Query Help needed

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pabrown
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Query Help needed

Post by pabrown » December 7th, 2009, 10:11 pm

This is a variation of my query. I'm always tweaking it. Part of my problem is classifying the book itself. It's not truly a mystery, and it's not a romance, though there are elements of both. Someone who read it says it reminded them of Romeo and Juliet in its tragic elements. At heart it's a dark, very gritty coming of age story about a guy who wants to get away from the gangs, who are equally determined to destroy him and his family.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. So far I'm mostly getting form rejections, with one request for a full that's on its way. I've been submitting to my B list agents first and don't want to move to any A list ones until I figure out why this isn't getting positive responses.

Query for barrio boyz

In a dark barrio world where violence is as sudden and final as a gunshot in the night a man seeks to save the ones he loves and redeem himself for the ones he failed.

I’m seeking representation for BARRIO BOYZ, an 89,000 word contemporary urban novel set in the Latino world of gang-ruled Cypress Park, Los Angeles. [Here I usually list why I am querying this particular agent] This is a gritty, heart-wrenching story of salvation, love and acceptance. Readers who love tragic stories will readily identify with Gabe and his thirst for justice and love.

Twenty-one year old Gabe will do anything to keep his family safe from the Locusts XIII Crew, a Cypress Park gang. Especially vulnerable is his 15-year-old sister Natalie 'Nattie' Aguila. Three months earlier, the bullet that killed their mother left Nattie brain-damaged, with a mental age of 10. Gabe will keep them all safe, even if he loses his soul doing so. When it's clear the police will do nothing, Gabe arms himself, determined to right the wrong his way.

In Gabe's struggle to keep his small, fragile family safe, he meets LAPD patrol officer Alejandro Cerveras and must come to terms with his attraction to him--and decide whether to believe his Church’s teachings or what his heart tells him. In the course of his search for security, tragedy strikes in the form of more violence, fueling his rage. As the need for vengeance drives him past all reason, violence and hatred erupt between Gabe and Jesus, spiraling out of control, leading to tragedy and the greatest loss of all.

[Here I list my publications and any information I think shows I know enough to write this book]

Below you will find [whatever the agent requests]

Pat Brown
[Contact info]
GK Parker
http://gkparkernoir.com/

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ElisabethMoore
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by ElisabethMoore » December 7th, 2009, 10:29 pm

Below are my comments. Keep in mind that these are just my thoughts and not only may others disagree, I could be flat out wrong. Also, while I have read literally every post on QueryShark, I haven't even revised my first novel enough to let my crit partner read it, let alone written a successful query letter of my own.

So, to be taken with a grain of salt:
pabrown wrote:This is a variation of my query. I'm always tweaking it. Part of my problem is classifying the book itself. It's not truly a mystery, and it's not a romance, though there are elements of both. Someone who read it says it reminded them of Romeo and Juliet in its tragic elements. At heart it's a dark, very gritty coming of age story about a guy who wants to get away from the gangs, who are equally determined to destroy him and his family.
Coming of age story sounds like Young Adult.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. So far I'm mostly getting form rejections, with one request for a full that's on its way. I've been submitting to my B list agents first and don't want to move to any A list ones until I figure out why this isn't getting positive responses.

Query for barrio boyz

In a dark barrio world where violence is as sudden and final as a gunshot in the night a man seeks to save the ones he loves and redeem himself for the ones he failed. This sentence needs help. Commas would improve the grammar, but I think it would be more improved to have just one prepositional phrase in the beginning. I had to read it several times and am still not sure I completely understand what you were trying to say.

I’m seeking representation for BARRIO BOYZ, an 89,000 word contemporary urban novel set in the Latino world of gang-ruled Cypress Park, Los Angeles. I would put this at the end; start right in with the story.[Here I usually list why I am querying this particular agent] This is a gritty, heart-wrenching story of salvation, love and acceptance. Readers who love tragic stories will readily identify with Gabe and his thirst for justice and love. I would leave this out, show me the story; don't tell me about it.

Twenty-one year old Gabe will do anything to keep his family safe from the Locusts XIII Crew, a Cypress Park gang. Especially vulnerable is his 15-year-old sister Natalie 'Nattie' Aguila. Three months earlier, the bullet that killed their mother left Nattie brain-damaged, with a mental age of 10. Gabe will keep them all safe, even if he loses his soul doing so. When it's clear the police will do nothing, Gabe arms himself, determined to right the wrong his way. This seems pretty vague and is therefore not as compelling as it could be. Why is the gang after them? What does the gang want? Is it just that the area is dangerous because there is a gang? Then this is back story. Dribble in back story only as needed. Try not to start with it.

