Well, I've completed a middle grade book, and I am working on the query for it because I would love to see it traditionally published. (I'm also revising and polishing the manuscript itself - but that's another story). I just received a great critique on Brenda Drake's blog, but comments are not allowed there, so I'm going to do the next best thing: Blog about it here!
Read about the awesome graphic at the bottom of this post.
RED LINE #1: Almost Hooked 'em
Kate's main point in her first redline was that I start with a punch, but don't complete it. She loved the image of a volleyball disintegrating, but not how Honey's life went from okay to impossible. One thing I find myself doing in these queries is being too general. Then I'll throw out a specific detail that's interesting, but not pertinent to the main story. I've been fine tuning this and trying to be more specific, but not going on a tangent. It's pretty hard.
RED LINE #2: Working Title Needs Work
She's not the first to say it: She stumbled on DetnoGirl. When I say it people think it's clever, but put it on paper and the name doesn't resonate. Unfortunately, I haven't found a title I like better yet, so it stays. But I'm open for ideas. Anybody? Anybody?
RED LINE #3: Word Count Too Low?
This has me puzzled. My book is 28K, and I'm aiming for the lower end of Middle Grade (5th, 6th, and maybe 7th - that's lower end, right?). According to many sources, 28K is well within the middle grade range. This Writer's Digest blog, for example, says "With a simpler middle grade idea (Football Hero, or Jenny Jones and the Cupcake Mystery), aim lower. Shoot for 20,000 – 35,000 words."
Also, my target audience is full of kids who love superhero stories - a market largely filled with comic books and graphic novels. But since my book is neither, Kate could be right about me needing to bump up the word count.
Update! - My writer friend who is also a teacher set me straight on this. "Middle Grade is not the same as Middle School." She explained that Middle Grade actually starts at around 8 or 9 years old and goes through 13 (but not much higher) So if my target is 10 to 11 year olds, I'm actually targeting the middle of Middle Grade. So, yes, my book is a little short for MG. But I'm not too worried because as I polish, the word count keeps climbing.
RED LINE #4: "Highly Publicized" is Too Vague
This was pointed out in another critique I received at around the same time. An earlier draft of the story had the campus secret, but making it well-known was more marketable and interesting. So I changed the query to reflect the change in story. Actually, the campus is coveted, and the dream school of Honey's BFF Kelly. But you have to have superpowers to go there, so Kelly had pretty much figured she'd never go there. Unfortunately, Honey finds out the hard way that you can acquire superpowers during puberty. And she doesn't have the heart to tell her BFF where's she's being transferred and why.
So what I have to do is take all that info and cram it into a few sentences of my query. Easy, right?
RED LINE #5: Also Questions
"Also" tell about the life Honey left behind - I agree. I'd already added Kelly's part of the story in my revised query (after I submitted). You'll find that bellow.
"Also" is it boarding school? - No. She doesn't leave her parents. That's what makes it so hard for her to keep the secret of her new school from Kelly.
"Also" explain the rules of Honey's abilities - This is hard to do. At first, she doesn't know what she can or can't touch. But she eventually she does learn a little about how her superpower works. How does Honey's touching people affect them? That's what she discovers in the story.
"Also" don't repeat the word 'disintegrate' too many times - I didn't think I had, but I will count every word repetition. Last critique, I was blasted for repeating the word 'superpower'!
RED LINE #6: Need More Info
Kate's main point here was that I didn't give more about the development of the story after hooking her in the previous paragraph. She's right. I'd skipped a whole bunch of important stuff to keep the query unnecessarily short. The crazy thing is that I still had room on the page!
RED LINE #7: Big Leap/Reader Didn't Follow
After stating the main conflict - That people are being injured by their own superpowers - I state that Honey thinks she's the reason. Kate didn't follow the logic. Why should Honey think that? I was trying to make it clear that Honey believes her superpowers are causing others' superpowers to backfire. But I can't seem to get that across! In previous versions of the query I say these exact words, and the readers didn't understand the stakes. So I don't know how to fix this one. Ideas Anybody? Anybody?
RED LINE #8: Tie it Back
Here, Kate suggests that I remind the reader that we are talking about an 11-year-old, and that she's still in middle school. She's right. My newest version of the query fixes this (I hope).
RED LINE #9: No Bio
Whoops! I did have a bio, but left it out because I was only putting the meat of the query in. I was also worried I'd identify myself too much, and I didn't want to be disqualified from the workshop. This was just a silly notion on my part.
RED LINE #10: Encouragement
"I hope to see it on my bookshelf someday." Best. Words. Ever.
THE RESULT: My Newest Version
When a volleyball disintegrates in 11-year-old Honey Wilson’s hands, she can forget about being team captain and becoming valedictorian. DETNOGIRL: THE SUPERPOWER MELTDOWN is a 30,000 word middle-grade fantasy about juggling middle school with a dangerous superpower.
Having the power of disintegration is ruining Honey’s life. When things start becoming dust in her hands, Honey is transferred to the coveted Hidden Hill Jr./Sr. High. This happens to be the dream school of Honey’s BFF, Kelly. Honey can't bring herself to tell her friend what school's really like, but Kelly suspects something and Honey can't keep the secret forever.
Hidden Hill teaches teens how to use ancestral powers that have been unlocked with puberty. However, no program exists for Honey’s unique abilities. Instead of learning to control her power, Honey finds everything disintegrating: her grades, her style, her social life, mechanical pencils, and other people’s superpowers. Just when Honey begins to pick up the pieces of her grades and social life, students and staff are being injured with their own abilities. Honey is convinced that she’s the cause. Now she must harness her villainous powers before Kelly finds out and before someone else gets hurt – or worse.
I am a member of SCBWI and six local library systems, with friends in both homeschool and public school, as well a son in 7th grade. My superpower is lightning reflexes which I developed well after puberty.
If you are interested in DETNOGIRL, I’d be happy to send you the completed manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your consideration,
POST SCRIPT: Another Bio
Some experts have encouraged me to tell more in my query letters about how I am comfortable in front of an audience or camera. So I'm debating whether to include the following in my bio (all true):
I have many scripts that have been performed by youth on stages in California and Indiana, and parenting articles in two nationally distributed magazines. I have given speeches to thousands of all ages on various subjects over the years, and look forward to talking to thousands about my own books.
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)