Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Query Critique

Thank you, I have enough queries for today! If you missed it this time and would like me to do this again, please let me know in the comments.
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I do a lot of query critiques in Query Letter Hell (on Absolute Write), and I've done quite a few for beta readers and contest winners privately through email, but I don't think I've ever done one publicly here on the blog. Query critiques are one of my favorite things to do. So.

If you have a query you'd like feedback on today, preferably one I haven't seen before, send it to lydiasharp4sff (at) yahoo (dot) com, and I'll post the critique here. Do not post your query in the comments. Your name will not be posted with the critique unless you want it to be. If you don't say so one way or the other, then the query will remain anonymous.

First come, first serve... although I might be inclined to do more than one today. And I might be inclined to do this regularly if there is enough interest.

Taking queries NOW. Any genre, but my strong areas are YA contemp (any kind--issue books, romance, etc), science fiction and fantasy (adult or YA).

Will update the post when I receive enough queries.

Query #1:

Dear agent:
There is no denying the call of the sea.
 
Elysandra Winters yearns for a life of adventure upon the rolling waves and will do anything she can to achieve her heart's desire, even if it means defying her privateer father and disguising herself as a boy to get it.
 
Daniel O'Rourke, on the other hand, needs the sea to survive thanks to the selkie blood coursing through his veins. In search of a job and a sense of belonging, Daniel joins Captain Winters' crew aboard The Surf Runner.
 
When his beloved captain and mentor is murdered by pirates, Daniel must work with his daughter, Elysandra to hunt down the killer. 
That is, if she’ll let him anywhere near her.
 
THE CALL OF THE SEA is a YA fantasy romance complete at 78,000 words.


Lydia's Comments

Dear agent:

There is no denying the call of the sea. {I'm not sure if you meant to put this in bold or if it was a formatting glitch. Aside from necessary italics, such as you have below for the name of the ship, I would keep everything in plain text, especially if you're sending an e-query. This reduces the potential for formatting glitches between different email servers and gives the letter a nice neat clean, professional appearance.

As for the line itself, I'm on the fence about it. The sentence fits the pitch and sets the mood, but I'm not sure it's the best choice for your opening hook, mainly because there is nothing unique about. It's a phrase I've heard/read many times before. On a first read, I almost glazed right over it.}

Elysandra Winters {LOVE her name.} yearns for a life of adventure upon the rolling waves {I would break the sentence here with a period and start the next one with "She will do anything...". Otherwise this sentence/paragraph is a mouthful. The longer the sentences are in a pitch, the easier it is to lose focus. Keep it crisp and concise.} and will do anything she can to achieve her heart's desire, even if it means defying her privateer father and disguising herself as a boy to get it.

It wasn't until I read the above phrase that my interest really piqued. This is personal opinion, but I absolutely LOVE stories that involve this kind of deceit to get what you want. That shows you have a proactive MC, someone who not only knows what they want (they have a clear goal--very important) but is also passionate about doing something to achieve that goal.

The only thing I'm wishing for more of here is a bit of understanding as to why she wants this so badly. If she's willing to go against parental authority and disguise herself as a boy, she must have a pretty strong reason to do so. What is it? You don't have to go into lengthy detail, just give us a hint.

Daniel O'Rourke, on the other hand, needs the sea to survive thanks to the selkie blood coursing through his veins. {This is also a very interesting story element, but I don't think it's worded in the best way possible. It almost comes off a little cheesy, especially in comparison to how strong you opened with Elysandra's paragraph. The phrases I underlined are mostly to blame for this.} In search of a job and a sense of belonging, Daniel joins Captain Winters' crew aboard The Surf Runner.

When his beloved captain and mentor is murdered by pirates, Daniel must work with his daughter, Elysandra to hunt down the killer. {This paragraph is in need of more. I like that you're keeping the pitch as concise as possible, but not at the expense of understanding the plot. I'm confused as to how they wouldn't know who killed their own captain, unless it was a mutiny from their own crew. If that's the case, clarify, otherwise I'm wondering how they could be out on the open sea and not know that pirates have boarded their vessel. Admittedly, I'm not that well-versed in pirate stories, but that seemed off to me. What happens, exactly? This seems too important to the story for such vagueness.

