Tuesday, February 24, 2009

#100-revised and improved!

Dear Query Shark:

For Christmas, when he was nine, Christopher asked Santa for a puppy. His parents asked for a daughter.

You really only ask Santa for stuff at Christmas, so you don't need the For Christmas. It also makes the two sentences stronger when you don't start with a short clause. Particularly in YA and middle grade books, you've really got to have a good ear for the rhythm of the sentences since you've got so few words to work with.

The sister he’d never wanted disappeared one beautiful summer day, stolen out of his grasp by three men; none over four feet tall, with long dark hair and eyes the color of deep woods, brown and ancient.

And very pointed ears.



Frosty is a 55,000-word young-adult novel about the children of Santa Claus and the civil war threatening Christmas. To rescue his sister, Christopher and his friends will join forces with an elf and a Shaman as they cross Siberia searching for the North Pole.



I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and have served as a Judge for the (redacted) Writing Competition.

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


Much better.
---------------------------------
Dear Query Shark;

I don’t believe there’s anything on earth I wouldn’t give to be twelve again. Or thirteen. Even fourteen. But fifteen?

No.

For Christmas, when I was nine, I asked Santa for a puppy. My parents asked for a daughter.

I called her Frosty.

The sister I’d never wanted disappeared one beautiful summer day, stolen out of my grasp by three men. None over four feet tall, dressed all in green, with long dark hair and eyes the color of deep woods, brown and ancient.

And very pointed ears.

At this point, I've stopped reading the query letter, and started reading the pages you've sent. Oh wait, you didn't. Well, ok, I'm emailing you asking for pages.

What I like: the concept.
What I also like: the crisp tone.

A modern twist on the legends and myths of elves, the North Pole and Christmas, Frosty is a 55,000-word young-adult novel about the children of Santa Claus. Raised in the world of humans, ignorant of their parents, they are kept safe from the rebellion threatening to destroy the elves until the war comes to them.

uh oh.
All that crisp tone? Gone.




To rescue his sister, Christopher, his best friends Jack and Mary, and the new girl in school, Sara will join forces with an elf and a Shaman as they cross Siberia searching for the North Pole. Along the way, they will discover the truth about each other as well as the history of Christmas. Faced with insurmountable obstacles, the six friends will battle an army, fall in love, and discover that the greatest gift of all is to bring joy to children.

You'll be better off using "band of friends" rather than names (name soup). "Discover the truth about each other" is a cliche. "insurmountable obstacles" is a cliche.

It's better to be as specific as you can: rescue his sister is pretty specific. That's pretty much all you'll need to keep my attention.

While I am unpublished, I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and have served as a Judge for the Savannah, GA Children's Book Festival Writing Competition. I am also Editor of the Beacon, the newsletter of the Boston-area Mensa group.

Mensa. Oh man. Leave that out.
There's simply no way to mention Mensa membership without sounding pretentious. I'm not saying you are pretentious, I'm sure you're very nice but in a query letter it just makes me roll my eyes.

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


(contact info redacted)


I'd definitely read pages on this even though the query letter could stand some tweaking.

20 comments:

Lehcarjt said...

I really liked this until "The sister I'd never wanted disappeared..." I think the reason you lost me here is because the disappearance isn't the direction I saw this going and the change seemed abrupt. The arrival of the pointy-eared men seemed like another corner-turn.

On the other hand, I do like the concept. It's original and fun

Lord Azriah said...

Personally I started laughing the instant I heard "pointy-eared men". I don't know if I like the tone or the concept.

The whole "band of friends trying to get past insurmountable obstacles" reads like a ton of other books.

Then again, so do a lot of books I've actually liked. I agree with JR--get the tone right. Also, concentrate on the characters. With a rather vanilla plot, that's what would save this story.

Emily Ruth said...

Congrats on the 100th query! but... where is #99?

On the other hand, I kind of do like the story concept, but it could either turn out quirky and fun or a complete disaster...

Bryan said...

what happened to #99?

Bane of Anubis said...

This query seemed all over the place. I had to re-read some of the sentences a couple of times. The intro made it sound like some sort of dark comedy, which I think I'd like better than worrying about a bunch of miniature spocks running around trying to destroy the world or kidnap children or do whatever they're trying to do.

Also, not sure who the target audience is... do publishers really want to target the YA group w/ the Christmas horror, Elves gone wild?

I'm with Azriah - I'm not sure if I like the tone or concept; however, were it in a bookstore, I might give a once over due to the twist it takes.

