Saturday, March 11, 2017

Todd Noker's Current Query Critiqued

So sorry about yesterday, Todd! Things got crazy at work and I didn't have time to put your critique up. But here it is now! This critique is for Todd Noker's query for his current YA novel TERMS OF THE INNOCENTS, from Thursday. My feedback will be in blue.

Here's the letter:

Dear (Agent),

Seventeen-year-old Preston is on a journey to find his older brother, the only family he has left after his mother disappeared on a drug binge. Searching among the homeless teen homeless-teen subculture of Salt Lake City, Preston is witness to drug overdoses, I would like to see more here. Overdoses are not the only tragedy that homeless kids suffer under. There is hunger, there is violence, there is sexual assault. Maybe just mention one or two other things? You've got plenty of room. and ultimately befriends Zack, who sells his body to survive. This is most excellent and you must read BROOKLYN, BURNING, by Steve Brezenoff. When Zack disappears after a tryst I don't care for this word here at all. Tryst implies a plan to meet, between lovers. Unless Zack is actually in love with the John he turns the trick with, I don't think tryst is the right word here. Is it a new customer? Someone he has serviced before? I would really like to see more specifics here. with a customer, Preston plans his revenge to even the score. Again, more. I get the impression from below that Preston decides to start turning tricks too, or least pretending to, so if that's the case just say so. But the man Normally I want the antagonist named, but I think this works. The only thing I need to know is whether this John purchased Zack's services often, or if this was the first time. has plenty of experience of his own, and Preston is locked in a situation where he might also be consumed in the same way as Zack—if he survives the date at all. This is actually pretty good. A bit vague, but I think it's probably important that we don't know whether Zack was killed or not.

Okay, wow. So, first of all, this may be the shortest query I've ever seen. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and realistic contemporary stories like this tend to require less in a query, so that's basically all good news.

It is, however, lacking some important things. First of all, the most important thing in any query letter is the CHARACTER. We have a good bit of backstory for Preston, and a missing addict mother certainly makes him a sympathetic character, but there are two things I think can be improved on here: 1) "find his older brother?" So, the brother is missing too? Not that that's impossible, but it feels a bit convenient for the brother to also go missing at the same time as the mom. Am I misunderstanding here? Why is he on a journey to find his older brother? If the brother was taken away by the state (oh by the way, I'm sure you have since I know you from Drew, but if you haven't you also must read STICK, by Andrew Smith), or might be on his way back from juvie or something, go ahead and put that in the query. Specificity is the key to a good query. 2) We know a good bit about where Preston came from, or at least his backstory, but we know nothing about what kind of person he is. Is he a delinquent before this story starts? Or does he lose his innocence on the streets? We need to sympathize with Preston right away, and be able to start rooting for him right off the bat. Just a couple of words about his CHARACTER in that first line would really help. You can see my query for RUNNING FROM RUBY RIDGE to see what I did to introduce Micah.

Otherwise, this query has some loose ends, regarding the mother and the brother, that never get wrapped up, but that's probably fine. You don't have to give away endings, and it seems like the vengeance for Zack is probably the climax.

Terms of the Innocents TERMS OF THE INNOCENTS (great title, by the way) is a 61,000 word YA manuscript that, while having a sarcastic tone, is gritty and intense. This is probably subjective, but I would cut this. Don't tell the agent what the prose is like, show them. The query should do that even if you don't get to include 5 pages. Preston is a compassionate wise-ass who feels that he is smarter than the homeless teens he encounters, Um, HELLO!?! Put this in the query up top right away. This is perfect. but eventually learns he is just like them. This too. An earlier version of this novel story/manuscript won second place in the Utah Arts Council Creative Writing Competition.

I have two other titles published on iUniverse iUniverse, and one title published by their Star Star imprint. I write commercial and radio copy, and am a well-known radio personality in Salt Lake City under the name Todd Nuke ‘Em. Can you make this a hyperlink to something? Maybe this(link)? I have done presentations for the Utah Library Association and the Salt Lake City Library for my previous books.

This is great. Agents love signing writers that already have a platform this well established.

The first five pages are below, and the entire manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your consideration.

Readers, Todd mentioned in his email to me that he doesn't include this line with every query. Obviously this only goes out to agents that ask for pages in their submission guidelines.

Sincerely,

Todd Noker

Okay, man. In summary: first of all I just want to say I really want to read this novel. Having been homeless as a teenager myself, I very much want to see that experience explored more often in literature, and I think the story you're describing here sounds like an important and compelling one. I can't wait to hear the good news that you have sold this manuscript!

As for the query, it needs some work in places, but the good news is that you have plenty of room to include more (for those who don't know, I recommend keeping the "meat of the query" or in other words, the part that describes the story itself (not your bio, or the housekeeping details about the manuscript like word count and genre) to under 250 words. Todd's is 104 words long, so that's plenty of room to work with).

