Wednesday, November 18, 2009

#138-revised

Dear Query Shark,

Young, na├»ve and directionless, Molly Brennan follows her boyfriend, Jake, to the Mt. Baker ski area to work as a seasonal employee. She catches her boyfriend Jake him cheating on her with a slutty lift operator shortly after their arrival. Molly confronts him and he denies he’s done anything wrong. He tells her, “We should be open to experiences.” She wakes up to the fact he’s unscrupulous and manipulative. and dumps him. She breaks up with him.

and dumps him is a clause that isn't the next part of the unscrupulous and manipulative sequence. You need a way to separate the two.

A few weeks later, she finds out she’s pregnant.


Molly is the youngest of four children. Growing up in a strict religious household, she rarely made a decision on her own until the family unit fell apart, her siblings moved away, and her parents became too absorbed in their own drama to pay attention to her. Molly struggles with the decision of whether to raise the baby alone or terminate the pregnancy. Choosing the latter goes against every moral fabric sewn into her existence,

every moral fabric sewn into her existence is over writing of the worst sort. It's moral fiber, not fabric for starters, and "sewn into her existence" doesn't actually make sense. Metaphors and similes need to illuminate not obfuscate to be effective.

still, she knows it’s the right choice. Her new roommates and friends, Eric and Kyle, help her recover from the agonizing abortion.


Determined not to be lost or broken, she steals away to the waters of Alaska for the summer to work on a small cruise ship. “Maybe the fresh air and change of scenery will be good for me,” she thinks.

I'm not sure I've ever heard a high school senior or college freshman say "maybe the fresh air will be good for me." It sounds like something Great Aunt Matilda says to a kid who's eaten too many rum balls at Christmas: dated.

Kyle makes a surprise appearance on the dock in Petersburg, offering more than friendship with an impassioned kiss—he and his girlfriend, Tracey, have broken up. At the end of summer, she returns home anxious to see if what she feels for Kyle is real. She walks into the house to see Kyle and Tracey together—dashing any hopes of a budding romance.
Kyle explains reuniting with Tracey wasn’t expected. When she tells him it would be better if she just moved out, he begs her stay. She reluctantly agrees and enrolls at the local community college, throwing herself into school and studying—keeping Kyle at arm’s length. She tries to deny her feelings for him, reminding herself he has a girlfriend and that she doesn’t want to be that girl. But how long can Molly Brennan deny love, even if it’s all wrong?

Kyle sounds like a total frigging heel and I want to slap his face. What the hell is wrong with Molly that she puts up with this crap?

The Education of Molly Brennan is a work of fiction for the young adult genre. It is complete at 60,000 words.

I hope you find my query of interest and look forward to hearing from you.
Regards,
(contact info redacted)


The problem of course is that it reads like it's from the 50's or 60's. The YA fiction I see (and read) is much much edgier. Once she's had the abortion, there's not much else going on here.

Form rejection, but this is a lot better than the first round.


---------------------------------------------
Dear Query Shark:

All the attention Molly Brennan's boyfriend, Jake, pores on her

and here's where I stop reading. Nothing makes me put down a query more quickly than incorrect word usage. Pore is to study carefully or a hole in your skin. You mean pour as in inundate. Words are tools. Using them incorrectly is like hitting a screw with a hammer. Don't do it.


blinds her to the fact he’s unscrupulous and manipulative, just like her father. Molly has no car, no real family to go home to, and to make things worse; (this is an incorrect use of a semi colon) after she’s gained the courage to break up with him, she discovers she’s pregnant.



The youngest of four children—everyone told her what to do: what to eat, what to wear, what to read, what to watch on television, or not watch—she rarely made a decision of her own. Faced with making one of life’s most irreversible choices, Molly finds comfort in a new friend, Kyle.



In the aftermath, Molly realizes she needs to recover a sense of self in order to move on with her life and maybe, just maybe, she might find love, too.

Aftermath? Move on with her life? I think we're missing a crucial piece of information here. Did she have a baby or not?

The Education of Molly Brennan is a work of fiction for the edgy young adult genre. It is complete at 60,000 words.

I'm sorry, but dealing with a pregnancy is not edgy. And the genre is young adult, not edgy young adult. No one stops reading a query based on getting the category wrong, but you want to get it right. This is YA.


I hope you find my query of interest and look forward to hearing from you.


