Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Query Ninja - The Sparkles in the Woods

Okay. For those of you who haven't seen Query Ninja before, here's how it goes. Some brave soul sends me a query. I Madlib the heck out of it (all changed words will be italicized in case YOU want to give some feedback too). Hopefully it is funny, because queries are hard work, and funny makes everything better. And then we all give that person advice.

The most important rule of Query Ninja is not to talk about Query Ninja. Er... wait. That's not right. The most important rule is to be nice to the submitter. Today's submitter is Mason, Agent of Awesomeness. Be nice to him. Send him sparkles.

Here's his query.

Dear Agent of Sparkliness,

I’m querying you specifically because you are sparkly, and everyone knows that sparkles are awesome.

Getting lost in the woods is always a bad thing, but when there’s a sparkly pack of wereducks hunting you in the service of a sparkly god, you’d better have a witch on your side—unless you’re not sure what side she’s on.

Thirteen-year-old Marilyn Manson, somewhat-spoiled and headstrong, is tired of boring old peace and quiet. But when his father the king elects to join a dangerous and distant war for reasons he can scarcely comprehend, Marilyn finds himself caught in the middle of a hidden power struggle between sparkles and evil that is bigger than the simple strivings of kings and nations.

Oh, and did I mention that he gets lost in the woods?

When he is rescued (or kidnapped) by a strange and dangerous woman who claims to have answers, Marilyn must figure out if he can trust her—and whether he’ll ever be able to escape the woods, avoid the ducks that were once men, and get back home. Marilyn must warn his father about the trap set for him if he hopes to prevent an invasion of all of Hollywood.

But as Marilyn digs deeper, he uncovers secrets entwined within other secrets until he faces a power of evil that has no mercy and no compassion—and it seems as if the High Sparkle, the mythical creator of the universe, is unwilling or unable to do anything to help.

The first in a four-book series, THE SPARKLES IN THE WOODS is an 87,500 word YA fantasy suspense novel that deals with mature sparkly themes such as fate, gender equality, racism, and the disheartening silence of God.
THE SPARKLES IN THE WOODS will appeal to those who wish that Stephen Lawhead, The Trix Rabbit and C.S. Lewis could team up with Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix and Count Chocula.

My marketing platform is unique and sparkly. I am the lead singer of the quickly rising alternative rock band Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle. To market the book I will aggressively piggyback a book tour onto the band’s tour schedule. In other words, I’m not just going to do virtual or blog tours.

The finished manuscript is available upon request. (In the interest of disclosure, the publishers Sparkletown and Sparklehouse have already requested full proposals & partials. In addition I have queried [two] other agents.)

As a very brief biographical note: I was raised in Hell, Michigan, educated in Oompa-Loompaville (Theology and Philosophy) and now currently reside in my house. In addition, my father, Batman, is a prolific author who has been published by Superhouse, Wonder Press, Flash USA, Jokerbury, and many others. THE SPARKLES IN THE WOODS is my first novel.

Best regards,

Mason, Agent of Awesome

Yay, Mason, Agent of Awesome! You have written a query, and you are still sane. That alone is worthy of respect. Woot!

Now, in the past, we've talked about the Church Lady rule, which is to make sure that your query is as special as possible. Today, we're going to talk about the Richard Simmons rule.

Make sure your query is as tight as my heinie.

Think about it this way: Agents get hundreds of queries delivered every week. You need to show them that not only do you have great ideas, but you can deliver them in well-written, Richard's-heinie-esque prose. You can clearly and succinctly communicate what your novel is about. You have a hook that will catch editors' attention.

So how do you do this?

Well, first off, I'd put that book front and center. You start with a statement about why you chose the agent in question. Personally, I'd move that to the end. You're selling your awesome sparkly book. (Sparkle sparkle sparkle!) It is so awesome that you can't wait to tell an agent about it. Look, Jane, look! Look at my book!

Yes, I referenced Dick and Jane. Yes, yes, I am insane.

Yes, I sound like Dr. Seuss on crack.

And then, it's a matter of telling us right away what this book is about. Your first paragraph is mucho witty, but it leads me to believe that this is a book about being stuck in the woods with a maybe-bad witch, some wereducks, and a bunch of sparkles. But later on in the query, it seems like the book is about preventing the invasion and fighting the evil. (Bad evil! No biscuit!) The witch, wereducks, and sparkles are obstacles on the path to accomplishing this goal. Ultimately, I think this is a story about sparkles versus evil, but we don't get that until the end of the third paragraph. Personally, I think that we need to know the central conflict as early as possible, so we can appreciate its awesomeness right away. Anyone else feel otherwise?

