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  1. #1
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    Post TABLE TALK - QL first attempt

    Hey all! Well, I finished a different novel and was hoping to get some critiques for my query letter. It was a little tricky for me because the format of the novel is all dialogue and also a series of mini-stories that segue into the next and loosely tie together. I don' know if my QL is 1) any good and 2) makes sense or is just really confusing about the book. Any thoughts or feedback would be great! Thanks!

    Dear Editor,

    "Shhh...I'm trying to listen to what they're saying!" I have a confession. I love to eavesdrop. Is that kind of creepy? I know it's wrong, but other people do it too, right? I mean, I'm not the only one?

    Such is the premise of my novel, TABLE TALK – A NIGHT OF EAVESDROPPING, an audio tour of one such restaurant on one such Friday night. The tables and the conversations are different yet uniquely intertwine; where one conversation ends it leads to the next through a chance encounter of characters. A bumping of the shoulders, a rude intrusion, an awkward question.

    Sarah is on the college road trip from hell and is appalled that her aunt has sent back a salad three times and Amber is a quick-tongued anorexic giving her therapists hell on their group meal outing outside off the Residential treatment center. Randall and Irene are on their first face-to-face encounter after their Match.com hook-up, but when Irene finds out her date is a photographer she decides an impromptu, and slightly inappropriate, photo-shoot is in order. Poor Randall is left feeling awkward and embarrassed but with no clear way out of the situation.
    Shannon and little Molly, on one of their visits with their divorced father, regale him with the story of their first encounter with a bidet and subsequent shower. Throw a gluten-intolerant stress-ball into the mix and you’ve got one crazy Friday night that the wait and kitchen staff are just trying to get through. Though, the end of this Friday night is the very last for Jack, his meeting at the door with Randy wasn’t left to chance. Too bad Jack hadn’t overheard the exchange between Randy and Colleen, their little secret is far more of a sin than eavesdropping. Oh, and did I mention it's all dialogue? That was a tricky, but fun, writing challenge.

    TABLE TALK—A NIGHT OF EAVESDROPPING, 55,000 words, is like a collection of mini-stories but ties itself together nicely; the venue is the same after all, so all of the stories are bound to run into each other. It is often times humorous, many times a poignant reflection of human nature, and insightful as to how perfect strangers may deeply effect our lives.

    Thank you for your time and consideration,



  2. #2
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    Hi Caitlin,

    I'll start, but the pros will help much more than I can. A few points - and these are all my opinion.

    The book is hard to describe, but not as hard as you're making it sound! I think that throwing in the format (all dialogue) early will set the scene. I would have found the query difficult to understand if you hadn't lead in with it (in your comments to us). So I'd recommend putting that in early.

    Secondly - I think there are way too many character names. Do you even need any? I would leave it name-less. Say "The couple on a blind date.." etc. Just a suggestion - but names make people's minds work - we try and store them away and remember them. Too many and we get confused. If the names are irrelevant we resent having tried to remember them.

    Thirdly - the hypothetical questions are something you should avoid in a query - full stop. That's something I had to learn, too.

    I'd also lose the little intro - the query should definitely be in third person. An agent probably won't like the gimmick. There's also a few problems with the wording - "outing outside". Oh, and I'd lose the "fun to write..." thing, too. I don't think an agent will like it. Just my opinion, though.

    Sorry - that's all a little harsh, but I think you need to re-write it. The novel sounds very interesting, but the query needs some work.
    Last edited by Emily MacGowan; 05-09-2011 at 07:44 AM.

  3. #3
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    Caitlin,

    Goodness gracious girl. Could you have picked a harder piece of fiction to query?

    The premise is intriguing. I love independent story sketches that come together; as you wrote, "how perfect strangers may deeply effect our lives."

    But the thing is that you've got a lot to prove in a page to pull of this sort of Q. It looks like experimental fiction to me. I've read a very few experimental novels. Every single one (that I recall) I've loved, which tells me a lot. It tells me that if you thought getting a straight narrative published was tough, getting something experimental published is, well, maybe like winning a spot on an Olympic team. Right? Lots of us are runners. Lots of us even place third (my best) in local races. That's good enough to get me entry into some qualifying races, but never close to the Olympics.

    So you can not just be a good writer with something interesting to say to pull this off. You've got to be great, as in the kind of great that inspires readers to underline every other sentence. By the way, most writers who attempt to publish an experimental novel have paid their dues in lit mags.

    Maybe you've got it. But I don't see the sort of feel for words that I think you'll need. I would encourage you to ditch this whole "it's all dialogue" bit. Certainly in the Q, but probably in the work itself. I can't imagine how you'd create a whole-cloth story of these vignettes without a strong narrator. Maybe you have, but you certainly did not prove that you could do so in this Q.

