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

Ask Daphne! About My Query XVIII

isabelle_social_red_lI’ve still got a bit of backlog of About My Query posts, so I think this week will be ALL About My Query, all the time! I mean, I don’t want to get to a point where by the time I post a query, the author’s already got their book about to hit the shelves. So we’ll get through five this week, while I hope to continue to update you with other news and excitement as it happens. Shall we get started?

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

I’m an author seeking representation and fashion advice for my feet. I just know that you are the agent for me! I’m writing to tell you about Sojourners, my reality-based YA fantasy. This manuscript is complete at 85,000 words:

Sixteen year old Jacey Grobe is a lonely girl with a secret. Historical visions assist her with homework and supernatural forces facilitate her weight loss, but she’s too intimidated by her social superiors to realize what is happening.

Then one night on a dark mountain pass, a near-death experience opens Jacey’s eyes to the true identity of her uppity classmates, who belong to an interdimensional race of people known as Sojourners. When Jacey’s supernatural prowess indicates that she is one of them, she is thrust into a world where teens police the streets and adults are often the enemy.

With Sojourner soldier Adam Lodge as her trainer, Jacey learns how to use her own interdimensional abilities for good, lest she succumb to the greedy Predators that fight for control of the teen social scene. But as her relationship with Adam deepens, Jacey must also fight the forbidden love that threatens to undermine her one chance to finally fit in—both in this world and elsewhere.

Fans of A Wrinkle in Time and the Dark is Rising series will love Sojourners, a novel set in present-day Idaho, where real teen life is as enchantingly unique as my characters and their powers.

I am a graduate student of English at Northern Arizona University. I have published two magazine articles and several op ed pieces for my local paper.

I can’t wait to send you the full manuscript so that you can enjoy my novel in its entirety!

Sincerely,
Jenny T.

I think there’s a lot going on in this query, and it’s hard, on first read, to get a handle on it. Unfortunately, most agents will only give you the benefit of one read, and if you don’t hook them with it, it’s a quick rejection. So lemme see if I’ve got what you’re trying to say.

We’ve got a picked up high school girl who has ghosts helping her with her homework, and though she’s recently lost a lot of weight through supernatural means, she’s still the target of the mean girl crowd. Until one dark and stormy night (my words, but beware your use of cliche), when she discovers the mean girls are from another planet, and they discover that she’s just like them. Then there’s a boy who’s teaching her what she needs to know to fit it, but for some reason, a romantic relationship between them is forbidden. Yes?

Oh, and there’s other creatures who are also using the social scene for nefarious purposes.

There’s a lot happening, but what I DON’T get is any sense of Jacey in all this. She’s lonely — but that’s almost all you tell us about how she feels or what she thinks about what’s going on. Plot is one thing, but I think it must be paired in a delicate dance (thus the ballroom dancing shoes above) with character — without one, the other is lifeless.

I’d also beware overwhelming an agent with your enthusiasm (see “I just know that you are the agent for me!”). On the basis of a query, very few agents will request a full without any intermediary steps. I’d change “I can’t wait to send you the full manuscript so that you can enjoy my novel in its entirety!” to the more professional “I look forward to hearing if I may send you a sample of my novel,” or something similar. Avoid exclamation marks as much as possible. I also don’t know what you’re trying to say with “where real teen life is as enchantingly unique as my characters and their powers” — is it that present-day Idaho is full of teens? I’d end the sentence after the setting. Also, try to avoid “will love” comparisons. Allow for room for leeway “may enjoy,” for instance.

But those are decorations — the meat of your query needs to be the book’s pitch, and I think that needs a rewrite. Readers, can you help Jenny out? How would you pitch this story?

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