Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jenny Morris' Current Query Critiqued

All right, my lovelies. Here we are, the day before Thanksgiving, and I'm at work, awake long before any sensible person ought to be. But I'm here for you, my friends, because I care.

Anyway, today we have Jenny's query again. If you somehow missed yesterday's introduction, scroll down. You can find a link to Jenny's blog on yesterday's post. Yes, your scroll wheel is working.

This time, the query is undergoing my blood red pen. There's not a whole lot else to say, so let's get to work:

Dear Agent:

I am pleased to submit for your consideration my completed 65,000 word young adult fantasy novel, THE GUARDIAN TRIBE.

I think you should skip all this, or rather save it for the end. There are agents who want housekeeping and/or personalization up front like this, but if you're writing to one of these agents, you need more housekeeping and/or personalization than this. If an agent doesn't specifically ask for it up front, I advise getting right to what matters most: the story.

Kella never tells anyone what she is, this comma could be a colon, a freak, to be dissected. Whoa. So on the one hand I really like this line, it's full of voice, and sort of jumps off the page and grabs you by the throat, but on the other hand, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I assume you don't mean literally dissected, and under that assumption, I basically can't figure out what it should mean metaphorically. Unless, I suppose, this is a slasher thriller. If so: cool. She did once and her drug addict mom went crazy. I get that you're trying to hint at backstory, and that's good, but this feels completely disconnected from everything else. Her secret…her best friend, Gabrielle, is her guardian angel. Interesting. That’s not all, Kella can fuse her body to Gabrielle’s angelic form and they become one being. Usually I would want to know more about how something like this works, but I think I'm okay with a bit of vagueness here, because this just sounds so cool. Words never pass between them, only feelings and powers. And besides, you tell us a little about how it works. These angelic powers allow Kella to fly, kick the crap out of boys, and sometimes bring people back from the brink of death. If the query ended here, I would request based off of this one line.

Asher convinces his dad to take him to Haiti, so can prove himself. But then you start to wander. If you've got two alternating POVs in the novel, that's fine, and you can even make that clear in the query, and write a bit about them both, but not like this. It's too sudden, and it makes it seem like you might be talking about two different books. Instead, he finds Kella. She lives in Haiti, or she just happens to be flying by? We need to see a connection here. She’s smart, sexy, and can jump off buildings. Send pages. Life completely changes. The guardian angel Asher stared at for eighteen years, now allows him to fly through the air like a superhero, and sense people’s feelings, especially Kella’s. You're jumping back and forth too much, from sentences with great voice and specificity, like the last one, to ones that make no sense, like this one. Does Asher have his own guardian angel, or are you talking about Gabrielle/Kella again? Why has he been staring at her for 18 years, if he just ran into her in Haiti? Or is this some other angel?

Asher must use every power he has, when Gabrielle is kidnapped. Kella is left afraid, helpless, and very, very human. They must find a way to bring Gabrielle back, or Kella will lose her guardian angel forever. This isn't bad, but you don't even clue us in to the conflict until your final summary sentence. Try to focus on the three Cs: Character, Conflict, and Choice. Give us those three things, as quickly as you can, while still making sense, and you're good to go.

THE GUARDIAN TRIBE appeals to readers who love it when girls kick butt or have ever wished they could fly. Yet, this novel goes beyond most supernatural tales and creates a relationship between humans and angels that will make readers ache to be a member of the Tribe. You don't want to word this kind of thing this way. It sounds a little pretentious. Don't say things like "appeals" say "might appeal" or at least "will appeal." And don't tell an agent that your story will make readers ache, show her, with your writing. Otherwise there are some good lines here, just reword them a little, and it will sound better.

If you would like to consider THE GUARDIAN TRIBE, I would be happy to forward the complete manuscript at your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
Jenny Morris

Okay. So this query does one thing well: it makes it clear you've got some awesome characters, and a kick-ass premise. Sometimes that's enough.

What you need to do is focus on connecting everything. As it is now your query meanders around too much. You jump from one cool thing to the next, without making sure they are logically connected. You also take too long to get to the conflict, and then never explain it properly. I love the paranormal/supernatural element of your story, and I think I get well enough how it works, but I really would like to see more about what happens.

You're off to a good start here, you've got plenty of voice and a good sense of character, which are hard to do. See if you can rewrite this so the conflict and choice are as good as the rest, and you'll be in great shape.

That's it.

What do you guys think? What would you change? Am I making any sense? What would you like to see more of in Jenny's query?

34 comments:

Jessica Bell said...

