Sunday, December 28, 2014

Query Critique Winner

I hope you all had a great holiday!  I'm posting a bit early again because tomorrow is John's little brother's birthday and he is spending it in New York with us...I predict a lot of sneaker shopping in my immediate future, haha.  

Anyways, I'm excited to present the critique for the contest!  The winner was Daniel DiFranco, and his original query is below:


Dear Carrie,
Rock and roll is a young man’s game, and for Paul, who just joined an up-and-coming indie band, time is running out. This is the best shot he’s ever had. Paul and his band are hurled across the country by a momentum that is part self-made, and part created by arbitrary forces they encounter in pursuit of their dreams. As they tramp across the country to a gig in New York that could be their big break, Paul’s future becomes uncertain when his bandmates threaten to quit, cross paths with a self-serving, arrogant manager, and leave a bag of pot cookies around the wrong people. When Paul runs into an old friend who has been successfully working the scene in L.A., he questions if he has made the most of his life.

PANIC YEARS, in the same spirit as Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, is a rock and roll road trip novel that gives the reader an insider’s view of a touring indie band. This book would especially appeal to music fans and young people who are trying to find their way in this world, and to those who have felt the deep personal call to adventure.

Some of my short stories have been published in journals like Philadelphia StoriesCrack the Spine, and Wyvern Lit. I have just completed my MFA and am a high school English and music teacher. I have spent the better part of the past two decades in bands.

Thank you for your time.
All the best,

Daniel DiFranco


And now here is the critique:


Dear Carrie,
Rock and roll is a young man’s game, and for Paul, who just joined an up-and-coming indie band, time is running out. [Does this mean that Paul is older?  Why can't he be successful as an older musician - is it because of some kind of physical demand or because fans only like heartthrobs?  Give me a little more here.] This is the best shot he’s ever had. Paul and his band are hurled across the country by a momentum that is part self-made, and part created by arbitrary forces they encounter in pursuit of their dreams. [You don't need to include this.  It only raises questions about the plot that aren't necessary to answer in a short query.] As they tramp across the country to a gig in New York that could be their big break, things start to fall apart instead of getting better like Paul thought they would.  Paul’s future becomes uncertain when His bandmates threaten to quit, they cross paths with a self-serving, arrogant manager [Who does what to them? Give them bad advice? Steal their money?], and leave a bag of pot cookies around the wrong people. When Paul runs into an old friend who has been successfully working the scene in L.A., he questions if he has made the most of his life. [How does meeting this person make him question himself?  Wouldn't it make it believe that it is possible to succeed in the music industry?  And wouldn't his bandmates' antics be the thing that make him wonder if he's made the most of his life?  I'm also left with the question: what does any of this have to do with being older and a rock and roll musician?  Clarify here a bit more for us.  Does he question if he should settle into a more corporate role in the music industry instead of following the avenue he has been pursuing?  Does he think about leaving the band?]
PANIC YEARS, in the same spirit as Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, is a rock and roll road trip novel that gives the reader an insider’s view of a touring indie band. This book would especially appeal to music fans and young people who are trying to find their way in this world, and to those who have felt the deep personal call to adventure. [When you say young people, this makes me think that this is meant to be a NA novel.  If that is the case, I think there should definitely be a romantic element to the story that should be talked about in the query and Paul's age should be mentioned so that agents don't think that the story is about a forty-year-old rocker and for a different genre and then get confused here.] 
Some of my short stories have been published in journals like Philadelphia StoriesCrack the Spine, and Wyvern Lit. I have just completed my MFA and am a high school English and music teacher. I have spent the better part of the past two decades in bands. 
Thank you for your time.
All the best,

Daniel DiFranco

This is an intriguing concept and a great start.  What do you guys think of my edits to Daniel's letter?  Let him (and me) know.  Also, previously I had said that only the comments made on the day the query critique is posted count towards the eight needed to win the author treatment, but since it is Sunday and 8:00PM, both today and tomorrow (Monday) will count!

The next time you hear from me, I'll be 28 years old!!!  It looks like I am going to be a bit shy of my goal for 2014 deals...I guess my New Year's Resolution is going to be to work even harder and shoot for 8 deals in 2015!

11 comments:

  1. Hi, Carrie, welcome back, hope you had a nice Christmas, and enjoy all the celebrations coming up this week (and happy birthday, whippersnapper!). Next, good luck to Daniel--querying is tough business, but it's great of you to provide this service and I expect a lot of people besides Daniel will benefit greatly. On to the query.

    My own first impression without reading your comments is that first section kind of meanders a bit too much. I like the first line a lot, but from there it feels a bit like a 'kitchen sink' kind of thing, where you're just throwing everything in. To me, it makes the novel feel episodic, more like a collection of things that happen on the road trip rather than the cohesive story that I'm sure Daniel has written.

    I'm assuming that this is a character-based novel rather than plot-based, and these kinds of queries can be especially difficult to write well (trust me, I know!). In my opinion, Daniel needs to give us more of Paul's character in here rather than a string of events. I expect Paul is at an age where he has to decide: fish or cut bait, that if his band doesn't take off, he may have to get that 9-5 job in Dad's company (or whatever). What his choice is, and what happens if are not super clear to me.

