Saturday, October 25, 2014

#264

Dear Query Shark,

I would be grateful if you’d consider representing UNDER THE RADAR, an adult action thriller complete at 86,000 words.

I know you think it's polite to start off with "I'd be grateful" but honestly, you don't need it here. Are you grateful if your real estate agent answers her phone?  Same thing. You're proposing we enter in to a business relationship. Just tell me what your book is about. Save the grateful for when I sell the book for wheelbarrows of cash.

And leave the housekeeping stuff like word count and category till the end.
A former Cirque du Soleil aerialist and ex-con who’s hiding from her father is drawn into the perilous world of human trafficking when she agrees to investigate the disappearance of a journalist in rural North Dakota.





 And here's where I stop reading. I can hear your screams of anguish when I say this but it's true. I don't want to read about human trafficking for entertainment. I see news reports, I hear fund raising appeals, it's an awful awful topic.

And here's the kicker: you could avoid that instant rejection by leaving out this worse-than-useless, actually detrimental, LOGLINE!   I've railed against loglines for years. They're an  import from the film business and they have no place in a good query.  A good query entices me to read on because it engages me with the STORY. A logline is all about concept.  Useful if that's what you're pitching, but that's not the case here.




Fia Colibri, 26, wants two things: to hide from her father and to recreate herself. Neither is possible after her car breaks down in East Ridge, North Dakota, a blip of a town near the Canadian border.


If you'd started here, I would have kept reading. When you start with your main character, not a news headline, you've increased your chances I'll keep reading. 


While stranded, she meets Aiden, a lawyer who’s looking for his missing sister Kylie, and agrees to help him with his search. Her acrobatic skills—and prison savvy—are just what he needs. When they investigate a nearby Cold War radar station that’s been converted into an orphanage, they become immersed in the dangerous world of the Russian bratva and discover that the orphanage is a front for child porn, prostitution, and slave trading. Kylie is being held prisoner there, but she won't leave until she’s amassed evidence to expose the Russians.

Why does Fia agree to help Aiden? You've told us she wants to hide from her father and recreate herself. How does helping Aiden do that? And what's at stake for her? If she helps Aiden, what will she lose? 

There's a logical inconsistency between "Kylie is being held prisoner" and "she won't leave."  Being held prisoner means she doesn't get to leave even if she accumulates enough evidence of anything.



Frustrated by secretive townsfolk, belligerent thugs, and a corrupt police force, Fia and Aiden ultimately save the children, rescue Kylie, and evade her father.



Never Ever EVER give away the ending in a query. Your job in a query is to entice me to read on. Now that I know what happens, why would I read the book? And in revealing the end of the book so hurridley you've taken all the verve out of the story. That's absolutely fatal in a query.



Get the plot and stakes on the page, and that's ALL.

I’ve worked as a book designer, editor, and website manager in the nonfiction trade publishing arena and am currently writing full time.

Thanks very much for your time and consideration.



Revise, resend.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

#263

Dear Query Shark:

Valadae Copperstone’s agenda didn’t include becoming a statistic in the Army’s portfolio of causalities. Her main focus is providing a decent living for her family, and working any odd end job available. She can’t very well do that if she’s serving on the frontlines. When a mysterious contract arrives promising substantial payment for her work skills, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. The ink barely dries on her new hopes for a better life before Valadae realizes she’s been deceived. The contract rearranges into her worse nightmare; an enlistment agreement from the United States of Alacove Army.

Your first sentence robs the entire paragraph of tension.  It does that because it tells us what happens FIRST, not deliver it as the punchline to the paragraph. What you've got here is the first draft. When you revise, you go back through the paragraph and take out all the things that undercut the tension or reveal things too soon. You won't see this when you write it, you'll ONLY see it when you revise.

You'll want to check your novel for this too. This is one of the things I see a lot in early novelists: they put sentences in the wrong order. One too many lessons about "topic sentences" from your fourth grade teacher stuck in your brain. Novel writing and expository writing are VERY different creatures paragraph wise.

Now bound to fulfill an eight-year term, Valadae is thrown into a boot camp full of screaming warlocks and warwitches threatening to shove a combat boot up her ass. However, none of the instructors are harder on Valadae then Warwitch Beaning, and it’s certainly not because she sees any potential in Valadae. Soldiers are suddenly falling ill to an untraceable sickness and dying in the midst of training. When Valadae develops similar symptoms, she just knows that Beaning is the cause.

Are the warlocks and warwitches the instructors? That's not clear. I thought at first that they were Valadae's fellow boots.

There's no connection between Warwitch Beaning seeing no potential in Valadae, and soldiers falling ill. That means they do NOT belong in the same paragraph unless you link them.

Consider this revision with that in mind:

Now bound to fulfill an eight-year term, Valadae is thrown into a boot camp full of screaming warlocks and warwitches instructors threatening  to shove a combat boot up her ass. However, none of the instructors are harder on Valadae then Warwitch Beaning, and it’s certainly not because she sees any potential in Valadae. 

Suddenly soldiers are start falling ill to with an untraceable sickness and dying in the midst of training. When Valadae develops similar symptoms, she just knows that Beaning is the cause.



"Just knows" drives me crazy. I think of it as sloppy writing because you haven't got a reason, it's just "she knows." Like deus ex machina, it's a device to clean things up without having to explain anything.  Even if you use "she suspects" you're better off than with "she just knows."

Again, this is something you'll see only when you revise. Revising isn't copy editing. It's not checking for spelling errors. Revising is making sure all the sentences flow in logical order,  the arc of the paragraph is correct, your style and rhythm are right.  If you're not moving sentences, and paring out words and changing words while you're revising, you're not doing it right. 

As Valadae slowly makes the connections, (what connections?) a conspiracy is uncovered. A myth surfaces surrounding an ancient artifact called the Millicor, said to hold the heart of an entire country. Anyone bearing a surname similar to Copperstone could lead towards the right country. It has to be what Beaning is after. The longer Valadae takes to prove it, the faster she risks meeting the same fate as her sick comrades and never getting back home to her family.

You're over explaining something we don't need to know. Pare down. The only thing we need to know in a query is what Valadae's choices are and what's at stake. She's going to choose to confront/kill/quit and if she succeeds X happens and if she fails Y happens. But X also means Z bad thing could happen too.

Get the stakes, not just the set up on the page.

TIN YEAR, a suspenseful YA Military/Fantasy, is complete at 90,000 words.
I am serving my eighth year in the United States Army Reserve. I drew on my beginning experiences with Echo Company 113th of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in the writing of this book.

You don't call your own book suspenseful. Of course, you want it to be, and you're writing so it will be, but that's a designation someone ELSE needs to give it. 

I'm usually not keen on including bio lines but this one works because it relates directly to the book you're writing.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Revise, resend.



Question 1): When an agent requests a partial or full of your MS, are writers allowed to request time (short time frame of course) to give their manuscript a final once over before emailing it? Or does an agent expect writers to be so extremely confident in their work that they’ll send it anyway, even with the possibility of the agent finding an error or two?

