Friday, April 1, 2011

Chelsey Blair's Current Query Critiqued

Okay, so today I'm breaking down Chelsey's query, as best I can. I'm only going to be dealing with the story/meat/plot part, as the rest is going to be (hopefully) tailored to each agent. My thoughts will be in red.

First of all, this query, without personalization, or housekeeeping, is 298 words long. That might be a bit long, but you can probably get away with it, as long as everything is needed and nothing can be trimmed or made shorter. I'm critiquing as I go here, so I'll let you know if I see anything that can go.

Full Disclosure: my own query is 309. Long queries can work but shorter is almost always better. I want and need to trim my own.

Seventeen-year-old guitarist Meridian is sick of being mocked by her classmates at Fernsgrove High School, where her tendency to lapse into French when she’s pissed off has earned her the nickname Madame le Freak. I would go for a new paragraph here. This is a rather strong opening hook, and I would like to see it stand out. They don’t care that she grew up in Paris, or that they’ll regret taunting her once she’s a star, and she plans to make that a reality sooner than anyone expects. She’s packed to leave when her cousin Natalie’s gymnastics accident changes her plan. Fourteen-year-old Natalie is the only one in Fernsgrove who understands Meridian’s rock-star aspirations. Natalie needs support to deal with the lifestyle changes that come with a prosthetic leg. Meridian has no choice but to damn herself to suburban hell for the foreseeable future.

I think the rest of this second paragraph has some very strong points, but could probably be trimmed and improved. First off, it does a great job of slipping in just enough backstory, without making it feel like backstory. It also sets up a great conflict, and gives a pretty good sense of what the stakes will be.

The one problem I have is that you essentially lose all the great voice you had set up in your hook. It all depends on what kind of novel this is, but your opening sentence makes it sound funny, angsty, and very smart. The rest of this paragraph feels a bit like a book report. That's okay--if the books is incredibly sad, or comes across as kind of clinical--but I would try to make the voice match throughout.

The one other thing about the rest of this paragraph is that I think you should try to trim it. The information is all good, and I think it's all necessary, but you use too many words to say it. I like the first two sentences, and the last two are pretty good as well, but I think the middle one can go, or at least be trimmed.

Update: coming back after reaching the end, you may also want to consider re-writing this beginning. It makes it sound like the book is going to be about high school, but it turns out that's actually backstory too, right?

For the summer, the girls retreat to Harvard Square in Cambridge, where it’s easy to hide from their nightmares amongst the living statues. They’re safe there, away from the divorce war-zone of their house, and the neighborhood bullies. While Natalie searches for a new passion, Meridian finds a place in the music scene. For the first time she experiences the safety that comes with letting people in. Maybe she can wait to run after her dream of stardom.

Here's where I get a little confused. Cambridge is not suburbia. Where do they live? Wayland? Framingham? The T doesn't go out that far so how do they get to Harvard Square everyday? I'm sure it works perfectly in the novel, but be careful about details in the query, because they can sometimes contradict.

I would also consider cutting the last two sentences here. They're vague and not crucial to your plot. I understand the part about Meridian letting people in may be crucial to your internal plot, but it's not made clear here, and we can somewhat infer it from the backstory you've provided.

Or maybe not. She’s busking is this a word? I looked it up and it means street performing. That doesn't make sense here. Maybe "busking for the line?" the line of a late-night gig and an intoxicated concert-goer pulls a knife on them. Why? He's drunk? Wants their guitar case full of money? She and Natalie make a narrow escape, and she blames the incident on her desire to showcase them on the streets, where people aren’t as accepting of their differences as she thought. Determined to find somewhere she can fit in without consequence, she demolishes the life she’s made for herself in Massachusetts and takes off for New York. But playing solo isn’t as easy when you’re used to having back-up, and she may have alienated all of hers.

