QueryDice #39: Voice

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

Mia Tanaka made the decision to attend Vega Preparatory Academy so that she could write her own future; little did she know Vega specialized in rewriting the past.

Hmm. I wonder what this means…

Mia Tanaka was forgettable.  You could have sat next to her in class, done a project with her, or been in the same club, yet when you saw her in the hallways, her name was just out of grasp.  Although she was a smart and talented girl, she had never risked enough to fail.  Consequently, she’d never really experienced success, either. (Getting into Vega Preparatory Acadamy isn’t a success?)  A hapa (half-Japanese, half-Caucasian) girl living in Idaho, Mia secretly dreamed of being significant and memorable, a feat that seemed impossible to accomplish unless something changed drastically.  

Being half-Japanese in Idaho seems memorable, even if just a little. The way you’ve constructed this sentence tells me you mean her status as a hapa to be unmemorable and insignificant, but I’m not so sure it is.

The opportunity to make that change was presented to Mia when she attended her high school’s annual college fair and was introduced to Vega Preparatory Academy by two incredibly good-looking boys, Rhys and Jesse.  Mia’s first reaction was to forget about it.  She was already following in her mom’s footsteps to the local state college, the safe and predictable path.  But when Rhys approached Mia again to let her know that she was precisely what Vega was looking for, Mia received the confidence boost she needed to remember that she wanted more out of life than just safe and predictable.  Vega Prep was a school that was shrouded in mystery and potential adventure, and deep down, that was exactly what Mia craved.  

The above paragraph is entirely unnecessary in a query. While this information would be necessary in your book, we don’t need to know every breath or step Mia takes. We need to know larger threads, and those words are just taking up valuable real estate.

When she reached Vega, she found out that it was not just a school for the best and the brightest; it was the training ground for Vega Corporation (she or her parents wouldn’t have put two-and-two together?), a company that was dedicated to time travel.  

The moment Mia heard about the opportunity to travel through time, (Get ready for it…here comes number one) she realized this was what she was meant to do.  (And here’s number two, close on its heels). She finally felt like her life had purpose. (And third time’s not a charm…) Mia wanted nothing more than to be the school’s sole female time traveler, but was thwarted in her attempts by the “mean girl”, Angelica, who seemed to have a vendetta against her, by Sophia, the beautiful but evil woman who felt that she was robbed of the job in the past, and most of all, by herself.

In the past three sentences, we’re told three times that Mia is excited about the prospect of time travel. Once is plenty. 

Sophia and Angelica don’t feel like real threats to me because I don’t understand what they’ve done to keep Mia from getting what she wants. What does Angelica do to deliberately get in Mia’s way? Who exactly is Sophia, and why is she present at a school? Is she a teacher? I assume this is the book’s major conflict (since its the only conflict I can see) but it’s not thorny enough. Or, rather, it might be…but you haven’t shown it to us.

I thought the time-travel concept was interesting in a YA environment (even though that makes it science-fictiony, which could make it a rough sell) but I was concerned that there’s no teen voice to this query. It sounds like a grown woman speaking about a teen girl, which it is. A query, while it should be written in third person, should also give us a taste of the protagonist’s personality. If I had to judge Mia’s personality from this query, I’d say she acts like she’s thirty, which is not good in YA. 

I’d love to see some sentences revamped by SlushPileTales readers in the comments section. Winner gets–drum roll–mention as THE WINNER OF QUERYDICE 39 on Twitter! =)

Lastly, you mention in your opening sentence that Vega specializes in rewriting the past, but you don’t mention their motive for traveling through time to do that. It’s dramatic that you open with that, but then it fizzles when you never mention it again.

Being a hapa kid myself, growing up on the sunny shores of Kailua, Hawaii, I read voraciously, and I dreamed of traveling to long lost times and being a part of different worlds.  As I grew up, I realized that dream was impossible. [redacted] is, in a way, my rebellion.  After gaining my bachelor’s degree in history from Utah Valley University and learning even more about the times I yearned to be a part of, I decided that if I wanted a world in which I could time travel to exist, I needed to create it.

None of this is important. The bio portion of your letter should include information on your past writing and anything relevant to your career as an author. If you have enough words left over after giving us that information, feel free to include a few tidbits of your journey to the book.

[redacted] is a YA fantasy novel complete at 100,000 words.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

[redacted]

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Posted on August 9, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Mia Tanaka wants to get noticed. She’d love an invitation to the popular table. She wishes her lab partner would actually get her name right. She’s tired of being an ordinary, nothing-special girl a million miles off the social radar. The only think people ever notice is her hapa status: half Japanese, half Caucasian, all invisible.

    That’s where Vega Preparatory Academy comes in. Being accepted seems like the perfect start to a new life filled with adventure, mystery, and most of all, recognition. It doesn’t suck that the place is crawling with hot guys, either.

    But Vega Prep isn’t just any school: it’s the training ground for the newest legion of time travelers. Mia hasn’t only found her place in the world. She’s found her mission: to be the school’s only female time traveler.

    (Here’s the part where you explain what’s in her way, and ratchet up the stake A LOT- the only problem can’t be her becoming a time traveler. In this type of book, the whole freaking world has to be at stake.)

  2. @ella I got the Mary Sue feeling too… the hitting us over the head with how INVISIBLE and UNDER APPRECIATED she was. The premise sounds interesting, even if I have no sense of the conflict or voice, which are crucial in YA. Also, I think the query should be in present tense. It makes it feel more immediate and more exciting. And the language needs serious spicing up!

  3. I want to be recognized on twitter! (I’m a middle-child.) Here goes:
    Mia Tanaka was smart and talented, but no one cared. Even being half-Japanese, a rarity in rural Idaho, didn’t get her a second look. She was pretty much invisible, not in a cool-super-power kind of way, but in the kind of way that kept her home studying on prom night.

  4. I’m surprised you said YA Sci-fi is a tough sell. From what I’ve read recently, it’s potentially the next big thing in YA. I also know of a YA Sci-fi writer who received 18 requests off her query letter and landed an agent fairly quickly, and I heard this week that it’s been sold.

    • Hi, Lanette! Thanks so much for visiting. I said YA sci-fi could be a rough sell. I think sci-fi, YA or otherwise, is a strong ingredient. There are editors who will not go near sci-fi and those who shrink from it. While I don’t presume to know it all, I can say with assurance that anytime something is a genre-cross, there is going to be some initial doubt in agents and editors minds because they’re wondering where booksellers will shelve it. Are the booksellers going to put (let’s say) the YA sci-fi with strong paranormal romance elements in the YA section (alienating sci-fi and romance readers), in the sci-fi section (alienating romance and YA readers) or in romance (alienating sci-fi and YA readers)? Might they even totally mess up and put it in the fantasy section, alienating everyone and their mother? Even worse, will booksellers or distributors decide not to carry the book at all because of the shelving confusion? So, YA sci-fi is not “dead” by any stretch of the imagination, but if it’s not killer, super-awesome, and written by someone who can self-market, the precarious straddling of bookstore shelves might overshadow what good points the book has.

      As for your friend, that’s awesome. She must be on cloud nine. But her situation is the exception, not the rule.

  5. I’m probably not the only one completely unsurprised that the writer identified herself as a hapa. There was a very Mary Sue feeling to the query, as if the writer was sympathizing a little TOO much with the protagonist. We can’t do that… we need to be able to see our protagonist from all sides.

    I agree about the voice. It’s bland. I also think 100k words sounds a little long.

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