Friday, February 3, 2012

Jade Hart's Current Query Critiqued

Happy Friday QQQE-ers. Welcome back. Today we have Jade's query again, but this time the point of her letter will be completely obfuscated by my random thoughts, in-poor-taste jokes, and occasional pearls of wisdom. These will be in red.

Here we go:

Dear ( Fantabulous agent )

(Enter research done on that agent and reference as to why I chose them, or something along those lines)

My personal opinion is that personalization should come at the end of your query letter. There are certainly some agents who prefer it up front, and that's fine if you can determine that from their submission guidelines, but when I write queries, I try to get right to what really matters - the story.

Loka has died. Again.

This is incredibly unconventional, as far as the "rules" of what works in a query go, but I like it, and I think it works. We don't get much sense of character from this opening, but it instills so much curiosity, that I think it's okay that we don't.

But this time it's different. A cobra bite to the neck while in the in-between worlds of Gods what does this mean? There are more than one? has injected more than just venom into her veins. It has started a chain reaction which will not only change Loka forever, but Satya, the world as we know it, as well.

So, I take it that this snake bite is the inciting incident. It certainly seems to be. If that's the case, you not only need to present it a bit better, but you need to be much more specific about what happens, and how it leads to the main conflict.  For example, it seems like the snake bite caused these changes that you describe next, but I can't tell for sure. You need to clarify that. Also, this chain reaction that you mention changing Loka and her world, is quite vague. If you can explain how the snake bite leads directly to these changes in her, then it can probably be inferred that everything you describe after this is the chain reaction.

When she re-awakes for her seventeenth reincarnation, I can't decide about this. On the one hand, it's a clever, brief insertion of backstory, but on the other, I'm not sure it's needed. nothing is quite the same. She's ethereally beautiful, has vortex pigmented eyes and can see things which only exist on temple etchings and Hindu fables. The rest of this paragraph is really awesome.

The only problem here is that by now we usually have a clear sense of what the main conflict is. Your query is unconventional, and it's fine to break some rules, as long as it works. I think yours can work the way you've set it up, if you get a little clearer about the things I've mentioned.

As Chetan - her guide sent by the Gods - tries to help Loka understand her new powers and preform PERform? her responsibility as the new Reincarnation Redeemer, she finds it harder and harder to concentrate. Her body feels wrong, her thoughts seem muddied and hard to recall, and her powers feel limited. Even her heart is confused as it thrums like a hummingbird at the thought of a God. Huh? I'm confused here. What does this mean? The thought of a God is what's making her heart go pitter patter? Not Chetan? If she has the ability to travel the in-between world of Gods, why is she so twitterpated by the thought of a God? And is it just any god, or one in particular? A love which bloomed from nowhere, but lingers with a remembrance of something locked within herself.

This is where you probably need to make the most changes. The confusion I have in the middle of the paragraph is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that we have no idea what the conflict in your story is. We know Loka is reincarnated with powers, awesome, we know she has new responsibilities as the Redeemer, sounds cool, but ... we really have no idea what happens that she has to overcome, and therefore there is no sense of plot, or what tough choice she'll have to make to triumph.

But it's only when a chaos loving mythological creature, vague. Describe the creature, or simply name it, if it's something well known. who is both hideous and intriguing, enters her life, that Loka begins to find keys to tightly locked secrets.

Turns out, she might not be Loka at all.... I kind of like this. Once again, it breaks all rules of query writing, when it comes to summing up, but I think it works because ending with this mystery really makes me want to read some pages, and after all, that's the point.

Venom's Curse is a Mythological YA Urban Fantasy. I would change this up a bit. First, you don't need Mythological capitalized, because it's not technically a genre, so I would rewrite this to something like ... "a YA Urban Fantasy instilled with mythology and mystery." Or, you know, something better, but you get my point. Also, I was surprised by both "YA" and "Urban Fantasy." Because we never got a sense of Loka's character in the query, I had no idea she was a teenager. I also did not get any kind of indication that this story took place in a city or cities. Complete at 90,000 words. I am a member of a large critique group and participate actively with many published and unpublished writers. You don't need this. I mean clearly it's good for your novel to have it critiqued by as many experienced writers as you can, but that's not important in a query letter. I am also an avid blogger and love anything to do with the worlds of words. Link to your blog, if you're going to mention blogging as part of your bio.

