Heeelp Me, Please . . . Somebody, Anybody??

Imagine upon meeting someone for the first time, you divulge your entire life story (actually, just the top 5 most horrifying/embarrassing/frustrating moments) in about ten sentences, then ask them to be your best friend.

That's highly illogical.  (Still missing Nimoy)

That’s highly illogical.
(Still missing Nimoy)

Yeah, I tend to suffer from verbal diarrhea so I’ve actually done this a few times, but so far it’s only resulted in another restraining order filed 😉

But that’s basically what a query letter to an agent and/or editor is. Because these gods people receive hundreds of daily submissions, there’s no way they can read everyone’s manuscript, so you send this thing called a query letter. Something I totally blow at writing. And I haven’t had to in almost three years, when my YA trilogy got picked up by a publisher. But now I’m in the thick of writing a new YA novel, so although it’s terrifying, I’ve written another query letter, and I need your help.

I know it’s not as tight as it should be, but I also don’t know how to fix it. But hey, this isn’t Pottery Barn. Here at the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, we’re not all: You broke it, you buy it!!

I’ll leave out all the intro and credential stuff and just give you the meat and potatoes. The working title is Random Lee Chosen and it’s a satirical multicultural coming of age love story. Here goes nothing:

Seventeen-year-old Danielle Harris had a plan. Top of her class at Ballet Tech, she was on her way to being the first African-American female to earn the title of principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Forced to live with Dad in Hick Town, USA in the middle of her senior year? Never once had Danielle jotted this down on the kick butt to-do list for her life. When she last visited Dad five years ago, an old white dude assaulted her. Danielle pointed out the Florida cracker, but Dad didn’t have the balls to do anything about it. And that’s just not something a girl can forgive and forget.

Now her entire world dissolves into a tornado of upheaval, and she’s left with nothing but her As Seen on TV obsession and Mom’s credit card to console her (you know you’ve hit rock bottom when the Home Shopping operator recognizes your voice). That’s when Random Lee (weird name, long story) steps in. Random dresses to please himself in funky hats, fluorescent tennis ball shoes, and alien themed pajama pants. Oh yeah, and he may be hot, but he’s also a hippie trying to save the planet. Dating a white dude who’s also a tree hugger? Definitely not part of the plan.

Danielle manages to survive various disasters, like dancing for a less than subpar ballet studio, enforced Daddy/Daughter dates, her first job as a waitress at the local tiki bar (where there are actual monkeys), and falling for Random, the biggest weirdo she’s ever met (coming from New York, that’s really saying something). Just as she’s coming up with new goals for herself, she gets into a blowout fight with Dad on her eighteenth birthday and takes off in the convertible Mom bought as an ‘I’m sorry I ruined your life’ consolation prize. Not having a license kind of becomes a problem when she gets into an accident with the same racist she encountered when she was twelve, who also happens to be Random’s father. Danielle doesn’t know their relation yet, and her actions that night are full of irreversible consequences. As she’s brought face-to-face with her deepest anxieties, she must learn to accept herself and even find a little compassion (for once in her life) to accept others if she’s to have any future at all.

How’d I do? *puts on big girl panties*

This has been a post for IWSG, the brainchild of Head Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh (and he let me crash his blog on Monday. Let me take you Back to the Future here . . . thanks again, buddy!) We post the first Wednesday of every month, so please join us by posting your own thoughts on your blog 🙂

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16 comments on “Heeelp Me, Please . . . Somebody, Anybody??

  1. I think it’s long, I seem to remember queries should be @250 words. I think you can combine sentences and get to the point faster and keep your voice.
    I’d start it simply…

    Seventeen-year-old Danielle Harris was on her way to a dream come true, being the first African-American female to earn the title of principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. However, in the middle of her senior year her mom hands her an ‘I’m sorry I’m ruining your life’ car and an order to live with Dad in Hick Town, USA. Not on her kick butt to-do list. When she last visited Dad five years ago, an old white dude assaulted her, and Dad didn’t have the balls to do anything about it.

    (Now her entire world dissolves into a tornado of upheaval, and she’s left with nothing but her As Seen on TV obsession and Mom’s credit card to console her (you know you’ve hit rock bottom when the Home Shopping operator recognizes your voice). That’s when Random Lee (weird name, long story) steps in. Random dresses to please himself in funky hats, fluorescent tennis ball shoes, and alien themed pajama pants. Oh yeah, and he may be hot, but he’s also a hippie trying to save the planet. Dating a white dude who’s also a tree hugger? Definitely not part of the plan.) This entire middle gives me fun details, but I’m not sure it’s needed for the query. I think you could go right into the next para…

    Danielle manages to survive various disasters, like dancing for a less than subpar ballet studio, enforced Daddy/Daughter dates, her first job as a waitress at the local tiki bar (where there are actual monkeys), and falling for Random, the biggest weirdo she’s ever met (coming from New York, that’s really saying something). Just as she’s coming up with new goals for herself, she gets into a blowout fight with Dad on her eighteenth birthday and takes off. Not having a license kind (WAIT… she doesn’t have a license, but her mom gave her a car? And she drove to her dad’s?) of becomes a problem when she gets into an accident with the same racist she encountered when she was twelve, who also happens to be Random’s father. (Danielle doesn’t know their relation yet, and her actions that night are full of irreversible consequences.) <I don't think you need this, as it feels like author telling us and decreases the impact of the previous statement) As she’s brought face-to-face with her deepest anxieties, she must learn to accept herself and even find a little compassion (for once in her life) to accept others if she’s to have any future at all.

