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Query: Unnamed Romantic Time Travel Adventure Novel

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: 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?

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I would also like to preface this query by adding that this story has a dual, intertwining timeline that also pretzels into a second book, although this book is a stand alone. I’m also looking for book name suggestions. I am an expert in antique clothing- my business. Should I mention this?

Dear Editor X—,

Can love’s obsession exist from beyond the grave?

In my romantic time travel adventure novel, —(unnamed), my heroine, lingerie photographer Cassandra — and hero, dashing French inventor Gaston —, discover the power of love can conquer even the boundaries of time. This completed, 90,000 word novel I believe would suit your “title” line.

Hurtled through time by a cursed broach, Cass awakens in 1904, inside the murdered body of her great-aunt, Victoria —. Cass travels across untamed country to the famous Saint Louis World’s Fair Expo, also known as the ‘Ivory City. There, Cass must find the greatest Wizard the world’s ever known. Houdini. The only man who can send her back, to the life and love she left behind. Cass’s only hope is to learn to trust again from the man who broke Cass’s grandmother’s heart, Gaston, before the murderer strikes again. However, Gaston must compete at the Ivory City or risk losing his heart’s desire… The chance to ask for Victoria’s hand in marriage.

Back in 1983, Vic is unwillingly thrust into a world of dangerous entanglements, and into the arms of Mitch Balfour, the rebellious balloonist in love with Cass, but unwilling to trust in love. To defeat an evil that scopes back a century the pair must discover a secret that unites them in love forever.

Can Gaston’s passionate embrace heal the pain inside Cass’s soul before she must choose, go back and reverse the soul exchange with Vic… Or, love and die in the past?

This is my first novel, and currently I’m working on a sequel, —. I can send a synopsis, sample chapters, or manuscript upon request. Thank you for considering my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,
XXXX
Antique and vintage clothing

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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

33 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 04:41:33

    “my heroine, lingerie photographer Cassandra -’ and hero, dashing French inventor Gaston”
    Since those are unambiguously female and male names, you don’t need to mention that these are the hero and heroine.

    I found the plot synopsis utterly bewildering, actually, and not enthralling. The punctuation is eccentric to say the least. Very hard to work out what’s going on. Specific points below.

    ‘Brooch’ not ‘Broach’ (same root, totally different meanings.)

    Does Cass actually wake up inside a dead body? Or is her grandmother destined to be murdered?

    “Back in 1983, Vic is unwillingly thrust into a world of dangerous entanglements, and into the arms of Mitch Balfour, the rebellious balloonist in love with Cass, but unwilling to trust in love.” Confusing sentence, even more confusing plot angle. What’s a ‘rebellious balloonist’? Someone who fly down instead of up? That description sounds almost like parody. “To defeat an evil that scopes back a century” – ‘scope’ as a verb is mostly used as slang for ‘look’. I think you mean to use some other word, and even if you don’t – please do.

    Suddenly mentioning ‘Vic’ which is *not* a common nickname for Victoria is completely confusing – call her Victoria (Vic) if you must. Otherwise it sounds like you’re springing a gay romance on us :)

    “Can Gaston's passionate embrace heal the pain inside Cass's soul before she must choose, go back and reverse the soul exchange with Vic… Or, love and die in the past?” So what is it? Houdini or snogging Gaston that solves this dilemma? And why is there any pain in Cass’ soul?

    I think this could be an interesting idea but it’s not that coherently described. There seem to be a lot of ideas just tossed into the mix and maybe you need to pull on just the one thread to tighten it up. The cursed brooch, the Houdini angle could be the thing to hook a reader/agent/publisher. The rest of it needs to be trimmed and laid out more clearly.

  2. Bernita
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 05:18:14

    “inside the murdered body of her great-aunt, Victoria”
    Think what that says. She wakes up dead.
    Since I am of the impression that Houdini condemned all mediums as deluded frauds, you lost me a second time.
    I agree with Ann. Interesting but confusing.
    Perhaps if you focused on Cassie ( or Victoria) and merely mention Victoria ( or Cassie) undergoes a parallel problem, the story line might clarify.

