Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jeffrey Beesler's Current Query Critiqued

Good morning. Let's get right to Jeff's query, this time with my thoughts, in red.

Here we go:

Dear Mr./Ms. Redacted,

Sorceress Embekah Mare would just cut love it if she could just you could cut this one too, but as long as you don't have two in a row, you should be okay. focus on studying magic, rather than prepare for the day the Royal Army of Trava finally busts down her door. This isn't bad a hooks go. We've got a decent sense of character, and a hint of backstory that clearly sets up a possibility of conflict. I would like to see this executed a little differently. For one, I would separate a sentence or two from the rest of this paragraph, give it more punch. For another, you only give us one word of characterization. Sorceress is certainly a cool occupation, but it doesn't tell us much about what kind of person Embekah is. She hasn’t committed a crime in twenty years, her worst offense simply being a member of a now defunct thieves’ guild. I think you need to clarify this. Being a member of a Thieve's Guild, even a defunct one, sounds like a crime that might be more recent. Also, doesn't seem like much of a Thieve's Guild if membership is common knowledge. She can’t even procure information on magical toadstools from her former guild sister, Tarbra Relsh, without risking her freedom. Magic Mushrooms? Yes, please. Awesome. And it certainly seems strange how the army conveniently leaves Tarbra alone to run the Z’lymor Inn, yet jumps at the chance to arrest Embekah just for buying exotic toadstools at the local marketplace. On the one hand, I like this, because it sets up potential for distrust, but I'm not sure about how it's presented. It's very conversational, and unless the prose in the book is kind of light hearted like this, it might not be best to write the query that way.

So, as far as content, your opening paragraph is good. We got just enough backstory to guess at some potential conflict, we've got a decent sense of who our main character is, and we've got some interesting elements vying for our attention. I think with a better sense of Embekah's character right off the bat, and giving your hook a bit more punch, you'd be in great shape.

When a knight named Patrew invades Embekah’s abode, fury consumes her in a magical backlash that renders her unconscious. This is what I mean about voice, or presentation. I like the way this sentence is written, and I get the feeling it matches the voice in your novel better than the last one. Upon recovery, she awakens to discover a spell of entrapment binding them both inside the manor’s walls. Now forced to live together, she must navigate her way through alternating feelings of trust and suspicion, why would she trust him? That seems a bit counter-intuitive. contending with the man’s stubborn belief of her guilt all the while.

Except for the things I've pointed out, I really like this. This whole premise seems utterly unique to me, and I think it provides the opportunity for excellent drama. If I were an agent I would probably read pages simply for this premise alone.

And just when Embekah thinks she can fully trust Patrew, I'm still confused as to why should would trust this man who invaded her abode, and is convinced of her guilt. Is he not some kind of agent of the crown, originally sent to arrest her? If not, I think it would be key to explain why he showed up in her house in the first place. a shape-shifting spirit arrives inside the magical barrier’s walls to threaten her life. Only hers? Not Patrew's? Unless she diffuses I think you might mean defuses here, but I can see diffusion working too, depending on the nature of this spirit. this new menace, collapses the barrier or alerts Tarbra somehow, she may never escape her would-be captor.

Again, excellent content, execution needs a little work. I love how you raise the stakes, and leave Embekah with a clear, but difficult choice. You just need a bit more explanation on a few points, for clarity, and then this query will shine as well as your story clearly does.

Spell of Entrapment is a fantasy novel of approximately you don't really have to approximate. Agents know we round to the nearest clean round number. 72,000 words. And speaking of a clean, round number, this sounds a bit short for adult fantasy. Maybe not, though. With the premise of two people trapped in a house together, you can probably have an interesting plot without all the epicness of most fantasy. Sample pages and chapters are available upon request. This kind of makes it sound like the MS is not complete. Just say the full is available, if they want a partial they'll ask for a partial. Thank you for your time and consideration.

All in all, your query can be easily summarized: obviously very cool content, as in your premise is clearly awesome, but your execution needs a little work throughout.

Main things I want to see: a better sense of Embekah's character right off the bat. A stronger opening hook, separated from the other paragraphs. A clear explanation of Patrew's reasons for showing up, and how that effects the dynamic of his relationship with Embekah.

And I also want to know if she uses Magic Mushrooms to save the day. Just kidding.

