Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rachael REDACTED's Current Query Critiqued

Sorry for the delay, Rachel, but this evening we are back with your query letter for REDACTED, this time with my thoughts, in blue.

Here we go:

Dear AGENT,

What if the answer to a lifelong question comes as the sound of a death knell? Um, no. I'm not sure if I should go into great detail here, or just link to several examples of why rhetorical questions area a no no in queries, but just skip this part. Seriously. This isn't bad writing as rhetorical questions go, but you don't need this. What you need is CHARACTER AND CONFLICT. ASAP. Which brings us to ... This is what 17-year-old Lilah Crowne hears only days before Ascension Day, her eighteenth birthday and the day she’ll come into her full anima.

Okay, otherwise, not so bad. Lilah Crowne is a good name. 17-year-old is a good descriptor. I like "Ascension Day," and "into full anima," assuming magic, but prepared for other options. 

The problem here is that you've ruined everything with that nonsensical question. I get that, like a term paper in high school, it seems to make sense to open with something that will make the reader think, hmm, right? No. Readers of queries don't want to be asked questions that they have no answers to, or worse, don't care about. They want to be introduced to a CHARACTER, immediately, that they care about, and want to root for, and empathize with whether they win or lose.

To be fair, you really haven't ruined this query regarding Lilah, you've just buried the lede. She reads like a relatively interesting character, who simply needs a better setup. So, I would recommend, something along the lines of:

...Seventeen-year-old Lilah Crowne, a particularly gifted warrior student of the Nox sect, orphaned by the war, hears a death knell that voids all the questions of her life, only days before Ascension Day, her birthday, and the day she’ll come into her full anima.

Except, you know, better, and in your voice, but surely you can see how this combines the concepts you've already laid out, into far fewer words, and into a presentation which places the character front and foremost, where she belongs.

Set in a future where everyone has magical abilities, magic abounds? Lilah—a member of the Nox sect and an orphan of the War—is a particularly gifted Warrior student Lilah is in her last year of schooling at the acclaimed Black Hill Academy (Um, be careful. Read EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir. This is dangerously close to Black Cliff Academy). While her fellow students have a sense of direction for what they are to do after graduation, Lilah is uncertain of what her future holds. After participating in the yearly Ludi, a set of competitions against the Lux, the infamous Alessandra Hilt storms the celebrations, killing Lilah’s beloved Guardian, Verna. Raked by profound grief, Lilah soon discovers that Alessandra Hilt, motivated by a premonition told after her birth, seeks to kill her.

All in all, this has some muddy phrasing, but isn't altogether bad. Tighten the writing up, you'll be in good shape.

Another point, somewhat less important, but worth thinking about: I've highlighted every character you've named in this query. It's ... only four, but that's too many. Can any of them be reduced to: Villain, or Love Interest, or Best Friend? Archetypes exist because they work, and frankly, any query that has more than two named characters will often be passed over.

Thrust into the remnants of Alessandra and her sister’s War, Why are we capitalizing War? Come on. Give us a reason if there's actually a reason. If not, don't. Lilah is forced to make uneasy alliances with Caleb Addison, a young Lux man who Lilah ties with at the Ludi. But to survive, they must outmaneuver Alessandra and her horde of bewitched Warriors, all while Lilah conquers the secret enemy, the one within. Vague. Vague AF. No. Don't do this. This query, in spite of my nitpicks, is kind of singing along nicely. But this line ruins it. I get we, as novelists, like mystery. There's nothing more exciting than turning a phrase near the end of the book that shocks the reader. Don't try to do the same thing in a query though. Don't ever. Agents don't need to be surprised. They need to be inspired into feeling that they can sell a book. As Ascension Day comes closer, she finds herself slipping into a darkness unfathomable.

Huh? Do you mean, "an unfathomable darkness?" Or are you purposefully trying to sound like a 19th century romance novel? DO NOT play games with purple prose in query letters. I promise you, it won't work. If you feel strongly enough, fine, do it in the book, but the place for such things is in the manuscript, not in the query letter.

