Love & Cupcakes query

I’ve been refining my query letter over the last month and would love some feedback on it. What’s working? What’s not?

LOVE & CUPCAKES is a completed 92,500-word work of women’s fiction. With a dash of magical realism, it will appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman.

At thirty-two, Jaclyn “Jack” Pace has given up on having a love life in favor of making her small-town cupcake bakery succeed. The only things standing in her way are two big secrets.

One: Jack can smell desire. Not in the a-wild-bear-can-smell-fear kind of way, but in the physical, literal sense. When she comes within two feet of people desperate for something sweet to eat, she can tell with one inhaled breath exactly what they crave. Though her ability comes in handy at work, her customers are more freaked out than intrigued when they discover what she can do.

Two: She’s in love with her business partner, Graham. But given the legend that says Hollingsworth men will recognize their soul mates at first touch, Jack is resigned to the fact that she’s not his. More than fifteen years before, they shared one mind-melting kiss that she can’t stop thinking about. Graham hasn’t gotten that close to her since. But the way he watches her when he thinks she’s not looking gives her the feeling that he remembers it too. Jack can’t tell whether it’s the legend that keeps him at a safe emotional distance or if he only sees her as a friend. Either way, she’s not willing to risk losing him forever by confessing feelings he can’t—or won’t—return.

When her estranged sister, Harper, comes back to town with secrets of her own—and an affinity for making art out of icing—Jack finds that she and Harper have something in common for the first time since they were kids. And confiding in each other just might help them wind up with everything—and everyone—they’ve ever wanted.

I earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. For the past six years, I have worked as a marketing copywriter and proposal editor.

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8 thoughts on “Love & Cupcakes query

  1. Ok, first of all, I LOVE the premise. I am such a YA addict, and very rarely leave my comfort zone, but this sounds really good. I like the supernatural* aspect you’ve hinted at with the senses and the Hollingsworth legend. *IS there a supernatural aspect, or am I just hoping? Obviously you can tell what kind of stories I like. 😉

    Your first paragraph is great, but depending on who you query, they may not like the query to begin that way. Janet says no on Query Shark, but I know some other agents, like Jill Corcoran want that first little snippet of info in the beginning.

    I really can’t come up with any critique. Clearly, I’m no expert, and my query is complete crap, but I really think you’ve shown us all we need to know in order to be intrigued: I want to learn about the secrets Harper is hiding. i want to know what Jack and Harper have in common. I want to know why Graham watches her but doesn’t act on his feelings. I want to know where her abilites came from.

    The only thing I can think of – and this is only stemming from a recent critique I received – is what does Jack have to lose? (Supposedly agents want to know what’s at stake. *shakes head* But, can’t you just trust me and read it!?)

    All in all, I personally think your query is great!

    • Hey Jessa,
      Thank you so much. Yes, it does have some magical realism/supernatural elements to it.I’m glad you like it. And I agree, I need to work on explaining the stakes better. That’s the hardest part for me. It’s not a high action novel so the stakes are more personal/emotional and I can’t find a good way to say “if she makes a move on Graham and it doesn’t work out, she could ruin a lifelong friendship, but worse, she could lose the business she worked so hard to build.” I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on it!

  2. You’ve got several things that can be improved. I would lose the word “completed” in the first sentence because agents will assume that if you are querying them your manuscript is already completed.

    Your query is simply too long. You’ve got too much information and you have to find a way to condense it. In the second paragraph you say Jack has given up on her love life, but in the fourth she’s in love with her partner. To me, you have contradicted yourself. Too much backstory in the fourth paragraph about Graham. When you throw in her sister at the end, it seems abrupt. It feels like you tried to cram her in. You spent all that time explaining Graham and for the consequence you gave him the cold shoulder and introduced us to someone new. It doesn’t add up.

    Who’s the main character?
    What are her goals or motivations?
    What forces her into action? What’s the conflict?
    What will happen if she doesn’t achieve those goals?

    I think you missed the mark with this query. Your query is too long and contains too much backstory. I like to think of queries as a small taste of a great meal. You want an agent to have that taste and immediately want the rest of the meal. Your goal isn’t to try and tell your whole story in the query, but to get the agent to request more based on the sample. Check out these links that helped me.

    The first is a free e-book by literay agent Noah Lukeman. He explains what most agents want to see in a query and what is an immediate “red flag” of an amatuer.
    You can find it here: http://www.lukeman.com/greatquery/download.htm

    The second is another free e-book by YA author Elana Johnson who shows how she creates her queries. She gives you the author’s view on querying.
    You can find it here: http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/p/writing-query-letter.html

    I hope you don’t think I’m picking on you, because that wasn’t my intention. I simply wanted to help. I made the mistake of sending my query out too soon and I try to help everyone that I can. Hopefully I can prevent others from making the same mistakes I made. I hope this helps and I wish you the best of luck.

    • Hey,
      I definitely don’t think you’re picking on me. I put my query out there for feedback, and I appreciat eyou taking the time to read it and comment. Thanks for the links. I will check them out.

      I know my query is long, but I felt like the backstory on Graham shows more of the magical elements of the story and gives some tension/conflict of the story. As for the last paragraph about the sister, I’m trying to show that Harper coming back is the catalyst that sets everything in motion. If that’s not coming through, I need to work on it.

      Thanks for your feedback!

