“I Stopped Reading When…” Query Edition – Volume 3

4327205239_6145958833_o_stoppedWhen choosing a novel or reading through the slush pile, readers, publishers, and literary agents make snap decisions about books. Below are my snap decisions about ten query letters written by Novel Boot Camp participants.

I stopped reading (and ended the excerpt) at the point that I was no longer interested in continuing. I also included comments about why the story didn’t catch my interest.

Please play along by tracking which books you would request to read based on the query. There will be a poll at the end of the post.

Volume 1 can be found here.

Volume 2 can be found here.

“I Stopped Reading When…”

1. mainstream

Solar is a university student struggling to live up to her family’s expectations. Her life is interrupted by a plane crash that leaves her mortally injured and stranded in the middle of the ocean.


Leo is the leader of a  modern sea crew of rebels. He is on a mission to purge society and create a stronger human race.


An inch from death, Solar is pulled onto Leo’s ship. With nothing left to lose, she fights the rebels with everything she has. Impressed, they give her a chance at becoming a crew member.


The Dissenters are a small group of crew members who want to stop Leo, working under the radar while faking subordination. They help Solar survive  and she becomes entangled in their plans.


The final three paragraphs of the query are not included in the excerpt.

I’m confused about how this is mainstream. In what sense is Leo purging the human race? Is he crazy? Why does Solar fight the rebels if they saved her? Rather than introducing each person/group as if they are separate concepts, stick closely to Solar and her experiences (For example: When Solar meets the Dissenters, a small group….).

2. Romantic comedy

When 30 year old Lexie is introduced to a guy who turns out to be a social dimwit, she decides that she’s had enough of this kind of matchmaking. In order to get her family and friends to shut about her still being single, she tells them one little lie: that she has a boyfriend. But her seemingly innocent lie spirals out of control and before she knows it, she’s planning a wedding. Her parents are thrilled and her friends finally stop feeling sorry for her. They even invite her to their weekly couples’ night out! Finally, Lexie feels like she really belongs.

But when Lexie’s parents offer to use a big part of their hard-earned savings for a romantic dream wedding, she realizes that she has to tell everyone the truth, yet she feels so ashamed that she never dares to. And after all, she’s already got the dress, the cake and the venue. The only thing she still needs in order to sustain her lie, is a man. With the help of her new and attractive neighbor she sets out on a crazy journey to find the perfect groom before it is too late.

This is the full query.

My first impression of this query is that everybody knows how this story unfolds. I could probably tell you at least half the plot points and be right on the money so I’m not expecting any surprises from this book. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you prove that you have a voice that can pull off a well-worn idea and make it feel fresh and exciting. I’m not getting a very good sense of the character’s voice from this query and that is going to hold you back. For this novel to work, you need a sharp, witty, quirky character, but that’s missing from the query.

3. young adult, mystery

Lady Daphne H. Valentine, a shrewd sixteen year old living in high society England, loves nothing more than Bergamot tea, a good old game of carroms, fine literature, and…catching the occasional miscreant or two in her spare time.


The distant niece of Sherlock Holmes, Daphne has a penchant for playing cat-and-mouse games and is often sought after by Scotland Yard for her brilliant powers of deduction in solving cases. However, Daphne harbors a secret from the outside world-she is an enchantress. With her tactful and enigmatic butler, Sebastien Sinclair at her side, Daphne is able to solve peculiar cases by pairing her powerful deductive abilities with her magic.


When young ladies from the local all girls academy start vanishing without a trace, including Daphne’s own cousin, it is up to Daphne and Sebastien to uncover the mysterious string of disappearances. But someone is watching her every movie from the shadows, intentionally leaving clues in her trail and leading her onwards…in the biggest cat-and-mouse game of all.

This is the full query.

