Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXIX

January 29th, 2010 • Kate

diorhaurecouture-cropI’ve got About My Query posts scheduled into March, but when I looked in my drafts folder this morning, today’s post was empty! One entreaty posted to Twitter later, and here’s today’s query for your review. I like changing things up every so often, so rather than posting my thoughts and having a bunch of comments agreeing (or disagreeing) with me, I’m going to let my readers chime in with their thoughts first — I’ll post mine sometime this weekend. As for the shoes, they’re just pretty, from Dior’s recent Haute Couture show in Paris. Ready?

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

I am hoping you will find Diary of a Womanizer, my manuscript, of interest and am enclosing the requested materials. The genre would be Young Adult/Adult/Debut Fiction. The word count is: 15, 848.

Isn’t it about time that we see and hear how a guy deals with some current issues, such as family problems, drugs, alcohol, sex, step-parents, and girls? These are some of the issues the protagonist, Seth Rollings, deals with throughout Diary. The book starts off on a bad note for him with a huge fight with his mother, Debra and step-father, Peter, over his party-centric lifestyle. A huge falling out leads this 22 year-old wealthy kid to his only option, living with his best friend Logan’s house, which is where the trouble really starts. Unfortunately, Seth thinks that being and getting into trouble is fun.

First, Seth meets Chloe, another wealthy girl. Seth thinks she is “the one”, however he doesn’t do anything about it. Seth then gets all down on himself about that, so Logan suggest something that make Seth’s life so much better. Logan suggests that he not just stick to one girl, but to have many at one time. Although he’s nervous at first, Seth takes that suggestion into action. After the first girl, he realizes that he likes it and continues for about 7 more. On his continous trail of women, Seth is thrown into a new world, full of stalking, drugs, sex, alcohol, jealousy, and much more. After the 7th one-night-stand, who through a crazy twist is actually Logan’s girlfriend, Seth has hit rock bottom. He is out on his own with nowhere to go, but home. When he goes back home, the issues with his mother get worse. Then his real father, Vincent, decides to show up after 22 years. Once that happens, he finds out that his mother has been lying his whole life about so much. With all this information and drama, Seth leaves home for good. He ends up at a hotel when he finally realizes what a mess he made of his life and goes to find Chloe, which he thinks will make his life complete and back to normal, because she is the one.

Diary of a Womanizer is told in the first person in diary style. The story is told from Seth’s point of view.

I can relate to Seth in many ways which is why I think I am qualified to write about all of this. I have dealt with step-parents, real fathers never being there, and many of the other things he goes through. I currently am taking English and Journalism classes at Community College of Allegheny County and currently working at local news station writing news stories. I am currently working on the second book on the series I hope to complete.

Diary of a Womanizer is my first novella. My research has led me to your agency. I’m happy to share it with you.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Chris P.

As always, please be constructive, and let Chris P. know what you think of his query. I look forward to reading the comments.

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17 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXIX”

  1. Corinne Says:

    I think this query needs a lot of work, I'm afraid.

    Firstly, the title needs to be in all-caps. Secondly, there is no such thing as 'debut fiction', and you'll need to make a choice between young adult or adult. 15k is also much too short for either of these genres.

    The start of your pitch isn't particularly new. Books about guys dealing with those things come out all the time, and have for decades.

    You're also telling every event of your book, like a synopsis; a query needs to hook people's interest. Focus on the few things that make your book stand out. Having a wealthy kid suddenly out on his own is interesting. The girl issues that follow aren't particularly unique.

    I'd also suggest trying for snappier sentences. You're trying to entice people to read your book; right now, it's like you're just chatting about it with a friend.

    It's fine to know that it's told like a diary; we don't ned to know it's from Seth's point of view, though. We can assume. He's the main character, after all.

    The ways you can relate to Seth also aren't relevant. Focus on being an English/Journalism student and your job for the news station. Also, while it's fine to be at work on a sequel, clarify that this book stands on its own.

