Friday, January 16, 2015

Anthony Isom's Current Query Critiqued

Morning. Happy Friday! Today we have Anthony's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

[Insert Agent Here]

My name is Anthony Isom. Not necessary. Sign your letter at the end like any business letter. In an e-query, it's fine to do this by just typing your name. I am seeking representation for Redundant. Your sending of the query in the first place is indication of the fact that you are seeking representation. REAL GOOD, my 43,000-word young adult manuscript, which I view as a cross between David Levithan’s BOY MEETS BOY and Lauren Myracle’s SHINE. While the story contains a hate crime, its clutch and pulse hinge on a love triangle between three boys—the narrator, his boyfriend, and his best friend. The rest of this is pretty good. I love the comparison titles (though BOY MEETS BOY and SHINE should be italicized, not ALL CAPS, but I hear that sentiment might be changing), and I love the phrasing of "clutch and pulse."

Normally, I would recommend leaving word count, comparison titles, and so on to the end of the query. A little personalization up front (I'm querying you because we met at ALA last year, or I'm querying you because I love that you represent Author X) can be great, but isn't always necessary. In the long run, the one and only thing that is going to sell an agent on representing you, is your story. I say get right to what matters.

So let's do that, and jump into the important part, the meat of the story.


First of all, let me just say before I even get to the content, I don't like what I see at first glance. This is a large chunk of text, not broken up into separate paragraphs at all. Traditionally, query letters are about 250 words (for the story part), broken up into three paragraphs. There's nothing wrong with breaking the "rules," but if you're going to do it, do it in a way that improves your chances.

Additionally, the paragraph below (before I touch it) is 182 words. That's not so short that I would say you should definitely increase it, but the problem here is that shoving it all into a single paragraph actually makes it look longer than it is.

Anyway ...

17-year-old Adam Sutton knows he should have kissed his boyfriend, Terry Connelly, by now just as he knows it is strange and yet intriguing his best friend, Evan Michaels, kissed him Kissed who? Watch your pronouns here. I'm not sure if Evan kissed Adam or Terry from this sentence. in the front seat of Evan’s Tahoe. This is a nice detail. This is the kind of thing I like to see in queries: specificity. We don't necessarily know for sure just from this one word, but this indicates a lot to me. If a high school kid has his own car, and it's something as nice as a Tahoe, they probably come from a relatively wealthy suburban area. Specific details like this go such a long way in a query. While exploring his newly-disrupted world, What does this mean? It's basically both vague and redundant. "Exploring" is vague, because we really have no idea what that means, and "newly-disrupted world" is redundant, because you just showed us the world was disrupted. Sometimes a little reminder is a good thing, but don't combine it with vague language. Adam receives disturbing news of a trauma that, though impersonal, Unnecessary. Let the reader decide for themselves what's personal. rattles him—a freshman boy named Carter Morreson, Why is everyone FIRST NAME, LAST NAME? Do they attend some kind of snooty prep school where everyone is called Mister Sutton and Mister Morreson? Regardless, you've got a problem here. You've got FOUR named characters in the query. That's probably two too many. Name Adam, by all means, and give his last name too, but Terry and Carter need only first names, and Evan doesn't need to be named at all. "Best Friend" (who I assume is not gay or at least is not out?) is sufficient. the innocent Are there guilty victims of hate crimes? If the victim did something that made him guilty, it's not a hate crime, it's assault or revenge or whatever. victim of a hate crime, was tied to his bed by four junior boys and beaten to a pulp. Man. That's powerful. This is your inciting incident? Or is it the kiss? It's a little hard to tell from this query whether this is a plot based story or a character study type story. Not that a novel can't be both, but I'd like to see a little better indication of where the manuscript goes. From your housekeeping opening, I get the sense that the story is more of a character study about the love triangle, and the hate crime is more of a backdrop (like the bugs in Grasshopper Jungle), which is fine, but try to word the story section of the query in such a way that emphasizes that. Adam wants nothing to do with this Carter Morreson, This helps. even while Terry campaigns for a Gay-Straight Alliance and Evan offers his and Adam’s protection services Unnecessarily wordy. This makes it sound like some kind of mob racket shakedown thing. to Carter himself. One night, while sleeping on Carter’s floor and guarding against any rumored threats, Adam discovers Carter’s not telling anyone the full story. Someone had to unlock that door and, Do they live in dorms? Is this a boarding school? Because this locked door thing makes it sound like it is, and you need to make that clear. of the four boys expelled, none of them had access to a key. Interesting twist. Adam knows he must confront Carter but cannot muster the courage, especially when he’s still so tentative about taking a stand for the first ever Pisgah Heights Academy Gay-Straight Alliance. Pretty good sadistic choice there too.

