Monday, August 16, 2010

WriteOnCon Query Contest

So, I promised to write about my query win this morning and I will not disappoint! There is actually a pretty funny story about this whole thing so I will share that quickly before I share the query and Joanna's awesome critique of it.

I had posted my query in the WriteOnCon query critique forum here. On last Thursday night I was feeling pretty sorry for myself because people were not liking it so I sent an email to several of the writers I look up to and consider friends, asking them to chime in on the forum. A couple replied saying things like "of course, a little busy right now but will take a look as soon as I can", or something similar.

Then I got this email from Elana Johnson. Pretty much all it said was "DUDE!" and then it linked me to this. Needless to say I was pretty excited and especially happy to see that all those nay-sayers were wrong. Then I thought about it.

Those people weren't wrong. They were only trying to help and this is all so subjective anyway. So I thanked them for their feedback and went on my way. The moral of this story is that you must believe in yourself. That and don't believe every single critique you get. Only you will know what really resonates.

So here's Joanna's critique of my query, which you can also find on the amazing Coffey. Tea. And Literary. Blog.


Dear Ms. Stampfel-Volpe,

15 Year old Lee Ruccio is a reluctant juvenile delinquent. Great opening line. Makes me wonder what Lee is all about. He obviously gets into trouble, but it seems like he doesn't want to. The last thing he expected to find at reform school in the bitter wilderness of northern Idaho was magic. Reform school tells me he got busted for some of that trouble, and then Matthew adds another layer to this story...magic. And it feels natural. One thing that frustrates me in a query is when the paranormal/supernatural element in a query doesn't come into play until the last line. I'm left scratching my head. But Matthew is laying out the story perfectly, defining the character first, then the setting. But after the death of his mother, and estrangement from his useless, high-society, drunk-whenever-he’s-home father, Lee’s guardians ship him off to Rocky Mountain Academy and that’s exactly what he discovers. Just enough backstory for me to GET it.

Despite having to earn the right to attend classes after months of hard labor and being placed on restriction after getting caught alone in the woods with a female student, Oooooo! Rocky Mountain Academy redeems itself when Lee finally learns of the mysterious curriculum. The classes have names like “The Way of Unifying With Life Energy” and “The Eight Principles of Yong.” In them Lee and his new friends (and enemies) study everything from East Asian Calligraphy and Meditation to Aikido and Kenjutsu. Woah--now this academy sounds awesome and unique. Plus, I love anything involving martial arts, so sweet.

Permission to kick ass is pretty awesome when you’re fifteen and convinced it’s you against the world. Yes it is! At this point I'm pretty pumped...the first paragraph was great, so I'm down with a line like this. However, I can say, if this were an opening line, it wouldn't have packed as strong a punch (ha).

Through these disciplines Lee and his fellow students learn to manipulate their Chi for things like healing, telekinesis and imbuing their weapons with rockin’ powers. And it’s a good thing Lee mostly stayed awake during class because the Master of the School is sending a team of students on a mission to investigate an abandoned silver mine. While underground, they are attacked by Earth Elementals, creatures of mud and rock with brute strength and cunning logic equal to a raging hippopatamus, and their new-found friendship and magical talents are put to the test. Earth Elementals sound awesome, but now I'm more curious about why their teachers would send them into such a dangerous scenario....something is afoot!

Actually kicking ass is pretty critical when your life’s in danger and it truly is you (and your friends) against the world.

Before reform school, Lee never in a million years thought he’d be battling subterranean monsters using Eastern mysticism. Then again, he never thought he’d make an actual friend, earn the praise of a teacher, or fall in love either. My only revision suggestion for this query has to do with these last two lines/paragraphs. It feels like two conclusions, when you need only one. At this point you had me hooked, so it's a small thing, I don't think it would make any agent who was interested say "ya know what? never mind." So don't worry! My suggestion is to keep the second one...it wraps up the whole concept better, and the first one feels more like a repeat of above. But of course you'd have to tweak it so the transition from the previous paragraph worked.

Either way, I am so impressed! This story sounds fun, unique, and ripe for the market now. I'm looking forward to reading those first 10 pages and sharing them with Sara. Thanks for participating, Matthew!

Cheers-JV

I'm not going to break down every point she made, except to say wow! What an astute analysis. It is interesting to see that agents are human. For example her response to the mention of Aikido and Kenjutsu is pretty awesome, but I'm guessing that not every agent out there is as young and hip as Joanna, and therefore probably not into martial arts. The other thing here is that Aikido is pretty well known, but Kenjutsu is not, for Joanna to even know what those things are is probably unique to this situation. Agents are pretty smart though, so I could be wrong about that.

I also totally agree with her point about that permission line. It is the best bit of voice in the query, and it would sound cool as an opening hook ... but, it wouldn't make sense without the setup. I feel like that would leave readers going huh?

As far as her analysis about revising the end she is absolutely right. In fact this is one of the main points I struggle with in the book. I won't go into great detail but the idea is that the main conflict is what occurs within Lee's heart as he struggles to grow into a normal human being and leave all his bitterness and grief behind. The actual physical conflict with the creatures is sort of a sub-plot. That is really oversimplifying it, but I'm sure you all will understand.

So what do you guys think? Is that not some amazing feedback to get from such an awesome agent? I sent her my first 10 pages on Saturday, so I'm looking forward to sharing with you all about that.

Thoughts? Questions? Please share them in the comments section!

