Carrie Harris | Young Adult Author

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Query Ninja - Die Tinky Winky!

For those of you that missed Da Rulz for Query Ninja, please check them out here. Otherwise, you may very well wonder if I haven't lost my mind entirely.

More entirely than usual, anyway.

And now for our first MadLibbed query, courtesy of Super-Brave Mercedes. Remember, the query is hers; most of the silly nouns are mine.

Dear Lucky Agent,

Tinky Winky is the kind of Teletubby who gets murdered. From an early age, he is forced to sidestep the bodies of other Teletubbies who fall around him, hapless victims in a land where even the very sparkly terrain cries for his blood. When Tinky Winky befriends a door-to-door eyebrow salesman, a mini hot dog juggler, and a stalker dressed like Richard Simmons, he believes that he is truly experiencing his life, not realizing that he is, in fact, hastening his own demise.

Written in a cheery, fanciful voice, my 51,000 word YA novel Die! Tinky Winky: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy is a modern day fairytale of black joy and beautiful tragedy.

I obtained my degree in Merpire Studies and General Lunacy from Carrie Harris University. I have been published in several venues, such as Snarftastic Stories, The Pansy Review, All Randomness All the Time, and I was a Really Important Award Winner. A complete list of credits can be found at tinkywinkymustdie.wordpress.com.

I chose to query you because of your interest in unique and slightly offbeat projects. Die! Tinky Winky, although technically YA with its young characters and fast pace, can easily cross over to due to its lyrical language and mature themes. Thank you for your time.

All my best,

Super-Brave Mercedes

I really think someone needs to write a book with lyrical language and mature themes about killing Teletubbies. Am I alone on this one? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

I think this is a great opportunity to talk a little about query structure, because there are a lot of different opinions on this. My philosophy is pretty simple: I write queries like I play Euchre, which means that I try to stack the deck in my favor. I'm focused on WINNING, people, and in this case, winning means getting a manuscript request.

So please keep that in mind while you read my opinions. And if we're ever playing Euchre, I suggest that you tell me not to cheat. I'll respect that.

So the first thing that I noticed about this query is that it devotes as much space to author background and marketing ideas as it does to the book itself. I would suggest reducing the background and beefing up the book related schtuff. Why? The goal of the query is simple: you want to convince an agent that you are in possession of the Teletubby Book of Awesomeness (TBA), because of course you are. You need to prove that you have a great idea and can write the Po out of it.

(Yeah, I'm back to using Teletubby names as swear words. It seemed fitting.)

I understand wanting to show a little of your personality, and listing an award or two is great. But I'd cut the rest and devote as much space as possible to showcasing the TBA, because your goal here is to MAKE THEM REQUEST PAGES! Soon you'll be talking to agents on the phone who can't wait to hear all about your degree in Merpire Studies before they make their offer to represent you. You can also talk about where to position the book in the marketplace at that time, because that's their area of expertise and they may have strong thoughts on that. I'd keep it to a minimum here.

I think devoting more space to the book would help clear up some of the confusion I'm feeling. The first line is made of awesome, but then I get a little foozled. For me, there's a bit of a disconnect between Tinky Winky is cannon fodder and everyone else starts dying. How are these facts connected? Is someone killing the friends to get to Tinky Winky? Is Tinky Winky a radioactive mutant whose very presence kills off all of his friends (in which case it's kind of understandable that he might get offed)? I think we need some hints about why Teletubbies are dropping like flies and why even the ground wants to grind Tinky Winky into kibble.

Not that I'd mind a little Teletubby murder. I wouldn't mind that AT ALL.

So we know that Teletubbies are getting murdered, and Tinky Winky meets a bunch of wackos. You've hinted that the wackos are somehow involved in Tinky Winky's demise. What does Tinky Winky do while everyone around him is croaking? Is he just trying to survive? Does he go all Rambo and try to save his friends? (Rambo Teletubby. SNARF.) What I think you’re lacking here is a statement that ties this all together and clearly defines where your story will go. It could be something like:
Tinky Winky needs help, but that requires figuring out which one of his new friends to trust.

