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Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Query Critique

Dear Ms. Messenger,

18 year-old Mandy McAllister can’t wait to shake the sagebrush dust off her clothes and leave Holding behind when she goes to college. (Okay, this sentence is a bit too long and doesn’t feel like much of a hook. The one thing CJ drilled into me during her query workshop is that your hook should be one sentence that tells the agent the most special part about YOUR book. So saying Mandy can’t wait to get out of her town to go to college isn’t really setting your book apart. There’s hundreds of books where the main character can’t wait to escape her small town. What makes yours different? That’s your hook. It will be the hardest sentence you ever write, but you’ll be so glad when you’re done. And as an example—and I HATE using myself as an example, so I apologize--my original hook, which wasn’t actually a hook, was: Sophie Foster knew she didn’t belong. But a million kids don’t belong. I had to dig deeper. After hours of tweaking and brainstiroming, I finally came up with Sophie Foster doesn’t know she’s not human. THAT’S a hook. It instantly tells them something special about my book: my character isn’t human—and doesn’t know it. And it gets them curious. Well…what is she? And how does she not know? I always get compliments on that hook, and it was not easy to write. But I’m glad I pushed myself to get it.) She has one last English paper to finish before she graduates from high school and it involves researching and interviewing subjects better left silent. Unknown to her, (saying stuff like ‘unknown to her’ just SCREAMS backstory. You want to avoid giving backstory as much as possible in a query. They want to know your plot. If she doesn’t find that out till later, reveal it to us when she learns it. the English teacher has given out the same topic for years and no student has completed the paper. No one finishes because no one wants to be the cause of another boy disappearing in the mines.

But none of this is her problem until her perfect boyfriend, Jake, disappears, which seems to be in direct correlation with the progress of her English paper. As she continues with her research she learns a truth she isn’t ready to face: her mother, Kyrene, is an alien leader. (Okay…whoa. THIS is where your hook should come from. This is where your query should start. It definitely sets your story apart, and I think it will help you avoid the cheese factor. Throwing the word ‘alien’ out there when everything has been normal and non sci-fi feeling can feel like jigga-what???? She’s an ALIEN? But if you start there, it won’t feel like an out of the blue curve. It’ll feel like, okay, cool, so this is a sci fi. Awesome. Now I know what to expect from the plot. She is the one who has been kidnapping all the boys in a desperate attempt to repopulate her planet. (Why only the boys? And how does she get them back to her planet? Where is she storing them in the meantime. These are the kind of questions you need to explain, so that the agent understands your plot.) As Mandy searches the mines for Jake, (how does she get to the mines? Does she have to sneak in? What dangers does she encounter along the way?) she becomes her mother’s next abduction victim. (How? And wait…if her mom’s an alien, isn’t she one too? Why would her mom need to abduct her then? Why wouldn’t her mom just be planning on taking her daughter back with her when the time comes? Or is this a body snatching kind of thing…

A sci/fi for young adults, STANDING ASLEEP is complete at 40,000. If you would like to consider this story, I would be happy to forward the complete manuscript. (This feels a little clunky. I went with something like STANDING ASLEEP is a YA Sci/Fi complete at 40,000 words. Then I followed with a sentence about myself and a sentence about why I was querying that agent specifically. Usually they also want you to paste in some pages, so my last sentence was always: Pasted below are the first (3? 5? 10?) pages. I look forward to hearing from you)

Thank you for you time.

Taffy Lovell

My email is (delete)

I also blog at (delete) and (delete, move line down)


Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Wow! Excellent analysis of a query. Admittedly, I'm a pretty horrible query writer. So it's cool to see a thorough breakdown of someone else's query. Nicely done.

Matthew MacNish said...

Hi Taffy. I came over here from Karen G's BBQ post, but you have so many blogs, I wasn't sure which one to visit! Query related stuff is always very helpful so I picked this one. I'm now your newest follower.

Nice ta meet ya!

Today's guest blogger is Emilia Plater!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Hi, Taffy! I popped over from Karen's blog BBQ to say hello. Doesn't Shannon give the BEST critiques? Congrats to your for winning one of them. :-)

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