Sunday, April 18, 2010

Query Revision 1

Welcome to the first query tag-teaming exercise!

First versions of the queries appearing here were originally posted on Evil Editor's blog and treated to EE's inimitable, gut-bustingly-funny skewering that somehow always seems to teach as it entertains.

After EE's minions lend their perspective and maybe the author posts a first revision there for more critiquing, futher revisions will be bumped here for another round of workshopping. Think of it as the second session that takes place after lunch -- in the room down the hall.

I'll put up the revised query in its entirety, then offer either my comments or a revised version immediately after. Then it's up to YOU to add more helpful suggestions. Click on the Face-Lift number and ms title to see the original query and comments on EE's blog.

One of the most gratifying experiences of hanging out at EE's is seeing an author's work improve over the course of the revisions. Even more gratifying is when they come back and report they went from getting no requests to multiple requests for partials/fulls based on the strength of their new queries alone. The process works.

So let's get started!

Face-Lift 754: Eden's Rat

Demons are invading Eden, and no one can agree what to do about them.

The Antang believe things will be fine when everyone is under their control and following their strict brand of religion. The sorcerers of Selzburg don't really see much of a problem. They have a demon of their own caged in the basement, and quite useful it has turned out to be. They figure they can catch and cage any other troublesome demons. They are more worried about the Antang, who take a very dim view of sorcery, and are on the point of invading.

When the Antang invade his homeland, a young sorcerer flees to Selzburg in hopes allying with them against their common enemy. Maac-Kail is a pretty good mage, but he's also a back-country hick who can't walk the streets of Selzburg without his mouth hanging open as he peers up at the tops of the tall buildings.

He immediately runs into trouble when the Antang kidnap the princess of Selzburg to marry to one of their princes. Maac-Kail, a foreigner and with circumstantial evidence against him, is suspected of being part of the plot.

Can Maac-Kail escape the combined forces of the King and sorcerers of Selzburg, thwart the Antang plot, rescue the princess and fulfill his mission to find allies for his people? Yes. Yes he can. (He also has a few ideas on how to handle the demons.)

Along the way he meets a pretty girl, marries her, repents of it then changes his mind again when she hunts him down and tackles him. A full nelson can do that to a guy, particularly at the climax of a novel.

Edens Rat is a YA Fantasy. 83,0000 words.

The first five chapters are posted on my blog: http://riverellan.blogspot.com/


Comments

Demons are invading Eden, and no one can agree what to do about them.

The log line seems to ground me in Christian religion on earth. It's a good hook; however, the rest of the query points out my initial understanding was wrong, so I feel cheated. Plus, after reading the query, I really have no idea what "Eden" refers to as nothing sounds "eden-ish". I'm also not sure what "no one can agree" means as the sorcerers and the Antang both seem to have a plan of apathy.

The Antang believe things will be fine when everyone is under their control and following their strict brand of religion.

Does this mean they think the demons will just go away once everyone believes the way they do? Are the demons in league with them? Or are the demons a threat to the Antang, too? I'm not getting a sense of how things tie together.

The sorcerers of Selzburg don't really see much of a problem.

I'm not sure but that the Antang and the sorcerers are both the bad guys at this point.

They have a demon of their own caged in the basement, and quite useful it has turned out to be.

I know Selzburg isn't a house, but a first read of the query could make it seem so with the use of "the basement".

They figure they can catch and cage any other troublesome demons. They are more worried about the Antang, who take a very dim view of sorcery, and are on the point of invading.

Hmm. If the Antang are the true threat, why lead off with the demons that no one seems much troubled by?

When the Antang invade his homeland, a young sorcerer flees to Selzburg in hopes [of] allying with them [the sorcerers] against their common enemy.

The Antang are on the point of invading in the preceding sentence, so I immediately think they've invaded Selzburg. But no, that's where MK flees to.

Maac-Kail is a pretty good mage, but he's also a back-country hick who can't walk the streets of Selzburg without his mouth hanging open as he peers up at the tops of the tall buildings.

This gives us a good idea of MK's personality, but dropped in this way, it doesn't give me a sense of why it's here.

