Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Dear Query Shark,

Safe inside the rind of Orange County, parents pay a premium to shelter their kids. If those kids lie well enough, they might even convince their parents the money paid off.

Four best friends lie artfully. They keep up with grades, church, and sports teams, all while inhaling every puff of smoke, pill, and bottle their manicured hands can grab. But the delicate line between good girl and bad begins to erode when take hold of the hottest new drug to hit their high school: crystal meth.

For two of the girls, meth is manna from heaven. It makes cocky, witty Lindsey more sure and more funny (or so she thinks). For Charity, it eradicates the self doubt, the weight consciousness, even pushes away the clouds of depression and suicidal whispers. In just two weeks, Lindsey and Charity are hooked. They cover their dilated eyes with sunglasses and explain away the weight loss; but their arrogant, careless attitudes are hard to miss. Now Charity’s mom is threatening Catholic boarding school, Lindsey could get kicked off her all-star softball team for showing up hung-over, and their juiced-up egos have their best friends, Macey and Allison, needing some space. For a wallflower like Macey, who hasn’t made a friend outside the girls in eight years, a summer without Lindsey and Charity is gloomy enough. Then Allison’s boyfriend breaks off the relationship and she crawls back to Lindsey, Charity, and their dirty little crystals for comfort. Loneliness may be Macey’s worst fear, but if she follows the girls deeper into the gritty drug world, it could cost her more than friendship.

COUNTY OF GLITTER AND GLASS is a Young Adult novel that depicts realistic, suburban, teenage life, with all the drugs, sex, and lies that leave parents reaching for the Pepcid. The journey at the heart of the novel ultimately belongs to Macey, as her need for friendship and independence conflict for the first time. The novel’s third-person narration, which alternates focus with each chapter, reveals how this conflict develops, or fails to, inside each of the four, very different heroines. With its intense friendships set inside a drug underworld, the novel is best described as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Go Ask Alice. Its subject matter and language suit it for the 15+ age group, with a strong secondary audience in the parents and teachers of teens. It this is all telling, not showing is complete at 110,000 words and ready for your review.

Thank you for your consideration,

Focus on Macey.
What choice does Macey have to make?
What will happen if she chooses the wrong thing?

It's too long. YA novels need to be somewhere nearer 70,000 words.

This is MUCH better than the first draft.
I like the title.



Dear Query Shark,

Macey Fry isn’t prude, she just gags at the smell of cigarettes and puts Post-Its over the nudes in her Louvre book. Her three best friends, however, stow Malboros in their air-conditioning vents and hide condoms in their teddy bears. Still, the four are inseparable; until Crystal Meth.

Post-it notes over art photos is textbook prude, by the way.
Crystal Meth isn't a person, or a proper name so it's not capitalized.

On the last day of Sophomore year, Macey is feeling bold. She’s sixteen now, after all, and she’s wasting her youth being scared all the time. She nervously gulps down two cocktails at an end of school party and winds up asleep before midnight. Macey’s three best friends are feeling bold, too, as the party ends. But Allison, Charity, and Lindsey are bored with cocktails. They’re ready to try the next big thing in teenage entertainment and Charity’s boyfriend has it in that dirty clump of crystals stuffed deep into his pocket.

This sounds nothing like any young person I know. It sounds like a disapproving adult: "wasting her youth" The thing about kids is they don't know they are wasting their youth. "teenage entertainment" is another phrase I'd fall over dead if I heard a kid say.

After just a few long nights with Crystal Meth, Charity and Lindsey are hooked. Macey will never be bold enough to try it and Allison is more interested in her new boyfriend than the new drug. For the first time in eight years, the group is split.

When a police raid on a meth party freezes the local trade, Macey and Allison think they’ve seen the end of their friends’ addictions. But Lindsey and Charity find another source: a dealer whose house is crowded with criminal men and shifty secrets.

Macey thinks her friends will stop being addicted because the supply dries up? I'm less enamored of this character with every passing paragraph.

