Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Workshop Wednesday

Thanks to all of your contributions, Workshop Wednesday has been a success. We're going to continue on with it for as long as we have entries and the energy to comment on them. If you haven't yet submitted but are still interested, 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,

This greeting is probably for the blog, but in a query letter, you should address only one agent.

Zell Jinn doesn't do things like a normal teenager would. If he did, he would've met Shyla Franklin at school or online, rather than inside Hell.

These are small things: “Zell Jinn” sounds like “Sell Gin.” Is this deliberate, and if so, why? The word “inside” above irks me because, unless Hell is something that has physical dimensions and is enclosed like a box, this is the wrong word.

But for the modern day paladin, putting a soul back inside a vampire, then falling in love with her, and managing to literally piss off the Devil in the process are average days.

If he literally pissed off the Devil in the process, he’d be standing on top of the Devil and urinating off him while simultaneously falling in love with a vampire whose soul he just replaced. Please be careful with the word “literally” because you’re asking people to take what you say completely literally. You can’t call a figurative statement literal.

If only handling the weight of being the top point guard in the state and most popular kid in school was as easy as ganking the undead.

I like that Zell is living a double life, and I also think it is interesting that he’s the popular kid rather than a geek. “Ganking” is probably not a good word choice because as far as I know it only exists in video games like World of Warcraft with which literary agents might not be familiar.

But since Shyla's rescue, things have gotten bizarre. Or as the other paladins are used to saying: things have gone all to Zell. After returning from a mission in the Sierra Nevada broken and almost dead, Zell learns a new type of undead is stalking him.

I feel a little lost. What does returning from a mission broken and dead have to do with the new type of stalker undead? What does Shyla’s rescue have to do with it?

I’m not sure I know what’s going on and this is because you’ve made up a world in your head and then discussed it with me without telling me how it works. Above, you set your reader up to receive new information about a plot turn (“But since Shyla’s rescue, things have gotten bizarre . . .”) and then it seems to take forever to actually get the information . . . two sentences to be exact.

This enemy looks human and can block his ability to sense the supernatural. Now a danger to everyone, he is forced into seclusion. No paladin can help him.

Why would Zell’s inability to sense the supernatural make him a danger to everyone? When I think about it, I can assume that this ability is necessary for paladins, but this is vague and confusing. Further, why would he be so dangerous to others that he is forced into seclusion? Wouldn’t having the abilities of his comrades nearby make more sense? Why can’t the other paladins help him? What’s a paladin? Paladins are Medieval champions for others’ rights, so you can’t commandeer this term without clearly giving it a new meaning for your world.

The fun continues. A hellrift opens up on the coast of Maine, threatening to unleash hordes of undead.

What is a hellrift? This is one of the largest problems with this query. Because the story takes place in a world that I know nothing about, I’m confused and disinclined to want to read more of this.

Much is placed on Zell as he has to leave Shyla in the care of a man who wants her given back to the vampires, and go into a portion of Hell that has already claimed one of his friends.

What man? What friend? Shyla was taken away from the vampires? Why is it significant that she’ll return to them? Why does Zell have to do this, with his vulnerabilities?

Through these battles truths and powers will be revealed, explaining why normal has never pertained to him.

What battles?

Of course first, to make everything more Zell-like, he'll have to do something no paladin has ever done before: kill a host of demons.

We do not know what Zell-like is. We don’t get a very good sense of Zell, which is another problem in this query. His high school status, by this point, has been forgotten about and that makes me think you threw it in to make this YA.

Since “kill a host of demons” is the last line of the query and comes after a colon, it seems like you’re trying to give it weight. But we already know that Zell “ganks” the undead, so this is ineffective unless there is some type of characteristic the demons have that’s much stronger than those of other beings.

My main concern in this query is that there is not enough world-building. I need to know, at a minimum, the basic information needed to understand what is happening, its significance, and why it is happening, and that is not the case here. I’m also concerned that Zell’s high school life has been abandoned at the start of the query. I worry that your book will have all sorts of terminology only you know and situations that are unexplained. I worry also that it might seem contrived and forced that Zell is a high school student since this is not given enough attention.

OF FIRE AND FAITH is a YA urban fantasy novel, complete at 100,000 words. It is a first in a series following Zell's journey through paladinhood. The sequel, OF ANGELS AND ASHES, is already in the works.

I have been published by Keen Publications in their anthology [redacted] and by

The last sentence is good. It is always helpful to know if a writer has been previously published, small scale or large.



Anonymous said...

Phrases like "more Zell-like" and "all to Zell" give this a Mary Sue vibe.

Collectonian said...

Restoring a vampire's soul? Hellrift? Killer of the undead? My first thought was a Buffy fanfic twisted around. There isn't enough here to show your story has its own voice and is not just a retelling of a well known one. The query format makes me think the book is very episodic with the only common connection being Zell. I'd work on making it have a more cohesive feel and focus more. Who is Zell? What does he want? What is stopping him? What are the stakes? Trim out the side stories and focus on the central plot more.

E.Maree said...

While I agree with most of Lauren's points, I still really like the sound of this story. There's a solid world there, plenty of action, an interesting main character and a good sense of voice.

I think the querier just needs to condense this thing right down, removing as much of the world-specific terminology as possible (eg if paladins are demon hunters, say 'demon hunters' - just an example as I'm not 100% sure on their role) and focusing on the stakes and conflict.

I wouldn't mind a bit more focus on Shyla's personality as well - why does Zell save her, and why do we care about her? Right now, the Hellrift seems like a much bigger issue than the jumbled paragraph about Shyla being sent back to the vampires.

Good luck with this, writer. :) After some revisions, I'm sure the query will be as awesome as the story sounds.

Julie Daines said...

It sounds like an interesting story with lots of conflict.

I think the query needs to be condensed to the very most important elements. Leave out the Nevada part and such, and focus on the main conflict. We don't really know what Zell wants or what's at stake.

fOIS In The City said...

Jessica, I noted that this query also mentioned that the second book was already "in the works." Since you made no comment, I would like to ask. If a writer has a trilogy that is half or complete, is it proper or sensible to mention this in the query for the first?

Thanks, as always your comments are constructive and helpful. I learn something new each week.

Julie Nilson said...

The idea sounds really exciting, but the query is a little disjointed. I agree with Lauren that we need a little more world-building, although it's probably difficult to do in a one-page letter.

Also, as another commenter said, I'd leave out the Zell/Hell puns. They'd be OK for a comic book or humor novel, but since this is paranormal action-adventure (I assume), I don't think the jokes work in setting the tone.

Good luck to you! This definitely sounds like a book that my nephew would read!

Anonymous said...

Zell rhymes with Hell...

Brandon said...

Thanks everyone for the responses. The criticisms are much appreciated and point on. I've actually ditched this query after a few rejections and started working on a new one.

I do have a question. Would I need to resubmit to the critiquing process for the edit to the query or would I do that here with the comments?

Again, thanks for the help. Feedback of any kind is great.