Friday, May 4, 2012

Stella Telleria's Current Query Critiqued

Stella's query will be in plain text, and my feedback will be in red.

Here we go:

Dear Agent,

When ex-marine, I like this. More characterization than many queries I see, but I would like even one more personality related word. We know what Mia used to do, but we don't know who she is. Fearless could work, or maybe hardcore or something with even more unique voice. Mia Mitchell, steps into a dark alley looking for a fight, she finds one. I like this too, but I'm not sure whether you mean in general (as in every time), or if you mean specifically, this one time. The problem is she wakes up on a parallel world. That’s one mad left-hook. As everyone pointed out yesterday, this line is awesome. It absolutely zings with voice.

That final line makes this opening hook almost good enough to work as it is. The problem is, we've only got an incredibly vague sense of what actually happens. My assumption is: she steps into a dark alley (for some unknown reason, but probably just because she's tough), some aliens jump her, and then she - somehow - gets randomly transferred to another world. This is not the kind of confusion you want to leave an agent with after reading your opening hook.

Get specific. Tell us who she fights. Explain how this waking up on an alternate world works. You can't afford to be vague.

The fight leads to a job offer any sane person would refuse. What job offer? Be specific. So, she takes it. I LOVE this. Stuff like this may sell your writing by itself. She’s got nothing to lose. Turns out the other side of the rabbit-hole leads to a utopia where freedom doesn’t exist, I think you must mean dystopia. A utopia is supposed to be where everything is perfect. Unless you meant this tongue in cheek? and fighting for it means execution. Mia finds herself with an underground syndicate of men longing for freedom, but not all agree they need her to show them the way. How did she end up in this syndicate? I thought she was just given a job? I like the concept, and it clearly provides tension and high stakes, which are great, but because it's so vague, I can't figure out what actually happens, or how one thing connects to the next.

At first she helps (in order) to ensure her ticket home, but before long she's embroiled in a war unlike any she's known. This too is vague, and a bit cliche. I would refer to it as an uprising, or maybe a revolution. I get the impression it's the slaves against the establishment, not actually a war between nations of equal power. The fight for their the syndicate's independence becomes her own, and the last hope of salvation for her tortured soul and wounded heart. Cliche. Haunted by nightmares and post-traumatic stress, unsure who to trust or how to get home, she discovers the man who gave her the job isn’t being honest. It smells like a set up. If this is the case, I would introduce Eben sooner. Because the way it's working here, it starts to feel a bit synopsis-ish.

Eben, an ex-slave, is trying to understand freedom when all he’s known is oppression and cruelty. If' he's an ex-slave, we can infer what he's known in the past. He looks to Mia for more than redemption, but for a connection he’s never felt with anyone. The problem is Mia wants to leave(,) and if Eben can’t make her stay(,) then the power struggle within the syndicate can may make their battle for freedom impossible. But worse than that is losing the only person who hasn’t treated him as a slave. This entire paragraph switches to Eben's POV. You don't want to do that in a query. It's fine to bring up the possible romantic angle, but you should try to do it from Mia's POV.

THE MALE AMENDMENT this title makes me giggle. For some reason it makes me think of male genitalia. Immature, I know, but it is what it is. is a 115,000 word speculative/romantic novel with series potential and duelling POVs. This is usually referred as alternating POVs, but I kind of like the way you put it here. Like the two narrators can never quite get along or agree or the solutions to their problems. Thank you for your consideration.


Stella Telleria

So, in summary: you've got some great things going on here. In particular, you have some moments of such wonderful, vibrant voice, I think you may garner some requests based on that alone. Definitely keep as much of that as you can. Additionally, it's clear to me you've got the makings of a truly unique story, and one that is full of potential for high stakes conflict.

The biggest problem with this query is lack of specificity. I don't understand how any of the science works, I don't have a clue about the society Mia suddenly finds herself in, and although I feel like I have a sense of the struggle the slaves must go through, I have almost no concept of who they're fighting against.

Other than getting much more specific, you just need a little better sense of Mia's character, and then you need to fix the final paragraph so that you still get that info across, but it's done from Mia's POV. There's nothing wrong with having multiple POVs in a novel, but in a query you want to focus on one character if you can (I'm sure this "rule" can be broken, but I've never seen it pulled off).

That's it.

What do you all think? Did you have any confusions I missed? Did something bother me that you were fine with? What else would you like to see in Stella's opening hook?


SA Larsenッ said...

Great comments by Matt! I agree about the opening - killer, except I think it needs to be a little more direct. Why would she go into the alleyway looking for a fight? Ex-marine...I get she's tough, but not every marine wants a fight. Did something make her step into the alleyway?

farawayeyes said...

GREAT query made even better. I love the HOOK. Personally, I didn't need any more explanation. 'touch chick, ex-marine -of course, she would be out looking for a fight, any fight.'

I do appreciate Matt clearing up one important thing. That multiple POV deal. My novel is written in multiple POV's, but it does get confusing trying to justify that in a query or any brief explanation. At the same time, it feels weird to note feelings and experiences from different characters POV. That's a tricky one. I would love to see how Stella works it out.

Thanks Stella. How does it feel to be the university?

Stina Lindenblatt said...

As always, Matt, you nailed it. The story sounds really good, and with some tweaking to make the query more specific, landing requests won't be a problem.

Creepy Query Girl said...

This sounds fantastic! I agree the beginning is a little ambiguous. I would maybe state it more like 'His (assuming you tell us who he's fighting' left hook knocked her into another world. Literarly' And then give us a few details about said world directly after instead of breaking it apart with the job offer bit (which could follow). HTH!

Creepy Query Girl said...

woops. I meant 'she's' fighting.

Colene Murphy said...

Excellent notes as always Matthew! Really interesting idea!

