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Author Topic: Queries: Oh how we love to hate them
melinda.jean.lehman
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I thought it would be really great to see some peoples queries, whether they have had success or failure. I'm new to this fantastic sit and realize there may be a place where that is happening already. If there is would someone kindly direct me to it. If not, then lets bring out our queries; the good, the bad, the too long, the too short.
I know so many of us want to become published and a query is the second stumbling block (the first is writing the book) that so many of us get stuck on. Many would argue the query is harder than than writing the book.
Perhaps we can help one another by putting on our pretend agent hats and view each others queries the way they would.
For any of you who dont know what a query is go look at http://www.queryshark.blogspot.com/. Its an amazing resource.

So with being true to what I've set out to create here is my query.

Dear agent:
The Elders want her because a law has been broken so they’ve sent The Fell. All Raina Harris knows is that the safety of those she loves hangs on her ability to become something she never thought existed.
Raina’s life revolves around her eight year old half-sister, Amy. But time with Amy is running short as Raina starts her senior year of high school. There are still water fights to have, books to read, hikes to go on, there just never seems to be enough time to do it all.
Once Raina meets Orin, time seems to be cut back even more. There’s something different about Orin and as Raina grows closer to him strange things start to happen. Shadows appear in forests, Raina has terrifying dreams that feel like memories, and Amy is convinced monsters are after them.
Amid uncertain danger Orin and Raina fall in love adding more fuel to the fire that threatens to burn everything. Orin being in love with a human breaks the most important law. The Elders, the corrupt keepers of the law, won’t allow it. They’ll send The Fell; a “boogeyman”, a creature created from pure hate, a being that shouldn’t exist. But something happens that no one expected, a disruption in the balance of power between legendary beings and humans in METAMORPHOSIS, a YA fantasy of 105,941 words, and the first book of a series.
This is my first book. I’m the wife of an Army man which keeps me happily busy.
If I have been able to pique your curiosity METAMORPHOSIS is ready upon your request.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Gratefully,
Melinda Lehman

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Robert Nowall
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I always tried to make it something that told what was going on and to who, but not enough to give away the ending. I got a few bites that way, I think...or maybe they were just seeing everything that came by.
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extrinsic
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The Fragments and Feedback for Books forum is where book queries are posted and commented upon. Putting the word query in the thread title is a best practice.

A query basically is a product introduction letter. A query generally has four parts:
  • a pitch of twenty-five or so words, which engages audience interest through showing a single central dramatic complication of the novel, which is a want or problem wanting satisfaction;
  • a summary that shows more detail about the dramatic complication;
  • a comparative summary of the novel's relevance;
  • and relevant biographic details.
The total ought as a best practice not exceed 250 words.
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Meredith
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We normally do this in F & F for Books.

quote:
Originally posted by melinda.jean.lehman:
Dear agent:
The Elders want her because a law has been broken so they’ve sent The Fell. All Raina Harris knows is that the safety of those she loves hangs on her ability to become something she never thought existed.

Best practice for YA queries is to indicate the character's age early on. Also, personally, I'm not a big fan of starting with a log line or pitch. It's not a requirement of queries. If it works, fine, but this one doesn't quite, at least for me. How does Raina know that she has to become something she never thought existed?

quote:
Raina’s life revolves around her eight year old half-sister, Amy. But time with Amy is running short as Raina starts her senior year of high school. There are still water fights to have, books to read, hikes to go on, there just never seems to be enough time to do it all.
It should be "eight-year-old".

I'm not quite sure what this has to do with the story. I think you're trying to establish why we should care about Raina. If so, I think you're spending way too many words on it.

quote:
Once Raina meets Orin, time seems to be cut back even more. There’s something different about Orin and as Raina grows closer to him strange things start to happen. Shadows appear in forests, Raina has terrifying dreams that feel like memories, and Amy is convinced monsters are after them.
I have no sense at all of Orin in this query. and it looks like know who--or what--Orin is could be important.

quote:
Amid uncertain danger Orin and Raina fall in love adding more fuel to the fire that threatens to burn everything.
I think the "uncertain danger" is part of the problem. I want a better sense of the stakes.

quote:
Orin being in love with a human breaks the most important law. The Elders, the corrupt keepers of the law, won’t allow it. They’ll send The Fell; a “boogeyman”, a creature created from pure hate, a being that shouldn’t exist.
I wouldn't use a semi-colon there. And I still have no idea why Orin shouldn't be in love with a human.

