Thursday, December 30, 2010

Query 47: Redux 2

The Guardian Legacy

Dear Agent:

Ex-government agents aren’t supposed to have magical swords, glowing grey eyes, or superhuman speed. Then again, young Lincoln Taylor shouldn’t be able to slow time, stop bullets mid-flight, or turn those former agents into human popsicles.

Back home in North Carolina, Lincoln was a typical teenager, just starting his freshman year of high school. But when puberty suddenly included acquiring powers that belong in comic books and not real life, Lincoln becomes a guardian-in-training at the top-secret Atlas Academy. Once his training’s complete, he’ll join the ranks of other supernatural undercover agents, using his powers to protect world leaders from dangerous assassins and evil conspiracies.

But first, he and his fellow recruits must protect themselves.

For the past ten years the Black Baron has been secretly recruiting young guardians before they’ve gained their powers – before the Academy even knew they exist. Under his leadership, they’ve joined hundreds of former guardians eager to punish their one-time allies. With surprise on their side, they invade the Academy and imprison the staff.

After narrowly escaping the initial assault, Lincoln and six friends embark on a daring mission to free the prisoners and defend their home. But for Lincoln the cost to defeat these evildoers includes likely losing his new powers forever. It may even include his life.

THE GUARDIAN LEGACY, a 71,000 fantasy adventure for early teens, is a standalone novel with series potential. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Though not a guardian, I do routinely foil evil conspiracies, most of which revolve around my three children and the mysterious villain who frames them for his crimes.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

Yep, I think this is just about there! I only stumbled a bit in two places.

First, I'm not clear why the ex-guardians are eager to punish their allies. Why would hundred of do-gooders opt to not do good any more? If that many are deserting, I would start thinking maybe there's something wrong with the Academy not the deserters. This is a new element you've introduced and, since it furrows my brow rather than gives me an "aha" moment, I'd be tempted to just not mention it. Keep the focus on what the evil Black Baron wants to accomplish. And punishing by itself as a motivator is a bit too vague. Maybe something like: Under his leadership, they plan to take down the organization that forced him to abdicate his power, then restore him to the presidency of Nuclear Arms R We (or whatever his motivation for punishing the Academy is).

Second, I don't think "includes" works with the cost to defeat. It especially doesn't work with "his life" (which also needs "losing" in there, too, I think), since anything else included in the cost doesn't really matter if he's dead. "He died and he lost his powers" -- see how the loss of power loses its impact? I would still go with something close to my original suggestion:

But for Lincoln the cost to defeat these evildoers likely means losing his new powers forever. It may even mean losing his life.

Now, I have a hunch this author is a compulsive tweaker. And there are lots more compulsive tweakers out there. Editors adore these folk -- up to a point. They put in the work to refine their writing and get things just right. The problem is that everything can always be improved. At some point, that proverbial stake needs to be driven into the ground. At some point, the compulsive tweaker has to dot their final i and send their work out. And then they have to GIVE IT A CHANCE. No jumping to change the query or the first 5 pages being sent with it at the first rejection received -- or in some cases even before the rejections start trickling in. After the fist 8 or 10 rejections is soon enough to re-evaluate if you have a pretty good query and pretty strong first pages to begin with (it's a tough, tough market out there).

Put all that compulsive energy to better use by distancing yourself from the manuscript while it's out on submission to agents or editors and by working on something else. You HAVE to take a break from the current work in order to see it more objectively. Trust yourself to know when a manuscript or a query is ready, and be able to acknowledge the compulsion to tweak for the unhealthy practice it can become. Edit, edit, edit of course, but when changes become changes for change sake alone, it's time to call it.

Not that this author has quite reached that point yet, but just a tip to them and the rest of you who fit the compulsive tweaker profile as to what to be on the lookout for when you hit edit mode.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Synopsis 11: The Green Tower

[This synopsis clocks in at 998 words; yet another one just squeaking in under word count max ;o) (Confession: I am usually guilty of using the full allotment of words granted, too.)]

Lianne Stracker, professional assassin for the Winged Empire, is enjoying the first vacation she’s been able to afford. Problem is, her airship’s engines fail unexpectedly, forcing the airship to crash-land near its destination. Refusing to accept the airline’s excuse thanks to the healthy paranoia that comes with her job, she breaks into the airship’s engine room and learns the true cause of the crash--that the airship’s new converter-powered engines have failed and exploded for no apparent reason.

Concerned that someone might have taken one of her previous contracts a little too personally, Lianne starts looking into the matter. However, it soon turns out that she was merely collateral damage: more and more pieces of state-of-the-art machinery start failing in the same manner about the small mountain town that’s her chosen vacation spot. The local watch is too underfunded, understaffed and tied up in rescue work to conduct a proper investigation, and Lianne resigns herself to a little work on her own time. After all, she does have a responsibility to the Empire, even on her off-day, and she’s not about to let someone ruin both her getaway and her reputation.

Brudik, a local mechanic, has shown an interest in the explosive disasters, and offers to help Lianne in her investigation. While she’s willing to take all the help she can get, she also needs someone safe to talk to, and calls in a favour on one of the colleagues: Arus, an imperial sorcerer. Together, they try and figure out the nature of the explosions and get some concrete evidence before alerting their superiors; Arus discovers that the recent disasters are tied to magical converters, a recent and highly addition to the Empire’s energy infrastructure thanks to the cheap, clean energy, they promise. However, the whys and wherefores continue to stump them, especially when the scrap samples Lianne’s collected wrecks Arus’ diagnostic equipment. During the lulls in their investigation, Brudik introduces Lianne and Arus to his adopted daughter Elpe, a local and rather well-received songstress who has chosen to live in an ancient green tower out in the countryside, ostensibly for her health.