In Gabe's struggle to keep his small, fragile family safe, he meets LAPD patrol officer Alejandro Cerveras and must come to terms with his attraction to him--and decide whether to believe his Church’s teachings or what his heart tells him. Ah, so here is what the story is about. Show me this. It's hard to do in a query, but you still want to show, not tell. In the course of his search for security, tragedy strikes in the form of more violence, fueling his rage. As the need for vengeance drives him past all reason, violence and hatred erupt between Gabe and Jesus, spiraling out of control, leading to tragedy and the greatest loss of all. Here we have more plot. Keep this, but show it. "Violence" is vague. What tragedy happened? Show me the hate.

[Here I list my publications and any information I think shows I know enough to write this book]

Below you will find [whatever the agent requests]

Pat Brown
[Contact info]

taymalin
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by taymalin » December 7th, 2009, 10:52 pm

[quote="pabrown"]

Query for barrio boyz

In a dark barrio world where violence is as sudden and final as a gunshot in the night a man seeks to save the ones he loves and redeem himself for the ones he failed.

I’m seeking representation for BARRIO BOYZ, an 89,000 word contemporary urban novel set in the Latino world of gang-ruled Cypress Park, Los Angeles. [Here I usually list why I am querying this particular agent] This is a gritty, heart-wrenching story of salvation, love and acceptance. Readers who love tragic stories will readily identify with Gabe and his thirst for justice and love.I agree with Elisabeth that this would be more effective at the end than at the beginning.

I think that your query would be stronger if you started here with the introduction of your protagonist and the challenge he's facing. It's, imo, where things start to get interesting for the reader.Twenty-one year old Gabe will do anything to keep his family safe from the Locusts XIII Crew, a Cypress Park gang. Especially vulnerable is his 15-year-old sister Natalie 'Nattie' Aguila. Three months earlier, the bullet that killed their mother left Nattie brain-damaged, with a mental age of 10. Gabe will keep them all safe, even if he loses his soul doing so. When it's clear the police will do nothing, Gabe arms himself, determined to right the wrong his way.

In Gabe's struggle to keep his small, fragile family safe, he meets LAPD patrol officer Alejandro Cerveras and must come to terms with his attraction to him--and decide whether to believe his Church’s teachings or what his heart tells him. In the course of his search for security, tragedy strikes in the form of more violence, fueling his rage. As the need for vengeance drives him past all reason, violence and hatred erupt between Gabe and Jesus, spiraling out of control, leading to tragedy and the greatest loss of all.I like the part about the attraction, it's very solid, something that I can imagine going through and it allows me to feel sympathy for Gabe. However, the tragedy/greatest loss of all part doesn't work for me because it is too vague. At this point I don't have a clue what the stakes are for Gabe, and it's hard for me to care about what he's going through.

I'm also a bit confused. When I first read this, I assumed by Jesus you meant Jesus Christ, but then I wasn't sure because of the mention of violence. So now I don't know if you are referring to Christ, or to a character named Jesus who wasn't mentioned earlier.

It sounds like an interesting book, I wish you the best of luck in nabbing one of your A-list agents

Tay

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pabrown
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by pabrown » December 7th, 2009, 10:56 pm

Thanks, Elizabeth. Good suggestions. Some background -- the gang leader and the protag Gabe used to be best friends. As they grew up, they went different ways, Gabe toward school and finding security without the gang influence, his friend went into the gang life, with drugs and violence. Before the story starts he and his brother shoot up a neighbors house and kill Gabe's mother, severely wounding his sister.

During the book the violence escalates: another drive by, a fire bombing which kills Gabe's uncle, the rape of his sister and in the end a gun fight which kills Gabe's sister and his ex-friend. I always understood that in queries you don't give the ending away -- you only do that in the synopsis.

Throughout the story Gabe has to come to terms with the fact that he's gay and he and the cop get into a relationship.

But again, thanks a lot for the suggestions. I'll take them away and work with them.
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jhoward
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by jhoward » December 7th, 2009, 11:06 pm

My comments are just that, my comments. Take them or leave them, they are not from a professional.
In a dark barrio world where violence is as sudden and final as a gunshot in the night a man seeks to save the ones he loves and redeem himself for the ones he failed. This sentence, while very poetic, is confusing. Like the commenter before me I had to read it a few times to make sure I understood the idea you were trying to convey.
I’m seeking representation for BARRIO BOYZ, an 89,000 word contemporary urban novel set in the Latino world of gang-ruled Cypress Park, Los Angeles. [Here I usually list why I am querying this particular agent] This is a gritty, heart-wrenching story of salvation, love and acceptance. Readers who love tragic stories will readily identify with Gabe and his thirst for justice and love. I would put this at the end so that you can dive right into the guts of the story. Grab the agent’s attention right?

