Saturday Slash

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said – “Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!
OK – my hands aren’t actually grimy, but I don’t make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email. And a little bit of BBC literary info.
We all know the first line of a query is your “hook.” I call the last line the “sinker.” You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I’m going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author’s brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.
Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You’ll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!
And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

Eighteen-year-old Rosa becomes separated from her family as they flee their Spanish homeland – and the Inquisition. Decent hook, I’d shorten it up with “flee the Inquisition.” I realize that there were other Inquisitions, but most people immediately think “Spain.” Now her life is in the hands of a stranger, Baha, an artist from the Ottoman Empire. He is her one hope of reaching Constantinople and reuniting with her family. Nice, but I’d rephrase slightly for flow and word count – you can mash the two sentences previous to this comment together – “Now her one hope of reaching Constaninople to reunite with her family lies with the stranger Baha…” As they travel together, Rosa’s drive to find her loved ones is matched by a deepening desire for the man at her side. Nice.

Her family refuses to accept her marriage to a man Wait – they got married? of a different faith, but when janissaries arrest her father and brother, Rosa and Baha risk everything to rescue them. Together they will prove that their love can withstand their differences… if the Grand Vizier doesn’t throw them both into the dungeons first. This is solid, minus the abrupt reference to marriage.

OUT OF THE WATER is a 15th Century historical romance, complete at 115,000 words. I admire your client [XXX] and found your website and newsletter through [his/her] blog. Based on what you say there, and in your interview on [BLOG (March 2011)], you might find OUT OF THE WATER a good fit for your interests. The novel was a 2010 NaNoWriMo project, and initial drafts were revised through participation in author Barbara Rogan’s invitation-only Next Level Workshop. Good info here, relative and pertinent while not being ass-kiss or braggy.

The query that you’ve got here is damn solid, but there are two things that bother me. 
1) Is this YA or straight romance? You don’t specify it as YA but the age of your protag has me curious.
2) Your word count is a mite high. I realize that historical can sometimes get away with this, but I bet you can find a way to shave this down. You don’t want to handicap what is otherwise a really solid query with a sinker that has the weight of a stone.

Interested in what my readers think on this point? Can a historical romance with a teen protag get away with a high word count?

10 thoughts on “The Saturday Slash

  1. I'd read it and the word count (not a professional opinion however) isn't too high for me.
    I also don't see the the protag as a teen. Considering the setting of the novel, the protag would more than likely have been married and had kids already. Also, life expectancy was shorter and people didn't view an eighteen year old as a child with voting rights. In some areas getting to your twenties without a husband a woman might have been considered an old maid. But maybe that's just me.

  2. I kind of like the hook with the “Spanish homeland–and the Inquisition.” It gives this contrast and unexpected “Oh!” that piques my interest.

    I would say not YA, despite the teen protagonist. I don't know much about historical, but 18 was “older” back then, so I imagine it's easier to look on it as adult than if it were contemporary.

    I also think the word count is okay. I've heard for historical, as long as it's under 120k, it won't give anyone a heart attack. Might not hurt to get it down to 110k or 105k, either, though.

  3. I think Spanish homeland should stay because it adds a more personal touch than just inquisition, but take out the hyphen, or reword it to read “flees the inqusition in their Spanish Homeland.”

    I would stick with Historical and not worry too much about the word count. I don't think 115,000 is high for Historical….is it? If you can round down to 110,000, do it.

    I LOVE the query. It really stands out for me. Mindy, you're right on the money: the only other thing that jarred me was the sudden reference to a marriage.

  4. Wow, thanks so much, Mindy, and thanks for weighing in!

    This is one of those times where the author can no longer see the forest for the trees – this book started out as a YA ages ago, hence the reference to the MC's age. But now that it's straight romance, I'll have to come up with a new descriptor!

    Thanks, too, for the great suggestions on tightening up the sentences.

    I love long books myself [g]

  5. Thanks so much, Yvonne!

    Do you guys have any suggestions for how to not make the marriage come out of the blue? Basically, they travel together for weeks on the ship and then two ports before Constantinople, they get married. Can't be apart any longer 🙂

  6. Deniz, from my seat of no experience I would take out the marriage and put it this: “Her family refused to accept her love for a man of a different faith.” and I would let the fact that they got married be something to be found out through the course of reading.
    To me, to mention their marriage in a query wouldn't do the love they share the justice that it deserves and that I'm sure you cultivated. But again I may not know what I'm talking about lol.

  7. The jump from searching for family to being obviously reunited with them, along with what seems like a sudden marriage is jarring.

    Instead try:
    Upon reuniting, her family refuses to accept this man of a different faith, but when….

    Her family refuses to accept this man of a different faith, ……
    (omitting any reference to marriage)

    Just an idea.

Comments are closed.