Mar 11, 2009


Dear Secret Agent,

In a world where Thinkers control the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces.

After committing her eighth lame-ass crime (walking in the park at night [after dark] with a boy, gasp!), Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) and exiled to the Badlands. Good thing sexy Bad boy Jag Barque will be going too.

Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled.

A dystopian science fiction novel for young adults, CONTROL ISSUES is complete at 82,000 words. Fans of Scott Westerfeld’s dystopian UGLIES series will enjoy similar elements, and a strong teen voice.

I am an elementary school teacher by day and a contributing author to the QueryTracker blog by night. If you would like to consider CONTROL ISSUES, I’d be happy to forward the complete manuscript to you.




Rick Daley said...

I really like the voice of this query. The only problem I have is that there's a lot of set up, and then a very short teaser for the intrigue driving the plot.

Have you considered starting with "When secrets about her "dead" sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled..."

Then explain the secrets and the choices. You can probably add some of the flavor / exposition by explaining how her choices are impacted by the other characters and her environment.

Overall, it has enough voice and style that I am interested in reading sample pages. Too bad I'm not an agent!

ElanaJ said...

Ahh..oops. I realized I didn't take out the [after dark] part. I'm still trying to decide between the two. Some people didn't like how they rhyme (park and dark).

Thanks Rick! Unfortunately, the choice Vi has to make is the climax...not the opening of the book. So, yeah. I'm not sure about opening it that way.

Rick Daley said...

I can delete the [after dark] from the post if you'd like.

There are different schools of thought on how a query should flow. I try to start with a hook. For my query, it is the climax: Gil Jacobs must die in order to save his soul. Then I explain why his soul is in jeopardy, and how it can be saved.

Granted, it needs work, but I think the first line is a keeper.

Of course, that doesn't mean that's best for your query, but don't feel limited to the sequence of events in the manuscript when describing the work as a whole.

At any rate, I think you've got a good query, it shows voice and made me want to read some more.

scott g.f. bailey said...

The thing is, to some extent the climax *is* the book. Everything before the climax leads up to it, and the story is the resolution of the problem at the climax. If we don't know what the problem is, we don't care no matter how well you've done your world-building. I agree with Rick: you have to give us Vi's big conflict, right at the start. Don't give us clever, don't give us backstory or background, but do give us a fascinating protagonist in danger. And what's fascinating about Vi isn't her dystopian future society or her beau or her sister or her father, it's how Vi solves her problems (or fails to, depending on how you resolve the conflict).

The voice is good. Nicely teenage "Whatever, man. Back off."

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I've read and commented on this query before, but I just wanted to weight into the whole making the query about the climax. I think this might work in some causes, but in others you would have to give too much away.

Also, I remember quite a ways back reading on the Pub Rants blog where she said that the query should focus more on the inciting incident, which is what I think Elana did here to very nice effect (or affect? Damn, I never know.)

Rick Daley said...

Hi Kate, thanks for joining in the discussion!

I don't think the query should be restricted to the climax, but it is often times the best hook, and I think the query should begin with an effective hook. (And I'm pretty sure effective was correct there, as was your use of effect :-)

The main goal is to describe the plot. Scott posted this in response to the Query for Realm of the Makers:

"Try to reformulate this into one or two sentences along the lines of:

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting].
But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's
quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal]."

I think this is a great formula to use. You probably won't put it in the query verbatim, but it helps define the true heart of the story.

ElanaJ said...

Interesting. I have never heard of starting the query with the climax and then going back and explaining it. I use the formula of hook, setup, conflict, consequence.

I'm gonna stew on it...thanks everyone!

scott g.f. bailey said...

I don't mean that you give away the climax, but that the query is about the conflict that can only be resolved by the climax. It's just more interesting to me to start with Vi having to make a choice, and why.

"Violet Schoenfeld must make a choice: control or be controlled." just strikes me as a much more compelling first line than "In a world where Thinkers control the population and Rules are not meant to be broken."

The pitch portion of my query was five sentences long. I think I could have shortened that to four, but an agent liked it the way it was.

Rick Daley said...


I'm glad you've found our feedback thought provoking, that's what I hoped for in my comments and for this blog overall.

I'm not sure how much Scott and I are saying to change the query formula, because I think we all agree on hook, setup, conflict, consequence. Personally, I just think your climax works as a great hook ;-)

Anonymous said...

See, this why I suck at queries, because I read this and thought "Hmmmm I'd like to read this." The voice completely drew me in, I didn't notice anything else, except maybe a tiny bit of confusion about the new boyfriend and the ex; I had to re-read that.

So, ElanaJ, you've sent this query out and not pulled in anything? That surprises me, if that is the case.

Ah I just read you are from Query Tracker. See I didn't care about anything else. I stopped right after the story part.


Anonymous said...

Oh, PS.. I read that you intended to take (after dark) out. I know someone would probably yell about that, but I liked it anyway, even if it is repetative. It makes it more sarcastic or something.

And Rick,
Thanks again for doing this. It is really nice to have another learning tool (a nice one).

Rick Daley said...

Jo / Anon (same person, right?),

Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate the support.

ElanaJ said...

Anonymous, thanks for your kind words! I haven't sent it out yet. I'm just getting it ready to send out.


And thanks Rick and Scott. I genuinely love thinking about things in a new way.

Mira said...

I really like this query. I love the tone. You're showing the agent right from the start that you're a witty writer with a punch to your words.

I agree that the first line needs alittle more punch. I'm not sure I agree about leading with the conflict. I actually like the build here.

But I might re-write the first sentence, by changing the order. (I hope this is okay):

Fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering things. She especially likes to shatter the rules set up by the Thinkers who control the world.

Well, something like that.

I'd read this book. You go, Elana.

Oh, I will say, for conflicting feedback, I'd trust your instincts. I think you have good ones.