Aug 16, 2009

Query- Shadow Falls (Revision #1)

Click here to read the original query

Dear Agent:

There are people who know sixteen-year-old Willow Sinclair’s big secret. Unfortunately, Willow isn’t one of them.

Will senses something strange is going on the first week she starts her new school in the mountains of North Carolina. For a girl who has spent the first two years of high school successfully blending into the scenery, she suddenly is getting a whole lot of attention.

First, the faculty is giving her the hard sell on joining the Leadership Council (the LC), an exclusive club of students with ties to the academy’s biggest donor, a charismatic televangelist. The members are supermodel perfect, smart as hell, and spiritually dedicated (although dedicated to what, she’s not so sure). Willow can think of nothing she would like to join less.

Then, two boys are competing for her interest and warning her about the danger the other one poses. Will is confused. When did a fairy godmother sneak into her room and sprinkle her with desirable dust? Boys like these would have existed in another orbit from her at her old school in Texas.

Finally, as if beautiful boys and pushy teachers aren’t enough to drive a girl to the edge, Will starts seeing colors around people and develops the olfactory glands of a bloodhound.

Will needs answers. But she’s not sure which guy she can trust to help her find them. Rivers, the sweet Alabama boy with the killer dimples, who also happens to be a member of the LC? Or Pierce, the over-confident preacher’s son with a reputation for preying on new girls and an ax to grind with his father?

Both boys think they know why she’s gifted—she’s goddess-touched like they are. But neither realizes that Willow’s gift came at a price. Before she took her first breath, someone made a deal with her soul. And now it’s time to pay up.

I am pleased to submit for your consideration my paranormal young adult novel, SHADOW FALLS, complete at 85,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If you would like to learn more about me, please visit me at http://fictiongroupie.blogspot.com . I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,

Me

13 comments:

Lazy Writer said...

Love it! It is much better. Great revision!

Laura Martone said...

Howdy! I just read the first version of this query, so I see how it's improved...

First, the length is slightly better... the body of the query went from 381 to 358 words, which is good. The agent Nathan Bransford once suggested that the "sweet spot" for queries is around 250-350 words (which was, incidentally, a hard lesson for me to accept, at least initially).

Second, I'm glad you kept the same hook - as I agree with the commenters for your first revision - it's a solid hook that urges me to read on.

Third, while this is definitely an improvement, it could use a few tweaks:

1. I think the last sentence of the second paragraph would have a lot more impact if it read "...she is suddenly..." (instead of "she suddenly is").

2. Another spot that could use more impact is the third paragraph - you can remove the second instance of "dedicated".

3. In the fourth paragraph, you can remove "from her" in the last sentence - I keep stumbling over the sentence, and it's obvious that the orbit was not hers, too.

4. It could just be me, but I think you should pick one name for your MC - Will or Willow - and stick with it. The shift is a little distracting.

5. These are just minor things... but I'd close the gap between your website and the period, and insert a line between the last sentence and "Sincerely".

Despite all those little nit-picky things, I think your query is very strong. The story sounds intriguing, and I love the title! Good luck with it!

FictionGroupie said...

Thanks for the detailed feedback, Laura. Those changes are great suggestions. Sometimes you stare at something so long that those little things like an extra word here and there start to blend in. So a fresh eye is so helpful. :)

TLH said...

I agree with most of what Laura said. I just wanted to say what a dramatic improvement this letter is, and that I adore this plot hook!

gj said...

It's probably just me and my idiosyncracies, b/c your first paragraph is working for other people, but just in case it's useful, I'll explain why it doesn't work for me.

Actually, I think it would work on a book cover -- the back cover copy -- better than in a query, b/c it is a fun contrast between having a secret and not even knowing she has a secret.

For the query, though, it leaves me cold, b/c I'm looking for the story's conflict right up front. I'm looking for who the protagonist is, what she wants, what she's doing to get it, and who's stopping her. I'm looking for an ACTIVE protagonist, one who has a problem and is doing something about it, not one who doesn't even know she has a problem.

The thing is, if she doesn't know she has a secret (which is implicit in her not knowing what it is, unless you make it clear that she's trying to find out what it is), then she doesn't have a problem. It's like what they say about alcoholics -- the alcoholics themselves don't have any problems, b/c they are in denial and don't know they have problems; it's the people around them who are more aware of what's going on and therefore have to deal with all the problems.

