Sunday, July 8, 2012

#225-Revised 4x

Revision #4

 
Dear Query Shark,

Eleven year old Lauren Tatterman always dreamed of meeting her Dad. Sadly, he died four months before she was born.  While on summer vacation her camp group visits a college library and she discovers that he might still be alive!

And here's where you see that the revision from #3 still just isn't quite right.  You've used the exact wording I suggested last time. When you looked at it did you think "aha! That's it!" or did you think "well, that's what she SAID to say so here it is?"  I'm guessing the latter, because it's still not quite right.

Let's try this:  Eleven year old Lauren Tatterman discovers the dad she's been told died before she was born might still be alive.
Now THAT is a sentence to entice one to read on, no?  But it takes four revisions and paying attention to the inner voice that says "not quite right" no matter what anyone else (no matter how sharkly) says.


A secret passageway from the library into the archive vault leads to her Dad’s ‘off-limits’ papers and dairies. Will she be able to figure out where he might be hiding or maybe find a message to her about why he left in the first place? 

I hate secret passageways. They are cliché. Does it have to be secret? Why can't it just be long-neglected, or revealed during renovation or something that doesn't require too much suspension of disbelief?


Finding him might mean living the dream-castle life she always imagined he’d want give her. Not this life she has now, with no Mom, a much older brother and an Aunt who doesn’t seem to want her around anymore. The documents are unfortunately just that: boring old notes about experiments, meetings, and endless columns of numbers.
But the library has more secrets than Lauren expected. And when a social worker and an FBI agent arrive to ask questions and begin making arrests Lauren must choose between chasing a dream or destroying what little family she has left.

DARCY TOWERS is a completed, contemporary Middle Grade at 48,500 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I think you might be pretty close to a good query.  How's the book? Focused? Starting at the right place? All the things you've revised in the query should be used for revising your book too.
Nothing breaks my heart like a terrific query and not-up-to-snuff pages.  Seriously.


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Revision # 3
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Dear Query Shark,

Eleven year old Lauren Tatterman has always dreamed of meeting her Dad. Unfortunately he died one month before she was even born.  When her camp group goes to visit the library on the college campus where she’s staying for the summer she discovers a computer file stating just the opposite: That he is still alive!
This is much better than the previous iterations.  We get right to the point where Lauren's life changes.

That said, there's some paring down to be done here:
Eleven year old Lauren Tatterman has always dreamed of meeting her Dad. Unfortunately he died one a month before she was even born.  When her camp group goes to visits the a college campus library on the college campus where she’s staying for the summer she discovers a computer file stating just the opposite: That he is still her dad is alive!
Do you see the difference?
 
With hopes of him being a famous rock star or millionaire, Lauren refuses to believe her older brother’s declarations that the library is wrong.
This sentence doesn't really work very well.  We go from "he's alive" to "hey, he might be cool" and then to her brother being a wet blanket.  This is zagging when it should be zigging. Each sentence should flow in to the next.



Start at the library instead:
Discovering a A secret passageway into from the library and down into the archive vaults, leads Lauren is determined to find the truth. If she can get access to her Dad’s ‘off-limits’ papers and dairies. There might be something indicating his location. Maybe even a message to her about why he left in the first place? But the documents are just that, boring notes about old experiments, meetings, and endless columns of numbers.

It isn’t until she finds the last box, stashed away in “the cage,’ that she begins to unravel the mystery behind her own family and possibly the location of her father.
 And here's where you go splat: what's at stake?  She wants to find her dad..what bad thing happens if he's really alive? What worse thing happens if he isnt'? What bad thing will happen to her if she discovers the truth?  What worse thing will happen if she doesn't?

 
DARCY TOWERS is a completed, contemporary Middle Grade at 44,500 words. It takes place on a college campus, in a college town.
Without the explanation of why Lauren is on the college campus (which is not in this version) it's better to leave this info out.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is better but it's not enticing yet. You've got to have stakes to create tension. 

