Friday, March 29, 2013

Margo Berendsen's Current Query Critiqued

Okay, here we go again. You all followed Margo's blog yesterday, I'm sure, so let's just get right to work. Today we have her query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Seventeen(-)year(-)old Camria and her twin sister Liz were the first children ever conceived and born on the International Space Station. Hmm. This is pretty good. Not only does it set the scene and build the world quite succinctly, but it carries with it tons of backstory, without having to labor over it. Cam just wants to be a normal high school junior and skip all the attention that goes with being a highly publicized “space twin.” But when she’s blinded in a freak explosion, and Liz disappears, she’ll do anything to get her sister and her sight back. Technically this whole sentence is a clause dependent on the previous sentence. I realize you're doing that on purpose, but I'm not sure a query letter is the best place to play with grammar rules. We'll see what my readers think.

All in all, this open is pretty great. As always, I would like to have a little more characterization for Cam, you know - what her personality is like before her story begins, but this opening is pretty strong without it.

Cam suspects there’s something more to Lander, a new transfer student, than his odd accent and his interest in her. The sequence of this sentence reads a little awkwardly to me. Maybe start with Lander, his accent, his interest, and then finish with Cam's suspicions? Turns out he’s from a planet not yet discovered by Earth, and he knows why Liz disappeared. A high-tech alien faction So Lander is not human? It seems to me he must not be, but you could probably make that clearer. is bent on taking over minds of unsuspecting humans, and they've started with Cam’s sister.

Okay, as substance goes, this is good. We've got clear conflict, high stakes, and a character that could be either a romantic interest or an antagonist, and that's all pretty good, but the execution here feels off. For one, the voice feels a little dry, and for another one piece of information doesn't feel like it leads logically into the next. I hope that makes sense. I realize that in a query letter, you don't have room to always link everything together smoothly, but I think you should think about the order in which you present things, and make sure you're giving your reader enough.

When Lander offers to take Cam to find Liz, and to restore her sight with his advanced technology, Cam accepts, but whoa. She didn't count on traveling through wormholes, fighting off mind control, and facing her own growing attraction to Lander. After Lander appears to turn traitor, How? Cam must decide to cut a deal to save her sister and herself, or risk their lives to keep the enemy faction from stealing more minds from Earth.

This is pretty good, too. You've certainly got a decently sadistic choice here, and it leads to clear consequences on either side. My one gripe is for you to get specific about Lander's turncoating. Always try to be as specific as possible in a query letter. Vagueness only makes your story look like so many others. That said, if it's super complicated what happens in the story, it can be difficult to fit it in a query letter. You have to use your best judgement about what to share and what to hold back.

I also think one more thing you need to make clear is whether Cam gets her sight back. If Lander ditches her, and she goes through the whole book blind, that would be one kind of story, but if she lets him restore her vision first, that is really a completely different book, you know?

STARTRIPPED This title seems weird. Could you maybe hyphenate it: STAR-TRIPPED? is an 85K word science fiction for young adults YA Science Fiction (or just Sci-Fi) that should appeal to fans of the Across the Universe and I Am Number Four series. Thank you for your time and consideration.

In summary, this query letter is really pretty good. You've got Conflict and Choice down pat, and you've got a decent start to Character, since you open with your protagonist in a situation which sort of automatically characterizes her for us a bit, but you could use a little more.

Then, I think it's just a matter of rearranging a few things, and spicing up the voice a little. You've got one "whoa" in the final paragraph, and that was the first time this query felt like it was written by, about, or for a young adult. One exercise that can help with voice, I find, is to write the query from the first person point of view of your protagonist, and then edit it back into third person.

That's it.

What do you all think? This query is pretty close, isn't it?

P.S. Today is also my day to post over at Project Middle Grade Mayhem, and I've written a bit about why my family's vacation next week means so much to me.


Elise Fallson said...

Margo had me hooked by the end of her first sentence and I think she has a great start here. I also think your suggestion to write the query from the 1st person pov of the protagonist, and then edit it back into third person, is excellent advice. And that's exactly what I'm going to try and do with my query. Good luck Margo, you've got a great start to your query and with Matthew's suggestions this will be a knockout letter in no time. (:

JeffO said...

Queries are tough because of the limited space you have to communicate story, voice, and skill. My biggest problem with this query is it's too dry. There's a lot of emotional impact stuff in here: the weight of fame, an explosion that blinds Cam, a disappearing sister, and, finally, a guy she comes to like who may be a slime, but there's no emotion in the query. Maybe because of that there's also no sense of urgency. I'd say try to bring in more of Cam's emotions.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Think it just needs a little more zing.
The first line in the second paragraph - could switch the name and 'a new transfer student' - doesn't read quite as awkward then.

mshatch said...

My big beef is that the first paragraph starts with Cam and her sister disappearing and the next she's apparently in school somewhere. I'd like a clearer idea of how Cam got from the space station where her sister vanished to the school where she meets Lander. Is this school on the space station or back on earth or somewhere else altogether? And a little more character in the first paragraph would make it pretty near perfect.

Good luck Margo!

Unknown said...

Just learning about query letters. This post is intriguing, am I correct in that Margo is a writer and a query letter accompanies a submission to a publisher?
I'll go look it up.

Old Kitty said...

Totally love Margo and her most analytical posts (she totally dissects EVERYTHING!! in a totally amazing way!)LOL! So am so glad she's here!

All the best with your query Margo - it reads great and with some fab advice too from Mr MacNish et al!! Take care

farawayeyes said...

Glad you and others mentioned that it seemed a little dry. I'm reading along and thinking everything seems to be there and the premise is interesting and should be filled with action, romance and intrigue BUT I'm just not feeling it here, in this query.

That said; there is so much that should be included, but so little space it's hard not to simply allude to these elements and leave out the details.

Margo has such a good start, I would REALLY be interested to see what she does to 'spice' it up a bit, as this is something I struggle with also.

DL Hammons said...

I think she could possibly delete the third paragraph altogether and make the query more lean and finding out more about the story more enticing. A couple tweaks here and there and this should be ready for prime time. :)

Margo Berendsen said...

Matt (and everyone else) - thank you!!! You're uncovering the same weakness I that I felt in my gut, but didn't know how to fix. Great idea writing this in first person to get some voice and emotion, and then putting it back into third.

Jess said...

Great feedback, Matt! This sounds like a cool concept and I love Margo's blog :)

OT Ebby said...

I would have read on too! Thanks for visiting my blog- we are worlds apart on topics! Half looking forward to the A-Z Challenge, half wishing I'd written more posts already!

Katy Upperman said...

Matt, I think your feedback is spot-on (as usual!) and I totally agree that this query is super close. Furthermore, I love the concept. I'd totally buy a book based on this summary! Best of luck with your project, Margo!

Susan Kane said...

I love how you cut to the heart of the problem, suggest changes. Excellent.

thank you for all your work in the A to Z team. This year should be wonderful.

Weaver said...

Love the premise of the story and I agree with Matt's observations. I'm wishing for more emotion, more sense of urgency.

Mia Hayson said...

I agree with Matt. Really solid query! I think I would love more voice in general in the text, as Matt says. I loved it when the "whoa" happened in the query because I felt like I was connecting with the character!