    A bit of specific critique.

    That opening presumes a POV first-person narrator. It contradicts your statement that the entire book is told in dialog. You begin with this first-person character speaking to someone, but then he/she stops speaking and gives internal thought. That is NOT dialog. That's just first-person narration, speaking to the reader.

    Or is this opening supposed to be you as the author speaking to us? If so, why do you begin with dialog tags? That signals us that you are speaking to someone else. When you drop them, it signals that you are speaking directly to the reader. It's off.

    Either way, it makes me wonder if you've confused first-person narration and dialog.

    The bulk of your Q, which focuses on named characters with their own issues and reasons, is just out of place, in my opinion. All these snippets about these characters would be valuable if you were just dealing with a couple of characters. As is, all the power leaks out. None of them sticks with me two seconds after finishing the Q. I suspect that this sort of superficial character/issue list is just not going to work for this sort of book. I suspect that the bulk of your Q is off kilter.

    The graph I found most promising was this one:

    Such is the premise of my novel, TABLE TALK – A NIGHT OF EAVESDROPPING, an audio tour of one such restaurant on one such Friday night. The tables and the conversations are different yet uniquely intertwine; where one conversation ends it leads to the next through a chance encounter of characters. A bumping of the shoulders, a rude intrusion, an awkward question.

    There's something intriguing here.

    Lots of stuff in the way.

    What is the "such" on which the premise of your novel rests? The speaker begging the reader to tell her she's not alone? The fact that the speaker believes her actions are wrong? The speaker's belief that other people do it too? I don't see a clear premise on which to center a novel. And none of that opening graph even gets close to the theme you state at the end.

    I like the "audio tour" bit. But you lose cred with the one-such bits. You never established a restaurant so the "one such" doesn't actually mean anything. You never established a Friday night, so the "one such" doesn't mean anything. I assume that you had in mind a restaurant on a Friday evening when you wrote the lead, but didn't bother to inform the reader of your intent. You didn't translate. That's really bad. You're telegraphing that your writing for yourself, damn the reader.

    So then we have: The tables and the conversations are different yet uniquely intertwine; where one conversation ends it leads to the next through a chance encounter of characters. A bumping of the shoulders, a rude intrusion, an awkward question.

    I'm not sure why you'd feel the need to establish that tables are different. I'm not sure how the tables "uniquely intertwine." Suspect you're being sloppy with words. I'm not sure why you would wish to create a sense that one conversation has to end to lead into another. I assume you mean that the story drifts from one conversation to another. But you write that one ends and leads to another. That just seems weird. There's something pretty cool that can happen between the tables and amid both overheard and direct conversation. You aren't nailing it. But this graph, I think, holds the most potential.

    You DO NOT want to write anything like "...is like a collection of..." Let's leave aside the imprisonment of the word "like" by silly, nonverbal types. You're pitching something that's weird. The agent is going to be all, "Like, I don't know where this would fit in anywhere." You do not want to add to his/her first reaction by appearing to not even know yourself.

    Well that's probably more than enough. As I recall, you've never responded to my critiques of your ballet story, which, like this one, I thought had promise. Thus, I've no idea if my critiques are helpful for you or if you'd rather I keep my thoughts to myself. I think you've got great story insight and ideas and are limited by your ability to express them well.

  4. #4
    Amy Lou
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    Not to ride Emily and CK's coat tails but I agree with everything they commented on. But I wanted to tell you that I really love the sound of your novel and feel like you have a fresh idea that could get you noticed if presented the right way. Good luck!

  5. #5
    Senior Member Avonne Writer's Avatar
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    Caitlin- I agree that if done properly this could be very good. Very good. I myself love the idea of this...it really sounds like it would be a great movie, too. (Idea?? Screenplay)

    Anyway, I like the lead in in first person. But, like CK stated, the quotation marks may be misplaced, unless this person is talking to someone at her table. That hooked me right away. I was intrigued until your last paragraph. You don't need all the snippets of stories. You've already eluded to them. If you feel the need you could include one or two at most.

    Like CK mentioned, if you are going to query agents with this "different" type novel, you really need to knock the Q right outta the park (to be cliche).

    Best of luck - I would love to read this. Hope you get it published.

  6. #6
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    JUST MY OPINION, FEEL FREE TO IGNORE:

    Too conversational and trying to be cute. Truthfully, there is not one sentence I wouldn't pull apart.

  7. #7
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    Hey all! First off, thank you so much for the QL analysis, and I wanted to apologize for not responding sooner, I had selected to get email alerts when anyone replied to my thread but I never got anything. I had come to the conclusion that either my QL or entire idea for the MS sucked so much no one wanted to even bother. :P But then I came to the boards and saw that there had been a few replies..so I'm sorry on that.