Okay, let's see if we can summarize. First things first, you've got some awesome elements here. The idea of reincarnation, and it's tie-in to Hinduism, is really very cool, I think. It's clear that you have a great premise and a fascinating story in here somewhere, but there are problems with the execution of your query.

When I talk about queries, I tell people to focus on the three Cs: Character, Conflict, and Choice. In that order. I like your rule breaking opening, because it sort of sets your query apart from the average, but it lacks substance. We have no idea what kind of person Loka was before her transformation, so we have no idea whether we should care about her. Then, once we do hear about the changes she goes through, there is really no clear indication of what kind of conflict she will have to survive in her story. We have a vague sense of her new job, but not really what it means, and there is a boy, but what actually happens? Who are the bad guys, and what do they do to her? When it comes to Choice, we can't even really discuss it, because with no sense of Conflict, there can be no Choice to make.

You're off to a decent start here. You've got some great language, and some elements that make it clear you've written a cool story. Try to rewrite this just a bit, and see if you can clarify what happens to Loka, who she is, and why we should care.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Kindest regards

Jade Hart

That's it.

What do you guys think? Anything I missed? Disagree with me?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And my guess from yesterday was correct! Yeah, I felt it was vague in several areas and lacking a conflict. Do like the opening though. Something about those first four words, the snarkiness, brings young adult to my mind.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I'm not a published author yet, but I did see some of those points your raised yesterday. Even more so, you did a great job in offering advice of where to improve the hook and where to emphasize change!

I loved it!

Laura Pauling said...

Love that first line! Very appealing. :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I've got no problems with rule-breaking! I suppose there might be some agents who like things to be formulaic, but I am betting that a well-done rule breaker stands out from a crowd of standard queries.

Matt has picked up on several areas of vagueness that bothered me, places where you hint at something that needs to be said more directly. So I agree there.

I think my biggest concern is that I know so little about Loka, I'm not sure if I'm interested in reading about her. Was she a human, and reincarnation is simply part of her existence (and everyone else's)? Is she aware of all her past lives? Or is she something more than human to start with, even before the venom transforms her?

And of course, Matt hits the element of conflict nicely. What are the stakes for Loka?

When I come for these query critiques, I often find myself advising authors not to turn their query into a plot synopsis. But in this case, I think we need just a little more plot revealed to tie your theme and setting together for us. I'm sure this is an awesome story, but the query needs to take a slightly different direction to convey a sense of it to the reader. Good luck!

maine character said...

Love the opening, but we’re not told how she died. I might be a simple accident, but we should know since that sets up how surprising what happens next might be.

"When she re-awakes for her seventeenth reincarnation."

She’s not technically reincarnating again (‘cause she’d wake up as a baby), just coming back from an after-death / out of body experience.

"on temple etchings and Hindu fables" should be "in."

"chaos loving" should have a dash.

I really like how she doesn’t just take on her powers and Shazam!, but has trouble adapting to and understanding them. And the Hindu mythology is also cool.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

It's too early and I haven't had enough coffee, so I cant critique. All I can say is I WANT!

Reincarnation, mythology, YES PLEASE! Right up my alley. :)

Slamdunk said...

Matthew: I see your point about getting to the hook of the story immediately and leaving the tailorized agent pitch until the end. If everyone started talking about the agent/agency first, then the reader would likely just begin skipping the first several sentences to get to the meat of the book.

This is different from the writing that I do, but makes sense.

Justine Dell said...

Matt, you should totally do this for a living. Er, wait ... you kinda do. ;-)

I agree with everything you've said! I just wanted to point out one thing. It looks like this YA is about both the mythical/Hindu/reincarnation thing AND a budding relationship. Which one takes the lead? The romance? Or the others? If it's the latter, I was suggest only having a little blip (note the LITTLE) of the "love of the God" or whatever. If it's not key to the story and not the biggest part of it, you really don't need it in your query. Most YA books have some type of romantic element in them nowadays and if it's not the "main" story, then it's not worth the extra words in the query. IMO, of course. ;-)


Bryan Russell said...

