Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXVII

January 15th, 2010 • Kate

Starlet-redSo they may not be small or jolly, but they are RED shoes for F.A., who sent over today’s About My Query post. Before I get to it, I’m putting out the call for a few more — enough to get me into February. If you’d like your query to be featured here, please email it to daphne.unfeasible@gmail.com with the subject line “About My Query.” When I receive it, I’ll email you back with a scheduled posting date, and will ask you to let me know if you change your query before then. [Update: I’ve got all the queries I need for now — will ask for more in a little over a month!]

But enough chatter! Let’s get to the query:

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

Housekeeper burnt to a crisp, parents vanished, police clueless. And little brother frothing at the mouth about some evil alien being responsible.

Thirteen-year-old Hazel knows no one’s telling her the truth – not the police, not the federal agents nosing around, and especially not her psychotic brother. Her scientist parents were working on some new rocket fuel chemical. Were they kidnapped because of that? Is this an international espionage case?

International, no. Interstellar, yes. Turns out there is an evil alien after that chemical. But what’s its value to him? And why are other aliens flocking to Earth, desperate to keep it from him? And why would Hazel’s kid brother know ANY of this?

Hazel is about to find out, as she’s forced into a deadly race to find something small and red and jolly. Winning that race is her only chance of saving her family. And quite a few others as well.

HAZEL WETHERBY & THE ELIXIR OF LOVE is a 71,000-word contemporary fantasy/thriller for ages 10-14. Its ending is structured for sequel potential.

I am a member of SCBWI and have attended three of their regional conferences in the past two years. This is the first work for which I’ve attempted publication.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing of your interest.

Sincerely,
F.A.

I definitely think this query does a good job of detailing the action of the plot, but it’s less effective in giving me a reason to care about the characters. How does Hazel take the disappearance of her parents? How does it make her feel?

Beyond that, there’s a few phrases that give me pause: “little brother frothing at the mouth” has me thinking of literary frothing, while I tend to focus on the term “alien being” as a single description, as opposed to “being” as a verb. As for Hazel “knowing” that no one’s telling her the truth, I think here is where you might be able to get in a little personality. Is she sick and tired of everyone lying to her? Is she annoyed? Sanguine? I’m also not certain about calling her little brother “psychotic.” He can’t be more than 12, and that’s a heavy label to put on a 12-year-old.

I do like the juxtaposition of “small and red and jolly” with “deadly race”, but I’m concerned that the pacing of your sentences — their almost staccato rhythm — is too abrupt. Not every sentence needs to be a paragraph long, but some of yours could flow better.

One sentence I definitely dislike is “Its ending is structured for sequel potential.” Blerg. I get what you’re trying to say, but there’s better ways of saying it. And we’ve talked bunches about how you have to sell one book at a time — worry about a sequel once you have an agent interested, not before. I’d much rather hear about how the ending ties things together, rather than leaving strings unraveled. “This is the first work for which I’ve attempted publication” also reads awkwardly, though I can understand that “This is my first novel” may feel wrong.

Readers, suggestions? Advice? Comments? Please chime in below.

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13 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXVII”

  1. Brigita Says:

    I noticed more or less the same things in this query – not enough characterization was the first one.

    And I've heard several times that it's not advisable to mention sequels at all, that it's better to mention it once you already get an agent.

    I hope you don't mind if I ask a question (unrelated to this particular query): If we don't receive an answer to a query after two months from you, does that mean it got lost or you're simply not interested? Thanks.

  2. Kristy Says:

    I'm not an agent, but here are my thoughts on the query:

    – I agree with Kate about the staccato sentences. They could flow better.

    – I disagree about the frothing part. That gave me an instant hilarious visual, and I never associated alien "being" with a verb.

    – I've heard other agents stating they'd like to know in the query if the novel has potential for a sequel. Is this just your taste, Kate, or do you find this amongst most agents?

    – I also agree that I'd like to get to know the characters more, even with a quick-wit one-liner.

    Overall I enjoyed it and if I saw this on a jacket, I'd take a read. Best wishes!

  3. Sam Says:

    There's also a few too many rhetorical questions loaded into the query – it gets to a point where there's so much unanswered stuff that it starts to lose focus. But I think that's a cracking opening; "frothing" is working for me.

  4. Stina Says:

    I'll admit, I thought the brother had rabies when I read the frothing part, so I kind of miss the point of the sentence. Oops! I hate it when I do that.

    To me, this sounds like YA SF not YA urban fantasy. You don't need to call it a thriller since it's obvious from the query that it is one. But I'm not an agent, so I could be wrong. I'm also wondering if this is supposed to be humorous, which I'm kind of getting the impression of from this query. But I'm not certain. It almost sounds like she's going to find one of Santa's elves. That had me laughing.

