Thursday, September 17, 2015

Query Critique #5: ONE OF YOU WILL BETRAY ME

My thoughts are added in red. I’ve underlined any places where I offer an example for a rephrasing. Every comment is my own opinion. Readers, feel free to leave your own comments below and help a fellow writer out!

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Original Version (with comments):

Dear [Agent Name],

An ugly family secret haunts high school basketball star Yasir Thomas, but he doesn’t even know it. From the beginning, his grandmother has been lying about the identity of his real father to keep the secret under wraps. Still, Yasir has no idea (To start, this is a really interesting hook. Especially the first line. Ugly family secret? You’ve got me intrigued! Though I think you could make this punchier. In fact, you could probably condense these three sentence into two. For example: An ugly family secret haunts seventeen-year-old (Whatever his age is, make sure you add it, agents like to know these things up front if you’re not saying what your genre is in the first paragraph!) basketball star Yasir Thomas. A secret his grandmother planned to hoard until her last breath. Until… <-- This is where you would detail how Yasir found out about who is real father is.).

Until he finds out. Now, all Yasir wants to do is meet his real father. But it might be too late. His grandmother—who he believes is the key—has fallen into a coma (Why does he believe his grandmother is the key? The less question agents ask while ready a query, the better. The only thing you want them dying to know is how the story ends!).

 Unfortunately, he has to find another way. He is sidetracked, however, when his long-time enemy, Raymond Mitchell is released from prison for the intent to sale one kilo of cocaine. Ray believes Yasir ratted him out to the police and has come back for vengeance—no mercy (When I first read this, it made me worried that your book has two main plots that conflict eachother, so you might want to tone this down a little bit into something like: Without his grandmother’s answers, Yasir turns to [insert whatever Yasir decides to do next], but is thwarted by Raymond Mitchell. Ray, just released from the clink for a crack-deal gone south, is out for Yasir’s blood, believing Yasir ratted to the police about the ill-fated deal.).

Yasir (finds himself stuck with ß Just a rewording suggestion) has two choices: finish off Ray so he can get him off his back (which can land him in a prison cell for life) (This doesn’t seem like a big enough motivation for Yasir “finishing off” Ray, just to get the guy off his back. Maybe something like finish off Ray before Ray can enact his sick revenge ) or live in danger while searching for the truth about his family's (it’s not his “family’s” past, right? It’s his past. So maybe don’t use the word “family’s”) past. Either choice will leave him constantly watching his back. Yasir’s choice is made and he is shell-shocked at the result. The ugly secret stares him right in the face and it involves his mother (You kind of lose steam at the end here. You need to slam this one home. Leave the agent scrambling for the “reply” button so he/she can request more. You’ve set up the stakes with the “two choices” sentence, now you just need to put a pretty bow on it. Cut the about three sentences and insert something like But whatever path Yasir chooses, it will change his life irrevocably or something like that. I’m sure you can think of a better sentence.).

ONE OF YOU WILL BETRAY ME (lovely title!) is an African American fiction novel (Unfortunately, African American fiction isn’t a genre. I’m assuming this is young adult. So it would be something like: ONE OF YOU WILL BETRAY ME is a young adult [insert sub genre] novel that follows the life of an African American teenager coming to grips with his past and future. It is complete at 74,000 words) complete at 74,000 words. 

Thanks for your time and consideration.

[Author’s Name]

Closing thoughts:

The basics of your query letter are definitely there! You just need to hone and shape it into something worthy of your story. Definitely include how Yasir finds out about his father/grandmother’s secret, as that is a big point in the plot. Also consider adding what puts his grandmother into a coma. Did she have an accident? Is she dying? As a totally unrelated side note, I really love your title! It sounds both poetic and dangerous.

If you want me to take a second look at your query letter or if you have any questions/need clarification, don’t hesitate to ask.

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