  3. Anion
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 05:25:41

    I agree. It sounds like Cass wakes up inside a dead body. If there’s some sort of “soul exchange” that should be made clear right away, because the bit about Vic confused me.

    Houdini was not at the St. Louis World’s Fair. He was in Europe in 1904. Also, the Fair was called the “Louisiana Purchase Exposition” not the World’s Fair Exposition (it’s not a huge deal, it can be called either, but the way you phrase it makes it sound like you’re looking for the official title).

    Is Houdini her only hope, or is “learning to trust again” her only hope? Why does Gaston have to win at the Fair before he can propose? And what does he have to win?

    This was really confusing. I get that you have two different plotlines, but I’d focus on Cass.

  4. Fiordiligi
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 05:35:56

    YEHAA, at least a novel that doesn’t feature any vampires, demons and werewolves. I love time travel romances (I know, I belong to a dying breed), and magic plots. Combined with the author’s knowledge of fashion AND the Turn of Century setting the story is already sold to me. Two things from your query letter, however, go against the grain for me, but that’s my personal taste as a reader. First, I can’t stand the name Gaston, it’s one of the few French names that sound totally wrong in my ears *sorry*. Secondly, a phrase like “the greatest Wizard the world's ever known” generally makes me put away the book without buying it. I don’t like those kind of superlative, totalitarian phrases, in my experience they usually result in a storyline that doesn’t work for me. All in all, I wish you good luck!

  5. theo
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 07:21:49

    Though I am no expert and lord knows I have enough trouble writing my own queries, I found myself, after my third reading, still lost with this one. I felt the need to get a piece of paper to write a schematic of the timelines and events.

    I agree, if Cass and Victoria have exchanged places, that needs to be made clear. I read ‘Vic’ and wondered Vic who? Better to rephrase perhaps as “Cass has been unwittingly tossed back in time, where she has changed places with her…” and then finish your explanation of that.

    Also, what is known as the ‘Ivory City (sans second apostrophe and though it seems small, it reflects on your editing, as does ‘broach’). Is it St. Louis that is known as the Ivory City? Or the Expo. I know, small thing but again, the clearer the query…

    Whether an idea like this is something I would read doesn’t matter so much as I felt as if my head was spinning by the time I was done reading which makes me wonder how clearly defined the elements within the story are.

  6. Kathleen
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 07:44:46

    I think that this plot is probably very interesting… but I hope it doesn’t need clarified and cleaned up the way this query does. This isn’t terrible, but it needs work, that’s all.

    I really like the whole idea here – two different plots in two different times, which are intertwined. That said, they’d have to be done REALLY well to keep the reader from being confused. I really hope you did that, with this story!

    Now with this… like the others said, it’s confusing. It DOES sound like she wakes up inside a dead body, which leaves me wondering if she’s now a ghost. (But that doesn’t seem to fit the rest of your story line.) There are another major question marks for me in your plot line. Obviously, not enough to make me think the story isn’t fascinating, but confusing none-the-less. I think that, for me, the biggest question is whether this book has a happily-ever-after. Romances are expected to… yet you make it sound like the goal of the heroines is to LEAVE their love and return to their proper time. I don’t think you should give away the ending… but you need to somehow hint that there is a happy ending somehow. This might not fit your book (and I hate questions like this in queries, but this is only an example), but saying, “Can they stop the murderer the second time around?” hints that this is how Vic might get her HEA. (If they do switch back, of course… and in this case, we need a hint as to how Gaston might get to stay with Cassandra when she switches back.)

