7/26/06

Critique This! #5

Dear LDS Editor, [I am LDS Publisher, not Editor. For this blog, I really don’t care if you get my name right or not—unless you’re telling someone about me and then I’d hope you’d get it right so they could find me. But for a query letter, make sure it’s correct. Not calling you to task, just bringing it to your attention.]

Several weeks ago you asked me to resubmit my query for further scrutiny. I tried to send this about 3 weeks ago, but it evidently became lost in cyberspace, so I'm trying again. [If I don't respond, always, ALWAYS, assume it fell into a black hole in cyberspace.]

Any comments about my query would be greatly appreciated.



THE QUERY:

Dear Agent/Editor, [reminder to use real name of agent or editor you are querying]

I am seeking representation for my 68,500 word young adult novel, "The Bridge Beckons." [Use italics for your title, not quotations. I realize this may have been a limitation of your e-mail software, but thought I'd mention it anyway.]

Seventeen year old Mark Wilkerson screwed up. He knows it. His dad is disappointed in him; his whole family knows he blew his solo [on what?] in their Christmas musical at the retirement home. So later, when another car clips the family car [another car/family car: too many cars; change one] in the dense fog on the Carquinez Bridge, Mark knows if his dad hadn’t been so upset with him [his dad is that ticked about a messed up solo at a retirement home???] he might have been ableto avoid the tangle with a gasoline truck in the next lane. Mark and his kid sister [does she have a name] are the only survivors of the fiery crash and Mark’s guilt is tearing him apart, and The Bridge Beckons. [too cheesy]

Mark and his sister move in with their grandmother in the town where the Carquinez Bridge dominates the skyline and constantly reminds him of his tragedy. He suffers from nightmares, paralyzing memories and fear resulting from the accident. A girl he meets, Genie Lombardi, [she needs a more significant introduction; something descriptive] promises to help him [do what?] , but her ex-boyfriend, Jeff Marino, wants her back and will do anything to get her, including killing Mark - or even Genie, if he must. Knowing of Mark’s phobia [what phobia? you need to describe it earlier] , Jeff kidnaps Genie to get to Mark, and Mark must overcome his fear of the bridge to rescue the girl he loves. But at the last moment everything goes wrong, and now Mark has two tragedies on the bridge to cope with. [to generic—need a little more idea of what the two tragedies are.] Ultimately, it's thesecond tragedy that forces him to face his fear of the bridge that beckons.

The Bridge Beckons is a romantic/suspense novel where high schoolfriends and enemies clash in a 1960s tale of teenage deceit andintrigue, some of whom will survive and some will not. Set in the smallNorthern California town where I grew up, the Carquinez bridge, isknown for dense fog, multi-car pile-ups, and even suicides [need punctuation here] all of which inspired many of the elements of this story. I would be happy to send you a synopsis [include it with the query], sample chapters [send chapter 1 with the query], or the completed manuscript of The Bridge Beckons at your request. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your consideration.


THE CRITIQUE:
This query is very much improved over the first one. Great work! There's not a lot to change in the rewrite. I've made up stuff where I think more detail is needed.

Paragraph four is very good, although I’m not sure a 1960s novel is going to sell well. You might consider updating it to today.

Also, I can pretty much guarantee that the title won’t fly. Your target audience is 14 to 15 year old boys and girls. The girls might buy it, but the boys won’t. At this point, it's not a big deal. Publishers change titles all the time. Just giving you a heads-up.


THE REWRITE:

Dear Ms. LDS Publisher,

I am seeking representation for my 68,500 word young adult novel, The Bridge Beckons.

Seventeen year old Mark Wilkerson screwed up. He knows it. His dad is disappointed in him; his whole family knows he blew his piano solo in their Christmas musical at the retirement home. Normally, that would not be a big deal, but his dad's boss was in the audience and used the botched solo as an excuse to humiliate Mark's entire family in public.

So later, when a drunk driver clips the family car in the dense fog on the Carquinez Bridge, Mark knows that if his dad hadn’t been so upset with him, he might have been able to avoid the tangle with a gasoline truck in the next lane. Mark and his kid sister, Trixie, are the only survivors of the fiery crash and Mark’s guilt is tearing him apart.

Mark and Trixie move in with their grandmother in Silver City, where the Carquinez Bridge dominates the skyline and constantly reminds Mark of his tragedy. Nightmares and paralyzing memories of the accident turn Mark's fear into a full-blown phobia, making it impossible for him to cross the bridge.

Mark resigns himself to misery thinking he will never be normal again, until he meets kind and gentle Genie Lombardi, who promises to help him overcome his phobia. However, Genie's ex-boyfriend, Jeff Marino, has other plans. He wants her back and will do anything to get her, including killing Mark - or even Genie, if he must.

Aware of Mark’s phobia, Jeff kidnaps Genie and Mark must overcome his fear of the bridge to rescue the girl he loves. But at the last moment everything goes wrong, and now Mark has two tragedies on the bridge to cope with. Ultimately, it's the second tragedy that forces him to face his fear of the bridge that beckons.

The Bridge Beckons is a romantic/suspense novel where high school friends and enemies clash in a modern tale of teenage deceit and intrigue, some of whom will survive and some will not. Set in the small Northern California town where I grew up, the Carquinez bridge is known for dense fog, multi-car pile-ups, and suicides--all of which inspired many of the elements of this story.

