Friday, July 15, 2011

RaShelle Workman's Current Query Critiqued

All right. Welcome back. Today we have RaShelle's query again, this time with my thoughts, in red.

Let just get right to it, shall we?

Dear _______

I would suggest that you use the agent's name here. They prefer if you get their name right, and spell it correctly, too.

Hah! Just kidding.

After reviewing your interests I thought you might enjoy reading CONNECTED: THE KELVIERI'S BOOTS. It's YA science fiction and complete at 80,000 words. It's also the first in a series of three.

The jury will probably always be out on the question of whether housekeeping should come first or last. I am always going to tell people who ask for my advice that I think it should come at the end. Get right to the story; the story is really the only thing that matters in the end.

However, if you are truly submitting to an agent who makes it clear they want the housekeeping up front, then you're going to need more than this. "After reviewing your interests I thought you might enjoy" does not personalization make. If you're going to go that route you need to tell which books on their list made you come to this conclusion, and why. Personally I avoid those kind of comparisons, because they can be tricky, but if you're going to go there make sure you do it right.

Also, see this post, by Nathan Bransford, about how and when to mention series potential in a query.

Venus is from the planet Kelari. She's been training her whole life to one day be Queen of her land. On her sixteenth birthday, she receives her own pair of Kelvieri's Boots, a first step toward leadership and immortality. With these boots she'll need to take a journey to the Manshum Mountains, the home of her world's deities. There, the deities will complete her transformation and someday, when her parents concede the throne, she'll rule. It's a perfect plan and Venus expects her life to go accordingly.

Okay. Before I get to the advice, I want to say that this sounds really cool. You especially have a talent for coming up with great names. I'm terrible at it, so it always impresses me.

You've also got some things missing in this opening, though. Anytime a book is YA I'm going to tell the query writer to give us the protagonist's age. It's important because although YA may seem all encompassing, it really isn't. There's upper YA, lower YA, and several other things around, behind, and in-between. The other reason is that giving the age of a young character is a huge window to give us a look into who they are.

I would also like to hear a bit more about Venus' personality before we get to what's happening to her. Is she petulant? Wise beyond her years? Dumpy and nerdy, but with a heart of gold? It doesn't take much.

You get into the plot a little too quickly here, but once you do it gets good. There are fun things going on here, high stakes, exotic places. All that makes me interested in the story, but I soon get confused. Do these boots have power, or are they just symbolic? Why is immortality part of the bargain (not that it doesn't sound cool)? What exactly will the deities do, and what will she transform into?

Problem is, nothing ever goes as planned.

This is a cliché. It kind of works here, and you can get away with stuff like this because of YA voice sometimes, but I think you need to play with it some more if you're going to go this route. Maybe you could say "the best laid plans of Kelarian Princesses and their deities" ... I don't know. It's up to you.

Venus wakes wakes from what? on Earth, her Formytian here you go with the awesome names again (personal guard) with her and learns she's been accused of blasphemous crimes against their deities and for killing one of their planet’s sacred animals.

Whoa. What? This kind of comes out of the blue. How did she get to earth? What animal did she kill, and when did it happen? There's not necessarily anything wrong with this plot point, but you need to be specific and make it make sense so that the reader doesn't become lost.

And, while the deities didn't send her to Earth, They’ve did you capitalize this on purpose? like Him for God? That's kind of cool commanded her to complete a mission before They’ll listen to her side.

The mission: Help a human find his true love.

So they accused her of blasphemous crimes, but weren't the ones who banished her, and yet once they found out she was down there on earth, they hooked her up with a mission? If the point is to advance the plot until the mission, why is the animal killing and blasphemy and all that necessary? You might want to just start with the mission.

Easy, right?

Probably not.

That’s what Venus thinks until she meets him. Ethan. The kid’s a total ass who’s been kicked by love his whole life.

I get what you mean, but I'm not sure this is the best way to say this. Kicked around by love? Kicked when he's down by love?

With only one week until she dies from Earth’s atmosphere, she’s in the race of her life.

