Saturday, December 31, 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.

Missing at Sea is a 45,000-word YA mystery with a creepy genetic twist. Definitely get this first sentence out of the way, I always put title, word count, and genre at the end of the query. Make your hook the first thing they see - anyone can start a query with a title and word count - show them that you're special right out of the gate.  Rumors of secret experiments have always plagued the King Pharmaceutical-sponsored Senior Leadership Cruise I like *parts* of this hook - rumors, secret experiments - great! But then I feel weighed down by the talky-talky words right here in the first sentence. It feels crammed, which is expected of queries, but it doesn't have flow - and you need that. Also, the way it reads right now it feels like the rumors are about the Cruise itself, not necessarily King and Co. What I would do is split this sentence up, get the rumors and experiments and King name in the hook, then follow up with the mention of the the queen bee and the cruise. but when the queen bee disappears, three high-achieving teens partner together to investigate.  Think The Breakfast Club meets Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I love this right up until your comparison sentence. I'd chop it. Everything works pretty well until that, which feels forced.

Shy nerd ARIELLA SUN Capitalizing character names is mostly used just for a synopsis, not a query. embarks on the cruise to understand more about her brother’s death at the hands of King Pharmaceutical. Sex goddess KIANNA MATTHEWS tries the resist the charms of a rich bad boy. Bitchy blonde VIOLET ASH struggles to move past a secret from freshman year. When their mutual friend LAUREN TOWNSEND disappears without a trace, the girls individually search for the truth, only to realize they are stronger as a team. As told from multiple viewpoints, I envision this as a first in a series. Each book will solve a new crime while the series mystery will focus on King Pharmaceutical. I feel like you're giving very broad strokes here in this paragraph, and while it works very, very well at getting across the rough basics of your characters, you're not telling the story of what this first book is actually about. What does Kianna and Violet's backstory have to do with the main plot? Right now this feels like a gathering of character sketches rather than a query for a book.

I have an MBA from the University of Michigan, spent 8 years at Procter & Gamble marketing to young woman typo - women and am a member of SCBWI and Sisters in Crime. Thank you for your consideration. This is good, you definitely show why you are good person to write this book so I would keep this in there, for sure.

Basic thoughts: I think you've got a great idea here, and a fresh concept for a contemporary series. However, you need to focus on what the main plot arc of the first book is for your query, and get *that* across before trying to talk about series potential and backstory for a handful of characters that the agent doesn't give a fig about yet. I feel like the experiments and missing girl is the crux of the story here, but I know nothing about them other than the fact that they exist. Ariella's dead brother does merit mentioning, I think, as it shows she has an axe to grind with King. I would focus on Ariella, the experiments, the disappearance of Lauren, and keep your other two supporting characters in the background for the purposes of the query.

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