Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Ms. Jessica Faust:

I sent you a query on December 22, 2010 and I haven’t yet heard back from you, so I was hoping it was appropriate to check in. I hope you’ll be interested in my YA novel,
The Aviation Waltz—though to be honest, I’m not sure if you still represent YA because the “About Us” page on contradicts with the blog post on October 8, 2007 on what you represent. In any case, I hope I can catch your interest with an updated query.

I'm not sure you're using the best tactic to open your query letter. At worst it seems like you're scolding the agent and at best it feels a bit passive aggressive. You've introduced yourself by calling the agent out on the carpet regarding their lack of response and website. First of all, be sure you've checked the agent's website and taken note of her response time. If the agent doesn't comment on a usual response time, then you should wait at least 4 to 6 weeks before checking in. If you've waited the appropriate amount of time and you still haven't heard from her, I'd recommend resending the query and introducing it with "Resending my query of December 22nd in case you didn't receive it."

In fact, if you did indeed e-mail your query to Jessica on December 22nd, you would've received an auto-response explaining that she was closed to queries at that time and informing you of the date she'd be accepting queries again. Always make sure you pay close attention to the responses you receive back from an agent—even if they're a form letter, they may contain important information.

Referencing a blog post from more than three years ago is a bit perplexing. The publishing industry is always fluctuating, so it's not uncommon for agents to change their areas of interest. There's plenty of more recent blog posts that explain just what type of YA fiction Jessica is looking for right now. And information on the agency's website would definitely trump anything written in a blog post from 2007.

To her admirers, Scilla Rotcod is perfect: she’s rich, pretty, and talented enough to land the lead role in every ballet. But before the end of her eighteenth summer, Scilla will become the ultimate traitor.

In a society where people value their sky-colored hair, perfect immune systems, and clean planet, the government prohibits a vehicle that can pollute the sky. Even so, Scilla and a low-class engineer spend their summer studying forbidden technology, with hopes of taking off to the sky and challenging traditional views about the exploration of freedom.

I'm a little confused by your blurb here. I don't have a clear picture of this alternate reality you're describing. I think you need to provide the reader with a more detailed understanding of this world. Why does Scilla yearn to fly? What could happen to her if the authorities/government/whoever found out what she was up to? Is the engineer an important part of the story? I think I'd be more interested in the story if I had a better sense of what relationships are important to the book. What does Scilla's dancing have to do with the rest of the book? I think you'd be better off starting with the introduction of this world and giving the reader some context for the rest of your description. We need more information in order to see the conflict.

The Aviation Waltz is adapted from an audio drama of the same name that I had produced online. It is complete at 63,000 words and appeals to the general young adult audience, though anyone can enjoy the story of perseverance, stage rivalry, and a friendship spiked with sexual tension.

I'm not sure you should mention your audio drama, unless the website garnered an amazing number of hits or it gained some other kind of big attention. If you've introduced this as a YA book from the beginning of the query, you don't need to detail anything more about the audience.

Many young adult books on the market take place in high school, but The Aviation Waltz takes place after that. Though it is set in an imaginary world, it wrestles with real young adult issues, like parental acceptance and one’s purpose in the world. Instead of encouraging young readers to gain popularity, seek revenge, and land a date with the hottest guy in school, The Aviation Waltz aims to inspire readers to defy common ideals and do something others thought was impossible.

I am completing my fourth year at the University of California, Davis; as a young adult, I still have a fresh memory of my teenage experiences and the mistakes and parental issues that went with those younger years, which reflects in the consequences of Scilla’s decisions and her fear of disappointing her father.

Honestly, you wouldn't need the rest of this if you'd written a more comprehensive blurb about the book above. These two paragraphs seem to tell me more about the book and yet confuse me even more. Work on strengthening your book's description, so that the bigger themes shine through, instead of having to tell us what those themes are.

I, personally, think it's best to keep your age and situation to yourself. It wouldn't sway me one way or the other about requesting more, but I generally think it's best to focus as much as possible on your book. If you feel it's really pertinent, however, I'd keep it as short and sweet as possible. "As a college student, I have an intimate understanding of the types of issues Scilla struggles with in this story."

I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you are indeed considering YA fiction. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

Again—if you've done your homework, checked the website, and read recent blog posts, you'll know that Jessica is considering YA.



Josin L. McQuein said...

The idea that "I am a teen, therefore I can write YA better than anyone." or "I am in college, therefore I still remember what it was like to be a teen." pops up a lot in query workshops. I can only imagine how often agents see this same bit of reasoning.

But being in the age of your target audience doesn't equate skill at conveying a story. Even "realistic" fiction isn't exactly true-to-life, and while there are definitely some young writers that know how to take the compelling parts, ignore the filler, and craft a compelling novel, most don't. (Most people in any age group don't.)

