Sunday, December 4, 2011

Query Critique for ATTACK OF THE DUST BUNNIES

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.


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*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.


Sincerely,

NAME


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.


Sincerely,

NAME


Best of luck to you!

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Anne Greenwood Brown is the author of LIES BENEATH, a paranormal revenge story about murderous mermaids on Lake Superior.
(Random House/Delacorte June 12, 2012)

4 comments:

  1. Wow! I learned so much, and am completely terrified about sounding ridiculous if I have to write one of these. I will, however, try to be like Jessie, and overcome my fear as well. Thanks to your tips, it might be a little bit easier.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Christina. No doubt queries are hard, but like so many things, they get easier with time and practice.

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  3. I was reviewing this again and realized that I never left a comment saying thank you for the critique. So... thank you for the critique! This really helped a lot and hopefully your awesome tips will get me to the next level in writing: publication. I'm also really glad that you like my novel's concept. Thanks, Anne! :)

    ~Cameron

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