You should be prepared to send your manuscript to an agent the instant the request comes in.  The time for that once over is between sending the query and getting the request for the full.  

Of course, in the real world, there's no way I'm going to talk you nit-picky writers (and don't think I don't value that quality!) out of doing a once-over.  The trick is to do it in less than 24 hours.  Don't write back saying "hold on, I want to go over it one more time" just DO IT, and then send promptly.



Question 2): I remember you explaining in several posts (actually more than several) that shorter sentences are always better. If a query comes off as too simplistic, couldn’t that  accidentally advertise the writer’s style as being unworthy of representation?

I'm not sure what unworthy of representation is but it sounds bad, and I don't really like using the word worthy. Suitable for publication, or publishable are the standards I use.

And by shorter sentences, what I mean is sentences that don't go on too long. Nice concrete standard there, no? 

You're supposing that short sentences sound simplistic. I assure you they don't. Short sentences have a punch and vigor their lengthier comrades lack. That said, style and rhythm are key. Short and long are better than one or the other.






#262-Revised once




Revision #1
Dear Query Shark,

Prudence Aldrich had it all when she was born in the early 1960's in Los Angeles: shabby genteel yet glamorous parents, a rustic yet refined suburban upbringing, even a grandmother right out of a Pepperidge Farm commercial.

It all falls apart with a bi-coastal divorce, a new home and new friends. But it is her step family she cannot abide: self-centered, abusive, perverse. None of her kids books taught her how to handle those nightmares. Before long her sweet demeanor grows a thicker skin, and she takes the world one comer at a time.



This is too abstract to be interesting.  You have to tell us what happens here. Be specific. I don't mean a laundry list but "self-centered, abusive, perverse' isn't as interesting as "her new stepfather walks around naked with a gun and threatens to shoot her mom if she doesn't do what he asks."  See the difference?



Pru's emotional state unravels, and before long a blur of bars, men and one-night stands lands her in an abusive marriage with a sullen husband. Clearly, the time has come to change. But what are her options? A complete transformation is called-for: Rehab.



You're skipping over the ONE point that we need to see: the point where she decides things have to change. That's actually the start of the second act (if a book were  three-act play.) We have to see it on the page for sure, and it helps to see it in a query.

But I'm puzzled by where the book starts? How much page time is devoted to Pru's fall from her happy times in LA?  If it's more than about 60 pages, you need to cut back here in the query on the stuff that happens later.  The query should focus on where things change for the protagonist. What choice does she have to make? Or in this case what choice is made for her? And what's at stake? What does she have to sacrifice to get what she wants?




A DRESS THE COLOR OF THE SKY is a story that many contemporary women can relate to: personal habits and relationships flipped out of control, "back-burnered" dreams no one else cares about, and a total lack of emotional support.




This broad generalization about audience appeal is a red-flag to agents and editors. Leave it OUT. Tell us what the story is about.  That's it.

And what back -burnered dreams? There's no mention of that at all up to now.

Yet it is through her rehab for whatever "sex addiction" is that her butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. This soul-searching process, one she would have scoffed at not long ago, with its group therapy sessions, individual counseling, art therapy, public confessions and chastisement, radically changes her view of herself and the world. No one is "cured" of trauma in the final sense, but Prudence is on her way. On her way to freedom.



You don't give away the entire plot or the complete arc of character development in the query. You focus on the beginning of the book.


A DRESS THE COLOR OF THE SKY (99,000 words) is commercial fiction. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

The central problem here, other than it's a mess, is that you've given us nothing to empathize with for Pru.  She needs to catch and hold our interest. She doesn't need to be likable, but she must be interesting.  Really stand back from your narrative and ask yourself if Pru herself can hold our interest for 300 pages.

If you're not sure, or you don't trust your instinct, give it to a friend to read. Don't ask her what she thinks of the book (your friends will lie through their teeth about that, and god bless them for that kind of love and devotion, right?)  Ask her what she liked about Pru. Ask her what she didn't. That will help you figure out if Pru is interesting.

This is a mess, but it's a whole lot better than the initial salvo. I'm not sure you've studied the archives closely (you  haven't) but there's help there about getting the plot on the page.

And if you're having trouble getting plot on the page, you might consider if it's the book, not the query.

Revise/Resend.

 -------------
ORIGINAL
Dear Query Shark,

BEAUTIFUL: Prudence Aldrich is a striking, vivacious and captivating woman. But this is just a facade.

BROKEN: Pru harbors demons, secrets and shame. Sex addiction is plaguing her life. If she continues this self-destructive path - SHE COULD DIE. She can't lead a double life anymore.

SICK: Sex with random men and constant self-deprecation are Pru's only sources of comfort. Decades of abuse, neglect, rape and psychological torture turn and innocent girl into a self-loathing, desperate sex addict.

ADDICT: Prudence's self-destructive behavior has driven her to the brink. She must make critical choices in order to heal - accept her stolen childhood and leave her alcoholic husband. If she leaves Carl will she die? She feels as though she will.

ACCEPTANCE: Prudence joins the other "broken, addicted losers" in rehab as she seeks solace from her living hell. The patients tell Prudence she is brave, inspiring and that she lights up a room with her smile. Could all these people be wrong?

SET BACK: Prudence has sex with Carl while in rehab. Big mistake.

HEAL: Prudence inherits her beloved mother's poor choice in men. It's time for that family tradition to end. Prudence gains insight into her conflicted life and learns she has value, power, and most of all hope for an authentic, happy life without Carl.

A DRESS THE COLOR OF THE SKY (94,000 words) is commercial fiction. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



What in the world are you thinking here?

This is one of the oddest query letter formats I've ever seen.  I was so perplexed I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out if the ALL CAPS headers spelled something out, or were some sort of subtle clue.  If they are, it's too subtle for me. 

This is a classic case of a gimmick that Does Not Work.  Don't try to be fancy.  Don't try to be unusual. Just tell me what happens at the start of the story that will make me want to read on. Right now it doesn't. Right now this is a bunch of statements about a woman I would run from as fast as I could.. She sounds like a red hot mess. Your job is to make her compelling.

Simple, elegant writing is incredibly difficult. Don't try to take shortcuts, they Do Not Work.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

#261-revised 2x FTW

Dear Query Shark,

Jumping parole might be Lemon Beasly’s only shot at saving her baby. Soon she’ll start showing, and her boss, Nathaniel, will find out she’s still pregnant. She’d let him put his hands and other extremities on her body for four long months before she figured he didn’t care one fig for her, and all those promises to help clear her prison record were a goddamn lie. Falling for a man’s tricks got her sent to the stoney lonesome in the first place, and now Nathaniel’s threatening to cook up a violation if she doesn’t get an abortion. And sShe believes him too. Powerful men always get their way. They’d send her baby to foster care to grow up motherless, just like she did.

