Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Query Critique 7/11/17: Make sure your query is fully baked


If you would like to nominate your query for a future Query Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique on the blog so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I'll present the query without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to Feltenk, whose query is below:
Dear (Agent's name)  
Counting the Stars, a YA contemporary novel with speculative elements, is complete at 83,904 words.  
16-year-old Lucy Andrews knows she's different. No one else fears the color red, secretly draws in bathroom stalls, or blames themselves for the world's problems. Fortunately the people who mean the most to Lucy accept her, quirkiness and all. But then her best friend Janice commits suicide and her father is in a car accident that leaves him in a coma.  
Lucy is left with Janice's parents who notice her odd behaviors, worry that she'll hurt herself, and have her committed to a mental hospital. In the hospital, Lucy is given a drug which "cures" her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but destroys her creativity. She realizes she'd rather be so-called crazy than unimaginative.  
Along with the help of her new artist friends, Lucy must destroy the drug before it is mass produced and prescribed to teens everywhere.  
Thank you so much for taking the time, and I look forward to hearing from you.  
Sincerely,
Kristy
One of my key posts on how to write a query letter is a basic query formula where you can plug in some elements of your novel and then output a basic query letter. This gives you a natural starting place.

But it's just a starting place. It's important to flesh out your query with more details and really give an agent a sense of what it's like to read your novel.

In this case, there are some good ingredients here, but it feels a little rushed -- it's only 175 words, well below the 250-350 I'd recommend for a query -- and it appears as if the main plotline is introduced abruptly at the end.

Flesh this out, add a bit more illustrative detail, and you'll be in your way.

Here's my redline:
Dear (Agent's name)  
[Insert personalized tidbit about agent] 
Counting the Stars, a YA contemporary novel with speculative elements, is complete at 83,904 words.  
16-year-old Lucy Andrews knows she's different. No one else fears the color red, secretly draws in bathroom stalls [not sure this feels that extraordinary - might be helped by the detail of what she draws?], or blames themselves for the world's problems. Fortunately the people who mean the most to Lucy accept her, quirkiness and all. But then her best friend Janice commits suicide and her father is in a car accident that leaves him in a coma. [This feels a tad too jarring relative to the tone to this point]
Lucy is left with Janice's parents, who notice her odd behaviors, worry that she'll hurt herself, and have her committed to a mental hospital. In the hospital, Lucy, where she is given a drug which "cures" her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but destroys her creativity. She realizes she'd rather be so-called crazy than unimaginative.  [This paragraph feels a little rushed]
Along with the help of her new artist friends, Lucy must destroy the drug before it is mass produced and prescribed to teens everywhere. [Not sure how literally to take this or how she thinks she's going to do it? This feels abruptly introduced]
Counting the Stars, a YA contemporary novel with speculative elements, is complete at 83,904 words. [This is more a matter of personal taste, but I tend to prefer the title/summary at the end to facilitate just getting into the story]
Thank you so much for taking the time, and I look forward to hearing from you.  
Sincerely,
Kristy
I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: The Baker by Job Berckheyde






3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This sounds really interesting and right up my alley, especially regarding the mental health piece. I think that if the story is centered around Lucy not wanting to take a medication that diminishes her creativity, even if it "cures" her, is a really interesting story and also in line with some truth. However, here is what bothered me:

1) Janice committing suicide and Lucy's father getting in an accident and in a coma sound like plot points meant specifically to have Lucy be without her support team. Those are pretty heavy elements to be there only for that purpose. Maybe the story does develop them further, but if they are just a means to an end, I think there are better ways to do that. For example, if Lucy does in fact have OCD, maybe one day she compulsively writes a list of ways to kill herself (not because she wants to, but because suicide was on her mind for some reason and then she had the compulsion to do so). The list falls out of her backpack at school and a teacher finds it...they end up sending her to the hospital and the story unfolds from there.

2) Why oh why would Janice's grieving parents take her in? I understand she was the best friend, and maybe Lucy doesn't have any other family, but if someone's daughter just committed suicide, I don't think they would be deemed by anyone as the best fit to take in another child of that age. Maybe Lucy goes into temporary foster care, with the idea that she will live with Janice's parents, but gets sent to the hospital first.

3) This is not really a nitpick at the story, but something to consider. I've never heard of OCD being related to creativity or OCD medication diminishing creativity. However, I have heard of that happening with Bipolar, specifically that people feel more creative in their manic states. Just wanted to throw that information out there, in case you were unaware, but I'm sure the author did their research on this.

Overall, very interesting story I'd want to hear more about.

Jane

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jane's comments and I have an additional thought about the story.

"Along with the help of her new artist friends, Lucy must destroy the drug before it is mass produced and prescribed to teens everywhere."

So...why is what's best for Lucy the same thing that's best for all teens with OCD? It may be that you're going to set it up for her to learn that different people have different needs, I don't know. But my concern is that this book might be preachy against taking drugs for mental health.

Unknown said...

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique on the blog ...
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