Friday, January 28, 2011

Carolyn Abiad's Query Critique


Okay folks, same query as yesterday, but with my thoughts, advice and jokes. I'm sure you can figure out that my feedback is in red.

Dear Obviously you know to put their name here. First name is okay, but Mr. or Ms. and their last name spelled correctly is better,

I’m seeking representation for Burnt Amber, a YA fantasy complete at 75,000 words, inspired by the tragic fairy tale of Byzantine landmark, KizKalesi. The older voice and bittersweet ending will appeal to Kristin Cashore fans, and my experience living in Turkey helped me enrich the story with authentic details. (Insert reason specific agent will appreciate BA.)

Now I know the jury is still out on this, and there is plenty of advice for either side, but my suggestion is to save all this housekeeping info for the end of your query. It is better to get right to the story. A smart agent is going to infer a lot about your genre from a good hook anyway. That being said there is no question that certain agents prefer it one way or the other, so try to find out which one they want and then tailor your query to their preference.

Sybil isn’t a fan of “Once Upon a Time” and she’s certainly not interested in a Prince Charming, a Sultan, or an entitled Istanbulite who thinks his sappy guitar ballad will melt her American heart. She’s perfectly capable on her own, when the sun is up, but at night a Crusader haunts her dreams and leaves her seeking answers her adoptive parents can’t provide.

This isn't bad. Your hook could have more punch to it, I think, but as is it's pretty damn funny. It could work like that if the voice and style of your novel are just as irreverent and hilarious.

The second sentence I'm not sure of. I mean the phrase about her parents is great, it set up just the right amount of backstory, but the rest ... I'm not sure you need it. It's too vague, and if the Crusader is the same as Haydon, mentioned below, then I would skip it. If not, then I'm confused.

Another thing that would be great would be more about Sybil's character from the get go. In my own query I call my MC a "15 year old reluctant juvenile delinquent" before I ever get to naming him, er - I just double checked and it's actually right before and after. Anyway, point is, in those 6 brief words you know so much about who he is that you can probably already begin to picture him. I would always suggest putting your MCs age in if your novel is YA. The profession/status/background/whatever description is probably less important, but if you can figure out a clever way to work it in, you'll be starting off quite strong.

With two weeks left in her semester abroad, Sybil meets a fortuneteller with a unique tattoo similar to one she’s had for as long as she can remember. The connection might explain her premonitions and links her to enigmatic gypsies who channel the djinn. Her psychic awareness skyrockets when she bumps into Haydon, a familiar stranger who would look really irresistible in chainmail. She discovers that he shares her clairvoyance, but he also triggers a fiery energy she has trouble controlling -- the same djinn energy the gypsy warned her to keep secret at all cost. That should say "at any cost" or "at all costs" Aggressive amber orbs and visions plague her when she tries to forget him, so she’s tempted to try a short fling regardless of the consequences…until she connects a fanatical priest with the Maltese cross from her nightmare and everything suddenly makes sense.

You have some very strong points in this part. I would say that the best part of your story (keeping in mind I haven't read it) is the unique premise and the setting. Each of these tastes of conflict are good, and would stand up fine on their own, but all bunched together in the query like this it doesn't work, and it get's too confusing.

I'll try to break this down sentence by sentence. The opening clause is great, it's lets us know why she's there, what kind of position she's in (as in temporary) and that she's probably either a prep student from a nice school, or a very young college student. The fortune teller part I'm not sure about. I'm sure it's important to the plot, but we can't tell how here, and you never come back to it except to say that it triggers everything else. It's also kind of vague.

You then introduce her power, which I think is done fine, but when coupled with the possible romantic interest, the heightening of her power, Haydon having similar skills, and then it all linking back to the Gypsies and the Djinn (which BTW I think sounds like a freaking awesome story) I get lost in the shuffle. I don't think you need all these details. I would skip over Haydon sharing the clairvoyance, it sounds cool, but you need to trim and tighten this anyway, so you may have to skip everything that isn't critical. I would also try to bump the part about the warning up into the same sentence as the discovery of the Djinn. I mean I understand why you linked back, and it does kind of work, but you've just simply got too much going on here, IMHO.