There's not enough here to pique (not peak) my interest. I've been reading books like this since MR & MRS BO JO JONES (published 1968!). You need to focus on telling the story with a fresh approach, or a new twist.

Form rejection.

50 comments:

GhostFolk.com said...

Mr & Mrs Bo Jo Jones! Yay!

They got married and everything... and now I know how old you are. :-)

Janet Reid said...

I've read Hamlet. I hope that doesn't make me 400 years old.

SJDuvall said...

@Janet Reid, hahaha! Same here :)

Astrology said...

Find a crit partner (try looking at Absolute Write) to help you with your editing and plot. A good one can be invaluable.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

And I've read Aeschylus. Did I mention I can't go out in sunlight?

YA certainly has a wide range these days, appealing to precocious 10-year-olds and teen-aged forever adults.

Marisa Birns said...

As a teen-aged forever adult, this query did not make me sympathize with character and want to know how Molly recovers "a sense of self."

It might be a great book, but query needs work.

Hamlet, eh? "Words, words, words..."

Lydia Sharp said...

Janet, your comments are wonderful. Hitting a screw with a hammer, indeed. Glad I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Some other things I noticed:

All the attention Molly Brennan's boyfriend, Jake, pores on her blinds her to the fact he’s unscrupulous and manipulative, just like her father.

This is a lot of words to tell us absolutely nothing. Too abstract for my taste. What kind of attention? How is he unscrupulous? How is he manipulative? Is the fact that he is similar to her father an important part of the plot? Yes, I understand the basic psychology of things you're trying to present here, but it's just kind of thrown in there without explanation. How is it relevant to this story?

...after she’s gained the courage to break up with him, she discovers she’s pregnant.

Again, this is too abstract. How did she muster up this courage? You've left out important events that make up your plot.

Faced with making one of life’s most irreversible choices...

What choice might that be? Although I can guess, you've given me no information about the plot whatsoever.

Too Cute to be Very Interesting said...

Mr. & Mrs. Bo Jo Jones was one of the books I had to read my senior year of high school in my American Literature class, in 1991, so Ms. Reid's age is still a mystery.

And yeah, you heard me right. My American Literature class read that book. I went to a *great* school. [beats head against wall]

myimaginaryblog said...

If, on the other hand, you collect creative misspellings, misusages, and malapropisms, then things like "pore" for "pour" are little gems to add to your treasure trove.

GhostFolk.com said...

Hamlet, Genesis ...But I still know how old you are. :-)

I created a distraction from the query and I apologize.

Ms Shark's critique is perfect at the story level and I hope the author pays attention.

There's another tiny problem for me with this query. I hope the author used and misused such complicated sentence structures because she/he was writing a query.

If the language skill shown in the letter does not vary dramatically from that in the novel, the author needs to read a few current popular YAs and pay close attention to how the words work.

YAs are HARDER to write than adult fiction at the skill-with-sentences level, in my opinion. And MGs are even tougher.

Crisp, clean, lean and mean... and as inventive as all get-out.

sunnyd-lite said...

If she's the youngest of four, why does she have no family to turn to? This leap in logic confused me.

Rhonda Leah said...

Mr & Mrs Bo Jo Jones!
Was required summer reading at my Catholic middle school. I loved that book. Excellent comments as always.

Rachel Hamm said...

The youngest of four comment threw me, too. I am the second of four children, but the youngest (my brother) certainly knows how to make his own decisions. No body tells him what to do. What is it about her family other than the size that makes her a doormat?

Donna Hole said...

Ooops; see what happens when you critique with a glass of wine? Serious gramatical errors in the deleted post. I'll try again.

Dear Author:

This query brought to mind the story of "Juno", which my socially uninvolved teenagers happened to enjoy (boys, not girls, go figure). I was shocked they paid attention to social issues. So I do believe your story (some writers don't like their work called a "project") has marketable potential.

However, even without reading Ms Reid's comments I would have to agree this query lacks a plot. I was lost in vagueness as the concepts jumped around.

Pick a central focus, and make it new and exciting for today's YA reader. There is a redundent trend in Molly's poverty of spirit, and although the author states the girl has made the decision to "move on", there is no clear, life altering forces arrayed against Molly (either physical or emotional).

As teenage pregnancy is not a devastating social issue these days, I'm going to suppose that your story involves some sort of abortion delimna? If that is a theme in your story, then her age, ethnicity and religious preference might play a major factor in her decisions.

