From The Archives: About My Query XXX

July 14th, 2011 • Kate

While I’m on vacation this week, I’m diving into my archives for a look at some of my favorite old posts. You voted on what you want to see, and this is the result. The following was originally published in November of 2009. Enjoy!

olsen-haus-swim-faux-patent-shoeI wouldn’t wear these swimming, but wouldn’t they look just perfect at a pool somewhere in Beverly Hills? And they’re vegan! Anyway, today’s About My Query post comes to us from Kristina.

[…L]et’s get to today’s query!

Dear Ms. Unfeasible:

For seventeen-year-old Calleigh, swimming is her ticket to a scholarship. Unfortunately the price may prove to be deadly. During her sophomore year tryouts, she shocks everyone by failing to show up and abandoning the sport altogether. Her friends think she has an eating disorder. Her mom’s new bible deals with teenage depression. Only Aaron seems to notice the way she freaks out whenever she’s touched, and is convinced she’s been raped. But Calleigh’s hiding a terrifying secret and refuses to acknowledge he’s right.

Undeterred, Aaron tries to get her to admit what happened. Maybe next time he kisses her, he won’t get a black eye. As long as another flashback doesn’t hit her first. And she’ll be safe, as long as she can keep the truth a secret. Not so easy to do when Aaron is determined to save her and persuade her to return to swimming. And not so easy to do when the stalker who raped Calleigh steps back into her life.

LOST IN A HEARTBEAT is an 82,000-word YA contemporary novel for females fourteen years and older. It is written in the same vein as a Sarah Dessen novel: a guy dealing with his own secrets and supporting characters who cause Calleigh to revaluate her response to the rape.

A member of the SCBWI, I attended the annual New York City conference in 2007 and 2008, as well as the 2009 annual conference in Los Angeles.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Kristina

As with some many of these queries, there’s the germ of something really intriguing, but it gets a little lost. Let’s start at the top. My impression is that the story mostly takes place after the rape, in which case, Calleigh is no longer looking at swimming as “her ticket to a scholarship.” When you’re giving backstory in a query, you’re not going to have enough time to spend on the story.

What about something like “Swimming was Calleigh’s life, and her ticket to a scholarship, but no longer. After failing to show up for tryouts and showing all signs of abandoning the sport altogether, Calleigh…”? After which you could tell the reader something about how Calleigh is reacting, not just how other people (her friends and mom) perceive her. There’s also a strange disconnect with Aaron thinking she was raped, and then the query going back to the non-specific “terrible secret.”

In fact, the amount of time you spend on Aaron makes me wonder just who the main character in this story is — Calleigh or Aaron. I’m leaning slightly towards Calleigh, because of your unnecessary “YA contemporary novel for females fourteen years and older” (you can just call it a “contemporary YA novel” — the rest is exclusive and repetitive). But this feels like Aaron’s story, especially when you refer to it as “a guy dealing with his own secrets”. Are there dual narrators? If so, let the reader know!

The second paragraph is a little all over the place too — the sentences don’t work together. There’s no connection or agreement between “Maybe next time he kisses her, he won’t get a black eye” and “As long as another flashback doesn’t hit her first.” The repetitive “not so easy to do” starting two sentences in a row also feels awkward and unpolished.

We talked earlier this week about using comparisons in your queries, and while I think a call out to Sarah Dessen is appropriate, the wording of it feels weird — “Written in the same vein” just doesn’t work for me.

Minor quibbles: “revaluate” should be “reevaluate” and I don’t think you need to list the years you attended the SCBWI National Conferences, just that you did.

Over to my wise and helpful readers — what do you think?

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