Thursday, January 31, 2013

Query letter #4: Miira K

LOVE… can you count it?  D.J. does with his Mummy, all the way to the number ten. [What type of books is this? Picture book? Middle grade? If you don't tell me here, I may presume it's a novel for adults, which will make the next few lines seem a bit odd.]

"How much do you love me Mummy?" says D.J.
"I love you 1 (one)," says Mummy. "One kiss on your little button nose."
"Do you love me more than one?" asks D.J.
"Of course, I love you 2 (two)," says Mummy. "Two kisses, one for each of your lovely bright eyes."

In 'I Love You 10' [a picture book for ages what to what?], Mummy bestows kisses on D.J. from his nose right through to '10 (ten) kisses, one for each of your wiggly little toes'. 

Well, ten seems like a lot! But can love really be counted?

'…Mummy points to the millions of twinkling stars, lighting the whole of the night sky. "Even if you could count every star…you would never be able to count how much I love you."  

This picture book [aha! here is the information I needed - but are you submitting text only, or text with illustrations?] explores and strengthens positive emotional intelligence, counting basics, and naming of body parts for young children in 317 words.

My stories are based on actual conversations with my four homeschooled children, in response to their questions, observations, and wonder. [Do you have a writing background? It's okay if you haven't - you're allowed to say, 'I've never written before but was inspired to so by ...' but if you say nothing at all about it then I have very little idea about who you are and why you're writing. Have you read other picture books? Have you researched to see if there are any books like this already?]

I have enclosed a SSAE for your convenience [only send this if requested], and I thank you for your consideration.  

General feedback: You can't presume that an agent/publisher will guess what type of book this is. We all see a lot of submissions and we're usually reading them quickly - tell us straight up what sort of book it is and who it's for, because if you don't we may not make it through half the letter to find out. For a picture book you don't need to have the same length of query letter that is needed for a novel - as there's less story to describe - but picture books are a highly competitive genre (many people write them, there are few published each year) so you need to identify why yours is different to what's already available. If you have not done any research to find out what else is available, you may find that you are wasting your time if there's a similar book out there.

Query letter #3: Barry R

I'm seeking representation for my completed 35,000 word young adult novel THE STRANGER IN MY HEAD. I note that many of your clients write in this genre. [It's good - but not essential - to say something like this as then the agent knows you've done some research. Too often writers submit to agents who don't represent their genre, and that just wastes everyone's time.]

That noise in Angie's heads; [I said I wouldn't correct typos but I will point out this one - 'heads' - it perhaps sends the wrong message about your story] it's tinnitus, the doctors say, but Angie knows better. It's a voice, a man's voice. Whose is it? Where is it coming from? Those are the very questions the voice itself wants answered. It needs help and it's telling Angie to do things she's scared to do. [Otherwise this is a solid pitch - it incites curiosity.]

As if school bullies aren't enough for a shy fifteen-year-old to deal with [good to mention the age of the character in a YA sub, just so the agent/publisher is sure you've identified the right age group], not to mention friends who think she's weird, and her feelings for that cute new guy in her class, she's now expected to find the voice's owner by following the direction it comes from. And the first thing in that direction? Rookwood Cemetery. Either the voice is real or Angie is insane.She must solve the mystery if she wants her mind back. But Angie's search will reveal more than she expects and will put her life and the lives of her friends in mortal danger. Does she have the necessary courage? Well, with the cutest guy in school on her side, maybe. [The pitch is intriguing but could be tightened a little, punctuation wise. It feels a bit breathless at the moment.]

Each chapter of THE STRANGER IN MY HEAD has been thoroughly critiqued by the long-established writing group the ... ... Writers [that's nice but it's actually more pertinent to tell me the next bit -->]It has been through many edits and is as ready as I can make it. It's my first young adult novel but I've had several short stories and articles published, won competition and completed a fantasy trilogy. I'm working on my next novel. [All good pieces of information as they tell me that you've been writing for a while and that you're still writing. However, I'd like to know why you're now writing YA when you haven't before.]

I've attached a short synopsis, author bio and the first three chapters for your consideration.Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you. 

General feedback: A good letter. You might want to slip in something about who you think the reader is - 'for every teenager who's ever thought the only sane person they know', or something like that (not exactly that, obviously). Young adult fiction is now a very broad church that also takes in adults, so writers need to start identifying which YA audience they're writing for. In the olden days it was more simple: there was one type of teenager and it was the type who read The Outsiders.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Query letter #2: Marlana A

Genre:  YA science fiction
Word Count: 66,000 words

[I quite like this way of providing title, genre and word length - it means you don't have to work it into the letter. But just be aware that some agents may not be so fond.]

