Friday, May 28, 2010

POSSESSION

Okay everybody, without further ado I am excited to announce the guest post of Elana Johnson, the Queen of the Query and the Darling of the Blogoshpere. If you don't already know how awesome she is you are about to be smacked in the face ... with sauce.

Please be sure to visit Elana's blog, the QueryTracker blog, and Elana's website. If you're not already following her then what the hell are you doing here? If you think she's brilliant (I do) and you need help with your query she sells an awesome e-book, called From the Query to the Call. And guess what? It's only $9.99 and comes with a free critique of your query so it pretty much pays for itself right then and there.

She is so smart and so skilled at crafting a query that I don't want to muck her post up with much of my own commentary but just in case her thoughts are in red, purple for emphasis, and my own will be in blue. I know that's a bit different than usual, but she's the teacher here, let's all just sit back and learn.

Her thoughts and query:


I break the query down into four parts and work on them separately: Hook, Setup, Conflict, Consequence. Then there’s Everything Else your query needs. So I’ve identified the parts, and given some commentary as to why I’m including what I include. You’ve only got a few words, so you want to use them all to propel the agent through your letter and get them to request your novel. I mean, that’s the goal of a query letter: to generate requests. Not to tell every thread of the novel. To generate a request.

Truer words have never been spoken, well maybe they have, but not by me. It's like a mantra: the point of the query = to get the agent to read (more) pages.

Dear Ms. Andelman, (Agent Name Spelled Right in Personalization)

I read on your AgentQuery profile that you’re “drawn to fiction with a unique voice.” Because of this, I believe you would be interested in my young adult novel, POSSESSION. (Introduction – I did this if I could. Interestingly enough, I didn’t have anything for my agent. So I simply said, “I believe you would be interested…” and went from there. Basically, I want to do two things up front. 1. Let the agent know that I KNOW what they want. And 2. Tell them I’ve got what they want.)

That is interesting. Personalization is always important, when possible, and proves you have the work ethic to do the proper research. After all what is writing but hard work, right? That being said it is fun to see that Elana proved that as usual, rules can be broken.

In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces. (Hook)

After committing her eighth lame crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), ((details = Vi dislikes Rules and breaks them, world building = the Rules are lame)) Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. ((world-building)) She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) ((details = Vi is snarky)) and exiled to the Badlands. ((world-building = exiled to another land))

This is so concise and such great advice/analysis that I'm not sure I can add anything. I will say that Violet Schoenfeld is a damn cool name, but Jag Barque is even cooler (sounding).

The voice also shines like a spotlight on amphetamines right here; so I'm sure that helped.


Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen. She busts out of prison with sexy Bad boy Jag Barque, who also has no intention of fulfilling his lame sentence. ((catalyst to the conflict = exiled to the Badlands with a (hawt) Bad boy))

(Okay, right here I wanna say this: So far this is all Setup. But I think I’ve hooked you with the first sentence. And I’ve given you the details of my character and world – oh and I’ve used the same voice as the novel. You’ve got to infuse your query with voice. My tip: Write it in the viewpoint of your novel. I wrote my query in first person and switched it back later.)


Man that's a great idea! *Runs off to change his query letter* Can't believe I never thought of that!

Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. (she’s got problems. Lots of them.) Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. (Whoa. She’s important? How so?)

This is great hinting, just enough to entice without giving anything away or going on too long.

When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled. (Ooh, what will it be? You’ll have to read to find out…)

And we will, boy will we.

A dystopian novel for young adults, (genre) POSSESSION (title) is complete at 75,000 words. (word count) Fans of Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES will enjoy similar dystopian elements, and a strong teen voice. (Market Comparison)

This is just housekeeping, of course, but Elana does it quite well.

I am an elementary school teacher by day and a contributing author of the QueryTracker blog by night. (Author Bio: BRIEF) If you would like to consider POSSESSION, I’d be happy to forward the complete manuscript to you. (Invitation – not a question, not a gushing-fest) I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript in the body of this email. (Conclusion)

You guys wanna guess how many requests Elana got when she couldn't include pages? Based on this query I'd wager the numbers are pretty high. Yes it only takes one, but even more is more fun!

