Sunday, November 27, 2016

#285

Dear Query Shark,


Hi, I'm Emma Slate. (this is where I'd stop reading) I was born in the New York Public Library, where the magic leaked out of the books and into me. At least, that’s what I suspect. One thing’s for sure—I never knew how fully words would become my gift and my curse.

If I hadn't stopped reading after the first sentence, I'd stop here.

"Hi I'm Felix Buttonweezer" is a huge red flag. It screams inexperienced writer. It's how we wrote letters in the fourth grade.  It's almost always followed by a description of a book I don't want to read.


And frankly, it's bad writing.

Don't start your letter with Hi I'm (your name)

And what's worse is that what follows makes it clear this is not actually the writer.
It's the character.

Do not EVER write your query in the voice of your character. It's not fresh and new and fun. It's gimmicky.

I wish someone had warned me.


It started the day I almost hitchhiked to Poland, when I learned my dad had married a woman I’d never met. In Brussels, of all places. Could there be a worse combo than Brussels sprouts and stepmoms? Poland was definitely an option.

You'll notice there's nothing about the New York Public Library here which is why even if I hadn't stopped reading by now I'd be confused here. That is not what you want.

Then my stepbrother Jack woke me one night in the Shadowlands, which changed everything. I befriended a troll, met the Runaway River, and toured a house filled with escaped book characters. Jack says I’m the last guardian of magic.

Notice that Dad and stepmom have fallen out of the picture?
At this point I don't know whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt**

Thing is: we only have seven days to save the Shadowlands before it’s overrun with the soul-feeding, despair-filling (probably smelly) Hadrelenus. You know what sounds even more impossible? I’ll have to work with Jack, come to grips with my mom’s death, and figure out where I belong.


Because I have an obtuse narrator breathing down my neck, I’ll tell you the boring part.


THE SHADOWLANDS is 85,000 words, and, even though said narrator thinks it’s middle grade fiction, I’m telling you, this stuff happened.

This is Ms. Blackwell’s first novel, though she has been featured on Blog Her from time to time. In her spare time, Ms. Blackwell corrals five book-hungry children and commandeers various vessels down the Snake River.


She took my tale to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, where some book-loving types like Heidi Taylor (Shadow Mountain) and David Farland showed interest in her work. She was personally mentored by David Farland. Diann Read provided professional editing, and a critique group provided snacks.

These are not writing credentials. These are nice things that happened to you and your work. I'm glad they happened, but I don't care. How your book came to be doesn't matter. The story matters, and I have no idea what the story is here.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Repent. Revise. Resend.




**This is one of Truvy's lines from Steel Magnolias

10 comments:

Ardenwolfe said...

Ouch, but yeah . . . Janet's right. Welcome to the School of Hard-Knocks at Query Letter Hell.

nightsmusic said...

Every paragraph in this query introduces someone or something new. Other than mentioning Shadowlands and Jack twice, there is no continuity in this. None. You have magic from books, a library, a dad and stepmom, not until the third or fourth paragraph do we learn your mother is dead, Brussels and Poland (you do know that Brussels is the capital of Belgium and has nothing to do with Poland) a very confusing met-in-Brussels-I'm-going-to-Poland which makes no sense, and other flotsam tossed into the mix. This does not bode well for your story because it makes me wonder if your story is in fact, as much of a mish-mash as the query. Your query doesn't need to go from point A to point C but you have to have some kind of cause and effect that doesn't leave anyone scratching their heads and wondering how you got there.

E.Maree said...

It took me about five reads of the Brussels/Poland paragraph to realise these were separate events (Dad marries Brussels lady, main character tries to run to Poland in a strop).

Up until I detangled that I was irate that anyone could think Brussels was in Poland. Now I'm just confused how it relates to the story at all. Your query says the almost-hitchhiking (what does that even mean?) day is "the day it started" but there's no connection at all between that day and the Shadowlands.

I'd recommend that the author google "Query Letter Mad Lib Nathan Bransford" and use that really stripped-down template to get the core of the story written down. Work on it from there.

Leila Rheaume said...

Agreed with Janet's comments. I do think 'Emma Slate was born in the New York Public Library...' makes a fantastic 1st line as long as it's not in Emma's pov. I'd recommend changing more than the pov for the rest though. It jumps around rather than giving a cohesive idea of the story.

Is it worth mentioning she almost hitchhiked to Poland? We get such little space to explain the story in a query, it seems like a waste to include something that doesn't happen. I kind of like the 'dad married a woman I'd never met' thing. It shows she's not very close with her father or out of touch with him (it's a little weird to later find out her mother is dead, because who is taking care of this presumably pre-teen girl?). The big thing is to connect the new stepmother to Jack so one idea flows to the next. i.e.-She learns her dad has married a woman she'd never met, and now she has a stepbrother of all things.

In other words, anything that would tie her revelation about her dad's marriage to the next paragraph about Jack.