I really like this idea. The mystery seems to have stakes that are just high enough to be captivating while still leaving room for fun. The enchantress element feels a bit off to me. When you mention Sherlock Holmes there is an expectation of really elaborate skills of deduction, so giving her magical abilities feels sort of like a cop out. The first paragraph is very ineffective. It’s not your hook. There are already tons of stories of seemingly proper girls who actually fight crime. I would say this is a trope, so leading with that is more likely to hurt than help you. The second paragraph is much stronger and hooked me right away. A couple other complaints: her butler feels tossed in and irrelevant, and “the biggest cat-and-mouse game of all” is a cliche. Overall, I am interested in this story.

4. Young Adult, fantasy horror

Cane lives in a trailer park with his tumultuous family. His father is an abusive drunk, and his mother smokes. On one particular day, the stress of his family pushes him into his own imagination. He’s met by various characters that represent different parts of his persona. One in particular named Comfort tells him that he will need to find his notebook, a pen, a key, glasses, and a hearing aid to get out. Before she can say anything else, Comfort is taken away by Shadow people who are ruled by a frightening clown that threatens to turn everything dark.


Cane is faced with the decision to stay afloat and hope for an exit, or burrow deeper into the regains of his mind where is inner demons lie.


This is the full query.

My first impression of this query is that I’ve seen this story done a hundred times. I’ve edited numerous amateur novels dealing with this exact premise and it is nearly impossible to pull off because the fantasy world has no stakes because it isn’t real. When you got to the list of items he needs to find, my brain screamed Sucker Punch! The premise of that movie is almost exactly what you’re describing. A really unique spin and an absolutely killer voice need to be demonstrated to stand out with this idea.

5. Christian fiction

With a private pilot license in his pocket, nineteen-year-old Chris has completed the first step in gaining access to the cockpit of an airliner. That’s his career goal and he’s hell-bent on making good on it.


The first year of studying aeronautical engineering was fun—and demanding. A budding relationship with Debbie, his boss’s daughter at the airport, turns into more than he could have imagined. And then a terrible accident in which Debbie’s kid-brother was killed wreaks havoc for everyone. Debbie’s father blames Chris for his son’s death.


Working his way through the implications of it all, Chris gets to know Debbie better. The more he knows her, the greater he appreciates her strength of character to do the right thing. Her strong need to find acceptance in the world and to make her own way in life become barriers to their relationship. He’s left questioning how far he should go in order to win her affection.

This is the full query.

This doesn’t seem like Christian fiction. There’s nothing to indicate that religion plays a significant role in the story. This just seems mainstream. The three paragraphs feel isolated: he wants to become a pilot, a boy dies, he wants to be with a girl. There isn’t much tying these paragraphs together so it’s tough to get a big picture sense of the plot.

6. young adult, urban fantasy

You wouldn’t expect that bringing some old crow back from the dead would cause such a big brouhaha but when teen necromancer Janie White does the bird starts bringing Janie gifts including; soda-tabs, shiny pebbles, a cute button, and the USB drive of a high school student who has been missing for over a year and presumed dead.  Janie and her two friends try to find the missing body to clear Janie’s dad who has been brought up on charges of murder in the teens disappearance.  Sheriff Andy Wood needs to find the corpse first at all costs to protect his reelection bid and to fulfill a deal he made with a dark crime syndicate.

This is the full query.

I thought by “old crow” you meant an old woman so that made the query confusing initially. I like the idea of getting the flash drive, but I’m not clear on how necromancy ties into the rest of the novel. It feels odd. The wording of the first sentence is very awkward (“when teen necromancer Janie White does the bird starts” had me baffled and re-reading). “Sheriff Andy Wood” makes me think of Toy Story – Andy and “Sheriff Woody.” The concluding sentence focuses on the sheriff instead of the girls which makes me wonder if this is really a story about the teens or if it’s actually Andy’s story.

7. mainstream

Chris feels like a failure at home; unable to compromise on the one thing both he and his wife most want: a child. But his wife can’t sustain a pregnancy and he can’t imagine raising an adoptive child.  So he tries to make up for his own discontent at the Palliative Care Facility where he works, ensuring his patients at the hospice have the support they need and no final regrets.


