Monday, March 19, 2012

Query Clinic Part 2: Introducing Your Queries!

Tip of the Day: Want a free query letter critique? We 're taking entries through this week. Email us your query at (at) gmail (dot) com.

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


Annie McMahon said...

Thank you so much, Kate, for your valuable feedback! This is my first query and I really appreciate your comments. You give me a lot to think about and I'll use your suggestions to revise before I send it out again. Thanks again!!

Carmella Van Vleet said...

I think Kate's advice is spot on! One more thing to consider - 21,000 words may be a little short for MG. When I first submitted my MG, I was told by several agents it was too short at 28,000 words. (It was later revised and nearly 38,000 in the end.)

DeenaML said...

Annie, thanks so much for sharing! I think this idea has big boy MG appeal and have parents ask in my library's children's room for surivival stories like HATCHET and those by Will Hobbs, so I look forward to hearing that this book is being queried!

I agree with Kate that the hook can be the pitch opener ("Fifth grader Emilio couldn't sait for the class trip to Meredith Mountain, where he could explore the bugs and moss in their natural environment. But that was before he got lost in the woods with his archenemy Hans."), but you have a great start and a clear character and action plot! Good luck!!!

Annie McMahon said...

Thanks, Carmella! My book started as a 2,000-word story and later developed into a very short novel of 7,000 words, which I expanded to 21,000 in the last year or so. If I keep adding to it, maybe it will be a decent length eventually. :D

Annie McMahon said...

Deena, I love the hook you suggested! Thank you. This helps a lot!

Emily Marshall said...

I agree this story has loads of potential, since survival stories are in demand. My first thought was the same as Carmella's that it's too short for MG, especially featuring a fifth-grader. So keep adding!

Deena's hook suggestion fits the story perfectly!

Also, there's a few too many telling details that could be eliminated, such "he's had quite enough of it" and "things go from bad to totally rotten." Just let the action speak for itself, since it's definitely there!

Kate Fall said...

Annie, thanks for submitting your query. I know that takes courage. And definitely let us know how your querying goes!