So she has a week to find someone to make out with Ethan? Does it end up being her? Either way I find this interesting.

But as princess, she must remember her motto:


Is this a family motto, or something she made up? I think you should change it to LEADERSHIP. LOYALTY. LOVE. Because as it is you've got a verb that could also be a noun (as in the dense metal, lead), a noun, and then a noun that is also a verb. I think it looks better if you just have three nouns, because then the first two make it clear you mean love as a noun, not a verb. Unless you don't, and that would be kind of hot. The love, not the lead.

I self-published a novel in 2009 entitled SLEEPING ROSES. Unless you sold at least 5000 copies, don't mention this. In 2010, I signed a contract with Canonbridge, LLC for an adult paranormal novel, DISTORTED. That contract has since been withdrawn. It was of mutual consent as the owner is struggling with many personal problems, and I wish her the best. Was this a contract negotiated by a literary agent with a traditional publishing house? If not I would skip this too. It doesn't add anything to your ability to tell this story, and this story is the only one that matters in this query.

Thank you for taking the time to read my first chapter and I look forward to hearing from you.

You've clearly got a very fun story on your hands here, RaShelle, and I think with a little work you get really get this query to shine. You've got a great sense of fun language, and there is good voice in places, but I think you need to avoid broad, sweeping statements, and get specific.

So there you have it. What do you guys think? Anything to add? Am I trippin?


LTM said...

I'm not kidding when I say Matt steals all my lines...
-yes, more personalization--but I'm sure that's just filler for the sake of the Q3E! ;o)
-yes, need a little better sense of Venus's personality or voice--just a touch~
-yes, are the boots magic or what? (I'm only asking b/c they're in the title.)
-definitely agree--use specifics at that Earth-killing animal part. Was it an accident?
-AGREE w/Matt's "why the mission" comment entirely
-Parallel structure is always stronger... (Leadership v. Lead)
-YES! this sounds like a super-fun story!!!

(One picky note: lc "queen" in the second 'graph~)

I think this sounds amazing, and with Matt's notes, it's gonna be great. GOOD LUCK!!! xoxo ((hugs))

Old Kitty said...

Yay for Matt!!! May I just please also add to read Bish Denham's query? That's the way to do it for me. Seriously. He went for the jugular in such a way that there was little spillage and hardly any blood. Just neat, tidy, straightforward kill. Why am I suddenly so bloodthirsty? Nevermind! It must be cos it;s Friday! I love the premise to Connected and any story that connects shoes and dieties are a-ok with me! Yay!

Good luck, gorgeous RaShelle! take care x

Choms1337 said...

huge post and very nice :) good job ;)

Suzie F. said...

Hi RaShelle!

You've got a great story premise but I got confused several places. Matt pointed these out so I won't repeat them.

I'd like to focus on the 2nd half of your query if you don't mind.

I like the line- The mission: Help a human find his true love. [It's strong, clear, precise]

You may disagree with me but I'd cut the following lines:
Easy, right?
That's what Venus thinks...
But as a princess...
[I like the motto but it sounds tacked on. Perhaps you could use it near the beginning?]

How about ending it with what's at stake? So you're stating the mission and then getting right to what she stands to gain or lose. This is where you could mention Ethan, too. Something like...

Venus has one week to help a [descriptive word] boy named Ethan find love; one week to succeed or die from Earth's atmosphere. [you may want to mention the dangerous atmosphere before this point so it doesn't sound thrown in]

This is just my opinion. I'm certainly no expert. Good luck, RaShelle and thanks for posting your query. I learn so much from these critiques!

Natalie Aguirre said...

RaShelle, this sounds like a great story. I agree with Matt's comments. I'd love to hear more about the magic boots, especially if they help her at all on Earth. Good luck.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I agree with Matthew about sticking to the mission - leave out details that don't affect the rest of the story summary.

And unless the self-published book was wildly successful, don't mention it, as it can actually work against you. I'd still mention the contract for the other book, just fit it into one sentence instead.

Bish Denham said...

