Jul 19, 2011

Query - Duck for cover, my dad's going to explode

Dear Agent,

Trapped in an elevator with no way out, Jake fights to survive the terror of breathing in the haunting aroma of an elevator fart. A suspicion has formed in his mind that an alien army has taken over his fathers body, and were using everything at their disposal to wage a war of escape.  It started as a few simple sneezes, then before Jake knew it, he was ducking for cover from his fathers pulsating puss filled pimples.

Doomed to have no control over his bodily functions, his father must experience the humiliation of exploding in the grossest ways possible, from shooting potentially deadly snot of mass destruction to stomach churning projectile vomiting. The aliens even tried climbing to freedom through the dense jungle of his nasal passages, with a soggy piece of spaghetti.

Then there was the incident with the elephant.

Duck for cover, my dad's going to explode is a humorous chapter book and complete at 13,400 words. I would be delighted to send the full manuscript at your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration and have a great day.

Yours sincerely,

M Jones

19 comments:

yankinfrance said...

As the father of two young boys, I can see something like this providing plenty of giggles at bedtime. ;-)

I think you need to work on voice -- "a suspicion has formed in his mind", for example, does not read at all like a kid's voice (and the passive construction is kind of a no-no).

Why not get right to the action: "An alien army has taken over Jake's dad's body ..." (or better: "Aliens have taken over Jake's dad's body..."

Although if they've taken over his body, then why are they trying to escape from it? This is confusing -- you'll need to clear this up.

Seems like you mean something more along the lines of : "Aliens have take over Jake's dad's body, and they're using him to conquer the world. From the terror of elevator farts to sneezes of mass destruction, they'll stop at nothing..." etc.

I do like the "Then there was the incident with the elephant ..." line.

Also, perhaps the title would be just a big snappier if it read: "Duck For Cover: Dad's Gonna Explode!"

(Hmm... I can picture a whole 'Duck for Cover' series... like the 'Black Lagoon' series my kids loved).

Rick Daley said...

I can see little boys giggling at this, but I think more of the story needs to come through...you will need more than gross-out gags to sell this to an agent and publisher. Is the story about Jake, his dad, or the aliens?

In the first paragraph fathers should be possessive (father's) in both instances. In the second paragraph you should hyphenate stomach-churning. At the end of the second paragraph, drop the comma and change "with" to "using" so it reads more that they use the spaghetti as a rope, otherwise it reads that they are accompanied by a noodle.

Throughout the query you switch between past and tresent tense. Stick with present.

I like the way the elephant line is presented ;-)

I wouldn't say the book is humorous, that point is made through the description of the story. You also don't need to express your enthusiasm in sending the full MS, it's a given...that line unnecessarily adds to your query's word count.

Good luck!

Anonymous Author said...

Wow, Rick, you were able to read the query in way more detail than I was. I skimmed everything after the word fart.

It may be too soon to say we have a gender thing going on here, but writer, consider focusing on male agents and editors.

Not exclusively, obviously. You can't. Gender-wise, the publishing deck's stacked against you. Er. So is the book-buying deck. I know, I know, Walter the Farting Dog. And you have to go where your muse leads you. Good luck.

I had a problem with the phrase "duck for cover," which sounds needlessly redundant to me. Google turns up other hits for it, so I guess maybe it's a regionalism.

Some of these other hits are "I used a duck for cover."

yankinfrance said...

Maybe "duck for cover" is an East Coast thing, because I didn't blink at it. It also calls to mind the whole 'duck and cover' thing from the 50s, which I think provides a nice element of kitsch to it.

I too sort of skimmed over the rest of the query though -- the writing was too poor (as Rick has pointed out) to give the details of it much thought.

As for targeting male agents -- well, he's screwed there, isn't he? Not a hell a lot of those left...

Nonetheless, any agent, male or female, who has or had young boys should be able to recognize the appeal of a tasty fart joke (and the idea of an exploding dad) to that set.

One of my kids' favorites was the story of a mole who got pooped on on the head.

The trick, of course, is to find the balance between humor and grossness -- this query doesn't do it. And if the writing's indicative of the actual chapter book, well... that's a whole other problem.

Alexander Field said...

I haven't read the other comments here but my simple take away was this: Little will love the title and concept. However, for the query letter, what's the story about? Is there a beginning, middle, and end? If so, it might be nice to share a bit of this for the agent/publisher. : )

Anonymous Author said...

YIF, have you gotten the "I didn't fall in love with it" rejection letter yet?

I must've gotten it a dozen times. Made me wonder if I was querying agents or cruising match dot com.

An agent will usually have to read through a manuscript several times if she takes it on... and she'll have to sincerely rave about it to editors, in an increasingly tight market. An editor, of course, will have to read the manuscript many more times, and will have to fight for it in an acquisitions meeting... which used to be almost a rubber stamp, but now it really is a struggle.

I just went through the whole process again --agent search to submission to sale-- in the last four months, and the talk was all about love.

They undoubtedly do think about what appeals to the target audience. But that's gonna be weighed against how many times they personally want to read about projectile vomiting.

There are quite a few male agents working middle grades. Fewer editors, admittedly. But presumably a good agent would know which female editors had the stomachs for the job, and submit to them as well.

Rick Daley said...

In 2009 I landed an agent for a 500-word picture book titled RUDY TOOT-TOOT. It's about a little boy who can fart with hurricane force (it comes natural when you're born on a bean farm). My agent, who was female, and who was also an editor for 20+ years, helped me draw the story out to a 17,000-word chapter book.

It turned into a very charming story about Rudy finding the right place and right time to use his special powers. We shopped it to about 14 editors. No bites. Lots of love, even more laughs, but no offers due to the content...even in light of the success of Walter the Farting Dog and 100,000+ copies sold of Sir Fartsalot.

