Thursday, December 29, 2011

#217-Revised 2x to a win!

Dear QueryShark,

Andromeda Jaunsten isn't a very good alien. She can’t read minds like the rest of her class. She can't turn invisible or move things with pure willpower. She can’t even levitate, which is supposed to be downright easy.

About to be expelled and desperate to stay, she turns to performance-enhancing drugs. It's stupid and illegal, but it works. In fact, it works too well. She can suddenly see the most well hidden secrets, and it's not nearly as amusing as it sounds.

Her teacher Dr Ister has been searching the Academy for the missing princess of Narulon, and it's not for purely patriotic reasons. Now he thinks he's found her in Andromeda's roommate Grace Robin.

Andromeda tells anyone and everyone who might listen, and the next thing she knows she's locked in a bathroom and nearly burned to death. It's part warning, part proof that she's right. If only someone would believe her.

When Ister gets hold of Grace, no one is willing to help. If Grace dies, the future of Narulon dies with her, and Andromeda is certainly not living the rest of her life with that on her conscience. Of course, the rest of her life might not be very long once she confronts Ister.

STARS is my debut. It is a 95,000 words YA novel. I have included (whatever the agent's website asks for) below.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Yes! You've nailed it. 

Now, what to do when you "win" QueryShark?

Make sure your novel reflects what you've done here: get the choices Andromeda makes on the page pretty early. In this case it sounds like using drugs to become a better alien.  We don't need a lot of backstory about how she got to the school or that she's a bad alien. Get us to that fork in the road as soon as you can without rushing the pace.

I love the voice here too: bright and insouciant.  

Congratulations on these revisions. They're terrific!

Dear QueryShark,

Andromeda Jaunsten isn't a very good alien. She can’t read minds like the rest of her class. She can't turn invisible or move things with pure willpower. She can’t even levitate, which is supposed to be downright easy. All she's ever been able to do is sense the emotions of those around her, and that's only good for finding out just how close she is to being expelled.

This is pretty good for setting the scene. I'm interested to find out what happens next.

Not only is she lacking an actual talent, she's lacking the most distinguishing part of her species: the small star-shaped tattoo given to all unwanted children of Narulon before they're shipped off to Earth to be raised by humans. No one knows why, but it soon cements everyone's conviction that she doesn't belong at the Academy.

And this doesn't tell me what happens next. It's more set up. It's more alien out of water stuff.

As she's inexplicably given more and more time to prove herself, the irritation around her mounts. Her roommate can't wait to have their room to herself, her best friend's new girlfriend is eager to get rid of the competition and Andromeda's least favorite teacher, Ister, is taking every chance he can get to furiously search her mind like there's no tomorrow. She even finds him lurking outside her bedroom at night, hoping to catch a glimpse of her vulnerable sleeping mind.

Ok, but this is just more of the same. It's set up. You can encapsulate ALL of this into "and everyone else is just waiting for the day she gets booted out too."

Right now there are no stakes. She's an alien, and not a good one. She's going to get expelled. So what? 

You've really got to get to the so what part of the equation in the first line of the second paragraph.

When she's locked in a bathroom and nearly burned to death, she knows it wasn't an accident, and she has an obvious suspect in mind. While everyone else is overwhelmed with shock, Ister feels guilty… and angry. Andromeda just can't understand why he would want to kill her, unless it has something to do with what he found in her memories. If she learns to read his mind, while protecting her own, she might just find out where she really comes from. But then again, would Ister allow her close enough to try, without a second attempt at her life?

STARS is my debut. It is a 95,000 words YA novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration

You seem to have lost about 30,000 words between version 1 and version 2. That's probably a good thing but you still don't have the essence of a plot here: what choice does Andromdeda face? People want her dead. Ok, a lot of people wouldn't mind blowing up the QueryShark with verbal TNT. So what? 

Unless I must choose between A. posting here and annoying the murderously inclined to further attempts or B. quitting the blogging business, there are NO stakes.  You need to show me Andromeda's choices.   It also helps if the both choices  comes with some horrible consequences: I quit blogging and will fall into despair at the deluge of bad queries; I don't quit blogging and not only am I murdered in my kelp bed, I'm eaten for lunch as shark fin soup.