LM Preston said...

Great comments. And I loved 'That's One Mad Left Hook' what a line :-D

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Great voice - add some details and she's set.

Slamdunk said...

Well done Matthew. I think that Stella has lots of positives with her pitch and story.

One item that jumped out at me but is likely no issue for others, is the Marine reference. Here in the States especially with folks from military circles, saying that someone is an "ex-marine" is the equivalent of performing the National Anthem at a sporting event and forgetting the words.

Those who have served in the Corps hold tightly to the notion of: "Once a Marine, always a Marine."

So, if the character descriptor is meant to conjure an image of someone who served in something like the US Marine Corps, the correct reference would be "former Marine."

Enjoy your weekend.

Bryan Russell said...

I agree with Matt. Some great stuff here, but it needs more specificity and clarity and I found the transition from going into an alley and waking up to be jarrring (though the final sentence almsot saves it), as was the jump to the Eben story. I think the romance angle should be worked in piece by piece within the larger query story. And, as Matt indicatd, "in order" needs to be added in that one sentence to avoid confusion.

JeffO said...

Good hook and voice, but ...
That second paragraph confuses me a bit, too. I'm not sure if Mia is still in the 'rabbit-hole' or not. If so, 'she got nothing to lose' makes sense. If not, why does she have nothing to lose?

Also, I feel like you could condense paragraphs three and four into one. Tighten it up a bit, and keep the POV firmly in Mia's camp.

Interesting-sounding story, good luck!

Claire Hennessy said...

Oh I just love the way you critique these queries. You always seem to get right to the heart of it, such clarity. I loved this idea for a book - and like you, I loved The Male Amendment title.

Shain Brown said...

You may want to consider your wording. Marines do not ever consider themselves ex-marines. Marines are former marines, nothing else, at least everyone east of the Mississippi that went to Parris Island and Camp Lejeune.

I had a hard time with the 'steps into a dark alley'. I felt it needed so expanding.

But wow, I love how you ended the paragraph and went onto share what Mia was headed for.

Nancy Thompson said...

Perfect advice! Remember, the reader knows nothing of your world or characters so you have draw a clear & concise picture in as few words as possible. We get everything else, the plot, the choice, the conflict, the voice. We just need context. And yeah, that switch in POV is jarring. Great story though. And an excellent critique.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Advice is great. Matt is a jedi master of querying. So when are you gonna agent up Matt?

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I LOVE the voice in this query. I thought the first couple paragraphs were awesome, and I wasn't bothered by the lack of specificity, although now that Matt points it out, I see where this could be improved.

I don't think we need more information about Mia's personality. I think that comes through more clearly in the voice of the query than adjectives could ever convey.

I was going to complain about the phrase "tortured soul and wounded heart" but I see Matt has snipped it, and the sentence reads better without it. I also was going to suggest that Eben's paragraph be re-written from Mia's POV, even if he IS a narrator in the story. As Matt says, one POV for a query is enough. I'm not sure you need to include the dual POV as a point in the query at all, but I DO like the phrase "duelling POVs" -- so if that's really what it's like, keep it in!

Good luck with this story!

Nicole Zoltack said...

The fight leads to a job offer any sane person would refuse. So, she takes it. >> Great lines!

Stella Telleria said...

Here’s a big thank you to Matt and the rest of you fabulous people. I’ve rewritten this query so many times it was hard to get any fresh ideas going anymore. It felt like my brain flat-lined at one point. >_< Thank you for all the helpful advice in here. *high five* I never realized it was so vague and cliché until now. DOE! To the Batmobile! Er…I mean to the drawing board! LOL! ;)

Stella Telleria said...

Oh, and to Farawayeyes;

Me? The university?
I confess there is only one thing I know to be true beyond all doubt. This may be the only thing I could teach another soul and know I’ll not lead them astray. Here it is: the shower curtain goes on the inside of the tub. *holds out hands* You’re now ready for the world. LOL!!! ;)

The Golden Eagle said...

I think there's a strong voice in this query, with some really good lines. The cliche line is the thing that stuck out to me the most--it seems a bit too melodramatic next to the rest of the tongue-in-cheek tone.

Jemi Fraser said...

I didn't see this yesterday - but I love the voice! Love the advice to include more specifics too. Won't take you long to make this shine! :)

Pk Hrezo said...

Yep this sounds like a cool stpry for sure! Love the suggestions from Matt and everyone else, which will only make the query better.
BTW, nice to see you at YA Confidential, Matt! That's awesome news. Their blog rocks (like yours)!

Traci Kenworth said...

I find your comments dead-on and as I've said previously, I love this part of your blogs. Helping others with queries really is unique and it opens my eyes as to what I need to do to bring my own more alive. Great job!! Oh, and I did LOVE the query but, yes, I can see where it needs more specifity.

mshatch said...

You could add a little more depth of character in the initial paragraph by writing it this way:

Haunted by nightmares and PTSD, ex-marine Mia Mitchell steps into a dark alley looking for a fight. Sure enough she finds one. The problem is she wakes up on a parallel world. That’s one mad left-hook.

...or something like that. I think everyone knows the abbreviation for post-traumatic stress disorder by this time. And I'm not sure about the word syndicate, which implies a group of nefarious thugs in suits doing illegal things to make a lot of $ in my mind. But that's just my 2 cents...

sounds like an interest story :)

Libby said...

As always, just as someone dropping by, those comments are super helpful.

Jay Noel said...

Great work!

I had many of the same ideas when I first read it. My favorite line has to be that final sentence in the opening paragraph. Just awesome.

Maybe with the utopia part, put "supposed" or "alleged" utopia, and then just end it there.

Also, as Matt said, keep the POV with Mia and remove a few of the melodrama/cliched words, and this query will be incredible.