Relying on your age as a selling point would make me think you're one of those who doesn't. It's the story that's important, and in this query, it's your story we see the least.

I count 7 paragraphs, 2 involve vague bits on the plot; 1 "tells" about the book. The other 4 either describe the writer or scold the agent. Not a great ratio.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

In a clean world inhabited by people with perfect immune systems I have a problem with the rich, pretty and talented main character’s name, Rotcod. If the intention of the writer is to instill Scilla’s opposite intention regarding her world, via her name, then Rotcod is dead on. Otherwise it’s disgusting.

Josin L. McQuein said...

@wry writer

I think the query-writer has fallen into that oldest of new writer mistakes "I shall spell something backward and therefore give it clever meaning."

It's a world with perfect immunity, but WAIT... the MC's last name is DOCTOR backward!

Sarah Gagnon said...

Thank you. That answers some of my questions about the proper way to re-query.

I had an issue with spam filters picking up a lot of my queries. I've since gotten a new e-mail account with a more recognizable mail server, but now I'm left with a some no responses from agents that reply even if the answer is no.

I also thought your response to the synopsis helpful. I'll have to study my own again and see if my conflict is clear enough.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Candace Dietz said...

I think I understand what this book is about, but only vaguely. I want to know more about the plot and less about you, the author. No offense.
The fact that your protag is a dancer seems to have nothing to do with plot. It's not really interesting as a piece of backstory even--at least not in a query. I'd lose it completely.
And lastly-- you seem to have a distaste for stories where to protag wants to "gain popularity, seek revenge, and land a date with the hottest guy in school". Not a problem, we all have different tastes. But why is it necessary to bash them in a query? You come off as overconfident, holier-than-thou, and a little immature. Not to mention the fact that many of the agents you will query actually do enjoy and represent those types of books. Oops. Probably best to keep your distain to yourself.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Josin L ...

Duh, I can't believe I didn't get that.
Ah, I think I'll change my name to Toidi.

lena said...

Wow, people must be having a bad day or something. So I'm going to go the other way.

As a reader and writer of YA, I think the premise is very interesting. I especially like the blue hair and the quest to fly. It sounds like this author might have an interesting MS, but it doesnt come across enough in the query.

Also, I wonder why someone would submit this query to WW instead of to Jessica herself. If I was submitting to WW, I would just stick with the query, not the first paragraph and explanations.

I'd be interested to see a rewrite where the plot, conflict, and characters are given the explanation they deserve. Also, if you're going off and audio-drama series, I'd make sure that the story translates into novel form. Most (TV, and i'm going to assume audio is the same) series wouldnt make great novels. They make great episodes.

Anonymous said...

am I understanding that the people have blue hair? "sky-colored hair"

Sean Thomas Fisher said...

Not sure using the word "hope" three times in the first paragraph is the best idea but I do like people with blue hair and clean planets.

Anonymous said...

I think the author's query underscores the uselessness of sending agents query letters in the first place. They can't sell an unknown to a big six publisher no matter what the story is--that's why the query went unanswered to begin with. These days, the trend is just to ignore your query and let you reject yourself.

Apparently, there's no humiliation a new author isn't supposed to take on the chin and still keep smiling.

Evangeline Holland said...

The idea sounds very interesting, but as Kim stated, Scilla's conflict and motivation are missing from the query. I'd also chuck the paragraph concerning your frustration with the YA genre and your aims for your novel because a) this is not a non-fiction proposal and b) readers take what they will from your book even if you state your intentions. I would definitely read this book, but a punchier query letter with less personal opinions/specifics will probably make more agents request the manuscript.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know I'm feeding the troll, but @edward Gordon:

Why do you insist on trolling the sites of agents who do nothing but help up and coming writers? And why do you insist on spreading what amounts to venomous lies? Lies that are easily debunked?

Big 6 publishers FIGHT each other over new authors ALL THE TIME. They put up big money, if the story's right, and bid against each other for the rights to publish things by people who haven't so much as published a personal ad in their local paper.

I happen to know a lovely young woman who just netted a major deal plus foreign and movie rights at the first of the year. She had never been published, but her book rocked. (HarperCollins won the bid, if you're interested; the book's YA, so it's going out through.)

It'll be on shelves at the end of this year, and likely flying off of them.

jjdebenedictis said...

Ditto what Anonymous said. Edward, if you feel it's hopeless, why don't you just quit?

Also, you don't need peer support to quit. You can manage it just fine on your own--you don't need us to join in.

Stephsco said...

I appreciate all the different viewpoints here, I'm thoughtfully chewing over all of them.

I agree with the others who said to focus the query on the story and why things are they way they are; it makes the characters determination more compelling when you know why they need a change.