Twenty-one year old Gabe will do anything to keep his family safe from the Locusts XIII Crew, a Cypress Park gang. Especially vulnerable is his 15-year-old sister Natalie 'Nattie' Aguila. Three months earlier, the bullet that killed their mother left Nattie brain-damaged, with a mental age of 10. Gabe will keep them all safe, even if he loses his soul doing so. When it's clear the police will do nothing, Gabe arms himself, determined to right the wrong his way. It is a little unclear what he needs to keep them safe from. Is it simply the sheer violence of the neighborhood or is the gang hunting them in particular? Why is his soul in danger?

In Gabe's struggle to keep his small, fragile family safe, he meets LAPD patrol officer Alejandro Cerveras and must come to terms with his attraction to him--and decide whether to believe his Church’s teachings or what his heart tells him. In the course of his search for security, tragedy strikes in the form of more violence, fueling his rage. As the need for vengeance drives him past all reason, violence and hatred erupt between Gabe and Jesus, spiraling out of control, leading to tragedy and the greatest loss of all. I think the crux of your novel is right here in this paragraph. Perhaps I am wrong but the first two paragraphs are background that set the stage for real story. I think your query needs to focus on this information. Most of the excitement and drama are right here. Find an eloquent way to describe the setting in two or three sentences and then focus on his conflicting feelings toward the LAPD officer and his religious beliefs. Tell me more about this fueling rage and foremost share details about the greatest loss of all.

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Mira
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by Mira » December 7th, 2009, 11:41 pm

From what I can see, this is a gripping story. Topical, too, with gang violence, drugs, loss.

I think one thing to be aware of: a story about a gay latino that ends in tragedy may not sell to everyone. I wouldn't assume that rejections are solely based on the query. I might really research agents who represent gritty realism, and gay characters who choose their truth about themselves over the church. I'm not in any way trying to discourage you, kudos for writing such a powerful piece, but look for the agents who are right for this work.

In terms of the query, I think there are some really good elements here. I think this has alot going for it. It's fast-paced, and you're able to convey strong emotion. I sense that the book will be driven and intense just from your query - that's great!

My best advice would be to tighten it up some and clarify the story. Maybe alittle less 'telling'- rely more on the story to take front and center. Remember, too, to let your words evoke emotion, rather than tell emotion - you don't need to tell the agent it's a tragedy more than once, for example, instead let them feel the loss.

Also, I think you do want to tell the agent the ending in the query - that's what I've heard anyway. Don't hint, they want a summary.

Finally, you stress the tragedy, but you mention love and redemption. Where does that fit? That's the key to the book, the reason people want to read it. Redemption. I'd tell the agent about that, too.

Best of luck, absolutely!

p.s. I'm not an expert by any means, take this with a grain of salt, please. Just what feels right. :)

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Re: Query Help needed

Post by kristi » December 7th, 2009, 11:54 pm

Not much to add but I do agree w/ Mira that it may partly be the subject matter at issue so make sure you're targeting your agent search well. Also, I would delete the whole sentence about it being "a gritty, heart-wrenching...." as well as the "readers who love tragic stories" bit. That's more telling rather than showing and doesn't really give the reader much info. The first sentence of the next paragraph is much stronger. Best of luck!

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Re: Query Help needed

Post by casnow » December 8th, 2009, 7:37 am

When you mention that the Protagonist and Antagonist are former best friends later on in the post, this really makes it all come together... i would think that mentioning that in the query would be good, and would help to show why Gabe is so torn.

I think the story sounds great, and i would definitely like to read it once it comes out.

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pabrown
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by pabrown » December 8th, 2009, 8:53 am

I really appreciate all the great suggestions you're giving me. I think I have a better idea of how this needs to read. I always knew it might be a difficult sell given the subject matter, but I'm trying to tailor it -- I've left my dream agents to the end of my querying process. I wanted to get it right before I reach them. This new forum is a god send. I think I might be on the right track now.
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Ryan
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by Ryan » December 8th, 2009, 12:28 pm

In reading the other posted Queries, I think having more action in the beginning would be good. Juice up a first paragraph with action, details, and character as much as you can before launching into the background stuff. Just my two cents. Sounds like a great story. Tough-gay-gang guy! Love it! I think that's really edgy. Although it may limit some of your audience, I think a lot of voracious readers are also critical thinkers who love this kind of stuff. Any stats out there on people who buy books versus acceptance of homosexuality?

