So yeah, what?
Daniel Marks is currently dancing with tears in his eyes. When he's not hammering out schlock on his Macbook, he's curled up in a corner rocking some comfort into his ailing frame.
"So, it's Christmas Eve," I say. My characters are gathered before me. I press on. "Target will be closed in two hours. What the heck do you guys want for Christmas?"
Calder White rolls his eyes.
"I'm serious," I say. "Give me a clue."
“Freedom," he says, a teasing smile twisting at this lips.
I put my hands on my hips. I don't have time for this.
"What?" he asks. "Too intangible? Okay, I’ll take a new car and a full tank of gas."
"Seriously," I say.
"Fine, fine. Something simple... how bout a nice pair of wool socks, or maybe a coffee mug that says World’s Greatest Son. What about you, Lil? Tell Anne what you want."
Lily shrugs. “You don't have to get me anything."
"I insist," I say. "You guys have made this the best year ever. It's the least I could do."
"Well, if you insist," says Lily Hancock, considering her options. "A new journal and a real pen and ink set...y’know...the kind with an actual ink well? That would be cool.”
Maris White butts in. "If you're giving gifts, I'll take a little cooperation. For once in my life. That would be a real treat.”
"Anne is shopping for real gifts," says Pavati. She furrows her brow, deep in thought. “I’ve never really thought much about Christmas. My father celebrated Pancha Ganapati. But . . . I’d never turn down a gift. Maybe something shiny?”
"Shiny," I say, writing it down on paper. "What about you, Tallulah?"
Tallulah steps between Calder and Lily and says, “Something sentimental and romantic would be nice, particularly if it came from someone who matters.”
I suspect she's not referring to me. Tallulah never cared for me much. "Jack?" I ask.
He glowers at me from the corner. “You can’t give me what I want.”
"Never mind him," says his sister, Gabby. "Here’s my list." She shoves it into my hands. "I’ve made copies. A 4G phone, a pre-paid credit card, and a bus trip to the Mall of America. A digital camera, those boots that everyone’s wearing, Jimmy Choos, diamond studs, and permission to get a nose ring. Also, I like those chocolate Santas, but the solid kind. Nothing hollow.”
I'm about to leave, when I see a small figure playing in the corner. "Sophie," I say. "I didn't see you there."
She barely looks up. “Christmas Barbie and a scientific experiment kit. Thanks.” And then she's back to whatever she was playing, and I'm out the door to Target. There's only a little time left.
2. For the writer with all the darkness. Also, because there is not enough Edgar in the world.
Some suggestions ~
(Since you've noted Evy's role as Harvester, if the antagonist has a role: cruel overlord, etc. then include that here for balance). Malcolm [last name] will stop at nothing to possess the stolen artifact. He executes Evy’s sister in front of her and burns her city to the ground.
To avenge her sister’s death, Evy must team up with the wretched Stephan James and his team of unworldly beings and take the fiancé of the man she loves under her protection.
I am pleased to offer this query critique. I hope you find it helpful, although keep in mind this is just one person's opinion. The language from the original query is in black. My comments are in blue.
*Deleted Author Name*
*Deleted Author Address*
*Deleted Author email*
Penguin Young Readers Group
345 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
A couple things before we begin...this format makes sense if you’re sending your query by mail. These days, most queries are sent by email, and it doesn’t makes sense to set up an email as if it were a letter. Rather, for an email query, put your contact information in your signature block at the end of the letter, and don’t use the receiver’s address in the email at all.
Second, queries are typically sent to agents at literary agencies, who (hopefully) agree to represent you, and then they pitch your novel to the publishing company, e.g., Penguin. Although it’s not unheard of to query an editor, most big publishers (such as Penguin) won’t look at un-agented submissions, so make sure you’ve done your homework and know that Penguin is accepting queries directly from authors. An exception may be if you met the acquisition editor at a SCBWI conference and he/she invited attendees to query him/her directly.