Also, if you aren't sure of something, I think the internet is pretty useful in either finding out an agents submission guidelines, or going to a site like query tracker or query shark and asking in the forums if anyone else knows about that agent. Other than that, I say swing positive on all counts.

M Clement Hall said...

Issue 1.:
The critique is fair, balanced and constructive.
Issue 2.:
I guess Edward doesn't have access to Publishers Marketplace or he would know his statement is incorrect, not to mention surly and inappropriate.

Eileen said...

As one who was found in my agent's slush pile - I am ignoring Edward.

There are a lot of fun ideas in this query. It has almost a steam punk feel with a modern society playing about with old technology etc. I fully agree with the feedback to give us more of the story. I would also caution the writer to be careful that you don't imply that unlike other YA out that is only concerned with being popular etc there yours deals with important issues etc. You never know if the agent reps a book (s) with this as a theme so you don't want to put them off. Good luck with revisions.

m----- h---------- said...

Thanks for the critique, and thanks to the author whose letter this is - I don't know much (well, anything) about querying agents, so these blog entries help me enormously.

After teaching young adults for many years, however, I also appreciated the potential that shines through parts of this letter. For example, the themes that the author addresses. Likelikelike.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I realize that today’s post is all about the query but, ‘new-author’, it’s all about the book. After reading these posts shed a few tears, throw something or scream into your pillow, do whatever works and then take from what we have said that which best applies. Your story sounds interesting and that’s from someone who hasn’t seen YA in more than a few decades. I love the blue hair thing. Rewrite your query with as much care as your book and you may have a winner.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 1:24

Yes, I know I'm feeding the troll, but @edward Gordon:

Why do you insist on trolling the sites of agents who do nothing but help up and coming writers?

A. I don't know. I'm lost, I suppose. I get so pissed off at the hypocrisy and lies these agents tell, and so pissed off at the brown nosing people offer them that I just have to say something.

B. All you do for these "agents" is give them a platform. They are not here to help you. They can't help you.

And why do you insist on spreading what amounts to venomous lies? Lies that are easily debunked?

Big 6 publishers FIGHT each other over new authors ALL THE TIME. They put up big money, if the story's right, and bid against each other for the rights to publish things by people who haven't so much as published a personal ad in their local paper.

Who sold you that? Granted, a publisher can do that and then take a book and try to push it into popularity, but that's a lottery's chance when it comes to any one book in particular.

Besides, even publishers can't beat the marketplace, especially in today's environment. An unknown autor is an unknown author. I might buy an unknown at $2.99, but that's only profitable if the author self-publishes.

What you're alluding to is the old paradigm. Those days are over. My guess is these blogging agents don't even make sales all too often. They probably just like to keep an audience to sell tickets to whatever conference they're putting on for newbies.

I happen to know a lovely young woman who just netted a major deal plus foreign and movie rights at the first of the year. She had never been published, but her book rocked. (HarperCollins won the bid, if you're interested; the book's YA, so it's going out through.)

Yeah. You're posting anonymously and won't mention who this author is. Let's just move on.

It'll be on shelves at the end of this year, and likely flying off of them.

Nothing's flying off any shelves today. It better be selling for $.99 on Kindle or it's going nowhere.

I will concede that some publishers may still be doing what you describe, in small doses. But they're losing money doing it, and they're going to have to stop or they'll go bankrupt.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

@ Edward Gordon

Since you are obviously either unwilling to look up anything that doesn't exist in your dreamstate, or actually unable to do so:


10 E 53rd Street, New York, New York 10022-5299
Allison Verost, Assistant Director of Publicity


The first novel, Shatter Me, to be published November 2011

New York, NY (March 2, 2011) – HarperCollins Children’s Books announced today that it has acquired North American rights to Shatter Me, a debut novel by Tahereh Mafi. Shatter Me is the first book in a riveting trilogy about a girl named Juliette who has the ability to kill people with a single touch—and the power to save her shattered world. Combining a crumbling dystopian world with a compelling heroine who has inexplicable powers, Shatter Me is a mesmerizingly romantic thriller with major teen appeal.

The three-book deal was negotiated by Tara Weikum, an Editorial Director at HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, with Jodi Reamer of Writers House, in a major preempt. The book is scheduled for publication on November 15, 2011.

Tara Weikum commented, “Shatter Me has everything that we love in teen novels: fascinating characters, an imaginative world, a heart-stopping adventure, a spellbinding romance, and desperately high stakes.”

Foreign rights to Shatter Me have already been sold in thirteen countries after a series of unprecedented pre-emptive offers were received within days of submission. Rights have been sold to Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Turkey.