Did she leave without Natalie? This whole last paragraph is a little confusing to me. The knife attack kind of comes out of nowhere, and flips my expectations of the story on its head. It can work, but you have to build to it. And if she "blames the incident on her desire to showcase them on the streets" why would she go to New York to perform on the street? Cambridge is much safer than any part of New York.

All in all I think you're off to a great start. This sounds like a compelling story, and you clearly have a way with words. I think with a little trimming, and some re-wording of parts, you could have a great query going here.

So what do you all think? Please feel free to disagree with me, because that's the best kind of feedback a person can get. Leave your thoughts in the comments, or feel free to reach Chelsey through her blog, but please at least let us know what, if anything, you would change.

31 comments:

aspiring_x said...

i think matt is just about right on here. the thing that got me when i read this query yesterday was that the first paragraph made me think the story was going to be one thing, and the rest made me think it would be a completely different kind of book... both books sounded really cool and interesting!!! but the thing is the query needs to be more focused than that. if at all possible, it should focus on the one biggest plot and let the subplots be revealed in the synopsis.

but then... i thought i remembered something about there being two perspectives in this one... is that right??? one way i've seen that handled well- though it was tricky, and should only be done if both perspectives are truly equal- was to have one body paragraph about one character and the other about the other- the hook about both and the conclusion about both... but that would be really super tricksy! and i could TOTALLY be remembering wrong!

i do think it sounds like you have a really cool story about some strong characters, but the query needs to be focused in tighter... i think the word count will just fall into place if you can do that. you might start by coming up with a one sentence elevator pitch... that could help you really focus to what is the singular plot for your story...
ooh man! i wish you the best of luck! it sounds like a tale i'd like to read! :)

Matthew MacNish said...

X makes a good point. I forgot that Chelsey mentions that there are two POV characters. It's in her housekeeping section.

I still think that needs to be made clearer in the meat of the query though.

beth said...

I'm going to make comments on the original before I check out Matt's advice:

[From the off-set, it looks very much like this query is too long, just looking at the size of it.]

Dear [agent]

[Personal details]

Seventeen-year-old guitarist Meridian is sick of being mocked by her classmates at Fernsgrove High School, where her tendency to lapse into French when she’s pissed off has earned her the nickname Madame le Freak. They don’t care that she grew up in Paris, or that they’ll regret taunting her once she’s a star, and she plans to make that a reality sooner than anyone expects. She’s packed to leave when her cousin Natalie’s gymnastics accident changes her plan. Fourteen-year-old Natalie is the only one in Fernsgrove who understands Meridian’s rock-star aspirations. Natalie needs support to deal with the lifestyle changes that come with a prosthetic leg. Meridian has no choice but to damn herself to suburban hell for the foreseeable future.

For the summer, the girls retreat to Harvard Square in Cambridge, where it’s easy to hide from their nightmares amongst the living statues. They’re safe there, away from the divorce war-zone of their house, and the neighborhood bullies. While Natalie searches for a new passion, Meridian finds a place in the music scene. For the first time she experiences the safety that comes with letting people in. Maybe she can wait to run after her dream of stardom.

Or maybe not. She’s busking the line of a a late-night gig and an intoxicated concert-goer pulls a knife on them. She and Natalie make a narrow escape, and she blames the incident on her desire to showcase them on the streets, where people aren’t as accepting of their differences as she thought. Determined to find somewhere she can fit in without consequence, she demolishes the life she’s made for herself in Massachusetts and takes off for New York But playing solo isn’t as easy when you’re used to having back-up, and she may have alienated all of hers.

[Hmmm...this is all well written...it's just too much. This last paragraph seems to be the meat of your story--how much of the other two paragraphs is really just backstory? Focus on the story that takes place after the first fifty pages... And if this isn't backstory, then I'm a little worried that the story is divisive. Is it about learning to live in the suburbs despite differences? About dealing with how you're different? Dealing with a handicap? Dealing with being alone?]