So, if the protagonist doesn't know she's got a secret or isn't actively trying to find out what it is, then the entire first paragraph has nothing to do with the protagonist's journey. It's a false start of sorts.

The story starts when she has a problem. Perhaps when she finds out that she has a secret (from her, even) background, and she needs to learn more about it. But until she's actively involved in that secret, there's no story.

Anyway, that's my explanation, for whatever it's worth. I see the "stuff the protagonist doesn't know" beginnings a lot on various forums, so I can only imagine how often agents see them. After a while, it gets annoying. I want to hear about what she DOES know and what she acts upon, not what she doesn't know.

FictionGroupie said...

Thanks Lazy Writer and TLH for the positive feedback.

GJ,
I appreciate your feedback as well. Mine probably sounds like a back cover copy because that's what I've read a query should sound like, so that's the direction I took. (perhaps I was wrong on that? do others have thoughts on this? I'm curious to know what others have heard.)

I definitely don't have a passive protagonist, so if she's coming across that way then something needs tweaking. Not knowing why certain things are happening drives her crazy, and her journey is about finding those answers. Would it work better if I changed the sentence "Willow needs answers" to "Willow wants answers"?

However, I probably won't change the hook since I've gotten a lot of positive feedback about it. And the thought of creating another one pains me, lol. :)

Stephanie said...

Although it is shorter, I still think it needs some shaving...

Good Luck!!

Laura Martone said...

Hi, again!

I just wanted to address GJ's issue re: the hook - and your subsequent questions.

Although I still like your hook (and can understand your reluctance to change it - as I've had my own hair-pulling query-writing episodes), it's never good to do something that agents see a lot of. Makes it easier for them to move on to the next query in the slushpile. So, perhaps it's true that too many queries start with the in-the-dark protagonist. I don't know - I guess it's worth looking into.

That said, I'd like to address your questions re: back cover copy. I've read differing advice. Some agents want the query to sound like back cover copy (with the ending merely hinted at). Others want you to lay it all out for them, so they can see, in a nutshell, that your story has a compelling beginning, middle, and end. So, my advice would be to have at least two different basic queries - which can be tweaked, depending on the agent (either because of his/her guidelines or just the vibe you get during your research).

Hope that made sense.

--Laura

P.S. Thanks for becoming a follower of my blog, FictionGroupie. I appreciate the support!

gj said...

Back cover copy works slightly differently from query text.

For back cover copy, you're addressing the ultimate reader, and you're focusing on what's the SAME as books she's read before. It's all about buzzwords and marketing. You're basically saying: "this book has all these cool elements that you've liked before, so you'll like this one."

Query copy is addressing the agent, who's looking for what's DIFFERENT from all the other books on the shelves (while still hitting the basic elements of story, e.g., protagonist/antagonist/conflict, and genre). In a query, you can't rely on the buzzwords or phrases that work in back-cover copy, because "new and different" is pretty much the antithesis of buzzwords.

gj said...

I shoulda' said that "secrets" is one of the buzzwords that would work in back-cover copy and interest a reader, but it's not enough in a query, where an agent will want to know what the secret is and why it's a problem for the protagonist.

This is actually a good example for how back-cover copy and query text are slanted a bit differently.

TLH said...

Hmm... This is a very interesting discussion. I would agree with GJ, most of my research shows that agents abhor buzzwords and generalizations. They like it to be written with the attitude of a back-cover but not the language, if that makes sense.

That said, I wouldn't change your hook other than specificity. Not that you should give away the whole cow up front, but give us more of an idea what the secret might be. I still like your basic idea for it.

RCWriterGirl said...

Wow, this is great. Much clearer than the first. Spilling the secret that she's a goddess, is crucial. As is the fact that someone made a deal with her soul. I'm dying to know who and what for (but that's the perfect way to end a query, with my curiosity piqued).

Great rewrite. I'd ask for pages. Though, I'm not an agent.

p.s. Agree with the comment about shifting from Will to Willow. Pick one and stick with it. I prefer Willow, as Will (even as a nickname) sounds guy-like; though I'm sure Will works in a novel-length setting, as you get to know the her.

I won't get into the back copy vs. query debate. I will only say I found your query compelling from sentence one.

FictionGroupie said...

An Update: Thanks everyone for all the feedback! I sent out a query this past weekend with the new version and the agent has already requested a partial (woo-hoo!). So your help and advice have been invaluable.