Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Query Ninja - Freakshows Forgotten

It's time for another edition of Query Ninja! Did you miss the wonderfulness last week? Go here for an explanation of what we're doing and here to see the first installment. Don't worry. We'll wait. I'm also trying something a little different here; I'm italicizing the words that I replaced to see if that makes it easier for you to read. Let me know if it makes a difference.

This Query Ninja has been made possible by Humongously Awesome Hollan, or HAH! for short. A big round of applause to HAH! for having the nerve to submit her query for all to see. Please remember to refer to her by her full name or acronym in the comments, and as always, be nice. Like I need to tell you that; I know. I'm just obsessive compulsive.

And here's the query, MadLibbified.

Dear Agent,

Bigfoot, 14, thinks he’s going insane. After the move to a new house a chipmunk no one else can see follows him, a sparkly door appears, and he slips farther from his family until the day they can’t remember him at all.

Then he meets Britney Spears, a girl whose family forgot her a hundred years before, and learns the world of the freakshows has claimed them both. Armed only with a map and pursued by werefairies who want to steal their memories, Bigfoot and Britney must cross the forgotten world and find a couch-jumping man called Zom Cruise, the only one who can help them find a way back to their world.

Bigfoot and Britney track Zom through a bobblehead factory, ancient ruins and the couch rodeo circuit, but the farther they go the more their memories slip away. If they don’t find Zom soon they will forget themselves and be lost in the world of the freakshows forever.

FREAKSHOWS FORGOTTEN is an upper MG novel (HAH! notes that sometimes she calls it YA, depending on the agent), and it is complete at 59,000 words. It is similar in nature to L. Frank Baum’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and Garth Nix’s ‘Key’s to the Kingdom’ series.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration. Sample chapters or the snarfabulous manuscript are available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you.

HAH! (Humongously Awesome Hollan)

So I've discovered an unexpected benefit of Query Ninja. MadLibbing this query just gave me an awesome idea for a short story. And no, it's not some shady poaching of Freakshows Forgotten; it has couches in it. I think there's a shortage of good couch stories in the world. So I owe an especially big debt of gratitude to HAH! for sending this one in.

Anyway. I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce a new rule of querydom. Let's call it the Church Lady Rule. Everyone remembers the Church Lady, right?

Well, isn't that special?

The Church Lady has the right idea here. Think about what makes your book special, what makes it stand out from all the other books like it. If you have a sparkly vampire love story, what's different about your book compared to all of the other sparkly vampire love stories out there? If you have a book about Big Foot and Britney on a quest, what makes it different from the thousands of pop-star-plus-random-supernatural-creature-quest books on the market?

Whatever that element is, it deserves as much space as you can give it without making your query completely nonsensical. If your distinguishing characteristic is the compelling voice of the rabid werehamster protagonist named Mr. Spunky, then sprinkle that query with phrases from Mr. Spunky's dialogue. If your plot twist in which we find out that Mr. Spunky is really a televangelist in disguise is what sets you apart from the masses, then play that element up as much as you can. Remember, the goal is not necessarily to communicate your plot in sequential order, but to catch their attention with your idea and MAKE THEM REQUEST PAGES.

This query had a lot of story elements in it, many of which were mega intriguing, but there was so much going on that I felt overwhelmed. Anyone else feel this way? I think that applying the Church Lady Rule and making it a little more focused will do a better job of highlighting the awesomeness that is your book. For me, this element was the whole idea of memories being lost. There are plenty of books in which characters journey through strange lands, and yes, I think we need a taste of the dangers they'll face there, but there's something different at stake here. Play it up!

So how would you do that without making it ridiculously long? I'd read through phrase by phrase. All the while, ask whether or not each phrase adds something essential. Does it contribute to the voice or tell something essential about the plot? Does it highlight your Church Lady element? Or can it go? In this query, phrases like "armed only with a map," "a sparkly door appears," and the "bobblehead factory, ancient ruins, and couch jumping rodeo circuit" could be cut or shortened, to name a few. Again, the question is what they add. Do we need to know they have a map to understand the basic idea? (And technically, a map isn't a weapon, so you couldn't be armed with it.) Why mention the door in the first paragraph and not bring it up again? And so on. This would make space for the massive awesomeness that is the memory stealing werefairies and the risk of Bigfoot and Britney losing themselves forever.

And personally, I would really miss Bigfoot.

Then it's time to see where you need to add more of your Church Lady element. In this query, a whole lot happens very quickly in the first paragraph, and the bit about the family forgetting Bigfoot, which is pretty essential to the story, is told very quickly. Do they forget him because he's not around, or are they "drifting away" emotionally? I'm not sure what that means. I'm also curious to know about what exactly Zom Cruise is supposed to do. Bigfoot's family has forgotten him already, so getting back to their world is only the beginning. Does Zom have the ability to return their memories so Bigfoot can go back?