Background Vocals is a 81,000 contemporary dual-narrated young adult novel in the vein of Maureen Johnson, John Green and Sarah Dessen.

[Often a stronger way to compare novel is something along the lines of "a YA novel that will appeal to the fans of Sarah Dessen's poignant narrative" or "that fans of the dual narration in X book by Y author will also enjoy." In other words, give one book and one specific way you book is similar.]

I am studying for my MA/MFA of Children's Literature at Simmons College, and I'm a member of SCBWI and an active participant at YALITCHAT.

[I'm not sure YA LitChat is actually a credit for the bio page...? I'll let others chime in on that.]

Thank you for your consideration,

Chelsey Blair


Overall, I think the query's really good; it definitely hooks me and makes me want to read more! But I'm a little confused as to what's backstory and what's story-story.

Hannah Kincade said...

I agree about most but I really like the first sentence about Meridian swearing in French. I think it could be a little bit more subtle, maybe blend it into the query, add a couple of French swears.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i understood the busking line, BUT, i think it could be made clearer by just leaving it at "she's busking at a late night gig"

I think you need to cut all the backstory in this query. Focus on the MCs, their conflicts, the choices they're forced to make and the consequences. Build from there

Sangu said...

Matt's critique is spot on here - I especially agree about the voice being lost a little midway through. That said, I thought the 'busking' line worked - I just read it to mean she was playing for the nightclub queue.

I think this is a great start for a query - my only issue is that I don't see strong conflict. Yes, she's chosen to stick by Natalie and put off her music dream, but the other elements seem to come out of the blue and don't really help make this conflict stronger.

But that's just my opinion!

Michael G-G said...

Hi Chelsey,

Thanks for sharing your query.

It starts srongly, with the French swearing--although I agree with Hannah Kincade about adding some actual swears, something along the lines of "When pissed, Meridian's more likely to say 'merde' than 'cow crap.' [I'm not sure you should actually say crap in a query, but it does show some 'tude.]

There is, in my opinion, a major issue, query-wise, with having dual-narrators. I presume dual narrators means Meridian and Natalie, rather than Meridian and Meridian's quitar (hey, pretty experimental, right?) but the query starts and ends with Meridian. What's Natalie's objective, conflict etc.? Where's Natalie's equal time in the story?

It's my guess that Meridian's story is the one that really ticks your clock. I mean, I can easily write a logline for her: "An aspiring musician has to choose between following her dreams of musical stardom or caring for her disabled cousin."

Those are the stakes. Now, what (or who), as my mentor, James Scott Bell would say, has to die? (JSB doesn't know he's my mentor, but he is--and I'll be RAVING about his book PLOT and STRUCTURE on my blog next month.) Is it Meridian's dreams of music, or her relationship with Natalie?

I agree with Matt that running off to NYC to escape from danger is counterintuitive. If she really wants "to fit in without consequence" why not go to Vermont?

I do think you have a compelling story, and I like the fact you're MFAing and an SCBWI member. It shows you are dedicated to your craft. I think, though, you have to do some further story excavation. If you want to further discuss anything I've said, please feel free to e-mail me at gilmartin_michael@yahoo.com

Good luck!

LTM said...

Hi, Matt! Hi, Carrie!

First, this sounds like a super-fun story! And Matt's comments are always just what I would've said... ;p

Personally, in that first 'graph, maybe ditch everything after "changes her plan."

OR! New 'graph at "She's packed to leave when her cousin Natalie, the only one in Fernsgrove who understands Meridian's rock-star aspirations, has a gymnastics accident that changes Meridian's plans.
(new 'graph)
For the summer, the girls retreat to Harvard Square in Cambridge, where Natalie searches for a new passion and Meridian finds a place in the music scene.

When an intoxicated audience member pulls a knife on them at a late-night gig, she and Natalie make a narrow escape. Meridian abandons Massachusetts to try her luck in New York, but playing solo isn't her style..."

ergh... maybe? something like that?

