Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Draft Query #5 - Can You Help This Author?

Here's the fifth in a series of posts wherein we're helping authors hone their query letters.

The goal is to help writers find the 'hook' in their story - NOT to give categorical advice on what agents will and won't accept. 


With that in mind, here's the draft query as written. Following that, I'll offer some comments, then leave it open to you guys to offer yours!

Dear [Agent]:

Seventeen-year-old Emma Harris is tired of being haunted, but the ghost-girl following her is just getting started. Instead of sticking with the typical ghost repertoire, she hurls Emma and fellow classmate, Daniel Wyatt, back to 19th Century America where the stalker spirit is a flesh and blood girl: Lucinda Sutton. The same Lucinda Sutton who disappeared on her wedding night, according to town legend.

Of all the people to be stuck with in the past, Daniel Wyatt was not high on Emma’s list. She’d prefer to avoid him, aware of his dodgy reputation and temper, but stranded in a foreign world of petticoats and pantalettes, he’s the only anchor to her time, a place she’d do anything to get back to.

After doing some digging into Lucinda’s life, Emma and Daniel uncover shocking secrets that lead them to believe the key to getting home lies in helping Lucinda and her lover marry. But there’s a catch: Lucinda is engaged to another man. The very man who may have made her “disappear.”

Unless Emma can defeat Lucinda's treacherous suitor and cope with her growing feelings for Daniel, she may be stuck in the past forever.

Complete at 69,000 words, [Novel Title Redacted] is a young-adult novel with a ghostly historical twist.

Sincerely,

[Author name redacted]


My Comments (in italics)


Dear [Agent]:

Seventeen-year-old Emma Harris is tired of being haunted, but the ghost-girl following her is just getting started. Instead of sticking with the typical ghost repertoire, she hurls Emma and fellow classmate, Daniel Wyatt, back to 19th Century America where the stalker spirit is a flesh and blood girl: Lucinda Sutton. The same Lucinda Sutton who disappeared on her wedding night, according to town legend.

While I understand what you're going for, the words "Instead of sticking with the typical ghost repertoire" just slow the pace in my opinion. You've got a good thing going here, keep it quick!

I also had to re-read "stalker spirit" to grasp that it was the ghost you were referring to. I like the term, but I'm wondering if you want to simplify so you don't break the read?


Of all the people to be stuck with in the past, Daniel Wyatt was not high on Emma’s list. She’d prefer to avoid him, aware of his dodgy reputation and temper, but stranded in a foreign world of petticoats and pantalettes, he’s the only anchor to her time, a place she’d do anything to get back to.

The second sentence seemed a little clunky to me - but the intent behind it is great. It gives a very clear picture of the character / relationship development we can expect between these two. So I'd maybe work on it a little, but not to the detriment of the overall picture.



After doing some digging into Lucinda’s life, Emma and Daniel uncover shocking secrets that lead them to believe the key to getting home lies in helping Lucinda and her lover marry. But there’s a catch: Lucinda is engaged to another man. The very man who may have made her “disappear.”

I think unless you're going to identify at least one of the 'shocking' secrets, there's not a lot of point mentioning them. I was hooked anyway without knowing. I had feedback from a leading agent on one of my queries once, asking me to be specific about 'secrets' or leave them out. She noted that this is a term that often comes up in queries - and is often over-rated by the author. She asked me to be specific about the secrets so she could decide if they were, indeed, shocking or not.


That's only one agent, so not necessarily a ubiquitous piece of advice. But worth considering.


Unless Emma can defeat Lucinda's treacherous suitor and cope with her growing feelings for Daniel, she may be stuck in the past forever.

Excellent! I know exactly what's at stake and it makes me want to find out what will happen!


Complete at 69,000 words, [Novel Title Redacted] is a young-adult novel with a ghostly historical twist.

Sincerely,

[Author name redacted]

Perfect. In my humble opinion.



OVERVIEW:

I didn't do this intentionally, but I think we've saved the best for last. Although I've given you a lot of notes, overall I'd say this is the smoothest, most concise query we've used in this series. So kudos to you!

In fact, I'm not sure I can really expand on the comments above. I feel like you already have world-building, character, conflict and stakes in place. If you want to improve on what you've got, it's just a matter of playing with the words a little.

Don't, whatever you do, make sweeping changes here! I suspect this query is / would be effective as-is. But I've noted the points above where I felt the delivery could be improved.

I envy your ability to keep your query (and your manuscript!) so tight.

That's it. Well done.


Your Turn: What do you think this author could do to make the query stronger? Give any feedback you think might be helpful – but please keep in mind that we’re here to help. Offer constructive feedback: If you don’t like something, explain why. And if you think something else is needed, offer suggestions that might help.

Any needlessly derogative or personal comments will be deleted. 

6 comments:

  1. Agree with your comments, Aimee. This query really drew me in. Can't wait to see this book on the shelves one day! 

    Question for you, Aimee: do the 'secrets' comments apply to book blurbs as well, or just queries? 

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The short answer is, I don't know. The comments I got from that agent were regarding a query. And this was feedback from only one agent, so I'm not sure it's applicable to everyone.

      My GUESS would be that it would apply to blurbs as well. I mean, the point of both is to hook people, right? It seems like good advice to identify the secret(s) to give the reader a taste...

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  2. This book seems wonderful! I'm looking forward to reading it :)

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  3. Cool, thanks. Appreciate your thoughts. :-)

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  4. Excellent article, especially useful for those who are looking for a good example for the essay. It can be used as an example or turn to professional writers 99 papers. I once did, so this is a good method for the development of writing skills

    ReplyDelete