Have you done a lot of research on gang mentality or gangs in general. My memoir takes place in the middle of nowhere New Zealand and guess what? There were gangs.

Good luck

Ryan
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pabrown
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by pabrown » December 8th, 2009, 12:46 pm

I've done a lot of research on gangs, plus I have some contacts in the LAPDs gang unit and ex-cops as well. I've also studied some memoirs written or ghost written by gang members so I think I have a good understanding of them. Most of the books I've published are police procedurals so I pride myself on getting the details right.

The subject matter may limit some audience but I also think there's a huge interest in gangs and the vida loca, and with the gay angle added I think it makes for a unique story that a lot of people will enjoy. At least that's my hope! :-)

All the suggestions I'm getting are great. I think I know what I need to do now.
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Krista G.
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by Krista G. » December 8th, 2009, 4:03 pm

There were too many generalities in this query for me to really sink into it. Some examples: "This is a gritty, heart-wrenching story of salvation, love and acceptance." "In the course of his search for security, tragedy strikes in the form of more violence, fueling his rage. As the need for vengeance drives him past all reason, violence and hatred erupt between Gabe and Jesus, spiraling out of control, leading to tragedy and the greatest loss of all."

Don't tell us this is gritty and heart-wrenching - I think the summary communicates that information well enough. I also don't want to hear that it's about salvation, love, and acceptance - just let me see that in the pitch. And what tragedy strikes in the form of more violence? What violence and hatred erupt between Gabe and Jesus (and which Jesus are we talking about?)? What is the greatest loss of all? I can understand wanting to leave an air of mystery - jacket flap copy doesn't give everything away - but this just sounds coy. You might try summarizing the book in detail until you reach the plot's turning point, and then leave it at that.

This advice, of course, is simply that. Don't feel like you have to accommodate everyone's suggestions, especially mine, if they don't gel with your vision. Good luck with this.
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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Query Help needed

Post by Nathan Bransford » December 8th, 2009, 7:36 pm

pabrown wrote: In a dark barrio world where violence is as sudden and final as a gunshot in the night a man seeks to save the ones he loves and redeem himself for the ones he failed.

I’m seeking representation for BARRIO BOYZ, an 89,000 word contemporary urban novel set in the Latino world of gang-ruled Cypress Park, Los Angeles. [Here I usually list why I am querying this particular agent] This is a gritty, heart-wrenching story of salvation, love and acceptance. Readers who love tragic stories will readily identify with Gabe and his thirst for justice and love.

Twenty-one year old Gabe will do anything to keep his family safe from the Locusts XIII Crew, a Cypress Park gang. Especially vulnerable is his 15-year-old sister Natalie 'Nattie' Aguila. Three months earlier, the bullet that killed their mother left Nattie brain-damaged, with a mental age of 10. Gabe will keep them all safe, even if he loses his soul doing so. When it's clear the police will do nothing, Gabe arms himself, determined to right the wrong his way.

In Gabe's struggle to keep his small, fragile family safe, he meets LAPD patrol officer Alejandro Cerveras and must come to terms with his attraction to him--and decide whether to believe his Church’s teachings or what his heart tells him. In the course of his search for security, tragedy strikes in the form of more violence, fueling his rage. As the need for vengeance drives him past all reason, violence and hatred erupt between Gabe and Jesus, spiraling out of control, leading to tragedy and the greatest loss of all.

[Here I list my publications and any information I think shows I know enough to write this book]

Below you will find [whatever the agent requests]

Pat Brown
[Contact info]
- In the first paragraph, I'm afraid I thought the metaphor read a little awkwardly. Is a gunshot in the night really "final?" The comparison didn't quite work for me.
- I worry that the second paragraph tells the agent what they're supposed to take from the story and makes value judgments (heart-wrenching, readily identify) that agents are going to want to decide for themselves
- "Especially vulnerable is his 15-year-old sister Natalie 'Nattie' Aguila." - This read a little awkwardly to me.
- "Gabe will keep them all safe, even if he loses his soul doing so" - who is "them all?" Since his mom passed away and it seems to be just the two of them, but "all" seems to imply other people. And keep them safe from whom? They're still in danger?
- "When it's clear the police will do nothing, Gabe arms himself, determined to right the wrong his way." - what are the police ignoring? His mother's death? Still seems unclear
- "tragedy strikes in the form of more violence, fueling his rage" - this seems a bit vague to me. Maybe best to reveal what happens? Don't worry about spoiling the ending.

I'm intrigued by the setting and it seems like a complicated protagonist. I still think the query could be smoothed so the plot shines through. Good luck!

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