately wants, and what threatens/stands in her way. This will help you figure out the bare bones of your story, and that's basically all the agent wants to know...for now. Then you can build on that a little, but not too much.

    Also, don't forget to tell the agent what your work is similar to (but again, don't go into too much detail) just so he has an idea. And tell him why you are capable of writing such a story (you don't have to be an expert on demons, but definitely let him know you read and know this genre well enough to write a good..no, great demon/angel story)!

    And it's good that you're adding a personal touch. It's pretty much essential from what I hear. I wouldn't bother to restate the submission guidelines, though. Don't use up that valuable space, especially since the agent already knows his own submission guidelines.

    Queries vary and some agents do prefer more summary like the one you offer here, but most want just what's gonna hook them.

    Queries are such monsters, but it gets easier. Best of luck!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi, as everyone has suggested, there's way too much information in here. Queries should be 250-350 words. All you need to include is 1) your main character 2) the problems or choices she faces and 3) the stakes. Don't throw a bunch of names at us, it's hard to follow. Your first sentence should hook us. Make us care about her!

    I really suggest finding some other places for constructive criticism, like YALitChat and Nathan Bransford's forum. There's great people who will really help you shape this jewel up :) I'd also read as many of QueryShark's query critiques (or all of them) and really figure out how to write these tricky little letters.

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks so much guys! I knew I had issues and have rewritten the query to a stripped down version that I think gets more to the heart of the story.

    All the advice received is wonderful! As the old cliche goes, writing is a lonely business and it's nice to know there are people out there who care enough to help.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Chiming in a little late.

    I think you’re trying too hard. There’s too much here – too many details. Can you winnow it down to 4 sentences? What’s really important?



    Seventeen-year-old Taylor stumbles into chaos with an angelic face and an Irish brogue. (This is confusing and means nothing to me as a result. It’s too vague, perhaps.)

    Breandán turns out to be an angel with a vindictive family. (We just met him. ‘Turns out’ seems out of place.)

    And they have no tolerance for humans, especially her. She holds the power to destroy them. (This last sentence is your strength.)


    Maybe start with something like this:
    Seventeen-year-old Taylor dumps her boyfriend for an angel named Breandán. Happens all the time. But Taylor has to deal with his vindictive family who abhors her since she holds the power to destroy them. Then girls from the community start disappearing. When Taylor’s old boyfriend becomes host to a demon bent on destroying Breandán and his family, Taylor has to find a way to save them all – even if it means her own death.


    Then add a few juicy details. The query is meant to generate interest in the pages, not explain the whole plot.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This exercise has been really helpful for me. I will definitely refer back to these comments when I'm working on my next query letter. I know that reviewing them will make my letter stronger! Thanks to Lori for submitting her query.

    ReplyDelete