    CK, I'm glad you think this idea has potential (as a side note, I had replied to your last post on my other QL, took the notes, and am still working on it. I hit a bit of a burn-out or sticking point so switched gears hoping that when I went back to the dance story I might have a little bit of a fresh look. But, maybe that's just me being a lazy writer and wanting to move onto another project...which very well could be the case. But, please don't think that I don't appreciate your thoughts and critiques, do keep them coming!) On the subject of this one, I've got to declutter and it also sounds like pitching this idea will be like climbing uphill 8miles in the snow. I guess I can only give it a shot, know what I'm going into, and see what happens. So in the QL specifics, cut out even stating it's all dialogue and also a 'series' which are red flags to an agent right away. The opening paragraph was meant to be from my perspective, but it sounds like shifting perspectives is a no-no. Later, how would you suggest giving details about the book without having to name the names or add to the 'clutter.' That's where I was definitely having trouble, I wasn't sure how specific to get so that the editor had at least an interest or clue about what it's about without being too vague and just saying "there's tons of character and each situation is different." I did want to make it clear that there is a segue from 'hearing' one conversation to the next and that's where I got the intertwined/ending conversations bit. Also, there are a few times where characters from different conversations do play a part in the lives of another character. You're right in that I'm getting stuck trying to explain away and making it much too complicated. Would you then suggest just taking that one paragraph that 'hooked' you and work with that? Do I really limit specifics about the characters? Sorry, I'm just not finding the right way to express myself. PS-so you're a fellow runner...I'm a total running nerd, what distances do you do?

    @Emily, don't ever worry about feeling like you're too harsh, I've a thick skin and really want the thing torn to bits! Again, I'm getting things too complicated and confusing the reader. You also found the intro awkward, so I'll ditch that along with the little commentary at the end about 'fun challenge,' they really don't care if it was fun or not! You also agree I shouldn't bring in so many characters, so I'll ask your opinion too on how do I give enough info so an editor can get the gist of things and not be too vague, and then not leave them scratching their heads? I do really appreciate that you think that under all the confusion lies an interesting idea.

    @Amy, thanks for the encouragement!

    @Avonne, nice to hear that you too think the idea has potential, and I was sort of wondering if it's more suited for a screenplay. I've never written any kind of plays or gone into that genre before so I was a little unsure of all the specifics on that end, so I thought of sticking with a novel. But I'll keep thinking on that maybe. As for the intro, you said you liked it, but is that because you thought it was a quote from the book, not from my own perspective as the writer? And I'll ditch all those snippets...thanks for the help!

    @Leslee, thanks for reading it and it sounds like I'm being too 'paly' with the editor and not coming across professional? That and my QL is just a train-wreck.

    Thanks again to all of you for your thoughts and I've PLENTY to work on!

  8. #8
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    Caitlin,

    I got no good ideas for you on this one. I can't envision an entire book only told in dialog. Or I can, but it's not pretty. If I were you, I'd be looking at a more marketable way to tell the story. But my imagination is limited.

    I was up to a half marathon then injured my foot. Anything more than three miles as present sets the foot off. Depressing as I really enjoyed mixing up distance, hills, fast track days. Now I just do a slow three miles and ice my foot all the time. What do you run?

  9. #9
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    Hey CK,

    Haha...glad that my idea was able to paint some unpleasant mental pictures for you!

    Ah, one of the hardest parts of being a runner is having to also be quite familiar with it's ugly step-sister Injury. I'm sorry to hear about your injury, but if I may ask, could you be a little more specific about it? I may be able to help, or at least offer up a few suggestions to get you past that three mile sticking point. Not sure if this is exactly the 'right' forum for that though, but if you were interested I could give you a place to message me. No worries either way, and until then as depressing as it is, try to be at least grateful you can do it a little...I've had some pretty nasty ones that took me out of commission for a long time. As for me, I'm a long distance chick...I've only got one speed but I can keep it up for a long time.

  10. #10
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    Caitlin,

    Plantar fasciitis. I knew something was wrong with my foot after a half-marathon, but I was the 5K runner in a relay multi-sport race and coouldn't keep from speed training the event because my friend group was counting on me. After the 5K (We were the top all-girl group), I really knew something was wrong and couldn't even walk on it. When it didn't heal with a couple week's rest, I started the doctor, specialist, physical therapist route. Nothing has worked yet. It doesn't cripple me up, but it does keep from running like I like to run, you know. If you've got an advice, I'm all ears. I've been struggling with it for a year next month.

    What sort of distances do you do? I was a buddy-running for a friend doing a 50-miler. And for my sister doing a backcountry marathon. I can't imagine ever putting myself through that, but buddy running for them was fun, especially with my sister when I was the last leg buddy and got to pretend I was a finisher and got the giant Snicker's bar.

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