The Saturday Slash

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.

In 1952, San Angelo is a boy’s paradise providing ten-year-old, Allan, kill the commas surrounding Allan with endless adventure. But when his mother becomes ill, Allan discovers it’s not adventure echo here with “adventure.” Try using “excitement” or something similar he longs for, but the gift of friendship. This is a pretty darn good hook. Other than the unnecessary commas (my own biggest sin).

Allan spends most of his days looking for adventures Here’s the a-word again like riding down a 128 foot dam on his best friend, Raymond’s, handlebars, this is clunky b/c of the use of R’s name. I think you can easily say “best friend’s handlebars” and be fine surviving a ride on a bucking bronco, and winning the best Concho River storytelling contest while on a campout with his three friends.

San Angelo, where stories of Comanche Indian raids still permeate boys’ recess tales, has its share of quirky characters that provide some interesting escapades too, like John the rodeo rider with the glass eye, the lady barber whose mustache is only slightly more noticeable than her big orange hair, Mr. Franklin who has the gift of taming wasps, and Aunt Hope who teaches Allan to catch, kill, and fry up chickens and wrangle snakes. This paragraph is great and tells us a lot about the supporting cast, but I’m not learning about what is going to bring the MC around to his coming-of-age. How is he learning that he wants acceptance and friendship? If the people mentioned above are the catalyst to make that happen that’s great, but it needs to be clear how they factor in to the plot arc, as opposed to being presented as interesting side-shows, which is how it feels as is.

RIDING THE DAM is an almost all true I’d kill the “almost all true” and simply present it as fiction to avoid confusion coming-of-age MG novel complete at 40,000 words. It’s a story about a boy’s perfect world that is changed when his mother becomes ill—knots in her lady parts is how the doctor puts it.  It’s a story about family, a perfect friendship, and growing up. This all feels like summary, and since we already covered specifics it doesn’t work well – it’s like watching preview after seeing the movie.

While this is the first novel I have written, I have twenty publications in peer-reviewed academic journals and professional magazines.  Currently, I am a school counselor with the largest school system in the Southeast. The boy in RIDING THE DAM is my father. Again, in my opinion I’d keep the “almost true” bits either off the paper, or sell it as an MG biography / memoir. I’m not sure that the published academic journals are going to be that impressive when we’re talking fiction – but I would *definitely* play up the fact that you’re a school counselor. The entire “coming of age” and MG psychology angle is exactly your area, so you need to hit hard on the fact that you know what you’re talking about.

Weed out the unnecessary, and get the focus of the novel out there. We get that he wants to go find fun, and that’s great – all boys do at that age. But we need to see how he comes to the self-discovery about wanting friendship, and how the supporting cast plays into that. Right now these two plot arcs are stated and set side by side, but the query isn’t showing how they interact with each other. As far as the fiction vs. non-fiction, I’m honestly not sure what to tell you on that. My personal opinion would be that it’s best pitched as fiction, and you have to be sure to change names, places, etc. Even though you may be saying perfectly nice things about the real people mentioned in the pages, their descendants (or they themselves) might not appreciate it. I don’t know a lot about how those things work, so perhaps some of my followers can help in that arena.


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