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American Cheese: YA


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#1 smtolhurst

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Posted 05 December 2010 - 11:09 AM

Dear Agent,

Tess James needs more than anything a way out of the midwestern industrial zone, more today than yesterday. Yesterday life was the same as it has been since her father faded into non-existence. Yesterday the routine of running drugs down the road for her older brother Scott was just part of the deal, but overnight, everything changed.

An early morning fire in an abandoned factory revealed the murder of a girl, Maria Delona, Tess's age. Now, Tess is on a hit list in gangland, but that's not the worst of it. No, the worst of it is Sergeant Terry Gates, a threat to everything Tess knows about survival.

The cops are waiting for the warfare, likely to follow the crime, but the streets are silent, except for Julio Delona chasing down Tess, as witnessed by Gates and her partner. Tess knows nothing about the crime beyond the fact the factory is where her dad once made his blue-collar name. She only knows that she can't have a cop on her tail and Gates is one determined officer.

Gates is as relentless as the impoverished streets Tess knows by heart, the streets that protect her in return for the simplest of favors. Being Scott's runner shelters her. To betray him would be to betray everything she has known since childhood. Yet suddenly this woman, her mother's age, enters her life. Tess finds herself trusting Gates in defiance of the world she knows, lending hand to a unique relationship forged by compassion.

AMERICAN CHEESE is a literary YA novel coming at 70,000 words.

Sincerely,

Author

#2 KateB

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Posted 05 December 2010 - 01:28 PM

Dear Agent,

Tess James needs more than anything a way out of the midwestern industrial zone, more today than yesterday. Yesterday life was the same as it has been since her father faded into non-existence. Yesterday the routine of running drugs down the road for her older brother Scott was just part of the deal, but overnight, everything changed.

An early morning fire in an abandoned factory revealed the murder of a girl, Maria Delona, Tess's age. Now, Tess is on a hit list in gangland, but that's not the worst of it. No, the worst of it is Sergeant Terry Gates, a threat to everything Tess knows about survival.

The cops are waiting for the warfare, likely to follow the crime, but the streets are silent, except for Julio Delona chasing down Tess, as witnessed by Gates and her partner. Tess knows nothing about the crime beyond the fact the factory is where her dad once made his blue-collar name. She only knows that she can't have a cop on her tail and Gates is one determined officer.

Gates is as relentless as the impoverished streets Tess knows by heart, the streets that protect her in return for the simplest of favors. Being Scott's runner shelters her. To betray him would be to betray everything she has known since childhood. Yet suddenly this woman, her mother's age, enters her life. Tess finds herself trusting Gates in defiance of the world she knows, lending hand to a unique relationship forged by compassion.

AMERICAN CHEESE is a literary YA novel coming at 70,000 words.

Sincerely,

Author


There are a number of syntactical issues with this query. Your first sentence makes absolutely no sense the way you've written it. You need to go through and simplify. Try something like: More than anything, ??-year-old Tess James needs a way out of her blue-collar mid-western town. I would also suggest that you add the reason she needs out of this town up front so that this line looks something like a hook, i.e. ??-year-old Tess James needs a way out of her blue-collar mid-western town before she becomes the next victim of a brutal serial killer. I know that what I wrote may not be accurate to your story but you need a hook that sets-up the conflict not the back story. Right now your first three sentences are simply background information offered in a somewhat convoluted way. Your ms may be literary but your query needs to be straightforward.

In terms of the rest of the query, your plot is seriously unclear. Only give us the names of important people (your protagonists and your antagonist). Giving us the names of love-interests, mothers and murder victims just means that there are more people to keep track of and that doesn't work for a query. Like I said above, scrap the back story, it may be crucial to your novel but it just takes up space here. Then, you need to set-up the major conflict very clearly. Who is Tess, what has she gotten herself into, what are the stakes / why do we care?

Right now you've offered a lot of information that doesn't seem connected. How does a murder in a factory land Tess on a hit list? Why is Terry Gates a threat to Tess? (Who is Terry Gates? Why do we care who he is?) What warfare are the cops waiting for? Is this a large scale problem (i.e. Harry-Potter-the-world-is-going-to-end-if-I-don't-defeat-Lord-Voldemort) or a personal problem (i.e. I'm going to go to prison for a murder I didn't commit unless I can prove my innocence)? Why does it matter if Tess helps Gates- what are the stakes? Who is the important woman that comes into Tess' life? Why do we care about her? You really need to answer these questions in your query. You don't need to tell me how your story ends but right now I have no idea what the conflict even is.

Also, I have to ask, where is your title coming from? I really have no idea how it relates to your story. A weird title won't make an agent but your query down but you should think about it. Title aside, the last sentence is another example of where you can simplify. Just write: AMERICAN CHEESE is a 70,000 word Literary YA novel. The phrase 'coming in at' is just silly.

Remember: Protagonist, Conflict, Stakes. Simplify your sentences and clarify your plot and I think you'll that you have a query that gives a much clearer sense of your story.

Best of luck!

#3 RileyRedgate

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Posted 05 December 2010 - 02:39 PM

Dear Agent,

Tess James needs more than anything a way out of the midwestern industrial zone, more today than yesterday. This is puzzling. Some shortening wouldn't go amiss. Also, the following two sentences are far more immediately intriguing than this one - all they lack is her name. I might suggest cutting this sentence altogether and starting with:
Yesterday life was the same as it has been since her Tess James's father faded into non-existence [Also, fading into non-existence generally doesn't happen. If he died, I'd like to see how he died. As it is, this sentence makes me think you're setting this up to be paranormal. Which, upon reading the rest, definitely wasn't accurate.. Yesterday the routine of running drugs down the road for her older brother Scott was just part of the deal, but overnight, everything changed. A-ha. Now THIS - this is interesting. I'm wondering, though, what deal? Is there a legitimate deal, like a bargain? Or is just a usual part of her everyday life?

An early morning fire in an abandoned factory revealed reveals the murder of a girl, Maria Delona, Tess's age. Now, Tess is on a hit list in gangland, Whoa whoa whoa hold on. Why? Why is she connected to Maria? Is it anything besides her age? I know if some random 15-year-old was murdered, they wouldn't hunt around for every 15-year-old in the area. Please explain further; this is interesting and merits more detail. but that's not the worst of it. No, pretty sure that should be a semi-colon. the worst of it is Sergeant Terry Gates, a threat to everything Tess knows about survival.

The cops are waiting for the warfare, likely one would hope they'd be more than 'likely'. 'sure'? to follow the crime, but the streets are silent, except for Julio Delona Oof. I'm assuming this is Maria's brother, but I wouldn't introduce a new name. Just 'Maria's brother' or something.chasing down Tess, as witnessed by Gates and her partner. Tess knows nothing about the crime beyond the fact the factory is where her dad once made his blue-collar name. She only knows that she can't have a cop on her tail and Gates is one determined officer.

The sentence structure at the start of this paragraph could use rearrangement. Maybe something like, "The cops are standing by, waiting for the warfare to start. All Sgt. Gates can see, though, is Tess trying to escape from the murdered girl's brother, which makes her seem more than a bit suspicious (is this actually why Gates seeing this is bad?). Tess doesn't know why she's being chased. In fact, Tess knows nothing about the...

Gates is as relentless as the impoverished streets Tess knows by heart, the streets that protect her in return for the simplest of favors. Being Scott's runner shelters her. To betray him would be to betray everything she has known since childhood. Yet suddenly this woman, her mother's age This makes me wonder, is Gates her mother? And if that's not the feel you'd like the reader to get out of it, I'd suggest "old enough to be her mother" or just describing her as middle-aged., enters her life. Tess finds herself trusting Gates in defiance of the world she knows, lending hand to a unique relationship forged by compassion. I really, really like this last sentence. Makes me want to see this develop.

AMERICAN CHEESE is a literary YA novel coming at 70,000 words.

Sincerely,

Author

A couple miscellaneous questions:
-How does the fire in the factory 'reveal' Maria's murder?
-Is Tess's father's death related to this gang war at all?
-Is Maria's (brother, father, whichever) Julio part of the gang trying to kill Tess, and if so, where the heck did he get the idea that she killed Maria?
-Is there a way you could make every threat more real and immediate? I'm picturing Tess making a number of narrow escapes from bloodthirsty revenge-driven gang members, but I don't know if that actually happens. If something like this does happen, during the bit where you say "the worst of it is..." would be an excellent time for some parallel structure:
Now Tess is on a hit list in gangland, but that's not the worst of it. She's unable to shake the fear of her brother being hurt, but that's not the worst of it either. She's sprinting down back alleys dodging gunfire, but even that's not the worst of it. No - the worst of it is Sgt. Terry Gates, the biggest threat to everything Tess knows about survival, a police officer who is convinced of her guilt.

Anyway, all that said, your query as it is intrigues me. I'm very interested by your premise, and it's clear you know what you're doing with an interesting plot, unique characters and obvious conflict. It just needs some tightening and some clarification.

Best of luck with the query.

author of SEVEN WAYS WE LIE and NOTEWORTHY

rep: Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

 

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