    I guess my point is that, in order for romance readers like to be rooting for the hero and heroine to get to their HEA, they have to have something to root for. If they’re torn about whether the heroine would really be happy if she got what she’s aiming for, then they’re going to be dissatisfied. I’m not saying that you’ve done this in your book, but you have in your query. Somehow, someway, show us what we’ll be rooting for as we read this book. Then you’ll have our attention. :-)

    Other notes: I had less trouble with the “greatest wizard” line and more with the concept that a passionate embrace can heal pain. I’m sorry. Passion can engage our senses and give us pleasure, but it can’t heal pain. Now, LOVE might be able to… but passion and love are two different things.

    Punctuation/Grammar: It’s not terrible, but an agents prefer to work with authors who know their punctuation and grammar. From this query, it doesn’t look like it would take too much for your grammar skills to be better. (In other words, it’s much better than some I’ve seen.) There are a number of free “Grammar lessons of the day” sites out there. I suggest making the most of them. You can have someone else fix the grammar in your query letter, but then the agent might be sidetracked by it in your book. If you learn it yourself, you’ll be a stronger and more valuable writer.

    The best of everything to you!

  7. DS
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 08:00:40

    Why specify what kind of model she is if it doesn’t have that much to do with the story? I assume she is going to be strutting around in her undies in the book but I think just model might work at this preliminary stage– Although I might find it interesting if it was a leg model or a hand model just for the difference.

    Lingerie model actually makes me think of the women who worked in those strange clubs– do they still exist? where men came to ogle women walking around the tables in Fredericks of Hollywood (does that still exist?) getups. But I’m just old that way.

  8. Ann Somerville
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 08:11:05

    DS, she’s not a model, she’s a photographer :) Though I agree that specifying what she shoots isn’t necessary (and are they that specialised? Fashion photographer, sure, but the very items of clothing?)

  9. Keishon
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 08:11:50

    I would also like to preface this query by adding that this story has a dual, intertwining timeline that also pretzels into a second book

    First, thanks for having the courage to submit your work out there for the crtics. I am only a reader with no background in the publishing industry and no aspirations to be a writer. Now after saying all of that, I agree with the others, the plot is confusing and one other thing:

    “Pretzels” into a second book? I’ve never seen this word used as a reference to anything other than food so it might just be me.

  10. Tracey
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 08:18:51

    In my romantic time travel adventure novel, -’(unnamed), my heroine, lingerie photographer Cassandra -’ and hero, dashing French inventor Gaston -’,

    Why are there dashes where their surnames should be? Also, “Gaston” makes me think of the obnoxious egotist from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

    discover the power of love can conquer even the boundaries of time.

    I’d be amazed if it couldn’t. This is a romance novel. Of course love is going to conquer everything, including time and death. Amor vincit omnia.

    I’m sorry. It’s just that questions like “Will the love between a prince and a peasant girl transcend time and overcome the power of death itself?” are pointless. If the answer was no, why would there be a book?

    This completed, 90,000 word novel I believe would suit your “title” line.

    Strike the comma after ‘completed.’ It’s a small detail, but it’s significant.

    Hurtled through time by a cursed broach,

    That’s “brooch.” A brooch is a piece of jewelry; a broach is a cutting tool.

    Cass awakens in 1904, inside the murdered body of her great-aunt, Victoria -’.

    Does this mean that she wakes up in the body of her great-aunt who will be murdered someday, or that she wakes up inside a fatally wounded corpse? Because if it’s the latter, I’d wonder why she didn’t die again within minutes of being reanimated.

    Cass travels across untamed country to the famous Saint Louis World's Fair Expo, also known as the ‘Ivory City.

    You’re missing a closing quotation mark. And “untamed country”? Wasn’t the Wild West pretty much over by 1904?

    There, Cass must find the greatest Wizard the world's ever known. Houdini. The only man who can send her back, to the life and love she left behind.

    And this is the point at which you lost me. You see, escape artist Harry Houdini not only wasn’t into magic and the occult–he actually debunked psychics and spiritualists, much the same way that Penn and Teller or James Randi do today. Calling him a wizard, therefore, is against the man’s entire personality. It just does not FIT. And it makes me wonder what other historical details you got wrong.