Also, this seems to be the crucial point where Daniel and Elysandra "join forces" to work toward a goal together rather than just for themselves individually. I don't think a one-sentence paragraph is enough to show the true intensity and urgency of these events. Which leads me to...}

That is, if she’ll let him anywhere near her. {As an ending line, this fall flat to me. It's too cryptic.

Queries are difficult because you have to be concise but you also have to give enough information for the reader to understand the conflict.

The 3 Cs of query-writing are Character, Conflict, Choice. You did well with setting up character. The conflict is hinted at--solving a murder mystery--but could use more development. And I don't see a choice of any kind at the end. Ending on a Big Tough Decision is a great way to get the reader (in this case, an agent) to go to the sample pages and/or request to see more. It leaves the reader with a feeling of intensity, a sense of urgency, and a reason to worry for the MC. What are the "high stakes"?

That doesn't necessarily mean ending on a question, though. Your final line needs to have as much punch as the opening line, and ending on a question is nearly as bad as opening with one.}

THE CALL OF THE SEA is a YA fantasy romance complete at 78,000 words.

Overall, good concept, just needs a bit of clarifying. The "disguising herself as a boy" element would be enough for me to read the story, but I don't know if it would be enough for someone else. Emphasize the murder mystery and how that affects what we already know about the characters and their situation. Also, I didn't see the romance element touched on at all, so calling this a "YA fantasy romance" has me scratching my head. Either just call it a YA fantasy or clarify the romantic conflict in the pitch.

Thank you so much for offering us a look at your query. Good luck with this!

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I received more queries for critique while updating this post. I will critique them later today and update the post periodically. Thank you!

Happy writing,
~Lydia

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Query #2:


Dear Ms. Sharp,
I hope that I can interest you in my young adult paranormal novel, The Desired.
Sara Lobos was looking forward to a quiet summer on her grandparent’s farm in the middle of nowhere Europe—a chance to recharge, work on a few college applications, and drink tons of espresso while checking out cute guys at the local cafes.  Never mind those visions of people and places from other times—they were just proof that she needed a rest.  Then she meets Sebastian, the strange boy in the woods who is so much more than he seems.  His only request—to free him from the centuries-old prison for which she is the only key.  Because of him, she becomes wrapped up in a world of lost kings and a limbo where time stands still.   Even worse, her best friend is a part of an ancient society whose only purpose is to stop her.
Now Sara has to decide who to trust—the boy who knows her better than anyone else on earth or the king who is asking her to help save him—and, as a result, the world.  The history books said that he was handsome… the problem is that the history books were right. 
The Desired is a 72,000 word young adult novel with series potential.  I would love to have you consider The Desired for representation and would gladly forward sample pages or the full manuscript at your request.
My contact information is listed below.  On a personal note, I enjoy reading your blog and loved your mention about overcoming your fear over the stigma of writing YA.  The YA voice is wonderful and challenging, isn’t it?
I look forward to hearing from you soon.  Thank you for your consideration.


Lydia's Comments

Dear Ms. Sharp,

I hope that I can interest you in my young adult paranormal novel, The Desired. {That's a given. No need to state it. Get right to the point.}

Sara Lobos was looking forward to a quiet summer on her grandparent’s farm in the middle of nowhere Europe {I had to reread this phrase a couple times to understand what you meant.} —a chance to recharge, work on a few college applications, and drink tons of espresso while checking out cute guys at the local cafes. Never mind those visions of people and places from other times—they were just proof that she needed a rest. {So far I like the voice in this. Excellent.} Then she meets Sebastian, the strange boy in the woods who is so much more than he seems. His only request—to free him from the centuries-old prison for which she is the only key. Because of him, {This isn't quite clear enough for me. I don't understand how we just went from talking to the boy to being completely wrapped up in a new world.} she becomes wrapped up in a world of lost kings and a limbo where time stands still. Even worse, {I would avoid using this phrase. It rarely serves as an effective segue.} her best friend is a part of an ancient society whose only purpose is to stop her. {This sentence made me pause. I'm not sure how it relates to what I've already read. Did you just introduce a new character or are you referring to this boy as "her best friend" now?}

Now Sara has to decide who to trust—the boy who knows her better than anyone else {Who do you mean here? Sebastian? Or...?} on earth or the king {Who is this?} who is asking her to help save him—and, as a result, the world.  {I don't see how the entire world is being threatened. Clarify.} The history books said that he was handsome… the problem is that the history books were right. {I'm confused again. This is the first mention of anything about this boy being in history books, so I don't see how it relates.

