Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Megan Crewe’s Query Letter

STATUS: As you can imagine, since I’ve been out of the office pretty much since December 18, I’m a little behind on work. Sorry for the blog lapse.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DECEMBER, 1963 (OH WHAT A NIGHT) by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

As we launch the new year, I imagine that many a blog reader is getting back into the query game. What better time than to tackle another successful client’s original query and what caught my interest.

Maybe it will shed a little light on how you can tackle your own query letter as you jump into your agent search.

Next up is Megan Crewe—a lovely Canadian writer whose debut GIVE UP THE GHOST hit shelves last fall.

In fun news, Holt Children’s has been doing some great co-op in Barnes & Noble. I shot this pic while on holiday. Funny enough, you can see two of my authors prominently displayed on the main shelf in the YA section of BN. Gotta love that.



But this entry is really about Megan’s debut—a YA with a really different paranormal element that is worth picking up. In my mind, not every YA needs to be an angsty romance. I really enjoy stories that delve into the darker side of being a teen and learning that revenge never can take the place of human compassion—which is what our narrator comes to understand in GIVE UP THE GHOST.

I have to say that Megan’s query immediately caught my attention as she had a whole different take on utilizing ghosts that I’ve never seen before. Besides, I like complex narrators. It’s not what is hitting the NYT list right now but I still find these stories super compelling.


Original query without annotation:

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I am seeking representation for my completed 62,000 word young adult novel, IN MEMORY OF.

Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don't lie or judge, and they're way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students' deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.

When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim's part of Danielle's crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don't know. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn't counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim's actually an okay guy. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming a ghost himself.

Told in Cass' distinctive voice, at turns sarcastic and sensitive, IN MEMORY OF will appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld and Annette Curtis Klause.

My short fiction has appeared in Brutarian Quarterly and On Spec. I maintain the Toronto Speculative Fiction Writers Group, and I've worked with children and teens as a recreational programmer and behavioral therapist for several years.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Megan Crewe



Now the query with my comments:



Dear Ms. Nelson:

I am seeking representation for my completed 62,000 word young adult novel, IN MEMORY OF.
Since the novel is called GIVE UP THE GHOST, it’s obvious that Holt Children’s and Megan decided to change the title. There were too many other novels with the title Giving Up The Ghost so we truncated a bit to make it stand out.

Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don't lie or judge, and they're way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade.
The opening of this query is simply back story. In order to understand the hook, we need to know the previous history of the narrator Cass in order to have a context. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students' deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.
Call me a rebel but I love the idea of knocking down the poseurs a peg or two. Wasn’t that always the secret fantasy of any teen who was an outsider to the status quo? But the main thing that caught my attention here is the idea of using ghosts as a secret army of spies. If ghosts can be anywhere, of course they would see/hear all the dirt and be able to report it. That’s brilliant. Of course that’s how a person who can see ghosts would actually use them. Such a twist on the whole ghost story idea. This had my attention immediately.

When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim's part of Danielle's crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don't know.
Ah, we aren’t suger-coating Cass’s initial motivation. I like novels that are honest. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn't counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim's actually an okay guy. And here’s the redemption. If Cass is lumping all other teens into one clique fitting mold as they do her—does that make her any better? I’m thinking this novel is about Cass realizing that. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming a ghost himself. Such a clincher here. Cass has been living with the dead in the form of ghosts. What does she risk if she reconnects with the living? Something she is going to have to do if she overcomes her stereotype of Tim, learn compassion, and perhaps keep him from joining the ghosts that surround her. I’m so interested!

Told in Cass' distinctive voice, at turns sarcastic and sensitive, IN MEMORY OF will appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld and Annette Curtis Klause.
Excellent comparison. It shows that Megan understands her novel’s place in the market. Notice she doesn’t say her novel is as good as these huge successes—just that the voice will appeal to the fans who enjoy these two other authors.

My short fiction has appeared in Brutarian Quarterly and On Spec. I maintain the Toronto Speculative Fiction Writers Group, and I've worked with children and teens as a recreational programmer and behavioral therapist for several years.
Relevant bio but she doesn’t have too much background in writing so she keeps it short and sweet. Fiction can stand on its own so bio is helpful but blog readers need to know that a lack of background is not a deal breaker; however, she does have experience with teens and makes sure to include that. That never hurts.

Thank you for your time. I always appreciate a thank you here.

Sincerely,

Megan Crewe


All in all a really strong query. She uses back story and character insight (both things I highlight in my Query Pitch online blog workshop (see left side bar) to build a great pitch around her hook.