Monday, December 5, 2011

Query Critique O' the Day!

Dear Super Secret Anonymous Writer,

Congratulations for getting to the query step! It's a huge achievement to complete, revise and ready a manuscript for the market! I enjoyed reading your query letter and hope you find the critique valuable to your process!

Some logistics. I'm going to post the query in its entirety, first then follow that up with a sentence by sentence critique. My comments are in blue.

[Agent's contact info]

Dear Ms. [Agent]:

[This letter is individualized for a certain editor, but I did want to disclose that information, so I can have feedback on the content and not who I am writing to.] Upon researching for agents to query, I found you to be an impeccable choice when I learned that you have represented both of these authors and also because of the diverse genres that you happen represent. I have completed a manuscript that is approximately 90,000 words and falls into the paranormal-fantasy genre and I am willing to offer it to you in exclusive terms.

When a harvester, Evelyn Cross, steals a mythical box from the dead city of Rome, it unknowingly sets a thousand-year-old prophecy into motion. It unleashes dark creatures, such as demons that can shape shift, and causes people to obtain supernatural powers that they had never had before.

A man who is also after the box, Malcolm, burns down Evy’s home city, Trinity, to the ground in hopes to also possess the box. Not only has Malcolm stolen her home away from her, but also he proves that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants by killing Evy’s sister right in front of her.

Revenge is Evy’s new favorite flavor. She dedicates her life to avenging her sister’s death and the destruction of her hometown. She is forced to team up with Stephan James, a man she despises, and his team of unworldly beings. To make matters even more unpleasant, she feels obligated to take it upon herself to make sure the fiancé of the man she loves doesn’t get her self killed. (This sentence could use some rewording… More simplistic.)

After several, unfortunate events is when Evy finally gets her chance for revenge. Her plan is simple, she’s going to put a bullet in the head of the man who put a bullet in her sister’s head. An eye for an eye is how she sees it. When opportunity to kill Malcolm presents itself, it turns out to be harder to kill than she anticipated. What stands in her way to Malcolm is a blindsiding betrayal and an army full of Malcolm’s followers.

In preparation for writing this manuscript, I thoroughly researched both the writing and publishing industries. I am in search of an agent for the long haul because that is what is best suited for me. I have already begun on the second manuscript and also have a rough outline for this entire series.

What makes this work special and unique is that it takes all of the elements of what is hot right now and puts it all into one novel. The completed work contains twenty-four chapters, a prologue and epilogue. Writing this manuscript has been has a labor of love that is a tribute to all the authors that have brought magic into my life.

As requested on PublishersMarketPlace.com, I have enclosed the first chapter of my novel and self-addressed stamped envelope. If you would like to read more on Evelyn Cross, I would be more than delighted to send an entire manuscript for your review.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.

*********************

[Agent's contact info]

Dear Ms. [Agent]:

[This letter is individualized for a certain (agent), but I did want to disclose that information, so I can have feedback on the content and not who I am writing to.] This is a key element every query should include. Always research the recipients of your queries. Most agencies and publishing houses that accept direct submissions will list out their guidelines for querying on their websites!

Upon researching for agents to query, I found you to be an impeccable choice when I learned that you have represented both of these authors and also because of the diverse genres that you happen (to) represent. I assume that you want to mention that you're a fan of this agent's clients and that you mentioned them. But in a polite introduction to a potential business partner--which is essentially the relationship between an agent and a writer--you want to make sure your grammar is impeccable and your writing, tight and straight-forward. Something like:

I'm a fan of your clients, [insert names], and was impressed with the diverse genres you represent.

I have completed a manuscript that is approximately 90,000 words and falls into the paranormal-fantasy genre and I am willing to offer it to you in exclusive terms. What's the title? That was my first question after reading your query. It's omission is glaring, so even if you're undecided on a title, include your best option or at the minimum refer to the novel as "untitled." For blog readers who don't know, when a writer offers an "exclusive," they're committing to wait for a response from the recipient before they query other agents. It's risky, but it definitely makes a statement. Additionally, this sentence could benefit from some tightening. So for your next line try:

I'm happy to offer you an exclusive look at my novel, [title], a paranormal fantasy complete at approximately 90,000 words.

When a harvester, Evelyn Cross, steals a mythical box from the dead city of Rome, it unknowingly sets a thousand-year-old prophecy into motion. It unleashes dark creatures, such as demons that can shape shift, and causes people to obtain supernatural powers that they had never had before. Some general tightening is necessary to make the hook more punchy, but it already sounds amazeballs! Also, if you refer to your protagonist primarily as Evy, I think it's okay to jut call her that in the hook. Like so:

When harvester, EVY CROSS, steals a mythical box from the dead city of Rome, she unleashes a horde of shape-shifting demons hellbent on destruction and a magic so powerful, regular people obtain supernatural powers.

