Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

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kevinott777
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Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by kevinott777 » January 27th, 2011, 2:39 pm

Hi all,

Thanks in advance to anyone who takes the time to read this and comment. I'm amazed by this forum. It's priceless. I've already commented on a few. You folks have amazing story ideas. Wow. Ok, here's my query as it stands currently (this is for my commercial literary novel...I've just begun querying agents...five rejections so far):

Juan Garcia works in the fields of California's Central Valley picking lettuce, but he possesses a musical genius not seen since Mozart. At night, he sits in a shed filling papers with rows of numbers. Despite not knowing how to read or write standard music notation, he claims to be writing a symphony using a matrix system that he invented. He longs to start a new life as a composer and escape the brutal world of migrant labor. Help arrives from the least likely person: an outspoken white racist named Lainey Smith. When Juan risks his life to pull her from the wreckage of a car crash near the migrant camp, an unlikely relationship begins. Lainey, a studied composer, possesses the skills to translate his matrix into a symphony and publish his work; but Juan must first overcome her deep-seeded prejudices.
Last edited by kevinott777 on January 27th, 2011, 7:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Holly
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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by Holly » January 27th, 2011, 4:49 pm

Hello, Kevin. I think your query sounds wonderful. I'm sorry, I don't have any criticism, just a word of encouragement to really research the agents and spend time personalizing each query. Have you looked at Querytracker and searched under literary fiction?

I hope you won't need to use this info, but if you have a rough time finding an agent, you could enter this into the yearly Bakeless contest for literary fiction. The prize is publication with a mainstream publisher (Last year it was Graywolf Press, the year before Houghton Mifflin -- I know a contest winner).

http://www.middlebury.edu/blwc/bakeless_prize

Good luck!

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by kevinott777 » January 27th, 2011, 4:59 pm

Thank you so much, Holly!!! I am finding that simple words of encouragement go such a long way, especially when the going gets tough. I've not heard of QueryTracker or Breadloaf, so I'm EXTREMELY grateful for your mentioning of both. I'll be checking those out for sure. Thanks again SO much!!!!!!

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Holly
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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by Holly » January 27th, 2011, 5:03 pm

Kevin, you're more than welcome. I'm in the same cold boat -- I just entered Queryland ten days ago.

Go to http://www.querytracker.net and register. It's free. You can search under types of agents. Be sure to check the box that says you want agents that are accepting unsolicited queries. The site is a great way to keep track of your queries (hence the name). You can click on each agent name, read the comments other people have left, run reports, etc.

Adding this: You don't want to enter the Bakeless contest until you exhaust the regular route to publication, because the publisher only pays a small advance.

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by kevinott777 » January 27th, 2011, 5:14 pm

Wow, query tracker does indeed sound fantastic! Can't wait to check it out! And it's comforting to know there is at least a contest to enter, if the worst case scenario happens. It's comforting to have rejection contingencies, haha. Thanks again, Holly.

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by Evelyn » January 27th, 2011, 8:13 pm

Hi Kevin,

I want to read your book.

I think you have a stellar query, it drew me right in and made me want more. What more can you want from a query? I wish you the best of luck and I am sure that it will get attention.

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by kevinott777 » January 27th, 2011, 8:28 pm

Woohoo! I did a happy dance when I read your comment. Thanks Evelyn!!!! I wish you the best.

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by Quill » January 27th, 2011, 9:03 pm

kevinott777 wrote: Juan Garcia works in the fields of California's Central Valley picking lettuce, but he possesses a musical genius not seen since Mozart.
Good info, but I wonder if it might be better to reword the second half, "but he possesses..." which comes off as a sweeping statement even beyond what the author would know. Info only God would know, actually. Which makes it a heck of an aside (editorial intrusion). How about "but he possesses a musical genius of the likes of Mozart" or some such.
At night, he sits in a shed filling papers with rows of numbers.
Okay, but "papers" is a bit odd. How about just "filling paper" or "filling pages" or "writing rows of numbers on paper"
Despite not knowing how to read or write standard music notation, he claims to be writing a symphony using a matrix system that he invented.
Good info, but a bit awkward: "Despite not knowing, he claims." (Even though he doesn't know how to write standard, he has a claim that he is writing another way).

Who is he claiming this to?

I think the odd words are "despite" and "claim."

