Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Saturday Slash

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.

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!

Today's volunteer took an interesting approach, addressing me as if I were the agent in question. I'm flattered, I may have even quirked a smile.

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

An avid reader of your blog, I enjoy your nothing is sacred sense of humor and straight-to-the-point approach to writing and editing. I understand you're interested in quirky, character-driven picture books, and I'm pleased to submit for your consideration Pippa Blackpool and the Mystery of the Disappearing Mansion, my 900-word picture book written for ages 4-8. This is a good intro. I didn't take the time to personalize all my queries, as personalization can be one heck of a time consumer. In this case though, it's flattering without groveling, and if the author can get this same style injected into a query to an agent, it's a good foot forward.

Pippa Blackpool loves pretending. Meh - what 4-8 year old doesn't? Whether she's a maiden in peril, locked in a castle tower, an acclaimed I'd strike "acclaimed" for pacing archaeologist on the hunt for ancient same with "ancient." Artifacts are by nature, ancient. artifacts, or a renowned detective investigating an important case, nine-year-old Pippa's always I'd do a slight rephrase here. Try saying the 5 words before this aloud and you'll see why. looking for mystery and adventure. Your hook is okay, I like the examples you give but the very first sentence isn't hooking me the way it should. However, I'm not the end-all be-all of picture book querying so this could be perfectly acceptable.

The only thing she loves more than pretending is pretending in her spooky old house, with its rickety rafters and cobweb-covered ceilings. AHA! Okay this sounds like the crux of your story here. She lives in a creepy house? GREAT! That's cool, and puts a new spin on her "pretending."But when her modern-minded parents decide to redecorate and fail to ask her opinion, a series of curious events prompts her to investigate. I like it, again I think that this is where your hook is - a re haul of the house is causing issues - that's your story, not that Pippa likes to pretend. She observes the work crew hauling dilapidated door latches, streaky stained-glass windows, and other bits of her beloved home into the backyard. She can't see what is happening This feels a little awkward as you just said "she observes" but then are following up with "she can't see." Even though you're talking about two different things (one observed, one not) the reader doesn't get the division of the two until later in this sentence., but there are mysterious noises emanating from behind the high hedges. Plus, her parents are acting suspicious and strictly forbade tense issue with forbade? her to play there. What's happening in her backyard? This is, perhaps, the biggest mystery Pippa's ever investigated. EXACTLY - so let's toss it out there first!

A former newspaper reporter, I currently work as a magazine freelance, and am an active member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, and focused much of my attention on British literature of a mysterious and spooky nature. Like Pippa, I possess a particular fondness for the peculiar. Nice bio, very good.

This is a multiple submission. Not need to clarify  that, They assume so.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

The writing here is solid, with the exception of a few rephrases and nits for flow, but your main issue is that you need to get that spooky house, an unwanted remodel and disembodied voices out there first thing. Re-evaluate that first sentence and take what you absolutely need out of it, then dribble those little drops throughout that second para. Get your hook out there! What makes you original ? Why is Pippa's situation different from any other curious kid.
And lastly, I'd really question some of your word choice in the query. Observes, dilapidated, emanating... it feels wordy, and it might make the agent question whether your use age-appropriate language in your picture book.


Leslie Rose said...

I admire your "cut to the chase" critique style. It's cool to see how your tweaks take a query to the next level.

Suzi said...

Just a comment on your colors.

The yellow shows up nicely on your blog. But in Google Reader, it's almost impossible to read. Dark colors are more easily read--I think you used to use magenta or somthing.

Of course, it brings me from Google Reader to your blog to read your post, which is probably good for you too, but others might just skip it. So I just wanted to let you know in case it matters to you and you were not aware of this.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Leslie - Thanks so much! Being brutal really is the best approach with queries :)

Suzi - Yeah, it's a lose-lose. I used to do my comments in purple, but a few people said to me it was too hard to read on the brown of the blog. The yellow seems to be going over nicely with everyone who visits the blog itself... I hadn't really thought about Google reader, but thanks for the tip!

Suzi said...

Yellow does look nice on the blog and that's where most people read it. Just wanted to let you know in case.