I always included the first ten pages (my first chapter) in the body of the email – unless agents specifically said “Query Only.” I wanted them to read my writing, even though I thought my letter was 100%. It’s all about the writing, you know?

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Elana Johnson
(address/phone number)
http://elanajohnson.com (Contact Info)

Wow. Have you caught your breath yet? Does it seem possible that one person can have so much knowledge and insight and still not have any books published yet? [POSSESSION is set to be published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) in Summer 2011] Do you wonder whether Elana is blessed with some kind of Alien Intelligence? Does she scare you?

I'll admit I was a little intimated by Elana's fame and experience at first. It took a nudge from our mutual friend Michelle McLean to get me to even email her to ask if she was interested in doing this post. But you know what?

Elana is just about the nicest person you could ever meet (online or otherwise). Not only is she always willing to help out just about anyone but she is friendly, upbeat and incredibly funny. Go read her blog. Follow her. Love her (giving nature) and for god's sake don't be afraid to email her. Not only will she make you laugh but you'll probably learn something.


NOTE: Candace from The Misadventures in Candyland is holding a contest. Guess what some of the prizes are? That's right, query critiques by THE Elana Johnson!

65 comments:

Matthew Rush said...

Good morning readers. Sorry if this particular post is a little confusing at first. I know all the colored text breaks it up a little and that makes it hard to follow but Elana's analysis is so astute that I HAD to include it all.

I encourage you to copy her query, remove the comments, and save it in your records as a great example of what to do.

Thanks for visiting!

Katie Ganshert said...

What a great breakdown for the query!! Elana is definitely made of awesome. I can't wait to read the book, and that's not even close to the genre I usually read!

Elana Johnson said...

Thank you Matthew! And yeah, it's probably a good idea to remove all the comments and read for flow. When I present, I try to point out that every word is important, and if each one isn't doing something for the world, the character or to propel me forward, it should be deleted.

Thanks again!!

Kris said...

Thanks for sharing, Matthew and Elana!

Emily White said...

Great query advice! I actually found the little blurbs in the middle of it all very helpful.

Thanks for doing this, Elana!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

She knows her stuff!

And Matthew, I have a surprise today for those who hope to have a book in the iBookstore one day.

Vicki Rocho said...

As if I wasn't already eager to read Elana's book, now that I know more about it I'm tapping my foot and wishing they'd just publish the darn thing already.

Thanks to you both!! Another great installment!

Jen said...

Wow this was brilliant! I love that she really went into detail with this query and I will definitely be back to visit your blog when I've met the query stage so that I am able to use it as a guide!

She gave some amazing tips and great advice! She already knows what I think of the book but I'll say it again:

It sounds flipping fantastic!!! I'm very excited to read it and see what Vi and Jag are up to when they escape the badlands!!! I'm so glad that agents and publishers recognized a good book when it hit them!

Fantastic job Matthew!!! I'm so glad you got the courage to ask her!

Will Burke said...

Since I'm not 'there' yet, I haven't considered querying yet, but I just learned enough to hit the ground running! Thanks Matt 7 Elana!

Creepy Query Girl said...

Wow, that is one hell of a query letter. Tight tight tight. I'm salivating. Congrats on all your success Elana- you deserve it and thanks for having her on today Matt! I loved this.

Christina Lee said...

GO GO ELANA!!!!!! She IS nice and so very generous!

Candyland said...

She's 150% awesome and I'm completely in *like* with her. I can't wait to read this book:)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love Elana's query. I already had it memorized. Summer 2011 can't come soon enough for me. :D

Piedmont Writer said...

Great post Matthew, thanks for hosting Elana today. Very insightful query critique by both you and Elana. I can't wait until the book comes out.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I had read it before but it's still just as great I remember. Great post Matthew, and YAY again for Elana.

Old Kitty said...

hi

Am keeping both with and without the comments if that's ok - it's a great query and I like the comments too, thank you Elana and Matthew for sharing and good luck with your book Elana and good luck with everyone's writing and querying too!

Take care
x

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for posting this gold Matthew and Elana.