Revise. Resend.
 


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Revision #2
Dear QueryShark:

Eleven year old Lauren Tatterman is stuck living with her much older brother in a college dorm for the summer. It was a rushed, last minute plan when her aunt sped off to England without her. And now all Lauren wants is peace – to cherish the memories of her recently deceased mother. Finding a secret passageway into the university library offers promises of just that: some much needed alone time.

The problem here is voice. The words you use to describe what Lauren wants don't sound like an 11-year-old. "Peace" is what moms with a passel of loinfruit at their feet want.  "Leave me alone" is what a kid might say.



"Cherish the memoirs of her recently deceased mom"--same problem.



You're not writing this letter in the voice of your protagonist but the words you use to describe what she's thinking or what she wants to do have to sound like words a kids would use.



But the solitude of the library at night proves to be just the opposite with campus rumors of a resident homeless man, an even bigger cover-up of a library heist and worst of all: secrets about her own family. Risking discovery by the campus police, or worse yet, “big brother bossy-pants” himself, Lauren sets out to unravel the mystery behind her own birth. But it isn’t until she stumbles upon hush-hush online chats and texts between her aunt and older brother that she realizes what little family she has left might be gone forever.

 You've got too much going on here. What's the first point in the story where Lauren has to change something or take action or make a choice? That's the place to focus on.

With the help of a roll of duct tape, a Tupperware of spaghetti and a mother cow from the campus research labs Lauren finally realizes what she was looking for all along – and it was what she already had.


You've given away all the tension here. If I know how it ends, why will I want to read it to find out what happens next? 

I do love the idea that duct tape solves a problem. I love duct tape. Did you know it comes in colors?

DARCY TOWERS is a contemporary middle grade completed at 43,300 words. I am an academic librarian working on a university campus and after reading an agent's tweet once which stated one must write what they know, I was inspired to write this. After viewing your agency's website and what you're looking for and following you on Twitter, I'm hoping Lauren  and her kindhearted spirit might fin her way into your heart.

I was all ready to correct fin to find then realized of course, it was intentional.  That's the kind of subtle writing I love.



Also, don't write what you know. Write what you want to find out about. Write what you care passionately about. Write what you love or want to love, or hate, or think everyone should hate along with you



Write what you know would leave us all in the same stagnant pond forever.  You have to write beyond that. You have to leap into the Ocean of the Unknown and swim with the Sharks, chum.



And of course, no matter why you wrote this, you leave that out. I don't care.  Opinions vary on this (Jenny Bent likes to see why people were motivated to write their books for example) but I don't give a fig.




Thank you for your time and consideration.




You've got the word count under control now, which is good. Now let's get some voice, and some honing on the plot.



Revise, resend!



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Revision #1


Dear QueryShark:


Eleven year old Lauren Tatterman just wants to pass through her summer to get to the other side. After the death of her mom and the unexpected departure of her aunt to England, she’s stuck living with her much older brother in a dorm room on a college campus. The discovery of a secret passageway into the library and a secret room on the third floor is just what she needed for some alone time until her aunt returns.

This first paragraph is 79 words-almost 1/3 of the total but all it does is set the scene. 

Consider: 

Eleven year old Lauren Tatterman is stuck living with her much older brother in a dorm room on a college campus this summer.

23 words but more important---now I'm wondering why she's there.

But when fancy, old pictures and small booklets begin appearing mysteriously and Lauren realizes they aren’t just a “Heavenly gift” sent from her mom, she begins to investigate. What she discovers is that a large, university library is full of secrets: including a resident homeless man and a massive robbery operation. Things begin to get really serious though when Lauren uncovers photos in the library about her own past that match up with the recent flurry of secretive texts, emails and chats flying back and forth between her brother and her aunt. There is something they don't want her to know!

101 words. And all of them can be condensed to: her brother and her aunt are hiding something from her. Something she's afraid will destroy the small family she has left. Lauren must investigate to find out what no one's telling her before it's too late.