I would cut "Aggressive amber orbs and visions plague her when she tries to forget him, so she’s tempted to try a short fling regardless of the consequences…" and then focus on that last clause. It sounds like this is the antagonist, so we need to hear about him. And what nightmare and what cross are you talking about? The way it is introduced here makes it sound like we already know about them, which we don't. Also, you've already hinted at the possibility of romance (in a very funny, clever way, I thought) and we don't need a reminder.

Sybil learns that her biological mother risked everything to help her escape the chauvinistic clutches of the djinn world, knights and all. So she isn’t happy to be thrown back into it and discover that she’s not only been married to Haydon since she was five years old, but she’s the lost Queen of Cilicia. She just wants to get back to her old, predictable life. Instead she’s sucked into a power struggle with her djinn father’s rival and faced with a choice: bigamy with a chance at regaining her humanity…or a future cut off from both worlds forever.

I would cut the marriage and the part about being Queen. This is kind of getting into synopsis territory. Those sound like great plot twists and you don't have to give us everything in the query. I think the first sentence is good. I also think your summary is pretty good.

Overall you're off to a great start. I know you already know this query is a bit long and that's fine. I think the bigger problem is a lack of focus. Try to consider these main points:

Who is the character, and why would we care about her?

What conflict arises that she must overcome, and what are the stakes if she fails?

What choice must she make in order to succeed, and what is the cost of failure?

More djinn lore along with Turkish customs and places described in the book can be found on my blog at www.carolynsnowabiad.com. Recently, the blog site of Turkish national newspaper Milliyet featured a post recognizing my positive portrayal of the advancement of women’s rights in my piece about former Turkish Prime Minister, Tansu Çiller.

Thank you for your consideration of my work,

Carolyn Snow Abiad

The rest of this is fine, I would still move word count and genre to the end here, but I would also customize that for each query.

Okay. So the rules here are simple, you absolutely do not have to agree with me, you just have to be honest and try to help Carolyn improve this query as much as possible. I am not an expert by any means. I'm way better than I was when I started, and I may be better than some, but that doesn't mean I know everything.

Also, I'm pretty good at knowing what to cut, and what might need to be changed, but I am not very good at suggesting how to change it, or what might make it pop a little more. If you readers could please help us out here, it would be much appreciated.

Thanks so much for visiting, please share your thoughts in the comments.

45 comments:

Jessica Bell said...

I shouldn't be here today, so let's just say I have a twin sister for a moment.

I'd like to say that in this case, I think the housekeeping info is great at the beginning because the story is inspired by real experience with the culture. I think the fact that Carolyn lives in Turkey, it means that the liklihood of her telling this story authentically is very high, and therefore something which might spark an agents interest more than the story's hook? Just a thought ... :o)

Tracy said...

My personal opinion on the housekeeping. I like to start off with the personal reason I'm querying the agent and leave the title & word count, etc for after I've gotten to the actual query.

The one technical suggestion I'd make is that the story title should always be in all caps, that way BURNT AMBER (nice title, btw) really jumps out. Important for when agents are scanning.

I agree with Matthew that I'd lose the sentences with the amber orbs... I think they're likely important parts to the story (and it helps explain the title), but I think it's unnecessary for the query.

Otherwise, I think you have a great premise and I can see this being something that could really grab quite a bit of interest. Many agents are looking for more multi-cultural type stories and turkish folklore isn't something that has been beaten into the ground in recent literature.

Great job and good luck, Carolyn!

Vicki Rocho said...

I'm on the put the housekeeping at the end team, but that's not why I'm writing. From the beginning paragraph, I kept expecting the story to be more of a romance -- she didn't believe in once upon a time and wasn't looking for a Prince Charming so I expected everything after that to relate. I think I'd scrap the beginning and say something more along the lines that she didn't believe in genies, psychics, or orbs...or whatever, keep the hook paragraph more in line with everything that comes later.

