Pretty Bird of Prey query 1

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ShelleyL
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Pretty Bird of Prey query 1

Post by ShelleyL » June 26th, 2012, 6:12 pm

I know this needs work! I would appreciate any good advice! This is for my first novel.

Dear Agent,

Jan Harmon wants to leave her dream neighborhood of Ivy Hills. She must move away from the pretty houses because her life is far from pretty now. Strange things have been happening to Avery, her fourteen-year-old daughter, ever since their move to the ostentatious subdivision one year ago. Not only must her daughter deal with the middle school bullies, but also must learn to cope with her find in a nearby bog: a child's skull.

The neighborhood is in an uproar: many swear there must be a serial killer in their midst. Especially when Avery is attacked by the thin man with the bloody knife.

No one has any answers: the principal, police, or her husband, who has moved out. Unlikely allies emerge when an African-garbed old woman and her granddaughter arrive in Ivy Hills. They are able to forsee certain events and the granddaughter Jessie uses her gift to help Avery escape from the thin man. But can Jan depend on the duo to continue to ward off future attacks? Or should she pack up and leave Ivy Hills for good and assume Avery's attacker will not follow?

Meanwhile, the thin man waits for his instructions.

PRETTY BIRD OF PREY is a women's fiction novel of 100,000 words long. It is written in the style of Jodi Picoult. Thank you for your consideration.

Amanda Elizabeth
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Re: Pretty Bird of Prey query 1

Post by Amanda Elizabeth » June 26th, 2012, 9:14 pm

What kind of strange things have been happening? We get no details about that. And you mention Jessie's "gift" as though it's an oversight, I want to know more about it.

Elsinora
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Re: Pretty Bird of Prey query 1

Post by Elsinora » June 27th, 2012, 12:34 am

There's a lot happening in this query in terms of plot, but I'm not at all clear on how the plot points fit together. Perhaps this would be stronger?

One year ago, Jan Harmon moved into her dream neighborhood, Ivy Hills. Now she's desperate to leave. The middle school bullies tormenting Jan's daughter Avery were bad enough. But after Avery discovers a child's skull in a nearby bog, she becomes the target of a man with far more deadly intent.

Determined to protect her daughter, Jan turns to unlikely allies for help. Jessie and her grandmother, newcomers to Ivy Hills, claim to have the power to see the future--and to protect Avery from further attacks. Jan isn't sure what to believe, but she knows one thing for certain: the knife-wielding man after her daughter won't stop.

Not unless Jan stops him.


Obviously, I haven't read your novel, so my suggestion could be wildly off base. I have to admit, though, that the plot as it appears in your query doesn't scream "Jodi Piccoult" or "women's fiction" to me--but it does sound like something I would read!

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oldhousejunkie
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Re: Pretty Bird of Prey query 1

Post by oldhousejunkie » June 30th, 2012, 11:48 am

I've never read Jodi Piccolt, but I think this sounds more like a suspense novel more than women's fiction. I think there's at least some sort of minor romance or something in a women's fiction. You might be able to get away with "suspenseful women's fiction" but I'm not sure if it fits that bill.

Some thoughts:

Jan Harmon wants to leave her dream neighborhood of Ivy Hills. She must move away from the pretty houses because her life is far from pretty now. Strange things have been happening to Avery, her fourteen-year-old daughter, ever since their move to the ostentatious subdivision one year ago. Not only must her daughter deal with the middle school bullies, but also must learn to cope with her find in a nearby bog: a child's skull.

It seems like Ivy Hills might be best portrayed as a small affluent town as opposed to a subdivision. Maybe it's a sign of the times and a natural progression that settings shift from towns to subdivisions. To me, it seems like a better case could be made for weird goings-on in a long established town than a subdivision. They just reek of newness in my opinion. Maybe something similar to this: "Jan Harmon's dreams came true when she moved to the idyllic and affluent town of Ivy Hills. But life quickly turned ugly when her husband moved out and her daughter Avery becomes the target of middle school bullies.