  3. Susan C says:

    Susan, I’ve been trying to reciprocate for everyone who provided me feedback on my query for DISPLACED. I think you’re the fifth query I’ve read tonight, and I am in no way kidding — yours is easily the best, hands down. Maybe because it’s about a contemporary novel and not full of deviant behaviors or weird creatures with odd names? I don’t know. All I know is that it’s after midnight saturday night, and I’m happy to have finally stumbled upon a query that presents a coherent story with appealing characters, no murders, zero sexual abuse, and no mutating insects. Yayyyy!!!

    “At thirty-two, Jaclyn “Jack” Pace has given up on having a love life in favor of making her small-town cupcake bakery succeed. The only things standing in her way are two big secrets.” Good. You nailed a great hook.

    “One: Jack can smell desire. Not in the a-wild-bear-can-smell-fear kind of way, but in the physical, literal sense. When she comes within two feet of people desperate for something sweet to eat, she can tell with one inhaled breath exactly what they crave. Though her ability comes in handy at work, her customers are more freaked out than intrigued when they discover what she can do.” Nice twist. I see the hint of magical realism here. Gabriel Garcia Marquez would be proud.

    “Two: She’s in love with her business partner, Graham. But given the legend that says Hollingsworth men will recognize their soul mates at first touch, Jack is resigned to the fact that she’s not his. More than fifteen years before, they shared one mind-melting kiss that she can’t stop thinking about. Graham hasn’t gotten that close to her since. But the way he watches her when he thinks she’s not looking gives her the feeling that he remembers it too.
    Jack can’t tell whether it’s the legend that keeps him at a safe emotional distance or if he only sees her as a friend. Either way, she’s not willing to risk losing him forever by confessing feelings he can’t—or won’t—return.” Here’s where things become a little murky. If they already shared a mind-melting kiss, wouldn’t that have fulfilled the whole ‘recognizing their soul mates at first touch’ criteria? If he’s looking at her longingly, yet doesn’t claim her as a soulmate, he’s clearly hiding something. The “won’t” thing suggest that he may be willfully ignoring the fact that he’s supposed to have viewed Jack as his soul mate 15 long years ago. And that he’s got a compelling reason for not recognizing her as his mate. The only reason I can think of is that he’s trying to protect her from something or someone. You need to inject that element of secrecy here. That Graham has a secret, and we need to be invested in determining what that secret might be.

    “When her estranged sister, Harper, comes back to town with secrets of her own—and an affinity for making art out of icing—Jack finds that she and Harper have something in common for the first time since they were kids. And confiding in each other just might help them wind up with everything—and everyone—they’ve ever wanted.” I’d lose this last paragraph. Unless I’m missing something (and at 12:45 AM that’s entirely possible), the reason for Graham witholding his love for a woman who is clearly his soul mate is the key element of your novel. The sister seems like a distraction from that, unless she’s the reason Graham can’t claim Jack as his mate. Oh wait, she has secrets, too. Do they relate to Graham? Is she his true mate (doubtful, given the mind-melting kiss between Jack and Graham)? Or maybe Harper has forbidden Graham from mating with Jack, for reasons that only she, and perhaps Graham, fully understand? Hence the estranement between the two sisters. And the reason that, if only the two sisters could confide, all would be revealed? If any of this is the case, you need to make it more clear. Provide just a little bit more of a hint that Harper and Graham share at least one secret and, in all likelihood, it’s about why Graham can’t be Jack’s soul mate.

    • Hi Susan,
      Thanks for starting all of this! And thank you for your feedback! It’s good to hear that most of it is working. I’ve had some trouble trying to figure out the best way to work Graham in. The book is split between Jack’s POV and Graham’s, but Graham’s story is completely intertwined with Jack’s and helps give a different perspective on her relationships.

      The conflict with Graham is that he doesn’t remember their first touch so he doesn’t want to hurt her if she’s not his soulmate (his dad walked out on him and his mom when he met his true soulmate and Graham is scared that he will do he same). It’s a lot of info that I don’t think belongs in the query, but I need to introduce his family legend b/c it is a big part of what’s keeping them apart. Jack doesn’ know that he can’t remember their first touch and can’t figure out what he really wants.

      And I have no idea how to get all of that across in the query!

      Harper coming back is really just the catalyst that sets a lot of the conflict into action b/c she disrupts the normal way they act toward one another and forces them to deal with their feelings. (As you can see, there’s a lot of subplot that doesn’t need to be in the query, but some of it I think is impostant to hint at to sho the conflict.)

      It’s so hard to know what to put in and what to leave out, while trying to keep it short and intriguing. But I really appreciate your feedback and suggestions. I’ll keep working!

      Happy querying!

  4. Hi Susan. First off, I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you taking the time to review my query. You gave me a lot of good direction for revisions. 🙂

    I’ll critique as I read along.

    First paragraph: I love the Sarah Addison Allen comp. Her books are great, and if yours is similar, I definitely want to read it.

    Second paragraph: I like everything until the last sentence. I want it to be punchier. Perhaps, something along the lines of “The only thing standing in her way is herself, and her two biggest secrets.” I don’t know –you could play around with it. I like the numbering concept you have, though.

    “Not in the wild-bear-can-smell-fear…” feels a bit clunky. Perhaps “Not like a wild bear can smell fear, but…”

    “…safe emotional distance…” –feels clinical. Consider rewording? Possibly, “…can’t tell if it’s the legend that keeps him at bay or his feelings.”

    Personally, I would cut the entire paragraph referencing Harper. It feels like a subplot to the main action between Jack and Graham. You have enough other stuff going on in the query that I don’t think you need it. The way it’s written now, it feels like an afterthought.

    I really like it! Perhaps I’m biased because of my love for Sarah Addison Allen, but I’m definitely intrigued. 🙂

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