Also, I'm not sure why it's important to mention that he's handsome, especially as your ending line. A bit of romantic intrigue? That's fine for the story, but it doesn't intensify the conflict enough to justify mentioning it in your pitch without anything leading up to it.

I think you're better off ending with the threat to the world, whatever that entails.}

The Desired THE DESIRED is a 72,000 word young adult novel with series potential. I would love to have you consider The Desired for representation and would gladly forward sample pages or the full manuscript at your request. The full manuscript is available upon request. {The wording there was sounding a bit overboard.}

My contact information is listed below. On a personal note, I enjoy reading your blog and loved your mention about overcoming your fear over the stigma of writing YA. The YA voice is wonderful and challenging, isn’t it? {I love that you included this personalization. Agents love it, too. Nice job!}

I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your consideration.

Overall, I can sense a good premise possibly hiding underneath, but it isn't shining in the query yet. Too much of this confused me rather than intrigued me. I liked the strong voice in the beginning. Try to carry that through to the end.

Regarding the 3 Cs -- Character, Conflict, Choice -- you did well in hinting at a high stakes choice near the end of your pitch, but the danger wasn't quite clear enough. The character goal/motivation started out well, but fizzled by the end. And overall, the main conflict is muddy. I'm not sure how everything connects. Try streamlining your main conflict down to one sentence, then build from there, only adding things that are directly relevant (i.e. no subplots, no extraneous descriptions, etc). One plot point should flow naturally into the next.

Thanks for offering your query for public critique. Best of luck with this!

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Query #3:


Dear Agent,

Rydan is the only one of his people with the ability to wield magic. He’s treated like a god, a prince, cherished for his talent to bend the fabric of the universe to his will. And in the war against the Liasam, he is their ultimate weapon.

Akara’s abilities with the gift protect her people from Rydan’s onslaught. A people who treat her as a prisoner, an animal, feared for the power only she is able to command. In the war against the Tarmack, she must match Rydan’s abilities to keep the battle even.

But the Liasam lose and Akara is to be killed to symbolize the end of the war. If there’s only one death after the slaughter on the battlefield, Rydan can live with that. Until he discovers Akara has the same symbol as he, tattooed on the back of his neck. Knowing hidden truths will die with her, he throws away his status as Tarmack’s golden boy and saves Akara from her public execution.

They discover the tattoo is from the Namaqua people, extinguished by the Tarmack and Liasam fifteen years prior. Akara and Rydan were the only two spared, one to be raised Tarmack, the other Liasam.

The Namaqua were in charge of the Gia Stone which took magic fed by the Namaqua and dispersed it throughout the world, binding together the fabric of nature. To keep it out of wrong hands, the Namaqua broke the stone into four pieces. After fifteen years without magic, devastating earthquakes and tornadoes grow more frequent. The pieces of the Gia Stone must be located so it can be restored and the world can be saved.

Rydan is ready to be the hero once again, lofted high in praise on the shoulders of his people. He begs Akara to help him in the quest.

But Akara doesn’t believe there is anyone in the world worth saving.

FRACTION OF STONE is YA Fantasy complete at 65,000 words. Readers who relished in the lyrical writing of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and immersed themselves in the contrasting world views of June and Day in Marie Lu’s Legend will find themselves drawn to this tale. A complete manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.

Lydia's Comments

Dear Agent,

Rydan is the only one of his people with the ability to wield magic. He’s treated like a god, a prince, cherished for his talent to bend the fabric of the universe to his will. And in the war against the Liasam, he is their ultimate weapon.

Excellent starting paragraph, in my opinion. I especially like the the phrase "his talent to bend the fabric of the universe to his will." Very good writing here.

Akara’s abilities with the gift protect her people from Rydan’s onslaught. A people who treat her as a prisoner, an animal, feared for the power only she is able to command. In the war against the Tarmack, she must match Rydan’s abilities to keep the battle even.