    Cass's only hope is to learn to trust again from the man who broke Cass's grandmother's heart, Gaston, before the murderer strikes again.

    Now I’m confused. I thought that a wizard had to fix things. Now trusting Gaston fixes things. Which is it?

    However, Gaston must compete at the Ivory City or risk losing his heart's desire…The chance to ask for Victoria's hand in marriage.

    Really really confused now. Isn’t Victoria going to go back to being a corpse once Cass goes back to her own time?

    Back in 1983, Vic is unwillingly thrust into a world of dangerous entanglements, and into the arms of Mitch Balfour, the rebellious balloonist in love with Cass, but unwilling to trust in love.

    A rebel BALLOONIST? In 1983?

    Can Gaston's passionate embrace heal the pain inside Cass's soul before she must choose, go back and reverse the soul exchange with Vic… Or, love and die in the past?

    I suspect that Cass will choose to live and die in the past, because Victoria and Mitch have to “discover a secret that unites them in love forever” in order “to defeat an evil that scopes back a century.” You can’t be united in love forever and then go back to separate eras, because that’s not what being united means.

    The overall impression I have is that you’ve crammed too much into one book. you’ve got time travel, soul switching, magic, wizards, a hundred-year-old evil, and a curse that can be dispelled either by a wizard or by the power of love and trust. It’s hard to follow.

    The big problem, though, is that the book sounds so…familiar. I could swear I’ve read it a dozen times before. Nothing is really jumping out at me as unique, or even unusual.

    And, of course, the “Wizard Houdini” bit is the deal-breaker for me.

    I’m sorry. I just didn’t find the synopsis entertaining.

  11. Erastes
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 08:34:49

    So… The character travels to a different place and time to the Ivory City to seek out a Wizard…

    Is there a yellow brick road anywhere?

    Other than that, yes – confusing.

  12. Leah
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 08:40:06

    You know, I kind of like the basic premise, because I love a good time-travel. If I saw this book on the shelf, I would likely buy it–but to get on the shelf, it would have to have many of the corrections the others have already pointed out. I do have one question, though. I know that the Chicago World’s Fair had a part known as “the White City” (and apparently a serial killer). Did St Louis have an “Ivory City”?
    Also, those “lingerie modeling”/adult entertainment places still exist here in Indiana, so I might broaden her occupation to fashion photographer, or even vintage clothing specialist. I don’t know that you need to give your occupation in the query letter, as it will probably come up in further correspondence.

    Good luck with fine-tuning your novel and finding an agent!

  13. Line
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 08:45:33

    I’m only a reader too but I agree with everyone, the plot is confusing. And one more little thing, please don’t use the name Gaston. I know your hero lives in 1904, I guess it was a common name at the time but today it’s so not sexy and it only brings to my mind this specific song by Nino Ferrer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOiLXR24d_A
    and trust me, you don’t want your eventual french readers to be reminded of this one everytime they read your hero name !
    Good luck with your query !

  14. Maya Reynolds
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 08:51:42

    I agree with many of the previous comments.

    This sounds really interesting and is a creative premise. Time travel is one of the types of stories I enjoy enormously. Having said that, this query is very confusing and overwrought.

    My main issues:

    1) As mentioned previously, waking up in a dead body evokes all kinds of creepy associations. Also, are you trying to prevent Vic’s murder? If so, you need to mention that somewhere.

    2) You’ve got way too many goals going on: Potentially preventing her great aunt’s murder, returning to the future, learning to trust again, finding love AND defeating an age-old evil. My advice would be to pick one goal in the past and one in the present and stick with them.

    3) Names: I agree with Fiordiligi, the name Gaston makes me think of a cartoon villain. And suddenly introducing the nickname Vic totally confused me. I thought we were talking about a new male character. I had to re-read the sentence three times before I figured out what was going on.

