Friday, October 5, 2012

Heather Gale's Current Query Critiqued

Okay, it's finally another Friday. Mom is out of town, so I have to come in late, after getting the kids off to school. I'm going to try to finish this tonight (Thursday), but if I don't, it may go up late. We'll see. Anyway, today we have Heather's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

Here's the query:

Dear Ms. B. Agent,

How old are early readers? Like seven? Is the character that age? Say so. Maddison Bernadette Maria Wiseman has the longest name in her family. It may even be the longest name in her neighbourhood! If you read my blog, you know that when I critique queries, I always harp on people for not introducing character first. Character, character, character. I normally want to know what kind of person a character is, before their story ever starts, because I want to know they're someone I can root for and sympathize with so that I care whether or not they overcome their plight.

However, first of all, this is an early reader (which comes before chapter books, if I recall correctly) so I bet the query can get to the point a little quicker. Furthermore, I think this actually works. It's not normal query characterization, but it is kind of characterization. You get the idea that she doesn't fit in her family, in her neighborhood, or maybe even in her own skin. Anyway, yes I just spent like a hundred words telling you your first two sentences work for me.

This year she can’t wait to be called Maddie B. except school doesn’t start for another two long days. This sentence would work better as two independent clauses (separated by a semi-colon), or maybe even two separate sentences. Being bored is not easy and keeping a promise can be harder still, even if learning to do your laundry sounds easy simple? When everything goes wrong, and her mother just never seems to be available, it is up to Maddie to clean up the mess. Too bad the scratchy-old towels give her the shuddery-jeebies! Other than the points I've mentioned, I like this. It's quick and to the point, but it does have a good sense of conflict and choice, and I don't think you need a lot more than that for a twenty-three-hundred word book.

To stand apart from other early reader stories, Maddie includes the reader as a confident confidAnt and seeks their opinion or thoughts. I'm curious about this. Of course this kind of thing is normally verboten, but I could see it working in a book like this. I'd like to know how you execute it though. Does she break the fourth wall completely? Does she address the reader in second person? Obviously any pages you get to include will show that, but it might help to include it in your query. Unless my other readers know better?

I am an unpublished writer with have a background in Orthotics and Prosthetics, however an established children’s author has critiqued this story and advised that it has the quality to be published. Nope. Don't do this. If the writer is represented by this agent, you can maybe ask them to refer you, but unless you know them very well, even asking can be bad form. But if they're not, this just looks ... I don't want to sound harsh, but it looks desperate.

Actually, unless the book includes a character with a prosthetic limb, you can probably cut this whole paragraph. It's fine to be an unpublished writer, agents sign debut authors all the time.

Besides, on a lighter note, this is, to me, already the makings of a great story, and a good query. Let it stand on its own. You don't need to cheapen it by including this other stuff.

Complete at 2,350 words, Maddie B.: Washing Clothes is Easy Peasy . . . Oops! is an early reader story, set in Toronto, Canada.

I believe this will appeal to fans of the Ivy and Bean, Junie B. Jones, and Clementine series. I'm pretty meh on comparisons. I don't use them, and I don't tend to like reading them, but some agents do like them.

Please note that this is a simultaneous submission. I hope you enjoy reading Chapter One as much as I did in writing it. You don't need any of this either. Mention exclusive submissions, but unless an agent's submission guidelines specifically ask you to mention that your submission is simultaneous, it's pretty much understood that it is. And whether or not you get to include chapter one will be up to the submission guidelines.

In advance, tThank you for your time.

Kind regards,

Heather Gale

In summary, I think this is mostly pretty good. Take my story related advice with a grain of salt, because I've never critiqued an early reader query, and I don't know a lot about the level.

I do know something about story though, and I think you have the basics down.

Do listen to me about these housekeeping details though, because I've read hundreds of queries, and I've seen what works. The main thing to keep in mind is that the story, and then the writing, must stand alone. None of the other details really matter.

That's it.

What do you guys think? Does anyone write early readers? What about chapter books? Anything below MG? Otherwise, see anything you disagree with? Please leave your feedback in the comments, and have a great weekend.


Jessica Bell said...

I'm clueless when it comes to this age-group!!! Good luck, Heather!

Sarah said...

My son is in this age group. I agree with Matt's feedback--definitely don't mention the part about another writer reading it and thinking it's good unless it's a serious referral to a specific agent.

Apart from the things Matt's already mentioned (including: be veeeerrrrry careful of typos, word repetition, and other mistakes--have someone else read over it for you before sending!), I guess I'm wishing you'd say less about the kiddo's name and more about the actual plot of the book. I couldn't picture what was happening at all, and I think you need to give the agent more of a sense of the zany fun that goes on in the pages of your book. Right now, what I'm getting is the tone, and you're telling me a few things, but I'd love to be given more of a sense of the sequence of events.

I think comparisons often help agents if they're chosen wisely. These comp titles you mentioned gave me a sense of the book's level and audience, so I might keep that part.

maine character said...

The first line is great, but the second isn't needed, or even the next, since the story's about the laundry and not about her name or school.