Along the way, Lilah must learn to grow the parts of herself the Nox deem useless-Sorry, she's supposed to grow the parts the Nox deemed useless? Did I miss the part where the Nox were idiots? Sorry, just feel like I'm missing something here-and to continue on when facing great adversity. And when all might be lost, she must learn how to channel her burgeoning power, the same power that can end the War for good—or Lilah herself.

My 105,000-word novel, REDACTED, is a NA Urban Fantasy, coming-of-age tale that combines the magic, mystery, and friendship of Harry Potter and the dark political and social turmoil of The Hunger Games.

REDACTED, complete at 105,00 words, is a NA Urban Fantasy (which, no offense, doesn't sound urban at all) that combines magic, mystery and friendships. NOTE: The "whole compare my manuscript to two successful novels" thing is debatable. IF you're going to do it, maybe dig deeper into what sells in the genre(s), and don't compare your unpublished manuscript to two of the most commercially successful properties of all time. Doing so tells your (potential) agent nothing specific about your project, and only paints you, as an aspiring author, as a person who only has a surface understanding of the industry.

REDACTED is a novel for anyone who’s ever had a secret knowing of themselves that they could never bring to light—without a little magic.

Eh, this is relatively good.

This is my first novel, No. Don't EVER say this in a query. If you don't have a bio, it's understood, and if you say it, it points you out as a rookie. and is part of a trilogy that I’m working on (already have first drafts for both the second and third installments). The first completed installment in an intended trilogy.

Thank you for considering REDACTED.

Sincerely,

Rachael REDACTED

That's it!

Again, Rachael, sorry for the delay. Life has been getting in the way of this blog for some time now, but I truly hope this helps you. I won't summarize the overall quality of this query yet, because you have some work to do, but I will say that your overall story clearly shines through with a strong narrative, and you simply need to learn how to distill that down into a 250 word query letter, which believe me, is not an easy thing to do.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Rachael REDACTED's Current Query

Today we have Rachel's query letter for REDACTED.

The letter:

Dear AGENT,

What if the answer to a lifelong question comes as the sound of a death knell? This is what 17-year-old Lilah Crowne hears only days before Ascension Day, her eighteenth birthday and the day she’ll come into her full anima.

Set in a future where everyone has magical abilities, Lilah—a member of the Nox sect and an orphan of the War—is a particularly gifted Warrior student in her last year of schooling at the acclaimed Black Hill Academy. While her fellow students have a sense of direction for what they are to do after graduation, Lilah is uncertain of what her future holds. After participating in the yearly Ludi, a set of competitions against the Lux, the infamous Alessandra Hilt storms the celebrations, killing Lilah’s beloved Guardian, Verna. Raked by profound grief, Lilah soon discovers that Alessandra Hilt, motivated by a premonition told after her birth, seeks to kill her.

Thrust into the remnants of Alessandra and her sister’s War, Lilah is forced to make uneasy alliances with Caleb Addison, a young Lux man who Lilah ties with at the Ludi. But to survive, they must outmaneuver Alessandra and her horde of bewitched Warriors, all while Lilah conquers the secret enemy, the one within. As Ascension Day comes closer, she finds herself slipping into a darkness unfathomable.

Along the way, Lilah must learn to grow the parts of herself the Nox deem useless and to continue on when facing great adversity. And when all might be lost, she must learn how to channel her burgeoning power, the same power that can end the War for good—or Lilah herself.

My 105,000-word novel, REDACTED, is a NA Urban Fantasy, coming-of-age tale that combines the magic, mystery, and friendship of Harry Potter and the dark political and social turmoil of The Hunger Games.

REDACTED is a novel for anyone who’s ever had a secret knowing of themselves that they could never bring to light—without a little magic.

This is my first novel, and is part of a trilogy that I’m working on (already have first drafts for both the second and third installments).

Thank you for considering REDACTED.

Sincerely,

Rachael REDACTED

That's it!

Please thank Rachael for having the courage to share this with us, and like me, save your feedback for tomorrow!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Abhinav Bhat's Current Query Revised 2 - Critiqued

Ugh, work has been so nuts. It took me three days just to get back to this. Sorry, Abhinav! But hey, let's get right to work, right? My feedback, as usual, will be in blue.

