Apr 24, 2011

Query:Abbey: The Startling Spooky, Truly Epic, Paranormal Tale of a Haunted Teen

Abbey: The Startling Spooky, Truly Epic, Paranormal Tale of a Haunted Teen is a 56,000 word young adult novel. Written with equal amounts of suspense and humor, the book tells the story of an unusual 15-year old. Strange things have always happened around Abbey—on her first birthday Abbey’s recently deceased grandmother is photographed looming over her in the background—but strand her at a haunted summer camp having to battle both the counselors and the undead and anything can happen.

Abbey was hoping for a calm summer before starting high school, but her father’s sudden extended business trip ruins that. His plan to have Abbey attend church camp in rural River Falls goes from bad to worse when she discovers the camp ended a week ago—leaving her stranded at Camp ToughLove, a boot camp for troubled teens.

River Falls has always had a spooky history, but the arrival of Abbey has turned the spook-ometer up to 11. First it’s cold spots and moving furniture, then it becomes a paranormal freakshow with a field of dead frogs, blood-red marks on the wall and the bodiless head of woman long-dead. Now, something is reaching out to Abbey with a mysterious symbol that shows up with more and more urgency. Thrown together with a boy she likes, a mean girl she doesn’t and a roommate with the mother-of-all split personalities, Abbey has to figure out the meaning of these otherworldly clues as her entire world crumbles down around her.

I have written professionally in advertising and marketing for over a decade. This is my third novel.

Allan Evans


gj said...

Should the title be the "startlingly" spooky ... tale? Or is it missing a comma?

Actually, the title suffers from the same issue that the query itself does: you're telling instead of showing. The title tells us that the tale is spooky, epic, etc. Unless you're going for some sort of literary self-deprecation or irony (e.g., A Work of Staggering Genius), you're better off with a title that FEELS epic and spooky, rather than a generic label that tells the reader it's epic and spooky.

Your first paragraph is all tell and no show. Don't TELL the agent is's scary and humorous; show that in the query. Don't tell us Abbey is special; give an example that shows it.

Cut the whole first paragraph (except for the title/genre/word-count, which can go at the end). Then SHOW us what the story is. Get into Abbey's POV, and show the story. Don't tell us "anything can happen" -- show us what DOES happen.

Start where it gets interesting, and where Abbey is DOING something, rather than having stuff happen to her. You can start with an inciting event that happens to her -- being sent to a haunted place with scary things threatening her -- but after that, her struggle with the antagonist needs to be driving the story forward. It's not about what happens "around" her -- it's what she does to the things around her.

Skip the boring stuff -- a calm summer -- and get right to the problem: Her father sent her to this stupid camp, except he got the dates wrong, so camp is over, and she's stranded in the empty campsite. And then the zombies show up.

Now use the word count that you've cut to give us an idea of the actual story, which is "What does she do about the scary stuff at the camp, and what will happen if she fails?"

Anonymous Author said...

Allan, the title is the Topic: Comment format used by academic presses. It doesn't look right on a YA.

I agree with everything gj said, and have little to add.

Here is that little:

If she's 15 the summer before she starts high school, she was kept back a year. Which is fine; maybe she was.

Remember that cliches ("mother-of-all" et al) take up unnecessary space without telling us anything new.

Don't give us details we don't need (eg, we assume summer camps are in "rural" places.)

Make sure you're telling us exactly what you mean. Are they blood red marks or are they blood? I'm wearing a blood-red sweatshirt right now, but it's got zero spook factor.

Agents will want to know about your other two novels: by whom were they published, and when? If the answer is nobody and never, then just leave the info out entirely. (Don't say it's your first novel, either. Say naught. Some agents say they like to know. I say let 'em ask if they want to know.)

Anonymous said...

yankinfrance here... (blogger sure is buggy isn't it? why won't it let me post with livejournal?)

I really hate the spelling of her name. Sure, I know you're probably trying to make a point, but the proper spelling of the nickname is "Abby", and would be much more subtle.

My problem with this query is that there's no focus here. It's as if you've forgotten all the rules of advertising and marketing. (If you're going to bring those up in the query, then you're going to need to write one amazing query letter.)

Gj has given you some good advice on how to get this in shape.

Start with the action: "Abbey (yuk) thought she'd have a calm summer before starting 10th grade (because she's 15 and high school --in the US -- starts at age 14), only to find herself battling the undead at the summer camp from hell."

You'll have to get rid of the confusing bits, such as why River Falls can be both a church camp and a ToughLove camp from one week to the next and what either has to do with the haunted camp -- in any event, WHY she goes to camp is unneccessary information for the query.

Most of the setup is unneccessary.

Beware of empty phrases such as "mother of all" (which means nothing) and "entire world crumbles down around her" (which means way too much).

And yeah, fix the title. A grammar mistake in the title of the novel is a red flag for all the rest!

Allan Evans said...

Just for the record, Abbey is my daughter's name--and that's why it's spelled the way it is.

It's funny how I get so close to my writing that I'm not able to see the obvious. I guess that's why a good editor is worth their weight in gold. I will be revising (and revising again!) and post a the updated query soon. I sincerely appreciate your thoughts.