Monday, January 31, 2011

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 0039:

Agent name
Literary Agency

Dear Agent,

Georgina Blackinsworth is not a typical eighteen-year-old girl. While other girls attend dance and piano lessons, she gets combat, weaponry, and assassination training. Not only that, but her dad puts her through “If this happens . . .” drills to make sure she is prepared for all possible scenarios. Now, as her classmates focus on high school graduation, Georgie finds herself locked in a family battle.

Kent Blackinsworth, Georgie’s dad, leaves town and fails to return. Georgie thinks it’s just another drill and blows off all signs indicating otherwise until she finds a letter which explains why she’ll never be typical and leaves her doubting if her dad is alive. Now she must discover the location of a family vault while avoiding her murderous aunt Edith.

With the help of her best friend Jake, Georgie begins a journey full of clues and discoveries. She finds she is falling in love with Jake and trusting him despite all evidence telling her she is making a mistake. As trust fights against her an ultimatum is set: find the vault she knows nothing about or Dad dies.

Encoded Secrets is my first young adult mystery, adventure novel complete at 77,000 words. I hold a Master Degree in Music and have taught in the public school systems. I am an active member of the American Night Writers Association and attend as many writing conferences as possible. If you are interested in Encoded Secrets I would be happy to forward you the complete manuscript. I have included the first fifty pages in the body of the email.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


My contact information


Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

The story sounds interesting, as book jacket copy I'd probably pick it up. But this is a query. Just this past weekend I read a blog from a New York agent who said, "Don't give a book report; we want to know your hook. What makes your book different? Give us something we can sell." So, with that in mind, why should this agent buy THIS book above all others? Where is the unique selling point? I don't have your answers, but I'm giving you food for thought. Good luck! Like I said, I'd buy the book as a reader, now sell it to the agent/editor.

Rebecca said...

I'm not an expert, but this definitely needs tightening. I'm interested, though!

I'd take out the last sentence of the first paragraph. I'd also take out the part which says "explains why she'll never be typical". It stands out and is kind of confusing. And the next part, I would consider saying "leaves her hoping" instead of doubting, and a stronger word than 'avoiding'--aw heck, how about something like this:

Kent Blackinsworth, Georgie’s dad, leaves town and fails to return. Georgie thinks it’s just another drill and blows off all signs indicating otherwise until she finds a letter which convinces her that her dad is in serious danger. Now she must discover the location of a family vault while dodging her murderous aunt Edith.

The next paragraph is too long and a bit confusing. I'd shorten it to something like this:

With the help of her best friend Jake , Georgie begins a journey full of mystery and the stirrings of romance. The only thing she knows for certain: find the vault she knows nothing about or Dad dies.

Like I said, I'm not an expert, but I hope this helps a little! I'd really love to read this book!

Janice said...

I'm curious why, after a lifetime of training, she would blow off all the signs. Charaters that ignore good information bother me. The rest of the story sounds interesting, although the query did sound more like a book report. Lu Ann already covered that. Good start. I could see this story making it to the bookstore.

Jordan McCollum said...

I have to say, I want to read this—so in that respect, good job!

The other commenters have good points. To lead with the hook and tighten, you could also combine the first two sentences:

Instead of the normal dance or piano lessons, eighteen-year-old Georgina Blackinsworth trains in combat, weaponry and assassination.

The family battle at the end of the first paragraph sounds like it relates to what's going on in the first paragraph (ie she's battling against her dad and his dumb drills and training). The use of the word "typical" twice (instead of the more popular option, "normal") seems kind of awkward. I'm thinking it might be significant, but nothing else indicates that. If that's the case, maybe find a way to work in what sets her apart.

The second paragraph could be streamlined further, too:

When her dad disappears, Georgie thinks it's just another test--until she discovers he's been captured. Now she must find the family vault before Aunt Edith kills Dad.

I think the above paragraph sets up the conflict plenty well, and the next paragraph kind of makes the story more dissolute.

I'm confused about these passive constructions:
As trust fights [trust fights her? why?] against her an ultimatum is set [who sets it? we need a clear view of an antagonist]: find the vault she knows nothing about or Dad dies. [Weren't we told she thought he was dead already? Didn't she already find out about the vault in the last paragraph? This is why I just bumped it up to the previous paragraph]

Do we need to know her dad's or aunt's name? I don't think it adds anything.

Make sure the query matches the tone of the book, too. If Georgie's sarcastic and funny, you might try adding one or two asides like those she would use in the book to help show the book's tone and voice. If you tighten, you'll have plenty of room for a couple of these.

I'd classify this as straight up YA adventure (most adventures involve solving a quest--Indiana Jones, for example, is adventure, not mystery-adventure [the comma doesn't belong there, either], and we don't need to know about your degree unless it proves that you have some insight into this story in particular (like if the story had something to do with music).

Oh, note: when querying by email, do NOT lead with the Agent Name, Literary Agency and Address. S/he knows where s/he works, and you waste valuable space in that first screen ("above the fold").

(The first FIFTY pages in the body of the query email? That's waaay too much unless the agency specifically requests it. Five to ten is plenty.)

All you have to do is show that you can execute this story without talking around it (a common problem in queries)! I really want to read this, so the query definitely works on that level. Hope this helps and good luck!!

Heather B. Moore said...

Great critiques so far. I wouldn't paste 50 pages into an email unless it's something an agent specifically requests. Each agent will have their own preferences, so make sure you check out those in advance. Some will want ONLY a query letter. Then, if interested, ask for a partial to be sent by attachment.

Anonymous said...

I really like your query. I read it all the way through without getting bored or skimming--hopefully it would hold an agent's attention as well. The only thing I would changes is leave out "first novel" and I would try to pair down the genre. (Maybe just mystery.)
Good luck

Susan said...

I don't know why but the author info about being a music teacher pulled me out of the letter. I probably wouldn't add 'music' teacher. Maybe just teacher. That's just me though.

Jordan McCollum said...

I don't mean the author shouldn't say s/he's a music teacher. I mean unless his/her degree has something to do with the story, it doesn't add to the query letter.

If the story had something to do with music, then a music degree helps to add credibility—i.e. "I know what I'm talking about." That's the purpose of the writing credits paragraph.

Being a teacher, on the other hand, might help to build credibility for a YA author—i.e. "YAs are not a completely foreign concept to me."

Donea Lee said...

Hi "Author" - I think you've got a great concept here! I've actually been reading tips all over the blogosphere about how to write a query letter, lately. And one thing I keep hearing is that you want to focus on your main character and try not to introduce too many other characters. Already, you've got your mc, her dad, her love interest, and Aunt Edith. I can see the importance of these characters, but I don't think you need to name them in your query. I think you could probably really trim down your paragraphs, too. For example: maybe start something like this: "While other girls attend dance and piano lessons, 18-year-old Georgina Blackinsworth gets combat, weaponry, and assassination training with her drill seargent/dad." Just this implies that she's not typical.

And on the 2nd paragraph - perhaps keep with your MC's observations about her dad, rather than leading off with "Kent Blackinworth". I think you'd be better off starting with just "Georgie's dad".

Infuse the voice of your MC as much as you can. Use specifics and unique aspects that set your novel apart.

Your bio info should be short and sweet and relevant. Or, so I keep reading. And I agree about not posting the 50 pages (unless, of course - that's what they specifically asked for).

Again - some solid material here, and fun story elements. Best of luck to you!