That's clunky writing but you get the idea. Pare down to essentials.

Suddenly her summer of laying low is gone as she sets out to foil the criminals and hunt down the truth about her past. Lauren realizes priceless items might be taken from the library for good and worse yet, what small family she has left might be destroyed.

DARCY TOWERS is a completed contemporary Middle Grade at 37,000 words. After reviewing your agency’s website and what you’re looking for and following you on Twitter I am hoping Lauren Tatterman and her kindhearted spirit might find her way into your heart.

This is better but it's still not there.

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Original query

Dear Query Shark,

Most students start college right after high school, so they are 18 or 19 years old. Some smarty-pants might graduate early and are 16 or 17 when they arrive on campus. Lauren Tatterman went to college one month after her 11th birthday.

And that was last week.


We don't need the set up of "most kids" or even "smarty pants" kids.  Start with the only one who matters: Lauren.

After the unexpected death of her mother, 11 year old Lauren Tatterman is doomed to spend her summer as a Coyote Kids Camper at Eastern State University. She has to live Living with her 27 year old brother, after the unexpected death of her mother. He who is the Residence Hall Director of Darcy Towers, the largest dorm on campus, .  Lauren is determined to make Mr. Bossy-pants' life miserable.

Here's where you go splat. Why is she determined to make Mr. Bossy-pants life miserable?  She's 11. At this point every adult in her life bosses her around. What's changed? What's different now? 

But when fire alarms, a tiny, injured rabbit and the campus library theives (when it's clear you didn't run spell check on your query, you contribute to global warming because it makes sharks weep hot salty tears) all collide Lauren realizes she has finally reached her goal of arriving at the fifth stage of the grieving process: acceptance.

And there's a sentence to choke a horse.

The reason this query would get a pass from me is that you've got more than one of these horse chokers and that's DEATH in a middle grade novel.  

But is that really what she wanted? Only a mother cow with a plate glass window in her side who lives in the vet teaching pastures knows for sure.

That's one helluva disturbing image for ME and I'm not in 5th grade. You can have something like that in a book, but you'll need time to prepare the reader for it.  I suggest it's NOT a good image for a query where you don't have any prep time at all.

DARCY TOWERS is a completed contemporary Middle Grade at 37,000 words. I am a member of SCWBI and have spent 15 years living "at college" as well, having seen it all, including the cow with the plate glass window in her side. After reviewing your agency's website and what you're looking for and following you on Twitter I am hoping Lauren Tatterman and her kindhearted spirt minght find its way into your heart.

As you know I'm reluctant to close with anything but thank you for your time and consideration but if you must be nice, this is the way to do it. 

Sincerely,

Focus on getting your sentences under control and showing us more about Lauren's state of mind.

This is a form rejection. Revise. Resend.

24 comments:

Lehcarjt said...

The opening set me up to think that Lauren went to college as an 11 year old because she was smarter than the 18 y/o, 17 y/o, 16 y/ olds that did the same.

But that appears not to be true. She's not really going to college as a student, but the sister of a teacher, right? That's not the same thing and not really striking or unusual. Lot of teachers / older students have children.

Theresa Milstein said...

"(when it's clear you didn't run spell check on your query, you contribute to global warming because it makes sharks weep hot salty tears)"

It's bad enough to make a mistake in a query, but when it contributes to global warming...

I have a feeling this is a query that gets in the way of telling what the story is about. The writer needs to worry about character, plot, and voice instead of morals and being clever. But an 11-year-old running amok on a college campus could lead to an interesting story.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Yeah, I agree with Lehcarjt. You prepared us for a story about a whiz-kid (though really, plenty of 11-year-olds could handle most first year college classes IMHO) but then it turns out the child is merely living on campus.

Also, does an 11-year-old grieving her mother's death really have a goal of reaching the fifth stage of grief?

I feel like you haven't got the center of your story into the query. But yeah, get your sentences under control first.

GillyB said...

