6/16/06

Critique This! #1

Here is a sample query letter that I'm hoping you can critique for me. All advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


Dang! (oops, that isn’t a swear word, is it? Because I promised.) I was hoping to get a really bad query letter first out of the chute so I could rip it to shreds with my clever repartee. (No, “clever” is not redundant, it’s emphasis.) Actually, this one isn’t too bad. Just a few comments (in red).


THE QUERY:

Hang on! (Not sure what this is. Is it the title of the book or a new way to say “Dear Publisher/Editor”?)

When Jonathon Bradford reluctantly accompanies his father on a research trip to Peru he learns the eerie legend – the entire Inca nation vanished overnight. Some claim they fled from their enemies by takingtheir gold and sacred mummies into secret caverns carved deep in the Andes Mountains. Jonathon isn’t sure he believes the stories until a wrong step plunges him deep into an underground labyrinth.

If you are looking for a manuscript that can run in a national market, this YA thriller can set the pace. Suspense begins on the very first page and moves through the entire 62,000 word story. Readers willfind themselves buried deep in an actual Peruvian legend alongside the book’s young hero. (Wrong place for this paragraph. It breaks up your storyline.)

Trapped inside the deadly tunnels, Jonathon struggles to survive tomb traps, depravation (what kind?) and his own fears when he discovers the legendary mummies do exist. He also stumbles into a modern-day terror, the Shining Path Terrorists of Peru. Now, with more at stake than just his own life, (not being familiar with current Peruvian terrorists, I’m not certain what else is at stake here) he escapes the tunnels only to find himself pursued by a growing evil that claims the lives of all those who try to stop it. Desperate to live, Jonathon must decide if he can trust the young Peruvian pointing a rifle at him. (Huh? Where’d he come from? Why would Jonathon even consider trusting him? Isn’t he one of the bad guys?) Can he follow the terrorist back inside the tunnels? (Does he have a choice?)

Filled with plot twists, mummies and hardened terrorists, (already said this) the story drops Jonathon into an ever-growing maze of danger where he is forced to rely on his wits, his courage and the words of his father just to survive. Research (love it when fiction writers do their homework!) into South American tomb traps, Peruvian history, culture and actual legends gives the story credence and multi-cultural interest. This manuscript can work as a single title or grow into an adventure/thriller series. (Good--you’re thinking ahead, but not too far ahead. Don't try to pitch an entire series on your first query. A simple mention like this is adequate.)

I had the opportunity to live in Peru (great! A personal fact that actually has bearing on the story) and found myself fascinated by their legends of ancient passageways boring through the vast mountain realms. This manuscript brings that legend to print along with the sights and sounds of a culture I cherish and deeply respect. (This is assumed to be the case with good writing.)

I have been published both as a fiction and non-fiction writer (is this in addition to the publications listed next? If so, be more specific.) and have written for various national and international publications including Reader’s Digest, Highlights For Children, Parenting Magazine, and more. I have also written scripts for radio and video production. (Were they produced?) Currently I work as a copy editor and write a weekly family values column (where? If it’s a paper or magazine, cite it. If it’s your personal blog, delete it.).

Enclosed is a synopsis (Wonderful!) and three sample chapters from the story (Good. Saves a lot of time. Hopefully they’re the first three chapters) for your consideration. The completed manuscript is available for your review. (Manuscript is finished. That’s good.) Thank you for your time and consideration. (This is always so nice.) I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


THE CRITIQUE:

You’ve got a good tone. I was intrigued. Even though it rambles and repeats a little, it’s good enough as is that I would read the enclosed chapters. However, I’d suggest cutting it so it fits on 1 page.



THE REWRITE:

Dear LDS Publisher,

If you are looking for a YA thriller that can run in a national market, Hang On! can set the pace. Suspense begins on the very first page and moves through the entire 62,000 word story. Readers will find themselves buried deep in an actual Peruvian legend alongside the book’s young hero.

When Jonathon Bradford reluctantly accompanies his father on a research trip to Peru, he comes face to face with the eerie legend of the vanishing Incas—complete with hidden gold treasure, sacred mummies, and secret caverns carved deep in the Andes Mountains. Jonathon doesn’t believe this legend for a second, until a wrong step plunges him deep into an underground labyrinth.

Trapped inside the deadly tunnels, Jonathon struggles to survive tomb traps, impending starvation, and his own fears when he discovers the legendary mummies do exist. He also stumbles onto a modern-day terror, the Shining Path Terrorists of Peru who embody a growing evil that claims the lives of all those who try to stop it. Now, with more than just his own life at stake, Jonathon must escape an ever-evolving maze of danger where he is forced to rely on his wits, his courage and the words of his father to survive.

Just as escape seems possible, Jonathon finds himself looking down the barrel of a rifle. But things are not always as they seem. Can he trust this young Peruvian terrorist who claims [insert something here] and follow him back inside the tunnels to [insert something here]?

I had the opportunity to live in Peru and found myself fascinated by their legends of ancient passageways boring through the vast mountain realms. Research into South American tomb traps, Peruvian history, culture and actual legends gives the story credence and multi-cultural interest. This manuscript can work as a single title or grow into an adventure/thriller series.

I am a published fiction and non-fiction writer, having written for national and international publications including Reader’s Digest, Highlights For Children, Parenting Magazine, and more. I have also written scripts for radio and video production. Currently I work as a copy editor and write a weekly family values column in [name the publication].

Enclosed is a synopsis and three sample chapters from the book for your consideration. The completed manuscript is available for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Feel free to use any of my suggestions, verbatim or otherwise, in the revised query letter you actually send out.


(Sometimes it's a disadvantage being anonymous. I'd really like to see this one. Maybe I'll get lucky.)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the swift critique. I appreciated your comments. Yes, I do struggle with redundant repetition! :) Thanks for calling it to my attention here.

I actually had the facts of the story in the first paragraph and then swapped the order to submit the letter to you. As a rule, do publishers prefer the facts first (type, length, etc.) or an overview of the plot to grab their attention?

Thanks, "Hang On" Hopeful

LDS Publisher said...

Facts or story first? Either way works as long as it reads well. You could just as easily move that first paragraph down to #4.

I prefer not to have someone start off with paragraph 5, 6, or 7. There's no hook in those. If you hook me in your query then I know you understand how to do that, and hopefully you will also hook me with chapter 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1.