Don’t force a “logline” into a query (Query critique)

by | Jan 16, 2020 | Critiques | 1 comment

If you’d like to nominate your own page or query for a public critique, kindly post them here in the discussion forums:

And, of course, if you need help more urgently or privately, I’m available for edits and consultations!

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I’ll present the query without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to eklekman, whose query is below.

Dear [XYZ],

If you can imagine a combination of Hatchet and The Lightning Thief featuring a female protagonist, and aliens and Sasquatches instead of mythical creatures, you’ll get MERCEDES, my 57,000-word middle grade fantasy novel. After reading your submission guidelines, I felt that my novel would be a good fit for your portfolio.

Sure Mercedes is unpopular at school but she still never could have imagined that a gray alien would turn out to be her best friend.

Mercedes doesn’t know how she does it, but somehow she always messes everything up. This time, her screw up has gotten her shipped off to the remote Alaskan wilderness enduring the Worst Summer Ever in her mean uncle’s dilapidated old shack while her parents slave away back home at five jobs between the two of them to fix what she’s done. Riddled with guilt, Mercedes is desperate to do something to repay her parents, and to make sure they dont foreclose on their house. So when she hears a rumor that there’s gold in the surrounding forest’s rivers, Mercedes becomes obsessed with digging some up to undo the mess she’s made.

Unfortunately, Mercedes soon discovers that she isn’t the only one who’s on the hunt for gold. Her competition comes in the form of a mysterious and very old gray alien as well as a disgusting, stinky, and brutal Sasquatch. Mercedes soon figures out, however, that there is more to the gentle gray alien than she realized, and that they both will stand a better chance at finding gold — and surviving — if they can learn to look past the glaring differences that could so easily pit them against each other.

My short fiction has been featured in Enchanted Conversation Magazine, and I have received two honorable mentions from the Writers of the Future contest. MERCEDES is my third completed novel. I look forward to hearing from you!

Sincerely,

In the movie business, the one line plot pitches called loglines are very important. In book publishing? Not as much.

Sure, it can be helpful to have a high concept hook that can help sell your book, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in your query letter.

When I was an agent I saw so many one sentence descriptions like the one that leads off this query, which feel more like forced pithiness than a compelling hook. They often include a cliche (in this case: “never could have imagined”)

This is an area where opinions vary, so take my advice here with a grain of salt (And an agent’s submission requirements trump everything). But unless you have the perfect one line summary, I’d just stick to a two-three paragraph plot description and dont include the logline in a query.

Overall, while the tone of this query letter feels fun, I found some of the sentences a bit convoluted and I’m not sure some of the key events are described precisely, especially the obstacles Mercedes faced in pursuit of her gold. Always remember: summarize through specificity.

Here’s my redline:

Dear [XYZ],

After reading your submission guidelines, I felt that my novel would be a good fit for your portfolio. [Personalize more specifically for each individual agent]

Sure Mercedes is unpopular at school but she still never could have imagined that a gray alien would turn out to be her best friend. [This “logline” feels forced and I dont think you need it.]

Mercedes doesn’t know how she does it, but somehow she always messes everything up. This time, her screw up [be more specific. What screw up?] has gotten her shipped off to the remote Alaskan wilderness enduring the Worst Summer Ever in her mean uncle’s dilapidated old shack while her parents slave away back home at five jobs between the two of them to fix what she’s done. [This sentence is very convoluted and I had a hard time tracking it] Riddled with guilt that her parents have to slave away at five jobs to fix what she’s done back home, Mercedes is desperate to do something to repay her parents, them and to make sure they dont foreclose on lose their house. So wWhen she hears a rumor that there’s gold in the surrounding forest’s rivers, Mercedes becomes obsessed with digging some up to undo the mess she’s made.

Unfortunately, Mercedes soon discovers that she isn’t the only one who’s on the hunt for gold. Her competition comes in the form of a A mysterious and very old gray alien as well as a disgusting, stinky, and brutal Sasquatch are also looking for treasure. Mercedes soon figures out, however, that there is more to the gentle gray alien than she realized [be more specific], and that they both will stand a better chance at finding gold — and surviving [Surviving what? What’s the threat] — if they can learn to look past the glaring differences that could so easily pit them against each other. [Such as what, beyond the fact that one’s human and one’s alien? I’m understanding Mercedes’ goal but not what the main obstacles are.]

If you can imagine a combination of Hatchet and The Lightning Thief featuring a female protagonist, and with aliens and Sasquatches instead of mythical creatures, you’ll get MERCEDES, my 57,000-word middle grade fantasy novel. [Opinions vary, but I tend to think it’s best to include the overall summary after the plot description. Also, I’m not sure “Mercedes” alone is a very evocative title]

My short fiction has been featured in Enchanted Conversation Magazine, and I have received two honorable mentions from the Writers of the Future contest. MERCEDES is my third completed novel. I look forward to hearing from you!

Sincerely,

Thanks again to eklekman!

Art: Alaskan Coastal Range by Albert Bierstadt

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