Query (Revised 2x) - YA

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bronwyn1
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Query (Revised 2x) - YA

Post by bronwyn1 » March 9th, 2010, 10:36 pm

Revised version #2 posted down thread

Now I know that I am not ready to begin querying (I need to do like 8+ more revisions before the novel is *perfect* and honestly, I'm still on the high that comes with finishing a novel you don't think is complete crap when you finish it), but I want to know if I'm doing everything right, so that when the time for querying does come, I won't be totally in the dark/confused/et cetera.

I've read all the posts on Query Shark (and really hope mine here isn't as bad as some of those) plus most of Nathan's examples of good query letters and so I hope I'm doing this right.

Dear [Agent],

Soon to be sixteen-year-old Clara Moreno is intrigued by the antagonistic mumblings of her classmate Edwin against the current dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, ‘Captain General, Savior of the Nation,’ according to most at her posh, Catholic school.

Clara, with Edwin as her guide, explores the world outside her gilded bubble of Santiago’s exclusive Vitacura neighborhood and becomes painfully conscious of the brutal social, economic and political realities of Chile in the mid-to-late 1980s.

Clara’s curiosity about her country opens her eyes to the horrors and injustices of both the past and the present and to a long-hidden truth about herself. She learns, through many channels, she is not the daughter of a colonel and his aristocratic wife, but rather the daughter of left-wing opponents of the dictatorship who were made to disappear during the 1970s.

Clara befriends young communist guerrillas with a gruesome past, risks police bullets, tear gas and water cannons marching for human rights and in 1988, with the dawning of a national referendum on the dictatorship, proudly pins a ‘No’ button to her backpack. She is alienated from her former life and transforms into a young woman, whom she hopes, will make her parents proud.

THE ERASER is Young Adult novel complete at 75,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[Name]
Last edited by bronwyn1 on April 13th, 2010, 7:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.

A.M.Kuska
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Re: Query Practice (YA novel)

Post by A.M.Kuska » March 9th, 2010, 11:08 pm

bronwyn1 wrote:
Soon to be sixteen-year-old Clara Moreno is intrigued by the antagonistic mumblings of her classmate Edwin against the current dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, ‘Captain General, Savior of the Nation,’ according to most at her posh, Catholic school.
Counting sixteen-year-old all as one word, this sentence is 34 words long.
Clara, with Edwin as her guide, explores the world outside her gilded bubble of Santiago’s exclusive Vitacura neighborhood and becomes painfully conscious of the brutal social, economic and political realities of Chile in the mid-to-late 1980s.
Counting mid-to-late all as one word, this sentence is 36 words long.
Clara’s curiosity about her country opens her eyes to the horrors and injustices of both the past and the present and to a long-hidden truth about herself. She learns, through many channels, she is not the daughter of a colonel and his aristocratic wife, but rather the daughter of left-wing opponents of the dictatorship who were made to disappear during the 1970s.
I adore this paragraph in every way!
Clara befriends young communist guerrillas with a gruesome past, risks police bullets, tear gas and water cannons marching for human rights and in 1988, with the dawning of a national referendum on the dictatorship, proudly pins a ‘No’ button to her backpack. She is alienated from her former life and transforms into a young woman, whom she hopes, will make her parents proud.
Your first sentence is 42 words long.

When you keep your sentences short to medium, your writing really sings. My only real suggestion would be to take apart some of those longer sentences and reconstruct them into something more managable.

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theWallflower
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Re: Query Practice (YA novel)