Dear Mr. XXX,
Twelve-year-old Jessie Pullman is absolutely and horrendously terrified of dust bunnies. I really love this first line! However, you may want to ditch the heavy adjectives; in my opinion they take away its punch. Also your main character’s name/gender is confusing. The next sentence uses the pronoun “he” so I see that Jessie is a boy, but “Jessie” is usually the female spelling and “Jesse” is the more typical male version. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way, but confusing the reader in the first sentence is not a good idea.
He has been since he was just a little kid. Why? And it doesn't help much that his friend Amanda is making him help clean their teacher's classroom on the last day of school. Why does Amanda have to clean it instead of the school janitor? Why does she have the power to MAKE Jessie do anything?
Classrooms = too many dust bunnies to handle! And if that isn't enough, the dust bunnies in this classroom aren't exactly... normal. They have minds of their own, and before the kids know it, hundreds of dust bunnies are escaping the school to take over the entire city! This is good stuff, but it has me asking myself more questions: why are they dangerous? What is the central conflict to your story? Do dust bunnies spread disease? Are they into mind control? Are they turning humans to dust? Being clear with the CONFLICT is the number one job of the query letter. Tell the reader why he/she should care that dust bunnies are on the loose.
Now it's up to Jessie and Amanda, along with a few characters they meet along the way, to take the evil critters down before time runs out. The “time runs out” bit is very nice in that it adds tension and a sense of urgency, but you could add more explanation. For example, why is it up to Jessie and Amanda to take the bunnies down? Why isn’t it up to the police? It’s not like Jessie and Amanda have shown themselves to have any special ability to control the bunnies. After all, they’re the ones who allowed them to escape. So tell us why they're special and skilled!
But they’ll need to get passed the mastermind of the dust bunnies first, the one who has the ability to make the creatures do terrible things... but how can they defeat this malicious person if they don’t know who it is? I think you mean “past the mastermind”. And rhetorical questions are generally not a good technique in a query. What terrible things? I'd like to hear more detail about what happens in the book.
The novel described above, Attack of the Dust Bunnies, is a 50,000 word humor/adventure story aimed at children ages 8-12. “Humor/Adventure” may describe your novel, but it’s not a defined genre. What you mean to say is: ATTACK OF THE DUST BUNNIES is a 50,000 word MG novel. (I’m guessing based on the age of your protagonist and your potential readers’ age range that you’ve written a Middle Grade (MG) novel.)
I have been writing this book for six years. It has gone through revisions, critique groups, more revisions, and even a full rewrite… and then more revisions. Now that I have it where I want it, I thought it was time to send the book onward. My whole life, I have dreamed of being a children’s author, as cliché as that sounds, but I literally have had this goal since I was three-years-old. To stalk down my dream, I took a college writing course in my freshman year of high school from The Institute of Children’s Literature, a branch of Charter Oak State College in Connecticut. I also joined a local writing forum to get advice and critique from other writers. I am currently in college majoring in Liberal Arts. Lose all this! Other than the title and word count, this paragraph doesn't say anything about your book so it’s not relevant to a query. The fact that it took you 6 years to write 50k, is not a selling point, and revising before submitting is a pre-requisite. It’s assumed (or at least hoped for), and doesn’t need to be said. The fact you’ve written a novel is HUGE accomplishment! It already speaks to your personal goals, so there’s no need to go into your “dream.” I think what you’re trying to do is fill that bit of the standard query where you say something about yourself. This is the place to list your publishing credits. If you have none, don’t despair! Every published author once had no credits to list.
My novel is sure to please any young reader looking for a fun and wacky story with lots of twists and suspense tied in. It’s also a good mystery, and I think it will keep them asking the whole time: “Where did these dust bunnies come from, anyway?” This is probably all true, but it's not for you to “blurb” or editorialize your own book; it’s up to others to describe it as “sure to please,” or “fun and wacky” with “lots of twists and suspense,” or even “good.” Telling the agent or editor how great your book is is the kiss of death in a query letter.
Enclosed is a SASE for your reply. Again, no need to mention a SASE if it’s an email query. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.