What Matt said. There are a ton of really fascinating elements here that intrigue me, but also a number of things that confuse me - and I have trouble seeing how they all fit together. It's like a puzzle - you have the right pieces, you just have to put them together to find the right query picture.

Old Kitty said...

I loved the first sentences! "Loka has died. Again"! Now that made me sit up and listen.

Then I got completely lost with the rest of the story - but that's only because it was so densely packed with allusions to mythology and legend. So it's just my limited comprehension that got abit thrown in the fog.

Good luck with your query Jade! Take care

Stina Lindenblatt said...

The premise sounds cool.

I'm with Matt. You want to avoid a vague query so that it's set yours above all the other vague queries hitting the agent's inbox. The more specific you are the better. :)

Scarlett said...


LOVE the name, Loka, and I LOVE stories of reincarnation. They immediately place the reader into a world of confusion. But in a good way.

I'm no query expert. As a matter of fact, I feel more like an interloper here, so please take any advice I have to offer on the subject with a block of salt.

I do, however, personally connect with what I think you're trying to get across in your query. In a mythological world, YOU make the rules, AWESOME, but it can be difficult to pin down in so few words, to catch the agent's eye. That's why I would think, that you must be more concise when you're describing the Character, Conflict and Choice, as Matt has suggested.

I would love to read this story! You hooked *this* reader, simply with the idea. Now, you just need to *unmuddy* more than just Loka's memories.

"...while in the in-between worlds of Gods."

Description, please? This sounds VERY cool! I want to know more.

"It has started a chain reaction..."

As others have said, "Vague".

"...which will not only change Loka forever, but Satya, the world as (we) know it, as well."

Who's "we"? I've never been to Satya, though it sounds intriguing.

"When she re-awakes for her seventeenth reincarnation..."

Shouldn't this be "reawakens"?

Matt's right ~ (The only problem here is that by now we usually have a clear sense of what the main conflict is.)

It takes courage, Jade Hart, to put yourself out here to be picked over. Matt rocks it! All you need do is Roll with it, and you'll have created something we can all dance to!

Michael G-G said...

I like the hooky beginning and I agree that the paragraph about the vortex pigmented eyes is AWESOME.

I think the point you're trying to get across is that this 17th incarnation is different from the others and instead of feeling her old self she's in a bit of a funk and doesn't really know what's what.In fact, she might not even be herself (COOL ending line.) But what will this mean? She's finding the keys to secrets, and all this may change Satya, the world as we know it--but this is vague. I think more details are necessary: is the chaos-loving creature out to get her, or just organize a global frat party?

Your writing is good and solid (although I never did figure out "preform" till I read Matt's critique, and the scales fell from my eyes), and the story sounds like it has a lot of potential (I'm hungry for Hindu Gods!) Work on Matt's Three Cs, and on some details, and I think you'll have a doozy.

And do everything he says about the bio. The things to mention are previous publications, memberships in writers' organizations, MFAs, or the fact you're a journalist or teach writing. Otherwise, leave it out. If you make 'em salivate over your story, they really don't care if you're a debut or not.

Thanks for sharing your query, Jade, and best of luck!!

Marta Szemik said...

The first line, though unconventional as Matt said, grabbed me yesterday. I wanted to know more about Loka (great name - does she live up to it?) If you can instill that kind of curiosity through the query you'll have a winner!

Thanks for sharing:)

Arlee Bird said...

How can I disagree with your intense analysis? You've got some real focus in breaking writing down. Another amazing job.

An A to Z Co-Host
Tossing It Out
Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Amber said...

Oh wow....what great feedback! I'm so glad Jade put her query on here. The story really is amazing and it needed an awesome query to represent it. And now I can see what I will need for my query. I love the three C's. I will keep that in mind when I get my query together.

farawayeyes said...

Yeah, what Matt said.

I have to admit yesterday I felt really confused. There were elements that caught my interest but they were a bit disjointed.

The advice seems good and solid. Sorting a few things out, giving us more character and conflict (I can see clearly now, that this lack of conflict caused my confusion, but I would never have picked it out as the reason, myself.)

Thanks Jade for putting yourself and your work on the line, so I can learn more.