Soon, Allison’s boyfriend ends their relationship and Allison turns to Lindsey, Charity, and their crystalline comfort, leaving Macey in solitude. Macey must decide which is more dangerous: wallowing in loneliness, or braving the hazardous drug world for the company of her best friends.

And where are her parents in all this? Surely she has a choice other than wallowing in loneliness or hanging out with meth addicts. She sounds spineless and weak here. That's NOT someone I want to spend 200 pages (let alone 140,000 words--ack!) with.

GLITTER AND DECAY is literary fiction, complete at 140,000 words. I describe it as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Go Ask Alice. I am an unpublished author hoping this novel will be my debut work. I have never been a meth addict, but I have pooled the knowledge and experience of several women who have to create this story. TMI

140,000 words is not only too long for a YA novel, it's also too long for an adult novel. Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants is a middle grade novel. I have no idea what Go Ask Alice is called but I read it in high school.

Thank you in advance for your time and attention. I am an avid reader of both your blogs and grateful for your every helpful word.

Focus on Macey. This is her story.

Right now I just want to smack every character and send them to convent school. Your job as a writer is to make me care about the protagonist even if I do want to smack her upside the head. You haven't done that here.

Form rejection.


  1. I kind of liked the capitalization of the name of the drug. It made it feel like the drug itself was a character in the book.

    However, the mix of light-hearted-friendship book and dark-addiction book doesn't appeal to me as an adult reader of YA. One or the other, yes. Both together feels forced.

  2. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants gets counted as a mid-grade novel? I've never seen it shelved anywhere but YA, and I'd think the ages of the protagonists (not to mention the fact that one of them considers getting involved in a physical relationship with a camp counselor) would put it over the edge from mid-grade.

    On a more relevant note, this sounds like every stereotypical YA Issues Book evar. Innocent girl gets thrown in the center of a Big Issue so that the Impressionable Reader learns an Important Lesson. The query should definitely be made more personal, but I think it'd also be prudent to go through the manuscript itself and take a hard look at what happens. Not only will you catch areas where you fall into YA Issues Interchangeable Novel territory, you'll find the more unique bits that you can touch on in the query.

  3. Crystal Meth could be a person, but she'd have to have really mean parents.

    The big question: Why doesn't Macey just go get herself some new friends? And what was a girl like her doing with these three cigarette-hiding, condom-toting friends in the first place? I don't know, so I don't know what's at stake for her if she loses them.

  4. Perhaps if the MC were Crystal Meth, I might be interested; otherwise, this sounds a bit like an afternoon special (which it probably isn't, but that's the sense I get from the query)...

  5. Got to disagree over that first paragraph. I thought it worked, and the "not a prude" bit was supposed to be ironic. At least that's how I read it--a tipoff that it's the POV of an unreliable narrator.

  6. I think "Go Ask Alice" gets counted as yet another memoir that turned out to be A Big Fat Pack of Lies.

    I don't read memoir any more.

    Reading this query brought to mind a scene from a film of "Heidi" where a lot of little girls are all bathing in their nighties--because they can't possibly be allowed to see our touch their own naked bodies. That kind of thing would be a more telling point than the post-it notes, I think.

    I'm presuming these girls have been friends since they were very small, and somehow haven't drifted apart even though their worldviews have diverged. I think the query needs to be more convincing on that point. But more than anything else, it needs to shy away from presenting the book as in any way preachy.

  7. There are actually people out there who, for whatever reason, like preachy YA fiction, but they aren't teenagers. If the idea is to write a book for teenagers it shouldn't be written down to them. If (as the length would suggest) this is more of an adult book with a teenage protagonist than Macey really needs to be a more well-rounded character. We need to like her, and she needs to change profoundly from beginning to end.

  8. At first I thought Crystal Meth might be a person because it was in caps. Like maybe some weirdo drug dealer who calls herself that?
    Okay, maybe not.
    I also thought how Macey ended up with such losers and why when they proved themselves not to be her friends she keeps wanting to go back to them? Macey comes across as not to bright and a bit needy. Aren't there any other kids she can hang out with? I also wonder what kind of school she goes to that doesn't have a decent drug education program. She really didn't understand how addictive Meth is? Or are we in an inner city where this stuff is more rampant.
    I don't think I can care enough about Macey as she's presented in this query to want to read on.
    You need to make us care.