Or…

Tinky Winky and his new friends will need to act quickly to stop the murders, but it’ll take more than eyebrows and hot dogs to stop this killer.

The idea here is to take the seemingly disparate plot elements that you’ve already brought up in the query, tie them together, and add a conflict that shows where your book will go. It's a simple way to structure a query: set the stage by describing the major characters or plot devices in a compelling voice, and then tie those elements together with the major conflict. Without that overall conflict, it feels more like a bunch of disjointed bits and less like the great story I know it is.

One last thing that stood out for me is summary phrases like "written in a cheery, fanciful voice." I think this is a good time to remember the cardinal rule of writing:

Sparkles plus supernaturally gifted stalkers equals major romance.

Er... wait a tick. That's not it.

Show, don't tell.

Read the query again. I’d argue that you’ve worked hard to showcase your fabulous, quirky voice. Do you need to tell us that it's quirky and fabulous? The list of kooky characters that Tinky Winky hooks up with (and trust me, they were kooky BEFORE I MadLibbed the La La out of them) already hints that your book is a little off-beat. I think that if you expand the summary of the book and make sure every blinking sentence continues to showcase your unique way of looking at the world, you won't need to tell us that your voice is fanciful. We'll already know. I think you're well on your way with that already.

So these are my general thoughts. What about the rest of you? Who agrees with me/disagrees with me/thinks I'm rat-in-a-coffee-can insane? And what do you think of Query Ninja? Does the MadLibbing make it tough for you to give feedback? Are we having fun yet?

And a super-big round of applause to Super-Brave Mercedes, for letting me make her query super-ridiculous and giving us the opportunity to talk a little bit about query structure. You rock.

17 comments:

Jamie Eyberg said...

The Tinky-Winkyness of the query doesn't seem to interrupt the flow. Thank you for the hint and trips. Can't wait to see more, although I am still not looking forward to writing my own one of these days.

Natalie said...

Yay for Super-Brave Mercedes!

I agree with Carrie that the chunk about the book is too short. This is the time to showcase the story, and it feels like we've only gotten the premise.

And Carrie, you're hilarious. I will now use Telletubby names for swear words.

Kiersten said...

Hooray for Super-Brave Mercedes! I agree with Carrie--more story, less you. I mean, I'm absolutely certain you are fabulous (because you are a writer and you visit Carrie's site, so it goes without saying), but an agent isn't going to sign you (initially), they are going to sign your book.

I want to know mooooooore...

And also, Carrie's absolutely right--don't tell the agent the market, that's their job. Plus, umm, crossovers? Not easy to sell. Trust me. I've got a whole stack of editor rejections saying just that.

So I'd say, half as long bio, twice as long story blurb and you're good to go. Because in spite of the teletubbification, this does sound great!

Horror Girl said...

this makes me wish I had something to query just so I could take advantage of this wonderfulness.

Catherine J Gardner said...

You are both insane and insightful - a bizarre combination.

Davin Malasarn said...

I think this is an interesting experiment in query critiques. Does it work? I'm not sure. Some of the actual material in the query would be good. For example, we're questioning the necessity of Super-Brave Mercedes' background information. I'd agrue that, depending on what it is, it could be quite relevant. If she got her MFA from Irvine and has been published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, I think that could win her some huge bonus points. If she got her Ph.D. in biology and has been published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, then that's not as important. Chances are, Super-Brave Mercedes is somewhere in between, and her bio could help her establish her platform, or it could not, depending on what her credits are.

The benefits of looking at the query in this sense it to give us the ability to look at the letter from further back. In terms of letter structure, I think it's nicely organized. I agree that the first sentence is pretty great. The writer's voice also comes through nicely...unless that's the madlibs interfering.

Thanks for stepping up, Super-Brave Mercedes! You're aces!

Carrie Harris said...

Jamie: I know what you mean. Even with MadLibs, it's still hard work. No doubt that you're up to it, though.

