Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXXI

November 8th, 2011 • Kate

haydenpanettiereWENN-419x488A return to some of my most popular posts, and the fabulous shoe pics that accompany them! Since it’s been a while, a quick recap of the way this goes. I post an author’s query below, add my comments on what works and doesn’t work for me, and then you, my lovely readers, add your thoughts in the comment section. Helpful suggestions only, please. If you hate it, I’m not saying don’t say that, but find a way to convey it in a manner that can be constructive. Ready? Let’s hit it!

Dear Ms Unfeasible,

I am a long-time reader of your blog, and general admirer of your agenting philosophy and clients. Because you represent Maureen Johnson’s contemporary novels and Lili Wilkinson’s Pink, I believe you might enjoy my novel BACKGROUND VOCALS.

Seventeen-year-old Meridian Ashton’s uncle wants to lock up her guitar. No way is she letting that happen. She’s going to get a record deal and no one will be able to silence her. But before she can enact her plan to get the hell out of town, her fourteen-year-old cousin Natalie is seriously injured at gymnastics practice. Only Meridian’s music distracts Natalie from the horror of losing her leg. This forces Meridian to promise she’ll stick around—but she is never letting her uncle touch her guitar again.

To Natalie, Meridian is fearless. She mouths off to Natalie’s dad when he says Natalie is doomed to a half-life. She kisses a guy in the churchyard to stop parishioners from staring at Natalie’s lack-of-lag. With an attitude like that, Natalie could ditch her fear of falling and get back on the gymnastics mats. So she spends the summer at Meridian’s side, in the rock-and-roll world where her metal limb doesn’t matter at all.

It’s a summer of light spilling into darkness. Of sharing secrets under the sparks of illicit fireworks, dancing to the beat of strobes, and discovering the magic of moonlit water. But September is coming soon, and with it a chance for Meridian to launch her career. In New York. Leaving won’t be as easy as it would have been three months earlier. Natalie may have absorbed Meridian’s courage, but Meridian has gained something too. Fear. The fear of betraying the only person who believes in the girl behind the guitar.

Dually narrated by Meridian and Natalie, BACKGROUND VOCALS is a 76,000-word novel that will appeal to fans of John Green, Sarah Dessen and Kirsten Hubbard.

I am studying for my MFA/MA in writing for children/children’s literature at Simmons College in Boston. I am a member of SCBWI, and I also maintain a blog about my experiences as a young woman with a disability. I share your love of all things Buffy and Veronica Mars, and go to way more concerts than is advisable.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


All is all, this is a very strong query. I get a sense of both Meridian and Natalie, and why each matters to the other. Still, there’s some stuff that can be improved. I don’t feel like “It’s a summer of light spilling into darkness” really says anything — it’s lovely, true, but not super clear to a reader.

I am a little curious about how Meridian ended up living with her uncle and her cousin, but I don’t want too much backstory. Is there a line or two you can add that may make it clearer? Maybe up where you tell us that “Meridian Ashton’s uncle wants to lock up her guitar”?

On to the super picky stuff! I think “Dually narrated” is a little stiff. Maybe try just “Narrated by both Meridian and Natalie”? And I try to steer clear of the absolutes of “will appeal to fans of”, and allow some room for “may”.

But I think your bio is short and sweet, and gives a reader a little more information about why this is the book you had to write. Intriguing!

Readers, your thoughts?

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

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5 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXXI”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Isn't it unwise to compare or make the assumption that your writing or story style is comparible to another author? While I might think my work could fall in line with certain authors, I'd hate to make that statement only have it fall back in my face later. I do like how she made the fan connection in the first paragraph because we all DO love your blog!

  2. E.Maree Says:

    I love this query, I'd definitely pick this book up off the shelves with that storyline. I can see the Kirsten Hubbard influence, and it brought "Like Mandarin" (which I loved) immediately to mind.

    It's hard to find anything to fault — "discovering the magic of moonlit water" feels a little too vague for my tastes, and "The fear of betraying the only person who believes in the girl behind the guitar" is a confusing line. Also, a small typo: "lack-of-lag"

    C.K. has a fantastic voice, best of luck!

  3. Mara Says:

    I thought it was a great query too. The one thing that really stood out as I was reading was the fact that we don't know why Meridian's uncle wants to lock up her guitar. I have a feeling adding that in briefly, as suggested, would not only clear things up but also provide C.K. with an opportunity to give us another glimpse into Meridian's character. All in all great job!

  4. Stephanie M. Says:

    The things that cross my mind:
    1. Why does her uncle want to lock up her guitar? Does he think it's the devils instrument?
    2. Is her uncle her guardian, because otherwise I don't see how he has a say?
    3. What is the plot of this story? I get a great sense of these two women and the friendship they share, but I know nothing of what their battle together will be. Are they merely saddened now by the possibility of being separated? I want to think it is the battle of a disability they face together, but I have to wonder, if Meridian is confident Natalie will play gymnastics again, how bad is her injury? Perhaps add a note, clarifying the extent of her injury.

  5. @lizwrites Says:

    I like this query a lot. I agree the two uncle lines open up a lot of questions. I'd say if you don't want to expand on it, just cut him from the query entirely. You could start with Meridian wanting to get a record deal and get out of her backwards town, etc.

    The rest is all great, except I think you can cut "It’s a summer of light spilling into darkness. Of sharing secrets under the sparks of illicit fireworks, dancing to the beat of strobes, and discovering the magic of moonlit water." They're pretty lines, but distracting from the plot. You can jump right to "But September is coming soon…" for maximum impact.