See the difference?  The fact that people want to kill Andromeda isn't a plot. The fact that she doesn't know where she comes from isn't a plot.  What's at stake if she finds out she's really from Betelgeuse not Narulon?  If she learns to read his mindif she learns to read his mind she'll turn into a toad, does she choose to do that? The choices she must make are the plot.

When you can answer the question what choice must she make and what are the terrible consequences of them, then you revise and resend the query.


Dear QueryShark:

Andromeda Jaunsten doesn't know what to expect from the Academy. She doesn't know her roommate will hate her, her best friend will fall for a girl she can't stand, her teachers will be able to -literally- see right through her, or that her future will hold at least three near-death experiences (only one of which is an accident). She just found out she's an alien, and apparently, she's not the only one.

The most interesting sentence in the paragraph is the last one; you've buried it under a list of things that aren't very interesting (because we don't have the context of the last sentence.)

The problem is, she's not a good enough alien.

Aha! Here's the sentence that helps us figure out context. If start with something like Andromeda Jaunsten is not a good enough alien and ditch the list and get on with the problem, you're better off.  (it's also a bit clunky: Andromeda Jaunsten isn't a very good alien sounds better.  Developing an ear for rhythm is REALLY important.)

She can’t read minds like the rest of her class. She can’t turn invisible or move things with pure will power. She can’t even levitate, which is supposed to be downright easy. All she’s ever been able to do is sense the emotions of those around her, and that's not impressing anyone.

Andromeda soon faces expulsion, and if she doesn't drastically improve in the mind-reading department, she will be sent home without friends, without a proper education and without the chance to find out who is trying to kill her roommate Grace Robin (with such bad aim she's caught in the cross-fire, nonetheless).

And then you trail off here into nothingness. Expulsion isn't very high stakes. Finding out who wants to kill her roommate is better, but still not very much.

Your plot needs some work here. Also, who's the antagonist?

STARS is my debut. It is a 124,000 words YA novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Right now you don't have enough to entice me to read pages. You're on the right track but you need more plot. This feels very thin for 124K novel. 


tlbodine said...

This has so much potential to be very cool, but without knowing what actually *happens* the query just doesn't work.

I'm looking forward to seeing the edits, though, because (I hope) there's a pretty sweet story in there someplace.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that there was no comment on the word count. Is 124k an okay word count for a first novel? From somethings I've read, I'd have thought it was too long, but it's nice to hear if that's not a problem.

Theresa Milstein said...

This query is bogged down in small details. I think it's cool she's an incompetent alien. The part about her friend almost getting killed has potential. Who's trying to kill her and why? Like Query Shark asked, who's the antagonist? What's at stake and what stands in her way?

I think this is going to be one of the more interesting rewrites.

Unknown said...

I don't know, I think expulsion would be a pretty high stake for a schoolgirl; it just isn't as big as a murder attempt on the roommate. Maybe the two could be switched around if you want to keep the expulsion.

Marissa Doyle said...

Yes, I'd say 124K is much too long for a YA--especially a first one.

For me, this letter is lacking too much context--a few more grounding details would be helpful, like where and when this story takes place. Being an alien implies being a stranger to the setting--is she?

Uma said...

I agree with Priya! To quote Hermione from Harry Potter and the Philosophe's stone "We could have been killed. Or worse, expelled". Heck even a pimple is a very big

Theresa Milstein said...

Uma, I love that quote!

Gin said...

Does anyone else have problems with the "doesn't know" construction?

If the character doesn't know the various things, then they aren't a problem for her, and there's no story. It's only when she DOES know those things, when they do happen, that the story gets interesting. There's all sorts of things that I don't know that don't cause me any trouble at all. Until, of course, I need to know them.

Uma said...

@Theresa: me too! In the movie, Ron responds with "She sure needs to get her priorities straight" but in the book, Ron says "You'd think we dragged her along, wouldn't you?"

Laura said...

It seems like this query set up a really cool plot, and just as it started to get into what bad things might or might not happen, it cut off. :(

I would totally read about an incompetant alien, though. It seems like such an original premise for YA, especially considering the current done-to-death paranormal trend...not that I have anything against paranormal per se. But still. Aliens. We don't see enough aliens nowadays.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

This sounds like fun. Listen to the Shark and polish this up!