When she Lemon meets Rayline over a Beretta Tomcat and a well-placed knee in Nathaniel’s baby makers, her first impression is the woman might be three baby steps away from flat crazy. But it doesn’t take long to figure that Rayline is better than harmless. She’s a 67-year-old woman who’s never wanted anything more than to raise a child and get some respect. Her family’s kept her in their own little prison, almost as good as Alabama’s fine penal accommodations. And there’s no way they’d let her anywhere near a baby.

Rayline just might be the person Lemon’s always needed in her life: a mother figure who won’t go away. And Lemon is Rayline’s first true friend. But can they get out before their men catch wind or the law catches on?

WOMEN LIKE US, a novel of 84,000 words, is Women’s Fiction. It was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and for that won a Publisher’s Weekly review:. PW says, “A charming and often funny feature is the colorful (sometimes off-color) dialect ... upbeat ...  fast paced, featuring “strong and quirky female characters.”


Thank you for your time and consideration.


 The contrast between this effort and the initial query makes me weep for joy.
You're good to go here. I hope it sells for wheelbarrows full of lovely lolly.



--------------------
Dear Query Shark,

Lemon Beasly needs to get the hell out of WalMart. Soon she’ll start showing, and her boss, Nathaniel, will find out she’s still carrying his baby. She became pregnant after months of giving into his manipulative demands for sex. He’d promised to help her clear her prison and parole record. Hell if that wasn’t a lie. Now he’s threatening to cook up a violation if she doesn’t get an abortion, and she believes him too. Powerful men always get their way. They’d send her baby to foster care to grow up motherless, just like she did. 



Rayline’s never wanted anything more than to raise a child and get some respect. She’s 67-years-old, but her family’s kept her under close watch her entire life, never letting her make a decision for herself. And there’s no way they’d let her anywhere near a baby. 



When the two women Lemon and Rayline meet over a Beretta Tomcat and a well-placed knee in Nathaniel’s baby makers, they find something incredible. For Lemon, the love of a mother figure who won’t go away. For Rayline, real friendship with a person who loves and admires her. But can they get out before their men catch wind of it or the law catches on?

Incredible makes it sound like they've become lovers, and while I've got no problem with lesbian fiction, I'm pretty sure that's not what you're intending to write. Find a more precise word than incredible.

WOMEN LIKE US, a novel of 84,000 words, falls into the is Women’s Fiction category. It was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and for that won a Publisher’s Weekly review. PW called it,  “upbeat” and “fast paced,” featuring “strong and quirky female characters.” Says PW, “(1)A charming and often funny feature is the colorful (sometimes off-color) dialect.”
Put that last sentence (1) before "upbeat". It will read like this:

PW called it "a charming and often funny feature is the colorful (sometimes off-color) dialect" -- “upbeat” and “fast paced,” featuring “strong and quirky female characters.”

You don't want to use "says PW" twice in the same paragraph.
Thank you for your time and consideration.



Oh, you took off your crazy hat and wild make up and got all sober sides here. One of the best things about your first query was the voice and the word choices (diction) Some of the word choices didn't work, but with this you've swung so far into respectable that you've lost what made you colorful.

Don't be afraid to be wild and crazy. Just not out of control and insane. Learning the difference between enough and too much is an on going process.

Take another whack at this.



----------------
Question: I know that you've said you hate it when writers make ridiculous claims of self-importance, but I have this great PW review of my book that I want to include in my query. I've led with a couple quotes from PW rather than starting with the story because I thought that would be most enticing. But is that annoying? Does it sound self-aggrandizing? I got the PW review as part of a prize from a writing contest, and I'm trying to find the best way to use it to promote my book to agents. Thanks for reading!



Dear Query Shark,

Publisher’s Weekly called WOMEN LIKE US “upbeat” and “fast paced,” featuring “strong and quirky female characters.” Says PW, “A charming and often funny feature is the colorful (sometimes off-color) dialect.”

And here's where I'd stop reading if this were a regular query. When I see "PW called" I assume they reviewed the book, and that means the book was published. I don't handle books that have already been published (some agents do) but more importantly, if I thought your book was published, it's no longer your first novel, and thus less enticing. 

Lemon Beasly needs to know why Momma was murdered all those years ago. Lemon’s got the who. Trouble is, she sent that bastard to hell before he could get to the juicy part. So she’s been working the why over for ten years now. First in the state of Alabama’s fine penal accommodations, then at the Wal-Mart, where she works as a condition of her parole. Even while her boss, Mr. Smutty, is screwing her on lunch breaks.

And I've stopped taking you seriously now. Mr Smutty? Is that what Lemon calls him?  And "is screwing her" says absolutely the wrong thing if you want me to feel sympathy with Lemon. 

You're letting your "quirky" overpower the story.  Lemon is your protagonist. We need to be rooting for her. Why would she let someone named (godhelpus) Mr. Smutty into her pants? 

And you've missed the key piece of information here: the stakes. WHY does Lemon need to know why her mum was murdered? What's at stake if she never finds out?


That mess with Smutty ends the day she steals an EPT from the family planning aisle and turns the test strip blue. Smutty tells her she can lose the baby or lose her job. That would mean a parole violation for her, and foster care for her unborn child.

Now here is where we really do start to care. Now something is at stake.


Now she’s got two choices. Kill her baby and stick around in a “safe” but miserable life, or run. She teams up with Rayline, a saucy, pistol-packing, mildly retarded woman.

 I'm not sure why it's important to know Rayline is mildly retarded. It certainly makes me nervous to think of someone who is mildly retarded is also armed. And what does Lemon need from her that this is her choice of sidekick?


They set off to find Trigger, Lemon’s high school boyfriend. He might have the answers about Momma, or a clue at least. Question is, can Lemon and Rayline find him before the cops find them?

Why does Trigger (jebus, these names!) have the answer?

WOMEN LIKE US, a novel of 84,000 words, is the perfect blend of laugh-out-loud humor, heart-wrenching drama, and page-turning tension. PW agrees, “The fast-paced narrative addresses racism, murder, discrimination, loss, female friendship, and mothering. …this would most appeal to women readers or to those concerned with race and women’s status in late 20th-century America.” Thank you for your time and consideration.


The way you handle the PW review is to be very clear that the mention was  part of a prize from a writing contest.  You mention it at the END of the query. And I'm sorry to say that this PW mention isn't the ticket to the top of the query pile you think it is. I don't care what anyone else thinks, I only care what *I* think. And what *I* think is based on what you tell me about the plot and characters.


Also, this is NOT "ridiculous claims of self-importance,"--you actually earned that review the old fashioned way. You wrote the book and someone liked it.

Ridiculous claims of self-importance are: people who love God will love my book; God loves my book; all women will love my book; I'm the best writer since God. 


You've got voice and diction like nobody's business. You probably have a good novel in there. You don't have a good query yet. 

Revise and use the template that I've yammered about now for years. Give it your own individual flair.





Sunday, June 22, 2014

#260


Dear QueryShark:

Shawn knows he’s going to die on his 18th birthday.

It’s not like it’s a secret. Shawn is a saviant, born to provide a vital organ transplant to his twin brother, Adam.

When you make up a word like "saviant" it helps to use italics so the reader knows you didn't just misspell savant.