Seriously, though? I think this query is very close. People obviously gravitated to what you had set-up in this letter yesterday, and I think agents will do the same, especially if you can polish it a bit, and make a few things clearer.


Jeffrey Beesler

That's it.

What do you guys think? Can anyone re-write Jeff's first sentence into a hook that really snags?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad Jeffrey sent his query to you! I knew you'd have some excellent suggestions.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I'd want to ask Jeff where the central conflict of the novel lies: between Embekah and Patrew, or between Embekah, Tarbra, and that shape-shifting spirit?

If, as I suspect, it's the latter, then that's the conflict which should be fleshed out more in the query (and first), while Patrew should get last billing as the knight who invaded her abode and accidentally got trapped inside -- whom she *might* be able to use as an ally against her enemies if she could ever trust him.

Don't confine yourself to the order in which events happen. Put the central conflict first and flesh it out. Mention Patrew last as her ace in the hole. Just my 2 cents. ;)

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

I don't know anything about query letters but I love what you're doing here. What an outstanding opportunity! And Jeffrey your book sounds cool.

Bryan Russell said...

I agree. Love the premise, the sense of confined conflict. You have internal conflict, interpersonal conflict, and external conflict. Kind of awesome. A few clarifying details, a few smoothing touches, and voila! a pretty damn sharp query.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Matt's thoughts are spot on as usual. I'm trying to think of a good way to rewrite that first sentence to make it zazzier, but so far, i got nothing. I'll brainstorm a bit on it

Bryan Russell said...

Oh, I should mention that I thought it might help to hint at a bit of the why and how of the spirit, too, as in the query the arrival of the spirit seems sort of random (while I'm guessing it's not random in the book). I think it might help tie the elements of the story together a little tighter.

Kristen Wixted said...

Hi Jeffrey--I missed saying hello yesterday.
I would work on tighter writing, being really careful to leave out words like just and even. Also, when you say at the start "finally busts down her door" it seemed to me like it was going to be in a very conversational voice, but the rest of the voice is a little more mature, using words like "procure" and "defunct." So maybe "bust" isn't your best verb choice?
Love the magic mushroom idea too.

Michael G-G said...

I noticed, as did Matt and a couple of others, the conversational tone in the first paragraph--and my first reaction was "this is a comedy! A spoof!" Yet the rest of the query disabused me of that, as it became deadly serious sounding. So I think you need to figure out which tone you want to use, and use it throughout.

I also wondered why your MC would struggle with trusting Patrew. I think Dianne Salerni hints at it--Embekah has to gauge whether Patrew will be on her side against this invading spirit.

As Matt said, this does sound different (in a good way) and I think you'll get some agent love based on your premise alone.

I've got to go and get my kids ready for school, but if I have any brainstorms about your hook over my oatmeal, I'll be back to share them. If not, thanks for sharing this--and good luck!

vic caswell (aspiring-x) said...

i'm with dianne about choosing the conflict that is the primary conflict of the story to highlight in the query. because i got the opposite impression as she did- thinking that the time trapped in her house was the bulk and focus of the novel... which would make it primarily a romantic novel??? just the impression i'm getting.

right now i feel like i'm reading an incredibly scaled down synopsis as opposed to a query.

the difference being that a query is more a pitch on the main plot (the entrapment or the need to escape the law)where other elements can (and likely should) be presented as details to enrich the story (an adjective here or there) and the focus is really on the major plot.

a synopsis says: intro character, first conflict (law), second conflict (trap), third conflict (shape-shifter), resolution... or whatever fits your story. and that's the feeling i'm getting so far.

if i were you, i would really think about what the bulk of the story is about (which is soooo hard to see on your own novel, you love all of it). then follow the simple, hook, conflict, quest kind of query recipe...

filling in the details and fixing the voice can all be handled afterwards, what i fear isn't working for me in this query is the outline of it...

but i could be TOTALLY wrong! and the story sounds cute! if you want any more help, feel free to email, and i can help give you some more contradictory advice. :P

Dawn Ius said...

With these changes, I'd request this boo :-) (If I were an all powerful agent, of course...)

erica and christy said...

this is always so helpful. i'm struggling with my own hook para so much right now, i've nothing to offer. but it looks like you've got a great start and are very close to a finished query! christy
p.s. is this true? "Don't confine yourself to the order in which events happen. Put the central conflict first and flesh it out." because that is totally where i struggle with my query!

mshatch said...