I like this story idea.I wish I had something sage to add.

I wondered, if Earth's atmosphere is poisonous to her why it would take a week to kill her?

I also agree with Matt that your last paragraph about credits doesn't seem all that helpful. Let your writing do the talking.

AND this seems like a humorous story. If it is, work it.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this story already. Sounds like a winner. I wish you the very best of success in getting it out there.

As for the query itself, I think Matt pretty well nailed it. I am of the school "story first" so I would probably leave your intro for the last. And as for the intro itself, I see where you started with some personalization. Always a great idea.

Suggestion. To me, "after reviewing your interests" doesn't get personal enough. It reads, again to me and just my humble opinion, as a generic disclaimer that could be tacked onto any query.

How bout "I see you also enjoy Renaissance turtle races" or "anyone who likes neopolitan ice cream gets my vote as someone I would enjoy working alongside."

This is where Twitter can be an excellent tool. Amazing the tidbits you can pick up there.

Making sense? Probably not.
At any rate, RaShelle, I wish you the best. I want to see this book in print!!!

Michael G-G said...

I like the voice in this query very much.

Matt pretty much nails things, but I would like to admit I got a bit lost in the para "Venus wakes..." The first time I read it I thought that she had been accused of blaspheming one of the Formythian's deities, but then I got to wondering if it was really one of Earth's deities. I think confusion could be cleared up by being specific (e.g. "one of Earth's two-headed thunder gods and the god's pet sloth.")

Having said all that, I really like your writing, your sense of humor, and your imagination. Best of luck getting this query in shape, and this book on the shelves!

Christina Lee said...

As usual Matt, you're spot on. I think this is a killer concept with the boots -very unique.

But I think the whole "help him find true love" thing is kind of cliche sounding and over-done(and makes me feel like I know where it will end up).

I'm not saying to change your story just he way you introduce that part of it. Maybe you can say that he needs to find his match or life mate or make up a cool word for it like you make up the cool names.

But anyway just ignore me if you want, it might be ME who has the problem not the line in the query-ha! Good luck!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Like everyone, I think there are a lot of great elements here. But, while I haven't seen the story, this seems more like the backstory than the story itself. The story seems to be the mission with the boy, but we get that only at the end, and not much of it. I know a lot about why this story is taking place, but I still don't really know what happens in it.

I could be wrong here, and the mission may only come at the end. But, as of now, it seems to be weighted too much to backstory.

Hope this helps! If not, chuck it off the bridge.

Michael Offutt said...

The query is too big as it stands so either way, you need to lose some weight in words here. Matt has great suggestions...I'd axe all the publishing credits you have at the end.

Plus, I think that there's a lot of unnecessary information here. Magic boots doesn't seem important. The name Manshum Mountains is not important...the only thing that is important is a visit with the gods. So you should just say, "Venus sets out on a journey to see her gods but instead wakes up on earth." Crimes isn't important but the mission is. Remove the rhetorical question "Easy, right?" because ppl hate rhetorical questions in queries. The stuff on Ethan is important, so is the stuff on her impending death due to the raises the stakes. I think the motto is unimportant.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i've recently changed my mind on the housekeeping bit. Since i've started querying, i've added a sentence at the beginning, before i jump into the query - kind of a "dear so and so, i'm querying you because of your great taste in whatever and feel you may be a good fit for my Genre and Title", which is straight from Nathan Bransford's mouth. Then i jump into the story. Then at the end i have a paragpraph with all the deets and book comparisons (if i can think of any good ones) and my bio.

Otherwise, i agree with Matt. I'd like a bit more about the MCs personality, and also a little more clarity with the plot.

Good luck!

RaShelle said...

Holy cret (a kelarian swear word - LOL), you all are so awesome!!!

Thank you! Thank you! for the help, Matt.

And thanks to all of you.