    4) I suspect (although am not certain) that you’ve got some historical research to do. If you had described the route to St. Louis in 1776 or in 1876 as “untamed,” I’d have gone along with you. But in 1904??? The journey might be arduous or lengthy, but describing it as being across untamed country stopped me.

    5) First Vic is a great aunt and later she’s a grandmother. Which is it? Or are we introducing the grandmother, too?

    6) Describing Houdini as a Wizard (with a capital “W” yet) would probably have ticked him off. He spent his lifetime debunking frauds.

    7) What is Gaston competing for? You introduce lots of confusing threads that seem to go nowhere.

    8) Work on your punctuation. Avoid dashes and ellipses whenever possible. I’d also tone down the adjectives: rebellious balloonist and passionate embrace are two.

    9) Your opening sentence is, “Can love's obsession exist from beyond the grave?” I suspect you mean “persist” not “exist.” Nothing in the query seems to relate to an obsessive love. I’d rethink that.

    10) I seem to remember someone recently asking an agent on a blog whether she should mention her expertise in antique clothing. The answer was yes, absolutely do so. It establishes your credibility, especially on a time travel.

    You obviously have a lot of imagination and a great idea for a story. But you need to spend some time on the drudge parts of a writer’s job: communicating in a simple, clear style using precise word choices and punctuating correctly. You probably should take another look at your manuscript because this query is an indicator of some issues that will have to be addressed before an agent or editor is likely to offer you a contract.

    Don’t give up. Every newbie writer has to go through the same learning curve. Determination and persistence will see you through. Good luck.

  15. Tracey
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 08:52:49

    The name Gaston makes me think of this song:

  16. stef
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 09:15:09

    As everyone said, though the plot(s) seem(s) very interesting, the way you presented/worded it is very confusing. I won’t go over each and every detail, others did it brilliantly in previous comments.
    As for the name of your hero: Gaston, be it in French or in English, evoques nothing dashing nor sexy. I’m not a writer so I can only guess how hard it must be for one to change the name of their hero but here you might want to consider it. There are lots of ‘old fashioned’ French names (if that’s what you were heading for, as I assume was the case from the choice you made) that would suit a man from the early 20th without bringing images of cartoon heroes, weird songs or dumb comic strip heroes (yup that too) to your readers mind.

    Good luck with your books and thanks for sharing your work with us.

  17. Sunita
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 09:47:55

    Good for you for putting your work out here to be discussed!

    I like the premise. Do I have it right that we have two heroes who are both suffering from unrequited love? Because you describe their feelings but not the heroines’ feelings. If that’s the case, this is interesting because I can’t tell who will wind up with whom, and for me that kind of uncertainty is fun in a romance novel.

    I agree with all the others that the query as written is quite confusing, and the line by line comments you’ve been given are really useful. Definitely fix the Houdini angle, clean up the grammar and style issues, and double-check all the word choices that people have questioned.

    I’ll reiterate that as someone with a good familiarity with St. Louis, (a) I’ve never heard it referred to as the Ivory City; and (b) even if Cassandra is coming from Nevada, I don’t know what untamed country she has to cross to get there. This is 1904, not 1804, so why not just take the train?

    Minor nitpicks: Would someone be a “lingerie photographer” in 1904? Isn’t that awfully specific? Is she a catalogue photographer, or is she doing naughty pictures or what? That description sent me off track while I tried to figure it out, which is never good in the first few sentences. Also, I have a much better sense of what’s going on with Cassandra than with Victoria. Apart from knowing that it’s 1983 and she has a rebellious balloonist to contend with, I’m not sure what’s going on. Where is she? Where does she wake up? Cassandra has a mission, does Victoria? The parallel is not working for me because I don’t feel as if I have parallel information.

    Good luck, and let us know what happens!

