Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0035:


Dear Editor/Agent,

Watched is a young adult romantic suspense novel about fifteen year old Christy Hadden, who finds her life changing more from the attention of two boys than witnessing a brutal murder.

A complete social outcast at home, Christy sets off to change her life on a school trip to Washington D.C. After witnessing the murder of a Senator’s aide, not only are the eyes of the terrorists and the FBI on her, but also the eyes of two hot boys. Choosing between them will prove even more difficult than helping uncover the terrorists’ plot. Alex sends her heart racing, leading her to do things she wouldn’t normally do, while Rick makes her feel safe and secure in her own skin. She must discover if what she has learned about boys and right and wrong holds true in the real world, risk feeling the guilt that comes with choosing to go against what she has been taught, and discover what she truly believes and values.

Being a teacher, and having won an award for my writing, I wanted to write a book my own students would love to read. Watched will captivate teens as they identify with Christy’s desire to change, the excitement and pain associated with it and the inevitable discovery of those pieces of herself she is unwilling to alter.

The completed manuscript of 95,000 words is available upon request. Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Kate said...

" ... fifteen year old Christy Hadden, who finds her life changing more from the attention of two boys than witnessing a brutal murder."

I was turned off by this line. Really? Witnessing a murder, a brutal one at that, doesn't phase her? That's how it comes off to me. I'd take it out completely and start this way:

Watched is a 95,000 word young adult romantic suspense novel. A complete social outcast at home, fifteen-year-old Christy sets off ...

Susana Mai said...

See, the first line bothered me on a different level. I think a rephrase would work fine:

"After witnessing a brutal murder, Christy Hadden finds herself more fazed by the sudden attention of two hot boys than the crime itself."

I find that the title and genre usually comes at the end of a query, at least per what I'm used to seeing. I think it reads better when you jump straight into the action. Personal preference.

Also, I wasn't bothered by the fact that the murder didn't faze her. My guess is that the author is just channeling her character's attempt to ignore her feelings--'oh, whatever, is was only murder' is merely a form of protection. It adds depth to Christy's character.

Kate's suggestion as to how to rework the first sentence works as well, though I've always been a sucker for a first sentence that jumps at you. I want to keep the agent's attention from line 1.

Jordan said...

I agree with Susana and Kate. As Susana says, many agents do prefer a query to jump into the book, rather than the stats. But I'm with Kate on being turned off by the idea of Christy being more concerned about flirting than preserving her life. That's not something I could identify with, even as a teenager.

Those two halves do sound like two distinct, interesting stories—but they don't seem to intersect very much. The setup here seems to be she witnessed a murder, but the choice she faces is between two boys. The consequences of that choice seem a little vague.

Reading the query, I'm afraid the book is going to be heavy on the suspense for the first quarter, and then be dominated by the love story to the exclusion of the suspense. I'd like a sense that these stories are more interwoven and the suspense story doesn't get lost.

You know your story best, of course, but maybe if you cut the sentence describing how the boys make her feel and clarify the consequences—if she can't focus long enough to help foil the terrorist plot, X people will die, or something along those lines.

A love triangle is fine as the main plot of a romance, but there need to be a lot bigger consequences for her choice if this is also going to be marketed as suspense.

Hope we've helped!