However, their efforts are brought short when Brudik is attacked in the night by unknown assailants, resulting in much of his workshop being burnt down. Lianne and Arus save him from the flames, and he confesses the reason for his interest in the explosions: that he used to be the chief engineer in charge of the converters’ development, and that there is a significant flaw in the converters’ design that causes them to malfunction randomly and explode after some time. However, when Brudik brought this up with his employers--a firm with links to the Empire’s most influential families--he was ignored due to them rushing the converters to market; a subsequent attempt to rally the development team into stopping work led to him being dismissed.

With nothing left to his name, Brudik went into hiding in the countryside with his daughter. Now that his predictions are coming true, he fears that his former colleagues intend to silence him permanently, and begs Lianne and Arus to draw imperial attention to the problem now that they’ve proven themselves to be on his side. To that extent, he provides Lianne and Arus with his copy of the converters’ blueprints that highlight the flaw; perhaps they can succeed where he, an ordinary citizen, has failed.

Now that they have the evidence they require, Lianne and Arus decide to hide Brudik in the green tower under Elpe’s care while witness protection is arranged for him. Surprisingly, their request is denied and subsequently ignored; Brudik jumps to the conclusion that his former employers are pulling strings even in law enforcement--which would explain the authorities’ disinterest in such disasters--and bemoans the corruption he sees everywhere in the government. Lianne isn’t about to give up, though, and plans to travel to the capital to petition the Emperor directly. However, a tearful Elpe comes to her on the day of her intended departure with the news that Brudik’s vanished.

Fearing the worst for Brudik, Lianne and Arus scour the town for clues as to his whereabouts. However, something far more sinister emerges: that by using Elpe’s singing, Brudik has been deliberately triggering the converters’ flaws all this while in order to draw attention to the imminent danger the Empire faces.

Realising the stakes that have been laid out, Lianne and Arus pursue Brudik’s trail to the provincial airfield. Unfortunately, they are unable to convince security of what is about to befall the place, and are forced watch helplessly as the airships berthed there detonate all at once, levelling the entire facility and turning it into a charred mess.

Lianne figures that while collapse of civilisation under its own greed might be ugly, Brudik’s way of warning others about it isn’t too much better. Working back from the clues from the airfield--and a little sympathetic augury as well--Lianne and Arus chase Brudik to his next intended target: a trade show at the provincial capital that the Emperor’s scheduled to attend.

While they are unable to prevent Brudik from causing destruction, thanks to their warning much of the citizenry and the Emperor are evacuated barely in time. Lianne braves the still-smoking wreckage of the city centre and corners Brudik within; he claims violence is the only way to unseat the deep-rooted corruption in the Empire, and asks why a good person like her would support a regime willing to sacrifice its own people for personal gain. Lianne admits while the Empire isn’t perfect, terrorism isn’t the answer either, and arrests Brudik after a fierce struggle.

In the aftermath of Brudik’s destruction, the Emperor announces new initiatives to let the citizenry make their grievances heard without fear of repercussions, orders Brudik’s former employers executed for endangering the Empire, and gives Lianne and Arus a promotion, a raise--and of course, a vacation to make up for the one she missed out on.

Comments

Lianne Stracker, professional assassin for the Winged Empire, is enjoying the first vacation she’s been able to afford. Problem is, her airship’s engines fail unexpectedly, forcing the airship to crash-land near its destination. Refusing to accept the airline’s excuse thanks to the healthy paranoia that comes with her job, she breaks into the airship’s engine room and learns the true cause of the crash--that the airship’s new converter-powered engines have failed and exploded for no apparent reason.

What was the airline’s excuse? Generally it’s equipment failure, pilot error, or a natural phenomenon such as birds in the engine, engine icing, or lightning strikes. What would send her paranoia into overdrive?

I think we can infer failure from the explosion and “no apparent reason” isn’t quite the true cause. So you can simplify that last to conserve a few words: “…she breaks into the engine room and learns the airship’s new converter-powered engines simply exploded – with no apparent cause.

Concerned that someone might have taken one of her previous contracts a little too personally, Lianne starts looking into the matter. However, it Soon turns out that she discovers she was merely collateral damage: as more and more pieces of state-of-the-art machinery in the small mountain town start failings in the same manner about the small mountain town that’s her chosen vacation spot. The local watch is too underfunded, understaffed and tied up in rescue work to conduct a proper investigation, and Lianne resigns herself to a little more work on her own time. After all, she does have a responsibility to the Empire, even on her off-day, and she’s not about to let someone ruin both her getaway and her reputation.

For that last sentence, since "getaway" could be read wrong here, I'd change it to "vacation" or "holiday". I'm not quite sure how any of this could ruin her reputation, though. Maybe just: "...her off-day; and besides, she's not about to let someone ruin her holiday."

Brudik, a local mechanic, has shown an interested in the explosive disasters, and offers to help Lianne in her investigation. While she’s willing to take all the help she can get, she Also needings someone safe to talk to, and Lianne calls in a favour on from one of the her colleagues: Arus, an imperial sorcerer. Together, they try and work to figure out the nature of the explosions and get some concrete evidence before alerting their superiors;. Arus discovers that the recent disasters are tied to magical converters, a recent and highly popular addition to the Empire’s energy infrastructure thanks to the cheap, clean energy, they promise. However, the whys and wherefores continue to stump them, especially when the scrap samples Lianne’s collected wrecks Arus’ diagnostic equipment. During the lulls in their investigation, Brudik introduces Lianne and Arus to his adopted daughter Elpe, a local and rather well-received songstress who has chosen to live in an ancient green tower out in the countryside, ostensibly for her health.

