Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tara Gallina's Current Query Critiqued

Okay. First things first, I'm really sorry about yesterday, especially to Tara. I had a family emergency, and wasn't able to make it into work, or to get to a computer to put this post up. Everyone is fine now, so thanks for your understanding.

Now, let's get to work. Tara's query will remain in plain text, and my feedback will be in red.

The query:

NOTE: The details of this query have been removed at the request of the author.

That's it!

What do you guys think? Is there anything I missed? Anything you disagree with? Can anyone try to write a better hook for Tara?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think you nailed it. She needs to get to the meat of the story much faster.

Bryan Russell said...

It seems like this query has a lot of fantastic pieces and elements, but I think Matt's comments about plot are dead on. To me, this query is talking about the story, rather than showing the story. I don't really know anything specific that happens in the story. I know about it... that Death is looking to grab her weird and dysfunctional healing powers (which is bloody cool). But this is only an abstract understanding. I don't know anything that actually happens, or what it means when Death comes after her. There are no actual events to picture so that I can see the story.

I tend to think of a query as being a little like a bit of flash fiction. I should understand the character, the hook, and I should get a sense of the movment of the story as the action rises toward a climax (inlcuding the complications/conflict and the character's major choice/choices).

I think we have all these great pieces here, but we're standing really far away from them. WE're not inside the story, but sort of hearing about it third hand.

Anyway, that's my take. I think this query will rock once we get more of a feel for the actual story.

Old Kitty said...

Yes the first sentence and the gender of Caden are what stood out for me. I did think it was the best friend who was learning the truth of her origins rather then Lily. I was surprised to discover Caden was male! Up to that point I seriously thought Caden was a she and I thought - this is so different and wonderful - Lily and Caden - alas no! :-)

I like the story though - lots of magic and myth and Lily sounds like a real complex character.

Take care

Liza said...

If I EVER get to a point in my life where I need a query letter I'm coming here. Matthew, your suggestions were great, and Bryan's comments added to them. I never though of it as using a query to put the reader into the story. I'll carry that gem with me forever.

Karen Baldwin said...

Yup, that first sentence was confusing to me also. I can't add a thing to your critique, Matt. You're good.

Slamdunk said...

I hope everything is ok there Matthew.

And thanks to you and Tara. I think you do have to be careful with abbreviations like BF or whatever. Most folks get it, but someone from another perspective may take it in another unexpected direction.

Barbara Watson said...

Glad to hear things are okay there.

Tara, once again, thank you for putting your query out for us. The initial Lily sentence confused me also. And, I've heard it's dangerous waters to compare your work with what's already there.

Thorough critique, Matthew. I'm one step closer to getting mine started.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you rock! All of you. I refer to queries as my nemesis, the force of evil in my life. lol! I knew the query needed a lot of work but really had no idea of how to fix it. Matt your advice was new, fresh, insightful, and, I think, dead on. I'm going to rework the entire thing--for the umpteenth time--
and see if I can't get it right. If you all would be wiling to have a go at my next attempt I'd be utterly grateful. Thanks again, Tara :-)

PK HREZO said...

Great crit,as usual, Matt. Needs tightening. Also, just an FYI for Tara and whoever else that may want to know... prophecies scream cliche and may turn off the agent by mentioning it in the query. I learned this the hard way and was disappointed to learn it since my last story had a prophecy as well.

Brinda said...

Matt, I don't know how many queries you keep in your queue, but I also want to send my query for analysis. :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

spot on as usual. The hook was a big problem for me, and though hooks are awesome if you can get them to work, sometimes it's just better to cut them out all together.

Also, i'm fairly certain YA Paranormal is a genre and doesn't need another tag. Paranormal focuses more on the paranomal side of things where pranormal romance has more of a focus on the relationship, if that makes sense.

As for the query, i really feel if there was more specificity, it would really help tighten it.

Also, you can try writing the query in 1st POV from the character, than change it to 3rd. That usually helps with character voice.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Wow, I think your advice is spot on, Matt. More about the characters without backstory and more specificity will definitely give this query more punch.

Anonymous said...

I think you've got it. Wow, I think I am going to use your advise to try to review my own query letter. It seems to be lacking...something. Also just random bit I think your a great person and friend to give advice out like this.

Author A.O. Peart said...

Very precise and easy-to-follow critique, as always. I would like to point out that right after your question about grim-reaper there is "It's" which actually should be "Its".

Weaver said...

That first sentence got me, too.

Good, direct questions for Tara to consider when she rewrites.

Yet, it does beg the question, Matt. A lot of the stuff you'd like to know more about (like her dad) is all backstory. How do we find the balance between telling enough without telling too much?

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Thank you Matt and Tara for doing this. I have to admit, I didn't notice the pronoun thing at the beginning, but I see it now. I did wonder about the bf thing though.
This is so helpful! Thanks again you two!