As always Matt, you gave Jeffrey some excellent advice on how to improve his query. I think Dianne made some good suggestions, too. Love to see the revised version.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Wow (edits are right on)...and groan (I thought it looked fine, which reminds me I have a long way to go). Excellent advice. Glad I found your blog!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

I think this sounds great, although you provided with super feedback. I think the one thing that threw me as well was why she would trust (or be forced to trust) a guy who broke in. I'm sure there's a reason, but maybe it should be clearer here. All in all, close, like you said!

Christina Lee said...

How cool is the name Embekah?

My only two cents after all your advice Matt, is that the words "upon recovery" are not needed.

Also, you know what would be cool, Matt (b/c I want to give you even more work), is if at the end you flesh out all of your suggestions and do a mock re-write (to help my tired eyes)! :D

Tonja said...

Sounds like a great story!

I agree with removing at least one 'just' and that the voice in the second paragraph seems stronger. What struck me when I read it the first time was two sentences starting with 'and' - I know we all do it, but I would lean toward grammatical perfection in a query. I liked the reference to the internal conflict with her feelings toward the guy she's trapped with. Good luck!!

Nate Wilson said...

As usual, Matt has provided an excellent critique. Building off his suggestions, here are my own thoughts:

1) The word abode took me away from the narrative. For the query, I'd suggest sticking with the simpler home."
2) The main conflict appears to be between Embekah and Patrew, so I don't think you need to mention Tarbra by name. I'd refer to her solely as E's guild sister, and remove the somewhat out-of-place last sentence of the first paragraph.
3) That said, the query raises two main questions for me: Why is the army fixated on hounding Embekah? And, based on his reason for being there, why does she try to trust Patrew at all? (For the former, you'll want to at least hint at the question, but perhaps without singling out Tarbra as an exception. For the latter, you probably need the explanation (or at least allude to the answer).

Overall, it's an intriguing premise, and I wish you the best as you rework your query.

The Golden Eagle said...

I really like the sound of the story!

I agree with your point about the mention of trust--I have to wonder why she would put faith in someone who broke into her house.

Jay Noel said...

Great job on both the query and the suggestions.

The two things that stuck out at me the first time I read the query (I guess it was yesterday) was that the tone in the beginning changed thereafter. Maybe keep that serious tone more consistent.

The second thing was more of a concern. 72,000 words sounds more like a YA fantasy. Although there is no hard rules about this, just basic guidelines.

And go through your manuscript and get rid of 80% of the word "just." I'm just assuming since you used it in a query, you might have also used it in your manuscript.

farawayeyes said...

OK, first off I really know nothing here. Second,I'm a little fried after spending all day outside at the cruise ship dock bazaar helping a friend. BUT, I think the first sentence of the second paragraph makes a better hook.

In fact, I would switch out the first and second paragraph. Each would of course need to be reworked a bit and then there are the other awesome suggestions that I know nothing about, BUT I like that first sentence of the second paragraph as a HOOK.

Interested to hear what 'anybody' might think.

alexia said...

Sounds like a fun story! I don't think I have anything to add to Matt's great insights. Good luck!

Old Kitty said...

Very late as always but here's my tiny tiny two pennies worth on reading Mr Beesler's query (but please keep in mind, I know absolutely nothing about queries - I just like reading about the amazing array of stories out there waiting to get all published).

Anyway!! I think I preferred paras 2 and 3. The first para just confused me - the meat of the story -the one that got my attention is Petrew and Embakah's "imprisonment" together. I don't think the story about her sister etc in the first para tied in with the 2 and 3 paras too - less interesting for me.

Good luck and all the best! x

Rusty Webb said...

Jeffrey wrote a nice query. Aside from the things you mentioned, I wonder if he's tried to condense his novel down so much for the query that he's left out some vital information. As I don't think I got a real feel for what the whole manuscript would be like from reading the previous day's post.

Still quite well done though, and with the recommendations you made I'm sure it'll be that much better.

Nancy Thompson said...

You're so good at this Matt! I wish I had found you like 15 months ago. Would've saved me a lot of heartache! Great critique!! I have nothing more to add, and that's a minor miracle.