You know how yesterday I said that you would say what I was thinking? You didn't! Ha! That's gotta be a first! :o)

So, okay, I don't think the current beginning is very strong. I'm going to be blunt here. It just made me think ... okay, nothing new here ..., but then my ears pricked up when I got to the bit about becoming one with Gabriel. And I though, oh, WOW, this is cool. So in my opinion, I would start the query like this (i will add my comments in brackets):

Kella's secret is Gabrielle, her best friend. (Oh, interesting, why would someone keep their best friend a secret?) She can fuse her body to his angelic form and become one being. (now, see, that really knocks my socks off!) I really really think this query should start like this.

And I think, Matt, you knowing me so well, and the fact that I don't disagree with you all that often, AND that this type of book is NOT my thing, should show how much I believe in this premise. It Rocks, Jenny. You've just gotta give the agents a good punch in the face when they start reading. I think this gives a good punch.

A Daft Scots Lass said...

I could never critique someone's writing. I'd feel terrible ripping it apart like that.

Matthew MacNish said...

Oh no! Did I really rip it apart that badly? I was trying to be constructive, I hope you don't feel that way, Jenny! You've got some great writing here, but queries are really hard, and I just want to help you make it the best you can.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Jenny, I love the idea of your story. And the sentence in your first paragraph that Matt loved.

My main suggestion would be to make the two POV not seem so disjointed. I'm not sure how to tell you to do this because I haven't written in alternate POV or done a query like that. I'd suggest that you find some successful examples, maybe posted here or on Guide to Literary Agents, to use as examples. But I agree with Jessica that you have some unique ideas here that hopefully will get you an agent request. Good luck.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I've read that if your book is in dual point of view, you still need to write the query from one pov or else it'll be confusing. This might be different for adult romances, but the advice came from an editor who also writes YA. Focus on the more important protagonist for the premise, or at least the protagonist for the first chapter. This will make the query less disjointed.

Matt, your running dialogue cracked me up. And both you and Jessica had valid points.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Matthew, I don't think you destroyed it any worse than others.
I think she can still keep the first part, as a greeting to the agent is polite and she needs to at least state the title and genre. I was taught to start with a greeting and it must've been good enough for my publisher as well.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Great critique, Matt. I hope Jenny was okay with it because it was very informative to me. When reading it yesterday I felt many of the same things you talked about but you provided some great ways to improve it and explained why it didn't work. That's so valuable as I get ready to pull out my own draft query and put the blood red pen to work.

Like you say, it's a "kick-ass premise".

maine character said...

I'm right with Matt on this one - the first few lines struck me as odd, loved the whole angelic bonding and that line about being able to fly and kick butt, and then I was lost after that. And it's never mentioned who kidnaps Gabrielle, or how.

So yeah, make the connections and you'll have a query that kicks as much butt as your story.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Matt-You are awesome!! You did not rip it apart at all. I've had a few friends take a look at it, since I gave it to you, and they made the same points. It really is confusing the way it reads. And, your suggestions and enthusiasm are really helpful. I am pumped that so many people like the idea. So, keep the suggestions coming.

Thanks everyone!

Michael G-G said...

I think Jessica Bell's new opening hits it out of the park!! The one thing that doesn't happen in this opening (or really in anyone's opening, suggested or actual) is grounding us in how old this character is and a couple of specific details about what kind of person she is, beyond thinking she a freak. (Later on there's a mention of some butt-kicking, so I get she's strong.)

I was totally "whoa?!" about the intro to Asher. And Haiti? I'd kind of like to know this is the setting up front. And I was thrown for a loop about the "guardian angel Asher stared at for eighteen years." Is this Kella's guardian angel? Or does Asher have one of his own?

One thing you don't want agents to do while reading your query is to start scratching their heads and asking questions born of confusion. (The only question you want them to ask is: Ooh, what happens next? I need to see pages.")

As I said yesterday in the comments, this sounds like a great premise, especially about being fused to an angel guardian. Thanks, Jenny, for being brave enough to share your story with us. I'd love to see a rewrite of your query!

(P.s. I think the "housekeeping up front" vs. "dive into the story" differs from agent to agent. Read their guidelines and see what they WANT. That's why querying well takes some effort.)

(P.p.s for Daft Scots Lass: I don't think Matt "ripped apart" this query any more than he has others. I have been at the receiving end of his red pixels, and he is amazing at pointing out both what works and what doesn't. He is always respectful in his critique, too. That's why I love him.)

mshatch said...