Hannah Kincade said...

I'm sorry but I do agree with you, Matt. I think the beginning should be moved to the end. Start with the hook. Tighten and trip things up. I can completely understand trying to put in as much as possible. That's my problem. I have a hard time cutting or putting only the essential bits.

Good luck, Carolyn!!

Old Kitty said...

Carolyn Abiad!!! Wow!!! I read your query as a synopsis - I have no idea if this works as a query letter or not! I would love to see the re-written (if you are gonna re-write following some really good tips here from Matt and the others) original following this! I was hooked by your story/letter yesterday!!

Sorry, I'm not much help with querying so tend to keep shtum but as it's you and you're fabulous I thought I'd just say YAY for your novel and for doing this!! Take care
x

Kelly said...

At the last WriteOn Con event, the agents liked the introduction at the first paragraph and then the hook. But I think as long as the hook is good, it really shouldn't matter where it is.
I love her hook and story premise. The only thing I'd say along with other commenters, is the summary seems a bit long to read.
Good luck, Carolyn! Fun to read about your book!

Carolyn Abiad said...

Thanks to everyone, especially Matt for hosting me! This is such a great experience. Looks like an overhaul is in order here!

I really liked Vicki's point. There is romance in the story, but it's not essential to the theme. And as Matt says, focus should be on the gypsy/djinn. Guess I was trying to do too much!

Thanks again! I'll be back later this afternoon. :)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Yeah, I think trimming and streamlining is the key here, and Matt gave some good tips for that. I think this one needs to be kept in a narrow channel - tight on cause and effect, the plot moving forward at all times.

The only other thing I'd note is that if you take out the Crusader bit from the first part, the "looks great in chainmail" bit in the second part won't make any sense and you'll lose that connection that she was dreaming about him before meeting him -- which could be made more explicit, anyhow (if it's impportant at all... it's interesting, and might be important in the novel... but is it relevant for the plot of the query?)

Best of luck,
Bryan

Elana Johnson said...

Since I was supposed to be in the shower 7 minutes ago, I'm just going to comment on the first paragraph--and the first name thing.

1. I'd put all the market comparison and voice stuff after the blurb too. I would put the specific reason you're querying them first. Like "On XXX blog, you said you're looking for YYY and ZZZ. Because of this, I believe you'd be interested in my young adult fantasy BURNT AMBER."

Then query blurb. Leave the word count, and market comparison for after the blurb. Right up front, you want to say, "1. I know what you want. and 2. I *have* what you want."

And I'm of the opinion that a query letter is a business letter, which means you should address the agent as Mr. or Ms., not by their first name. If they write you back and sign it with their first name, then you've graduated into a less formal form of communication. But until then: Mr. or Ms. (IMO.)

Elana Johnson said...

Oh! And I will be back later. Wild ponies couldn't keep me away. :)

LTM said...

We've been emailing this one back and forth for months, so I'll allow others to talk. Remember my mantra: "less is more."

And anyway, Matt said everything I would've said (as usual). It's weird. He keeps doing that... :D j/k <3 you guys. I've got a good feeling about this~

Jules said...

I came to thank you for all your comments recently, follow along and BAM! You have my buddy Carolyn on here :)

Been reading her for a while now and really love her but I will leave the editing stuff to you experts.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm with everyone else on the housekeeping. The only time I put it in the beginning is when I've heard the agent is looking for edgy YA and that's why I'm querying her. It only takes one sentence to do that. I don't go into word count or comparison novels until the end. Besides, I have a rocking hook, so I want the agent to see that before her eyes have a chance to glaze over. ;)


Great job with your analyzes, Matt. :D

Susan R. Mills said...

You've made some great points here. I especially agree that the "housekeeping" stuff should go at the end.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

i love that you added thoughts to it! INteresting...

Amy said...

You've made some good points, from what I've heard/read/been told, the housekeeping is best put at the end of the pitch because the agent only reads that if the pitch catches them.

