Friday, September 13, 2013

Traci Kenworth's Current Query Critiqued

Today we have Traci's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:



Personllay (see what I did there?) I subscribe to the Janet Reid method, which basically says that nothing matters more than story. In other words, save your personalization for the end. The reason for this is simple, a mediocre query may be overlooked if the pages are stellar enough, but no amount of personalization is going to sell a mediocre manuscript. So in other words, get right to what matters: story.

Caveat: obviously different agents have different preferences, if you happen to know what they prefer, certainly stick with that.

Eighteen-year-old Native-American, I don't believe you hyphenate Native American, and furthermore, it feels a little ... insensitive. I mean, I get what you're going for, and I LOVE POC in the books I read, but if the most important aspect of his character is his race ... you're in trouble. I'm sure it doesn't work that way in the book, but including it in the query seems a bit forced. Thomas Skyhawk wants out of the Supernatural hunter business. I like this. A hint of world, AND some built in conflict. Good start. Since a failed mission three years ago, he’s wrestled with being an Akara guard, but he can’t simply walk away from a job that’s been his family’s occupation for generations. There’s also his padina, or blood brother, to consider. They’ve come up through the ranks together, leaving. Leaving would be a betrayal of that friendship. Thomas always met the challenges before but now in 2021, a new creature has been born into the 2021 eastern Tennessee lands, one who knows Thomas’s name, and marks him and those he loves for death.

Okay. So this isn't bad, but I'm concerned you have a bit much here. I like what you're trying to do by mentioning Thomas is Native American, but I'm afraid that's the wrong detail to go with. Something else about his character, about who he is before what happens to him starts ... happening, would go a long way toward making your reader sympathize with him.

Then ... the details about his family and his brother and the creature are good, but I feel like you take too many words to get it all out. You want your opening paragraph to introduce a character, and then get as quickly and as hookily to an inciting incident as you can. Obviously certain details cannot be skipped, but if you can tighten this paragraph up, you'd be in better shape.

To make matters worse, his people are becoming uncomfortably close to the local ghost population, Oh wow. Ghosts too? Okay. his own mother turns out to be a witch hell-bent on his destruction, And witches? Got it. and his longlost half-sister has been groomed by a cult to infiltrate and destroy his village. And cultists? So it's like Resident Evil meets TrueBlood? I like it. In a world where enemies lurk beneath even the friendliest faces, Great line. Thomas must use everything he has to not only survive but to save his people from an evil that threatens to engulf them. This last clause is kind of meh. It's not only vague, but it's implicitly understood anyway. For one thing, what is everything Thomas has? Does he have powers? Tech? Magic? Poisonous farts? Whatever it is, be specific. And furthermore, which evil? The creature? The cult? The ghosts? You need to work on making exactly what the conflict is crystal clear. You've got a lot of cool elements included here, but there's very little sense of how it all goes down.

I’m a Lit Intern at Month9Books. I blog at I would move these details into or after your word count and genre paragraph. You can see how I do my own queries, here.

LIFE AS THE WALKING DEAD is a NA Horror manuscript at of (or, complete at) 72,000 words. I believe it would appeal to the fans of ghost-hunter, Cas, Anna Dressed in Blood and Girls of Nightmares by Kendare Blake as well perhaps, to those of the hit CW show, Supernatural. I'm confused by these comparisons. People who've read them probably won't be, but I can't tell what's a title and what's a character. Titles of published works go in italics in a query letter.


Traci Crites

Writing as Traci Kenworth

Okay, in summary, you've got what is clearly a very cool world going here. From Van Helsing to Vampire Hunter D, I'm a sucker for characters who hunt evil (or monsters, whatever), but ... there really is no clear sense of plot. It's almost like you've got two-thirds of a query letter here. You've got your character, his world, and inciting incident, more details of the world and some hints at who the antagonist might be, but then ... you just end it. What is the main conflict? You vaguely mention evil engulfing Thomas' people, but we've got no idea which evil, or how they go about it.

Obviously, with no sense of the main conflict, it's difficult to move on to choice, but that's actually the least critical of the three Cs. However, don't despair. You've got something good going here, it just needs a little work. Your world is well imagined, and exciting. You've got a good start on a sense of character, and some excellent bits of writing. If you can just work on fleshing out the final third of this query, I think you'd be in great shape.

That's it!

What do you all think? Please share your feedback in the comments, and thank Traci for being so brave to share her query letter with us.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

With a name like Thomas Skyhawk, I think the American Indian heritage is implied and doesn't need to be stated. That removes a few words and a little awkwardness.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Ii agree with everything Matt said. Also what Alex said, since I was thinking the same thing.
If you really think it's important that his race be included in the Query, then maybe you can mention what tribe he's a part of, that would convey it a lot better.

I'm also a firm believer of personalization at the end. EXCEPT! When you're querying an agent who's read your work before. In that case, I put that right at the top. I want them to know they've liked me and my stuff in the past before they even start reading the query, you know?

