Monday, June 13, 2016

Feedback Request


The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1318 would like your opinion of the following revised version.


Dear Mr. Evil Editor:

Smart-aleck seventh-grader Zach Beacon has been sent to the principal's office so often, he's on a first-name basis with the secretary. [That's not a bad line, though I don't buy that the principal would be okay with his secretary being on a first-name basis with a seventh grader. Plus, it almost sounds like the kid is being rewarded for being sent to the office so much. I would say he's been sent to the office so often he's worn a groove in the hallway. (A groove the other students refer to as Zach's tracks.)] But he's the star shortstop of the baseball team, and trophy-obsessed Principal “Robot” McMott expects them to win the Mississippi private school championship. So Zach's big mouth hasn't landed him in big trouble—yet.

Things change when Zach crash-lands—literally—in the yard of August Clement, the school's elderly groundskeeper. [Not clear what you mean by that. I would think a literal crash landing would involve an aircraft, but in any case, we don't need to know how they meet. One of them befriends the other.] [Also, when you say "Things change when..." I assume you mean Zach's big mouth finally does land him in trouble. It's more his desire for justice for his friend that leads to trouble, not his big mouth.] Turns out, August was a major leaguer back in the fifties—[What?! Why isn't he coaching the baseball team? It's so much better for the story. Easier to get the whole team on board for the strike. More likely that a school could do without one baseball coach than its groundskeeper.] he even has a tip or two about hitting those nasty curveballs—but now he struggles to pay his wife's cancer treatment bills. Zach's friendship with August leads to some tough choices when Zach learns that McMott is planning to lay off the groundskeeper. McMott claims he's saving money for a new trophy case, [Are there other groundskeepers at this school? You can't replace your only groundskeeper with a trophy case or the grass will get so tall baseballs will get lost in the infield.] but Zach suspects that something worse may be at the root of McMott's decision. [Does he have a more specific suspicion? If so, I'm sorry to report that you have to tell us what it is.]

To save August's job, Zach fast-talks the baseball team into going on strike, using the best leverage they have—the team won't win till McMott gives in. But as the losses mount, McMott's threats escalate, [What are his threats?] and his team threatens mutiny, [Change "his" to "the" so readers don't think you mean McMott's team. Better yet, get rid of "McMott's threats escalate."]  Zach must decide whether seeking justice for his friend is worth risking the championship—and his reputation.

ZACH BEACON STRIKES OUT is a 33,000-word middle grade novel that will appeal to fans of Andrew Clements and Gary Paulsen's Liar, Liar series.

I am an associate member of SCBWI and a member of the Mississippi Writers Guild. My experiences as a living wage activist at Vanderbilt University influenced ZACH BEACON STRIKES OUT, my debut novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Notes

Is this set in modern times? Because if August was a major leaguer in the 1950s, he must be close to 80 years old today. Is he really making more money as a groundkeeper than he would from social security and the public employee pension fund? He should want to be at home caring for his wife, not toiling in the Mississippi sun.

What grades attend this middle school? If it's 7th and 8th, I think Zach should be in 8th grade, as the 8th-graders are unlikely to follow a 7th grader. Whether it's high school and college freshmen or Major League rookies, the new arrivals have to pay their dues, earn their stripes. Only then can they hope to talk the entire team into intentionally losing their games.

You imply that Zach's big mouth eventually gets him into trouble, but I don't see that he ever receives any punishment for anything. Does he?

8 comments:

SB said...

"Smart-aleck seventh-grader Zach Beacon has been sent to the principal's office so often, he's on a first-name basis with the secretary. [That's not a bad line, though I don't buy that the principal would be okay with his secretary being on a first-name basis with a seventh grader. Plus, it almost sounds like the kid is being rewarded for being sent to the office so much. I would say he's been sent to the office so often he's worn a groove in the hallway. (A groove the other students refer to as Zach's tracks.)]"

I for one don't have any problem with 'so often he's on a first name basis with the secretary'. Depending on what kind of person the secretary is, I can totally see this happening, even if the principal doesn't like it. Plus, schools are getting a lot less formal about names. When I was in high school in the 90s, there were some teachers we called by their last name only (no "Mr."), so I can certainly believe a situation where a seventh-grader calls the secretary by his/her first name. I do, on the other hand, have a problem with your 'has worn a groove in the hallway' suggestion. First, because obviously he didn't actually do that whereas with the original, he is actually on a first-name basis with the secretary. Second, because it's pure hyperbole and obviously false, it doesn't give us any more information than simply saying he's been there often, and therefore wastes words on a pointless and obviously false statement.