Like Matt said, this sounds like a compelling story and you've got a great start. Maybe just a little more brainstorming.

All the best of luck to you~

Sarah said...

I also agree that this query starts out strong, particularly in the voice department, but my concern is that it doesn't quite have the kind of laser focus many strong queries do. In other words, it reads far more like a synopsis. As a result, it actually feels longer than it is!

What I suggest is that you cut some of the backstory (how she wants to get the heck out of dodge but can't because of her loyalty to her injured cousin) and really focus on where the story starts, which appears to be the summer they spend in Cambridge.

[Just a brief aside--for the query that got me an agent, the MC is a rough girl with a major past, but I actually barely mentioned that in the query. I started right out with the inciting event and went from there. I figured it was more important than making sure the agent understood the MC's past, although it was important to the story arc--your query is to get the agent to read the pages or make a request to read more. It's NOT supposed to tell the whole story; it's supposed to intrigue.]

I would suggest starting the query right at the start of the summer--just have one sentence introducing your MC and Natalie and launch into that story. You need to present the primary conflict and the choices Meridian must make, as well as the stakes. Right now those aren't clear, or they're obscured by the recitation of events. The query doesn't need to include all the events you list, especially because the ones at the end feel a bit tacked on (again, that synopsis feel).

And finally, I'd be careful about comparing your work to THREE of the MOST famous masters of the contemp YA genre. Choose one, maybe, or perhaps try a more nuanced comparison.

Best of luck with this!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I feel like this is one of those situations where the author has lots of great (and some very catchy) lines, but needs to decide which ones are CRUCIAL to the query.

Chelsey has great voice in some parts, but like others have pointed out, she could take out some of the unnecessary details and explanations.

I agree that it's a little too long. If it were shorter, with less back story I think it would have more of an emotional punch.

The premise sounds great and I can see myself totally sympathizing with both characters, so just fine tune a little bit and I think it could be very strong. :)

You're off to a great start, Chelsey!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Okay, I'm critiquing without reading the other comments (I like to go with my own impressions) so I'm sorry if this is repetitive:

Your hook feels too wordy to me. But I'm also not sure it's really your hook. It actually feels like backstory for your characters, which is not where your hook should come from. Hooks do best when they establish character AND reveal an interesting element of the plot.

And honestly, after reading your paragraphs several times, I'm not sure I really know what your story is REALLY about. I know a lot about your characters--which is part of it because characters are a huge part of the story. But I feel like you clutter up the plot with so many character details that I don't really know, okay...so what happens? And where does it happen? You move cities a bunch.

Is this story about a girl who's pursuing music and fame at any cost and her journey to realize that maybe some things aren't worth the cost of fame? Or is it about two friends coping with a gymnastics tragedy and a prosthetic leg and escaping divorce war zone?

I'm not saying it can't be both--I'm sure one is a major sub plot and one is THE PLOT But in your query, you need to focus on ONE. It's too short of a format to try and do more. So ask yourself: what is my book REALLY about? Boil it down to its barest essence. Then trim out anything that's not about that from the query and give more details about the main plot.

Sorry, I know that's kind of a vague critique. But I just honestly can't tell what your book is really about at the moment, so I don't know how to tell you to cut or clarify the specific sentences.

Hope that helps. And if it doesn't. PLEASE ignore me. I am definitely no expert on this.

Suzie F. said...

Hi Chelsey! I love the premise of your novel. Harvard Square was a favorite hang out during my younger days.

Matt, I have to respectfully disagree about the T not reaching suburbia. There are buses which travel to and from Harvard Station to the surrounding suburbs :)

1st P - Matt made some great points. Your query starts strong and has great voice, but I think there are places where you could cut and tighten your query.

Love the 1st sentence. I would cut Fernsgrove High School. I agree w/ Matt about splitting the first P into 2 smaller. I would also cut "she's packed to leave" and get right to Natalie's accident. Maybe in 1 sentence mention the accident and Meridian's (love her name, btw) choice to stay and support her. Something like, "Meridian's plans to leave are put on hold when..."

