Whew, where did the day go? Let’s get to these critiques, and thanks so very much to the brave souls who offered them up for our learning pleasure. As always, if you would like to make any comment about the queries, please be constructive and ridiculously nice to the point that you might qualify for some sort of politeness and constructiveness award. Gold stars, people. I, on the other hand, will not be obeying rules of nicety when I delete comments that I deem insufficiently polite and constructive.
Now then. I will first print the queries so you can get a sense of the flow, and then I will offer up some comments.
Please consider representing Sir Earl, the children’s novel I have written which takes place in a land where the fantastic fairy tales we grew up hearing are just a part of common, everyday life. In Fairyland, the land where enchantment is ordinary, a young man named Earl has always dreamed of being a “Knight in Shining Armor,” a group of stuck-up jocks that love walking around in their flashy letterman jackets, yet he always finds himself a cut below the best. To prove his worthiness to be a “Knight in Shining Armor,” Earl seeks to rescue every damsel in distress he can, and in this fairy tale land damsels in distress are a dime a dozen. They even have classified ads in the Fairyland Times.
When Earl finds one such add for the Princess Esmerelda, he embarks on an adventure with the falsely accused Big Bad Wolf and the beautiful but himble girl next door, Sara, as his companions. When he finally reaches Esmerelda’s castle, Earl finds that this rescuing business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it seems a little easy. Earl just walks in and finds the princess without having to fight any dragons, ogres, monsters or anything. He soon finds, though, that Princess Esmerelda isn’t all she’s cracked up to be. She’s kind of bossy, more than a little conceited, and she’s just plain annoying. Earl starts to realize that he wasn’t looking for a princess all along, but a normal girl like Sara, who’s been sitting under his nose this whole time. It could be too late for Earl and Sara, though, because the Princess Esmerelda is actually the evil Sorceress Vennulga, disguised as a princess in an ill-executed attempt to leave evil sorcery behind her. She won’t let Earl go without a fight. But it’s a fight Earl is up to, because he has finally found something worth fighting for in the girl next door.
I am a previously unpublished writer, though I am working hard to change that. I am from Sacramento, California and recently graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah with a degree in English. To read the first two chapters of Sir Earl and some of my other writing, you can visit michaelpickett.net.
The manuscript for Sir Earl is about 42,000 words in length and is made up of fifteen chapters with a short epilogue. I have pasted the first chapter below. If you would like to review the entire manuscript for possible representation, I have it ready for submission in hard copy, and any electronic means you may require. Thanks again, for considering Sir Earl for representation. I look forward to hearing from you.
I must confess that there are have some red flags up front, and my skepticism radar thus was sent into high gear.
1) This query is on the long side. It’s 443 words, well outside of the sweet spot of 250-350. There are some details (such as the number of chapters), which could very easily be cut.
b) We have a possible typo or that/, which confusion in the first sentence. “the children’s novel I have written which takes place” is missing a comma. I’m not a stickler for typos, but I am on very high alert for grammar errors. This falls into the latter category.
&) This feels like a run-on sentence “In Fairyland, the land where enchantment is ordinary, a young man named Earl has always dreamed of being a “Knight in Shining Armor,” a group of stuck-up jocks that love walking around in their flashy letterman jackets, yet he always finds himself a cut below the best.”
Now, assuming this is just a question of polish and this query wasn’t a final draft, I would set those things aside and look at the heart of the project, which is a fairy tale kingdom gone bad. Because it’s a variation on prevalent cultural tropes, such a re-telling depends immensely on the style, humor, and inventiveness of the writing, and thus, the query must be incredibly snappy, polished, and witty in order to convince me that the writer has the chops to pull something difficult like that off. I’m afraid it’s not there for me yet.
Seventeen year-old Audi Layton has a secret. No one in the small Midwestern lake community knows why she and her father have relocated from Chicago a month before the end of her junior year in high school, and she wants to keep it that way. She tries to avoid sharing too much with the girls at the doughnut shop where she works, and she especially keeps things from Emerson, the handsome boy who visits the shop daily. The appeal of having friends again, and maybe a boyfriend, is strong though, and before Audi knows it, she has fallen in love and is close to exposing the secret that threatens to destroy her.
COMING UP FOR AIR is more than a novel about first love or a teenager experiencing grief. It’s a story for anyone who has watched someone they love struggle with pain that runs so deep it’s deadly. Audi’s fight to recover from the loss of her twin and to forgive herself and her sister for the mistakes they made is one many of us can relate to, and the thrill of Audi’s finding friendship and romance has universal appeal.
In journalism there’s a phrase called burying the lede, which means the reporter didn’t lead off with the actual big story, but rather only arrived at the essential heart of the story later on in the article. I thought of that phrase when I read this query.
My experience while reading was to go along not necessarily responding one way or the other, and then, just as I was getting to the end and felt like things were wrapping up, I read “loss of her twin” and thought, “Wait, what??”
I know that people always say that the point of a query is to get an agent to want to read more. And yes, that’s true. That does not, however, mean that one should withhold so much information that the agent misses the heart of the story. Blink and you might miss that this is the story of a girl who has just lost her twin and is trying to start over.
I actually would probably still request this because I like the idea so much, but I wonder if the balance between starting off with the mystery and then arriving at the source could be rejiggered to allow the agent further into the story before the query begins wrapping up. The first paragraph could also flow just a tad better, methinks.
If Seth McCoy had asked his Magic 8-Ball whether he’d ever get his life on track, the answer would have been: Very doubtful. Or maybe: Don’t count on it. For too long, Seth’s only focus was getting wasted with his band—a pastime that contributed to his reputation as a slacker, a jerk, and an all-out loser. But there’s one thing the Magic 8-ball didn’t predict: Seth’s close friend dying after a night of partying.
Scared sober, Seth finally notices a girl who’s been there all along: sweet, beautiful, broken Rosetta. She’s a brainiac from Rich Bitch Hill, but she doesn’t judge Seth for who he’s been. Instead, she challenges him to become the person he wants to be—the person no one else sees. Seth and Rosetta confide in each other, and are comforted to find parallels in the troubled pasts they’re struggling to leave behind. Still, when it comes to their relationship, Seth can’t help thinking: Outlook not so good.
THE FAKE MCCOY is a YA novel about defying expectations and breaking free of the words that define you. Straddling the line between literary and commercial, it runs 74,000 words and should appeal to readers of Barry Lyga or Sara Zarr.
I can’t decide how I feel about the 8-ball concept. On the one hand, it’s kind of catchy and this query flows very well, and I get the sense that the author has talent. On the other hand, since the 8-ball doesn’t really seem to figure into the story, that hook feels a bit extraneous.
Nathan’s reaction: Reply hazy, try again
Ultimately, a novel about a teen dealing with death depends very heavily on the quality of the writing. And because of the aforementioned flow, I definitely get the sense that the author can write. So I would probably request a partial.
In sum, my reaction to these queries speaks to an important element of query-writing that can be overlooked in the drive to try and hammer your whole book into a 300 word pitch. It’s so important not just to present the heart of your work, but also to give a sense that your writing is up to the challenge. That is why query writing differs so much from jacket copy — you aren’t just selling me on what the story is about, you’re also selling me on your ability to write it.
Thanks again to the brave writers who ventured their queries!!