When thirty-eight year old Madeline Tailor checks in without family or friends for support, he feels a pull to help her. Despite the incident that now marks his career – and cost his wife her job – he can’t leave Madeline to die alone believing she deserves her fate.

The final two paragraphs are not included in the excerpt.

The connection between his issues with having a child and supporting patients at hospice isn’t working for me. I don’t understand how these things are related. Why is he against adoption? This makes him seem kind of unappealing as a character without some sort of justification. What is “the incident”? This is too vague and doesn’t give me a sense of what’s occurring.

8. young adult, fantasy

Someone is tearing out souls and selling their empty bodies to a demon for one reason and one reason only: to destroy Harper’s world. Being a Soul Catcher, Harper’s destiny is to save lives not to take them so when her determination brings her to the doorstep of the man responsible and she discovers that man is her estranged father she will be forced to do something necessary, something she has never done before…and kill. Even if it means letting go of the only family she has left.

This is the full query.

The first sentence makes it seem as if the demon has something against Harper specifically (since it’s “Harper’s world” instead of “the world.”). I assume this is set in an alternate world? Soul catching has become a popular topic lately for whatever reason so I would emphasize what is unique about this story. The estranged father element is also common. I’m not getting a sense of what makes this story better/different than others like it.

9. epic fantasy

It’s been twenty-five seasons of snow since the last of the Jápmemeahttun left the Olmmoš and withdrew into the Song of All. Long enough for the Jápmemeahttun to become a folktale told by Olmmoš parents to frighten their children. But there are still those who remember what it was like to fight these immortal creatures and still others, like Irjan, who trained to kill them.


Scarred and weary, Irjan wants to live a quiet life: be a farmer, a good husband and father. But when his past is discovered, he’s caught between an ambitious village priest and the comrades he’s forsaken. Pulled back into the brutal life of a Piijkij—an Immortal Hunter—Irjan is given a choice: find the Jápmemeahttun or lose his child. With his son’s life at stake, Irjan is willing to risk anything, even a war, to save him, never realizing that his own hidden birthright is the true danger to the tentative peace between these two Northlands tribes.


This is the full query.

The names are a serious issue in this query. They are extremely distracting and make it difficult to follow the story. “Jápmemeahttun” is too long to sound out and so is read as “Japmeblahblan.” “Piijkij” is read like “Pidgekidge” but I think you probably mean “Pie-ee Kie -ee.” I don’t want to exert mental effort every time I encounter a name. I would open with a focus on Irjan. What happened in his past that causes him to lose his child in the present? Why does anyone want to find the Jápmemeahttun, and how does that tie into his lost child?

10. young adult, scifi

Erik Thorvald went from being junior class president to meeting some of the greatest men and women in history.


And killing them.


After being saved by Versan, a two thousand year old assassin, from the car accident that would have killed him, Erik must leave behind everyone he loves to become the next Time Mender. Tasked with correcting the “temporal schisms” that occur when the deaths of important historical figures are prevented by other time jumpers, Erik must travel to the “tangent strands” such schisms create and mend the disrupted event – through assassination. If he refuses to accept this responsibility, Versan has promised to apply his vast knowledge of killing to ensure that Erik’s lovely girlfriend Rachel meets a particularly painful end.


The law of paradox means Erik gets only one chance to correct each schism, so he must race through history, from ancient Rome to medieval Wales, to keep the Thread of Time from collapsing… and to rescue the girl he loves.

This is the full query.

In terms of premise, this has a great blend of a familiar story and popular topic with a unique twist. The first sentence feels very weak. Class president and meeting historical figures aren’t highly contrasting situations. It isn’t really making a point. The stakes seem a little odd. Did Versan tell him that he has to do this job forever or he’ll kill the girl? Or is there a specific job he has to do? The girlfriend feels a bit like stakes that were tacked on rather than part of the original idea, but that could just be coming from how it’s conveyed. I think you linger on the premise too long in the second paragraph, which could be made more concise. I’d like a better sense of what sort of obstacles he has to face.


