Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXIV

September 24th, 2010 • Kate

colehaanbootsFor the first official AMQ post of fall, I just had to feature a great pair of boots, and these certainly fit the bill. (And can be yours, too!) Plus, they’re a little super-hero-y, don’t you think? Which ties in nicely with today’s query:

Dear Ms. Testerman,

Andrew, Cali, Sam, and Jupiter skip school and find themselves in the middle of a storm that knocks over a train car carrying the chemical Crydamtium. Each come in contact with Crydamtium and each gain an ability much like a comic book hero. However, these teens are no heroes. They are slackers, procrastinators, slightly selfish, and if the opportunity strikes, liars. The four of them soon discover that their powers come with a price and that they are not the only ones who have special abilities.

Raymondโ€™s son died mysteriously the night of the storm and he mistakenly believes Andrew and his friends are to blame. Raymond is bent on revenge and has the right amount of crazy to make it happen. As the teens rush to find out more about Crydamtium, they must decide which side of the moral line they stand on and whether they can kill to save themselves.

SLACKER HEROES is a young adult urban fantasy that is in progress at 37,000 words. I am focusing on building a platform while completing my manuscript. You may find me on Facebook or Twitter under my pen name, Jennifer J., or at my website, [link]. I follow your blog and Twitter and think your interest in the young adult genre without sparkling vampires fits right in with my characters who are a combination of NBC’s Heroes meets Breakfast Club. Again, thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Jennifer R.

First of all, I should mention I took out a brief introductory paragraph before the book description, that was more about submitting the query for this post than an actual part of the letter. I mention it only in case any of you think the opening is a little abrupt.

But moving on, I think the key to making this query more intriguing is to give us a better sense of who Andrew and his friends are. Don’t just group them together under the phrase “Andrew and his friends”, and tell me that they’re “slackers, procrastinators, slightly selfish, and if the opportunity strikes, liars”. I want to know if Cali is the liar, while Sam’s more of just a slacker, or whatever. When you introduce four characters in the opening sentence of a query, I want to have a sense of each of them as a separate individual, not just as part of a group.

And, ultimately, this manuscript needs to be complete, not in progress, before you send a query.

I’m going to stop there, and give my readers room to add their comments, rather than pick apart each line myself. Guys, what do you think?

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14 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXIV”

  1. Tim White Says:

    I think I'd almost prefer "a mysterious element", rather than a particular name. I would like to hear a little about the relationships between the characters as well…

  2. Jess Says:

    Andrew, Cali, Sam, and Jupiter skip school and find themselves in the middle of a storm that knocks over a train car carrying the chemical Crydamtium.[That's a lot of clauses for one sentence. Break it up.] Each come in contact with Crydamtium and each gain an ability much like a comic book hero. [This is awkward. Why not just, "they all come in contact with C and develop superpowers"? "much like a comic book hero" is just clunky; we can suspend disbelief without it.] However, these teens are no heroes. They are slackers, procrastinators, slightly selfish, and if the opportunity strikes, liars.[Interesting twist, though I want something that makes them likable.] The four of them soon discover that their powers come with a price and that they are not the only ones who have special abilities. [what's the price? who are the others?]

    Raymond’s son died mysteriously the night of the storm and he mistakenly believes Andrew and his friends are to blame.[Who? This jump doesn't work for me. You need a transition. Also, why would he think that?] Raymond is bent on revenge and has the right amount of crazy to make it happen. [Crazy is boring. Grief would be better.] As the teens rush to find out more about Crydamtium, they must decide which side of the moral line they stand on and whether they can kill to save themselves.[no mention of, you know, proving Raymond's wrong or anything? this para is a tad disjointed. show the conflict through the kids' eyes.]

