Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.


Dear Bookends Blog,

Jason is dead. To Bri MacBride, nothing else matters.

It doesn’t matter that his death is just one in a string of murders. It doesn’t matter that Bri is Suspect Numero Uno. As long as the police are investigating her, they will never find the real killer, so Bri takes on that job herself. Finding answers is her only priority.

That is, until she starts finding answers.

When the people in your life are targeted by a serial killer, you’ve got the makings of some pretty hefty shrink bills. When that serial killer is also a powerful sorcerer, your problems are just a little more serious than that.


This is all a bit wordy. I like that the voice is coming through in the query, but it could have cut to the chase much sooner. The way this query is introduced, this book sounds like straight suspense. I think it's in the writer's best interest to make it clear that this book has paranormal elements much sooner.


Bri isn’t a total stranger to magic. She is one of the fae, belonging half to the faerie world, half to the human world, but not quite to either. She plays music as a day job, but when money gets low – or when life gets boring – she has a few extracurricular activities. Like scaling buildings, disabling alarm systems, and stealing valuable jewels, for instance. When your talents include the ability to manipulate energy, fry electronics, and make yourself unnoticeable, the real crime would be letting your skills go to waste.

Now here's the interesting stuff. This paragraph is what sets the book apart from a typical serial killer novel. This information should be introduced as close to the beginning of the query as possible. At the same time, though, it was a red flag for me. The tone has taken a turn. Those two introductory paragraphs sound very dark and serious. First we're talking about how "nothing else matters" to Bri other than finding Jason's killer. Now there's breezy talk of her "extracurricular activities." If it's a dark book, there's still a way of describing her abilities that isn't quite so casual. If not, then the writer might want to find a different way to open the query.


But all of Bri’s abilities won’t be enough to stop a sorcerer like this one – and if she is out of her depth, what chance do the cops have?

As Bri tries to put the pieces together, she discovers that she has more than one enemy to contend with. It’s hard enough just to evade the police, but she also has to escape goblin mercenaries, and survive attacks from mysterious faerie assassins. All this, while trying to hunt down a sorcerer who can kill her with a wave of a pinky finger. She must also bargain with her estranged mother, a faerie Queen who may not have Bri’s best interests at heart. Then she has to figure out what all the pieces add up to, and the answer to that may change her life forever.


I sort of feel like we've forgotten all about Jason. He seemed so important at the beginning, but as the description goes on, I'm starting to think that the heart of the book is really in this last paragraph. Jason was a launching point, but not really the book's focus.

This whole description could've been much shorter and more concise. If the writer had spent less time talking about Jason and setting it up like a suspense novel, we would've gotten to the meat of the book much sooner. I'd still like this last paragraph to be a bit more specific about the conflict. It raises some interesting elements, but they're all a bit vague. All in all, though, it's much more interesting to me than the beginning of the query.


OBSIDIAN BLADE is a completed urban fantasy novel of 100,000 words. This is the first novel I am submitting for publication, but I have been writing fantasy novels for fun ever since I was twelve years old. OBSIDIAN BLADE is stand-alone, but it has series potential, and I am already at work on a sequel.

Scrap the second sentence. Let the book speak for itself. Don't tell me that it's the first book you've submitted. That second sentence makes it sound as if writing is more of a hobby for you, not a serious career that you're pursuing.


I would be happy to send you an excerpt or the complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,
X




Kim

13 comments:

MJC said...

I'm working on version no. 753 of my own query, so obviously I'm no expert, but I think Ms. Lionetti's appraisal is right on.

I think the beginning sounds very much like a murder mystery. When I read "police" and "serial killer" I immediately expect mainstream suspense. But the heart of the novel, I think, is about Bri's struggles as a good Fae. She might be restless, highly spirited and a little bit dangerous, might get into some questionable stuff, like thievery, but basically she's good and fighting truly evil forces. Way off base?

The mention of a "shrink" was distracting for me. If seeing one is part of the story, I bet it's not real important. If it was used as an enticement, I don't think it works. Like I said, I found it distracting. So, I would lose it. I'll also add I don't like questions in queries. Something about them puts me off. I think the writer can re-word to convey the information in a more direct way.

The paragraphs where Bri's powers are listed and the obstacles she faces get a bit busy for me. I feel like the writer isn't concentrating on the core of Bri's challenge.

This workshop is helpful for me. I think it's so easy to think we have to throw all the "important" pieces into the query, but I guess writing the query is a lot like writing the actual novel. There's a lot of information the writer needs to know to clearly show readers what the characters are all about, but we don't have to necessarily include all that information in the story.

Queries are about the heart of the story. So, if this writer can zero in on what makes Bri special and the story's main conflict, I think the query will be stronger and might interest an agent.

Best of luck.

Karen said...

The first graf really grabbed me.

The second the same, except the phrase "Suspect Numero Uno" annoyed, because it seemed too playful for Bri's mood.

The third made me think "Oh, we have a real pro here."

Then I got to the word "sorcerer" and I said HUH?