He immediately runs into trouble when the Antang kidnap the princess of Selzburg to marry to one of their princes. Maac-Kail, a foreigner and with circumstantial evidence against him, is suspected of being part of the plot.

I'm trying to understand the logic here in the plot. Arranged marriages are generally used to establish ties to prevent war. Or a minor prince might wed the captured princess of a conquered people to keep the peace. I'm not clear why a people about to invade would kidnap a princess. What advantage does that have except to incite war? Then, if MK is a suspect, is he just being watched or is he in custody?

Can Maac-Kail escape the combined forces of the King and sorcerers of Selzburg, thwart the Antang plot, rescue the princess and fulfill his mission to find allies for his people? Yes. Yes he can. (He also has a few ideas on how to handle the demons.)

Bravo for MK's industriousness, but the question/answer format here isn't working for me. An open-ended question can work as a tease at the very end of the query, but here it doesn't even tease as you answer it immediately. I'm also unclear as to what Antang plot you're meaning since you also mention rescuing the princess in the same paragraph. Are you referring to the Antang wanting to convert everyone to their religion?

Along the way he meets a pretty girl, marries her, repents of it then changes his mind again when she hunts him down and tackles him. A full nelson can do that to a guy, particularly at the climax of a novel.

This comes out of left field. I don't believe you should intro yet another character and subplot this late in the query. Plus, as written, it makes it sound like her tackling him IS the climax of the story. Also, "repents" is not your best word choice.

Edens Rat is a YA Fantasy. 83,0000 words.

What makes this YA? Is MK 17 years old or under? If so, then him marrying may be problematic when it comes to marketability. Is it that it's a light-hearted work? Help the reader understand and feel the YA. The voice is a good start; it just needs some refinement in the query. And you'll need to establish MK's age up front.

The first five chapters are posted on my blog: http://riverellan.blogspot.com/

Most guidelines I've seen advise against pointing an agent to a link. If an agent doesn't specify how many pages to send in the initial query, embed the first five or so. As to posting so much on your website, be careful. Up to 10 percent of your work is generally acceptable on a public site.

12 comments:

_*rachel*_ said...

Sorry to be a downer, but I don't think this revision did much good. On one hand, it doesn't help me understand what your novel's about any more than the other one.

On the other hand, you keep on having those little gems, like your description of of Maac-Kail in the last one and the half-nelson bit in this one. While that part isn't tied at all to the rest of the query, there's a delightfully dry humor in the way you put it.

This is one of those ones where the query just isn't working for me, but doesn't make me worry about your novel.

Try Miss Snark's hook format:
X is the main guy; he wants to do:
Y is the bad guy; he wants to do:
they meet at Z and all L breaks loose.
If they don’t resolve Q, then R starts and if they do it’s L squared.

Here's my attempt at rewriting this: Maac-Kail is a pretty good mage, but he's also a back-country hick who can't walk the streets of Selzburg without his mouth hanging open as he peers up at the tops of the tall buildings. In other words, the Salzburg city sorcerers won't take him seriously when he asks for help fighting off the Antang invaders.

They've got powers of their own, they tell him. They're not worried.

Then an Antang prince absconds with Salzburg's princess and heir. Maac-Kail, in the wrong place at the wrong time, gets the blame. On the downside, Salzburg's not very safe for him any more. On the upside, if he can rescue the princess, she'll grateful enough to order the sorcerers to help him out.

That's probably a really bad representation of your plot, but feel free to use whatever helps.

Oh, and if you have to mention the demons, don't say they're invading Eden until we know that this Eden isn't a garden.

Matthew said...

You should lead off with the description of Mac, but find a different way to say that he's a yokel. I thought the sentence was too wordy.

There's too much backstory. I won't care about Antang sorcerers until I care about the characters.

Just spit-ballin, here...

Mac is a pretty good mage for a back-country yokel, but that doesn't mean the council of sorcerers will take him seriously when he asks them to help protect his village from Antang bandits.

His only hope is to convince the beautiful Salzburg princess, a woman that's taken a shine to him. Only she's about marry an Antang prince and leave for good...
***

Ack, that was weak, sorry. But you get the idea right? Bring the characters to the front and push the politics to the back.