    SLACKER HEROES is a young adult urban fantasy that is in progress at 37,000 words [AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.}. I am focusing on building a platform while completing my manuscript. You may find me on Facebook or Twitter under my pen name, Jennifer J., or at my website, [link]. I follow your blog and Twitter and think your interest in the young adult genre without sparkling vampires fits right in with my characters who are a combination of NBC’s Heroes meets Breakfast Club [again too many clauses in this sentence.]. Again, thank you for your time.

    Try reading this out loud for flow. … But not until the novel's done.

    I like the concept, though.

  3. Georgiana Says:

    I would tighten this up. Instead of saying each gain an ability much like a comic book hero I would say something like and gain a special ability. The title of the book makes it pretty clear you're essentially talking about superheroes.

    I wouldn't want to repeat the word Crydamtium in the next sentence. I'd use another word choice.

    The second para was confusing to me. I stopped and reread the first para trying to figure out who Raymond is.

    Finally I wouldn't say both combination and meets here "characters who are a combination of NBC’s Heroes meets Breakfast Club".

    You have an interesting premise. Best of luck.

  4. Feliza Says:

    This sounds interesting. I never get tired of superheroes, and I love the idea of making a bunch of slacker kids into heroes.

    One thing I'm wondering about is how Raymond would be able to enact revenge. I get that he's crazy, but how would a normal human being (I'm assuming that's what he is) be able to mess with a bunch of kids with super powers? Does Raymond have super powers? Maybe that was implied, but I just didn't get it.

    Also, I'd like to see a little bit more of your authorial voice in this query. It's a tall order, I know, but I think the query would have more flair if the tone of the novel showed itself.

  5. Krista V. Says:

    Ensemble casts are tough to pull off in a query. You might try focusing on whichever of the four teenagers is the leader, or whichever has the most page time in your manuscript. You can always mention the other three in passing, but keeping the focus on one kid might help us connect with the query a little better.

    In the second paragraph, I had a problem with the transition. Your first sentence mentions two people and an event not mentioned in the previous paragraph, so we could use a little grounding. Also, I'd like more specifics about the moral line you mention. What's the decision? What are the consequences? Fleshing that out will give us a better sense of the stakes.

    Also, something about this sounds more MG than YA to me. Maybe it's because it reminded me of POWERLESS by Matthew Cody (who is one of Kate's clients, if I'm not mistaken). Then again, maybe once you describe the conflict a little better, we'll have a better feel for the audience.

    Good luck with this. I love the title, by the way:)

  6. Jennifer Says:

    Love those boots and thanks for the comments everyone. I originally had more about the characters but took it out because I thought my query was too long.

    I thought these query critiques were just for the critiques and didn't realize you had to be finished with the ms until after submitting so my apologies.

    There is more romance between two of the main characters than I have mentioned in the query so it isn't MG. I appreciate the advice and will definitely take it – I still have a lot to learn.

  7. Adam Heine Says:

    Query critiques like this can totally be done before the manuscript is finished, but the actual query shouldn't be sent until you're done with the novel. Since the critique is pretending to be a real query, you should just lie and say it's completed (and make up a reasonable word count).

    I like the premise and the title. I'm confused about what the protagonists' goal is, and what's the "moral line" they have to choose between? Knowing the protagonist's choice is key in a query, so it helps to be specific ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good luck!

  8. allreb Says:

    Reading this, I'm struck by the fact that we don't even know *what* their powers are. Flight, super strength, turning green when angry, creating fire…? There are roughly a jabillion things that could count as superhero-like powers. We also don't know what "price" their powers come with; as someone who's pretty familiar with superhero stories, I can also think of dozens and dozens of things that could mean.

    In the second para, I was yet another person confused by who Raymond was. I also wonder why he blames them. I get the sense that something in his… plan? trap? whatever he's doing for revenge is what leads them to have to decide if they can kill to protect themselves, but since I have no sense of *how* that happens, I'm just left confused. (That said, I really like the line "Raymond is bent on revenge and has the right amount of crazy to make it happen," which is one of the few pieces where I feel a strong voice in the query.)

