Sunday, February 26, 2012

#221- revised

To _____________, Dear QueryShark:

Vuto is only 17 when her third child dies, mere days after birth.

Malawian tradition prevents men from considering a child their own until it’s lived for two weeks. Frustrated at not being able to speak to her husband, Solomon, about all three of the children she’s had to bury alone, Vuto forces him to acknowledge the dead baby. Her rejection of their culture causes Solomon and the village elders to banish Vuto from the only home she’s ever known. 

Vuto seeks refuge in the hut of U.S. Peace Corps volunteer Samantha Brennan, where Solomon discovers his wife has not left as she was told, leading him to attack both women. Disregarding her oath to remain uninvolved in village politics, Samantha interjects herself into the center of the conflict, defending Vuto and killing Solomon in the process.

This is your story----->The women go on the run from Vuto’s village and the Peace Corps, encountering physical, ethical and cultural struggles along the way.

How far in to the book does this occur? If it's more than 10,000 words, you've got too much set up and backstory.  This 'on the run' journey is the story. And of course, the question is where are they trying to go? 

Focus here, not the reason they're on the run.

Inspired by my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, Vuto falls into the women’s fiction category and is complete at 52,000 words.

52K is pretty short for a full novel. 

My self-published book, _____, received the Barnes and Noble Rising Star Award in 2009, placing it in stores on the east coast. My book ______ is being released by _____________ later this year.

Unless your book is a grizzly bear being released into the wild after an unfortunate encounter with beef cattle, it's most likely being published rather than released.  Also, you'll want to mention if that publisher has an option on this next book, and if you sold it without an agent.  

 There's still no sense of the story-what's at stake, and why we should care about the people involved. Real life does not a story make---and it's real hard to tell people that cause everyone thinks their own life is captivating.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is better but it's a form rejection.


To _______________:  Dear QueryShark:

Vuto loses her third child mere days after birth - and she's only 17 years old.

Unless Vuto left her child on the train, what you mean is the child died. You need to catch our interest here. Use the most powerful word that fits.  Vuto's third child dies mere days after birth.

You mention her age without context. "Only 17" implies she's very young to have three children--but early marriage is more common in the Malawi countryside than here in the US.  Without context, her age doesn't tell us anything other than a number.

The young Malawian woman Vuto forces her husband to acknowledge the baby, despite tradition that prevents men from considering a child their own until they've lived for at least two weeks. Her decision causes rifts in the village and Vuto's newfound feminism is lashed back against. She is banished and must come to terms with herself, her home and her loss.

You're telling us events, not a story. If you want us to care about the characters we have to know more about them than what happens.  Why did Vuto force her husband to do this? What is she trying to accomplish? Why does the village banish her?

"lashed back against" is as awkward as a giraffe on roller skates.

What does she must come to terms with her home mean?  If you have a series, each word has to belong as if the others are not there. She has to come to terms with herself/she has to come to terms with her loss--both those work. Her home doesn't.

Taking solace in the home of a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, a surprise attack by Vuto's husband leads to murder and an adventure neither the volunteer or Vuto herself had planned for.

Does the Peace Corps worker have a name? Does Vuto's husband? And do you mean "refuge" rather than "solace?" "Solace" implies Vuto finds comfort in this place, which would lead us to think she has some history here, or it has meaning beyond a safe place to be.

Details are what catch our interest. Without details,  this is a report not a story.

At 52,000 words, my book, Vuto, falls into the young adult fiction category and was inspired by an experience I had as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, Africa.

YA is not determined by length. It's determined by voice and content.  I'm not sure this is a YA novel at all. 

My self-published book, (title), received the Barnes and Noble Rising Star Award in 2009, placing it in stores along the east coast. My book (title 2) is being re-released by (publisher) later this year.

Please consider Vuto for publication.

Query letters that ask me to "publish" or "consider for publication" drive me bonkers.  I don't publish books.   Publishers publish books. I'm an agent. I represent authors.  This phrase smacks of carelessness.  Carelessness is a quality I am NOT seeking in new clients. Your query letter tells me about you as a writer, as well as about the book.


Rashad Pharaon said...

I am a little confused at the YA target audience. Vuto has a husband and seems to be going through adult trials and tribulations. I'd be curious to see if the voice is indeed that of a YA, or an adult novel (which, if the latter, may be hard to sell at 52,000 words).

Penelope said...

Grammar counts too. This query says a surprise attack is taking solace in the home of the PC worker.

Terri Coop said...

I struggle with the "real life" aspect on every page. My WIP is a legal thriller and I am a lawyer.

Guess what? My typical day is duller than dirt. I have to break away from what lawyers really do and move into the fantastical world of fiction. However, my experience and education will lend authority and authenticity. I know how cops and lawyers talk. I know what goes on in a courtroom, etc.

Your experiences can lend that same authenticity to your work. Especially in setting and tone. You can make dialogue ring with local patois. However, your actual experiences will likely fall flat (mine certainly do) on the page.

Other than that, I'm not seeing the plot. However, it sounds like fun. I like cross-cultural stories that ring true and educate me.


Josin L. McQuein said...

This definitely doesn't sound like a YA novel. In her culture, Vuto would be an adult, so there's no "coming of age" aspect, and the usual voice for a YA novel isn't the one presented here.