2nd P - I think you can trim some sentences to tighten it up. I'd cut "amongst the living statues." I'd cut the last sentence. I like this paragraph but I'm sensing Meridian overpowering Natalie here (I'll explain below)

3rd P - I agree with Matt. I got confused when I read this paragraph. The use of "she" confused me. I didn't know who was who at some points and had to reread. It wasn't clear to me why they were escaping to New York. Does the story continue there?

Overall, it's a great idea Chelsey and I applaud you for posting your query. So brave! You mentioned at the end of your query that this is a dual-narrated novel. Imho, it reads as if it's from Meridian's pov.

This is only a suggestion, but perhaps you could rework it so that you give equal time to each girl. For example, in the 1st P, one sentence about M, one about N, and then one about how they are brought together. 2nd P - similar format so that one character isn't overpowering the other. Does that make sense?

Sorry I got so wordy and I wish you the best of luck!

Chelsey said...

Thank you so much everyone, especially Matt.

Your comments have been fabulous, and I'm so excited to have so much to work with!

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks Suzie! Admittedly, I haven't lived in Boston since 1996, and I was only referring to the actual train, not the buses. Good point, though.

Christina Lee said...

NICE!! I think it's a tad wordy and could use more white space too.

For example:

Seventeen-year-old guitarist Meridian is done being mocked by Fernsgrove High students, where her tendency to spout off ( use french word here)when she’s ticked has earned her the nickname Madame le Freak.

They don’t care about her upbringing in Paris or that her skyrocket to fame will leave them in the dust. In fact, she plans on making that a reality sooner than anyone expects.

She’s packed to leave when her favorite cousin, Natalie, has an accident that changes her life, and involves a prosthetic leg. Meridian has no choice but to damn herself to suburban hell for the foreseeable future.

GOOD LUCK!

K. M. Walton said...

Here's my go at revision : )

Seventeen-year-old guitarist Meridian is sick of being mocked by her classmates. They don’t care that she grew up in Paris and speaks fluent French. They call her Madame le Freak. And they really don’t care about her big plans to be a rock star someday. Oh does she have plans. But her cousin Natalie’s accident changes everything.

Meridian and Natalie spend a wild summer together in Cambridge’s music scene trying to find their place in the world. Just when Meridian thinks she’s made strides with her music ambitions and her relationships, everything falls apart. Again.

Can Meridian’s escape to New York City save her and her dreams?

Old Kitty said...

I do agree with Matt about the first line - it's a great first sentence and totally grabbed me.

I said yesterday that there's a lot going on in this query - and I guess Matt's pointed them out - the lovely first line for me is actually a good centre for where the story may encircle. I hope that makes sense if not, ignore please!!!! LOL I know nothing!!!.

Anyway - I like the theme of alienation and finding a place to fit in metaphorically running through the query. Thanks for sharing!! GOOD LUCK!! Take care
x

Will Burke said...

I'm afraid that I don't have the experience to offer much advice here, but it sounds like a great story! I've got a soft spot for musicians ;)

ali said...

ALI'S COMMENT PART ONE :)

Hi Chelsey! Sorry I'm late to the party, but I hope I can offer some help! (Also, I haven't taken the time to read the other comments, so hopefully what I say gels with what others have said, as well)
++
*words inside the asterisks should be cut*
+comments off set with the plus sign+
(highlights the text)
NEW WORDS IN CAPS

Seventeen-year-old guitarist Meridian +great name!+ is sick of being mocked by her classmates *at Fernsgrove High School,* where her tendency to lapse into French when she’s pissed off has earned her the nickname Madame le Freak.

