Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A.B. Keuser's Current Query Critiqued

Today we have Amy's query back again, this time with my feedback. My thoughts will be in red.

Dear [Agent Name],

Lex I would like to hear a last name here. Lex is a very cool name, but I'm thinking Lex Diamond, or Lex Luther. I would like to have her even more defined as a character is a private courier in a world where the Divided States Postal Service asks too many questions to make stamps worth their fifty dollar price tag. What she does isn’t strictly legal, but that really depends on what system of government has taken over your particular corner of the world. When a client hands her an envelope full of cash and a delivery the size of a stack of business cards Lex doesn’t bat an eye, that’s the price you pay for no-questions-asked service. This job is supposed to be easier than getting fleas in Puerta Pulgas this sounds funny, but I have no idea what (or where) this is, but she’d bet her eyeteeth she’s been double crossed when the cloudskimmer taking her to New Shanghai is ambushed I would say it's pretty obvious, but that makes it kind of funny, so you can probably keep this. The two goons who’ve parachuted aboard know exactly what she’s carrying: Sun Drops.

Okay. So this opening paragraph is pretty good. It sets up the plot very well, gives us just a bit of backstory, and certainly has an interesting hook at the end. But I would really like to know more about Lex first. We know what she does, but we don't really know who she is. Sometimes that's hard to convey, and the job she does certainly tells us something about what kind of person she is, but I'd like to know a little more.

Is she the black sheep from a high-society family, or an orphan from the slums of New New York? Also, I know this isn't YA, so her age is probably not crucial, and I get the feeling she's twentysomething, but if she's fortysomething we might need to know that.

One last nit-picky point is that depending on how large a cloudskimmer is, I'm not sure two thugs parachuting onto one constitutes an ambush. There's probably no better way to say it though. Also, am I the only one who thinks Sun Drops sounds like the name of some really good LSD from the seventies? Awesome.

Smuggling drugs oh good, it is LSD isn’t the issue, she’s done that more times than she’s paid off pimple faced this makes them sound young. Is customs employing a lot of teenagers in this world? customs agents. Her surprise guests are. Getting past them and to her contact in the Depths of New Shanghai gives her more reason to keep a finger on the trigger of her peashooter. So, what, she carries like a .22? He claims he has no clue what she’s talking about what is she talking about, and how did they suddenly get together? and when the drug partially absorbs through her skin, she knows she’s in a steaming heap. This sounds pretty bad-ass. Blending in to a crowd has always been one of Lex’s biggest assets, but there’s nowhere to hide when you glow like the sun. Wow. That is good Acid.

I think this paragraph starts out well; you clue us into the conflict and the stakes, while doing an excellent job of organically sneaking in some more world building (which is probably the best part about this query-great world). Then I get a little lost. I suppose we can infer that she escaped the goons, and met up with her contact, and you don't need every step of the plot in a query, but this felt like too much of a leap.

Now she’s being pursued by the client who wants his package back, the Home Owner’s Association that rules New Shanghai and their spur wielding rent-a-cops. Why? As she dodges everyone after her, her biggest threat and strongest ally may be one of her original attackers, a man who inexplicably won’t die.

This is a fun little surprise here at the end, and this isn't bad as summaries go, but I think you need to be careful about these leaps of logic. I mean we can probably figure out that the cops and the 'government' of New Shanghai are after her because she suddenly shines like a glow stick at a rave, and that reveals her as a drug user, or even smuggler, but it doesn't explain why the whole city's after her.

SUN DROPS, my science fiction novel is complete redundant at 90,000-words.

All in all I think this is a damn fine query. You build this world excellently, and the plot certainly sounds exciting. I think with a little tweaking, and a better sense of character in the beginning, this could really shine. Maybe even glow like the sun.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


[Contact Information]

Well there we go. What do you guys think? Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you would cut? Or something that needs to be added? Please share your feedback in the comments.


D.R. Chisholm said...

I'm curious why I rarely see punctuation or grammar issues mentioned. I understand, of course, that punctuation and grammar rules are less strict with fiction - that it's often the beat or the effect that trumps the rules. However, I'm not convinced the rules broken in this query could be defended. Don't the principles of composition matter?

