Saturday, July 16, 2011

Help Me With My Query Letter



I'm doing Deana's Gearin' Up To Get An Agent Blog-o-Rama this week which involves getting helpful feedback on my MANHOLE query letter. Feel free to weigh in on what works and doesn't work for you. (You may not tell me that my manuscript is too short. It is a conscious choice on my part.)


OKAY, BECAUSE I HAVE GOTTEN SUCH AWESOME FEEDBACK, I AM REVISING AND PUTTING THE NEW VERSION IN. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO THROW YOUR TWO CENTS IN. 




NEW VERSION:





Eighteen-year old Ben Honorat decides not to go to the party with his girlfriend, Ani. He’s not there when two strangers pour her drinks and brag about the upcoming “ride.” He misses her table dance, her announcement of a plan to hook up with half the guys in the room, and finding her passed out three hours later with no memory of the night.

But when doctors surgically remove a lighter left inside Ani, he's there. When whispers of "Firecrotch" and "Manhole" follow Ani down the school halls, he's there. When Ani begs him to make her forget, but then cries as he whispers, "I love you," he's there. And when his best friend tells him Ani's messing around with other guys, he is there.

Ben doesn't know how to fix Ani. But he is there.  

MANHOLE is a dark contemporary upper YA novel addressing the devastating aftereffects of rape from the perspective of the victim’s boyfriend. Sparsely written in the manner of Beth Goobie's STICKS AND STONES or Chris Lynch's FREEWILL, MANHOLE is complete at 30,000 words.

I have eight years experience volunteering as a rape victim advocate in hospital ERs. I was a quarter finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. I have spent the last six months working as an editorial intern for Entangled Publishing and have recently been hired as a publicist for their YA authors. 


34 comments:

Emily Rittel-King said...

Christa, I am a new follower!
First, I must say how proud I am that you're tackling a taboo subject like rape. It is not discussed enough and I applaud you for your efforts.
As for your letter, I feel it is succinct, direct, and disturbing. The latter because of the subject matter, but I wager you expect to make people uncomfortable. I am curious about the story, and from your bio, I think you are definitely qualified to tell it. I hope you find an agent who doesn't shy away from a real-life horror story that many girls and their boyfriends have experienced. I wish you luck!

kpsimmon said...

This pierced me to my soul. I love it and hate it all at the same time, which is usually my favorite type of book. I love it because of the boldness behind it and the lives it is going to help change. I hate it because there are those out there who have experienced this firsthand. Thank you for being a brave writer. It is wonderful. And I do want to read more. I like the directness of your query, and think you are definitely on the right track.
KP

Stephanie said...

Great letter! I love that the book's narrated by the victim's boyfriend. I've heard conflicting things about the first paragraph of a query--some agents want to get straight into what the story's about (like you've done) and some what a buffer paragraph with word count, genre, age group right up front. Since I've heard such different opinions about this, the only conclusion I can draw is that it really doesn't matter.

I'm confused by one tiny thing--the phrase "the upcoming ride." I'm not sure what that is. Are they going to go for a ride in someone's car? But, if they're older teens, going for a ride is probably not a big enough deal to brag about, right? Or are they talking about the ride as in the night, the party, the experience (as in "just enjoying the ride")? The word ride has so many different, slightly vague connotations that it's a bit difficult to know exactly what they're bragging about. Anyway, just a small thing!

Reading your letter has gotten me really amped-up to get my WIP query ready! I've queried once and it was nerve-wracking, but also kind of fun. It feels like you're really DOING something, making it happen. Keep us posted on how it goes!

kpsimmon said...

I didn't read "the upcoming ride" as a car ride or just enjoying the night. I read it as bragging about taking advantage of her. Am I right?

Christa said...

Yes gals, the upcoming ride is referring to bragging about what they are about to experience with her. Good questions. I will have to make it more obvious.
And thanks for commenting all.

carrieannebrownian said...

I like the raw, direct style and how it lays out the essentials of the plot. The one concern I have is that it seems rather short even for a YA novel. 30,000 words seems more like a novella to me personally.

kristibernard said...

I like the plot. I'm not sure about the word length. The subject is touchy but very interesting.

Michelle Fayard said...

Hi, Christa,

First off, I love that you kept your query short, as I know busy agents and editors will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

The following incorporates my handful of very minor suggestions; I wish we could use Word's Track Changes feature, because I know it will be a pain for you to do a word-by-word comparison to see my edits. You have my very sincere apologies.