Sixteen-year old Paxton Mills freaking hates living in space. [Good opening line - I know straightaway the age and name of your character and something key about them.]  The station is freezing cold, her berth is barely bigger than a port-a-potty and her fear of heights doesn't lend itself to a comfortable intergalactic experience.  She's one of several hundred teenagers saved from the fires that ravaged Earth. [Great hook.] Handpicked for their ability to acclimate to celestial living, they were taken to ensure humanity's survival.  However, Paxton isn't grateful to her rescuers for whisking her into space and educating her in hydroponics and uniform maintenance.  Why should she give a damn about hanging squash or pride herself on having a wrinkle-free jumper, when she's haunted by memories of her loved ones being left behind to burn to death? [Good - suggests that there is humour in the story. Unless there isn't - in which case, don't make the letter humorous.]

But her days of sulking end when she realizes her teachers aren't humans, but aliens called the Nephilim.  Knowing she needs proof, Paxton breaks into the forbidden Red Block and finds curled and crusty teens barely clinging to life.  That's when she discovers she and the other kids were never taken to ensure humanity's survival.  They were taken to ensure the survival of the Nephilim.  

Unwilling to end up resembling an oversized fetus, Paxton rallies her friends so together they can find an escape.  As they unravel the mystery of the station and their captors, Paxton's boyfriend is murdered.  If Paxton wants to save her friends from this same fate, she must trust an annoyingly perfect hybrid named Kendal and accept that good and evil don't always run skin deep. [In the previous letter I said not much detail is needed in the letter - and that's when the letter reads like a synopsis. This reads like a pitch, so I wanted to keep reading - therefore, this much detail is okay.]

THE CHILDREN OF THE NEPHILIM is complete at approximately 66,000 words.  I've been an active member of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators since 2009 and am the group leader for the SCBWI Osceola County Critique Group. [You can possibly include a bit more personal detail - why you love this genre, for example.]

General feedback: A well-constructed letter with a great pitch. You need just a bit more information about you before the end, so the agent/publisher gets a sense of who you are. It's okay to not have writing 'credits' but that doesn't mean you should just not say anything - instead of including credits, include some information about how you came to write this genre and why you love it.  

Query letter #1 - Kirsty A

[This is the first in a series of query letters sent by readers for me to review. I'm including just the body of the letter. There will be no correcting of typos.]

Dragons'Nests and Fire Birds is a 76,000 word fantasy aimed at 12+ readers. It is intended to be the first in a series. [It's more important to tell me what the story is here than tell me it's the first in a series - the series won't happen at all if you can't grab someone's attention with the story first.]

When Nell and her sisters inherit a box of jewels and an old Emporium, Nell hopes to make her dream come true and open a spice shop. However the Emporium has its own scruffy (and condescending)'guardian'- Brendan, and Nell keeps seeing dragons. Overhearing her Mum and Brendan arguing about a vengeful Merchant, Nell covertly follows Brendan. She finds herself in the magical Lands of Lost Lore. Nell realizes her childhood fantasies of dragons flying and mermaids singing are truly her earliest memories.
[This would be a better opening paragraph.]

Returning to Earth, Nell confronts her Mum.
Nell learns that her dad, a werewolf from the Lands, was killed in a pack dispute. Nell's step-dad was killed saving dragon nestlings from the evil Merchant.
Nell and her sisters decide to explore the Lands with disastrous consequences. When they are all captured by the Merchant only Nell manages to escape.
In return for Nell's sisters the Merchant demands a mermaid's tear, a griffin's claw and a phoenixes' feather. Nell and Brendan embark on the arduous quest.
[Condense this second paragraph - we don't need that much detail about the story in the letter, as there is usually a synopsis to read if we want detail.]

I have had two young adult fantasy novels published, Kingdoms of the Seventh Pool (Holy Angels, 1998) and Lumi's War (Holy Angels, 2001) [This information can come earlier. In your opening paragraph, you could instead say, 'I am the author of two published young adult fantasy novels. Dragons' Nests and Fire Birds is my third. It is a 76 000 word story aimed readers aged 12 and over.' This would get an agent/publisher's attention more quickly. Is there anything more you can tell us about you - how long you've been writing? Why you love YA fantasy?]

General feedback: You could sound a bit more confident. Blow your trumpet early - about your previous books, and about this story. There's no sense here that you really want to encourage me to read this manuscript. What's so good about this story? Why should I want to read it over all others? Describing the storyline isn't enough. Tell me why it's great. If you don't believe it's great, no one else is likely to ...