I wouldn't say mentioning an author liked the story sounds desperate - it's simply trying to reassure the agent that you're not wasting their time. But that's still something one shouldn't do - the query and story have to work on their own.

What I'd like to see more is what actually happens with the washer. Does she get covered in suds? Does the dog run from the flood? Does she try to hide it from her mother? The story is what you're selling, and how well you can tell it here will show the agent how you well you can tell it in the book.

Kristen Wixted said...

If you are going to leave in the part about seeking readers' thoughts, it should be "his/her" thoughts, not "their."

I'm not sure why you go straight from Maddie cleaning up the mess to how she feels about towels. Shuddery jeebies is a fun couple of words, but you don't need to stick it in the query. Like the others said, get to something that HAPPENS.

Good luck to you and Maddie B!

Christina Lee said...

Hi there! I thought the first two lines were cute! But when I got to the laundry part I kept reading it over again to see if I could understand what that means. One more little clue would do it for me. Does the laundry pile become a mountain to climb or the soap a sea of foam? Something to hint at the problem to come. GOOD LUCK!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

No idea on early readers but agree with everything you suggested she cut.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I'd like to see some connection between the issue of her name and the laundry.

So is this like a choose your own adventure? I'm really curious how the reader is involved.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Sounds like a good story, but I'd like to see a little more details so I can see the conflict. Otherwise, I agree with all of Matt's points.

Julie DeGuia said...

This sounds cute. The conflict is kind of simple, but for an early reader I think battling a pile of towels is fine. However, since the story takes place before school even starts, the part about the name seems a little irrelevant.

"Maddie includes the reader as a confidAnt and seeks their opinion or thoughts."

As someone mentioned, reader and their do not match - singular vs. plural.

As others mention, the part about including the reader is intriguing and might be the thing that sets your ms apart and gets an agent's attention. I would expand on this... your query is pretty short so you have the room.

I would cut the entire paragraph about the author reading your ms and your job. Are you a member of any writing groups? Add that if you are.

Finally, the comparisons don't work for me b/c they are not early readers. All three series you mention range from between 7,000 and 14,000 words and are Chapter Books... so those "fans" probably wouldn't be going for an early reader anymore. I'm just basing this on reading level though.

Good luck!

Julie DeGuia said...

Just wanted to come back and say a better comp would be the Princess Posey series by Stephanie Greene. Those are between 2800 and 3500 words!

Adventures in YA Publishing said...

The feedback on the query is dead on, so I really have nothing to add except that I just had to chime in to say that I love the title. I'd read just for that. It tells so much! :)

Best of luck!


.jessica. said...

I agree with Matt's feedback, and with the commenters who've mentioned they'd like to see a little more about what exactly happens in the story. Even just a few more details that make the conflict clear (however basic it may be) would be fantastic.

One thing you've really got going for you in this query is VOICE. I think it's lighthearted and fun and it fits the age group well. The only word that seemed out of place to me was "available" ("her mother just never seems to be available") - that sounds a little older to me, and a little more formal. My first instinct was to replace it with "her mother just never seems to be around," but then it sounds like she's being neglected or something, so I'm not sure that works. Anyway, just something to think about. :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I knew you'd have something to say about that opening. Dumping the personal stuff at the end is a good idea, too.

Anonymous said...

The title be in ALL CAPS right?

Matthew MacNish said...

YES, Josh! I can't believe I missed that.

Heather - working titles of manuscripts go in ALL CAPS in queries. Titles of published works, like Ivy and Bean, go in italics.

Elise Fallson said...

I think these query critiques are starting to rub off on me because the couple questions I was going to point out, Matthew and the other commenters hit in their comments. I pretty much agree with everything that's already been said, the story sounds really cute and I wish you luck with this!

Angela Brown said...

Hmm...The first line of this query is definitely a an eye-catcher. Adding it with the advice Matt provided should make for a tightened, eye-catching query that could grab several agents' attention.

Lydia Kang said...

I don't read this stuff very much either. But I agree with your crits!

JeffO said...

This is a new one on me. I'm not sure if agents for early readers look for the same thing in a query as they do with other books, so I'm not sure what to say.

I like the voice overall, but I'm not sure if there's quite enough of the story in the query. I found this line 'keeping a promise can be harder still, even if learning to do your laundry sounds easy' a little odd, like the two are linked, but it doesn't quite make sense. What did she promise? What does the laundry have to do with it?

Next paragraph, the word you want is 'confidante', not confident. And I think you want to drop the detailed background on yourself and the praise from the author, unless said author is specifically allowing you to use their name as an 'in'.

Hope it helps, and good luck! I loved Junie B. and those books when my kids were that age.

Stephanus Sonata said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.
Steph @ sewa mobil jakarta

Daisy Carter said...

As usual, your query crits are awesome. I find myself nodding along every time I read one.

No idea about ERs, but this sounds like a fun read! Best of luck in querying, Heather!

mshatch said...

I rarely read and never write early reader books so I'm not sure how much my opinion counts but I agree with Matt, especially about the housekeeping.