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,
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.
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.