Sunday, July 29, 2012

Query Letter Critique


Before we get started I want to point out that this query is for a memoir—it is hella awkward to critique a query for a memoir. This is stuff that actually happened! How can I critique what an author has to say about her own experience, especially this type of experience? Awkward. But the author did submit it for critique, and presumably knows what she’s in for, so I’m not going to tread lightly.  You've all been forewarned.  

Original Query Letter
Fifteen-year-old Amber Harville is a spitfire of a girl who’s as quick to throw a punch as she is to steal a kiss. When she’s kidnapped and raped, she puts up one hell of a fight, refusing to give in.
Her captor’s first mistake was choosing her as his victim. His second was letting her go.
She rushes to the police and three days later he’s caught. After meeting with her lawyer, she discovers her evidence was the key to capturing a serial rapist. Although revenge is never far from her mind, going to court becomes about so much more. It is now about protecting all his future victims.
While preparing for trial, she struggles to deal with the damage left behind. Amber puts on a brave face for the world, but the invisible scars leave her incapable of being touched. The one boy who tries almost gets a cheek full of knuckles. With the guidance of a youth pastor, her 'Sunday only' faith is challenged, and grows to a relationship full of healing.
A summer foreign exchange program comes at the perfect time. With the court date months away, a trip to Spain is exactly what she needs- a break from the pressures of the trial. The last thing she ever wanted was a gorgeous Spanish boy to awake her stone-cold heart. Now torn between staying in Spain for the school year with the boy she loves, or returning home to testify, she has to decide what is more important- protecting her heart or protecting other women from a monster.
PERFECTLY BROKEN is a YA narrative memoir complete at 68,000 words. Fans of THE DEVIL IN PEW NUMBER SEVEN by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo will be drawn to this story for its intense nature and compelling faith.
Statistics say one in five American women experience sexual assault in their lifetime, but over half of those crimes go unreported. I hope my story will help encourage more to come forward and seek justice. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. 

Query Letter After I Got My Grubby Paws On It
Fifteen-year-old Amber Harville is a spitfire of a girl who’s as quick to throw a punch as she is to steal a kiss. When she’s kidnapped and raped, she puts up one hell of a fight, refusing to give in.  Snappier without his last bit, imo.
Her captor’s first mistake was choosing her as his victim. His second was letting her go. Maybe it’s unjustified, but this almost feels like...I don't know, saying that a rapist is making a mistake if he doesn't kill his victim. Obviously that wasn't your intention, but it sort of reads that way. Or maybe I’m just crazy. That’s possible too. Anyway, I think you don’t really need this para or the next. I really like the contrast of tough girl versus vulnerable girl struggling to cope, that occurs when you put your opening para next to your third.
She rushes to the police and three days later he’s caught. After meeting with her lawyer, she discovers her evidence was the key to capturing a serial rapist. Although revenge is never far from her mind, going to court becomes about so much more. It is now about protecting all his future victims. <I would strongly reconsider ditching this whole para. It doesn’t really tell us anything integral about the story, besides that this guy is a serial rapist, which I think you can easily insert elsewhere in the query if you wanted. Going to the police, hiring a lawyer, thoughts of revenge—I don’t think this is the heart of your story, and I worry it’s been done before.
While preparing for trial, she struggles to deal with the damage left behind. While preparing for trial, Amber puts on a brave face for the world, but the invisible scars leave her incapable of being touched. The one boy who tries almost gets a cheek full of knuckles.<Me likey! With the guidance of a youth pastor, her 'Sunday only' faith is challenged, and grows to a relationship full of healing. <When I read this paragraph I thought ‘Ahh, now we’re getting to the heart of the story. But then in the next paragraph the story takes an abrupt turn and she’s off to Spain. For this reason, I question whether you need this last sentence at all, or whether the transition can be a bit more seamless.
A summer foreign exchange program comes at the perfect time. With the court date months away, a trip to Spain is exactly what she needs- a break from the pressures of the trial is exactly what she needs. The last thing she ever wanted was a gorgeous Spanish boy to awake her stone-cold heart. I would expand on this. This feels like where you book really starts. In the last para she was ready to feed a knuckle sandwich to any boy who dared to touch her. What makes this boy different? What’s their connection? How does he change her perspective on what happened, on her outlook/attitude towards the trial? Now torn between staying in Spain for the school year with the boy she loves, or returning home to testify, she has to decide what is more important- protecting her heart or protecting other women from a monster. Great!
PERFECTLY BROKEN is a YA narrative memoir complete at 68,000 words. Fans of THE DEVIL IN PEW NUMBER SEVEN by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo will be drawn to this story for its intense nature and compelling faith.
Statistics say one in five American women experience sexual assault in their lifetime, but over half of those crimes go unreported. I hope my story will help encourage more to come forward and seek justice. <I would move this paragraph up to before the title and word count para. I might also focus on statistics regarding teenagers and sexual assault, since you labeled this a YA memoir. How can your book help other teens who have gone through a similar experience? Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

