Ask Daphne! About My Query XVII

September 16th, 2009 • Kate

basketball-heels-2Basketball-skewering heels for RLA, who’s our latest “About My Query” participant. You know the drill: I post a query, make my comments on how it reads, what I would do to improve it, etc., and then you add your notes on the same in the comments. Ready for the tip-off? (Don’t worry, that’s the last of my sports metaphors. I’m much more comfortable talking about shoes.)

Dear Superagent Daphne Unfeasible:
Kate is propelled into the world of privilege when her dad becomes coach of one of the state’s top high school basketball teams, but when a player violates her trust, she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes. I would like to introduce you to Kate McCrea, the main character in my 62,000 word young adult novel Canary.

Kate McCrea’s dad is good at coaching basketball; what he isn’t good at is communicating with Kate and her brother Brett. When her mother dies, he shuts down, throwing himself into basketball as a way to cope with his grief, leaving Kate alone in silence. He lands a job at Beacon, where Kate and Brett enter a world of expected entitlement and idolatry among the athletes. Kate finds it easy to slip into this lifestyle when she starts dating a player on the team, while her brother, shy and weak, is rejected by the school. Kate quickly learns to overlook the perks given to the athletes who openly disgrace her brother for not being one of them. When her brother is placed in a position that might possibly take him away from Kate forever, she finds herself alone, unable to share her fears with anyone, those at the school too engrossed in their own lives and uninterested in helping her. Kate realizes that she needs to stand up for herself and speak out in order to save those she loves, no matter what the costs.

I may not be in high school anymore, but I am a high school English teacher and experience daily the struggles teenagers have trying to find their own voice among the heavy influence of their peers. My students and I are avid fans of Maureen Johnson, and I feel I would be the perfect fit to the type of clients you represent. I am also a graduate of Boston University, where I earned a Masters in English Education. I am currently working on a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Cleveland State University.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to sending you sample chapters or the completed manuscript of Canary.

Thank you,
RLA

First of all, great opening hook. Definitely makes me want to read more. The next sentence, beginning with “I would like to introduce you…” is a little more awkward. I would strike it, and find a way to fold that information into another sentence, even if it’s as simple as “In CANARY, my 62,000 word YA novel, Kate McCrea’s dad…”

One of things I would have you watch for, however, is repeating yourself. Now, this is partly because you’ve summed up the entire book in your one-sentence hook, and then find yourself filling in the details in later paragraphs. But it reads a little bit like the agent is getting information they already know. Your first sentence: “Kate is propelled into the world of privilege when her dad becomes coach” is somewhat reiterated in the second paragraph, “He lands a job at Beacon, where Kate and Brett enter a world of expected entitlement and idolatry among the athletes.” Can you jump into the action in the second para more quickly? You don’t need to tell us again about getting the new job, but you can concentrate more on what that means to Kate and her brother.

As for Brett, is he rejected by the school, or the students? I’m also less than keen on keeping secrets from the reader — what position is Kate’s brother placed in? Can you tell more? You’re not giving away the story — you’re adding more drama to it.

Otherwise, I think this is a pretty strong query! What do you guys think?

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

Tags: , ,


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

  1. beth Says:

    Is there a way to introduce more white space?

    I'm a little unclear about what the corruption actually is–what the antagonist (whether a person or idea) that she's fighting is. The query may be stronger if you clarify that just a tad more.

  2. Krista G. Says:

    I agree that the last sentence in the first paragraph is awkward. One possible suggestion that's kind of reminiscent of the original sentence: "This is CANARY, my 62,000 word young adult novel."

    I also want to know more about the player who "violates her trust," "the corruption," and how "her brother is placed in a position that might possibly take him away from Kate forever" ("might possibly" is redundant, by the way). All of these references seem to be alluding to the same event, but in the first paragraph it sounds as if one of the players on the team rapes her while the second suggests that it has something to do with her brother. Clarifying that will definitely help.

    On the whole, though, it's a pretty good query letter. Best of luck with it.

  3. Susan Says:

    I agree with the streamlining. I don't care for being told what the book is about twice and some of the sentences are just overly wordy. The part with "those at the school too engrossed . . ." was a bit awkward, structurally. I think we can lose the "unable to share her fears with anyone" phrase before it, just to simplify–we know what "alone" means.

    A suggestion: instead of "Kate realizes that she needs" why not "Kate needs"? I think it's understood that she realizes it. You have her deciding, learning, finding, realizing–it gives the impression that she stands around quite a bit, pondering. That may be the case (I enjoy pondering, myself!) but stronger, quicker structure helps in a query, I think. Wordy queries make the reader fear that the manuscript will be similarly weighed down.

    The teaching and education experience paragraph is nice, but I'd cut that down to a sentence or two. I'd love to hear from Kate if this even affects her opinion of a query/querier at all.

  4. R. R. Hill Says:

    My humble opinion: Wow. This is a terrific cover letter because it sounds like a terrific book! The first sentence (English teachers do know how to join independent clauses, don't they 🙂 hooked me. When there is an intriguing pitch-perfect product (like this manuscript) being described, I'd challenge an agent NOT to ask for sample pages. The only question remaining is whether the writing holds up to the concept.

  5. Kathleen MacIver Says:

    Hmmm… I wasn't caught by this at all, but maybe that's because I'm not into sports.

    To be more specific about the writing, though, I thought some of the sentences just didn't flow well, yet I hesitate to say an English teacher doesn't know what she's doing! I think part of the reason is that the longer, more complicated (and perfectly executed) sentences jarred with the overly simplistic "telling" of:

    Kate finds it easy…

    Kate quickly learns…

    …she finds herself alone…

    Kate realizes…

    And then, other sentences I just can't figure out what they mean, like this one: "Kate quickly learns to overlook the perks…"

    I also think the writing could be stronger, yet simpler in a number of places. To me, it kind of gets bogged down in long, complicated sentences. Instead of "When her mother dies, he shuts down, throwing himself into basketball as a way to cope with his grief, leaving Kate alone in silence," it might work to say something like, "When her mother dies, he gives his basketball team the attention his children once had." That is, again, more concise, doesn't tell the obvious "grief" part, and is also more specific about what "in silence" means.

    And then, instead of, "she finds herself alone, unable to share her fears with anyone, those at the school too engrossed in their own lives and uninterested in helping her," it could be said, "she finds that no one is interested in helping her." That's 1/3 the length, much easier to follow, and shows that she feels alone, rather than telling than showing.

    Anyway…this is just a query, so perhaps none of this matters. But it does make me feel that the novels is probably full of long sentences that would probably make it difficult for me to slip into the world of the writing.

    But perhaps an editor would help cut all the extra words out? Or maybe this is just a difference in my style versus hers? ::shrugs::

  6. Kathleen MacIver Says:

    Uh… that should be "…rather than telling *then* showing." And "…the *novel* is…"

    ::sheepish grin:: (I wish you could edit comments here.)

  7. Rachele A Says:

    Hello!

    I'm the author of this query letter, and you can imagine my surprise when I logged on to read this blog and my letter was posted. Thanks for all the great advice and comments! I've been working on new revisions to my book all summer, and I'm really excited about it. Your advice will be helpful as I move forward and hopefully snag the attention of some super agents like the ladies at KT literary!

    Thanks!

    RLA