Ask Daphne! About My Query XVIII

September 21st, 2009 • Kate

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!

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?

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

Tags: , ,

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

  1. Laura Says:

    I'd take out both the reference to the shoe advice and the 'agent for me!' line. Replace them with something that offers the same sentiment but with a more professional tone. "I've been following your blog for some time and am impressed by the dedication you bring to your clients while also communicating a light-hearted spirit." Or something like that. I also find the letter to be a tad on the long side, though I'm neither agent nor editor. (I read cover letters and resumes for a living and a I think a query is not so different from a cover letter.)

    In terms of the plot synopsis, I'd take some out and leave a bit of a tease. It starts to become confusing and assuming that when one reads the book, it won't be confusing, I'd take out some terminology and let the agent just jump in:

    Although 16-year-old Jacey is assisted by supernatural forces with both schoolwork and the maintenance of a slim figure, she is too overwhelmed by her social superiors to realize that there is something strange happening in her midst. When she faces a near-death experience, she can no longer deny the truth before her: there exists a race of people with unusual powers and they are her peers. Even stranger, Jacey happens to be one of these so-called Sojourners. Under the skilled tutelage of fellow Sojourner, Adam, Jacey learns the ropes and tries not to fall for the handsome but unattainable Adam.

    Last, I think I'd also low-tone the last sentence as well as the one suggesting who will be fans of the book. I think humility goes a bit further than assuredness in this case. For example:

    Likely to appeal to fans of A WRINKLE IN TIME and the DARK IS RISING series, SOJOURNERS is set in present-day Idaho. (no need to mention the enchanting part, it's not necessary).

    Hope that helps! Good luck!

  2. Jamie Says:

    Okay, for me this query is a little long. The story sounds kind of interesting to me, but the query isn't doing it justice.

    For starters, I am totally turned off by the exclamation points in the query–does this mean you used them where you didn't need them in your whole novel? (I'm easily excited, so I have to watch myself with the dern things too! They are just so much fun!)

    I want you to find the main, most important, plot and just stick with that. I feel like you tried to tell us about all the different plots and sub plots and sub sub plots here, when all the agent needs is a little teaser to make them want more.

    Like I said, I think your story is good here–so that's a good thing, and the query is WAY easier to fix than the actual plot! You have good things going on here, you just need to focus. 🙂

    I hope that helps you! Good Luck!

  3. Susan Says:

    Agree with the others above. "Fans of (these incredibly popular award-winning books) will love this!" "enchantingly unique" and "so that you can enjoy my novel" were all chalkboard-squeak grating to me. It's such a fine line between confident and back-off-buddy. Let the agent decide that your book sounds incredibly charming, original and something they will love. When they take you on, they can tell everyone else about how enchanting it all is and just who they suppose will love it.

    You may be secretly thinking "This book is going to KICK SERIOUS BUTT!" but it's not something you shout out in a query. I think professional, friendly, enthusiastic, and somewhat humble work better. Clarity, originality, and a strong voice don't hurt, either!

  4. Jenny Tonks Says:

    Thanks a million! I seriously needed the help! (see, Daphne's wright–I use so many exclamation points that I sound hyper, LOL).

    Incidentally, I contacted a publisher who requested a full and has been "talking to me" about book deal (whatever that means; I'm still finding out) based on this revised query:

    A centuries-old mystery surrounding the James Madison administration has just been solved by sixteen year-old Jacey Grobe, whose days as a homebody are about to end.

    It all begins on a dark mountain pass, where a near-death experience introduces Jacey to the Sojourners–people who travel threads of time and space not visible to the rest of the world. When Jacey's historical abilities indicate that she is one of them, she joins the Sojourners in their quest to protect teens from abusive adults and otherworldly predators.

    With Sojourner soldier Adam Lodge as her trainer, Jacey uses her interdimensional abilities to uncover family secrets and protect a vulnerable classmate. But as her relationship with Adam deepens, Jacey must also fight the forbidden love that could hurt an innocent friend.

    But now the editor who has my ms is writing yet another plot summary for me, so obviously I *still* didn't get it right. *sigh*

  5. Tim White Says:

    I had a few "I shot the man with the rifle" moments in the original query…that is I wasn't completely sure who was doing what to whom.

    As Daphne says, I wasn't clear if this was an LYK/Pat Biggs world where the supernatural was "out", or if it was a completely mundane world with only a few underground "uniques".

    As to her 'psychic partner', I wasn't sure if they were at the other end of a 1-900 number, or just a cop with some 'feelings', or if all cops were assigned psychic partners, or if it was an otherwise invisible friend.

    I agree with all that it sound intriguing, just confusing…