Dear [ ],
[PERSONALIZATION HERE: I am querying you because you are the author of one of my favorite books. (xx)]
Personalization can be so tricky. What I do (not that my habits should be considered rules or anything) is include personal personalization up front. So if I know the agent from a conference, or if one of their clients is a close friend of mine, or if I really loved an ARC I just read of one of their author's books, I will include that up here.
However, when it comes to more professional personalization, like say, "I believe my manuscript compares favorably to these particular titles from your list," I will usually include that kind of detail in the housekeeping paragraph at the bottom. As always, there aren't necessarily hard and fast rules for such things.
Now, to this new version of this query, what I notice at first glance is that it is long, and filled with large blocks of text. I pasted this query into MS Word, and it is 519 words long, without personalization. That's too much. The general guideline is 250 words for the "meat" of the query, the part that describes the story, and then maybe another hundred for personalization and housekeeping. At first glance this query needs to be heavily trimmed.
Okay, there's a lot to unpack here, but this opening is still not cutting it for me.
First of all, you're missing the most important part of any story, let along query. STORY always begins with CHARACTER. You introduce Daniel to us, sure, and we get a decent glimpse of his life and his situation, and it's one we can sympathize with, but all that information is external to Daniel. In order to truly care for him, we need to have an idea of his heart and his mind. What kind of person is Daniel before his story starts? He's a young boy, and from that we can certainly infer certain things, but give us more. What kind of things would Daniel love to do if he was not so busy running his household? Is he a mischievous boy? Fastidious? Obsessive? Curious? People, and therefore CHARACTERS, are unique and singular things. No two have ever been exactly alike. Let us into Daniel's heart, so we can feel a bit of his soul lifting off the page, and then once we care about him, we can start to be introduced to his story, and the conflict that follows.
That is the main problem with your opening. It lacks the sense of CHARACTER that the best queries always include. But there are other problems. There is also some contradictory language. His mother is never home, but Daniel has a special bond with her. That's not impossible, but it's certainly improbable, and you don't want improbability making a query look a little off. Furthermore, Daniel handles his brother, the house, and the checkbook, and yet he is apparently a perfect student, with no behavioral problems, who excels at sports. Again, this is not impossible, and this is more a story level problem than a query level one, but that's a scenario that sounds pretty hard to believe, so it makes a reader wonder if the story itself feels as far fetched as it seems in the query.
Which is why Daniel has everything going for him. Again, this is a complete contradiction to what you've just told us. Except that he trips over words when he talks, rendering him awkward during conversations despite his large vocabulary. Yet his academic record is unblemished. And except for no parental supervision, which he craves. Awkward phrasing. Look beyond it. Very awkward phrasing. Look beyond what? You've also jumped into second person here. His life will change completely if he wins
Let's see if we can distill this. All this stuff about the contradictions of Daniel's life is unneeded. Cut it. Here are the key points of the conflict:
- Daniel has a hard life trapped in severe poverty (among other things--and this is all introduced in the opening paragraph, don't repeat or contradict any of it)
- He sees a way out by way of a scholarship
- A recruiter visits who will decide his fate by viewing him in a wrestling match
- His chances are ruined by a bully who somehow goads him into breaking the rules of the match
That's really it. That's all you need to convey here. What Daniel does to redeem himself and so on comes after, but in the previous paragraph, those bullet points are all we need to know. Cut everything else.
All of a sudden, Daniel’s fists become a way to express himself. He uses them to destroy school property. He uses them to take his aggression out on his brother. His brother goes to the same school? And when Daniel sees him in the hall he hits him? And he uses them to punch a glass door so hard that it renders his entire wrestling career over. This is vague. Just tell us that he punches a glass door that shatters and cuts his hand. By the end of the day, Daniel is kicked off the team, expelled from school and frightened of the person whom he has now become.
With the deepest sorrow, Daniel knows he has lost everything that he has fought so hard to attain. He knows he has lost everything for which he holds dear. When the pain over such losses is so acute that you have to say that, but you don’t, holding out instead for a future altogether different from the one you now know. Something maybe resembling the past, his past, the memory before this day, and how it burned bright and green and was full of boundless hope.
Huh? You lost me here. There's some nice imagery and so on, but two of these sentences are fragments, and none of this is needed. As a matter of fact, you can honestly cut all of these last two paragraphs. When re-writing this query, focus on introducing the CHARACTER of Daniel, then hit the bullet points listed above, and leave us with a sadistic choice Daniel must make: lose his scholarship and save his brother, or give up his brother and somehow save his chances to go to a better school (or whatever the actual scenario is on the book).
THINK OF THE CHILDREN is
Okay, in summary: Man, queries are hard! You've got an excellent grasp of language, and there are some lovely lines in here, but queries are not about poetic prose. Focus on CHARACTER, CONFLICT, and CHOICE, and if you can nail those three simple things, an agent will probably move on to your pages, which is the place for more poetic prose.
Instill your opening hook with more character, trim your second paragraph so that it hits the bullet points, and after that you won't need any of the rest.
Sometimes queries are so hard it makes you tired just thinking about them. But that's why we have to work together, to help each other out, and see if we can hammer them into something resembling quality.
What do you all think? Please share your feedback in the comments.