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Query Saturday: No. 3 Canned Heat

Welcome to Query Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a query to be read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. Published authors may do so under their own name or anonymously. Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: If the hook were on the back of a book, would you buy it? If you would, what interests you? If not, what would make you pick it up?

***

Canned Heat is a chewy mainstream tale approximately 97,000 words and is the first of a trilogy that retells Hamlet. It’s chock full of all the things polite people don’t discuss in public and a whole lot of it:

sex, religion, money, and politics–with a little nude art thrown in for good measure. What, sex isn’t spiritual?

A woman with a Glock. A man losing his faith. Two disreputable cousins and one engaging villain. Lives and a family inheritance at stake.

Giselle Cox is a linchpin in the fight to regain her family’s inheritance. She’s survived two attempts on her life and is on constant alert for another, determined to see that justice is served. All she really wants is an ordinary life with an extraordinary man who exists only in her memory and in the pages of a book. Torn between her strict religious upbringing and her increasingly demanding sexual appetites, she walks a tightrope between the sacred and the profane-’then she meets a man who forces her to make a choice.

Bryce Kenard is a scarred man, body and soul. As a young man intent on following what he believed was God’s will, he lived for years in denial of and paying penance for his savage desires-’until tragedy took his family and his face. Five years later, he has embraced who he is and what he wants. With one look at a woman who will fulfill every one of those dark cravings, he’s willing to sacrifice his pride, his fortune, and his salvation to have her.

Giselle and Bryce meet and instantly know each other for who they are and what they want. Bryce takes Giselle on an odyssey of sexual discovery even as Giselle draws Bryce into the fight to regain her family’s inheritance

***

Interested in participating as an author or an aspiring author?   Send your query to jane at dearauthor.com.   All queries are kept confidential.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

31 Comments

  1. Anion
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 05:11:27

    The last two paragraphs intrigued me, but if I were an agent I wouldn’t have gotten that far, because I hate the first paragraph so much. The book is “chewy”? If it’s “chock full” we already know there’s a lot of it, and honesty, most books are chock full of religion, sex, money, politics, etc. Who wants to read a book about a couple of people sitting around politely making small talk?

    The third paragraph confused me.

    Stick with the last two, IMO, and add the thing about a modern retelling of Hamelt (I assume Hamlet is female in this one, since you never actually say). That draws my interest. Calling the book “chewy” and telling me how rude, lewd, and shocking!! it is just makes me roll my eyes.

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  2. Gail Faulkner
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 05:34:03

    The word “chewy” distracted me so much I had to read that sentence three times. Then “chockfull” did it again. The next few paragraphs were confusing, full of innuendo and teasing, no clear story. The last two paragraphs were interesting leading me to believe it was an erotic romance.

    At the end I wasn’t sure which thing the story was. I agree with above, agent would not have gotten past chewy, and if they did, chockfull would have disengaged them.

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  3. Erastes
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 05:39:15

    Canned Heat is a chewy mainstream tale approximately 97,000 words and is the first of a trilogy that retells Hamlet. It's chockfull of all the things polite people don't discuss in public and a whole lot of it:

    I’d miss out “and a whole lot of it.” you’re repeating what you’ve already said with “chock full” – I might rethink “chock” too, as “full” does the work admirably.

    sex, religion, money, and politics-with a little nude art thrown in for good measure.
    Who doesn’t discuss these in public?

    What, sex isn't spiritual?
    I don’t see the relevance of this jokey line.  What has spiritualism to do with anything you’ve said so far?

    A woman with a Glock.
    What’s a Glock? (another reason for not using “chock” earlier too.)

    The rest of the query is fine, although it reads a little bit more like a book blurb than a query. You need to explain more about the plot itself, rather than a teaser – you are trying to hook the publisher or the agent, not attempting to get the reader interested enough to pick the book off the shelf. It’s all a bit woolly, and the first half of the query itself has too many jokey gimmicks that won’t impress the publisher/agent, although it’s the sort of thing the reader likes. I don’t see any resemblence to Hamlet in the query plot as you’ve described it, so frankly I would miss that out completely. I don’t want to read retellings of other people’s stories, I want to read something fresh (even if there are influences from others in there). If you’ve influences from Hamlet in the plot, that’s fine, lots of people use threads of Shakespeare and others – there are so few plots after all – but unless you are deliberately emphasising a re-tellng: calling the surburb “Denmark” or “Elsinore” or something, I’d miss that out.

    The introductory section asks me if I would pick this up if it was on the back of a book (which isn’t a query) but if it was, I might do.

