Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Emily White's Query Critique

Today is Emily's query again, but I will add my thoughts and ask you all to do the same. Let's get right into it.

Dear Super Agent:

(Personal stuff)

You all probably know my feelings about this by now. Personalization is good, especially if you can show that you have really researched an agent, but my OPINION is that you should jump right into your story, and cover that other stuff after.

Ella didn’t think her problems were going to get worse after escaping an interstellar prison ship, and she certainly didn’t think she’d be expected to save the galaxy.

This sets up setting and stakes/conflict pretty well, but for your opening hook to really zing I think you need more idea of character. Even adding an occupation and age before Ella's name might be enough. Especially if this is YA or NA. If Ella is older it's not as important.

For example I call my MC a reluctant juvenile delinquent in my query. True, that's not actually an occupation but it tells us loads about his character in three quick words: he gets in trouble a lot, but he doesn't mean to. You obviously don't have to do that, but I do think it's important to give some idea of why a reader should care about your character, even before you get to plot and setting, even if you have to call her a kick ass wheel chair wielding elemementomancer.

Her feet barely touch solid ground before the prison ship guards notice Ella’s missing and chase her all the way into the middle of a giant bug infested desert—giant bugs who just happen to have a taste for meat. Watch your tense. With sharp-edged pincers ripping away at her flesh, an ability Ella never knew she had is awakened. Anybody order crispy critters? With fire now at her tenuous disposal, Ella hops aboard a freighter on its way to a planet well outside her captors’ territory.

This paragraph is mostly good. You have several phrases that are dripping with awesome voice - which is great, but I'm also confused by your opening and when she discovers her powers. The opening I don't get because although I know from previous versions Ella is somewhat crippled at first (right?), this comes at us out of nowhere in this version, and leaves the reader wondering what you mean about her feet touching the ground. The part about gaining her powers isn't so bad, but I would like to hear how they were awakened a little more.

Making friends is something she hoped she’d do, but these friends have some bad news: she’s part of some alien race everyone thought was a myth. And more specifically, she’s destined to fight a fallen angel with a god complex, or die trying.

This paragraph is similar, it ends quite strong, with great voice, wit, and sense of stakes regarding the main conflict in your plot, but I'm left wondering which friends you mean. Are you talking about the people on the freighter she escapes in? If so just a teeny bit more about them might help. We don't need names, just what kind of people are they?

Problem is, years of solitary confinement didn’t really prepare Ella for fighting—or walking—or any semblance of balance on two feet for that matter. Honestly, she doesn’t even know if she wants to fight him. In a perfect world, Ella would be left alone. But here’s the thing: this god’s not exactly sitting around waiting for her to make up her mind. If Ella doesn’t hurry up and decide what’s really important—a life with her friends or a galaxy where living is actually possible—she won’t be the only one to end up dead.

This is great, it conveys an excellent sense of character, but ... that stuff needs to come first. There are no hard fast rules when it comes to queries, but giving the reader a reason to care about your character ASAP is pretty important. This part about her legs, and about her reluctance to fight is awesome, well written, concise, and very informative, but you need to work it in much earlier.

ELEMENTAL, a 65,000 word YA Science Fiction set in a galaxy in desperate need of change, is rife with teleporting fairies, interstellar battleships, and things that go boom.

This is pure gold, assuming your novel is as funny as most of this query. That is all.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Emily White

I realize this is general, somewhat vague advice, and it often helps to have more specific examples of how to change things, but I'm hoping to get to that through people's comments and perhaps via email between us later today or this week.

So, that being said, does anyone have any specific examples they could give Emily of how to re-write a particular part of her query? I think a new hook with more characterization tossed in would be especially helpful.

Otherwise feel free to leave your thoughts or questions in the comments, and as always, thanks for visiting!

23 comments:

Talli Roland said...

Just my humble opinion, but I feel there's too much story here. I'd tighten it up and focus on the main conflict, making it much easier to see what the story is all about. The voice is good but perhaps a bit too much at times.

But -- I love the sound of it and the concept is great! :) Just a bit o' tweaking! Best of luck!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, Matt, you and Talli said it all. I suck at writing queries, and even more so at critting them--unless the query is really bad.

I liked your advice, Matt, about making sure your reader knows why they should care about the mc. I'm going to make sure I did that in mine. :D

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

First, I think the story is AWESOME. I have to agree with Talli. She edited one of my queries and you should have seen how succinct it was. She did it wonders! You don't need so much in there. If you can pinpoint what exactly drives the story forward without being too wordy, it'll have a lot more punch.

Laura Pauling said...

I agree, too much story, too many paragraphs. Even if it sounds great!

Example to tighten - instead of saying that powers were awakened - just say what the powers are. It will cut out some phrases. So look for repetitive elements.

Best of luck with this!

Renae said...

This story does sound amazing! But of course you brilliant people have summed it up nicely. Just tighten it up with a little of that wonderful voice peeking through and I think it'll be a great query letter.

