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Author Topic: How do you know?  (Read 3281 times)
atwhatcost
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« on: November 18, 2017, 05:18:58 PM »

Upfront: I have not posted my query on this site too. That's why I'm asking here.

Whenever we post a query to be critiqued, lots of people eagerly critique them. How do you know which crits work and which don't? At this point in time, if I took all the advice given, my query would be longer than the ms itself.

If I take none of the advice, I'd be back at writing "This is a really good book and you should sell it."

It's to the point that I was trying to get a query that gave me a Full once, (and I only tried it out twice), even better, yet people are still telling me it's all wrong. And I believe them!

Does anyone have any hints on when to dump and when to take crits for queries? Because by now, I really want to give up even trying to get an agent, and that's not good.
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jldelozier
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« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2017, 07:46:28 PM »

The best advice I can give it to actually read a lot of professionally reviewed queries. An excellent place to start is agent Janet Reid's http://www.queryshark.blogspot.comwhere she dissects queries and explains what works and doesn't. Her blog has an archive of over 200 queries she's reviewed.
If you look at a bunch of queries, you'll see certain commonalities:
1) They all should contain a professional salutation with the correct spelling of the agent's name.
2) They all should have the genre and work count clearly stated.
3) A query should be roughly 250 words - not much more.
4) They all should contain "the hook, the look, and the cook" - a catchy opening line, a peek at the protagonist and plot highlighting the central conflict, and a sentence or two about the cook - the author - IF and only if you have professional attributes to list (which essentially means previously published words or awards.) If you don't have anything substantial to put in the cook section, skip it entirely. In general, even college degrees like MFAs don't count. A standard format for the look might be: When (conflict) happens to (protagonist), she must (overcome conflict) to (complete quest.)
5) they avoid clich├ęs and use strong verbs
6) they avoid useless statements: "my manuscript is complete (of course it is, otherwise you wouldn't be querying), "I'd be happy to send you.." (again, of course you would.) etc.
7) They remember that first and foremost, a query is a business letter designed not only to entice, but to prove you're not an asshat.

Most other advice is subjective. A good example is where to put the genre and word count. Some people insist it should be in the first sentence; others state at the end.
Good luck and DON'T GIVE UP. I had no idea what the hell I was doing when I started this weird and wonderful journey 2 years ago. It's a steep learning curve.
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Rachael846
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« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2017, 06:02:21 AM »

What jldelozier said.

Also, I think you also have to do a little "research" on everyone who offers a critique of your work. Before you let their words influence you, go take a look at their query. If they've posted writing samples, take a look at those too. Is their writing good? Does it seem like the style you're going for? If so, great, you can start taking their comments to heart and deciding whether or not you agree with them. But sometimes on sites for writers you'll get critiques from people who don't actually know how to write a query or who are just still very beginning writers or who have some strange emphatic beliefs about obscure grammar rules...thank them politely for their help, but don't let them influence your work. It takes a bit of work to weed through which comments and critiques will be helpful and which ones won't, but that should make you feel less crazy. 
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koji
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« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2017, 07:58:27 AM »

At some point you have to trust in yourself.

Critiques are just that- critiques. They are meant for you to take what resonates with you and ignore the rest. Sometimes I get advice that is out of left field (for me) and I simply say thank you, don't put it in, and move on. Other times I get advice that makes me go, "Yeah, absolutely, that makes my writing stronger and is easier to understand." I say thank you and make changes.

If you accept all critiques and make all suggested changes, your voice and your story will be lost.

But definitely, read lots of blogs that offer query advice, and then choose a format and style that resonates with you.
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atwhatcost
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« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2017, 09:07:02 AM »

Something of the problem. I have the ultimate collection of successful queries at my fingertips, (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Lhye7SCTVuz34zPd9NHfR4uiiMv5PAAfwR9E8Iv65yc/edit#gid=0), know the technical aspects, but still cannot figure out the subjective stuff.

There's a reason the ms is 47,000 words. (MG, so 47,000 isn't a bad number.) Because that's how long it took to get the complete story down. And yet, everyone wants me to show the complete set up, or to skip parts of the set up because it confuses the story. It's the set up in reduced form. It can't be ignored, but it took something like a third of the story to make it sound reasonable.

The summary includes life-or-limb elements to it, and yet I'm being told the stakes aren't clear. Life-and-limb isn't clear?

I'm being told that the goal isn't clear. Well, the goal is clear, but MC can't get that goal, so spends all his time, until the last page of the story, figuring out what new-normal he gets, since he cannot get old-normal. Now, I could go with tell what the real goal is, (which, btw, can be said in the same words as his original goal, for added confusion), but then I'm told not to summarize the whole story, because that's what synopsis are for. Queries are to entice the agent to read the ms. Add to that, Janet Reid hates questions in queries, so don't ask any.

And I'm being told show the MC's personality in the query, except the kid is non-assertive to begin with, completely naive, and completely confused. Write a query showing all that, and it sounds like I am that kid.

And yet, notice, all that stuff makes sense, and yet I can't do it!

It's not the technical aspects throwing me. My mind is made up on those already, even though most don't like how I did it. It's that summary that's driving me bonkers. The subjective stuff!
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Munley
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« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2017, 10:19:18 AM »

Sounds like you've done a lot of homework -- reading samples of successful queries, and reading critiques of queries good and bad offered by web sites like literary agent Janet Reid's.

That's a really good way to get a sense of effective and ineffective queries. Some models of each.

People here are telling you to develop your own sense of effective queries as a way of judging what to take to heart and what to pass on when you get feedback on your query.

