Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Query Letter Blogfest!

Critiquing Song of the Day: "All the Critics Love You in New York" by Prince

It's blogfest tiiiiiime! Once again, we're joining the lovely Alicia, Holly, and Erinn in a new blogfest-this time it's a Query Letter Blogfest!


If you are paricipating, don't forget that we're asking each person to critique at least five query letters--you can definitely do more though!



Since query letters are always so subjective, what exactly should you be looking for in your critique? Here are some helpful suggestions:


*Tell whether or not the letter hooks you--is there a pitch line apparent somewhere through out the letter?


*Determine whether or not you GET what the novel is about.


*How is the sentence flow? Transitions?


*If you were an agent--would you request pages? Why or why not?


*Try to stay away from grammatical errors- that's a little nitpicky. We just wanna know what you think about the content.


So, obviously one of us will not be posting their query...*coughs* Pam already has a super agent *coughs* But I am braving the masses and posting my query letter for all to see and critique.


I'm fragile, yes--but critical feedback is good...even for those as precious as me. Show me what you got!


Dear Agent,


Solving the murder of your drug-dealing best friend can be difficult, especially when you’re only sixteen.


Blake Farmer’s suburban neighborhood in North Carolina has always bored him. The worst crimes ever committed on his street were from teens pushing pills to their peers. But one summer night after the tenth grade, Blake’s father is murdered following a car jacking. A suspect is never found, and despite his mom’s efforts to get Blake to see a counselor, he buries his emotions by working at a skateboarding park and getting high with best friend, high school drug dealer Kyle.


But then Kyle misses a day of school without letting Blake know. At first, Blake believes the text messages from Kyle—he’s just under the weather. He even trusts the updates that Kyle’s boyfriend, Evan, gives him. Eventually, dependable Kyle doesn’t show up for too many commitments and Blake knows something is wrong. With help from Margo—the target of Blake and Kyle’s teasing in middle school—Blake tries to figure out what’s happened to his best friend.


Not wanting to rely on the police who let him down before, Blake and Margo start their own investigation. They both become entangled in a long-standing drug war that Blake had no clue was happening right under his nose. Confused about new feelings for Margo and the real identity of his best friend, Blake becomes overwhelmed as he uncovers an entire underground drug ring and makes enemies out of people he never thought twice about before.


The Blues is a contemporary young adult mystery about the violence, drugs, and betrayal that ensues when trying to get to the bottom of a small town crime.


I am currently a secondary history teacher and a member of SCBWI and AWP. I am working toward my MFA at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) and I read for the FDU Literary Review Magazine. I have included the synopsis and the first ten pages per your submission guidelines. Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.


Best,

18 comments:

Meredith said...

Quita! I saw this yesterday on MSFV. I read the first page and thought it was awesome but had no idea until right now it was yours. So yay!! Congrats!!

Moving on to the query letter, let me first say that the story sounds AWESOME. YA drug mystery? Heck yes! But I have to admit that the query is confusing to me. I think it's a simple case of over-information.

You tell us in the first line that Kyle is murdered, but then the rest of the query sets up this elaborate mystery to figure out what happened to Kyle. We already know what happened—he's dead. I think I'd get rid of all the the "what happened to Kyle" stuff, like the boyfriend and the the texts and just focus on figuring out WHO killed him. Does that make sense?

I'd also keep the characters to a minimum. Blake, Kyle and Margo are obviously important, and I get why you included the dad, but I'd lose Evan. You don't need him in the query.

This is just my opinion, of course, so take from it what you will. I do think you're really, really close to having an awesome query (and it's pretty clear you already have an awesome story)! Great job!!

Holly Dodson said...

I'm going to agree with Meredith. Your second paragraph (where Kyle is missing school) is what's confusing I think. This stuck out to me in particular: But then Kyle misses a day of school without letting Blake know.

Missing one day of school and not telling your friend doesn't seem like a big deal. And I think Meredith is right -- it's because we already know where he is: he's dead. So maybe you can turn it into a stronger statement, like once Kyle has been missing for X days, Blake realizes this is bigger than he thought. (bad example, but just an idea lol) Then you can lead into Margo and the mystery solving.

Hope that helps! Your story sounds amazing :D

Sophia Richardson said...

I agree with Meredith and Holly, you could trim the initial reasons why Blake believes Kyle's okay and skip to the realisation that something's wrong.

The story sounds great, you've set up why Blake has to solve this thing himself (he doesn't trust the cops to) and there's a lot of tension with the developing feelings for someone he used to bully and, y'know, the underground drug ring they probably don't like kids stumbling into. Plus it's nice to see a book that could appeal to reluctant boy readers. Also, even though I'd cut it from the query, digging that you've included an unstereotypical gay character. I'd read this!
- Sophia.

Marquita Hockaday said...

Omigod--I was so scared to this, but this is already sooooo helpful so far *runs off to take notes*

Lori Ehrman Tinkey said...

Hi, wow, what a story! I feel like a babe in the ghetto with it all. Sounds like a sold story line, very gritty, and it's great that we see that right up front. The only contrast that stuck out to me was the missing a day of school -- I would have thought these teens would consider attendance optional at best. My only other notes are: uncertainty about whether Kyle is male or female, I might leave out the mom because then I wonder what her role is going forward, and the second para can be streamlined imo. If boyfriend Evan is not involved in Kyle's disappearance, then I might leave that line out, too, because then I expect him to be right in there with them to find out what happened.

Hope this is helpful to you!

mooderino said...

Nice idea but I think most of para 3 is superfluous. Just telling us Kyle goes missing is enough I think, we don't need a breakdown of how Blake's suspicions develop. Otherwise really good.

regards
mood
Moody Writing

Lori M. Lee said...

Ooh, didn't know this was yours. CONGRATS on the request at MSFV!

pushing pills to their peers ALLITERATION! haha <3

Sorry to echo everyone, but the query made it sound like Kyle is just missing and Blake has to find out what happened to him, when in fact he's trying to solve a murder. Just that tweak and I think it'll be awesome. The query is very easy to follow.

Alicia Gregoire said...

Congrats on the MSFV request. The first page is pretty awesome.

But this is about querying. :)

I'm agreeing with the ladies about everything so far and adding on: Not knowing anything about the story, it sounds like the information about Blake's dad is backstory. While this is important to the why of Blake getting high, I'm not sure if you need this in the query.

"Blake Farmer’s suburban neighborhood in North Carolina has always bored him. The worst crimes ever committed on his street were from teens pushing pills to their peers." I love the set up; it helps lead in to the meat of the story.

Would I request pages? If I was a big mystery person, yes.

Nat Sanders said...

Hi, I'm looking forward to take a look!

Solving the murder of your drug-dealing best friend can be difficult, especially when you’re only sixteen. SO TRUE AND SO GOOD.

Blake Farmer’s suburban neighborhood in North Carolina has always bored him. OOOH COOL, I'M FROM SC! The worst crimes ever committed on his street were from teens pushing pills to their peers.MMHHH... THAT SOUNDS PRETTY BAD ALREADY THOUGH. WHEN YOU MENTIONED SMALL CRIMES IN A SMALL TOWN I WAS THINKING MORE ABOUT SMASHING A WINDOW OR THE OCCASIONAL BROKEN FLOWER POT But one summer night after the tenth grade, Blake’s father is murdered following a car jacking. OKAY, THAT'S WORSE THAN PUSHING PILLS A suspect is never found, and despite his mom’s efforts to get Blake to see a counselor, he buries his emotions by working at a skateboarding park and getting high with best friend, high school drug dealer Kyle.

But then Kyle misses a day of school without letting Blake know. At first, Blake believes the text messages from Kyle—he’s just under the weather. I WOULD SUGGEST: AT FIRST, BLAKE BELIEVES KYLE'S TEXT MESSAGES He even trusts the updates that Kyle’s boyfriend, Evan, gives him. KIND OF HAVING TOO MANY NAMES... GETTING KIND OF CONFUSING. I HAD TO READ THIS SENTENCE TWICE. MAYBE: AT FIRST, BLAKE BELIEVES KYLE'S TEXT MESSAGES THAT HE'S JUST UNDER THE WEATHER, AND EVEN RECEIVES UPDATES. Eventually, dependable I DON'T LIKE DEPENDABLE... MAYBE: KYLE, WHO'S ALWAYS RELIABLE... Kyle doesn’t show up for too many commitments and Blake knows something is wrong. With help from Margo—the target of Blake and Kyle’s teasing in middle school...THIS REALLY COMES OUT OF NOWHERE...—Blake tries to figure out what’s happened to his best friend.

Not wanting to rely on the police who let him down before, Blake and Margo start their own investigation. They both become entangled in a long-standing drug war that Blake had no clue was happening right under his nose. VERY GOOD! Confused about new feelings for Margo and the real identity of his best friend,... WELL, REAL IDENTITY... YOU NEVER LET US DOUBT HIS IDENTITY WASN'T HIS, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, I THOUGHT HE HAD VANISHED Blake becomes overwhelmed as he uncovers an entire underground drug ring and makes enemies out of people he never thought twice about before. YOU CAN SCRATCH THE BEFORE

The Blues is a contemporary young adult mystery about the violence, drugs, and betrayal that ensues when trying to get to the bottom of a small town crime.

Alright, so in general I think you have a problem with too many names... You actually named Blake 12 times, Kyle 6 times... yes, I've counted LOL. Then there's Kyle's boyfriend Evan and Margo... Even though Evan doesn't even play another role in your query. Margo is important, but doesn't get mentioned until the end, pretty much... you know what I mean? I think you have to work on the story arc and also the hook, setup, conflict, consequence scheme again.

Other than that the story is absolutely compelling! It's fresh and sounds gripping. I would love it.

Abby Stevens said...

Hi Quita! (And awesomely-agented Pam!),
Thanks for hosting the blogfest! Quita, I think your query is great, and mostly just needs tightening and clarifying (easier said than done, I know! :P). I want to read this one now, too! Here are my edits/suggestions:

Solving the murder of your drug-dealing best friend is tough, especially when you’re sixteen.

Blake Farmer’s suburban neighborhood has always bored him. The worst crime committed on his street involves teens pushing pills to their peers. But one summer night, Blake’s father is carjacked and murdered. His father's murderer is never found, and despite his mom’s efforts to get Blake to a counselor, he buries his emotions by working at a skateboard park and getting high with best friend, high school drug dealer Kyle.

Then Kyle doesn't show up for school. At first, Blake believes Kyle's texts — he just ain't feeling so hot. But eventually, Kyle doesn’t show up for too many commitments [this sounds a bit formal but not sure how to reword] and Blake knows something is majorly wrong. With help from Margo — a girl Blake and Kyle teased in middle school — Blake tries to figure out what's going on.

The police have let Blake down before, so he and Margo investigate on their own. They both become entangled in a long-standing drug war that was happening right under Blake's nose. Confused about new feelings for Margo and the real identity of his best friend, Blake is overwhelmed as he uncovers an underground drug ring and makes enemies out of people he never thought twice about before.

THE BLUES is a YA contemporary mystery complete at [# of words]/

I am a secondary [middle school? HS?] history teacher and a member of SCBWI and AWP. I am working toward my MFA at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) and I read for the FDU Literary Review Magazine. I have included the synopsis and the first ten pages per your submission guidelines. Thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Your book sounds really intriguing! I agree with the above commenters about removing unnecessary characters from the query and clarifying why Kyle missing one day of school is a big deal.

Also, I wondered why Margo got involved. If she was bullied by them, why would she care? Perhaps you can hint tyou can hint at that in your query.

Great job!

Marie Rearden said...

Interesting concept. Very 'real life.'

Just a couple comments. First, that second paragraph (but then Kyle misses...) can probably be cut. You could end the first paragraph with blahblahblah his best friend, until Kyle goes missing. Or something like that. Oh, I'm no expert. Forgot to say that! :)

I'm not sure if Margo needs to be in the query. I get what the book's about, and the hook is pretty strong. Maybe give it a bit more pizazz like 'Solving your best friend's murder can be difficult, especially when you're sixteen and standing in the middle of a war zone.' 'Drug-dealing best friend' tripped me up when I read it.

Thanks for sharing and for organizing the blogfest!

Marie at the Cheetah

Marquita Hockaday said...

Thanks so much all of you! I had a busy day but I will be making the rounds soon (probably tomorrow :( )

Kalen O'Donnell said...

Oooh, saw the first page at MSFV and ebyss's contest too I think, and loved it. You've got a great voice, and I think that's the only thing missing here - I want to hear Blake's voice in this, instead of the little details populating it. I LOVE them, don't get me wrong, but you can condense a ton by getting rid of anything that doesn't absolutely have to be there to tell the thrust of the story, and replace it with some of Blake's voice, how this all affects him. He does great deadpan, so use that here! There's a hint of it with the alliterative pill popping peers (we can tell Blake's smarter than your average bear) so more of that.

The other thing is you're reading too much like a synopsis, instead of a pitch. We don't need a play by play of what happens throughout the story - think about the themes of your book, the heart and soul of it, and streamline your discussion of the plot to whatever sells those themes to the agent best.

But it sounds like an awesome story! Can't wait to see what becomes of it! Good luck!

Charmaine Clancy said...

I haven't anything new to add that the others haven't already covered. This sounds like an edgy mystery and I think it's quite a respectful approach for YAs - it sounds very marketable. I'd like to see the query a lot shorter, just an intro of the main character, the problem and the mystery that follows, don't worry about all the clues and red herring here. You can put that in the synopsis.
Great work.
Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Tracey Neithercott said...

