Monday, January 7, 2019

Query Critique Winner

The first query critique winner of 2019 is Ivy--congrats!  Also, I'm sorry about the paragraph spacing being weird...I'm not sure why it's happening and I can't fix it, so apologies for anyone who has a harder time reading because of it. 

Here is her original query:

Dear Literary Carrie,

Aaron Keller promised his dying wife he’d remarry and give siblings to their baby with Down syndrome. But when he falls for Dr. Katrina Lopez, who isn’t ready for marriage, children, or a new life, he’s thrust into battle against time and fear. DARKNESS & DREAMS is a steamy contemporary romance complete at 80,000 words.  Dr. Katrina Lopez has it. Associate professorship in psychology. German Shepherd. And security she’d promised herself amid a frightful childhood. Life is under her control. It’s predictable, safe, and all is well—except for lustful dreams about Aaron Keller, the hunk she’d turned down fifteen years ago. The dreams make her crave his lips. His touch. His everything. But when she arrives on his doorstep in hopes of sating her unexplored attraction, she’s ill-prepared for the whirlwind of passion that sends her emotions into a tailspin. 
Since his wife died, Aaron’s priorities have been Keller Rehabilitation, which thrives in the heart of Michigan, and his only child, a son with Down syndrome. When the beautiful woman who once rejected him shows up on his doorstep, he breathes hope for a new beginning. Katrina Lopez is intelligent, independent, and has legs he’s adored since high school. Driven to give his son a sibling, Aaron dusts off his inner romantic. But falling in love forces him to battle Katrina’s fear of trust and his own fear of loss. He must prevail or he’ll lose her. And losing another amazing woman isn’t in his plans. 
DARKNESS & DREAMS is an introspective journey from fear to security (The Ones Who Got Away) that explores mental illness in addition to special needs and acceptance (The Kiss Quotient). Aaron and Katrina’s story, which balances humor and whimsy with high levels of emotion, romance, and heat, is infused with down-to-earth flavor (Second Chance Season) mixed with a sensual style. 
I have a Ph.D. in psychology and expertise in themes woven into DARKNESS & DREAMS. Like the heroine, I’m [...#OwnVoices statement]. 
I’m looking for a strong editorial agent who would love working with me. I’d be honored if you asked to see more of DARKNESS & DREAMS. Thank you for reading my letter. 
Sincerely,  Ivy

And here is my critique:


Dear Literary Carrie,

Aaron Keller promised his dying wife he’d remarry and give siblings to their baby with Down syndrome Aaron Keller's dying promise to his wife was that he would always be there for XX, their baby with Down Syndrome, and do everything possible to give their son a wonderful life.  For his wife, that included having siblings to love and play with[I changed the language here to try and have this make more sense, because I wasn't sure why making sure a child with Down Syndrome was important with the original wording.  The language also made me wary because it feels a little two-dimensional.] But when he falls for Dr. Katrina Lopez, who isn’t ready for marriage, children, or a new life, he’s thrust into battle against time and fear he fears his newfound love may mean breaking his promise. ​​[I also the wording here to try and get across what I think you're trying to say in a better way, since otherwise it sounds a bit like Aaron is trying to force Katrina to be the romantic partner he wants/isn't taking her desires into account.] DARKNESS & DREAMS is a steamy contemporary romance complete at 80,000 words.​ [You don't need this here.]  Dr. Katrina Lopez has it a great life now. Associate professorship in psychology. German Shepherd.​ [How does having a German Shepherd factor in here?  Clarify a bit more.] And the security she’d promised herself amid a frightful childhood​ she'd have after escaping a terrifying childhoodLife Everything is under her control. It’s predictable, safe, and all is well—except for the lustful dreams about Aaron Keller, the hunk she’d turned down fifteen years ago. The dreams Dreams that make her crave his lips. His touch. His everything. But when she arrives on his doorstep in hopes of sating her unexplored attraction, she’s ill- the last thing she is prepared for the whirlwind of passion that sends her emotions into a tailspin. 
Since his wife died, Aaron’s priorities have been Keller Rehabilitation, which thrives in the heart of Michigan [Instead of his description, tell us what Keller Rehabilitation is], and his only child, a son with Down syndrome​ named XX. When the beautiful woman who once rejected him shows up on his doorstep, he breathes hope for a new beginning he is excited about the opportunity to rekindle the romance and widen the boundaries of his life. Katrina Lopez is intelligent, independent, and has legs he’s adored since high school. Driven to give his son a sibling, Aaron dusts off his inner romantic​ Having promised his deceased wife to try and provide XX with a large, loving family, his meet-cute with Katrina seems like a sign from above to open his heart to her[The current language makes it sounds like he is putting on a romantic act in order to fulfill an obligation to reproduce.] But falling in love forces him to battle Katrina’s fear of trust and his own fear of loss. He must prevail or he’ll lose her. And losing another amazing woman isn’t in his plans​. Can they both overcome the hangups of their past to create a happy future together?​ [Again, to me at least, this makes Aaron seem too predatory and forceful.] 
This contemporary romance, DARKNESS & DREAMS, is an introspective journey from fear to security (The Ones Who Got Away) similar to THE ONES WHO GOT AWAY [This description does NOT sound like a romance book!] that​ and explores mental illness genetic disorders [Down Syndrome is NOT a mental illness!] in addition to special needs and acceptance (The Kiss Quotient). Aaron and Katrina’s story, which balances humor and whimsy with high levels of emotion, romance, and heat, is infused with down-to-earth flavor (Second Chance Season) mixed with a sensual style. 
I have a Ph.D. in psychology and expertise in themes woven into DARKNESS & DREAMS. Like the heroine, I’m [...#OwnVoices statement]​ [I'm interested to know why you have "#OwnVoices statement" here.  How is this own voices for you?]. 
I’m looking for a strong editorial agent who would love working with me. I’d be honored if you asked to see more of DARKNESS & DREAMS. Thank you for reading my letter. 
Sincerely,  Ivy


So although I'm completely for more romances featuring minority characters and am also happy to see real-life concerns of disabled or handicapped people, I had a few issues with this query that I think you'll want to fix.

First off, I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of having characters with disabilities who are secondary characters, as their portrayal can often come across as two-dimensional and plot device-y.  How does Aaron's son factor into the story besides as a motivator for his father to remarry?  Does he have a specific role in the story, even though he is an infant?  If so, I think you will want to expand on that a bit more so that we see his importance and personality.  Secondly, I think you have to fine tune the way Aaron comes across in this query.  At the moment, he doesn't seem like a romantic hero--he feels a bit insensitive and I think there is a lot of room to revise and make him more swoon-worthy and also to explain the reasonings behind his motivations for the reader.

I hope you take these thoughts as encouragement rather than let yourself get upset by them.  As I mentioned, I think this needs thoughtful revision, but everyone starts somewhere and being smart and open enough to ask others for critical opinions is a really good first step.  Best of luck with this!

Everyone else, if you have any helpful thoughts to share, the comments section is for you!