Thursday, April 10, 2014

#257-revised 4x

REVISION #4

Dear Query Shark,

Every female in Landy Jenkins bloodline died young.  It was like a family tradition.  Starting with her great-grandmother and continuing down the line until her own mother at twenty-nine died of an illness that still haunted her, the way it was trending she’d live long enough to vote and she’d be damned if she did it in her hometown.
 

There's no sense of Landy being haunted by anything in what follows.  If you mention it in the opening paragraph, I assume it's important.  Thus: leave out what isn't important.


The scope of her inconsequential life was about to change when a French philanthropist offers four juniors $100,000 to read a book.  Dylan Xavier Roberts assumed it was his charm; Li Chou knew it was her brilliance; Landy had no clue why she was picked; and Garret Mattock really didn’t care, so long as he was near Landy.

Monsieur Tortue knew their secret but failed to understand the extent to which their minds have developed and it throws the youngest generation of Yellow Babies into a series of fantastical, life threatening mind-travels.

Four teenagers now get to experience what’s really on in their minds.

(A)When they return to their own reality wiser and armed with knowledge of what’s to come they discover Monsieur Tortue was dead and with him, the solution to keep Landy from an early grave.  This, too, was a ruse.  Monsieur Tortue was very much alive, in hiding, and waiting for Landy Jenkins to find him.  




This paragraph is where things fall apart. You set something up, then reverse it in the next sentence. This is textbook CONFUSING. 



(B) To break from her family’s macabre tradition, she must. MUST WHAT?
                                                                                 
Written as a stand-alone with series potential, YELLOW BABIES is a 95,000-word YA Mainstream novel with sci-fi twists, psychological mayhem, and a thread of romance that could appeal to fans of Veronica Mars, and Matrix while traveling On The Jellicoe Road.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Name, SCBWI member
Address

You have to fix the paragraphs marked A and B.    You don't illuminate the connection between Landy's family dying young and reading M. Tortue's book.  Don't over explain it, but let us see there IS a connection.



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REVISION #3

Dear Query Shark,

Every female in Landy Jenkins bloodline died young. It was like a family tradition. Starting with her great-grandmother and continuing down the line until her own mother at twenty-nine died of an illness that still haunted her, the way it was trending she’d live long enough to vote and she’d be damned if she did it in her hometown.


Don't be afraid to not explain things in a query.  I'll accept the premise of the novel that Landy Jenkins is afraid of dying young without you telling me she's right to worry (poor dear great memaw, then memaw, then ma herself)  Save those few words for the stuff you have to get on the page.


The scope of her inconsequential life was is about to change when a French philanthropist offers four juniors $100,000 to read a book. Dylan Xavier Roberts assumed it was his charm; Li Chou knew it was her brilliance; Landy had no clue why she was picked; and Garret Mattock really didn’t care, so long as he was near Landy.

It's VERY important to keep the events of a query in the immediate moment: IS not WAS here. 



Monsieur Tortue knew their secret but failed to understand the extent to which their minds have developed and it throws the youngest generation of Yellow Babies into a series of fantastical, life threatening mind-travels.

Too abstract and disconnected from what comes before to be of use to you here.

Four teenagers now get to experience what’s really on in their minds.

When they return to their own reality wiser and armed with knowledge of what’s to come they discover Monsieur Tortue was is dead and with him, the solution to keep Landy from an early grave. This, too, was a ruse. Monsieur Tortue was very much alive, in hiding, and waiting for Landy Jenkins to find him.





Wait, what?? What happened to the paragraph you used in Revision #1 that was clear about M. Tortue and his evil plans??


To break from her family’s macabre tradition, she must.
must what??


Written as a stand-alone with series potential, YELLOW BABIES is a 95,000-word YA Mainstream novel with sci-fi twists, psychological mayhem, and a thread of romance that could appeal to fans of Veronica Mars, and Matrix while traveling On The Jellicoe Road.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Name, SCBWI member
Address  

Did you send this before you finished writing? That happens. It's pretty much the Kiss of Death in queries so it's something you want to avoid.

You avoid it by saving your query as a draft and looking at it 24 hours later. That's when you catch this stuff.

I think you're working yourself into a frenzy of no-confidence.  You had a reasonable query back there in #1.  Look at what worked. Fix what didn't. Don't reinvent the wheel.


