Friday, August 22, 2014

Patricia Moussatche's Current Query Critiqued II

This morning we have Patchi's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear [Agent name],

Last year, you showed interest in my novel The Legacy of the Eye If it was published, this goes in italics. If it wasn't, ALL CAPS. (Jane Austen's Persuasion meets 1984 in space). I am now seeking representation for my YA fantasy SHROUDED GODDESS.

Seventeen(-)year-old Sophie spends her days hiding her tribal heritage and fending off her baron-to-be cousin's groping attentions. She yearns for the freedom the tribes enjoyed before the Easterners invaded from across the sea.

Hmm. Okay, this isn't bad, but as I often see, most of this is the situation Sophie finds herself in, moreso than the CHARACTER she is.

One thing I think people often forget when they write queries is that CHARACTERS exist before STORIES. STORIES are important, of course, and they are a fundamental part of human culture, but STORY is nothing without CHARACTER. And what I mean by that is more than voice and arc and style and pluck and so on. I mean that as writers, we must remember that our CHARACTERS are people. They have a life before their STORY starts, and in order to really make our readers care about them, we've got to show them what kind of people our CHARACTERS are.

So, how does that relate to your query? Well, we get a little sense of Sophie from her situation--she's an aboriginal person living in a colonized state, and her cousin is both attracted to her (creepily, it seems) and about to become a baron. This is all well and good, and the most important detail here (when it comes to CHARACTER) is that she is constantly "fending" him off. This tells us a good deal about who Sophie is. What kind of person. What her CHARACTER is.

But you could do more. If you really want to get your reader to sympathize with your protagonist and care about whether or not she succeeds, introduce her to them with plenty of personality before you go into what's going on in her plight.

According to her grandmother, the only way to save the tribes from Sophie’s ravaging uncle is by awakening the Water Goddess, whom no one has seen since the invasion. Cousin, grandmother, uncle ... so it's all a family affair? This is getting a little confusing. They're all tribal people if they're all related, right? So where are the invaders? Her uncle and her cousin are serving the invaders as puppets or something? All Sophie has to guide her are the old stories and songs her grandmother taught her. And Gavin, of course. Sophie used to think he would save her from a forced wedding to her cousin, but her uncle rewarded Gavin's marriage aspirations to Sophie with a public flogging, his baronet father executed for treason, and his manor burnt to the ground.

Okay, this is getting interesting. We have a potential love interest, and he's being persecuted by her own family, who are in power (even though we don't exactly understand how or why), and that certainly sets up some great potential conflict. If you could just make the politics a little clearer, I think you'd be in good shape here.

Finding the Water Goddess is the easy part; getting help isn't. Not only is the goddess powerless, she is more interested in fashion than politics. Whoa. Nice twist. Her advice is for Sophie to seek help elsewhere, and that’s not a reply anyone wants to hear. Sophie's only hope to save the tribes and herself is to use her unexpected water-controlling powers to find another Goddess, one nobody knew existed, in a land with more scars than her uncle can lash out onto those who oppose him.

This doesn't really end on a sadistic CHOICE note, but you've sort of got one implied there. She can hunt for this other goddess, or try to convince the one she already found to step up. Not the toughest choice ever, but it could work.

SHROUDED GODDESS is a 63,000 word YA fantasy set in a world that mirrors South America during the Portuguese colonization of the 16th century. With Avatar waterbending Whoa. You mean Avatar: The Last Airbender? If so, that's AWESOME. in the rainforest, this novel It's not technically a novel until it's published. Right now it's a manuscript or a story. will appeal to fans of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Patricia Moussatche

So, in summary, I see two main problems with this query.

First, is the lack of sympathetic characterization of your protagonist before you get into the plot and conflict. I already went off about that for a while up above, so I'll move on to the second point:

The invaders. You bring them up in your opening hook, and then never mention them again. It seems to me that the uncle and the cousin are somehow working with or serving the invaders, but it's not actually certainly clear. Is that right? If so, you should probably clarify it a little better in this query. You've got the room.

That's it!

What do you all think?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Patricia Moussatche's Current Query II

We've had one of Patchi from My Middle Years' queries on this blog before. Please welcome her back, and like me, save your feedback for tomorrow!

The query:

Dear [Agent name],

Last year, you showed interest in my novel The Legacy of the Eye (Jane Austen's Persuasion meets 1984 in space). I am now seeking representation for my YA fantasy SHROUDED GODDESS.

Seventeen year-old Sophie spends her days hiding her tribal heritage and fending off her baron-to-be cousin's groping attentions. She yearns for the freedom the tribes enjoyed before the Easterners invaded from across the sea.