Excellent crit.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

I whole-heartedly agree that this reads more of a synopsis. I wasn't really able to pick out the conflict because there was so much going on here. It's been advised elsewhere that you have but 250 words or so to work with in your query. Maybe find the ones which are absolutely critical to the query and chuck the rest will get you to around that number.

Colene Murphy said...

I really think I have to just agree with you, Matt. Too much info was really confusing when I read it yesterday. It sounds like an amazing story, and she really just needs to condense and focus in on the necessary bits and leave the rest as a surprise for the agent when they request more!

Josin L. McQuein said...

The story sounds intriguing, but the presentation needs a bit of help.

1 - Drop the title, genre, word count, etc. to the bottom. Lead with your story. (You can leave off "I'm seeking representation" and "complete at". Agents will assume both of those without you wasting words on them.)

A lot of the time, agents have their windows minimized, which means 8 lines of text show, max. You want those 8 lines to count, so they should be story.

2 - I'd cut the second sentence of your "hook". The first one's strong and gives a sense of voice and character. You don't need the second, even though it mentions the dreams, because you've got her clairvoyant later.

Go from your hook straight to "with two weeks left". Definitely add the MC's age to the hook. This is YA, so show it off up top.


3 - KILL aggressive amber orbs. Kill it dead and burn its body. Scatter the ashes to the wind.

That's exactly the kind of description that will make the agents blue/green/brown/hazel or grey orbs roll and wonder if you have the same kind of line in your book. (If you do, KILL it. Dead.)

4 - Your 2nd paragraph has too much in it. You've got visions, gypsies, djinn, priests... it's too much. It confuses the reader, and while we can go back and read over, a lot of agents won't.

5 - I'd cut the last paragraph. Give them a link to your site in your contact info, but women's rights has nothing to do with your book. It's taking up space.


You need to strip your two longest paragraphs to the essentials. You go overboard on the description of Haydon and the gypsies. Mention the gypsies, mention the clairvoyance, FOCUS on the djinn parts of your story because that's where the conflict lies.

(FWIW - in no way does this read as YA. Your MC sounds like she's college aged, at least. The language, tone, and stakes are all out of the YA range, too.)

Shelley Batt said...

To start with you must know I have no authority to comment but love to try my hand at hooks. The original hook does, in my opinion, show voice and character. So my hook that I've written won't have that and will have to be written but maybe, hopefully, get you in the ballpark. This makes me nervous but here it goes.

Sybil, a normal ___ year old American discovers she's apart of another world where she's been married since she was five to Haydon, a crusader that's been haunting her dreams. Desperately wanting her old life back is instead forced into his world and must make a choice that will alter her life forever.

I still think this needs tightened but hopefully it helps in some way.

Justine Dell said...

Matt--you rock!! Your query critiquing are top notch! I can't wait to get my other on up on your blog. ;-)

As for this query, it does need some work. The other bloggers have given you some great advice. Taking some of that advice I clipped some words from your query ... and this is what I ended up with:

Sybil isn’t a fan of “Once Upon a Time” and she’s certainly not interested in a Prince Charming, a Sultan, or an entitled Istanbulite who thinks his sappy guitar ballad will melt her American heart. She’s perfectly capable on her own—when the sun is up—but at night a Crusader haunts her dreams and leaves her seeking answers her adoptive parents can’t provide.

With two weeks left in her semester abroad, she finds her tattoo links her to enigmatic gypsies who channel the djinn. Her psychic awareness skyrockets when she bumps into Haydon, a familiar stranger who would look really irresistible in chainmail. He triggers a fiery energy she has trouble controlling -- the same djinn energy a gypsy warned her to keep secret at all costs.

Sybil isn’t happy to be thrown back into the djinn world. She discovers she’s not only been married to Haydon since she was five years old, but she’s the lost Queen of Cilicia. She just wants to get back to her old, predictable life. Instead she’s sucked into a power struggle with her djinn father’s rival and faced with a choice: bigamy with a chance at regaining her humanity…or a future cut off from both worlds forever.

