1. dead-ced-dead

    dead-ced-dead New Member

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    Query Letter "The September Gurl" Contemporary YA Query critique

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by dead-ced-dead, Sep 27, 2019.

    Dear Agent,

    I am seeking representation for my contemporary YA novel, THE SEPTEMBER GURL, which is complete at 72,000 words and draws inspiration from Holly Sale’s GEEK GIRL series and Nick Hornby’s HIGH FIDELITY.

    Emily is fifteen years old and her life is collapsing around her.

    Her father’s suicide leaves Emily externally numb but crippled by anxiety. She has become the “invisible girl” at school and her only friend, Allison, may not be the friend Emily thought she was.

    Life is shoving its boot on Emily’s face and she desperately needs to start kicking back. So, when her teacher announces an end-of-year concert, Emily jumps at the chance and forms a band with Allison.

    But pulling her dad’s old dust covered Strat out of the attic is one thing. Playing it in front of the entire school is another, and Emily‘s anxiety threatens to overwhelm her, complicating her friendship with Allison and endangering their fledgling band.

    Emily discovers an old record in her dad’s collection by a cult band that inspires her. The record’s lead single, “September Gurls,” perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be a teenager when life becomes suffocating and gives Emily the confidence she needs to face her fears.

    I have a BA and a Master’s in Film Studies and I’ve had numerous articles published in film journals across the UK and the US. Much like Emily, I spend far too much time obsessing over cult music from forgotten bands.

    Thank you for the consideration of representation, Agent. The required pages are attached for your review. I greatly look forward to hearing from you!

    All best,
     
  2. Fiender_

    Fiender_ Active Member

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    It occurs to me by the end of this, Allison barely plays a part in the query. She's mentioned as "not being the friend your MC thought she was" but then there's no betrayal, no abandonment, no real struggle that comes from Allison, except the tension regarding Emily's anxiety. Which, ideally a friend would put up with, but these are just teenagers and once more, that's an issue that comes from Emily's side of the friendship (NOT saying the anxiety is Emily's fault, but it doesn't sound like it's Allison's, either). As-is, Allison doesn't add much to the query, which makes me wonder if you should mention more about her influence on the story, or cut mention of her entirely and replace her with more plot-pertinent details or characters.

    Which leads me to conflict in general. It's important to set up your character's goal, their obstacles/setbacks, then say/imply what they're going to do about it. Emily's goal isn't presented until the third paragraph (second-ish, since the first para is one line): performing at this end of the year concert, as a means to overcome her anxiety(?).

    Her obstacles are anxiety, and the fact that she's never performed on stage before (which makes me wonder why she believes performing will help her). Another obstacle, I guess, is tension from Allison, but this again stems from the anxiety so it's kind of a two-fer.

    As for what Emily's gonna do about it... well, stumble onto her dad's music collection and be inspired by it, apparently. Which... is kinda anticlimactic. It seems her dad was a big music fan, and inserting some of that into the beginning (he killed himself over depression because he never succeeded as a musician himself? Or something like that), could connect her goal to the source of her anxiety (father's suicide) by "performing to touch some creative spark she shares with her father". These logical connections would make it feel more organic, imo. That said, I believe you should make her the acting agent in overcoming these issues. Stumbling onto the plot device doesn't feel very dramatic to me, and your query as-is ends with all the tension getting deflated.

    These are just my thoughts, having had my own query letters critiqued and having read a good number of query letters myself (and, of course, all of this advice is offered without having read your novel). I do hope something I've said helps!
     
  3. oreopaw

    oreopaw New Member

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    I'm not exactly sure what the main conflict is here, so I don't feel like I have a solid idea of what happens in your novel. Also, you mentioned that Allison is not the friend Emily thought she was, then later say that Emily' anxiety complicates her friendship with Allison, which is a little confusing to me. Is she a bad friend, or a decent friend that Emily's anxiety is pushing away? Because if she's a bad friend, then I don't feel like Emily's anxiety complicating the friendship is an issue, since she'd be better off without Allison. It sounds like an interesting story, but I think more clarity in terms of what the storyline actually is would help!
     
  4. Lunablue09

    Lunablue09 New Member

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    Hello Mx. Dead-ced-dead!

    here are my notes:

    Dear Agent,

    I am seeking representation for my contemporary YA novel, THE SEPTEMBER GURL, which is complete at 72,000 words and draws inspiration from Holly Sale’s GEEK GIRL series and Nick Hornby’s HIGH FIDELITY [oh boy, these comps are pretty old. A good comp title will be from the last 2-3 years. If you're having trouble coming up with comp titles, pop down to your local book shop and describe your book's tone, premise, and characters to a bookseller who's well-read in your genre. They'll give you some titles that will make a big difference :) I also encourage you to think less about which books are precisely like your book, but more about the kind of experience your book imparts to the reader] .

    Emily is fifteen years old and her life is collapsing around her.

    Her father’s suicide leaves Emily externally numb but crippled by anxiety. She has become the “invisible girl” at school and has lost motivation to do much [add personal struggles using specific details, is she letting her grades slip? Is she struggling to find the point to it all?] and her only friend, Allison, may not be the friend Emily thought she was. [I think you can heighten the awkward friendship angle later on to maintain the tensions]

    Life is shoving its boot on Emily’s face and she desperately needs to start kicking back [Nice voice here!]. So, when her teacher announces an end-of-year concert, Emily jumps at the chance and forms a band with her somewhat fair-weather friend, Allison [if you add an adjective/descriptor here of Allison that adds tension to the coming plot, it might be a better way to heighten the social tensions of the plot].

    But pulling her dad’s old dust covered Strat out of the attic is one thing. Playing it in front of the entire school is another, and Emily‘s anxiety threatens to overwhelm her, complicating her friendship with Allison and endangering their fledgling band.

    Emily discovers an old record in her dad’s collection by a cult band that inspires her. The record’s lead single, “September Gurls,” perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be a teenager when life becomes suffocating and gives Emily the confidence she needs to face her fears. [Spoilers! Rather than offering a happy ending to this query, give the agent another juicy tidbit to make them want to read your manuscript. Raise the stakes, enhance the conflict, et cetra]

    I have a BA and a Master’s in Film Studies and I’ve had numerous articles published in film journals across the UK and the US. Much like Emily, I spend far too much time obsessing over cult music from forgotten bands [Aww, nice touch!].

    Thank you for the consideration of representation, Agent. The required pages are attached for your review. I greatly look forward to hearing from you! [ Don't waste word space on telling the agent you listened to direction. They'll figure it out soon enough. Also, ending on "I look forward to hearing from you" can be a big agent no-no. End with "Thank you for your time and consideration." It's a tad less presumptive)

    All best,

    [I think there needs to be a bit more you can do here to a) enhance your voice and b) let us get to know Emily a bit more. See how you can emphasize the stakes of the plot. What will it mean if Emily can get to the concert? What else does she have to face within herself to succeed? Add those elements and you'll have fortified the query. I also HEARTILY recommend getting to know the Query Shark: https://queryshark.blogspot.com/ I've taken notes on her critiques for years and it's immeasurably helpful.]
     
  5. Zachary Phoenix

    Zachary Phoenix Member

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    I agree with LunaBlue09 in her critique above me, and have a few things to add. I too have been in the depths of the Queryshark blog and am seeing things in queries I wouldn't normally.
    The first thing that jumps out at me is your first sentence. "I am seeking.... HIGH FIDELITY." To start, the fact that you're seeking representation is redundant. The agent obviously knows you're seeking representation, otherwise you wouldn't be sending them a query. Agents are crazy swamped with submissions, so anything you can do to trim unnecessary fat is good. The rest of it, where you give the title, the genre, word count and comps should all go at the END of the query letter. Don't start with it. Because if the first thing an agent see's is a genre they don't represent, it's into the trash with your query. However, maybe after they read the plot they might decide to take a chance on it. Or they might realize that you unintentionally mis-genre'd your book and they do represent what it actually is. And yes, the comps should be at maximum 4 or 5 years old. I think this rule is dumb, but what can you do...

    The actual first sentence where you introduce the main character (which is where the query letter should start) is quite good. It's interesting and makes the reader want to read on to find out why her life is falling apart.
    The next sentence should be "...leaves Emily externally numb and crippled by anxiety." Not "but" crippled by anxiety. The word "but" implies that it's something to the opposite end of the spectrum of what came before it. For example: "Externally numb BUT inwardly skipping on sunshine." Externally numb and crippled by anxiety are both similar negative feelings.

    "But pulling her dad’s old dust covered Strat out of the attic is one thing." This is an incomplete sentence. You could replace "one thing" with "difficult," or something like that. BUT, the easiest thing would be to just remove "but."
    Example: Pulling her dad’s old dust covered Strat out of the attic is one thing, playing it in front of the entire school is another.
    These grammar nazi things might seem, well, grammar nazi-ish, but if an agent see's these discrepancies in your query letter, they may very well immediately pass, because they'll assume your manuscript is also full of them.

    Though on the surface your final line is perfectly fine... : Thank you for the consideration of representation, Agent. The required pages are attached for your review. I greatly look forward to hearing from you!
    ...it's also not really necessary. And the goal is to make your letter as clean and uncluttered as possible. You don't need to state that the required pages are attached, because they'll see that they're attached. (By the way, the vast majority of agents demand that you do NOT attach anything, but rather copy and paste your pages directly into the body of the email) And you don't need to let them know you look forward to hearing from them. That's something I'm sure they will assume already. All you need at the end is "Thank you for your time and consideration."

    Other than these small but important critiques, I basically agree with what the others before me have said. Allison kind of disappears and isn't relevant to the plot. But the big thing for me... I don't see a plot.
    Girl is scared to perform, finds some records, which give her the courage to perform. The end? I don't see how that can be a complete story. What else happens? It's 72k words, so I'm sure you've got other stuff in there, but from this query, it doesn't seem like it. (If there is nothing else to the story, I'm actually impressed that you were able to stretch it to 72k) ;)
    Fill the query letter with the most intense and important plot points that make us care about the MC, and want to cheer her on.
    All the best!
     

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