Monday, February 11, 2013

It Takes a Village to Write a Query: Victim 1


Well here it is: the first victim—I mean, participant—of our It Takes a Village to Write a Query series! Over the course of one month, this querier went through three grueling rounds of revisions with a total of nine critiques from our members. Check out our comments, the evolution of her query and maybe congratulate her in the end! Also, feel free to give your feedback on the final version.   
 
 
 
ROUND ONE:
 
 
Dear {Agent}
Seventeen-year-old Taylor is supposed to be the homecoming queen, not the girl who shows up drunk at school and barfs on the vice principal. According to whom? Herself? Her parents? Catchy opening. She’s spent three years climbing the social ladder at her prestigious private high school, snagging the hottie tennis star boyfriend, and landing the head cheerleader spot, all while maintaining a perfect GPA. So what if she needs a few drinks to cope with the pressure of maintaining her Miss Perfect image. Does she have any likable qualities? So far she's rich, perfect, and vain... maybe something that makes me want to empathize with Taylor? Not hate her. Right away, I’m thinking this sounds a lot like many other stories out there.
But then the hottie dumps her and she walks in on her dad banging a blonde bimbo. Suddenly, a couple of harmless drinks a week become a few dozen. Several benders later, Elaborate, telling us what these incidents are that insight action Taylor is showing up at school drunk, tanking exams, getting into drunken fistfights at house parties, and sabotaging the chance at a relationship with the intriguing college guy.
One frigid December night, drunk and pissed off after an argument with her arch-frenemy, she gets behind the wheel of a car and slams into a tree – and the truth. She’s doesn’t know how to survive without alcohol and she'd rather die than give it up. I think you have a lot of set-up in this query, but not much is focused on what’s at stake. Sure her grades and reputation are, but is that enough?
GRIPPED is a contemporary (edgy) young adult novel complete at 60,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Sara Zarr, Courtney Summers and Amy Reed. Nice comparisons, gives me a sense of what work mentioning what you sound like and other authors that write like you. I spend my days writing technical documents for a large environmental consulting firm. I spend my nights writing young adult fiction. I am a member of SCBWI. Always good the mention things like SCBWI.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

You have a lot of good going on here! Nice job mentioning your membership to SCBWI and I really liked your opening hook. I felt like I got a sense of her voice and the things Taylor likes. Make sure you're clear on what the specific complicating incident is that starts the action (was it the hottie dumping her? The other benders? Finding her father and his mistress?) and be specific with what Taylor wants.

From this query as is, I don't get much sense of Taylor's growth or her goals-- Just that she's a lovely lush. Give me a sense of what's at stake for Taylor's journey. Why is it important? What exactly does she want (besides a bottle of Jack Daniels :P). What makes Taylor's story unique? Once you tell us what's a stake and what makes her story unique, as a reader I'll be more able to empathize and understand Taylor's journey. This is especially important for students who may not be into alcohol and may have trouble relating to alcoholism. But if Taylor's afraid of letting everyone down, or she's realizing that it's not worth it to be perfect if her friends aren't real, then this is something on a larger universal scale people can relate to. Does that make sense?
 