So that's what I think. You've obviously got an idea that intrigues the bleep out of me, and that's rocking good. I think it's just a matter of tweaking and tightening the query to make the most out of that element. But that's enough of my yammering. What does everyone else think? Am I totally out of my mind and you disagree entirely, or did I actually say a few things that made sense? Humongously Awesome Hollan could use your feedback. And applause. She deserves a lot of that.

And may the power of the Church Lady be with you.

Oh, and one last thing: those of you who are taking the big query plunge should check out Fabulous Agent Kate's blog. She just did a week's worth of awesome query feedback, and she's smarter than me.


Jamie Eyberg said...

Your wisdom is inspirational- or could it be Satan?

Cate Gardner said...

Once again I bow down to your Query Ninja Wonderfulness.

Verification word: mershin (explain please?) :)

BT said...

Very insightful as always. You make good points on focus - now I can't get Bruce Lee's voice out of my head!

C.R. Evers said...

I'm totally inspired by the mad libs story.

Davin Malasarn said...

I'm going to have to come back to this when I have a longer break in my work day, but I just wanted to say that the italics REALLY help. More later!

Hollan said...

I totally agree with everything. I do need to tighten it and focus on what makes the book stand out. However, I disagree that a map can't be a weapon. They can give mean paper cuts ^_^

Oh, and now I want to write a story about freakshows. . . .

Thanks so much and I bow before your Query Ninja awesomeness, Query Ninja Sensei.

Sherrie Petersen said...

The Church Lady rule makes sense. I have a sudden urge to play Mad Libs...

Fox Lee said...

Where can I buy Mr. Spunky beanie babies?

Mariah Irvin said...

I'd like to see what happens when somebody sends in a pre-Mad Libbed query. It would be Mad Libbed times two!

K. M. Walton said...

Great words of wisdom mixed with your humor. Cool post.

Ray Veen said...

I'm Mad-libbed out. Picture this, two eight year olds, each gripping a pen and a Madlib book.

"It's my turn to ask Dad a noun."
"No, you just asked for four nouns in a row."
"Yeah, but your gonna ask for seven nouns and then he won't have any nouns left for me."
"That's not fair cuz he already did three whole Madlibs with you -- he's only two with me."

Me: "Doesn't anybody have one for a body part?"

(An honest portrait of my holiday weekend.)

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Query Ninja! Way to go, HAH!

I about died laughing while I read this. Then I reread it, and like the idea of simplifying. It sounds like a fantastic story, but there was a lot to take in.

I also like the italics. It's not like we couldn't figure out what was madlibbed before, but this just spells it out plain as day. I want to read this book, and I'm also longing for a world where Britney Spears has, indeed, been long forgotten.


Carrie Harris said...

Jamie: Meaning my wisdom is Satan or Satan is inspirational? Either way, the answer is no.

Cate: Mershin? Well, obviously it's a part mer-person. But whether it's a Buddhist monk mer-person or a very reflective mer-person is anyone's guess.

BT: Bruce Lee and the Church Lady. Now there's a combo.

Christy: Crazy, isn't it? I am too!

Davin: Thanks for the feedback on the italics! I can't believe I didn't think of that before.

Humongously Awesome Hollan: Good point about the map. I stand corrected. ;) If you write a story about freakshows, will you mention me in the acknowledgements when you're rich and famous?

Sherrie: I LOVE MadLibs. We have about twenty books full of them.

Natalie S: Now there's a marketing spinoff idea...

Mariah: Me MadLibbing a pre-MadLibbed query? That's AWESOME. I need to do that BAD.

KM: Why thanks, sunshine. :)

BPV: Snarf. My kids aren't at the right age yet. And when they are, we'll have to buy all new books because Mommy and Daddy sometimes use inappropriate words in theirs.

Super Brave Mercedes: That is FABULOUS. That's exactly what I was hoping for, laughter plus a little something useful. Yippee!!!

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
K.C. Shaw said...

I would so totally read anything that takes place in a bobblehead factory. I know that's just a madlib, but perhaps I am not the only one longing for stories set in bobblehead factories.

The italics do help, and I like the Church Lady rule. That's one I have to remember for my own queries, since I tend to string together what happens rather than focusing on the special parts. (Great, now I have the MST3K themesong in my head.)

Davin Malasarn said...

Dear Carria and HAH!,
Sorry I'm getting back to this so late! I know I said I'd read it sooner. Honestly, I think this query letter is quite strong. The main storyline is clear, even in MadLib form, and I thought the concept was pretty original. Connecting it with Wizard of Oz, helped to clarify things! Depending on the type of story this is, I'd say that you could perhaps give more insight into the characters. Right now, we don't know anything about their personalities, but maybe that's not important.