BURNT AMBER, a YA Fantasy, is complete at 75,000 words. The older voice and bittersweet ending will appeal to Kristin Cashore fans, and my experience living in Turkey helped me enrich the story with authentic details.

I didn't change any of your wording, but I wanted to show you how your query can be shortened and you can still leave the "omg, I need to read this!" info in. ;-)

Your original query was over 400 words. This one is one 241 (which is perfect for queries).

Good luck with it! And I love the premise of the story! And the humor ... I love humor. :o)

~JD

Matthew Rush said...

Another thing that I'm wondering about now, although several people brought it up first, is whether the Crusader haunting her dreams in the first graph IS Haydon.

I get the feeling he is, but it isn't crystal clear. I think Justine gives a great example of how to tighten it up, but even in her example I would like to see the two concepts combined, if they are, in fact, the same person.

Hilary Wagner ~ Debut Author said...

When I read this query yesterday, I thought the same thing Matt did, put your stats at the end, as in word count, etc. I would even take out the "I'm seeking representation..." just because that's a given and this will allow you a few more important words, should you need them.

Good luck, Carolyn!

Pam Torres said...

Matt,

This is an incredible useful blog that I plan on adding to my tool box! I'm just starting out with this Query stuff but I think that what has already been said is very good.
Thanks for doing this and I look forward to following regularly, even though I may lurk for awhile.:)

Cacy said...

First off, this story sounds AWESOME! I would run to the bookstore to buy this books.

But I do think the query could use some simplification. I've always liked the advice of don't try to summarize the whole book in the query, just the first 50 pages.

And I agree that the info in the first paragraph would probably work better after the summary. Good luck! It really does sound like an extremely cool story!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I agree it needs a little more work. Sentences need to be shorter and the overall synopsis could be shorter. Publishers and agents have a short attention span.

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Eek, I only have a couple of minutes before I have to run off. But fortunately I think Matt (and everyone here in the comments) has pretty much covered everything.

I personally agree with the others who feel the housekeeping stuff should go at the end. I just think that's such a boring way to start a query. But some agents prefer it so do your homework before you send.

I also think the query is too long. It looks daunting when you look at it, and that's not the reaction you want an agent to have. They're working though hundreds of queries. When they see a long one you can count on them switching to skimming, so you're not doing yourself any favors.

It's hard to tell you what to cut without knowing the specifics of your book, so I'll just say:

-cut ANYTHING that isn't SPECIFIC. Vague, lead-in sentences take up way too much space in a query, even if they're voicey. Find a way to inject your voice into sentences with concrete details. Things like her tattoo. You say it's similar to the fortune tellers. But...what does it look like? You mention premonitions-but of what? How does he trigger the fiery energy in her? Leaving those details out make the sentences feel unnecessary. But if you added a few words, or picked more specific ones, they'd pop a lot more and feel important.

-remember that you don't have to tell them everything about your plot/book. Just enough to have some idea what to expect. Without having read it I really can't tell you what to remove. But you definitely should consider trimming.

-combine things as much as you can.Like your opening hook. You have the idea that she's not exactly dreaming of finding Prince Charming. Then you introduce the idea that her dreams are haunted by something more mysterious and ominous. Personally, I see potential for creating an awesome hook by combining and contrasting the two "dreams" in one awesome sentence. I don't know your book well enough, to try to write it, and you're welcome to ignore me. But I just thought I'd throw that out there.

I'm sure there's lots more to say, but that's all I have time for at the moment. Ignore anything that doesn't sit right. Hope this helps!

Oh, and great concept. Good luck with querying.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i'm of the same school of thought as Matt in that, especially for equeries, you should jump right into the hook. If the agent loves your query, then they'll want to know more about you.
BUT, as we all know, no agent is going to reject your query based purely on whether or not you jump right in, so it's completely up to you. There's no real right or wrong answer.

I think, if you can cut this query in half, you'll see that it's already stronger. Cutting it down will force you to be more concise with what you leave in, and therefor make the query cleaner. Just focus on the character's conflict, their goal and the consequences, and build the query from there.