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REVISION #2


Dear Query Shark,

My debut novel YELLOW BABIES is about confronting the dark places in yourself, knowing your place in the world, what to do about both. It does so with four teens, 91,000 words, and an enigmatic narrator.


I'm not sure why you decided to shoot yourself in the foot in the first paragraph but here's some advice: don't. You actually had a decent start to the query in Revision #1. 


The U.S. government started a program it shouldn’t have. A providential twist and three generations later, instead of being seriously stupid, four teenagers have enhanced skills but not without consequence because nothing is ever that easy.

Too abstract to be interesting

A Frenchman with suspicious motives comes into their school under the auspices of a $100,000 book club but who really wanted to test them. He gets his wish but fails to understand the extent to which their minds have developed and it throws the youngest generation of YELLOW BABIES into a series of fantastical, life threatening mind-travels.

Four teenagers now get to experience what’s really on their minds.


Getting back to those consequences, every female in Landy Jenkins bloodline died young. It was like a family tradition. When they returned to their own reality wiser and armed with knowledge of what’s to come, they discovered the Frenchman has died and with him, the antidote to keep Landy from an early grave.




If I hadn't stopped reading before, I'd stop here. 
In your first revision, I'd read to the end and read the pages.
You're going in the wrong direction here.
What happened?

The Frenchman’s death was greatly exaggerated. Monsieur Henri Tortue was very much alive, in hiding, and waiting for Landy Jenkins to find him.

To break with her family’s macabre tradition, she must.

Written as a stand-alone with series potential, YELLOW BABIES is a Mainstream YA novel with sci-fi twists, psychological mayhem, and a thread of romance that could appeal to fans of Veronica Mars, Matrix, and The Book Thief.

I’m part of an online MG/YA critique group, SCBWI member, and completed Advanced Writing workshops through Gotham Writers.

Those aren't writing credits.

Thank you for your time and consideration.  


What the HELL just happened here?  What part of 

The stakes aren't very clear, but I'd read pages for this query. It's focused, clear and enticing. A couple quick changes and you've got a query to take for a test drive.

in Revision #1 wasn't clear.  A Couple Quick Changes is NOT this wholesale revision that has not only made things worse it's made things AWFUL.

Back to Revision #1.
Don't lose confidence in your work and DO NOT GO CRAZY HERE!



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REVISION #1


Dear Query Shark,

Every female in Landy Jenkins’ bloodline died young. It started after World War II when her great grandmother died giving birth to a daughter, followed by that grandmother dying of an aneurism, and then, her own mother at twenty-nine, dying of an illness that still haunted her.

The way it was trending, Landy figured she might live long enough to vote, and she’d be damned if she did it in her hometown. But the scope of her inconsequential life was about to change when French philanthropist, Monsieur Henri Tortue, came into her school with the extraordinary offer of $25,000 to read a single book. The entire junior class showed up but only four were chosen.

Dylan Xavier Roberts assumed he was chosen for his charm; Li Chou knew she was selected for her brilliance; Landy had no clue why she was picked; and Garret Mattock really didn’t care, so long as he was near her. Landy

But Monsieur Henri Tortue knew. He knew they were the last descendants of a program—his mother’s—designed to create a new breed of human being, and he’s returned to finish where she left off. But when he fails to understand the extent to which their minds have developed, it becomes an error that not only sabotages his own plans, but puts the youngest generation of Yellow Babies into a series of fantastical, life threatening mind-travels.

And now four teenagers will now get to experience what’s really on their minds.

this might just be one of the scariest things I've ever read.

Written as a stand-alone novel with series potential, YELLOW BABIES is a 95,000-word YA romp filled with psychological mayhem, sci-fi twists, snark, and a splash of romance that would appeal to fans of Veronica Mars and Matrix while traveling the Jellicoe Road.



Romp and mayhem describe very different things. You might reconsider using both of them here.

Thank you for your time and consideration.




The stakes aren't very clear, but I'd read pages for this query. It's focused, clear and enticing.

A couple quick changes and you've got a query to take for a test drive.

-------------------
Dear Mr. Levine,

Back in January, I had the pleasure of listening to your lecture at the kickoff of our SCBWI season where you were chased on stage by a manic VCR light. You said you wouldn’t say anything noteworthy, but I took notes anyway, and your advice was to make the first chapter like a good date, so without fumbling at the door to make small talk with the parents, let met introduce you to my YA story, Yellow Babies.