I would recommend that you especially focus on Preston, but you've kind of done your work for yourself already. Try an opening sentence that starts something like this (though in your voice, not mine):

"Seventeen-year-old Preston [Last Name] is a wise-cracking [skateboarder/graffiti artist/gutter punk] who thinks he is smarter than the homeless teens he encounters on the streets of SLC. But when his mother disappears on another bender, he decides it’s finally time to search for his older brother who [insert why the brother’s gone], he discovers that most of them are just like him, with struggles and triumphs all their own."

Except, of course, better than that and in your own words.

Other than that opening with a better sense of who Preston is before his story starts, I'd like to see a better explanation of Zack's relationship with the John I assume is the antagonist, and if you can clarify that, I think you'd be in great shape here.

Let me know if you have any questions.

That's it!

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and feedback below.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Todd Noker's Current Query

Today we have Todd Noker's query for his current YA novel TERMS OF THE INNOCENTS.

Here's the letter:

Dear (Agent),

Seventeen-year-old Preston is on a journey to find his older brother, the only family he has left after his mother disappeared on a drug binge. Searching among the homeless teen subculture of Salt Lake City, Preston is witness to drug overdoses, and ultimately befriends Zack, who sells his body to survive. When Zack disappears after a tryst with a customer, Preston plans his revenge to even the score. But the man has plenty of experience of his own, and Preston is locked in a situation where he might also be consumed in the same way as Zack—if he survives the date at all.

Terms of the Innocents is a 61,000 word YA manuscript that, while having a sarcastic tone, is gritty and intense. Preston is a compassionate wise-ass who feels that he is smarter than the homeless teens he encounters, but eventually learns he is just like them. An earlier version of this novel won second place in the Utah Arts Council Creative Writing Competition.

I have two other titles published on iUniverse, and one title published by their Star imprint. I write commercial and radio copy, and am a well-known radio personality in Salt Lake City under the name Todd Nuke ‘Em. I have done presentations for the Utah Library Association and the Salt Lake City Library for my previous books.

The first five pages are below, and the entire manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Todd Noker

That's it!

Please thank Todd for sharing this with us, and save your feedback for tomorrow.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Abhinav Bhat's Current Query Critiqued

Today we have Abhinav's query again, this time with my thoughts, in blue.

Here's the letter:

Dear Mr./Ms. Agent

Indy Ramsay has trained her entire teenage life for the day she would be recruited to the Reverend Council—the elite corps What is this? Corps makes it sound pretty militaristic. Is this Empire under military control? Or this more like a congress of leaders? The word council helps, but it would be great if you could get even more specific. This is actually pretty nit-picky of me, to be honest, but your opening is quite good, so it's difficult to find things that can be improved upon. that runs the Ever Empire. I really like this name. It rolls smoothly off the tongue. Instead, it is her grandfather, Eldritch, Is this a bit too on the nose? This is a word, albeit a kind of archaic one, but I'm sure you know that. Hard to judge from the query, but I'm sure it works in the book. who is inexplicably chosen and then promptly sent away on a mission, leaving behind a shattered and dejected Indy. Hmm. Wow. Now that's a twist I didn't see coming.

All in all, this is a really good opening. You introduce Indy right away, and you subtly and skillfully set up her backstory so that we know what kind of person she is (ambitious, dutiful, honor-bound). If I was to nit-pick one big picture item about this opening, it would probably be that we don't really have a major reason to sympathize with Indy right away. I mean, you do kind of set up this nice conflict where her dreams are suddenly torn away from her, but it would be nice to get one more element of her character that was clearly sympathetic, so that we could root for her from the very beginning.

The very next day, the Council is under siege from an unknown enemy; What does this mean? Like literally? Physically under siege? This is vague. Vague language is the greatest enemy of a good query. the annual market has been burnt to cinders, the Parliament So there's a Reverend Council and a Parliament? Or is the Parliament just the building the Council meets in? For the most part this is all very good, but this part is a bit confusing. stands destroyed in an earthquake, and Eldritch returns home to find his entire family murdered, all except his grandson. Wait, what? I though Indy was a girl? Is this some other character?

He will get his grandson back, he is told, By whom? The unknown enemy? Unless there's some specific plot twist reason not to reveal this detail in the query, don't hold back. if he betrays the Empire—a simple act . . . Millions of lives weighed against his grandson. Man, this is some great conflict and a truly sadistic choice. Eldritch wants to not care . . . The Empire has heroes and patriots and omniscient deities enough. Whoa. Now this sounds cool. Let them save whoever they can.