I think Elpe can be intro'd later. We don't need to actually see that they've met her and this bit intrudes too much on the narrative here, imo.

However, tTheir efforts are brought short entirely when Brudik is attacked in the night by unknown assailants, resulting in and much of his workshop being is burnt down. Lianne and Arus save him from the flames, and he confesses the reason for his interest in the explosions: that he used to be the chief engineer in charge of the converters’ development, and that there is a significant flaw in the converters’ design that causes them to malfunction randomly and explode after some time. However, when Brudik brought this up with his employers--a firm with links to the Empire’s most influential families--he was ignored due to them rushing the converters to market; a subsequent attempt to rally the development team into stopping work led to him being dismissed.

Those last thoughts can be tightened some: When he discovered a significant flaw in the converters' design that causes them to randomly malfunction and explode, his employers -- a firm with links to the Empire's most influential families -- first ignored him as they rushed the converters to market, then dismissed him when he rallied the development team into stopping work.

With nothing left to his name, Brudik went into hiding in the countryside with his adopted daughter Elpe, a rather well-received songstress living in a secluded ancient green tower. Now, though, after the attack on his workshop, that his predictions are coming true, he fears that his former colleagues intend to silence him permanently,. and begs Lianne and Arus to draw imperial attention to the problem now that they’ve proven themselves to be on his side. To that extent, he provides Lianne and Arus with his copy of the converters’ blueprints that highlight the flaw; perhaps they can succeed where he, an ordinary citizen, has failed.

Handing over a copy of the converters’ blueprints that highlight the flaw, he begs Lianne and Arus to draw imperial attention to the problem now that he knows he can trust them.

Now that they have the evidence they require, Lianne and Arus decide to hide Brudik in the green tower under Elpe’s care while witness protection is arranged for him. Surprisingly, their request is denied and subsequently ignored; Brudik jumps to the conclusion that his former employers are pulling strings even in law enforcement--which would explain the authorities’ disinterest in such disasters--and bemoans the corruption he sees everywhere in the government. Lianne isn’t about to give up, though, and plans to travel to the capital to petition the Emperor directly. However, a tearful Elpe comes to her on the day of her intended departure with the news that Brudik’s vanished.

I think this paragraph is digging too deep into the details and leaves open too many questions. Maybe abbreviate it to:

When the local authorities stonewall their efforts, Lianne decides to bypass the corrupt local government and petition the Emperor directly. The day she's to leave for the capital, though, a tearful Elpe comes to her with news that Brudik's vanished. Fearing the worst for Brudik, Lianne and Arus scour the town for clues as to his whereabouts. However, something far more sinister emerges: that by using Elpe’s singing, Brudik has been deliberately triggering the converters’ flaws all this while in order as a way to draw attention to the imminent danger the Empire faces.

Realising the stakes that have been laid out, Lianne and Arus pursue Brudik’s trail to the provincial airfield. Unfortunately, they are unable to convince security of what is about to befall the place, they are forced watch helplessly as the airships berthed there detonate all at once, levelling the entire facility and turning it into a charred mess.

I don't get how they jump from learning the secret of Elpe's singing to figuring out the airfield is in danger. So far, the explosions have all seemed random. Is Elpe going along with Brudik of her own volition? Can she simply not sing and the airfield be saved? If she's the trigger, wouldn't silencing her make more sense rather than telling security "Hey, your planes are in danger, their engines are about to explode, and you've got to stop it." Because what could anyone really do about it by then anyway?

Lianne figures that while collapse of civilisation under its own greed might be ugly, Brudik’s use of violence to unseat deep-rooted corruption way of warning others about it isn’t too much better. Working back from the clues from the airfield--and a little sympathetic augury as well--Lianne and Arus chase Brudik to his next intended target: a trade show at the provincial capital that the Emperor’s scheduled to attend.

While they are unable to prevent Brudik from causing destruction, thanks to their warning much of the citizenry and the Emperor are evacuated barely in time.

They can't convince airfield security of impending disaster but they can convince the people in the capital?

Lianne braves the still-smoking wreckage of the city centre and corners Brudik within; he claims violence is the only way to unseat the deep-rooted corruption in the Empire, and asks why a good person like her would support a regime willing to sacrifice its own people for personal gain. Lianne admits while the Empire isn’t perfect, terrorism isn’t the answer either, and arrests Brudik after a fierce struggle.

I'm not really in favor of the "he said, she said" climax here. I would turn this paragraph around and put it all in Lianne's PO. You'll see I suggest putting Brudik's claim in the paragraph above to avoid the he said/she said setup here.

In the aftermath of Brudik’s destruction, the Emperor announces new initiatives to let the citizenry make their grievances heard without fear of repercussions, orders Brudik’s former employers executed for endangering the Empire, and gives Lianne and Arus a promotion, a raise--, and -- of course -- a vacation to make up for the one she missed out on.

Overall, some of the things I'd like to see strengthened:

  • Does Lianne's profession come into play here somehow? As written, it seems to be just a career du jour.
  • Arus being a sorcerer foreshadows Elpe's abilities, but really I don't get a feel for how magic plays into this world. Arus' abilities, especially, don't seem particularly inspiring.
  • I think we need a little more insight into Elpe. Why would she allow Brudik to manipulate her? Why does she continue to help him after his work and life are threatened? How does her magic work if she can't stop the attacks on the airfield or in the capital? Why don't Lianne and Arus try to stop the attacks through Elpe? Also, she seems to be a loose end.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Query 51

The Family Grim

Dear Agent:

Two hundred years ago Death’s most feared servant, the Grim Reaper, sacrificed his immortality for the woman he loved, turning his eternal duty into a family business. Three generations later, his seventeen year-old great grandson Jude Grim faces a similarly difficult situation.