I like the structured approach to the letter--there are goals, but it allows the author to use his/her own creativity to reach those targets.

Christine Fonseca said...

Great post. Elana is fabulous - and one of the most giving people around.

Christine Danek said...

i love Elana. She rocks. I just won her ibook From the Query to the Call. I've read only a little and it's so helpful. Elana is extremely knowledgeable in this area (obviously, she has a book deal). I can't thank her enough for all her advice.
Go Elana and Thanks!
Thanks MAtthew for the post!

Elana Johnson said...

I will say that I had 42 requests. 41 of them were rejected.

That is all. :)

Lydia Kang said...

I love that you and Elana analyzed her query! I've read it before, but not in this detail.
Dr Rush, the query doctor!

JustineDell said...

42 requests? All from this query? Wow!

Thanks for sharing, Elana! I do believe you are one of the smartest people on the planet. There is always more the learn and I'm so happy you are so willing to teach!

~JD

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

They don't call her the Query Ninja for nothing! Thanks for sharing this--both of you guys. :)

Matthew Rush said...

Wow Elana! 41 rejections huh? That just goes to show you how subjective this all is.

Can't tell you how glad we all are that you never gave up.

Tahereh said...

this is such an awesome query and it's so STRONG. i remember reading it awhile back on Elana's blog and i'm still just as convinced of its awesomeness.

thanks a ton for hosting this, Matthew, and i'm so so so happy for you Elana! you deserve all the best! we're cheering for you!!

<333

Heather Kelly said...

Thanks for posting, Matthew, and thanks for all the insight Elana. You rock!

Jennie Englund said...

What I especially appreciate abut Elana is that she shares everything---EVERYTHING about her writing journey: tips, secrets, frustrations, joy.

Her honesty and authenticity are refreshing in this yucky publishing world.

This success is overdue her!

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

This was fantastic. Thanks guys! And yes, I've already emailed Elana. You know why? Because the very first ever blog post I read of hers was about how she loves getting emails. I couldn't resist :)

Kristi Helvig said...

Everyone should buy her book. She critiqued my query for me and it's now a kick-ass query thanks to her! I'm just hoping my ms is just as good. :)

Jojomama said...

So awesome. I caught one of Elana's classes at a conference...she's fabulous. This is great. Can't wait to read her book! (=

Shelley Sly said...

One of the best queries I've ever read, and I'm not just saying that because it's Elana's, but because she knows what she's doing. Can't wait to read this book!

T.J. Carson said...

Wow this was so helpful!!!!! Thanks for the interview matthew!!!! I am linking it in the sidebar of my blog! This is something I'll revert to when I query my second novel!!!!!!!!!!! Hmm and I might look into that e-book of Elana's.

Shari said...

I would absolutely request the full if I were an agent! (Elana, I knew your book was dystopian YA, but this is the first I've heard what it's about... and it sounds AWESOME!)

Thanks, Matthew and Elana, for sharing this query letter here! :)

Shannon said...

What a great breakdown of Elana's query. I enjoyed reading it and as usual, learned a thing of two from her. She is pure fantabulousness.

Helena Carlo said...

I loved the breakdown. Tons of valuable info. Thank you!

Zoe C. Courtman said...

"1. Let the agent know that I KNOW what they want. And 2. Tell them I’ve got what they want.)" Fan-freakin-tastic! Also loved the way she carefully worded her market comparison, saying how fans of which book would like the ELEMENTS in her book, but not comparing her book to those titles outright. This was fantastic, Matthew. Thanks to you and Elana for sharing it!!

Elana Johnson said...

Dude, you guys know how to make a girl feel loved. <3 Thank you!!

Lisa and Laura said...

Elana's query advice is PRICELESS. We're living proof! This girl ROCKS!

Jonathon Arntson said...

Damn you, Elana. My mouth was already watering to read this book, or any of your writing for that matter. Then you announce your book deal and now this. Hmph.

Matthew Rush said...

Dude, Elana, you sure know how to make a guy's blog blow up! Thanks for being the best, EVER!

Palindrome said...

As always, it is awesome of you to do this, Matthew!