Twenty-three year old Tahereh Mafi is a recent college graduate, and she lives outside of Los Angeles, California. Shatter Me is her first novel.

and this, from PublishersWeekly.

HC Children's Throws Down for Debut
In a major pre-empt, Tara Weikum, editorial director at HarperTeen, took North American rights to a trilogy by 23-year-old debut novelist Tahereh Mafi, the first book of which is titled Shatter Me. Jodi Reamer at Writers House brokered the three-book deal. The story follows Juliette, a girl who kills people with her touch. According to HC, the series blends "a crumbling dystopian world with a compelling heroine who has inexplicable powers." The U.S. acquisition follows a number of foreign sales, with rights bought in 13 countries including Brazil, China, France, Germany, and Russia; it's also rumored that the book has already been optioned in Hollywood. HarperTeen has scheduled Shatter Me for November 15, 2011.


Fox to adapt 'Shatter Me' novel
Studio, Chernin Entertainment to produce pic

EXCLUSIVE: Twentieth Century Fox has acquired bigscreen rights to young adult novel "Shatter Me" by Tahereh Mafi.

Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark will produce the project through Fox-based Chernin Entertainment.

Emma Watts, Peter Kang and Daria Cercek will oversee the project for the studio.

Set in a dystopian world, "Shatter Me" is the story of a 17-year-old girl imprisoned for possessing a fatal touch. As she watches everything crumble around her, she must choose between relinquishing her power or use it to save the world.

HarperCollins will release the tome later this fall.

Note the words "first novel", "debut novelist", "Preempt", and "major deal"

FWIW, she was picked out of the slush in under a week. No connections, just great writing.

And, since the NYT bestseller list is still going strong, still full, and still NOT counting those $.99 ebooks you like to pretend are the only things that sell, books are still selling in their lovely, physical, physical form.

jn said...

Ladies and Gentlemen, Let us remember we are here to help each other with our queries. If this turns into just another snark session, our generous hostess may decide we aren't yet grown-up enough to participate and cancel the exercise.

I for one am finding the posts and comments very helpful. It takes a lot of courage to offer a query for critique. It takes a lot of strength to accept the feedback. There are a lot of very smart people whose suggestions I would like to hear. Let us keep our comments to the point.

Sarah Gagnon said...

I love the success story. It gives us all hope! Will the author be posting a revised query? I'd like to see how it changes.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon

The U.S. acquisition follows a number of foreign sales, with rights bought in 13 countries including Brazil, China, France, Germany, and Russia; it's also rumored that the book has already been optioned in Hollywood.

This is your example to me? A book by a foreign writer who's already sold the book a number of times in foreign countries?

Great. Go hang your hopes on that.

Daniel said...

hm... I received an auto-response when I sent my query to BookEnds' workshop back in Feb.

However, I did NOT receive an auto-response when I sent my real query to Jessica Alvarez this week. Nor did I receive auto-responses from any of the other agents I queried this week.

When we authors don't receive either auto-responses or personal responses, it really leaves us wondering if you even receive our queries.

Jessica Alvarez said...

Hi Mesmer,

I do respond to all queries. I'm caught up on queries sent to me prior to 4/7. So if you haven't received a response from me and your query was sent prior to 4/7, it likely didn't reach me and you should feel free to resend it.

Jessica A

Anna Geletka said...

@ Mesmer, I just queried Jessica and received an auto response two days later. So there may be some intervening time between the query and the initial response.

Regarding the query, it may be hard for the author to hear, but the character's name is not good. Scilla makes me think of cilia, the things that some single celled organisms use to get around. And Rotcod - besides the obvious backwards spelling - is just not a nice sounding name.

I sympathize with the author. The first time my husband read my fantasy manuscript, he said, "that's the main character's name? It's awful!" And you know what? He was right. I changed the name.

Laina said...

Who wants to break it to Edward Gordon that "foreign rights" mean that a book is GOING to be sold in other countries, not HAS BEEN sold?

Also. Claire Legrand. Lenore Appelhans. Debut YA authors who have JUST have their books sold. Lenore's book also sold the movie right at the same time, I believe.

I'm done feeding the trolls now.

VirginiaLlorca said...

Having just paid a visit to SlushPileHell, I can tell you I am not feeling good about this query process. Fortunately none of my attempts were featured there so far. Is the agent world really that cynical? Trying to sound as professional as I can, getting critiques from published writers, still, "not interesting". And if you haven't heard back from Jessica Alvarez, maybe she likes it. She got back to me very promptly.
I SO want to sign this Sincerely, Amanda Hocking.

Adelle Yeung said...

Author here! *waves*

Wow I had no idea that my query got picked up for a critique. Actually, I was smiling the entire way through. There's a lot of great feedback here. Thanks so much for the feedback, everyone!