Friday, July 13, 2012

Eliana Rojas' Current Query Critiqued

First, if you didn't see the post below this one, last night, please check that out. My kid is finally getting going with her blog, and would love your support!

Now, let's get to work. My feedback for Eliana will be in red.

Here's her query:

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation you definitely don't need this. Sending a query is automatically seeking representation, so stating the obvious in your query is a waste of precious words. for my young adult superhero story FRAGILE LITTLE THINGS, complete at 60, 000 words. Personally, I recommend leaving the housekeeping until the end. Some agents do like it up front though, so we won't focus on that. When Vannette befriends the ghostly new student, her loved ones are marked as collateral in the hunt that ended her new friend's life.

As far as the second sentence, that's your opening hook. It's not bad, per se, as opening hooks go, but it could definitely be stronger. The most important thing to convey in the opening of a query is a sense of CHARACTER. We need to know who your story is about, and learn enough about what kind of person they are to realize why we should we care whether or not they succeed. Who is Vanette? She must be a teenager, but a 14-year-old is a very different character from a 17-year-old, so be sure to give us her age, as well as describing what kind of person she is before your story begins.

Then, as far as your inciting incident, it's all pretty vague. Is the new student literally a ghost, or just ghostly? Also, I get the impression this story contains a kind of mystery in which Vanette searches for how or what killed her friend, but I can't tell exactly how it relates to her loved ones.

Finishing middle school is harder in practice. Harder than what? At least for eighth grader so she's like 13 or 14? Give us this info right up front. Vannette Lore whose fairytale life was shattered by a car crash. But when she wakes up one night to find a ghost outside her window, protecting the fragile remainders of her life is near impossible. This whole paragraph would actually probably work better as your opening hook. It's still a bit vague (how was her life a fairytale? what are the fragile remains?), but it's better.

She’s always been terrible with manipulating the energy she produces wait. What? I know you said superhero story in the beginning, but this feels like it comes out of left field. Also, it's vague. but she never thought it’d reanimate a spirit or he’d crumble the walls around her heart. Or put her loved ones in danger. This feels a bit like a spaghetti approach. Try to focus on your main conflict, and get specific about exactly what difficulty Vannette must overcome.

The details of Dalton’s Dalton is the ghost? You need to clarify that. past unearthing, unearthing what? The way this is written, the details are the subject of this clause. I think you mean, being unearthed, which is passive voice, but whatever. Vannette has to give up everything that makes her an individual to save the ones she loves. And herself. Get specific. What exactly does she have to give up? What loved ones does she have to save? Obviously someone survived the car crash, but who are they?

I started writing before I knew the whole alphabet thanks to my favorite show, Sailor Moon. My love for superheroes and writing only grew when my father gave me my first laptop. I have another story waiting polish and other ideas asking for attention. You don't need any of this. If you've never been published, simply don't bring it up. Agents sign first time authors all the time, but you don't want to make it obvious this is your first manuscript.

Thank you for your time,

Eliana Rojas

To summarize, this query needs some work. The good news is that it's obvious you have a passion for storytelling, and I think there is probably a great story underneath this query.

Try to focus on the three Cs when you re-write this. Character, Conflict, and Choice. Who is your story about, and why she would care about her? What difficulties does she have to overcome, and what tough decision will she have to make in order to do so?

Finally, try to be as specific as possible. You use a lot of vague phrasing in this query, and that leaves your reader wondering what actually happens in your story, which you don't want.

That's it.

What do you guys think? Anything I missed? Please share your feedback in the comments.


Julie said...

This was so helpful to me as I'm re-working my own query letter and struggling with it. Your tips have given me a great deal to think about and I feel like I am better prepared to write a good letter now. Thanks for sharing this!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Spot on with your suggestions. Needs to be more specific.

Emily White said...

Completely agree with you, Matt. I know being specific is something I've always struggled with in query writing.

Good luck, Eliana!

Kimberly Gabriel said...

I liked the line "when she sees a ghost outside her window..." I agree with Matt's suggestion to make that paragraph very specific and start there! Good luck Eliana on polishing it up!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Matt hit all the things that concerned me. The hook doesn't work for me. I don't know if the student is ghostly, or a ghost, or the ghost of her friend who died. I don't know if Dalton is the new ghost, or her dead friend. And I don't know what Vanette's superpower is.

