Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Alexia Chamberlynn's Current Query Critiqued

First, a really quick announcement: be sure to visit the A to Z challenge website today, as there is something fun going on over there.

Now, let's get back to Alexia and her awesome query. As usual, my feedback will be in red.

Here goes:

Before we get started, I just want to point out that this query is already very good. It's full of voice, and very funny, which I'm sure matches the novel, but I'm going to try to nit-pick it, because that's the point of this whole thing, to try to make these letters as strong as they can be.

Also, Alexia knows to address her letter to an agent, and to spell their name correctly, she just realizes the part that matters is the meat of the query: the story.

Zyan Star is completely content with her undead existence as a witch/vampire bartender and bounty hunter. When you’re eternally damned, there’s nothing to lose, right?

I like this hook. It gives a decent sense of character, because we can feel this kind of apathy from Zy regarding her job, but I think the one thing you can be a little clearer about is exactly what kind of undead person she is. The combination of "undead existence" and "vampire" make it pretty clear she is a vampire, but the "witch," "bartender," and "bounty hunter" could be a bit clearer. The way it reads now, it almost sounds like she might be a bartender for, and a bounty hunter of, witches and vampires. I think you should try to clarify it a bit. Is she a vampire who serves drinks to witches, or is she a vampire and a witch, who serves drinks to others of her kind? It's pretty clear to me it's the latter, but some might read it as the former.

Also, because you don't make it clear in the rest of the query. I would love to know what kinds of bounties she hunts. Are there common criminals in this world, or is she normally hired to chase more high-profile targets? In this next paragraph, she becomes a bodyguard, so I'd love to know who she hunted before that, and who served the drinks while she was gone.

So when angelic(-)warrior I think this should be hyphenated, but it's kind of just a style choice, so it's up to you. Eli offers her a job protecting Earth’s Holy Representative from a vamp assassin, Zy turns him down faster than you can say cherub. LOVE this. Even if he is a tasty morsel of pure deliciousness that her best friends, a give us another word here, for characterization witch and a gay werewolf, think she’s crazy to ignore. LOVE this even more. But when she finds out the vamp hired to assassinate the HR I love this too, because it almost sounds like a Human Resources rep, but we know what you mean because you spelled it out earlier. Very funny. is the very same undead dirtbag who drained her blood, broke her heart, and left her to contemplate how much of a dumbass she is should this be was? I'm going to defer to my readers who are better grammar/tense experts than I, but I think it might need to be was. for all eternity – well, that changes things.

Except for the tiny things I mentioned, this is such a great paragraph. It's so funny, so full of voice and style, and really shows your chops as someone who can have fun with storytelling. But what really makes it great is that you get a sense of conflict, stakes, and a tough choice across on top of all that small picture stuff. Well done.

Fueled by revenge, Zy will stop at nothing to prevent her ex from accomplishing his mission. But as she moves deeper into the web of intrigue surrounding the HR, she realizes there’s a lot more at stake than her plot for revenge. Like the free will of mankind and preventing the minions of hell from taking over the sovereign dimensions. I'm not sure you even need this last sentence. The one before it was a great summary of the heightened stakes, and this last bit of world building muddies it up a bit, and I don't think we need it.

Except for the last sentence I mentioned, the rest of this paragraph is great. It raises the stakes a bit more, and summarizes the choices Zy is going to have to make quite well.

NOIR is an 80,000 word urban fantasy. I appreciate your time and consideration.

All in all this is a great query. You've got a few writing mechanics things to fix, but other than a better sense of Zy's character in the hook, and dropping a couple unnecessary things, I don't think you need to make any drastic changes.

So that's it.

What do you guys think? Do you need more world building, or do you think that's even needed with urban fantasy? What would you change about Alexia's hook? Or do you disagree with me, and think it was perfectly clear?

37 comments:

Richard said...

She does not need a hyphen between angelic warrior. If she said she was an angel warrior, then yes, a hyphen is needed--angel-warrior--but the way it stands, angelic modifies warrior.

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks, Richard! You're right. I must have been reading too fast. I'm not going to edit the post, because then your comment won't make sense.

Tonja said...

I've read in other query-critiquing sites that rhetorical questions are never a good idea. (Hopefully I hyphenated correctly.)

Sarah said...

