Friday, June 21, 2013

Angela Brown's Current Query Critiqued

Okay. Sorry I'm late. I was up watching the finals last night. Poor Manu.

Anyway, today we have Angela's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.

The letter:

Dear Super Agent:

Twelve-year-old Caesimilia "Case" Mollands would pick high top sneakers over sparkly heeled slippers any day of the week. Love it. Love it. Love it. I wish I could see more queries that open with this much character. It's a little subtle, sure, but I know exactly what kind of kid Case is before her story starts, and she's exactly the kind of kid I could love to sympathize with. Well done. Yet she loves the tales of happily ever afters in her father’s prized book of Fabricaasia. When a startling show of bells and rose petals What does this mean? A show? How does that manifest, exactly? transports Case from everything she knows, she soon discovers Fabricaasia has chosen her as its newest protector, the Fable Ranger, and link between the real world and the world where fables, legends and lore come to life: the land of Fabricaasia. I think you can cut this. It's understood, and it's the third time you've repeated this very specific name (specificity is good, but redundancy is not).

All in all, this isn't a bad opening. Some agents, and people who know the market better might tell you a portal fantasy is a tough sell, but I think there's probably always room. I think it fits MG better than YA.

A negative energy from fairy tales gone off-script I love this concept ... quickly forces the Red Rose Bounds, the veil between realms, to shut down. No in. No out. ... but I'm not sure it makes sense in your query. She just got here, and suddenly the portal shuts down? If that's what you mean, fine, but make it clear. If that's not what you mean, clarify. Being forever stuck in a world of heroes that reject her as Fable Ranger has zero appeal to Case. Why do they reject her? Why does she hate it there? I thought she loved fairy tales? Her only way home is to set the off-script tales right again without falling into the hands of Dovetail, a wicked being rumored You can probably just say which it is. Not much point to keeping secrets in a query (usually). to be from the real world and the source of Fabricaasia's bad mojo.

The book of Fabricaasia has the answers. But it's back in the real world, right? Case is the key. No one can decipher the mysterious runes that appear as footnotes for the straying stories, except her. I guess she must have brought it with her. With the help of Robin Hood and a new friend, Charlie-boy, she embarks on an adventure to save an Arabian Nights legend on the cusp of corruption and a sleepy fairy tale doomed to a never ever after. Only then can Case return home...maybe. After all, a Fable Ranger's work is never done. I'm not sure you need these last two lines. Besides, if you can, you want to try to illustrate some kind of tough choice that Case has to make. Stay and save the world, leave and save herself, or you know, something like that.

FABLE RANGER is a 29,200 30,000 (at this length you're going to want to round up) word middle grade fairy tale mash up novel with series potential.

I look forward to hearing back from you and appreciate you taking the time to consider my novel.

Otherwise, good.

Okay, so in summary: this query is a bit different than most I see. Usually they start out weak, and build to strength. This query starts out strong, and the fizzles a bit by the end (and least from this one reader's subjective viewpoint).

The biggest problem for me is logistics. It can be tough to make it clear how a magical world works in something as short as a query, I'm well aware, but some of that detail comes across as muddled here. How does the portal work? Does it close after she crosses or not? 

Other than that, you've got some great elements. I love the idea (and name) of Dovetail, and I love the off-script concept, so if you can focus the logic a little better, and work on incorporating a sadistic choice into the ending, I think you'd be off to a great start.

That's it.

What do you all think?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I wasn't sure about the portal either. I think simplifying a few things might make the query stronger. (Just seems like a lot going on in the second and third paragraphs.) But it does start off really strong, Angela!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Like Matt, I think this query started out strong and then became muddled as you tried to include too many plot elements in paragraphs 2 and 3. Remember, this isn't a synopsis on speed. It's a hook. It doesn't have to include all the complexities of your book -- and it definitely shouldn't have so many names in it.

Boil this down to the basic conflict: What is wrong with Fabricaasia and why is Case the key to solving it? (Or more importantly, what's at stake if she doesn't?)

mshatch said...

I agree with Matt and Dianne - and I can totally relate to preferring hightops over heels!

JeffO said...