Thanks Matt for teaching me. One complaint - I was hoping/looking for those 'in poor taste jokes'. Did they go over my head? It's Friday. Who couldn't use a few 'in poor taste jokes'?

Tracy said...

I agree with a lot of the others, that's a pretty good first line.

Matt made some really strong suggestions about where things get far too vague.

Personally, I think you're adding in elements that probably don't need to be in the query. For the sake of grabbing the agent's interest, I'd stick with the opening line, jump right into Loka returning for the 17th time and how her body doesn't feel right this go around--something's wrong.

The biggest issue I think I'd have with this query as an agent, is I don't really know what the ultimate conflict/consequence is. You mentioned that Loka may not be herself...but what does that mean? Bottom line, what does Loka need to do (find out what happened to her, whether she's really herself or a pod person?)...and what's at stake if she doesn't accomplish that?

It sounds like you have something unique here with your story, hopefully everyone here can help you bang out an awesome query to go with it! Good luck, Jade. :o)

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I am very curious, as this is her 17th reincarnation, if she has died the same way before, but this death is somehow different and that is what is going to happen?

I LOVE the first line.

Good luck!

Connie Keller said...

Hey, nice to find your blog (from the bloffee)!

I agree with your comments on the query. But I do have one quibble--the "vortex pigmented eyes." Since a vortex doesn't really have a particular color associated with it, it made me stop and ask, "Are they brown, or black, or what?" It's a cool image, but it didn't quite work for me.

Lori M. Lee said...

The only thing I can add is that I didn't understand how getting bitten in the in-between world led to Loka becoming the new Reincarnation Redeemer. The bite appears to be the inciting incident, but you never refer back to it, so I don't see what the connection is between that and her new job.

L.C. said...

Hi Jade! All in all I have to agree with Matt on all points except one: I rather like the "seventeenth reincarnation" bit. I thought it was intriguing on the same lines as "Loka has died. Again." But yes, the middle of the query was confusing. Sounds like a neat book, just need to brush up the query! (Which is pretty much the case with everybody, so no worries.) And great critique, Matt, as always. :-)

Johanna Garth said...

I really love the beginning and then I felt like it got less strong (don't want to call it weak :)) as it continued. Still, the story sounds wonderful!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yeah i agree with matt. I really had no sense of the conflict, which, to me, is just as important as the character.
And yeah, i didn't get an urban fantasy feel from it at all. Also, would this not quantify as YA Paranormal?

But i very much enjoyed the opening line and the closing bit. So keep those. And i LOVE the name Loka

Barbara Watson said...

Like others, I was hooked by the first line too. Following the advice Matthew and others provided will make this query resonate and be so unique.

Dawn Ius said...

Great critique and I agree with your comments. I like that the novel is unconventional and demonstrated that way through the query.

Nancy Thompson said...

Yes, most agents seem to prefer housekeeping at the bottom. For the query itself, I do think that first line does grab your attention, but without knowing anything about Loka, I'm not sure I care yet, so you might think about a short, concise intro first.

And overall, I do agree with the consensus that it's all a little too vague. Cut all the unnecessary words to make room for what really matters. For example: "A cobra bite to the neck..." A cobra bite is probably all that is necessary. That way you have more room to focus on the chain reaction and who the gods are. If you do this throughout, you'll have room to focus on just what matters most.

Focus on the conflict ONLY, not what Loka "seems" to be feeling.

You have nearly 300 words, but have not made clear who Loka is, what her conflict is, who opposes her, and what her choices are. Those are the only things that should be included a query, and very succinctly.

Use active verbs as much as possible and keep the adjectives/adverbs to a bare minimum and only use them if they relate directly to the conflict.

Lastly, leave out all that stuff about your critique group and blog. That's a given. Just include your blog link after your signature.

Good luck, and remember, queries can take a long time to perfect. It's both an art and a science.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I agree about the vagueness. Another great critique, Matt.

I was also confused about the power thing. On the one hand she woke up with powers that apparently she hadn't had before but on the other hand her powers feel limited.

Susan R. Mills said...

I agree about the personalization part coming at the end. Although I have read on some agent blogs and/or websites that they prefer it at the beginning. Honestly, I don't think they'll toss the query out either way, but like you said, I prefer getting to what's important right off the bat--the story.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Matt is so great at this. Constructive, positive and so helpful. You said everything I would have said, if I knew what I was talking about. LOL.