Oh, wow. I'd read this in a heatbeat. I agree there needs to be clarification about whether she's a bartender who serves witches and vampires, a witch who serves drinks to vampires, or a combo witch-vampire who serves drinks to all comers. Apart from that, seriously. This has me hooked.

Natalie Aguirre said...

This is a great query and great suggestions Matt. I've heard like Tonja not to ask a rhetorical question.

And I didn't mind the last sentence of the hook at the end. I wanted to know a bit more about the stakes.

Jess said...

Love the sound of this, and Matt gave you some nice suggestions on an already-engaging query!

Suzie F. said...

Excellent query, Alexia! This is a great example of how to infuse voice into a query.

Great job, Matt, with your critique. It's hard critiquing a near perfect query, but you always find a way to make it stronger. I agree that the last phrase, for it really isn't a sentence, should be cut, or at least added to the previous sentence.

Thanks for sharing your query with us, Alexia. Good luck!

alexia said...

Great stuff, Matt! I totally agree, especially about the hook. I see how it could be read different ways. I am excited about everyone else's feedback too. Thanks so much, Matt! And thanks in advance to everyone stopping by today.

Cherie Reich said...

I agree there can be a little more clarification in the hook about her job and such, but otherwise, it's a great query full of voice. I'd read it.

RachelMaryBean said...

Wow, I would totally read this. 9I was a bit confused with the opening line, too, though.) Other than that the voice is great! I've read so much about showing voice in a query and this is a great example. Thanks for sharing!

DL Hammons said...

I like how your tweaks still allow the voice to shine through while offering suggestions for improvement. Very nicely done. :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

As usual, i agree with everything Matt said. The query is very strong, just needs a few final tweaks before it's ready to go out into the world.

Michael G-G said...

Man, Matt! (Blogger wouldn't let me comment yesterday, so I wasn't able then to say what a great query this is, and there's essentially nothing to fix.) Yet again, you've proved you are one eagle eye and smart query cookie.

I didn't get confused by the hook, but now I see that confusion is possible.

All in all, you've got a winner here Alexia. Tweak it a la Matt and send it off!!

Nicole Zoltack said...

I thought this was a really good query to begin with. Adding a little more about her job in the beginning will definitely help. I love the voice in this.

Lydia Kang said...

This is already such a good query, you're right. What voice!

mshatch said...

I was wondering what you would come up with to improve this query because like you, I thought it was pretty damn good to start and if it was on a shelf I'd by taking it off. But you managed to pick out those few things that would bring it up one more notch. Nice job Matt and Alexia :)

farawayeyes said...

First, not only would I read this, but I want to read it.

I think I got what Alexia intended in that opening sentence. Would a few commas clarify it a bit? (I'm asking and not telling because I freely admit, I don't know where the commas go.)

I liked the last sentence, giving a little more info on how/why the stakes were 'upped'. BUT, you're the expert, and I'm often guilty of TMI.

Amazed, at how clearly she conveyed the'voice' in so few words.

Great example of a really good query, made even better . Thanks.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Think you covered it, although I try not to end a sentence with either is or was.

Jessica Salyer said...

I agree with the first sentence needing modification. It tripped me up the first time I read it. Great query letter.

Alice said...

Great critique.

D.G. Hudson said...

I'm with those who don't like rhetorical questions. They seem to imply a certain attitude and would indicate to me that I should expect more of the same in the story.

Is this what the author wants to imply?

Thanks, Alexia (for letting us share in the critique) and Matt, for sharing your expertise.

Matthew MacNish said...

Just FYI, for Alexia, I have no problem with that question. I don't see it as a rhetorical question being asked of an agent by the author of the query; I see it as a question being asked by the character, of no one in particular.

Justine Dell said...

You've done an excellent job, Matt, as usual!

I'm a huge fan of urban fantasy and the second paragraph of this query had me laughing (in a good way). I alwasy love a story with a good voice!

I however, think the first paragraph is meek in comparision to the second. And I am the type of person that hates questions in a query. Ah, the famed rhetorical question.

The third paragraph to me has lots of words that are pretty flat and read as generic and I think it would be good if read more like the second. But that's just me. I'm not good at queries, but this one is pretty great. I would pick up this book based on the information she has here (no matter what my nit-picky opinion says)!

~JD

Deana said...