    I also agree with the staccato sentences. Makes me wonder if the novel is in the same structure (probably not, though). Plus I think you might have asked too many questions. I'm far from an expert on writing queries, but I was under the impression the agents should be the ones asking the questions (as in 'I want to read more' type questions–not the 'what the heck' ones).

    Good luck!

  5. ChristaCarol Says:

    I agree with Stina on the questions, while they work, I think you could nix some and instead add some of Hazel's personality in there like Kate suggested. As for the mentioning sequels, it all depends on the agent, I'd do some research before submitting, if they don't mention anything about letting them know about it being/becoming a series, I'd nix it. I'd also nix the "first novel". It can be assumed with you not mentioning any publications this is your first novel.

    Also, the title and even the premise reads to me more like MG than YA? That could just be me, but that's the feel I got from it. Other than that, though, I really like the idea, and the voice…you've really captured a voice in the query, and adding some of Hazel's feelings in there will really punch it up.

  6. Rissa Watkins Says:

    The frothing at the mouth didn't bother me, except it is a little cliché. I didn't notice the alien being thing until Kate pointed it out though and in re-reading it I do stumble on it.

    The psychotic brother thing seems okay to me, because it seemed like Hazel is the one saying it. I can recall calling my brother and sister psycho when I was that age.

    I agree this doesn't give Hazel any depth. Would like to hear more about her rather than a list of things she is facing.

    I would cut the sequel line and the part about it being the attempt at publication. Both sentences are awkward and unnecessary.

    Those shoes are so cute with the little heart!

    Kate – one question, can we submit a letter here and still submit to you when we are ready to query?

  7. Shannon Says:

    I'm the last person on earth qualified to critique a query.

    So, I'll just pass on some information that is helping me refine my own query. Heck I may even try to resend it to a couple of agents that never responded to my first query. Live dangerously I say.

    *Read it out loud. (IMO, everything should be read out loud). Some people (and I am one of them) actually sort of whisper to themselves, especially when they are reading under a time crunch (can you think of someone [agent] that probably reads fast). You catch a lot when you read it out loud. Helps with flow too. And, it can really help you nail down exactly what you are trying to say.

    *Describe your character (out loud) to someone without using names, without saying what they look like or where they work, and without saying what their profession or role is. Try this on some of your favorite movie characters to get a feel for it. This is helping me ALOT.

    Ex: Liam Neeson, "Wanted" – driven, calculating, heartless, sensative, rogue-ish

    Hope this helps.

  8. Adam Heine Says:

    Frothing at the mouth stopped me a little. If it's literal, leave it (it certainly matches the psychotic description). If it's an expression, then it's confusing, because at the beginning of the query (esp. in sci-fi/fantasy) I take everything you say literally.

    The rest I was fine with. It sounded interesting and exciting. I was only caught at the end where she had to find something "small, red, and jolly." What does she have to find? A tiny Santa Claus? An alien? I wasn't sure how many kinds of aliens there were, so if it is an alien, which one?

    Lastly, I think the problem with the sequel comment is that it implies the story does not end in this book, which is bad for a debut. Try "standalone but with sequel potential" instead.

  9. B.E. Sanderson Says:

    This sounds like a fun story. I do have a couple suggestions, though.

    Maybe you could refer to the brother as psycho instead of psychotic.

    Your title is tripping me up. I think it's because there's nothing in the query to relate to any kind of love. "Hazel Weatherby and the Alien Elixir" maybe?

    Lastly, try saying this book stands alone with 'series' potential, rather than sequel.

    I really hope your query works because this sounds like a book I'd like to read and one I can suggest to the local librarian. =o)

  10. Kate Says:

    Quick answer for Brigita's question (and for anyone else, FYI) "If we don’t receive an answer to a query after two months from you, does that mean it got lost or you’re simply not interested? Thanks."

    If it was just a query letter and you haven't heard from me in two months, then yes, it's likely lost. Please resend it, with a note that it's a resubmission. I was totally caught up on all queries before I closed for the holidays.

    If it was sample chapters or a full manuscript, please email me directly for a status report.

    Cheers!

  11. Rachel Says:

    Agreed on the staccato sentences, but more importantly, the fragments! I'm usually OK with fragments, but the one that begins this query doesn't really work for me.

  12. Abby Stevens Says:

    I don't think the opening sentence is as effective as it could be. It opens a little too abruptly. Reading this makes me wonder if the whole book is. Written. Like. This.

    I agree that the author should read it out loud; that would make it so much easier to fix the abruptness of most of the sentences.

  13. Corinne Says:

    This sounds like it's a lot of fun, but I basically agree with what's been said already – we don't know enough about the protagonist to care and it's a little choppy here and there. I was also a little thrown by what on earth she's supposed to be looking for. It seems like it's a major part of the plot, but I have no idea what to picture.

    Unrelated: I sent in a query of my own shortly after this blog post went up, but haven't received any response. Have you just not gotten around to it yet, or was I too late?