Category Archives: YA

QueryDice #53: The Bio Paragraph

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,

     With an eternally seventeen-year old body and supernatural powers to defend an ancient covenant that keeps hitting the snooze button on the world’s Armageddon alarm clock, Jayke Wolff has a big responsibility on his shoulders.  <– what? This seems like too much. I had to read the sentence twice to get a firmer handle on it.

Because he doesn’t remember anything about his life before coming out of a coma seven years ago, he’s not too stressed about it.  Unfortunately for him, the world-conquering cult, the Aduro, has a longer memory.  They’ve dispatched their most seductive and dangerous emissaries to either move Jayke to their side of the game board or knock him off it completely.
     With the fall dance, geometry class, and the girl in his business class with the devastatingly long legs competing for his attention, Jayke isn’t getting any closer to learning about his past with so much looming in his future.  Jayke has to either take control of his own life, give himself over to a secret society vying for world domination, or just let an ancient prophesy decide his fate for him.  Where does a guy find the time to save the world?  You are only young once, even if it is forever.
     Thank you for considering my 98,000 word YA, fantasy manuscript [redacted].  TeensReadToo.com said Jayke’s “humor and insight made me laugh.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read a story with such life-like characters that I actually cared about”.  Flamingnet Young Adult’s reviewer said she “could not put it down until (she) discovered how Jayke’s story turned out” and awarded the book a Top Choice Award from the site.  This manuscript is currently being considered at Curtis Brown and Nancy Coffey.

This query is not perfect. I would like to see a more vivid character, maybe a friend or two, and some personal ambition. But I would have requested it anyway, because it was pretty good, and more importantly, it has been read and lauded before and two other agents–respected agents at that–have seen a glimmer of hope. Also the quote from teensreadtoo.com addresses the issue I had: characterization. Maybe this author has great characters in the manuscript, but a flat character in the query…which wouldn’t be a first. The take-away: the bio paragraph of your query letter is extremely important. Many authors tack it on the end without much thought, but it could be key!

LR

Sincerely,

[redacted]

 

Advertisements

QueryDice #52: Attack of the Cliche

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,

For sixteen-year-old Brynn Hartwel prophetic dreams are like living in Cloverdale, painful, annoying and there is no way to get around it. <– This is a personal preference, but this first sentence is a huge turn-off for me. It’s not that the content of the sentence is problematic–because it’s actually interesting–but rather the technical errors tell me this manuscript must be a complete mess if even 250 of this author’s words can’t step in line.

They started when she was six, got worse after her father’s death and became a secret when her mother forced a psychiatrist on her. Now with Junior year on the horizon Brynn knows she is two years closer to escaping Cloverdale and hopefully leaving all traces of her dreams behind. <–why would leaving Cloverdale put an end to the dreams? Leaving out important bits of information like this just make me think the manuscript has plot holes.

Then all hell breaks loose. <–this is a cliche. For the record, I would stop reading right around here. I was already on the fence with the missing commas, but this pushed me over. 

Her ex-best friend is found murdered and due to another one of her prophetic dreams, Brynn knows she’s next. At this point, I’m wondering what is special about this story. We’ve all heard the story of the teenager with paranormal abilities whose friend got murdered and now she’s next…what makes your story better than all the other stories just like it? But the killer isn’t your average, small town sociopath. He’s part of an ancient society of demigods, has gone rogue and is wickedly determined on seeing Brynn dead. Okay. As if on cue, you answer my question: a wicked demigod. That’s kind of cool, except you left out some really important bits of information: why would he want Brynn dead, and why has he waited so long?

But he isn’t her biggest problem. Griffin is. With his pouty lips and devilish charm, Brynn is suddenly fates fiercest opponent and will do anything to stay alive. Wait, wait. Are you telling me a love interest is more problematic for Brynn than a sociopathic demigod whose only goal (that we know of) is to kill her? I don’t buy it, and now I don’t like your main character because she seems to have her priorities in a woeful mess. Lucky for her Griffin has a secret of his own and everything from Brynn’s dreams to her father’s death is connected to Griffin and The Society of The Devine. A society created of demigods, a society created to rule man in secrecy and a society in which Brynn had been purposely hidden from till now. The staccato-style of these sentences is dramatic, but what they contain is anticlimactic for me. Since I don’t know anything about Brynn that is very specific to her and is rooted in my own world, and because of the aforementioned priority crisis, I don’t like her one bit. The world in this query is not unique enough to make me sit up straighter. This needs some salt.

