Friday, November 4, 2011

Sheri Larsen's Current Query Critiqued

All right. Let's do work.

Today is Sheri's query again. I love saying that. Anyway, this time I'm critiquing it, and my thoughts will be in red.

Let's get right to it:

High school is a mishmash of viable energy, I don't understand what this means. Viable energy? Why is it viable? For what purpose and for whom? and if sixteen-year-old ANA TATE I love the spelling of Ana, but you don't have to capitalize character names in a query letter. senses the wrong kind she could lose her mind.

Okay, so I have to say that on the one hand (assuming you mean what I think you mean here) I really love this opening hook and premise. The problem is: I can't be sure that it means what I think it means. After reading on I see that you explain it better in a moment, but you can't leave your opening hook (which is the most important part) vague and ambiguous like this.

Being tomboyish and emotionally I would cut emotionally. I'm not sure it's needed, because being jaded is pretty much always a combo of thoughts and emotions. jaded, that being said, I LOVE the characterization "jaded" gives us. with a secret I think you can cut secret too, it becomes obvious when you describe the power. ability to sense the energy and emotions of others, makes Ana not the best at blending in. Do you see why I added "being" to the front? After a recent encounter with a sinister energy is the energy sentient, or just sinister because of the person it came from? that caused her to panic and pull the fire alarm, damaging the school’s gym floor, she’s shipped off to attend a class for troubled teens at a new prep school. Troubled teens? Reform/prep school? Yes, please. Here, she meets Victor—I would suggest not using em-dashes in query letters. If you can make it work, you're better with HTML than I am. the gorgeous yet irritating campus recluse, you're really good at these one or two word characterization phrases. who stirs her ability like she’s never felt before. Unbeknownst to her, she rouses a curse that hungers for her sanity. Sentient energy, hungry curses. I basically love the rules of the world you're building for us here, but I think you need to explain it better. How does this stuff work? Why would it hunger for her, sanity. Her powers?

Viktor is a Lycan poisoned by psychic Vampire blood. Holy amazeballs. This is getting good. Also: more specific. He’s cursed to feed his sire the sanity of mortals, until one can resist him. And now, his sire wants Ana's sanity. So it's not the curse, but a character. Or is the character the curse? But, Viktor has his own inner demons he's battling and doesn't want to harm her. That doesn't sound like a demon to me. Not even an inner one. That sounds like compassion (or attraction). When he double-crosses his sire, causing more trouble than good, I would cut this, because if Ana ends up surviving all of this, that's actually more good than trouble, in the long run. Ana must accept her abilities and challenge the curse to free Viktor and herself. Only, her quest unearths a family secret and deeper connection to Viktor she didn’t see coming. One that calls for a high payment, found hidden…in the last beat of her heart.

Hmm. So this last "meat of the story" paragraph is really good. High stakes, specific conflict, tough choices. Some minor tweaks could be made, but basically if you made the whole query more like this paragraph, you'd be in great shape.

MARKED BEAUTY, a paranormal romance for young adults complete at 85,000 words, travels beyond the paranormal elements and into the inner struggle of a feisty female lead I might change this to "protagonist." A lead is an actor in a film or play. Not a huge deal though. who finds herself in the midst of a world she never knew she was a part of.

Other than potentially changing that one word, this is a good summary.

I am a published freelance and short story writer. My work can be found in local Maine newspapers--the Town Line Publication, The Two Cent Times, Highlands, and Capital Weekly--and also in Pill Hill Press. I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and a moderator for—I would cut all these dashes. First of all, you're using double hyphens in some places, and em-dashes in others. Keep it consistent, or even better, cut them all. Commas would work fine here (or a colon for this last one). an online writing community.

Other than the punctuation, great bio.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Okay. So to summarize, I think this query is in decent shape already. It's obvious you've got a unique premise, one that is full of interesting creatures, characters, and powers.

Your query gets better and better as it goes on. Your one big problem is that your hook does not make sense right off the bat, and I think if you could fix that, you'd be off to an excellent start.

I'll give it a try:

Ana Tate is a sixteen-year-old jaded tomboy, but her problems run much deeper than normal high school drama. She can sense the energy and intent of those around her, and if she senses the wrong kind she could lose her mind.

I know, pretty lame, but I think you get the idea. Be more specific, give more information, and don't worry if your "one sentence hook" has to actually be two.

That's it.

What do you guys think? Surely one of you can give a better example of a good opening line for this query, right?


Jessica Bell said...

This is all wonderful feedback, but I have to say, even with the query in its original form, I think will certainly spark interest!!! One nit-pick. I find the word "Unbeknownst" a little old-fashioned. Can't wait to watch your success, Sheri!!!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great query Sheri. I do agree with Matt's suggestions especially for tightening up the first paragraph.

