Ask Daphne! About My Query VI

May 19th, 2009 • Kate

softballSoftball shoes for Steven, who’s our next “About My Query” participant. To recap how this works, I’ll post below an author’s complete query, minus a few identifying details. Following the query, I’ll add my comments on the letter itself, along with a summation. Then, we turn things over to you, the readers! Please chime in with your own reactions to the query, and your own helpful suggestions for improvement. Let it begin!

Dear Daphne,

Reece is a novice at hitting, catching, and throwing a ball, but her inexperience won’t stop her trying out for the softball team any more than her rapid discovery that she has no ability, either.

Adrift on the field, Reece is equally at sea when it comes to her school project. What does she know about Gettysburg besides the smelly bus trip she once took with her family? What can Reece contribute to the team besides a silly nickname, her fear at bat, and her clumsiness in right field?

She has few real friends and come-and-go parental support. Her quick wits and tart tongue serve only to keep classmates, teammates, and assorted adults at bay. But during a season of please-don’t-hit-it-to-me misadventures, Reece discovers that she does have strengths – at least when she isn’t face to face with a softball.

When the Pickles squeak by into the league playoffs, the team falls apart under the pressure, just as Reece’s three-month project literally falls apart in front of her class. Suddenly, Reece’s glimmer of confidence is on the line, along with the tantalizing possibility of softball success and a project that may teach her more than she ever expected. Reece can’t make a difference with her bat or her glove. How can she hope to pull both the team and the project together?

Join the Mighty Pickles on their improbable march toward the championship game – and Reece on her own journey toward poise and confidence.

The completed manuscript is about 43,000 words, the first 1500 of which are available at http://TheMightyPickles.com. Thank you in advance for considering this proposal.

Steven L. (writing as Steven B.)

Thanks for sharing, Steven! I think this is a strongly written query, with a few minor caveats. There’s a bit of awkwardness in the phrasing of “her inexperience won’t stop her trying out for the softball team any more than her rapid discovery that she has no ability, either” and “When the Pickles squeak by into the league playoffs.”

However, though your book’s title was in the subject line of your email, it’s not mentioned in the query itself, except in the link. Also, though we’re not talking here about sample pages, please note that 99% of agents will not bother to go click on a link to read more — we have to make our decision based on what’s in front of us. It’s fine to include in your query that you have a website, but I would focus more on a personal author page than one for a book. To some, that’s seen a bit as putting the cart before the horse.

As to the story, what I want to know is WHY Reece wants to be on the team in the first place. That’s the most important thing you’re missing here. It’s not like she’s a natural talent, right? She’s never played before. But you don’t give any insight as to why she wants to join — is there someone on the team that she admires, that she wants to be better friends with? Does she have to join some sports team to fulfill a requirement, either academic or parental? What’s the impetus?

And what does her bat or her glove have to do with her project on Gettysburg? You write “Reece can’t make a difference with her bat or her glove. How can she hope to pull both the team and the project together?” I don’t have any indication that the bat or the glove have a thing to do with the project. If they do, mention it. Otherwise, the wording is awkward.

I’m also assuming this is a middle grade novel, based on the word count, but you could save an agent some guess work and include Reece’s age or the target audience for the book.

Ok, readers, what do you think?

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7 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query VI”

  1. Helene Boudreau Says:

    Not knowing her age or the genre (MG) distracted me throughout the whole query, so I didn't feel quite as engaged as I might have been. An easy fix would be to change:

    "her inexperience won’t stop her trying out for the softball team"

    to

    "her inexperience won’t stop her trying out for the Concorde Middle School softball team"

    AND/OR

    "when it comes to her school project"

    to

    "when it comes to her 6th grade History project" or somesuch. Just something to give us a bit more context.

  2. Karen Says:

    I agree that the first sentence is awkward. I also felt that there was too much telling of what Reece is lacking. I kept waiting for the big, "but when_____ happens, Reece discovers _____" and it never came about. I still don't know the plot of the book. I agree with Kate in wondering why Reece joined the team if she wasn't an athlete. I think the query would be stronger without the second, maybe even the third paragraph. But it does sounds like this could be an interesting read. Just add a bit about why she joined the team and what's the ultimate goal. Also, I would definitely lose the website link. I've never heard an agent say that they would click on a link, but I've heard plenty of them say that they wouldn't. Good luck with it, I hope this helps!

