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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Query Critique - The Last Class

Original -

Dear Publisher:
Four children growing up in the small town of Sink, AZ showcase the trials of maturing without conventional parental figures in each of their lives. Neil, Sally, Kyle, and Nathan are each able to give their viewpoint on a scattered timeline of events from ages six to seventeen. All of the events build character and eventually hit the climax, which is The Last Class. The novel itself doesn’t follow established storytelling styles, though it does create numerous forms of drama.

Between bullying, rape, murder, and more, this novel adds as many of the world’s “evils” as possible while the reader becomes engulfed and the story unfolds. By the time the reader believes they have it all figured out, the story reveals what it’s been about the whole time. In the end, it leaves the reader contemplating. Not because they don’t understand, but because of the true bigger picture. A person can be miniscule in the minds of all the people they are involved with, yet, at the same time, that same person can be the difference between life and death. If something is true to the masses, does that make it right? Amongst many other things, the novel also shows that truly understanding anyone can only come from the inside.

Touching on many sensitive topics, The Last Class is mainstream and edgy. The Last Class is 79,000 words long. I would be honored if you took the time to enter the world I have created. I can send along sample chapters or the whole manuscript upon request.


Critique –

Dear Publisher:

Four children growing up in the small town of Sink, AZ (unless giving the state is important, I would leave it out) showcase the trials of maturing without conventional parental figures in each of their lives. Neil, Sally, Kyle, and Nathan are each able to give their viewpoint on a scattered timeline of events from ages six to seventeen. (very non-specific) All of the events build character and eventually hit the climax, which is The Last Class. The novel itself doesn’t follow established storytelling styles, though it does create numerous forms of drama.

This query ‘doesn’t follow established’ guidelines either. Not that it is bad. Sometimes it's good. Agents and editors might enjoy a different approach. But keep in mind that a query is your first marketing tool. You must sell your product to a total stranger. A person who doesn't know your characters or live in the world you have created.

Between bullying, rape, murder, and more, this novel adds as many of the world’s “evils” as possible while the reader becomes engulfed and the story unfolds. (hm. You are telling me what I should feel? Let me be the judge. Give me more information so I can decide for myself.) By the time the reader believes they have it all figured out, the story reveals what it’s been about the whole time. In the end, it leaves the reader contemplating. Not because they don’t understand, but because of the true bigger picture. (ditto the above comment) A person can be miniscule in the minds of all the people they are involved with, yet, at the same time, that same person can be the difference between life and death. If something is true to the masses, does that make it right? Amongst many other things, the novel also shows that truly understanding anyone can only come from the inside.

Touching on many sensitive topics, The Last Class is mainstream and edgy. The Last Class is 79,000 words long. I would be honored (I had an agent yell at me once for placating too much. Just say, “If The Last Class interests you, sample chapters are available.) if you took the time to enter the world I have created. I can send along sample chapters or the whole manuscript upon request. (and be sure to add ‘Thank you for your time’)

I’d like to see some specifics. It would help me to bond and care about the individuals. Let me give you an example that I created out of mid-air. I apologize. I don’t know your world so this is total fiction:

Growing up in these times is difficult enough. But the anguish felt by four children living in a small town without parental influence reaches a horrific new level.
Six-year-old Neil, bullied by classmates until he takes matters into his own hands. Sally, his older sister, finds her life changed when she meets a crush behind the gym and has nowhere to run. Kyle, seventeen-years-old and thinking he has nothing to live for. And Nathan, who has a terrible secret and no one to tell it to. 
Their lives intertwine in a chaotic mess of bullying, rape, murder, and secrets. Without guidance, they are headed for a life of heartache. Until a man, one who no one could imagine can help, steps in. Now it is up to them to listen and learn.

An unconventional query might spark interest in a jaded agent or editor. Or not. It is more an agent's personal preference. It might work. But if you receive multiple rejections, try going for a conventional one.  

Followers? Any advice?



3 comments:

mshatch said...

For me, character is King and this query gives me nothing about character and therefore nothing to care about. It doesn't matter how big the story is or how great the message, if I don't have a character or two to care about I'm not interested. That doesn't mean that some agent might not feel differently but as it stands this query doesn't make me want to read the book.

The second problem is that this query doesn't tell me (except in general terms) what the story is about. Bullying, rape, and murder, make for compelling themes but what exactly is this story about? Is it a mystery? A coming of age story? YA contemporary? Agents want to know these things and as an author, we need to make sure we send the right genre to the right agent.

Lastly, in order for characters to evolve in some way, there usually has to be a choice (character, conflict, and choice) and I don't see one here. What choices do the characters make that change things for them or others? How is it difficult?

Like Carol said, you don't necessarily have to follow established guidelines for a query, but unless your a known author with a known track record, it's best to start by doing things by the book - imo.

That said, this is just one opinion in a sea of many and someone else might feel quite differently.

Liz A. said...

For me, this is way too general. It sounds like "my story is about this" rather than showing what the story is about. You told us who, but names don't mean much. Who is Neil? What does he want? What does he need to do to get it? Who or what is trying to prevent him from getting it? What does he need to do to get around him or it?

Jason Drake said...

Awesome comments and a lot to think about moving forward. I do know that I will need to keep the "genre" as mainstream and edgy as it's the best fit without a conventional genre.