Brynn was born a Devine oracle just like her father. But he refused to have her torn from her family to live a life dedicated to The Society so he made a deal with The Devine to hide her true identity.

All of the information in the last two paragraphs except for Griffin’s name, his status as a love interest and his pouty lips and devilish charm is unnecessary and confuses the plot. 

But nothing stays hidden forever. A rival group of demigods is after her and she must put her faith in three young Devine warriors sent to protect her.

As the secrets, lies and betrayals pile up no one is safe and not even a Devine oracle could predict that the true threat to The Society is the one person they are trying to protect, Brynn.

The last few sentences here are very confusing. I would reject this query letter on that alone. Author, the best thing you can do for this query letter is to start over: tell us the following things:

1. Who is your character? What makes her different from everybody else in the world, aside from her paranormal ability.

2. What does she want? If she wants nothing and life is grand for her, what throws a wrench in that?

3. What is in her way?

4. How does she set about circumventing that?

5. What is the single element of your book’s world that makes it different from Earth?

And tell it to us in fewer than 250 words. 

[redacted] is a young adult, paranormal romance novel complete at 100,000 words.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

While this query letter needs some serious work, don’t get discouraged. We all have to start somewhere, and this is yours. Save it. Because when you write something better, the improvement you see will be your reward for your hard work. Best of luck, author, and if you re-write, let us see! 

 LR

QueryDice #51: Awesome YA Query

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,

When sixteen-year-old (If this is YA, then I’m pleased you’ve told me that up-front. If it’s not I’m pissed off that you’ve tricked me into thinking it was.) Emma Hawthorne finds the body of her best friend, Lily, floating in the river, (you have my attention. Let’s see if you hang on to it) her hard-fought control of her empathic ability crumbles. Capable of picking up emotions from other people like a radio signal, she is too damaged to tune out the constant static. Emma wants to move beyond her grief and be free from what everyone else is feeling.

Then an encounter with a stranger’s violent emotions triggers a vision of Lily’s tortured soul and Emma is faced with a terrifying sense that the drowning wasn’t an accident – and that Lily isn’t resting in peace. Her search for answers attracts unwanted attention from Patrick, a man without emotions. Simultaneously repulsed and intrigued, she allows him into her life. And when he offers to take away her ability, along with the pain it causes, she is ready to accept.

But Lily is trying to warn Emma from beyond the grave. Patrick’s offer isn’t without a price – a price that cost Lily more than her life. As Emma unravels the twisted threads connecting Patrick to Lily, she discovers he’s more dangerous than she ever thought possible. Emma must find the strength to fight the growing supernatural hold Patrick has on her – not only to give Lily the peace she deserves, but to save her sanity and possibly her soul as well.

[redacted] is a 64,000 word YA urban fantasy with romantic elements.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

There is nothing wrong with this query. It was stellar! I know what the conflict is, that conflict has intrigued me and it has enough punch for YA. The way you divulged your book’s particulars flowed nicely and I wasn’t left needing information. I would even like to read this! My only criticisms are that I didn’t feel enough of Emma’s personality–what makes her unique–and also the only thing that made this YA was the character’s age. There is no mention of school, or typical internal conflict teenagers face.

Author, we’d love to hear the story of your query…was it rejected? How many requests did you receive? Most of all: did you get an agent?!

LR

 

QueryDice #49: World-Building in a Query Letter

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,

The only thing worse than finding out you’re part of a secret magic species is finding out you’re a necromancer, and not a very good one. Aisling gets waves of nausea and cold chills around the dead, and can’t even stomach the reanimation of corpses. In what world would she need to be able to stomach this? Your use of the word “even” leads me to believe that this is something that is expected of her, but it’s a detail that comes too early and without satisfactory explanation. This query letter is a bit short (at 188 words), so I would suggest using this first paragraph to introduce us to both Aisling and her world. 

Then she meets a haunted young man named Kenneth. Death has touched him, and together they can help each other deal with this world. What world? I do not have a firm grasp of this world. Which creatures live in it? What is the one thing about this world that sets it apart most from the world we know? Additionally, what do you mean by “deal”? What’s so bad about the world? And how can they help each other? What I’m getting at with these questions is this: I don’t know enough.