+I agree with Matt that you should have a paragraph break here+

(They don’t care that she grew up in Paris, or that they’ll regret taunting her once she’s a star, and she plans to make that a reality sooner than anyone expects.) +This feels awkward to me. Wordy. I like that is shows character and voice, but I'd see if I can't incorporate voice in other ways and nuke this sentence.+ She’s packed to leave +to go where? if it's not important, I'd rework+ when her cousin Natalie’s gymnastics accident changes her plan. Fourteen-year-old Natalie is the only one in Fernsgrove who understands Meridian’s rock-star aspirations. Natalie needs support to deal with the lifestyle changes that come with a prosthetic leg. Meridian has no choice but to damn herself to suburban hell for the foreseeable future.

+OK. This whole second paragraph doesn't work for me. I'm sorry. :( Perhaps you could consider reworking it. Forgive me, I know this won't be in your voice, but here's an idea of how I'd rework it:

Meridian's ready to take her act on the road when her fourteen-year-old cousin Natalie loses her leg in a gymnastics accident. Torn between pursuing her dreams and helping the one person who actually gets her rock-star aspirations, Meridian damns herself to suburban hell for the foreseeable future.

*For the summer, the girls retreat to Harvard Square in Cambridge, where it’s easy to hide from their nightmares amongst the living statues. They’re safe there, away from the divorce war-zone of their house, and the neighborhood bullies. While Natalie searches for a new passion, Meridian finds a place in the music scene. For the first time she experiences the safety that comes with letting people in. Maybe she can wait to run after her dream of stardom.* +For me, this reads more like a synopsis than a query. Also, it introduces things that only add to my confusion, which is not an emotion you want to engender in your query, lol! like the divorce war-zone. the girls are cousins, so who's divorce? and why did they live in the same house? see what i mean - too many questions+

ali said...

ALI'S COMMENT PART TWO :)


Or maybe not. She’s busking the line of a late-night gig and an intoxicated concert-goer pulls a knife on them. +here you say THEM, but you started out saying SHE+ She and Natalie make a narrow escape, and she blames the incident on her desire to showcase them +i thought she was just playing her guitar - so what was Natalie doing?+ on the streets, where people aren’t as accepting of their differences +what differences?+ as she thought. Determined to find somewhere she can fit in without consequence, she demolishes the life she’s made for herself in Massachusetts +demolishes is a strong word. what does she do?+ and takes off for New York. But playing solo isn’t as easy when you’re used to having back-up, +who was her back-up? Natalie?+ and she may have alienated all of hers.+who did she alienate, and why?+

+Okay, you can see from my comments that this paragraph just gives me more questions, I'm afraid. I would cut it altogether and answer this question: What is the consequence of Meridian choosing to stay with Natalie? I don't think I need to know in the query that they move to MA, then to NY or whatever. If you want to show that the story takes place in different metropolitan areas, you can say something like "Meridian and Natalie strike out on their own, trying their luck in MA and NY ..." that sort of thing. But truly, in your QUERY, you really want to follow the KISS method (keep it simple, stupid).

So I'd find ONE MORE PARAGRAPH and no more to take you from her choosing to stay in suburban hell with Natalie to her travelling to NY and trying to make things on her own.+

Whew. Here's how your query looks according to ali (sans the second paragraph which should be a combo of the two I'd nuke, lol)

===

Seventeen-year-old guitarist Meridian is sick of being mocked by her classmates where her tendency to lapse into French when she’s pissed off has earned her the nickname Madame le Freak.

Meridian's ready to take her act on the road when her fourteen-year-old cousin Natalie loses her leg in a gymnastics accident. Torn between pursuing her dreams and helping the one person who actually gets her rock-star aspirations, Meridian damns herself to suburban hell for the foreseeable future.

==

I'd add ONE paragraph (like, three to four sentences, max) that sums up the heart of the story, and then move on to your word count, shelf placement and business stuff.

Sounds like a GREAT story Chelsey! You'll figure the query out, seriously! (and feel free to email me if you've got questions or want to run a new query by me)

Lydia K said...

