Thursday, June 28, 2012

HNTWAQ: Practice 2


In case you're wondering why I'm posting so much this week, it's because I'm trying to build up good karma by helping my potential competitors improve their queries so they can trounce me in an upcoming query contest. Yeah, doesn't make much sense to me, either. Oh, well.

Let's play another round of:


This one is from Robin Hall, who, as might be obvious, has just about the most perfect first name on the planet. (You know it's true.) You should go check out her blog. Just like with Randy, I'm going to assume that Robin has a thick skin. (Because thick skins are cool, and so are Robins. Therefore....)

First, this is her query, as delivered to me (only I put it in a prettier color--never use a pretty color when sending your query to an agent, FYI).
Dear Agent,
Because you’re so awesome I thought you might be interested in my magical realism YA, LOVESENSE (55,000 words)
Seventeen-year-old RAE, with her overactive olfactory glands, can sniff the length of a relationship from a photograph like other people smell sour milk. She has to be careful where she looks, or else her bite of chocolate could taste like puke. She puts her talents to use in the clandestine library bathroom, earning money for the two “c’s”, a car and college.
When Rae’s illegal business is exposed by her school rival, she has to figure out how to get the school off her back so she can still compete in the 110m hurdles at Regionals.
Worse than that, SAM, the first boy Rae has ever liked, totally drops her when he realizes she’s some psycho gypsy freak. When Rae finds her own soul mate in an unidentified baby picture, she begins a quest to find him, all the while struggling to believe that real love is possible since she’s so rarely seen it.
Rae must embrace her lovesense and pull her life back together if she’s ever going to find true love.
I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript. The complete manuscript is available upon request.
Thank you for your time,
Robin Hall[contact info redacted]
My initial reaction was "REALLY fun premise, but a bit scattered." I love the idea of being able to smell relationships' longevity from a photograph. I especially love that she runs across a baby picture and knows he's her soul mate. This sounds like a book I'd love to read.

The reason I called it scattered is that I don't know what the actual story is about. Every paragraph makes me think that the main conflict is something different:

Paragraph 1 makes me think the main conflict is earning money for college and a car using her unique talent. (I'm not all that upset that the main conflict isn't introduced in the very first paragraph of the blurb, btw.)

Paragraph 2 makes me think that the main conflict is either with the mysterious school rival OR with getting to compete in the track Regionals.

The beginning of Paragraph 3 makes me think it's the struggle with Sam (don't name unimportant people), but then switches on me and now I think the main conflict might be finding the boy in the baby picture.

Paragraph 4 makes it clear that the main conflict is finding true love. Which makes me wonder why I had to hear about bathrooms, rivals, track, and Sam.

Can you see why I think it's scattered? Too much focus on things that can't all be the main conflict.

Taking the basic premise, I'm going to assume that track has nothing to do with her special abilities or quest for her true love. It might be a fun hobby that helps define her character, but it isn't the main plot, so the track meet probably isn't necessary to mention. Sam, also, can probably be cut or severely minimized (and un-named)--he's a stupid jerk and he'll probably hurt her, but, in the end, he's a subplot. (The first 4 versions of my query had a subplot that would NOT leave. It's sooo much better without it.) I'm not sure what to make of the unnamed rival, since s/he could be the main antagonist, but I don't know enough about him/her to be sure--not even the gender.

Like with Randy's query, this could be helped by focusing on the four questions:

Who is the protagonist: Rae likes track and she has a special sense that lets her sniff out good and bad couples. These are good details, but I'd love to have more on how that olfactory sense works. Does she look at pictures of couples? Why would her sense trigger on a baby picture? How does she know that he's her soul mate?

What does she want: She wants to compete, but that's not the main conflict. I'm actually a little confused as to whether she wants to find her soul mate or not--she goes looking for him, but she doesn't really believe, right? So why does she do it?

What/Who stands in her way: Again, I'm not sure. Is it just that she doesn't know who the baby is? Where did she find the picture and why is it so hard to figure out who it is?

