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!
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!