Friday, November 4, 2016

Colleen Fackler's Current Query Critiqued

Today we have Colleen Fackler's current query for her Picture Book GOOD GUY MEETS SCHMOOSH.

The query:


This may very from agent to agent, because after all, agents are human beings, but it would be most professional, in a cold query email, to refer to the agent as Ms. LAST NAME or Mr. LAST NAME. If they reply to you at some point and sign it with just their first name, it's fine to start referring to them by their first name, but until then, use Mr. or Ms.

Below is Good Guy Meets Schmoosh, my 500-word picture book for your consideration.

What does this mean? Are you trying to point out that the entire text of the book is included below? If so, mention that below, not here (and be sure to adhere to submission guidelines for the agency, to make sure they allow the entire text to be included). If not, and this is just some sort of introductory line to your query, skip it.

I would recommend you use this space, however, to introduce why you're querying that specific agent. Obviously you can't include it here, because this is a generic letter, but if you are querying a particular agent because of a specific book or author they have represented, or because you met them at a conference, or because you read a blog post of theirs you liked, be sure to mention that.

Good Guy Meets Schmoosh GOOD GUY MEETS SCHMOOSH is the heartwarming This reads as a little pretentious to me. I don't know, maybe "heartwarming" is a category for PBs, like "Sweet Romance" or something, but calling something you wrote "heartwarming" just makes me cringe a little. The entire text of the story is included, right? Maybe let the agent decide if it's heartwarming. Unless that's a category thing for PBs. If so, ignore me. story of Guy, a young boy who is rewarded by his parents for his consistently moral behavior Don't take this the wrong way, but that's the driest character description I've seen in a query in a while. "Consistent Moral Behavior," sounds like something that would be fitted to a rubber stamp that would go down on "Your Permanent Record." Can you be more specific? And colorful? I realize this is a picture book, so there's not a lot in the way of character arc going on, but this reads very dry. I'll say more below. with the opportunity to purchase a puppy. On his way to the pet store, Guy spots a stray dog that he cannot stop thinking about, even once faced with puppies galore. His mom, initially concerned with the potential danger associated with rescuing a dog, is hesitant to introduce Guy to a stray, but soon realizes that Guy wants nothing more than to save Schmoosh from a lonely life on the streets.

Okay, so much of this is actually pretty good. I realize that PBs are very compact by way of plot, and leave little room for things like characterization, but you've actually got some good stuff going here, both in terms of the mom, and in terms of Guy. I would probably only recommend (and keep in mind, as I said in our emails, that my expertise, if you can call it that, with query letters really lies more int he realm of YA and MG novel length works, so I could easily be wrong about the "rules" for Picture Books), that in general, story is story, and when it comes to queries, there are three things which are the most important (actually only two, but I'll get to that).

CHARACTER. When we read, all of us who are human at least, we want to be entertained, sure, but mostly we want to care. Give us someone to care about, and we will follow you anywhere. So, with that being said, the most important thing any query letter can do is introduce us to a complex, sympathetic, interesting character (protagonist) that we can immediately begin to care about and root for right away. You have Guy here, and with his reaction to the stray on the street I do like him, but get that Save the Cat moment (or some other likable moment) introduced in the query right away. In other words, do away with "Consistent Moral Behavior," and come up with something better. Something more specific, more vivid, and more interesting (but unlike the moment with the stray, this is something from his backstory, something that makes him GOOD Guy, rather than just Guy). Obviously this won't be something actually from the book, since this is a 500 word PB, but it can be something very basic, as long as its not vague. Vagueness is the number one aspect that can make a good story into a poor query.

CONFLICT. When you take a character the reader cares about, and throw them into some conflict, that's when it becomes a story. The character must overcome something in order to make their narrative interesting. You've clearly got that here, with the decision between purchasing a pet store puppy and saving a stray from the street who needs a home, and I actually think you nail it quite well here. It's simple, it's straightforward, it's the kind of decision many many people have faced.

CHOICE. In a query for a novel length work, it's relatively standard to wrap up with what's known as a sadistic choice [Fair Warning that's a link to a TV Tropes article. You've been warned]. I don't know that that's really a requirement for Picture Books, but you've actually got one built in here already. At least, it's implied. You might consider laying it out specifically, the difficult choice Guy must make between an adorable Poky Little Puppy, and and good family-less dog named Schmoosh who truly needs his love, and what some of the implications of that choice are, but I would also say if you left it how you have it now it's not bad.