    I don't know if this helps, I am NO query expert. Book sounds fun. Good luck!

  2. I agree with Kathy: too long. You could happily ditch the entire last paragraph and replace with one or two sentences. A query letter isn’t a synopsis: you don’t need to hit all of the plot points – cover major characters, problems, obstacles, stakes.

  3. Hi there – it sounds like an interesting story filled with a lot of good details but I’d have to agree with the consensus: it’s long. Queries should be like a sampling food for your wedding. You want a taste – a good taste, but you don’t want all the ingredients. Just enough to know that’s what you’ll be eating on the big day. Do a bit of trimming, REALLY get to the bones and I think you’ll do fine. Good luck!

  4. First: you are very brave to put this out here. Please keep in mind I am not an expert on this. The story sounds interesting and grabs attention. The only little thing I noticed is you switched from third person in the first paragraph to first in the second in the following paragraphs. I read somewhere it should all be in first person.

    The sentence ‘Danielle manages to survive various disasters’ starts out vague and is too long. Could be Danielle survives various disasters, or could remove first part and write ‘Danielle survives dancing for ….

    I hope this helps. Again, This is not my area of expertise, so take my comments accordingly. Good luck.

  5. This sounds like a really unique story! My suggestions are to condense the first half of the first paragraph and the last half of the last paragraph. It feels like the whole plot was summarized, and is therefore more like a summary rather than a query. You might also consider axing some of the things in parentheses since they disrupt the flow. Best of luck to you!!!

  6. I agree with others that this sounds like a great story, but the query is long.

    I stick to the following, which I learned at a conference years ago: What does the main character want, what’s standing in his/her way, how they’ll tackle that obstacle, and complications while they’re doing so. I might add a few other things, but I don’t go into detail about minor characters and subplots.

  7. Queries are always a pain. Be glad you got out of them for so long 🙂
    I agree with the others; this is too long. 250 words is what’s said to be a good length. I love the voice! So many people forget to put that in, but it makes a huge difference. There’s a lot of back story you can cut out. I read once that it’s best to start with a simple sentence and expand from there. (Main Character) must do (what) in order to (what) or (what) will happen. I’m always amazed how hard it is to compact an entire story into this tiny, little phrase, but it really helps to focus in.
    I’m sending lots of virtual tea and chocolate your way 😉

  8. Jamie … ditto on some of what you have already been told. Sorry I am chiming in late. Had “stuff” that tore me away from my computer.

    Shorter … less adjectives. There are a dozen or so sights that have the basic principles of query writing. It is in three sections. The opening is done with a very professional salutation: Dear Mr. or Ms … Use their name. Zig Ziggler teaches that the happiest sound to anyone is the sound of their own name. Respect for who they are. A short sentence of how you found them. From the Writer’s Digest or whatever list. Then you break the query into those three sections … SOME advise to combine the introduction and the first section into the first paragraph.

    FIRST: What is it … name, genre, word count.

    Spend hours doing a “tag line” … that goes into the first paragraph. An exercise I learned in grad school … describe an entire research paper in three sentences.

    The tag line describes the entire book in ONE sentence. It is the hook, often what you see on a jacket cover.

    SECOND: One or at best two short paragraphs on the basic plot. No happy ending here. You are required to put in the ending on a synopsis, but the query is done by leaving the reader wanting more.

    THIRD: This is you. Very short and to the point.

    Note: With the digital age, many,many agents and indie publishers allow X-number of pages. Some require … the query, the synopsis and the first chapter or first 50 pages.

    Look for those first. Just remember, that interns … tired interns and assistants read only the query.

    What amazes me and many pros is that a person will take months writing a book and then they expect to whip up the query in an afternoon. No way. Take lots of time. Write to web sights that give free feed back. Be very diligent and above all …

    Do not take reject personally. Go over the archives of Anne R. Allen … she and prior agent/editor Ruth Harris have many posts with great advise on this subject.

    Have fun … breathe … and good hunting 🙂

  9. Oh I really like the sound of this story… 🙂 Can’t wait to read it. Okay, I think everything I was thinking has been said…the big one is that it’s too long. I’d trim back and stick to the essentials.

  10. It all sounds pretty good to me, but I have no experience with this sort of thing. If it were me receiving this though I think I would consider learning more.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

  11. It’s a little long, I think. The only thing that really gave me pause was when Random was introduced in the middle of the 2nd paragraph. I think he should have a fresh new paragraph because it felt like changing POVs in the middle of the paragraph to me. But it sounds really, really good!

  12. Yes, it sounds like a great premise for YA. But too long. Just cut down on some of the extraneous details and it’ll be great. Just a tip, but I didn’t think starting with her age was the best way to go. It’s not the most interesting part of a story, we know the protag of a YA will be fairly young, and we’ll know she’s in senior year. Get right to the meat of the story and you’ll hook that important reader!

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