Thursday, November 11, 2010

Help Wanted

Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.

~ Sicilian Proverb

(http://inlinethumb11.webshots.com/32138/2227801470030586854S425x425Q85.jpg)


Those who have followed me for a while know that I entered query wars recently. I'm feeling a bit battle-scarred right now, and I would love some feedback from you.

I love my original query (I'm not going to tell you which one it is), but I'm not receiving any requests to see my MS. Therefore, with some help from my inner circle, I've been playing with my query letter and my early chapters. Now, I would love it if you would be willing to trudge through my two versions and let me know what you think. What works? What doesn't? Any changes you suggest?

In order to keep this shorter, I did not include the final paragraph of personal info. Yes, you're welcome.

Version One


Dear __________,

Eight-year-old Scott is stunned when he ends up at The Naughty Boy Factory—which was supposed to be a myth, like Bigfoot or the Bermuda Triangle.

Sure, he’s a bit lazy and messy and likes to pick on his sister, but so what? Somebody has to keep things interesting. And how is he supposed to grow up to be a ninja-mechanic-airplane pilot if he never gets to practice his skills? But when Mom and Dad decide to ship him off for some fixing, Scott finds out The Factory is no myth—it’s real.

Thanks to an evil director, her scary robot guards, and the B.A.D. center (where the really bad boys are sent for some serious brainwashing), Scott and his group of boys reluctantly do as they are told. They are led them through a series of better behavior stations, including the Ear Enhancer, the Mouth Wash, and the TongueTorium, where their bad habits are all mysteriously “fixed right up”. But then it’s on to the Hands and Feet Department to fix their running, wrestling, and bug smashing fun—and that’s when Scott decides things have gone too far.

Hoping to save himself and his new friends, Scott confronts Mr. Little. Just when Scott thinks he’s won, the director captures them all—including Mr. Little—and herds them toward the B.A.D. center. It’s all or nothing—escape or end up transformed into boring, well-mannered mama’s boys.


Version Two
(slightly edited since first posted, based on comment feedback)

Dear __________,

Eight-year old Scott may be a bit lazy and messy and like to pick on his sister, but so what? Somebody has to keep things interesting. And how is he supposed to grow up to be a ninja-mechanic-airplane pilot if he never gets to practice his skills? But when he ruins his little sister’s birthday party with a well-aimed cup of worms, his parents ship him off to The Naughty Boy Factory—a place he’d always believed was about as real as Bigfoot or the Bermuda Triangle.

Thanks to an evil director, her scary robot guards, and the B.A.D. center (where the really bad boys are sent for some serious brainwashing), Scott and his group of boys reluctantly do as they are told. After being marched through a series of better behavior stations, including the Ear Enhancer, the Mouth Wash, and the TongueTorium, Scott worries he may end up a boring, too-good, mama’s boy. Then, at the Hands and Feet Department, Scott is told his running, wrestling, and sneaking-up-on-sisters days will soon be over. And that’s when he decides things have gone too far.


So...is my face dirty? Do not spare my feelings. This is business. Besides, a good writer needs to handle constructive criticism well. Right? Right!

29 comments:

Jessica Bell said...

I like the second one better, but to be honest I think it needs more punch. You should ask Talli Roland to have a go at it. SHE IS MEGA AWESOME WITH QUERIES. She really knows how to exploit the punch!

Christine Danek said...

Well, I'm no expert on this, but I like the second one better. I do agree with Jessica it does need a little more punch. It needs to stand out more. I get sort of lost as I read it.
I hope that helps. :) Like I said, I'm no expert. I'm just starting to look into how to write a query.
HAve a great day!

Jen Daiker said...

I'm glad to see that Jess, Christine and I all agree. Number 2is the better one I think!

I'm glad to know that Talli is awesome at queries (something I'll be remember!)

Have a great day!

Shellie said...

I too like the second one is better, but you're giving a synopsis here instead of a hook. The query or pitch should act more as a lure. I think both version are too detail heavy. Maybe find a way to abbreviate his bad behavior. I don't think you need to be too specific about what happens in the school either. Entice the reader without too much details. I deleted a bunch in this version, but I don't it lost the essence of the story.

Eight-year old Scott may be a bit lazy and messy and like to pick on his sister, but when he ruins her birthday party with a well-aimed cup of worms, his fed-up parents ship him off to The Naughty Boy Factory—a place he’d always believed was about as real as Bigfoot or the Bermuda Triangle.

