if it’s too difficult for grown-ups, write for children

Ask Daphne! About My Query VII

beatupchucksSome well-loved, worn-in chucks for P.G., our next “About a Query” participant. You all know the rules now, right? Someone shares a query, I make comments, then you make comments, and hopefully, we’re all very helpful. Ok, here goes!

Dear Daphne:

I am seeking representation for an edgy, young adult novel with a cast of at-risk-youth characters.

PLACEMENT (75,000 words) is a story about a bright but angry fifteen year-old boy stuck in two systems—special education and social services—and his quest to rise out of both of them.

A brief jacket flap of PLACEMENT might read: Fifteen year-old Chad Carson has been in Special Education for behavior problems since third grade and has lived his entire life with his alcoholic mother and her series of abusive boyfriends. When Chad threatens a Teacher’s Aide he knows he’ll get suspended but doesn’t anticipate a referral to the Spruce Grove Academy—a program for the Baker, Michigan School District’s rejects. At Spruce Grove, Chad presumes he’s sunk to the bottom of the teenage hell-pit, but then his mother and her boyfriend are arrested and Chad is placed in an emergency shelter—that’s where the real trouble begins.

My inspiration for writing PLACEMENT stems from teaching in an alternative school for fifteen years and encountering many students facing dilemmas similar to Chad’s: teenagers who are bright and capable, but who find themselves entangled in overloaded special education and social service systems.

I’d be happy to send you a copy of PLACEMENT for your consideration.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.


Ok, so my problem with this query? I have no sense of who Chad is, and why I care about his situation. Yes, it’s horrible, but that’s a social issue. I don’t read YA books to be preached at, I want — at some level — to be entertained. For that, I need to know more about who Chad is as a character. Why did he threaten the Aide when he knew he would be suspended? Did he want to be suspended? Why? How does he relate to his mom and her boyfriend? How does he feel about their arrest? Who are the other “at-risk youth characters” you mention?

Structurally, I think you can combine paragraphs one and two. In paragraph three, drop “A brief jacket flap of PLACEMENT might read:” and just pitch the story, expanding on it with the answers to some of my questions above. As for paragraph four, I’d drop your “inspiration” and focus on your credits, if you have any, or other writing experience. I’ll be honest — a book that’s been “inspired” by reality doesn’t do anything for me on its own. I need the writing to be the focus, not the message behind it.

If I got this query through regular channels, I’d certainly give the pages a look, but they would need to be very strong to convince me.

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