    It's also not necessary to know that this is your first novel(la).

    I hope this information is helpful. Good luck!

  2. Rissa Watkins Says:

    Cute shoes, but man are her legs white!

    Sorry back to the query.

    Corinne hit on a lot of the points I would make. About the word count, since this isn't a novel you might be okay, but have you found an agent that represents novellas? I have a few more to add to her comments though…

    Don't use rhetorical questions. Many agent blogs I have read–Nathan Brandsford in particular–stress that a lot.

    I would even cut the English journalism classes part and just leave the working for the news station.

    Cut a lot of this query. We don't need to know all the details now. The query is to hook us, tell us what the major problem is, the stakes if he doesn't fix the problem and a few of the characters.

    You could cut down the 1st paragraph to something like this (keep in mind this is a quick example):

    Seth Rollings finds himself homeless after a fight with his mom and step-father who disagree with his party-centric lifestyle. He moves into his best friend Logan's house and the real trouble starts.

    After letting Chloe, the girl of his dream, get away, Seth follows Logan into a life of debauchery that starts with sex and drugs and ends with betraying Logan by sleeping with his girlfriend. Seth hits rock bottom with no best friend, homeless and farther away from Chloe than before.

    Things get worse when his real father shows up after twenty-two years and Seth learns his mom has lied to him his whole life.

    * kinda stuck here because I don't understand why he thinks getting Chloe back will fix his life. For the ending you need to explain why it is so important to him to get her back.

    I hope this helps. Good luck

  3. Susan Says:

    First, kudos to you, Chris, for finishing your writing project and being brave enough to seek publication. I teach at a community college and I don't think many of my students are already submitting to agents yet or even thinking about it.

    Second, I have to agree with Corinne that this query needs quite a bit of help. The main concern for me is that your overall writing level in the query isn't really polished. It could be that you're an awesome fiction writer and just not so good at this kind of letter. But as it is, the writing we're seeing here is not screaming "Request my manuscript!" It's kind of screaming "I just typed this up!"

    The basics–as Corinne said, 15,000 is way short for your typical YA. I know you've written in diary form, but if I were the agent receiving this, I'd wonder if you know your market. Do you read lots of young adult books? Check out the average lengths of some favorite titles of a similar type and see if you think your manuscript fits right in there. You can check word count at the RenLearn (Accelerated Reader) quiz store. Example, Catcher in the Rye is 73,000 words. Naturally, a brilliant book can break all the rules, but it better be absolutely brilliant! By the way, typically, you don't list the exact word count, but round to the nearest 1,000, I believe.

    I also would avoid beginning with a rhetorical question ("Isn't it about time . . .?") because it gives the reading agent the opportunity to simply think "No!" and go on to the next letter. You're also implying that nobody's ever written this sort of book before, begging the reader to argue with you. Not a great start.

    Next–the plot. I'm actually not seeing much of a plot. The story sounds like a string of events in Seth's life. First this, then this, then this, then this. Does it ever build to a climax? Is there one thing that Seth wants overall that he's trying to get or accomplish?

    It could be that the plot's there, but you haven't communicated it well. Or, if you feel like you're lacking in this area, your school may have courses in creative writing. You can also get some great practice from books on writing fiction. Try taking plots of books and films you love apart and chart them for plot, character development, etc. What's the main character's inner conflict? What's his outer conflict? How does the story build through the series of events? A story is not merely a string of events, but it sounds like Seth's diary is just that, from what we see here

    I think you've got some good things going for you. You're a young man who wants to write YA, so that's a bit unusual (I believe–women seem to rule the YA world). You seem to be writing about what you know, in part, so maybe you've got some great insight into a lifestyle that many young men can relate to. That's a good thing.