  18. Marianne McA
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 10:38:39

    I like it. I think I disagree with Kathleen – I’d rather the blurb left it open whether the HEAs are Cassandra and Gaston & Victoria and Mitch, or Victoria and Gaston & Cassandra and Mitch.
    I’d agree I found the synopsis confusing first time round – for the same reasons as everyone else. (Also, ‘conquering…boundaries’ sounds odd to my ear.) And I’m afraid the name Gaston has Beauty and the Beast connotations for me too.
    I do like books that use real life characters, so the Houdini reference is a plus point for me – though calling him a wizard (especially, as Erastes points out, in the context of going on a journey to a Colour-Name City for the wizard to send the character home) – just confused me as to what type of book it is. I wouldn’t mind if there was a Wizard of Oz theme to the book, or if the book was set in a AU where Houdini was an actual magician (the rebellious balloonist sounds a bit AU to me) but if it’s set in this world, I think using the description ‘wizard’ is misleading.

    Having nitpicked, I should say that I really like the idea, and I’d want to read the book.

  19. Jill Myles
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 10:44:21

    I think it’s a good concept, but I confess I found it impossible to follow between all the dashes and extra commas. Please have your letter checked again before you send it out. :)

    Good luck!

  20. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 10:51:14

    You have some expert editing advice above, most of which I would take.

    For my two cents, I was not confused about the murdered body. I extrapolated to think that Vic was just killed, Cassandra shows up in the body and Vic is alive again. All that happened for me in the sentence. However, you clearly didn’t do that for the rest of the crowd, and you might just write, “She wakes up in the dying body of Vic.” Poof! Vic’s alive and thriving.

    Gaston is a name from Beauty and the Beast, right? Isn’t he the bad guy? I went to cartoon immediately. And I was confused about Vic. I thought when I first read Vic that we had another man in the plot.

    I like time travel novels a great deal, so I am sure I would want to read this. But clear up the “pretzeling” confusion. And I’m not sure that in a query you should state you have a sequel ready to roll out.

    J

  21. MD
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 11:11:49

    The name Gaston reminds me of the movie Gigi and it does evoke “sexy handsome” for me, but I guess I’m in the minority.
    In my writing, I’ve changed character names out of concern that readers may have bad associations. It sucks, but is usually for the best.
    I like time travel stories and I like the idea of your story quite a bit, so I would buy it.

  22. Leah
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 11:37:11

    My previous message didn’t survive for some reason, but it wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, so….

    Just wondering about Cassandra winding up in Victoria’s body. While the idea that Victoria has just been murdered has a lot of intriguing possibilities…if her body is incapable of sustaining her life, why would it be able to hang onto Cassandra’s soul? Since medical science wasn’t as advanced in 1904, I’m not sure how you could pull it off. Although I think they had mouth-to-mouth, so if she had been drowned….

    I think you’re very fortunate to be getting such great advice from everyone. I think your book sounds very interesting, and I would buy it.

    Best wishes,

  23. Maya Reynolds
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 12:26:38

    I was in St. Louis last weekend to talk to the RWA chapter there. I’ve heard it called many nicknames, including variations on “The Gateway City,” but I’ve never heard a reference to “The Ivory City.”

    I was in a rush this morning because I had an appointment for my mammogram, but I was curious about that Ivory City reference. I looked it up a little while ago:

    This came from The University Digest :

    The buildings [of the World's Fair], designed to look imposing and permanent, were made to be temporary, with the exception of the Palace of Fine Arts. This partially explains why very little steel was used in the construction of the buildings. Although it presented a fire hazard, wood was the material of choice for the great exhibit palaces. The use of wood made the application of staff, lightweight material molded onto the buildings, much easier to apply. Staff was versatile, and could be painted any color. The staff was painted an ivory color throughout the fair, dubbing the exposition the ‘Ivory City’.”

    According to Wikipedia, staff is “Chiefly made of powdered gypsum or plaster of Paris, with a little cement, glycerin, and dextrin, mixed with water until it is about as thick as molasses, when staff is cast in molds it can form any shape. . . Staff may easily be bent, sawed, bored, or nailed. Its natural color is murky white, but it may be made to resemble any kind of stone.