Post by theWallflower » March 10th, 2010, 11:07 am

First, props to you for reading Query Shark and doing the research.
Soon to be sixteen-year-old Clara Moreno is intrigued by the antagonistic mumblings of her classmate Edwin against the current dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, ‘Captain General, Savior of the Nation,’ according to most at her posh, Catholic school.
-Passive voice. Rephrase so that Clara's still the subject, but that she does something, instead of being something.
-remove "antagonistic"
-Why can't you just call her a fifteen-year-old?
-remove "current"
-Why is she intrigued? Does she like him? What events led her to listen to Edwin, instead of dismissing him as a traitor?
Clara, with Edwin as her guide, explores the world outside her gilded bubble of Santiago’s exclusive Vitacura neighborhood and becomes painfully conscious of the brutal social, economic and political realities of Chile in the mid-to-late 1980s.
-"gilded bubble"? These words mean the same thing.
-Remove "painfully"
-This is too summarizing. Tell us what she sees.
Clara’s curiosity about her country opens her eyes to the horrors and injustices of both the past and the present and to a long-hidden truth about herself. She learns, through many channels, she is not the daughter of a colonel and his aristocratic wife, but rather the daughter of left-wing opponents of the dictatorship who were made to disappear during the 1970s.
-Remove "the horrors...present" That's already known
-remove "through many channels", unless you describe what those channels are.
-Passive voice in the last sentence
Clara befriends young communist guerrillas with a gruesome past, risks police bullets, tear gas and water cannons marching for human rights and in 1988, with the dawning of a national referendum on the dictatorship, proudly pins a ‘No’ button to her backpack. She is alienated from her former life and transforms into a young woman, whom she hopes, will make her parents proud.
-How can you have a referendum on a dictatorship? Unless it's not a formal referendum like we have in the states.
THE ERASER is Young Adult novel complete at 75,000 words.
-Complete is implied.

-All your sentences are too long. They should all be at least under 20 words.
-The basic problem is there's too much showing, too much high-level summarzing. You need to describe the events, the story, that leads her to how she feels about whatever. As it is now, you're summarzing what she sees, instead of detailing. And the details are the bits that make your story fun and interesting.
-Is there anything in your background that makes you authoritative on this historical subject?
-Remember, the three keys of the query letter are who is the protagonist? (lightly described) what problem does she face? (here its a little fuzzy--is the problem that she's discovered a different parentage, or that she's become disgusted with the way her country treats the people) How does she solve it? (here it's very fuzzy--is she just going to march in protests? doesn't sound very exciting. Where's the drama?)
-I have a hard time believing that even a gilded lily is going to change tune so quickly since she's had a priviliged life. You need to demonstrate what events make her change, if you're going to make it plausible.

Here's a query that sounds similar to yours. Try modeling yours after it.
The Beijing '08 Olympics are over, the war in Iraq is lost, and former National Guard medic Ellie McEnroe is stuck in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers. When a chance encounter with a Chinese Muslim dissident drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

ROCK PAPER TIGER is a fast-paced, 108,000 word mainstream novel set in a China where the ultra-modern and cutting-edge clash with ancient neighborhoods and traditions, and in an America where the consequences of war reverberate long after the troops have come home. It will appeal to fans of William Gibson’s books with contemporary settings, Laura Lippman’s strong female protagonists, and almost anybody’s whacked-out travelogues about the world’s more surreal places.

I have a background in politics, Chinese history and the entertainment industry. I am working on a pop biography of Zhou Enlai for a small press and with a partner wrote a feature screenplay based on a series of Taiwanese fantasy novels, THE IMMORTALS, which was optioned by ActionGate Films. I was also a contributing editor for TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE: RESPONSES TO OCCUPATION, a collection of essays about the American occupation of Iraq (Perceval Press, 2004). I lived in China, travel there often and speak decent, if not quite fluent, Mandarin.
Waterworld meets The Little Mermaid
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MERM-8: Now available from Musa Publishing

bronwyn1
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Re: Query Practice (YA novel)

Post by bronwyn1 » March 10th, 2010, 8:18 pm

Thank you both for all of your really helpful critiques and comments! As I let the novel simmer, I'll continue to work on the query letter (I hope that isn't strange or anything).

Since I am still in high school (though graduating this May and starting college in August), I don't have a degree or anything, but I plan on majoring in International Relations/Spanish in college. Also, I've read tons on this subject, as in whenever I'm not writing or doing schoolwork, I'm reading and learning more about Latin American history/politics, particularly Chile and Argentina. Also I'm going to Argentina for two months this summer and I'll probably study abroad in Chile my junior year, if that affects anything...hahaha. The novel will probably be perfected while I'm in college, so I can definitely then add the tidbit about studying International Relations/Spanish.

bronwyn1
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Re: Query Practice (YA novel)

Post by bronwyn1 » March 10th, 2010, 10:24 pm

Okay, so here's query take two. I hope I took everyone's advice (I tried to). Now I'm worried it's too long, but...

