Saturday, June 7, 2014

From rough query to polished query to cover copy (or Why I love my critique group)

Today I’m showing you the evolution from the rough query for 17 FIRST KISSES to the polished query to cover copy for the book.

First up, the rough query. I wrote it all excited to send 17FK out into the agent world, but I knew it needed work (side note: even if you don’t think it needs work, if the query has never been seen by eyes other than yours, it does.). Here’s what I sent to my critique group:


Claire Jenkins has kissed the biggest jerk in school and all five members of the band Screaming Lemurs, but she still doesn’t have a boyfriend. Having to keep her messed up family a secret makes bringing a guy home problematic. Then she meets a new boy named Luke (and she can actually talk to him). The best part: Luke's a transfer student, so he's one of the only attractive guys at Rutherford High who hasn't been tainted by Megan McQueen, the most popular girl in school and Claire’s best friend.

Claire wants him. Bad. But so does Megan.

Megan gets Luke, just like she’s gotten every other guy she’s ever wanted, and Claire is crushed. But when Luke starts to realize he made the wrong choice, Claire must choose whether she wants him enough to steal him from her best friend.

17 FIRST KISSES is a young adult novel set in Atlanta, GA and is complete at 61,000 words. The story alternates between Claire's senior year and each of the 17 kisses. It’s a story about a complicated friendship, a family dealing with loss, and lots and lots of kissing.


My critique group gave me a ton of great feedback (seriously, they are amazing! LOVE all of them!):
-       We need a better sense of who Claire is and what her dilemma is so we can relate to the stakes better.
-       Could I get Claire’s family issues into the query somehow?
-       We need to know why Luke is so special that these two girls are risking their friendship to go after him.
-       Could I show off the small town setting?
-       Could I put more emphasis on how the title fits in with the story since that’s a fun part of the book?
-       The third paragraph needs to end with more of a bang.
-       Could I show more than Megan’s queen bee side in the query?

I took it all in and put together the query below (I love this one so much more!), which is what I sent to agents (sometimes I added a personalized sentence to the last paragraph). It had a pretty good request rate, and it ended up landing me the fabulous Susan Hawk 



No matter how many boys Claire Jenkins kisses, she can’t seem to find a decent boyfriend. A boy who won’t decide he’d rather be dating her best friend Megan. A boy who won’t freak out when he realizes her family never recovered from her brother’s death. A boy whose kisses can carry her away from her backwoods town for one fleeting moment.

Claire’s already at 12 kisses and counting when she meets a new boy named Luke. He tells her some dark family secrets of his own, and she thinks maybe he could understand her. Plus, he’s a transfer student, so he's one of the only cute guys at Rutherford High who hasn’t been mesmerized by Megan, the most popular girl in school and Claire’s biggest support in a crisis.

Claire wants him. Bad. But so does Megan.



As usual, Megan gets the guy, while Claire gets to be ‘happy’ for her. But when Luke starts to realize he’s dating the wrong girl, Claire must choose whether backstabbing her best friend is worth a chance at love. And whether Luke’s secrets are worth all the drama.



17 FIRST KISSES is a 70,000 word YA contemporary that alternates between Claire's senior year and each of the 17 kisses. It’s a story about a complicated friendship, a family dealing with loss, and lots and lots of kissing.

17 FIRST KISSES would appeal to fans of THE BOYFRIEND LIST and 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES. Thank you for your time and consideration.


After you sign with an agent, your query will likely become the basis for the pitch letter they send to editors, which could eventually become the basis for the copy that goes on the back of your book. I love my cover copy even more than my query – it was so much fun to watch it get better with every iteration. Also, my editor came up with the tagline, and I am kind of in love with it 


[tagline] Sometimes a girl has to kiss a lot of frogs…

No matter how many boys Claire kisses, she can’t seem to find a decent boyfriend. Someone who wouldn’t rather date her gorgeous best friend, Megan. Someone who won’t freak out when he learns about the tragedy her family still hasn’t recovered from. Someone whose kisses can carry her away from her backwoods town for one fleeting moment.

Until Claire meets Luke.

Luke is adorable and he’s lived all over the world. But Megan is falling for Luke, too, and if there’s one thing Claire knows for sure, it’s that Megan’s pretty much irresistible.

With true love and best friendship on the line, Claire suddenly has everything to lose. And what she learns—about her crush, her friends, and most of all herself—makes the choices even harder.


In her moving debut, Rachael Allen brilliantly captures the complexities of friendship, the struggles of self-discovery, and the difficulties of trying to find love in high school. Fans of Sarah Ockler, Susane Colasanti, and Stephanie Perkins will fall head over heels for this addictive, heartfelt, and often hilarious modern love story.


Day 7 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.

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