Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Query-riffic

There is a great group taking part in the query letter blogfest.The blog hop linky is at the bottom of this post, if you'd like to take part. 

Or sign up and join the fun here


This is actually the query-in-progress for a work-in-progress. I like to write the queries as I go along, and keep honing them as I work through the book.

Swamped (YA, mystery)
At Harleyville High School there are no career counselors. What's the point?

Like everyone else, seventeen year old Jess Heyward is on a fast track to a lifetime job at the chicken processing plant. It’s filthy, hard work with crap for pay.  

Despite what everyone's told him, Jess thinks he's different. He knows that if he keeps his nose clean and makes perfect grades he can escape with a free ride to college. It’s his only hope. It’s the best way to guarantee he won’t turn out like his dad.

When he's not studying, Jess and his friend Kai spend their time canoeing in the vast Okefenokee swamp. Then Amelia moves to Harleyville, and Jess thinks he thinks he finally has a reason to like his hometown. There’s just one problem: everyone likes Amelia, including Kai. When Amelia chooses between them it crushes their friendship.

Alone, Jess realizes someone is using the swamp. The more he discovers, the more he feels certain that something illegal is happening. He can’t figure out what. The Sheriff doesn’t believe his vague descriptions. He won’t talk to his parents. The only way to find out what is happening is to continue digging, which keeps leading to Amelia and her family.

Jess finds what he’s looking for. He figures out what’s going down in the swamp. 

Now he has to decide what to do about it. 

Should he expose it all, or lay low to get the one thing he wants most?



You can put feedback below, or email it to insectwriter (at) gmail (dot) com




30 comments:

  1. I love a good mystery.

    I think your idea was good when I got to it, but it took you too long to get to the bits of your story that are important.

    Sum up the first three paragraphs into one sentence that you feel says it all, something along the lines of 2 options, lifetime job in the chicken processing.... or escape to college - and then insert this after your start, which should be with the arrival of Amelia.

    I would also drop the third last paragraph and the second last one. Go straight from Amelia and her family to 'Should he expose it all...' Also, is she what he wants most? I thought it was an educational future?

    Mystery writing takes a lot of work and planning to get all the bits into place - you've done that, now you just need to work on those dreaded queries :)

    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

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  2. Way too long. You need to focus on the bit that's happening swamp, the mystery of that.
    You are telling me in a manner of...and then...and then - if you know what I mean. Write down what your story is about in two sentences only. That will give you an idea of what you have to have in your query and embellish slightly from there.
    What's it about? Not who's in it.
    Good luck. Sounds like some swampy fun going on here!

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  3. thanks so much Charmaine and Escape-- I really appreciate you dropping by.
    Great comments! I will implement them!

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  4. I LOVE a story based in the swamp! Can't wait to read all about it. Call me for swamp specifics.

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  5. I'll comment [in brackets]. But just fyi...this story sounds AWESOME. :D

    At Harleyville High School there are no career counselors. What's the point? [I don't think this is necessary, and it's a little confusing.]

    Like everyone else, seventeen year old Jess Heyward is on a fast track to a lifetime job at the chicken processing plant. [LOVE this] It’s filthy, hard work with crap for pay.

    Despite what everyone[ has] told him, Jess thinks he's different. He knows that if he keeps his nose clean and makes perfect grades he can escape with a free ride to college. It’s his only hope. It’s the best way to guarantee he won’t [turn out like his dad. - to be clear here, I'd maybe say "wind up in that chicken plant" instead of mentioning dad.]

    When he's not studying, Jess and his friend Kai spend their time canoeing in the vast Okefenokee swamp. Then Amelia moves to Harleyville, and Jess thinks he thinks he finally has a reason to like his hometown. There’s just one problem: everyone likes Amelia, including Kai. When Amelia chooses between them it crushes their friendship.

    [This paragraph is very vague. More specifics will really help hook me further. What kind of illegal stuff does he find?] Alone, Jess realizes someone is using the swamp. The more he discovers, the more he feels certain that something illegal is happening. He can’t figure out what. The Sheriff doesn’t believe his vague descriptions. He won’t talk to his parents. The only way to find out what is happening is to continue digging, which keeps leading to Amelia and her family.