You do a good job of setting up who the main characters are, the paranormal ability, and the conflict in a few words. That's hard to do. Good job.

salarsenッ said...

Oh, thanks Jess! You rock!

I want to thank everyone who stops by today to give me feedback. I really appreciate it!! I'd like to spice up the blurb a bit, even shorten it, to really catch an agents attention. I'll be out of town all day with no access to my laptop. Boo... But I will respond to all comments when I return.

Thank you so much and have a fabulous weekend!!<3 And thanks, Matt, for having me!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, you both did a great job. And I agree with Matt on the one or two word characterizations. You do an awesome job with those, Sheri.

Good job!

Bryan Russell said...

Yeah, I think this is really interesting, but I think clarifying some of the phrases would really help. Matt nailed a lot of them. Another is "psychic vampire blood". This doesn't quite make sense. I'm guessing this is either the blood of a psychic vampire, or a vampire's blood that provides psychic abilities. However, at the moment, it indicates that the blood itself is psychic. That is, a bunch of helper T cells that can read your mind or predict the future. Which is weird, and probably not intended. Though, you know, kind of cool.

The other thing is the whole feeding on sanity theme, desiring her sanity, etc. I think this all needs to be tweaked and rephrased a little, as well. Sanity is a state: something is either sane or insane. It's basically a descriptive term that describes something else, ie. the thoughts of a particular person. It's a categorization. This means, however, that it can't really be desired by someone else as if it is an object. I want her sanity. I want her dog. For some malicious reason, a person might want to strip her sanity away. That is, change the state of her thoughts. But it's not really something that you can take from someone else to keep for yourself. It's merely a description of their state of being, not something concrete in and of itself.

So, for me, I think the drama of this story will really pop more if I don't trip over these descriptions of the fantastical elements. I think then they'll highlight the conflicts, rather than distract from them.

Best of luck! I can totally see a market for this book. It's definitely got something.

Slamdunk said...

When I read this yesterday, I thought it was good (just a couple of little things that jumped out at me). Glad you all carved the letter up and offered positive feedback.

Nicely done.

Old Kitty said...

I really like the Victor and Ana relationship going on here - lots of potential for explosive action and quirky romance!!

Good luck Sheri Larsen! Take care

Mel Fowler said...

What great query help. I'll be honest querying is scary for me because I haven't quite gotten to that point yet.

Isis Rushdan said...

Strong query, but Matt's suggestions are spot on for making it better. Please lose "mishmash of viable energy".

How about opening with something more clear cut like Matt recommended:

As a jaded tomboy with the ability to sense the energy and emotions of others, sixteen-year-old Ana isn't the best at blending in at high school.

I'm sure you could make that better, but it's just an idea.

Good luck with your query.

Talli Roland said...

I really like this query when I read it yesterday, too -- and the concept is great! I did feel the opening could be a bit more concrete, too, and perhaps there is a bit too much detail throughout. Take out some of the specifics in the middle and tighten it up, and it will rock it!

Kristen said...

Nitpicky one: I wouldn't start a sentence with "Only," like that (in the 3rd paragraph). I think it doesn't match the rest of your writing style.

I am also a little confused about the curse and what it is or who it is part of. And what, exactly, it has to do with Viktor.

You spell Viktor two different ways, also. Once with a c (Here, she meets...) but the rest of the time with a k.

Jess said...

Very useful feedback (as usual) for a really interesting query! Matt, I especially like your use of a phrase that has, sadly, been neglected by critiquing bloggers: Holy amazeballs :)

Christina Lee said...

Oops, posted on the wrong day! Re-posting here!

I just want to start off by saying that since I've had the honor of reading some of this book, this query doesn't do Sheri's AMAZING (seriously, amazing) writing justice.

I want her query to kick some serious butt because I just KNOW she is going to get snatched up quick!

So hmmmm, now for that beginning. How about something like:

Sixteen-year-old Ana Tate's got a lot more to worry about then whether she'll make the hockey team all-stars or where her mother disappeared to ten years ago.

She's an empath who can sense the energy and intent of those around her in an amazing array of colors.

And if she senses more shadows than rainbows, she's certain to lose her mind. Or her life. Whichever comes first.

Just my two cents! GOOD LUCK, SHERI!! XXXX

Matthew MacNish said...

@ Christina - SEE? THIS is how specificity can really rock a query.

Thanks so much!

Helene said...

First off, I think this sounds fascinating.

I also think that both Matthew's comments and Cristina's suggestions are spot-on.

In particular...the original threw me a bit. I was sucked in at the beginning to this idea of a girl who can see emotional energy.

