Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Elise Fallson's Current Query Critiqued

Morning. This time we have Elise's query again, but with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear Agent,

At first glance, these look like big blocks of text. Big blocks of text can strain the eyes (and the will to read on). Plugging it into word, the meat of this query (the story summary, before you get to the title) is 302 words. That's a bit long.

When a mysterious caller offers twenty-three-year-old Edessa Scottwood information about her mother’s death, Edessa doesn’t think twice about secretly meeting the contact. This isn't bad, but you're opening with the inciting incident, which is a good one, but is also overshadowing charcter a little bit. Having lost my mother at a young age, I can certainly sympathize with Edessa's situation, but I want to sympathize with who she is, first. She’s desperate for answers and would meet them on the moon if she had to. I like this. Good voice and good characterization. There’s only one catch, in exchange for information, the contact wants the Anchor protein her mother was working on. Mom was a bio-chemist or something? Trouble is, Edessa doesn’t know a damn thing about the protein and when she comes up empty-handed, the contact tries to kill her, with magic. It turns out, Edessa’s mother kept many secrets, like the fact Edessa was born a witch. Oh, and here’s another, vampires are real, and one of them just saved Edessa’s life.

Okay. Hmm. This is mostly cool. A lot of interesting elements, some unique (Anchor proteins), some not (vampires) but ... it takes a lot of words to get through this inciting incident, and I'm not sure that's helping it build to tension with tight enough pacing. Here are the points you want to cover:

  • Edessa (introduce her first so we know who she is, not just what happens, and so that we care)
  • Lost her mom
  • Stranger calls with answers
  • Wants protein info in exchange
  • Tries to kill Edessa when she can't provide it (with magic)

I would maybe leave it at that, at least for your opening paragraph. Remember, the opening is really just meant to be a hook. I understand what you're going for with the kind of irreverent voice in the way you introduce the surprises, and I'm not saying it doesn't work, I just think it reads too long for an opening hook.

I'm not going to go into whether or not there is still a market for vampire books. The job of these posts is to make queries as good as they can be, not to judge the market for the story (and there will always be a market for every kind of story, even if vampires might be a tougher sell right now).

Following the attack, (I would maybe introduce the vampire here) Edessa is taken to her estranged aunt’s house where she meets an extraordinary family she never knew she had, discovers (and you could maybe introduce her being a witch here) powers she never thought possible, and develops feelings for a vampire that makes her heart do triple flips against her better judgment. But everything changes when Edessa discovers her mother’s research is being replicated by vampires of the House of the Immortal Blood. If they succeed, they’ll have the power to visually mark human carriers of the vampire gene and bring chaos to the world. One person can stop the House, the Witch of War. No one knows who she is, but many already want her dead.

This middle bit ... is actually pretty damn good. You've got a lot of specific details, and even though witches and vampires have been done, you make it clear that your story has it's own take on the details, which is certainly good. The only real problem I see here is that again it's taking a lot of words to get the point across, which takes a bit of the zing out of it. 

Also, one potential logistical problem I see is that if the House is already replicating her mother's research, what did the contact want in the beginning? I'm sure it all makes sense in the story, but be careful about conflicting information in the query.

Determined, Edessa will do whatever it takes, even if that means risking her life, dealing with treacherous immortals, or traveling halfway across the world to Paris with a vampire haunted by his own dark secrets. But will Edessa’s newly emerging powers be strong enough to stop the House or will they Her powers? succeed and climb to the top of the food chain instead? Her success will ride on her ability to trust her instincts, and her willingness to believe in herself. You don't need this last line, it's understood. What you could stand to include would be a sadistic choice. You kind of have it, with it being her powers or the House, but maybe make it clear that she could theoretically choose to run and hide (or maybe join them or something). That way, the decision is in her hands, and the tension is that much clearer.

THE FALLING WITCH is a 90,000 word New Adult You'll want at least one more word here. Fantasy? Urban Fantasy? Science-fantasy? Something, you know? novel with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Otherwise, the rest of this ending is perfect. It's your first book, so this is all you need to say.

Okay, to summarize - I think you've actually already got everything here you need. All the building blocks are here (except maybe more of Edessa's character before her story begins). You just need to pare things down so that the details pack more punch. If you could trim this query so that every important detail is still included, but get them all across in 200-250 words, I think this would pack some real punch, and would really do it's job.

