Monday, May 17, 2010

#160-for the win!

Dear Ms. Reid,

Beatrice Thompson is fifteen, worried about Darfur and climate change, and quickly getting in over her head with her summer job.

Beatrice Thompson loves insects. She loves watching their behavior, capturing them, and pinning them. It is summer break and Beatrice is working as a nanny. James Anderson, the boy she’s watching, is depressed. She wants to figure out why, so she begins eavesdropping on his parents. What she discovers is more than just a couple contemplating a divorce. Instead she realizes they are being extorted, but she can’t figure out why. She also cannot understand what they’re being asked to give up. So she keeps snooping around.

If the issues with the summer job aren’t enough, she’s got a real problem: her best friend Willem has been acting strange. Her girlfriends are convinced he wants to date Beatrice, but she won’t jeopardize their friendship for anything. When she and Willem fight about her nosiness, Beatrice has no one left to confide in about the Andersons’ strange behavior.

Beatrice makes a connection about wetland development that may explain everything, but she has to link all the clues in time to protect James.

A young adult novel, The Ordinary Life of the Insect Collector, is complete at 44,000 words.

Thank you for your time.

Oh heck yes you're sending this to me.
Right now.

In fact, why are you still reading...send! Send!

What I like: it's concise, it shows me what the book is about, gives me a sense of the problem and what choice Beatrice makes. There's no TELLING me what kind of book this it, just SHOWING me.

This is a very very good query.


Lehcarjt said...

This definitely does a good job of giving a sense of story and I can see why QS likes it. However, as a reader of YA, this doesn't pull me in. The language and story seem more MG than YA to me. I don't read MG though, so perhaps for that market it is perfect.

Unknown said...

Well done that writer! It's good to see a winning query now and then. I love the way the first sentence says some important things about Beatrice and sets up the plot.

I also notice how well the writer handles her sentences, the correct but unfussy punctuation, and the overall simplicity and directness of the query.

Do you ever report back on whether the MS lives up to the query's promise? It would be useful to see this through an agent's eyes.

Unknown said...

As I read this query, I was struck by its connection with Carl Hiaasen's fiction. I love his books and this query describes a book that I feel would be highly marketable.

Also, I got the feeling from the narration and voice that the author could handle young adult fiction. She has that unique combination of brevity and detail that keeps young ones and adults turning pages.

Thank you for posting this successful query. It is so helpful to see a positive post. The thing that jumps out the most is that as soon as you are finished reading it, you just know.

MomCO3 said...

Hooray for #160!

Stephanie Barr said...

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.

Alisa said...

Love it. And I do have to politely disagree with the first comment from Lehcarjt. :) I read and write MG fiction and everything about this query says YA to me, from the baby-sitting to the boy problems.

I love the idea of an insect-collecting protagonist. My only question was, does she use her love of insects to connect with the boy she babysits? The query didn't speak to that, but it seemed like her depressed charge could use some bonding over bugs to help him open up and maybe give her some clues as to what's going on with the parents.

Thanks to the author and QS for this awesome query!

Dan Ritchie said...

Do 15 year-olds get jobs as nanny's? Is that the same as a baby sitter? I guess that's my only question? I just jump into Marry Poppins and such like.

Stephanie Barr said...

You know, I think Daniel has a good point. Nannies are frequently required to drive kids places and stuff; fifteen seems like more of a babysitter (and young to have even that kind of responsibility on a regular basis).

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). If 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.

Theresa Milstein said...

Congratulations on a good query. I'm going to refer back to this one.

Irene Troy said...

WOW! After the last several query submissions – torn to bits by the Shark and the rest of us – it is great to read such a well put together and near perfect submission. I also must respectfully disagree with the first poster. I facilitate a group for young teen girls and am always searching for books having strong female protagonists and believable plots. The outline shown in this query certainly captures my interest. Thankfully, tastes in fiction (and everything else) are highly individual and what appeals to one reader may repel another. This is what keeps all of us striving to find the perfect niche for our writing.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Houston, we have lift-off!!!

Liesl Shurtliff said...

Daniel- Fifteen-year-olds are often way better nannies than 18+. Cheaper too. It's actually pretty common during the summers.

And now I'm very interested to know if the pages live up to the Shark's expectations...PLEASE tell us!!!

Anonymous said...

It's a good query, but 44,000 words is pretty short for YA.

maitrar said...

I also would politely disagree with the assessment that this is not for the YA audience. When I was a teenager I jumped straight from J books to adult books because as a nerd, I couldn't identify with many of the YA protagonists. This sounds like a protagonist I would have liked.

Unknown said...

I really don't get what her love of bugs has to do with anything. If it was connected in a little better than I would probably like this query more.

Also, A nanny (in the US) usually lives with the family or at the very least drives the kiddies to soccer practice and stuff. A babysitter will stay with the kid all day while the parents are at work.

I can't see how Beatrice could listen in on conversations when she probably sees the parents for at most an hour a day...

I used to babysit kids in the summer so I have firsthand experience with this.

Nannies get paid more too......

Peter Cooper said...

I loved it, but 44,000 words is surely more of a novella length?

Anonymous said...

A HUGE congrats to #160!

Seriously, it's inspiring to see a winning query. Clearly, you've done everything you needed to make that elusive and magical connection with an agent.


Margaret Yang said...

The first paragraph confused me. I understood (sort of) how climate change might tie in with the bugs/wetlands, but Darfur seemed to come out of nowhere.

When queries start with an out-of-left-field personality quirk, the shark often askes the querier, "Is this the most important thing about the protagonist?"

So now I'm wondering, did the shark really like that part, or did she enjoy the query despite that?

Don't get me wrong: great query and I love that the shark posts a winner now and again. I'm just hoping for some clarification.

Kate Halleron said...

Word from a former professional nanny here - yes, real nannies are childcare professionals, like Mary Poppins.

However, the word is often misused to apply to any child care provider who works in someone's home rather than a day care center, especially in America.

A girl this young would more properly be called a babysitter if she lives out, or an au pair if she lives in, but the use of the word 'nanny' is common enough in these situations, if imprecise.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Uh-oh, did the Shark come back a changed Elasmobranchii?

Has she lost her taste for queries?

Did someone spike the chum bucket?

Nope, someone just paid attention and learned how to write an effective query.

I'd think 44K was on the light side, but the story certainly doesn't sound like the usual YA fodder. A smart girl, who's more than smart on paper. (<-- showing FTW!) A real mystery. Real interpersonal tension.

Well done. (And you get bonus points for working Darfur into a query!)


This one's definitely better at showing than telling than many of the queries I've seen, I'll give the writer that. But I was pretty confused throughout: I'm not sure what being worried about Darfur has to do with the rest of the query, nor does the early mention of insects seem to have a good connective thread later on. I was also thrown about the "nanny" part (as I only personally know of teens being babysitters, but I could be wrong). This did read more MG to me as well (or maybe tween).

Good luck with submitting, though! I hope to hear more from Janet about this.

Me, Myself and a Rubik'S Cube said...

I really like the title. Also seeing this query has been really helpful to me. Thanks

Borneo Expat Writer said...

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.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Good query- the story seems well thought out and original.

Uma said...

finally!! lol

Ashley A. said...

I am taking notes on this query. Well done!

I, too, felt a certain Hiaasenesqueness – in a good way – and assumed that Beatrice's love of insects was what led her to the wetland connection.

My 15-year-old is fantastic with kids. I think "nanny" here refers to someone who is more than a babysitter and has developed a deep relationship with this child as his regular caregiver. If parents are returning home from work after being apart during the day, it makes more sense that they take a little time together rather than instantly sending/taking Beatrice home. I can even see them having a glass of wine and a few moments of conversation. That transition time of as little as 15 minutes can be critical for one's sanity.

Uma said...

Irene's comment sums it up - a believable plot written with clarity and simplicity, that's what it's all about. Individual tastes vary and we writers cannot (and should not) try to please everybody

Lydia Sharp said...

Politely disagreeing...
I'm not an agent, but as a reader/writer of YA, this really didn't hook me at all.
The first sentence in the second paragraph seemed out of place. It had nothing to do with the rest of that paragraph. I see its relevance to the title of the work, and to the final paragraph... maybe it can be moved down there?
I also felt the word count was low. But I suppose if you're in love with the rest of it, word count is a trivial thing to quibble over.

Stephen Alix said...

Just vague enough or perhaps too vague? I can't decide. Still, I find myself elated to read a good query on this blog; it gives me hope. Good luck to the writer.

JW Nelson said...

For YA, it certainly does cover the bases and convey a sense of the overall story. Nice!

Rebecca Christiansen said...

I think the Darfur comment was very good characterization... I know a teenage girl very much like this, who is active in charity and humanitarian work, and who sounds very similar to this character. We need more protagonists along this intellectual/humanitarian line!

Marissa Doyle said...

I semi-agree with Lehcarjt: while the plot sounds appropriately YA, the tone of the letter makes it sound more MG.

I'll confess to be a little confused in the second paragraph when she goes from watching bugs to watching a boy. It took me a minute to realize that James was the child she's taking care of. Maybe change the second "watching" to "looking after"?

Tom Bridgeland said...

The insect line tripped me for a moment too, but the way she observed their behavior and pinned them, well, that leads directly into the her having to be a detective and nail the bad guys, I thought. By the end of the query I got it.

The bit about Darfur just tells us what kind of girl she is.

Jenn McKay said...

160: great story idea!

M. G. E. said...

That was actually quite refreshing. I was interested.

I especially like that it doesn't have that super-sardonic tone that seems rampant these days.

The Shark seems to like it; I wonder how many actual clients have to her through this site?

Anonymous said...

I thought the query was very well-written and all the details tied in and made sense to the character and story. However, the story doesn't appeal to me personally, because I'm tired of Evil Land Developers as antagonists. I'll bet you anything this story has Evil Land Developers.

I'm sure the story's very marketable, though. And with my less-common tastes, it's probably good I don't aspire to being a literary agent.

David Wilde said...

As someone reading and taking note of the downfalls, it's good to have this as such a direct comparison of success.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

Thanks for the comments, they are quite helpful.

I may not be using nanny to everyone's tastes. I worked as a babysitter and a nanny in my youth. I think of a nanny job as any long-term, daily babysitting position. I also wanted to distinguish this from 'the babysitters club'.

When talking about Darfur and climate change I was trying to establish the type of person Beatrice is. I wanted just a quick taste of it here without saying "she's socially and environmentally conscious".

There are tons of insects throughout the story, and she does use this as a way to bond with James. I didn't over-emphasize bugs in the query b/c I wanted to just get the most important info out.

And Borneoexpatwriter asked about setting-- I do think the setting is important here (small southern town), and it was in an earlier version of my query, but again-- I chopped it in the end b/c I thought it nonessential for this purpose.

This is turning into a boring housekeeping-type comment! Sorry!

so let me exit.

Just wanted to say thanks to ALL the comments. Even if you didn't like my idea or my query, ALL have been very useful and appreciated.

dana e donovan said...

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?

Janet Reid said...


Uma said...

Dana, I think it makes sense in the end because it becomes a much larger issue than just a depressed child and his sitter. So all those charterers and twists and turns become relevant.

dana e donovan said...

Then please, please Janet,post my query and shred as thy will, for only then will I truly get it.

Janet Reid said...

Ok, Dana, here you are, up at #162.

David Barber said...

I've not read all the comments and come straight to my own question...Isn't fifteen a bit too young to be a nanny? Or have I read something wrong?

Anonymous said...

I was a live-in nanny during the summer for very rich folks in a very rich suburb when I was 15.

I got to spend oodles of time with the child and oodles of time by myself. I interacted with the parents, grandparents and friends on a regular basis. I overheard things I shouldn't have. I was told things I had no business knowing and yet there is something about that nanny bond in a family that elicits this odd kind of trust and confidentiality.

I think it is always important for readers to remember that our experiences aren't the only ones out there. They are simply our reality in the midst of many other possibilities.

Congrats #160 and best luck.

Steve said...

Why not insects? Grissom on CSI was an entomologist. This was sometimes relevant to a particular case, sometimes not. But it always enriched the character. Sometimes a character just has an interest because it is cool. It need not be tied directly to the plot.


Anonymous said...

What happened to number 162? I wanted to read Dana's query after reading the back and forth, and the link is dead.
As a funny little aside, my word verification for this comment is "dedlinc" or Dead Link!
Also, I am human.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

they often disappear when the author has resubmitted based on the shark's comments, then they reappear with new comments. Maybe that's the case?

Rebecca Hamilton said...

"She wants to figure out why, so she begins eavesdropping on his parents."

I immediately came up with (without even trying) how she does this.

She's concerned. She leaves the house and before she starts her walk home, she stops in front of the open kitchen window (able to hear them talking and the negative tone) She kneels down and pretends to tie her shoe while listening to what they are talking about.

Something like that. There are probably other ways too.

Unknown said...

I would first like to say that for nearly forty years, I have owned seven not so full priced bookstores. In researching the market to see what’s hot and what’s not, I read and study trade publications, best seller lists, writers’ and agents’ blogs, and, even the Query Shark. I have made lots and lots of money off of the QS. She has represented some really great books. Now that I am officially semi-retired, I have the time to post some comments, perhaps, from a different perspective.

#160. I hate to say it. Great query, but, if published, it probably will have little or no demand in the market-place. Does the QS really expect me to put THE ORDINARY LIFE on a front display table with Harry Potter and Twilight? And, considering that I can still sell everything I can get my hands on with LORD OF THE RINGS on it? I think not.

I’m afraid that, if published, this book will be one that the author and the agent would not want to put up on their web sites. You know, the one that hits the bargain table at Barnes and Nobles before I can get the half price for it. Sorry, QS. I don’t want this one taking up space on my shelves, or burning up my shredder. There are other sharks in the water, and they also like chum. Thanks QS, for being my chum.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

Sorry to hear my book doesn't float your boat.

With all due respect, I don't think every book has to be a Twilight, LOTR or an HP to be something worthwhile.

I am no Tolkein (or Rowling), but I AM proud of the work I do.

What makes reading SO FANTASTIC is that everyone can have an opinion on what they like, including you!

jesse said...

I thought the last bit on wetland development could have used a little more information. The query was short and the line seemed to be just thrown in there. However, you already had me at that point (and more importantly you had the shark), so, i guess you don't it.

Well done.

Laura said...

Parents sometimes have a babysitter come in and watch/entertain/babysit their kids while they do things like housework, work from home, etc.

I liked the character details about climate change and Darfur -- it shows an active protagonist engaged in the world.

Personally, though, the way this is pitched it wouldn't appeal to me. It seems like the stakes aren't very high. The conflict is very removed from Beatrice herself. She wants to figure out why someone else is being extorted. Why? Because she's environmentally conscious, naturally nosy, and concerned. Ok, but there's no threat of what will happen to her or even to the family if she doesn't solve the mystery. Also, "being extorted" and "being asked to give up" are two completely different things.

The story also seems kind of thin because I ask myself, why doesn't she just go to the police? For a 15yo in her situation, that would be the best thing to do. If this is because of a character flaw -- she's too nosy or she wants to play the hero -- Beatrice becomes a lot less sympathetic. Or has the family done something illegal? Are the police in on the dastardly scheme? What *is* the dastardly scheme? The conflict of "wetland development" is pretty vague and almost thrown in at the end; it doesn't give a great sense of what's really at stake.