Wednesday, July 29, 2009

36 Query Contest

Dear Ms. Rappaport:

Starting high school is scary enough. The last thing fourteen-year-old Reta Morse needs is for evil shadow people to ruin everything.

Reta knows that an arsenal of toilet paper will be the perfect payback when her cousin bans teens from his music lounge- until a secret army called the Shadow Regime starts to stalk her for it. On overhearing that these immortals have enslaved her cousin and strive to oppress teens everywhere, she convinces the school to campaign against their system. When Reta learns too late that the Regime’s leader abducts everyone who stands up to him, she must shatter all the rules to escape.

RETA MORSE AND THE SINISTER SHADOW is a 67,000-word young adult contemporary fantasy. It can stand alone or as part of a series. It may be enjoyed by adolescents who like stories about good versus evil but who wish to go beyond traditional ideas such as magicians, vampires, and dragons.

I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Enclosed are the first ten pages of my novel. This is a multiple submission. I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your time and consideration.


(Name and contact info here.)

Someone banged on the front door so hard it rattled. Reta jerked, sending a huge pencil line across the warrior drawing she’d slaved at for two days.. She dropped her sketchbook onto the couch, marched over to the door, and yanked it open only to find nobody on the porch.

“Very funny, Ryan.” Leaning out into the cool morning air, Reta hunted the front yard for her friend. Instead, a flash of bright blue on the steps caught her eye. Someone had left behind a folded paper and weighted it down with a rock. Sighing, she picked it up and made to open the folds. This had better be worth ruining her drawing for.

A prickle raced across her scalp. Reta looked up and nearly dropped the paper to the porch. Someone stood just across the street, and it definitely wasn’t Ryan.

The silhouette of a tall man seemed to stare back with an inky, featureless face. Tall jackboots outlined his shins and the sharp edges on his shoulders made Reta think of the armor she’d just drawn. It looked like the solid shadow of an ancient soldier.

She squinted and rubbed her eyes, praying that the pale light had just played tricks on her. Oh, crap. The shadow man remained.

The man shifted leg to leg and took a step back. He whirled around and dodged behind a fat pine tree. Twigs snapped as he vanished into the underbrush of the woods.

Reta fought to lift her feet, which…


  1. The query is succinct and clear. I'd read pages.

    The pages give me a clear sense of character and plot.

    This one is one I'd read.

  2. A little hooked. Was pulled out by "the Shadow regime starts to stalk for her." Not sure what that means in this context. Otherwise I'd read on.

    Writing lives up to the query.

  3. Not hooked. Why do these shadow people want to oppress teens everywhere? And how, exactly, are they oppressing them? It's too vague.

  4. I was actually confused by the content in the query. Is the regime stalking her for the toilet paper? I get it now, but I had to reread a few times. And rallying against what system--the school's or the regime's? Anyway, I know it's tough to explain this all in a few sentences, but I could have used a bit more clarity. Cool ideas! Good luck!

  5. QUERY: Not hooked. Evil shadow people is very generic. I don't get the connection between an arsenal of toilet paper and the Shadow Regime. Why do they want to enslave and oppress teens? If they are secret, how does the school campaign against them?

    Your last two paragraphs are solid.

  6. Not hooked. I didn't really get a sense of the story. And I'm really confused about her convincing the school to campaign against the evil shadow people's system. Are we talking a military like campaign or what? And I'm sure there aren't too many people who are captured who try to keep to the rules while they try to escape. Especially since NOT trying to escape is usually one of the unspoken rules.

  7. Not hooked, sorry. The query confused me. I wondered why the shadow people were stalking her for a toilet paper arsenal. I didn't see how toilet paper would get back her cousin anyway, or what this had to do with the shadow people.

    However, I read the first 250 words and really liked it. The strength of your writing really shines, and it gets to the action right away. But based on the query letter alone, I wouldn't have read on.

  8. I like the query (and snippet) but I wondered why her tp-ing her cousin would cause a bunch of baddies to stalk her. Did she see something? Or does her cousin actually have control over them and this is his way of getting even for the tp-ing...

  9. I was hooked by the query and the 250 words. Like the others, I was slightly bumped out by the arsenal of toilet paper bit though. I thought perhaps something was in the arsenal? Written on the toilet paper? It made sense after, but you may want to tighten it up in the query itself.

    Good luck!

  10. We went from shadow people to toilet paper. That threw me too much so I wasn't hooked enough.

  11. the Query: What is there for the evil shadow people to ruin? It might draw me more to the MC if I know what she's looking forward to when she starts high school. It isn't until the second paragraph that I have a clue that one of the things ruined might be access to the music lounge.

    Toilet paper doesn't seem like the most positive course of action for a young teen, so this is where the query lost me. It would have been fine if the MC knew it wasn't the greatest idea but got carried along with doing it to the place anyway.

  12. Thanks for your comments so far! I've been banging my head for months trying to figure out what's wrong with this query. I've taken every comment here seriously and appreciate them.

    I have just rewritten this query into one that is hopefully much clearer and answers your questions. Thanks again.

  13. Yes. I like the first paragraph.

    The next paragraph is a little unclear. I feel like I've missed something.

    The opening page reads a little choppy, like it's been over-edited perhaps. Watch out for redundant sentence structure and line of direction. (That is, Reta looks up and nearly drops the paper before the person standing across the street appears. Mention the person, then the reaction.)

    Not hooked. There's potential here, but I found the query unclear, and the writing itself needs to be stronger.