Drew, Jude’s twin brother, is a psychopath disguised as the most popular kid at their Montana high school. One night he finally snaps, misusing the family power to take the soul of a classmate who embarrassed him at school. When his girlfriend Skylar discovers the truth, Drew panics and tries to kill her in order to keep his secret hidden. Jude, secretly in love with Skylar since their first day of preschool together, helps her escape. But when Skylar goes home later that night, Drew is there waiting and heartlessly ends her life.

Torn with grief and guilt, Jude is left on the verge of despair. A glimmer of hope arrives by way of his brainiac sister when she informs him of an ancient myth that a life taken by a reaper can be restored. Jude finds the one man who knows the truth to the rumor, an eccentric recluse who has spent the past five decades avoiding death by hiding from the reapers.

Turns out the legend’s true: victims of reapers can be saved with seeds from the ancient Tree of Tenere, also known as the Tree of Life. There’s only one problem, the seeds only work during the first three days following the victim’s death.

With Drew hot on his trail and Father Death watching their every move, Jude has twenty-four hours to find the tree and save Skylar’s life. Only this time, Jude vows to never lose her again.

THE FAMILY GRIM, a young adult fantasy novel, is complete at 72,000 words. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

I love the premise set up by that first sentence. I'm not sure it feels like it's carried through as presented here, though. Let's point to the elephants first.

I don't see Jude's issue as a similarly difficult situation to great grand-dad's. What is Jude sacrificing? I assume the Grims are all mortal now, so it seems Jude either succeeds in resurrecting Skylar or he doesn't. Aside from losing the girl -- who may not even love him as there's no indication here that she's even friends with him -- and who he's lost already, what does Jude stand to lose that's as high stakes as his immortality, something that's resonated through the generations when the first Grim gave it up?

The immortal Grim must have known that victims can be saved. Wouldn't that be one of the first secrets passed down in the family biz? If Jude hasn't been told it yet, wouldn't he go to his dad rather than a mortal first?

A healthy young girl dying under mysterious circumstances would prompt an autopsy. After autopsy, the body is generally embalmed. Depending on how busy the coroner's office is (and granted the office does now have two young people who just up and died to deal with), it might be more than 48 hours after death before the autopsy can be performed and a couple of gallons of formaldehyde pumped into the body. Then again, the autopsy might well be performed within 48 hours. Can the "cure" overcome these procedures, too?

Two hundred years ago Death’s most feared servant, the Grim Reaper, sacrificed his immortality for the woman he loved, turning his eternal duty into a family business. Three generations later, his seventeen year-old great grandson Jude Grim faces a similarly difficult situation.

I love the hook sentence! I love you set up the "when" the way you do in the first half of the next sentence. But the last half of the sentence sets up an expectation that I don't think is quite followed through on.

Drew, Jude’s twin brother, is a psychopath disguised as the most popular kid at their Montana high school. One night he finally snaps, misusing the family power to take the soul of a classmate who embarrassed him at school.

I would delete "finally" as I tend to think a psychopath has already snapped.

When his girlfriend Skylar discovers the truth, Drew panics and tries to kill her in order to keep his secret hidden. Jude, secretly in love with Skylar since their first day of preschool together, helps her escape. But when Skylar goes home later that night, Drew is there waiting and heartlessly ends her life.

It probably makes sense in the book why Skylar goes home, apparently alone, just hours after escaping a hit attempt by her boyfriend who knows where she lives. Here, though, it sounds like a plot contrivance. It also doesn't add much to the query in terms of characterization or plot to have Drew try to kill her then later succeed just a bit later. I would go with "Drew panics and kills her."

Torn with grief and guilt, Jude is left on the verge of despair. A glimmer of hope arrives by way of his brainiac sister when she informs him of an ancient myth that a life taken by a reaper can be restored. Jude finds the one man who knows the truth to the rumor, an eccentric recluse who has spent the past five decades avoiding death by hiding from the reapers.

It seems finding this guy who's been able to hide from a lot of experienced folk for 50 years would be almost as hard as finding the Tree of Life. Yet it seems in the query to be accomplished quite easily and quite rapidly.

Turns out the legend’s true: victims of reapers can be saved with seeds from the ancient Tree of Tenere, also known as the Tree of Life. There’s only one problem, the seeds only work during the first three days following the victim’s death.

With Drew hot on his trail and Father Death watching their every move, Jude has twenty-four hours to find the tree and save Skylar’s life.

I'm a little confused about the dynamics here. Death is watching them (and I like that idea very much!), so Death knows that Drew has taken two lives before their time yet he doesn't do anything about it? I can see Death waiting to see what Jude will do, but I'm not clear as to whether saving a life using the seeds is something unnatural the same way Drew taking souls too early is unnatural.

Also, why is Drew hot on Jude's trail? I get he's a psychopath, but shouldn't he be trying to save his own skin since he's committed two crimes against Death and Death, who's watching them, apparently knows the truth? What are the consequences to Drew if Jude succeeds in resurrecting Skylar that he's after his brother when he should be running for his own life?

Only this time, Jude vows to never lose her again.

As a last line, this is a bit ambiguous. He doesn't have her yet, but he's making a vow to not lose her again. He's a reaper, so is he plotting somehow to make her innured to death? Will that put him in hot water with Death and be one of the stakes of the plot?

