Ahem. Anyway, here is Liza's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.
Fourteen-year-old Melanie Foss is sick of family secrets. Normally, I would say I like this, but when I glance down at your housekeeping paragraph, I worry that this opening sentence is going to make agents think upper MG or lower YA.
Her single mother Bethany refuses to discuss her past other than to admit she was voted Honeydew Queen in Virginia in 1974, but skipped town as soon as she received the crown. This is interesting, and I like the idea of this character's backstory, but I'm concerned that some agents would stop reading at this point. You only have a few lines to grab their attention, and so far, we don't know who your story is actually about, or why we should root for them. I'll say more about queries for books with multiple POVs, in a minute.
When Melanie’s eighth grade social studies teacher assigns a genealogy project worth half her grade, she makes up her family story, a project that creates a crack in the wall her mother has built around her former life. Melanie discovers more when Bethany, diagnosed with a serious illness, enlists the aid of Harrison, a grandfather Melanie has never met. With his support, mother and daughter relocate to Bethany’s hometown; Wait, what? I thought this was going to be a story about the genealogy project, and how it unearthed skeletons from the family closet? If they move away, why would she even continue with the assignment? And conversely, why would they move in the first place? Surely it can't be only to research this project? I'm sure this plot element makes sense in the book, but in the query, you've got very little room to convey the story, so you've got to make absolutely certain everything progresses logically from one point to the next. keeping their presence hidden from Old Meredith, Bethany’s controlling mother, until an accident brings them together and circumstances force a reluctant Bethany to agree to move back to her childhood home. As far as content goes, I really like all the elements here. Family drama, and family secrets, and hiding from family is all intriguing, entertaining stuff, but the execution here continues to follow the problems of this query. There are a lot of characters, and a lot of twists, but we still don't know whose story it is, or what the actual main conflict is going to be.
There, Melanie stumbles upon a clue leading her to initiate a clandestine introduction to the man she assumes is her father. Their disastrous meeting triggers the revelation of a heartbreaking mystery What mystery? You can be specific and just tell us. That's fine in a query. surrounding Bethany’s long ago flight, a tale that alienates Melanie from her mother. Why? Again, be specific. Vagueness is your number one enemy in a query. A shocking loss Vague compounds the teen’s resentment until Old Meredith realizes history has repeated itself. To keep the relationship between her daughter and granddaughter intact, she must decide whether to share the reason behind her own demanding behavior, which she employs to hide a crushing tragedy of her own. Okay, I like the sense I get of the stakes building to high levels, but the problem here is that we're left wondering what actually happens, what the secrets are, and how any of it justifies such a dysfunctional family.
HONEYDEW EVER AFTER (93,000 words), a work of women’s fiction, is written in three points of view, alternating between Melanie, Bethany and Old Meredith. Okay, let me talk about multiple POVs, and how to tackle them in a query. Basically: don't. I mean it's fine that you mention it here, it your housekeeping stats and details, and I certainly think that story format fits for the tale you appear to be telling, but writing the meat of the query in such a way that it tries to focus on more than one character rarely works.
I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm sure it's been done, and done well, but I've never read a query that worked better focusing on multiple characters than it could have been by focusing on one. Try to consider who the main main character is. Is it Melanie? Is it Bethany? It certainly doesn't seem to be old Meredith.
The point is, the best queries open with a character, and characterize that character in such a way that the reader immediately sympathizes with them, and cares about whether they achieve their goals in overcoming whatever conflict they're thrown into.
I am a freelance writer and have been published in
Thank you for your consideration.
So, in summary, my biggest problem with this query is its lack of focus on a character. I would argue that this query would work best if it focused on Melanie, and her investigations into her family's past. Introduce us to her right away, show us what kind of person she is before the story starts, and make us care about her.
When it comes to plot, and conflict, you've got a lot of cool elements, and I think it's clear there is a great story underneath this query, but it's hard to tell what actually happens. You don't necessarily want to give away all your twists, or the ending, but otherwise you should be as specific and as open in a query as possible. Give us the details, so we know exactly why this family fell apart the way it did, and so that we can understand why it's so hard for them to face the truth.
This was a tough one. I think this sounds like an awesome book (reminds me a bit of The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Berry, without the witchcraft), but the query does need a little work.
What do you all think? Have you ever read a query that focused on two POV characters, and made it work in a couple hundred words? Do you disagree with any of my points?