Monday, December 21, 2015

Query Critique Winner

Before I dive into this month's critique, I have to tell you all my good news!  Santa has come early this year, because these are the presents I've received so far:

1. DEAL! Taylor Zajonc's sequel for THE WRECKING CREW is going to be with Blank Slate again, and I'm so happy that they're excited enough about his first book to tied down the second before anything has even published!
2. WINNER!  Kristin Lenz is the 2015 winner of Elephant Rock's prestigious Sheehan Prize.  Her novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO is going to publish with them and I am so thrilled for her.
3. DEALS! Brianna DuMont has landed a two-book deal with National Geographic and it is the largest advance I've landed yet, so :D:D:D:D:D
4. L'AFFARE!  Thanks to Susan Blumberg-Kason, I now have my first ever foreign deal.  GOOD CHINESE WIFE is going to be coming out in Italian with Newton Compton.  Hooray!

So that puts me way over my deal goal for 2015 and pretty much means I don't need any holiday or birthday gifts this year.

Now down to business!  This month's query critique winner was Cecelia Mecca--congrats, Cecelia!  Here is her original query:

Dear Ms. Pestritto:
I am seeking representation for Border Reiver, a 13th century historical romance novel complete at 74,000 words. In Border Reiver a landless knight and powerful English countess are thrown together, forced to navigate an inevitable clash between their obligations and desires.
Lady Sara Caiser accepts her father’s death as a catalyst for marriage to secure her inheritance, including Kenshire Castle. She is appalled to learn, however, two lawless border reivers will serve as protectors while she awaits the arrival of her betrothed. Sir Geoffrey Waryn, intent on exacting revenge against those who stole his birthright, reluctantly agrees to protect Lady Sara at his uncle’s request.
With a greedy distant relative intent on conquering Kenshire and a powerful earl poised to claim both Sara and her lands, the countess and border reiver must learn to put aside their past in order to forge a new future.
An active PRO member of RWA with degrees in Education, English and PhD in Curriculum/Language and Literacy, I am also the co-owner of a digital media marketing company.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I would be honored to send you a full manuscript and can be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx or via email.
Sincerely,
Cecelia Mecca

And here is my critique:

Dear Ms. Pestritto:
I am seeking representation for Border Reiver [either have the title in all caps or italicize], a 13th century historical romance novel complete at 74,000 words. In Border Reiver a landless knight and powerful English countess are thrown together, forced to navigate an inevitable clash between their obligations and desires. [I think you need something a little more compelling and specific to draw us into the story here.  If this were the back cover copy of your novel, what would it say?  This intro seems a little general to me.]

Lady Sara Caiser accepts her father’s death as a catalyst for marriage to secure her inheritance, including Kenshire Castle [I'm not quite sure what this means here, and I think the word "catalyst" is what's confusing me.  Does she just accept the fact that now that her father is dead, she needs to get married?  I think there is a simpler way to say this, if so.]. She is appalled to learn, however, two lawless border reivers will serve as protectors while she awaits the arrival of her betrothed [Who hires these border reivers?  Doesn't she have any other family or servants who can protect her if she's in a castle?  And what is a border reiver?  This is bringing up a lot of questions for me.]
[Made this a new paragraph and combined with next.] Sir Geoffrey Waryn, intent on exacting revenge against those who stole his birthright, reluctantly agrees to protect Lady Sara at his uncle’s request. With a greedy distant relative intent on conquering Kenshire and a powerful earl poised to claim both Sara and her lands, the countess and border reiver must learn to put aside their past in order to forge a new future. [But why does Sir Geoffrey care about helping Sara?]

An active PRO member of RWA with degrees in Education, English and PhD in Curriculum/Language and Literacy, I am also the co-owner of a digital media marketing company.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I would be honored to send you a full manuscript and can be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx or via email.
Sincerely,
Cecelia Mecca

As you can see, I didn't have a lot of comments on Cecelia's writing, which was good, but a lot of questions about content.  I wasn't incredibly clear what the hook of the story was, or why these characters were invested in each other, or how they come to have their lives entangled.  Something I mentioned, which I think works well in general when thinking about querying, is to think about writing back cover copy for your book.  In a couple paragraphs, you want to entice with me the big points of the story and leave me wanting to read more!

I will also say that although I absolutely LOVE historical fiction, I've been seeing many of my historical fiction authors get push back on stories that aren't "near historicals," meaning later than the nineteenth century.  If you aren't writing about a person that's well-known, i.e. Cleopatra or Queen Elizabeth, or have a character that someone connects with those well-known figures, it can be hard to have a historical fiction from an earlier era.  One exception right now, of course, is Scottish historicals or romances!  So I think that for BORDER REIVER, it's also important to let us know why we want to read about this time period.  What happens and who is in the story (directly or tangentially) that we might be familiar with?

I'd love to know what you think, too, so please feel free to comment below.  And don't forget to post any questions you want me to answer in the comments section with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!

8 comments:

  1. Wow -- that's a whole bunch of awesome! What a great way to end the year :)
    Congrats to Kristin for winning, that's such a great honor. Also congrats to Taylor, Susan, and Brianna!

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    1. No kidding! I hope I end all my years like this from now on :)

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  2. Big time congratulations on all the end-of-year deals--way to close out 2015 on a high note!

    I'll have to check back in later on the query. Battling sinus infection/chest cold right now, so my brain is firing on maybe one cylinder.

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    1. Getting better! (although I said that LAST week, too) On to the query:

      I think Cecelia has a good story in there, but for me, the query just didn't "pop." It needs more life and action. "With conquering forces closing in, Sara must raise an army to defend Kenshire"; "Lady Sara's inheritance is secure--until she falls for the wayward reiver"; "Can Lady Sara find a way to get her heart's desire AND gain the castle that is rightfully hers?" (although I've seen the advice given time and time again to not ask questions in a query) These are not very good, of course, as I don't know the story through and through, but I think we need to have a better sense of what's at stake and what is being done by the participants, particularly the protagonist.

      Hope this helps, and good luck!

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  3. Wow, congrats to everyone on their publishing deals, and to you Carrie for exceeding your year-end goals! It'll be fun to see the cover of Susan's book in Italian. Happy New Year!

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  4. Yay! Yay! Yay! What a fabulous year! Congrats to all.

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  5. Yay! Yay! Yay! What a fabulous year! Congrats to all.

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