Okay, so in summary: content-wise, you've actually got a strong premise here. I think the market (I'm no expert, but still) is looking for diverse stories like these, and I think that sets you up for success from the get go.

Structure-wise, this query needs some work. I would recommend re-writing to try to match something closer to this format:

"Seventeen-year-old [One or two words describing him as a character, for example: drama club president, or: shy but friendly trumpet player] Adam Sutton knows he should have kissed his boyfriend Terry by now, but he's been a little freaked out ever since his previously assumed to be straight best friend Evan kissed him in the front seat of his Tahoe.

Still reeling in the emotional whirlwind aftermath of that night, Adam's world gets a little more confusing and a lot more dangerous when [describe the hate crime] at their stiff-upper-lip boarding school, Pisgah Heights Academy." ... Go on to talk about Carter, the GSA, the protection they offer, and then ...

In a final paragraph, focus on the choice Adam has to make of whether or not to confront Carter. I would probably recommend you bring up the locked door, and the secret surrounding it, in this paragraph as well. Ending the query on the note of whether Adam should keep Carter's secret, and protect the victim, or out him, and side with the truth, will leave the reader itching to read the pages, which is exactly what you want to do.

I hope that makes sense. I think you're off to a really good start here, and you just need to rework the form and style of how you have all this information laid out. Let me know if you have any questions.

That's it.

What do you all think? Hopefully you can make sense of my critique, with all that blue in the post. Would you recommend any other changes?


Dianne K. Salerni said...

The first thing I noticed when I read the query yesterday was all the names. The second was that I didn't connect with any of the characters enough to keep the names straight. I kept having to go back to the top and check whether Evan was the boyfriend or the friend who kissed Adam, for instance.

As Matt mentioned, it might not be necessary to name all the boys in the query. Since Evan is the one guarding Carter with Adam while the boyfriend is off campaigning for a Gay-Straight Alliance, I would leave out Adam's name and just call him "the boyfriend." Terry may be an important character, but he's not prominent in the query.

I would also like to see that one plot summary paragraph broken into two and filled out with specific details that help us connect with the characters by giving us a flavor of who they are.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You gave some excellent suggestions on how to improve it. I could tell it was short, but one big paragraph might throw off an agent before he even reads it. That's never good.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I meant leave out Terry's name -- not Adam!

But at least it proves my point about mixing them up. :)

Steve MC said...

When I read it yesterday, I struggled to understand the kissing line. Needs a comma after “now.” And maybe “strange and yet intriguing *that* his best friend...”?

Agree on not needing to name the characters fully, and how you don’t need to say "impersonal" or “innocent."

I like the interesting love triangle and especially the mystery, and I think you really improved the query with how you shifted things about in your example.

For one final note, 43,000 words doesn't seem as long as it needs to be. Boy Meets Boy is 52,000 words, and most YA is above 60,000. So that might be an issue.

alexia said...

Hello, Matt! I'm trying to think of anything to add to your crit, but I think you covered it :)

Good luck, Anthony!

Anthony L. Isom said...

You guys rock! I took Matt's suggestions this morning as I rewrote my query, and now I want to read this book. Love it!

mshatch said...

Wow, great crit on the query, Matt.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Matt did an excellent job critiquing this query. I am certain Anthony will have a better chance of landing an agent now.