But aside from that... I'm not really buying the whole setup of the story. And considering how young your target audience seems to be, I'm not sure a kid achieving his goal by intentionally throwing games and trying to manipulate an authority figure is really a great lesson to be illustrating. (These kinds of things are probably why I don't read much young-MG fiction.)

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I agree with all of EE's comments, and with those things done, the query will be good enough. Now for some realtalk.

My qualifications for saying what I'm about to say: successful MG author who has sold nine books to major publishers and eaten lunch with many MG editors.

I hope you're working on your next book, because while this one might sell, it's got a couple counts against it. The MG market is tight right now. It was always competitive but now it's gotten worse. A story really needs to stand out these days to sell. (The story, not the query. None of what I'm saying here is about the query, which I think will be fine.)

One count against the story is that it appears to be about a white boy and there's a bit of a glut in that regard. Of course, stories about white boys are still selling and always will; just be aware of the glut factor.

Another count is market placement. I don't see this as a break-out book and that's what agents seem to be looking for these days. There will probably always be a niche in the market for baseball books, but these days all the talk I hear is about break-out, not niche.

There's no need to mention and counter these issues in your query; the agent already knows these things and anyway it won't matter. It's just something to be aware of. If this doesn't sell, the problem's not your writing. Be working on your next manuscript.








Evil Editor said...

Actually, SB, my "suggestion" is no more pointless than the first-name-basis statement; both are intended to qualify the statement that Zach goes to the office often. Mine also is intended to inject some humor into the query, the original version of which describes the book as humorous and fast-paced (at which point I said: "If you get to the end of the summary and have to tell us the book is humorous and fast-paced, you haven't done your job." The new version doesn't claim the book is humorous, but presumably it is, and the author didn't add anything to the query that indicates the book is at all funny.)

Stating that schools are less formal about names these days seems to contradict your argument. If kids regularly call adults at school by their first names, then Zach calling the secretary by her first name doesn't clarify how often Zach goes to the office. A student who gets sent to the office only once a year in these casual-name times could call the secretary by her first name. But a student who wears a groove in the floor? THAT student goes to the office a LOT.

True, Zach didn't REALLY wear a groove in the floor, but any reader will see that as a funny exaggeration. The first sentence of a query for a book about a kid practicing for the school chocolate-eating contest might be: "If Zach Beacon eats another candy bar he's sure to get a stomach ache." Or it could be: :If Zach Beacon eats one more bite of chocolate he'll explode. I wouldn't call the latter inferior on the grounds that Zach won't literally explode.

I assume Zach sees the principal as often as he sees his secretary. Does he call him by his first name? Probably, since his name is Robot. But if he's being more respectful to the man than to the woman, I hope he doesn't make the playoffs.

Evil Editor said...

I expect an acknowledgment in any book any of you writes about a chocolate-eating contest.

SB said...

EE, after reading your reply I think my problem with the 'groove in the floor' thing is more that it's a cliche way of saying he's walked there a lot. I've heard that phrase/description way too often for it to be remotely humorous to me. Maybe the way the author can solve it would be to come up with some original metaphor/hyperbole that would be humorous and surprising and help illustrate the tone of the novel.

SB said...

"But if he's being more respectful to the man than to the woman, I hope he doesn't make the playoffs."

Not that I'm trying to be a total smartass, but ... Why do you assume the secretary's a woman?

AlaskaRavenclaw - Do you know if there are any good online resources for finding out about the current market (what everyone's looking for? what everyone's avoiding? what everyone's sick of? that sort of thing)? I mean other than just haunting agents/editors individual blogs/Twitter/etc.?

Evil Editor said...

Can you really imagine a man taking a job as a secretary . . . In Mississippi?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

SB, I don't know of anywhere such info is available online, and if there was, I wouldn't trust it. It's very genre-specific and tends to change quickly. For unpublished writers, joining organizations and attending conferences specific to one's own genre is the best place to get this kind of info.