Friday, May 18, 2012

Matt Hentschel's Current Query Critiqued

First of all, so sorry it took me so long to get this up. Work has been absolutely crazy today, which just goes to show you that writing your posts the day of is not always the best idea.

Anyway, let's get to work. My feedback will be in red.

The query:

Dear [Agent],

Bookish seventh(-)grader Laurel Rooseveldt never imagined her family’s move to Lonewater would result in the loss of her soul. I like this opening, you've done a great job with the thing most people forget, or miss on: Character. That being said, the rest is a bit cliche. Not too terrible, and probably workable, since you get specific about it later. After all, life in the pastoral town starts out well enough – I suggest people avoid em-dashes in query letters, because email can do funny things to the formatting. Laurel’s simple hope of making a friend is realized the moment she meets fearless tomboy Samantha Ellerton. You usually want to end your opening hook paragraph with some kind of inciting incident that hints at conflict, but I don't have a problem with this. I get the feeling these two get into lots of trouble together, and I love that you've given us two unique individuals with tons of character.

All in all, this is a very good opening. Perhaps not perfect, but an excellent start.

But beneath Lonewater’s serene fa├žade lurks a dark and sinister secret: a boy named Charlie. For Charlie plays the unwilling host to something inhuman, something wicked which emerges from him to steal the souls of Lonewater’s children, leaving them in comas from which they never awaken. And Charlie cannot control it.

Um ... are you sure you've never done this before? This is getting really good.

At first Laurel doesn’t believe the stories of Charlie and the Soul-Thief. But when her younger brother becomes the abomination’s latest victim, they suddenly become far more real. With the reluctant help of Charlie himself, Laurel confronts the Thief in a desperate attempt to rescue her brother…but things go horribly wrong when Samantha unexpectedly intervenes.

I wouldn't change a thing here, Matt.

Torn from their reality, Laurel and Samantha now find themselves trapped in the world of the Soul-Thief, a strange, phantasmagoric dreamscape of endless night populated by bizarre beings and terrifying creatures. Together the two young girls must make their way through the surreal and frightening world, attempting to learn how to save not only Laurel’s brother, but all the souls the Thief has stolen – to include their own.

Matt, this query is already very good. I don't have many specific in text notes for you. I'll summarize at the end.

Complete at 78,300 78,000 words, A CHILD’S FAERIE-TALE is a young adult dark fantasy YA Dark Fantasy with series potential that I’m hoping will be of interest to you because [personalized reason].

I have been published as an artist and uncredited writer/editor for Mysterians Mytserians (Italicize previously published works in a query) (2008), a graphic novel available from Tokyopop. While not the first novel I have written, this is the first I have submitted for representation and publication. I would cut this last sentence, I don't think you need it.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Matt Hentschel

Okay, so in summary: wow! This is an excellent query. There isn't a whole lot to change here. If I had to nit-pick it, only because you've asked for a critique, I would say that your opening hook could be a bit stronger. It's already very good, full of voice and character, but you want it to pack as much punch as possible, in case an agent's assistant is skimming.

Other than that, the body of this query is excellent. You've got three incredible characters, fully realized, a simple but high stakes conflict, and even the hints of a difficult choice to make at the end. For some reason, this query reads like it's a little long, but I copied it into Word, and the meat is only 222 words, which is right under the sweet spot.

One last thing you might consider tightening is the summary at the end. I love the fact that you finish up by raising the stakes so high the girls might lose their own souls, but I think it would be even more powerful if you made it clear they had a tough choice to make. Maybe something about how they could escape and save themselves, and their souls, but they'd have to abandon the brother.

Man, this one was tough. I expect you'll be getting representation very soon, and I would be glad to feature this query again, as a success story (link), once you do. In fact, I would suggest you query Bree Ogden (link), who is a literary agent and the editor of Underneath the Juniper Tree (link), an online literary magazine, which publishes stuff just like this.

That's it.

What do you guys think? Isn't this query already very good?

And NOTE: If you didn't already see it, I'm posting at Project Mayhem today.


Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

It's made even better by the fact that he uses "phantasmagoric". Like seriously, that is an awesome word and you just can't drop that everywhere. I like this query, and I agree...there's not much improvement that can be made. Omitting the extra word and just leaving in "sinister" is a good catch, Matt.

Creepy Query Girl said...

This is a really great query! How did you decide to market this as YA? I'm asking because the MC is a seventh grader so wouldn't that make it middle grade?

JeffO said...

I like the query, and like the sound of the story overall, but, like Creepy, this doesn't strike me as YA. Partly because of the age of the protagonist, but also because of the 'tone' of the query. I should say that I'm not widely-read in YA or MG at this point, so I may be talking out of my butt here.

