Query Critique 5: December

22 Jun

Welcome to the second day of our 3-day-long Query Critique Week (say that five times fast)! We received a ton of queries, and even though we wish we could have chosen more, we were only able to pick 9 of them to critique. Let’s get started!

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Query 5: December

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Dear Agent,

It’s December 1945, the war has been over for months, but Vernon Moore wakes his wife Helen when he imagines air-raid sirens into the Chicago night. Their daughter Emily loses her job and the only solace she had from the trauma she encountered working as a Land Girl. Younger sister Gloria slips further into the corruption of a seedy theater, far from her pre-war dreams of a ballet stage.  Their neighbor Nate Bennett brought home a banged-up Japanese pistol and memories he can’t shake from his time in the Air Corps. And Walter Moore never came home at all.

The past can’t stay buried as Nate discovers his attraction to Emily, Gloria uncovers a secret in her brother’s past during a chance encounter with a French war bride, and Helen and Vernon’s marriage is tested by Helen’s WWI pen pal.  In the midst of their unearthed memories, perhaps Walter is not as far away as he seems.  December, complete at 75,000 words, tells the post-war story that will appeal to readers who enjoyed Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress’s pre-war account.

While earning my BA in history from Indiana University, my writing was honored with both a Campus Writing Program Award and a departmental Thesis Award.  Research for December took me dancing at a restored Chicago ballroom, cooking in a WWII battleship galley, and attempting my own Victory Garden.

I welcome any opportunity to share more with you,

Rowenna LastName

[Contact Information Redacted]

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Critiques

Sarah J. Maas:

I’m not quite sure what to do with the multitude of characters, plotlines, and events that are crammed into the first paragraph. It seems like there are some interesting storylines going on here, but there is just SO much information presented that I feel overwhelmed. Who is the focal point of this story? Is it a multi-POV narrative? Even if it is, this query needs some focus and direction. It needs to be slowed down a bit, too—right now, I just don’t know what to do with it, or what to expect from it. It seems like it could be really compelling, but, again, there’s just so much information being thrown at me that I can’t get a good grip on it.

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Sammy Bina:

I have to agree with Sarah. I read through this quite a few times, and couldn’t pick out which storyline was supposed to be the main one. Even with a multiple POV story, there’s generally a main storyline everything revolves around. I think if you can decide what that is, and center your query around it, you’d be much better off. As is, there is just too many characters and plots being thrown into the mix, and no agent is going to want to wade through that to find the most important information. My best advice would be to find a published novel that is a multiple POV piece and see how the story is summarized on the back cover. Maybe that would give you a good model as to how you could focus your own.

This next bit of advice will vary depending on who you talk to, but generally I’ve been told not to compare your book to that of another author’s. So you can either leave that bit, or take it out. Either way, I don’t think it does any damage. Just work on focusing your query and ideas, and I think you’ll be set. Good luck!

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Savannah J. Foley:

Like Sarah said, there’s too much going on, and it’s distracting. I think you should open up with an introduction to the story; is this a family drama about the devestation of war, a family drama about coping after losing a son/brother, or…?

The bit about Vernan Moore and Helen doesn’t seem significant; is this a major plot point?

Otherwise, this sounds like a great story. I’d even like to read it! Well done, and best of luck querying!

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Tell us what you think! Never written a query before? Only heard of them last week? You don’t have to be an expert to make comments; you know what sounds good and what doesn’t. Did we miss something? Let us know your thoughts!

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Helpful Links

Queries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blog

Query Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog

How to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blog

Query Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back together

AgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letter

A Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America

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