A man who is also after the box, Malcolm, burns down Evy’s home city, Trinity, to the ground in hopes to also possess the box. Not only has Malcolm stolen her home away from her, but also he proves that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants by killing Evy’s sister right in front of her. Just a comment: that dirty bastard! Now back to critiquing. Ahem. Again, tightening:

(Since you've noted Evy's role as Harvester, if the antagonist has a role: cruel overlord, etc. then include that here for balance). Malcolm [last name] will stop at nothing to possess the stolen artifact. He executes Evy’s sister in front of her and burns her city to the ground.

Revenge is Evy’s new favorite flavor. I do love this line. I wonder if it's indicative of the voice in the novel and that's a good thing. But if the book is pretty snarky, you might want to include a little more of that here.

She dedicates her life to avenging her sister’s death and the destruction of her hometown. She is forced to team up with Stephan James, a man she despises, and his team of unworldly beings. To make matters even more unpleasant, she feels obligated to take it upon herself to make sure the fiancé of the man she loves doesn’t get her self killed. (This sentence could use some rewording… More simplistic.) Agreed, and tightening quite a bit:

To avenge her sister’s death, Evy must team up with the wretched Stephan James and his team of unworldly beings and take the fiancé of the man she loves under her protection.

After several, unfortunate events is when Evy finally gets her chance for revenge. Her plan is simple, she’s going to put a bullet in the head of the man who put a bullet in her sister’s head. An eye for an eye is how she sees it. When opportunity to kill Malcolm presents itself, it turns out to be harder to kill than she anticipated. What stands in her way to Malcolm is a blindsiding betrayal and an army full of Malcolm’s followers. This is probably the paragraph that needs the biggest edit. It's not necessary to discuss the plan, or how Evy's sister was killed. The reader fills in the blanks that revenge will include Evy killing Malcolm. So try:

Her quest to kill Malcolm is hampered by danger, betrayal and an army of the man’s followers (if these folks are demons, say that instead)...and an army of demons.

In preparation for writing this manuscript, I thoroughly researched both the writing and publishing industries. I am in search of an agent for the long haul because that is what is best suited for me. I have already begun on the second manuscript and also have a rough outline for this entire series. What makes this work special and unique is that it takes all of the elements of what is hot right now and puts it all into one novel. The completed work contains twenty-four chapters, a prologue and epilogue. Writing this manuscript has been has a labor of love that is a tribute to all the authors that have brought magic into my life. I'm not certain I'd include any of this in my query. It provides too much extraneous information and while it certainly has a genuine feel it doesn't do anything to help promote the sale of the story. In particular, rather than suggest that your book is unique because it incorporates "all of the elements of what is hot right now and puts it all into one novel", I'd point out that you're conscious of the continued popularity of the paranormal genre and believe that you have a fresh, original voice. Something like that.

As requested on PublishersMarketPlace.com, As requested in your submission guidelines,

I have enclosed the first chapter of my novel and self-addressed stamped envelope. If you would like to read more on Evelyn Cross, I would be more than delighted to send an entire manuscript for your review.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you. Very nice closing.

***************

You don't need to explain everything for a query letter to be successful. An agent keys in on elements of writing in the letter itself. Concise, tight writing is definitely prized among agents and editors so always go back and excise extraneous words and, PLEASE, check for grammar errors!

Your story sounds awesome!!! But again, I wish I knew the title.

Again, GOOD LUCK!!!!

**************************

DANIEL MARKS is a YA Fantasy Author, Vlogger and General Smart-ass. He is a founding member of the South Sound Algonquin writing group and presents workshops on writing and marketing. His Debut YA novel, VELVETEEN comes out in the Fall of 2012 from Delacorte/Random House Kids. Until then, he's more than happy to dance like a monkey for your pleasure!

5 comments:

  1. Great critique! Lots of great query advice on what sounds like an awesome story, and I agree, I totally love the 'new favorite flavor' line :) May I suggest that if the author decides to offer an exclusive, s/he sets a time limit since queries can get stuck in the slush pile.

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  2. This critique is on point.

    Also, I love your Christmas photo.

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  3. I agree, this sounds like a very exciting story! I agree with all of Danny's comments.

    One small little question I had: how do you steal a "mythical box?" If it's mythical, it doesn't exist. So how do you steal it? Could you call it something else?

    Good luck!

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  4. Thank you so much for critiquing my query. It is very much appreciated. I will take all the advice I can get. I agree with all the comments and have already started revising it. I am now one huge step closer to reaching my goal.

    -Rebekah

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  5. Hey Rebekah!

    Thanks for opening yourself up to this public scrutiny! So glad it helped. Good luck, again!

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