I'm speculating here, asking questions in a direction the Author may not be going. Its my nature to question, to read too much into something I'm interested in.

So, hopefully the Author can figure out a way to get this important issue out there for public opinion. Good luck.

........dhole

Piedmont Writer said...

Mr & Mrs Bo Jo Jones! Loved that book then, have been looking for it forever. Can't believe someone else actually read it. And I don't think we're all that old if we read it back then. We're just classics.

GhostFolk.com said...

And I don't think we're all that old if we read it back then. We're just classics.

Hey, Piedmont. I read it when it came out. I was 14. I love being called 'classic' - thank you!

Heather said...

There were parts of that query that I had to re-read just to figure out what the author was trying to say. If that's in the query, I can't imagine what the book is like.

Falen said...

I, too, had troubles just following the query. It's only a page and yet i couldn't figure it out (also i was bored so i didn't put a lot of effort in trying to follow along...)

Piper Quinn said...

I kind of got lost in the dashes and colon in the 3rd paragraph too. I agree with whoever pointed out that less is often more in YA.

I'm assuming here that the character has an abortion because there could be more of an immediate 'aftermath' with that decision, versus 7 more months of pregnancy for her to get used to the idea of having a baby.

I have an abortion MS and it's always a litle scary to query because a lot of agents say they won't rep something 'against their personal beliefs' but that's not the kind of info you can google. (I've tried!)

blanche992 said...

I have to say some of the comments are here are a little harsh. I always instruct my students to formulate something nice to say first as what you say after will tend to be received better by the person needing the critique.
That said, I think maybe the author has never written a query and if it is about abortion, come right out and say it. Don't talk around it. Let someone ready the query who hasn't ready the book yet and see if they get anything out of it. If they are just as confused, re-write it.
There are few YA books that deal with abortion and I'd love to know why. It is, I feel, something that should be explored in YA novels as that is the age group it concerns more.
So author, do you have a revision we can read?

Janet Reid said...

Hi Blanche, Welcome to the shark tank.

I'm glad your students are instructed to say something nice first. I'm sure it does help.

This blog isn't intended for youngsters or students. It's intended for writers who are beating their heads against the wall to figure what's wrong with their query when all they hear back are platitudes and euphemisms.

My goal is to help them fix what's wrong, nothing more.

And if you think I'm harsh, you're right. There's probably a niche for another kind of blog if you'd like to offer up an alternative: QueryBunny--where only the good parts of the query are mentioned.

"that's a nice font!"

"I like your title!"

"100% spelling accuracy!"

This however is the shark tank; we eat bunnies for brunch.

Basil said...

I notice how hard it is to sell out in a few sentences what might have spent months to years in the making. Don't sell your work short. The shark must have seen something worthwhile in yours to put it on site.

Whatever said...

I agree this is very hard to follow. I am not coming away with any real idea of the plot. Your sentences are disjointed and quite hard to follow. I hope this is because you were trying to cram in a lot of info while keeping the query short and not because your book has no coherent plot. Too many questions are left unanswered, and not in an intriguing way!
What makes Jake unscrupulous? Is the fact that he is similar to her father relevant? Does Molly's lack of car matter very much to the story? How does she have "no real family to go home to" yet three siblings and a father are mentioned? Is the family dead? What happened? As Rachel pointed out, why was she not capable of making her own decisions?

"The youngest of four children—everyone told her what to do: what to eat, what to wear, what to read, what to watch on television, or not watch—she rarely made a decision of her own. Faced with making one of life’s most irreversible choices, Molly finds comfort in a new friend, Kyle."

Is this supposed to imply that Kyle made the decision for her? And on that note, as others have pointed out, what WAS her decision?

Perhaps you have written a good book, but this query manages to be simultaneously confusing and boring.

tallycola said...

@Janet

Ha! I really appreciate the treatment you give authors here. I'm currently taking a writing course, and I wish the instructors would be a lot more forthcoming and honest in their criticism sometimes.

The "being nice" was great for the first half of the course, but I would think someone who keeps at writing has to believe in themselves enough that they don't have to be told their work is great, especially when it's not great. Giving the writer something to actually work with is a way bigger help, and if they can't take criticism that's too bad for them. There's lots of people who will lavish praise upon your work if that's what you need - friends, teachers, etc.

As for the query, I actually thought it was okay, and I am interested to know more about Molly.

