Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXXII

November 9th, 2011 • Kate

bootsHang onto your boots, dear readers, we’ve got another one!

Dear Ms. Schafer Testerman,

Seventeen-year-old Adriana is no class president, valedictorian, or even cheer captain. She’s never gotten above a C at her elite high school, and her extracurriculars include punching boys, boldface lying, and sharp powers of observation. But when Adriana gets sucked into an international criminal scheme, she discovers that her unique skillset comes in pretty handy.

When two crooks bang on her front door and leave cryptic messages for her stepdad, Steven, Adriana begins to suspect that her stepdad is not who she thought he was. The burly men ask to talk to her real dad, who died under mysterious circumstances when Adriana was four, and mention something about “Comrade” paying a visit. Adriana can’t get any straight answers from her mom and Steven, but, apparently scared of Comrade, they drag Adriana off to Rome. Almost as soon as they arrive in Italy, Steven disappears, at the mercy of members of a Peruvian drug cartel. Adriana, who has access to a secret flash drive, is the only one who can find him. She can’t give up on her stepdad just when she’s finally getting to know him—and besides he has information about her real dad. Adriana’s hunt to save Steven leads her from Rome, Italy, to Basel, Switzerland. Her ingrained spy skills won’t help her figure out what she wants to be when she grows up, but they just might keep her alive and her family together.

“How to Catch a Spy,” a young adult spy thriller, is complete at 45,000 words. Your interest in X should draw you to this thrilling, fast-paced story.

I’m an editor and freelance writer. In 2007, I published an anthology of essays with [Small Press] titled [Title]. I have also contributed freelance articles for several publications, including The Boulder Weekly and The Westword, and I am a member of the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop.

Per your guidelines, I have included the first ten pages. Thank you in advance for considering my manuscript.


Right off of the bat, you tell me what your protagonist isn’t. I’d love to see this open up instead with some facts about who Ardriana IS, rather than what she’s not. Also, side note, if she’s never gotten above a C at her elite high school, how does she still manage to stay there? Is that an opportunity to tell your reader more about who she is?

The next paragraph is very action-heavy, and may be too confusing. How does Adriana know the two guys are crooks? Are they leaving messages for Steven, or asking for Adriana’s real dad? There’s also some very hard-to-follow pronouns going on — I had to read the sentence twice to figure out that it was Adriana’s mom and Steven that drag her off to Rome, not the two burly men. If Steven “disappears,” how does Adriana know he’s at the mercy of a Peruvian drug cartel? “Disapppearing” has a very different connotation than being kidnapped or captured. And is it Adriana’s possession of the secret flash drive that’s going to help her find Steven, or her so-called “ingrained spy skills”?

Basically, I don’t buy the premise as it’s presented to me, although I can see the real kernel of something interesting in a brawling, lying, loner who see what others don’t being good spy material — I just don’t accept that it’s a sort of “natural” skill set.

Oh, and a final nitpick — I wouldn’t suggest you describe your thriller as “thrilling.”

What do you guys think? Are you picturing a young Sydney Bristow, or is that just me?

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

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7 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXXII”

  1. Stephanie M. Says:

    I pretty much agree with all you mentioned, Daphne. Telling me everything she isn't doesn't tell me who she is. I don't really enjoy deductive reasoning when trying to figure out a characters voice. So far I think Adriana is a real puddle glum, only focusing on her negative qualities. I'm not sure if that's what you are trying to portray.

    Also, I might rephrase:
    "Your interest in X should …" to "Your interest in X may …" You don't want to come across to presumptuous, especially if a rejection letter follows.

    I like the elements of this story, spy's and drug cartel's. I'm all about a little action between my pages. I think with a little editing of this query, Adriana's story has a future.

  2. @lizwrites Says:

    I agree with all Daphne's comments. In the first paragraph, I'd like to know more about the main character and her problem. In the second paragraph, I think you're trying to cram a bit too much of the plot in. Could you focus more on the initial threat, and maybe end it with them going to Rome and her stepdad being kidnapped, and now she has to find him. That should be enough conflict to get someone intrigued.

    I really like this premise, and I definitely see a little Sydney Bristow in there. I'd love to read more YA spy thrillers!

  3. jolawler Says:

    First of all, I'm not a regular reader of anything YA. Yes, the query is a little rough, the blow-by-blow retelling needs to be summed up. I got a pretty good sense of your MC, because that's how teenagers seem to measure themselves.

    All that said, this story intrigued me. I would definitely read more!

  4. Arielle Says:

    General agreement here with Daphne's comments. On a side note, isn't 45,000 words short for a novel to be complete? As I understand it (and correct me if I'm wrong), 50,000 or below is considered a novella (unless you're writing an early-chapter-middle-grade book). But I know that word counts tend to be a point of contention, so maybe there's another school of thought on that…

  5. Liberty Speidel Says:

    Just me, but when I read the first paragraph, I felt your protagonist wasn't very likeable. Maybe try to turn the negatives into positives? One of my favorite shows is Burn Notice on USA. The character Michael Westen is a master at that–and he has a unique skill set as a burned spy. Just a comparison that I felt was apt.

  6. Suze W Says:

    I actually quite liked this. The second paragraph needs to be trimmed, and I think it's 'barefaced' lying (although I'm British, so it could just be 'barefaced' over there, and 'boldface' here). I think you have a good story in there, one that I would like to read, but I concur that 45k maybe a little shy of a full, fast-moving YA book. But I would say that you are almost there.

  7. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    I think the reference to her real dad, especially as the point of interest of the burly men, confuses things in light of the fact that Adriana's goal is to rescue her stepdad. If it's something about her "real" dad that has drawn Adriana's family (and that now means her stepdad) into this mess, then I'd be more interested in that information than some of the blow by blow of paragraph two. Good luck!