The only real nitpicks I have is with this line 'When her younger brother...they suddenly become far more real.' I think the tail end of that sentence needs to be stronger to match the magnitude of the event (her brother becoming a victim). It feels like a bit of a let down. Maybe 'they become all too real'. Or something better. Also, one more, the next para down 'attempting to learn how to save....' sounds weak. I think you should cut out 'to learn how' and be more direct.

That said, yes, very strong query, very well done. Good luck!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Finally a query that stumped you, huh? Little stronger in the beginning and you're right - it's good to go.

Mina Burrows said...

It hooked me, but I'm no where near an expert. I do think it's interesting that it's YA vs. MG--especially because of the title. I agree that the length's right on point. :)

Nancy Thompson said...

I can't believe you're starting out with this query. It's so strong already and hardly needs adjustment, but I do agree that the first paragraph needs something more to punch it up at the end. As it is, it ends on a nice note when it should probably be something more threatening so the reader feels compelled to read on to find out more. Maybe it's just a matter of paring down the first paragraph as you have it and connecting the second to the first. But overall, I think this is a great query and an awesome story. I also agree that it does not sound YA. The protagonist & characters are way too young and YA audiences would likely not relate to them, but an MG audience definitely would. And MG is in very high demand right now. Good luck, Matt!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah...I got nothing. Wow.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

It's a pretty solid query.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Great query! The only little thing i noticed (so little) is in the second sentence of the third paragraph, the word "becomes" appears twice. Repeared words always stick out to me. But otherwise, great job!

K. M. Walton said...

Very strong query. Nice work.

I do have two suggestions though:

1. If this is a YA, then your main character needs to be in high school.

2. If you lower it to a MG and keep her as a middle schooler, then you're word count needs to lower significantly.

Best of luck with your query journey, Matt!!!

Christine Danek said...

This is a great query. I agree with the age--if YA the MC should be in high school, if MG then lower word count. Best of luck! I'm sure you will have an agent in no time.

Michael G-G said...

It's almost there. Some judicious cutting of adjectives might help ("surreal and frightening world" etc.) I want to be shown rather than told.

I agree wholeheartedly with Matt's suggestion not to reveal this is the first novel you're querying.

Titles are usually changed, so this is no biggie, but I didn't find this title to be stirring enough.

Other than that, I think it's a great concept, well-executed. Make a big bang with your first pages, and I think you'll snag an agent.

Elise Fallson said...

Love the story idea and you've got one heck of a query. The suggestions made by Matthew and the others above will make this perfect, I've got nothing to add. Good luck, I'm sure you will go far with this!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Hello, Matt and Matt!

I did think this query was very well done to start with, and I like the premise of the book. One thing I did want to say is Matt could get to the meat of the conflict a little faster. I wasn't really hooked until Charlie and the Soul-Thief were introduced.

I wonder: how important is it to introduce Samantha in the query -- and if she is central enough to be there, why in the first paragraph? (Your query doesn't have to introduce characters sequentially. It's not a synopis.)

Also, Lonewater may be pastoral, but doesn't the frequency of children falling into comas from which they never awaken make it a very strange place indeed?

If I could suggest an area of improvement, it would be to get more of the conflict into the first paragraph, either by setting up Lonewater as a town with a mysterious problem or by dropping Samantha in favor of getting Charlie in earlier. (Not from the story, obviously. Just from the first paragraph of the query.)

Emily L. Moir said...

This is a great query. Very captivating.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all very much for your thoughts – they’re all greatly appreciated, and they’ll all go a long way to help improve my query.

One thing that struck me as particularly interesting was the issue of the age group – YA vs. MG. My thoughts on that issue were too lengthy to include here, so I wrote an article and posted it to my blog. Bad form to promote myself like that, but it’s the only way I could properly articulate my thoughts.

Thanks once again, one and all, for your help and wishes of luck, and thanks again to Matthew for posting and critiquing my query in the first place!

Nick Wilford said...

It's really good. I don't have much to add to what has been said. The title sounds very innocent to me, maybe some young readers won't pick up that faeries can be seen as sinister. Agents and so forth tend to help with that. Good luck!

farawayeyes said...

Excellent job as usual (spoken as though I know what I'm talking about). I liked this query from the start, I was hooked. Never did catch that age thing YA vs. MG. I'm heading over to read Matt's explanation.

Good luck with this Matt.

Thanks Matt for the info and analysis.

alexia said...

I agree - great job! And very unique premise. I was creeped out just reading it.

Traci Kenworth said...

Excellent job.