Friday, August 17, 2012

The Walls Query Letter

I almost feel like I should apologize for my last post.  Not for the content but for wussing out.  But I really felt, after reading what I'd written, that it sounded less like a blog post and more like a laundry list of grievances, and that's not what I'm about.  I want to provide useful, positive information to help writers.  That's why, in the end, I think the best advice is simply to be respectful.  Sorry if I disappointed anyone.

Now on to my query letter.  This is the query letter I submitted for The Walls.  I'm going to break it down and point out what I believe are the good and bad parts.  Feel free to join the party in the comments and point out anything you think sucked, rocked, or could have been better.

I'd considered giving out my stats for this query, but I'm not sure they're relevant because I may have had an advantage being previously published.

Here it is:

Dear Agent, 
Clearly, I used their first name.  Take the time to make sure you have the correct name and that you've spelled it correctly.  Messing it up doesn't guarantee rejection, but an agent might thing that if you didn't take the time to make certain you put the correct name on a query, that you might not have taken the time to make your novel its best. 
I hope you'll consider representing my contemporary YA novel THE WALLS. Something personal here. I kept this section short and always added a line as to why I was querying them specifically. Either they repped someone I admired or they have an interest I thought would mesh well with my style. Something to indicate that I had actually done some research. But short. This paragraph never strayed beyond two sentences.
Sometimes superheroes aren't the people wearing the masks.
I really love this line. I think it encapsulates the optimism of what might otherwise be considered a dark book.  However, I probably should have cut it because it's unnecessary and I don't spend much time in the rest of the query discussing the part of the book that would make this line relevant.   
Andrew Brawley has not been outside the walls of Roanoke General Hospital since the day his parents died. Since the day Death was late to retrieve him. He lives in the hospital. Works in the cafeteria, volunteers in the ER. He even made friends with a couple of kids in the pediatric ward.
This paragraph should have been stronger.  But what I was trying to do in this first bit is establish the setting, character, and stakes.  I think I did that, but wish I'd written it to be stronger.  Notice that I don't name the kids he befriends in the pediatric ward. Despite being major parts of the story, their names are unnecessary in the query, so I left them out. 
But it's a disguise, a way to blend in and hide from Death, who stalks the halls in high heels and a pencil skirt. Hide from the world outside the hospital walls. Hide from himself.
Even though I feel this is a necessary part of the query, I screwed this up in two ways. The first was that I made it seem like this was going to be a paranormal novel.  It's not.  The second is that I should have merged this with the paragraph above to keep things flowing.  The only good thing about this paragraph (along with the one above it) is that it gives you a sense of my voice.  I didn't write this as Drew, but I wrote it in the terse, moody style of the book. 
For a time, Drew is content. Until the night paramedics wheel Rusty McHale into the ER. Rusty is the boy on fire. Set ablaze by bullies from his school, he burns like a beacon, drawing Drew to him. That is the night that everything changes, and Drew begins to realize that the hospital may not be big enough, that the walls may not be strong enough to hold him.
Without getting mired in the plot, this paragraph serves to explain the turning point.  What turns Drew's life on its head?  Again, I think this paragraph could have been much stronger, but I do believe it accomplishes its purpose.  We know that Drew is living in the hospital, afraid to leave, and that the arrival of Rusty changes that.   
But in order to escape, Drew will have to face his own guilt over the death of his parents, find a way to keep the people that he's come to love alive, and settle his debt with Death once and for all.
This is my second favorite paragraph. Its job is to tell the agent–who know knows the status quo and what changes the status quo–how we move to the end of the book. What are the stakes? What obstacles is Drew going to face in order to escape the hospital and be with Rusty.  It does all that, in one sentence that, I feel sets the stage but leaves more than enough to the imagination to get an interested agent to request the manuscript. 
THE WALLS is a contemporary YA novel that incorporates some graphic novel elements, and is complete at 83,000 words. My first book, THE DEATHDAY LETTER was published by Simon Pulse in June 2010, and my second book FML, also from Simon Pulse, is scheduled for release Summer 2013.
This is really just the standard stuff.  Pertinent info for an agent.  If you have no publishing credits or work history relevant to your story, you can leave it off.  This paragraph is pretty much a fill-in-the-blanks exercise.
So that's my query letter for The Walls.  I want to point out that the only thing my query deals with is the main thrust of the plot.  There are a lot of other characters, many subplots, none of which are mentioned in this query.  Not because they're not important, but because they're not relevant.  The query is an amuse-bouche. A single bite meant to whet the appetite and give the agent a taste of what's to come.  Mine shows only the main plot, using the style of the book without resorting to the kind of trickery that agents dislike.  In this query my goal was to show the writer what the book is about and give them an idea of my writing style.  I think I accomplished that despite the flaws.

I do feel that this query could have been much stronger.  The language, I feel, is weak, and I was a little too dependent on style to set the tone rather than word choice.  I also gave in a little too much to flair and allowed the query to wander a little.  If I had to do it again, I'd make sure that it was clear that this is not a paranormal book despite the presence of Death.  I'd make sure to hit harder and clearer.

What do you think? Thoughts? Since I'm not querying this novel, try to frame any suggestions in a way that would help someone on their own query. Other than that, have at it!

1 comment:

  1. I may be too close to this story to properly critique the query. I don't like analyzing queries for books I've read, which I know sounds strange, but makes sense when you think about it.

    Querying is a strange art form, and I find it's actually much easier to fix a query when you haven't read the book.

    Anyway, I do like this, in general. One thing I find very interesting is that in your red analysis, you mention Drew "being" with Rusty. I don't know that from the actual query, "burns like a beacon, drawing Drew to him ..." actually makes it clear that there is a romantic element to their relationship. It certainly hints at it, but one thing I always tell people when I critique their queries is to be as specific as possible.

    I don't know, it obviously doesn't matter for you or for this book, but for anyone out there reading this, always try to be as clear and concise as you can when writing a query letter. Any hint of vagueness is your enemy.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.