    BUT–you will NEED to stand out with a really interesting hook, as Corinne said. For example, where I live, many young people try writing screenplays–it's a pretty film-oriented town. What do all the young men seem to write about? Their main characters are always–guess what–young men who get mixed up in wacky misadventures with sex and drugs. The casting lists always feature a couple of drug dealers or thugs and a hot girl. If nearly every young male screenwriter is writing that sort of thing, I bet that agents get plenty of pitches about similar fiction. So what's so cool and different about *your* young-man-goes-wild story? If you can answer that question, you might have a good start in rewriting this. Best of luck to you!

  4. Amy L. Sonnichsen Says:

    Hey Chris P.,

    I think I agree with what Rissa and Corrine have already written. Your biggest, immediate problem is your word-count, so I'd probably work on that first. From what I've read, agents don't take on novellas because they have a hard time selling them. If you're writing YA (which is what this sounds like) your minimum words should be 50,000.

    Also, in general, be careful with your word choices. Writers have to be wordsmiths. This phrase jumped out at me: "A huge falling out leads this 22 year-old wealthy kid to his only option, living with his best friend Logan’s house…." How do you live with a house? Just one example to remind you to be absolutely ruthless with your grammar and sentence structure. If an agent reads this in a query, my guess is that they'll think there are problems throughout the manuscript. And you know what that means … form rejections.

    But good luck on our journey and I hope the feedback is helpful! Thanks for being willing, and brave enough, to put your query on the chopping block.

    Amy

  5. Krista G. Says:

    I'll second everything that's been said, and introduce one more thing to consider: You may want to adjust Seth's age, either a few years up or down. Twenty-two is too young to catch the interest of most adult readers, too old to fall strictly into the YA genre. And as someone who's shopped a novel with a 19-year-old protagonist, I know:)

    Maybe you'll get lucky and this whole New Adult thing St. Martin's is launching will take off. (You can read about it at http://sjaejones.com/blog/, if you like.) But in today's market, 22-year-old MCs are going to be a tough sale.

  6. Rissa Watkins Says:

    Krista- 19 was too old? Eep. Mine's 20, guess she is over the hill for YA then. dang it.

  7. Jodie P Says:

    My favorite line in your query is "Seth thinks that being and getting into trouble is fun."

  8. Krista G. Says:

    Rissa, about half of my requested submissions were rejected simply because the agent didn't feel it was YA enough. Now I don't know how much of that "not being YA enough" was because of my MC's age – and they might have thought there were other problems, too, and "not being YA enough" was just the easiest to explain – but it is what it is.

  9. Katie Says:

    I would second what everyone else has been saying here: your query seems unpolished.

    The grammatical errors jumped straight off the page for me. You've got to proof read otherwise you are setting yourself up for an instant rejection. Give yourself a chance!

    You don't need to cram the entire plot into the query. You just need to intrigue the agent- make them want to read your book. Think 'back of the book pitch.'

    I've never seen a 15,000 word YA novel. I don't know if there is a market for something that short- and more importantly I'm not sure if you can have emotionally engaging characters and a fully developed story in that much space. (Yes, I know there are some excellent novels- I'm simply suggesting that it often takes more than 15,000 words to write a story- 15,000 words is the length of a dissertation not a novel…in my head anyway.)

    I wish you the best of luck. And I think that with some clever rewriting you can make this sound engaging- while I think there are many stories about men who go wild, I think that the diary form of your novel could be interesting. But, if you want to convince an agent that you have a unique voice you need a tight query that reflects your protagonist's voice.

  10. amy sue nathan Says:

    15,800 words is a story, not a novel.

  11. Stina Says:

    Wow, there's nothing left for me to comment on. Everyone did a great job. 😀

    Yes, 22 is way too old for YA. Makes question if you've even read many YA novels. Eighteen tends to be the maxium age for the genre (with a few exceptions). The other problem I have is that I don't care about the character enough to want to read about him. But that's probably just me. I'm not into womanizing characters. Oh, by the way, that title doesn't seem right for YA. It makes him sound like he's sleeping around with much older women.