I'm torn over the next paragraph. It doesn't do anything to explain the conflict (it's just a list of things that happen), but I find the idea of "meeting" a river & a house full of escaped book characters charming. These details make me think the author has a fun book somewhere under this confusing query. I'd love to see these somehow worked into the query in a way that shows the conflict. i.e.-Before she can [accomplish the goal], Emma must first bargain with the Runaway River for safe passage to the Land of Making This Example Up.

The Hadrelenus seem like an integral part of the story, & yet they are glossed over. So is Emma's part in stopping them. This is the story's main conflict, I think it could stand to be explained a bit. What happens if Jack & Emma can't stop the Hadrlenus? They take over the Shadowlands, sure, but what is Emma's stake in that? Why does she care? It might be possible to tie those charming details into this... i.e.-If the Hadrelenus succeed, the escaped book characters Emma met during her journey will go back to being words on a page.

Also, what is Emma's gift & curse from words? Did it really come from being born in the library? Unlike the character, the author would know one way or another. Again, I think the most important thing is to connect all of the dots. So if the line about being born in the library is included, try to make sure it impacts the rest of the query.

An example & possible springboard for moving forward:

"Emma Slate was born in the New York Public Library where the magic leaked out of the books and into her. But it will take [however old she is] years, a bossy new stepbrother, and a trip to a world she never knew existed to discover the library gave her more than just a love of reading.

During a long awaited trip to see her dad, she learns he has gone off and married some lady she's never even met. Worse, Emma is now plus one stepbrother she never wanted. That is, until he wakes her in the Shadowlands and explains she's the last guardian of magic.

The Shadowlands is a land of magic where [explain a little bit about it maybe, to give a frame of reference?]. Now it's being overrun with soul-feeding, despair-filling (probably smelly) Hadrelenus, and none of its creatures are safe. To stop the Hadrelenus, Emma must [use her gift/befriend the locals/whatever she has to do]. If she and her stepbrother can't [work together/get past some obstacle/defeat the Hadrelenus], then [the consequences of failing]."

And then somehow add in those details about the river & the book characters without making them sound like a list? Not much to ask, right?!

The good news is, the author has a fun MG voice, and I imagine they can turn this into a really tight, voice-y query with a lot of personality.

Leila Rheaume said...

E.Maree, I was confused about the same thing, except I never caught on that the MC was running away to Poland. I had somehow worked it out in my head that he'd gotten married in Brussels and was currently in Poland (for the honeymoon??? gosh, I don't even know!). I just assumed the MC was trying to get to her dad.

Author, the quips about Brussels sprouts and whatnot are cute and show your MC's attitude, but I don't think it's worth confusing the reader to include them. Readers will make things up (often erroneously!) to fill in the blanks if something doesn't make sense.

Colin Smith said...

Repent, Revise, Resend

The Three Rs of Publishing. Love it! :)

And I agree with Janet's critique. Did Opie read the archive? There's a reason why Ms. Shark recommends this practice prior to submitting queries here, or anywhere for that matter. I really have nothing more to add other than to encourage Opie to try again, taking all the above into consideration.

CynthiaMc said...

I like the voice, love the magic but have no idea what the story is. We have librarians in the family. If anyone went into labor in any of their libraries the laboree would be immediately airlifted far, far away. I'm wondering if Mom was the librarian and it was after hours.

I hope you fix this, because it has possibilities and would probably make a fun movie.

Irene Troy said...

This makes me sad. By the time you are ready to write a query letter you should understand the basics of the traditional publishing business. This includes at least the bare basics of writing a query letter. Does this mean you will get it right the first time or even the fiftieth? No. In fact, if you are like me, you will expend enormous time, energy and angst trying to get the query right. But if you take time to read the archives here, to read at least some agent blogs, to at least read query tips on agency sites, you should know the firm, almost written in stone DON'T DO THIS tips. Primary among them is you don't write in your character's voice and you don't go so far out of the mold as is done here.

Meanwhile, under this mess may be an interesting story. Problem is -- we have so little idea of story it is impossible to judge fairly. The voice is original. There's a certain "feel" that might indicate possibilities of interest. So, to the OP, please don't quit in a snit. Take a moment to lick your shark inflicted wounds and start over. You probably spent months/years working on the novel, spend some more time on this query. Good luck!

Katherine Wylie said...

As a college student in pursuit of a career in copy editing, I am constantly editing the work of my peers. More often than not, their work reads similar to this, in that I sometimes wish I could simply scrap it and start over. Unfortunately, my feedback needs to be constructive and positive. This post was comical, though not a realistic representation of my personal editing experience.

Corinne said...

I don't know if it is appropriate for the author of the query to chime in, but I want to thank all of you (and Janet, of course) for your incredibly helpful suggestions and encouragement. I knew first POV was a huge risk (all my other POVs were not, but I had a terrible time with voice in my zillion previous attempts)-- so it's good to know it just doesn't work here. I'll work on it right away. Thanks again. :)