I'll get crackin on the rewrites and be sure to use all of your comments as a guide.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I really like the idea of this story, it sounds fantastic! The only thing I would be careful of is too much background information. The story starts when she wakes up on earth but you have about 100 words before that. This is totally an opinion thing, but I'd personally be more grabbed by a query that opens with an 'alien' princess waking up on earth. You mention the boots, and they're also in the title, but there's no hint as to what role they actually play.
It does sound like an awesome story though, and I agree with Matt: great names!

Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds like an awesome story! You've got lots of great advice - I don't have anthing to add, sorry! Good luck with it :)

cherie said...

After Matt's awesome crits, I don't have anything to add. Goodluck with your revisions, RaShelle!

Matt, you have an eye for query critiquing. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Agree the word should be leadership. I want to read it, RaShelle!

Lydia K said...

Great critique and it's a really imaginative story. Thanks to you both!

maine character said...

What cherie said.

RaShelle said...

Here's a second try at it.

Dear _______

Sent unconscious to Earth by traitors, sixteen-year-old Venus is commanded by her world’s deities to help a human find his everval (soul mate). She has no idea how in the helker to accomplish such a task, but her Formytian (personal guard), Zarus has promised to help as has Andy, an irritating kelvieri (immortal) whose been on Earth for ten years.

All sorts of difficulties stand in her way.

Earth’s atmosphere is poisonous to her species before their metamorphous into a kelvieri. Her kind may look human, but there are differences, which gives her one week to help Ethan find his true love. Or she’ll die.

Venus just received her own pair of Kelvieri’s Boots, the gift that guides her on her journey toward immortality. After seven days, the boots won’t work. Unacceptable, by helker.

A government group, the Alien Life Tracker unit, is hunting her down for murders she didn’t commit.

Ethan isn’t cooperative. Duh, as if she could force the human to fall in love.

Worst of all, on Earth, she has all of these feelings. Kelari (her planet) doesn’t require such foolishness. Here, she can’t control what’s happening within her.

No, she doesn’t love Ethan. If anything, she has strong emotions for Zarus, her gorgeous Formytian.

Does she kiss Ethan? Um, yes. But still . . . she’s a princess for cret’s sake. Ethan will fall in love so that she’ll be allowed to return to Kelari and punish those who framed her.

CONNECTED: THE KELVIERI’S BOOTS is a YA science fiction and complete at 80,000 words.

I’m a member of two different critique groups and an online group of writers called Author’s Incognito. I also participate in a writer’s blog called CHOOSEORDIE.

Sarah said...

Your story sounds very interesting, and I'm going to comment on this newest version I see in the comments: Delete that comma before "Zarus". Add a comma after "help". In the last sentence of the first para, it's "who's" instead of "whose". I'm sure you probably whipped this up in a hurry, but be very careful about these little errors, because they add up quickly. You've also introduced three named characters in this first paragraph--one of whom you never mention again (so I'd delete him altogether).

In comparison with the first query, I like the voice in this, but I'm already distracted by all the parenthetical translations. There are three in this first para and it's tripping me up rather than helping me read quickly and smoothly--and that's what you want an agent to be able to do.

The "all sorts of" line is pretty redundant with the very next para--it's telling instead of showing. Trust yourself--the Earth's atmosphere being poisonous is a pretty obvious problem!

In this paragraph, you talk about Ethan by name without telling us he's the human in question, and that could be confusing with all the other characters you've already named. The "unacceptable, by helker" line also tripped me up. It doesn't have enough context to be instantly understood as a colloquialism in another language. I'd cut that line or change it.

At this point, the query starts to feel rather disjointed to me. With all these disconnected one-sentence paragraphs, I don't know where the story's going or exactly what the plot is. I think you may want to focus on what she's going to do to get started achieving the goal and overcoming her problem.

And finally, I'm not sure I understand the final "does she kiss Ethan" paragraph.

I really think you've made progress on the voice of the query--and that was my primary concern about the original, so that's important! My problem is that I got more sense of plot from your original query, and this one feels like several interesting tidbits kind of sprinkled together rather than a coherent and tight query. In addition, I'd use one or two of your alien words here, but not so many. Give them a tiny taste, and that's it.