quote:
But something happens that no one expected, a disruption in the balance of power between legendary beings and humans in METAMORPHOSIS, a YA fantasy of 105,941 words, and the first book of a series.
That's a little long for YA. Not impossibly long. Also, agents and editors want to know that this book stands alone. It's okay to say that it's potentially the first of a series.

quote:
This is my first book. I’m the wife of an Army man which keeps me happily busy.
This bit of bio has nothing to do with this story. Personally, I'd leave it out.

quote:
If I have been able to pique your curiosity METAMORPHOSIS is ready upon your request.
This is assumed.

quote:
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Gratefully,
Melinda Lehman


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extrinsic
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I believe Meredith's and my take on a query's opening part is not far apart, more a matter of vernacular than disparity. The word pitch has different meanings in our respective lexicons. For me, a pitch is a brief and engaging summary of the dramatic complication, the what, why, and how texture of a novel's dramatic situation, and the central character and setting, the context, the who, when, and where. Though answering all six Double-U questions in a pitch's twenty-five or so words is an ideal best practice, at least who, when, where, and what are a strong strategy. How or why may substitute for what.

Meredith seems to use filmmaking's meaning; that is, a summary of a film's dramatic situation.

The Poetics of Aristotle discusses a concept labeled signficance. To my thinking significance is a paramount consideration for a pitch, significance herein meaning signal and signify. A name may signify nothing, like Jill Smith; a place may signify nothing, like Columbia; though names and places may signify, like Arthur of Camelot. A time signifies; and in the latter example, time is implied as well as signaling by implying a situation that as well might be a dramatic complication.

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melinda.jean.lehman
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Thank you extrinsic for clarifying what Meredith may have meant. Her comments on my query were frustrating in that I was not sure she actually knew what a query was supposed to contain. In a query the writer should not give away the climactic parts of the book and the writer only has about 250 words to write a grabby query.
But I did appreciate her comments anyway. She gave me some things to think about and that is always helpful.
Queries are always funny business because everyone has a slightly different form they think should be used. And even the most basic query form doesn't apply if you can make an agent WANT to read your story. In the end, the most important part of a query is to get the agent to ask for pages. Everything past that is just format.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by melinda.jean.lehman:
Thank you extrinsic for clarifying what Meredith may have meant. Her comments on my query were frustrating in that I was not sure she actually knew what a query was supposed to contain. In a query the writer should not give away the climactic parts of the book and the writer only has about 250 words to write a grabby query.
But I did appreciate her comments anyway. She gave me some things to think about and that is always helpful.
Queries are always funny business because everyone has a slightly different form they think should be used. And even the most basic query form doesn't apply if you can make an agent WANT to read your story. In the end, the most important part of a query is to get the agent to ask for pages. Everything past that is just format.

Yes, I know what a query is supposed to contain. Yes, I know you don't give away the climax or the ending (but you do in the synopsis). Yes, I've even read the query shark (and recommended her). I'll also recommend Elana Johnson's FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL (scroll down to the last book on the page).

But those parts of the story you do include (usually only up to the inciting incident) should be reasonably clear and not raise too many other questions, IMO--at least not the kind of questions you don't want to raise. Clarity is still very important.

Paring the parts of the story you need to convey

  • Who the main character is and why we should care,
  • What choice the character has to make/what the central conflict is, and
  • What the consequences/stakes are

and doing all of that in about 250 words is what makes queries so hard.

I just tried, among other things, to indicate the places where I felt you were using too many words to too little effect and the places where a few more words could make a difference.

Sorry for any confusion.

If you have a question about any comments I make, please feel free to ask.

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melinda.jean.lehman
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Of course Meredith. Thank you so much. I hope that I didn't offend you. I didn't mean that. I really am grateful for your feedback on my query. Sometimes online its difficult to know if the person that's typing is just saying stuff to say stuff or if they actually know what they are talking about.
My questions/Comments:
1. On my opening line I'm not sure why it's not working for you. I've read a lot of queries and most all of them start with a hook. (I'm not saying mine is perfect or anything like that). Is it just my phrasing?
2. Also the questions you asked like 'why Orin shouldn't be in love with a human' is kind of a big part of the book. Isn't that a question I would want the agent to ask and therefor ask me for pages?
3. Bios dont really need to have a connection to the story. It's a bio. Plus I dont have any writing credits to mention.
Really, thank you for commenting on my query. You're going to help make me a better writer.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by melinda.jean.lehman:
Of course Meredith. Thank you so much. I hope that I didn't offend you. I didn't mean that. I really am grateful for your feedback on my query. Sometimes online its difficult to know if the person that's typing is just saying stuff to say stuff or if they actually know what they are talking about.
My questions/Comments:
1. On my opening line I'm not sure why it's not working for you. I've read a lot of queries and most all of them start with a hook. (I'm not saying mine is perfect or anything like that). Is it just my phrasing?
2. Also the questions you asked like 'why Orin shouldn't be in love with a human' is kind of a big part of the book. Isn't that a question I would want the agent to ask and therefor ask me for pages?
3. Bios dont really need to have a connection to the story. It's a bio. Plus I dont have any writing credits to mention.
Really, thank you for commenting on my query. You're going to help make me a better writer.