THE FAMILY GRIM, a young adult fantasy novel, is complete at 72,000 words. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration.

As a general statement about closes, not just this one: of course it's available upon request. By now the agent has made up their mind as to whether they'll request or not, so it doesn't really matter how you close, but I think asking for the action you want the agent to take makes for a stronger finish. That's a standard component of any sales letter. It can be simply asking them "May I send you the manuscript?" or implying that of course they'll be asking (my favored approach): "I look forward to sending you the manuscript."

Overall, I think this query has really good bones! I also think it can be sharpened up a bit to go from pretty good to outstanding and having agents begging for pages and reading them the moment they get them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Query 46: Redux

One Fang

Dear (Agent's name),

Hannah is a young lady destined for the Tudor Court until she wakes in the family vault with a hunger for blood. The transition from courtly balls and beaus to seedy streets and cutthroats is bad enough. The change in diet nearly sends her mad. Nothing could be worse – until a monstrous assailant rips out one of her fangs, and she is catapulted back to the Middle Ages.

Trapped in a medieval world where knights slay blood-drinkers and towns are too small to hide in, Hannah has to abandon her genteel upbringing and fight like a fishwife to survive. The ancient vampyre who hauled her back enthrals lesser kin as slaves and uses them for sustenance – but it soon becomes apparent that she's destined for a worse fate. The once-pampered noble finds herself masquerading as a prostitute to stay ahead of his henchmen.

A handsome young knight is the only one who can help her, but he's only one step ahead of the hangman's noose. Their only chance for survival is to find a way to work together, as long as they don't kill each other first. It doesn't help when Hannah falls in love with him – he sees her as a fast road to damnation.

When Hannah learns of a cure for her affliction, the stakes change. She needs to discover how to travel through time, but the master vampyre guards the secret. To learn it, Hannah must track him down and destroy him.

One Fang is a paranormal romance, complete at 85,000 words.

Comments

I think this reads much better -- lots more exciting. Just a couple of spots that need a bit of tweaking, I think, and you'll be ready to start sending this out.

Hannah is a young lady destined for the Tudor Court until she wakes in the family vault with a hunger for blood. The transition from courtly balls and beaus to seedy streets and cutthroats is bad enough. The change in diet nearly sends her mad. Nothing could be worse – until a monstrous assailant rips out one of her fangs, and she is catapulted back to the Middle Ages.

Love this! Up until when she's catapulted back in time. As written, it sounds like having her fang ripped out is the catalyst that sends her back.

Trapped in a medieval world where knights slay blood-drinkers and towns are too small to hide in, Hannah has to abandon her genteel upbringing and fight like a fishwife to survive. The ancient vampyre who hauled her back enthrals lesser kin as slaves and uses them for sustenance – but it soon becomes apparent that she's destined for a worse fate. The once-pampered noble finds herself masquerading as a prostitute to stay ahead of his henchmen.

I made a note as I read this for the first time that "enthralls" has two "l's". Then I looked it up and saw it can be spelled either way. I don't know if I'm in the majority that would think it's misspelled without the second "l".

Again, love this -- up to the last sentence. As written, it sounds like the fate she's destined to is masquerading as a prostitute.

A handsome young knight is the only one who can help her, but he's only one step ahead of the hangman's noose. Their only chance for survival is to find a way to work together, as long as they don't kill each other first. It doesn't help when Hannah falls in love with him – he sees her as a fast road to damnation.

Again, your last sentence here doesn't seem to carry the intent you're looking for. I think we need to see that he has issues with her before we hear "it doesn't help." I would simply turn it around: He sees her as a fast road to damnation. Which would be just fine with her -- if she weren't falling in love with him.

When Hannah learns of a cure for her affliction, the stakes change. She needs to discover how to travel through time, but the master vampyre guards the secret. To learn it, Hannah must track him down and destroy him.

Placing this idea here makes it seem a bit like your novel takes a sharp turn pretty far in and maybe isn't as focused as it could be. It may not be accurate (and it's OK to fudge the query a bit), but placing this idea right before the bit about the knight being the only one who can help her would accomplish two things: making this idea seem more seamless in the story and giving the reader a clue about what help the knight could possibly be and why he's the only one who can help.

One Fang is a paranormal romance, complete at 85,000 words.

Most agents agree to capitalize the title of the book.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Angels We Haven't Heard on High

Am I the only one who listens to Christmas carols and gets an entirely different picture of the heralding, chorusing and attending angels than those white-robed, haloed  little cherubs flying about and tooting on their horns that I imagined in my childhood?

Way too much Supernatural and YA Paranormal in my diet these days. It does breathe new life into those tired old carols, though, imagining Cass or Zachariah or Michael or Gabe or any of the other slew of angels I "know" far better than any of the Biblical ones doing the adoring schtick.

Of course, the fascination with angels in the media isn't a 21st-century phenomenon. I was happily quoting Twain's 44 when I hit puberty, and Peter Cook ruined Lucifer for me in the best way possible long, long ago.

May you enjoy your angels in whatever form they take this season.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Query 48: Redux

Double-Faced

Sixteen-year-old Mala's biggest problem is her new school and its queen bees, a group of mean girls out to get her. When she meets Aiyana, a Native American environmentalist, Mala's focus shifts. Impressed by the elderly woman's selfless love for her forests, Mala befriends her. Aiyana's fight to shut down the powerful Calvert Mining Company - the town's biggest employer – for its lack of safeguards, has made her an outcast in the town. For everyone there, including Mala's mom, their boss is pretty much God Himself.