When eighteen-year old Ben Honorat decides not to go a party with his girlfriend, Ani, he’s not there when (HOW MANY?) guys (IS THERE ANOTHER WORD BESIDES "GUYS" YOU COULD USE?) pour her drinks and brag about the upcoming ride. He misses her table dance. He misses her announcement to hook up with half the guys in the room. And he misses finding her passed out three hours later with no memory of the night. (VERY POWERFUL OPENING GRAPH.)

But when doctors surgically remove a lighter left inside Ani, he's there. When whispers of "Firecrotch" and "Manhole" follow Ani down the school halls, he's there. And when Ani begs him to make her forget but then cries as he whispers, "I love you," he's there. (EXCELLENT!)

Ben doesn't know how to fix Ani. But he is there. (ALSO EXCELLENT)

MANHOLE is a dark contemporary upper YA novel addressing the devastating aftereffects of rape from the perspective of the victim’s boyfriend. Sparsely written in the manner of Laurie Anderson’s SPEAK or Joan Didion’s PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, MANHOLE is complete at 30,000 words. (PERFECT!)

I have eight years experience volunteering as a rape victim advocate in hospital ERs. I was a quarter finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. I have spent the last six months working as an editorial intern for Entangled Publishing and have recently been hired as one of their publicists. (ALSO PERFECT!)

I am so ready to read this novel, Christa. Oh my gosh, I wish I were an agent or editor! This query is a 10.

Michelle

P.S. I'm a new follower. :)

Callie Kingston said...

I love this query, too. I found the first paragraph a bit awkwardly constructed (the "guys pour her drinks" and "finding her passed out" are two examples). The premise of your novel is intriguing and indeed very dark. I wonder about the word count -- thirty thousand seems a bit on the light side.

Good luck!

LisaAnn said...

Hi Christa, I'm so happy to be a new follower, and I am definitely intrigued/disturbed/VERY impressed by your story. Your query is direct and brave, and I love your bio at the end; it definitely lets agents know why you are so qualified to tackle this subject.


I really don't have too much feedback at all; I think it's fabulous as is. I do agree with Stephanie, though, that I was a bit confused by the word "ride." It also took me a few moments to figure out exactly what "inside her" meant. I'm not sure if that was on purpose or not; I was definitely jarred when I realized it, so perhaps you were going for that. But I did have a weird moment of wondering if she swallowed it or if she had her stomach pumped or something. I'm not sure how it could be fixed--and it may just be me--but I figured I'd share it anyway.

Overall, though, this sounds great! Best of luck to you!

Angie Cothran said...

I loved the list of things that Ben missed. It isn't the traditional way to start but I don't think it matters. You caught my attention and compelled me to read on, so you accomplished your goal.

I did get a little bump at "random guys buy her drinks" and I had to reread it, but I can't really pinpoint why.

I thought the minimal approach to the query perfectly showcased the minimal word count of the book.

Well done you caught my attention. I'm sure you will catch an agent's :)Good Luck.

Mandie Baxter said...

I haven't approached the query level yet, but I have to say, this brought tears to my eyes! I feel for the two right out. Ben sounds like a real man. I hope I get to read this one day! Keep us posted on the progress.

Nancy Thompson said...

Hey Christa, I'm a new follower, too, and I really like your query.

It does need a bit of tightening, as most queries do, and perhaps more clarity, but I understand how difficult it is to tiptoe around the subject of rape in a query. (My book deals with the same issue, but it's the MC who perpetrates the crime. Imagine how hard THAT is to query.) So here are my thoughts:

Eighteen-year old Ben Honorat decides not to go the party with his girlfriend, (add comma) Ani. (End sentence so the following has more impact) He’s not there when random guys pour her drinks and brag about the upcoming ride. (Yes, I agree, "ride is too vague here. You need to clarify while also being tactful) He misses her table dance, her announcement of a plan to hook up with half the guys in the room, and finding her passed out three hours later with no memory of the night. (Delete the redundant words. They do not add to the impact of each statement.)

But when the hospital doctors (hospital doctors is redundant - just say doctors - surgery implies she's at the hospital) surgically remove a lighter left inside Ani, he is there. (don't use a contraction here - "he is" makes a stronger impact that "he's") When whispers of "Firecrotch" and "Manhole" follow Ani down the school halls, he's there. And when Ani begs him to make her forget, but then cries as he whispers, "I love you," he's there. (this last sentence does not quite fit the sequence because, of course, he's there when she speaks to him and when he speaks back to her. Perhaps say that "He's there for her when she...blah, blah, blah.")

Ben doesn't know how to fix Ani. But he is there. (I love this line!)

My only concern is the very low word count. Also, separate your bio from the books genre description so it stands out.

