Wednesday, March 16, 2016

An Agent's Inbox #19

Dear Mr. Taylor,

I have read that you are interested in stories about "finding [one's] place in the world" and SO MUCH MORE THAN EVERYTHING, a coming of age YA novel, complete at 92,000 words, is this kind of book.

Sixteen-year-old Alice Burton loves school, lacrosse and her two best friends (who can’t stand each other). But when her mother, a wannabe health-food guru, concocts a diet shake that may be more than a fad, Alice surprises everyone by shedding her lingering baby fat to reveal an eye-catching body that changes everything. On one hand, her dad, a local celebrity radio personality, keeps telling her to cover-up. On the other hand, she doesn’t mind hot, twenty-something Chris Thompson taking notice. The intensity of her desire to be with Chris, preferably naked, is new to her. She doesn’t have long to process these feelings before she discovers that her dad has gambled away the tuition for her beloved private school. Devastated by this betrayal but distracted by thoughts of Chris, Alice’s life is further complicated when she realizes her education is now dependent on the generosity of a friend of her father’s, a lecherous major league baseball player. Alienated from her family and her friends, Alice must find a way to protect her body, her tuition money, her future and her heart.

SO MUCH MORE THAN EVERYTHING deals with body image, celebrity culture before paparazzi, and unrequited love that isn’t what it seems. Set in the 1990s Pittsburgh rock-and-roll bar scene, it’s the forbidden attraction of Dirty Dancing mixed with a heavy dose of The Smith’s brooding introspection. Reminiscent of Blake Nelson’s GIRL and DREAM SCHOOL, SO MUCH MORE THAN EVERYTHING explores the complexities that arise when the adult male gaze shifts a young girl’s perception of herself and the world around her.

This is my first novel. I have a degree in English from George Mason University and I majored in Fiction Writing at the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts. When I’m not writing, I work in the admission office of a private school where I talk to high school students every day about books they love and issues that are important to them.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



JUNE, 1992
Monday – 9:18 a.m.

“He’s been looking for you,” one of the secretaries says.

I’ve just stepped into the lobby of the radio station and a blast of cold air hits me from the AC. I can’t remember her name, and how can I be expected to? She is alone behind the desk, which is odd, because there’s a usually a coven of them: frosted hair and teased bangs, fishnet tops layered over lace camis, and acid washed jeans skirts left over from the 80s. They take the job hoping they’ll get promoted to DJ, but quit when they can no longer stomach the lewd comments from the actual DJs. I can’t keep the receptionists straight, but they all know who I am: Station Manager Dennis Burton’s daughter.

“Thanks,” I say, with an eye roll, which isn’t directed at her, though she probably thinks it is. I should stop and chat so she doesn’t think I’m a b****, but she’ll probably be gone by the end of the week. And I am 18 minutes late. If I weren’t the boss’ daughter and if this weren’t the 150th(ish) summer I was “working” at the station, it would be a fire-able offense in my dad’s eyes. So I scoot past the reception desk and head towards my dad’s office at the back of the floor. The desks that take up nearly every square inch of the main area are strangely sparsely populated for this time of day.


Lm Hersch said...

First of all, I love the title of your book!

The main body of your query is a big list of "and thens." The problem with "this plot point, and then this plot point" is it doesn't always help to develop a sense of tension. Some of the information feels a little unnecessary to me, too. Your MC loves school, lacrosse and her best friends. How does this relate to the plot? The main tension points - suddenly finding yourself in a body that's attractive and you don't know how to handle that kind of responsibility vs. suddenly finding out you can't go to your dream school - are nearly at the end of the second paragraph. An agent is going to want to know, right away, what the stakes are. Remove any information that is not absolutely essential to hooking someone's attention.

Something maybe like "Alice Burton used to be a typical high school girl, but when her mother's kitchen-concocted diet shake suddenly gives her a dream body, she discovers good looks are like a pandora's box. Alice finds herself the center of attention for hot, 20-something Chris Thompson, but also from a lecherous major league baseball player - the later who has offered to pay the tuition for her beloved private school, but at what cost? As her choices continue to drive away her friends and her family, Alice struggles to find a way to achieve her dreams without sacrificing herself."

Something like that.

And also, this is truly a personal thing and I'm nitpicky, but there was a paparazzi in the 1990s. Look no further than the death of Princess Di. I would consider cutting that part out.

Jamie Beth Cohen said...

I am overwhelmed (in a good way) by this amazing feedback. Thank you!

Lm Hersch said...

Awww, well thanks ^^;

Jamie Beth Cohen said...

^^ - can you please reach out to me - I'd like to ask you a question -
Jamie Beth C 139 at gmail dot com. Or @ Jamie_Beth_S on twitter. Thanks!!!

Jeannie Alford Hagy said...

Interesting subject matter that should appeal to many young girls! I agree that the query contains too much information, which distracts the reader from your main points of conflict. I also don't think you need to say this is your first novel. The rest of that paragraph makes a strong positive impression, and letting the agent know that this is a first attempt weakens your presentation.

I like your first 250 words, but your opening could be stronger. Your first line is not particularly intriguing, although much of the next paragraph is interesting. I'd suggest starting with your next paragraph, but after "how can I be expected to?" write something about the quick turnover because of the lewd comments. Then go to "I can't keep the receptionists straight, but they all know . . . " The secretary can then say "He's been looking . . . "

Save the description of the way the receptionists look. This is interesting, but perhaps it could be used later. At this point you want to get directly into the story. Try to keep the beginning fast moving.

Good luck!

Jamie Beth Cohen said...


Brent Taylor said...

In contemporary YA I like stories that feel true-to-life but I also tend to really gravitate toward stories with a single overarching plot, and this feels very episodic to me; so yes, the commenter above is right about the "and then, and then, and then" feel. It's difficult for me to connect to your protagonist here and get a sense of what she really wants.