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Ask Daphne! About My Query XXII

monk-blackHappy Friday, readers! Ready to chime in with your thoughts and advice on another About My Query? Then let’s get going, with monk shoes for Matthew — did you know a “monk shoe” is a style of shoe with no lacing, closed by a buckle and strap? Men’s footwear is such a learning process for me! And speaking of learning processes…

Dear Daphne,

I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult fiction novel, which has the working title “Warrior-Monks” and is complete. Warrior-Monks is intended for young adult readers ages 13-17, who are buying books in droves these days, but I am certain that once you read the manuscript you will find that it is mature enough and compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader as well. I also feel obligated to inform you that this is not an exclusive submission and although I do not yet have an offer of representation there are several other agents who have requested and are currently reading full or partial versions of the manuscript.

The book is about a teen aged boy named Lee, who is from a broken family and who eventually ends up being sent to a unique reform school in Northern Idaho after he is expelled from a normal boarding school and kicked out of his aunt and uncle’s home. He is very worried about what will go on at this school but eventually discovers that he enjoys the curriculum. They teach him things like Aikido, Meditation and Calligraphy and take him and several other students camping and backpacking in the mountains in Montana as he grows and puts his self-conscious and shy tendencies behind him. The story does not begin to incorporate any magical realism until about halfway through, when the students begin to discover some magic of the everyday sort in the curriculum, which is based on east-Asian calligraphy and Buddhist/Hindu mysticism. It is an introspective and character driven novel in which the plot is not necessarily the focus but still has enough interesting occurrences to move the tale along as the reader comes to know and love the characters.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 555-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:

1234 Main St.
Hometown USA, 00000

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
Matthew

There’s lots to work with here, Matthew, but I also think there’s a LOT you can cut. For instance, your first paragraph? Should read “I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult novel, Warrior-Monks.” Slash and burn! First of all, of course you know how I feel about the phrase “fiction novel.” As for telling me your novel is complete — well, of course it is. There’s no reason you should be querying if it’s not. You certainly don’t need to tell any agent who would be interested in representing YA about the YA market, and saying it’s “compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader” shows a lack of interest n your preferred market. If you’re writing for YA, write for YA. It’s more than worthy enough.

So, moving onto the second paragraph, I think you need to find a way to make the hook stand out. What’s your one-sentence description of the book? Start there, and expand on that. “Sent to reform school by his aunt and uncle, his last living relatives, Lee discovers a hidden mysticism in the curriculum, and XXXXX,” in which “XXXXX” represents what happens. Having fully-developed characters in your novel is a great thing, don’t get me wrong, but something has to HAPPEN. I absolutely would not say that “the plot is not necessarily the focus,” and I can’t imagine a YA audience falling in droves for a pure character study. How does Lee put his shy, self-conscious tendencies behind him? Does he become friends with the other students? Do they have to band together against something? Why was he kicked out of his previous school and sent to reform school anyway? What else can you tell me about the other characters?

As for waiting until halfway through to bring some magic realism into the tale, I worry you’ll lose your audience long before that, if you promise them a mystical story and put off delivering. Think of some great books you’ve read, particularly in the genre you’re writing. Consider the famed five act story structure:

    *exposition
    * rising action
    * climax (or turning point)
    * falling action
    * resolution

I think the introduction of magic certainly needs to happen in the second section, especially if it’s going to have an effect on the resolution. But that’s story structure, not query help.

Back to the query — put your address and phone number below your signature line, with a link to your website or blog, if you have one, and don’t waste space in your letter with your contact information. If you really want to mention that your query is non-exclusive, put it here in the closing, although unless an agent specifically asks for exclusivity, most of us assume you’re querying widely.

Readers — any other comments?

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