Anonymous said...

As always, excellent query advice, Matthew.

Janet Johnson said...

I think you got the heart of it. I agree that it needs to focus a little more on the actual conflict and what Loka has to overcome. And I agree that this book has lots of cool elements.

Okay, last comment, and maybe I'm just dense, but this part: "can see things which only exist on temple etchings and Hindu fables" . . . I kept reading that as that what she was seeing was actually ON temple etchings and in the writing of Hindu fables. It took several readings to realize you meant that she was seeing in real the things mentioned in those writings.

Jade Hart said...

WOW! I woke up this morning and squeezed my eyes shut when I clicked to see the critique. I was dying to know what Matt said, but terrified too!

But, I agree with everything you guys said, so it was relatively pain-free :) yay.

I just want to say a HUGE Thank you. I didn't see how vague it was, but now you point it out, it's so obvious. The problem I have is, the entire plot is a mystery to Loka, who has to figure out who she is. Chetan isn't the love-interest. The chaos loving dude is - and if I named him, it wouldn't help - Shankara by the way - just as confusing! :) lol. The story evolves around her realising she is *can't tell, it's a secret* and THEN the story picks up to the whole saving the world kinda thing.

I'll have to go back and try and re-write. But I LOVE that you guys like my first line. Loka is snarky, head-strong and can't be bothered with all of this, so it sums her up quite well, that sentence.

Oh, and the name Loka ( Which I love too ) is Sanskrit for Supreme World, in case anyone was interested :) lol

Matt, once I've implented your advise and your wonderful bloggers insight, can I re-send to you? Or is that too much to ask?

I'm so greatful for all your help - you guys rock the blogosphere world. :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

I loved the first line and the Hindu connection. But then I agree with Matt that you need to get to the conflict. The second and third paragraph could probably be shortened to a few sentences and then the conflict.

I did like the last sentence too. After you've told us the conflict perhaps after the last sentence you could hook us with the consequences of her not being Loki more.

But you've got some great lines here and more importantly a unique story line with the Hindu influences. I so sympathize with how hard the query is. I've been struggling with mine.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Specifics are key especially when you're trying to market into an already crowded market.

The Golden Eagle said...

I agree with it needing more specifics. Also, the "vortex pigmented" threw me off a bit; it's interesting, but I didn't really get a clear idea of what she looked like from it.

Great critique!

sue said...

Hi Matthew, I'm just dropping by to introduce myself from the A-Z challenge. I hope I get a bit more organised before it all happens! Sue

Melodie Wright said...

I agree with Matt's comments but would add one more. You mention the inciting snake incident happening 'between worlds.' Bc this sounds like something that could happen on earth, I'm not clear on your world building. Why are earth animals 'between worlds'? Why does a snake bite have the same effect as it would on earth? What makes this 'between worlds' thing real other than as a plot device? Right now, it's just not original enough to catch my attention.

Can you tell I'm really literal? :)Keep in mind agents read many of these kinds of complicated fantasy plots in queries and you want yours to be as solid as possible. Good luck!

Melodie Wright said...

I agree with Matt's comments but would add one more. You mention the inciting snake incident happening 'between worlds.' Bc this sounds like something that could happen on earth, I'm not clear on your world building. Why are earth animals 'between worlds'? Why does a snake bite have the same effect as it would on earth? What makes this 'between worlds' thing real other than as a plot device? Right now, it's just not original enough to catch my attention.

Can you tell I'm really literal? :)Keep in mind agents read many of these kinds of complicated fantasy plots in queries and you want yours to be as solid as possible. Good luck!

Nicole Ducleroir said...

Wow, such great insight and advice in your comments, Matt. Jade's story sounds really interesting, so best of luck to her in landing an agent and selling the book!

Lydia Kang said...

That was a great opening, and Matthew as usual you are spot on with your recs.

Laura Barnes said...

I like personalization at the end too. I think you should steal the reader's attention the minute they get into your letter.

Great advice, Matt. As always. :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Sometimes it's hard to define the conflict or sum it up in a few words. This query needs a bit more focus and punch.

The beginning of the synopsis is good though. Personality shines there.