Other than that, it's damn good! I like the list concept. It makes a great impact and reminds me of Josin McQuein's highly touted query on QueryShark.

Very, very well done, KP!

mooderino said...

I think the idea of what Ben missses is a strong device. But there are various things I found not quite right to my ear. 'Random guys' makes it sound like numerous unconnected men do this. 'pour her drinks' makes it feel weird that random guys would all do the same thing. 'upcoming ride' reads awkwardly. These are all quite minor things but when put together like a they are I think it takes some of the power out of the opening.

The narrative feels a bit incomplete. It's not clear where this story is headed other than a desciption of what the experience of this kind of rape is like. It comes across more like an illuminating report rather than an engaging story. I would assume this is intentional, doesn't feel like it's going to be a revenge story. But I'm not sure what the market for this would be. Educational?

I get strong idea of how the story starts but I have no idea where it goes after that. That might be enough to hook someone who is already interested in the subject matter, but not sure if it's enough to catch the eye of someone who isn't.

mood
my query is up at my blog: Moody Writing
@mooderino

Marie Rearden said...

Hi Christa!

Overall, this reads strong. I agree with mooderino's comments about the awkward language in the first paragraph, though. It's dark and upper YA, so I think (just me, mind you) you can say the actual words. Spike her drinks. High-five about scoring. You know, go for it!

So, the first paragraph is what happens to Ani, the second is the aftermath of it for Ani, but Ben is your main character. He is conflicted, obviously, because he doesn't know how to help her, but what is the actual conflict? Is he trying to figure out exactly what happened? Does he not know if he can handle this new responsibility?

Conflict, decisions, possible results of his choices.

This story sounds terribly sad, and I think you could pair it with another 20,000 words of rape statistics, interviews, maybe real-life stories. Kind of a half fiction, half Awareness book. That might really sell, and more importantly, help. :)

Thanks for sharing!

Marie at the Cheetah

Christa said...

So many wonderful comments! Thanks everyone. I'll put it back up when I make revisions on it. This has been such an incredible experience. I love other writers.

Pk Hrezo said...

Hi, Christa! Nice to meet you. Wow! What a great story! I knew a girl in high school who had something similar happen to her with a broom. She forever had the nickname "Broomstick" wherever she went. So sad.
Anyway, I think the revised version is great. For me, the first para with all the "misses" read a little off. Could be just me. I was thinking if it said, "He didn't get to see the table dances ..." etc. But again, it could just be me.
Bets of luck with this! I really hope it makes it thru to print. Have you tried querying Roseanne Wells of Marianne Strong lit? She likes really dark stuff.

KO: The Insect Collector said...

Christa,
Let's start with a big WOW! This is a gripping query.

I did understand the reference to the "ride", and I think once you read the entire first paragraph the context is clear.

I also think it's borderline short... I looked up Speak, which was 46K. I like that you account for the length by referring to sparse writing (that shows, I believe, that you're not clueless, but instead it is intentional). You've got to go with your gut. If the story cannot be longer, it can't be. It could turn some agents off and others not at all. The truth is, we don't know what they're thinking, we only have broad rules about length.

For the query in total, I think it is gripping. I'd only suggest that you delve more into Ben's perspective. Now we're reading all about Ani (and it makes sense, as the inciting event happens to her), but I want to know-- in the query-- who he is, and what his conflict is all about. It's implied, (in that we know a lot of his personality b/c he's the guy sticking by her, and we can imagine how conflicting that must be... ) but if it's told from his perspective, I'd like his conflict right up front.

It sounds amazing.

Deana said...

Cold chills! I got it, I was disturbed by it and I want to find out how it ends.
The only think I have to say is you missed a 'to' in the first paragraph. Other than that. Great! Oh, one more thing, would this be considered as a short story. I wasn't sure about the 30,000. Is that a bit short for a novel? I'm no pro though so ignore me if that was an idiot question:)

If you are going to submit it for the contest, have it emailed to me by 12PM ET Tuesday

Good luck!

amber said...

EEK. OK, so good query. I have a few comments -- one you won't like: The title of the book has a huge ick factor for me. I get that it's a dark book, but I don't feel like you have to rub my face in it (esp. after you use it in the summary to describe her taunting). But I do like how you address why you're the best person to write this book. Good luck!

Heather said...

Wow, wow, wow. Seriously. I predict an offer of representation within a month, several offers in fact. Choose wisely and send this query to your top ten choices. With a story this powerful you don't need a perfect query. The agents will see the heart of it and want it. Trust me!

K.V. Briar said...