Great comments Matt. If I had to add one thing, though, it would be in the second paragraph...
"Even if he is a tasty morsel of pure deliciousness that her best friends..."
I was confused at who is the tasty morsel. Is it Eli or the HR?

Other than that and the comment Matt said about 'was' vs 'is' and the vamp/witch/bartender/bounty hunter, I think you've done a great job! I would read it:)

alexia said...

Thanks, everybody! Such great advice! I'm loving it :)

Elana Johnson said...

I don't think it needs more world-building, but I disagree that she doesn't need the last sentence. She does. Otherwise, what's at stake, more than her revenge plot? She should say so--and she does. She doesn't tell me what happens, but she needs that last consequence sentence, IMO.

Nate Wilson said...

Excellent analysis, Matt. I agree the opening needs clarification, yet it remains a good hook regardless. And like you, I see the rhetorical question as a component of the voice, not one being asked of the agent. I'd keep it.

Alexia, great job with your voice throughout the query. I would, however, do something with that final line. Rather than remove it, as Matt suggested, I suggest you incorporate more voice into it, to finish on a high note. Perhaps something like "...more at stake than her plot for revenge. Like the heart of a certain warrior. Oh yeah, and the free will of all mankind." Not only would this weave Eli back into the narrative (I assume from the "tasty morsel" bit he's Zy's love interest), but it also removes the mention of the "sovereign dimensions" for which we have little, if any, context.

I think you're well on your way. Good luck!

Johanna Garth said...

I love the 'faster than you can say cherub' langauge. This is a great query!!

Jemi Fraser said...

Blogger was picking on me yesterday and I couldn't comment on how much I loved the voice in this query! The only nit I could find was the is/was ... and I'm not sure either. But it's a small nitpick and I don't think it would cause anyone to turn away from the query. Nicely done! :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love the voice. The first paragraph confused me too. I wasn't sure if she was both a witch and a vampire who works as a bartender and bounty hunter. Wow, she's a busy girl. :D

Great job with the query!!!!

Melissa Sugar said...

This is a stand out query letter and I would purchase the book the day it came out. Great critique with excellent pointers and you are right, she did not need many. I love the quirky, unique voice. I keep hearing that agents are always looking for a fresh new voice-here you have one!

Old Kitty said...

Sorry abit late with this! I'm not clear WHY Zyan is asked to be a bodyguard and why she turned down the job?

Just wondered! LOL!

And just a general query about query writing thing - me being so out of it and completely ignorant about such matters but is being really informal in a query letter the thing to do now? I know this is meant to capture the feel and spirit of the book but I don't know. Maybe that's why I held off commenting here for a bit. I'm completely baffled by how chatty the query is. Just me - sorry please forgive my total ignorance - I'm an old person/borderline crazycat lady and know nothing!

Take care
x

Slamdunk said...

Good suggestions Matthew on an excellent query.

When I read your comment about clarifying what type of bounties, I had to reread that part of the letter as I did not catch that--it would help to add a few words. With bounty hunters in general I think televison focuses on them going after the high profile criminal when, in reality, they pursue anyone and everyone if a dollar is involved.

Elena Solodow said...

I agree that the "witch/vampire" bit is slightly confusing. It made me pause in my reading. It's definitely unique and awesome, but needs a bit more clarification. I also agree with the comment about the "tasty morsel" - was not immediately sure who it was referring too. I think the last line of the query gives too much info and adds a confusion I don't really like. I would save that for reading the book. The query has enough voice that I would definitely look at pages. I love her friends, there's so much unique detail in here that you'll have agents hooked easy. I'm most interested in finding out about the world. There's clearly enough set up here to make reading the book an easy decision. Nice job, Alexia!

Rusty Webb said...

I actually thought this was one of the better queries I've read from the beginning. I shudder to think of what you'd find in one of mine.

Jamie Gibbs said...

Excelent job, Alexia! You're definitely onto a winner!

Melissa Bradley said...

The voice of this query is spot on for the genre. Just a couple of things I notices and you've probably already heard about them, but here it goes.

I think that angelic warrior should be left as is with no hypen. And I agree that what kind of undead should be cleared up in the beginning. The witch/vampire as written indicates to me that the character could be either or both. Maybe take out the slash.

Good luck with this endeavor, Alexia.