I didn't care that she was a tomboy. And I'm not sure what emotionally-jaded really is.

When you started talking about Viktor, I actually went back to make sure I was still reading the same query. Suddenly, the whole thing was turned upside down.

What I love most about Christina's suggestions is that her version really narrows the focus down to Ana so I end up with a clearer idea of what the story is really about.

Michael Offutt said...

Mr. MacNish nailed all the points I wanted to say. Query writing sure is hard.

Shannon said...

Wow, Sheri, I love the premise. And Matt's right - your character descriptors are excellent.

Matt your query reviews are simply awesome. I can't think of anything else to add.

Best of luck, Sheri!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Yeah, the last paragraph is the real grabber!

Rusty Webb said...

I will not try to rephrase that hook, but I think you made an already pretty good query better.

Anonymous said...

Victor/Viktor - spelled both ways in the query.

Opening hook? Nothing comes to mind right away. If I think of something, I'll be back.

Theresa Milstein said...

Sixteen-year-old Ana Tate navigates high school with more ... than a typical teen because....

or... (much better, I think)

For sixteen-hear-old Ana Tate, roaming her high school halls is like creeping on a minefield - one wrong source of human energy and she can lose her mind instead a limb.

Christine Danek said...

I have nothing to add. Matt did a fine job. Sheri this sounds like an awesome book. I can't wait to see it published. I know it will get there. :) Good luck!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Like Matt, I had trouble with the opening hook. Viable energy? What's that? Sense the wrong kind? What does that mean? It seems very vague to me, and if I were an agent, I'm not sure I'd read on.

Which is a shame, because it's all explained below! But since it IS explained below, why use it as a hook?

My favorite line is the one that mentions the resolution is hidden in the last beat of her heart. Now THAT is a hook!

Am I mis-remembering, or is there a time you used those words as part of your opening hook in an older query? If you possibly can, I'd urge you to get those words -- the last beat of her heart -- into your opening paragraph, if not your opening sentence.

I dare any agent not to read further after teased with that line!

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

as usual, i agree with matt. He's pretty spot on. I actually really liked Matt's hook, because it cleared up a lot of confusion i had at the beginning of the query.
Good luck!

Lydia Kang said...

Great job Matt. I liked the suggestions for the opening hook. The original is a wee bit fuzzy to me. The premise sounds like fun, though!

Wine and Words said...

"Holy amazeballs?" I think I've just found my new favorite phrase next to "Holy Frankenfuck".

As always, I feel you are a sincere and beneficial help to these writers and their query letters!

Heaven. said...

I love Christina's ideas!

maine character said...

I got nothing to add, but great job by all, from the query to Matt to comments.

Michael G-G said...

Hey, I could have sworn I posted a commentyesterday, but I guess I was just marshalling what passes for my thoughts.

Christina Lee, can you write my query for me?!

Man, Christina nailed it--I'm so into the trying to make the hockey team, rather than "viable energy." This is definitely a query that gets better as it goes along, and the story at the center of MARKED BEAUTY sounds thrilling.

For my money, the best line was "gorgeous yet irritating campus recluse."

Sheri, I hope all our comments will be helpful--thanks for being brave enough to submit to the QQQE hordes, and I can't wait to see MARKED BEAUTY on the shelves in the near future.

salarsenッ said...

I want to start by thanking everyone for all their amazing suggestions. I love how fresh eyes can see through the fog of words that I've been staring at for far too long. For more specific comments:

Helen - I really appreciated your comment about being a bit lost once I mentioned Viktor. Inserting him into the query was suggested to me because the manuscript is written in two POVs. I'm definitely rethinking that now.

Christina - Aw...I am truly humbled. Thank you for your encouraging comment about my writing as well as your amazing 'fix' of my query. I LOVE your suggestion!

Michael G-G - I can't wait either, *winks*, and I won't forget such kind and amazing comments and help.

And lastly Matt - thank you for having me on the QQQE! This has been a fabulous experience!

alexia said...

Very thorough crit, I don't have much else to add. I did kind of wonder about the genre. The plot seems to revolve around inner struggles and keeping Viktor's sire from stealing her sanity, so while there's romance, it doesn't seem the main plot line. Very intriguing premise! Good luck!

Kristen Pelfrey said...

Hi Sheri!
Matthew and Christina and Isis made great points--I think if you follow their line of thinking you will in great shape.
Your premise has lots of intriguing layers and I look forward to reading it!
Thank you for allowing us a glimpse into your process!

LTM said...

As always, awesome crits and right on. I especially liked your ending one-line hook example. That was right on, and for the first time I felt like, "Yes. This is what Sheri's story's about."

Sometimes you just need those fresh eyes to sum up. :o)