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  4. Jayne
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 06:03:50

    I agree with the feelings about the first 3 paragraphs. I thought someone last week questioned whether or not to mention that a queried book is the first of a series. FYI, a Glock is a handgun.

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  5. Jackie
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 07:05:44

    The rest of the query is fine, although it reads a little bit more like a book blurb than a query. You need to explain more about the plot itself, rather than a teaser – you are trying to hook the publisher or the agent, not attempting to get the reader interested enough to pick the book off the shelf.

    What Erastes says here is key: there is a BIG difference between a query letter back back cover copy. What works for one is probably not going to work for the other, because you have two different audiences. Agents want a brief business letter that piques their interest enough to want to read a partial or a full manuscript. Casual browsers want a tease that encourages them to read the first page. This is NOT the same thing.

    To this end: Jane, you may want to rethink this last part in your intro for Query Saturday:

    Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: If the hook were on the back of a book, would you buy it? If you would, what interests you? If not, what would make you pick it up?

    A lot of times, the hook that works in a query letter won’t work on the back cover copy.

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  6. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 07:27:34

    I don’t think I’ve read a more confusing query. And it isn’t a query, it’s back cover copy.
    If I were looking at this for publication I’d want to know what genre the book was supposed to be, what tone the book had and some idea of the author – relevant writing experience, just a short connect somewhere. Also, what does she want? Representation, publication, just a beta reader?
    The genre – it’s not even clear that this is a romance! It does have an h/h, but does it have a happy ending? Is it romantic suspense or what? The references to spiritual,faith and God threw me – is it an inspie?
    The first paragraph is pretty awful, with the repetition and the “chewy” reference – I don’t eat paper.
    Although you want to get some idea of the book across, this is a business letter, so you need some sort of structure.

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  7. Karen Ranney
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 07:51:13

    What’s the plot?

    It’s my opinion that you should demonstrate a mastery of English in a query letter. Write complete sentences, not fragments.

    Humor is subjective – avoid it when seeking representation.

    Blurbs are for book covers, not query letters.

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  8. Leah
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 08:22:31

    The first three paragraphs seemed pretentious to me, esp. the “sex isn’t spiritual?” Well, duh, of course it is–you can see it in the Song of Solomon, and such verses as “marriage is honorable and the bed undefiled.” So although the other paragraphs were much better and more appealing, I did think, “well hey, let those two marry and get busy doing whatever appeals to them.” I am not sure that religious issues with sex make for a good story–more like intense therapy sessions– but that’s just me. Also, I didn’t see the “Hamlet” references, but it’s been decades since I’ve read it. If I saw that on the back cover, I would find it intriguing; good reinterpretations of classics can be a lot of fun, and even illuminate the originals.

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  9. Keishon
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 10:05:52

    I skipped everybody else’s comments so I can give my impression from a reader’s standpoint:

    Canned Heat is a chewy mainstream tale approximately 97,000 words and is the first of a trilogy that retells Hamlet. It's chock full of all the things polite people don't discuss in public and a whole lot of it:

    Awkward word choices at the start: chewy? Canned Heat? As the title, I wouldn’t have picked it up and it doesn’t really inspire the imagery you want to convey to your readership.

    sex, religion, money, and politics-with a little nude art thrown in for good measure. What, sex isn't spiritual?

    So not interested in this.

    ReplyReply

  10. Julie Leto
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 10:11:28

    IMO, Jane shouldn’t take out the back cover copy reference…because a good query needs to find a balance between the bcc hook and a query. The hook should be there–that’s what grabs the attention of editors and agents and makes them see $$$$, which is what makes them request a book.

    I think the author tried a little too hard to inject their “voice” into the query and that’s where most of us lost interest. It was too much. I agree that the last two paragraphs had the most potential, but it does sound like an erotica novel. Maybe it is one. But if so, the query should definitely say so.

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  11. Julie Leto
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 10:13:22

    Oh, geez…awry. Not array! That’s what I get for posting before coffee.

    ReplyReply

  12. Marianne McA
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 10:24:56

    Answering the ‘Reader, would you buy this?’ question – no.

    The most off-putting aspect, for me, would be the religious references – “Torn between her strict religious upbringing and her increasingly demanding sexual appetites” and “As a young man intent on following what he believed was God's will, he lived for years in denial of and paying penance for his savage desires”. It just reads as if their faith is only in the book to provide conflict, and perhaps a bit of angst.
    If the author really tackles whether you would forfeit salvation for love, I’d be interested, but I don’t get that impression.
    If the religious aspect is a plot device might be an idea to dwell on it less, and talk more about the overall plot – like why the family inheritance matters – and, on the other hand, if the book takes religion seriously, it might be worth signalling that in some way.