Thank you!

Theresa Milstein said...

What an excellent voice in this query. I agree with Matthew's assessment, which would make it tighter. There are some changes with the MC that aren't explained. A sentence or two would help.

D.R. queries and manuscripts need to have good grammar. I've never heard the rules are less strict with fiction than with nonfiction. Maybe you can provide suggestions about how to improve the query's grammar.

Gina said...

I love the line about glowing like the sun. But I know the whole "fiction novel" thing is a huge no-no. Good job on the whole!

Old Kitty said...

I just thought there was so much to take in here. So much. It does sound like an incredibly action packed, adrenalin rush type novel though! I'd read it!!

Take care

mmshaunakelley said...

I agree with Matt's comments as well. When I worked at a magazine and then a press reading queries, I always apprecaited a sentence or two that would further position fiction, even genre fiction. For instance, "My dystopian science fiction novel will resonate with lovers of Ben Bova and William Gibson" so I would know if we have hard sci-fi or soft sci-fi, but that is a personal preference thing that not everyone cares about.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I really love the careful word choices. You made every word count. I agree with Matt's suggestions.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great feedback on the query, Matt. I've got nothing more to add. The voice is great, and your suggestions will make things clearer.

mmshaunaKelley had a good suggestion about the comparison novels. I heard agents like that, especially since they'll use that info when they pitch the book to editors.

Matthew MacNish said...

D.R. thanks so much for your comment! I would reply to you in an email, but there is not one associated with your blogger account.

As to your question I would only say that in a query letter, as in novels themselves, grammar and punctuation is often ignored on purpose, in the interest of style. Fragments, slang, dangling prepositions and other so called no-nos are often used for distinct reason. As you say, rhythm, cadence, emphasasis ... these are all reasons that improper English is often used on purpose.

On the other hand, Amy has said this is only a draft, and that her query is a work in progress. If you notice any glaring grammatical errors, it would be most helpful if you could point them out.

Thanks so much for visiting!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I agree with the comments, but I'd add that I'm not keen on "rent-a-cops," as that's a term that's usually used derogatorily to indicate incompetence. And maybe these cops are incompetent, but it lessens the sense of danger and tension in the query. No one's really scared of rent-a-cops. Mercenaries, on the other hand...

The story sounds really intriguing. Though I naturally glow like a sun already. Shhh, don't tell anyone.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

once again, Matt said everything i wanted to say. I would totally read this, though. It kinda freaks me out, too, because my WIP has a MC who's a courier and people who are after him etc. Mine's fantasy, though, and involves slavers.
Good luck!

mshatch said...

Definitely sounds like an interesting novel (I love scifi) but I agree with Matt that the query could be tighter. I can't add anything to his suggestions which are spot on.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

I think this sums it up well. The only thing I would add is that I was a little confused, especially at the beginning. That first sentence threw me. I'm not sure it adds anything to the explanation of the plot either. I'd say overall just simplify, make every sentence count by explaining something new about the plot and/or characterization and clarify the terminology that is unfamiliar to the reader (whether it's explanation through context or an actual explanation) or simplify by cutting it out.

Sounds like a really cool premise, though. I think if the query can come together a little tighter, it's bound to be a hit.

Carolyn Abiad said...

I thought my HOA was bad, lol! I agree with Matt. I want to know more about her character and why she's in this mess. Is it completely random that she gets the sun drops? Why is her perspective on the story important? Not that I know how to do any of these things... Sounds like a good story. :)

Michael G-G said...

Matt's critiquing has reached such stellar levels that I feel I am scrabbling about for things to add!

I agree completely about having a last name at the beginning, and needing a greater sense of who the character is (rather than what the character does.)

I also got really lost in the para starting "Smuggling drugs isn't the issue..." I think you need to break this para down and simplify what's going on (as per Matt's suggestions.)

But all in all, I want to get reading about New Shanghai and all the skulduggery going on there. Good luck with this, Amy!!