Dear [Agent],

Clara Moreno has the pieces of the puzzle. She just doesn’t know how to put them together.

The mumblings of her classmate Edwin against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet pique her innate curiosity and questioning nature. His remarks also trigger dormant thoughts from her early childhood. Few and far between, these foggy memories disturb Clara and lead her down an investigative path.

She and Edwin explore the world outside their exclusive enclave of Santiago’s Vitacura neighborhood. She discovers that behind the glittering façade of a new shopping mall, there lie hundreds of shanties and thousands more in poverty. She hears stories of arrest and brutality at the hands of police from Silvia, the daughter of her family’s chauffeur. She listens to Edwin’s ‘subversive’ music and therein discovers further understanding. And more triggers for her memories.

Clara learns, through information from her sympathetic schoolteacher Susana, she is not the daughter of a colonel and his aristocratic wife. Rather, she is the daughter of left-wing opponents of the dictatorship who disappeared during the 1970s.

She reunites with her grandmother, the mother of her mother, and absorbs every single forgotten photograph and artifact. Clara immerses herself in memory and distances herself from her former parents. She continues her detective work and discovers truth concerning the fate of her real parents and other victims of the dictatorship.

Clara’s alienation is complete. She befriends young communist guerrillas with a gruesome past. She, Edwin and Silvia risk police bullets, tear gas and water cannons when they march for human rights. And with the dawning of a national referendum on the dictatorship in 1988, Clara proudly pins a ‘No’ button on her backpack. The dictatorship ends via democratic means as Clara’s new life begins.

THE ERASER is a 75,000 word Young Adult novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[Name]

**and the thing about the national referendum is a historical detail, which is why I kept it in there. I'm referring to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilean_na ... cite,_1988

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Matthew MacNish
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Re: Query Practice (YA novel)

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 13th, 2010, 12:44 am

First off, respect to theWallflower for his/her blue skinned advice. It was well informed and you should heed it.

Regarding their first quote I would suggest (but certainly not insist upon) this:


15 year old Clara finds classmate Edwin's musings against the dictatorship of Pinochet, ‘Savior of the Nation,’ intriguing.

[One reason is that YA will not combine well with South American politics in any decade if the politics are highly detailed. If they are kept simple and along the lines of archetypes then YA can certainly go anywhere.]

Otherwise I don't think this sentence works as an opening hook. The concept IS interesting, and works if written properly but I don't think it's quite enough to GRAB the agent you will eventually end up querying.

Regarding WF's second quote of your query I have to disagree. I personally find "gilded bubble" to be good, if not great, imagery. Yes the words are similar, but they DO NOT mean the same thing. "Gilded" generally means adorned by gold, but it can also mean fancified, rare, valuable, fine. Here, in your query, I find it to mean that her bubble is false. I see her as having a blurred perception of her neighborhood/status and I think that's a good starting conflict.

I would try:


When Edwin rips (plucks? tears?) Clara from the gilded bubble of Santiago’s exclusive Vitacura neighborhood she reels (is that the right word, meaning leaning back in revulsion, fear?) from the brutal social, economic and political realities of Chile in the 80s.

Regarding WF's third quote I have to agree. Try:

Clara’s curiosity opens her eyes to the injustices of the past and the horrors of the present. She learns that she is not the daughter of the (a) military aristocracy, but rather (I love the words rather, quite ... they're much better than VERY but still can be overused) the daughter of liberal dissidents who were made to disappear during the 1970s.

This is all I have time to write right now, but I must say I am intrigued. A high school student writing a YA novel about such complex ideas sounds too ... pretentious in a way, but looking at your other posts you seem to have some knowledge of the region's history so I would like to know more.

Your idea is sound. Develop a hook and then polish the rest of your query and you will have a strong starting point. Then there will still be more work needed, but at least you're ahead of the pack.

In the meantime, please visit my blog, listed below in my sig, and learn what not to do.

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Re: Query Practice (YA novel)

Post by bronwyn1 » March 13th, 2010, 5:16 pm

Matthew, I have looked at your blog and I really like it! I think it's very informative and I wish you the best of luck (I hope at least one of those 100 agents you're querying will request your MS).

