This blog post is dedicated to the fraternity brothers of Pi Kappa Alpha of Columbia University, who, when they heard that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was going to be speaking across from their frathouse, contemplated making a banner that read, “Heidi and Spencer are the real issue.”
Although they did not actually make the banner and went with the more cerebral “Ahmadinejad is NOT a baller,” I salute them nevertheless.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a query critique, and I’d like to remind everyone that if I pass on your project and you would like to offer up your query for some anonymous and (hopefully) polite critiquing, please send a follow-up e-mail. Unfortunately I can’t critique all queries, but if I feel it would be helpful to blog readers to do so I will, uh, do so.
And please remember to be exceedingly polite to the author in the comments section, or I shall enlist Pi Kappa Alpha to make a banner that mocks you, and trust me, you WILL feel shamed and humiliated. Or you’ll be made President of Iran.
Without further ado, I will first print the query in its entirety and then respond with my comments:
When Emo-Goth teen Rhiannon Joy Vorhies is forced to move from the hustle-and-bustle of the city to her grandmother’s house in the countryside following her father’s death, she thinks her own life may well have come to an end.
She is angry, depressed, and not looking to make friends with a bunch of hicks—or with her grandmother’s God, either. Through counseling, letters to her father, and many prayers offered up by Gram, R.J. learns there’s more to life than just living in the darkness that has been consuming her. Just when R.J. thinks her life is over, she discovers she’s been given a brand-new one. The 57,000 words of my often poignant, always quirky young adult novel JOY IN THE DARKNESS follow R.J.’s journey out of the darkness and into the light.
I am a former newspaper reporter and personal columnist with a local daily newspaper. During my five years at The Shelbyville News, I won a Hoosier State Press Association award for Best Profile Feature. Since that time, my personal pro-life testimony was published in the Spring/Summer 2006 issue of At the Center; and my short story, “Lake Effect”, finished in the top 18 in the 2007 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition.
I chose to submit this novel for your consideration after I saw Emily Conrad’s query letter for THE BOY IN THE BASEMENT on your very informative and amusing blog, to which I now subscribe. Conrad’s premise is similar to my writing in that it focuses on a grieving teen girl as she learns how Christianity fits into real life. Upon your request, I am prepared to send a partial or the complete manuscript.
Thank you in advance for your time and for considering representation of my work. I look forward to hearing from you.
This query gets off to a good start, and I think there’s a great hook at the beginning — Emo-Goth kid moving to the country after sad event. Good start. I also think the author handles the personalization well — comparing their work in a positive way to something I liked. However, I’m afraid what made me ultimately decide to pass on this query was the second paragraph — I just didn’t get a sense of the plot.
One very tricky thing about writing queries is that because it’s so difficult to distill a story into a few lines, it’s tempting to resort to generalities and vague catch-alls in order to try and capture the story. But unfortunately, rather than giving a sense of the whole story, this has the opposite effect of making the story sound generic. So for instance, R.J. “learns that there’s more to life than living in the darkness” and when she thinks her life is over “she discovers she’s been given a brand-new one.”
How does she do this? I suspect that’s the really interesting part of the story, but the author doesn’t highlight it apart from the counseling, letters and prayers, which doesn’t really constitute a plot, and thus I’m only left with a sketch. When you combine the vagueness with some slightly awkward phrasing (I got stuck on “her grandmother’s God” — her grandmother has her own God?), I’m afraid the query just didn’t end up standing out for me even though I really like the premise. With some more specificity and some more key details? Who knows, I might have felt differently.
It’s so important to let some key specific details illustrate what you’re leaving out.
Also, one final note: the author highlights a pro-life article in a journal, and while yes, this is a publishing credit, I would really try to avoid politics in your query when it doesn’t have a direct bearing on your work, particularly on hot-button issues. Why give someone who disagrees with you a reason to hit the reject button? And this goes for liberals, conservatives, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Thanks very much to the author for sharing!