Thursday, March 22, 2012

Query Letter Critique: Round Something or Other

It’s been way too long since I last got my hands on a query letter, and I almost forgot how much fun they are to rip apart critique. Having said that, my apologies in advance to the wonderful author who so innocently provided me with her query, only to have me pick it to pieces. I got a little excited. I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry. 

Original Query Letter

On May 8th a mysterious planet took up residence in the solar system and formed a syzygy with the inner planets causing a rift in the multiverse. On the 4th of July the world will end, and it's all Kyle's fault.

On May 8th, 18yr old Kyle Wolfe downs a bottle of tequila and starts a fire that kills his two best friends and leaves him permanently scarred. Or so he thinks. He's not quite sure since the memories are sketchy and he keeps shifting between realities. They both suck and unless he wants the world to end, he'll have to go back to when it all began, the day of the fire when he cheated on his boyfriend, Danny with their best friend Shira. But the past is a tricky thing to change, and Kyle can't keep living in both realities; being catapulted along the space-time continuum is killing him. He has to make a choice: Danny or Shira? Broken family or broken body? Scholarship to Rice or relationship with parents? The choice isn't easy and he better do it quick before the syzygy breaks and he risks being locked in a reality he'll never be able to escape.

As Dust or Breath, complete at 60 000 words, is a YA contemporary-come-science fiction novel for older teens with themes involving Mayan eschatology and Native American spirituality. Set in small town New Mexico, this story explores the consequences of bad decisions for a boy battling to come to terms with his own sexuality while taking responsibility for his actions.

Query Letter After I Got My Grubby Paws on it

On May 8th a mysterious planet took up residence in the solar system and formed a syzygy with the inner planets causing a rift in the multiverse. <This started out very good, but to be honest, this sentence is a mouthful. In the interest of hooking an agent’s attention, I would strongly consider cutting out the first sentence and just going with the next one for an opener. It’s very snappy and intriguing.  >>  On the 4th of July the world will end, and it's all Kyle's fault.

On May 8th, <Is this specific date absolutely necessary in the query? I ask this because you don’t want to go tossing around too many dates for the reader to have to remember if they aren't vital to the plot. I’d say generalize, where possible. As in, ‘two months ago…’ The 4th of July is an exception because it’s a major holiday. 18yr old Kyle Wolfe downs a bottle of tequila and starts a fire that kills his two best friends and leaves him permanently scarred. Or so he thinks. This is very interesting! He's not quite sure comma since the memories are sketchy and he keeps shifting between realities. They both suck comma (I wouldn’t mention something as picky as a comma—okay, that’s a lie, I would—except I noticed quite a few missing commas, which made certain sentences read not quite right. Would an agent reject you because of a few misplaced or missing commas? Maybe not…but maybe they would. Maybe it might make them question the state of your manuscript, and we wouldn’t want that! and unless he wants the world to end, he'll have to go back to when it all began,<I’d do a colon here instead of a comma the day of the fire when he cheated on his boyfriend, Danny comma with their best friend Shira. But the past is a tricky thing to change, and Kyle can't keep living in both realities; being catapulted along the space-time continuum is killing him. He has to make a choice: Danny or Shira? Broken family or broken body? Scholarship to Rice or relationship with parents? The choice isn't easy and comma but he better do <make it quick before the syzygy breaks and he risks being locked in a reality he'll never be able to escape. I really like this last sentence. Very good! The stakes are good too, only I question that you brought up plot points not previously mentioned in the query right at the end. Since you’d not mentioned his desire to go to college or his relationship with his parents, it not only makes for a ‘huh?’ moment, but it doesn’t make for very dramatic stakes. Why should we care if he goes to Rice or not? You need to make us care so that when you give us the stakes, we realize just how much he has to lose by making this choice. Personally, I would ditch the scholarship and the parents bit for the sake of this query, but of course it’s up to you!

As Dust or Breath, complete at 60 000 words, is a YA contemporary-come-science fiction novel for older teens with themes involving Mayan eschatology and Native American spirituality. Wow! That’s quite a lot of genre. Maybe too much genre. I don’t know, as I’m not an agent, but I wonder if getting too picky here might make an agent question whether or not they could sell the novel, or whether there’s a place in the market for a YA contemporary-come-science fiction novel for older teens with themes involving Mayan eschatology and Native American spirituality. Just a thought. I could be totally off base. Set in small town New Mexico, this story explores the consequences of bad decisions for a boy battling struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality while taking responsibility for his actions. <Not sure I love this last sentence. I like the idea of it, but it doesn’t quite do it for me structure-wise, almost like it’s written a bit backwardsish. Yes, that’s a word.

I should mention that the author of this query noted she’d include a greeting to the agent, as well as a little bio paragraph at the end when querying, but left that out for the sake of this critique.

Whew! So even though I had a lot to say about this query, perhaps leading some to believe I didn’t like it, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I thought this letter was in pretty great shape. All the basic elements of a good query were there, and the plot came across so unique and fun! With a few tweaks here and there I think this author has potential to lure more than a few agents’ interest. Thanks author, for sending this along J


10 comments:

  1. If I was an agent I'd totally ask for a partial of this - especially after your query-tweaking. Good job!

    Btw, tagged you in the lucky seven meme :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't it great?

      Feeling silly, but what is the lucky seven? Whatever it is, thank you!

      Delete
  2. This book sounds awesome! I'd definitely read this.

    I agree with all of Michelle's comments. My only additional comment is that I have no idea what a syznygy is. I think most people probably don't (or I'm dumb-which is possible haha). Maybe you could drop a hint about what that is?

    Good luck with querying!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point, Brandy. Thanks for the input!

      Delete
  3. I *always* love your critiques, Michelle. Great balance of advice and encouragement. So perfect!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! That's SO nice of you to say :)

      Delete
  4. I love the premise of this query. Kyle sounds like an MC I'd be happy to spend some time with. Not only does he suffer the every day teen problems, but he's got some reality busting issues, too. The very best of luck with this query. Michelle's offered some stellar advice.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Michelle. This is a great post and very engaging. You strike me as someone who learns from everything you do and experience and puts it all into practice (with a fair amount of funny giggles!) I like that a lot. I also love the part about the commas - that's really funny because it's true. On the whole, it's very informative and thought-provoking. Well done and I will be back for more ; ) J.D.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks SO MUCH JD! That's seriously nice of you to say, and I'm so glad you find the blog helpful :)

      Delete