The Naughty Boy Factory is run by an evil director and her scary robotic guards. Scott is marched through a series of better behavior stations: the Ear Enhancer, the Mouth Wash, and the TongueTorium. Scott worries he's being turned into a boring do-gooders and decides it has gone too far.

Karen Akins said...

I like the second one also, but I agree with pp'ers that you could cut some of the details and jump straight into the action (i.e. When 8 y/o Scott ____ ruins his little sister's birthday part with a well-aimed cup of worms, he assumes his parents will [insert punishment] as usual. Instead they ship him off to the Naughty Boy Factory.)

In the second paragraph, I think you could give it a little more punch and jump into the conflict sooner. A few of Scott's details could go here to make us care about him.

When I first start reading the second paragraph, my initial thought was, "Okay, it's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle", but there seems to be an escape plot. You might want to bring that in earlier.

Final thought, I'd split this into 3 shorter paragraphs rather than 2 big ones. Easier to read.

Janna Qualman said...

Okay, so I like #2 best, because it's more concise and is more direct with Scott's challenge. #1 reads as a more-detailed synopsis might.

That said, what an awesome premise, Shannon!

K. Harrington said...

First, I agree that this sounds like a terrific premise with a lot of colorful characters and settings. Great job!

But I also agree with some of our friends here that this reads more like a synopsis than a query. You want to leave them wanting more, more, MORE! That said, I like the second query better and I think you could shrink that a bit as well. Also, tell your reader what other books YOUR book compares to and/or would appeal to.

"My book will appeal to readers of ___, ____ and _____."

I know what it feels like to be beat up by this process. It's no fun condensing a larger story. I hate it and I'm going through that right now. On the advice of a friend, I wrote a query letter that broke all the rules and only had 2 solid sentences that described the story. I got a request for full ms. from 23 agents! So...be bold! Make them want to ask for more. They will.

Keep us posted!

Tracy said...

I like the second option the best, but I agree that the paragraph may be a little too detailed. I'd suggest cutting it down to this--not changing anything just take out some of the extraneous details.

The Naughty Boy Factory is run by an evil director and her scary robotic guards. Upon arrival, Scott is marched through a series of better behavior stations, including the Ear Enhancer, the Mouth Wash, and the TongueTorium. As his behavior improves it’s not all bad, but then--at the Hands and Feet Department--Scott is told his running, wrestling, and sneaking-up-on-sisters days will soon be over. That’s when Scott decides things have gone too far.

Tracy said...

I meant to say, cut the 2nd paragraph down to what I suggested in italics. The 1st reads pretty smooth, I think.

C. N. Nevets said...

Think of your query as a textual trailer for your book. Movie trailers don't take you through the story in chronological order, giving you a short version of the film. They hit the wow points, get you with flash and sizzle, punchlines and visual effect. They don't leave you thinking, "Interesting story." They leave you saying, "Um, wow, I need to see that."

Quinn said...

I'm gonna go against the crowd here and say I like the first one best. But both of them read more like a synopsis instead of a query.

I'd take the first one and rework the third and fourth paragraph -- that's where you get to synopsisy.

I'd just end with "Scott decides things have gone too far. It's all or nothing ..." You don't need to tell that extra twist where the diretor captures them all.

Mary Aalgaard said...

#2 for sure. It's a bit more concise. What I'm wanting to read is what endears us to this boy, and why we will root for him to be himself, above all, annoying, messy, yet creative and caring? Let us know a bit of his insides.

Falen (Sarah Ahiers) said...

i think the second one is better, however the voice is a bit stronger in the first query.

maybe ditch some of the more formal turns of phrase, such as "becomes increasingly more worried"

Carolyn V. said...

I agree with the others, the second one is my fav. It's not as long and gets right to the point. Unfortunately, I am not at the query process, so I don't have much to give in feedback. Just keep up the work Shannon! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you!

storyqueen said...

The second one flows better when I read it.

But I would be inclined to break up the second paragraph somehow so that visually it doesn't look so big. I mean, if your protag is 8, then your ideal reader is probably around that age, too. Paragraphs of this size look intimidating.

If I were an agent, I would worry that the book "looked" too hard for the average 8 year old.

Just a thought. I love the idea and think you've really got something here.

Good Luck!

Shelley

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Thanks for all of the fantastic feedback everyone! You guys are awesome. :-)

sablelexi said...

