Query Letter Critique (YA Contemporary)

Original Query:

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music.

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour, Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true.

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling.

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses.

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The Critique:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens (the name isn’t necessary right here) takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music. (This doesn’t really add anything or propel your query forward.)

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour (how?), Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true. (How? Don’t be vague here, this will help the reader understand the stakes. Is there a potential record deal? A label coming to their show?)

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling. (Wait…how is Jonathan here? In the previous paragraph you said she had to sacrifice a summer with him. I’m missing the connection to how she’d have to sacrifice, if he can tour with them.)

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses. (But why would one bad show destroy her confidence, when technically, the battle of the bands was bad if she tried fainting? What is the catalyst that makes it SUCH a bad show that she’s retracing? I think strengthening that a teeny, tiny bit more will make a big difference.)

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS. (Perfect closing!)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The aftermath:

Let me start by saying I really like your voice…but…I’m not fully grasping what the actual stakes are here. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like a good story and I totally get that she’s trying to find out who she is and become a confident, strong, girl..but what happens if she fails? What major choices does she have to make and how will that affect the people around her? I think beefing up some actual conflicts will help build the tension in the query. That’s really what’s missing.

In one way, there’s almost too much going on and the focus gets lost in the series of events that are listed. (Interesting as they are.) For example: We know there’s a battle of the bands and Charlie’s trying to sabotage it, and there’s something going on with Jonathan…then she’s on tour, and magically loving the rockstar lifestyle and partying and fighting and Jonathan is suddenly here and she’s making a move on him, then a bad gig happens and she falls apart. But those aren’t stakes, they’re kind of like a powerpoint presentation of mini conflicts.

What is the main focus of your story? What is the HUGE thing laying on the line? See if there’s a way for you to pick the BIG conflict and pull that out.

If there’s something at that bad gig that’s life-changing for everyone in the band – go into that! Tell us why that’s so important and why it’s so devastating when/if she screws it up. Is there an A&R person there, ready to sign them if the show goes well? Is there a music journalist that could write a review that’s a career changer/destroyer? 

What makes that the crucial turning point in your manuscript? I can already picture conflict for daysssssssss there. THAT is the conflict that needs to shine in your query. My god, my god, my god if Charlie messes ____ up it’s not only the dreams she’s come to desire, but all of her bandmates hopes that could be crushed FORVER. AND she could lose ________ as well. The tension and stakes are building simply by bringing your focus into a bull’s eye. 

Mini conflicts and subplots are great in books, we just need more core stuff in the blurb. Try leaving some of the smaller subplots (and list of events) out, get into the bad show part sooner, and show us what’s at stake.

Thank you so much for braving the query critique and for sharing your work on my blog! I really hope my notes are helpful and my goodness, this sounds like a fun read. Keep up the amazing work!!! 🙂

 

Attn Writers: My agent is doing a webinar!

Hey writer friends I’ve got something for YOUUUU! My agent is doing another Writers Digest Webinar (From Cozy to Carnage: An Agent Explains the Ins and Outs of Thriller/Mystery Writing–For Both the Adult and YA Markets) on Thursday April 12th.

Are you squinting at your screen wondering why you should be interested in this? If you’re nodding your head, here’s my answer: I attended the last one in November and ended up signing with Barbara on my next project. WOO HOO! I’m walking proof that these things work – it opened up the doors for our communication. Not to mention, the query letter and first page critique that came with the webinar were AWESOME.

Some of what Barbara pointed out helped me while crafting my next novel. She’s got SERIOUS superpowers with identifying areas that you can improve in your manuscripts and queries. ALSO you might be one of three people asked to submit sample chapters OR a full manuscript based on your first page. Not too shabby.

Are you thinking I really WANT to BUT I’m working when the webinar is going on… FEAR NOT! You don’t have to attend the live event! You just have to register, then watch it at your leisure. After work, over the weekend, three o’clock in the morning – it’s all good.

If you’re looking to take your writing to the next level and make an agent connection, then this is the perfect thing for you. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be agent mates…that would be pretty freaking cool. 🙂

For those interested here are the details taken directly from WD:

ABOUT THE QUERY AND FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE

All registrants are invited to submit their query (one page) and the first full page (double-spaced) of their work. All entrants will receive a critique from instructor Barbara Poelle. If you choose to submit your work prior to the live webinar, you could be one of three entrants who are asked to submit three chapters or a full manuscript based on the first page during the webinar itself in order to show what captured Barbara’s attention and why.

This webinar is an exploration and discussion of the earmarks of each subgenre within the thriller/mystery world, including cozy, suspense, crime, and thriller, as well as the type of query and introduction that can capture the eye in this crowded field. The webinar will discuss tips on not only how to write a compelling story, but also how to pitch one to agents and editors.

Instructor Barbara Poelle has numerous national and international bestselling authors on her client list throughout all of the thriller/mystery subgenres (full list below) and loves to break down what truly makes something “thrilling” to read. She will explore titles and examples of each subgenre within the thriller world and walk writers through the process of captivating both a publisher and an audience.

INSTRUCTOR

Literary agent Barbara Poelle began her publishing career as a freelance copywriter and editor before joining the Irene Goodman Agency in 2007, but feels as if she truly prepared for the industry during her brief stint as a stand-up comic in Los Angeles. She has found success placing thrillers, literary suspense, historical romances, humorous/platform driven nonfiction, and upmarket fiction and young adult and is actively seeking her next great client in those genres, but is passionate about anything with a unique voice. Barbara has a very hands-on approach with the craft and editorial details of the books she represents, and loves working with her clients to take their writing to the next level.

Books within these genres Barbara sold within the last year include: BLIND FAITH by New York Times best-selling author CJ Lyons; THE EDEN PROPHECY by international bestseller Graham Brown; the Bad Day crime novel series (such as A BAD DAY FOR SORRY), by Sophie Littlefield, which have become national bestsellers short-listed for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Barry, and many other awards; THE NINTH DAY, by international bestseller Jamie Freveletti; and STARTERS, by Lissa Price, a major deal for a new YA series to be published by Random House in 2012.

*Please note this webinar is for both Adult and YA manuscripts. My book is a YA genre mashup (science fiction/thriller), so if yours isn’t a straight thriller or mystery but has those elements, don’t hesitate to sign up.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CLICKY CLICK HERE