Natalie: Ditto! Yay for Super-Brave Mercedes! And I'm happy to have converted you to Teletubby swearification.

Kiersten: So glad that you agree with me. I mean, of course you do, but... aw, Po. You know what I mean.

HG: This isn't a limited time offer, so no worries there. I don't plan on going anywhere for a long time.

Cate: Yep. I'm insaneful. :)

Davin: You make a very good point! When it comes to the background, I agree that relevant background has a place in a query, and the MadLibbiness obscures that. In this case, I felt like the background info did fall somewhere in the middle and could be saved for later after the agent is hooked, but it's tough for you all to see that. Maybe I ought to just stick to MadLibbing the plot and maintain the background material as is?

abrokenlaptop said...

Carrie, thank you so much for doing this! I'm going to tell everybody that I did, indeed, earn my degree in Merpire Studies and General Lunacy at the Carrie Harris University. Our colors were ochre and ochre, and we did a joint Sweating to the Oldies number at graduation.

Please keep the comments coming, you guys! The story was a joy to write, but the query has been giving me fits. Real tie-me-down, I'm-gnawing-at-my-chains fits. I appreciate the help.

As for the background info, I think it would depend on the anonymity that the Uke wants. I don't mind, because hey, I'm using my real name, but maybe somebody else would be uncomfortable displaying that info. Even though this is a good-spirited site, having people discuss your query still makes you feel a little bare. That might be something Carrie and Uke discuss beforehand.

Thanks again. This rocks.

-Mercedes

Mariah Irvin said...

Good advice and awesome mad-libbing!

Natalie L. Sin said...

Woot on Mercedes! : )

K.C. Shaw said...

I liked the madlibbing, actually, since it lets me get past my initial "would like to read this" or "not interested in this story" and helps me see the structure. As, of course, you intended.

I'm awed by your insightfulness and by Super-Brave Mercedes! Also, this post gets my Surreal Post of the Year Up to Now Award.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Carrie, you are brilliant. The query had me laughing but your comments about what to work on totally made sense, in a Porrific sort of way :^)

Congratulations to Super-Brave Mercedes for being a willing guinea pig with the wonder that is her query. Carrie's advice to you was spot on!

Carrie Harris said...

Super-Brave Mercedes, aka abrokenlaptop: You = awesome. The ochre and ochre team color thing made me laugh out loud. Thank you again for having the guts to be the first Query Ninja Uke. And I will absolutely remember your comment about the background info. Thanks for the feedback!

Mariah: You should know, Mistress of the MadLibs. :)

Natalie S: Woot indeed!

KC: I'm glad you like the Query Ninja concept, even if it is super-surreal. I'm trying to come up with another post that tops this in the surreal category, but, well... I can't.

Sherrie: I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And I shall also be integrating the word "Poriffic" into my daily vocab, because it's just plain awesome. ;)

Litgirl01 said...

HA!!! Just when you thought you have seen it all!! LOL

Masonian said...

Can I join the Super Brave Mercedes fan club?
For all its zaniness this Query Ninja madlibbing gave me a stronger sense of "direction" for writing my own dreaded queries.
Lots of places tell you how in a technical sense: "Don't write in all caps, format like so, address them by name or by calling them 'Your Mowglyness'" etc, etc. But having the original query Po-ized (almost said Po-lverized... puns of poison indeed) and stripping it down till i could actually SEE the structure, really taught me a lot!
So thank you Sensei Carrie and Super Brave Mercedes...
Also, I couldn't help thinking that at one point in time somebody actually DID pitch the Teletubbies. What was that meeting or query letter like?

Carrie Harris said...

Litgirl: I'm all about giving people new experiences; what can I say? :)

Masonian: Absolutely! Super-Brave Mercedes deserves kajillions of fans. I'm happy (and, truth be told, slightly boggled) that my idea worked for you.

Having said that? The Teletubby pitch session gives me giggles just thinking about it.

Christina Farley said...

So the Really Important Award that I earned isn't something I should put on my query?

 


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