    Apart from that, the idea of Hamlet retold in three parts – I’m just the wrong sort of reader. Wouldn’t want to buy the first if I thought I’d be required to buy two more for the story to be resolved, wouldn’t really want to read three books knowing everybody is going to die.

    ReplyReply

  13. Moira
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 10:34:05

    I agree with most of what has already been said.

    I second the suggestion that the intro for Query Saturday should be altered to make it clear that this is a query letter for an editor or publisher, not a blurb for the book. They are completely different animals, and the author doesn’t write the blurb for the book (unless they’re self-publishing), so there’s little point to an author practising how to write a blurb.

    This letter doesn’t describe a plot, merely a premise, and it doesn’t state how this book ends. And as a general rule, adjectives that describe how great the book is should be avoided. Another general rule to keep in mind is that the query should be only one page long, which means you have two paragraphs to describe the main characters, the plot and the resolution.

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  14. DS
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 10:58:49

    I’m always up for a retelling of Hamlet– seen it done once in Romance very well. But I’m missing the Hamlet part in the rest of the query. In fact, I’m not actually sure what is supposed to happen in this book.

    I would also want to know if this was a trilogy with a cliff hanger ending in each book, which might work with a back to back release, or a trilogy with a satisfying conclusion at the end of each book which could come out with longer spaces between each volume.

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  15. Jane
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 11:16:05

    I think I assumed that whomever would submit would know the basics about querying but I could change the prefatory paragraph to this:

    Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?

    ReplyReply

  16. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 11:19:14

    You describe CANNED HEAT as a “chewy mainstream tale” but it sounds more like an erotic romance. Agree with everyone else about the opening sentences. Words like chewy, chock full, and canned are better suited to a dog food advertisement.

    On the brighter side, your desciption of the characters is intriguing. I like the sacred vs. profane aspect. Interesting.

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  17. snarkhunter
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 11:21:58

    “Canned Heat” does not, in any way, evoke Hamlet to me. Unless Hamlet is some kind of fancy new name for Spam.

    Also, the 12-year-old inside me snickers endlessly at the idea of a romance novel heroine with the last name Cox. Just sayin’.

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  18. Ann Bruce
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 11:47:43

    Haven’t had my OJ or soy milk, yet, so the following might be incoherent:

    - chewy??? chock full??? Very distracting, confusing, and amateurish.

    - A list following a colon shouldn’t start on a new line.

    - What, sex isn't spiritual? feels a little condescending. As a reader I would’ve moved onto the next book.

    - Third paragraph reads like an ad for readers and not something to be included in a query to an agent or editor.

    - No mention of genre (mainstream isn’t enough), despite the last two paragraphs alluding to either erotica or erotic romance (actually, if it’s a retelling of Hamlet, it can’t be romance because there’s no HEA). However, for some strange reason, I keep thinking the story is a sci-fi or futuristic.

    - Don’t see a connection to Hamlet beyond “retells Hamlet.”

    - savage desires Shades of Cassie Edwards!

    - All the mention of religion makes me think this book might be an inspirational, but there seems to be erotic aspects. Does the book have multiple-genre disorder? Or do you feel “mainstream” is generic enough to cover everything?

    Overall, very disjointed and I would pass. (But religion playing a title role in a book usually turns me off, so other people will probably feel differently.)

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  19. Teddypig
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 12:04:35

    God's will? the sacred and the profane?

    Inspirational Erotica?

    That might grab someone but instead of alluding to it I would say it.
    How does it retell Hamlet?

    The Glock, Chock, Cox thing… I don’t know.

    ReplyReply

  20. Ann Aguirre
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 12:08:49

    Most of my comments have already been amply represented here, but I’d add that the title doesn’t work for me. Canned Heat? Stuff that is canned isn’t typically the best or the freshest. Canned meat? Think Spam. Canned laughter? It’s fake. I’d go back to the drawing board on the title for sure.

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  21. Kathleen
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 12:10:36

    Count me in among the folks who had trouble with “chewy” and “chock full”. The tone of the query, especially the first few paragraphs, seemed way too tongue-in-cheek, which felt odd since the rest of the book appears to be erotic romance. The biggest problem I had, though, was that even after reading the query, I don’t actually know what happens in the book. Why is she torn between religion and sex? Why is she a linchpin in the fight for her family’s inheritance? What choice is she forced to make after she meets Bryce?