After that, the query appears to be for a completely different novel.

I'm not sure what to suggest. The opening is killer, but it doesn't seem to be what the book is about.

Robena Grant said...

Thanks so much. This workshop is very helpful. I revisited my query this week, and ended up completely rewriting it.
It's hard to choose the elements of a story that you think will appeal to the reader, and provide a hook, and an overview of the entire work, and have it all make sense. And I think that is what I've learned so far. I don't need to give ALL of the elements. : )

Laila Knight said...

I thought it was a thriller at first, but I really liked the second part when I discovered it was fantasy and the character could do some amazing things. I admire a writer that can bring out their voice in a query. I'm still working on that. I'm convinced it takes longer to write the perfect query letter than it does to write a novel.

Candace Rose said...

I actually giggled a little when you said the serial killer was a sorcerer. You set me up to expect a murder mystery, so when you mentioned magic, it sounded kind of ridiculous. I agree with the advice given--you need to show it's a fantasy right off the bat so that the reader doesn't get confused.
I also felt like I was being tugged back and forth with all the info you were sharing: She's a magical half fairy, she just lost her boyfriend to a serial killer(who she now must catch all by herself), she's estranged from her mom, and oh yeah, she's a thief on the side. I would focus on a couple of those and really show why they matter.
I feel like this needs a little work, but it's not a lost cause. Just keep tweaking until you get it perfect. So easy, right?

Anonymous said...

As the writer of this query, I have to admit that I agree with the appraisal 100% too... Some time after sending this in, I came to some of these same conclusions. I reworked the query and came up with something that I think worked a little better. (at the very least, I got requests from a couple agents with the new version!)

I did remove the "suspense" opening and went with something a little less heavy, and introduced the supernatural elements straight away. The rest of the query stayed mostly the same, with a few tweaks. But maybe I should think more about getting into specifics with my later paragraphs.

I really appreciate the comments!

Anonymous said...

I write nonfiction, so it would be nice to see a non-fiction query once in awhile.

Carrie Butler said...

I live for Workshop Wednesday! Thank you for investing your time like this. It truly is helpful. :)

Laura said...

To the "Anonymous" Query Writer:

Would you be interested in posting your updated version? I think we'd all like to see what changes you made.

Jeff King said...

I agree with Laura!!!

Anonymous said...

I'd be happy to!

This is the updated version, exactly as I sent it out (I got 2 requests, but still plenty of rejections)

I would guess that perhaps it still needs to be trimmed down a little, although I've had a hard time figuring out how to do that. I'm definitely happy to receive comments!

Dear Ms./Mr. Agent,

Bri MacBride has a problem. She is perched on a rock. In the middle of a lake. Somewhere in the faerie realm. There is a monster in the lake (there always is), and this time she doesn’t have any chocolate bars to bargain with.

These are the moments when Bri finds herself pondering the big questions in life. Like, how did I get here? How do I get out of here? Where is here, exactly, anyway? Then there are the more specific questions. How do I hunt down a sorcerer before he kills any more of my friends? How do I stop him, when he can kill me with a wave of his pinky finger? And the biggest question of all: how on earth did I end up here wearing an orange prison jumpsuit?

Bri is no stranger to magic, or to adventure. She is, after all, one of the fae, belonging half to the faerie world, half to the human world, but not quite to either. She plays music as a day job, but when money gets low – or when life gets boring – she has a few extracurricular activities. Like scaling buildings, disabling alarm systems, and stealing valuable jewels, for instance. Bri’s talents include the ability to manipulate energy and emotions, fry electronics, and make herself unnoticeable. The way she sees it, the real crime would be letting all that go to waste.

Unfortunately, “all that” isn’t much help to her now. Bri is completely out of her league. The sorcerer isn’t even her only problem – there are also goblins, and mysterious faerie assassins, and the police. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget her mother, a faerie queen who undoubtedly does not have Bri’s best interests at heart.

And somewhere along the way, in between running from her enemies, and flying on griffons, and getting arrested, there is one last question that Bri has to answer. Why is this happening to her? Because the answer to that may change her life forever.

OBSIDIAN BLADE is a completed urban fantasy novel of 100,000 words. This is the first novel I am submitting for publication, but I have been writing fantasy novels for fun ever since I was twelve years old. OBSIDIAN BLADE is stand-alone, but it has series potential, and I am already at work on a sequel.

I would be happy to send you an excerpt or the complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Karen Duvall said...

Urban fantasy queries are especially tough to write because they often straddle the line between noire thriller and fantasy. It's challenging to suspend disbelief in this genre, but you gotta make it real. Or appear real. I agree with Kim and the others who said to get that fantasy element up front, and I'll also add that it should blend well with the suspense element to the point that it can't exist without it.

I, too, would like to see the new and improved version of this query. :)

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Anybody else read Laurell K. Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series?

The first version of the query sounds an awful lot like those--I'm not saying that means that your book is exactly like those, but there were definite similarities.

I think the revised query is still a bit long, but does a much better job of showing how your book is different (and thereby worth reading).