Matt, I don't think you were harsh; I think you were constructive. Harsh would be criticism without telling why. You were very clear about what worked and why and what didn't work and why as well as how to improve those parts. I think you did an awesome job critiquing this query - imho.

Joshua said...

First, Matthew: I gave you a shoutout on my blog post this morning.

I agree with Matthew's notes here, especially skipping the first little paragraph. I liked the premise of the introduction to Kella and the story, but it needs to be fleshed out just a bit more

The second paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks. I was confused, and it looks like in the same way that stumped Matthew.

Bryan Russell said...

Well done, good sir.

Claire Hennessy said...

I love your blog and think your query critiques are amazing. I am learning such a lot, thanks. I can't wait til I can be in a position to send you MY query letter :) Happy Thanksgiving.

Kristen said...

Having just had my query ripped apart last week--well, that's what we're after here, people! The more "blood red" ink the better, as far as I'm concerned. Then you know what's good, how your letter is coming across, what to fix, and what to fill in. It's hard to write a query because you know your story, and you're writing it for someone who doesn't.
Okay--I was also completely puzzled by the Haiti sentence out of nowhere, and the "staring at for 18 years" part.
I would also add you should be careful of your comma use--sometimes you use them where you don't need. Like in "Asher must use every power he has, when Gabrielle is kidnapped."
I had elipsis problems, myself...

Emily White said...

A very good critique indeed! In fact, I often wonder why I bother to comment. It's not like I can ever add anything new. Oh well. :)

Good job, Matt! And good luck with your query, Jenny!

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

I wonder how the query would work from one POV instead of two? Because as it starts out it seems that Kella is the MC, But then, we switch to Asher, and because we never really return to Kella's POV, i'm left wondering who the MAIN MC is. Because even when books are split in two between two characters, the books still primarily have that one character we start and end with. So i would figure out which character that is and write the query only focusing on them.
BUT, that said, if you're really tied to having both in the query (and i know how that is. I have a query with 2 POVs) then make sure that you return to whomever you start with.

I hope that makes sense. Otherwise I agree with everything Matt said. Though i do have to say i think Jessica's comment is spot on.

Christina Lee said...

Don't worry, you did just fine, Matt!
I would also start at the BF part (like this)and leave it only one POV:

Seventeen-year-old Kella is hiding one heck of a heavenly secret that no one can find out about, especially not her drug addicted mom. She makes her life a living hell anyway.

Her best friend, Gabrielle, is her guardian angel. But that’s not all. Kella can fuse her body to Gabrielle’s angelic form so they become one being. Words never even have to pass between them, only feelings and powers.

These angelic powers allow Kella to fly, kick the crap out of boys, and sometimes bring people back from the brink of death.

GOOD LUCK (I like Jess' version too)!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Excellent critique, Matt. I cracked up at your response to the fact that this character was sexy, could fly and jump off buildings.

Great voice, but definitely, it needs to be a little more cohesive. As it is it feels a little disjointed. But you've given some great advice, Matt.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Most people have already said what I was going to say -- the opening hook in the query doesn't actually hook us because it's too vague and doesn't give us enough information to whet our interest. That doesn't come until Gabrielle is mentioned. Then, when Asher comes into the story, he's not introduced or connected to the prior characters, and I wasn't even sure if he was human or an angel.

Personally, I really like Christina Lee's suggestions to alter the opening hook, although I wonder if you should drop the drug-addled mom and get Gabrielle into that first paragraph instead.

I definitely think you can leave Asher in the query, but don't spring him on us without explaining how he connects to the other two. Something like: Kella is so worried about her drug-addled mom finding out about the secret side of her life, she's totally blindsided when Asher Lastname discovers her instead.

Jenny, I hope these critiques help! Sometimes I think writing a query is even harder than writing the book in the first place! ;)

Sub-Radar-Mike said...

Fantastic as usual.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Thanks everyone for all of your suggestions. All of the advice I"m getting is really going to help.

Nancy Thompson said...

How about this:

Kella never tells anyone what she is: a freak. Her secret? Her best friend, Gabrielle, is her guardian angel, and what's more, they can fuse their bodies together and become one. Words never pass between them, only feelings and powers, ones that allow Kella to fly, kick the crap out of boys, and bring people back from the brink of death.

Her new friend, Asher, knows all about guardian angels. The one he's had for the last eighteen years now allows him to fly through the air like a superhero and sense people’s feelings, especially Kella’s. Sure, Kella's smart, sexy, and can jump off buildings, but when her angel is kidnapped by [add antagonist's name here], she's left afraid, helpless, and very, very human. Together, Kella and Asher must use every power they have to bring Gabrielle back or Kella will lose her guardian angel forever.