This is really great! I'll tell you my comments/thoughts below, but yes I'd request!

Solving the murder of your drug-dealing best friend can be difficult, especially when you’re only sixteen. //I like this logline. I feel like I know what I'm getting into below.//


Blake Farmer’s suburban neighborhood in North Carolina has always bored him. The worst crimes ever committed on his street were from teens pushing pills to their peers. But one summer night after the tenth grade, Blake’s father is murdered following a car jacking. A suspect is never found, and despite his mom’s efforts to get Blake to see a counselor, he buries his emotions by working at a skateboarding park and getting high with best friend, high school drug dealer Kyle. //This (starting with "But one summer night") seems like backstory. I think you can cut it and add a phrase about his father below.//


But then Kyle misses a day of school without letting Blake know. //I agree with the others. It seems like that would be normal. Also, if Kyle's a huge drug dealer, doesn't he miss school all the time? The druggies in my high school rarely showed up.// At first, Blake believes the text messages from Kyle—he’s just under the weather. He even trusts the updates that Kyle’s boyfriend,//This threw me off. I don't know whether Kyle is a girl or boy. I know a girl Kyle but I had been thinking Kyle was a guy. If Kyle is a guy and has a boyfriend then I think you need to use "he" at some point to tell us.// Evan, gives him. Eventually, dependable Kyle doesn’t show up for too many commitments and Blake knows something is wrong. With help from Margo—the target of Blake and Kyle’s teasing in middle school—//Why would Margo help him if she was teased by Blake? How does she get involved?// Blake tries to figure out what’s happened to his best friend.


Not wanting to rely on the police who let him down before//Maybe add the dad part in here//, Blake and Margo start their own investigation. //I love that they're investigating by themselves. Love that.// They both//Delete both. They implies both.// become entangled in a long-standing drug war that Blake had no clue was happening right under his nose. Confused about new feelings for Margo and the real identity of his best friend, Blake becomes overwhelmed as he uncovers an entire underground drug ring and makes enemies out of people he never thought twice about before.


The Blues is a contemporary young adult mystery about the violence, drugs, and betrayal that ensues when trying to get to the bottom of a small town crime. //I like this wrap-up.//

Sari Webb said...

Hi Quita, great premise. Teenage drug and murder mystery with a romance sub-plot. Love it :)

Here's my thoughts:

Solving the murder of your drug-dealing best friend can be difficult, especially when you’re only sixteen. [This line doesn't really work for me. Saying solving a murder 'can be difficult' doesn't feel quite right. Also, as others have noted, this line solves the mystery straight away that the rest of the query sets up.]

Blake Farmer’s suburban neighborhood in North Carolina has always bored him. The worst crimes ever committed on his street were from teens pushing pills to their peers. But one summer night after the tenth grade, Blake’s father is murdered following a car jacking. A suspect is never found, and despite his mom’s efforts to get Blake to see a counselor, he buries his emotions by working at a skateboarding park and getting high with best friend, high school drug dealer Kyle. [This all feels like set-up. I'd try to shorten it as much as possible and focus on the plot.]

But then Kyle misses a day of school without letting Blake know. At first, Blake believes the text messages from Kyle—he’s just under the weather. He even trusts the updates that Kyle’s boyfriend, Evan, gives him. Eventually, dependable Kyle doesn’t show up for too many commitments and Blake knows something is wrong.[I think everything before this can be shortened. There's a lot of info here about Kyle going missing and how long it takes for Blake to realise there's something wrong. I'd just cut straight to the chase. Maybe start this para like: 'When dependable Kyle doesn’t show up for too many commitments, Blake knows something is wrong...' Also, not sure 'dependable' fits with the description of Kyle as a teen droug dealer.] With help from Margo—the target of Blake and Kyle’s teasing in middle school—Blake tries to figure out what’s happened to his best friend.

Not wanting to rely on the police who let him down before, Blake and Margo start their own investigation. They both become entangled in a long-standing drug war that Blake had no clue was happening right under his nose. Confused about new feelings for Margo and the real identity of his best friend, Blake becomes overwhelmed as he uncovers an entire underground drug ring and makes enemies out of people he never thought twice about before.

The Blues [should this be in caps?] is a contemporary young adult mystery about the violence, drugs, and betrayal that ensues when trying to get to the bottom of a small town crime.

Racquel Henry said...

Hey! This sounds great. I am not at the querying stage yet, so I don't have much knowledge on what a query letter should have, but I'm intrigued for sure! Good luck! :)