Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers has submitted a query letter for critique. Please offer only constructive comments.

Critique Archive #47

Dear (Agent),

How do you let go of the past when it haunts you every day? Nearly a year ago, 17-year-old Allie Collins almost drowned in a river by her family’s summer cabin. Failing to rescue her young cousin, Allie harbors her anguish and guilt, carrying them with her into a lonely existence. Forced to return to the cabin, Allie struggles with her grief as well as her complicated family dynamics. She is intrigued when she hears the rumor of how a family mysteriously died some years ago, not far from where her own tragedy occurred. Feeling strangely connected to the story, Allie sets out to discover the truth behind the secrecy. Meanwhile, Allie meets Damien, a local rebel with a shielded past. Drawn by Damien’s uncanny ability to help Allie share her darkest emotions, she embraces this relationship with little heed to the warnings from her friends and family. By the time Allie unearths the secrets of Damien’s youth, she discovers just how intricately they are connected, and is caught in a dangerous battle that threatens her life and those she loves.

Hidden Pines is a contemporary young adult novel that depicts a journey between heartbreak and healing, while testing friendship, loyalty, and love. My experience working with youth as a Recreational Therapist allows me to incorporate values and relevant themes that will entice young adult readers.

I look forward to sharing my 90,000 word manuscript with you. As instructed in your submission guidelines, I have included three sample chapters.

With appreciation,


Rebecca McKinnon said...

Sounds like an interesting story!

My thoughts on the query itself:
*Some agents/editors really don't like queries to start with a question, while others don't care either way. Just something to keep in mind!
*The first paragraph felt a little long. The information was all good, but you might consider breaking it into two paragraphs.
*The biggest question on my mind after reading this is: WHY was she forced to return to the cabin?

Good luck!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Very interesting tale.

I'm working on my own first query, so I know how dang hard they are.

As a result I've been reading a lot of query blogs. It seems to me that what happens in the beginning of this long paragraph is back story. It's not really telling us what this book is about.

I might suggest the real query begins with "Forced to return to the cabin ...". I wonder if some of the back story could be incorporated into the subsequent information.

I'd also break it up.

For what it's worth from this rank amateur.

David G. Woolley said...

Agents/editors don't like a story, especially an opening, that is loaded with back-story. If an agent believes your story is going to delve into the past right from the get-go and stay there for lengthy periods, it will raise a red flag that your novel is likely a slow starter and possibly a slow moving story throughout. That’s a formula for lots of rejections.

Even if your novel doesn’t spend page after page in your character’s past, your query letter, as written, is likely to convey a very slow starting novel and one overly-dependant on events that took place a year prior to the opening. Not to mention the dependence of your story on the deaths of another family that occurred even prior to your main character’s back-story. That’s a lot of reaching into the past.

I'd recommend you soft-pedaled the back-story angle in your query in order not to frighten off any potential interest. If you haven't already, make sure that the back-story in your novel comes out naturally, in a single-scene or two (since there are two back-stories that are relevant to your story) where it will have the most impact on the present story. It should come a point in your novel where Allie finds she has no other choice than to share her past with, say, Damien, and also at a point in your novel where the reader has been prepared to willingly suspend the present story in order to find out about the past so that she (the reader) can be drawn deeper into the present story.

Begin your query (and your novel) in the present in order to avoid conveying any over-reliance on back-story. Something like:

Forced to return to the scene of her cousin's death, seventeen year old Allie struggles with grief over her part in the accident. When rumors circulate of the mysterious death of an entire family many years ago in the same location where her own family tragedy occurred, she is drawn to discover the truth behind the loss of so many lives.

Allie meets Damien, a local rebel with a shielded past. His sympathy for Allie's need to conduct her own investigation and his uncanny discernment of evidence surrounding Allie’s search for truth, begins a relationship that her friends and family warn her is becoming increasingly suspect. By the time Allie uncovers Damien’s dark secret, it may be too late for her to save herself and those she loves most.

Good luck with both your query letter and your novel-writing. And please, let us know how all this turns out—both your query and your novel-writing efforts.

Erica and Dan Kiefer said...

thanks everyone for your thoughts and comments. David, I especially appreciate your thorough explanation. It is very helpful and means a lot that you would take the time. good luck with your own writing, as well!

David G. Woolley said...


Good luck with everything. I noticed you were sealed to Dan in the Bountiful Temple in May of 2005. Any chance you ran into a President Woolley (Don Woolley) while you were there?

Erica and Dan Kiefer said...

David: No, I don't think so...the name doesn't sound familiar. sorry! that would have been an interesting connection though.