I also thought Lauren was going to college for being intelligent. That got me intrigued. I found myself getting a little excited to hear about an eleven-year-old girl trying to navigate through college.
So you might

"But when fire alarms, a tiny, injured rabbit and the campus library theives all collide Lauren realizes she has finally reached her goal of arriving at the fifth stage of the grieving process: acceptance."

This sentence to me is so bizarre. I can almost see what you're getting at, but collide is not quite the right word. And what they have to do with acceptance is totally unclear.

"But is that really what she wanted?" Does that mean does she really want to accept her mother's death? Why wouldn't she want to do that?"

"Only a mother cow with a plate glass window in her side who lives in the vet teaching pastures knows for sure." This sentence has so many clauses that it gets confusing.

I'm still confused about Lauren's CHOICES in the story. What does she want? Why won't she get it? What happens? It sounds like you could have a really interesting story here, but I don't get what it's about yet. Good luck, and keep writing!

Clare K. R. Miller said...

Like some other commenters, I was expecting a brilliant kid attending college at 11 years old. But it sounds to me she's not just living there because her brother works there--it sounds like she's going to a summer camp there because her brother works there. Right? "Coyote Kids Camper" is an actual thing (in your fictional world), not just Lauren's joke? I know of plenty of summer camps that take place on college campuses. So, unless she's young (or old) for the camp, the only thing that is interesting to me about her being 11 is that she's just lost her mother and she has a brother old enough to theoretically be her father. And I suspect that's the interesting part of the story anyway--so the college part doesn't need to be such a major aspect of the query.

Sharron said...

Lots of food for thought on your response to the query.

Buffra said...

I don't get "mid-grade" from this at all. The tone and the word choices seem off, with only the protag's age being on the mark.

I know a query letter is a business letter from an adult to a lamniformes, but it seems like the query itself should have some indications that the writing will be appropriate for the target audience.

Colin Smith said...

What Buffra (above) said! I've found that with both YA and MG, the age of the protagonist is only a part of the equation. Voice counts for a LOT, first in the novel, and then in the query (if the query is a true reflection of the novel, which it should be).

I know Ms. Shark is not the only agent whose interest in a novel will be piqued exponentially by the voice of the query. If you read the Query Shark archives, you will see examples of so-so queries that get a resounding "yes!" because the voice is compelling. And it seems a compelling voice covers a multitude of sins.

Katrina S. Forest said...

"But when fire alarms, a tiny, injured rabbit and the campus library thieves all collide, Lauren realizes she has finally reached her goal..."

The problem I always have with lists in queries is that I have no context. Consider if I wrote a similar sentence with different nouns and characters:

"But when an old tin can, a sneaky bobcat, and the local gardening club all collide, Bob realizes he has finally reached his goal..."

Does this illustrate what I mean? Maybe I've got a story in there somewhere, but you don't know if these items are all from the same incident or a bunch of different incidents over the course of the book. You have no idea how they play off each other or the protagonist. So they might have meaning to me, but they're meaningless to you.

Remember, we know nothing about your novel other than what you tell us. And lists without context tell us very little.

sbjames said...

I'm not sure the contemperary 11 year old uses "bossy pants" or "smarty pants." That sounds like something a much younger kid would say(or a grandmother). I've tried to come up with a replacement but the best I can think of is "Know it all."

arhooley said...

Contemporary Middle Grade has this glass-sided cow that "knows" what Lauren wants? So it's sci-fi and fantasy as well? Yes? No?

Adele said...

I suppose Lauren is the unreliable narrator behind the query, and that is why you've included statements that we realize are not quite true. She is not going to college, she is attending a camp at the college. Maybe there is a real live cow with plate glass in its stomach (though I think PETA and the SPCA would be onto that college big time) but I suspect it's a billboard or some such. Maybe Lauren is precocious and has read all about the five stages of acceptance but, being only eleven, I doubt she really understands what she thinks she understands.