I think there's some good stuff in here, but I also feel almost like there's a word or two missing in some places that leave me confused. Now, a couple of things, I think you should turn your first two sentences into one. The third sentence is one that is unclear to me. The 'show of bells and rose petals' is a little odd, but I get that somehow it transports her. But the sentence ends oddly: "and link between the real world...." It doesn't make sense to me what you're saying at that point.

In the second para, while naming the Rose Red Bounds is a nice specific, I would suggest either cutting it, or swapping its place with 'the veil between realms.' (or keep the order, but use em dashes instead). I think it's more clear if you do that. Agree with Matt, "Being forever stuck" works better. I love the phrase 'Bad mojo', but I don't think it fits in the tone of your query.

Last paragraph, I think you should alter that third sentence. "Case is the key. SHe's the only one who can...."

So...I think you've got a really interesting story. It sounds like it is a fun read. But I think you just need to clarify a few sentences, and do some streamlining here and there. Sorry for the lengthy comments, hope it helps!

Elise Fallson said...

I love the voice and the sense of character that comes across in the beginning, it's something I struggle with in my own query. I also agree with Matthew and the other commenters, things got a little vague as you went along, but I still think it sounds like a really fun story. Bring in more specifics and I think this will be a rockin query.

Mia Hayson said...

I agree with Matt and Dianne. LOVED the start! But I felt like the third paragraph introduced a lot of plot and I wasn't sure where the main conflict was. It was good plot, but plot that I don't need to be hooked maybe?

Anyway. Overall it's a great query, Angela! :)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

I agree with you Matt. While the query does start strong it fizzles when it comes to details and a proper round off. Queries aren't the time leave agents guessing what the story is about. If they don't know then they won't pick it. Doing it in a way that makes them want to know more is the way to go and I think Angela's half way there. You did a very good Query Angela and Matt's corrections will make it close to perfect.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I love the voice in this, but you are absolutely correct, Matt. Portal fantasies are on the outs right now. I'm afraid that no matter how good this query is, it is just not the time to query portal fantasies.

Patchi said...

I think there is great characterization in the query opening. My suggestion would be to focus on what is unique in the novel and highlighting that.

Fixing broken stories has been done, but maybe not the way Angela is doing. I like how Case is not going inside the book, but to a different world. What is the role of a Fable Ranger? Does she fit the role or not? The characters seem to think no, if they're rejecting her.

If portals are a hard sell, take the emphasis off how she gets to Fabricaasia and focus on what she needs to do and what the stakes are. I like the runes she needs to decipher. If that is a key part of the plot it might be a good place to focus.

Good luck!

farawayeyes said...

Not much to add. I love the premise - 'portal fantasy' or not.

I agree with whoever said 'bad mojo' is a phrase that leaps off the page - it doesn't seem to fit.

That sentence that speaks of Robin Hood, Charlie-boy and Arabian Nights is a bit TMI and would be better condensed to be a more general description of the problem at hand. Maybe something like: 'Case embarks on an adventure to save the happy tales of Fabricaasia, on the cusp of corruption and doomed to a never ever after.')

M Pax said...

Wishing Angela the best! Her opener is fantastic.

Unknown said...

I love the premise. Unlike the others, I thought the first line was too wordy and had too many adjectives - it tripped me up (especially since I'd already sounded out the MC's name 4 different ways in my head) before I got to "high top sneakers over sparkly heeled slippers." Then I paused trying to imagine sparkly heeled slippers. Nope. Never seen any, but I'll have to take your word they exist.

Good luck to your and your Fable Ranger! :-)

Angela Brown said...

This feedback is extremely helpful. And it's a perfect example of why it's so important to have another set of eyes to look at things.

I've got some great info here to help this query.

Thank you, Matt :-)
Thank you everyone for your comments!

Nancy Thompson said...

I know nothing of this genre or audience, so I'm just impressed as hell all the way around.

Deniz Bevan said...

I agree with Matthew both about the strong voice and the difficult logistics. One thing that might help is to cut out all names except the most necessary, by which I mean - name the main character, name and describe the villain, but omit names and invented terms for everything else (except the fantasy world itself). That way, the agent can keep tack of who goes where to do what, without having to pronounce all sorts of other cool-sounding (yet distracting) names.
Hope that helps! :-)