Lots of great thoughts here. The story sounds really great, but it felt too dense somehow. I'm kind of with Sarah's point that this feels a touch more like a synopsis than query.
Thanks to both you and Matt for doing this and helping us all learn to perfect our queries!

Elana Johnson said...

Okay, I'm wordy. It'll take me a few comments to get all my thoughts in. Sorry in advance!

Also, I didn't read the other comments. I like to critique fresh. (I did read Matt's comments.)

I also tend to rewrite; it's a sickness. If you hate it, tell Matt to delete the comment so you don't have to read it. :) :) :)


Seventeen-year-old guitarist Meridian [insert last name] is sick of being (“sick of being” is bothering me. Maybe it feels cliché? Like, “Oh, another girl who gets teased.” You know? I’m not saying it is, I’m just saying how it sounds. So I might simply replace those words with “constantly.”) mocked by her classmates at Fernsgrove High School, where her tendency to lapse into French when she’s pissed off has earned her the nickname Madame le Freak.
New graf: They don’t care that she grew up in Paris, or that they’ll regret taunting her once she’s a star, and she plans to make that a reality sooner than anyone expects. She’s packed to leave when her cousin Natalie’s gymnastics accident changes her plan. Fourteen-year-old Natalie is the only one in Fernsgrove who understands Meridian’s rock-star aspirations. Natalie needs support to deal with the lifestyle changes that come with a prosthetic leg. Meridian has no choice but to damn herself to suburban hell for the foreseeable future. (I like all of this, but I think it could be shortened and combined. Maybe into: “They don’t care that she grew up in Paris, or that [insert something else French]. She’s packed to leave when her cousin Natalie has a devastating gymnastics accident. In order to return the support Natalie has always shown her, Meridian has no choice but to damn herself to suburban hell.” Yours: 87 words. Mine: 50.)

Elana Johnson said...

(I’d cut these first three words) For the summer, The girls retreat to Harvard Square in Cambridge, where it’s easy to hide from their nightmares amongst the living statues. (I like this!) They’re safe there, away from the divorce war-zone of their house, and the neighborhood bullies. (Cut this whole sentence. It’s repetitive and adds nothing. The hiding from the nightmares among statues says it all.) While Natalie searches for a new passion, Meridian finds a place in the music scene. For the first time she experiences the safety that comes with letting people in. Maybe she can wait to run after her dream of stardom. (I’d cut these last two sentences too. It feels resolved, and then you yank it away from us. In the query, we don’t need a rise and fall. We need escalation from hook to setup to main conflict to consequence. Leave ‘em on the cliff!)

Elana Johnson said...

Or maybe not. She’s busking the line of a late-night gig and an intoxicated concert-goer pulls a knife on them. (This sentence is confusing. I’m totally okay with the knife-incident. It’s a catalyst for the query. It’s just the way it’s introduced. So after the “Or maybe not.” you can go with something like: “After she and Natalie narrowly escape a knife attack at a late-night gig, Meridian realizes people aren’t as accepting of their differences as she’d thought.”)

She and Natalie make a narrow escape, and she blames the incident on her desire to showcase them on the streets, where people aren’t as accepting of their differences as she thought. Determined to find somewhere she can fit in without consequence, she demolishes the life she’s made for herself in Massachusetts and takes off for New York. But playing solo isn’t as easy when you’re used to having back-up, and she may have alienated all of hers. (Okay, the use of “you’re” in this sentence is freaky. I’m okay with the whole “Determined to find…” sentence, but I’d end it after “Massachusetts.” And then you need to nail the coffin shut. I like “playing solo” so maybe: “But playing solo isn’t easy. Especially because Meridian’s always had backup—until she alienates Natalie and runs off to New York alone.”