When Aisling feels like she may just fit in with the others a female student turns up dead. <— What does the first part of this sentence have to do with the end of it? Suspecting eyes fall upon Aisling and soon the female body count increases. She must learn to master her abilities to uncover the truth to find the killer, before her she or her friends are next. Aisling wants to point the finger at her friend’s new boyfriend, but the clues point in one path while her heart points in another. Her heart? Like, love? Or did you mean she has a hunch that is unsupported by evidence? Being the only one equipped with the magic for the task, Aisling knows failure is no option, even at the risk of her personal safety, and against her parent’s wishes. <–Do her parents know that she is a necromancer? Do they know her world exists?

With academy halls filled with teenagers learning dangerous new powers, everyone’s a suspect. Oh, so she goes to a school for the magically gifted? Setting is important in YA, and we should know this early on because otherwise this reads like a query for fantasy with a YA-aged protagonist, which is not the same thing as YA.

[redacted] is a young adult fantasy with mystery elements completed at 72,00 words; a stand-alone with sequel potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind Regards,

[redacted]

Look, I get it. It is SO tough to try to boil down a never-before-seen world into a query letter while still boiling down plot structure. Fantasy is the toughest genre for which to write query letters. That is exactly why this query has failed. There are too few details where we need them, and too many details in the wrong places at the wrong times. I think you’ve got an interesting and cute story here, but it just needs to be presented in the right way. I would suggest making a list of the elements of your world that your readers MUST know about in order to appreciate your story. Limit yourself to fewer than six. Then cut out anything outside of those and re-write your query letter accordingly. 

Lastly, the main character seems to have no personality. I’d like to see some of her quirks, and if you can, a piece of her voice here in the query letter. That will be the difference between a ho-hum query, and one that gets attention. 

Good luck! 

LR

QueryDice #48: Voice in YA

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.

To Lauren Ruth,

Hope Murdoch was born dead.

Great first line. I’m hooked.

She took breath a minute later and despite her that quick trip through the veil sixteen years ago, she’s an almost-normal teen. She has an impossible crush on the boy next door, she struggles to pay attention in class, and she’s adopted. All of this–even the adopted part–makes the normal list. The not-so-normal list is short. In fact, there’s only one thing on it. Hope can read minds.

I made the word change in the first sentence to affirm to the reader that “the veil” refers to her being dead and then alive when she was born. Also, if this is something unique to this story, I’d recommend capitalizing The Veil.

I don’t think being adopted is something I would put on a list of normal things. It does not belong in the most-normal category of high-school crushes and waning attention in class. I wonder if you might consider rewording this paragraph. Something to the effect of, “…thought being adopted was the most abnormal thing about her, until…”

Lance Hampton used to be normal until a car accident killed his parents and, temporarily, him. How about adding, “On that night” here —> Paramedics brought him back to a life he doesn’t want: orphaned, uprooted and living with his uncle, and cursed with the ability to see how people die. At his new school, he hides behind his attitude (what kind of attitude?) and overgrown, unkempt hair. He knows it’s better if he doesn’t make any attachments. Seeing how complete strangers die is hard enough, let alone friends. Wow. Yeah, that would be problematic. This has my interest.

Hope and Lance are barely aware of one another until she accidentally slips inside his mind and witnesses a vision of murder . . . her own. She can’t see it clearly and only knows it happens in the dark. She needs Lance’s help, but he won’t face death again (what do you mean by “face death again”?) for just anyone. Hope will have to become more than a stranger, even more than a friend. After that, it’s simply a matter of tracking down a murderer before he kills. A murderer who could be anywhere. Anyone.

Even psychics have trouble seeing in the dark. <—well, why wouldn’t they have trouble seeing in the dark? Night-vision isn’t their power. I see that you were trying to be witty here, but it falls flat for me.

[redacted] is an 85,000-word young adult novel, the first of a trilogy. <–you do not add what genre your book is.

