Thursday, May 13, 2010

Current Query Critique

As promised here is the critique of my current query by the amazing Rachele Alpine of Freckle Head

Don't forget that her thoughts are in blue and mine are in red:

Dear Agent,

Fifteen year old Lee Ruccio is a reluctant (I love the idea of a “reluctant” juvenile delinquent…seems like an oxymoron! Just that term alone made me want to read further) juvenile delinquent who arrives at reform school fearing the worst but soon discovers esoteric mysticism and arcane magic (I got a little lost here. I didn’t know what you met by your description here, and I wonder if agents would get confused. Some may know all of these terms, but you want to keep in mind those who may not) hidden beneath the hard-knock surface.

You have a good hook, but after you have your hook, you usually want to introduce your book. You should do this in the first paragraph so the agent knows exactly what kind of book they are dealing with. I would list your genre and word count in the first paragraph so the agent doesn’t scan through to see if it’s even something they represent.

Rachele makes an interesting point here. Nearly all the advice I read (Query Shark, Nathan Bransford, etc) advises to put the housekeeping data at the end (title, word-count, genre) but I think she has a cool idea. I think it was Roland who made another good point in the comments on Tuesday. Why not put this info in the subject line? I think I will ask Nathan Bransford in his forums, see what he thinks. That being said, Rachele is giving some good advice here. It doesn't make sense for an agent to read all the way through your query only to get to the end to realize they don't rep your genre.

Also I'm really glad people like the reluctant juvenile delinquent phrase. I came up with it very spur of the moment but it really does fit this character.

After the death of his (I would use Lee’s name here instead of “him” so the reader is reminded of who it is…especially if you add something about your genre after the hook) mother, in which his father was incarcerated for her murder, Lee's (here you can switch to “his”) aunt and uncle ship him off to Rocky Mountain Academy, a reform school in the bitter wilderness of northern Idaho.

Both good suggestions. Lee is certainly the most important character so having the reader lose sight of his identity would be very bad.

Instead of explaining that the death was a murder, you could reword it to say something like, “After the murder of Lee’s mother, in which his father was incarcerated…” This gets rid of the repetition.

That does sound better. I'm actually considering leaving the murder part of the plot out in the re-write, it wasn't really that important except as a device to remove the father from the picture. There are other ways. We'll see how it ends up working out.

At this strange and wonderful school he learns Aikido, Kenjutsu, East Asian Calligraphy and Meditation; eventually developing the ability to manipulate Ch'i energy and defend himself from his Katana wielding classmates with his Bo staff.

Try combining this with the paragraph above; I don’t think you need to separate the two. I wonder if you want to say why they teach him these things. It seems a bit off to me that he would be at a reform school for being a delinquent and they teach the students how to use weapons. Answering the “why” would explain this.

She right about that. There is sort of a leap of logic regarding how the school works and why students end up there. It's sort of a secret even in the novel so I'm not sure how to fix it in the query but I do need to make sure the reader (see: agent) doesn't read my query and think: hmm, that doesn't make any sense.

As he learns more and more about the secrets of life as a warrior monk the industrialized world outside of the sheltered campus continues to fall apart. Elemental Creatures of fire and stone have been attacking mines, oil refineries and other industrial locations for years but as Lee arrives at school the attacks begin to increase dramatically. He and his fellow students are eventually asked to investigate the source of the creatures and their skills come into play critically as they fend for their lives.

I want to know why he was sent to this school. What did he do to get brought to a reform school? This paragraph makes me wonder if he was even at a reform school if he’s suddenly fighting these creatures. This is also the first time the reader gets a sense that this is a world that has creatures in it. You mention magic at the start, but I didn’t really see it as a different type of world until you got to this paragraph. You may want to mention that sooner (and by introducing you genre in the first paragraph, instead of below, you would let the reader know that it’s a paranormal fantasy world).

This part is difficult for me. I have talked more about the trouble that he's gotten into to cause him to get sent away in other queries but that kind of backstory has always ended up droning on for too long and being clunky. I need to find a balance.

WARRIOR-MONKS is a young adult paranormal fantasy with elements of romance and a bit of jaded humor (I've left out the Word Count because I'm in revision, the current MS is still WAY too long). I'm told it sounds like a cross between Harry Potter and Naruto, and though that wasn't necessarily my intent I have to admit it does fit.

I would delete the Harry Potter/Naruto comparison. Let it stand on it’s own. The way you have it worded makes it sound like you discovered a lot of similarities, which makes the book not sound unique (and from the rest of your query it does sound very unique!).

Also, personally I would only mention that it’s a paranormal young adult novel. Fantasy sounds repetitive (isn’t that paranormal) and if you don’t mention the romance or humor in the query summary, don’t mention it in the description.

Great point about the comparison. Comparing anything to Harry Potter sounds kind of pretentious anyway.

As far as the paranormal fantasy I'm not sure. I don't consider them quite the same thing. Paranormal is always fantasy (unless you believe things like telepathy or telekinesis really exist) but fantasy is not necessarily paranormal. That being said she's right that it sound clumsy when describing the novel as both. YA paranormal works better I think because even though there are some creatures that essentially make it fantasy there are no elves, dwarves, knights or princesses so if I was to drop one of the terms it would probably be fantasy.

This is my first novel.

You don’t need to say this. I wouldn’t mention it. I feel like the only time you would mention what number novel it is when you’ve published before.

Makes sense.

I would be happy to submit sample pages of WARRIOR-MONKS upon your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Matthew Rush

So there you go. I want to thank Rachele for her advice; she makes some excellent points and really focused in on what could and should be improved with this query.

Thanks Rachele!

So what do you guys think? Do you agree with Rachele's points? Do you have anything to add?


Kristine Asselin said...