Remember, you want to convey to the agent what makes your book special -- what's going to be really cool about it. This means giving away secrets in the query that you hold back from the reader.

In my query-that-didn't-work, I kept saying my protagonist had "mysterious origins" instead of announcing she'd been rescued from a 19th century asylum. "Mysterious origins" are a dime a dozen in queries, but as soon as I changed the query to mention the asylum, I started getting requests. It was supposed to be a secret for the first third of the book, but it was a mistake to keep it secret from agents. Get it?

Anonymous said...

I think you hit on every note I had in my head. The statements seem vague, as if you're holding back too much.

JeffO said...

Here were my impressions: you say it's a superhero story, but you don't give us any hint of Vannette's powers until para 3. I think you need to introduce us to this right up front. Kick us off with something like "Eighth grader Vannette Lore has always been terrible at controlling her powers, etc., but when..." sort of thing. Tell us who she is right away.

You introduce Dalton by name in the fourth para--Who's Dalton? I'd guess he's the ghost boy. Introduce his name earlier for clarity.

There are great elements there--a girl with hard-to-control powers, a car crash that changes her life, and a ghost boy who pulls her into a dangerous situation, but what I'm missing from the query is how it all hangs together. Good luck!

Donna K. Weaver said...

I agree that we need to know more about the mc sooner. I don't see anything that shows me anything superheroish in her.

I'm curious also as to how much romance you can have with a mc this young, so I'm not sure that's necessary to push in the query.

Good effort.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

One of the trickiest things about writing a critique is giving enough information that the agent can get some idea of the specifics without feeling like the whole thing has been revealed. Hopefully Matt's comments will help Eliana find this balance.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yeah i think the major problem with this query is the vagueness of it. I really don't know what's going on or even what happened to get the characters there in the first place.
In this case, specifics will really help tighten the query and see what else it is you need to focus on

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree - focus in on the character and let us in on the fun! Good luck with it! :)

Nancy Thompson said...

Yes, order & specificity are the areas that need work here. Perfect call. Sounds like a great story that just needs to be more fully unveiled.

Rachel said...

Looks like you're in good hands. :) I agree with losing the first paragraph and moving the house-keeping to the bottom of the query.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I think a lot of people (myself included!) tend to want to put in as much as possible and make it as interesting as possible. It's probably better to streamline the details you include and leave the rest of it to the novel itself. :)
Great critique, Matt! And I would definitely agree that it sounds as if there's an amazing story behind this query! :)

Eliana said...

Thanks for all the feedback! I've been rewriting all morning!

Michael G-G said...

Eliana, thanks for sharing this query with us. Matt is right about the need for details up front. His "3 Cs" is an excellent way to construct a query.

I would begin straightaway with Vannette's age and her powers (or her problem with her powers) and the fact that she sees the ghost of Dalton (add in what their relationship was.) Then you need to be very specific about the forces which are putting her life, and the lives of her loved ones, at risk.

I loved Dianne Salerni's advice also. You don't want agents to be scratching their heads about what's going on--and a lot of vague terms (like Dianne's "mysterious origins") are cliches.) Liven it up with well-chosen details, and you will see an improvement. (But don't stray in the opposite direction and make this a synopsis. Getting the right balance is what makes writing the query letter such a hard art to master.)

Good luck!

Nick Wilford said...

It does feel like a lot of bits of information that we're left to put together like a puzzle. I'd forgotten about the superhero thing too when I read about her being terrible at using her powers. An inefficient superhero would be a strong hook upfront (as long as it didn't make it sound too much like a comedy), as it would suggest she'd have to improve fast to resolve her problems. And if the ghost outside her window is the same as the student she befriends, this should be clarified. I agree it sounds like a great story, just needs tidied up!

farawayeyes said...

Eliana, thanks so much for having the courage to share and helping me to learn.

Sounds like some good advice to me. While the premise sounds awesome, this query had me a bit confused. These tips should clear that up and you'll be one your way.

Good luck.

Jay Noel said...

You hit on some great points. When I first read her query, the word "ghostly" struck me as a little confusing. It haunted me. Hahahaha. Okay, sorry.

Towards the end, I wanted to know what Vannette was giving up too.

All in all, some of the wording was a little awkward and Eliana needs to not only up the stakes but hit us with real specifics.

Oh, and Eliana is such a pretty name.