Unbeknownst to him, Indy is also alive. Ah, okay. So it's two different characters. Got it. Targeted for death as Eldritch's blood, she manages to defeat her assailants Again, this is vague. We have no idea who these antagonists are. and learn of the enemy's plan for the Empire and Eldritch.

Humanity, kindness, justice, and above all else, the Empire. This is what Eldritch has taught her.

She will live by it. As riots rage throughout the city and the enemy brings its true might We have no idea what this means. Be specific. Is it an army? to bear upon the Empire, Indy will prove herself worthy of the Empire and the validation she was denied. She will find and stop Eldritch, Oh, interesting twist, this. she will save the Empire at any cost.

Then what if the cost be Eldritch himself? Nice.

THE BURNT STATE is an adult fantasy novel about a girl and her grandfather, and the Empire that tilts on their decisions. It is complete at 113,000 words. This is great. One more detail that might help, since the query isn't clear on this, is whether this book is narrated from their alternating points of view. If I had to guess, I would say it probably is, because A) Indy is a teenager and if it was just her it would be a young adult novel most likely, and B) the query seems to point to a good deal of the story being about Eldritch, with no involvement from Indy. It can sometimes help to clarify that her in your housekeeping section, but it's not necessarily required.

I have had a short story titled "Blah Blah Blah" published in Apex Magazine Apex Magazine in 2016. This is my first novel. You don't need this.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
Abhinav Bhat

In summary, this query is already quite good. The opening is especially strong. There is a good deal of vague language in the middle, but you finish up strong, and I think if you clarified a few things in the middle, you'd be in excellent shape, and would probably get a high rate of requests if you started sending this out.

That's it!

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and feedback below.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Abhinav Bhat's Current Query

Today we have Abhinav Bhat's query for his current Adult Fantasy project THE BURNT STATE.

Here's the letter:

Dear Mr./Ms. Agent

Indy Ramsay has trained her entire teenage life for the day she would be recruited to the Reverend Council—the elite corps that runs the Ever Empire. Instead, it is her grandfather, Eldritch, who is inexplicably chosen and then promptly sent away on a mission, leaving behind a shattered and dejected Indy.

The very next day, the Council is under siege from an unknown enemy; the annual market has been burnt to cinders, the Parliament stands destroyed in an earthquake, and Eldritch returns home to find his entire family murdered, all except his grandson.

He will get his grandson back, he is told, if he betrays the Empire—a simple act . . . Millions of lives weighed against his grandson. Eldritch wants to not care . . . The Empire has heroes and patriots and omniscient deities enough. Let them save whoever they can.

Unbeknownst to him, Indy is also alive. Targeted for death as Eldritch's blood, she manages to defeat her assailants and learn of the enemy's plan for the Empire and Eldritch.

Humanity, kindness, justice, and above all else, the Empire. This is what Eldritch has taught her.

She will live by it. As riots rage throughout the city and the enemy brings its true might to bear upon the Empire, Indy will prove herself worthy of the Empire and the validation she was denied. She will find and stop Eldritch, she will save the Empire at any cost.

Then what if the cost be Eldritch himself?

THE BURNT STATE is an adult fantasy novel about a girl and her grandfather, and the Empire that tilts on their decisions. It is complete at 113,000 words.

I have had a short story titled "Blah Blah Blah" published in Apex Magazine in 2016. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
Abhinav Bhat

That's it!

Please thank Abhinav for sharing this with us, and save your feedback for tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Colleen Fackler's Current Query Critiqued

Today we have Colleen Fackler's current query for her Picture Book GOOD GUY MEETS SCHMOOSH.

The query:

Dear FULL NAME:

This may very from agent to agent, because after all, agents are human beings, but it would be most professional, in a cold query email, to refer to the agent as Ms. LAST NAME or Mr. LAST NAME. If they reply to you at some point and sign it with just their first name, it's fine to start referring to them by their first name, but until then, use Mr. or Ms.

Below is Good Guy Meets Schmoosh, my 500-word picture book for your consideration.

What does this mean? Are you trying to point out that the entire text of the book is included below? If so, mention that below, not here (and be sure to adhere to submission guidelines for the agency, to make sure they allow the entire text to be included). If not, and this is just some sort of introductory line to your query, skip it.

I would recommend you use this space, however, to introduce why you're querying that specific agent. Obviously you can't include it here, because this is a generic letter, but if you are querying a particular agent because of a specific book or author they have represented, or because you met them at a conference, or because you read a blog post of theirs you liked, be sure to mention that.