According to her grandmother, the only way to save the tribes from Sophie’s ravaging uncle is by awakening the Water Goddess, whom no one has seen since the invasion. All Sophie has to guide her are the old stories and songs her grandmother taught her. And Gavin, of course. Sophie used to think he would save her from a forced wedding to her cousin, but her uncle rewarded Gavin's marriage aspirations to Sophie with a public flogging, his baronet father executed for treason, and his manor burnt to the ground.

Finding the Water Goddess is the easy part; getting help isn't. Not only is the goddess powerless, she is more interested in fashion than politics. Her advice is for Sophie to seek help elsewhere, and that’s not a reply anyone wants to hear. Sophie's only hope to save the tribes and herself is to use her unexpected water-controlling powers to find another Goddess, one nobody knew existed, in a land with more scars than her uncle can lash out onto those who oppose him.

SHROUDED GODDESS is a 63,000 word YA fantasy set in a world that mirrors South America during the Portuguese colonization of the 16th century. With Avatar waterbending in the rainforest, this novel will appeal to fans of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Patricia Moussatche

That's it!

Please thank Patchi for sharing with us, and come back tomorrow!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Andrea Franco-Cook's Current Query Critiqued

Good morning. Today we have Andrea's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear Agent,

Brief personal opening here-catered to agent.

An ancient evil looms over Soledad Mendoza, although she just doesn't know it. Bonus points for naming your protagonists (I hope) in your opening line, but otherwise this is vague and a bit cliche. Honestly, vague language is the main problem I see with queries that just don't quite work. More on that in a minute. For thirty years the widowed English professor has lived in the sleepy city of Charleston, West Virginia. Good. See how this kind of very specific language works so much better? We still don't have great sense of CHARACTER, but we have some, and we certainly have a clear idea of her situation. Her boredom and loneliness are often drowned in nightly jiggers of scotch and lesson plans. This isn't exactly fair. You can't mention Scotch in a query and not have me love it. But all this changes when her father's sudden death plunges her into a supernatural war, and a secret family history that began in a Mayan jungle during the sixteenth-century. Whoa, okay.

So, as opening paragraphs go, this is really uneven. It starts out vague, and with little sense of CHARACTER, but then slowly starts to improve, revealing at least a specific situation, and a character of good taste, if boring evenings, and then it kind of goes nuts.

You are also lacking a consistent sense of voice and tone. Up until the final sentence of this paragraph, it sounds like this book will be a quiet literary character study of a lonely widowed English professor. You know, something almost Franzen-esque, but then suddenly at the end here, you reveal a much more exciting story, with loads of potential conflict brought on by an unique and fascinating inciting incident. You don't want to surprise readers like this. Try to see if you can work that kind of supernatural thriller type tone into your opening lines as well.

Enter U.S. Senator Earl Edmondson Ugh. Not a query level issue so much as a story level one, but alliteration in character names always makes me cringe a little—a friend of her late father and a key power player in this war. His pact with a malevolent god all but assures the senator's ascendance to the presidency. However, his unholy aspirations are threatened when he discovers Soledad is set to inherit the Ouroboros amulet—a mystical weapon of indescribable power.

Hmm. This is getting kind of cool, but I have to say the dichotomy between how this query starts out (contemporary, normal, realistic world) and where it is now still feels jarring. Obviously all stories, even paranormal ones, start out in a somewhat comfortable beginning before the STORY/CONFLICT/PLOT begins, but that doesn't mean you want the query to work that way.

Just as her enemies are converging, in walks a Mayan winged-god, Whoa. Um ... okay. First, it should be "winged Mayan god." Unless winged-god is some kind of specific god-type in the world of your story, those adjectives are out of order. But otherwise, this is pretty cool. I hope he's hot. who may be her salvation or her damnation. He claims to have been her family's protector for centuries, but Soledad soon realizes she is merely a pawn in the god's supernatural game of treachery. As she struggles with her new found responsibility, Soledad must accept her fate and use the amulet against Edmondson if she hopes to stop him from taking over the White House. There's just one problem, her father took the weapon's location to his grave.

Oh. She doesn't even have it yet? Damn. That sucks.

Okay, so ... this query has a lot of cool elements. You actually end with a pretty good sense of a sadistic CHOICE. It could be a little clearer, but it's not bad. I won't nitpick this paragraph, but will try to cover the big picture in my summary.

Pawn of The Gods PAWN OF THE GODS is a completed 95,000 word Adult Urban Fantasy novel, and it is the first of a planned series. This tale of an ordinary English professor who is caught in a battle between good and evil flashes back and forth between the Sixteenth and twenty-first centuries, blending Spanish history with Mayan lore and apocalyptic Christian beliefs.

This is actually pretty good housekeeping, brief and to the point.