    [Jess finds what he’s looking for. He figures out what’s going down in the swamp. -- cut]

    [Now he has to decide what to do about it. -- cut]

    Should he expose it all, or lay low to get the one thing he wants most?

    Hope that helps!

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  6. Hi! Hope this is helpful to your process:

    At Harleyville High School COMMA there are no career counselors. What's the point? LOVE IT. I WOULD GO AHEAD AND SAY 'WHAT'S THE POINT IN A DEAD-END COMPANY TOWN' TYPE OF THING WITH HER VOICING.

    Like everyone else, seventeen year old Jess Heyward is on a fast track to a lifetime job at the chicken processing plant. It’s filthy, hard work with crap for pay EXCELLENT.

    Despite what everyone's told him, Jess thinks he's different. He knows that if he keeps his nose clean and makes perfect grades he can escape with a free ride to college. It’s his only hope. It’s WOULD POLISH PAST TWO 'IT'S' BUT I KNOW THIS IS FOR A WIP -- MEANWHILE, I AM STUCKING WONDERING WHY HE WOULDN'T CONSIDER STUDENT LOANS OR SIMPLY RUNNING AWAY, SO I MIGHT JUST SKIP THE 'ONLY HOPE' SENTENCE COMPLETELY the best way to guarantee he won’t turn out like his dad IT'S SUCH A PRONOUNCEMENT, I'M AFRAID IT NEEDS A BIT OF EXPLANATION ABOUT WHO THE DAD IS IN TERMS OF WHAT JESS THINKS OF HIM. EASY TO SLIDE IN HERE.


    When he's not studying I WOULD INDICATE THIS IS OUTSIDE, ABOVE-AND-BEYOND WORK (MAYBE VIA INTERNET), THINKING FROM YOUR OPENING THAT THE SCHOOL CLASSES ARE PROBABLY VERY POOR EDUCATIONALLY, Jess and his friend Kai spend their time canoeing in the vast Okefenokee swamp. Then Amelia moves to Harleyville, and Jess thinks he thinks OOPS he finally has a reason to like his hometown I WOULD STRENGTHEN THIS. There’s just one problem: everyone likes Amelia, including Kai. When Amelia chooses between them COMMA it crushes their friendship.


    Alone, Jess realizes someone is using the swamp. The more he discovers, the more he feels certain that DON'T NEED 'THAT' I THINK something illegal is happening. He can’t figure out what. The Sheriff doesn’t believe his vague descriptions. He won’t talk to his parents. The only way to find out what is happening is to continue digging, which keeps leading to Amelia and her family THIS IS EXCELLENT STUFF, SO I WOULD SHORTEN THE ABOVE PARA TO GET TO THIS SOONER. THIS MIGHT EVEN END UP AS THE ABOVE PARA.


    Jess finds what he’s looking for. He figures out what’s going down in the swamp GIVE US A CLUE, PLEASE. OTHERWISE THERE ISN'T A SENSE OF THE STAKES AND CHOICES.

    Now he has to decide what to do about it.

    Should he expose it all, or lay low to get the one thing he wants most WHICH IS WHAT, NOW? GOT ALL CONFUSED WITH HOW MUCH HE LIKES AMELIA, THOUGH I DON'T KNOW IF SHE LIKES HIM BACK. IS HE STILL COLLEGE BOUND? I WOULD LOVE A SENSE OF ALL THE IF-THEN'S.

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  7. Guys- this is SO AMAZINGLY helpful. Thanks so much. I LOVE LOVE LOVE getting everyone's perspective.

    Fresh eyes make all the difference.

    Holly- I appreciate it, and hopefully you'll be reading this soon.

    Lizzie- you are the go to girl for swamp specifics. Maybe this will put Homerville on the map? You guys may not want it on the map?

    Lori- awesome feedback. You pointed out one of my biggest plot holes: why can't this guy just get a student loan! I know! LOL.
    I may have to rework the details on his desire to leave town.

    I am itching to rewrite this, but I will hold off for more comments.

    Thanks so much to all of you!

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  8. This reads like a synopsis more than a query. The idea is fine but it could do with stripping down to its key element.

    The end part with the goings on at the swamp is too vague for me, like you haven't actually worked out that part. In order to hook the reader you have to give a much clearer indication of what illegal things are going on and what Jess plans to do about it.

    Hope that helps.
    regards
    mood
    Moody Writing

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  9. Just dropping back to say thanks. You're comments were terrific, and yes, you were good to pick up the magical realism. I will mention that too.
    I've decided though...I really don't like queries all that much!!
    Thanks so much again!

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  10. I would take out the first line, it doesn't really do anything for me. I like the next though.
    I would give insight as to what's going on in the swamp.

    If I were an agent, I probably wouldn't request as is. I think it needs tightening. The first paragraph is good and then I started skimming.

    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

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  11. Mood- thanks so much. You are so right! I appreciate the feedback.

    Escape- too true. Queries are painful every time. Every time.

    Brandi- thanks. I will definitely flesh out the swamp mystery for the query.

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  12. I love a good mystery, but not a gory mystery, so you really pulled me in. Love the opening segment. But, like others above, thought it was waaay too long, and the added conflict between Amelia and his future pulled me off course, like, what happened to my mystery? I think the suggestions comments above have are terrific and was happy to read you're pleased.

    You've got a REALLY good plot ...can imagine a series developing here.

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  13. Thanks Kittie- you are so right. I need to focus on that mystery and not worry about all that other stuff.

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  14. This story sounds awesome, so good job on that! That's the hardest part! :)

    I do agree with everyone above who said the query is just too long and a tad unfocused. My specific comments are in caps.

    At Harleyville High School there are no career counselors. What's the point? LOVE THIS.

    Like everyone else, seventeen year old Jess Heyward is on a fast track to a lifetime job at the chicken processing plant. It’s filthy, hard work with crap for pay. AWESOME DETAIL.

    Despite what everyone's told him, Jess thinks he's different. He knows that if he keeps his nose clean and makes perfect grades he can escape with a free ride to college. It’s his only hope. It’s the best way to guarantee he won’t turn out like his dad. THESE LAST 2 SENTENCES ARE A BIT REDUNDANT. YOU CAN LOSE THEM WITHOUT LOSING ANYTHING.

    When he's not studying, Jess and his friend Kai spend their time canoeing in the vast Okefenokee swamp. Then Amelia moves to Harleyville, and Jess thinks he thinks he finally has a reason to like his hometown. There’s just one problem: everyone likes Amelia, including Kai. When Amelia chooses between them it crushes their friendship. THIS ALL SEEMS LIKE BACKSTORY, AND IT COMES OFF A LITTLE FLAT. I THINK IT'S ENOUGH TO INTRODUCE KAI AND AMELIA WITHOUT SETTING UP THE LOVE TRIANGLE AT THIS STAGE.

    Alone, Jess realizes someone is using the swamp. The more he discovers, the more he feels certain that something illegal is happening. He can’t figure out what. The Sheriff doesn’t believe his vague descriptions. He won’t talk to his parents. The only way to find out what is happening is to continue digging, which keeps leading to Amelia and her family. THIS PARAGRAPH HERE IS THE HEART OF THE QUERY. FOCUS ON THIS! RIGHT NOW IT'S ENTIRELY TOO VAGUE. WHAT ILLEGAL ACTIVITY IS HAPPENING? WHY IS AMELIA INVOLVED?

    Jess finds what he’s looking for. He figures out what’s going down in the swamp.

    Now he has to decide what to do about it.

    Should he expose it all, or lay low to get the one thing he wants most? I THINK YOU CAN DELETE THESE LAST 3 PARAGRAPHS, OR AT TIGHTEN THEM AT LEAST.

    In all, really great start! This story sounds great!!

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  15. Oooh, Meredith- yes! GREAT advice, thanks!

    YOU GUYS I CANNOT THANK YOU ENOUGH!

    Can't wait to work on the query (and the WIP) a little more!

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  16. This is a fascinating query! It can definitely be tightened but I know it isn't a finished product, so that's understandable. It is effective, though, and I would totally read this book. Here are my pointers:

    Harleyville High School has no career counselors. What's the point when everyone grows up to work at the local chicken processing plant?

    It’s hard work with crap for pay, and 17-year-old Jess Heyward wants more.

    Jess knows that if he keeps his nose clean and makes perfect grades he can escape with a free ride to college. It’s his only hope, and the best way to guarantee he won’t turn out like his dad.

    When he's not studying, Jess and his friend Kai spend their time canoeing in the Okefenokee swamp. When Amelia [add last name to show her importance] moves to Harleyville, Jess finally has a reason to like his hometown. There’s just one problem: Kai likes Amelia, too, and when Amelia chooses between them, it crushes the friendship.

    Alone, Jess realizes someone is using the swamp [something more specific as to how it's being used maybe?] for illegal purposes. The Sheriff doesn’t believe Jess' descriptions, so the only way to get to the bottom of it all is to keep digging. And somehow, every lead ends at Amelia and her family.

    Jess finds what he’s looking for, and boy does he not like it. Now he has to decide what to do about it.

    Should he expose it all, or lay low to get the thing he wants most?

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  17. This sounds like a great story! Love a good mystery :D

    I'd cut the mention of the love triangle completely and focus on the mystery and what Jess needs to find. Even if Kai is one of the main characters, he's not adding to the query so he can be left out. (My MC has a best friend who is with him nearly 100% of the time in the book, but I cut him out of my query too)

    My suggestions for rewrite which you definitely do not have to follow! lol

    Cut the first part and make this the first paragraph:
    Like everyone in Harleyville, seventeen year old Jess Heyward is on a fast track to a lifetime job at the chicken processing plant. It's filthy, hard work with crap for pay.

    Second paragraph: I really liked this, no suggestions.

    Third paragraph: (condense your next two)
    Then Amelia moves to Harleyville, and Jess thinks he finally has a reason to like his hometown. [Condense that he discovers something illegal is happening with the swamp] The Sheriff doesn't believe his vague descriptions. He won't talk to his parents. The only way to find out what is happening is to continue digging, which keeps leading to Amelia and her family.

    End:
    Should he expose it all, or lay low to [get the one thing he wants most? - Make this more concrete. What is it he wants? The girl? Then say so.]

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  18. Ahh, Abby and Lori- fantastic advice. Thanks so much.

    You are both so right on the money. thanks for the feedback!

    This is such a helpful blog hop.

    It's like query boot camp, and I love it!

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  19. I'm emailing you. My brain has just stopped working.

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  20. Everyone's pretty much already said my thoughts: you can condense paragraphs 2-4 by saying Jess wants to get the heck out of his small town till Amelia gives him a reason to stay and cut the love triangle angle. Get to the mystery and the choice between doing what's right and getting the girl. The friendship tension and love triangle will just be icing when they request a partial/full.
    - Sophia.

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  21. I've glanced at a few of the comments before mine and I have a lot of the same advice.

    The query needs to be tightened. There are lots of extraneous parts "When he's not studying, Jess and his friend Kai spend their time canoeing in the vast Okefenokee swamp" could be cut and the Okefenokee swamp can be introduced a different way. I also think Kai and the love triangle could be left out. Your hook in the query is going to be the mystery, not the relationship between the three of them.

    Speaking of the mystery, I don't get a good sense of it from the query. Since this is a WIP, there's a chance you haven't fully developed the whole mystery, but for this to hook agents you'll need more than the vague details at the end.

    From "Alone, Jess realizes" until the end,I don't get much of a sense of the mystery. The query at that point is all telling and no showing. More detail about what's going on would pique my interest. How does Jess know someone is using the swamp?

    In the second and third paragraphs you have three sentences that start with "It's." Some variance in sentence structure would help.

    There is a disconnect between the first couple of paragraphs and the part about the mystery. After reading the whole thing, the first paragraphs all seem to just set the scene rather that establish the story. Maybe find a way to work in the character information and misery of the chicken processing plant while laying out the issues with the swamp.

    Hope this helps!