You also do need to include more about Edessa. What does she do for a living? What is her life like just before the inciting incident? What kind of person is she before her adventure begins? The query is already good without those details about her character, and you don't need all of them, but introducing her right off the bat, so we care about who she is, before we start to hear about what happens to her, will make us care that much more about all of it.

I hope this helps!

That's it.

What do you all think? Disagree with me on anything?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The length was the first thing that struck me yesterday. I think paring it down will take care of a lot of the issues.

Jessica Bell said...

Wow! Don't disagree with critique, but do want to say that I can totally see this book becoming a TV series, or series of movies. Sounds really intriguing, and you both know that this stuff isn't my cup of tea, so that's really saying something! Good luck, Elise!

KayC said...

Aside from Matt's suggestions (which I think are great and would really tighten up an already interesting query) my comment would be that I wasn't taken with the "irreverent voice" introducing the surprises. That style of query makes me think MG or YA.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Dang, Matt's feedback is good. I have nothing to add (no surprise there).

NA is a category not a genre. So yes, you still need to tell us what the genre is. NA paranormal is a genre.

I love this twist on vampires. Cool concept, Elise. Good luck with querying!

Martina at Adventures in YA Publishing said...

Excellent notes, Matt! And I also agree with KayC's comment. This is going tone a very strong query with a little tweaking!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I agree with shortening the information in the first paragraph. Yesterday I was struck by the line: "Oh, and here’s another, vampires are real, and one of them just saved Edessa’s life" because the sentences above said that she was attacked, not that someone intervened and saved her.

So, yes, that (and maybe the sentence about being born a witch) can be moved to the second paragraph. There was a lot of information in that 2nd paragraph to be absorbed. I got a little lost.

I wonder if Elise should highlight the stakes of visually identifying the genetic marker for a vampire. I found that part of the query more interesting than the naming of different factions and Houses involved in the conflict.

In a fantasy, there are always going to be good guys, bad guys, and the in-between guys. That's not the unique part of this story.
The blend of science and fantasy is the unique part, so play that up!

Elise Fallson said...

Thank you Matthew and thanks everyone for your feedback. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I'm seeing things a little clearer now. Thank you! (:

krystal jane said...

Well, this is definitely my kind of story! It sounds exciting. I agree with everyone else. It's a little heavy so some of the exciting bits are getting lost. And I agree with Dianne, I find the science aspect of this fascinating and it really makes your story stand out as different.

D.G. Hudson said...

I thought the hook and beginning a bit long as well, and wanted to know more about the MC. Elise has set the tone well, and it sounds like a great twist.

Good luck Elise! You're well on your way.

Very good points, Matt. As usual, a great crit.

Michael Offutt, "Johnny on the Spot" said...

It's a pretty decent first draft. I'd like to see how it gets changed in the rewrite using the suggestions you've made here.

Sarah Ahiers said...

This is a really strong query already. i think you'd get bites off it as is. But i'm with Matt about trimming some areas and beefing up others. I'd particularly like to know more about Edessa. Before we reached the category of New Adult, i assumed Edessa was in her late twenties as opposed to her late teens/early twenties.

Good job and good luck!

Elise Fallson said...

Thanks again everyone for your feedback. I really appreciate it and it's actually got me excited about the rewrites. WOOT! :)

Lexa Cain said...

I think what Matthew (and the other commenters) wrote is excellent ... but I'm going to disagree with a few things.

Vamp stories are still selling well for smaller pubbers and more agents are doing deals with them. Also, if it's a vamp story, just say it. No point in getting a request and then having an agent see the vamp part and reject. I like the ending to the first para. It's the second para I think is too long and detailed. I think you need to find a way to tell basically the same info, but cut a third of the words. For instance:

Following the attack, Edessa meets her extraordinary family she never knew existed, discovers powers she never thought possible, and develops feelings for a vampire that makes her heart do triple flips. But everything changes when Edessa discovers her mother’s research is being used by rogue vampires. If they succeed, they can mark human carriers of the vampire gene and bring chaos to the world. (How can the mark bring chaos? Clarify.) One person can stop the House -- the Witch of War. No one knows who she is, but many already want her dead.

Wishing you the very best of luck, Elise!

Jay Noel said...

Right on target.

I think it's a unique story (twist on vampires), and has a great premise.

The thing that struck me at first glance was the length. Just needs some whittling down.

Elise Fallson said...

Thanks Lexa and Jay for dropping in. I'm definitely going to work on cutting some of this down.

Thanks for all the advice and suggestions everyone!