But, the one thing I took away that I haven't seen anyone else bring up is that this sounds like a lot of backstory. When does the story actually start? When she meets her first boyfriend? When she gets pregnant? When she meets Kyle?

I would also come right out and say abortion, if that's what this story is about. No reason to be ambiguous.

tallycola said...

Also, please forgive the run-on sentences in my last comment. Ugh.

josephrobertlewis said...

Mmmm, delicious bunnies.

JS said...

Now I want to reread Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones! Or rewatch the TV movie, which was actually pretty good, as I recall.

Oh, back in the day, when women not only changed their last names on marriage, but their first names, too. I met someone recently who was my age (45) and referred to herself as "Mrs. John Smith" and all I could do was stare at her open-mouthed, like she'd just stepped out of a time warp.

Lydia Sharp said...

This however is the shark tank; we eat bunnies for brunch.

This, my dear friends, is what the proper use of a semicolon looks like.

Get lost, screw. Hammer, meet nail.

Sarah said...

@ Blanche:

We're not forced to send our queries here, but we decide to.

We know that the comments are going to be sharp and that's what we want.

We're not masochists...we're just authors! (who'd rather get their queries torn and torched now, than getting no response to them later)

jessjordan said...

I think it needs to be more clear from the beginning that the author is writing YA. Not that the query should start with the genre and word count, but some detail about the MC in the beginning paragraph would be helpful. I read the beginning thinking this was a romance novel. And I really missed the conflict in this one ... What sets this MS apart from every other teen pregnancy book already out there?

Jenn McKay said...

Dear #138, if you’re young, please don’t give up! The advice given by Query Shark may seem brutal, but it’s wise.

Put your story away for twelve weeks, and then read the notes again and make revisions. Revising is the hardest, but most rewarding part of writing. Use the time out to read as many coming-of-age novels as you can find.

Read until your eyes bleed.

JoeSmoWriter said...

For motivation, for knowing you’re not alone in this seemingly impossible quest. Here’s my letter to my manuscript:

Dear Manuscript,

You, of course, were the first born. Oh what a joy it was to hold you in my hands. Six pages thick and bustling. You were perfect in my eyes. You grew up so quickly. The years flew by. Soon you were 100 pages, then 200. Before I knew it you were 350 pages thick.

I know we had our rough times. You had your flaws. So did I. With hard work, you changed into a better version of yourself. As much as I wanted to keep you tucked away in my drawer, I knew one day you’d want to leave, to head out in the real world. It killed me because I knew how cruel the world could be. Some rejection was inevitable. But there was that something special about you. I saw it from day one. There would never be another you. You were going to make it big. Be famous. You were what the world was waiting for.

You left, all packed up, on a Tuesday. Your query letter was ready and so were you. It wasn’t long before I started receiving mail that you were having trouble being accepted. You were being ignored. Laughed at. Tossed around. Told you didn’t fit in. Told you weren’t good enough.

You never got down on yourself. You kept improving yourself. I remember when I started receiving letters that things were getting better. Your schedule was filling up. People requested to see all of you. But the end was always the same.

I just wanted to let you know that it’s okay. It’s okay to have failed. You didn’t let me down in the slightest. I’ll be just proud of you even if you never make it big. Proud because of what you are on the inside and how you’re out in the world, chasing your dream.

If anything, I’m sorry I didn’t do more to help you. You see, I’m nobody famous. Just another Joe Smo balancing writing with a full-time job, raising you kids, and the millions of other things life throws at me on a daily basis. I didn’t have connections to assure getting you where you wanted to be. Again, I’m sorry for that.

I have my hands full with your 200-page brother now but I still think of you--a lot. You may not change the world, but you changed my world. We’ll always have a special bond. You brought out a better me in me and for that I’m always thankful.

Good luck out there. Write back soon.

Love ya,
Joe Smo

Aimless Writer said...

I have a feeling there's more to this story then we're seeing here. Does she just blow Jake off and go with Kyle? Does the bad boy cause trouble? Aside from managing an unwanted pregnancy what makes this unique? I need more conflict here.
Also, I don't care she was always told what to do, that's back story.
Excite me, make me see what her challenge really is. Does her family abandon her? Kick her out? Is Jake causing trouble?

Rider said...

You need to focus on telling the story with a fresh approach, or a new twist.