I'd also ask yourself whether each story element is essential to your query. You have a lot going on here: witches, wereducks, the High Sparkle, a war, the kidnapping, and the nameless evil. Which of these elements are necessary to tell what your story is about? Maybe they all are, but maybe not. For example, do you need the wereducks? They don't do much in the query; we know that they're hunting Marilyn Manson (and I kinda hope they catch him), but then they disappear. You could potentially use that space to tell us a little more about the nameless evil. Otherwise, you've told us more about the henchmen than the big boss. And it's kind of important for us to understand how big of a threat they're facing.

Don't tease the agent. It's kind of like feeding the animals in the zoo. It's just not good.

Then, I'd go through each sentence with your editor's hat on. Queries are like poetry; every word has to be precise and impeccably chosen because you've got such a small amount of space to capture your reader's attention. So for example, I'd look at your High Sparkle sentence. How is a mythical being going to do something? It's mythical. All it can do is myth around.

I just like to say 'myth.'

Once you've got your book summary down to heinie-tightness, do the same with your background. Ask the tough questions. Do you really need to compare yourself to six authors, or could you cut it down to two impeccably chosen ones? It's interesting that your father is an author, but do you need to list his publishers? Is this the right time to discuss marketing?

That last one is a tough call, but I'm going to argue that it's not. If your platform was a perfect fit for your book, sure. But I'm afraid that I'm just not convinced that fans of your obviously-awesome band will also be YA fantasy readers. Does this mean that the idea should be scrapped? Absolutely not! But if your goal is to get a manuscript request, I think the space would be better used to highlight that manuscript! I'd bring up this idea to your agent after you've signed, and he or she can help you decide what to do with it.

But of course, all of this is my opinion, and I may be full of it. What do the rest of your think? Don't forget to give props to Mason, Agent of Awesome, for being all brave and double-oh-seveney. Seriously, Mason. Thanks for allowing us to discuss the awesomeness that is your query.


Masonian said...

You totally had me at the Richard Simmons' Heinie rule.

Unknown said...

I will never be able to get Richard Simmons out of my head when ever I am "writing tight"...sweet!

One piece of advice I would have would be to take out the part that it is out to other agents. Its great to say a publisher is looking at it, but I think it's already assumed other agents are as well.

Anonymous said...

Tighten that baby up, M! Richard Simmons lunges all of the way! ;)

This was a great query, and also great advice. I am now terrified of wereducks sparkling in the woods.


Mariah Irvin said...

I'm afraid to go to the gym tonight. All I'm going to think of is the Richard Simmons rule.

Good advice on the query!

Stephanie McGee said...

Oh you make me laugh. This was great. I'll have to bookmark this for when I get to the query stage.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I learn something new every time I visit.

Susan R. Mills said...

Nice query, Mason. And great advice, Carrie. I agree with all of your observations. Love the Richard Simmons rule.

lisa and laura said...

Fabulous advice, Carrie. Love the heinie rule, useful for not only queries but writing in general, with the added bonus of being hilarious.

Plus Richard and I are old friends, so I totally have a soft spot for any rules named after him.

Elana Johnson said...

I totally agree with all of your assessments on what a query letter should be comprised of. You are awesome!

Fox Lee said...

Fantastic. Now I'll be thinking about the tightness of Richard's ass the rest of the day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carrie :)
Thank you for teaching through humor.
I learned from it.
All the best,

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

love the marketing plan!

Christina Farley said...

As soon as he said Stephen Lawhead and CS Lewis and SPARKLES, I was sold.

Anonymous said...

"Make sure your query is as tight as my heinie" --Words to live by.

K.C. Shaw said...

I missed the Query Ninja yesterday! Thank goodness it didn't disappear overnight. :)

I would totally read a book about wereducks, but I think the QN is right, they're not the focus of the story. The story sounds really interesting, but I couldn't get a good sense of it from the query. Tighten it up like Richard Simmons's heiny (I feel so wrong for typing that).

Masonian said...

100% Awesome! Thank you for ninja slapping my... uh... heinie?

Even I knew that my query had gotten bloated. That's why I climbed the misty mountains looking for the sparkly shinto temple of literary ninjas to whip my flabby query into shape.

Querying authors beware! What happened to me could happen to you. After cramming my mind full of every "how to write a query" scrap of information on the interweb (all of it true... of course) I found that I just accumulated too many "include this, include that". If you've ever played Katamari Damashi you'll know what i mean (thanks @SuperBraveMercedes)

One agent says: Include your marketing plan. Another, include a brief bio. Or, include your platform, tell me if it's your first novel, do you have pets? what's your favorite color? Ice cream? Etc. Etc.

Enter Richar Simmons and his heinie. Note the tightness of said heinie. And THEN write your query.

The end.