Wednesday, July 29, 2009

34 Query Contest

I'm seeking representation for my 26,000 word middle grade novel, WHITE ALLIGATOR, set in the bayou country of my native Louisiana. Twelve year old Joe finds a baby alligator out in the swamp the likes of which no one has ever seen—a foot long and solid white.

Joe swears to protect it and keep it hidden. He is in need of protecting himself. His violent father, Conway, has returned to town and his mother, tired of their poverty, is letting him back into their lives. A young couple takes Joe on a nighttime trip alligator spotting in the swamp. He recognizes one of the poachers they hide from as his father.

His mother discovers the alligator as a hurricane approaches and surprises Joe by sharing his feelings of wonder and by having opened her eyes to her husband's character. When they go to help neighbors after the storm—Conway steals the alligator. Joe goes alone to the abandoned diner where the poachers are staying and almost rescues it. With police outside demanding Joe's release, Joe's father takes him and the alligator on a mad drive that ends with them all in the swirling flood waters.

I am a children's librarian and a member of SCBWI. Thank you for your time and attention, I hope you share my enthusiasm for this book.

Joe was drifting. He rested his head on a balled up poncho in the prow of the skiff, his cap over his face, and his knees across one of the seats. He felt like the sun was going straight through him. If he opened his eyes he could see dots of the blue sky that stretched over the swamp through the mesh of the baseball cap. That it was a school day and not his skiff didn't bother him at all.

The faint sound of an outboard motor made him to sit up. Running into anybody he knew was the last thing he wanted. He squinted at the far end of Long Lake. In this spot he always felt like he could sit here in Louisiana and see clean to Mississippi on one side and Texas on the other.
Today he could see a fishing boat coming towards him. Joe reached for the pole and winced. His shoulders still hurt. He pushed up his sleeve to see if the bruises looked any worse.

They did. Deep blue and purple where his father, Conway, had grabbed him this morning. Conway, who wasn't supposed to be in the house at all, was in the kitchen when Joe got up.
Joe said he wasn't going to school, said he felt sick. He didn't want to leave his mother alone with him. Conway had sunk his fingers into Joe's arms and shook him, all the while yelling at him what a worthless kid he was.


  1. I'm sorry, but I'm not hooked by the pitch. It reads too much like a list, without any real sense of voice. Could you inject some of the tone and voice of the novel into the query? Something to spice it up a bit?

  2. I'm not hooked by the query either. It's an interesting plot, but the query comes out a little flat and needs more voice.

  3. I forgot to mention, isn't 26,000 words a novella instead of a novel?

  4. The sample is so much better than the query. Your query reads like a synopsis of the whole story but all it is supposed to do is to entice the agent to read the synopsis and the sample. From your sample pages it is clear that you like the "outback" and you should let that seep into your query.

    Up to "is letting him back into their lives." the query is quite ok (for me ;-) ) but from there on you should rather focus on how Joe is changing and his feelings about the unwanted dad. If you then sum up the poacher side of the story it should be a far more concise query (suggestion: When he discovers that his father is a poacher and has captured his white alligator, he sets out to fulfill his vow getting into more trouble than had imagined possible). Good luck with it.

  5. I think the query does sound like a blow by blow of what happens in the book. That made me worry about voice and pace in the pages themselves. But the ideas sound interesting. Good luck!

  6. Not hooked. I stopped reading before your bio paragraph. The query is too choppy and doesn't give a good indication of your voice.

  7. Not hooked by the query. In fact, the query sounds like it was written by a different writer. The sentence structure, subject/verb arrangement, etc., reads very awkward to me and is somewhat ambiguous and confusing at times. Also, it does read more like a synopsis rather than a concise teaser to arouse interest.

    However, when reading the sample, the words flowed much better. In other words, the writing was superior to that of the query. And, since the query is what will determine whether anyone reads your real writing, I would suggest giving that a total re-work.

    Just my opinion, and I hope it's helpful.

  8. I am not hooked by the query, but I do think you might have a good little story here. Personally, I would focus more on the little alligator and what makes it special. That is what will appeal to children, not a nasty father. Good luck!

  9. Admittedly I don't like gators (the horrible things eat dogs!) so that probably affected me as I read the query. So I wasn't totally hooked.

    That said - I think it's a good query and you touch on the bigger issues of the plot as well as the personal family issues. Nice.

  10. The query is disjointed. It reads as a blow-by-blow of the events, instead of laying out clearly the central conflict in an intriguing voice. I think you have a great premise for a book, the query just needs more Ooomph.

  11. 26K is a medium size novella, not a novel. The query would have made more sense if I could get the significance of the alligator being white. You stress this, and then it disappears, which makes the story look episodic.

    The snippet starts OK, but then becomes telly in the end. If you want to show the abuse by Conway, why not start by showing it?

  12. Yeah, the word count seems short for a MG novel. It almost sounds like this is more of a chapter book than a book for a MG audience. That said, though, your writing was too advanced for the age group I have in my head.

    Not sure if that makes sense, but I wouldn't request pages. Sorry.

  13. Great story idea. I agree with above about the query. It needs work. There are many short, short middle grade novels, so no problem there. There's too much telling, not enough showing, no dialogue. Keep writing. Good luck.

  14. Two glaring misplaced modifying phrases in the query's first two paragraphs put up red flags. I read on but felt the pacing was a little too pedantic. I think the premise has promise although agree with a previous comment that children might prefer a story that's more about the alligator than about a cruel father.

    This would be a pass for me. Sorry.

  15. Another novella, rather than a novel. Novels start at 40k.

    Bayou stories aren't my thing, so this would be really hard to convince me to take.

    I don't understand Joe's motivation for deciding to protect this alligator. Just because it's different? I don't think that's enough.

    The rest of this query reads like a synopsis, rather than a hook. Focus on motivations and conflicts, rather than the plot.

    The opening page doesn't pull me in. The writing needs to be cleaned and sharpened -- there's a lot of scaffolding in here that weakens the prose -- and again, I'm unsure about the focus. The query makes this story seem more about escaping the abusive father, while the page looks like it's heading into finding the white alligator with the abusive father as secondary.