  9. I think it would be great to have an MC named Crystal Meth.

  10. Teenagers don't drink cocktails, they drink beer, because it's easy to obtain, transport and consume.

    And in no way should crystal meth and "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" be included in the same query. Meth addiction is not cute and girly - ever.

  11. What if they were all placed in a small town? (and they may be; I couldn't tell from query.) That's where meth use is growing steadily now; in the South and in the midwest heartland. People tend to stay friends longer in a small town when they may have otherwise drifted apart; that could help solve the 'why doesn't she just get new friends' question. And I could see this turning into more of a Jodi Picoult-type book that features a younger heroine dealing with a Big Issue, but is written for adults. From the query, it doesn't seem edgy enough for YA, so maybe skip the Go Ask Alice/Sisterhood comparison. If you're determined to go YA, it might help to find a few teens willing to read the MS to let you know what they think. Good luck!

  12. I'm with Array. I have never heard Sisterhood or the Traveling Pants referred to as middle grade. Furthermore I wouldn't let my 8-12 year-old read them.

    But I agree with all the rest. I don't have any interest in these characters and if you're going to compare to Sisterhood, your characters better be shining individuals.

  13. Something every aspiring author should know...NEVER SAY YOU ARE UNPUBLISHED in your query letter. That's a big no no.

  14. As a reader, I'm just not drawn to this "very special episode" style of bringing up a serious and gritty topic through the lens of a goodie goodie character who is not really going to get involved. But she can sure sit on the sidelines and be judgemental while she refuses to get her hands dirty.
    This sounds more like Reefer Madness meets Dr. Phil's Can't Miss Episode for Scaring the Shit out of Parents more than the sisterhood books.
    Which I agree are YA.

  15. I don't think it's unreasonable for a teenager not to know how addictive meth is, or for them not to understand the nature of addiction. Plenty of adults seem to have problems with the latter.

  16. I was tickled by the author's claim that this ms is "literary fiction." I highly doubt it.

  17. BuffySquirrel said:
    "I think "Go Ask Alice" gets counted as yet another memoir that turned out to be A Big Fat Pack of Lies."

    I thought the writer was referring to the Jefferson Airplane song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Quhj6PEboCU

  18. I read the query through tqice - the first time just reading, the second time specifically checking what Macey was doing. Looks like she decided not to "waste her youth" and therefore had a couple of cocktails. That's not exactly a walk on the wild side, IMO.

    After that she has to decide whether or not to help her friends. I don't think there's a lot of suspense there. And the part about covering up nudes makes me think of the censorship the government carries out in the Middle East - using Magic Markers on the naughty bits in anatomy books.

    She's not really an interesting character, in other words. If I'm going to read a book with a drug message, I want the people and the plot to be something other than the usual "good person either gets addicted or sees their best friend become addicted".

  19. Good heavens, I wrote that story over 30 years ago when I was 17. It was my first book and I sure never tried to get it published. But what makes her think there is anything new about this? 140,000 words of teenage angst. I'd hang myself.

  20. On the redo:

    This query worked for me as I read it for a good long time. I can see the story of Lindsey & Charity unfolding and I liked it.

    However, as soon as you introduce Macy & Allison, you lose me. It's too much. I need one character (two is pushing it, but okay) to really care about. By the time you get to Macy, I'm hooked on L & C. And then the punch-line of the query is M. That doesn't work because I don't have a connection with her.

  21. I might be saying this just to argue, but it's true nonetheless: I am a teenager. I don't mind preachy YA ficiton. (I know I'm in the minority there.)

    And I've read the entire Travelling Pants series and seen both movies multiple times - in my opinion, they're certainly YA, *not* MG.

    Then again, I'm a reader, not an agent, so I don't know exactly how they're marketed - personally, though, I don't think this series, especially book four, should be marketed towards anyone under the age of 13. The second movie was much more tame than the book, but it was still PG-13, and I think that's the way it should be.