 
ROUND TWO:
Dear {Agent}
Seventeen-year old Taylor is supposed to be the popular head cheerleader with the hottie boyfriend, perfect grades and title of Homecoming queen I think there's too much information here. You can hit on two points and convey the same image – Seventeen year old Taylor is supposed to be the head cheerleader with perfect grades and hot boyfriend. Not the loser who shows up drunk at school and barfs on the vice principal Eww - I'm intrigued.
Since her first drink at fourteen, Taylor has used alcohol to maintain her miss perfect image, numbing the pressure that comes with it. She’s known since she was a little girl that if she isn’t perfect her demanding mother won’t love her. Nothing terrifies her more than not being loved This is implied. Who doesn't want to be loved? Consider revising this line – Despite her efforts to be Miss Perfect, Taylor is terrified she'll never win her mother's love. I can't help but wonder why Taylor has a need to be loved. Yes, it's perfectly fine to want and need to be loved, but I get the impression there's always something that triggers this feeling. For example: did Taylor's parents get divorced when she was a kid and she felt they were abandoning her? I think it would strengthen your query if you made her personality and struggles clear.
But over the course of a (single) week, the image she built crumbles when her tennis star boyfriend dumps her causing her to drink more (I added this because I didn't get why being single would destroy her. If she has amazing grades, she's head cheerleader, and Homecoming queen I don't see why this would ruin her). Suddenly, a couple of harmless drinks a week become a few dozen. And several benders later, Taylor is showing up at school drunk, tanking exams, getting into drunken fistfights at house parties, alienating her friends YES. Now we get to the meat and potatoes, though I think you have too much packed here still. Break it up a bit. I'd like to hear your voice because right now it's sounding dry, and sabotaging the chance at a relationship with an intriguing college guy in her life. It's hard for me to sign off on this, but that's just preference. If she's heartbroken and binge drinking why is she getting involved with a college guy? Again, preference. I think it's interesting how breaking up with her boyfriend worsens her drinking problem, but I wonder whether there's more going on in her life. Does it remind her of something that happened in her childhood? I definitely am getting the 'I don't want to get abandoned again' vibe.
One night, drunk and pissed off after an argument with her arch-frenemy (over what?), she gets behind the wheel of a car and slams into a tree – and the truth. She’s doesn’t know how to survive without alcohol and she'd rather die than give it up. I like this. It cuts to the heart of the story. Go a little further and touch on how her life changes from that moment. Your query should give an engaging but brief outline of your book. If you reveal too little you'll likely get passed on. Agents shouldn't have questions about what's happening in your story. I'm surprised by the way you ended your query. So, is it safe to think her family wants her to go to rehab and she's avoiding it? What do you mean by she'd rather die than give it up? Question: did she get badly hurt after the accident or just scared enough to understand she has a drinking problem? I think knowing that would make your query, which I love, even more interesting.
GRIPPED is an edgy contemporary young adult novel complete at 60,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Sara Zarr, Courtney Summers and Amy Reed. I am a member of SCBWI.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
 
My advice: 1) Make certain aspects of your plot clear, so the reader gets a clear idea of what the tone of your book is (a story about a girl running away from rehab? A girl badly injured in a hospital due to her drinking problem? A girl who knows about her drinking problem, but is doing her best to hide it from everyone and failing miserably at it?). 2) Show us more about your MC's past. This is a character that has a lot going on inside her mind. She is hurting, but she's hiding it. What happened to her to make her so dependent on being loved?
 
 
 
 
ROUND THREE:
Dear {Agent}
Seventeen-year old Homecoming Queen Taylor Stewart is supposed to be the popular head cheerleader with the hottie boyfriend and all honors and AP schedule. Why is she supposed to be that? Not the loser who shows up drunk at school and barfs on the vice principal. I'm intrigued, but I want to know that this is more than "pretty girl hiding her drinking problem" story. Very interesting start! I'm wondering what happens to trigger this incident. One thing I would consider changing is the double "ands" in the first sentence. It does contribute to the voice of the YA novel, however some people might read it as a writing flaw instead of being intentional. I’d almost like to see the explanation about her drinking come first. We also go from 17 to 14 and then to a single week. Can we keep this in chronological order? This may enable the query to read more smoothly. Maybe something like: At age fourteen, Taylor Stewart began a love affair; only it was love at first drink rather than love at first sight. (Tell WHY she drinks here…)
Now age seventeen, Taylor is supposed to be the popular head cheerleader with a hottie boyfriend, taking all honors and AP classes; not a loser who shows up drunk at school and barfs on the vice principal.
It was love at first drink at age fourteen for Taylor. And since that day, Taylor has used alcohol to maintain her Miss Perfect image and numb the pressure can you be more specific? that comes with it. Her over-demanding workaholic mother belittles her with every B on her report card and her dad's too busy to be a part of her life. Any more rejection will surely break her. This feels a bit cliche--what else is going wrong? What happens to Taylor when she drinks? Who knows? How does she get the alcohol? Build a bit of sympathy for her? The second sentence begins with "and" as well as using it later in the same sentence. I think it would be stronger simply beginning with "Since that day". I am curious at how she uses alcohol to maintain her picture of perfection image in addition to simply numbing the pressure. Or does she simply maintain her image by numbing the pressure?
Over the course of a single week, The image she’s spent three years building crumbles when her tennis star boyfriend dumps her and she walks in on her dad banging a blonde bimbo. causing her to go from Now, not only will she be without Blake, but her family is falling apart. Not necessary.Suddenly, a couple of harmless drinks a week become to a few dozen. Several benders later, Taylor is showing up at school drunk, tanking exams, getting into drunken fistfights at house parties and alienating her friends. This does a great job at explaining what causes the main incident.
One frigid December night, drunk and pissed off after an argument with her arch-frenemy, she gets behind the wheel of a car and slams into a tree –and the truth. She’s doesn’t know how to survive without alcohol and she'd rather die than give it up. I love the mention of a frenemy - to me, it reinforces her age as well as the downward spiral that she's living. Her epiphany leaves me wondering about the path she continues to travel along. At the end of the query, I feel like I should know more about the plot--why should we care about Taylor? What are the stakes for her? What will happen to her if she fails? Do her parents get upset? How is this different from other edgy YA contemporaries. What are her deeper fears? Why did she start drinking at age 14? You don't have to answer all these questions, but I'm trying to underscore that I think you need to show the softer side of Taylor--show her vulnerability--make the reader of the query care enough about her to want to read the MS.
GRIPPED is an edgy contemporary young adult novel complete at 60,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Sara Zarr, Courtney Summers and Amy Reed. I am a member of SCBWI.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Overall, I think it's an intriguing query. The introduction to the story is told clearly. The main thing I would pay attention is the use of the word "and". Does it always value to your sentences?
I love the title and I think you have a great start here. Obviously I haven't read the book, but the query feels a bit cliche--I'd love for you to showcase your original hook somewhere in the query. I'd suggest finding a way to show Taylor's struggle, how she fights her inner demons, how they impact her daily life--and how those things lead to the climax decision of getting behind the wheel of the car.