Most saviants are wards of the Church of St. Gwyneth, but not Shawn. His parents kept him and raised him alongside Adam.

Shawn loves his brother. He doesn’t mind dying. He just wants Adam to be happy.

Then Adam’s girlfriend Ashley shows up at the door.

Ashley has never heard about Shawn. She’s never even met a saviant before. She assumes the boy in front of her is Adam. And she’s never been shy with her kisses.

It’s Shawn’s first kiss. Ever. He doesn’t know how to stop it. And Adam sees what happens.

The fight is bad. So bad, Shawn tells Adam the one thing he knows will hurt the most. That his death is Adam’s fault.

When it comes down to it, Shawn’s not so sure he really is ready to die. Not anymore.

He could run away. Live a life of his own.

All he has to do is leave Adam to die instead.

INTO THE SHINING SUN (74,000 words) is young adult speculative fiction. It’s my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Yup, this works. This entices me to read pages. It's taut, it's got stakes, it's got me caring about ALL the characters. This is ready to go.


Question:

The first half of the story makes it look like Shawn’s going to run away and live - a more typical dystopian tale - but Shawn chooses to die, and his death marks the novel’s halfway point. The second half follows Adam’s struggle to deal with his brother’s death.

I think the query is more enticing like this, but am I lying by omission? Should I give away Shawn’s end and give a clearer picture of the whole novel instead?

Also, my novel used to be 120,000 words. Thank you for admonishing us to pare it down. I needed it.


Tricky question, and there's no right answer here. I think you leave the query as is.  I moved the question to the bottom of the post so as not to spoil the "surprise" second half for the blog readers. I think having this turn of events will be a good plot twist. 

Of course, if you get requests for fulls, and a LOT of passes that say "the second half was a let down"
you'll know you need to work on keeping the stakes for Adam high, and building tension.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

#259-Revised twice

Questionish:
I am confused about how much info I should reveal. I have given an alternative choice in red.

I know you said not to begin a query with a rhetorical question, but are they always taboo? It seems like some rhetorical questions can create tension or am I misunderstanding? Yes/No/Yes Rhetorical questions do not create tension. Tension by definition means something is at stake, something will change. Rhetorical questions are used in conversation to make a point.



A rhetorical question is: "Do you want me to kill you?"
A question that creates tension is "Why do you want me to kill you?"


Is it normal to feel like I'm getting worse? Yes. Revisions often involve two steps forward three steps back. Don't feel like a failure because of that. Just keep trying.


Dear QueryShark:

The past doesn't always stay in the past. Sometimes it comes to life on the dance floor.


Enter a world of big band jazz, dance halls, malt shops and meet
Violet's. Her life begins to unravel when she finds her alcoholic father on their doorstep, blood from a bullet wound oozing from his head.


For the first time you actually have an enticing sentence here to start the query.

Violet turns to her jitterbug sailor, Charles. Dance becomes their refuge and language of love in a war torn world.


And then you go splat.  There's NO connection between her wounded father and jitterbug Charlie. I'm interested in how her dad got wounded. You never mention it again.



AND when you open a query with a sentence, I assume it's and important part of the story.  If you never mention it again, that's Very Confusing.  I don't have to tell you that's Death in a query.

His battle group deploys before they can marry. When his war letters mysteriously stop arriving, Violet has no chance to tell him she's pregnant, and is forced to make the choice of a lifetime, alone.

splat.



Half a century later, another 17 year-old ingénue discovers dirty martinis, old jazz, vintage clothing and a skirt wrapping around a warm thigh on a crowded dance floor.

When an accomplished dancer is injured before the international jitterbug contest, June is tapped to take her place. June fights her fears and insecurities in the midst of discovering her recently deceased grandmother is not her biological one.
or Can June overcome her fears, win the contest and not to fall in love with her otherwise engaged dance partner?

While searching for her grandmother answers June finds an antique dress which leads her to Violet and the key to unlocking a fifty year old mystery.

THE GIRL IN THE JITTERBUG DRESS is the parallel story of two young women struggling with self-doubt, loss and redemption, united across generations by a 1940's swing dress.

THE GIRL IN THE JITTERBUG DRESS is Women's Fiction, 120,000 words. Readers who enjoyed The Notebook, Water for Elephants, and Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, are the target audience.


Being a Navy wife, Editor in Chief for Swivel: Vintage Living Magazine, (out of print) and teaching vintage dances combined with years of writing about antique clothing, movies, sewing, and collecting have given me a unique and studied perspective on my subject. I have been published in "The Lucid Stone," "Red Dog Journal," "Spoken Word from Lalapalooza" and other small press magazines.

Thank you for your time and consideration.











The problem of what's at stake hasn't been solved. In The Notebook, the question is the basic one of a romance: will the boy and girl get together across all the challenges life has put in their way. Here, I'm not even sure who the main character is, let alone what they care about. Winning a dance contest isn't what's at stake. Finding out who grandma was isn't what's at stake. What's at stake are the CONSEQUENCES of wining/not winning, discovering/not discovering.

You've got to get the stakes on the page here. And I hope you've got them in the novel.


You might want to start with June, not Violet, in the query.


--------------------------- 


FIRST REVISION
 

Questions:


1. My rhetorical question was supposed to be a tagline. I read on another agent blog that I needed a logline and a tagline. Start with the tagline end with the logline? I have others like: "Sometimes the Past Doesn't Stay in the Past, Sometimes it Comes to Life on The Dance Floor." Should I forget about the tagline?

Yes.  I'm not sure I could tell you the difference between a log line and tagline. What I can tell you is that loglines are ways to express the concept of a novel, and it come from the film world where they love that kind of short hand thing, because in film it's NOT ABOUT THE WRITING.
A query is about the writing. Tell me about your story.


2. A couple of the comments said it was too long. Is it? 

Your word count right now is 452. A good taut query is 250. If you lose all the "platform" stuff at the end, you're down to 330.



3. I thought of my query letter as my blurb, but my new and improved query seems like it might be too much information? What do you think? 
You're throwing around terms here that have zero relevance to your query. Your query is the query. It's not the blurb. It's not the log line, it's not the tag line. It's not the Maginot Line.


4. I'm still confused my how much platform to include. Most of the blogs for writers drive the platform hard. So, how much do I say, if anything?
You don't need platform to write a novel. You don't need to tell me why you're qualified to write a novel.  All you have to do in a query is tell me about a story I want to read.  It's harder than it looks.



Dear QueryShark:

Enter Violet's world of big band jazz, dance halls and malt shops. Violet's mother has abandoned her and Violet's father. Violet must take care of her alcoholic when she finds him on their doorstep, a bullet wound oozing from his head. Her jitterbug boyfriend, Charles, tries to help, but Violet sends him away. 


Bullet wounds don't ooze, blood oozes. (This kind precision is what I look for in a query because it tells me the level of precision I can expect in the novel. I value precise elegant writing in EVERY genre and category.)

Why does Violet send Charles away?