What happens if she fails: Well, it seems she won't have true love. Which, if you classify the story as a romance, is a perfectly adequate consequence... but this is fantasy, so you usually need to have more. Higher stakes. Some sort of consequence that will echo beyond whether the MC has a boyfriend at the end of the book. I'm guessing that sort of consequence is already in there somewhere--put it in the query. (True story: I added the actual consequence to my query... two weeks ago.)

So let's go back to the query and see what can be cut:


Dear Agent,
Because you’re so awesome I thought you might be interested in my magical realism YA, LOVESENSE (55,000 words)
I'm not an expert on genre, but I don't think "magical realism" is accurate for this. I'd go with either YA Paranormal Romance or YA Contemporary Fantasy. Given that the main conflict seems to be about finding her true love, I'm leaning toward PNR.
Seventeen-year-old RAE, with her overactive olfactory glands, can sniff the length of a relationship from a photograph like other people smell sour milk. She has to be careful where she looks, or else her bite of chocolate could taste like puke. She puts her talents to use in the clandestine library bathroom, earning money for the two “c’s”, a car and college.
This could be a Robin thing, but I've realized through sad experience that tricky phrasing is usually confusing. The first sentence is a great hook (other than the, well, no-duh part), but after that I get confused. I see her eating chocolate and looking around--does she see photographs of couples everywhere? 'Cause I just don't notice that many couple photos in my daily life. Or does her sense work when she sees couples in real life, too? And what, exactly is a "clandestine library bathroom?" I'd stick to saying what she can do and that she makes good bucks at it. I don't think it's necessary to say what she wants the money for--her age will make it easy to assume, and college and a car aren't unusual enough to be notable.
When Rae’s illegal business is exposed by her school rival, she has to figure out how to get the school off her back so she can still compete in the 110m hurdles at Regionals.
I'm not convinced that any of this is necessary. If the rival is the main antagonist (or the subject of the baby picture), though, some foreshadowing could be good here. If so, more details (name? gender?) will help me predict whether s/he is important to the plot.
Worse than that, SAM, the first boy Rae has ever liked, totally drops her when he realizes she’s some psycho gypsy freak. When Rae finds her own soul mate in an unidentified baby picture, she begins a quest to find him, all the while struggling to believe that real love is possible since she’s so rarely seen it.
More deets on HOW she identifies her soul mate in a picture. I'm assuming this hasn't happened to her before? Has she seen it done? How does she recognize the smell of her own soul mate? Keep the explanation simple, but a few words ("when she smells the almond essence of a soul mate when no one else is in the room, she realizes she's found her soul-mate"--only better) would help.
Rae must embrace her lovesense and pull her life back together if she’s ever going to find true love.
I'm lost again on "pull her life back together"--it was pulled apart? How so? All her problems so far have sounded like pretty normal teenage drama. Hardly life-shattering. Upping the concrete details on how her life has been adversely affected by all the drama could help.
I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript. The complete manuscript is available upon request.
Obviously, you'll adjust this to match what they ask for. It is usually unnecessary to say that the complete manuscript is available--they'll assume that from the fact that you're querying.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Robin Hall[contact info redacted]
Okay, that's all I got. I do want to take this moment to point out the obvious fact that agents have and will continue to request material based on imperfect queries. Obviously I like this book idea no matter how much I find to criticize in the query. Still, the more concrete the query is, the better your chances that busy agents flashing through their slush piles will stop, read carefully, and decide to request more.

If you want to revise and have me look at it again, I'm happy to do so.

Anyone else have advice for Robin? Disagree with my advice? I gotta say, I'm excited to see how you go about phrasing your comments to distinguish between us. *scoots closer to the screen* *props chin on hands* *grins with anticipation*

4 comments:

  1. This is great, Robin. I must confess that the hint of stuff done in the bathroom was kind of creepy. I'm bad . . .

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  2. Thanks Robin! Having you read it when you haven't read or heard about my MS was super helpful. Back to the drawing board . . .

    And Donna, good to know about the bathroom;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've noticed that, too. People who've read the book--or even a few different versions of the query--tend to stop spotting the confusing parts. :)

      Good luck, Robin!

      Delete
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