Maybe something more like,

The only thing worse than finding out you're an alien is finding out you're not a very good alien. Andromeda Jaunsten is failing every class at the Academy . . .etc.

Take all the comments to heart and please revise and resub!

Vivian said...

This story sounds like it's probably more interesting than the query makes it seem. I would probably read the first chapter just to see how it is.

I agree about word count though - from everything I've read, 100k is about the max for ANY book, even an adult fantasy or sci-fi novel. For a teen novel, I would say 124k is definitely too long.

Tatum Flynn said...

Just wanted to add that despite the query needing some work, I would totally read this novel, it sounds like a lot of fun. Although I agree 124k is much too long. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

124k is a drop in the bucket for me, since all my non-YA books are deliberate sagas with large story arcs, but I didn't see anything in the query that suggested an epic scope or very complex plot that needs so many pages to be told all the way through properly.

I don't see what the big deal is about a YA book over 400 pages (many of the books I read as a preteen and in my early teens, before moving onto adult books, were a lot longer than what's commonly considered acceptable nowadays). I'm sure there are more than a few teens out there who love reading and have long attention spans. I'm all in favor of bringing back long books. I know I'm not the only one tired of seeing all these books that are all of 300 pages long.

Rachel6 said...

I loved the lines about her teacher being able to literally see through her, and the reference to deliberate near-death experiences. I'm also curious about who is trying to kill her friend, and how she gets caught in the crossfire.


Theresa Milstein said...

Uma, you know your Harry Potter facts--something I always admire! I remember that scene. The book's line is better.

Marissa Doyle said...

The issue with a 124K book is that while there may be readers who love loooong books (I do, too), not a lot of publishers are willing to take a chance on a YA of that length from a new and unproven author who doesn't already have a readership, unless they think it's the next Big Thing. And even then they might want it to be pared down a bit. There has to be a very good reason for a book to be that long.

Uma said...

@Theresa, thank you ;-)

Elizabeth Janette said...

As a teacher, this sounds like a book I would purchase for my 5th graders to read. It sounds quirky but I too would like to see more about the plot. Good luck with the rewrite

Fiona Paul said...

I just wanted to say this premise sounds fun and that the OP shouldn't be dissuaded by the number of people saying 124K is too long. Sci-fi or historical books require a fair amount of world-building and usually run longer than contemporaries or paranormals.

For example: Christopher Paolini's Eragon is 150K. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare is 130K**

My debut is 113K and I expected my editor to cry, but she simply said: There are no extraneous scenes. The book is the length it needs to be.

And while it makes sense that editors don't want to give a newbie enough rope to hang herself (and them as well), look at all the debut authors signed to 300K+ word multi-book series before their first book was even copyedited: Andrea Cremer, Veronica Roth, Marissa Meyer, Kat Zhang, Jessica Spotswood just to name a few.

I'd say, you can write long, as long as you write well ;)

**these numbers pulled from Agent Jennifer Laughran's blog here:

J D EveryHope said...

The attempts on the best friend's life raise a few red flags for me.

That means the protagonist is not the center of this conflict--the best friend is.

That makes it seem (and this is only my opinion) like the best friend would make a better main character than the current protagonist. In the end, even though it would be a horrible and unfeeling thing to do, the protagonist could always leave the best friend to deal with his/her own problems. Because they're not the protagonist's problems. Not really. They're the best friend's.

Who has more at stake here?

Interesting concept, though. I agree I'd like to know more background about the world (for example, if this is our world but with aliens at a training academy, or some other world).

Theresa Milstein said...

The final is much better. I like the voice. I suggest paragraphs 2 and 3 be combined. Right now, there are many paragraphs all of the same length. 2 and 3 would work well combined anyway.

Good luck!

GillyB said...

This is SUCH a good revision it gives hope to legions and legions of struggling query writers. I'd read this book in a heartbeat!

Rachel6 said...

"Her teacher, Ister, has been searching for the princess, and it's not for purely patriotic reasons."

I don't know why, but I really loved that line. And lines like that in your query make me think I'd love your book.

Scribble Orca said...

The finished query is very nice to read.

Joy Slaughter said...

So queries are like reverse mullets. Party in the front; business in the back.