 
The young lovers battle their fears about life, love and death. Dance becomes their refuge and language of love in a war torn world. Charles is called to duty before they can marry. When his war letters mysterious stop arriving, Violet has no chance to tell him she is pregnant, and no choice but to give their baby up for adoption. 
Ok a couple of word choices; Charles is called UP (not "to duty") if he's in the service.  You probably mean mysteriously, not mysterious.

And Violet DOES have a choice. By saying that she doesn't you squeeze every bit of tension out of the query in two words. This is A Bad Thing.  Violet has a choice, but what she chooses is to give up the baby. You might want to mention why.

 
Half a century later, another 17 year-old ingénue discovers dirty martinis, old jazz, vintage clothing and a skirt wrapping around a warm thigh on a crowded dance floor. The Lindy Hop becomes a vertical expression of her repressed sexuality. 
 
June discovers her recently deceased grandmother is not her biological one. While obsessed with finding her real grandmother, dealing with her anxiety disorder, and navigating college, she finds an antique jitterbug dress which may lead her to the one person she’s been looking for and an unexpected quest to find the woman’s long lost dance partner.
I've said before and I'll say again: the stakes here are not high enough to sustain my interest in reading this novel.  Complex family relationships need consequences if untangling them is the plot of the novel.



I haven't even gotten to all the cool stuff you do with dance at this point in the query, and if this was a query in my in-box, I'd stop reading here.  You MUST entice me to read the book before anything else.

 
The Girl in the Jitterbug dress is the parallel story of Violet and June: Violet, who races against her boyfriend's deployment and her grifting father to win a dance contest and tie the knot before WWII interrupts; and June, who half a century later struggles to find her biological grandmother and solve a fifty year old mystery. United across generations by a 1940s swing dress and their passion for dance.
 
The novel fits into the Women's Fiction category. Readers who enjoyed the parallel story structure and time era juxtapositions in The NotebookWater for Elephants, and Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, will want to read The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress. The manuscript is complete at 120,000 words.
The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress is women's fiction, 120,000 words.  Readers who enjoyed (list all those books) are the target audience.

Say things simply with as few words as possible.
 
The chapter titles are song titles which reflect the mood of each chapter and are listed and linked on the soundtrack portion of the website <http://www.girlinthejitterbugdress.com/soundtracks/>  as well as a glossary for 1940s slang.
You absolutely do not need this in the query. All it does is take up space. At the query stage I'm looking at 3-5 pages, not chapters. I'm not going to your website to listen to the soundtrack, I'm reading your pages.
 
After my run as Editor in Chief for Swivel: Vintage Living Magazine (1996-1999, currently out of print) my dance blogs inspired a novel. Fifteen years of being a Navy wife and teaching vintage dances (1920s-1950s styles) combined with years of writing about antique clothing, movies, sewing, and collecting have given me a unique and studied perspective on my subject. I have been published in "The Lucid Stone," "Red Dog Journal," "Spoken Word from Lalapalooza" and various other small press magazines (some out of print). For my complete publishing credits, please see my resume.  <http://www.girlinthejitterbugdress.com/about-tam-francis/resume/>
 
Thank you for taking time to consider my novel.


Thank you for your time and consideration



The problem here is that the novel doesn't have high enough stakes to sustain interest. You can have all the pub credits in the world, and a lot of cool things that make you knowledgeable in your field but you MUST have a novel that I want to read first.


The problem isn't your query. It's the novel, or at least what you're telling me about the novel here.




Original ----------
Questions:

(1) I have been getting a one out of four response and request for ms. Is this good? Can I do better?

(2) I wasn't sure about listing publishing credits since they are smaller magazines and some out of print. Many of the queries in the archives lead me to believe NOT, but honestly, I'm not sure. You told one gal not to list her "college paper" credits or small obscure publications. You also told another person that living in France did not (alone) qualify or make them an expert to write about France.

(3) Looking for help.

(4) Is my (below) signature fine for contact info or should it be in the query body?


Dear QueryShark:


Can one dance change your life?


Don't open your query with a rhetorical question. Not now. Not ever.


Enter the world of a world of big band jazz, dance halls and malt shops. 17 year-old Violet struggles to balance her troubled father, seamstress job, and growing passion for a jitterbug sailor. He moves her to distraction by "expertly shifting his leg between hers, delicately pushing her into intricately guided dance steps.” 



This is description. It's not bad, but it's not all that interesting either. A world in and of itself is not enticing. What HAPPENS in that world can be enticing. What's really enticing though is tension, and while you allude to it here (struggles to balance) it's still pretty bland.


They race against his deployment and her grifting father, to win a dance contest, and tie the knot before WWII interrupts.

This might be the plot of an old movie but it's not all that enticing now. It's not enticing because it's not specific.

Fifty years later, June, another 17 year-old ingénue, discovers dirty martinis, old jazz, and her vintage skirt wrapping around her thighs on a crowded dance floor. Before leaving for college, June's mother drops a bombshell: her recently deceased grandmother is not her biological one.

Unless there's some huge amount of money or a life threatening hereditary condition involved: so what?



While researching her ancestry, navigating college, (work, school, dating), June finds an antique jitterbug dress which may lead her to the one person she’s been looking for, and an unexpected quest to find the woman’s long lost dance partner.



This sentence doesn't seem to relate to anything that came before it.  Who is she looking for? Bio-gramps?



THE GIRL IN THE JITTERBUG DRESS is the parallel story of two young women struggling with budding sexuality, new independence, and recent loss, united across generations by a 1940's swing dress.




None of those are things you mentioned before.  "New independence" --isn't Violet still emeshed with her grifting father? Budding sexuality? I didn't see any hint of that all unless you consider dancing to be vertical sex.  And recent loss? Again, nothing.




The novel fits into the Women's Literature category with Historical Fiction, and New Adult cross-over. 



NO NO NO. For a start, the category is women's fiction, not women's literature. There's no New Adult crossover here. Pick ONE category (and pick the one that has the largest amount of shelf space) and ONLY ONE.


If you enjoyed reading THE NOTEBOOK, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and HOTEL AT THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, you will want to read THE GIRL IN THE JITTERBUG DRESS The manuscript is complete at 125,000 words.

I don't think of those books as comparable to each other at all, but ok. I also intensely dislike the form "if you enjoyed reading" because what you really want to say is "readers who enjoyed these books will like yours."




The first draft of a sequel, THE GIRL IN THE JITTERBUG DRESS HOPS THE ATLANTIC is also complete. The chapter titles are song titles which reflect the mood of each chapter and are listed and linked on the soundtrack portion of the website (website)



NO NO NO. You're wasting valuable space on something that doesn't belong in a query.  This is the stuff you put on your website if you must. And don't get ahead of yourself on a sequel.


With the success of "Dancing with the Stars," and "So You Think You Can Dance," this novel taps into America's renewed obsession with dancing, vintage fashion and nostalgia. In addition to its commercial appeal, THE GIRL IN THE JITTERBUG DRESS has a built-in niche market in the swing dance/vintage subculture community (networked by websites, clubs, camps, events contests and global communities). I am intimately connected with this community. Social networks (facebook, twitter, google+) as well as my novel website (website)  are well established.