    I realize you have limited space to explain things in query letters, but right now I don’t have a sense of why any of these things are happening, and so I don’t feel compelled to find out more.

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  22. whey
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 13:02:36

    Ahh, I’m not the only one that saw “chewy” “Canned Heat” and thought “Spam” (not the email kind). And trying to see how this is a retelling of Hamlet.

    “Torn between her strict religious upbringing and her increasingly demanding sexual appetites, she walks a tightrope between the sacred and the profane[...]“
    This, along with “Glock”, make an immediate connection to Anita Blake in my brain. No comment on whether that’s good or bad.

    As a young man intent on following what he believed was God's will, he lived for years in denial of and paying penance for his savage desires
    “God’s will”, “years in denial”, “paying penance for his savage desires”… gay Priest?

    I’m not sure what this book is supposed to be. Romance? Erotica? Horror? Suspense? Inspirational?

    I did like the last paragraph, though.

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  23. azteclady
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 13:13:50

    The use of chewy as a description completely turns me off. This reader would not pick any book described that way. The rest of the letter confuses me–part blurb, part… what?

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  24. Ann Bruce
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 13:35:54

    Okay, I must’ve been the only person who didn’t fully register the title. Maybe that’s because, in my experience, the publisher usually makes authors change the titles or changes them for us. But, yeah, I so wouldn’t be buying anything titled Canned Heat. *snicker* Definitely brings to mind Spam.

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  25. Bev Stephans
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 13:46:51

    Chuck chock, glock & chewy (sounds like a new three stooges). As a reader, I would chuckle and put the book back on the shelf.

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  26. Lynne
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 13:54:03

    The title definitely needs work. I keep seeing “Chained Heat” or “Caged Heat” instead, so I couldn’t get past the idea it would be some kind of girls-in-prison story.

    The “chewy” and “chock full” sound way too much like 70s marketing-speak.

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  27. Jessica Inclan
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 15:26:08

    I love Hamlet, and yet the idea of a tragedy is often not appealing to agents. Since the plot (okay, the main character is Hamlet? Or is the main character Gertrude? I could not put the characters in line with the play) of Hamlet is pretty damn depressing (everyone dead in the middle of the room at the end) I’m not sure that it even needs to be referenced here.

    Hamlet finds out his uncle killed his father–the same uncle who just married Hamlet’s mother Gertrude and stole Hamlet’s crown. Hamlet’s dead father visits him as a ghost, telling him to avenge his death. His uncle does try to have him killed, but none of this seems to fit in with this:

    Giselle Cox is a linchpin in the fight to regain her family's inheritance. She's survived two attempts on her life and is on constant alert for another, determined to see that justice is served. All she really wants is an ordinary life with an extraordinary man who exists only in her memory and in the pages of a book. Torn between her strict religious upbringing and her increasingly demanding sexual appetites, she walks a tightrope between the sacred and the profane-’then she meets a man who forces her to make a choice.

    The writing is more back of book than query. I think everyone above has pretty much dissected it, but I do think the Hamlet ref is unnecessary as it doesn’t even fit.

    Jessica

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  28. Jill Myles
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 15:38:25

    Okay, I ignored the first three paragraphs because I thought they were just yuck.

    The actual two paragraphs that describe the characters actually sound decent…but they are all filler. Giselle is a linchpin…why? Giselle meets a guy that forces her to make a choice…how?

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  29. lisabea
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 16:41:31

    I thought Canned Heat was a band?

    Bryce takes Giselle on an odyssey of sexual discovery

    I like that bit.

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  30. Tessa Dare
    Feb 16, 2008 @ 21:46:23

    Hm. The last three paragraphs describe a coherent story. OTOH, the first three paragraphs completely confused me. If this is for agents, I’d suggest replacing them with one line:

    “I’m seeking representation for Canned Heat, a 97,000-word mainstream novel.”

    Then cut to paragraph four, IMO. But then, I’m a query minimalist.

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  31. Jackie
    Feb 17, 2008 @ 07:54:44

    I think I assumed that whomever would submit would know the basics about querying but I could change the prefatory paragraph to this:

    “Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?”

    I think this would do it, Jane.

    (By the way, a book that helped me when I was on the query-go-round was YOUR NOVEL PROPOSAL: FROM CREATION TO CONTRACT, by Blythe Camenson and Marshall Cook. That helped me really get the purpose of a query, as well as the evil synopsis from hell. I highly recommend this book.)

    ReplyReply

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