QueryDice #40: YA or MG

Announcement: SlushPileTales will have a new feature called Hijack a QueryDice, in which one QueryDice commenter gets to take the reigns and Dice a query. Other commenters can comment on either the original query or the Hijacker’s Dice (or both). I will provide feedback in the comments section. Peer review is an important part of honing skill as a writer, and there is nothing quite like examining the work of someone else to improve upon your own self-editing skills. If you’re up to the challenge of hijacking, please contact me at laurenruth2 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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.

Dear Ms. Ruth,

I am currently seeking representation for my 71,000-word YA fantasy novel, [redacted]. Since I see you are interested in young adult stories, I hope my book will intrigue you.

For me, this first sentence is all wrong. First, I know you’re seeking representation. You do not need to state the obvious. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with telling me the obvious, it is a waste of precious real estate. Then, don’t tell me you hope your book will intrigue me. It shows you’re self-conscious. Without actually coming out and saying “You will like this book,” that needs to be your attitude. 

Thirteen-year-old Cory MacGullin would have preferred a nice piece of birthday cake, some ice cream, and a candy-filled piñata to smack around. Instead, he’s just learned there’s a family monster named Snitch living in the attic, his parents are from a magical world hidden behind the local Renaissance Faire they attend every summer, and that he’s wanted by Mister-A, the Magical Realm Authorities.

Great. I do happen to be intrigued.

Well, he can’t complain he wasn’t surprised this year. But like birthday socks that try to bite off your feet, the surprises are just beginning.

The construction of this sentence is confusing. The way you’ve written it, it sounds like you’re trying to tell me that both surprises and feet-munching birthday socks are just beginning. What you really meant to say was: “Well, he can’t complain he wasn’t surprised this year. But the surprises are just beginning…like birthday socks that try to bite off your feet.”

When Cory’s parents thrust him into their magical world to save him from a band of mercenary Banglewooks, (what’s a Banglewook?) he soon learns some shocking news–he’s adopted. Even worse, his deceased birth parents, the Murdochs, were the most despised monster hunters in the magical realm. (Why would monster hunters be despised? That sounds like a good thing to have around, and if it isn’t, your world-building is lacking). To complicate matters, Mister-A has imprisoned the MacGullins for harboring him as a fugitive, and a necromancer named Zanderlin Hellian will do anything to acquire Cory’s unique ability to steal a monster’s magical energy. If Cory ever wants to see the only parents he’s ever known alive again, he’s going to have to learn to use his newfound power before Mister-A or Hellian catch up to him.

But Cory isn’t without allies. Super. I was just going to say, “Yeah, but where are his sidekicks for comic relief and world-building dialog?”

Snitch is sworn to protect Cory at all costs and spirits him away to Dragon’s Maw, a living castle where Cory will learn to become a monster hunter. But Cory must be wary. Taking power from monsters is a risky business, especially for a Murdoch. Can Cory defeat Hellian and rescue his parents or will he fall victim to the Murdochs’dark legacy…and become the most feared monster in the magical realm himself?

Why would he become a monster himself? If his parents turned into actual monsters at some point, something should be added two paragraphs ago when you introduced us to the Murdochs. If you just meant that people will despise him, then this is unclear. 

I think Cory needs more than just Snitch for an ally. He needs another kid, preferably one with a very, very colorful personality. 

This query isn’t half-bad, but I think it sounds more middle-grade than it does YA, and I don’t believe in that cross-over crap. There is no love interest, so I hesitate to call this YA. Teens are always concerned with love interests because this is a new arena for them. Even if the love interest doesn’t really come to the forefront, I think it is almost necessary to have some sort of girl around who catches Cory’s eye. In addition, this feels too fun and magical to be YA. YA, for me, is edgy and cool with some sort of taboo subject touched upon, be it drugs, sex, violence, shady politics, whatever…

Middle-grade, on the other hand, should have a dual conflict: one that can potentially affect the whole world (an external conflict), and another that affects only the protagonist’s life (an internal conflict). Those two conflicts should be born of the same situation. This story has that, it has a MG voice in my opinion, and it has fun and adventure. My advice, aside from just pruning your query around the edges a bit, is to make your character 11 or 12 and call this MG. Readers, what do you think? YA or MG?

The complete manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time in reviewing this, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. I may be reached via e-mail at [redacted]. (I know you can be reached by email…you just emailed me. Don’t waste your words.



Overall, very good start!



Posted on August 16, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I definitely get a middle-grade feel out of this–the voice just seems to nail it. Though the query could use a little more clarity in the middle section where we’re getting the feel of the conflict (I also wanted a hint as to why monster-hunters are despised and what the deal is with the stealing energy/turning into a monster risk), I did get a good feel for the plot and characters. A tiny quibble–between references to his dead parents and his adoptive parents, I got a little confused through that section. Not sure how to clear that up, but a heads-up on something I had to go back and re-read.

  2. the OTHER ella

    I happen to write middle grade fantasy, and this is middle grade fantasy. Mine has love interests galore, but it’s fine if yours doesn’t. Sounds pretty good to me, except for the opening graf.

  3. I agree on this reading as middle grade rather than YA, I don’t think all YA requires a love interest, but it does need to explore more mature themes that magical lands. Having said that, you have a great middle grade story concept! I like the tie-in to the Renaissance Faire. I love the faire, the one I attend feels magical. I can just imagine a kid wandering off to the corner to peek behind a tent to find another world.

    I would suggest to pare down the language by looking for redundancies and cliches.

    “If Cory ever wants to see the only parents he’s ever known alive again, he’s If going to have to learn to use his newfound power before Mister-A or Hellian catch up to him.”

    Nothing in your story indicates that he has another set of parents, so saying the only parents he’s known is not needed. Tacking “alive” after the prepositional phrase feels awkward. You can strengthen the verb choice from “going to have to” and while catch up is fine, a stronger verb will again lessen wordy-ness and make for a stronger line.

    Example edit:

    If Cory wants to see his parents alive, he needs to harness his power before Mister-A and Hellian find him.

    If you end up retooling this for MG I would suggest looking for comparative works and citing those. If you think this still belongs in YA, I encourage you to look for YA books that relate to yours and add those in the query. X + Y = my story (hopefully something current!). Good luck!

  4. Definitely feeling MG. The magical details feel more like that age group, and the lack of a love interest is always the deciding factor for me. Though I like MG love interests, and think the story could benefit from one no matter what.

    It’s a pretty decent story, though. The query isn’t as clear as it could be, but I think the author has something. The best thing about it is VOICE, which would probably keep me reading.

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