Recently, at the SCBWI Summer Conference, I did a three-hour workshop on queries: what they should include, how to structure them, how to write them, and how to improve them. We’ve been posting About My Query critiques for years now on the blog, and while it’s not a regular feature, it is something we like to do every once in a while, because we know that not every author can get to a conference like SCBWI (although I recommend it if you can!) Without further ado, here’s a recent query sent specifically to me for critique:
SOS “Save Our Santa” signals a 5-year-old girl from North Pole. Will anyone answer the call?
Dia’s parents read aloud the front page story of Christmas Day morning newspaper, “Yesterday at midnight, a little girl Dia, took a sick Santa back to North Pole, where elf doctors treated him. Sunrise was only 2 hours away, and Dia knew that the children world over would be waiting for their presents. She wanted to help Santa in being happy and healthy before sunrise, so she sent kids an SOS to help her in quickly curing Santa.”
“Did kids respond to Dia’s SOS?
“Was Santa able to deliver gifts before sunrise?”
“How did Dia become famous?”
“Dia saves Christmas!” is a holiday fantasy easy to read chapter book for 5-6 year olds. Dia is an Indian American girl born to immigrant parents, who do not celebrate Christmas and other American festivals with the same enthusiasm as Indian festivals. Dia loves sharing her festival stories with her friends. There are not enough diverse books where young children from other cultures, who are trying to form their identities in America’s melting pot, are represented well. I believe they deserve to be heroes in books where they are saving the day. Kids who read diverse books are more likely to become adults with compassion and inclusion; a trend that is currently seen even in Oscars new attendee list and top TV shows like ‘Quantico’, ‘Scandal’ and ‘How to Get Away with Murder’. And, this is my attempt in creating awareness in children’s books.
I am an active member of SCBWI. My article has been published in the Inspiration Unlimited eMagazine.
I’m seeking representation for my book (3,334 words). Please let me know if it sparks your interest; I would be happy to send you the manuscript.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
The author also asks a few specific questions, so I’ll answer those first, and then dive into the query.
1) Did I correctly identify the age group?
While I don’t represent easy-to-read chapter books, I do know that the tendency in children’s books is to read up, which is to say there may be some concern about a book about a 5-year-old protagonist being marketed to 5- to 9-year-olds. A lot of easy-to-read books are also part of a series, and published in bulk, so I wonder if this might be better served re-envisioned as a picture book. I also found this a pretty good summary of age ranges for children’s books.
2) Did I correctly identify the genre? Fantasy? Fiction?
I think “holiday fantasy” covers it, yes.
3) Did I correctly identify the format? Easy to Read?
It works for me, yes.
3) I see that many agents are only open to MG or YA? From your experience is Easy to Read a hard format to sell?
It is, for some of the reasons mentioned above. A lot of Easy-To-Read books come out of established series with characters already well known to readers, like Angelina Ballerina or Batman, either from picture books or other media, so it can be difficult to break a new character out, especially if it’s a standalone title
4) SOS “Save Our Santa” signals a 5-year-old girl from North Pole. Will anyone answer the call? – Is this line considered as a pitch? If not, what should pitch contain?
It’s a hook, certainly, although some would say a pitch needs to include a bit more information. With that said, let me get to the query critique!
Your first line/paragraph is a little confusing. There’s a timeline disconnect between the little girl sending out the S.O.S. and her parents reading about it in the paper the next day. This may just be a problem of the query, and not the text, but I think you want to keep the action in the present — not about Dia’s parents reading about what she did the night before when she was supposed to be in bed, but about Dia trying to help Santa with a worldwide S.O.S. in order to save Christmas. It also creates a disconnect with the main character, who should be Dia, not her parents.
I would also leave out the quotes from the text. Especially with such a short book, you really want to introduce the story but telling the agent about it, not quoting the pages which very well may be included below. Maybe something more like this?
On Christmas Eve, when Dia tried to stay awake to meet Santa, she was surprised to find him coughing and feverish trying to leave her presents. With not much time left before Christmas, Dia races him back to the North Pole to see his elf doctor, and puts out a worldwide S.O.S. to other children, hoping to quickly find a cure for the Claus.
That’s just an idea, of course.
I love the idea of Dia as an Indian-American child trying to combine her family’s heritage with American customs, and I appreciate your desire to write diverse stories that reflect the world we live in. That said, be wary of preaching to the choir. Instead of boldly stating “There are not enough diverse books where young children from other cultures, who are trying to form their identities in America’s melting pot, are represented well”, be more specific about you want to do with this book, with this project. I would also cut entirely the last two lines from this paragraph — a query for a chapter book isn’t the place to mention tv like Quantico and Scandal. One of my bullet points in my About My Query presentation at conferences is “Don’t Preach to Me”. Like so many in publishing right now, I’m well aware that We Need Diverse Books, and I want to do my part in shepherding them to the bookshelves. Tell me why Dia and her story is the book I want to spend my time promoting, not reminding me of the cause.
I hope this helps, and wish you the best of luck with your manuscript!