The neighborhood is in an uproar: many swear there must be a serial killer in their midst. Especially when Avery is attacked by the thin man with the bloody knife.

I think a better case could be made for people believing that there is a serial killer in their midst if Avery is attacked. The whole skull thing need not be mentioned in the query. I think I would merge this paragraph with the one below. Perhaps this should read: "Then Avery is attacked by the thin man with a bloody knife. The whole town is in an uproar, convinced that a serial killer is in their midst. No one has any answers until an African-garbed old woman her granddaughter Jessie arrive in town. They claim to have the sight and Jan is convinced when Jessie helps Avery escape another attack from the thin man. But what of their future? Can Jan depend on Jessie and her grandmother to protect them or will packing up and leaving Ivy Hills for good just cause Avery's attacker to follow? [This is where more details would help? Why is the thin man targeting Ivy Hills? It says that he's waiting on his instructions. Maybe fill us in what's going on. You don't have to reveal everything but being too evasive will just cause an agent to throw out a submission.]

No one has any answers: the principal, police, or her husband, who has moved out. Unlikely allies emerge when an African-garbed old woman and her granddaughter arrive in Ivy Hills. They are able to forsee certain events and the granddaughter Jessie uses her gift to help Avery escape from the thin man. But can Jan depend on the duo to continue to ward off future attacks? Or should she pack up and leave Ivy Hills for good and assume Avery's attacker will not follow?

Meanwhile, the thin man waits for his instructions.

PRETTY BIRD OF PREY is a women's fiction novel of 100,000 words long. It is written in the style of Jodi Picoult. Thank you for your consideration.
You're definitely going to have to edit that word count down. You can some research but I think the 80k to 85k range is more saleable in this genre.


Good luck!

idanelly
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Re: Pretty Bird of Prey query 1

Post by idanelly » July 2nd, 2012, 10:50 pm

Plot sounds good. you've managed to keep your query nice & short while still appealing to the senses and emotions, not easy to do. Some suggestions:
-I wouldn't start by saying she wants to move because later you say she's thinking about moving; it seems contradictory
-be much more dramatic about what the girl finds in the bog.the way you throw this in, it sounds way too offhand. You could even start your query with the fined in the bog
-suggested rewording: "a thin man with a bloody knife"
-whose husband?
-I don't understand the sentence beginning "meanwhile"

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LurkingVirologist
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Re: Pretty Bird of Prey query 1

Post by LurkingVirologist » July 12th, 2012, 8:06 pm

Commented stuff is in blue, comments are in [], red means take out.
Note - I realized I may have snarked off a bit on the first go, so I edited to bring that level down a bit. Apologies if I over-did it.

"Jan Harmon wants to leave her[minor quibble - but I'd go with the dream neighborhood, since it implies the stereotype you seem to be setting up] dream neighborhood of Ivy Hills. She must move away from the pretty houses because her life is far from pretty now. Strange things have been happening to Avery, her fourteen-year-old daughter, ever since their move to the ostentatious subdivision one year ago. Not only must her daughter deal with the middle school bullies, but also must learn to cope with her find in a nearby bog: a child's skull. [Not only must her is clunky - also, you start with middle school bullies then jump to skull in bog! who cares about middle school bullies- I wanna know about the skull!]

The neighborhood is in an uproar: many swear there must be a serial killer in their midst[how old is the skull - what are the police doing at this point?]. Especially when Avery is attacked by the thin man with the bloody knife [quibble - you clean a knife after you use it, for reasons both prosaic (blood in the scabbard is gross), and practical (DNA evidence) - unless you are trying to hint that the thin man is a supernatural being, but even still, it just sounds weird].

No one has any answers: the principal, police, or her husband, who has moved out. Unlikely allies emerge when an African-garbed old woman [warblegarble! argh! full stop! - see comments below*] and her granddaughter arrive in Ivy Hills. They are able to forsee certain events and the granddaughter Jessie uses her gift to help Avery escape from the thin man. But can Jan depend on the duo to continue to ward off future attacks? Or should she pack up and leave Ivy Hills for good and assume Avery's attacker will not follow[Yes FFS! Your kid almost got knifed and you've got Ms. Cleo for backup. Leave!!!!]?

