Saturday, March 3, 2012
The Return of the Slash. Now With Artwork.
It's here. It's beautiful. It's deranged BBC, armed and ready for queries.
I have the awesome and talented Lynn Phillips Nelson to thank for the new and fantastic artwork she designed specifically for the Saturday Slash. Check out her (hilarious) site. If you think I'm funny, you'll jilt me for her.
Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.
I also need to give a HUGE congratulations to one of my previous victims... uh, volunteers. Yvonne Osborne advanced in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Yvonne's query was picked from among 10,000 to advance to the next round. If you want to check it out she's in the top left hand corner of the link provided above, under the General Fiction category. Yvonne is a blogger, fellow AgentQuery Connect member, and also a featured author in the short story anthology "Spring Fevers", which I myself have a little shorty-short in. Spring Fevers is available as a free download from Smashwords, or a 0.99 download for your Kindle.
And on with the show!
We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.
Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!
And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.
In an underwater village where those of dark skin don’t question their position in the Pures’ shadows, no one is more supportive for the Greys than seventeen-year-old Alphi McClure. Oh my, I had to untangle this one. And no one is more outspoken against them than her own Pure mother. OK - so if you're darker you're inferior. Alphi is a Grey who DOES question why this is the case, and her Pure mother is determined to grind her down with her heel. Got it. But I had to read it a couple times to do so. You need to simplify your hook a little bit in terms of language, because you've got a great main idea jump-in spot: under water (we know it's SF), ethnicity issues, character age (we know it's YA) and a family struggle. Awesome. You did a good job encapsulating your main conflict, but the language needs some re-phrasing. An agent might not have the patience to read back through and untangle the hook.
When Alphi’s latest call for equality throws her entire strike entire for flow village in an uproar, Alphi flees to her uncles’ city in the desperate hope rephrase - desperate hope is a bit cliche for refuge. A big city means big ideas, this is great and Alphi's heart soars as she sees buildings swerve unclear on how a building can swerve. I get that it's underwater and so it might sway, but in essence I don't think you need that kind of detail here in a query and rise in the city --no age-old racism here. But when her uncles brutally torture a Grey, her screams fall on deaf ears as she rushes to save the man from being torn apart. Her uncle pushes her aside I would choose one of your phrases here: either her screams fall on deaf ears, or she's pushed aside. All you need to get across here is that they kill someone even though she tries to stop it, and you've done that twice which is a waste of space in a query. Personally, I'd kill the falls on deaf ears as it also has that cliche taste, and she can do nothing but watch --until the Grey rebels attack her own Pure family. Something not quite right for me in the previous sentence - I feel like we're supposed to be in the torture scene here, present tense: "pushes her aside" she "can do nothing," but then the follow up is "until the Grey rebels..." which makes it feel like the just bounded into the room and onto the torture scene, which I don't think is what you're trying to convey here. Technically, I can't say that it doesn't work, but I can say that personally it's not working for me. And when they do, she joins them. Good.
Her family's enemy becomes her true family, her true home. Oh - great line. But I want some rephrasing for clarity. I'd strike the family echo. This should be Alphi’s dream. But when war is declared, her rash decision to join the rebels comes back to haunt her. Both sides hunger for blood, and deciding which family to kill will leave Alphi torn apart. The war with the rebels is nothing compared to the war with herself, and both "Both" echo. Not a big deal, but it did stand out. You can rephrase easily. will only end in despair. This is a fantastic sinker. I like it a lot with the exception of what I marked.
Overall thoughts - this is a decent query, and I'm drawn in by the concept. It's needs some cleaning for clarity, though. The hook just needs a little rephrasing, the "question" used so close to "position" feels echo-y, and the negation of the "don't" is fine, yet in such a long sentence I had to go back to re-read and see what exactly it was negating. Chop that sentence in half - toss out the underwater ethnicity issue, then address your MC's role. Then tack on your Alphi's mom line and I think you're in much cleaner shape.
Second paragraph caused me a little bit more confusion as I didn't understand that the uncles were Pure until it was stated later, or why Alphi would assume that there is no racism involved in the city until she saw someone tortured. Is there a mask of tolerance in the city? Is it supposed to "feel" nice but really it's no different than home?
And lastly, here's my big question - is it weird that her mom is a Pure and Alphi is a Grey? Does that happen often? Does this make her special? I only ask b/c the hook at first made it seem like a matter of course that a Pure could have a Grey child, but then when I find out that her uncles are Pure too it definitely raises the question.
I know it seems like a big question to address in a small amount of space, but given the strength of the rest of the query, I really think you can do it.