Now, on to queries. I apologise for this being late, but I had to delay my analysis of the queries because I ended up being out of town on the weekend, and spent yesterday and the day before (very thrillingly) catching up on uni work. Blech!
Sadly, I missed the deadline to post my comments on my final picks on Nathan's blog, which I feel bad about... So I haven't actually picked my top 5 yet. But that's okay: I can do that as I analyse here, and you'll get to see my thoughts as I think them! Oh, hoorah!
*eyebrow* Stop looking at me like that. You know this will be fun. Really.
#20 In The Driver's Seat
I liked the honesty behind this one. I could see it being an interesting, fresh memoir. But ultimately there's not enough sense of voice here to outweigh things like the newbie mistakes in the final paragraph, and to compete against some of the other queries.
#22 Star Fragments
This one had hints of a great snarky voice, but ultimately the topic's just too cliched in my mind compared to some of the others. Also, 88k is rather long for YA. Pass.
#28 Long Shot Lost
In the end, this is an example of having to reject because something's not right for me. I can see that this might have potential as a solid sci fi novel, but without the familiarity with the genre that a real sci fi lover would have, I can't say whether it's cliche or just... standard. Either way, there's nothing here that zings that makes me reach for the yes button.
Pretty much, this is a terrible query. More than half of it isn't even about the story, it makes all sorts of unsubstantiated claims (tell us it's got dark humour in it? why not just show us?), I have no idea who the MC is or what the core conflict is - but I held onto this one in the hopes it might improve miraculously, because both the title and the fact that it's modern mythology and a thriller/mystery really grabs me. But in the end, pass.
#33 Beneath The Heart of Beauty
Good premise with lots of potential, but the query doesn't really flow, which makes me assume the novel wouldn't either. Thus, rejection.
It's at this point that you begin to realise the real importance of a good query letter (although an imperfect letter can still receive requests, if the right things show through - see Nathan's summary posts); it might be totally unfair of me to dismiss #33 on the basis of a clunky query. In actual fact, the novel might be gorgeous - but when it's up against 13 others, and I'm only allowed to pick 5, I'm looking for things I can use to narrow down my options, and it's just not worth taking a risk that the novel might be better than the query for anything less than an outstanding premise.
Lesson here: make sure your query letter is professional, and reads like someone with an excellent command of the English language wrote it. Not just a competent command - an excellent command.
I'm so torn on this one. On the one hand, it's packed full of squee - the MC is just FABulous - but on the other, 136k seems long to begin with, and when I read the sample pages, I found out why: the writing really needs trimming. If the first few pages are anything to go by, this could easily be cut back to 110k. So, I guess that's my answer: Dear Author, cut 20k and requery me :D
Another lesson: You REALLY want to make sure those first few pages sparkle.
#37 Secluded Alleys
In the end, this is reject, though the idea/premise has a lot of possibility. The query is just too messy for me to make real sense of the plot.
#40 Becoming Emily Novak
This is a well-written query, which is what got it into my final list, but rereading it in light of trying to pick only 5, it just doesn't sizzle at me the way some of them do. I guess it's mostly a matter of just not my genre.
#1 Watcher's Web
I so wanted to like this one, since it has a promising premise, but in the end I'm rejecting because the only two paragraphs in the query that discuss the book a) outline the girl's powers and b) tell us she's caught between two forces, blah blah, cliche. There isn't really a strong sense of plot at all, nor of the central conflict. So, reject :(
It's right about now that I'm feeling the pinch of only being allowed to ask for 5 partials. Can't I have 6? Please? No? Drat. In which case, this one gets rejected because the query is a bit difficult to follow, and it's mostly tell, not show. Drat.
Again, with the wanting-to-request. HOWEVER, on really really close scrutiny, I discover that although this has a super-shiny idea, nothing about the voice captures me, and I'm not too sure if the central conflict (that the MC isn't allowed to love) does either. Regretful rejection.
#43 The Lion's Mane
This is the complete opposite to #28 for me. While the query isn't especially elegant - it's a lot more tell than show, simply listing events - I know enough about the fantasy genre to see that this story could work, and work well. Partial request from me.
#36 Rosie's Child
I'm not 100% sure what it is about this one that draws me to it. The query isn't the best, but there's a quiet sense of mystery about it that I like. It's a solid concept, and I just... *waves hands* I dunno. This one's a gut request :D
#9 If It Ain't Broke
Unique premise, promise of a good solid voice, neat and tidy query with a solid conflict = request for partial. Yay :)
And finally, there's the fifteenth in my list, the query that had me hitting 'request' even before I'd finished reading the other queries:
The sheer squee value of the premise had me hitting 'request' before I even remembered that I could only request 5. Looking at it now, the query itself isn't especially noteworthy: it tells rather than shows, and while it's technically correct there isn't actually that much of a sense of voice. So I guess this is an instance of the subject matter winning out for me.
You'll notice in the end I only picked four to request, because I really can't narrow it down between 38 and 27 (though the writing in 38 is stronger, so I'd probably go with that?).
And now, a quick summary of What We've Learned:
- Make sure your work is up to scratch before you query. You don't want to come across as a newbie, and you want to know basic things like how to punctuate, how to spell, and you want to be able to write with some degree of finesse.
- Know your lengths! Know what the acceptable lengths for your genre are, and stick to them!
- Have voice, whether it's funny or snarky or lyrical or quirky. Yes, it's a business letter, but that doesn't mean bland, dry and boring.
- Know what it is that's fresh about your work; know what's different in your story to others in your genre, and let the agent know this too!
- Make sure your query clearly mentions the central conflict of the plot (the inciting incident, often), the hook, and the key theme. If you can, SHOW these rather than telling them (see links below). Give us plot, give us conflict!
- Make sure your query is easy to read and understand; if an agent has to read it twice to figure out the twists you're describing, you better hope everything else is fantastic enough to prevent a rejection.
- High concept: this is such a difficult thing to define, but what it means in this context for me is make sure your conflict is a worthy one, something people will actually care about - not just, will I find raisins for my breakfast or not? That sort of thing ;)
And that's it! Just in case you're not satiated by today's laaaarge discussion on queries, check out these great links:
Nathan Bransford on the query letter formula; the anatomy of a query letter; more on the anatomy; and Kristen Nelson has links to a whole bunch of queries that worked for her in the sidebar, about halfway down. There's also the Query Shark :)
So, who of you participated in agent for a day? What did you learn? And to everyone - is the stuff I've pulled out here useful? Did you know this kind of thing already, or is this new for you?
And the big question, do you actually plan to query one day?