Thursday, March 04, 2010

Michael's Slush Week entry

by Michael

(For details on Slush Week, see Chasya's introduction.)

We'll start with the query on its own, then the response after the jump:

Dear (Agent's name):

An imprisoned poet. A mysterious orb. And one mega-dose of snotty older sister, named Athena.

Twelve-year-old Jared Ahern’s got all three on his plate. (And that’s not counting the orb’s vicious inventor, trapped in a time sump.) Jared desperately wants to pry himself out from under Athena’s shadow and get some adulation of his own. When the orb, with its power for time travel and shape-shifting, summons him and Athena to rescue Shakespeare from the Tower of London, Jared leaps at the chance to show his mettle. 

Jared’s quick-thinking springs Shakespeare from his cell. But things go awry when Shakespeare returns with Jared to Oregon, leaving Athena stranded in the sixteenth century in the guise of Good Queen Bess. Worse yet, Jared’s sixth-grade enemy steals the orb. Now Jared must use both his skateboard and his love of “Star Wars” to retrieve the orb and rescue Athena, before she becomes the Queen of England. Permanently.

Shakespeare on the Lam is a middle-grade adventure, complete at 28,000 words.
I follow the blog on your agency's website and see that you are looking for adventure middle-grade for boys, so I believe it might be a good fit for your list. I am enclosing a sample chapter, as stated in your submission guidelines. I’m also querying other agents.

I am a member of SCBWI and Willamette Writers. My short story, “Carlito’s Question,” won 3rd prize in the 2009 Kay Snow Awards competition, sponsored by Willamette Writers. Shakespeare on the Lam is my first novel.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
(Author's name)




Dear (Agent's name):


An imprisoned poet. A mysterious orb. And one mega-dose of snotty older sister, named Athena.

One of the issues I see most often with queries is when they try to be flap copy. This pitch is a little too cute for my tastes. I’d combine the above with the first sentence of the next paragraph, which will get us to the point sooner.

Twelve-year-old Jared Ahern’s got all three on his plate. (And that’s not counting the orb’s vicious inventor, trapped in a time sump.) (I get worried when I see parentheticals in query letters. With how little room you have in a one-page query, the information is either important or not. If it’s important, take it out of the parentheses, if it’s not, delete it entirely.) Jared desperately wants to pry himself out from under Athena’s shadow and get some adulation of his own. (After hearing that Athena was a snotty older sister, I was surprised to hear that she’s so well-liked.) When the orb, with its power for time travel and shape-shifting, summons him and Athena to rescue Shakespeare from the Tower of London, Jared leaps at the chance to show his mettle. 

Now I’m confused. Where did this orb come from? How did it get in his possession? I think I need some more information chronologically to follow what’s going on.

Jared’s quick-thinking springs Shakespeare from his cell. But things go awry when Shakespeare returns with Jared to Oregon, leaving Athena stranded in the sixteenth century in the guise of Good Queen Bess. Worse yet, Jared’s sixth-grade enemy steals the orb. Now Jared must use both his skateboard and his love of “Star Wars” to retrieve the orb and rescue Athena, before she becomes the Queen of England. Permanently.

Again, I think this is a bit too cute. I’d rather a more straightforward description of the book. The sell is just too hard for my taste.

Shakespeare on the Lam is a middle-grade adventure, complete at 28,000 words.

I follow the blog on your agency's website and see that you are looking for adventure middle-grade for boys, so I believe it might be a good fit for your list. (This is good! I like when people reference things I’ve said. And this is true. And, maybe the query should have led with this information. I’d be more inclined to take a look if I knew off the bat that the author had done his homework.) I am enclosing a sample chapter, as stated in your submission guidelines. I’m also querying other agents.

I am a member of SCBWI and Willamette Writers. My short story, “Carlito’s Question,” won 3rd prize in the 2009 Kay Snow Awards competition, sponsored by Willamette Writers. Shakespeare on the Lam is my first novel.

We like to see what your affiliations are, and I know that both groups attract high-quality writers, but I think the small competition and 3rd place finish mean you should leave out that information. Let me know if you’ve won, or if you’ve received a mention in a big competition.

Thank you for your time.


Sincerely,
(Author's name)


Thanks very much for taking part in Slush Week!

9 comments:

  1. Other than what was stated above, the 28,000 word length seems a bit short. If there's an average of 250 words/page, this is 112 pages. Typed. How long will this book be in print? Marketing-wise, that's like looking at a piece of pie you kinda-sorta like for $4, but getting a whole pie that you LOVE for the same price. Which would you purchase?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm not so worried about the word count. We can work on expanding the book in the editorial process if need be.

    -Michael

    ReplyDelete
  3. "The sell is just too hard for my taste."

    This is where I find writing queries so hard. Getting that fine balance. A lot of writers aren't natural salespeople, yet we need to be able to "sell" our story and ourselves (especially if writing non-fic).

    Michael, when you mentioned "too cute" are you referring to the voice in the query? Would you prefer to see it toned-down?

    Thanks to the writer and Michael for putting this query out there for us to learn from.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was about to say just what Alli did: where's the line between 'flat' and 'too much'? It's much easier to see it in someone else's letter than our own. So, thank you for Slush Week, it's helping!

    Meanwhile I want to read this entry's book. LOL
    If I read similar jacket copy, I'd take it home.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks, Michael, for reviewing my query. All the points you made are true, and I have rewritten what was an embryonic query several times since Slush Week. My critique groups are helping me a lot with the query--and I would recommend to other readers of this blog that they use all the means at their disposal (critiquers and venues such as Slush Week) to mine for their finest query writing.
    I hope one day soon to query you for real and, having toned down my natural cuteness, show you that I'm a quick study (as well as a good pie-eater, Anon.)

    Thanks, Alli and Susan for your comments, and
    thanks to all the agents at Dystel & Goderich for this opportunity.

    Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

    ReplyDelete
  6. Michael, I was surprised (not unpleasantly) about your comment on length. Is this true for all fiction, if it's a bit short? Do agents generally figure authors can add length if necessary, assuming the writing is already tight? I tend toward shorter manuscripts, so this is very interesting to me. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Michael - I'm glad to have helped, and I do hope you query when you're ready.

    Alli - When I said it was too cute for my taste, I just meant that I'd prefer something more straightforward. I'm not in a bookstore looking for copy that'll spark my interest, I'm an agent trying to figure out what the book is about. Be clear, concise and don't try to be cute.

    Susan - The line is a fine one. You want to be engaging and interesting, but you don't want to overwrite. If you're trying to hard to be cute or clever, you may not be focusing enough on explaining the content.

    Anon 10:14 - It's always good to have your word count in the acceptable range for your genre, but if I really like the query, the word count is the last thing to stand in my way.

    Thanks!
    Michael

    ReplyDelete
  8. I found this critique very helpful -- thanks Michael and Michael!

    ReplyDelete
  9. These posts are incredible for those of us who are learning, hoping, praying and writing.

    thank you!!

    ReplyDelete