This is the best personalization I've seen in a long time. I know I tell you to start with the protagonist's name and the plot but THIS WORKS.  It's very funny, it's clear the querier was paying attention to what the agent said at the talk.  If you've got something like this, you lead with it. If you're personalizing your queries with "and I've read all your clients books and I want you as my agent" that's NOT what you lead with. See the difference?

A French philanthropist comes into a tired, northern Minnesota town with an extraordinary offer for one of their schools. The entire junior class shows up, but only four are chosen. Dylan Xavier Roberts assumes he was picked for his charm; Li Chou knew she was selected for her brilliance; Landy Jenkins has no clue why she was there; and Garret Mattock really didn’t care, so long as he was near her.

This could have been character soup but it's not. It's concise and clear. Each character is easily discerned from the others.  It's not Breakfast Club trite. (The rebel, the minx, the homecoming queen)

What they didn’t know was that one day Dylan Roberts would lead a counter-revolution against the same country Secretary of State, Li Chou, would defend; Garret Mattock would build an invention so powerful, it would literally knock the planet off its orbit; and, his love interest, Landy Jenkins, would predict the future and be hunted down by the most powerful people in their pre-dystopian world.

And that’s why they were chosen.

They are the latest generation of Yellow Babies, a 70 year-old government project led by the Frenchman’s mother after World War II. And her son, Monsieur Henri Tortue, was in town to push this next breed of Homo sapiens to the very edge of their sanity.


and here's where what has been a GREAT query falls apart completely.  What's at stake? Their sanity? Not big enough? The future? Too abstract to be interesting.  What does M. Henri Tortue want to accomplish?  Get that on the page.

Per your submission guidelines, I’ve included the first two chapters and a synopsis. In addition to being a member with SCBWI, I’ve studied my craft through the well-respected Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Yellow Babies is 94,000-word YA romantic /sci-fi romp that would appeal to fans of Veronica Mars and Dr. Who on their way to the Jellicoe Road.

I'm not much on film/tv comps but you certainly get your audience demo across with the ones you've chosen ie Not Me. I had to look up Jellicoe Road, and I've never seen Dr. Who (I know, just shoot me now)


Thank you for your time and consideration.

Get the stakes on the page in less abstract form and you've got a good query for ONE specific agent.

15 comments:

Liz Mallory said...

The voice in this is great and totally makes me want to read it, even though the first couple paragraphs left me confused (what are the chosen FOR? what is this amazing opportunity for one of their schools? what is the struggle?). It just gave characters and not much hook/plot to go on, but the voice was enough to get me intrigued!

GillyB said...

I really, really like the sound of this! Agree with the Shark that the stakes could be better defined, but I love the set up and the differences between why the four think they're chosen and why they're ACTUALLY chosen.

Just like in the last YA query with comps, I'm stuck on those titles. While I LOVE the sound of Veronica and Doctor Who on the Jellicoe Road (BTW: It's Doctor, not DR. If a Whovian agent reads your query, they will be most displeased), I'm a bit confused. Veronica Mars is noir, Doctor Who is whimsical and heartbreaking sci fi, and Jellicoe Road is absolutely gut-wrenching contemporary. I have a hard time seeing how they come together.

However, you have flawless taste in pop culture, so that's a plus.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

At first I was interested, but the more I thought about it, the less sense it made, and when I reread it, I couldn't figure out the story at all. I'm sure it makes perfect sense when you read the book, but that's the problem with the query. If I can't tell what the story is about, I"m not inclined to read it.

Shawna said...

You had me through "And that's why they were chosen." I was really wanting to read it just to find out what was going on. But that last descriptive paragraph didn't make enough sense to me and kind of left me going, "Huh?"

bass said...

The first two paragraphs hooked me in well, but there wasn't any payoff. Since the third paragraph mentions that what they will do in the future is why they have been chosen, I assume time travel is somehow involved? The wording in that paragraph wasn't as tight as in the previous paragraphs either. If you replaced that third paragraph with one that states the reasons they've been chosen a bit more clearly and follows up with at least a taste of conflict, I think the letter would be much stronger.

nightsmusic said...

My only question in the second para is what is the offer that makes it so extraordinary. It has to be a killer offer. The characters were very clear, but I have no idea what they're being chosen for, what the offer is, why the school should care.

Though you explain in the third para why the kids are chosen, because they're yellow babies, you don't go beyond that. So who cares? You don't tell us anything about the experiment, why the kids were created since I get the gist that they were, there's no real immediate problem. What you mention will happen in the future. What's the immediate problem, the one for right now. The biggest immediate problem I got from this is that Garret can't get close enough to Landy and that was para two.