I found that just reading models of good and poor queries was not sufficient to develop that sense.
Critiquing the queries of many other writers helped me to see how to apply whatever helpful things I noticed in those models. I had less of a tendency to dig my heels in on keeping stuff when the query wasn't my own. I also noticed responses that I thought really improved the query and some that didn't.

An important thing I noticed was that, while some contributors may not be the best at edits, they might be just the fresh set of eyes that can see a gap in the storyline or a limp expression without necessarily having the best fix for it. The observation can still be helpful.

Giving thoughtful consideration to others' queries is great practice at developing skills to write your own query as well judge more objectively how useful the variety of feedback is. And you'll likely find that someone got unsnagged from their query conundrums by an observation or suggestion of yours.



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atwhatcost
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« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2017, 03:27:30 PM »

I do wish we could all swap queries. I can tell if someone else's query is good or bad, just not my own.  bonk
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Munley
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« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2017, 04:44:26 PM »

I do wish we could all swap queries. I can tell if someone else's query is good or bad, just not my own.  bonk

Not sure what you mean about wishing we could all swap queries. There's already a spot here in QT for people to give and take feedback on queries.
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paddler
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« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2017, 09:40:08 PM »

There isn't a wrong in queries. Sometimes the voice of a query can allow you to break the accepted rules of a query. The rules for a basic query are what you will most often see in query critiques. At least here. Some sites are more about finding fodder for flame wars, but that is what it is.

Most critiques are about places where you leave unanswered questions. With only somewhere around 250 words to deal with answering those questions take a lot more than an answer. A query is about distilling a story arc and making it enticing.

John Cusick did a nice blog articles about describing a story arc. It is here:

https://johnmcusick.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/a-pretty-much-foolproof-never-fail-silver-bullet-query-opening/

Keep working at it. It takes time to understand a query. I don't but I am starting to understand others comments. I did that by starting another book to force the one I am querying far enough away that I can paint it with a wide brush.
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atwhatcost
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« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2017, 05:16:56 AM »

A query summary is supposed to tell who the protag is, what his goal is, what the obstacles are to reaching that goal, and who the antagonist is, right?

Well, I've been working on mine since September 2015, so it's not lack of trying, and it's not "keep trying."

I just figured out what my problem is. My protag lost everything -- absolutely everything. Most people rebuild after something like that, but they do that because they can come up with a reason to do that. ("My family needs a place to live. I need somewhere to stay because work is expecting me." "I need a place for my car.") Truthfully, the people who rebuild didn't lose absolutely everything. He did. He didn't just lose stuff. He lost family, friends, and purpose. And this story is about finding a purpose even when he doesn't know he lost that.

So, it seems the biggest problem in my query is I can't write a query, because the protag has no goal.  crazy
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mgmystery
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« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2017, 07:21:55 AM »

Does your protag lose everything at the beginning of the book? If not maybe your query can focus on before the loss. If so, what is the book about? I bet there's a goal in there somewhere.
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Sarah Ahiers (Falen)
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« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2017, 07:55:29 AM »

So, it seems the biggest problem in my query is I can't write a query, because the protag has no goal.  crazy

That's probably your issue right there. Which is why I'm such a huge fan of writing a query before you write a rough draft of the novel because it can highlight these sorts of issues before you get too far into things.

But, at least now you know what the issue is and it can be fixed!

For example, my book has the same sort of set up. My main character loses everything and everyone she loves in a fire. So her purpose becomes vengeance (because this is a fantasy novel and that's a very normal thing to do.)

I would work on trying to give him something that he thinks he needs, even though you, as the author, knows that what he really needs is a purpose. But what could be something your character believes that if he obtains, his life will be better once more? It could be anything, big or small, just as long as your character believes he needs it and your readers believe that your character believes he needs it.
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kwill79
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« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2017, 01:21:34 PM »

I agree that you have to trust in yourself at some point.  I think you take the critiques and make the changes that feel comfortable to you--not comfortable in the sense that they're easy to make, but in the sense that they maintain the voice of your story and improve clarity and intrigue.  I wish I had your problem though, I feel like when I post queries on other sites, I don't get any feedback at all (like literally nobody posts critiques), which is equally frustrating!
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atwhatcost
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« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2017, 10:21:18 AM »

I agree that you have to trust in yourself at some point.  I think you take the critiques and make the changes that feel comfortable to you--not comfortable in the sense that they're easy to make, but in the sense that they maintain the voice of your story and improve clarity and intrigue.  I wish I had your problem though, I feel like when I post queries on other sites, I don't get any feedback at all (like literally nobody posts critiques), which is equally frustrating!
Actually, it ends up I had more than one problem. People were critting my query without even remembering what they read, (if they read it at all.) So, it may seem like the worst thing is no one crits, but that's not the worst.
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gckatz
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« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2017, 11:30:35 AM »

You know, if you've been querying for over two years, like the manuscript has been finished for two years and still doesn't seem close to finding a home, it may be time to shelve this one. You're right to be fed up with reworking your query; you probably ran through all the useful advice a long time ago and are now getting a lot of contradictory information.

If it's been this long and you're still not getting much interest, it's probably not the query and a different hook or whatever is not going to fix the problem. There's probably something about the book that makes it hard to sell. I think Sarah is right: If your protagonist has no motivation, that's a problem. Without a goal, the first act will feel very directionless and we won't have much reason to invest in the protagonist. I'm not a big fan of "protagonist loses everything" openings myself, but their whole utility is that they provide a strong motivating force for your protagonist.

(BTW, I disagree with the premise that someone who genuinely loses everything ipso facto has no goal. There are lots of possible goals: "honor my family's memory," "finish what they couldn't," "prove that they can't keep me down," or the good old-fashioned "revenge.")
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