    Staff was invented in France about 1876 and was used in the construction and ornamentation of the buildings of the Paris Expositions of 1878 and of 1889.”

  24. kirsten saell
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 13:04:02

    Can love's obsession exist from beyond the grave? [Not bad as hooks go, but then you lose all your momentum with this:]

    In my romantic time travel adventure novel, -’(unnamed), my heroine, lingerie photographer Cassandra -’ and hero, dashing French inventor Gaston -’, discover the power of love can conquer even the boundaries of time. This completed, 90,000 word novel I believe would suit your “title” line. [A slightly modified and stripped down version of this paragraph needs to go at the end.]

    This is your beginning: Hurtled through time by a cursed bro[o]ch, fashion photographer Cassandra Whositz awakens in 1904, inside the body of her great-aunt, Victoria, who was the victim of a brutal 1905 murder[although cumbersome, that would make it clearer]. Desperate to return to her own time before the murderer strikes, Cass travels across untamed country to the famous Saint Louis World's Fair Expo [the rest of that sentence is unnecessary]. There, Cass hopes to [delete must] find the greatest Wizard the world's ever known– Houdini–and convince him to send her back to the life and love she left behind. Along the way, Cass must learn to trust the dashing Gaston, the very man who broke Cass's grandmother's heart. Gaston wants nothing more than Victoria’s hand in marriage, and as Cass spends time with him, she finds herself falling for his charm.

    Back in 1983, Victoria is thrust into her own series of dangerous entanglements, and into the arms of Mitch Balfour, the [rich, commitment-shy ne'er-do-well?] who loves Cass. To defeat an evil that reaches back a century the pair must discover a secret that unites them in love forever.

    But once evil is thwarted, these two women will face an impossible choice– return to their own times, or take the greatest risk of all, and stay with the men they’ve come to love.

    [Ugh, just get rid of this]Can Gaston's passionate embrace heal the pain inside Cass's soul before she must choose, go back and reverse the soul exchange with Vic… Or, love and die in the past?

    UNNAMED, my romantic time travel adventure novel is complete at 90 000 words, and I believe it would suit your “title” line. [Don't say it's your first novel--best to not say anything] I’m currently working on a sequel, UNNAMED II. The synopsis, sample chapters, or manuscript are available upon request. Thank you for considering my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Thank you,

    You can add a few more details to flesh it out, but that–I gather–is the bare skeleton of your story. I’m a firm believer in hooking them first with the story, then providing them with word count and sequel and publishing credit details once they’ve already decided they want it.

    As always, feel free to ignore me. Most people do. ;)

  25. sistergolden
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 13:14:16

    I agree with all of the aforementioned points (waking up in a murdered body, etc). I also see startling similarities to the Wizard of Oz, which I’m not certain the author intends in the query.

    *Cass wakes up in a strange place/time and travels through untamed territory to get to the ‘Ivory City’ to apply to the Wizard (Houdini) to help her return to her right place in time….*

    vs.

    *Dorothy wakes up in a strange place and travels through strange territory to get to the ‘Emerald City’ to apply to the Wizard to help her return home (Aunty Em!)….”

    Hm…..

    Time to tighten up the query and tell us what we need to know about the plot of this book. If Victoria’s story is the ‘pretzel’ story of book 2 and doesn’t have much visibility here, I’m not certain we need to hear about her and the rebel balloonist in the query, do we?

    Best wishes.

  26. kirsten saell
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 13:24:32

    Time to tighten up the query and tell us what we need to know about the plot of this book.

    I’ve found that the conflict(s) is just as, if not more, important than any plot summary. Conflict is what will hook the agent or editor. So often when authors write a synopsis of their work, the plot is the only thing that comes through, and all you have are a dry series of events that excite a person as much as a grade 8 history text book.

    Conflict, dang it!

  27. Emma Wayne Porter
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 13:36:54

    I’m with Kirsten… sort of. There’s plenty of external romantic conflict to be inferred from the blurb, but not so much on internal. And the internal conflict is what makes the editorial antennae pop up.