There was no salutation to this query. A simple “Sincerely, soandsso” can’t fail. Regardless of that and the other kinks in this query I think need to be ironed out, I’m sure this author has received requests for more material. The conflict is clearly outlined, as are the stakes, and the paranormal elements are clear. Most importantly, the author appears to have done a great job of leaving out what is extraneous information, and what we need to know. The only thing I think could make this query better in a major way is characterization. I have no idea what Hope’s personality is like…is she clumsy? Sophisticated? Introverted? Who knows? The same goes for Lance, to a slightly lesser degree. The voice in the paragraph about Lance should change to reflect his personality. If you’ve like to know more about voice in your writing, please see my earlier post, If You Build it, They Will Come…

Best of luck to you, author!

LR

QueryDice #12

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:

Superstes Island is a completed 90,000 word young adult novel narrating the first person perspective of two main characters. This fast-paced read is the first in a trilogy and should fit in well with the popular science fiction slash romance genre that captivates young adult readers.

I would have stopped reading after this paragraph. “Superstes” looks like a spelling error and I’m wondering how to pronounce it. The paragraph is extremely wordy. A novel doesn’t “narrate” anything, it’s characters or narrators do. We don’t need to know, at this stage, anything about point-of-view or even who is telling the story. I worry, at this point, that your thought-process is not focused enough to write a book. There is no “science fiction slash romance genre.” You have lumped two very different, huge genres together, which tells me you might not be very knowledgeable about your target market. Finally, no one, even a hard-core genre reader, is captivated by a specific genre. They might like one fantasy novel and not another. I assume that you were trying to express your awareness of young adults’ attraction to romance and science-fiction, but this was not clear. None of these issues on their own would have earned a rejection from me, but lumped together, all in two sentences, I’m confident that this query is not ready to be sent to agents and I can only assume the same is true of the manuscript.

Adah Trevino is a handpicked orphan who stars as a member of the newest type of reality show. The producers of the show have assumed legal guardianship over three dozen orphans who make up the cast, and the memories of these orphans have been wiped clean of their lives prior to arriving on Superstes Island. These orphans were then genetically engineered to become a new type of being, ones with superhuman abilities from altered DNA strands injected into their bodies. These genetically engineered orphans, or GEOs as the whole world has dubbed them, are the most innovative version of reality show stars known to man. They’re glorified teens who lead a life above ordinary; lives that have captivated an international audience for ten years.

We really don’t need a breakdown of how the orphans became altered. I think it might be better to simplify that into a single sentence and focus instead on building your character and your world.

I also think you should establish Adah’s life as she knows it in a couple of sentences. How is her life above ordinary and how is she glorified. Is she happy this way? Then, you can introduce to the reader that she’s actually a GEO, stolen and abused to be cast in a reality TV show.

But Adah has no idea she is a contender in this reality show that airs twenty four hours a day. She thinks she is the survivor of a nuclear world war that has caused her mutated abilities.

Like millions of viewers around the world, William Harrison watches Adah Trevino every day of his life. Like millions of other males around the country, he is also head over heels for this gorgeous GEO on the show. But his attachment to Adah goes far beyond superficial attraction. Will knew Adah before she became a legendary icon. Not only does their past link them together, but Will’s father is also the network producer for the show. Through this insider connection, he begins to realize that Adah’s life is in real danger.

Suddenly, Adah’s dreams of escaping the island one day become a necessity, and Will plans on doing whatever it takes to help set her free.

How did Will know Adah? Was their relationship significant? More importantly, why is Adah’s life in danger, why should Will care this much, and what obstacles do they face in saving Adah’s life?

The best thing you can do for your query is to build up your story’s world. In what kind of world would something like this happen? How would the authorities allow orphaned children to be abused in this way? Is this set in a dystopian future in which the government no longer cares about its people?

My name is Raiza Jaimes and I have a true passion for writing and Literature. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English and I am a high school English teacher. I hope this short taste of Superstes Island captures your interest. Please contact me if you are interested in reading more. Thank you for your time and your consideration.

We already know your name from your salutation. Personally, I don’t need to know that you have a true passion for writing and literature. I’ve already assumed this, since you’ve written 90,000 words. This won’t make or break your query, but I wouldn’t waste space on it. I normally disregard any personal information in the platform/credentials paragraph that does not directly contribute to a platform. Things that directly contribute to a platform are contest wins, previous publications, writing experience, industry affiliations, etc.