1. I think it's not working because it's too vague. I don't yet know what or who the Elders are. (Still don't by the end of the query, btw.) And I don't understand how Raina can know she needs to become something she doesn't know exists. It's a logical paradox.

2. It's true, you're never going to (nor do you want to) answer all questions in a query. However, just putting something out, like it's not allowed for Orin to love a human without some indication of why is, again, too vague. Deliberately this time. IMO, it's more likely to antagonize an agent that gets a couple of hundred queries a week because it's vague.

Also, a suggestion you'll often find regarding queries is to put in a few telling details that show why your story is different than anyone else's. Something as simple as "XXXX like Orin aren't allowed to love humans" might do it. (XXXX standing for whatever Orin is, of course.)

3. True. If you visit many agents websites, you'll find that a lot of them don't care about personal bios at this point unless it relates to the story. Some ask for a separate short bio. IMO, and again, this is just my opinion, that space would be better used either to add detail to the story to really make it shine or to add a bit of personalization for the particular agent being queried.

It's just my experience. Take what you want and leave the rest.

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melinda.jean.lehman
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Thank you for the clarification Meredith. I greatly appreciate it. Why dont you put up a query of one of your books so I can see how you do it. You seem so knowledgeable. I would love to see that put to practice.
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by melinda.jean.lehman:
Thank you for the clarification Meredith. I greatly appreciate it. Why dont you put up a query of one of your books so I can see how you do it. You seem so knowledgeable. I would love to see that put to practice.

See my query for my most recent novel, THE BARD'S GIFT, here.

It's not quite current, but close enough. [Wink]

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shimiqua
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Meredith, you are a class act. I bow to your patience here.

And FYI, Meredith is too humble and kind to brag, but she's the BEST at queries. She's studied and worked hard offering all of us so much help.

Please show her a bit more respect here. She has worked too hard to be ignored or belittled the way you've repeatedly done.

Look at any of the F & F that have "query" in the title. You will find Meredith there helping like the kind expert that she is, EVERY single time.

She's amazing.

You can insult me all you want, I won't be offended. But don't ignore Meredith again.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Here is a post from an agent's blog giving 20 tips on query letters.

Notice (for those who have been around for a while) the tip regarding rhetorical question, for one thing.

I hope this will be useful to those struggling with the dreaded query letter.

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melinda.jean.lehman
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shimiqua, cool down. I wasnt disrespecting Meredith. In fact I thanked her for her input.
But since it is my query shouldn't I be able to choose who's advice helps me most? I'm not going to gush about how great people seem in an online forum where I know little to nothing about them.
As far as Meredith goes she seems knowledgeable but I've read some of her stuff and it's ok. I've even had others read her stuff and read online reviews. She's not bad but she is nothing utterly fantastic.
Shamiqua, I'm so sorry if I offended you by asking questions to someone that wasn't you. It seems like you need to take a step back and not be offended by other people's comments.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by melinda.jean.lehman:

I've even had others read her stuff and read online reviews.

Sometimes it is simply better not to engage. That's how I choose to handle this.

Except for one thing. The only thing I am prepared to object to here is this statement. A forum like this runs on trust.

Whatever any member of this forum posts here is not your property to share with anyone else without permission.

Disengaging again.

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extrinsic
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code:
First law of writing workshop
and Hatrack River particularly:
address the writing, not the writer.

Naming a member is acceptable when reinforcing or pointing out an astute insight or carrying on about and building upon a writing principle raised by a member, perhaps for courteous writing-related professional and social networking. Otherwise, stay on writing topics and off persons.

Meredith restating that works posted here at Hatrack are not to be shared capriciously is darned near and dear for workshops as well.

[ May 27, 2013, 10:11 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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