Query Critique Numero Uno

Hello virtual friends! 

I recently held a query giveaway and I picked three queries to critique! I've decided to put each one in its own separate blog post with the hopes that it will be helpful to others! I'm keeping the identities of each winner private, but if you have any questions for me, give me a shout out via twitter or in the comments section below. 

There are many traps a writer can fall into while writing a query (telling and not enough showing, passive voice, past tense, etc.). The biggest one I see over and over again is that a query uses a broad brush and glosses over the story. Without specifics, it's impossible to pull the reader—in this case, an agent. 

OK! Without further ado, here is query numero uno!

ORIGINAL QUERY

Dear,

WAVES is an 85,000-word contemporary young-adult adventure novel that begins on a disaster-bound study-at-sea ship in the Caribbean. It would appeal to fans of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, THE RAFT, and LOST.

Mia has been working on her list since the first time her mom checked-in to a treatment facility. The list was supposed to be everything she was going to do ‘someday’ when she didn’t need to watch over her mom. But ‘someday’ isn’t coming, and Mia is done waiting for her life to begin.

Sure, Number One on the list was never supposed to land her on a ship in the middle of the ocean, but then again, Number Five says to let go of control. Gaining some independence is second on the list, but Will, his green eyes, and his secrets make it hard to check that one off.

As Mia attempts to complete the list before summer ends and responsibility beckons, her ship is sailing on a course that will bring her into the middle of colliding storms. Mia’s struggling to let go of problems at home and build her own life, but her emotional struggle becomes a battle for survival when the ship sinks and leaves her injured, stranded, and desperate on a deserted island.

Mia and the others who made it through the shipwreck must battle the island, the elements, and their very selves if they want to survive until rescue. Mia left home to find independence and adventure, instead she’ll have to discover what she’s truly made ofWAVES is a story of self-discovery, romance, and survival set against the backdrop of the sea and its lost islands. It is the first book in a possible duo following Mia and her friends.

When I’m not writing I’m raising two girls and teaching writing to law students. I am a graduate of Vassar College and William Mitchell College of Law, and my writing has been published by the American Bar Association.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

BREAKING IT DOWN

OK! Let's break this down. This sounds like an interesting concept, but because of the formatting and some vague language, I think there are some missed opportunities to pack some punch and evocative language into the query. 

First, let's start with formatting. The best queries I've seen all follow the three paragraph formatting. 

Paragraph one: intro to your characters and what they want. 

Paragraph two: the events or circumstances that stand in the character's way. This is also a great place to introduce a secondary character, like the love interest, and the villain. 

Paragraph three: this one is all about the stakes! 

Dear,

WAVES is an 85,000-word contemporary young-adult adventure novel that begins on a disaster-bound study-at-sea ship in the Caribbean. It would appeal to fans of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, THE RAFT, and LOST.

This is a matter of preference, but I like to keep all housekeeping info in the bottom paragraph, and according to Miss Query Shark, she prefers the same. Just saying! ;) Don't be afraid to jump into the story. You want to hook the agent right away. 

Mia has been working on her list since the first time her mom checked-in to a treatment facility. The list was supposed to be everything she was going to do ‘someday’ when she didn’t need to watch over her mom. But ‘someday’ isn’t coming, and Mia is done waiting for her life to begin.  

This paragraph should introduce the main character and their biggest desire. I like this first sentence since we not only meet Mia, but we also have a pinch of back story (sick mom) and her desire: a bucket list. The only thing I'd change is to mention what kind of treatment the mom is receiving. The more specific, the better. 

Second sentence: I'd shorten and make a touch punchier. Get rid of passive voice. Maybe, something like, "The list is everything she's supposed to do 'someday', when she doesn't have to care for her mom. (It'd be fun to have a specific action here. Something that shows how she cares for her mom. Does she make sure her mom is taking her meds? Eating three square meals?)

Third sentence: I like this. It show's Mia's agency. 

Sure, Number One on the list was never supposed to land her on a ship in the middle of the ocean, but then again, Number Five says to let go of control. Gaining some independence is second on the list, but Will, his green eyes, and his secrets make it hard to check that one off.   

I'd scrap this whole paragraph since this is about her list and not about what actually happens in the story. The second paragraph should be about the inciting incident. What happens to catapult Mia into her journey? 

Bring in specific examples. I can't stress this enough. 

