Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 19

I don't get really irritated that often, but I'd say I'm a bit ruffled today. Here's why. I signed up for a webinar a month or so ago that promised to help a writer understand the ins and outs of a query letter. Now, I've already started writing and sending out query letters, but I thought that the letter for at least one of my books (Beyond the Trees, in particular) could benefit from a major overhaul. And included in the price of the webinar was the promise of a query critique by the agent giving the seminar. Score! What a deal! I'd done some research...the agent seemed knowledgeable and well-respected. I couldn't wait to see how she deconstructed my letter. I kid you not. I was ready to take the heat, as they say. Blast the letter, and I will rebuild! (I'll warn you now that this is a very predictable post.)

Her reply arrived yesterday. The short email that accompanied her attachment said this:
Dear Christina,
Thank you for taking my webinar! Please find my comments on the attached file.
All best, 
So I opened the file, excited to see how I could make my letter better. In red, using the track changes function, this is what I found: 
1. With respect to one of my main characters, 14-year-old Callum: This is edging just a litttttle too old for MG.
2. With respect to "...will have to sacrifice more than just a simple happily-ever-after": Does this mean there's a romance between Philippa and Callum?
And below those measly words, the agent added these three sparse paragraphs:
Dear Christina,

Thank you for taking my webinar.

I hope my comments here are helpful. This sounds like a fun world, and I’m curious to see how you meld the fairy tale and science fiction worlds into one.

But I’m a little concerned about the audience here—whether this is a middle grade novel or just young YA. It’s not totally clear here, but if there’s a romance between Philippa and Callum, I think this would be firmly out of the middle grade arena. Callum is a little old for middle grade, and editors tell me over and over that romance in middle grade doesn’t fly. Boys and girls still have cooties to a lot of MG readers. If there is a romance consider aging them up to 15/16. It could be a young-ish feeling YA novel which is totally fine. If there’s no romance, I would consider aging Callum down a little. Does he need to be 14? 14 is high school and just feels too old for middle grade. 
I looked at the file again, slightly dumbfounded. By definition, a critique is a detailed evaluation, something that should help one make the writing better. I'd expected the agent to talk about whether or not I'd used too many generalities and not enough specifics. I thought she'd say that the stakes hadn't been mentioned or that she couldn't understand the appeal of the book. Do I have enough of a hook? Too many details having to do with world building? Not enough? Do my words flow, or is my writing choppy? HOW CAN I MAKE THIS LETTER BETTER?

I'm not an ingrate. Yes, I'm thankful that she told me she thought I need to age up the characters. But what she gave me concerns the story itself, not the actual letter. What I would have preferred is for her to mention the age and then move on. Put aside that comment and move forward. I paid for a critique, after all. And if she didn't want to actually critique any letters, then she should not have told the people that run the webinar she'd be willing to critique, right? (As an aside, the original tale was written as YA and alluded to a possible romance in the future. As written for MG, I'd toned that side of the story down. I find it interesting that "happily-ever-after" in this agent's mind is romance. I guess that's the way of the world. Good to know.)

Now if you follow this blog at all, you will remember that just a few weeks ago, I posted about how this very query letter was read by a YA agent. She also read the first ten pages or so of the manuscript, and commented that the voice sounded like a MG voice. So I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place, no? I've got a MG voice and a story that's youngish YA. What's a writer to do? I'll tell you what. I'm ditching the damn thing for now. Yes, I'm done querying for this story. And since that is at least the third time that I've said that very thought, I'm going to actually listen to myself and quit querying. My science fiction/fairy tale mashup might never find a place in this world, but I think I'm okay with that outcome.

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