Thomas said...

I'd suggest starting with "For Christmas, when I was nine," and trimming off the first bit, which seems too generic and doesn't really connect with what comes after. The adventure has nothing to do with the fact that the kid is fifteen, does it?

Taire said...

Wow, I am really surprised that this is a query worthy of follow up. I will really need to re-write my query letters to sound as disconnected as this.

moonette said...

I also liked the voice in the beginning. But I think the first sentence could use a switch from the double negative which makes it a bit long and awkward. I'd go with something more to the point:

"I'd give anything on earth to be twelve again..."

The second half definitely needs focus and tightening. Good luck!

JS said...

I will really need to re-write my query letters to sound as disconnected as this

No, that's not how it works. The concept--teenager and friends band together to retrieve the unwanted younger sister stolen by elves--is a good one.

If you have an equally good concept and do a better job of writing a query letter (like, say, not suddenly shifting from first-person to third-person), you, too, will get a request for a partial.

Plot is the jewel--everything else is the setting. A rare jewel shines even in a crap setting; a careful setting won't redeem a crap jewel.

Sarah said...

Congrats!

"Brown and ancient" eyes ... I liked that description. Ditto the crispness.

I also liked the first part because it's tone was very unique compared to typical Christmas stories- most don't deal with an unwanted, abducted sister.

However, the overall tone of the second part sounded a bit more like something off the Hallmark Channel: bringing joy to children, etc.

The story of the unwanted sibling being abducted by faeries is as old as the hills- probably older. (Pratchett's Wee Free Men is a great modern example.) But the sibling being abducted by Santa's elves? That's intriguing.

All the best as you work on this!

BuffySquirrel said...

What struck me is that if you do get to be twelve again, sooner or later you're going to arrive back at fifteen. Silly thought, I know.

nn Angel said...

At first, I was trying to figure out where this was going, and just kind of gave up when the sister was kidnapped. I liked the tone, but the ages thing at the beginning didn't apply (at least I didn't see how it applied) to anything, and then he's going to save a sister he doesn't like? What's the motivation? If he didn't like her, why didn't he do the average kid thing and let her go? Why travel across Siberia? It just doesn't work for me, personally, as a query.

nn Angel said...

And for those asking about #99, it was removed a while ago. I don't know why, though. You'd have to ask the Shark, that.

Kiolia said...

I too missed the connection, if any, between the age issue and the rest. This wants a bit of grammatical cleanup, as well, right down to the splice at the end.

JS said...

Queries that have been withdrawn for revision are removed until the querier gets back to the Shark with a revised version.

David Dittell said...

Shark,

I agree that there's a great, sellable concept in here -- just a one-sentence logline would be evocative of much of what would come after.

From this query, however, I'd be worried. The early part creates surprise by relying on the reader's inference, but I found I wasn't quite grasping what was being implied. In situations like that, might it not be better to set up, set up, set up, payoff, then explain? Even a brief declarative sentence of what exactly is happening would solve a lot of the confusion.

In the later part, the sentence construction becomes confusing as well. Presenting a foreign idea is tough enough, but tying multiple new, creative ideas together in a single compound-complex sentence seems near impossible.

I do agree that I can already see the book cover, though.

Starry said...

"I asked Santa for a puppy. My parents asked for a daughter.

I called her Frosty."


The sister or the pup?

VinceInAZ said...

Has the main character considered the advantages of being 11 again? Seriously, this setup left me waiting for a why it sucked to be 15, and it never came.

I don't agree with the Shark. I'd have tossed the letter at the point where the elves showed up at the door. I burst out laughing. Midget kidnappers?? Vulcans??

BUT, your query did the job as is, and nothing succeeds like success. Reconsider that first paragraph, and either connect it better or drop it. I won't read the book, but I'll watch the Pixar or Dreamworks movie. :)

not a poet said...

no way.
No way is this considered "good" anymore. Seems like one of those other cookies in the batch of commercially, mass-produced cake for preteens. Extremely boring. Pointy-eared men is more cliche then the whole Santa thing going on. And I didn't really get the fifth line onward.
I don't feel or hear any soul in this, none whatsoever.
If people like this, I think that America's culture has gone way, way too far.
More people should start writing like Nabokov. That would make the lit world a much less crappier place.

nn Angel said...

I still don't understand why he would go after a sister he doesn't want or seem to like. I wouldn't read it just because I have no motivation to look for, understand, or connect with from the main character.