Then Aiyana tells Mala of a new mining technique Mr. Calvert wants implemented, something which could totally ruin the already fragile ecosystem. A day later Aiyana's body is found in the mines, next to a stack of explosives. According to the police, she died while attempting to blow up the mine. Mala suspects Aiyana had been set up by Mr. Calvert and his best buddy, the police chief.

In the meantime Mr. Calvert's dating her mom, and he's given her mom the job of getting the new mining technique up and running. Desperate to convince her mom of Mr. Calvert's guilt, but unable to find the proof she needs, she accepts an offer of help from Brad, a junior at her school. His motives are suspect, since he's also Mr. Calvert's daughter's boyfriend. But to get justice for Aiyana and save her mother, she's willing to take all the help she can get to face the double-faced devil himself.

My YA novel, Double-faced, is complete at 54,000 words.

Comments

I think this query has come a long way. This version is clear and logical as to the progression of the story. Now it's just a matter of cleaning up the grammar, linking the thoughts just a bit better, and nailing the voice.

My Revision

Up to now, 16-year-old Mala's biggest problem has been the queen bees at her new school, a group of mean girls out to make her life miserable. When she meets Aiyana, a Native American environmentalist, Mala's focus does a fast one-eighty. Impressed by the elderly woman's selfless love for her forests, Mala befriends her, knowing she's bound to wind up on the receiving end, too. That's because Aiyana's fight to shut down the town's biggest employer -- the powerful Calvert Mining Company -- for its lack of safeguards has made her an outcast. Everyone in town, including Mala's mom, thinks their boss is pretty much God Himself.

Aiyana tells Mala about a new mining technique Mr. Calvert wants implemented, something that could totally ruin the already fragile ecosystem. When Aiyana's body turns up soon after in one of the shafts next to a stack of explosives, the police claim she died attempting to blow up the mine. Mala knows better and suspects her friend was set up by Mr. Calvert and his best buddy, the police chief.

That's a real problem because Mr. Calvert has not only started dating her mom, he's put her mom in charge of getting the new mining technique up and running. Desperate to find the proof she needs to convince her mom of Mr. Calvert's guilt, Mala accepts an offer of help from Brad, a junior at her school. Seeing how Brad's dating Mr. Calvert's daughter -- the top Queen Bee herself -- his motives are kind of suspect. But to get justice for Aiyana and save her mom, Mala's willing to take all the help she can get to face the double-faced devil himself.

My YA novel, DOUBLE-FACED, is complete at 54,000 words.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Query Revision 50

Face-Lift 415 : Kinesthesia

[Author's Note: My query received a face-lift over three years ago {at EE's}, and both the query and novel have been completely rethought and rewritten since then.]

Dear Evil Editor,

In an alternate 1961, seventeen-year-old Meriwether Davis leaves her home to escape a lonely future as a fisherman’s wife – the chance to fight Nazis is just a bonus. She’s not about to marry her best friend Will when they can’t even manage to have sex, and there aren’t many other options for a girl in the tiny fishing town of North Bend, Oregon.

She finds a cause worth fighting for in Goose Bay, the last stronghold of the British Independents. Twenty years after the British surrender and evacuation to Canada, they’re still trying to carry on a war against the Nazis. As the town ladies like to say, they’re so desperate they’ll take anyone, even Meri. Meri’s no stranger to lost causes – she’s been trying to make nice with her grandmother since she learned to talk – and the British Independents actually want her there.

As Meri finds her place with the British Independents, she discovers the base is far from unified. Flight Lt Oliver Warden, who helps her prepare for basic training and offers more than simple comradeship, favors an all-out attack, while some of those raised in Canada don’t see the point of the war at all. Meri is torn between supporting the troops who’ve welcomed her with open arms and a rebellious soldier who seems to make a lot of sense—until she starts killing Meri’s friends.

KINESTHESIA is a 70,000-word YA alternate history novel. The first five pages follow this letter. I have three YA nonfiction books published: The Diabetes Game (Rewarding Health, 2005), Teen Dream Jobs (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003), and It’s Your Rite (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003).

Thank you for your time.

Comments

Overall, I'm getting the feel that this is a personal story. I don't get a sense of sweeping danger and imminent peril, yet it's set to a background of war, so the tone feels a little uneven. Nor does it feel modern. Up until the title "Flight Lt" pops up, it feels more like a frontier fight. More like culture in 1776 rather than 1961. So that there's aircraft comes as a bit of a surprise, I think, in a cold read. I'm having to shift my perception of the world I'm being told about near the end of the query.

In an alternate 1961, seventeen-year-old Meriwether Davis leaves her home to escape a lonely future as a fisherman’s wife – the chance to fight Nazis is just a bonus.

This is a good hook!

She’s not about to marry her best friend Will when they can’t even manage to have sex, and there aren’t many other options for a girl in the tiny fishing town of North Bend, Oregon.

This next sentence dilutes the strong hook. (Don't feel bad; I've noticed this seems to be a trend.) A couple of things:

  • We don't need Will named since he doesn't show up again and too many names just confuse a reader.
  • We really don't need Will at all since you've just told us she's leaving so as not to marry.
  • A reader will not understand what "can't even manage to have sex" means. Is it physically impossible for one or the other to have sex? Can they not find time alone to make out? Is the alternate world one in which couples are required to have sex before marriage? I don't think you want your reader dwelling so long on this bit as it's not really relevant in the grand scheme.
She finds a cause worth fighting for in Goose Bay,

I had to look up where Goose Bay is. That's likely just me being pathetic when it comes to geography.

the last stronghold of the British Independents. Twenty years after the British surrender and evacuation to Canada, they’re still trying to carry on a war against the Nazis.