Great critique by Rachel, and always brave to put yourself on display Matthew. Interesting about the difference in opinion on the genre/word count. I've got it in my first paragraph, but have read some agent interviews where they like to jump right into the hook. I guess it's all personal preference.

Vicki Rocho said...

Great post! My critiquing skills are rusty. I always read them and say, "you know, he/she is right" but to actually come up with the REASON something seems 'off' to me is really hard.

Just Wendy said...

Sadly, I have no opinion. I'm just grateful you post your query letters for us to peruse. Especially as I'm in the midst of writing one!

You are an inspiration. May one of your queries find a home in the not too distant future :)

Hannah said...

I agree with a lot of what Rachele had to say, all good points. Thanks for sharing this with us. I'm not at that stage yet but it helps to keep it in the back of my mind.

Candyland said...

Wow! What a difference a few tweaks make. She was very kind, though it's never easy to hear what's wrong with what you're doing.

Rachele Alpine said...

Matt, you have some good points to! Like I said, I'm only one opinion, so you want to decide what works best for you in your letter. Feel free to pass the newest draft onto me when you write it. If you want another look, I'd love to see what you revise! It might be cool to post your revised query on here too. We can see the process that you went through with revisions.

Arlee Bird said...

The dissection and analysis of the letter is helpful and would make me want to look more closely at any queries that I might be writing in the future. Nothing to add as I think this breakdown covered things I would have missed in the first place. It's good to have a perceptive reader go over your writing.


Old Kitty said...

Awww I like the Harry Potter line but then shows what I know! LOL!!

This is great feedback - I think bar a few re-writes, you've near enough nailed this query thing - and I do see her point about using the words paranormal young adult full stop.

Thanks for sharing

Take care

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks Rachele, will do. You rock!

Sage Ravenwood said...

I can see how the key points, Rachelle mentioned would work for you. Have to admit the placement of the genre and word count confused me as well.

I would love to see what conclusion you come to with that one. (Hugs)Indigo

Jessica Bell said...

I think she's done a great job. But you know what I would like to see? I want to see what obstacles Lee has to overcome. To me there doesn't seem to be any motive mentioned until the last couple of lines. What are the major plot points that move him forward in the story? I would personally focus each paragraph on a major plot. Do you get what I mean? I hope I'm making sense ;-/

Christina Lee said...

Awesome critique! And yes I would go with ya paranormal and leave out fantasy! Thanks for sharing!

JE said...

I don't agree with the paranormal/fantasy thing. They are two different things on many different levels.

Also, you shouldn't always put the stuff (genre, word count, etc) on top. Certain agents like certain things, so find out what they like and do that. If they don't have a preference listed, then put it at the top. But don't guess.

Other than that, she made some good points. I'm still not crazy about the long sentences. I have long sentence

It was a nice critique, can't wait to see an updated version (once your re-write is done)


Slamdunk said...

Informative stuff. From reading these letters and suggestions, it is good to see there is no cookie-cutter solution that works for everyone--that the author can use his/her creativity while following some hints to make the query work.

Elana Johnson said...

What excellent advice. And hey, I have a question for you. I'll email you off-blog...

Sarah Ahiers said...

i was always told that for e-queries you want to start right with the story and put the contact info at the bottom. You only have a few lines to catch their attention (less if they're using a blackberry) and you don't want your name and contact info taking up that space.
However this is a just a stylistic choice and no agent is going to reject you based on where you put your contact info. So do what feel right to you and your voice.
For me, it's jumping right in

Matthew MacNish said...

I agree with all these comments. The thing is - as with most everything about writing - it's subjective. Research the agent and find out for sure where they prefer title/wc/genre if possible.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I think you got some great feedback there and you'll have a whole myriad of tools for when you've finished your rewrite and are ready to go back to querying!

Talli Roland said...

What a thorough and great critique. I agree with all her points. I think you're going to have one killer query on your hands! Thanks Matthew!

Jaydee Morgan said...

Congrats on the critique. Another set of eyes can really point out things we miss - or overlook because we know our story so well. You have some good advice here - work with it :)

Shannon said...

Excellent critique by Rachel. She had some really good points.

But you know what? I think you got it write, Matt, when you said it's subjective. I think that's what makes this process so challenging - there isn't an 2+2=4 formula.

Regardless, I think you're on the right path.

Thanks, again, for sharing. :)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

It is extraordinarily brave to expose yourself to the slings and arrows of others, Matthew.

I've read in several articles by agents that having your housekeeping info in the subject header lets the agent know up front the basics of your novel.

Is it a genre they handle. Is it the right length. No agent wants to even consider a debut novel that is 200,000 words long. Is the title a great hook that will snare the weary eye of a publisher or the bored one of a customer browsing the bookstore?

The advise made sense to me. So far four agents have asked to see more ... and are still looking {say prayers everyone!}

But it could just as well be inspite of my query instead of because of it.

May we both soon become published, Roland

Unknown said...

Great post!!! Rachel did a great critique! I'm afraid I'm not very good at critiquing still doing my best with my own work and taking others a step at a time!

Always entertaining!

Tabitha said...

Rachel has some great advice. I think that if you tailored your query to the agent you're sending it to (as in, state a specific reason why you sent it to him/her), then it would be a bit easier to work in the genre of your story.

Also, I agree that we need to know something about how the MC ended up at a reform school. It says a lot about what kind of character he is, and sets the tone of the novel.

Last thing, but I think it's the most important. As Rachel said, the reform school and the weapons don't match at all. I can see this as a reason for an auto-rejection. So, unless you *have* to mention the reform school in the query, maybe you could just say he was sent away to school. This might work to your advantage, because the agent reading your query might want to know more about the school, and that might result in a request.

Anyway, hope that helps. Good luck!!