    Now, I've read over Carrie's comments and largely agree with them. However, not being an agent, I don't question the NA angle at all. Personally speaking, I'd love to see a story about a 40-year-old rocker who's trying to decide if he should keep on truckin' or settle into a workaday life, but that's probably because I'm north of 40 myself. Good luck, Daniel!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did have a great Christmas, thanks Jeff! I hope you did too! I also like the idea of a 40-year-old rocker trying to decide whether to keep pursuing his dreams or settle down. It's kind of like an older coming-of-age story and I think it could be a really great read.

      Delete
  2. OK, I didn't want to take up too much space, so here's a question for Carrie related to the query: it's about comparables. We're told by those in the know that, if we use comp titles, they should be current and not so...huge, I guess, i.e., if you're writing wizard boy fiction, avoid Harry Potter, etc. Goon Squad is 4 years old at this point--does that make it too old to use as a comp? And does the fact it won a Pulitzer mean you should avoid using it as a comp? Finally, it's been a while since I read Good Squad, but I do recall it having some unusual structural elements in it, including a power point style presentation across a large part of it. As an agent, if you see this as a comp, do you expect something unconventional in the manuscript, and if it's not there, do you feel...cheated? I'd love to see your take on this whole thing regarding comps. I know they drove me crazy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm on the fence about comps in query letters. If you are able to make a great comparison that gives me a good sense of the novel and excites me, then great, but also to be sure to point out to me how your novel is different from the ones you list.

      Choosing current comps and ones that aren't "superstars" novels like Harry Potter is the usual rule, but I personally wouldn't be put off by an older title or one that was an award-winner if you can back it up. For instance, if you were telling me that your novel is a historical coming-of-age novel like LITTLE WOMEN because it intertwines narratives of five sisters with different personalities, I will be thrilled and won't think you are crazy for comparing your book to LITTLE WOMEN. So using GOON SQUAD wouldn't put me off because of when it was published, although because of the unique structure of the novel, I would expect something similarly unconventional in the way your book is written.

      If comps are driving you crazy, I would say not to bother using them if you can get the gist of your novel across without them. They are not something you have to include and if you're worried that it may come off the wrong way, just don't bother using them! I hope that answers everything well :)

      Delete
  3. Hi Carrie
    Happy Birthday, today is my son's 9th birthday - halfway to adulthood! I hope you had a great Christmas.
    I really liked this critique. Congratulations to Daniel, for the opportunity for such insightful advice. I agree, we need to know what the age of the protagonist is and what the genre of the novel is. Your suggestions would really tighten it up - I would also suggest something personal for each agent, which is obviously difficult to put in, in a an example query. What do you think?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy birthday to you son, and thank you for the Christmas wishes!

      As for your question, I think that if you have a genuine personalization for an agent in your query that can be a nice touch. However, I've gotten some queries with personalizations that are clearly not personal, such as, "Dear Carrie, Because of numerous award-winning YA novels you represent, I think you would love..."

      I love my YA writers and I think their novels deserve accolades, but none of them have actually won any kind of industry award, so that clearly is not specifically targeted to me and can be kind of annoying to read. So if you are going to do that, just make sure you research your agent before you put something in!

      Delete
  4. Carrie,

    Your comments are great, and really get at what I struggle with on my query - the line between enough information to answer questions, and too much info. I agree that defining the MC's specific time obstacle to a music career is necessary. As for the plot, I am wondering what sort of rock 'n roll this MS is about - a punk rock outfit destroying hotel rooms is a whole different story than a bunch of bearded hipsters playing to half-empty coffee houses. Mr. DiFranco, I'd like a better sense of what sort of rock adventure you're talking about.

    Also, are we high school English teachers supposed to admit to being just about the greatest cliche in the literary world? I've been told to exclude teaching from a query, as that particular "day job" makes me look like a less passionate writer than an MFA-janitor. Any thoughts there?

    To Carrie, great advice, and I love this "service." I hope I have the honor some day.

    To Daniel, sounds like a cool story, and I imagine your time in bands has provided a ton of great anecdotes for the story. Good luck with it!

    Take care,

    Eric

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If your career is related to writing or books, I don't have a problem with reading about it. Even many successful published authors, agents, and editors have other jobs--I actually work at a restaurant on weekends--so I wouldn't judge your passion for writing based on whether or not you have a teaching job!

      Delete
  5. So will all these Query Critiques be posted on the 8th of the month?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I post the Query Critiques once a month, but not necessarily on the 8th! Keep an eye on my blog to see when the contest is posted each month. Thanks!

      Delete
  6. Congrats, Daniel.
    I, being the opposite of a query expert, thought it was good. It doesn't sound like a book I'd run right out and get for myself, but it does sound like a book I'd buy for a friend of mine, because he reminds me of Paul. (This is why I'm bad with query letters- because I see one like this, and want to buy the book, and thus mistake it for a "good" query; yet the red marks indicate that it still needs work.)

    Best of luck to you on getting your book out there.

    ReplyDelete