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Query Letter Help

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Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
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  • #3030

    mattreeves
    Participant

    I would greatly appreciate any feedback you could give on this. Query writing is relatively new to me and I want to make mine as acceptable as possible.

    -Removed for now-

    #4880

    lyrwriter
    Participant

    Hey Matt,

    This sounds like a fun premise–I love the Indiana-Jones-esque feel to it. πŸ™‚ However, right now this query clocks in at 282 words, which on the long side, and it reads more like a synopsis than a query letter. There’s a lot of information in here that isn’t critical to helping us get a sense of the story (e.g. sentences like “Not wasting any time, his father quickly sets out to give a guided tour.”). Generally, a query reads more like the sort of blurb you’d find on the back cover or inside the dust jacket of a book—a teaser, if you will, to entice the agent to read more. And in the end, that’s really all you need to do: if you get the agent to request pages, your query has done its job. πŸ™‚

    So how do you write something that will snag an agent’s interest? Well, the four main points that any query should hit are as follows:

    1. Who is the protagonist?
    2. What does s/he want?
    3. What is keeping him/her from getting what s/he wants?
    4. What are the stakes (i.e. what will happen if s/he fails to get what s/he wants)?

    So at this point, my advice is to go back to the drawing board and focus in on your protagonist and his problem, because that’s where your query truly begins. Also, since this is historical YA, you don’t need to work so hard to set the scene for us—any reader with a decent high school education is going to have a pretty good sense of what the global political scene was like back in 1941. Right now, your first two paragraphs contain a lot of fluff, and you can summarize all of that in a couple of quick brushstrokes (this isn’t a very good example, but just to give you a sense of what I mean):

    “When fifteen-year-old Will Evans leaves his dull London boarding school to visit his father at the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, he’s more nervous than excited.”

    Finally, if you haven’t already done so, you may find it useful to go read the blog of the Query Shark (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/) and see the kinds of things agents do and do not want to see in query letters.

    Hope that helps, and best of luck with this!

    #4881

    Tracy Rohlfing
    Participant

    @mattreeves I’ve gotta agree agree w/ @lyrwriter. But I”m anxious to see what you come back w/ :o)

    Post back here (or new) when you’re ready πŸ˜‰

    #4882

    mattreeves
    Participant

    Alright, I’ve finished the second draft based on the great advice. I want to thank @lyrwriter for her example sentence. It really helped.

    Does the new Query work better? Worse? I appreciate the feedback. πŸ˜‰

    #4883

    lyrwriter
    Participant

    Hey Matt,

    This is better, definitely. πŸ™‚ It still could use some work, though. A few thoughts:

    – Shorten and simplify your sentences. Believe me, I know this is tricky—it’s something I struggle with myself. However, right now we’re getting a bit lost in your turns of phrase. Stuff like this…

    “Yet, strangely, that was part of the reason why he had come. After months of work related absence from his father, as well as unsettling news reports from the far off battlefields, he’s anxious to finally be reunited.”

    …is much too wordy/convoluted. Agents devote very little time to each query they receive, and you don’t want to give them any excuse to stop reading your letter. Cut it down and simplify (e.g. something like, “But in spite of the danger, Will is anxious to see his father.”).

    – As a more general note: to be honest, if I were an agent, seeing these kinds of sentences in a query would make me wonder about the manuscript itself. If you were writing lit-fic or something like that, it might not be cause for concern. But you’re writing YA fantasy with (by the sound of it) a lot of action mixed in, and if your action sequences are as wordy as this query, that could be a problem. I haven’t read your manuscript, so I won’t make any assumptions, but it might be wise to go back and make sure that your writing is as clear and concise as possible. πŸ™‚

    – As I said before, the true function of a query is to entice an agent to read more. So because this is essentially your book’s teaser trailer, you don’t need to tell us nearly as much as you think you do. I know it’s difficult to pare your plot down to its bare bones, but that’s really what a query calls for. In very general terms, I would say that you need to be a lot less specific in your first paragraph (e.g. why is it important that we know Will goes to boarding school in London?) and a lot more specific in your last one (e.g. in what sense are they racing against time, and what happens when time runs out?).

    – I still don’t have a sense of Will and his motivations. As I said, your query needs to show us what the character wants, what’s standing in the way of him getting that, and what the consequences are if he doesn’t get it. Just for a moment, forget about your query. Sit down, grab a pen, and in one sentence apiece, answer each of the four questions from my previous post. Go on, do it right now. I’ll wait. πŸ™‚

    Got them? Good. Now look at those sentences, then start your query over using those sentences as the backbone. Tweak things and fill it in to make it flow, but use those basic facts to frame your query.

    Finally: I know I’m repeating myself, but I’m really very serious when I say that you’ll do yourself a huge favor if you go to the Query Shark’s blog (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/) and read through her archives. You will learn so, so much about writing queries—I guarantee it. And honestly, most of what I’m saying here is stuff I learned from her, so you’ll save me a bit of typing if you go and get it from the original source (not that I begrudge you the time spent writing these crits or anything—I’m happy to help). πŸ™‚ A good place to start is with the list of queries that got to a “yes”; you can find them in the right-hand sidebar underneath the picture of the utensil-carrying shark.

    Hope that helps! I look forward to reading a revised version.

    #4884

    mattreeves
    Participant

    @lyrwriter Alright. I’ve edited the Query again. Is this an improvement? I’ve tried to revise what you mentioned.

    PS. I am well aware of Query Shark. Great website. πŸ˜‰

    #4885

    Tracy Rohlfing
    Participant

    Did you post the new query somewhere?

    #4886

    mattreeves
    Participant

    @scribblingscarlet Yeah, I replaced the old Query in the first post with the new one.

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