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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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QueryDice #38: BRAVO, AUTHOR!

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,

Thirteen-year-old Sabrina Tate has a visibility problem. The local mean girl sees her as an easy target, her parents see her as a weak imitation of her sister, and the cute boy in her English class doesn’t see her at all. When Sabrina finds out about a competition to be the queen of her junior high school’s Arthurian Feast, she thinks winning might be her chance to become visible in all the right ways. After all, the competition only asks her to read books, watch movies, and show up to a few rehearsals—how hard can that be?

But Sabrina doesn’t count on mean girl attacks, cheaters in the competition, or detention as a result of a prank gone wrong. Sabrina especially doesn’t count on her best friend’s growing frustration with her focus on winning. As Sabrina learns more about the Arthurian legends that inspired the feast, she starts questioning herself, her friends, even her enemies. If Sabrina doesn’t win, she’ll stay the same loser she’s always been. But if she does win, she might lose the things she cares about most: her best friend and her identity as a nice girl. Is winning worth the cost?

As a junior high student, I participated in a similar medieval feast. Although the characters and events are fictitious, the backdrop for the story stems from personal experience. I have a PhD in English and teach college-level writing courses.

[redacted] is a contemporary upper-middle-grade novel, complete at 54,000 words, that may appeal to fans of Michael Beil, Erin Dionne and Wendy Mass. Thank you for your consideration!

Sincerely,

[redacted]

I tried really hard to find something wrong with this query. There are little things that are just a matter of preference (like the name-dropping) and something about the word “visibility” bothered me. Perception is really more accurate. The only large-scope criticism I have has to do with voice. I would have liked to see Sabrina’s personality a bit. But, aside from those tiny things, most of which don’t matter too much in the larger scope of things, this query has done its job. Bravo! 

LR

QueryDice #37: THE QUERYDICE LIVES!

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 seeking representation for my young adult novel, [redacted], complete at just over 61,000 words. Your web site described an interest in young adult and fantasy fiction, and I hope you will enjoy a blend of the two.

Very nice. Any agent representing those genres would continue reading. This is professional and to-the-point. The only criticism I have here is a matter of personal taste and honestly I hesitated to even comment. I’m not a fan of an author telling me in a query that she is “seeking representation” for something. I already know that. Also, if you need to save words, you don’t have to write “…complete at…” If you simply wrote, “…novel, [redacted] (61k)” it would be more concise and it would save some precious real estate.

When Grace Branford crashes her car, killing her two best friends, her life is turned upside down. (Wow) The once-popular eighteen-year-old is now ostracized by her classmates, teachers, and even her parents. Throughout the turmoil she faces daily, she cannot help but wonder how she survived when her friends did not. For answers, she turns to an old book of poetry left to her by her dead cousin and becomes immersed in a world of ghosts, angels, and the afterlife.

Double wow. Not only is this well-written, it’s compelling. This screams YA from the rooftops, but it also hints that the author has gone beyond the boring ol’, tried-and-true “teen is ostracized” thing. 

Grace soon meets a mysterious, handsome boy named Jack, who always seems to know her thoughts and can find her whenever she is in trouble.

Hmm. A handsome boy? Voice is very important and “handsome boy” sounds like something my 80-year-old grandma would say.

As she gets closer to him, she finds out the truth about her own past, his present, and their future – and what exactly it means to be a Guardian Angel.

We didn’t know she needed answers to questions about her past, and this paragraph seems like a departure from the first half of the query. What does this mean for her guilt and confusion over the accident? I’d like to have a stronger grasp of what exactly the conflict is. What does Grace want? Why can’t she have it?

More precisely, a Fallen Guardian Angel, because that’s what Jack is. Now the two are falling in love, but Grace is still hesitant. Why, after all, would a stranger be her Guardian Angel instead of her beloved cousin? Cousin? What cousin?

Determined to find answers, Grace and Jack embark on an adventure that will surely end in disaster – or death.

You wrote above that Grace finds out the truth, but a sentence or two later you write that they embark on a journey to find it. Which is it? You cant tell us she finds the truth and then afterwards mention there is a journey before she does find out.

I am currently working on an MA in creative writing
(good to know)and have received several awards for my writing, most recently the Woodward Prize for Writing Distinction at Pace University. The completed manuscript is available for your review, should you wish to see it. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

This was a professional, largely well-written query. Agents will request more material.

LR

QueryDice #36

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,

Amniese prefers books over her peers. Who wouldn’t with the way the other girls belittle her? Besides, Amniese has friends. Two to be exact. One is a Dryad entrapped [something about this word is problematic for me. What’s wrong with “trapped”?] in a tree. The other is Llyr, a mysterious unicorn she meets through dreams.

You never mention the Dryad again, and it remains nameless. Why waste your words?

She enjoys spending her days at the Academy alone. Having her own room gives Amniese the freedom to practice magic undiscovered. Her dream is to grow powerful enough to unseal the Ancient Magics and free her friends. However, a new roommate interferes.

How does this new roommate interfere?

You’ve used too many words to get the following things across to us:

1. Amniese has special magical powers that are unknown to everyone.

2. She’s a student at some Academy.

3. She is a social pariah and her only friends are magical beings.

I’ll bet–and I’d love everyone’s opinion on this–that you could accomplish that in a single sentence and then get right along to the conflict. Attempts at this are welcome. Let’s see what you guys can come up with. You have one sentence. And I’m a huge fan of the semicolon, the colon and parentheses. I’ll choose a winner and announce via Twitter. (Don’t forget to include your handle)

As if having an intrude
(“intrude” is not a noun) isn’t enough, Llyr is unreachable. Desperate to contact Llyr and equally concerned about keeping her powers hidden, Amniese secretly attempts dangerous spells. Despite the fear of her abilities being discovered, she must grow stronger.

Amniese learns that freeing the Ancient Magics will unleash Shilon’s (Shilon?) greatest threat, the Sorcerer of Darkness. What Amniese doesn’t know is her destiny is already intertwined with the Sorcerer. She will have to choose: let the Ancient Magics remain sealed or risk Shilon’s future for the ones she loves.

The paragraph above is the most interesting part of this. Everything else is just details. The meat of your query should not be a three sentence mention at the end. You might feel like you’re leaving the reader with an impression and enticing them to want to read more by ending your query this way, but how can an agent feel impressed or enticed if they never got to the end?

Sometimes authors need to write to get around to writing what matters. This query is a draft of the one that’ll work for you, and it’s not bad as such. Focus on the conflict: what does Amniese want more than anything? What is keeping her from getting it? What is at stake? Why should I care?

Because this is fantasy, you’ll also need to do some world-building even in your query, and you’ve done a pretty good job of that, and you’ve intertwined it with an introduction to the YA themes present in your book: fitting in, friendship, etc. I suggest you do that in fewer words, though.

Lastly, there is no voice in the query, and perhaps especially for YA, I need to hear at least an echo of what kind of voice I can expect in the manuscript.

[redacted] is an 82,000 word YA fantasy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, [redacted]

LR

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