Those are TV shows, not books. There's almost zero correlation between popular TV shows and sales of novels, unless the TV show star is involved.

After completing the run of my magazine, Swivel: Vintage Living, my dance blogs inspired a book. Fifteen years of being a Navy wife and teaching vintage dances (1920s-1950s styles) combined with years of writing about antique clothing, movies, sewing, and collecting have given me a unique and studied perspective on my subject. For my complete publishing credits, please see my resume.  (resume)



NO NO NO. List your publishing credits. Do NOT just put a link in the query.


Thank you for considering my novel.




You're too occupied with what you think you need (credentials, platform) and too light on what is really important: what is the novel about.  We have no sense of who June and Violet are. Because of that, we don't care.  And "your grandfather isn't who you think he is" is too low on the scale of what matters to be very interesting.  You need to raise the stakes here a LOT.







Answers to your questions:
(1) I have been getting a one out of four response and request for ms. Is this good? Can I do better?
Of course you can do better. You can get an offer of representation.  I don't know if you mean you're getting a request for a full for every four queries you send but if that is so, that's good.

(2) I wasn't sure about listing publishing credits since they are smaller magazines and some out of print. Many of the queries in the archives lead me to believe NOT, but honestly, I'm not sure. You told one gal not to list her "college paper" credits or small obscure publications. You also told another person that living in France did not (alone) qualify or make them an expert to write about France.
YOu can simply say you've been published in smaller magazines (some now out of print).

(3)Looking for help.
Well, here ya go.

(4) Is my (below) signature fine for contact info or should it be in the query body?
If you've read the archives you know the answer to this question.




Sunday, June 8, 2014

#258-Revised once

First Revision

(1) In my closing, should I include a "novel meets novel" line if I've written that it is a loose interpretation of the Arthurian legend?
No

(2) "Jules, who wants to strangle him, agrees," the him is Ulric. I just want to make sure that is clear. To my crit partner she thought it was the prince at first, because um, yeah, Jules wants to strangle lots of people.



It's not clear.


Dear Query Shark,
 
Jules was prepared for an in-and-out job: kill Queen Isabella, avenge parents, achieve happiness.
 
Exiled from Ronan following the execution of her parents, Jules plots the murder of the queen responsible. When she’s eighteen, she returns, but has her plans dashed after a brawl with the guards. Injured, she is forced to accept help from a magician and his pesky band of outlaws. Ulric, their leader, wants her to spy on the prince. Jules, who wants to strangle him, agrees.

You've got a lot of pronouns there at the end. I'm assuming Uliric is bothe the magician and the leader of the pesky band of outlaws? And the "he" that Jules wants to strangle is the Prince? Oh wait, no it isn't (see question above)


So, why does she want to strangle Ulric? Did he kick her dog?

 
Spying is easy. The hard part is actually liking the prince and his obscene turtle jokes. Revenge had always seemed like the only road, and now Jules begins to wonder if she’s gone too far down it. However, Ulric’s plans are already in motion and he is less inclined to take a detour. Armed with only her blades and her wit, Jules finds herself standing between Ulric, his magic, and the crown.

I thought she'd be standing between Ulric and the Prince. It's the Prince she likes, right? Why does this change her mind about the evil Queen? Many people fall in love with someone  who has an evil mother. There's a whole sub-genre of Borscht Belt jokes about that.
 
Wasteland, a YA fantasy novel, is complete at 96,000 words. It is a loose interpretation of the Arthurian legend. As per your request I’ve included --- sample pages. Thank you for your time and consideration. 

What's at stake? If she goes through with her revenge plot, what bad thing will happen? If she doesn't, what worse thing will happen?

Right now you've got a very chick-lit voice going on and that's all well and good but the best chick lit novels had stakes that really mattered to the characters, and thus to the readers.

Revise.
 


-------------------------------
(1) I'm concerned I've given away too much plot--please advise. 
(2) I know you advocate for short sentences, but do long sentences equal death?

Dear Query Shark,

Jules was prepared for an in-and-out job: kill Queen Isabella, avenge parents, achieve happiness.

This is good. Short, to-the-point, enticing.

The three step plan might as well have never existed once she ends up in a brawl with the queen’s guards. Now it is just a matter of time before Isabella realizes Jules was once the seven year old Juliana whose parents she executed for being magic users, the same Juliana she believes to be just as bad as all magicians and expressly ordered never to return to Ronan unless it was in handcuffs.

And splat. And I mean splat from a seven story fall, no trampoline, no net.  Look at that first sentence: The three step plan might as well have never existed once she ends up in a brawl with the queen’s guards.

Think of how much simpler this will all be with a sentence that is not so complex: Then she ends up in a brawl with the queen's guard.  

You're trying to be too fancy here. I can not over-emphasize the power and beauty of plain, simple sentences in a query.  Plain and simple is VERY hard to do well. 

And the second sentence is worse than the first. For starters, you've gone from something happening now (the brawl) to something happening years before. It's confusing. Confusing is bad. 

However, in eighteen years of life Jules hasn’t possessed so much as a magical toenail. Armed with only her blade and wits, she is forced to play nice with a band of magicians who share her murderous goal. The only problem is Jules’ three step plan was a one woman job and did not involve pretending to be a girl named Sybil, who happens to be the half sister of Prince William’s servant. And it certainly did not include crushing on William or hiding daggers in a ball gown (or wearing ball gowns, for that matter). 

This is where I stop reading. I don't know what the hell is going on here. Even if I stop skimming (and trust me, agents skim queries more often than not) and focus intently, I'm still confused. 

There's a formula for getting the elements of the plot into the right place in a query letter. I've mentioned it dozens of times here and it's elsewhere too.



"What does the protagonist want? What's keeping him/her from getting it? What choice/decision does he/she face? What terrible thing will happen if he chooses ____; what terrible thing will happen if he doesn't."

 OR 

"The main character must decide whether to ____. 
If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are ____. 
If s/he decides NOT to do this: the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are ____."   



Torn between her growing feels for the prince and her revenge, the past repeats itself and Jules loses someone close to her seemingly at the queen’s hand. Set back on her vengeful path, it appears someone she thought she knew is getting ready to seize power in Ronan and she may have unwittingly carved the road to the throne.



The Sybil Project, a YA fantasy novel, is complete at 95,000 words. I believe it will appeal to fans of the BBC show Merlin and readers of … As per your request I’ve included … sample pages. Thank you for your time and consideration. 




Answers to your questions:



(1) I'm concerned I've given away too much plot--please advise.
I'm too confused to know what the plot is as yet. 



(2) I know you advocate for short sentences, but do long sentences equal death?

Long sentences do not equal death. BAD sentences equal death.  Shortening your sentences will help you stay on point. This isn't bad writing, it's just not polished yet.


It's clear you've got some verve under all this convoluted writing.  Get out of your own way and quit trying to be fancy. Your verve will show if you just write simple sentences.