Good Guy Meets Schmoosh GOOD GUY MEETS SCHMOOSH is the heartwarming This reads as a little pretentious to me. I don't know, maybe "heartwarming" is a category for PBs, like "Sweet Romance" or something, but calling something you wrote "heartwarming" just makes me cringe a little. The entire text of the story is included, right? Maybe let the agent decide if it's heartwarming. Unless that's a category thing for PBs. If so, ignore me. story of Guy, a young boy who is rewarded by his parents for his consistently moral behavior Don't take this the wrong way, but that's the driest character description I've seen in a query in a while. "Consistent Moral Behavior," sounds like something that would be fitted to a rubber stamp that would go down on "Your Permanent Record." Can you be more specific? And colorful? I realize this is a picture book, so there's not a lot in the way of character arc going on, but this reads very dry. I'll say more below. with the opportunity to purchase a puppy. On his way to the pet store, Guy spots a stray dog that he cannot stop thinking about, even once faced with puppies galore. His mom, initially concerned with the potential danger associated with rescuing a dog, is hesitant to introduce Guy to a stray, but soon realizes that Guy wants nothing more than to save Schmoosh from a lonely life on the streets.

Okay, so much of this is actually pretty good. I realize that PBs are very compact by way of plot, and leave little room for things like characterization, but you've actually got some good stuff going here, both in terms of the mom, and in terms of Guy. I would probably only recommend (and keep in mind, as I said in our emails, that my expertise, if you can call it that, with query letters really lies more int he realm of YA and MG novel length works, so I could easily be wrong about the "rules" for Picture Books), that in general, story is story, and when it comes to queries, there are three things which are the most important (actually only two, but I'll get to that).

CHARACTER. When we read, all of us who are human at least, we want to be entertained, sure, but mostly we want to care. Give us someone to care about, and we will follow you anywhere. So, with that being said, the most important thing any query letter can do is introduce us to a complex, sympathetic, interesting character (protagonist) that we can immediately begin to care about and root for right away. You have Guy here, and with his reaction to the stray on the street I do like him, but get that Save the Cat moment (or some other likable moment) introduced in the query right away. In other words, do away with "Consistent Moral Behavior," and come up with something better. Something more specific, more vivid, and more interesting (but unlike the moment with the stray, this is something from his backstory, something that makes him GOOD Guy, rather than just Guy). Obviously this won't be something actually from the book, since this is a 500 word PB, but it can be something very basic, as long as its not vague. Vagueness is the number one aspect that can make a good story into a poor query.

CONFLICT. When you take a character the reader cares about, and throw them into some conflict, that's when it becomes a story. The character must overcome something in order to make their narrative interesting. You've clearly got that here, with the decision between purchasing a pet store puppy and saving a stray from the street who needs a home, and I actually think you nail it quite well here. It's simple, it's straightforward, it's the kind of decision many many people have faced.

CHOICE. In a query for a novel length work, it's relatively standard to wrap up with what's known as a sadistic choice [Fair Warning that's a link to a TV Tropes article. You've been warned]. I don't know that that's really a requirement for Picture Books, but you've actually got one built in here already. At least, it's implied. You might consider laying it out specifically, the difficult choice Guy must make between an adorable Poky Little Puppy, and and good family-less dog named Schmoosh who truly needs his love, and what some of the implications of that choice are, but I would also say if you left it how you have it now it's not bad.

Each year, of the 7.5 million animals that even make it into rescue shelters, 2.7 million are euthanized. A stigma of poor upbringing and therefore danger and illness is often associated with rescuing a homeless animal. Families often opt to buy puppies or kittens from breeders instead. Good Guy Meets Schmoosh aims to kick this reputation to the curb.

This is mostly good. I would do a little research on the phrase "kicked to the curb," though. I'm not sure it fits that well with the aesthetic of the rest of this letter.

Good Guy Meets Schmoosh is my first children’s book. I am 30 years old, I just had my first child in July, and CUT THIS. I have worked in the media industry for 12 years. Doing what? Be SPECIFIC. I have been published in the form of editorials, church bulletins, If you can't list specific magazine titles (which would go in italics for titles of published works, then skip this). and work-related POV’s, I have no idea what this means. Cut it. but I always only written poetry as an outlet. Cut. I'll explain below. As a rescue dog mom myself, if the success of this book saves even just one homeless animal’s life, it was worth my time. This is pretty good. Keep this last line.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a first time author. Agents sign them every day. If you have excellent and extensive writing credentials, and dozens of magazine article and short story credits to your name, that's great. But if you don't, don't worry about it. No biography, no matter how good it is, is going to sell a bad story. If you're a first time author, let your story speak for itself.

This is a multiple submission. Nope. Cut. This is understood to be implied. If an agency's (or an agent's) submission guidelines specifically ask for exclusive submissions, then send a query only to that agent if you want them to represent you. Do not query anyone else until you have heard back from them. But weigh this choice against your other options, of course, and don't give them forever. I truly look forward to your feedback and I thank you kindly for your review and consideration.

Respectfully,

Colleen M. Fackler

That's it!

Please share your thoughts and feedback below.