Every time I read this sentence, I read "surrender" as a verb, so I stumble on "evacuation" since it's a noun. Apart from thinking this sentence would read easier changing "evacuation" to "evacuate," if you surrender, can you still carry on a war? Has this war been brought to the Canadian homeland? Is Canada being threatened?

As the town ladies like to say, they’re so desperate they’ll take anyone, even Meri.

I think you need to separate Meri out of this sentence by more than a comma. Otherwise, it sounds like the ladies were saying, "We'll take anyone, even Meri," before Meri came to town.

Meri’s no stranger to lost causes – she’s been trying to make nice with her grandmother since she learned to talk – and the British Independents actually want her there.

Maybe give us more of a hint about how difficult making nice with her grandmother was since the reader will be expecting a like comparison to the last stand of the 300 situation she's in now. That said, I think people interested in alt history will be more interested in understanding in this limited space how this world is different than in Meri's 16-year battle trying to make friends with her grandmother.

As Meri finds her place with the British Independents, she discovers the base is far from unified. Flight Lt Oliver Warden, who helps her prepare for basic training and offers more than simple comradeship,favors an all-out attack, while some of those raised in Canada don’t see the point of the war at all.

I think maybe we need a little more about the politics. What's Canada's overall position? They'll take refugees and allow a base on their soil, but are they neutral? isolationists? resigned to Nazi rule?

I'm also confused because this seems to be the ragtag remnants of an army -- a group of volunteers bucking the system. No one is forcing the troops to be there, are they? Why would there be soldiers there at all who don't support the cause?

Meri is torn between supporting the troops who’ve welcomed her with open arms

Earlier, the query says she's found a cause worth fighting for. Why would she be torn now?

and a rebellious soldier who seems to make a lot of sense—until she starts killing Meri’s friends.

I'm not feeling a unifying thread here at the end. Meri starts listening to a friend's talk of peace until the friend turns out to be a crazy lady? As written, the killing spree doesn't seem to have a connection to the war or to Meri's decision. Plus, I don't think there's enough here to convince us why Meri is torn and what the stakes are for her if she stays to fight or if she doesn't. I'm not feeling a sense of what the looming climax might be from this ending.

KINESTHESIA is a 70,000-word YA alternate history novel. The first five pages follow this letter. I have three YA nonfiction books published: The Diabetes Game (Rewarding Health, 2005), Teen Dream Jobs (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003), and It’s Your Rite (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003).

There was a lot of backlash on the title earlier. I'm thinking you're still working on a new title.
Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Query 47: Redux

The Guardian Legacy
(New Titile)

Dear Agent:

Rogue FBI agents aren’t supposed to have magical swords, glowing grey eyes, or superhuman speed. Then again, young Lincoln Taylor shouldn’t be able to slow time, stop bullets mid-flight, or turn those agents into human popsicles.

Back home in Carolina, Lincoln was your typical teenage nobody, suffering through his freshman year of high school. But when puberty suddenly included acquiring powers that belonged in comic books and not real life, Lincoln became a guardian-in-training at the top-secret Atlas Academy. As supernatural undercover agents, guardians use their powers to protect world leaders from dangerous assassins and evil conspiracies.

The guardians are in trouble. Someone has spent the past ten years secretly abducting young guardians before they gained their powers, and now he has coerced them into joining him and his followers as they invade and then take over the academy. After narrowly escaping the initial assault, Lincoln and six fellow recruits embark on a daring mission to free the prisoners and defend their home. Lincoln will stop at nothing to defeat these evildoers, even if it means losing his powers forever.

Though not a guardian, I have been involved in multiple conspiracies, most of which revolve around my three children and the mysterious villain who frames them for his crimes.

THE GUARDIAN LEGACY, a 71,000 word fantasy adventure for early teens, is a standalone novel with series potential. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Comments

I think this is a late Stage 2 or a Stage 3 query :o). You're answering the questions critters posed but have intro'd a couple of new issues. And in the interest of not concentrating on the antagonist because of the questions raised, the query now strays a bit too far into vague territory. But that just means your next revision will likely nail it!

Rogue FBI agents aren’t supposed to have magical swords, glowing grey eyes, or superhuman speed.

Hmm. This seems to be saying that there should be rogue agents in the first place. I'm not sure how these rogue agents fit into the story now that it's clear Linc isn't one of them. Are the rogue agents the same as the army that invades the school? If so, they were never agents, were they, if they were abducted before they got their powers or their training.

Then again, young Lincoln Taylor shouldn’t be able to slow time, stop bullets mid-flight, or turn those agents into human popsicles.

Back home in Carolina,

North or South?

Lincoln was your typical teenage nobody, suffering through his freshman year of high school. But when puberty suddenly included acquiring powers that belonged in comic books and not real life, Lincoln became a guardian-in-training at the top-secret Atlas Academy. As supernatural undercover agents, guardians use their powers to protect world leaders from dangerous assassins and evil conspiracies.

The guardians are in trouble. Someone has spent the past ten years secretly abducting young guardians before they gained their powers,

Those last few sentences are a bit of a tense rollercoaster. I suggest framing as much of this in the present as possible.

and now he has coerced them into joining him and his followers as they invade and then take over the academy.

It's a "someone" but the gender is known? This is the voice of the author deliberately keeping info from the reader.

After narrowly escaping the initial assault, Lincoln and six fellow recruits embark on a daring mission to free the prisoners and defend their home.

There are prisoners? The last version talked about prisoners, but as this one is written, it seems the abducted guardians are the only prisoners.

Lincoln will stop at nothing to defeat these evildoers,

Actually, from this the army seems young and brainwashed. They have my sympathy and calling them evildoers doesn't seem just.

even if it means losing his powers forever.

