Ask Daphne! About My Query XXIV

October 2nd, 2009 • Kate

Fairy-TULIPThanks to all for your comments and thoughts on my now weekly “About My Query” posts. I’ve decided to go with Friday, which gives my readers all weekend to add their helpful suggestions to the query. So, moving right along, fairy shoes for L.A.B., who writes:

Dear Ms Unfeasible,

Sometimes I wish I could use fairy dust to make the woes of finding an agent disappear…but I can’t. So here I am, searching for representation for my 58,000 word young adult novel FAIRY DUST. It is the first book of a trilogy.

Have you ever wanted something and with a wave of a wand or a sprinkle of magical powder it’s yours? In FAIRY DUST, life is just like that for sixteen year old Stevie White. As a fairy, all she needs to do is fling fairy dust and problem solved. Fairies, like Stevie, are all around us. They look like us, talk like us and even act like us, but if a fairy gets embarrassed or scared, their skin changes color, wings grow from their back and they shrink down to the size of a football.

Stevie has always been shy. Her fear of shrinking in public made her cast herself out of the social standers in her old city. Any exposure as magical creatures would lead to fleeing the state. That was a risk Stevie wasn’t willing to take. Who would have thought her picture perfect sister, Suzie, would be the one to cause the family to move to Willows Peak, Illinois. Now at a new school, Stevie decides to shed the shy girl shell and start over.

Cody Green, the gorgeous, yet secretive class president, brings out Stevie’s confidence with his heart melting eyes and sweet smile. He shows Stevie what it’s actually like to have a social life by introducing her to his friends and Saturday movie night. Only a few days in Willows Peak and Stevie has transformed from shy girl to someone that she never expected: normal. Strangely, Suzie aka “Little Miss Perfect” has taken the opposite route. Suzie went from popular to social outcast. Stevie knows she’s up to no good. Her suspicions lead her to discover Suzie‘s deadly secret that has lethal consequences for the whole family.

If things aren’t bad enough already, every night Stevie has the same nightmare about Cody. As time passes, pieces of it start showing up into reality. Now Stevie’s life is turned inside out when days tick by until her nightmare comes true and Suzie’s past back comes to haunt them.

Thank you for taking your time to read this query letter. If are interested I have sample pages ready for you.

Sincerely,
L.A.B

I think there’s an interesting story in here somewhere, but I’ll admit it’s hard to see it from here. From the top, I’m afraid your opening line “Sometimes I wish I could use fairy dust to make the woes of finding an agent disappear…but I can’t” comes off as a little twee, a little juvenile. Yes, you want your query letter to stand out from the crowd, but not in this way. Always remember that a query is a piece of professional correspondence, and act accordingly. You wouldn’t show up for a job interview in a fairy costume, would you? Then don’t do the literary equivalent.

Try opening with something about the agent in question, and then give them the details about your book. At this point, again, I would also steer clear of describing your book as the first in a trilogy. If it can’t stand on it’s own, it may never get published, and then it won’t be the first of anything.

Moving onto the next paragraph, I’m not a fan of rhetorical questions. Try to put Stevie up front and center as a character — something like, “For sixteen-year-old Stevie White, solving problems has always involved flinging fairy dust. It’s not just wishful thinking — Stevie has been a fairy her whole life.” And then you get into how the embarrassments of adolescence make being a fairy problematic — the shrinking, the wings, etc.

After that, I feel like the emphasis in the query should be in the “Freaky Friday”-esque switch in personalities between Stevie and her sister. What causes Stevie to shed her shy girl image? What’s behind Suzie’s sudden dive into outcast status? That seems to be the big question, since it seems that it was something Suzie did that set up the story in the first place.

Which makes me ask — whose story is this, really? Is it Stevie’s or is it Suzie’s? Maybe you could play with dual narrators, but in any case, I think you want to focus more on the sisters’ relationship than Stevie’s with a boy. You seem to know that the plot with Cody adds an extra layer to the story — you say, “If things aren’t bad enough already” — is it a necessary extra layer, or something that can be jettisoned, or played down?

There’s a ton of fairy stories making the rounds. It’s impossible for all of them to stand out, but I think you can make yours sit up and take notice a little better. Good luck!

Readers, did I miss anything, big picture or small? What do you think about this query?

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8 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXIV”

  1. Jamie Says:

    Okay, first… I want those shoes. Seriously, I want a pair in both green and pink. Where do I find em?

    Now on to the query. I think the story is kind of cool. But, you say fairy a LOT. So much that the word has now lost all meaning in my head. (That happens when I say squirrel over and over again, too. Try it.)

