Friday, January 18, 2013

Misha Gericke's Currenty Query Critiqued

Okay. It's Friday, and while there's a nice cold snap down here in Georgia, there's no ice on the roads, so it should be another great weekend. Go Falcons.

Anyway, here is Misha's letter again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The query:

Dear [Agent],

Sixteen-year-old Callan Blair has been in the British foster care system for five years. One thing that's missing here is how many families she's been through. That was one of the strengths of your previous version. She should be equipped for just about anything. Turns out… not so much?

This opening is good. You start with character: good. You put her in a situation in which we feel sympathy for her: good. You hint at some kind of inciting incident: not as good, but it's fine, because you get to that in the very next sentence. One thing I want more of (and if you read this blog a lot, I may sound like a broken record) is character. We have Callan's age, and her situation, but we don't know who she is. What kind of person. Brave or cowardly? Kind or cruel? Even one or two words can go a very long way.

On day one at her new school, a lethal I'm not sure about this word here. Aren't all knights potentially lethal? knight (more like arrogant bastard - I'll say more about language in queries later) drags her through a doorway into Tardith, a continent in a different world. One a strange land where dragons still steal sheep and where her grandfather is the elvish king of Alfen Cairn. I like this premise. The execution is a little clunky, but the whole portal world concept, while certainly having been done, is one that almost always works for me. Also, I think this short and to the point version is better then the older one. I miss the cosplayers a little, but I don't miss all the stuff about her brother. Callan is his only granddaughter, so everyone counts on her to save their country from a devastating war.

The idea of having a real family and friends is a dream come true. Marrying a sadistic man with genocide on the mind in order to protect them… Nnot so much. But this becomes an echo if you add "so much" to the end of your first paragraph. But if she doesn't go through with the wedding, everyone dies. If she does, she'll be tortured for the rest of her very short life. So much for the happy homecoming.

I would end here. This paragraph is short on some of the details from your earlier version, but it works for me. Plently of conflict, very high stakes, and a tough, sadistic choice. Those are the bread and butter of queries.

Callan's choice doesn't get any easier when she realizes her only hope for survival lies with the same asshole who put her in Tardith in the first place.

Equipped for anything. What was she thinking? I'm undecided about this. It's adds a nice bit of voice, and if your manuscript's narrator is a bit sarcastic sounding like this, you might want to include it, but it could work either way.

So, before I summarize, a brief note on foul language. I love it. My manuscripts are full of fucks and shits and assholes, and even in YA lit I think it's authentic, depending, of course, on the characters, but I think you have to be careful with queries. My own first query had a pair of "bad-asses" in it, and I think it was important to include them, to give a sense of the tone of the voice in the manuscript, but I would never put a "fuck" in a query. Anyway, my point for this query is that I think the "asshole" might be a bit too much. I really like the "arrogant bastard," though.

Okay, and now, in summary: this query is way better. You're missing a few world building elements from before, but you get to the point so much more succinctly. That's part of the reason I suggest using a few more of the fantasy names like Alfen Cairn. 

Anyway, otherwise this query is mostly quite good. The beginning needs the most work, but if you can introduce us to Callan in a way that we would care about her more right away, I think you'd be in great shape.

That's it.

What do you all think?

27 comments:

DL Hammons said...

Wow...it's tomorrow already!! :)

You nailed it, Matt. I agree with all of your points, especially the one regarding language in a query letter. With the suggestions you made, this will be a much improved query. Good luck with it Misha!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Yes, that language jumped right out at me when I read the query yesterday, and I thought -- I wouldn't go there. Matt's suggestions are all great. This still needs some tweaking, but it's a much better way to approach the story than the last version. I feel like this time I really know what the book is about.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

All good points. Little more sense of who she is in the beginning and it will be much better.

DL Hammons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
maine character said...

I really like the attitude in the piece, and how everything is laid out simply and clear. But it leaves a lot of questions.

Like "Callan is his only granddaughter, so everyone counts on her to save their country from a devastating war." I didn't get this, since granddaughters are not known for saving kingdoms. And where's everyone else in the family?

And then we find out the way she's supposed to save everyone is get married. Which doesn't sound too dramatic for a heroine. So I'd want to know more about the story beyond that choice she makes, like if she's trapped in a tower the whole time or out exploring the kingdom as trying to avoid the marriage.

Also, I'd keep the line about the knight at the end, since that brings up lots of possibilities about how she might get out of the marriage and still save the kingdom.

Hope that helps, and good luck!

Misha Gericke said...

Thanks again, all! :-)

Elise Fallson said...

Well you've got me hooked with your premise Misha, plus it sounds like it has some snark in it that I enjoy in these kinds of books. Matthew the Query Master, hit all the major points that will make this query stronger.

And I couldn't help but laugh at "My manuscripts are full of fucks and shits and assholes..." I really want to read your book as well Matthew. :D

Misha Gericke said...

@Maine "Which doesn't sound too dramatic for a heroine. So I'd want to know more about the story beyond that choice she makes, like if she's trapped in a tower the whole time or out exploring the kingdom as trying to avoid the marriage."

I understand perfectly what you're referring to. It's something I tried to bring out again and again in my query, but when I do, it goes over the expected word count.

I know it sounds like an excuse, but I REALLY have a book that's too big to summarize to 250 words. Hell, I can't even fully do it to a 500 word synopsis. >_< *headdesk*

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I thought the transition from school to the other world was a little fast, but maybe a little more about the character will help that.