If the Peace Corps worker is college-aged, maybe even a teen him/herself, then you might be able to convince someone it's (and I still hate this term) "New Adult". But that would be dependent on the focus of the story - the focus would have to be the Peace Corps worker's growth in reaction/relation to Vuto, rather than Vuto's journey, because a teenage college student could still fall into "coming of age" in an American mindset.

Theresa Milstein said...

This doesn't read YA to me either. Teens in the United States won't relate to Vuto as a contemporary. There's not even the teen pregnancy angle because the other events are also so removed. She's married and it seems like it's been for a long time. The content here seems pretty adult. Adult books can have child and teen protagonists.

There are a bunch of ideas, but you need to connect the dots.

And I agree you don't need to clutter the last paragraphs. "My Contemporary Novel Vuto is complete at 52,000 words. I was a Peace Corp Volunteer in Malawi, Africa." Then write your previous novel credits. That's it. If you've sent the query, there's already consideration.

Good luck. Can't wait to see the rewrite to see if you have more info about the characters and what's at stake.

Anjelica said...

I really want to read this novel!

OP, please get this published soon! I'll be on the lookout for it :D

Stijn Hommes said...

I did see a glimmer of a plot, but I agree it is not YA. This query is the perfect example that genre is not just based on the MC's age. It's also the entire tone and the type of events happening.

Use more details.

Irene Troy said...

Our life experiences are always of interest to ourselves, often interesting to our friends and family and occasionally interesting to outsiders. However, when we try to turn personal experience into fiction, we walk a dangerous pathway. What may feel life changing to us may seem insignificant to outsiders. Although the premise upon which this proposed novel seemingly revolves has potential interest, the author needs to step back from the personal (what happened to her while in the Peace Corp) and think about how the story can engage the interest of her readers. Life may not always be logical or run in a straight line; however, in order to catch and maintain a reader’s interest, a novel must have a reasonably clear plot line. I’m not sure, from this query, where this story begins or where it heads and that is never a good thing.

Carrie-Anne said...

I would love to read this book, since I love books that are set outside the usual North America and Western Europe. I also enjoy reading stories set in Africa.

I also agree that it's not YA. I was mistakenly querying my contemporary historical Bildungsroman as YA/crossover last spring, and then realized that age alone does not make something YA. It's the voice and the events. Although it does seem awfully short for an adult novel.

Unknown said...

This doesn't sound like your typical life experience - and with sensitivity and caution I think it could make a great read.

I'm guessing many of your characters are fictional to protect the aardvarks????

YA - from what you are showing I cannot see it. Perhaps the genre will show a little more clearly on your next posting.

Queries are tricky - but you've come to the right place for help. I wish you the best of luck with your project.

Criticus said...

Actually, I'm not sure that "to come to terms with oneself" makes sense either. You can come to terms with your contradictions or your desires or your physical appearance, but what would coming to terms with yourself mean? It sounds sloppy, as does much of the language in this query.

And no way is this YA. Narrative nonfiction maybe, but you still need a story.

Fatboy said...

"You're telling us events, not a story."

Don't events, at least events that are connected, create a story?

Elissa M said...


Connecting the events is the key. That's what makes it a story.

I think the shark is saying there isn't enough connection between events in this query.

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree with Query Shark and Elissa M. We're hearing about certain events happening, but not who Vuto is, exactly what she's struggling against, and how she deals with her problems.

Think of Facebook Timeline. You can see a person's highlights, but it's not a story. It might not even tell you much about that "friend".

wizardonskis22 said...

I agree with the point about YA. I read a lot of YA, and this does not seem, just from the query, to fit in as well as it would for adult. It comes across as adult to me from the second sentence, "The young Malawian woman Vuto forces her husband." You have a woman and a husband, which already makes the protagonist a bit old. There are some YA novels with older protagonists, but most tend to have teenage ones, with teenage thoughts. While at 17 Vuto is technically a teenager, the situations she faces are that of an adult, and the voice reads, to me, more as adult.

That said, it sounds pretty interesting! It isn't a topic area, or set in a region, about which I've seen many novels, and I wish you good luck!! I would love to read a rewritten query!

I was also wondering about a very small comment of the Shark's:
"Does the Peace Corps worker have a name? Does Vuto's husband?"
If one included those names, would it not become name soup? I understand that details are important, but would it not be better, where names come in, to replace them with simple descriptions like those above?

Dracula said...

Even though you guys keep bringing up the "adult situations" Vuto presumably faces and the concern that she no longer "thinks like a teenager," that isn't an issue for me. A teenager who has been thrust into adulthood by a society and is forced to make adult decisions that they're not quite comfortable with seems like ideal coming-of-age material. However, since this query lacks focus, I'm not sure the author intended to write that kind of story. And I think the focus of the query -- and the novel itself, probably -- needs to be addressed even before the voice is nailed down.

But there's a good story in there somewhere. Start with the characters, maybe. Pin down their motivations. Everything else should grow from there.

Nick said...

Clarifying the precise nature of the "physical, ethical and cultural struggles" would probably help here, at least for me.

Best of luck with your book and future query endeavors.