Good luck!

Shari said...

I think there have been some excellent suggestions here for the query. I just want Carolyn to know her book sounds REALLY interesting! Good luck!

Elana Johnson said...

Okay, I see a couple of problems with this.

1. Length (as everyone else has said). I do think you can trim it a lot. I think it’s well-written, just too long. “Aggressive amber orbs” doesn’t bother me at all, but I did end up cutting it. ☺

2. One thing I think you should try is taking your first sentence and combining it with your last. That should be your book all in two sentences. Your first is great, your last…needs some polishing. And it should be a consequence, which you do have. I just don’t like how it starts with “Instead” because I can’t pair that with the first sentence and have something I understand. You know?

So I’d cut it to something like this:

Sybil isn’t a fan of “Once Upon a Time” and she’s certainly not interested in a Prince Charming, a Sultan, or an entitled Istanbulite who thinks his sappy guitar ballad will melt her American heart. She’s perfectly capable on her own, when the sun is up, but at night a Crusader haunts her dreams and leaves her seeking answers.

Her psychic awareness skyrockets when she bumps into Haydon, a familiar stranger who looks (small wording change here) in chainmail. She discovers that he shares her clairvoyance, but he also triggers a fiery energy she has trouble controlling -- the same djinn energy the gypsy warned her to keep secret at all cost.

Sybil learns that her biological mother risked everything to help her escape the chauvinistic clutches of the djinn world, knights and all. So she isn’t happy to be thrown back into it and discover that she’s not only been married to Haydon since she was five years old, but she’s the lost Queen of Cilicia. She’s sucked into a power struggle with her djinn father’s rival and faced with a choice: bigamy with a chance at regaining her humanity…or a future cut off from both worlds forever. (199 words)

And your two sentence pitch would be:
“Sybil isn’t a fan of “Once Upon a Time” and she’s certainly not interested in a Prince Charming, a Sultan, or an entitled Istanbulite who thinks his sappy guitar ballad will melt her American heart. She’s sucked into a power struggle with her djinn father’s rival and faced with a choice: bigamy with a chance at regaining her humanity…or a future cut off from both worlds forever.”

You could query that—and you should be able to get requests from it.

Donea Lee said...

Matt - Great job! I should be so lucky...perhaps my meager query will find its way here someday? And Carolyn - you've received some absolutely, spot-on wonderful advice here - Matt, Elana, and Shannon are query-fixing powerhouses, imho! Plus - all the other wonderful advice, you'll definitely trim this into an absolute winner! Actually - reading through Elana's 199 words again, wow. I'd go with that. Best of luck to you!

Robyn Campbell said...

Matthew great thoughts on starting with the hook. That's a given. Housekeeping at the end. It reads more like a synopsis. I thought it was too long. Agents are busy. Take out as much as possible and leave only the succinct wording. No wasted words. I love what Justine did to it. She cut it almost in half.

A great query formula: When [MAIN CHARACTER] This is whatever situation starts the story.

[INCITING INCIDENT], he (tangible outer goal)[CONFLICT]. And if he doesn’t [GOAL] he will [CONSEQUENCES]. Gotta make the agent interested. But most importantly, make them care. :)

I also agree that your story sounds awesome.

Matt, you definitely rock. Your queryawesomeness, sir. :)

Robyn Campbell said...

I forgot to mention that the above formula belongs to Holly Bodger. :)

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Not sure I could add anything more of value here, especially with Elana on the case! She's brilliant with queries. But yeah, the main problem is it's length. Gets a bit rambling. Really have to tighten it up with some zoom focus. There's just too much information. Even the first sentence of the pitch rambles on a bit, giving three different options of what she's NOT interested in. I think just slimming it down to its essentials (not even sure you need all that information at the beginning--a lot of people can create authentic settings without ever having been there), while still trying to maintain that same lighthearted, comic tone (presuming it's the tone of book) will help this one out immensely.

My second bit of advice is do what Elana says.