Slamdunk said...

I like queries that are original yet strong, but I agree with the crowd here with the thought that you should play it safe with curse words--omit them in the letter.

You never know how that might be an instant turn-off for someone.

mshatch said...

As usual, Matt's pretty much said it all. I definitely would like to see a little more about Callan's character in that first paragraph and I'd probably leave out the expletives in a query. I'm a big fan of the f-bomb and other naughty words but I don't think I'd use them in a query because a query is like a job interview on paper and you don't swear during the interview - usually ;)

Good luck with this!

E.J. Wesley said...

Enjoyed Matthew's thoughts, as usual, and Misha's story premise (her query, too). Always a bit of tightening that can be done, and the suggestions here would do that I think.

Re. language: I think it's a balancing act. If your story does have lots of fucks, shits, and assholes (at this point, I just like typing it lol--and how great of a title would that be for an Anthony Bourdain travel book?), it's definitely advisable--from my perspective--to give the query reader some clue of what awaits.

I'd think there'd be nothing worse (for everyone involved) than jumping through the hoops of getting a request for more, only to have the agent put it down with the first f-bomb on page two. If strong language puts them off, and your story has a lot of it, probably best to get that out of the way upfront, even if it means a few more insta-rejections.

Just my take. Keep at it Misha! It's definitely coming together. :-)

Rachna Chhabria said...

You nailed it, Matt. You are the query doctor (shall I say query surgeon). Misha's query sounds great.

Patchi said...

I agree that this query is much improved and that Matt's comments will make it even better. For my two cents, I think including some details from the other query might help. I'd mention the 23rd family and add that the delusions of love in the description of the knight. The first will ground Callan's dream of finding her real family. The second will help foreshadow her relationship with the knight. And by the way, I would use psycho rather than asshole in the query.

Good luck!

Pat Hatt said...

Sure nailed it in every way and agreed, soe times swearing works to set the tone, but can't go too big.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I love fantasies and this sounds like a great story. With Matt's suggestions, I really like paragraph 2. I don't think you need the one lines at the Equipped for anything. What was she thinking? The paragraph before sets the stakes well.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Great critique, I agree with most everything you said. I did like the line where 'she realizes her only hope for survival lies with the same asshole who put her in Tardith in the first place" not so much for the 'asshole' or the wording, but for the idea of retying in a character she already introduced. I'm already intrigued in this arrogant bastard knight than I am in any other character - although it all sounds wonderful. :)

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Excellent critique sir. Your skills at this kind of thing are the best around.

Laura Stephenson said...

I think if you follow Matt's advice, you'll have a stellar query. My comments were going to be on ending the first paragraph with "not" instead of "not so much" and about how the word "lethal" pops me out and makes me think "How is that different from other knights?" And the line about her choice getting harder was entirely superfluous, and reading the word "choice" in a query made me cringe. Yes, it's necessary to outline the choice, but it doesn't need a header.

Anyway, sounds really fun, and I hope to see it in print someday!

Bryan Russell said...

Nicely done, good sir. Nicely done.

M Pax said...

Good job, Misha, and good suggestions, Matt. I'd love to see Doorways published. It's a fantastic story.

KayC said...

For my part, I'd also like to know how many families she's been through in foster care so it sets her state of mind and makes us sympathize. This could then lead into showing us she's coping with the system, not coping, strong, unemotional - whatever the case may be to set up the character that Matt has recommended.

I know it's only two words, but I don't think you need 'her new' school. We already know she's moved around a lot. Every word saved is one you can spend somewhere else.

As mentioned here already, 'lethal' didn't sit well with me. It's not a word I associate with knights. I did, however, like 'arrogant bastard'. If this is a prelude to what is in your book, I keep it.

While you could easily do without the next to last paragraph, I did like the reintroduction of the knight as in my mind it introduces the 'romantic' possibility, which is always a plus for me.

Keep working at this so we can all read it once published.

Nancy Thompson said...

I second Mike. Who the heck is QueryShark? Matt's the new predator in town. Great job. More character, a few more details, no assholes, and you're done. Send that fucker out. Oops! JK!

Misha Gericke said...

Thanks again for the great tips, everyone!

Donna Hole said...

Picky, picky of my; but one over-used phrase that needles me every time is "turns out". And to use it twice in a query just grits at me. I don't know; I don't mind it in dialogue, but in narrative - even from the POV character, just feels wrong.

I'm with Matt on building up the character. Sarcasm is cool, as long as there is enough hints of injustice to back up the attitude. I'm liking Callahan's character; she sounds a bit rebellious and definitely tough.

The plot concept is interesting, if a bit rushed. Both "lethal knight" and "arrogant bastard" put me in mind of a Paladin, and if your knight is a Paladin, perhaps that would be a better description here, as it paints a vivid picture of the knights personality, mission, and character dilemma if he is Callan's love interest.

Tardith is a great name for a country - or alternate universe, and I like that you introduced dragons and a monarchy.

Good luck with the rewrites Misha.

.......dhole

Mia Hayson said...

All great points by Matt!

I think definitely I would like to know more a little about Callan as a character in the first paragraph but otherwise, shiny! :)

<3

Nicole said...

Loved seeing this glimpse of Misha's book.