Lastly, this story is actually really intriguing, especially the fact that she’s an engineered orphan who doesn’t know what she is, that she’s being constantly watched, and the element of danger in her life. If this query were organized better, I would have been more interested, but I’m concerned that the manuscript will have the same problems as the query.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

When YA Sports a Crew Cut

At this year’s BEA, an editor told me, “In YA, I’m sick of dystopia and vampires. I’m looking for emotional YA for boys.” At the time, I thought, Emotional books for teenage boys that they’ll actually read? Yeah, sure. I’ll get right on that…just let me feed my unicorn and plant my magical beans.

But I’ve given it some thought, and I think I know what she meant. Boys don’t read nearly as much as girls do and it seems that this is due to a back-and-forth volley of unfortunate circumstances between readers and publishers: boys don’t read much, so publishers are sometimes unwilling to take a chance on a book exclusively for boys. They try and add some element that girls will identify with so that they can market the books to both genders, making more money. This is, after all, a business. Consequently, the boys have a really small selection of YA books exclusively for them…so they look to other media like video games and TV for entertainment, even if they kinda sorta like to read.

Boys are a tough market because fiction necessarily involves the emotions and, let’s face it, guys usually aren’t as emotional as girls. While girls will get really involved in the lives of a novel’s characters—their popularity in school, their love lives, their self-esteem—a guy is more likely to shrug and move on, leaving the book about self-esteem or that cute girl collecting dust next to his stamp collection.

Is it a lost cause, then? Why write books for boys if they’re unlikely to read them, and publishers are reluctant to give them attention? Because some boys want to read and crave situations, characters and themes to which they can identify tightly—and, just as importantly, some publishers (like the editor I met with at BEA) crave an emotional book for boys that’s spectacular enough to take a chance on.

Boys’ tastes differ greatly from girls’. They don’t really want to hear about mean girls (terrifying) vampires (really? This again?) or romance (ugh). Then again, stereotypical subjects for boys like sports or military fighter jets that have little value beyond those hooks can be just as unsatisfying for them. The following are some trends I’ve picked up on in the past few years…

 Walk Like a Man

Being a teenager—either gender—is hugely about identity. Young adults are trying to get a firm handle on who they are, where they belong, who they aspire to be. For boys, defining what it means to be a man is a big piece of the confusing identity puzzle for teens. Books give them a private place, within their own mind, free from humiliating talk of feelings and emotions, to explore who they are, where they fit, and who they might become. Books also hold a type of silent authority, so that boys can really trust the morality and the themes within its pages. Reading books like Holes by Louis Sachar, for example, helps boys to informally reflect on elements of the idea of manhood, like strength, perseverance, assertiveness and doing the right thing. Holes (and many other books) created an environment in which boys could think about these elements without feeling preached-to and without that feeling that some old guy is trying to “relate” to them. Boys are not capable of or comfortable with discussing what it means to be a man with adults or with each other, and certainly not with girls, so this private environment for them is something they want, even if they don’t know that.

Romance, Schromance!

Teenage boys like women a whole hell of a lot, right? Wouldn’t they want some type of romance in their books? Shouldn’t there be a hot girl somewhere with really big boobs? No, not really. Every time I’ve asked a teenage boy anything about a teenage girl the response was the same: a disinterested shrug or a monosyllabic answer. Boys are tactile. They want to go out and experience women in real time, in their real lives, not sit around and analyze it, talk about it, or read about someone else’s experience of it. A boy won’t stop reading at the mention of a female, but if she comes to the forefront of the book, a boy is very likely to consider it the literary answer to chick flicks and move on.

 That’s Bad Ass!

As in most YA, there must be some extremely compelling or edgy element. Books about drugs (Crank), violence (The Outsiders), sexuality (Geography Club), jail (Miracle’s Boys) danger (Brian’s Winter), controversy (To Kill a Mockingbird, Stuck in Neutral) and completely new and undeniably cool worlds (The Giver, The Hunger Games) appeal more to boys than themes that have become almost standardized or stereotypical, such as popularity in school, vampires or romance.

There needs to be an element in YA for boys that is so compelling—like the world in The Giver—that it becomes less of a chore for kids to read through all the text to get the movie in their mind, and more of an awesome journey created just for them that delivers a message they’re actually willing to hear.

After writing this, all of that sounds like a pretty tough racket. But when someone comes along and does it right, it’s always unforgettable.

LR

%d bloggers like this: