This week, we are looking at query letters sent in by you, our readers. Today's query letter clinic features this query emailed to us by Annie McMahon:
As you represent children’s authors with a strong voice such as [author's name], I would like you to consider my boy-driven MG adventure novel, MEREDITH MOUNTAIN MIRACLE, for representation. It is complete at 21,000 words. Because of his love for nature, fifth grader Emilio is the constant target of Hans’s bullying, and he’s had quite enough of it. After a failed attempt to get back at Hans, his life becomes intolerable. Things go from bad to totally rotten when he gets lost in the wild with his archenemy during a field trip. Alone in the forest, the two boys battle against a humongous grizzly bear. They stumble through the woods to find the trail and face more dangers along the way: a snake hiding in tall grass, sinking mud deep enough to engulf a boy as tall as Hans, angry swarms of bees attacking them from all sides. Their journey comes to an abrupt halt when Emilio injures his leg on the rocky hillside. Will they make it back alive, now that Emilio can hardly walk? Their only option is to get over their differences and combine their unique abilities – Emilio’s knowledge of nature and Hans’s athletic skills – to survive the many challenges they face in the wild. One of my short stories, Paradoxical Neighbor, has been published by Nelson Education in a book for 10th graders called NELSON LITERACY 10. I've been a member of SCBWI since 2009.
What I like about this query:
- The genre and word count are clear and up front. This query is very clear on what kind of novel this is and what kind of reader will like it.
- Wilderness survival is a popular topic for a reason. The stakes are high, and this query makes it clear that the stakes are life and death.
- There are many specifics in this query. We don't just hear that they have to combine their unique abilities, we hear what those abilities are.
- "He gets lost in the wild with his archenemy" is a great hook.
What the writer may want to reconsider:
- The title of the novel. It's not very MG friendly and it doesn't match the tone of the query. No miracles seem to take place. I think something like ENEMIES ON THE MOUNTAIN would be more of an advertisement for the novel.
- I think there are too many obstacles listed. We don't need to know every setback the boys encounter. The bear and the injury are the highlights. The rest could be summarized as snakes, bees, and a mudsink.
- Bullying is a red-button word. If you use it, you need to fully explore it in the novel, and I don't get the indication that this is a deep character story about Hans's family background and psychiatric care. Bullying someone because they love nature seems to ignore what bullying is. I'd start right out with the hook: lost in the wild with his archenemy.
Thank you so much, Annie, for letting us analyze your query! Readers, please feel free to add your advice for Annie in the comments, and whether you agree or disagree with my conclusions. I'm sure you'll all keep in mind that critiques are civilized and constructive; we have wonderful, knowledgeable readers!
-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages