Sunday, March 25, 2018


Questions: I’ve read through the other blogs and did my best, but I feel like I’m having trouble picking and choosing what parts to keep and what to cut. I’ve seen your amazing and sometimes painful advice, and I say go ahead, “bite me”. Which pieces aren’t absolutely necessary? I’m also worried that it’s too dark for middle grade. It just feels like there’s something obvious that is going right over my head.

Dear Query Shark,

Humans are evil and that’s a fact.

Yikes! You do know that everyone (well, except for me!) who reads this is human, right? Also, 'humans' is abstract rather than specific. Thus it slaps us across the face but doesn't really tell us anything. In other words, not an effective opening line.

Or at least, that’s what Star, or Stardancer if you want to get technical, believes. Anyone who had heard the horror stories would think the same. Granted, Star is a hybrid, making her part human. But the wolf DNA in her genome separates her from them. She has no problem leveling her arrow at a human.

There are a lot of goods reasons you should start with the main character. That it is specific right away is just one of them.

Consider: Star has no problem leveling her arrow at a human. Granted, she's a hybrid -part human- but she's heard the horror stories. Aren't all humans evil?

The hybrids of the Tribe have called the planet Nema home for almost a century. Star herself is thriving, happily following in her father’s pawprints. The humans that created the hybrids haven’t been seen in a hundred years, withdrawing far away to their polluted Planet Earth. And that’s where Star likes them.

If they haven't been seen in hundreds of years, how does she know she'd have no trouble pointing her arrow at one?

But all good things must come to an end.

Star’s world is rocked with the arrival of a human colony that threatens the peace. arrives.

You don't need both "all good things come to an end" and "Star's world is rocked etc."  While those sentences don't mean the same thing, they convey the same moment in the story, that is things are now going to change.

Also, withdrawing is the wrong word here. Withdrawing conveys that the process is still ongoing (ie happening now), but we know humans haven't been seen in  a hundred years. Thus they have withdrawn to their polluted planet.  This is the kind of writing that gives me pause because it means you're not fully in command of your craft yet. 

Fueled by her hatred, Star rallies with the rest of her people against the invaders. But upon meeting a young human named Cassy, who obliterates every preconception Star had, the truths she’d known her whole life are challenged. She can’t tell up from down anymore, much less good from bad.

And here you are, back to abstract generalities: obliterates every preconception; tell up from down.

What specifically happens? Cassy isn't evil. How does Star find out? ONE well chosen instance.

But what Star sees now is just the tip of a massive darkness. The colony masquerades for a larger plan. A true evil, which threatens everything Star fights for, bares its teeth hungrily, ready to pounce. And the struggle that unfolds will force Star to choose; abandon her beliefs or die.

And more generalities. "Run! Run! The world is ending" isn't anywhere near as frightening as "I have a gun pointed at your head." In a query, a pointed gun is what you need, not a general call to alarm for every Middlesex village and farm...

oh wait, I digress. That's from Paul Revere's Ride. "The British are coming, the British are coming" is pretty effective of course, but it depends on knowing what those Brits were up to.  We don't have any clue what the Larger Plan, True Evil is up to. Keep the stakes as personal and real as you can.

EYE OF THE STAR is a high action, plot driven novel designed for middle grade readers that mixes elements from past, present, and future.


This doesn't feel at all like a middle grade book to me. For starters the stakes are way too abstract. A middle grade audience is middle schoolers and younger. For those readers, things have to feel real, and to feel real they MUST be personal.

Also middle grade books generally have very young characters. You don't mention any ages here and when I got this I assumed teen age or up for all the characters.

At 50,000 words, this novel this novel sees mankind through the eyes of something no longer human, as she discovers that the world, no, the universe, is not so black and white.

Your sentence structure conveys that this novel discovers the world. She (a pronoun) refers to the preceding noun (in this case this novel).  Again, this kind of writing says you're not yet in command of your craft. 

And repeating "this novel" is such sloppy proofreading that I actually went back to your original email to make sure I did not copy and paste incorrectly.

I don't say this to shame you; my daily blog has at least one typo a day, and there are readers who have fun finding them and letting me know.  BUT your query must rise to a higher standard than daily shark yammering. Your query tells me not just about the story, but about how meticulous you are about your writing.

 This kind of error tells me I'll find more of the same in your book, and more than anything else, that's why I'd say no to this.  I can't read a novel that needs copy editing. Developmental editing sure, but NOT copy editing.

Thank you for your consideration.

You've got a couple big problems here. The biggest one is that I think you need more writing time. You learn to revise by writing and revising. And not by revising the same novel over  and over. You need fresh material to revise. 

I think you might need to read more middle grade. If you haven't read more than 100 middle grade books you haven't read enough. And by read, I do NOT mean just read for fun. Read to see how other authors address the problems you have here (abstract stakes; character ages, etc.)

Read both really good books (those that get awards and Best of Year selections) but also read books that are popular. Those aren't often the same thing.

You don't mention if you're a member of the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators.  If you're writing middle grade, membership isn't an option. It's a requirement. It's a group of people who have successfully done what you're trying to do and learning from them has lower stakes than starting to query and getting a face full of rejection.

Here's the link for them.   

One very good thing is your initial question. You knew this query wasn't working. You weren't sure why but you did know. That bodes well for you.

The problem isn't your query. Time for a pause, a stretch of reading/writing/reworking.


nightsmusic said...

Janet hit every point I would have, but I do have one or two suggestions. If Cassy figures into this story in a prominent way, she needs to play a bigger part in your query.

"Star is a wolf-hybrid, one of few to survive when the humans who created the hybrids withdrew from her planet and returned to earth. They haven't been seen in almost 100 years but now, they've returned. Star has been taught to hate them, but when she meets Cassy (and here, you would put what it is about Cassy that changes her outlook as to whether all humans are evil or not)...

You're writing a query. Not a back blurb for an all ready to publish book. You want the agent to have enough clear and enticing information to read on. I was very confused as to what the stakes were here. Her growing possible friendship with Cassy? Total annihilation of her planet? Colonization of her planet and banishment to some other planet for her species? (See Star Trek II, Wrath of Khan for a great example) I have nothing to make me care what happens or to cause me to read on. Right now, I don't matter, but the agent does, and needs a reason to read more pages.

Frankie said...

Nothing more to add, Janet pointed out every piece you need to work on.
If I can suggest a few things, your word count seems pretty low, especially because I suppose to make sense your novel will necessitate a lot of context.
I would say, that yes, as nightsmusic suggested, this seems more like a blurb than a query.
I think you’ve a good novel in your hands. Good luck!

Ellen said...

Popping in with a proofreading tip. Word has a feature that will read your text aloud to you. If you keep your eyeballs on the text while this annoying, robotic voice pronounces every word, you'll find most of your typos. It's incredibly tedious, but invaluable.

I'll even use it for important emails, pasting the text into a Word doc and using the voice feature to proofread. I seem unable to type even a single paragraph without a typo, so it's critical.

LynnRodz said...

OP, I have to agree with Janet, time for a pause. We sometimes think our novels are finished when in fact they're nowhere near what they should be to query. Do you have good critique partners and beta readers who can show you where things are working and where they aren't? If not, find some.

You asked if this was MG, to me this seems more like YA which makes the word count on the low end especially because you say it's, "high action...that mixes elements from past, present, and future." If it is MG, then yes, 50,000 is right on the money. Good luck to you.