Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

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theresatroutman
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Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by theresatroutman » October 15th, 2011, 9:39 pm

I am looking to publish my first novel and would love some feedback on my query letter. Thanks for your time! Theresa

Dear Agent,

In 1985 London, seventeen-year-old Sebastian Irons got through life using his good looks, English charm and his family’s fortune. The world was his for the taking so Sebastian took, consumed and threw it away with little thought or regret. A tragic turn of events during his wild eighteenth birthday party finds Sebastian kicked out of his prestigious prep school and banished to America by his domineering mother.

Once transplanted in America, an unlikely group of people show Sebastian the value of loyalty, truth and love. Realizing he is the only one who can change the course of his life, Sebastian searches to find happiness, a purpose and maybe just a little discipline to turn his life around despite the seduction to return to his old habits.

Being forced to repeat your senior year of high school is never easy. Being from a different country and social status makes the transition even harder than Sebastian had ever imagined. His only saving grace is his tutor, Tess Hamilton. She is a no nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl who takes on the challenge of turning his grades around. Single minded Tess has one goal in mind - get Sebastian to graduate with honors. Sebastian however, wants more than just friendship with Tess and sets out to win her love.

LIFE’S WHAT YOU MAKE IT is a 92,000 word Young Adult novel about discovering who you are, finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in and most importantly, who you believe in.

I am a freelance writer and member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

If you are interested, I’d love to send you the completed manuscript.

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wilderness
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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by wilderness » October 18th, 2011, 11:55 pm

Hey there,

Good start, but I feel there is a lot of summarizing and not enough specific detail. Hope that helps!
theresatroutman wrote:
Dear Agent,

In 1985 London, seventeen-year-old Sebastian Irons got through life using his good looks, English charm and his family’s fortune. The world was his for the taking so Sebastian took, consumed and threw it away with little thought or regret. A tragic turn of events during his wild eighteenth birthday party finds Sebastian kicked out of his prestigious prep school and banished to America by his domineering mother. What is the tragic turn of events? Be specific.

Once transplanted in America, an unlikely group of people show Sebastian the value of loyalty, truth and love. Realizing he is the only one who can change the course of his life, Sebastian searches to find happiness, a purpose and maybe just a little discipline to turn his life around despite the seduction to return to his old habits. This is all summary; we need details. Who are his friends? How does he learn the value of loyalty, truth and love? Check out Nathan's post on the importance of specificity in a query

Being forced to repeat your senior year of high school is never easy. Being from a different country and social status makes the transition even harder than Sebastian had ever imagined. This is all filler. His only saving grace is his tutor, Tess Hamilton. She is a no nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl who takes on the challenge of turning his grades around. Single minded Tess has one goal in mind - get Sebastian to graduate with honors. Sebastian however, wants more than just friendship with Tess and sets out to win her love. We finally get to something specific, his relationship with Tess. What choice does he have to make to prove that he has grown?


LIFE’S WHAT YOU MAKE IT is a 92,000 word Young Adult novel about discovering who you are, finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in and most importantly, who you believe in.

I am a freelance writer and member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

If you are interested, I’d love to send you the completed manuscript.

theresatroutman
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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by theresatroutman » October 19th, 2011, 11:34 am

Thanks for the feedback. I like what you said about "who are the people who teach Sebastian about loyalty, love and truth," but I wonder if this part is better suited for the synopsis?

I've taken suggestions and revised per below.

In 1985 London, seventeen-year-old Sebastian Irons got through life using his good looks, English charm and his family's fortune. The world was his for the taking so Sebastian took, consumed and threw it way with little thought or regret. When one of his friends dies of a drug overdose during his wild eighteenth birthday party, Sebastian finds himself saddled with guilt, kicked out of his prestigious prep school and banished to American by his domineering mother to repeat his senior year of high school.
 
His only saving grace is his tutor, Tess Hamilton. She is a no nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl who takes on the challenge o of turning his grades around. Single minded Tess has one goal in mind - get Sebastian to graduate with honors. Sebastian however, wants more than just friendship and sets out to win her love.
 
Realizing he is the only one who can change his out of control life, Sebastian searches to find happiness, a purpose and maybe just a little discipline to turn his life around despite the seduction to return to his old habits.
 
Life's What You Make It is a 92,000 word Young Adult novel about discovering who you are, finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in and most importantly, who you believe in.

