The Saturday Slash

Meet my 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.

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, 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!

I’ve been researching agents and agencies for my work, and I like how Sally Smith described your tenacity with queries on her blog. I am an extremely energetic, hard working writer who is easy to work with. I take direction and input well, and I know we could make an excellent team to sell my book! I am willing to do what it takes to improve or edit it further so that you and I both are happy. Here goes: I would definitely not start your query this way. Yes, you’re wanting to present yourself as a hard worker who is ready to do what is necessary to get this accomplished, but you can be the hardest working, most determined person in the world with a crappy idea that the agent isn’t interested in. Put the idea first, they need to know that they’re interested in your concept before they want to know what it would be like to work with you.

When sixteen year old Mae loses both her parents, she is forced to deal with the loss and to try to fit in at a new school. Loss, change… these are both themes that pop up fairly often in YA. What’s so special about yours? She gets coerced into auditioning for a play in a summer theater academy where drama is spelled with a capital D. Nice line, and I think the theatre angle is part of what can separate you from the rest of the Loss & Change books. Get this front and center. She never intends to get cast in the show, yet with some pointers from her best friend, she wows everyone with her audition piece. The story starts to get more complex when she draws the eye of both the handsome set designer and the theater academy’s diva, Mallory. Mallory casts a spell like, literally? Or is this a nod to her manipulation of people? over everyone involved with the theater to brand Mae a witch, a fitting title for the newly cast lead in The Crucible. Your references to spells and witches, in addition to the play in question makes me wonder if you’re actually referencing paranormal activity or if it’s more of a complicated re-telling of the human manipulation within Arthur Miller’s source material. Mallory’s opportunity to pounce presents itself when Mae gets caught in a compromising position with her gay best friend the night after the audition. A hunt this reference here again makes me wonder what the angle is ensues as to who snapped a photo of the seeming threesome threesome? I’m confused – where did a third person get involved? on a cell phone camera. While dealing with the tragic loss of her parents, a first kiss, and a best friend’s secret, Mae must rise above the drama surrounding the production. Mae never dreamed her time at The Stage Summer Academy would turn into such a Wicked Summer.

The unique aspect WICKED SUMMER (50,000 words) is that the themes and plot of the play being performed are mirrored in the characters’ lives. OK cool, that answers the question – but, I still think you might want to re-word the “casts a spell” phrase specifically. Paranormal school / camp stories are still out there in huge amount sand you don’t want the agent to misread and drop the query before this is cleared up. In addition, I will define and reflect on aspects of theater history, dramaturgy, and terminology in each book. I love the idea of the contemp story mirroring the theatre production, however, this sentence here makes it sound like there will be info dumps, I’d cut this. There is great potential here for a series for YA, but also for middle grade and even emergent readers.  Think Sweet Valley High for theater lovers. You’re definitely muddying the waters here — you just referenced a high school series as a comp title while also saying the book would be great for MG and chapter book readers as well.  I’ve started with The Crucible because many high school English curriculums read that play. The next book in the series will focus on Romeo and Juliet, yet another play many teens have an understanding of.  While researching my genre, I have found some series that focus on either classic literature or theater in a more superficial or different way.  My book has a more serious tone and no magic or ghosts like the ones I’ve found. I think you’re right in that the book would be a great help to shed light on aspects of plays, but you just wrote a really long paragraph about a series that doesn’t exist yet, and the fact that there are not magic elements needs to be obvious in the query itself, not dropped her as an after thought.

As a high school English teacher in New Jersey, I feel that I know the audience as well as their interests. Let’s be honest, I see more drama in a day than I ever could imagine for a book. I know what intrigues and engages teen readers. Having a strong background as an English and Theater major in college and teaching teens today makes me the perfect person to write and sell what is popular. I see what students are interested in reading, watching on T.V., and doing. I gage gauge their interest, and this aided me in my book idea. Look at successful tv shows like Smash or Glee and you will see there is a huge audience for my genre. If you look at your word count in this query, you’re spending a lot of time saying WHY this book would sell. Yes, it’s good to know your market and your audience, but you’re really banging that nail on the head. It’s part of the agent’s job to know what will work. It doesn’t hurt to make your point succinctly, but you’re spending more time talking about the market and audience than you are talking about the actual product you’re trying to get the agent to pick up.

Before becoming an English teacher I worked in public relations. I know how important a marketing strategy is, and I plan to be hands on with my own. I am already making my way through  Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. My following is growing with time;  I am still trying to sell a product that nobody can buy yet! Exactly – and you’re doing it again here. Having grown up in love with theater and teaching teens, I am invigorated by my storyline and series. This is the book I would have wanted as a teen. I love acting and speaking in public, so a PR program with school visits and book talks at bookstores is right up my alley!  I am a born showman and speaker who will be successful as a writer and advocate for my work. This is all great, but now you’re talking all about how you can assist in selling a product that you haven’t really spent a lot of time pitching to the agent yet. 

I read that you do not want anything but a query letter at this stage. Please let me know if I can send you sample chapters. No need to state this – they will. I know this will be a sellable work and series! Kill this – of course you know it, it’s yours, your believe in it. Make them believe in it. It could possibly work for spin off series’ for middle grade or early readers’ books as well. Nope – you’re muddying the waters again. You just spent a lot of time talking about exactly how well you know your YA audience and now you’re saying, but hey! Let’s make it for younger readers too! Not going to fly – it’s either for high schoolers, or it’s not.

Your last few paras are a lot of talking about yourself and your marketing plan. Your key elements are this – you are a teacher, so you know your audience. You are comfortable speaking in public – great, but that’s already implied in the fact that you’re a teacher. You are out there in social media land – good, but honestly that’s not important at this stage. Right now what’s important is the story, and you’re not giving it any room to breathe. Cut your first para, cut these last paras. Get the story front and center, then say, “Hey, I’m a teacher and a drama person.” That in itself says you know your audience. You’re covered.

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