To conclude, it sounds like you’ve got a very fun concept that you’ve fine tuned to the point that it’s ready to query, but you’re only allowed a limited number of words in this letter, and you’re wasting them on the wrong stuff! If I may take the liberty to try a re-write, you could do something like this (of course I’m making up all the details so it’s just a rough example):
Dear Mr. XXX,
We met at the SCBWI conference in Big City last September, and you invited me to query you directly. Please consider my MG novel, ATTACK OF THE DUST BUNNIES, which is complete at 50,000 words.
Twelve-year-old Jessie Pullman has been terrified of dust bunnies ever since he overheard two talking under his bed. Of course, no one ever believed him--that is, until the dust bunnies at his school conspired to take over the town. Now they’re on the loose and causing havoc, stealing cars, overtaking the mayor’s office, and consuming all the chocolate milk they can get their paws on. When the dust bunny commander attacks Jessie’s mother, he has to overcome his fear to save her--not to mention his whole dusty town.
Enclosed is a SASE for your reply. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.
Best of luck to you!
Kanis Luthorn is your typical lost soul. As one of the last pure humans, he Kanis Luthorn should be maintaining his secrecy from the vampires that hunt his people, but one can only hide for so long [This is a better hook! But what specific event pushes him to fight? Is it when they catch and murder his family? Be specific about the catalyst.] before being pushed to fight. The path of liberty is not an easy one: the vampires catch and murder Kanis’s family, he almost dies crossing a desert, and he is pushed into a revolution bent on freedom, torn from the only girl he’s ever loved. [I would cut this – it reads like a list of things that happen – and expand on the important parts below.]
He becomes one of the few human members of a militia of mutated misfits with nothing to lose.
They are not afraid to fight the vampires, for they carry the secrets of an ancient philosophy. The mutants train Kanis to become a lethal spear man, teaching him to lose his fear of death and open his mind [How?]. He meets an un-mutated [human?] girl named Sahanna, and is over come by his feelings for her. The two start to fall in love, but their adoration for one another is halted when they are forced to attack the vampires on their home turf. [I’m not quite sure what this means – are they physically separated when they go attack the vampires? Does only Kanis go?] It is in the In the heat of battle when Kanis realizes he’d rather die than go back to hiding, as he embraces the warrior within himself, vowing to only rest once the king of the vampires is dead. [Maybe add one more sentence here about how Kanis plans to do this and what he risks? Does he have to leave Sahanna behind? Does he want revenge for his family? The stakes are clearly huge here; bring that out more.]
A CALL TO ARMS is a
proposed three-part young adult paranormal fantasy with series potential, complete at 93,000 words. With a full scale map, a variety of never before seen creatures, and a plot in the tradition of Stephen Kings’s, THE STAND, this novel will entertain anyone who has ever been thrilled by an epic fantasy and rejoiced upon reading of alien beings. [This is well-written, but I feel like it’s a really lofty comparison. Can you compare to some contemporary YA fantasies to show you know the market?]
Since I was ten years old and my father read me tales of Ulysses and the Cyclops, I have been hopelessly devoted to heroic stories.
After majoring in history in college, I went on to work as a volunteer coordinator in a homeless shelter in 2009. In 2011 I was awarded first place in an essay contest from The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. The essay can be found at: http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/night-of-vonnegut-writing-contest-winner/ [I would cut all of this, since it’s not relevant to YA fantasy. Also, be sure to add details about why you are querying this particular agent. Do you love other YA fantasy she reps, her blog, etc?]
Thank you for your consideration.
Notes: Queries are tough. I think you know the bones of your story, and it sounds like a great adventure with a compelling hero. But to catch an agent’s attention, I think you need to tighten it up and be more specific about Kanis’s journey. I hope my notes are helpful to you. Thanks for sharing this with me and the Nightstand readers!
Jessica Spotswood is the author of BORN WICKED, the first book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles, coming Feb. 7, 2012 from Putnam. She likes reading stories about independent girls who still get in a fair amount of swoony kissing, so that's what she tries to write. She lives in Washington, DC with her playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey.
Currently on her nightstand: PRETTY CROOKED by Elisa Ludwig.