I have included a synopsis and chapter 1. I would be happy to send you the completed manuscript of The Bridge Beckons at your request. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your consideration.

7 comments:

Tristi Pinkston said...

I really agree with including the reason why Mark's dad was so upset in the query. Reading the original, I wasn't curious at all about the book, but when reasons and emotions are included, that awakens my curiousity.

Also, and this is just me being persnickety, but that's just how I am -- I'm not loving the name Genie. It's way too cutesy and in a suspense novel, you want to suspend the reader between reality and fiction so they'll be afraid for the characters, and I'm not finding her name sympathetic. But like I say, that's just me.

Anonymous said...

His dad is disappointed in him because he screwed up his piano solo at the retirement home? And if his father hadn't been so angry with him over a few wrong notes, he wouldn't have overcorrected while driving and killed practically everyone in the family?

I think the author needs to re-think this premise. It's too weak to interest a YA audience. The teens I know wouldn't take it seriously. If this were a cover blurb, they'd yawn and put it back on the shelf.

I think the whole concept of the bridge has a lot going for it, but give the reader a real reason to care about Mark. He needs to be really screwed up--like he's a rebellious, confrontational smart alek or something like that. Then the loss of his family might wake him up and he can agonize over how he never got the chance to reconcile with his father.

Give this ms a sharper edge and you'll have no problem finding a home for it.

LDS Publisher said...

Great comments everyone! This is exactly what I wanted for this blog--we all make comments to help each other fine tune our work.

I was thinking along the lines of how kids always think these tragedies (death, divorce, etc)are their fault, when in reality they are not and as Mark comes to terms with these events he gains some understanding of that.

But I like the troubled/rebellious teen idea too.

Paul West said...

Thank you so much, LDS Publisher. I think your comments, and the subsequent comments above, are great and will help a lot.

To answer some questions from the comments above:

Tristi - Mark only thinks his father is upset at him, but he's really concerned with driving in the thick fog. I've clarified that in my new query version. Also, as for Genie's name, I hadn't thought of it as being too cutsey. Her name is really Gina Lombardi, but her friends call her Genie for short. I'm not sure that helps you, but right now, I'm not inclined to change her name.

Anonymous - I think I see where you're coming from when you say the story premise is too weak. Do you think it would help if I added that he blames God for his tragedy? In the novel, he comes from a loving family, but he begins to blame God for his tragedy. He feels sorry for himself. But by the end of the book, the second tragedy causes him to exercise faith in God again and to pray again for the life of the girl he loves.

I just don't know how I can add all that into the query letter. It's too long now to fit on one page.

LDS Publisher - Just two questions:

1) You suggested submitting the synopsis and sample chapter with the query. I've heard different advice from agents and editors who say to just submit what the guidelines call for. Is this bad advice?

2) You are the second person to suggest that a 1960s story would be a hard sell. My problem is that it would take a major rewrite to bring it up to modern day. How difficult is it to sell a 1960s novel? Is it pretty much a deal-breaker? How about if I don't mention the era in the query? Would that help? I know you probably can't answer that last question, but any advice would help.

Thanks again,
Paul

LDS Publisher said...

1. ALWAYS do what the publishing company's guidelines call for. If they don't state a preference, send the synopsis and chapter 1.

2. Unless you absolutely capture the era, I'd recommend the rewrite. It shouldn't be too hard. Small towns still have the flavor of an earlier era.

If it's a "period piece," and you are indicating it is, then you absolutely MUST identify the era in the query.

Deal breaker? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Original Anonymous poster here--

I am glad you didn't take offense at my critique! Some writers get all upset when you suggest changes. I can promise you that good, honest critique makes for better writers!

Here's what I think. Mark just has to be real. It's OK that he comes from a loving family. But I feel that if you want to break the camel's back, you need to use a heavier straw. ;-) It doesn't have to be what I suggested, just something that teens can relate to. Now that I know this story is set in the 60's, make it something relevant to the era (i.e. Mark is involved in war protests while his dad is a patriot; imagine the friction in that! This is also relevant to our time, so when kids read it set in the 60s they can relate it to what's going on in their day as well.) I'm sure you can come up with some things on your own but that's just one example.

As for your query, I strongly recommend that you cut it waaaaaay back. You must keep it to a page. It is extremely hard to write a good query, so don't feel bad. It's hard for all of us.
You don't need as much detail in the query as you do in the synopsis. If you want to see a good example of a query letter, go to the Nelson Literary Agency's website:

http://www.nelsonagency.com/faq.html

Scroll to the bottom of the page. She has an actual query she received, with her comments on what the author did right (she signed her, btw).

As for the 60s thing, there are books out there set in all kinds of time periods. Write what's in your heart, edit and polish, keep getting good feedback and critique, and don't give up!

LDS Publisher said...

Now that I know this story is set in the 60's, make it something relevant to the era (i.e. Mark is involved in war protests while his dad is a patriot; imagine the friction in that! This is also relevant to our time, so when kids read it set in the 60s they can relate it to what's going on in their day as well.)

Now that might make a 60s era novel work today. Hmmm...