I think your story might actually be quite good (I love Flavia de Luce) but that's not coming through in the query because the unreliable statements don't promote confidence in the quality of your writing. It's as if you said "Here are several statements that don't make sense - want to read an entire book full of them?"

Uma said...

11 year old genius girl is deprived of friends her age and finds herself emotionally ill-equipped for the grown-up world. What you need is situations that bring out this conflict.

Anne said...

i may be off, but isn't it the SCBWI, not SCWBI?
Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, right?

@Adele- cattle with openings in their guts to be able to observe the function of their stomachs is a common occurance at colleges that keep livestock for Animal Science Majors.

fposte said...

Yes, just about every ag or large animal vet school will have some fistulated cows--however, they don't actually have plate glass (or any kind of glass) covering the fistula.

Erin Kane Spock said...

Wow -- it's disturbing to think that my bad queries may have contributed to global warming.

alaskaravenclaw said...

The query's better and I actually liked the second paragraph better than QS did, but in the third paragraph, OUCH:

Suddenly her summer of laying low is gone

Writer, drop everything and study the difference between "lie" (v.i.) and "lay" (v.t.) and engrave that difference on your heart forever.

Then go on.

Theresa Milstein said...

I definitely have a better idea of what the story is about and what's at stake, but I agree with Query Shark that it's still too wordy. If you pare down, there will be room for more detail.

M. G. Tarquini said...

The querier had me at the duct tape and tupperware.

Theresa Milstein said...

I like this query beginning much better. And QS got to the essentials. But it is hard to figure out what's at stake. Did the mom think he was dead? Did he fake his own death? Does the girl knowing he's alive put her in any danger? Of course she would want to know if her dad were alive, but what's life changing for her? How is she growing in this quest?
FYI: I see it says "dairies" instead of "diaries" in the new query.

Julia said...

I wonder - can we take the hook sentence and turn it around so that the surprise is right up front? Something like, "Lauren's dad is alive - but he died when she was just an infant." Actually, that (what I just wrote) is a terrible sentence, but hopefully you get my point. Otherwise, combining the first two - she dreamed of meeting her dad, who she thought... - might improve the flow.

I totally agree about the second paragraph; I'm just getting into the story idea when this second bit comes along and knocks me somewhere else.

Just my two cents - but then, if querying were my strong point, I wouldn't be on this site so stinking much! :)

Julie

K Hutton said...

From the newest version:
"Lauren must choose between chasing a dream or destroying what little family she has left."

Shouldn't the choice be between pursuing her dream and SAVING what little family she has left?

Usually the final dilemma isn't choose between "do what you really want to do" or "do something horrible," since that's a pretty obvious choice.

Another way of phrasing it might be:

"Lauren must choose whether or not to chase her dream, even if it means destroying what little family she has left."

(I'm assuming 'chase a dream' is meant to be a good thing, i.e. "follow your dreams" etc etc. If 'chasing a dream' is meant to be a bad thing I would rephrase that to be clearer.)

Theresa Milstein said...

I think it's tighter. I'm going to focus on some mistakes.

Please fix dairies and change to diaries. Mom and Aunt should be lowercase unless you are speaking to them and referring to them directly. The way you used them, they should be lowercase.

LynnRodz said...

First of all, let me say I admire your persistence to get your query right.

In place of a "secret" passageway, I would put:

A closed off passageway from the library into the archive vault leads to her dad's papers and diaries.

IMHO "off-limits" slows the sentence down.

You then write, you hope these papers will answer two questions: Where's he hiding and why did he leave in the first place? This brings intrigue. But! In the next paragraph you tell us:

The documents are unfortunately just that: boring old notes about experiments, meetings, and endless columns of numbers.

Now if that isn't a let down, I don't know what is! Why mention the papers at all, if they're BORING? Use your 250 words in a query on things that are interesting in your story, not the opposite. Another thing that doesn't do it for me is an FBI agent making arrests. It's too vague. If you said something like:

A social worker and an FBI agent arrive to ask questions and arrest Lauren's brother....

That would spark my interest.

Good luck!