    I do like, however, that you’ve shown the general structure I could expect.

    Otherwise, I can’t really tell how much of the punctuation issue is an accident of blog translation, but if I’m itching to apply the red pen to a query, odds of a request drop exponentially.

  28. Moth
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 13:43:10

    Put my vote down for changing the hero’s name too. Gaston takes me right t beauty in the beast. It also feels like an American idea of what a French name would be and not really genuine French. I know it is but something a little more unique qould be better. Also, I really feel like the Disney references are a bit hard to overcome. I’ve had some problem with character name associations myself and really, you don’t want your novel to tank just because you picked the wrong name.

  29. Kathleen
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 13:47:10

    Marianne said, “I like it. I think I disagree with Kathleen – I'd rather the blurb left it open whether the HEAs are Cassandra and Gaston & Victoria and Mitch, or Victoria and Gaston & Cassandra and Mitch.”

    You know… that possibility never occurred to me! I, too, would be open to discovering that the HEA was with the other… but in that case, I think there will be a hint that this MIGHT be a possibility. This way, people aren’t wondering (like I was), why they’re trying to leave the men they love and go back to being alone.

  30. kirsten saell
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 13:47:14

    Yeah, the internal conflict (for both women) really does need serious fleshing out, and sometimes that can get lost amid a sea of less important plot details. In my half-ass face-lift I took out those details and left lots of room for that conflict to be presented.

    And yeah, wonky punctuation in a query (as well as the broach thing) would probably be huge red flags. The query is your intro to an agent or editor. You don’t go to meet your boyfriend’s parents wearing clothes you slept in and yesterday’s make-up. You take the time and effort to look as nice as you can–even if you’ve got a great personality.

  31. Julie Leto
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 20:45:01

    I agree that that query is problematic, but I wanted to point out that I thought that the writer could make the Houdini character work. What if he’s a REAL wizard? What if that explains why he worked so hard to debunk FRAUDS? It’s just an idea…but I think the writer could make this work.

  32. kirsten saell
    Jun 28, 2008 @ 21:43:50

    I totally agree the Houdini angle could be cool, and I don’t mind the Wizard of Oz parallels at all. This novel is interesting to me in that I’m assuming both women will be tempted (or will opt) to stay in the wrong times with the new guys. It’s a neat idea, but the query doesn’t do it justice.

    And that doesn’t mean the author isn’t an awesome writer. Most writers find queries very difficult. I’m weird in that I don’t, generally, and a large part of that ease has come from picking apart other authors’ queries and slowly discovering the little tricks that make the process easier.

    Now don’t even get me started on synopses!

  33. C.J. Redwine
    Jun 30, 2008 @ 23:53:34

    Bravo for you. It’s tough to put your work out for critiques like this but it’s the only way to gain the thick skin necessary in this business. =)

    Like others have pointed out, I found myself confused by the timeline (a few transitions would help, as would starting us off with the declaration that Cass switches places with her grandmother Victoria through the cursed brooch) and by some of the word choices and descriptions. I think you may need to do a seek and destroy on extra words and unnecessary details and hone this down. You don’t need every detail of your plot to write a good hook – just enough to give us the main characters, the stakes, and why we should care.

    And yes, Gaston instantly conjured the baffoon from Beauty and the Beast for me.

    On a business level, you need to select a genre that exists on the shelves in Barnes & Nobles. Yes, you have a time-traveling adventure novel but where does it fit? Romance? Historical? Mystery? Pick the closest to it and then let your agent figure out how to pitch it.

    Also, you don’t need to tell agents (why are you querying editors?) that a synopsis, sample chapters, and manuscript are available. Each agent (or the few editors that actually accept unagented submissions) lists their submission requirements, including exactly what they want to see from you. Just send it and thank them for their time. =)

    Good luck. You certainly have a vivid imagination and a love for plot twists and I wish you the best!

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