I'm going to have to agree with those that said is sounds more like a synopsis than a query letter. I read on another persons blog in a letter they got from a publisher on a query letter they wrote for a contest, that if you can write your synopsis part in the letter to be brief, it shows that you really understand what your book is about.

Alesa Warcan said...

I too prefer the second and think that it still needs more oomph.

For the first one, You introduce a name character, Mr. Little, but you don't say who is or what he does, how is he significant? Is he?
Sure I can guess, but it doesn't feel right in this context.

For the second it feels a bit too much like you have a checklist of things you want to mention...

Your premise sounds like fun, good luck in the query battle!

Colene Murphy said...

I'm no big expert but I do like the second one better. The only issue I can say I have for sure is after the first paragraph it sort of goes flat on the voice aspect. I loved the feeling in the first paragraph but then...fizzled.

I agree that you give too much away. It needs to pop and punch and make the reader need to know what happens, not tell us right off the bat. I'd say stick with the fact that he gets put away and the evil director and then back off on specifics. You gotta make us NEED to read this book to find out what happens to the boy. Give the how his world got turned, the conflict he is immediately faced with and his reason for having to solve the problem. If that makes sense.

Old Kitty said...

What a fabulous story!!!! It's fun packed exciting and just the right kind of scary for young minds!

I like the first one best because and this is just me btw - it's the format. It's in three paragraphs - makes it an easier read and makes your first - and your incredible hook! - stand out!! You also make it sound incredibly exciting!!! A little description about who Mr Little is would be great!

Good luck with this! Take care
x

Old Kitty said...

p.s I meant "your first sentence stand out" sorry!! Take care
x

Laurel said...

I don't have much to add here. I think Karen's condensed version is very good. I also agree with Mary that we need a reason to want Scott to succeed. I think perhaps giving the sense that the factory is a soul-crushing place would up the ante a little.

I'd prefer fewer details about the stations and more about the kind of action Scott feels compelled to take. Is this simply an escape plot, or are Scott and his pals looking to bring this abusive place down?

Solvang Sherrie said...

I definitely like the second one better, but overall it's too long. I like some of the cuts Shellie made but I'm not really seeing what's at stake for the main character. I think you need to show what he's losing out on if he becomes a "mama's boy." Right now it just sounds like he has to be better behaved and that's not a very big conflict.

But that's just my two cents. I'm in the same boat at you right now!

Nicole Zoltack said...

The 2nd version is much improved, but like the others already said, it's still too synopsis-y.

Maybe something like: Upon arrival, Scott and his group of boys are marched through a series of better behavior stations, including the Ear Enhancer, the Mouth Wash, and the TongueTorium, where their bad habits are all mysteriously “fixed right up”. But Scott doesn't want to become a goody-two-shoes Momma's boy, and if that means hatching an escape plan, that's exactly what Scott'll do.

Or something like that. I think the first paragraph is great, although you might not need 'a place he'd always believed was about as real as Bigfoot or the Bermuda Triangle.'

Query letters are brutal but you'll get it right and soon you'll get lots of requests for partials. :)

Heather said...

This sounds like a great story it's just the presentation that needs work. You should open with something on how/why you chose to approach the specific agent. Then you need a hook, one to two sentences that sums up the problem, stakes, and solution. Two paragraphs, three max should follow to give more of the meat of the story. Then wrap up with a sentence that includes any relevant info about you including contact info. And don't feel bad, query's are hard! Yours isn't that bad. ;)

Melissa said...

The feedback you've gotten back so far is great.

I like the second one better. Anything I would have changed in the first is done in the second.

Tina Lynn said...

I think the second version rocks! The only thing I would do is remind us of the stakes. Which version one does well with its last line. Add that line in seamlessly at the end and it's perfect IMO.

Jemi Fraser said...

I like #2 as well. Could you give the first line a bit more zip though? Mabye something like...

The Naughty Boy Factory? No way did Scott believe in that - until he landed on his eight-year-old backside in the middle of it.

or

It was only a cup of worms, but it landed 8-year-old Scott in the Naughty Boy Factory.

or

Eight-year-old Scott never thought his annoying sister's birthday party would land him in The Factory. After all, isn't it a brother's right to torment the girls with worms?

Okay - none of mine are wonderful, but I'm just trying to give you some ideas to add the fun right in at the beginning. Hope that helps. I LOVE the premise of your story!! Good Luck!

Susanne Drazic said...

I like the second one!

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