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wilderness
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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by wilderness » October 20th, 2011, 2:08 pm

I don't know if you watch Gossip Girl, but I picture Sebastian as a sort of Chuck Bass character - and I love Chuck Bass! Good luck :)
theresatroutman wrote:
In 1985 London, seventeen-year-old Sebastian Irons got through life using his good looks, English charm and his family's fortune. The world was his for the taking so Sebastian took, consumed and threw it way with little thought or regret. When one of his friends dies of a drug overdose during his wild eighteenth birthday party, Sebastian finds himself saddled with guilt, kicked out of his prestigious prep school and banished to American by his domineering mother to repeat his senior year of high school. I like this set up.
 
His only saving grace is his tutor, Tess Hamilton. She is a no nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl who takes on the challenge o of turning his grades around. Single minded Tess has one goal in mind - get Sebastian to graduate with honors. Sebastian however, wants more than just friendship and sets out to win her love. This is good too.
 
Realizing he is the only one who can change his out of control life, Sebastian searches to find happiness, a purpose and maybe just a little discipline to turn his life around despite the seduction to return to his old habits. I think you can come up with something stronger here by being more specific. I agree that you don't want to get into a lot characters and plotlines (that would be for a synopsis), but perhaps concentrate on one main antagonist or problem that is tempting Sebastian to return to his old ways. Make us feel like there's a real danger there.
 
Life's What You Make It is a 92,000 word Young Adult novel about discovering who you are, finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in and most importantly, who you believe in.

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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by bstratford » October 24th, 2011, 10:02 am

I'm new at this so take what I have to offer with a grain of salt. I like this one much better than the first. After spending and entire day reading the archives of the query shark I feel like the first paragraph is all set up and does not hook the reader into the story. The shark harps on leading with the decisions made that drive the story and plot.

In 1985 London, seventeen-year-old Sebastian Irons got through life using his good looks, English charm and his family's fortune. The world was his for the taking so Sebastian took, consumed and threw it way with little thought or regret. When one of his friends dies of a drug overdose during his wild eighteenth birthday party, Sebastian finds himself saddled with guilt, kicked out of his prestigious prep school and banished to American by his domineering mother to repeat his senior year of high school.
 
His only saving grace is his tutor, Tess Hamilton. She is a no nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl who takes on the challenge o of turning his grades around. Single minded Tess has one goal in mind - get Sebastian to graduate with honors. Sebastian however, wants more than just friendship and sets out to win her love.
 
Realizing he is the only one who can change his out of control life, Sebastian searches to find happiness, a purpose and maybe just a little discipline to turn his life around despite the seduction to return to his old habits.
 
Life's What You Make It is a 92,000 word Young Adult novel about discovering who you are, finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in and most importantly, who you believe in.

theresatroutman
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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by theresatroutman » October 25th, 2011, 11:14 am

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. I have taken your suggestions and revised below. :D


In 1985 London, Sebastian Irons’ friend drops dead after a drug binge during Sebastian's wild eighteen birthday party. In an instant, Sebastian's carefree days of drinking, drugs and promiscuous sex are over.

Riddled with guilt and forced to face his own mortality, Sebastian finds himself kicked out of his prestigious prep school and banished to America by his domineering mother to repeat his senior year of high school. His only saving grace is his tutor, Tess Hamilton. She is a no-nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl who takes on the challenge of turning his grades around. Single minded Tess has one goal in mind - get Sebastian to graduate with honors.

Sebastian struggles against his predestined life as head of his mother’s electronics company and the temptation to return to his old habits. Falling in love with his tutor is helping him turn his life around, but will he choose love over his family duty and money?

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Quill
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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by Quill » October 25th, 2011, 1:40 pm