Little does Kyle know that Molly is a man-eater...of the literal variety. After he walks in on her engaging in a little friendly cannibalism with her former boyfriend, he immediately breaks off the relationship. Shaken and disgusted, he seeks solace in the only thing he knows: Yeti hunting.

With her new baby in one hand and a roast leg of Jake in the other, Molly treks across the vast Himalayan mountains to prove that passion is a hunger that will not be denied.

Rain Likely said...

"and maybe, just maybe"

That phrase is so cliche.

steeleweed said...

I never read Mr & Mrs Bo Jones, and from the sound of it, I'm lucky. In my day (yes, the phrase dates me), we only read classics. I can't comment on the book - YA was never my bag - but I agree the query needs a lot of work. From the tone, I suspect the book does, too.

Stijn Hommes said...

"The youngest of four children—everyone told her what to do: what to eat, what to wear, what to read, what to watch on television, or not watch—she rarely made a decision of her own. Faced with making one of life’s most irreversible choices, Molly finds comfort in a new friend, Kyle."

Let's for a moment forget the text between the hyphens. You have: "The youngest of four children she rarely made a decision of her own." You are clearly missing the word "as" at the start of the sentence here.

"Faced with making one of life’s most irreversible choices" is blatantly vague. Just be to the point and tell what choice you're talking about

K. E. Carson said...

Little does Kyle know that Molly is a man-eater...of the literal variety. After he walks in on her engaging in a little friendly cannibalism with her former boyfriend, he immediately breaks off the relationship. Shaken and disgusted, he seeks solace in the only thing he knows: Yeti hunting.

With her new baby in one hand and a roast leg of Jake in the other, Molly treks across the vast Himalayan mountains to prove that passion is a hunger that will not be denied.


Can't go too much into that movie Jennifer's Body. Although the yeti is a nice twist. ;)

As always, great work Janet. I love your blog.

sanjeet said...

I hope that doesn't make me 400 years old.

Work from home India

Lanette said...

Did the query shark quit moving in her waters? It's been almost a month since her last post... er... bite.

Aimless Writer said...

Query Shark, oh Query Shark, Where forth art thou Query Shark.
Those you know you miss you much.
:)
Just waiting for the next bit of chum....

Phebe H.L. said...

I don't get this story. At all. Sorry, whoever wrote it, but you need to rethink the story. And plus, you said PORES? Seriously, that's CRAZY.

Melissa said...

Oh, I don't think PORES is crazy. You pore over a manuscript. (Pore, as a verb, means to scrutinize.) My guess is the writer learned "pore over" as correct and assumed it was right in this usage. It isn't. Here it means innundates, more like pouring water over someone.

Melissa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lora96 said...

Well, #138, I agree the query needs work (that semicolon made my teaching heart seize and clench in agony). That being said, it really sounds readable to me.

Shorter sentences would be nice. I'm a big perpetrator of Too Much Detail myself, so I sympathize.

How 'bout: The youngest of four kids, 18 year old Molly isn't used to making her own decisions without a focus group. However, when her smothering scumbag boyfriend drives her so crazy that she dumps him, she's faced with a big choice no one else can make for her: what should she do about the unexpected pregnancy that sleazebag left her as a parting gift?

chris becker said...

'Faced with making one of life's most irreversible choices...'?
Are there degrees of irreversibility?

Jenn McKay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenn McKay said...

Yo #138, I have 3 points to make:

* edgy would be using the word douche-bag instead of the word unscrupulous

* denying love to her unborn child and then pursuing trivial hobbies like looking for love in all the wrong places makes Molly seem kind of douchey

* you might gain some perspective if you put your story away for twenty-four months, and then read Janet's original notes again and make revisions to the plot. Use the time out to read as many coming-of-age novels as you can find.

Otto said...

Writer's write because it's something they are compelled to do. Writing and revising are exercises that can only help improve ones ability to tell a story and tell it well. Don't put the manuscript away. Maybe the manuscript is in good shape, maybe not. Queries are an art form and not easily learned. I hope you keep revising and are encouraged by Janet's comments - after all - she did say it's better than the first one. Progress!

Laina said...

Old, but... who cares? :P Most YA books have MC's 17 or under. Almost no YAs have college-aged protaganists. A lot of the agents and editors I follow on Twitter say that you can't sell college-aged protaganists. It's like the cut-off age for being a YA book.

But that's just what I've heard.