Query Critique: Franklin’s Ladder
FRANKLIN’S LADDER is supernatural fiction, complete at 82,000 words. It is the women’s fiction version of a Mike Dellosso or a Brian Keene novel. I am querying you because of your desire for well-written women’s fiction that incorporates a Christian world view.
Husbands are troublesome creatures, especially when they’re dead. Anna’s husband, a journalist of crypto zoology, was troublesome from the moment she met him at her neighborhood pub on the Oregon coast—before she experienced the dark presence that pursued him, and before she lost him to a heart attack. No other woman would put up with him: run from his dragons, climb his mysterious white ladder, or lose nineteen years of life for him. And no woman but Anna would risk her own life, as well as her son’s, to rescue him from death.
Then again, maybe she’s not that woman, after all. Searching out her dead husband’s demons is at odds with her real life. She has a health food store to run and a son to raise, not to mention a wealthy contractor who wants to marry her. If only she’d left the photograph in her desk—the one taken of her at a time and place she’s never experienced—the decision might have been easier. Because, despite all the risks, she desperately wants what’s in that image.
I have a creative writing degree from the University of New Mexico, where I graduated magna and summa cum laude. In addition, I have studied under the award-winning writers, Joy Harjo and Anya Achtenberg. Throughout the years, I have continued to attend workshops and classes, while actively participating in a critique group.
I requested a partial from this query letter, and I’m eager to read it. Can you guess why? It’s right there in the second paragraph. “Husbands are troublesome creatures, especially when they’re dead.” I love that line! Occasionally, that’s all it takes. An interesting turn of phrase that makes me think you just might have something unique.
But let’s back up a little bit.
Paragraph #1: A nice intro. While I like queries that start right into the pitch, I also like the ones that give me a brief introduction and put the query in context, giving me genre and word count right away. This author was specific about why she’s querying me, showing me that she’s read my guidelines and has a project I’d be interested in looking at. Nice opening.
Paragraph #2: The pitch starts with an intriguing line. My immediate reaction is to agree that husbands are indeed troublesome creatures… but then I’m hit with the “dead” part and I’m curious how he’s troublesome even when he’s dead. The rest of the paragraph, to be honest, loses me a little bit, but hints at an interesting story. I like the idea of running from dragons and climbing a white ladder… whatever it means. So at this point in the query I’m scratching my head but not in a bad way.
Paragraph #3 throws me for a loop with “then again, maybe she’s not that woman.” Huh? Then we get a little more information about the protagonist – a health food store, a son, and a romance (yay!). That sounds good. The last couple sentences get into some mysterious photograph, which is a little too cryptic but still hints at something interesting.
Paragraph #4: This is okay but not really necessary. It doesn’t affect my opinion of the query one way or another.
Overall: The pitch (paragraphs 2 and 3) had enough interesting elements to intrigue me, and that’s the saving grace of this query. Truthfully, it wasn’t very smoothly put together. Ideas don’t seem to flow very well from one to the next. The first sentence in paragraph 3 seems to contradict everything in #2. And the intriguing elements just sort of hang there in mid-air, with no hint as to how they all fit together. (A dark presence? Dragons? White ladder? Mysterious photograph?)
This is an example of a query that has enough in it to intrigue me and to make me forgive the fact that the pitch itself is a bit awkward. I’m not looking for query perfection – I’m looking for good books. This query made me think there might be a good book in there. I hope to find out soon!
Q4U: What do you think is working in this query? Can you see why I’d request a partial?
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent