Saturday, June 11, 2011

#203-revised 2x

Dear Query Shark:

When Amanda Shaw is shipped off to her grandparents for the summer, she figures she's in for the most boring two months of her life.

Your story starts here ----->All that changes when she sits next to Emily Lawrence the first day of summer school. Emily is psychic and insists Amanda's "friend" Charlie is a ghost. Before Amanda can deny Emily's claims, Charlie flips over Emily's desk and disappears.

This is where the story starts, but not exactly as you've written it here of course. It starts here because this is where something happens. The first paragraph is set up, back-story. We don't need to know any of it.

3: Amanda must decide if finding out who Charlie was and why he has always been with her will help or destroy him.

With each bit of information about Charlie that Amanda and Emily find, Charlie retaliates. At first, he inconveniences them: turning off electricity while they’re Google-ing him and shredding homework.

But right before the girls meet Charlie’s mother, Charlie changes from a scared yet good natured ghost to an evil force: shattering glass and throwing it at them.

Charlie remembers bits of his last day alive in a series of short flashbacks, but when he nearly kills Amanda, his memory comes flooding back.

you're telling too much here. A query shouldn't reveal the entire book.  I'd strike this paragraph and put Paragraph 3 here instead:

3: Amanda must decide if finding out who Charlie was and why he has always been with her will help or destroy him.

A TORTURED SOUL is a paranormal YA novel complete at 66,000 words.

 You've called this YA but the story feels more middle grade to me. The stakes aren't very high, and the level of threat is pretty mild. Glass throwing ghosts are scary but not terrifying.

In a previous iteration of this query, you mention Amanda is 14. That also puts it at middle grade. Young readers read up: they read books about kids slightly older than they are. Thus your audience is 10-13.

This still doesn't work yet. It's still flat. Your words don't have enough energy to entice me to read on.  Read the archives again. Pay attention to the queries that got to yes. Almost universally they have an energy and zest that grabs my attention.

Dear Query Shark:

Amanda Shaw has been a loner her whole life, except for her imaginary friend Charlie. After getting into some trouble at home, she’s shipped off to her grandparent’s for what is sure to be the most boring summer ever, summer school and community service included.

This isn't terrible. There's nothing overtly wrong. The problem is you can't be just ok and get to the next level. This doesn't sing out to me; it doesn't say "read me!"

One of the reasons is you're telling me, not showing me. And you're telling me in a very static (rather than dynamic) way.

Consider this: When Amanda is shipped off to her grandparents for the summer (after that little problem at school) she knows she's in for the most boring summer of her life.

For starters it's shorter. And there's motion. Do you see the difference?

Then Amanda meets Emily Lawrence, the only other person who can see Charlie. At first, Amanda thinks it’s great, until Emily tells her a secret: she’s a psychic— oh and Charlie just might be a ghost.

And really your story starts here. When Amanda meets Emily Lawrence, she's astonished Emily can see her long time imaginary friend Charlie. But Emily says she can see Charlie cause she's a physic and Charlie's a ghost.

See the difference?

This is what I'm yapping about constantly when I say things like "tighten up" and "take out every word you don't need. What I'm asking for is momentum, a sense the story is rushing forward.

Using Emily’s abilities and what little Amanda knows about Charlie, they find out Charlie is Charlie O’Sullivan, a teen who went missing nearly 15 years ago. During her community service cleaning the small town police station, Amanda uncovers Charlie’s file, including the grisly pictures of the bedroom where he was kidnapped. Now that she knows who he is, Amanda must decide if finding out what happened to Charlie will help or hurt the only friend she had growing up.

This is honestly just flat out flat. I don't feel anything from what you're telling me here.

At Emily’s insistance, the girls continue to ask questions that Charlie and the police refuse to answer. Charlie’s parents hear that Amanda and Emily are asking questions about his dissappearance and want to meet with them. As Amanda and Emily get closer and closer to discovering his tragic past, Charlie’s sweetness quickly disappears and a violent spirit emerges.

You're telling not showing. What does Charlie DO?

A TORTURED SOUL is a paranormal YA novel complete at 66,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is miles ahead of the disaster that was the first version, but you've got to give me something enticing, not something flat.

You've demonstrated you can hear advice and revise, one of the things every good writer must have.

Now you get to try again.

Dear Query Shark:

My name is Amanda. I'm 14, and I have an imaginary friend. Or at least that's what I thought Charlie was. In summer school, I met Emily, who swore two things: she's psychic and Charlie is a ghost.

I thought she was messing with me, but after finding a picture of Charlie online, I couldn't help but believe her.

As she and I delved into Charlie's past, he became increasingly more agitated, threatening us with violence. That is, until we uncovered what he tried so hard to hide, both in his lifetime and through his death.

CHARLIE'S SECRETS is a paranormal YA novel complete at 66,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Don't write query letters in the first person POV of your characters.  It's gimmicky, just like the example in #202 below.

Also, I'll give you a hundred bucks cold hard cash if you can produce a 14 year old who uses the word "delved" in conversation.

If you're writing a 14-year old character, you need to know how they talk: "Threatening us with violence" sounds like a sociologist; "told us he'd mess us up" sounds like what the kids on my corner say to each other.

This doesn't work at all. Start over.


Suze said...

The query doesn't work for the reasons the Shark gave, BUT the book actually sounds like a winner to me. I'd def. read it.

elfarmy17 said...

I _did_ use "delved" in conversation at 14, just saying. :)

Gisele said...

Call it gimmicky but, I think this query has achieved the number one purpose of a query: To get someone interested in reading more. Count me as definitely intrigued.

I think that after a few tweaks and edits, next time it will be for the win.

Good luck,

Katrina S. Forest said...

If I can imagine this query in third person, it's not that bad at all. The author already managed to give a concise summary of the plot and make me curious about what happens, which is a lot more than many queries do.

I think we'll definitely see this on the FTW list with a good strong revision.

Nancy Thompson said...

I don't understand why writing a query in the first person is considered gimmicky if the novel itself is written in first person POV. Does anyone have a reasonable explanation? The query that was written as a letter TO the protagonist I can understand being considered a gimmick, but not one like this.

Marissa Doyle said...

It would be nice to know a little more about the main character, so we have a reason to care whether or not she's got a homicidal ghost on her hands. TLI (too little information) here.

I think the problem with writing query letters in first person or in any other gimmicky way is that it's distracting. I've always thought that a query letter should be first of all a business letter, because in it you're proposing starting a business relationship with an agent. So standard query letter format may sound dull...but an agent knows that if you can make your story pop in that dull format, then it's got a chance in the publishing world. Not only that, I think maybe a well-written, business-like letter helps reassure potential agents that you're (possibly) not a fruit loop or a prima donna.

At least that's my $.02

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I think the thing that makes it gimmicky is that it sounds like the main character is writing a personal letter to the agent, instead of the author writing a business letter (which is what a query is).

If I were an agent and got a letter from someone that sounded like a personal letter from someone I had never met, I wouldn't want to read it. Too many other things to do.

Lauren B. said...

@Nancy Thompson -- my thinking is because a query letter is a business transaction. It's a pitch from author to agent, therefore the POV is inherently that of YOU, the author, who is soliciting the interest of the recipient. Yes, you want to demonstrate your voice insofar as demonstrating what type of writer you are, but it's still a professional communication, not its own mini work of fiction.

greta garbo said...

Wow – here’s what I get by simply switching out all the ‘I’s and ‘my’s:

Amanda is fourteen years old, and she has an imaginary friend. Or at least that's what she thought Charlie was. In summer school, she met Emily, who swore two things: she's psychic and Charlie is a ghost. (okay, with two “she’s” in the Q, this could be rewritten for clarity)

Amanda thought Emily was messing with her, but after finding a picture of Charlie online, she couldn't help but believe her.

As the girls delved into Charlie's past, he became increasingly more agitated, threatening them with violence. That is, until they uncovered what he tried so hard to hide, both in his lifetime and through his death.

Not too bad, I think. The author needs to be consistent with her verb tenses and voice. It leaves me asking questions: how does Charlie get violent? what do they discover about him? what do they do about it?
Job of a good Q, n’est-ce pas?

Rachel6 said...

"Threatening with violence" does seem more detached than a normal 14 year old would use, but "delved"...that really depends on the kid. I definitely would have (and probably did) use that at 14.

What really has me curious is her "imaginary friend". Does she talk to him? Does anyone else know about him besides Emily? (Probably not, if she's fourteen.)

Carole Morris said...

I like the queries written in first person POV. I think it gives me a personal account of the story through the eyes of the main character. I can't understand why it's considered to be a gimmick.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Thank you. I'll remember that.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

This one scared me because my novel has the same title. I hate it when that happens.

Anonymous said...

Carole, because it's not true.

The person writing the letter is (probably) not 14 and not named Amanda.

That's why it's a gimmick.

A query's supposed to be a business letter about a work of fiction, not an actual work of fiction itself.

Departing from the conventions of a business letter means calling attention to yourself for reasons other than the quality of your writing and your story... which is gimmicky.

Jane Lebak said...

My nine year old can use "delved" in conversation. I'll visit you in five years and ask for a hundred bucks. :-)

My actual question about this query was why a ghost would hang around being someone's imaginary friend when he didn't want anyone to know who he was. Wouldn't it just be easier to, you know, stay ghostly?

S said...

Haha yes, were you serious about the "delved" bet? Because if I observed my brother long enough he would say it. ;)

However, I entirely agree that the voice does not sound like a 14-year-old. Unless being very intelligent/precocious is an important facet of her character, which wasn't mentioned.

Theresa Milstein said...

Nancy, I think queries shouldn't be in the first person because they're business proposals. The author is showing an agent why the story and characters are compelling. The character isn't supposed to do that.

No, I didn't use "delved" at 14 either. I think the query will attract attention if it were written in the third person. But I'd like to know more about the protagonist in a revised version. And if the author is using an adult voice for a teen (especially in first person) in the query, I worry it's in the manuscript too.

Good luck revising the query, and perhaps the manuscript.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think the first person query is gimmicky, but the author did get me interested in the story, and I don't normally read a lot of YA. The idea of a possibly malevolent ghost, or one with something to hide, posing as a girl's imaginary friend is intriguing.

I would have used "delved" at age 14. I know/knew quite a few others who would too. They usually tend to be the really smart and precocious kids, but they're not all that rare. And maybe I was a bit jaded or something, but if I read "told us he'd mess us up" at that age, I'd think the author was trying too hard to sound young and failing. Of course, I'm not that old, but 14 was quite a while ago, so maybe things have changed some.

Simone said...

i don't mind this query letter. at least i read the entire thing. most letters are so incredibly boring and detailed i just glance over. this letter makes me want to read the book. and it's sad that you consider it unusual for a 14 year old to use "delved" - we should expect more from our youth. #203 - well done!

Buffra said...

"Delved" didn't really bother me.

What did strike me as inconsistent was the second sentence, about the imaginary friend. That's little kid stuff. By 14, even if a kid HAS some kind of rich imaginary world/friend, she isn't going to say it in such a straightforward way. Kids that age are so much wanting to be grown up and to be treated as such, they aren't going to admit to imaginary friends.

Something more along the lines of: "When I was a kid, I had this imaginary friend...and he kind of stuck around. At least that's what I thought Charlie was..." and so on.

(this would be especially true of a smart, precocious 14-year-old who would use 'delved'!)

Teagen said...

While this query is successful in terms of a back of a book blurb to get browsers to read on, I don't feel like it succeeds as a query because there isn't enough about who the main character is. So she makes a friend (and believes her when she says she's psychic) and she keeps an imaginary friend. But other than looking into his past, this doesn't say anything about reactions or choices needing to be made. Despite the ghost apparently threatening to hurt them (specifically how would be nice), they continue digging until they find the truth.

But so what? What are they going to do with it. They're a couple of teenage girls. If he kept it secret in life, who is going to believe them (and this is suspending the disbelief that without his help they could actually figure out a secret he took to the grave). There just seems like a lot of holes and not much really developed, at least as far as the query goes.

Sally Hepworth said...

I liked it.

Anonymous said...

Because there's a difference between spoken language and literary language.

It is, of course, possible to use the verb 'delve' (as opposed to its more informal synonyms) in a spoken sentence.

You might be speaking in a literary vein, using 'delve' as part of an expression or to evoke a more literary plane than common informal speech.

Or you might be a 14-year-old showing off your ease with a thesaurus.

The first instance is acceptable. The second displays a basic lack of understanding of language. Which is part of what being 14 is all about, I suppose, but jars in the context of this query. The writer is presumably not a 14 year old.

This is the problem behind the 'gimmick' of this query -- the writer isn't consistent.

Either she's writing in the voice of a 14-year-old, in which case 'delve', 'increasingly,' 'agitated' and 'threatening...with violence' are all wrong. Or she's simply using the first-person as a gimmick to attract attention.

On the other hand, when the query is placed in the third person, it works quite well.

Michelle Krys said...

I liked this query, actually. Definitely could switch out some lines to give this more of a teenaged voice, but I'd read more. But I'm not an agent.

Reese said...

What concerns me is how many people think a first person query is not a problem. Personally, when I start getting e-mails and postcards and txt msgs from figments of my imagination, I'm checking myself into the nearest mental hospital! Characters in novels do not actually exist. They cannot and will never be able to actually write a letter to anyone. So ... yes ... it's a gimmick. And I have seen enough of it to now believe it is not only gimmicky but cliched gimmicky! I once read a first person query letter about a serial killer. Believe me. The last thing any agent wants to read is, "Don't go into that dark alley alone. I'll be right behind you ..."

Yeh. Threaten the agent. If I were an agent and received that kind of a letter or e-mail, I'd be calling the authorities and trying to get that wierdo some desperately needed help.

Anonymous said...

Okay I get it.. It was too gimmicky. There have been quite a few FTW first tries that did something out of the box, and I was hoping my query would stand out.
I'm looking forward to more constructive criticism when I submit my revision. Thanks guys!
Oh and @The Pen and Ink Blog have no fear; the title is all yours!

Elemarth said...

I think this query would be fine if it was rewritten in third person.

Anonymous said...

bdd etc.-- Ultimately you want your story to stand out, not your query.

Anonymous said...

One tic I'm getting tired of is the sentence fragment that announces a twist.

"Until she met Rachel's brother."

"At least that's what she thought."

"Or so she'd always heard."

This brief query has two of them. At least keep it down to one per query?

flibgibbet said...

Agree on changing to third person, present tense, and keeping the voice consistent. (When I read the first line, I thought this WAS a 14year-old writer attempting a QL).

It would also be helpful to give an example of Charlie's threats so we understand the stakes.

"Through his death" confuses me. Is this supposed to mean throughout/during/after his death? Or is it meant to infer the way he died is the big secret?

The QL reads MG to me. Imaginary friends aren't typical of teenagers, and the first two sentences sound like someone younger than 14.

The story sounds interesting though, so I hope the author submits a revision.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

Even though the format could be considered a gimmick, I do think the story sounds compelling and I'm willing to bet that some agents would request. Still, change to a traditional third-person query and you'll up your chances.

The word "delve" doesn't bother me in a 14-year-old character and I'm also willing to bet there are LOTS of teens who would be offended at the suggestion that they would never use such a word. They're not all bumbling airheads with a 30-word vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

The word delve occurs in the nursery rhyme that begins "One, two, buckle my shoe." Therefore an awful lot of children learn it at preschool age, at least if someone reads to them.

It's likely almost all English-speaking 14-year-olds know what the word means. Doesn't mean they use it in their everyday speech, though.

Vivian said...

LOL. I'm considering borrowing a friend's 14-year-old and teaching him the word "delved" so I can make $200. Seriously, I agree with the shark on this one - teens don't talk like that.

Lance Albury said...

Disagree with the Shark's assessment that "this doesn't work at all." Like Gisele mentioned, the query creates interest.

"Delved" is a word my 14-year-old uses--you're calling all teenagers stupid. Don't be so confident you know the vocabulary of all age groups. Talk to people.

Sure, there may be a couple rough edges that could be smoothed, but the critique should commend the positive.

Marissa Doyle said...

I think everyone's getting a little hung up on the vocabulary here...that's the least of the issues here. The fact that we know nothing about the MC apart from her name, age, and that she has a ghost following her around is the bigger problem. Who is Amanda? What does she want? What are the stakes for her in this story? Is this a contemporary story or does it have an alternative/historical setting?

We need to know a lot more about Amanda before we give a damn about what happens to her...or so that we CAN give a damn about her.

Marcy said...

I know a lot of 14 year olds that use the word "delved." Fourteen year olds aren't cattle, you know...

Janet Reid said...

Blog post about the ongoing discussion of "delved"
is here

Phil Hall said...

Question (which is related, I swear): everyone says "don't do first-person queries," but nobody ever says why not...

So, Shark... Why not? Can you explain in detail sometime? That would be peachy.


Anonymous said...

"Because it's a gimmick" wasn't reason enough for you?

Unknown said...

Did no one pick up on the fact that there is a morally questionable ghost following around a 14 year old girl? Am I the only one thinking "Hebephilia from the grave"?

Abbi C. said...

I am 14 years old and I use the word "delved". I'm not trying to be precocious and I certainly don't use "delved" frequently in conversation, but there are at least few teenagers in my generation that have some command of the English language.

Casey said...

Uh... I'm thirteen and I say "delved." But that's because I'm me. I'm sure 99% of fourteen-year-olds wouldn't say it.

Anyway. The book itself sounds awesome, but the query was gimmicky.

Marina J. Lostetter said...

So, no one else think it's strange that a 14 year old has an imaginary friend? And no one thinks the character comes off as a little oblivious because *she* doesn’t think it’s unusual until someone else says they can see him too?

Thari said...

And besides which, "increasingly more" is redundant.

Fanfreakingtastic Flower said...

I, of course, love the Shark and pay her homage, but I must confess a pet peeve.

Teens do use big words. They use words like "delved." All the time. At the boarding stable where I keep my horse, I am surrounding by a gaggle of teen girls, and they throw down the big words continuously. Sometimes in an apparent effort to sound older/more sophisticated than they really are, and other times just because they're smart girls with big vocabs, and they picked the best word for the occasion.

True story - the barn's feral tomcat was caught and neutered, and was then recuperating in a cage in the tack room. One of the boarders, aged 15, came in and said, "Why's Tango in a cage?" and I gave her the news. She replied, "Ah, Tango - pater familias no more."

And the thing is, smart jokes like that are the norm, not the exception, when you're surrounded by smart teenagers.

Amber J. Gardner said...

I actually liked this, and I usually hate first person.

I liked it cause I could hear a young girl talking when I read it. It had voice. But I think the voice is younger than 14. More like 12.

But I also had that momentary mistake where I thought for a moment it was a 14 year old author and not character.

This is just an issue of the line between professionalism and creativity.

Samir Patel said...

Like a lot of people, I'll disagree with the Shark about 'delved' -- I probably started using words like that around 12. Intelligent/well-read teenagers tend to talk using both slang and intellectual words, and to me, that's what the query depicted ["... messing with me" juxtaposed with words like agitated and delved].

However, I definitely prefer the query in third-person. I think the book has a really interesting concept.

Anonymous said...


You've got to watch out for simple errors like "grandparent's" and "insistance". They can get your query tossed.

flibgibbet said...

On the revision:

Not quite up to snuff yet, but I love the story possibilities.

I would like to know how old Amanda is, and have some inkling that at her age, she realizes imaginary friends are embarrassing. Otherwise, this (still) reads MG to me.

I'm guessing that the Inciting Incident is discovering Charlie is a ghost, and the first Turning Point is Charlie doing something to prove it. That specific "something" would help drive this query.

I'm also guessing that the second turning point is realizing that Charlie might not be the empathetic victim Amanda and Emily first thought.

If I'm right, I hope you include these elements in your next attempt. The Shark says it much better, but the query, like the story itself, should show strong forward momentum.

Good luck author. I look forward to your next attempt.

Anonymous said...

"Then Amanda meets Emily Lawrence, the only other person who can see Charlie. At first, Amanda thinks it’s great, until Emily tells her a secret: she’s a psychic— oh and Charlie just might be a ghost."

when i read this part, my interest definitely piqued. the only thing is that i began imagining where the book was going. unfortunately, the next sentences killed that interest. maybe because i like a good spooky book, and not a investigative one, i was a bit disappointed. But, i think i'd most definitely want to read this book, even with the first query. funny, u called it a disaster.

Veronica Mitchell said...

Hey I'm a thirteen year old who uses "delved" in conversations. Can I have the hundred bucks?

Jolie said...

On the revision: I think the first version is actually much more intriguing and focuses on the novel's main conflict much more clearly. Its main fault is the first-person POV, which will annoy a lot of agents.

I think a third-person query that follows the general format of the first version could work really well.

Adam Heine said...

On the revision: With the shark's cutting and moving of the paragraphs, this sounds like a cool story. The query needs a bit more -- stakes, a ticking clock maybe? -- but I'd read the story, MG or not.

Nathan Rudy said...

How does someone go to summer school after being shipped off to their grandparents? The shipping implies distance, and summer school is usually a function of messing up your regular, local school.

Anonymous said...

Post-revision #2.

This line threw me:

Charlie flips over Emily's desk and disappears.

At first I thought, given the way these stories usually go, that Charlie flips over Emily; he thinks she's a hottie. Then I spent a moment thinking he really likes her desk.

Getting past that, I thought he did a flip, going right over Emily's desk.

I'm still thinking there's a 30% chance you mean that, and a 70% chance you mean that he knocked Emily's desk over.

Anyway, throughout, seek more precision.

R.T. said...

I don't mind first person pov.

If the friend is psychic, why can't she use those powers to communicate with charlie directly.

I would like more about why charlie wants his past hidden. Is he afraid of something? who? what? Does that thing attack him later on, and is it another ghost? Is charlie the only ghost.

The plot seems to me like it needs some more info...