Meanwhile, the thin man waits for his instructions." [I like the attempt to add menace but it's a little jarring without a smidge more context]

* OK, I'm gonna be brutally honest here, because the more you hear and address in the forums, the better your odds are when you pull the trigger with a real agent. So please keep in mind that I'm addressing the implications of one particular phrase, not judging you as a person. "African-garbed old woman." I almost spit coffee on my monitor when I read that. I snarked about Ms. Cleo for a specific reason, namely, that the phrase "African-garbed" sounds like a really shallow stereotype. What kind of African garb? It's a huge continent. I've met a fair number of Africans (as in, from Africa or living in Africa) and when I see them, they are in business suits. Is she from the Sahel? - then she might be wearing traditional Arab desert garb. Is she from a South African township? Suburban Nigeria? North Sudan? You've got a multitude of cultures, religions, ethnic groups, and degrees of urbanicity. If I saw that phrase, I'd do a /facepalm and immediately take a pass, because it sounds like a shallow stereotype, and that's not what you want to convey about your writing. The character may be wonderfully nuanced, but you gotta sell that in the description.

I think you've got the bare bones of a plot here, so bearing in mind that I haven't read the ms and am thus making big assumptions based only on what I've read in the query (like an agent does) - I see a couple problems you might want to fix.

One is the "African-garbed" line above. Kill it. With Fire. The only way to save it is if you're actually satirizing the stereotype by having the "African-garbed woman" be a painfully cliched white lady trying to get in touch with her 'roots' - but that's damn tough to pull off and you've not given any indication that it's the case.

Second, you've got to give a compelling reason for your MC to stay in the neighborhood. It's the TSTL problem (Too Stupid To Live). There's a knife wielding maniac trying to murder your child? Of course you move! To Canada! Or Beijing! Get the bloody hell away! Even if there's a 99% chance the killer will follow, that still gives you a 1% better chance of your kid not being filleted than if you stay put. The husband has moved out? He's the smart one! I'd be suing for sole custody of my kid if I had one, and mom wanted to keep her around as serial-killer bait. It sounds like your MC and her family are ordinary folks, so as a fellow ordinary folk, ask yourself what you'd honestly do in your MC's situation. Me? I'm moving away, getting a secure high-rise apartment, buying six closed-circuit cameras, and a Remington 870 with a short barrel, a tac light, and a crate of shells - then we're all going to the range to practice with it. Daily. OK, maybe not that extreme, but that's how I'd be thinking if me and mine were in mortal danger.

I can buy the kid wanting to stay and fight, especially if there is some kind of supernatural angle to it, but I feel like mom would be totally unwilling to let her kid take that risk.

Finally - the idea that the thin man would attack and try to kill one of your MCs, and be thwarted, but then hold back, is making me head-scratch. Why? Why does he not try again? If everyone in the neighborhood is that inept (police, etc.) how has he not finished the job? They're essentially sitting ducks. Again, if there's a supernatural element and the knife is a critical point, you need to lay that out. If he just wants to off the kid, why doesn't he buy a gun and just pop her and mom in the middle of the night? People generally kill out of passion, compulsion, necessity, or for profit. Without a sense of your killers motives, his actions (or lack thereof) seem schizophrenic.

It's clear that you can write, and I think you did a good job of keeping the query short and to the point. You avoided the plot-dump, which is great! I think you need to re-work the query, and maybe parts of the novel, so that your MCs choices make more sense, or the rationale for counter-intuitive choices is conveyed more clearly. Same goes for the thin man. My curiosity is definitely piqued, but maybe re-frame him in such a way that he's part of a larger plot, more enigma and less magic eight-ball.
"Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic." -Carl Sagan

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