Yeah, I was originally really on the fence about making this a YA book, but some other people on another writer's forum suggested that I did. Would adults be interested in reading a book from the POV of a 15-17 year old? If so, I guess I could market it as maybe LitFic or Mainstream or something like that (since I really, really don't like dumbing stuff down)

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Re: Query (Revised 2x) - YA

Post by bronwyn1 » April 13th, 2010, 7:08 pm

Okay, so I sort of took a break from the online universe for writers and so this is what I came up with for a query:

Dear Agent,

Pretty, popular and privileged, Clara Vargas Leighton is the picture of young, aristocratic, propriety in 1980s Chile.

But Clara was born with a questioning nature that defies the authoritarian traditions of her adoptive parents and of Chilean society during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Coupled with traumatic, reoccurring memories of her early childhood, she embarks on an investigative journey. Her classmate and friend Edwin, the black sheep son of one of Chile’s most prominent families, serves as her guide. Clara and Edwin explore the world outside their exclusive enclave of Santiago’s Vitacura neighborhood. Clara’s hunger for the truth about her country is satiated as she hears too many stories of police brutality and crippling poverty, only a few of the many terrible side effects produced by the dictatorship, unknown to her until now.

Clara pieces together her foggy memories with her new found macabre knowledge. She concludes that her biological parents did not die in a car accident, like her adoptive parents tell her. Instead, they were both left-wing opponents of the dictatorship who disappeared when Clara was three years old.

Inspired by her latest discovery, Clara continues her detective work. She attempts to learn the definitive fate of her parents and how exactly she got into the hands of a colonel and his socialite wife. As Clara investigates further, she grows increasingly sickened by her patrician surroundings and their indifference to and not so tacit support for the horrors committed by the dictatorship.

THE ERASER is a 74,000 word YA novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Re: Query (Revised 2x) - YA

Post by Matthew MacNish » April 13th, 2010, 7:33 pm

First of all let me just say I don't exactly know why I'm so drawn to your story. I still don't know what HAPPENS exactly, but for some reason the idea of the political intrigue surrounding a country striving to survive in a ... delicate political climate ... seen through the ideas of a girl on the cusp of adulthood; it sounds effing awesome to me man.
bronwyn1 wrote:Okay, so I sort of took a break from the online universe for writers and so this is what I came up with for a query:

Dear Agent,

Pretty, popular and privileged, Clara Vargas Leighton is the picture of young, aristocratic, propriety in 1980s Chile.

Vargas Leighton, is Clara of mixed heritage? The three I would bloodlines I would guess at would be Native South American Indian (Incan), European Spanish, and some kind of Caucasian. It doesn't have to be in this first sentence/hook and it may not be crucial to the plot but my guess it that this would raise the stakes. If it does find a way to fit it in.

Also your fist sentence is EVERYTHING in a query. Make it sing. Include the MC, her motivation, your voice, the climax of the conflict, and find a way to tease any reader to HAVE to read more. This sounds impossible, I know, I still struggle with it, but it HAS been done.


But Clara was born with a questioning nature that defies the authoritarian traditions of her adoptive parents and of Chilean society during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Coupled with traumatic, reoccurring memories of her early childhood, she embarks on an investigative journey. This kind of sounds like synopsis. I know it's key but remember, the query has one goal: get the agent to read your pages. It's also tell, not show. Her classmate and friend Edwin, the black sheep son of one of Chile’s most prominent families, serves as her guide. Clara and Edwin explore the world outside their exclusive enclave of Santiago’s Vitacura neighborhood. Clara’s hunger for the truth about her country is satiated as she hears too many stories of police brutality and crippling poverty, only a few of the many terrible side effects produced by the dictatorship, unknown to her until now. This is GREAT characterization IMO, but what you need here is PLOT, and not necessarily a whole lot.

Clara pieces together her foggy memories with her new found macabre knowledge. She concludes that her biological parents did not die in a car accident, like her adoptive parents tell her. Instead, they were both left-wing opponents of the dictatorship who disappeared when Clara was three years old. This and the next paragraph are your plot climax, work them into the second or third sentence if you can.

Inspired by her latest discovery, Clara continues her detective work. She attempts to learn the definitive fate of her parents and how exactly she got into the hands of a colonel and his socialite wife. As Clara investigates further, she grows increasingly sickened by her patrician surroundings and their indifference to and not so tacit support for the horrors committed by the dictatorship.

