Monday, September 30, 2013

Query Feedback for The Underground by Maribeth Graham



Today we have the query submitted by the winner of our Rafflecopter drawing, Maribeth Graham, for her YA novel, The Underground. First, the query as submitted:


Ms. Agent:

Hoping to escape the devastation from her sister’s death and her parent’s sudden departure, Mel Whitlock accepts an invitation to the secret underground clubs of NYC. It doesn’t take her long to fall in love with the eclectic world and begin using “scents” the new alternative to street drugs.

Mel’s club hopping leads to her abduction. She is taken to a place called the Orphanage where people are “hyped” into believing it is where they belong. The Leaders two very handsome boys Levi and Tobias and an androgynous looking woman named Violet, try to lure her into their subterranean world where all things considered taboo are accepted and encouraged. 

Mel’s resistance to become “hyped” alerts the leaders that she is the one Edmonda, the tea-leaf reading gypsy predicted would come. The girl one of the boys would die for. Two of the leaders will stop at nothing to “hype” Mel before she tries to destroy their underground Empire and one will do whatever it takes to protect her.

The Underground is an 80,000 word YA suspense novel with sci-fi elements and series potential.

I am a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature (Writing for Children and Preparing Your Manuscript for Publication courses). I placed runner-up in a monthly contest sponsored by the SCBWI. Publishing credits include LCCC Literary Magazine, All You Magazine, Stories for Children Magazine and AlienSkin Magazine. I have a story that will be published in the October release of Chicken Soup for the Soul and received payment from ABC studios for a story on “motherhood.” I am looking forward to becoming a published novelist and would appreciate your help. 

I follow you on twitter and enjoy reading your blog. I recently saw that you mentioned you are looking for YA novels with sci-fi elements and I’m hopeful this story will interest you.  I look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely,
Maribeth Graham


And now, the query with my (Angelica's) remarks:



Ms. Agent:

Hoping to escape the devastation from her sister’s death and her parentss sudden departure (as in, her parents abandoned her, or they disappeared?), Mel Whitlock accepts an invitation to the secret underground clubs of NYC. It doesn’t take her long to fall in love with the eclectic world and begin using “scents,” the new alternative to street drugs. ( I’m sensing this is part of your worldbuilding, so I think you can put a little more about how “Scents” works, what the attraction is for Mel and others. Strictly escape? Are there hidden side effects or consequences she discovers?)

Mel’s club hopping leads to her abduction. (this feels a bit off the cuff to me—maybe use some more active phrasing to expand on the stakes. Like, was she in the wrong place at the wrong time, or is someone targeting club hoppers and/or lost girls?) She is taken (passive phrasing) to a place (a home? A spaceship? A hobbit hole? Give us something to set the stage) called the Orphanage, where people are “hyped” into believing it is the only place where they belong. The Leaders, two very handsome boys named Levi and Tobias, and an androgynous looking woman named called Violet (btw, you’ve essentially ONLY told us what these rather important characters look like—I’d like to have a descriptor that tells us about their CHARACTER), try to lure her into their subterranean world--where all things considered taboo are accepted and encouraged.

Mel’s resistance to becoming “hyped” alerts the leaders that she is the one Edmonda (you already have 4 names in play, and it’s not necessary at this stage for us to know all the names), the tea-leaf reading gypsy predicted would come (you have to be careful with the Chosen One/Prophesied One trope, because it’s been done so many times before. If there is something that makes her uniquely qualified to be the savior, you may want to emphasize that over the fact that she’s the answer to a prophecy). The girl one of the boys would die for. Two of the leaders will stop at nothing to “hype” Mel before she  destroys their underground Empire--and one will do whatever it takes to protect her (this is the line with the most impact in the entire query—don’t count on an agent reading this far to get to it. You might even consider starting with another version of it as a tagline/hook .)

The Underground is an 80,000 word YA suspense novel with sci-fi elements and series potential.

I am a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature (Writing for Children and Preparing Your Manuscript for Publication courses). I placed runner-up in a monthly contest sponsored by the SCBWI (congratulations!). Publishing credits include LCCC Literary Magazine, All You Magazine, Stories for Children Magazine and AlienSkin Magazine. I have a story that will be published in tThe October release of Chicken Soup for the Soul will include my story, “_____” and received payment from ABC studios for a story on "motherhood" (unless this is something an agent can find easily, I’d drop it—you have plenty of other credits) I am looking forward to becoming a published novelist and would appreciate your help.  (this is implied by you submitting your query to the agent.) 

I follow you on twitter and enjoy reading your blog. I recently saw that you mentioned you are looking for YA novels with sci-fi elements and I’m hopeful this story will interest you.  I look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely,
Maribeth Graham
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As it's written, this query gives us a glimpse of your story's worldbuilding and the stakes, but lacks any reason to connect (and therefore to care about) the characters. All you've told us about Mel is that she's had a hard time, and is resistant to "hyping"--and we don't even know if this is a physical resistance, or a moral/mental resistance. And all we know about the antagonists (and possible love interest) is how they look.
If you want your query to stand out in the slush pile, it's absolutely crucial to make the reader not only want to know what happens next, but to NEED to follow the characters on their journey. You very likely have written characters that I would love to follow--but you're not giving them a chance to shine in this query.

I think if you invest a little more time in nailing down your characters (and possibly adding some voice) in this query, you will be able to intrigue an agent into asking to see more. That's a query's job, after all! All the best with your querying endeavors and don't hesitate to ask for clarification if some of my comments are confusing. Thanks for stepping up and putting your query on Operation Awesome!
---Angelica


 

2 comments:

  1. Thanks again for your awesome critique. It's amazing what another set of eyes can see.
    ;)
    Maribeth

    ReplyDelete

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