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  22. Wow, lots of comments for you to digest so I'll keep mine brief (note I didn't read all of your crits). As others said, it's a bit long, and I'm not sure what the importance of the poultry factory is. I'd start out your pitch line with something referring to the swamp, because that's way cool, and maybe add in that he's just trying to keep his nose clean. Then in your second or third sentence, introduce Amelia and the mystery. Not sure if the part about the friendship with Kai is important for the query. I do think that you set up the stakes really well, you just have to get the reader to it faster and with a little less extraneous detail. Sounds like a very neat little mystery, btw!! Good luck. :)

    Oh, and love the new blog look. :)

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  23. This sounds really fun! If Amelia's family's polluting, they're on my bad list.

    A couple comments.

    Since this is a WIP query, the 'Jess thinks he thinks' and some of the punctuation things are understandable. I'm not sure why Jess doesn't want to end up like his dad. Is there conflict there? Love the name Kai! Amelia (the witch) sounds like the 'bad guy,' so try to create a bit more conflict there. I'm no query pro (at all!), but rhetoric question at the end could be stronger. Maybe 'Now Jess must choose between exposing the truth or laying low.'

    Thanks for sharing!

    Marie at the Cheetah

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  24. Alicia, Sophia, duwarr, Angie, and Marie-- thank you!
    This is such great advice. I'm thrilled to have it.

    I can't wait to dive back into the query and the WIP.

    I want to post a query later in the week with some (much needed) improvements. It may take until the weekend to set the time aside to work on it.

    Thanks again, all!!

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  25. Sounds like a great story. Here's how I'd edit:

    What’s the point in career counselors, when everyone in Harleyville ends up with a lifetime job at the chicken processing plant? Filthy, hard work with crap for pay. (?pun intended?) 17 y.o., Jess Heyward thinks he's different. If he keeps his nose clean and makes perfect grades he can escape with a free ride to college.

    When he's not studying, Jess and his best friend Kai spend their time canoeing in the vast Okefenokee swamp. Then Amelia moves to Harleyville, and Jess thinks he finally has a second reason to like his hometown. There’s just one problem: everyone likes Amelia, including Kai.

    Alone, Jess realizes someone is using the swamp. The more he discovers, the more he feels certain that something illegal is happening. Something that leads to Amelia and her family. Should he expose it all, or lay low to get the one thing he wants most?

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  26. I suspect the big problem with your query will take care of itself once you finish your WIP - it sounds like you're not totally clear on how everything resolves and so that comes across here. Which is the exact opposite of what NEEDS to come across as agents need to feel confident you know your own story, but like I said - easy fix. Just finish the story and tidy this up.


    More importantly, you have a great and very distinct voice. The first paragraph woud probably have me ask for pages if I were an agent, just to see Jess's voice in action. I LOVED the line about how Jess thinks he's different, even though everyone else insists he's not. That says so much about both him AND his town right there.

    BUT you kinda seem to run out of steam about halfway through the query, right around where the plot kicks in, and a paragraph or two of backstory is all well and good, but with mystery especially the focus NEEDS to be the plot. A lot of mystery writers can set a great mood - but to really stand out you've got to be able to deliver the goods at the end. The payoff has got to be worth the setup it took to get there.

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  27. It seems like you got some awesome comments here, so I won't duplicate them, but I just wanted to say how great it is that you are willing to put yourself out there like this. I'm not sure I'd have the courage yet! Good luck with your revisions on it :-)

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  28. Interesting premise, but I see two conflicting goals in this query: Jess not turning out like his father, and Jess getting the girl and discovering the mystery. I think the mystery is more important, so I'd like to see that be more a central focus. Can you condense the third paragraph (Despite what everyone's...) into one sentence and tack it at the end of the previous paragraph? It'll shorten your query some as well as make the focus more the mystery.

    Good luck, and thanks for sharing. I would read this :)

    Rosie
    East for Green Eyes

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  29. awesome premise... you rock you know that.

    There's some trimming that could be done.

    At Harleyville High School there no career counsilor-- everyone goes to work at the chicken processing plant.

    Despite what everyone's told him, Jess thinks he's different.


    Just a few trims here and there and your ready to go!

    WOOT.

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  30. Good luck with your query!

    I'm starting up a 'Critiquing Crusaders' program, where participants in the Second Crusade can find other writers to exchange critiques with or form critiquing circles. If you're interested, come by The Kelworth Files to check it out!

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YAY for comments! Thanks for adding to the conversation.