I've read parts of Elana's query before, it is fabulous!

Thanks for helping us out by breaking it down, Elana!

Courtney Barr - The Southern Princess said...

Oh my excitement for Elana is just bursting at the seams! I am so happy for her!

What an amazing query! I already was dying to read anything by her then we get to see the query which teases us...AHHH!!!

Oh Matthew wonderful guest, as always.

What a wonderful post that I now must bookmark!

Visit My Kingdom Anytime

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Loved reading that, complete with comments. Elana rocks, and thank you, Matthew. Happy weekend, all *runs back to rewrite query*

Corinne O'Flynn said...

*taking notes* *printing post*

Great post Matt, awesome letter Elana. And holy cow I cannot wait to read your book!

Slushpile Slut said...

You rock it hardcore Elana! I'm ready to start calling you Dr. Hook after that fine one line hook you have in that query! I can't wait to read Control Issues!! A combo of The Giver & Hunger Games...brilliant!

Thx for posting Matt! Have a great w-end!

MBW aka Olleymae said...

I was fine with all the pretty colors.

DANG. ELANA IS GENIUS.

Thanks so much for doing the interview, I'm sure I will refer to this page like eleventy billion times before I send my query out!!!

misskallie2000 said...

Awesome information and much needed by lots of us. Thanks Elana.

Have already added your release on my wish list.

Congrats again and again and ... lol

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

Talli Roland said...

That's awesome, Matthew - and super, super, helpful. I must say thanks yet again for all the advice you've given over the past few months! And a big thanks to Elana for sharing her kick-ass query.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I bow at the feet of the query queen.

I have Elana's ebook and it has helped me so much.

Awesome post. :)

Lisa K. said...

Excellent breakdown of Elana's query letter. I think I can learn something from your blog, and I'm so glad I stumbled onto it.

Kelly said...

Awesome query (as expected from Elana). Love the commentary!!

Julie Musil said...

This was an awesome breakdown of the scary query! Thanks for having the guts to e-mail Elana.

Alissa said...

This is a great query example, and loved all the comments.

Tabitha said...

Of course, fantastic query. But that's what I was expecting from Elana. :)

Lisa_Gibson said...

Great query Elana. Thanks for showcasing this Matt. Awesome post. I'm now a follower of your blog as well. See ya around. :)

salarsenッ said...

Matt, much obliged for you offering this insight. Elana, you already know how I feel. You keep giving of yourself in brilliant ways. Many are indebted. Thank you. ";-) *Hotheads* my friend.

Enjoy your weekend.

Angela M. said...

Thanks Matt for featuring our fav Query Ninja. I had no trouble deciphering the notes thanks to yer purdy color code :)

Elana makes it look easy, darn it! Her voice really stands out. Now get her to breakdown the dreaded, evil synopsis!

Crimey said...

Elana's query is great. I love it! She's the Queen of Queries for sure. Can't wait until the book is out, so I can run (not walk) and buy a copy.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've studied Elana's qeury before, but your breakdown is really helpful too! Thanks to both of you for helping out the rest of us!

Jemi Fraser said...

Apparently I need even more help than I thought - I can't even spell query correctly! *sigh*

Rachele Alpine said...

She does have a great voice, and it comes through in the query. That's a hard task to do...well done!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Great post Matthew, and thanks Elana! I'll be bookmarking this one!

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Elana~ Your query was fantastic and I really benefited from the notes you inserted. Write in the voice of the novel -- that's one of the lessons that really hit home for me. Thanks!

Matthew~ Thanks for highlighting this successful query!

Hope your Memorial Day was great, despite all the rain!

Robyn Campbell said...

WOW! Super fantastic post. *Applause*

Could Elana have alien intelligence? Perhaps...but I'd say it's PURE GENIUS!

I am a student of the master of the query. And thanks to her book, and the diamondy advice I've gleaned from her, my query now sparkles. WOOT! You both are made of 'nuttin' but awesome. =)

Bravo!

Carolyn Arnold said...

In a word -- FABULOUS!! Thank you for the invaluable query advice, Elana and Matthew! You BOTH rock!!