I so love that you do this Matt!
Good luck Emily!

Justine Dell said...

I. Hate. Queries.

But don't we all? ;-)

I agree with Talli about there being too much story in the query. And I agree with Matt, too. They both gave you some excellent tips!

Good luck on the re-work! Do we get to see a revised version?

~JD

aspiring_x said...

good advice matt! i hadn't noticed the lack of characterization for Ella in the hook... but i can't think of a way to expand on that succintly. this is the best i could come up with for a hook alternative...

"Fifteen years trapped in a Sho'ful obliette has left Ella emaciated and broken. The last thing she expects when she finally escapes is for her problems to get worse. Wait. No. The last thing she expects is to have to fight an angel-with-a-god-complex for the freedom of the galaxy."

salarsenッ said...

I completely agree with your assessment, Matt about the opening. I'd like to see a tad more about who the character is. And I, too, agree with Talli. Not that I've accomplished it myself. I'm going to take her advice, too.

Best of luck, Emily!

Crimey said...

Matt, I agree with others. There's too much story here, tighten up and focus (as if I knew how to do that myself...lol). The great part is that the query is in good starting shape and the voice is strong so with some tightening, it should pan out.

Crimey said...

p.s. Good luck Emily!

Angela Ackerman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angela Ackerman said...

I'll try again without the typos...

I think you give great advice here Matt and I agree with Talli that there is too much storyline exposed here.

Tighten the query to only showcase the most important parts of the plot. One of the first things I wondered when reading was what Ella was in prison for, and why. Did she deserve to be there? I think this is important detail to set up in the opening. The reader will feel differently about Ella if we felt her crime or lack of crime did not justify being imprisoned than we would if she were an axe murderer/cannibal, right?

Too, the detail about her being imprisoned for a year and her poor physical condition comes too late--this is info you should condense and lead with. Show us a character who is doomed from the start of her escape, but still she persists. Then we'll be rooting for her all the way. :)

And, as Matt said, put the personalization in the para where you state the length and genre of the book. Show the agent a good story first, then show them that you researched enough to know why they are perfect to represent you and the project. :)

The query's in good shape, and just needs a bit of trimming and restructuring to really pop. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Christina Lee said...

I think less is going to be more. I even think removing this part of the paragraph would be fine:

Problem is, years of solitary confinement didn’t really prepare Ella for fighting—or walking—or any semblance of balance on two feet for that matter. Honestly, she doesn’t even know if she wants to fight him. In a perfect world, Ella would be left alone. But here’s the thing: this god’s not exactly sitting around waiting for her to make up her mind.

Candyland said...

Everyone stole my thoughts. I am drawing a blank on something ultra clever to add. So I'll just tap dance out of the room with a smile.
*tapping*

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd just suggest compacting it a bit. Getting to the point faster might make it more clear.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Hmm, everyone already covered my thoughts, but I agree with Talli. Focus on the main conflic, tease the agent. There's already an awesome concept here...it just needs tweeking :)

Falen (Sarah) said...

i agree, tightening this would only make it stronger. I'm also of the same opinion as Matthew of jumping right into the story, but i believe we both follow the "Mission of the Shark" so to speak, with queries

K. M. Walton said...

Hey Emily,

Interesting story premise. I took the liberty of doing some revising. Check it out below. I wish you the best of luck on your query journey!

Dear Agent:

After spending years in solitary confinement, _______ year old Ella didn’t think her problems could get worse. But when she escapes the interstellar prison ship, she finds out she’s got to save the galaxy. Great.

When Ella’s fire ability is awakened she discovers she’s actually part of some alien race everyone thought was a myth. And more good news, she’s destined to fight a fallen angel with a god complex, or die trying.

ELEMENTAL, a 65,000 word YA Science Fiction set in a galaxy in desperate need of change, is rife with teleporting fairies, interstellar battleships, and things that go boom.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Emily White

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I'm learning so much just reading through the query, Matt's comments, and now the comments feedback. Best of luck, Emily! Your story sounds exciting :)

LTM said...

have I mentioned you rock? ;p

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Everyone has left such wonderful comments that I found it hard to find anything not already mentioned by someone else.

I think the only line I had a problem with overall was confusion in the choice between Ella's friends and actually living. Are Ella's friends not alive? Maybe if you said something about a choice between Ella's friends and Ella having the chance to live her life as she sees fit might clear up the confusion.

Jared Larson said...

Honestly Matt, what's left to say after you get done with a query. Everyone has come up with great stuff. I really thought K.M. did an excellent job with her revision and maintaining the voice of Emily's query. Either way, this thing has potential all over it. And that's a great thing. Good job Emily.

Melissa said...

How was I not following you? I totally thought I was. You are really spot on in your analysis of her query.

Emily, if you are reading this, I LOVE your last paragraph. If that was on a jacket cover I'd snap it up before I could say the title out loud.