Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday Slash

Meet my 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.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Eleven-year-old Skye Schuster understands “Military Math.” It’s what happens when your father is killed in combat. And, just like that, you go from a family of three to a family of two. Ah, okay - maybe get the actual math in there just a touch sooner, possibly by combining these two sentences. Otherwise, good hook. And they say you’re a war orphan. Is this still a commonly used phrase? It gives this a touch of historical feel and you might not want that since so far there hasn't been much indication of genre. (Unless, of course, it is a historical in which case, carry on). And then… Hmm, I'd kill the ellipsis. It's an awkward transition into the next para, which I see is a theme for the query. I wouldn't do this unless it's ALSO a theme in the book or indicative of voice. Which, honestly an entire book full of quirky transitions might not work. I'd consider a smoother transition.

Your the transition from the hook POV of Skye to the "your" is only present here in the middle, then switches back out to Skye as 3rd in the last para. I'd keep it consistent throughout. mom decides to marry some guy who hardly talks to you at all. You call him “Dim Tim” and you wear your dad’s dog tags on a chain around your neck so he knows he won’t ever be as good as your real dad. It’s working pretty well until…

A car crash leaves your mom in a coma. Now, all those feelings of loss for your dad intensify as they swirl around inside your heart with the biggest fear of all: that your mom might never wake up.

And what does that dork Dim Tim do? He brings home a book called The Idiot’s Guide to Almost Anything to help deal with stuff. Wow. Did somebody write a book just for HIM? This reference makes it sound like a contemporary. We need a better feel for what the setting is here. An allusion to what war his dad was killed in is all it takes.

Skye’s struggle to cope with the death of a parent in a military conflict is not unique; it's experienced by kids in the aftermath of every war. Since September 11, 2001, more than 5,000 American children have lost a parent or loved one who was serving in the U.S. Military. Now you're addressing the agent about market, which is fine, but again there's been a massive shift here.

As a war orphan who understands Military Math, I wrote my 107-verse, middle-grade novel in verse, you mentioned twice here that this is verse. I think regardless of how many verses there are the book will still be judged lengthwise on word count. So use that as an indicator instead of number of verses. Skye Blue, for kids like Skye. My author’s note lists websites and resources, including Camp Hometown Heroes in Wisconsin, where war orphans from all over the country can meet one another and work through their journey of healing. Here again you are telling the prospective agent about who the market is for and how you will engage your audience, but not necessarily telling us much about the actual plot of the book.

I am a former children’s librarian and storyteller. My non-fiction chapter book, My Underpants are Made from Plants (Schoolwide, Inc.), was published in March, 2015. Ah-Choo!, a fiction picture book (Sterling Children’s Books) came out in March, 2016. I have written for magazines, anthologies, and the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (2016 and 2018.) I am currently under contract with Greenhaven Press as a compiling editor and am an active member of SCBWI.

Good bio - but the para above this one is partially biographic as well. Pull the fact of being a war orphan yourself and fold it into this para. Everything that speaks about author's notes is something that would come during a later conversation, not in a query letter.

Overall I would say that you've made it very clear here that you are in a great position to understand your audience and the market... but haven't really made it very clear what the plot of your book is. I understand that can be a little more challenging with a verse novel, but you have to get the plot front and center, not marketing ideas and audience interaction. 

Is this book funny? Is this book sad? I can't tell. Is it about Skye becoming closer to his stepfather and accepting him? Is it about Skye dealing with the mother's possible loss? Um... is Skye a boy or a girl? Get Skye and the plot front and center before you move to talking too much in depth about possible audience and outreach.

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