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

Sincerely,

Andrea Franco-Cook

Okay, so in summary, this query has a lot of the elements that make queries great: clear CONFLICT, a sense of a tough CHOICE to be made, specific scenarios and situations, but it isn't quite gelling for me as is.

The biggest problem is your opening. "Widowed," "English professor," "sleepy city," these are all things that happen to Soledad, or positions she holds, are settings she is in. Drinking Scotch while being bored and lonely grading papers at night is really the only sense of CHARACTER we get for your protagonist.

That is not enough!

The most important thing in any query letter (frankly, in any STORY) is CHARACTER. If we don't care about your character, and sympathize with her as a person, we're not going to care (or at least not as much) about what happens to her or whether she succeeds at whatever she's trying to accomplish.

CONFLICT and CHOICE are great, and they are important, and you even cover them pretty well here, but we've got almost no sense of who Soledad is before her story starts. Sure, we can infer some things from her situation, and by the fact that she reacts to it by drinking alone with her boredom, but we need more, and we need it right up front in this query.

That's it.

What do you all think? Any other suggestions?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Andrea Franco-Cook's Current Query

Today we have Andrea Franco-Cook's current query. If you don't know Andrea, you should visit her blog and give it a follow.

Now, the query:

Dear Agent,

Brief personal opening here-catered to agent.

An ancient evil looms over Soledad Mendoza, although she just doesn't know it. For thirty years the widowed English professor has lived in the sleepy city of Charleston, West Virginia. Her boredom and loneliness are often drowned in nightly jiggers of scotch and lesson plans. But all this changes when her father's sudden death plunges her into a supernatural war, and a secret family history that began in a Mayan jungle during the sixteenth-century.

Enter U.S. Senator Earl Edmondson—a friend of her late father and a key power player in this war. His pact with a malevolent god all but assures the senator's ascendance to the presidency. However, his unholy aspirations are threatened when he discovers Soledad is set to inherit the Ouroboros amulet—a mystical weapon of indescribable power.

Just as her enemies are converging, in walks a Mayan winged-god , who may be her salvation or her damnation. He claims to have been her family's protector for centuries, but Soledad soon realizes she is merely a pawn in the god's supernatural game of treachery. As she struggles with her new found responsibility, Soledad must accept her fate and use the amulet against Edmondson if she hopes to stop him from taking over the White House. There's just one problem, her father took the weapon's location to his grave.

Pawn of The Gods is a completed 95,000 word Adult Urban Fantasy novel, and it is the first of a planned series. This tale of an ordinary English professor who is caught in a battle between good and evil flashes back and forth between the Sixteenth and twenty-first centuries, blending Spanish history with Mayan lore and apocalyptic Christian beliefs.

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

Sincerely,

Andrea Franco-Cook

That's it!

Please thank Andrea for sharing, and like me, save your feedback for tomorrow.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Stephen Tremp's Current Query Critiqued

Today we have Stephen's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear [Agent Name], I am writing you because according to _______ you are a big fan of mystery suspense thriller genres featuring average characters in extraordinary circumstances. My 80,000-word novel, Murcat Manor MURCAT MANOR, inspired by the mischievous nocturnal cats in my parents’ one hundred year old house, is one I hope you will also become passionate about.

Bob Stevens has plenty to worry about. I would recommend you cut this. You're telling us something you're about to show us anyway, so that means it's just wasted words. Besides, if your protagonist doesn't have plenty to worry about, you don't have a story. Stories = CONFLICT.

When Bob and Debbie Stevens lose their idyllic jobs, Vague. Just tell us what they did. What's an idyllic job, anyway? And are they hiring? home, and savings, the only opportunity left to rebuild their lives is to open Murcat Manor. I thought they lost their home? Is this a different property? How could they afford it? It's one of the few bed and breakfasts in the region, set on twenty five rural acres in the rolling hills of southwestern Michigan. Legends of curses, ghosts, and nineteen deaths from two burned down houses once occupying the land do not diminish their dreams of raising a family while earning a living. Raising kids in the same house you're running a B&B? Now there's a setup for conflict.

I'm not sure about this as an opening paragraph. You've got some good ideas, and it's certainly not a setting or premise I've come across before, but there's very little sense of CHARACTER, and the inciting incident seems incredibly vague. I would recommend you start with a little more about who Bob and Debbie are before their lives fall apart and their story starts.

But Bob has unforeseen conflicts far beyond his ability to manage. A belligerent mother-in-law who co-signed the three million dollar loan on Murcat Manor wants him to relinquish his interest. Aha! Okay, this is good, see? Specific. Meaty. Something we can sink our teeth into. Thirteen psychotic killer cats, possessed by souls of disembodied daughters of witches hung at the Salem Witch Trials, are killing his guests. Wow! This is crazy, and a little bit ridiculous, but also pretty awesome. I love that it's so unique. Before long, two local detectives want to arrest him for the murders.

