Many of you made comments about #160-For the Win that got me thinking. I've copied and pasted some of your comments here and replied in blue.
This isn't a "you're wrong, I'm right" recap. I think your comments are interesting and raise valid points. Think of this as Bite 2!
I didn't understand the pertinence of the first two sentences in the second paragraph. What does Beatrice's love of insects have to do with the rest of the story?
It kept niggling at me as I read the rest of the query so much so that, when there was nothing to tie back, I felt disappointed.
I think Beatrice's love of insects is less about plot than it is about character. I think it's an excellent way to show (not tell!) that Beatrice is interested in things around her, that she is curious, and she's probably pretty smart. And it says all that quite elegantly.
This is a much more useful description of a character than age, eye and hair color, and I see that a LOT in queries.
Do 15 year-olds get jobs as nannies? Is that the same as a baby sitter? I guess that's my only question? I just jump into Mary Poppins and such like.
This wasn't a problem for me. It's clear her job is taking care of James during the summer. If, after reading it, her job should be called something else, well then we'll fix it.
This is a classic example of missing the forest for the trees. This is a good query despite this lack of certainty in correct job title. It's the WRITING I respond to. I can fix almost anything but voice so I'm not worried if she's a nanny or a babysitter.
I guess I'm also wondering, if they need a babysitter to watch James during the day over the summer, what chance Beatrice has to overhear. If both parents are home, why do they need her? If they're self-employed/work from home, that sounds like a more useful tidbit than her love of insects (cool as that may be).
they're not, well, why would she hang around the house once they're home?
When would she get the chance to eavesdrop? What is James in danger from? Depression? Or is his life in danger? Where did that come in? I guess it didn't all hang together so well for me as it did for some.
Actually your questions allow me to make a point: you don't need to drown us in the whys and wherefores, particularly in a query letter.
If you grab me, I'll generally go along for the ride. It's only when something really doesn't work logically at all that I'm catapulted out of the story.
Remember, I'm not reading your queries in my slush pile with an idea of critiquing them, or analyzing them, or anything for anything other than answering Do I Want To Read This Book?
Yes, these questions will need to be answered, but that can come in the novel, not the query. The only (ONLY) purpose of a query is to entice me to read pages, and have your deets so I can ask for more.
I loved it, but 44,000 words is surely more of a novella length?
This is YA and maybe even MG (middle grade) The word count isn't a problem.
I guess it's not important to mention setting? Have no idea where this story is set or even on what continent. Is it better not to mention a specific setting and just keep it general? One pitch I made last week and got a 3-chapter hit the following day, I mentioned "a small Pennsylvania town" in the first paragraph.
For my novels set in Malaysia, I clearly state that fact.
If you need setting to make the query hold together logically, then yes you need it.
If you need setting to entice me to read on, then yes you need it.
If you don't, or don't, then you don't.
There are no hard and fast rules on what you absolutely have to have. You need what works. What works can vary.
That's one of the reasons I'm so adamant about reading the Query Shark archives. If you read 160+ queries and their revisions, you'll see what works and what doesn't, and develop a sense for it in your queries.
It's a little like learning to drive. When you first started you had to run down the checklist in your head: start engine, engage gear, look in rear view mirror and so on.
Now you can do all that while texting, eating, and shouting at the idiot driver next to you. Driving is second nature.
Read enough QueryShark and you can shout at the idiot driver next to you while composting your most excellent query.
Wow, maybe this is why I can't get an agent to reply favorably to my queries. I guess I just don't get it. When I first read this query, I thought the "Win" was for worst query of the day.Sure it was direct. I'll give you that, but I thought it was all over the place.
Stephine Barr is right. So Beitris likes bugs. Big deal. How will that further the story? There is an extortion taking place. I like that, but what makes Beitris think James in danger? And if he is in danger, how could Willem be a "real problem"? All he wants to do is date her. When they fight, what's the matter with confiding in her girlfriends? They sure seem eager enough to talk to her about boys.
I'm sorry, but if this 15 year old spends so much time worrying about Darfur and climate change, maybe her plate if full enough.
At 44,000 words, I don't believe it's long enough to build, cultivate and resolve the mélange of complexities introduced in this query. I don't mean to pounce on this author, but come on QueryShark. Is this what you really want from us?
Don't over think this. A query isn't a road map for a book, it's an invitation to read one.
This one works.
This query has nothing that resembles a melange of complexities to me. I think it's actually pretty elegant writing. You are of course, free to disagree.