Example: When Mia boards the NAME OF SHIP, she thinks she's on her way to checking things off her list. But a storm knocks her off course, leaving her injured and stranded on a deserted island in the Caribbean. Armed with only the clothes on her back, Mia befriends the other survivors, especially LOVE INTEREST. 

As Mia attempts to complete the list before summer ends and responsibility beckons, her ship is sailing on a course that will bring her into the middle of colliding storms. Mia’s struggling to let go of problems at home and build her own life, but her emotional struggle becomes a battle for survival when the ship sinks and leaves her injured, stranded, and desperate on a deserted island.     

This paragraph can blend into the second paragraph. I'd get rid of the first sentence as it seems to backtrack. You want to write your query like your story progresses—onward. 

Second Sentence: This is a vague sentence and honestly, I'm not sure this belongs here. Since the writer doesn't give specifics to Mia's "problems", it's hard to feel connected to her. 

Now would be a good time to bring in a secondary character (not too many—really only the love interest if you have one, or best friend and then the antagonist). 

As is, the only other character named is Mia. In the below paragraphs, the query mentions there's a romance but we see no hint of that anywhere else. Bring in the love interest into the second paragraph. 

Mia and the others who made it through the shipwreck must battle the island, the elements, and their very selves if they want to survive until rescue. Mia left home to find independence and adventure, instead she’ll have to discover what she’s truly made of.     

This paragraph glosses over the story and since there are no specifics, there's a big risk the agent reading has lost interest. What exactly does Mia face? Who are the others? Be as specific as possible and get close to Mia and HER story. The last sentence is also super vague—how does this impact her personally? What are the stakes? 

WAVES is a story of self-discovery, romance, and survival set against the backdrop of the sea and its lost islands. It is the first book in a possible duo following Mia and her friends.  

Cut the entire paragraph above. Your query shouldn't advertise your book, or sum up it's themes. Your query is a bird's eye view of your story that highlights your main character, what they want, what stands in their way and what should happen if they fail in getting what they want. 

When I’m not writing I’m raising two girls and teaching writing to law students. I am a graduate of Vassar College and William Mitchell College of Law, and my writing has been published by the American Bar Association.        

In terms of the bio, less is more, ALWAYS. Only include the absolute necessary here. This bio is brief and to the point. It works. 

Before the bio, be sure to drop in your housekeeping info! 

Example: 

WAVES is a 85,000 Young Adult contemporary. It was written to stand alone and will appeal to fans of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, THE RAFT, and LOST. 

A word about comps: Be careful with the books you choose to compare your MS to. Don't use best sellers, like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Winner's Curse, etc. Pick titles that show your market savvy, and are appropriate on many levels. Don't pick just an adventure story, shoot for something deeper, too, like theme and tone. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.   

Ok, let's recap and try to everything and get things where they are supposed to be!

EDITED QUERY

Dear X,

First paragraph: AGE Mia has been working on her list since the first time her mom checked into a treatment facility (what kind of treatment? BE SPECIFIC). The list is everything she's supposed to do 'someday', when she doesn't have to care for her mom (add in a specific action here. Something that shows HOW she takes care of her mom). But 'someday' isn't coming, and Mia is done waiting for her life to begin.

Second Paragraph: When Mia boards the NAME OF SHIP, she thinks she's on her way to checking things off her list. But a storm knocks her off course, leaving her injured and stranded on a deserted island somewhere in the Caribbean. Armed with only the clothes on her back, Mia befriends the other survivors, especially LOVE INTEREST. When X happens, Mia realizes her new friends (OR NAMED ANTAGONIST) might only be out for themselves (or however you wish to show how the "others" are turning against each other. Just be specific!). 

Third paragraph: In the original query, there's hint of a rescue. What stands in the way of rescue? What must Mia do to ensure there's a spot available for her? What tough choices does she have to make? This is where you raise the stakes. If she doesn't do X, then Y happens. If it's time sensitive, make sure to add that since it increases tension! 

WAVES is a 85,000 Young Adult contemporary. It was written to stand alone and will appeal to fans of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, THE RAFT, and LOST. 

When I'm not writing, I'm raising two girls and teaching writing to law students. I am a graduate of Vassar College and William Mitchell College of Law, and my writing has been published by the American Bar Association. 

Thank you for your consideration. 

Thanks for reading! I hope this was helpful! I'll have another query up tomorrow. Stay tuned!

XX