New follower :)

I just have to say WOWWWW. Scary good. Seriously. Most people would shy away from writing something like this, but it sounds like the story that needs to be told.

I agree with the previous poster, I bet your story will get snatched up lickety split!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Wow, what a powerful story and premise. Your query captured it perfectly.

Stephsco said...

I think the idea of a story about teen rape from the boyfriend (or supportive guy friend) is unique and worth telling. It pulls this out from being a women's issue book to involving the young men in lives who are also affected. I'm wondering if the word count can be expanded on with the story exploring how to recover and deal with the after effects of rape over the course of say, the rest of the school year. Maybe the story does this already, but I think 30k words definitely should be exapanded on.

Not sure if the protag is actually in love w/ the girl who is raped, but it would also be interesting to see if their relationship can move toward something more after such a tragic event.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

This is awesome, Christa. The only thing I tripped up on was the "and finding her passed out three hours later" part because I don't know what the subject of that part of the sentence is. I had to reread it a few times because my first thought was that Ben is the one who finds her, but the beginning of the sentence says he wasn't there. Just a slight rewording there should fix this.

Is there a more dramatic way to say the very last sentence in the pitch part of the query? "And when his best friend tells him...." It sort of runs right after the other sentences, but I feel like it needs to pack more of a punch.

Just my thoughts! Hope they help! This sounds like an amazing book, Christa.

Amy

Alleged Author said...

Great premise, sounds wonderful, but 30,000 is too short unless you are marketing a novella. Still sounds absolutely wonderful though!

Laura Barnes said...

I'm a new follower! And I think your post is great and awesome and brave and dark all at the same time. I love the aspect of the story from the boyfriend's POV.

Only two thoughts: Maybe increase the punch of the line "And when his best friend tells him..." by just saying "And when he discovers Ani is messing around with other guys, he's there." Maybe even say "he's still there."

My other thought is that 30k is short. Any way to buff it up? A great story will stand no matter the length, but the shortness may scare an agent in the query.

Glad to meet you. Come visit my blog any time!

jamieayres said...

WOW! Just to quote a Writer's Digest article on word count basics for YA: "Concerning the low end, fewer than 50,000 words could be acceptable, but be sure to stay above 40,000 to remain viable in this genre." It may be hard to find an agent, then a publisher, to take on this hard subject. But if there's an author like you willing to write it, there must be a willing agent & publisher somewhere. Do your research & very best of luck:):):)

Lori M. Lee said...

Hi Christa, like everyone else, I love this query. And I'd read the book in a heartbeat.

Ru said...

Wow, I have to echo everyone else - it sounds incredibly interesting and sad. That being said, 30K words is concerning.

magpiewrites said...

Hi Christa
I'm a new follower- nice to meet you!
I wanted to echo a couple of things that others said, but before that I want to say how amazing and different I find this story to be. Powerful without seeming sensational. I would read it (and be disturbed) by it in a heartbeat.

What Amber said about the title I agree with. It's so blunt and crass that, I think, instead of adding to the impact of a great story, it lessens it.

The only other thing that I wondered about Mooderino touched on - where the story is going. For me, I wanted to know more about Ben. He's there for Ani, so he's a strong, caring person - but if it's from his perspective, what's his journey? Maybe hint about it - what specific growth does he attain?
Good luck on a great story!

ali said...

Christa. First of all, I think 30K is perfect for this sort of story. I'm sure it's an intense read out of necessity and therefore it would be cruel and unusual punishment for it to go on overlong. And honestly, the filler would be fluff, and fluff doesn't belong in a story like this.

I would love to see a better hook for your first sentence. The query gets stronger and stronger as it goes on, but I'd like to feel some of that heat in the very first sentence.

Also, make the titles of the comparable novels in 10pt, so they don't overwhelm the title of your OWN book.

As a rape survivor myself, I vote HELL YEAH THIS BOOK WILL SUCCEED. And girl, it could not have been easy to write. ((Hugs))

LisaAnn said...

I just gave you a blog award, and I'd love it if you stopped by my blog to check it out! :)

Suzi said...

I was just googling Entangled Publishing Intern and came upon this. It was actually the 2nd or 3rd on the list. I'd never seen your query before.

It gives a little more information that GR, and all I can say is wow. This so fits in with things that have been happing lately, the things you've blogged about, although I'm sure it's always happened. Even though your story is fiction, it still gives me the chills that stuff like that happens.

I am so looking forward to reading this.

Did you hook up with Sarah from Deana's Agent Blog o Rama, or was it regular query submission?

Did you have any/many agents say they weren't interestd because it was too intense?

Also wondering, have you added many words to the count or is it still that low?

Thanks.