Query Critique: Romantic Comedy (?)

April 5, 2010 · 3 comments

Dear Acquisitions Editor, [or in this case, Dear LDS Publisher,]

When young [How old is he? This makes it sound like he’s a boy, but he’s going to college. It’s better to be specific.] Chris Kerry leaves his Texas home and his checkered past [? better to be specific, drug-riddled? convicted felon?] to attend the University of Utah , he does so against the wishes of his Aunt Jean, who has been a mother to him since he was orphaned at the age of three. Chris is less interested in his aunt’s harsh views on Mormonism and more interested in a change of scenery and starting his own life. He doesn’t expect to find himself homeless on his first day in Salt Lake City, or the twists of fate that make two girls from Idaho his best friends. The job he finds in a downtown tuxedo shop barely pays the rent, but the outlandish cast of co-workers fills his days with both humor and frustration. Chris is in Utah to get an education. He’s certainly not looking for love, religion or shocking revelations about his past, but all three find him [the part that intrigued me most] in this funny, moving novel that illuminates how we recognize truth, how one young man finds a home and a heritage in the most unlikely place, and how love and friendship change everything.

The Rogue Shop is my first novel and the attached manuscript is complete at 106,000 words [a tad long for a debut YA novel, but okay for an adult novel]. Several drafts have been carefully revised with thoughtful feedback from an alpha reader group including both genders and a wide age range. [good for you!] This humorous romance [this was a surprise; there are not enough clues in the previous paragraph for me to recognize it as a romantic comedy—I was thinking a coming of age, even though he’s a little old for that (?)] is targeted at the LDS Young Adult (18-30) readership. [Young Adult is not 18 to 30; YA is 12 to 18, give or take a few years. 18+ is Adult. This tells me you’re not sure who your reader is.]

I am a graduate of the University of Utah with a BA in English Literature. In the years since graduation I have established a successful career in sales and business management in the Salt Lake City area, but with this effort I return to my passion for fiction. Upon publication I intend to take an active role in promoting and marketing my work in close partnership with my publisher [good; but that is assumed]. My experience in speaking and teaching in a business environment is wide and varied, and I look forward to taking my show on the road and selling my work with enthusiasm [good; the fact that you have skills and experience meeting with the public will help].

I appreciate the time you invest in considering my submission and gratefully await your reply [good].

Romantic comedies sell well, so that’s a plus. Your book is unusual, in that it’s a romantic comedy from a guy’s perspective. (They exist, but aren’t common.) But I’m not sure, based on your first paragraph, if your book truly is a romantic comedy. If it is, play up those points. If it’s not, you need to recategorize it. This isn’t a horrible query, but it doesn’t immediately place the book into a sales category for me. Also, the personality of the book doesn’t really shine through. It would go in my “Maybe” stack.

ALSO, read Jordan’s very, very good comments.

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{ 3 comments }

Jordan April 5, 2010 at 9:56 am

I agree that the personality (or, more accurately, the voice) of the book doesn't come through here.

The way the query reads now, it sets up the story as being a conversion or coming of age story. I agree with LDSP on the most intriguing part of the query, but even though love is mentioned there, it doesn't feel like a romance. If it's a romance, we need to see a heroine/female lead (or two, if he'll be choosing between his Idahoan friends).

I think the problem here may be that the query is concerned with a lot of backstory—it sounds like the real story takes place after Chris gets to Salt Lake, but we spend more than a third of the query hearing about his life before that. We don't have to know everything about his life before.

Telling about the book ("this funny, moving novel that . . . ") is as bad as telling in your book. Show us that it's funny—if it's a comedy, the query should at least make us smile.

I don't know about the LDS market, but I understand that in the national market, it goes without saying that you're willing to help promote your book.

Suggestions:
Streamlining the first part to something like "Chris Kerry decided to attend the University of Utah for a change of scenery, despite his family's objections" (only funnier and punchier 😉 covers the necessary points in a quarter of the space. Then maybe move on to a humorous incident (is how he ends up homeless or gets his job funny?), then set up the conflict: introduce love interest(s) and the complication—something along the lines of "can the straight arrow girl accept his checkered past"? (I can't tell what the central conflict is, so sorry if that's way off.)

(On the other hand, if "humorous" is just in there to let us know the book's not overly dour, or because sometimes Chris makes pithy observations, the word is just confusing in a query.)

LDS_Publisher April 5, 2010 at 10:16 am

Yeh, what Jordan said. I got called away from my desk as I was doing the critique and hit Publish instead of Save, but I was planning to go back through and add pretty much everything that Jordan said. Especially the back story and that it sounds more like a coming of age story.

So thanks Jordan. Good critique!

Jordan April 12, 2010 at 9:58 am

Thanks, LDSP! I've been studying queries for . . . well, it feels like forever, LOL.

Question, though: obviously we're still going to want to include a query to hook the editor/slushpile reader, but most LDS publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. Do you think getting the query letter perfect less important than when the query is the only thing the agent/editor has?

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