Ask Daphne! About My Query XXVI

October 16th, 2009 • Kate

new orleansNew Orleans bedroom shoes by artist Jenni Dutton (background here) for Barb, this Friday’s About My Query author. As always, stay on target (That’s no moon!!) with your comments, with the goal of providing useful, constructive advice on how to improve the query below. Allons-y!

Dear Ms. Agent,

I’m seeking representation for my young adult novel where things believed to be legend are fact, superstition becomes reality, and breaking the rules is a necessity. Voodoo Bloodline is complete at 54,000 words.

Fifteen-year-old Jeni Stonewall is pretty much a mainstream good-girl – fiercely loyal, eager to help, and smart enough to know where to draw the line. For instance, casting spells, conjuring images, and sneaking out to perform clandestine voodoo rituals – those things would be, well, forbidden. But she never expected an innocent inquiry about a voodoo doll would lead her to New Orleans and the revelation that she is a descendant of the eminent voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau. Now she knows she has the ability to help her family find the document that will vanquish the lawyer hell-bent on plundering her late grandfather’s estate. Facing the dilemma of what is right and what is permitted, Jeni follows her heart down the path to justice and realizes – she’s about to step way over the line.

Though set in modern times, the novel is peppered with historical facts about the city of New Orleans, voodoo, slavery, and the real person, Marie Laveau. I believe the blend of fact and fiction lends an air of credibility to the story which in turn enhances the intrigue.

I’ve had non-fiction articles published in FamilyFun magazine and a regional magazine. As an assistant school librarian, I was privy to the reading preferences of the students. Their interests and enthusiasm, along with my own passion for fiction, were my inspiration for this novel.

I’ve included the first five pages of my manuscript. After in-depth research, I’m making multiple submissions to a select group of agents. Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Best,
Barb

Thanks for sharing, Barb. I feel like this is close, but misses the mark in a few different ways. First of all, the opening line which takes about “things” doesn’t really help me get into the character. Can you make it a more personal hook line? Something like “I’m seeking representation for my young adult novel, VOODOO BLOODLINE, in which Jeni learns that the things she believed to be legend are fact, superstition becomes reality, and breaking the rules is a necessity.” It just makes it a little more personal, and allows the agent reading it an option to connect to your main character that much sooner.

In the next paragraph, I wonder if you couldn’t drop the description of Jeni as a “mainstream good-girl” — it’s almost the same as saying she’s average, and the rest of the sentence is much more descriptive. You may want to leave it as “Fifteen-year-old Jeni Stonewall is fiercely loyal, eager to help, and smart enough to know where to draw the line.” In the next sentence, though it speaks to the voice of your novel, I’d try dropping both the “for instance” and the “well”. (You can make a case for keeping the “well”, but I’m pretty sure you could drop the “for instance” with no harm done.)

Moving on, I want to know what lead her to make that innocent inquiry about the voodoo doll, as well as how far she is from New Orleans to begin with. Can you hint more at how the revelation comes about? Was there someone who helped her discover her connection with Laveau? There’s got to be something more you’re not telling us about what she discovers, since the next line “Now she knows she has the ability” hints that something happened — and just being related to someone doesn’t mean you share their talents.

Describing the lawyer as “hell-bent” is a very nice touch — it definitely makes me think there’s something demonic at work here. Can you be more specific about the document, though? Is it a simple matter of a deed of ownership, or are we talking about a written spell of some sort?

When we get to the part that describes Jenni’s choices as “what is right and what is permitted”, it doesn’t feel to me that those are different enough — that there’s all that much of a choice between them. I’m sure you didn’t want to say “right and wrong” (too cliched) — what about “just” and “legal” — or is “just” then too close to “justice”? Readers, suggestions? I do like the callback to the beginning of the paragraph, and the idea of Jeni stepping over the line.

In the next para, I’d cut out the line that begins “I believe”, and move right to your writing credits. You can and should state that you’re an assistant school librarian, but I don’t think talking about your students as the inspiration for this book, or about their reading preferences, are necessary. I assume the line about the first five pages of your manuscript would be tailored to the individual agent’s preference (mine is for three pages, not five, for instance), and I’m not sold on the “After in-depth research…” line either. It just seems like obvious information that you can do away with.

Overall though? It’s close, but I want to know more about the characters, where I feel you’ve concentrated mostly on the situation. Who else is a major character that would get Jeni’s heart involved? It is just her family, or is there a romance? What is her relationship to her family? What’s her connection to her late grandfather’s estate? I don’t necessarily believe there’s room for all these answers in a query, but you can give the reader a little more, certainly.

As always, I invite my readers to sing out in the comments and provide their own advice. Have a great weekend, all!

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4 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXVI”

  1. Sarah V Says:

    I believe that her query is very professionally done. I do agree that the character should show more instead of making it seem like a guessing game. I also like the advice given, I'm almost ready to write my query to KT Literary. It's helping me know more of what the agency would like to see in the query. As for the query about the book, it makes me want to read the book to find out the answers to some of the hidden questions.

  2. ChristaCarol Says:

    Kate, you've hit the nail on the head with most of the points I was going to make. I'm being picky here, but for the voice you're hinting at here, "inquiry" could maybe just be "question". Almost seems a little formal for the voice, but maybe I'm not getting the voice right?

    To add to what Kate said about the last paragraph, I wouldn't include it's a multiple submission unless the agent requests that information in their submission guidelines. Most agents (though I look to Kate in case I'm wrong in this) assume queries are going to be multiple submissions now a days (even though I know there are some agencies out there that prefer exclusive queries, which is …well, weird to me, but I can be understanding).

    Anyway, back to the query, I almost wonder, Kate, do you think the pub credits are a must considering they don't relate to the book? Or maybe they do. I've been told several different things in relation to publishing credits, but the majority I hear is if it's a minor publishing credit and not relevant to what you're querying about, it can be left out. Otherwise, leave it in. It's here my brain stutters and freezes, I'm never sure what to to do so I just leave mine out (I've done e-articles and the like, which has nothing to do with my YA fantasy, so I just nix it).

    Overall though, I think you're very close, and the story sounds intriguing! Ok, back to math homework!

  3. Anna Says:

    I don't know much about queries, but I want to read this book! Good luck with it. And thanks as always for doing this, Daphne!

  4. Barb Says:

    Thanks everyone! This really helps to answer some of the questions I asked myself as wrote (and rewrote…) the query.