Good luck with this book, but as the others have said, it's going to be a tough sell.

I don't mean to discourage you, but I do want to caution you that it has to be in absolute top condition in every way, shape, and form. Make sure you put in the full effort on the MS before taking the time to query.

Actually, that goes for everyone, not just the author of this book!

Anonymous Author said...

Yes.

It's a hard time to be querying around anything that you haven't polished till it glows.

Mm. And anything that you have.

Suzi McGowen said...

So not my cup of tea. Ugh. Gross. Yuck. No laughs.

Try again. If you can make me laugh (at least smile) then you've got something.

yankinfrance said...

Ah, I'm in a completely different category, I write literary novels (with a capital A). I'm querying agents even though I realize I don't really have a shot in hell with them. Male or female.

There's no way they can judge my work on just a few pages anyway -- it's just not that kind of novel.

Here in France, agents don't really exist and publishers will only accept full manuscripts as submissions. Which I've come to realize serves my interest much better than the US factory line style.

Of course, here, the first thing you see when you walk into a bookstore is literature -- the thrillers and YA, etc. are usually tucked away in the back. Not that they don't sell well, just that there's a real market for literature here. Too bad I don't write in French!

Anonymous Author said...

"Factory line style"?

Mm. Not been my experience.

yankinfrance said...

Well, 'factory line' is a bit harsh, I suppose. Maybe 'cookie cutter' is gentler?

I'm not complaining. I love what I do and I'm committed to writing the type of novels I write. And I've finally completed a novel that I truly believe in (the rest have always fed the boxes at the back of the closet). I'll find my champion one day.

Sometimes I wish I could write in a more commercial, agent-friendly genre, but I prefer to leave this work to people more gifted that way than me.

I have, however, started working on short stories (I was in the middle of a new one, I didn't have time to write for Rick's contest), which will hopefully help me break in.

Rick Daley said...

Yak- (I feel we're getting to know each other better so I am addressing you on a first-name basis ;-)

That's interesting about the French reading market.

The US literary reading market is probably bigger than what the publishers are catering to. I think it may not be as profitable, though, given the way books are produced (and then subsequently returned and destroyed). It's that aspect of the balance sheet that limits options, not a total lack of readership.

Keep at it and remember your Ps:

Patience + Persistence + Professionalism = Publishing. Or something like that.

I may run another contest like that in the future, I like the set-up for the prompt (just need to think up more questions). But I know most people follow this blog for query advice, and I don't want to stray from the path too frequently.

Anonymous Author said...

Rick, those three P's are good, but I think the biggest factor between getting published and not getting published is willingness to learn.

In fact, too much persistence can get in the way of that.

yankinfrance said...

Yes, sorry, I don't mean to lead the conversation away from what I like about this blog -- the query critique.

So far I've put most of my persistence into the writing itself. I'm just getting started with the marketing aspect, and I've been learning a lot (and nursing the occasional bruise).

I'll be looking into querying directly at smaller, arthouse-type imprints -- I'm wondering if this requires a different query format/content than for agents.

No fart jokes in my novel, fortunately!

Rick Daley said...

An occasional deviation is necessary to avoid burnout. For me, it's important not to abuse my role as moderator and frequently hijack the interests of the followers with non-query posts. A discussion thread on a post is different.

GLJ said...

This has some promise, and could appeal to little kids. As a boy, I would have wanted to read it. But keep in mind that it is Mom or Dad who will be doing the book buying (or maybe Grandma). So I would caution against becoming too gross in the effects on Jake’s father, and tell more about the predicaments that Jake and his father get into as a result of the affliction. What if Dad has an attack at Jake’s School? At the local swimming pool?

Specific comments below.


Trapped in an elevator with no way out, Jake fights to survive the terror of breathing in the haunting aroma of an elevator fart. A suspicion has formed in his mind that an alien army has taken over his fathers body, and were using everything at their disposal to wage a war of escape. It started as a few simple sneezes, then before Jake knew it, he was ducking for cover from his fathers pulsating puss filled pimples.

[Drop “with no way out”, as being “trapped” implies that there is no way out. Such redundancy in your writing will be a red flag to agents.]
[“A suspicion has formed in his mind…” is a very indirect way of saying “He suspects that…”, as has already been noted.]
[This changes tenses, as previously noted, going from “Jake fights” to “has taken”, “were using”, and “was ducking”.]
[The expression should be “puss-filled”. Why would Jake duck for cover from pimples? Are they exploding? But “pulsating” doesn’t tell us this.]

Doomed to have no control over his bodily functions, his father must experience the humiliation of exploding in the grossest ways possible, from shooting potentially deadly snot of mass destruction to stomach churning projectile vomiting. The aliens even tried climbing to freedom through the dense jungle of his nasal passages, with a soggy piece of spaghetti.

[This paragraph implies that his father explodes multiple times. But exploding kinda implies a one-time action. This paragraph gets a little too gross. Not that I can’t handle gross, but I don’t think it helps your query, seems to be going for repulsive instead of a humorous tone.]

Then there was the incident with the elephant.

Duck for cover, my dad's going to explode is a humorous chapter book and complete at 13,400 words. I would be delighted to send the full manuscript at your request.

[The title should be in all capital letters, that seems to be the standard query format.]

chell said...

Thanks for your comments and I'll try and take them on board.

Anonymous Author said...

[The title should be in all capital letters, that seems to be the standard query format.]

Yes, it is standard format, though it bothers me so much that I never do it, and nobody seems to mind.

But at the very least, each word in the title should be capitalized!