Think of the difference between the original Star Wars trilogy and the new one. The original was about Luke and Han and Vader. The new one was about the Trade Wars and apprenticeships. Boring.

Tom said...

Hmm. I've got problems. There is no way I can answer Phoenix's questions in a one-page query. So that's out.

I tried to introduce the conflict and characters in my original query, and didn't get far.

Have to start over.

By the way, the title 'Eden's Rat' is very much a working title. I have been playing around with different ones and haven't come up with one I like. Considering 'Iron Magic', which works for the story but again would be hard to bring out in a query.

Well, thanks folks, and especially thanks Phoenix. I will consider your advice and try again.

Matthew said...

The problem is that you know too much about your own story. We all go through it. The surprising thing is that there isn't much difference between a query that gets results and one that gets constantly rejected -- it's just a matter of tweaking, being simple, and not raising too many questions.

Answer these questions:

Who is the main POV character. What does he want. What does he do to get it. What stands in his way.

If he has a difficult choice to make, end off with that.

If your having trouble, just answer those questions in a comment and we can help you from there.

_*rachel*_ said...

As a working title, Iron Magic isn't bad. It gives a sense of the book without raising too many questions about Eden and Rat, and--to someone familiar with fantasy--it's a bit intriguing. Iron's allegedly a deterrent against magic, so if that plays into your story, the juxtaposition of those two is interesting.

Anonymous said...

Tom, can you try to answer the Divine Miss P's questions and stick to one page? Use it as a writing exercise to improve your query. It will discipline and order your query. My first attempt that I sent to Evil's blog was I think 5 or 6 pages. I put in dialogue, the opening, the whole ball of wax. It was a mess. I have it down to one page now. It's still not pleasing me but I am learning how to manage/choose my words better.
I hope you at least take a stab at the one page query. From the research I've done no agent will even look at a longer query. Instant reject. Grunt work but necessary work to get better. The query opens the sale of the ms. It is your only tool into an agent's mind. Look forward to your next revision, Bibi

sylvia said...

Hmm. I've got problems. There is no way I can answer Phoenix's questions in a one-page query. So that's out.

Hah! That was *exactly* my reaction to Phoenix's questions about my query.

It's difficult when your plot doesn't fit an easy formula. Try looking at it point by point and deciding either to explain it or simplify it (to avoid bringing the question up) and see how long it is. Then maybe it'll be clearer what you can focus on and what you need to leave out.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Hey Phoenix and fellow minions!

Sorry to get to this one late. One thing that I've found helpful is to always have at least a "pitch" of my story as I'm working through it. It often changes, but it keeps my wild imagination reigned in somewhat. Otherwise the story is bound to get out of hand and difficult to explain...ie not a story that will sell or garner attention of others.

Writing a pitch for your lead character should be fairly easy based on Rachel's quote from Miss Snark, or Tom's quote of "Who is the main POV character. What does he want. What does he do to get it. What stands in his way.

If he has a difficult choice to make, end off with that."

If the pitch that eminates from that isn't interesting enough, then the problem is with the novel, not the pitch. No amount of world building or dazzle-itry is going to help.

Joe G said...

I like Iron Magic as well. Immediately evocative title. "Eden's Rat" raises too many associations. It also sounds like it would be a better title for a short story than a long novel, but that's just me.

I may just be saying this because I know you're not saying "There's a rat in the garden of Eden" or being philosophical about it, but rather very literally referring to the fact that there is a character named Rat in your story, and he lives in a place called Eden, which would be disappointing after such an implicating title :P

Or maybe you are being philosophical.

Tom said...

I have an idea. The 'Eden' name is important, because this isn't straight fantasy, more SF fantasy. Gotta think...

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
One writer who sold his first novel after he sent his first query said he worked on the query the whole time he was writing the ms. The whole time. D. Krokos and his novel The Better Guy. Nathan Bransford has a great template on his blog. Just fill in the blanks and there you - the bones appear. I've used his template as an exercise many times. It's fun and disciplines you. I've got 3 other novels and each template I fill in grounds me. The holes jump out as well.
Waiting for the revision,
Bibi

batgirl said...

There's an extra 0 in that wordcount, right?