Misha Gerrick said...

This might sound like I'm nit-picking, but I don't like the word "lame" at all.

In spoken vernacular, it makes sense, but written without context as it is in the query, it can be taken literally. I was at least half wondering if her one leg was shorter than the other or something...

Sub Radar (Mike) said...

Wonderful critique, as usual. Your word suggestions really do make a lot of difference, pending on what the author was intending.

Southpaw said...

Glad to hear everything is okay.

I love all your insights and ability to find the little things that need correcting.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I really like Tara's story and didn't mind the first sentence with Matt's suggestion. I think if you could tighten and condense paragraphs 2 & 3 and expand on the last paragraph of the query which I agree is the best that you would nail the query.

Thanks for sharing it with us Tara and to Matt for all your suggestions.

Lydia Kang said...

Well done, Matthew. It's a good query but it definitely has room to grow with that specificity you're talking about. Still, the story sounds like fun!

Abby Minard said...

Hope everything is okay with your family. I think you did a great job with this query. The story does sound interesting though! I think my biggest issue that you point out was the fact that we don't know Caden is a boy until way farther down, like the third paragraph, I think. It seems like a small thing, but it can be quite jarring when you assume Caden is a girl and then she's suddenly a boy in the third paragraph. Now, if she changed the name to more of a masculine name, I don't think I'd have a problem at all except maybe with the first line and defining it better.

Suzie F. said...

Thanks for sharing your query with us, Tara.

Again, awesome critique Matt. The first sentence confused me, too. And like Old Kitty, I thought the friend was a girl and then did an, "Oh, wait..." as I read further.

I'm also not a fan of the word "lame" in this context. I didn't read it as the literal meaning of the word, but rather as almost a derogatory adjective describing teen (which I'm sure you didn't mean to imply). Maybe it's me being me.

As others have mentioned, I think you need to show how your story stands out from the saturated paranormal market. What makes your story unique and what is it about your paranormal novel that makes it different and fresh? As it reads now, it's another, "girl has feelings for best friend, finds out she has powers she didn't realize, there's a prophecy, plus a bad dude after her" story. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but my thought is an agent may do a "been there, done that" and move on.

I agree with Matt 100% that your 3rd paragraph is your strongest. I don't know if it would help but maybe you could make a bullet list of plot points, choose which are the ones that introduce conflict, tough choices that she faces, what's at stake, it may help to elimimate unnecessary backstory.

Just my 2 cents. Hope it helps and good luck!

M Pax said...

I think you were very thorough, Matt. Tara need to be more specific. Sounds like a great story idea.

Glad everyone in your family is OK.

T.D. McFrost said...

Apart from the knacks here and there, I think this is an amazing story!

I would definitely read more! Good job!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great advice Matt - this sounds like a fun story and with a bit of polish, the query should shine! :)

Golden Eagle said...

Great critique!

I agree that the word lame could be more specific; it can mean a lot of different things.

Glad to hear everyone's okay!

Johanna Garth said...

I'm wondering if there isn't a bit of the MC's dialogue you could use in your query to give us more of a feel for her as a character.

Steve MC said...

All I can add is mythology-obsessed should have a hyphen, and overactive is one word.

And glad to hear all is well, Matt.

farawayeyes said...

Tara, thanks for your courage.

Matt, thanks for your insight.

I would never have been so concise with a critique, but there was something here that did not reach out and grab me, even though it is a relatively interesting premise.

I agree/question with another comment, about backstory. Personally, I'm way to fond of backstory. Is it possible that it has NO place in a query letter.

Also, I realize that 'voice' IS important, but is hard to create in the little bit of space allocated in a good query.

Thanks for all the information.

Michael G-G said...

Well, as we all know by now, Matt is the king of query dissection--and the thing he is so good at is asking for specificity.

I thought the query was good--and unlike most others wasn't tripped up by the first sentence. I loved the image of the unruly hair!

A few nits that others haven't mentioned. The sentence "Fays are real, soul-bearers who..." tripped me up. I think it needs a semi-colon or something. Also, in the "Fayted Existence" paragraph, it should be ITS, not IT'S. (Sorry, I am a whacko about its/it's.)

Finally, I don't think you need to get all hyperbolic in the end. Just thank 'em for their time and consideration--leave out the precious, and the fabulous day.

Otherwise, this sounds like an interesting story--and I'd be happy to look at the reworked query.

Thanks for being brave in sharing this, Tara. Best of luck.

(Matt, glad everything is okay after the family emergency.)

Robert Guthrie said...

Very helpful, especially "specificity".

Rusty Carl said...

Great critique - as always, I read the query first, and got a vague sense that a few things were wrong but had trouble articulating it. You' nailed it though. Good job.