The letter:

Dear [Agent Name]

Twenty-year-old Ah, I see you've changed this. Interesting. Should work. Indira Ramsay has studied her entire life for the day she would be recruited to the Reverend Council—the elite corps I still get caught up on this. Corps is a military term, which means a division of an armed force. I get the feeling that's not what you mean here, but I'm not sure. That said, you've stuck with it through three revisions, so clearly you're committed to it. It should probably be fine. that runs the Ever Empire. Instead, it is her grandfather, Eldritch, who is inexplicably chosen, leaving Indira broken and dejected.

The very next day, Eldritch has gone missing and the city is under attack. The exiled heroes of a hundred subjugated races have returned, and they will see the Empire burn. And Indira is among their first targets.

Marked for death as Eldritch's blood, Is this because he's a member of the council? If so, just say "Marked for death as the granddaughter of a councilman." she manages to survive her assailants and learn the truth of the enemy's schemes. How does she learn this? They plan to have Eldritch use his newfound power Which is? Do you mean more than just political power? and status to find the Empire's own hero, the man who defeated them Defeated who? Not the empire, since the empire is clearly still around. centuries ago and disappeared after; they plan to have Eldritch kill him. And for some reason, Eldritch is willing.

The Empire. Above humanity. Above justice. Above all else. This is what Eldritch has taught her. She will live by it.

As the heroes incite riots in the city and stir the underclass to rebellion, Indira will prove herself worthy of the Empire and the validation she was denied. She will find and stop Eldritch from carrying out the enemy's plan, she will save the Empire at any cost, even if it be Eldritch himself.

Then what if the cost be Eldritch himself?

THE BURNT STATE is a dual-POV adult fantasy novel about a girl and her grandfather, and the Empire that tilts on their decisions. It is complete at 113,000 words.

I have had a short story titled "The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer" published in Apex Magazine in 2016. I am a member of the Codex Writers' Group, an online community of neo-pro speculative fiction writers.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Abhinav Bhat

This is getting very close! Definite improvements over previous versions. You still need to clarify a few sections of vague wording, but otherwise this is pretty darn good.

That's it!

Please thank Abhinav for sharing, and provide your feedback in the comments.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Abhinav Bhat's Current Query Revised 2

We first saw Abhinav's query, here, and then critiqued it, here. We saw Abhinav's revision, here, and then critiqued it, here. Now Abhinav is back with a new revision, so let's get right to it.

The letter:

Dear [Agent Name]

Twenty-year-old Indira Ramsay has studied her entire life for the day she would be recruited to the Reverend Council—the elite corps that runs the Ever Empire. Instead, it is her grandfather, Eldritch, who is inexplicably chosen, leaving Indira broken and dejected.

The very next day, Eldritch has gone missing and the city is under attack. The exiled heroes of a hundred subjugated races have returned, and they will see the Empire burn. And Indira is among their first targets.

Marked for death as Eldritch's blood, she manages to survive her assailants and learn the truth of the enemy's schemes. They plan to have Eldritch use his newfound power and status to find the Empire's own hero, the man who defeated them centuries ago and disappeared after; they plan to have Eldritch kill him. And for some reason, Eldritch is willing.

The Empire. Above humanity. Above justice. Above all else. This is what Eldritch has taught her. She will live by it.

As the heroes incite riots in the city and stir the underclass to rebellion, Indira will prove herself worthy of the Empire and the validation she was denied. She will find and stop Eldritch from carrying out the enemy's plan, she will save the Empire at any cost.

Then what if the cost be Eldritch himself?

THE BURNT STATE is a dual-POV adult fantasy novel about a girl and her grandfather, and the Empire that tilts on their decisions. It is complete at 113,000 words.

I have had a short story titled "The Warrior Boy Who Would Not Suffer" published in Apex Magazine in 2016. I am a member of the Codex Writers' Group, an online community of neo-pro speculative fiction writers.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Abhinav Bhat

That's it!