 
 
AND HERE’S THE FINAL VERSION:
 
Dear Agent,
 At age fourteen, Taylor Stewart found the love of her life; only it was love at first drink rather than love at first sight. Since that day, alcohol has given her the courage to become the popular head cheerleader and nab the hottie tennis-star boyfriend. But it’s also comforted her when her over-demanding mom belittles her for every B on her report card and numbs the pain of a father who’s too busy to be a part of her life.

Now, at seventeen, Taylor is supposed to be the popular head cheerleader with a hottie boyfriend and the all-AP schedule, not the loser who shows up drink at school and barfs on the vice principal.

The image she’s spent three years building crumbles when her tennis star boyfriend dumps her and she walks in on her dad banging a blonde bimbo, causing her to go from a couple of harmless drinks a week to a few dozen. Several benders later, Taylor is showing up at school drunk, tanking exams, getting into drunken fistfights at house parties and alienating her friends. She’s alone, and no amount of alcohol can make her forget it.

One frigid December night, drunk and pissed off after an argument with her arch-frenemy, she gets behind the wheel of a car and slams into a tree – and the truth. She’s doesn’t know how to survive without alcohol and she'd rather die than give it up.

GRIPPED is an edgy contemporary young adult novel complete at 60,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Sara Zarr, Courtney Summers and Amy Reed. I am a member of SCBWI.
 
 
 
About the Querier, Laurie Litwin:
I’ve been writing since I was in elementary school. I wrote my first “novel” in the fourth grade. And it was truly horrendous. I moved on to journalism in high school and college. And I’ve spent the last thirteen years writing technical environmental documents for a consulting firm. Two years ago I decided to get serious about writing fiction again, and I have since written three manuscripts, including young adult contemporary and one middle grade adventure/contemporary. It’s like something came alive in me when I started writing fiction. After so many years of wondering what I was meant to do with my life, it clicked into place when I sat down and finished my first manuscript. Writing is truly my passion and I intent to keep at it until I see my name on a cover in Barnes & Noble.
 To participate in next month's It Takes a Village to Write a Query series, follow the submission guidelines here.

3 comments:

  1. Great job, Laurie! It takes a lot of guts to go through three rounds with us, AND post the final. You did an awesome job taking the advice and turning it into a fabulous query. Good luck and keep up posted on your query progress!

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  2. Wow Laurie! What a change from the beginning of this process to the end. I wish you a lot of luck with her querying. Keep us posted:)

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