So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said – “Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!”
OK – my hands aren’t actually grimy, but I don’t make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email. And a little bit of BBC literary info.
We all know the first line of a query is your “hook.” I call the last line the “sinker.” You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I’m going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author’s brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.
Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You’ll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!
And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.
WAS THE WATER WARM? a contemporary coming of age YA novel that takes place over the course of 24 hours is complete at 62,000 words. This is a personal choice of mine, but I always put the genre and word count at the end of the query. You want something exciting and original in the beginning, and genre / word count isn’t either of those things.
A nagging voice lives in the back of Rube’s mind that questions if he’s making the right decision. I’d say you definitely need a stronger hook here. All teens have nagging voices, hell, I bet all adults do too. You need to get the originality of your plot front and center. He’s spent his summers working 55 hour weeks to pay his way through NYU In my opinion, this is going to throw up a red flag right away. It’s slightly misleading the way it’s presented here. Your MC is still in high school and earning the money for college, but on my first read I thought you were saying that he’s in college and working to pay his way simultaneously to become a film producer. Yet how can he be sure this is what he wants, when he has no experience producing? Rube’s eighteen, he’s never been on a film set, or lived on his own let alone made a decision big even to affect the rest of his life.
But a life can change in 24 hours. A day after the first, and worst, sexual experience of his life, Rube meets Emma, a girl whose every move catches him off guard. Emma, takes Rube backstage at a music fest where he jumps in to help the concert crew fix an emergency wiring situation. Less than two hours later she’s taking Rube’s feelings for her and dropkicking them in the chest. Emma intended to lead him on in order to arrange a sexual hookup between Rube and her friend. Only Rube is sure his feelings for Emma are reciprocal. Suddenly we’re talking a lot about sex and I don’t see any kind of connection to the earlier para. I’d definitely use the idea of this sexual miscommunication and emotional wrangle into something for the hook – it sounds like the meat of your story is here in the relationship with Emma, and we don’t hear about her until the third paragraph.
Instead of confronting Emma, Rube freezes unable to adequately address his feelings, he flees to a friend’s house party. Frustrated, and angry with himself for running as soon as sex was brought into the equation, Rube makes a rash play for a one night stand with a girl at the party. This feels more like a mini-synopsis at this point. You need your query to encapsulate the plot. Go for more broad strokes and less detail.
But when Emma appears at the party, Rube has a decision to make. Nut up, risk rejection, and tell Emma how he feels about her, or get the level of experience he thinks he needs to be with Emma, by having sex with the party girl. Again, this is a detailed synopsis of a single scene and episode in the book. And it doesn’t seem to have a lot in connection with the idea of being a film producer and the larger life-decisions it sounded like he was going to be facing from the first paragraph.
Like THE DUFF I believe my manuscript walks an honest and realistic line in it’s approach to teen relationships and sex. With my MC sharing his introspections on YA topics almost always handled by female protagonists it can be likened to CATCHING JORDAN for it’s fresh perspective. Here, I think, is a great angle. I think there’s a need for more boy POV books on the market and I would play this out.
My first impression when I started reading the query was that the book is about a boy questioning his life goals and major decisions in the summer before college. Then suddenly we’re micro-focused on relationships and sex, and particularly one night at a party. That’s all well and good, but it sounds like the major focus of the book is the relationship with Emma, and / or the sexual reality of teen life. If that’s the case, you need to make this clear in the opening paragraph, because as it stands the query feels disjointed.
Any more tips for our volunteer?