    Then, I am having another weird issue, but it's not with your query, it's with your character names–they all end in -ie or -y, and two of them are unisex names. So, that made me get a little confused in the query. I am sure it's fine in the actual book, but I got a little mixed up and had to reread a couple of times for clarity.

    I think the story here is this: Stevie's a shy little fairy that can get whatever she wants with some magic glitter, but when she falls for class president of hotness Cody, she starts sprouting wings in class and turning pink–this is a problem, you see because fairies are supposed to stay hidden out in the real world. (Only I would say it way better than that, and oh–not have the biggest run on sentence of ALL TIME.)

    I think it's telling that Daphne and I actually think different parts of this story stand out as the main plot line. It says your query needs to pinpoint it.

    But, all that being said… I still kind of want to read this book. So, you sort of hooked me. 🙂

  2. Krista G. Says:

    The shift in tone in the second paragraph was unnerving. At first we're getting to know Stevie, and then this Voice drops out of the sky to educate us on fairy lore. This information is important, but you might try telling us about it from Stevie's point of view (i.e., "As a fairy, all she needs to do is fling fairy dust and problem solved. But being a fairy presents a whole new set of problems, like that time Stevie…" and then fill in a moment when Stevie's fairiness got the better of her and she sprouted wings, or something like that).

    The third paragraph has a string of sentences that don't seem to belong together. She doesn't want to shrink in public because she doesn't want to stand out (just like any teenager might feel), but then she doesn't want to shrink in public because she'll have to flee the state (not just like any teenager might feel). The juxtaposition is fine, but I don't feel like I have a good handle on which Stevie cares about more.

    The fourth paragraph is pretty good; it makes me want to know more about Suzie's deadly secret (although referring to that deadly secret and its lethal consequences in the same breath is a little redundant). For that reason, I think the fifth paragraph is completely unnecessary.

    My only other suggestion is to make sure that the first few chapters of your manuscript (if not the whole thing) are really, really polished, since your concept might not be the most original. Great writing can definitely overcome that concern, though.

  3. Kate Says:

    Jamie — like a fairy godmother, your wish is my command: http://www.costumesinc.com/p16285/Tulip-Shoe-Adul

  4. Jamie Harrington Says:

    sigh… I would want shoes from the Sexy Adult costume store. (Which did not prevent me from purchasing a pair B-T-Dubs.)

  5. Kathleen MacIver Says:

    Hmmm…There were a number of ideas here that intrigue me..especially the detailed description of what happens to a fair when they get scared or embarrassed. Yet I also found myself a little confused as to what the plot was actually about. I also had to re-read a few times to get Stevie and Suzie straight and a number of sentences lost me. I think it might be improved to say either WHAT Suzie's deadly secret is what the nightmare is of. Leaving both to our imagination makes the stakes not really seem that high.

    Finally, I don't understand how someone who's always been shy can suddenly lose it…so much so, that they NEVER get embarrassed or scared. That just doesn't seem realistic. Everyone, even confident people, occasionally get scared or startled about something. Ditto with embarrassment. How does she manage to never do that?

  6. LAB Says:

    Thank you all so much for the comments. I've actually rewritten my query a while back.

    Most fairy tales begin with once upon a time and end with happily ever after. Well this fairy’s tale is a bit more complicated. Not only is Stevie White socially inept. She also has to deal with a new high school, family drama, nightmares that might come true and study hall from hell. All of this and keeping the world from finding out she’s a fairy, yeah, a bit more complicated is a little stretch. With all of this mayhem going on in her life, can Stevie fit in falling in love?

    I felt like it needed a face lift. But it's good to know what was wrong with the old query.

  7. AM Says:

    Hmmm…There were a number of ideas here that intrigue me..especially the detailed description of what happens to a fair when they get scared or embarrassed. Yet I also found myself a little confused as to what the plot was actually about. I also had to re-read a few times to get Stevie and Suzie straight and a number of sentences lost me. I think it might be improved to say either WHAT Suzie's deadly secret is what the nightmare is of. Leaving both to our imagination makes the stakes not really seem that high.

    Finally, I don't understand how someone who's always been shy can suddenly lose it…so much so, that they NEVER get embarrassed or scared. That just doesn't seem realistic. Everyone, even confident people, occasionally get scared or startled about something. Ditto with embarrassment. How does she manage to never do that?

  8. Jamie Harrington Says:

    I've actually been thinking about this book all weekend… I kinda wanna read it 🙂