I know this is so hard, RaShelle. Keep at it and give it another try! You'll get there, and it's going to be great!

Sarah Pearson said...

I wanted to come up with something really helpful because I love this idea and want to see it on the bookshelf. However, as usual I'm late and all the good stuff got taken :)

So I'll just say best of luck instead.

Robyn Campbell said...

RaShelle, I am going to type in my thoughts and then read MacNish's genius. He always has great advice.

It seems to me that you need more white space. Agents love white space. It means their eyes won't get tired from reading your sparkling query. *wink*

As to content of your query I believe in personalization. But yours seems insincere. Not that you meant it like that. It just comes off that way. How about this: I am a fan of your work with Jack Spratt(just loved His Wife in HE COULD EAT NO LEAN). I believe my work might be a good fit for your list.

That shows the agent you have really done your homework. You have read all of Jack's books and even have a favorite one. Plus, you are a fan of the agent's work.

Housekeeping at the end unless the agent specifically mentions he wants it at the beginning.(Okay I peeked at MacNish's red and I believe you did tell the protag's age.) Sixteen right?

I think your fourth paragraph needs some tightening. What did Venus wake from? Was she in a deep sleep? Or what? She's been accused of killing the sacred animal? What kind of animal? I am kinda lost here.

I'm with MacNish(Okay, I peeked again.) They've being capitalized makes me wonder. That is good for you. If I'm an agent and wondering, it means you have sparked my interest. I think you tell about things that you don't have to and are leaving some important plot out of your query that you need to put in.

Never tell about the self-publishing thing. Tell the agent later. Also, leave out the part about the contract being withdrawn. It just doesn't need to be there, in my humble opinion.

I think your book sounds awesome! And I feel your voice though I think it could be felt even stronger.

Okay, I read his thoughts. Spot on, as usual. That MacNish doesn't miss much. I agree you have a way with names. Awesomely cool.

RaShelle said...

Thanks you guys. You've been so helpful! =D

RaShelle said...

K, I've got in on being more personal. Awesome!!

Here's another go:

Dear _____

Ethan is a troubled teen who’s more than human.

Sixteen-year-old princess Venus cares about one thing—becoming a kelvieri (immortal).

The two of them need each other, but they don’t know that.

The deities on her planet do.

They know about the prophecy foretelling of a mortal created to save Their planet and that Ethan is that mortal. He must discover his everval because the path that leads to his true love will help him become the man he’s meant to be. They know about The Order of Eternal Fire, an alien group that plans to create a new race.

And, They know that Venus is the key, albeit a stubborn and slightly OCD key.

When traitors send Venus to Earth, knowing the atmosphere is poisonous to those who haven’t become kelvieri, the deities use her betrayal as a means to an end. They command Venus to help Ethan find his everval, fully aware that she only has one week, or They won’t be able to bestow immortality upon her. Instead, she’ll die.

But, the fate of both worlds rest with Venus and Ethan, the girl born to lead and the boy born to love her.

CONNECTED is a YA science fiction told in third person from several different character’s point of view. It’s complete at 80,000 words.

Theresa Milstein said...

I think you can get rid of "of her land" after "queen". We figure there's a specific domain and it's not queen of the world.

She does say her 16th birthday, so we know her age, right?

I think this sounds really interesting. Good luck, RaShelle!

Donna Hole said...

Awesome critique Matt.

Rachelle, the novel sounds interesting, active, and well plotted. Good luck with it.


Arlee Bird said...

Matthew, I thinking that your every analysis gets better and more perceptive. You've made some great points here. RaShelle made a wise choice in filtering this through your experienced eyes and mind.

Tossing It Out

Pk Hrezo said...

Excellent advice, Matthew! Really and truly spot on.

RaShelle, this sounds like such a great story! I'd totally dig it. I think by tweaking to Matt's suggestions your query will shine like a star. Very unique!

Damyanti said...

This is great analysis, both in the post and in some of the comments. Thanks for helping me learn---I'm far from the query stage, but I'm taking notes :)