theresatroutman wrote:
In 1985 London, Sebastian Irons’ friend drops dead after a drug binge during Sebastian's wild eighteen birthday party. In an instant, Sebastian's carefree days of drinking, drugs and promiscuous sex are over.
It seems a bit awkward starting with protagonist's friend, and this after naming the protag. Then talking about the protag's days. First talking about his friend, then his days, and not mentioning Sebastian himself until the third sentence.
Riddled with guilt and forced to face his own mortality, Sebastian finds himself kicked out of his prestigious prep school and banished to America by his domineering mother to repeat his senior year of high school. His only saving grace is his tutor, Tess Hamilton.
Here you do mention the protag, but the protag does not do anything (except passively find himself riddled, kicked, and banished).
She is a no-nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl who takes on the challenge of turning his grades around.
This is the first direct action in the query, and it is a weak one (takes on) and by the (presumably) secondary character Tess.
Single minded Tess has one goal in mind - get Sebastian to graduate with honors.
I would delete this sentence as redundant in info to the previous one, and containing a redundancy of its own (single minded Tess has a single goal in mind).
Sebastian struggles against his predestined life
This is the only action Sebastian does in the entire query and it is vague and not quite coherent (he struggles against his life). Find some way to clarify and punch this up.
as head of his mother’s electronics company
Why does he not want this?
and the temptation to return to his old habits.
What causes this fellow "riddled with guilt and forced to face his own mortality" to be tempted? Is he such a weak or degenerate person, in which case why should we root for him? You said Tess was his only saving grace. Can he really not stand on his own feet without her? Does he have any good qualities? Any fight in him?
Falling in love with his tutor is helping him turn his life around,
Is this reciprocal? Or one-sided on his part? It isn't clear. You do not indicate that single-minded Tess would or could be swayed from her one goal.
but will he choose love over his family duty and money?
Why would this be a choice? What prevents him from having it all?

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wilderness
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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by wilderness » October 27th, 2011, 7:55 pm

Quill has a lot of great points on the sentence nitty gritty side. For my part, I felt that the newest version, while more concise, didn't have as much of the charm and voice of the previous ones. Particularly, I liked the writing and characterization of the first couple of sentences:
theresatroutman wrote: In 1985 London, seventeen-year-old Sebastian Irons got through life using his good looks, English charm and his family's fortune. The world was his for the taking so Sebastian took, consumed and threw it way with little thought or regret.
A lot of people may say it is backstory and to get to the point faster, but since this seems to be a very character-driven novel, you might consider keeping it. However, I still think the ending sentences could be stronger with a more clear temptation/problem, as Quill also suggested. Hope that helps!

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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by thewhipslip » November 16th, 2011, 12:02 pm

Personally, I don't like the last revision at all. I agree with wilderness that it took away the charm and voice of the query below. I'm going to crit that one, as I think you can do more with it!

In 1985 London, seventeen-year-old Sebastian Irons got through life using his good looks, English charm and his family's fortune I like this opening a lot. The world was his for the taking so Sebastian took, consumed comma here and threw it away with little thought or regret. When one of his friends dies of a drug overdose during his wild eighteenth birthday party, Sebastian finds himself saddled with guilt, kicked out of his prestigious prep school comma here and banished to American by his domineering mother to repeat his senior year of high school.
 
His only saving grace is his tutor, Tess Hamilton. She is a no-nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl who takes on the challenge o of turning his grades around. Single-minded Tess has one goal in mind - get Sebastian to graduate with honors. Sebastian comma however, wants more than just friendship and sets out to win her love.
 
Realizing he is the only one who can change his out-of-control life add specifics here. what is the conflict? how is his life out-of-control?, Sebastian searches to find happiness, a purpose comma and maybe just a little disciplineto turn his life around despite the seduction to return to his old habits. add the conflict. what is the seduction? there's no antagonist yet, and every novel needs one.
 
Life's What You Make It is a 92,000 word Young Adult novel about discovering who you are, finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in and most importantly, who you believe in.[/quote]

I think the voice and character of this is fantastic, just add in your conflict!
http://elenasolodow.blogspot.com/ - Submit your 250-500 word excerpt to be read out loud in a vlog post!

theresatroutman
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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by theresatroutman » February 1st, 2012, 9:23 pm

I've been reading everything I can get my hands on regarding queries and have taken the feedback into account. Hopefully the following is better and more concise.
Thank you!

In 1985 London, seventeen-year-old Sebastian Irons’ life was planned out for him from birth by his domineering mother. He would attend prep school, graduate from Oxford University and take over the reins of Irons Electronics. Sebastian’s reaction to this plan was to rebel. He parties with The Libertines, whose lives were marked by promiscuous sex, taking drugs and drinking to excess. When one his fellow Libertines dies of a drug overdose during Sebastian’s eighteenth birthday party, Sebastian finds himself dealing with suppressed feelings of guilt and remorse.  To make matter worse, he is kicked out of his prestigious prep school and banished to American by his mother to repeat his senior year of high school. Sebastian isn’t ready die and wants to be free of his mother’s control. He struggles to figure out how to change a life that got so out of control. But the pull of the Libertines’ lifestyle weighs on Sebastian and he finds it hard to quite his old habits ‘cold turkey.’
 