This query is well written, and I have no doubt that the book is a compelling read that would be important to teens. My concern is that the query lacks focus. Just when I thought I knew where the story was going, the focus changed. It’s hard to give advice on this having not read the book, but I get the impression the ‘real’ story doesn’t start until the last paragraph, which also happens to be the paragraph that hooked my attention. It’s where your query really begins to take shape and look different from what’s already out there. I would zone in on this para and see what you can do there. 

But let's see what others have to say!

Good luck with query, and thank you so much for sharing this query with me!




14 comments:

  1. Great crit, Michelle, as usual. I agree with all your points. I had the same thought as you did when I read the line "the second mistake was letting her go." If I were the author, I'd want to rephrase that, as I think there's a good chance that others will interpret the line in the wrong way.

    This sounds like a super interesting and intense read. Good luck to the author in querying!

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  2. I have to agree with Michelle and the other commenter. The line "the second mistake was letting her go" also really struck me, but so did the preceding line about the rapist's first mistake having been picking her as a victim. In my eyes, his first mistake was deciding to rape someone in the first place, not the choice of victim. Some people might be offended by that, because it sort of seems like it's saying a rapist should choose a more weak-willed victim who is least likely to fight back, meaning targeting vulnerable groups. Obviously I realize that it wasn't the authors intention to say this, but the way it is currently phrased, it can be interpreted that way. I'd err on the side of caution and rephrase this.

    Those two lines aside, I think this is a great query and it sounds like a super awesome read. I'd definitely pick this up if I saw it on the shelves.

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  3. I've read some great memoirs and I would absolutely pick this up ! You hooked me, author.
    I'm a reader and not a writer, but with Michelle's sexy comments you'll have a great query letter.

    Michelle, yay for you blogging again.

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    1. Sexy comments, lol.

      I love a good memoir too!

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  4. This didn't strike me as a real memoir, but a piece of fiction written in the first person. Am I wrong? It's not entirely clear.

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  5. Oh, and I can't believe I forgot to say this, but congratulations to the author for taking the most awful life experience and turning it into something that can make a positive difference for other people who have experienced a sexual assault. You're an inspiration!

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  6. Yay! Thanks Michelle for your wonderful advice, and thank you to all those commenting.

    @arhooley- this is certainly a true story:) I chose to write this in first person- present tense because I didn't want it to read like "this is what happened to me thirteen years ago"... that would get boring. I felt the story would be so much more captivating to take the reader with me as I journey through the pain and suffering, then make it through to healing and an epic trial. I did not have a "NOTEBOOK" ending, but I did put that monster away for 66 years :) There are pictures all throughout the story of those current moments in time to help the reader connect with my friends and I in Spain. If you'd like to know more this is a post I did a couple of months ago http://servingtheson.blogspot.com/2012/05/how-god-carried-me-through-fire.html

    @Michelle- I shortened my query just last week and sent out another batch and got a full request!!! So I totally see what you mean about leaving stuff out of the query to tighten it :) I will def. be taking your advice for the next batch of queries :D

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    1. GO AMBER!!! What an inspiration! I wish you tons on luck with this and I hope to see it on the shelves sometime soon.

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  7. Great crit, Michelle. This book sounds like it'd be a very gripping and profound read. And I agree with the other poster...great job Amber in making something positive come out of the most terrible of experiences. What a great attitude you have.

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    1. Thanks for the input, Sara! Amber is awesome, isn't she?

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