Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0028:

Agent Name
Agent Address


Dear _____________,

To most, the word ‘coma’ conveys dreaded images: a living but lifeless body, a trapped, dormant mind. But is the mind trapped and dormant? What if, severed from physical ties, our consciousness migrates to another state—a holding place—a paradise, or purgatory? And do the lies we’ve lived and told ourselves determine which state it is?

In my 90,000 word novel, Where Paradise Lies, brothers David and William Jenner seek redemption. Purpose and peace elude them until a final tragedy strikes, bringing death to one and leaving the other in a coma.

Waking on a transcendental island, unable to remember who he is, the adventure begins. Is it William or David searching for the paradise his physical life never held? Will the arrival of a mysterious woman destroy or mend what is left of his life before the coma ends?

Currently, I have two books in print, Orinoco Intrigue and The Garden Gate, published by Latter Day Specialties. I am a member of the Absolutely Write chapter of the League of Utah Writers, in Ogden, Utah, and have led a critique group for ten years.

Enclosed is the first chapter of my novel, as well as a synopsis and SASE for your convenience. Thank you for your consideration.




folksinmt said...

You have some good elements here, but I think you need ax that entire first paragraph. It didn't grab me. Start with the action, not an explanation of a coma.

I read through this quickly, but the basic storyline seemed to be this: a man in a coma has a dream about a living in paradise, woman included. Is this really what your story is about? Essentially, that doesn't seem a whole lot different than a entire book about a dream.
Make sure your entire plot is explained in the query to eliminate this confusion.

The publishing credits are sure to help (lucky you!) Do you have a website you could direct them to so they can see the covers of your books and such? If so, definitely include it.

Good luck!

Julie Wright said...

I am going to agree with folksinmt in that the first paragraph needs axing. You have the dreaded hypothetical "what if" in there and though the hypothetical isn't always the kiss of death in getting an agents attention, it contributes to that kiss of death rejection.

You do have some elements that are nice in paragraph one, but instead of the hypothetical, you could start it as an absolute:

Severed from physical ties, brothers David and William Jenner find themselves lost to another state—a holding place. One brother is dead, and the other is in a coma.

Something like that. And I'm confused. Do we not know who our protagonist is? Is part of the mystery discovering what character dies and what one is stuck in a coma?

Clarity of who our protagonist is will strengthen your query. You also need to tell us what is at stake. I don't feel any sense of emergency of conflict. That would be good to include as well.

Great information on your publishing credits. It was well stated wthout being overdone.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Your credits are well-listed, and I agree that if you have a website you should include it!

I honestly don't get the idea of the book. Julie's optional opening made it more clear, but I'm still confused. Part of it is not knowing who the protagonist is. Also, what exactly are they trying to get redemption for? Is it a series of things that made up their lives, or is there something bigger: the cause of an accident that brought on the coma, perhaps?

That's another point where I'm confused. Are both boys in a come when the book starts, or is there something else that locks them in the holding place until one of them dies and the other is pushed into a come?

This may all be clear to other readers--it actually seemed to work for me the first time through, but then I read it again to make sure I had the gist of it and I just couldn't grasp it.

It's really tough to include a lot of information in a query, but I think a few things need to be added to clarify things.

Good luck!

onelowerlight said...


I'm going to disagree with everyone so far and say that I liked the first paragraph. It could probably be improved, but I really dig thoughtful, philosophical fiction, and your first paragraph says to me that this is the kind of book you've written. It does hook me, and I'm interested to read the book now.

I will agree with Julie, however, that there is confusion about who is the protagonist. To strengthen this, I would try to get as close as possible to the protagonist's viewpoint in the subsequent paragraphs--to describe what he's experiencing, how he reacts emotionally and otherwise, etc--that kind of stuff. The latter half of the query seems a little vague and distant, and tying it in to the character so I'm interested to get his viewpoint will do a lot to sustain my interest.

I will say, though, I'm a little worried this book is going to be kind of preachy...which can be done well (Heinlein did it, as well as Walter M. Miller Jr. in A Canticle for Leibowitz), but now that I read it again, many of the questions you bring up in the first paragraph send off little warning bells that what seems like it should be thoughtful and eye-opening is actually going to be done poorly and end up too didactic. Not sure if that is the case, but you should be aware that there is the possibility of your query letter conveying that.