THE GUARDIAN TRIBE, a young adult fantasy novel of 65,000 words, might appeal to readers who love it when girls kick butt or have ever wished they could fly.

I would be happy to provide a full synopsis, sample chapters, or the complete manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Jessica Silva said...

There were a few things that threw me in this query. The first paragraph was one of them, but there are a ton of GREAT suggestions here :) all I can say is keep the focus on Kella and her power because, as Matt has proven, it's SUPER interesting.

The second paragraph completely confuses me, though. I need to know what happens in the story next, and isn't that Gabrielle getting kidnapped? I'd love for the second paragraph to focus on how and when Gabrielle is kidnapped, how that effects Kella beyond "afraid" and "human," and THEN tie in Asher. I think your best bet, as other commenters like Stina pointed out, is to keep your query in one POV.

Last, I'm not sold with the stakes here. Is it really a very big deal if Kella doesn't have her guardian angel? Is it a big deal if she's human? That sounsd like my normal everyday life :)

Sarah said...

First--excellent choice of name in "Asher" (disclosure: I may have a son by that name). Second--I agree with Matt; we need an antagonist, and I am also confused about who exactly Asher is staring at (someone different from Gabrielle? I shouldn't have to wonder). Third, I have some issues with the commas in this query, and if I were an agent, it would give me pause (delete "that's not all" or use a semicolon or you have a comma splice; delete the comma after "Haiti", delete the comma after "years", delete the comma after "superhero", delete the comma after "superpower he has"<--or better, make "When Gabrielle is kidnapped" the starting clause of that sentence<--or better, tell me who kidnaps Gabrielle so it's not a passive sentence construction). Fourth, I agree with Matt about the final paragraph. Fifth, this is a VERY cool premise, so onward! Make some changes and you're good to go!

farawayeyes said...

Your another very brave author. Thanks for the opportunity to learn along with you.

Love the premise. Although I would not even venture suggestions, I have to say I was a little confused with the original.

Good luck. I would love to see what you come up with as a final draft.

Kristen Pelfrey said...

Thank you for sharing your process!
I agree that this is a wonderful premise, and I also agree with Matt that the query has some muddy spots. I think he and the other posters offer some terrific suggestions.
I am thankful for this blog and all who participate with it--and especially grateful to Matthew, because of all his work.
Have a lovely holiday, everyone!

J.C. Martin said...

Thanks Matthew for the birthday wishes on my blog! I agree with everything you said: there needs to be more interconnection between Asher's story and Kella's, and perhaps a bit more detail: if Gabrielle is a guardian angel, how was she kidnapped, and by whom? And what for? There must be a larger plot and conflict there. But it sounds like an intriguing premise.

Pk Hrezo said...

Such great comments already... I have nothing more to add. You pointed out everything that kind of threw me as well, Matt.
This will be a good query with some polishing.

Talli Roland said...

Not much more to add here, other than I think it should be one PoV, too -- and great concept!

Deniz Bevan said...

Great crit, Matthew! Query letters are so dang hard, but I always find a review like this helps - you've got so many great tips here.

Melissa Bradley said...

I'm very late to this, but I agree with Jessica's new opening. That reworking perked me right up because I was a little thrown by the whole freak and dissection thing.

I also think that bringing the setting of Haiti in with Kella is better than waiting until Asher's POV. I used my setting of Istanbul in the first paragraph.

This is a wicked cool premise and I'm already hooked so Jenny, I wish you all the best with this. I know I want to read it. :) Matt, this was a terrific critique as always. I know I've always lurked at crit time, but as I've learned a lot more since reading your blog and doing some of my own queries, I feel more confident in saying something. I hope to be a more regular participant and on time because what I've said is probably irrelevant by now. :)

Clara said...

Super late but here we go! Fantastic premise, but the beginning isn't very strong, is it? I mean, is she for a fact going to be dissected (if not then why is she waiting to be dissected?). Why did her mom went crazy?
Wicked cool that she can merge with Gabrielle,but why would she kick the crap out of boys? Would mean boys be better?
And then we switch to Asher's POV and I didnt like it much. Im confused: he has a guardian angel also? What kind of people are they, a race?
This seems to be a thoroughly solid story, and I wish good luck to Sheri!! : D

Clara said...

Balls, sorry, I meant Jenny!! >_<