How about "He doesn't know how to read or write standard music notation, so he's invented his own matrix system" or some such.
He longs to start a new life as a composer and escape the brutal world of migrant labor.
A bit weak in drama; sounds pat, a little dreamy, and almost cliche. How does one start a "new life as a composer"? Usually by starving and working a day job, I would think. How about admitting it is a dream (if it is) and saying outright "he dreams of being a composer, away from the brutal world of migrant field work" or some such? Seems the key troublesome word is 'longs".
Help arrives from the least likely person:
This feels cliche and untrue; I can think of numerous less likely people: A goatherd in Outer Mongolia, a baby girl in the mountains of Uzbekistan, and the revived cryogenic remains of Walt Disney, to name a few.
an outspoken white racist named Lainey Smith. When Juan risks his life to pull her from the wreckage of a car crash near the migrant camp, an unlikely relationship begins.
Good. Another reason not to use the "least likely" line above: you have "an unlikely relationship" here, and here it seems to work.
Lainey, a studied composer, possesses
Studied composer? How about "accomplished composer" "Studied" sounds like other people study him. Maybe it's just me. And maybe you don't like the com in accomplished and composer, so it could be a toss-up which is better.

I'd find another word for "possesses" either here or when you describe Juan at the beginning. Two of them seems like one too many for such a short piece.
the skills to translate his matrix into a symphony and publish his work
The skills to publish his work? Is he a music publisher? (are skills needed to publish music?)

Also, what skills does he have that would help him translate the matrix? How does he read Juan's numeral notation? Might be good to give a bit more detail here. Wouldn't he just have Juan hum it? If Juan could just sing it or hum it, why would he need to bother with a hater? Aren't there any migrants or others he could find who could notate the music from his voice reading? I'm not a musician so I don't know. But it seems you could dramatize this a tad more in this crux area of the query.
; but Juan must first overcome her deep-seeded prejudices.
The semi-colon seems out of place. I'd put a comma or a period instead.

Wouldn't it be "deep-seated" prejudices? Never heard of deep-seeded.

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by kevinott777 » January 28th, 2011, 2:05 am

WOW...thank you Quill! I really appreciate your time and effort in helping me improve this query. Haha, I actually think replacing my Lainey character with the revived cryogenic remains of Walt Disney would make one heck of a novel. I've taken your improvements and worked hard on a new version. I observed an important detail in my story that I had overlooked in the query: Lainey's value to Juan resides in her unique connections to important people in the music industry, not necessarily in her ability to transcribe his work. As you pointed out, why can't he just find a friendlier orchestrator who could listen to Juan hum the notes and write out the parts? Orchestration requires a unique skill-set, but surely Juan could find a less racist composer at some local college. Your advice proved invaluable. Your critique also led me to include more plot that better explains the choices that Juan must make. God bless this forum. Here's my revised query:

Juan Garcia works in the fields of California's Central Valley picking lettuce, but he possesses a musical genius of the likes of Mozart. At night, he sits in a shed filling pages with rows of numbers. He has no knowledge of standard music notation, so he's invented his own matrix system to write a symphony. He dreams of being a composer, away from the brutal world of migrant field work. When a white woman named Lainey Smith crashes her car near his field, Juan risks his life to pull her from the wreckage. Lainey, a well-connected composer, knows people who can place Juan's symphony in an upcoming concert that will attract industry notables. As their relationship develops, Juan discovers that she is a racist. His hopes diminish further when his tyrannical field supervisor commands Juan to stay away from Lainey. Juan must choose between obeying his boss or pursuing the help of a woman who nurtures hateful prejudices.

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Holly
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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by Holly » January 28th, 2011, 8:17 am

Okay, my two cents. I like the first one better. It has more writerly something, like tasting soup with a better flavor. In the last one, the choices are very, very negative. I probably wouldn't want to read about a man standing between a horrible boss and a horrible composer. Where is the hope?

In the first one, you don't spell it all out, so there's some mystery. The last phrase "Juan must choose between obeying his boss or pursuing the help of a woman who nurtures hateful prejudices" seems too canned. We're told to show the choice the main character faces, but there might be a better way than the words "choose between."

HOWEVER, I'm not a query expert. I'm wrestling with the query for my first novel. I'm an unpublished writer (except for a few short stories that don't count professionally because they didn't pay me or paid a token amount).

My best advice, from deep in the query trenches: go slow. There is no rush to get these things out the door. Play with it and then sit on it -- for a week.

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by kevinott777 » January 28th, 2011, 11:35 am

You raise some very interesting points, Holly. And your closing advice really hit home for me because I have SUCH a problem with patience...I just have a compulsion to shoot out queries, haha. I also see your point about the over-abundance of negativity and lack of hope...I remember an agent recently writing about that...the excess negativity didn't exactly make them want to spend a lot of time in the world of that novel. And I also see your point with the "choose between." I think I subconsciously used the word "choose" because of the constant advice from publishing professionals to present "the choice" in the query, haha, like you said. I think I write things in my query out of insecurity sometimes...you know, where you're just trying to do everything right and make it impossible for any agent to turn it down because it's SOOO perfect in every way...like a chess match! A HA! Checkmate!!! Now you have NO CHOICE but to accept my query and request a manuscript! Mua ha haa! But I have to be careful not to lose my writerly-ness.