Each year, of the 7.5 million animals that even make it into rescue shelters, 2.7 million are euthanized. A stigma of poor upbringing and therefore danger and illness is often associated with rescuing a homeless animal. Families often opt to buy puppies or kittens from breeders instead. Good Guy Meets Schmoosh aims to kick this reputation to the curb.

This is mostly good. I would do a little research on the phrase "kicked to the curb," though. I'm not sure it fits that well with the aesthetic of the rest of this letter.

Good Guy Meets Schmoosh is my first children’s book. I am 30 years old, I just had my first child in July, and CUT THIS. I have worked in the media industry for 12 years. Doing what? Be SPECIFIC. I have been published in the form of editorials, church bulletins, If you can't list specific magazine titles (which would go in italics for titles of published works, then skip this). and work-related POV’s, I have no idea what this means. Cut it. but I always only written poetry as an outlet. Cut. I'll explain below. As a rescue dog mom myself, if the success of this book saves even just one homeless animal’s life, it was worth my time. This is pretty good. Keep this last line.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a first time author. Agents sign them every day. If you have excellent and extensive writing credentials, and dozens of magazine article and short story credits to your name, that's great. But if you don't, don't worry about it. No biography, no matter how good it is, is going to sell a bad story. If you're a first time author, let your story speak for itself.

This is a multiple submission. Nope. Cut. This is understood to be implied. If an agency's (or an agent's) submission guidelines specifically ask for exclusive submissions, then send a query only to that agent if you want them to represent you. Do not query anyone else until you have heard back from them. But weigh this choice against your other options, of course, and don't give them forever. I truly look forward to your feedback and I thank you kindly for your review and consideration.


Colleen M. Fackler

That's it!

Please share your thoughts and feedback below.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, you spared no punches with that one.

K. M. Walton said...

Hi, Colleen!! So glad you reached out to Matthew. Okay, onto your query. I agree with Matthew's thoughts on the use of heartwarming -- show the agent, don't tell. Also agree to cut the words "consistently moral behavior" - again, show the agent, don't tell. I'd cut the line at the end, "I truly look forward to your feedback" because agents rarely give feedback from a query - they'd do that once you sign with them as a client. A solid closing would be: Thank you for your time and consideration.

BEST OF LUCK to you on your journey to publication : )

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Hi, Colleen! I agree with all Matt's comments.

I had the same reaction to "heartwarming story" and "rewarded for consistent moral behavior." It immediately turned me off because it felt like you were saying: "Here is a story with a lesson" instead of "Here's a really good story!" It's okay for the story to have a lesson. Most do. But it's got to be a really good story first.

Instead of that line about Guy being rewarded by his parents, I'd like to see a line that shows off something about Guy's personality -- and also gives us a taste of your voice.

As Matt said, a pb isn't going to have a complex plot, so instead give us a glimpse of the kind of writing we will see in the book. This sentence: "His mom, initially concerned with the potential danger associated with rescuing a dog, is hesitant to introduce Guy to a stray" doesn't fit with the tone of the piece. It's very formal sounding. I suggest trying to explain the exact same situation in a lighter tone -- not with child-like words, but with a child-like wonder. I love the phrase "puppies galore" for instance and would like to see more of that language infused throughout the query.

Does that make sense?

Colleen Fackler said...

No punches may have been spared, but I can handle it! Gotta start somewhere. Matt, thank you again for your time and critique, and thank you to everyone else for your additional input. For the record, yes, it appears to be typical that the entire manuscript is to be pasted below the query letter when submitting a children's book (I just included a snippet here) and, for the most part, it's considered a courtesy to let the agent know that the submission is not exclusive. This notification is commonly mentioned in most of the submission guidelines I've reviewed. As for the rest of your feedback, you've inspired me to revisit not only my query but the beginning of my manuscript as well. Also, I do tend to sound formal (and unintentionally pretentious too I suppose!) when drafting letters of any sort, so I'll have to pay more attention to how that comes off to the reader and mismatches the tone of the manuscript. Thanks again all for your input, and I will surely keep everyone posted on the status of my journey towards publication.

Matthew MacNish said...

You are most welcome, Colleen! And by all means, if an agent's submission guidelines ask to know whether a submission is exclusive or not, definitely let them know.