Query Critique 3: A Steady Wish

2 Feb

Welcome to Query Week! Every day, this week and next, we’ll be publicly critiquing the queries you guys were awesome enough to send us last week. If we don’t publicly post yours, don’t worry, we’ll still email you our thoughts 🙂

See the bottom of our posts for great resources about queries, and use the tag ‘query week’ to see Query Weeks of the past.

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Dear LTWF Bloggers,

The night of their college graduation, Maggie McGregor broke Will Buchanan’s heart. She thought she was doing what was best for both of them. They had their whole lives ahead of them. Neither of them needed to be tied down by the expectations of someone else. They deserved a chance to live their dreams, not compromise them for the sake of each other.

Maggie McGregor is a strong, intelligent college student with her future all planned out when she meets Will Buchanan. He’s everything she’s ever wanted in a man; he’s handsome, funny, considerate, and he’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with her. In the safe, uncomplicated world of college, they thought happily-ever-after would be easy. But when faced with the real world, Maggie chooses to go her own way rather than changing her plans for Will. She has spent the past four years studying at Oxford and working to become a successful novelist. Now that she’s succeeded, it’s time to head home and face her past, specifically the man she rejected to pursue her dreams. But can Maggie find her way back to Will Buchanan or has too much time passed for either of them to return to how they used to be?

A modern day tale, A STEADY WISH tells the story of Maggie and Will and their journey back to each other. An adult Maggie’s memories provide the history of her relationship with Will as she moves closer to being able to embrace an adult life with the man she loves. With the help of her friends and family, Maggie realizes that she doesn’t have to compromise her dreams to be with the man she loves.

This romance novel is complete at approximately 90,000 words. A STEADY WISH is a book not only about the love between Maggie and Will, but the problems facing many graduating college students and young professionals today: should I plan my life around someone else? How do I know what will and won’t work out? Am I ready to live with that regret?

I am a senior English major, feminist studies and religion minor, at Southwestern University, a small liberal arts university in Texas. I wrote A STEADY WISH over the course of three semesters, while maintaining a 3.5 GPA. Other than a few articles in my school newspaper, I am unpublished. I also have a weekly blog,  tmlunsford.blogspot.com. With A STEADY WISH complete, I am currently writing my next novel, a Regency romance.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Taylor Lunsford

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Sounds like a very romantic story!  Overall, though, I feel like you would benefit from some lessons/articles/books on query-writing.  I say this because 1) this letter doesn’t follow the expected query formula, and 2) you are committing some “no-nos” that are well-known and easy to avoid.

I’m sure these problems are simply problems with the query (and not with your novel).  Therefore, we want to make sure your query doesn’t reflect poorly on your novel!  Queries are HARD to write!  I spent months and months and months honing mine, so don’t despair if it takes a while. 🙂

One rough area I noticed was in the pitch (or story summary).  It seemed like there was a great deal of “telling” rather than “showing”.  Saying Maggie is strong and intelligent isn’t as helpful as showing it.  An example of showing Maggie’s character would be: “The day she graduated from Oxford, Maggie put her love life on hold to pursue her career as a novelist.”  This shows she’s tough (she’s choosing work over love!) and smart (she graduated from Oxford!) and hints at the conflict (love life!).

I felt like another mistake was “set-up” — the query seems to be filled entirely with what happened in the past.  I realize that some of the story is told in memories, but keep in mind that the actual story is what happens in present day.  What the reader cares about (and where the most tension/conflict exists) is in what is yet to come (the possible rekindling of Maggie’s and Will’s romance is the novel’s plot).  Therefore, your query needs to be set in the present.  You need to show where Maggie is NOW, what Maggie wants NOW, and what is standing in her way NOW.  You then have to show where Will is NOW, what Will wants NOW, and what stands in Will’s way.

Finally, I felt like the query failed to show what’s at stake or why a reader should care.  All I know is that Maggie and Will used to be together, but I don’t know why I want them to get back together.  I don’t know why they are once again in each other’s presence for a possible rekindling.  I don’t know what horrible thing will happen if they don’t get back together — like, why does it matter if they stay apart?

Essentially, because I don’t know Maggie’s GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict) or Will’s GMC, I can’t tell what’s at stake.  Without knowing the stakes, there’s no tension in the story.  And without tension in the story, there’s no enticement to find out what will happen to the characters.