Sarah Pearson said...

One little thing I'm confused about, (and it could just be me), if she made it to her contact, why does the client want his package back?

Other than that, great premise :)

Marsha Sigman said...

I love the story concept! But I think there are too many analogies/double speak, like rent-a-cops, peashooter, fleas somewhere I've never heard of. I would cut just one or two so the story comes though a little more clear.

I was left feeling a tad confused. Like I was coming down from a bad acid trip or something.

RaShelle said...

The query sounds great. Your comments will make it even better. Good job, Matt! And Amy, a cloud skimmer and the DIVIDED States Postal Service is a fantastic name. LOVE IT!

Josh Hoyt said...

Great comments your critiques are very helpful.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I was a little confused as well.

Suzie F. said...

Hi Amy! Great idea for a novel. Thanks for posting your query. I have a few suggestions but don’t claim to be an expert by any means.

P1: Agree that we need to know more about Lex (so we can care about what happens to her). This paragraph is very wordy imho and I would cut: in a world where, to make stamps worth their fifty dollar price tag, but that really depends...corner of the world, the size of a stack of business cards. I'd put a period after eye. Okay, here's a suggestion to tighten the last 3 sentences in the 1st P.

This job is supposed to be easy but she'd bet her eye teeth she's been double-crossed. Two goons ambush her cloudskimmer [cool word, btw] in search of her cargo: Sun Drops (short explanation of what they are).

2nd P: I'd split the first 2 sentences (period after issue. Or consider cutting 2nd sentence) Her surprise guests are. [this sentence is weak. I'd cut or change]. Who is "them" in the next sentence? Next sentence, good! I'd cut the first part of the next sentence, He claims... and start with "When the drug..." Love your last sentence.

3rd P: This was confusing to me - the client, the original attacker who's a threat and an ally, and why won't he die.

I hope I didn't sound too critical, Amy. I wish you the best of luck!

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

Awesome critique, and I really want to have a read of Sun Drops. I look forward to seeing it on Amazon in the near future ;)

maine character said...

Like Suzie just said, I’d cut the whole bit about the postal service and stamps, since no one would mail anything that would be that valuable.

Also, maybe have something more cool-sounding than a peashooter. Something that shows her level of expertise.

The Sun Drops part is definitely great.

ali said...

This sounds like a super fun story (and loved your comments, Matt!)

My fear is that perhaps the query is giving away TOO much. It read more like a short synopsis, to me, than a book blurb, ya know?

But either way, I think the story idea and voice in the query are super strong. :)

Christina Farley said...

Great voice in the query. Really shows the reader what the story is about and what to expect when I pick up the book. I also liked your red recommendations Matthew! Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this premise, and the query, as Matt mentioned, is well on its way. I wish you all the best in its travels.

Just one thought, so consider this my two cents. (Adjusted for inflation)

The first paragraph almost reads too "backstory-ish" to me. I ADORE that line "Blending into a crowd has always been one of Lex (insert last name here, Matt is right)'s biggest assets, but there's nowhere to hide when you glow like the sun.

To me, this has got "first line" written all over it. I would HAVE to read on. That's where you plant the rest of the premise.

Again, just one (unpublished) writer's opinion. But really, this story looks phenomenal!


Rachel McClellan said...

Just stumbled across this blog. Glad I found it! It looks like a good one.

Your review of the query letter was spot on. I, too, kept thinking Lex Luthor every time I read the word "Lex".

erica and christy said...

It's getting late and I already missed the beginning of the Brewer game and I have little time - sorry, but that's my excuse for not reading the comments.

AB- There are quite a few punctuation errors in this query. Take Matt's suggestions and brush up on punctuation and grammar and THEN decide who to query to. :)

Matthew MacNish said...

I just have to say, quickly: this is a draft. Some grammar and punctuation foibles are on purpose. Others may be accidental. Mentioning any of them without pointing them out, specifically, isn't all that helpful.

Thanks, guys!

Misha said...

Nice query. I didn't see much wrong with it beyond what you mentioned, although I would have liked to better see the nature of the drugs.