Please thank Abhinav for sharing, and save your feedback until I have time to put the critique up.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Todd Noker's Current Query Revised - Critiqued

Sorry, Todd! Yesterday was nuts at work, so I didn't get to this. But here it is today! Here is Todd's revised query for TERMS OF THE INNOCENTS, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear (Agent),

Preston Taylor is wise-ass seventeen-year-old who thinks he is smarter than the homeless-teens why is this hyphenated? he encounters in Salt Lake City, because his problems aren’t permanent—but he eventually learns that he is just like them. He’s looking for his adult brother who moved out years ago to flee from their mother’s heroin addiction. When she disappears after another binge, Preston is on his own. The street-kids also this? he meets abuse drugs, eat whatever they can find, and sell their bodies to survive. He doesn’t give a damn about their problems at first, because he is above their plight—he knows that his brother will take him in. I would probably cut this. It probably works fine in the manuscript, as Preston's character arc has more time to develop there, but in the query this just makes him sound like an asshole. When he befriends Zack Ellison, a young street-wise prostitute, Hmm. Is Zack truly a professional sex worker? Or does he turn the occasional trick out of desperation? I suppose it depends on the story, but if he's underage, I'd be careful about how you label him. Preston starts to feel like a big brother himself. Cut this too. You're just bogging down the conflict at this point. Preston makes it to his brother’s last known address only to find that he has moved, leaving him permanently homeless. When Zack begs him to accompany him as a lookout on a date with a notorious John, Preston reluctantly agrees. Zack emerges from the trick broken and bleeding, and despite Preston’s attempt to save him, he disappears into the night and is never seen again.

The biggest problem I have with this, honestly, at least at first glance, is that this is one giant chunk of text. This one paragraph is 188 words long. Can you break it up anywhere? Maybe after "... his brother will take him in?"

Otherwise, this is certainly an improvement, but you might want to re-arrange things here and there, and try to tighten it up a bit. Maybe something like:

"Seventeen-year-old wise-ass Preston Taylor assumes he's smarter than the homeless teens that choke the alleys and gutters of downtown Salt Lake, because his personal housing crisis isn't permanent, but when he can't find his adult brother after their mother disappears on another black tar heroin binge, he quickly discovers exactly how much they have in common."

It's kind of a long sentence, I know, and you can probably do better, and make it in your own voice, but the point I'm trying to make here is that you can convey much more specificity in far fewer words, if you think about how to present and order the information. Also, avoid state-of-being verbs if you can. Avoid them in all your writing wherever possible. They're just boring.

People look away from desperate teens in this beautiful city with its the pristine Mormon temple at the center its heart, and it pisses Preston off. He must even the score with this John even if it jeopardizes his survival risks/endangers his life?. He arranges a date and, while fighting to not be violently assaulted defending himself from a violent assault like Zack's, accidentally kills him the man. Preston’s tragedy is the evidence that he feels everyone in this city must see, even if it means sacrificing his life.

Why is it sacrificing his life? Didn't he just defend his own life? If you mean turning himself in, he might not be charged, and even if he was, that would only cost him his freedom, not his life.

TERMS OF THE INNOCENTS is a 61,000 word YA manuscript. An earlier version of this story won second place in the Utah Arts Council Creative Writing Competition.

I have two other titles published on iUniverse, and one title published by their Star imprint. I write commercial and radio copy, and am a well-known radio personality in Salt Lake City under the name Todd Nuke ‘Em. I have done presentations for the Utah Library Association and the Salt Lake City Library for my previous books.

The first five pages are below, and the entire manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Todd Noker

In summary, this is definitely an improvement. You've got a better sense of Preston as a character, and the conflict he finds himself caught up in is much clearer here. Mainly, what I see this query needing at this point is mostly just a copy editor's eye. You've got some extraneous information that isn't really necessary, and the sentences are sometimes a little bloated or unclear. But all in all I think this is pretty good, and it's much more obvious now that you have a compelling premise on your hands.

That's it!

Please thank Todd for sharing this with us, and let us know what you think in the comments.