Honestly I can hear you saying "but I want an agent to NOTICE me!"  Of course you do. Please please trust me when I tell you that a simple, elegant query is so rare in my inbox that should you achieve that, you will be noticed.  Fancy is over-rated unless it's in your choice of headgear.





Thursday, April 10, 2014

#257-revised 4x

REVISION #4

Dear Query Shark,

Every female in Landy Jenkins bloodline died young.  It was like a family tradition.  Starting with her great-grandmother and continuing down the line until her own mother at twenty-nine died of an illness that still haunted her, the way it was trending she’d live long enough to vote and she’d be damned if she did it in her hometown.
 

There's no sense of Landy being haunted by anything in what follows.  If you mention it in the opening paragraph, I assume it's important.  Thus: leave out what isn't important.


The scope of her inconsequential life was about to change when a French philanthropist offers four juniors $100,000 to read a book.  Dylan Xavier Roberts assumed it was his charm; Li Chou knew it was her brilliance; Landy had no clue why she was picked; and Garret Mattock really didn’t care, so long as he was near Landy.

Monsieur Tortue knew their secret but failed to understand the extent to which their minds have developed and it throws the youngest generation of Yellow Babies into a series of fantastical, life threatening mind-travels.

Four teenagers now get to experience what’s really on in their minds.

(A)When they return to their own reality wiser and armed with knowledge of what’s to come they discover Monsieur Tortue was dead and with him, the solution to keep Landy from an early grave.  This, too, was a ruse.  Monsieur Tortue was very much alive, in hiding, and waiting for Landy Jenkins to find him.  




This paragraph is where things fall apart. You set something up, then reverse it in the next sentence. This is textbook CONFUSING. 



(B) To break from her family’s macabre tradition, she must. MUST WHAT?
                                                                                 
Written as a stand-alone with series potential, YELLOW BABIES is a 95,000-word YA Mainstream novel with sci-fi twists, psychological mayhem, and a thread of romance that could appeal to fans of Veronica Mars, and Matrix while traveling On The Jellicoe Road.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Name, SCBWI member
Address

You have to fix the paragraphs marked A and B.    You don't illuminate the connection between Landy's family dying young and reading M. Tortue's book.  Don't over explain it, but let us see there IS a connection.



------------------------------
REVISION #3

Dear Query Shark,

Every female in Landy Jenkins bloodline died young. It was like a family tradition. Starting with her great-grandmother and continuing down the line until her own mother at twenty-nine died of an illness that still haunted her, the way it was trending she’d live long enough to vote and she’d be damned if she did it in her hometown.


Don't be afraid to not explain things in a query.  I'll accept the premise of the novel that Landy Jenkins is afraid of dying young without you telling me she's right to worry (poor dear great memaw, then memaw, then ma herself)  Save those few words for the stuff you have to get on the page.


The scope of her inconsequential life was is about to change when a French philanthropist offers four juniors $100,000 to read a book. Dylan Xavier Roberts assumed it was his charm; Li Chou knew it was her brilliance; Landy had no clue why she was picked; and Garret Mattock really didn’t care, so long as he was near Landy.

It's VERY important to keep the events of a query in the immediate moment: IS not WAS here. 



Monsieur Tortue knew their secret but failed to understand the extent to which their minds have developed and it throws the youngest generation of Yellow Babies into a series of fantastical, life threatening mind-travels.

Too abstract and disconnected from what comes before to be of use to you here.

Four teenagers now get to experience what’s really on in their minds.

When they return to their own reality wiser and armed with knowledge of what’s to come they discover Monsieur Tortue was is dead and with him, the solution to keep Landy from an early grave. This, too, was a ruse. Monsieur Tortue was very much alive, in hiding, and waiting for Landy Jenkins to find him.





Wait, what?? What happened to the paragraph you used in Revision #1 that was clear about M. Tortue and his evil plans??


To break from her family’s macabre tradition, she must.
must what??


Written as a stand-alone with series potential, YELLOW BABIES is a 95,000-word YA Mainstream novel with sci-fi twists, psychological mayhem, and a thread of romance that could appeal to fans of Veronica Mars, and Matrix while traveling On The Jellicoe Road.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Name, SCBWI member
Address  

Did you send this before you finished writing? That happens. It's pretty much the Kiss of Death in queries so it's something you want to avoid.

You avoid it by saving your query as a draft and looking at it 24 hours later. That's when you catch this stuff.

I think you're working yourself into a frenzy of no-confidence.  You had a reasonable query back there in #1.  Look at what worked. Fix what didn't. Don't reinvent the wheel.


------------------------------------

REVISION #2


Dear Query Shark,

My debut novel YELLOW BABIES is about confronting the dark places in yourself, knowing your place in the world, what to do about both. It does so with four teens, 91,000 words, and an enigmatic narrator.


I'm not sure why you decided to shoot yourself in the foot in the first paragraph but here's some advice: don't. You actually had a decent start to the query in Revision #1. 


The U.S. government started a program it shouldn’t have. A providential twist and three generations later, instead of being seriously stupid, four teenagers have enhanced skills but not without consequence because nothing is ever that easy.

Too abstract to be interesting

A Frenchman with suspicious motives comes into their school under the auspices of a $100,000 book club but who really wanted to test them. He gets his wish but fails to understand the extent to which their minds have developed and it throws the youngest generation of YELLOW BABIES into a series of fantastical, life threatening mind-travels.

Four teenagers now get to experience what’s really on their minds.


Getting back to those consequences, every female in Landy Jenkins bloodline died young. It was like a family tradition. When they returned to their own reality wiser and armed with knowledge of what’s to come, they discovered the Frenchman has died and with him, the antidote to keep Landy from an early grave.




If I hadn't stopped reading before, I'd stop here. 
In your first revision, I'd read to the end and read the pages.
You're going in the wrong direction here.
What happened?

The Frenchman’s death was greatly exaggerated. Monsieur Henri Tortue was very much alive, in hiding, and waiting for Landy Jenkins to find him.

To break with her family’s macabre tradition, she must.

Written as a stand-alone with series potential, YELLOW BABIES is a Mainstream YA novel with sci-fi twists, psychological mayhem, and a thread of romance that could appeal to fans of Veronica Mars, Matrix, and The Book Thief.

I’m part of an online MG/YA critique group, SCBWI member, and completed Advanced Writing workshops through Gotham Writers.

Those aren't writing credits.

Thank you for your time and consideration.  


What the HELL just happened here?  What part of 

The stakes aren't very clear, but I'd read pages for this query. It's focused, clear and enticing. A couple quick changes and you've got a query to take for a test drive.

in Revision #1 wasn't clear.  A Couple Quick Changes is NOT this wholesale revision that has not only made things worse it's made things AWFUL.

Back to Revision #1.
Don't lose confidence in your work and DO NOT GO CRAZY HERE!



---------------------------------------
REVISION #1


Dear Query Shark,

Every female in Landy Jenkins’ bloodline died young. It started after World War II when her great grandmother died giving birth to a daughter, followed by that grandmother dying of an aneurism, and then, her own mother at twenty-nine, dying of an illness that still haunted her.