Sebastian finds an unlikely ally in his American tutor, Tess Hamilton. She is a no nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl who takes on the challenge to help Sebastian turn his grades around and graduate. Sebastian finds an unexplained attraction to her and wants more than just friendship, but Tess is reluctant. When his mother tries to break up the budding relationship, Sebastian is faced with making the most important decision in his life.
 
LIFE’S WHAT YOU MAKE IT is about discovering who you are, finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in and most importantly, who you believe in.

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Re: Query:Life's What You Make It - YA

Post by Quill » February 2nd, 2012, 10:07 am

theresatroutman wrote:
In 1985 London, seventeen-year-old Sebastian Irons’ life was planned out for him from birth by his domineering mother.
He would attend prep school, graduate from Oxford University and take over the reins of Irons Electronics.
It reads like she hatched this plan in 1985. And yet he is seventeen?
Sebastian’s reaction to this plan was to rebel. He parties
A bit jarring to switch verb tense like this. Usually queries are all written in present time: his reaction is to rebel.
with The Libertines, whose lives were marked
Here you switch back to past tense.
by promiscuous sex, taking drugs and drinking to excess.
I'd omit "taking" and "to excess" as they would be implied.
When one his fellow Libertines dies of a drug overdose during Sebastian’s eighteenth birthday party, Sebastian finds himself dealing with suppressed feelings of guilt and remorse.
It is not immediately clear what he would feel guilty about. Was he responsible for the death? Or is this about not following his mom's plan?

I'd omit "suppressed" as not needed.

 
To make matter worse,
Typo: Matters. Or "the matter".

This seems unnecessary, and a bit odd to call the death and his feelings "matters." I'd substitute "And" or some such.
he is kicked out of his prestigious prep school and banished to American by his mother to repeat his senior year of high school.
As written it sounds like his mom kicked him out of school. Is she the Headmaster? I'd say, "..., then banished..."
Sebastian isn’t ready die
Awkward. We didn't know he was anywhere near death. And we can assume that even if near death he wouldn't feel ready.
and wants to be free of his mother’s control.
Which he basically is now, being a continent away. Not a bad measure of freedom for an eighteen-year-old. So no sympathy generated for him yet.
He struggles to figure out how to change a life that got so out of control.
An odd juxtapose, changing what is out of control. Wouldn't it be more like "reining in a life that is out of control" or some such?
But the pull of the Libertines’ lifestyle weighs on Sebastian
Another odd juxtapose. How does a pull weigh?
and he finds it hard to quite his old habits ‘cold turkey.’
Typo: quit, not quite.

I'd omit "cold turkey" as not needed, and a bit awkward-looking with the quote marks.
 
Sebastian finds an unlikely ally in his American tutor, Tess Hamilton.
Why would a tutor be an unlikely ally? I'd omit "unlikely".
She is a no nonsense, intelligent, ambitious girl
We don't need to know she is ambitious. In this context it is like saying she also likes peanuts. And it is redundant to the fact that she takes on the challenge, as you then say.
who takes on the challenge to help Sebastian
I think it would be "...challenge of helping".
turn his grades around and graduate. Sebastian finds an unexplained attraction to her
Why would he find his attraction to her "unexplained"? He is a veteran of promiscuous sex, and she is not only helping him but is also an intelligent girl. What's not to go after? Is she much older? Not good-looking to him?
and wants more than just friendship,
You can drop the "just".
but Tess is reluctant.
This kind of falls flat, because I expect her to be reluctant. Maybe you could say more about what she feels.
When his mother tries to break up the budding relationship,
When did the reluctant Tess agree to be budded? And how does his mother even know about it, being across the ocean?
Sebastian is faced with making the most important decision in his life.
I have no idea what that might be. You could give us a bit more info here. This is the crux of the query, and of the book, right?
 
LIFE’S WHAT YOU MAKE IT
Follow this with genre and word count to the nearest thousand.
is about discovering who you are, finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in and most importantly, who you believe in.
Summarizing the themes of the book here is not necessary or recommended. These should be made apparent and clear within the description paragraphs above.

Good luck with the project!

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