THE ERASER is a 74,000 word YA novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
I have to go back and look, but if I can recall this is a marked improvement, keep it up, and post your revision when you're ready.

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Re: Query (Revised 2x) - YA

Post by bronwyn1 » April 13th, 2010, 8:14 pm

Thanks for your comments Matthew! :D I'm glad you think my story sounds interesting.

Ugh, I totally have that trying-to-turn-a-query-into-a-synopsis problem, as I've noticed throughout my query drafts. I have to remember that the events as I relate them in the query do not have to be in the same order as they are in the book.

And about the last name, it's really just a reflection of how Chile (and the rest of the Southern Cone of South America) are very different from the rest of Latin America. Chile actually has a lot of people with European surnames (a lot of German and British surnames as well the typical Spanish/Amerindian ones), like Argentina and Uruguay have a very high percentage of people who are Italian/have Italian surnames (Italian surnames exist in Chile too, but they're way more prevalent in Argentina/Uruguay).

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Re: Query (Revised 2x) - YA

Post by Quill » April 13th, 2010, 8:50 pm

I think it's a great query.

Now you tell me if I'm nitpicking: It sounds too grown-up. I was expecting literary adult novel, and then at the end I find out it's YA. I may be wrong, but I thought the query ideally should reflect the voice of the manuscript. Does your manuscript rely on such words as propriety, authoritarian, investigative, satiated, and definitive fate? Do those words and some of the phrases they anchor accurately give the flavor of the book? If so, go for it! Maybe you have written this for a sophisticated, older YA age group. Maybe say that, if it's the case.

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Re: Query (Revised 2x) - YA

Post by bronwyn1 » April 13th, 2010, 9:04 pm

Quill wrote:I think it's a great query.

Now you tell me if I'm nitpicking: It sounds too grown-up. I was expecting literary adult novel, and then at the end I find out it's YA. I may be wrong, but I thought the query ideally should reflect the voice of the manuscript. Does your manuscript rely on such words as propriety, authoritarian, investigative, satiated, and definitive fate? Do those words and some of the phrases they anchor accurately give the flavor of the book? If so, go for it! Maybe you have written this for a sophisticated, older YA age group. Maybe say that, if it's the case.
Thank you!

Nah, you're not being nitpicky at all. Actually, I was having a little bit of genre placement trouble with this novel and sort of vented about it on my blog a while back, but I thought about it more (+ some outside circumstances became a factor as they often do) and decided on it being YA. But yeah, you're right. I should probably add something in there about it being for "mature" YA audiences.

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Re: Query (Revised 3x) - YA

Post by bronwyn1 » April 23rd, 2010, 6:29 pm

Yay yet another query revision!

This time, I tried to add more "voice"/make the story sound more interesting and less like a book report. I hope I succeeded xDD

Clara Vargas Leighton is a model mini-aristocrat during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. She’s the adopted daughter of a colonel and his wife but never thinks anything of it. Even as she’s haunted by violent memories of her biological parents’ brutal kidnapping by the dictatorship’s secret police. Only she doesn’t remember the bit about the kidnapping and the secret police.

She meets Edwin, the rebellious son of one of Chile’s most prominent and well-connected families. He hates the dictatorship. Clara bucks society’s authoritarian traditions and instead of considering Edwin a traitor and an enemy of the Fatherland, she’s curious as to why he believes what he does.

And maybe find some explanation for her foggy memories.

She and Edwin befriend Susana, their closet Pinochet-hating Literature teacher who likes working behind enemy lines at their starchy, Catholic high school. Along with Edwin, Susana helps Clara discover the truth about herself and the fate of her biological parents.

Clara learns her parents are two of the more than one thousand people who ‘disappeared’ during the dictatorship’s early days, back in the 1970s. The phrase ‘to disappear’ carries many horrible connotations that point to torture and clandestine execution by the secret police.

She sheds her patrician skin. Her adoptive parents were delightfully complicit in the terror that gave her three-year-old self to them and her ‘uncle,’ a former agent of the secret police, may have had a part in her real parents’ disappearance.

Clara’s no longer passive or meek. Instead, she’s inspired by the memory of her activist parents to be the strong, confident young woman they’d want her to be.

THE ERASER is a 72,000 word young adult novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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