I highly suggest reading the Query Shark (http://queryshark.blogspot.com) to learn the query mistakes to avoid.  To get a feel for the necessary query formula, I’ll direct you to my own link (where I lay it all out): http://susandennard.com/2010/11/29/how-i-got-my-agent-part-1-the-prep/.  Hope this helps, and best of luck!

On a side note: You probably know this, but I want to make sure! 🙂  A romance novel is a very specific genre in which the heroine and the hero are main characters — the story is from both POVs.  From your query, this does not sound like a romance novel since all we hear about is Maggie’s POV, and you specifically say, “An adult Maggie’s memories provide the history of her relationship with Will as she moves closer to being able to embrace an adult life with the man she loves.”  If this IS a romance novel, then you need to offer both POVs in the query.  So far, this sounds like it’s only Maggie’s story.  Be sure to also show what happens in Will’s half of the story.

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Hey Taylor,

I’m a big fan of romance, and I really like your concept.  Looking back and wondering what you could (should?) have done differently is a very common human experience and should have broad appeal.

My biggest problem with your query is that it rambles, repeats itself, and (as Susan said,) tells us less about the action of the story than about the set up.  It could use a lot of tightening.  I’ve marked it up below so you can see what I’m talking about:

Dear LTWF Bloggers,

The night of their college graduation, Maggie McGregor broke Will Buchanan’s heart. She thought she was doing what was best for both of them. They had their whole lives ahead of them. Neither of them needed to be tied down by the expectations of someone else. They deserved a chance to live their dreams, not compromise them for the sake of each other. (I’m not sure you need any of this, since you say it again in the next paragraph.)

Maggie McGregor is a strong, intelligent college student with her future all planned out when she meets Will Buchanan. He’s everything she’s ever wanted in a man; he’s handsome, funny, considerate, and he’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with her. (This first sentence is in present tense, but the rest of your query is in past.) In the safe, uncomplicated world of college, they thought happily-ever-after would be easy. But when faced with the real world, Maggie chooses to go her own way rather than changing her plans for Will. (Slipped back into present tense again.) She has spent the past four years studying at Oxford and working to become a successful novelist. Now that she’s succeeded, it’s time to head home and face her past, specifically the man she rejected to pursue her dreams. (I found this part very confusing.  You say she’s spent the past four years studying at Oxford and working to become a successful novelist.  I assumed this meant she was already successful at the time she graduated.  So when you say “now that she’s succeeded,” I thought you meant immediately after graduation, so I assumed she was returning to some man she rejected in order to go off to Oxford.  I think you need to clarify the amount of time that’s gone by since they graduated.) But can Maggie find her way back to Will Buchanan or has too much time passed for either of them to return to how they used to be?

A modern day tale, A STEADY WISH tells the story of Maggie and Will and their journey back to each other. An adult Maggie’s memories provide the history of her relationship with Will as she moves closer to being able to embrace an adult life with the man she loves. With the help of her friends and family, Maggie realizes that she doesn’t have to compromise her dreams to be with the man she loves. (I wonder about the relevance of this last line.  Wouldn’t a realization like this have occurred before the opening of the novel, if the action of the story is her attempt to return to Will?)

This romance novel is complete at approximately 90,000 words. A STEADY WISH is a book not only about the love between Maggie and Will, but the problems facing many graduating college students and young professionals today: should I plan my life around someone else? How do I know what will and won’t work out? Am I ready to live with that regret?

I am a senior English major, feminist studies and religion minor, at Southwestern University, a small liberal arts university in Texas. I wrote A STEADY WISH over the course of three semesters, while maintaining a 3.5 GPA. Other than a few articles in my school newspaper, I am unpublished. I also have a weekly blog,  tmlunsford.blogspot.com. With A STEADY WISH complete, I am currently writing my next novel, a Regency romance.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Taylor Lunsford

My main suggestion, Taylor, would be to pare this down so it is a more concise reflection of what the story is.  If the story is about a successful woman returning to a lost love, I would start the query with that.  As it is now, I started out thinking the book was one thing, then decided it was another, then eventually settled on a third impression of what the book was.  I think some careful decisions about the essence of your story will help a lot.

I think your story has a lot of potential.  Like Susan said, make sure your query reflects the hard work you put into the novel.  Take your time, dive into some query-writing resources, and you will do great!  Best of luck!

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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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