QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, February 8, 2010

Query Ninja Critique

We're adding a new feature here on the QT blog: query ninja. That's right, I'm a ninja in my spare time. Actually this stems from my eBook, From the Query to the Call, where I offer a free query critique for every buyer.

But we thought it might be beneficial for our blog readers to also see the process of breaking down a query and then rebuilding it into something absolutely amazing. So I bribed asked the fabulous Stina Lindenblatt, who had sent me her query to be ninjafied, if I could use her query for the inaugural post. She graciously agreed, and the nunchuckage is below.

Hopefully, you can learn something that you can then apply to your own query letter.


Dear Ms. Dream Agent,

Ten months ago, Calleigh Clarkson (Oh my heck! I knew a girl in high school with this name. It was spelled different, but still. Freaky!) was a star on the high school swim team. But after a fan assaulted her, she quit swimming. Unwilling to tell anyone the truth, she buried herself in her studies. Now it’s summer vacation. She wants to be the fun-loving girl she once was, the one her friends miss. (Okay, I like all of this, but it’s sort of ho-hum-ish, you know? I get that you need to give it to me to set up the query, but I’d sort of like to be hooked in first. Can we start with the present and go back to the past?

Maybe something like: “Calleigh Clarkson has a new plan for summer vacation, and it doesn’t include studying or burying herself under the truth of what happened ten months ago.” Or something along those lines. Something that makes me go, “Oh, dude, I have to read on to find out A) what this new plan is and B) what happened ten months ago. You know? Yes? Maybe?

And then I might go into: “Once a star on her high school swim team, Calleigh quit when a fan assaulted her. But that’s history, and she wants to be the fun-loving girl she once was.” Or “Once a star on her high school swim team, Calleigh quit with a fan assaulted her. But she wants to put the past behind her and become the fun-loving girl she once was.” That establishes A) the new plan and B) what happened ten months ago. So then we’re ready for the next graf.)

Great plan, right? except Too bad her nightmares are growing more intense and frequent. And now she’s experiencing flashbacks. So not part of the plan. (love this! You need more of this, which is why I put the “right?” up there at the beginning of this graf.) Calleigh’s determined to deal with them on her own, before anyone figures out something’s wrong. Fail that, and her mom will drag her to a shrink. (Why? Is this something her mom just does? Because when there’s something wrong with my kid, I don’t automatically think I need to drag them to a shrink. Just food for thought. Is her mom a bit eccentric? Overworked? One extra word here is all you need. “Fail that, and her overburdened mom will drag her to a shrink.” Or, “Fail that, and her eccentric mom will drag her to a shrink.” Or something to indicate that this is the first step, because I think it might actually NOT be for a lot of parents.) And that’s the last thing Calleigh wants.

Then she meets Aaron. (Blah. This is blah. I want to have a better transition here. A better connection to the dreams/flashbacks to Aaron. You’ve got this whole second paragraph about the dreams/flashbacks, and then they’re never mentioned again. How do they relate? So you need a segue here (and I did a little rearranging/combining): “Aaron, a former competitive swimmer, helps Calleigh deal with her disturbing dreams. But he has a secret of his own: his sister committed suicide. As a romance develops between them, Calleigh realizes that for either of them to heal, they both need to return to swimming. Only someone doesn’t want that to happen.”

I have to say that I’m not sure about the “that” in the last sentence. What don’t they want to have happen? The swimming? Or the healing?)

He’s a former competitive swimmer, haunted by a secret. As a romance develops between them, Calleigh discovers Aaron’s sister committed suicide. She realizes that for them to heal, they both need to return to the sport they love. But before she can do that, Calleigh has to push past her fear, and find the courage to swim again. Only someone doesn’t want that to happen.

LOST IN A HEARTBEAT is a 76,000-word young adult contemporary novel, which will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen and Sarah Ockler.

A member of the SCBWI, I’ve attended New York City and Los Angeles annual conferences for the past three years. My writing credits include several parenting articles published in CALGARY’S CHILD and THE WESTERN PARENT. (Nice! Great creds.)

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Okay, overall, I think it reads fine and all, but you have a spot or two with great voice, but the rest of it is lackluster. I think you could really shine it up a bit, add in some more voice and it would be killer.


Got a query you want the ninja to look at? Email Elana at elanajohnson(at)querytracker(dot)net.



Stina said...

Thanks, Elana! And I'm enjoying my bribe, I mean my vacation here in the Bahamas. :)

You are definitely brilliant. I cut the mother part. It was way to complex to explain in the query, and not necessary. I mean it was necessary in the book, just not the query. ;) And my new transition to Aaron, so YA chick litty (I know, that's not a real word). Now it has my voice. Yay!

I have question about my hook: Seventeen-year-old Calleigh has a plan for summer vacation, and it totally doesn’t include burying herself under the truth of what happened ten months ago. Would that count as a logline?

And anyone thinking about buying Elana's book. Stop thinking about it, buy it! Obviously the crit in itself was worth it. And the information and examples are really helpful. :D

Tess said...

Elana - you are the ninja of all ninja's.

I bow before you.

Elana Johnson said...

Stina, I love that new hook! And yes, I think it serves as a pretty accurate logline. :)

Thanks Tess! No bowing necessary. Sacrifices of Dove dark are appreciated, though. *wink*

Stina said...

Thanks, Elana! Perfect timing for a contest I want to enter. My other one was sooooo lame.

She Wrote said...

This is such a great addition to your column! More, more, more (please).

Unknown said...

I just bought the book and have read some of it already. (literally, just downloaded it minutes ago) I can spot some things I need to do on my query, and I'm frustrated because I'm at work and can't really dive into the book and process until later this evening.

Oh, and Elana? Here's a link just for you. I thought it might come in handy when you don't have time to cook bacon. ;-)


Elana Johnson said...

Maryilee! You're my new BFF! I mean, squeez-bacon! I'm so going to see if I can find that around here. Probably not, which means I'll order it online. Holy bacon bits, Batman!! And sorry you have to work on a day that is obviously meant for you to be query-writing. *hugs*

Thanks She Wrote!

Good luck in the contest, Stina. *fingers crossed for you*

Alli Sinclair said...

Wow, Stina and Elana - what a team! Elana, I've only just discovered your blog and I know I'll be trolling through your older posts. I'm looking forward to buying your ebook and reading through, too. What a great discovery! And good luck, Stina - are you a Calgary lass? I am (via Australia). :-)

Jen said...

What a great idea! Once I finish tweaking my query I may (may mind you) send it over to the ninja :)


Jeff King said...

Thx a lot for sharing this...

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great critique. I'm glad you'll be adding this feature. I really recommend Elana's book too. I bought it last week and it so helped me with my query. She breaks down the heart of the query really well and shows examples from queries form different genres. And then she'll critique your query. I can't wait for mine.

Jemi Fraser said...

Query ninja! Love it :) I'm just starting on mine, but maybe in a bit...


Elana = Query Wizard.

Thanks for participating, Stina!

Alyssa Kirk said...

This is a fantastic addition! It's wonderful to see the Ninja in action!

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Suzette Saxton said...

Kudos to Stina for bravery! Great job, Elana. You are a query goddess.

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