Today we have Donna's query again, except this time, with my feedback, which is in red.
Here we go:
Dear [Agent's Name]:
Lyn needs something to distract her from the fact that her dead fiancé turned out to be a cheating scumbag. I love the way you sneak this backstory in, that's done very well, but I would like to know more about Lyn as a character first. Other than what's happened to her, what kind of person is she? What she plans is a vacation diversion: an uncomplicated, unromantic cruise. Do people go on cruises by themselves? I suppose they do, but I'd never considered it before. What fate provides is Braedon. Here is another missed opportunity for a bit of characterization. I get it that we learn a lot more about him in the next paragraph, and that's great, but even one or two more words here would help this pack more punch.
Against the backdrop of the ship’s make-believe world, what does this mean? Is it some kind of fantasy theme cruise? Lyn finds herself drawn to him. His interest in people, his gentle humor, his love of music, and even his willingness to let her take him down during morning Karate practices. Hah! Love this. Unexpectedly, her long-dead emotions come alive again.
However, fear is an emotion, too. Mmm, I don't know if everyone will agree, but for me this is a tasty little twist.
Unaware of the sensitive waters he navigates, Braedon makes his move. It sucks I'm not sure this is the voice you want, unless the book is written that way. How old is Lyn? when it happens to be on the anniversary she came to forget. Came to forget, or ached to forget? I think you could stand to use some stronger wording for things like this. He doesn’t ask for much, just a chance, and part of her wants to give it to him. But Lyn's painful memories are too powerful, and she won't trust another fairytale. I like this, it really reveals the tender position her heart is in, while wording her inability to trust, in a clear, but stylistic way.
Later in the cruise the estranged pair finds themselves on the same snorkeling excursion. Awkward enough, but then paradise turns to piracy when their party is kidnapped. Lyn must overcome her fears to fight alongside the man she rejected, first for their freedom and then their survival while lost at sea. This whole last paragraph is awesome. I don't read much romance, so up until this graph I was kind of ... this query is good, but the book probably wouldn't be for me. But then you hit me with this twist, and tied it to the foreshadowing (yes, a query can foreshadow, for a few seconds). I think this conclusion really sums up the final conflict and the choice Lyn must make quite well.
And fate isn’t finished yet. I'm not sure you need this, though. You already just finished with a bang, and this is vague, a bit cliche, and just weakens the punch you just gave.
A CHANGE OF PLANS is a clean adventure romance at 96,000 words. I currently serve on the Board of the League of Utah Writers’ Utah Valley Chapter and am the Social Director for the iWriteNetwork. [Here is where I’d put the personalized information about the specific agent.] I know there's ongoing debate about this, but I put personalization at the end when I query, too. Now, I want to talk about genre. Personally, I would drop the clean, and call this a romantic adventure, or adventure-romance. I'm no expert on this, but my understanding is that romance is clean by definition, and if there is explicit sex, it's erotica. I'm not sure, but my friend Tawna Fenske will know, so I'll ask her to stop by.
So, in summary, I think you've got a good query on your hands. The structure is nearly perfect, you open, introduce us to the characters, set up the internal conflict, and the choice that goes with it, then escalate to the external conflict. Character. Conflict. Choice. That's exactly how it should be. What I want to see changed is your opening hook, and better introduction to the character behind your characters, if that makes any sense.
What do the rest of you think? How could Donna open with a stronger hook, add more characterization, and still keep the nice backstory set up without using too many words?
Does anyone who read or write romance know if I'm right in my assumption? Does anyone have any other suggestions?