33 comments:

Ted Cross said...

Yeah, her feedback really shows how this worked for her. That's what's wrong with the whole query process is that there is no one way to make a great query, since each agent has their own tastes and thoughts on what works or what doesn't.

I tried to work within the parameters of not going over 250 words and trying to use only 2-3 paragraphs, but I also keep seeing agents who are just fine with going longer.

Christina Lee said...

I said it already and I'll say it again: YAY YAY YAY!

And I like what you discovered about critiques b/c it is true, and really muddies the waters sometimes!

Piedmont Writer said...

And the hippos! I'm so thrilled for you Matthew. This is such a great thing for you to win.

Emily White said...

It IS an awesome query. You definitely deserved the win!

Vicki Rocho said...

You have come sooo far! Isn't it funny that every time you start to doubt yourself something like this comes along to restore your faith?

GREAT JOB!

DEZMOND said...

yes, you should only trust people who are objective, non-biased, intelligent, experienced and who will not say something bad just to be malicious or say something good just to suck up.

Joanne Brothwell said...

Matthew,
I had a similar experience posting my query in an online forum. You definitely have to be able to weed through the advice.

Your query is absolutely fantastic! I've read it before, but reading it with Joanna's comments made me realize just how great it really is!

I can't wait to hear about her reaction to your first 10. I'm crossing my fingers!

Robin_Lucas said...

Great query. Congratulations! Can't wait to hear about the 10 pages.

Oh, definitely put the "permission" line at the beginning. Its a great hook.

Christine Fonseca said...

This is so great on so many fronts. Glad you posted, glad you received such great feedback, and glad you "put yourself out there". great job.

Kelly said...

Congrats, Matthew! I smiled when I saw you won the query contest! It sounds like an amazing book!

Kristi Helvig said...

Congratulations, Matthew! That's so awesome and the premise of your book is very, very cool. Good luck w/ the 10 pages! :) kristi

Jen said...

This was amazing feedback!!! Congrats on getting such details back on your own query. I think she made amazing points and all were valid! I look forward (and terrified) to when it's my turn!

Tabitha said...

That's awesome!! Congrats!!!

This entire industry is based on subjectivity, so it was really interesting to see where and how her interest was piqued.

Good luck with the pages!! I hope it leads to more!

Jaydee Morgan said...

I think you did a good job with it - and it paid off! Good luck with those pages :)

Slushpile Slut said...

Clapping my hands for you and throwing out some ecstatic fist pumping!! Way to go Matt!! Way to go!!!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Wow - awesome! Good luck with the pages, too! :)

Jared Larson said...

That's awesome Matt! Just a hint of jealousy. You have a great query, amazing actually, and it makes me wonder if mine is too short, not revealing enough of the story, which can lead to a misleading of the MS at times. Hopefully not. What a great opportunity you have. Congratulations! I'm ecstatic for you.

storyqueen said...

Congratulations, Matthew!

Your query did just what a query is supposed to do: Make the reader want more!

Shelley

Jemi Fraser said...

I was so excited when I saw this on WriteOnCon!! Joanna is so brilliant - loved her commentary. Great job & good luck!!!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Congrats on this again! Really nice, and the agent's comments were interesting. It shows you it's really about finding a way to pique an agent's interest... and then hold it. Can't let that fish off the hook.

Though I'm sure Joanna is, you know, a really nice fish.

Mary Campbell said...

This query is awesome. Thank you for the story and insights behind it. Congrats again.

salarsenッ said...

You are amazing and an inspiration, Matt. Thanks for sharing this with us and major Congrats!! I'm sending you cyber-Hotheads. *grins*

Tahereh said...

this is awesome, Matt!! CONGRATS!!

i can't wait to see how things turn out :D :D

Lenny said...

wow mr matthew you been working so hard on this and now it sooo cool. its neat that a for real agent lady likes it. i didnt know about this query stuff til i got reading your blog. now im learning lots from you and when i do a queery mine gonna be real good cause of you. i like how you said you gotta believe in your self.
...smiles and hugs from lenny

Cole Gibsen said...

Congrats, Matthew! I'm so excited for you!!! Keep us updated!!!

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

Wow, it would seem a great query garners a great response. I'll love to read that book too!

Candyland said...

You know, Elana ROCKS. She's a fantastic self-esteem booster I'd like to bottle and splash myself with every single day. You do have to believe in what *you* think is best at the end of the day. And everyone's opinions are different. Joanna's advice is amazing!!!

Bish Denham said...

Congratulations Matt! I feel like I can say "Hey, I know that guy. We rub keyboards."

aspiring_x said...

YAY! so happy for you!!! can't wait to hear her feedback on the first 10!

Steph Sinkhorn said...

Congratulations again, Matt! I think I remember you posting it before, and I said something about liking it but feeling like it lost steam toward the end... sounds like her feedback was a LITTLE similar. I still think it's AWESOME compared to what you started with, and obviously you're on the right track!

Lori W. said...

Love, love, love the "moral of the story" part of your post. Thanks for sharing.

Falen (Sarah) said...

obvs i've been on vacay so i know this is late but CONGRATS ON WINNING a crit! I know i've said this before but i'm always so impressed when i read your most recent query compared to your old ones. It's so much improved

Ishta Mercurio said...

I just unearthed this post on my reader, and I just wanted to say, WAY TO GO!!!

I am SO thrilled for you! Congratulations, and please tell us how things go with your first 10 pages!