But this story sounds so cool! The query doesn't need too much work. Just focus on that conflict and that choice and you'll be golden

Rusty Webb said...

It's a great opening to a query already. In fact, I think one of the reasons I don't visit here as often as I did is because seeing all these great queries that still need work makes me want to clap my hands over my ears and blame my lack of success on the stars.

Still, as always, very insightful. Very valid crits all around. I was confused slightly by the comparisons at the end of the query too, good job pointing that out.

mshatch said...

I agree that the name Skyhawk implies that Thomas is Native American. You could also say, Thomas Skyhawk of the [name tribe], wants out of...Otherwise, I think Matt pretty much covered it and (as a fan of all things supernatural)it definitely sounds like a fun story :)

Yolanda Renee said...

Congratulations Traci, that's an excellent effort and sharing it with the rest of us lets us learn too!

Sounds like a great book, and with Matt's help, you're going to get it noticed!

Tina said...

Hey - just wanted to thank you for stopping by and supporting Briane today.
Your comments about Traci's query seem right on, though this is a part of publishing I'm not ready for, so I really don't know enough to comment more than that.

Tina @ Life is Good

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for the kind words!! I will definitely take all that you and Matt have said into consideration. I can't believe I didn't think about his last name signifying he was Native American. Maybe I could, as a reference to who he is, say Akara guard? Or would that be too much in line with the supernatural hunter part? Or perhaps his being the middle brother that juggles the weight of holding his family together might be better? The main conflict would be his saving his people from the creatures and their masters who want to destroy the Akara. Better? I could also say the struggle of saving his people from evil forces, wrestling with his attraction to one, and dealing with a psychotic mother out to destroy his life because she thinks he's responsible for his father's death? Hope that makes sense!! In any case thank you again for your help!!

Matthew MacNish said...

@ Traci, I think you'd be at risk of trying to include too much if you put all that in. As for the character, maybe name his tribe, and keep the Akara Guard part in.

You can also take at look at some successful queries, and how they covered CHARACTER, CONFLICT, and CHOICE, here:

mmshaunakelley said...

I'm with you and Alex- leave the Native American out. The name implies it. Otherwise, great critique, and this is a book I want to read!

Nate Wilson said...

I like what you've got here, but for me it falls flat with the final line of the second paragraph. Of course Thomas will do all he can to survive and save his people. That's expected in this type of tale. But what makes his story different from all the others?

What's the main conflict, and more importantly (for me, at least) what choice is he forced to make? For instance, will he need to confront/kill his mom or half-sister to save his people? Will he need to sacrifice the life of his padina? And I'd work the new creature back in, perhaps hinting at why it has targeted Thomas and his people. Tie up that second paragraph with a stronger sense of purpose, and you've got something.

Elise Fallson said...

I've grown away from reading horror over the last few years, but this query has me excited about the genre again. You've got some very interesting elements to this story but I agree with Matthew and the other commenters, the conflict needs to be worked in more. And I agree with Nate about explaining more about the new creature and how it ties into the overall conflict of the story. You've got a good start Traci and with all these comments/suggestions your query will be excellent in no time. (:

Traci Kenworth said...

Thank you all again!! Nate, you've given me some great ideas on how to get the main conflict across better. Elise, I'm thinking I may actually have to market it as Dark fantasy with horror elements due to all the world-building in it. Mmshaunakelley, you made my day!!

Donna K. Weaver said...

I agree with Alex that the mc's name is plenty hint to his Native Americaness.

Great observations, Matt. I can't add anymore. Love the world. *shivers*

Traci Kenworth said...

Thanks, Donna!! You all have encouraged me SO much, thank you!! Matt, it was wonderful of you to post my query for me!!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That last line is a little generic and vague. Needs more specific details, and those can be accomplished without using a lot of words.

Personalization varies from agent to agent and publisher to publisher. It does sandwich the synopsis nicely and leads with a compliment. I always think of letters where you are requesting someone's assistance - you don't just ask first, you lead in with a compliment so it doesn't look like you just want something from that person. With a query letter, it needs to be personal and genuine though, or it doesn't work. Again, depends on the person you're sending it to and it could go either way.

Traci Kenworth said...


Dianne K. Salerni said...

Sorry -- I'm late getting back here. Things were crazy on Friday.

I agree with what Matt said about the main character's race. I think with a bit of tweaking, the race could be made obvious in the rest of that first paragraph: his name, a mention of tribal names, and we'll know he's Native American without you having to say it directly.

I actually liked the interesting set-up of conflict in the first paragraph -- but the second paragraph slammed me with too many new details: ghosts, witches, cults? I suggest sticking to the conflict introduced in the first paragraph -- this new creature that knows his name. Hone the presentation of that conflict, define the stakes, and if you want to mention that the divided loyalties of his extended family complicates the situation for him, I think you could do that without getting into the details of it.

Hope this helps, and sorry to be so late with it.

Traci Kenworth said...

Thanks, Diane!!