Monday, January 09, 2012

JanuQuery: Gatsby Delaney - 7th Grade Impresario

Today we have our first JanuQuery critique courtesy of the lovely Cat Winters (check out info on her debut novel below!).

Dear Agent,

When you’re 12 years old, named after a 1920s F. Scott Fitzgerald character and your parents are tight with a buck [delete to avoid an overly long intro sentence; plus "tight with a buck" in addition to the Fitzgerald references really makes the book sound like a historical novel], and you really need some new clothes to take that cute ["cute" sounds dated for a modern boy to say. "Hot" would be more likely. Even better, name the girl.] girl to the dance, the only thing a kid can do to raise some money is sell the famous author’s museon eBay.  And that’s just what Gatsby Delaney does.

At this point I'm wondering what you mean by selling his muse. Is he convincing bidders that Zelda exists in a mythological muse form? Is he auctioning off instructions on how to channel her...or selling a magic potion? Or is he telling buyers he's sending over her spirit? Perhaps clarify by saying something like, And that's just what Gatsby Delaney does: he sells instructions on how to channel the classic author's muse, Zelda.

Another quibble: many modern 12-year-olds don't know who the Fitzgeralds are, and his work isn't usually taught until high school. Think of your query synopsis as the back cover of your book. Today's middle-grade readers are going to need prompts to figure out who you're talking about. 
I've added a couple examples above.

With the aid of his devoted eight-year-old sister (also named Zelda), Gatsby hatches his plan and helps the winning bidder, an author wrestling with writer’s block, to [channel Fitzgerald’s muse and--delete if you decide to use the word "channel" above] finish his novel.  Just when Gatsby thinks he’s gotten away with [it--change to something more descriptive, like "his money-making scheme"], he learns that the author is coming to Gatsby’s parents’ bookshop for a book signing.  And [Avoid starting sentences with "and"; this is the second one in the letter] a recent blog post on the author’s website reveals he can’t wait to meet and thank the person who sold him the ephemeral [a complicated word for a midde-grade back cover] Zelda. Gatsby’s plan to derail the book signing must go flawlessly, or he’ll be exposed as a swindler [swindler is another word that sounds too much like historical fiction to me. Fraud or liar, perhaps?] and grounded for the summer.
Because of your interest in Middle Grade fiction, I hope you will be interested in GATSBY DELANEY – 7thGRADE IMPRESARIO, 45,000 words of heartwarming contemporary fiction.

You repeat the word "interest" in the first sentence. Reword. Also, I always cringe a little when authors describe their own work with words like "heartwarming," and an agent may do the same. A possible change:

45,000-word contemporary middle-grade novel. [If there's any fantasy involved with the muse plot, make sure you include that in your description of the book. Also, because the book sounds like it's so steeped in past characters, you may want to compare it to other modern books or movies it resembles. "...a cross between X and X."]   

I seek representation for a long-term writing career [Seeking representation for a long-term writing career is pretty much a given with all authors].  I am a member of SCBWI.  A number of my short stories have appeared in [name the publications, or at least the type of publications], been published and [name the group that produced your play] produced a comedic play of mine (based on my novella) was produced in 2010.  I was a guest on The Play’s the Thing on LTV [Spell out LTV for those of us who don't live nearby.] to discuss my various projects. 

I'm contacting you because of your interest in middle-grade fiction. Per your guidelines, I have included the first XXX pages.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

A note on the title: "Impresario" is another word that will throw off most middle-school kids (I'm running all these words by my 12-year-old daughter, who's in her school's advanced reading class.) A possible title suggestion: THE GREAT GATSBY DELANEY. 
I write historical fiction, which is one reason I keep coming back to the historical topic. Did this ever start as a historical novel? The scheming and desperation to make a buck off Fitzgerald's legacy sounds so much like a book that would be set during the Depression. I mean that in a good way, because I love historicals. With the modern setting, you're going to need to make sure you pitch it in a way that appeals to readers who have no clue about Lost Generation authors. 

Good luck! I love Fitzgerald myself and hope you can make this work.    

About Me:

Cat Winters was born and raised just a short drive down the freeway from Disneyland, which probably explains her obsession with haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She has worked as a radio station deejay, a copy editor, a small press co-owner, and a film festival literary liaison. She is represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. 

Her debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, is the story of a teen girl mourning the loss of her first love in 1918 California, where a flu has turned deadlier than a world war, and spirit communication has become a dark and dangerous obsession. The novel will be illustrated with early-twentieth-century photographs and is coming Spring 2013 from Amulet Books. 

Cat's haunts: http://catwinters.com, and IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS is now on Goodreads:


  1. Good insight (and very helpful to have a bona fide Middle Grader look at the vocabulary). I like the novel's concept and think once the muse aspect is clarified it could garner agent interest.