Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Breakdown: How NOT to Write a Query 3

Okay, so on Monday I broke Brodi's book blurb (say that 10 times fast). Let's discuss what I screwed up on, shall we?

First, here's the two blurbs, side by side:
Official (Good)
Mine (Bad)
Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans. Now she's returned- to her old life, her family, her friends- before being banished back to the underworld... this time forever.

She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, the one person she loves more than anything. But there's a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath, has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back- this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she's forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's...
Six months ago, Nikki had a good life. Her best friend, Jack, became her boyfriend – and it actually looked like his player days were over. She had a BFF, her dad was the mayor, and her little brother idolized her. Then she met Cole, and Cole knew just what to do to ease the pain of her mother’s death. So Nikki became Cole’s forfeit in the Everneath, where she surrendered her emotions to keep him alive for another hundred years.

Now, Nikki has returned, but can’t tell anyone where she’s been for the last six months – or that, to her, the time has actually been a hundred years. Worse, she can’t tell anyone that, in six months, she’ll be forced to return forever to the tunnels of the Everneath.

Jack still loves her, but how can she renew his trust? Most importantly, Cole followed her to the surface to convince her to become his queen. It’s a good alternative to the tunnels, but can she find a way to stay with Jack?

I chose Brodi's book for this series not just because it's coming out in a few days, but because I think her blurb excels in two main areas: tone and details. Let's talk about tone first, shall we?

Set the Tone in the First Line
You've heard about first impressions? Same goes for the first line of your query.

Official: Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished...
Mine: Six months ago, Nikki had a good life.

What's the difference? In the official version, the tension starts immediately, with a vanishing girl. In mine, it only hints at future conflict - and that only by inferring that we wouldn't be mentioning it if it had stayed good.

More, EVERNEATH is not a happy book. Hope-filled, yes. Happy, no. It is not peppy or cheerful or anything you'll see making the rounds of the comedy circuit (no matter how hilarious the author). So if you can picture a cheerleader reading the blurb, something is wrong. EVERNEATH is meant to be read by a newscaster wearing her tragedy-face.

Take-away: open with something that immediately reflects the tone of the book. Introduce the tension as soon as possible. Five words is good.

Continue the Tone Throughout
Keep it up through the rest of the query. The official blurb does it amazingly well, especially in this paragraph:
She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.
Mine? Not so much. The happy gossiping cheerleader could totally read the whole thing.

Take-away: don't let the information overwhelm your tone. Use words that would be found in the book. A good tip for this is to write it in the POV of the actual POV character (then convert it to third person present tense).

Devil's in the Details
Hmmm. I think this was the problem last time, right? That's okay, because this is a very common problem.
Gabriela Lessa actually said this about my first 30 pages: I had great details... but maybe the wrong ones.

Let's do another chart. In this one, I've listed the information we learn from each blurb and I've underlined the information that's repeated in both:
Real (Good)
Fake (Bad)
Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished
Underworld = Everneath
Immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans
Now she's returned
She’s going to be banished back to the underworld in six months... this time forever
She has a family and friends
She has a hard time saying goodbye
She loves Jack, her boyfriend
Cole enticed her to the Everneath
Cole followed Nikki back, wants her to be queen
Nikki has a choice: cheat fate and stay with Jack or return with Cole

Six months ago, Nikki had a good life
Jack was her best friend before he was her boyfriend
Jack used to be a player, now he’s shaping up
Nikki had a BFF
Nikki’s dad was mayor
Nikki has a little brother who idolized her
Nikki’s mother was dead
Cole knew how to ease her pain
Nikki became a forfeit in the Everneath
Nikki surrendered her emotions to keep Cole alive for 100 years
Now, she’s returned
Nikki can’t tell anyone where she’s been for six months
She’s been gone 100 years
She has to return to the tunnels of the Everneath
Jack still loves her
Cole followed Nikki back, wants her to be queen
Queen is better than tunnels, but Nikki wants Jack

What's the difference? My query blurb doesn't explain what the Everneath is or, really, what her choice is or how hard everything is for her. Instead, I waste space on unnecessary details like who the boyfriend was before he was the boyfriend, her dad's profession, that her brother idolizes her and her mother is dead, that she had been gone for 100 years Everneath time, that she can't tell anyone, that she'll be going back to the tunnels of the Everneath (whatever those are), and that Jack still loves her. That last detail may seem important, but the official blurb only says that SHE loves JACK. Doesn't that seem more important to the driving force of the book?

The Take-Away: Watch those details. List every detail you include in your query and figure out if, maybe, you really don't need all of them. Figure out which details you really DO need and focus on those.

Now, I do have to mention that Brodi didn't land her agent with what is now the official blurb. Her query was slightly different from what now graces the back of her book. If you're curious to see her actual query, check it out in her agent's post about why he signed her.

So do you struggle with these issues like I (obviously) do? Do you have any tips to write it better?

Also, I'd love you forever if you'd head over to Jamie Ayre's blog to critique my query for her query contest. I'm #1 (wahoo!)... but I'm three pages deep on the blog, and I'm worried no one will get that far down. You (and Jamie) are the best!


  1. Love it when you do these, Robins. I'm heading over to check out your newest blog version.

  2. This is wonderful! I think it's one of the best examples I've read on how to write a query. Thanks!

  3. Donna: thanks for your comment on my query!

    Jenilyn: awww, shucks. I just figure if I write queries wrong enough times, I'll eventually get that out of my sytem! :)

  4. I stopped by and left a crit for yours, Robin. Mine's #2, so I'm kind of worried no one will see it as well! :o

  5. Robin, this is so helpful. I've only attempted to draft a query and basically gave up (not ready to actually submit anyway). It can be so hard to sum up our own writing, so it's great to see specific examples.

  6. That's awesome! I'm sending Chad over.