    Eveyone has pointed out the problem about the word count. My concern is that it's too short for you to develop the characterization enough to support your story. Is the thing done entirely as a diary? I prefer books that are a combination of diary and non diary so the characters are fully developed. For example, 13 Reasons Why (Jay Asher) and Saving Zoe (Alyson Noel) are great examples. The first one uses tapes not a diary, but you'll get the idea of what I mean. Plus it's a brilliant book.

    Good luck with it. 😀

    Good luck with it.

  12. Rissa Watkins Says:

    Just wanted to add, since I forgot in my post…

    Chris it is incredibly brave to post your query out here for everyone to see and critique- especially since it was on the fly when Kate asked for one on Twitter.

    I hope this doesn't discourage you from writing. Everything you write helps you improve. When people critique, even though it can hurt, know they do it because they want you to get better and think you can.

    We are all learning the craft of writing and trying to get better.

    Keep writing!

  13. Stina Says:

    I second what Rissa said–especially since I've been in your place. None of us are perfect,either. But it's easier to see the mistakes when they aren't your own.

    Oh and I was going to mention it earlier, but my kids were getting restless with me being on the computer. Publisher Marketplace uses the term Debut Fiction, but I have no idea what that means or if it's a real genre. I'm thinking it isn't, but what do I know? I rarely go beyond the YA section of the bookstore, unless I'm looking for my kids in the children's section.

    If you really are set on writing novellas, make sure you've done the research (such as on Absolute Write). Kate can answer this, but I don't think most agents represent them. So I'm wondering if this is supposed to be a query to an editor. Once you've done the research, you'll know the correct individuals to query. It'll save you tons of time in the end.

    Good luck with everything.

  14. Rachel Says:

    Everyone was really thorough. The only thing I have to add is that "currently" was used three times in the closing paragraph.

    I "currently" am taking English and Journalism classes at Community College of Allegheny County and "currently" working at local news station writing news stories. I am "currently" working on the second book on the series I hope to complete.

    You can simplify your credits by saying:

    I am enrolled in English and Journalism classes at Community College of Allegheny County and write stories for our local news.

    Also, don't say you are working on the second book in the series. Don't even be working on it. If this one doesn't sell what are you going to do? Your efforts would be better employed by writing a new story. That you can say in your query because it lets the agent know you're not a one book wonder.

    Don't give up!

  15. Lisa Gibson Says:

    Chris, I think you could really benefit from reading Noah Lukeman's book. There's a free download here: http://www.lukeman.com/greatquery/index.htm

    I hope this is of benefit to you. Keep swinging at it and you'll get there.

    Lisa

  16. Shawna Says:

    Hi Chris! Kudos!

    My only input besides what others have pointed out, I have heard that a query should be 250 words MAX! First para should be a hook, second a description, third a little about yourself.

    If you want to find an amazing website that can lead you to a great query, go to Agentquery.com

    Good luck to you!

  17. Kate Says:

    Thanks to everyone who chimed in this weekend with your thoughts on Chris' query! You did all manage to hit the high points of what I would have said, so I won't waste too much time in repeating things that have been said before.

    I will note, however, that for all of our comments that "X is too old" and "Y is too short" and "Z is too long", these are, in the long term, guidelines. Can you find a book about a 22-year-old in YA? Probably, somewhere. Can a really short book find success? Or a very long query?

    Yes, it can happen. But guidelines are helpful because they let agents and readers set expectations. And while you can — and some very successful writers do — go around our expectations all the time, it's not easy.

    Is writing supposed to be easy? No. But allowing some structure helps make things easier.

    So thanks to everyone for your advice and helpful comments. And in particular to Lisa and Shawna who gave links and other sources to check to advice on queries — although I hope the last 38 query reviews have also provided some help to author wishing to finesse and perfect their queries.

    Cheers!