Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!"

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

Sometimes you have to freeze everyone out. . . to avoid getting burned. Not a bad hook. It doesn't tell me a lot about what the story could be about, but I'm interested enough to keep going.

Sydney knows how horrible the foster system is. She’s been in it for seven years, thanks to her mom, a crack-smoking prostitute. I feel like this isn't important to the query. All we need to know is that the MC is in foster care, not why. The why would be useful in a synopsis, but I don't think it has a place here. Now it’s time to move on to her seventh family, the Claytons. Sydney knows immediately that she won’t fit in with their extravagant life and the spoiled stuck-up Brooke. I assume that Brooke is the daughter of the family but that isn't made completely clear here. I also think that we need some spice in this para to differentiate your book from other YA titles. How has the foster system been horrible to Sydney? Why is she on her seventh family? Is it her, or is it them? I need something here to connect me to that "frozen" idea from the hook, too. Right now I get that she knows she won't like the Clayton's, but it seems like it's a socio-economic thing rather than a personality quirk of the MC.

Sydney refuses to get close to anybody, here we're getting somewhere, that it's a choice on the MC's part. Get this in here sooner. including Brooke’s best friend Got an echo there with friend and befriend Dani, who tries to befriend her. She resents the snobby kids, especially Brooke’s boyfriend Corbin, who flirts with Sydney—much to Brooke’s dismay. Gah! Stock phrase! Kill it! Corbin is just like all the other overprivileged kids; but he’s hot and Sydney can’t help but be attracted to him, even as she hates him. Good, here we've got some internal struggles that are going to help differentiate your book. Get to this sooner, and capitalize on it. 

After discovering that Brooke and Corbin’s relationship is a sham Meh? How's it a sham? Is Brooke gay?, Sydney begins to learn that the perfect kids are not so perfect and that even Corbin has his secrets Like what? Is he a serial killer? Corbin likes Sydney, but Brooke refuses to let him go Why? Just 'cause she's a bitch and doesn't want to see our MC happy?. Even if Brooke breaks up with Corbin, Sydney doubts it will ever work with him. He’s the popular, rich kid and she’s the daughter of a crack whore. There you go, see, you can slip the crack-whore in here (the things you find yourself saying...) And really… if her own mom had given up on life… had given up on Sydney, how could anyone else ever truly love her? Aha! Not a bad sinker there. We've definitely got internal conflict like crazy, with her own feelings for Corbin, and her feelings about herself. Very nice.

I feel like you've got a great hook and sinker going on, but the meat in between needs some trimming and rearranging. The main idea here is that we've got an MC with serious self-acceptance issues that lead to her protecting herself by freezing out the rest of the world. Get that out there sooner, and more vividly. Even your title is about the chip on her shoulder, so turn it into a boulder that you can throw to get some attention. I also think the mention of Dani needs to go, as she's only mentioned once and tends to clutter up the query. If you get across the idea that Sydney is cold early on, you don't need the example of Dani. Focus on the screwed-up love triangle of the sham relationship, and explain why it's a sham. I feel like not knowing the answer to that is a tease, and a query shouldn't be a vehicle for a tease. Also, the idea that Corbin has secrets (I read this as layers) needs to be capitalized on as the moment where our MC begins to thaw towards him as an individual, yet the problem of her own self-acceptance still stands in the way.

Overall, not bad. Shape it up and get the important details out there where they can get the attention!

Jump in, my followers! Let our brave volunteer know what you think!

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