Then I think you need a consequence statement. So she’s in New York alone now. So what? What will happen if she can’t figure out how to survive alone? If she can’t find a place? If she can’t let someone in? What’s the consequence? Death? There has to be a “SO WHAT?” moment, and this is it. So I think you need one more sentence on the end here that lays out what the consequence is. Could be as simple as, “If Meridian can’t figure out where she fits, she’ll have to face the music—back in Fernsgrove.” Or some such. Does this make sense?)

Elana Johnson said...

Background Vocals is a 81,000 contemporary dual-narrated (I would not say it’s dual-narrated. Let them find that out when they request the full.) young adult novel in the vein of Maureen Johnson, John Green and Sarah Dessen.

I'm a huge fan of having the query come full-circle. So since you start in Fernsgrove, it feels complete to end there as well. Now, I don't know if that's your consequence, but you need to have one.

Hope something helps! I’m also going to copy and paste my deletions and additions into a new comment. If you hate it, just tell Matt to delete it so you never have to see it again!

Elana Johnson said...

Seventeen-year-old guitarist Meridian [insert last name] is constantly mocked by her classmates at Fernsgrove High School, where her tendency to lapse into French when she’s pissed off has earned her the nickname Madame le Freak.

They don’t care that she grew up in Paris, or that [insert something else French]. She’s packed to leave when her cousin Natalie has a devastating gymnastics accident. In order to return the support Natalie has always shown her, Meridian has no choice but to damn herself to suburban hell.

The girls retreat to Harvard Square in Cambridge, where it’s easy to hide from their nightmares amongst the living statues. While Natalie searches for a new passion, Meridian finds a place in the music scene.

Or maybe not.

After she and Natalie narrowly escape a knife attack at a late-night gig, Meridian realizes people aren’t as accepting of their differences as she’d thought. Determined to find somewhere she can fit in without consequence, she demolishes the life she’s made for herself in Massachusetts. But playing solo isn’t easy. Especially because Meridian’s always had backup—until she alienates Natalie and runs off to New York alone. If Meridian can’t figure out where she fits, she’ll have to face the music—back in Fernsgrove.


Total words: 208, needs some additions, but still.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I like Elana's revisions. She's such a master of queries. And she adds the stakes at the end, which the query needs.

Kristi Helvig said...

I can't say anything better than Elana said it...she's a master! So I'll just say good luck w/ querying. :)

Lisa and Laura said...

This is a fantastic start! I do think you're burying the lead a bit. Make sure you opening line is a not only a good hook, but sets the tone for the novel. Also, I think this is going to be written in alternating POVs, right? If so I think you need to do a better job of describing the story arcs of both characters.

All in all, great start! Can't wait to see where you go with this!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Matthew - I'm celebrating your awesome NICENESS COEFFICIENT today on my blog. Keep being the cool guy that you are! :)

Ishta Mercurio said...

I'm late to this, as usual - but I saw your query in the Roseanne Wells chat last night, and my first thought was, "wait a minute, I just read this query!" So kudos for having something memorable.

You've gotten a lot of feedback on this, so I'll just say a couple of things. First, in the opening paragraph, I think you need to clarify why she is sticking with Natalie after the accident - you say she has no choice, but I can't see why that is. So I didn't buy into your premise.

And as for the last paragraph - I lived in Edinburgh, and we had buskers there every year in August, so I knwo what you mean when you say "busking the line." But things get murky when you mention "her desire to showcase them on the streets" (showcase who? or what? her musical skills, or her and Natalie's something...?) and "accepting of their differences" (what differences? Natalie's prosthetic leg? something else?). I also don't know why a concert-goer would pull a knife on them - esp if Natalie's prosthetic leg is obvious. People, even the nastiest people, rarely attack an obviously handicapped person, unless they know that person and it's personal. Since this is already a long query, I think maybe a little less detail here would be better: a violent encounter with a concert-goer forces her to rethink blah blah blah.

I hope that was useful, and I'm sorry if I repeated anything; I try not to read others' critiques before I give my own. (Except Matt's; it's his blog, after all.)

Best of luck!