What did you think?

To help your fellow Boot Campers, please vote in the poll below and leave a comment about why you did or did not want to continue reading.

Thanks! More submissions will be posted soon!

This post is a part of Novel Boot Camp. If you aren’t participating, you should be! Check it out here.

9 thoughts on ““I Stopped Reading When…” Query Edition – Volume 3

  1. chickinwhite says:

    I voted for #3, for I think it´s really intriguing to combine a detective and an enchantress. The mention of her butler made me think of some sort of female Batman, just with magical powers instead of tecnical powers. I´m interested. 🙂
    and I really like the idea of the crow in #6. Though, it seems that this is the most original part to me. Ithink, I would read a few pages before deciding if I´m interested…
    Oh, and a word to #9 : I absolutely agree with Ellen: names like yours are extremely complicated to read. So, even if the idea sounds fine to me, I´d probably wouldn´t follow.

  2. Robert Buchko says:

    Ellen, thank you for the feedback (#10), and you’re correct. The girlfriend thing feels tacked on because it is tacked on.

    I’m having a huge issue coming up with personal motivation for Erik to get involved. Yes, someone has to keep the Thread of Time from fraying beyond repair, but that’s poor motivation for a teenage boy to leave his life behind and dedicate umpteen years to murdering innocent people. Heck, someone has to do the dishes and take out the trash, too. Good luck getting Erik to do those.

    My thought was that Versan could initially come across as an antagonist, threatening Erik’s girlfriend if he didn’t agree to become a Time Mender. Versan’s been at it for a long time and he’s tired. He just wants to retire to a parallel strand to be with his historical love, Yim Wing Chun. So umm, yeah, I guess he expects Erik to do this forever, or he’ll kill Erik’s girlfriend. Who will only live for another 60 or 70 years. Versan didn’t really think this through very well, apparently. 😉

    I fell into the world building trap, where I have this wonderful glossary and am busy plugging all the little logical holes in my time travel “magic” system, and I never bothered to stop and give my novel any heart. I need to figure out how to make this a character-driven novel that just happens to be about time travel.

    I’ll come up with something better, but struggling a bit right now.

    • Eliza Worner says:

      I love the idea. It actually made me chuckle. Having to go around and fix all the problems with the space/time continuum caused by time-travelling do-gooders.

      Surely Erik as a teenage boy would be motivated simply by the excitement and adventure of it all. If someone offered me the chance to travel time and fix great gaping holes in the fabric of time, it would be hard to say no.

      I don’t think you need a love interest at all. He’s a bit busy.

      • Robert Buchko says:

        Thank you for the feedback! I think that, like you, Erik would be totally into it if it didn’t involve killing people, especially since those people aren’t bad; they’re just not supposed to be alive! Plus, he will have to leave everything behind; that’s tough for a teen to do (though they all do it eventually… well, most of them). I’m structuring it so that he can’t go home again, ever. Part of his growth as I’m envisioning it will involve him accepting that he must leave his former life and him becoming hardened to the requirements of his new role. We’ll see if it starts getting too serious; I don’t want to suck all the fun out of the book, but I don’t want him to take assassination lightly.

  3. Stephanie K. says:

    Dear #3: An author named Nancy Springer has a whole series of Enola Holmes mysteries. Enola is the Holmes brothers’ little sister. I’ve read several of the books in the series. They’re so well done. Enola has the nose for clues like her brother Sherlock and the setting and interaction with characters of the time period are well-researched and believable. To create another series with a Holmes niece might reach an overlapping audience.

  4. Robert Buchko says:

    Oh. Em. Gee. Think my character’s motivation just clicked! And it fits perfectly with my theme. Not sure why it didn’t occur to me before. It’s so obvious now! *virtual happy dance*

    Now I just need to write the damn thing and I’ll be all set. 😉

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