Really interesting feedback. My goal this coming week will be to absorb everything offered to me in this forum and allow the query to stew in it for awhile. Patience is key, isn't it.

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by kevinott777 » January 28th, 2011, 12:13 pm

Here's another version of the query...the result of meditating on all of the feedback I've received so far. Again, I want to say how grateful I am to those who took their time to critique. It gives me hope. Speaking of hope, I added a little poetic flourish in "Hope arrives with the sound of a car crash," but I'm still trying to decide if it's too over-the-top. I've noticed that new writers like myself (as opposed to seasoned veterans who've published zillions of books) have problems with being over dramatic. Hopefully, that's not the case here.

Juan Garcia works in the fields of California's Central Valley picking lettuce, but he possesses a musical genius akin to Mozart. At night, he sits in a shed filling pages with rows of numbers. Despite not knowing how to read or write standard music notation, he tells his friends that he's writing a symphony using a matrix system that he's invented. No one believes him (and his friends mock him). Juan dreams of being a composer, away from the brutal world of migrant field work. Hope arrives with the sound of a car crash. When an outspoken racist named Lainey Smith blows a tire and wrecks near the fields, Juan risks his life to pull her from the vehicle. An unlikely relationship begins. Lainey, an experienced composer, has the skills to translate his matrix into a symphony and the connections to publish his work; but Juan must first overcome her prejudices.

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by Mary-Catharine » January 28th, 2011, 8:07 pm

Um, awesome.
Loved the racist chick. I think you need a comma between racist and outspoken. However, I was smiling the entire time I read your query. It's short, breaks all the rules, and I love it. I hope you know that you need to place the title of your story, word count, and genre after the query. Your story sounds fantastic.
And you want to know what's funny about this site? Some criticism I take and some with a grain of salt. Hardly any of us know what it's like to be published or be represented by an agent-- not saying all of us-- but I do insinuate myself. However, if we didn't need assistance getting an agent, then I highly doubt we'd be on this site looking for criticism.

So, I really don't know how to write a good query letter, or how the publishing industry works. I recommend Queryshark (if you don't already know about that, of course.) Pardon my American, I don't mean to come across as a smart ass. I really hate how insincere the internet makes me sound. I do wish you the best of luck, and I hope you're on the shelf some day.
Your book sounds extremely original, I'm curious to see how it ends!

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by kevinott777 » January 30th, 2011, 8:15 pm

Haha, like the phrase, "pardon my American." Haha. You came across as very sincere, Mary-Catharine (oh and by the way, your name rocks!), and I REALLY appreciated your encouragement. Critique is certainly helpful for all of us, and yep we all should take things with various grains of salt, hehheh, definitely agree...and I think most of us also just need a little encouragement, which is why we got in these forums as well. I think agents call it the "am I crazies," where we have moments of "am I insane to be attempting this?" Getting those little tidbits of positive feedback really helps the sanity level...where we get some outside confirmation that we're not totally insane to be attempting publication. Whether or not we get published, getting that positive feedback tells us that we're certainly not insane for trying...that we have something of value...whether or not the stars align in such a way that results in publication. Of course (I have to remind myself), our ultimate joy in life shouldn't be determined by whether we get published (because then we're giving way too much power to way too many people -- agents, publishers, etc. -- and allowing them to decide our contentedness). Wow, sorry for the sermonizing, haha. All that I had wanted to say was this: thank you very much for your comments...they were extremely encouraging. :)

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Re: Query for THE LAST SYMPHONY OF JUAN GARCIA

Post by Mary-Catharine » January 31st, 2011, 3:40 pm

Why thank you, I do try. I honestly like your book. I mean, I really do. Not just saying that.
Oh my godiva, you explained the madness perfectly. It does feel like madness sometimes to even get involved with writing. It wasn't until recently that I felt like all my efforts have been productive.
I've tried something that's really hippie-fundamental-ish. I saw this chick on wife swap talk about manifesting your dreams. Not only thinking positively, but seeing yourself doing it-- not just saying, This might happen, but, This will happen. It's, like, positive thinking to the extreme. Now, I'm working out a book deal with a woman I ran into outside the court house. I remembered her as my substitute teacher who mentioned she was a writer and running her own publishing company. Things are definitely looking up... like Michael J. Fox said... well, he wrote it. But, anyway.
So, seriously, dude! Wife Swap is awesome!

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