  3. TereLiz Says:

    If the genre/age group had been included in the opening lines, it would have been easier for me to picture Reece and the pickle she gets herself in. But like others I wondered what motivates her to join the softball team in the first place.

    And to be quite frank, I was waiting for the big "but then" moment, the moment when all the frustrations culminate.

    "How can she hope to pull both the team and the project together?"

    Questions like this come across as worse than rhetorical to me. We all know that she will do it in the end, or else why write the story?

    Find the crux of the story and write from there. We all know how hard it is to properly distance yourself and distill your baby into two paragraphs. Just keep at it!

  4. Jamie Says:

    I totally clicked through. Because I love the name, not the query.

    I just have a thing for the word pickle, but I digress.

    I feel like the first two paragraphs could be combined to make it pop and make me more engaged as your future possible agent.

    I like the 'smelly bus trip' part and am interested in the concept, but I think it's a little choppy for a query- I want more flow. (What? I can't ask for flow? I'm getting prepared for the So You Think You Can Dance premiere coming up.)

    The 'glimmer of confidence' is another great line, but I am concerned with their 'improbable' march to the championships. This is a middle grade novel, so I don't really see that as the voice of the book.

    Also, if I'm going to click through to a pickles website… I better see a goofy pickle wearing a baseball cap and an oversized mitt – just sayin'.

  5. dust Says:

    The books sounds decent; I'd at least ask to see more pages. But the writing is poorly organized (for example, the first two paragraphs contain: plot 1 (para 1), plot 2 (para 2), question plot 1 and plot 2 (para 2). How about put the two short plot descriptions together, and the two plot questions together? The weird groupings continue throughout, and I'd worry the book would be similarly disorganized.

    Add a by-line, memberships, credits, etc. paragraph, if appropriate.

    Personally, I find it somewhat unnerving that you've already posted a good chunk of the book online. Wouldn't a publisher have a problem with that?

  6. Steve Says:

    I'm the query writer for this one. Thank you for the comments. They are very helpful, and I really appreciate them. I look forward to a rewrite based on these great suggestions.

    (Dust, I've posted 1500 words out of 43,000, which I figured would be what someone in an old-fashioned bricks-and-mortar bookstore might browse through before buying. It's about the same as Amazon includes in its Look Inside the Book pages. I'd be interested in other comments as to whether that's too much; I did see one agent blogging about this being a good idea, but I don't want to turn people off.)

  7. Steve Says:

    Here's the revised query. Thanks for all your help.

    —–

    The Mighty Pickles: Middle-Grades Novel Submission Query

    Dear [agent name].

    Fifth-grader Reece is a novice at hitting, catching, and throwing a ball. She’s determined to keep up with her friends on her Seattle district softball team despite her inexperience – and her rapid discovery that she’s a terrible player. Adrift on the field, Reece is equally at sea when it comes to her class history project. She knows nothing about Gettysburg besides the smelly bus trip she once took with her family. She’s unsure what she can offer the team besides her fear at bat, her clumsiness in right field, and the silly nickname The Mighty Pickles.

    She has few real friends and come-and-go parental support. Her quick wits and tart tongue serve only to keep classmates, a mocking teammate, and assorted adults at bay. But during a season of please-don’t-hit-it-to-me misadventures, Reece discovers that she does have strengths – at least when she isn’t face to face with a softball.

    When the Pickles earn the final slot in the league playoffs, the team falls apart under the pressure, just as Reece’s three-month project literally falls apart in front of her class. Suddenly, Reece’s glimmer of confidence is on the line, along with the tantalizing possibility of softball success and a project that may teach her more than she ever expected.

    The Mighty Pickles is the 43,000-word story of how Reece applies the hard lessons of the softball field, braving the derision of a teammate and the laughter of classmates that have delighted in her failures. With all eyes upon her, in the classroom and on the field, Reece draws on everything she’s learned through this challenging season to resourcefully conquer the doubts about her confidence and her competence.

    Thank you in advance for considering this proposal.

    Steven L[xxx] (writing as Steven Brant)

    [and for those agents that want the first few pages included]

    The Mighty Pickles

    by Steven Brant

    Chapter 1. Introducing the Firebolts

    Another pitch. I swung, and missed.

    Again.

    Five pitches. Five swings. Five misses.

    The coach marked something on his card. "Okay, good try…." He looked down at the card again. "…Reece."

    "Sorry," I shrugged.