Okay ... so. Things are getting weird now, but it's kind of cool. It's hard sometimes to separate a query critique from a story/premise critique, but I'll try to keep myself divorced from focusing too much on the idea of this story.

You do have an interesting and clearly defined CONFLICT getting set up here, though, and that is certainly a requirement of any good query. There are some questions and confusions to work out, like why would disembodied daughters of Witches killed at Salem travel all the way to Michigan to do their haunting, and how exactly do little old cats kill anyone, but that's okay, because you've got the bones of a decent CONFLICT here, and that's the most important fundamental of a query letter.

Thirteen kittens, found in the burned out rubble from the previous farm house, had seemed like the perfect pets to keep their guests company. But the Stevens soon learn these are no ordinary cats, and the cycle of terror and murder begins again with each new wave of guests.

Yeah, so ... this is just weird. But I can't help but kind of like it. Your working title MURCAT MANOR, sounds really tongue-in-cheek, so I was initially thinking this would be some kind of campy/comedy horror or something, but it seems like you intend for it to be a mystery and thriller to be taken seriously. I would recommend you maybe consider a more serious title. Even MURDERCAT MANOR, as silly as that sounds, is a little better (only because the TV SHOW, MEERCAT MANOR, is one of the most adorable things on television).

Murcat Manor will appeal to readers of the mystery, thriller, suspense, and paranormal genres.
Or .....
Murcat Manor will appeal to fans of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Jeffery Deaver.

I don't like either of these, to be honest. I mean they just come off sounding a little lazy. If you're going to compare your work to heavyweights of the industry like this, at least make sure it's clear you know what you're talking about. Compare your manuscript to a specific title, and make it obvious that you know your genre because the title is a logical comparison. Stephen King has several books that might work. CUJO, and PET SEMETARY, for example. I don't know Dean Koontz as well, but the man has written something like a hundred books, so surely there's one that fits.

I have a B.A. in information systems and an MBA in Global Management. Why is your bachelor's degree not capitalized but your master's is? Also, shouldn't an information systems degree, which is a subset of computer science, be a B.S., not a B.A? I'm not doubting you, but it looks weird. With a background in information systems, management, and finance, I can draw from my varied and complex experimental knowledge What is experimental knowledge? to write one of a kind thrillers. Merging science and the supernatural is my specialty.

I wouldn't worry too much about this paragraph because honestly, you should cut it all. If you were querying a manuscript that had hacking or international corporate espionage in it, this stuff might be more relevant, but it's not important to why you are the best writer to tell this story.

I have previously written and published The Breakthrough Trilogy: The Adventures of Chase Manhattan, The Breakthrough Trilogy: The Adventure of Chase Manhattan; There is some debate about this. In my experience, conventional wisdom says that WORKING TITLES of unpublished manuscripts go in ALL CAPS in query letters, and Titles of Published Works go in Italics, but lately the industry seems to maybe be moving toward using all caps for both. Do your research, but whatever you do, don't put titles in Plain Old Text. that have been in Barnes and Nobles and Borders Books across the country with 10,000 physical sales and downloads due? in part to countless book signings and relentless marketing on my behalf. I would be careful about this. 10,000 sales is a good number for self-publishing. But is that 10,000 total sales of 3 volumes in a trilogy, combined e-books and print copy sales? 10,000 sales is 10,000 sales, and you should certainly be proud of that, but if you're going to use it for leverage in a query, make you are as specific as possible. Please view my Media Kit for more information, at: http://authorstephentremp.blogspot.com/p/media-page.html

I write a blog where my focus is science, science fiction, writing, and promoting. Link to your blog. I have also taught at online schools and symposiums. What are the names of them? Link to evidence.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you soon. I have included the first ten pages. The entire manuscript is available upon request.

Okay, so in summary I think you're off to a good start here. Your middle is pretty strong, and although the beginning and the end need work, they're not a complete mess or anything.

I would recommend you open with a paragraph that introduces a strong sense of CHARACTER first, so that we can care about Bob and root for him in his struggles, before you get to anything about hook, inciting incident, or the subsequent CONFLICT.

Finally, some sense of a sadistic CHOICE would help entice the reader to want to move on to your sample pages. I mean, it's probably easy to infer that the Stevens could decide to try to kill the cats, or sell the B&B, or any number of other options, but if you clarify for us a sense of what they actually choose in the story, if would help this query end on a high note.

That's it!

What do you all think? Anything I missed? Anything you would add?