But I do like the tone. I get a sense of the voice and that's fantastic.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Wow! Thank you all so much for the help here! I was ready to toss it and start over, but Justine, Elana and Shannon have shown me the light! You know, words are like Oreos for me...I just don't know where to stop! Well, I do admit, I KNOW where to stop, but I just don't! :(

Carolyn Abiad said...

And hey, Matt has over 500 followers!!! Congrats to that! I'll have an Oreo to celebrate :D

Laura Pauling said...

I don't think there's too much left to add. you've gotten some great advice! Def. trim. And I don't think it really mattes where you put the housekeeping stuff - I don't think it will prevent an agent from requesting if they like your concept. It's all about the writing and the premise! That saying, I just open with a tiny bit of personalization. Good luck with this.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I didn't read all the comments, but agree that it is a bit long. I think if you tighten the second and third paragraphs, it would be fine. I love the unique setting of Turkey. It's definitely unique and multicultural which should help.

I also love the adoptive parent part. As an adoptive parent I notice that there aren't many stories where the main character is adopted and not the poor orphan alone in the world. So I think you've got some really unique things here once you revise this a bit. Good luck. I hope this gets published because I'd like to read it.

Lydia K said...

I learn so much from these post. Love the QQQE. Keep 'em coming!
And thank you Carolyn for being such a good sport!

Jemi Fraser said...

I think you have a ton of great advice here. I just want to say I can't wait to read your story one day - it sounds awesome :)

Sarah said...

Everyone's given such great advice! Nice crit, Matt! I particularly liked Elana's streamlined version. It cut things like that "she only wants to get back to her ordinary life" line. Many agents have said they've seen that in query after query. Whatever you can do to steer this away from "ordinary teen finds out she's super-special and still craves returning to ordinary" would be good. Focusing on the fabulous, unique details of your story (and they ARE fascinating) will give you a much better shot at getting a busy agent's attention. Best of luck!

Deniz Bevan said...

I agree with most of the advice here though I definitely think this story sounds interesting! I had similar problems while crafting my own query; I was trying to throw a lot of the novel into it, in linear fashion, and forgetting that not everything has to be told at once. This query might be stronger with a few of the details left out, and with a a focus on only one or two storylines.
I can't wait to read this book!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

The agents and editors I've chatted with personally (ones I can call by their first names) all say keep it short. The whole goal is to get them to want to flip to the manuscript. (300-400 words max) The story sounds like something I would enjoy reading. The suggestions about the age of the mc and comparing to something on the current market are really good suggestions.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Just checking in for one last time...thanks again to all of you for helping me with this questionable query! I got plenty of great ideas and I made a date with the muse this week. :)

beth said...

I'm late to the game, but here's my two cents!

"tragic fairy tale of Byzantine landmark, KizKalesi" read strangely to me. (1) it took me a second to figure out the fairy tale is about a landmark (still seems odd wording) and (2) I have no idea what KizKalesi is. I'd suggest "a Byzantine fairy tale about [short short short description here]."

I wouldn't worry too my about where the info (reason for query, word count, etc.) is, as long as it's there.

While I agree that the "isn't a fan of Once Upon a Time" is witty, it's a little cliche, in my opinion. The problem, though, is that much of this is backstory. Do we need this much backstory? I think it may be better to introduce Sybil in a sentence, then get straight to her problem.

The next paragraph opens with "With two weeks left in her semester abroad" --personally, I feel your query could start here, completely cutting the previous paragraph of back story. (I'd also add the character's age in there.)

Other than that, I really think this is just a matter of "too much." There's much too much information here. Introduce the character (and her age), introduce the problem. You don't need to be specific about it, just look specifically to the problem and not the background.

I think of queries in two ways: an internal conflict and an external conflict. Introduce the character, then tell us what physical thing she wants and what emotional thing she wants, plus the problems she'll have in getting them. That's all I really need in a query paragraph. The rest is simply too much.

Now--all of this is said without having read any of the other comments (even Matt's) so take it with a grain of salt! Hope it helps!