The way it was trending, Landy figured she might live long enough to vote, and she’d be damned if she did it in her hometown. But the scope of her inconsequential life was about to change when French philanthropist, Monsieur Henri Tortue, came into her school with the extraordinary offer of $25,000 to read a single book. The entire junior class showed up but only four were chosen.

Dylan Xavier Roberts assumed he was chosen for his charm; Li Chou knew she was selected for her brilliance; Landy had no clue why she was picked; and Garret Mattock really didn’t care, so long as he was near her. Landy

But Monsieur Henri Tortue knew. He knew they were the last descendants of a program—his mother’s—designed to create a new breed of human being, and he’s returned to finish where she left off. But when he fails to understand the extent to which their minds have developed, it becomes an error that not only sabotages his own plans, but puts the youngest generation of Yellow Babies into a series of fantastical, life threatening mind-travels.

And now four teenagers will now get to experience what’s really on their minds.

this might just be one of the scariest things I've ever read.

Written as a stand-alone novel with series potential, YELLOW BABIES is a 95,000-word YA romp filled with psychological mayhem, sci-fi twists, snark, and a splash of romance that would appeal to fans of Veronica Mars and Matrix while traveling the Jellicoe Road.



Romp and mayhem describe very different things. You might reconsider using both of them here.

Thank you for your time and consideration.




The stakes aren't very clear, but I'd read pages for this query. It's focused, clear and enticing.

A couple quick changes and you've got a query to take for a test drive.

-------------------
Dear Mr. Levine,

Back in January, I had the pleasure of listening to your lecture at the kickoff of our SCBWI season where you were chased on stage by a manic VCR light. You said you wouldn’t say anything noteworthy, but I took notes anyway, and your advice was to make the first chapter like a good date, so without fumbling at the door to make small talk with the parents, let met introduce you to my YA story, Yellow Babies.

This is the best personalization I've seen in a long time. I know I tell you to start with the protagonist's name and the plot but THIS WORKS.  It's very funny, it's clear the querier was paying attention to what the agent said at the talk.  If you've got something like this, you lead with it. If you're personalizing your queries with "and I've read all your clients books and I want you as my agent" that's NOT what you lead with. See the difference?

A French philanthropist comes into a tired, northern Minnesota town with an extraordinary offer for one of their schools. The entire junior class shows up, but only four are chosen. Dylan Xavier Roberts assumes he was picked for his charm; Li Chou knew she was selected for her brilliance; Landy Jenkins has no clue why she was there; and Garret Mattock really didn’t care, so long as he was near her.

This could have been character soup but it's not. It's concise and clear. Each character is easily discerned from the others.  It's not Breakfast Club trite. (The rebel, the minx, the homecoming queen)

What they didn’t know was that one day Dylan Roberts would lead a counter-revolution against the same country Secretary of State, Li Chou, would defend; Garret Mattock would build an invention so powerful, it would literally knock the planet off its orbit; and, his love interest, Landy Jenkins, would predict the future and be hunted down by the most powerful people in their pre-dystopian world.

And that’s why they were chosen.

They are the latest generation of Yellow Babies, a 70 year-old government project led by the Frenchman’s mother after World War II. And her son, Monsieur Henri Tortue, was in town to push this next breed of Homo sapiens to the very edge of their sanity.


and here's where what has been a GREAT query falls apart completely.  What's at stake? Their sanity? Not big enough? The future? Too abstract to be interesting.  What does M. Henri Tortue want to accomplish?  Get that on the page.

Per your submission guidelines, I’ve included the first two chapters and a synopsis. In addition to being a member with SCBWI, I’ve studied my craft through the well-respected Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Yellow Babies is 94,000-word YA romantic /sci-fi romp that would appeal to fans of Veronica Mars and Dr. Who on their way to the Jellicoe Road.

I'm not much on film/tv comps but you certainly get your audience demo across with the ones you've chosen ie Not Me. I had to look up Jellicoe Road, and I've never seen Dr. Who (I know, just shoot me now)


Thank you for your time and consideration.

Get the stakes on the page in less abstract form and you've got a good query for ONE specific agent.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

#256

--> Question:
Early last year, caught up by the glimmer of the wild self-pub frontier, I shunned agents in favor of wrangling up wild book sales by myself. I died of dysentery.

Then, like Nemo, I found your website. The archives led to a solid year of rewriting my entire MS. Bonus: I now know what my book is about. Fancy that.

I am ready to query. Unfortunately, Google is my enemy. I have an amateurish website. I have a silly Kickstarter campaign permanently indexed online, not unlike embarrassing high school pictures on Facebook. And my self-pub sales were such that my garage is now cluttered with boxes of books suitable only for fetching pocket change at the annual neighborhood garage sale. Will an agent drop me for all this, even though I've rewritten the MS?


Dear QueryShark:

Mark From Earth is a YA SF of 82,000 words.

These misadventures follow Mark, a friendless and freckle-nosed misfit mysteriously recruited to a school in a starship. Getting him in trouble from day one are two fellow outcasts: Heath, who nervously checks for quick exits, and thrill seeking Lexie, who pulls Heath in the opposite direction of exits.

Exits off a starship? I think I saw that movie.***

The rough and tumble trio skip class for snowball fights on hoverboards, pull pranks on monstrous bullies, and go treasure hunting at an abandoned junkyard. It’s there they stumble upon a deadly mystery. The hijacking of their school’s starship by a deviant machine may be imminent. Now, Mark must lead the wild bunch in unraveling cryptic clues and fighting demented droids—Never knowing he has been their greatest threat all along.

I'm hardpressed to think a junkyard is abandoned if it's on a starship.

 

 For starters this sounds like a middle grade novel. It's about hijinx, not about feelings. Also, you're missing what's at stake: the deviant machine hijacks the schools starship. So what? Maybe he's hungry and wants to hit the drive through on the astral plane.

The first step is getting the plot on the page: What does Mark want? What's keeping him from getting it?



As to your question: querying a previously published novel is like asking someone to finance a fixer-upper house.  You need a plan.  And by plan I mean marketing plan: you published this book; it sold six copies, four of which were to the NSA to see if you'd discovered any of their secrets.



Now you want an agent to sell this to a large publisher with some marketing muscle. You need to have a good idea of who ELSE is going to read this book and how you plan to reach them. Mentioning of course why you didn't you reach them before.



And don't say "I didn't have the money" cause promotion is most often not about money, it's about figuring out who would read this book and making them aware of it.



And this is just lame: I am ready to query. Unfortunately, Google is my enemy. I have an amateurish website. I have a silly Kickstarter campaign permanently indexed online, not unlike embarrassing high school pictures on Facebook. A



Fix your damn website. Get enough other stuff going and that Kickstarter campaign will fall below the first page of any google search.



But the real advice is this: write a new novel and query that. I'm generally not looking for fixeruppers when I'm looking for projects to take on.


  ***Gravity