The second paragraph isn't as fluid as the first. We switched to a new character with a completely different perspective. I understand that they are on opposing sides, but it's jarring at first. I had to pause and reread to fully grasp this.

But the Liasam {You're throwing a lot of names at us in a short span of writing. I had to backtrack to remind myself who the Liasam are. I'm not sure how you can fix this, though, without creating more confusion. If anyone has any suggestions, please speak up in the comments.} lose and Akara is to be killed to symbolize the end of the war. {That is a wickedly delicious way to amp up the tension. Excellent.} If there’s only one death after the slaughter on the battlefield, Rydan can live with that. Until he discovers Akara has the same symbol as he, tattooed on the back of his neck. Knowing hidden truths will die with her, he throws away his status as Tarmack’s golden boy and saves Akara from her public execution.

We're about half-way through and I've already made a decision--I want to read this. In fact, if you had sent sample pages with it, I probably would have skipped right to them at this point. For me, personally, the combination of solid writing ability and a really tough situation you dumped these two characters into is enough to get me going. That won't be the case for everyone who reads this query, but for me, it's already done it's job.

They discover the tattoo is from the Namaqua people, extinguished by the Tarmack and Liasam fifteen years prior. Akara and Rydan were the only two spared, one to be raised Tarmack, the other Liasam.

The Namaqua were in charge of the Gia Stone which took magic fed by the Namaqua and dispersed it throughout the world, binding together the fabric of nature. {More new names to keep track of. If there is any way you can avoid this, do so.} To keep it out of wrong hands, the Namaqua broke the stone into four pieces. After fifteen years without magic, devastating earthquakes and tornadoes grow more frequent. The pieces of the Gia Stone must be located so it can be restored and the world can be saved.

The above paragraph is unnecessary explanation, in my opinion, details that are better left to be discovered when reading the manuscript.

Rydan is ready to be the hero once again, lofted high in praise on the shoulders of his people. He begs Akara to help him in the quest.

But Akara doesn’t believe there is anyone in the world worth saving.

I honestly think you could have ended the query with Rydan's Big Tough Choice of whether or not to save Akara from being sacrificed after he discovers her tattoo. That right there is enough intrigue, with a clear potential for more story (working together to uncover the truth about themselves, when before, they were enemies). It's enough to get me to read the manuscript. In my opinion, you carried the query further into the story than you needed to.

Roni Loren recently posted an excellent article that explains this particular point. Check it out here: The Single Best Piece of Query Writing Advice I've Ever Heard

FRACTION OF STONE is YA Fantasy complete at 65,000 words. Readers who relished in the lyrical writing of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and immersed themselves in the contrasting world views of June and Day in Marie Lu’s Legend will find themselves drawn to this tale. {Very nice! I love comp titles in a query.} A complete manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.

Just that one bit of confusion when we transitioned in paragraph two, but overall this query is pretty solid. I would request this quicker than a wink, despite the unnecessary paragraphs at the end. You went a little too far into the story, but by then I'd already decided that I liked it, so it didn't affect me too negatively.

Thank you so much for sharing. Good luck with this!

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Thanks to everyone who participated! I will make this a regular feature for as long as you all want me to keep doing it. Stay tuned!

11 comments:

  1. What a thorough critique! I would love for you to critique mine, if you would open your blog up to it again.

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  2. Oops...just sent it over. I guess I'll try again next time.

    Thanks!

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  3. So interesting to see a query broken down this way. Very cool :)

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  4. I'll post yours today, Kelley, since it's already in my inbox. ;-)

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  5. Hi Lydia!

    Thank you SO MUCH! I'm glad you like the premise and it drew you in.

    It's also good to know that I've given away too much. I will work to make sure it isn't so.

    Thanks again!

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  6. Too bad I'm too early in the process to write up a query.

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  7. Too bad I'm too early in the process to write up a query.

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  8. Hi Lydia!

    Thank you for the critique! I'm about to go into serious querying, so your advice couldn't come at a better time. I appreciate you taking the time to critique and look forward to using your advice. (Plus, I really DO love your blog!)

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  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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