    Overall, I feel like you've got a great, intriguing premise, but no details about the story that make me want to read *this* superhero story specifically. I think focusing more on the characters (who they are, and what they can do; and more importantly, what choices they're faced with and what the stakes of those choices are) would do a lot to make the story feel as interesting as the premise.

  9. Elizabeth Kaylene Says:

    I don't like the word Crydamtium — at all. I think it's awfully blocky and doesn't roll off of the tongue. It also reminds me a lot of Kryptonite.

    I think the premise is really cool, though. I'd love to read about a group of superheroes who are lazy and selfish. The possibilities are endless!

  10. Jess Says:

    Phew. As long as you know not to send the query off for an unfinished book, it's fine if it's not done yet, you're right, this is just the critique. But it's supposed to be the finished query you would send, so if you want other crits elsewhere, I suggest just guesstimating and saying, "X is complete at # words," so long as you're just looking for feedback on the query itself.

  11. Jennifer Says:

    Thanks for pointing out the obvious, guys. ๐Ÿ™‚ This is exactly what I needed.

    Yes, I do realize that I would *never* submit a real query until I've got everything polished and shiny but thanks for pointing that out…we may have saved someone else.

    I revised things and it probably still needs some work but below is my new and hopefully improved query. Let me know what you think.

    Sam has always dreamt of being special but he never thought his wish would be granted in the form of a superpower. Skipping school one afternoon lands Sam and his friends in the middle of a storm where they each come in contact with a mysterious chemical. This chemical grants them each an ability; Sam can shapeshift, Andrew can hyper heal, Cali has a sonic scream, and Jupiter can trap people in illusions. Being a comic book aficionado, Sam knows the rules: don’t share your secret, help others when you can, and don’t fall in love with a normal girl. However, Sam and his friends are no heroes and they’re about to break all the rules.

    Raymond’s son didn’t survive the storm and Raymond believes that because of their powers, the teens killed Ray Jr. Although he doesn’t have proof, Raymond is bent on revenge and has the right amount of crazy to make it happen. When someone close to Sam falls victim to Raymond, he and his friends must decide how far they’ll go to protect her and whether they can kill to save themselves. Even if they can save the day, can they shed the slacker label and live up to the potential of their powers?

  12. Janis Says:

    I'm wondering what the history with Raymond is; why does Raymond think 'they' did this? And again, the group issue, involved here. My question to you is, if you were interested in the premise, would you send a reply saying "Finish the manuscript, then re-submit?" Or just send a "No Thank You?"

    Just wondering…

  13. allreb Says:

    Hmm, now I'm conflicted because I like knowing what the powers are, but it takes up a lot of room and doesn't give us as much personality as the original "They are slackers, procrastinators, slightly selfish, and if the opportunity strikes, liars" line. (I wish I had an easy solution, but I figured I'd let you know what it makes me think, at least.)

    I'm still thrown by the jump to Raymond and think you could use some sort of transition there, like, "Sam and his friends weren't the only ones out in the storm. A young boy was killed and his father, Raymond, thinks they must be responsible. He wants revenge (etc etc)" so there's some sense of who the heck this guy is, instead of an abrupt additional name and no immediate idea how he relates back to the others.

    I love the addition of "when someone close to Sam…" since that shows us a larger piece of the plot, and I like the addition of the rules — and the fact that these kids are totally willing to break them. I just don't think the slacker vibe comes through as clearly now, unfortunately.

    (I'm neither an agent nor published [just a reader of superhero stories!] so take my reactions with as many grains of salt as you'd like.)

  14. Jennifer Says:

    Thanks for the comment on my updated version. Although it does leave me wondering how to make those changes, I appreciate it because it's what I needed. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I will definitely include a transition between the two paragraphs. If you are a fan of superheroes you should head over to my blog at jenniferxjoseph.com. I will be doing a series of posts about superhero stuff in a few weeks.