Who? The kids are the protagonists, the Frenchman, the antagonist (and if that's not correct, you're not getting things across clearly enough)

What? They're part of a 70 year old experiment

Where? From France to the US, past experimentation to four normal kids in the US

When? Contemporary dystopian society

Why? Why indeed? Why the experiment? Why the urgency to find the kids now? Why the need to corral them, keep an eye on them, mentor them, teach them the future? I have no idea. That's every bit as important as the other four. Get that on the page, you'll have a much better query.

Lisa Cordova said...

I like your writing style for the query. It has punch.

I agree with everyone in that after “And that’s why they were chosen” the query falters. You introduce the Tortue family, which seem to be the catalyst of this experiment. The final line “to push this next breed of Homo sapiens to the very edge of their sanity” is a goal, but it makes little sense to me.

Why would he want to bring them to the edge of sanity? And what does this have to do with
1) Dylan and Li opposing each other
2) Garret being able to knock the planet off its orbit. Does Tortue want this to happen & why would he?

Without Tortue’s goal, the story has a disconnect. We know the main characters and we have an idea of their future, but we don’t know what connects everything. As a result, it comes across as a couple action stories without cohesion.

Is Tortue an antagonist or a mentor? What is the conflict between Tortue and the MCs. The conflicts between Dylan/Li and Garret/Landy are there. But what does this have to do with the main plot? And what is the main plot? Is Tortue on Dylan’s or Li’s side or conflicted between them? Is Tortue from the future or is there premonition involved?

This seems like it could be a very exciting story with a lot of various things going on. You just need to give us a clear idea of WHY? Without a sense of why, the story goes from a potentially exciting story… to a story composed of events thrown together.

But I am interested.

Adele said...

I'm a little distracted by Henri Tortue, because his name is, of course, French for 'turtle'. One main character with a name that means something else makes me think there should me more, and that perhaps there's a running in-joke or maybe a whole turtle-oriented subplot. When further reading doesn't disclose such a thing I wonder why. I'm not saying you can't give your character this name, but all of my wondering takes me away from following your query, and I bet that wasn't what you wanted.

Theresa Milstein said...

It would be interesting to see the The Mysterious Benedict's Society's query was written because that had a mix of several people chosen for specific reasons. I agree that the query is too much of a hodgepodge and impersonal after that first intro to the characters.

Now I wonder who the minx was in The Breakfast Club.

Madison Blancaflor said...

Dear Shark,

I HIGHLY suggest you (in the free time you may accumulate sometime in 4 years) invest in the Doctor Who franchise. It's somewhat of an overstated and exaggerated fandom, but you are definitely missing out on some amazing comedy. Think Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, but in multiple actors rather than one. :)

The Sleepy One said...

I agree with everyone else about where the query falls apart, and I love the voice. If I were you, I'd read some short descriptions of the Terminator films, considering a terminator is sent back in time in the first two films to take out John Connor before he has a chance to become a messiah-type figure. This might help you figure out how to explain the main action of your novel.

Good luck!

sylviamcivers said...

Is 94K a little long for a YA novel? When I look at the YA shelf at the library, the books range from medium to longish, and I'm not sure how to translate words into pages.

Laina said...

Eh, not really, sylviamcivers. Depends on genre, but I know of books as short of 45k (Break, Hannah Moskowitz) or up to 100k (the Iron King).

Here's one blog post that mentions it briefly http://theswivet.blogspot.ca/2008/03/on-word-counts-and-novel-length.html

And one that goes into more detail http://literaticat.blogspot.ca/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html

94k could be anywhere from 300, 350 to 400, or more or less, even, depending on writing style, formatting, font, etc. Which is probably part of why we use word count and not pages :P

LynnRodz said...

I don't usually read YA, but the voice is intriguing enough without the stakes being clear that I would read it. Tortue didn't bother me at all. I thought it was (perhaps) a play on words, Henri being "as slow as a turtle" to finish off what his mother had started years earlier. Or the turtle winning the race at the end. (Although what that race is, isn't clear since the stakes aren't clear.) In any case, good luck, you've got yourself an interesting story.

Evynlin Diae said...

Just my two cents?
It's Doctor Who.
Not Dr. Who.
I'm dead serious; I don't know if the agent will care but I bet you of they're a Whovian they will.