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Saturday, February 29

WIP Diagnostic: Is This Working? A Closer Look at a Romance Query Letter

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

WIP is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to WIP Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Two

Please Note: As of today, critique slots are booked through March 14.

This week’s questions:

I fear it reads more like a book cover blurb instead of a query. I'm not sure if I should bring in more to increase conflict but I am trying to sell a romance. Should I?


Market/Genre: Romance Query

On to the diagnosis…

Original Text:

Physical therapist and champion surfer, Nikki Young hasn't entered the ocean since almost drowning a year ago. When Nikki flies to Hawaii to compete in a contest where she has to produce a video tour of Oahu, she hopes her fear of the ocean won't interfere with making a clip showcasing the scenic shores. The prize money would help finance her dream of owning her own therapy office.

Surfboard factory owner, Julian Vaughn just wants to get back to work, and not get involved with women after having his heart shredded. But a surfing injury prevents him from shaping boards, and Nikki's the beautiful therapist who offers to help heal his leg. A Hawaiian, whose life is the sea, Julian volunteers to guide her around the island in exchange for her expertise. If only she'd stop looking at him with that shy smile.

Winning the contest and healing Julian's broken heart proves to be as much of a struggle for Nikki as braving the waves of the turbulent sea.

My Thoughts in Blue:

Physical therapist and champion surfer, Nikki Young hasn't entered the ocean since almost drowning a year ago. Good internal conflict When Nikki flies to Hawaii [to compete in a contest where she has to produce a video tour of Oahu] I don’t understand what this has to do with her life as a surfer and a therapist, she hopes her fear of the ocean won't interfere with making a clip showcasing the scenic shores. [The prize money would help finance her dream of owning her own therapy office.] This shows the goal and motivations to win

Surfboard factory owner, Julian Vaughn just wants to get back to work, and not get involved with women [after having his heart shredded] perhaps say how to show his internal conflict and goal. [But a surfing injury prevents him from shaping boards,] Shows his problem and [Nikki's the beautiful therapist who offers to help heal his leg.] Shows how these two will be forced to interact  [A Hawaiian,] a little ambiguous who this is since the last name mentioned was Nikki whose life is the sea, [Julian volunteers to guide her around the island in exchange for her expertise.] Does he not have insurance? I don’t get why he goes to her and not a doctor there. But this also puts them together so they can fall in love If only she'd stop looking at him with that shy smile.

Winning the contest and healing Julian's broken heart proves to be as much of a struggle for [Nikki as braving the waves of the turbulent sea.] This feels a little one-sided, as if it’s her responsibility to solve both problems. How does he help her?

The Questions:

1. Does this read more like a book cover blurb instead of a query?


Yes, but that just makes it a easier to flesh it out for the query. The pieces are all there, it’s only a matter of a few tweaks to make it clear what’s going on, and show what’s unique about your story versus others.

(Here’s more on Deciding What to Put in Your Query Letter)

2. Should I bring in more to increase conflict?

Yes (readers chime in here). There were a few things I didn’t understand about the problems keeping these two apart.

I don’t see how the video contest applies to a surfing therapist, so that felt a bit off. Why is she doing this? I know it’s to win money for her own practice, but I don’t quite get how we go from who she is to why she’s doing this, and it’s enough outside her expertise that I wanted to know. She has two “hobbies” with surfing and videography and that feels a bit too contrived since the video aspect only gets her where she needs to be and doesn't feel relevant to the story. But if I had a reason why she’s doing videos beyond “it puts her in Hawaii and gives her a reason to explore it with Julian” I’d be fine with it.

(Here's more on The 4 Essential Ingredients to a Sizzling Romance)

I wanted to know a bit more about how his heart was shredded to see what the problem there was. How he got emotionally hurt would suggest how Nikki is the right person to heal that wound. I also didn’t understand why he goes to her for therapy instead of a doctor there.

I like how the two have a similar passion for surfing and a love of the water. They have reasons to interact that will force them to spend time together and fall in love. I suspect they each have something the other needs to heal what’s broken in them, and reasons not to want to do that. 

(Here's more on The Core of Every Novel: The Big Want & The Big Fear)

It’s a little unclear how Julian is going to help Nikki, though. I can assume his love of surfing will help her get back into the water, but that’s not specified, This wraps up as if he has no responsibilities in the relationship, which feels one-sided to me. Nikki does “all the work” so to speak. I wanted a stronger sense of how Julian will help heal her as she heals him.

There’s also nothing here that shows why Nikki might resist this romance aside from her fear of the water. Julian’s reluctance to get his heart broken looks like the only actual conflict to love, and that’s not quite enough for a romance. Nikki needs her own issue keeping her from love. What’s keeping these two apart and how do they overcome that? How do they fix each other’s emotional wounds?

(Here’s more on Brainstorming Your Character's Emotional Wound)

Overall, this is fairly close, and just needs a few tweaks and clarifications to bring out the story. I suspect the answers are in the story, just not coming through in the query. It reads well, it has the right “query tone” and the promise of interesting things going on. The setting is great, and the two love interests promise some island-hot romance (even if it is a sweet Hallmark-type romance).

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

About the Critiquer

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011). She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series. 
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1 comment:

  1. I agree, this has the right pieces and a solid sense of the genre. My main thought would be to pour over Janice's article on queries, and look for samples of a romance query -- you want to be certain you've got the length, tone, content, and so on that fits this. And that it fits what a particular agent asks for in a query, of course.

    One other thing: Janice asked for more hints about why the characters are hurt and how they heal each other. The best summaries tie everything back to what's unique about the main character, the delicious synergy of "THIS kind of person has to face THAT?" In a romance, that's what kind of regret or doubt or such make it hard for Julian and Nikki to accept each other, and also what says they'd be great for each other if they could get past that. You touch on all of that, but you could look for ways to make it more visible (without going further than you think a query should take it). The feeling of a character is what ties a book together, so it's always good to have a strong sense that this time readers will be immersed in getting over someone's old wounds or feeling how much they've needed a new challenge.

    A query needs to make the book sound like a proper, saleable book of that type. You're doing that nicely.

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