I don't understand how Linc is in danger of losing his powers?

Though not a guardian, I have been involved in multiple conspiracies, most of which revolve around my three children and the mysterious villain who frames them for his crimes.

The guardians aren't actually involved in the evil conspiracies, so it's not really a logical progression to say you're not a guardian but that you've been involved in some. Also, for best impact, I would move this bit about you to the end. Finish the thought about the book first.

THE GUARDIAN LEGACY, a 71,000 word fantasy adventure for early teens, is a standalone novel with series potential. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

I do like this title better!

My Revision

Your typical bad guys aren’t supposed to have magical swords, glowing grey eyes, or superhuman speed. Then again, young Lincoln Taylor shouldn’t be able to slow time, stop bullets mid-flight, or turn bad guys into human popsicles.

Back home in South Carolina, Lincoln was a teenage nobody, suffering through his freshman year of high school. But when puberty suddenly includes acquiring powers that belong in comic books and not real life, Lincoln becomes a guardian-in-training at the top-secret Atlas Academy. Once a full-fledged guardian, he'll join the ranks of other supernatural undercover agents, using his powers to protect world leaders from dangerous assassins and evil conspiracies.

But first, he and his classmates have to protect themselves.

For the past ten years the Black Baron has gotten to hundreds of young guardians before they've come into their powers -- before the Academy even knows they exist. Under his coercion, they've developed into an army ready to [storm the world] -- just as soon as they get rid of the one thing in their way. With superior power and surprise on their side, they invade the Academy and imprison the staff.

After narrowly escaping the initial assault, Lincoln and six fellow recruits embark on a daring mission to free the prisoners and defend their home. But the cost to defeat these evildoers likely means losing his new powers forever. It may even mean sacrificing his life.

THE GUARDIAN LEGACY, a 71,000 word fantasy adventure for early teens, is a standalone novel with series potential. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Though not a guardian, I routinely foil evil conspiracies, most of which revolve around my three children and the mysterious villain who frames them for his crimes.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Query 49

Face-Lift 851: Song of the Nile

[The author will be submitting this long short story/short novella to epubs, like Carina Press, that accept works 15,000 words and above. Those works generally require an accompanying query letter, too.]

Dear Editor,

I am seeking a publisher for “Song of the Nile,” a story of forbidden love between the ancient Egyptian Crocodile God and a human woman. This short story is a romance with paranormal elements, complete at 16K words.

Merys knows she will never marry. Though her father is a wealthy scribe, Merys' stepmother insists that Merys should remain unwed, and that Merys’ dowry should be saved for her more attractive half-sisters. Merys is resigned to living under her stepmother's dictates, but finds a measure of solace when she can escape to the Nile's riverbank. On the quiet beach by the river she cares for an old abandoned temple of the Crocodile God, and sings the songs of praise to him that her mother taught her. Merys has never thought of another life until one day a handsome stranger hears her singing by the riverbank.

The stranger, Bek, is the Crocodile God in human guise, and from the first moment he hears Merys' beautiful voice his strong feelings for the human girl nearly consume him. But anything more than a casual affair between a Great One and a human is strictly forbidden, and true love is an impossibility. And yet Merys means too much to him for Bek to use her only to sate his lust.

Bek tries to hide his true self and resist his feelings, while Merys fights her own blossoming hope that perhaps Bek wants more than mere friendship, that perhaps she can have more than a life of drudgery and servitude under her stepmother.

But when enemy raiders attack Merys' village, she is mortally injured. Bek must now attempt to convince the ruler of the gods to save Merys, even if it means he must give her up for all time. Or is there still some way to persuade the gods to allow Bek and Merys to live together in the home of the Great Gods for all time?

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,
An Author

Comments

I think the first two paragraphs are fine as is, with two exceptions:

Maybe delete "ancient." I know what you're trying to convey, but that's kind of an unfortunate word choice when talking about forbidden love and human women in the same sentence.

What is the heat level in this story? It seems sweet for the most part. If it's not, then add some indication/expectation of what it is: This short story is a sweet/sensual/spicy/erotic romance with paranormal elements...

The next two paragraphs have me scratching my head just a bit as to what the rules are when it comes to the gods, their powers and their ability to love.

The stranger, Bek, is the Crocodile God in human guise, and from the first moment he hears Merys' beautiful voice his strong feelings for the human girl nearly consume him. But anything more than a casual affair between a Great One and a human is strictly forbidden, and true love is an impossibility.

I get the forbidden-ness, but it seems if it has to be forbidden then true love isn't technically an impossibility, otherwise why forbid something you can't do anyway?

And yet Merys means too much to him for Bek to use her only to sate his lust.

The "sate his lust" is a bit of a different tone from the rest of the query. It's the part that makes me question whether this is indeed a sweet romance or not. You seem to be setting this up as built more around love than lust, and coming out and using the lust word sort of destroys the mood. Even "physical enjoyment" wouldn't be quite such an abrupt tone shift.

Bek tries to hide his true self and resist his feelings,

I'm not sure what "true self" means here. Is he trying to hide his godhood? I'm pretty sure you mean hide his true feelings but knew that was redundant with "resist his feelings." I would delete the "true self" bit because that could be misconstrued.

while Merys fights her own blossoming hope that perhaps Bek wants more than mere friendship, that perhaps she can have more than a life of drudgery and servitude under her stepmother.

Why would Merys be fighting her hope? She's seeming a little too subservient, virginal and naive right now. All heroines don't need to be feisty, of course, but I think readers may want to see a little glimmer of self-worth in their protagonists.

But when enemy raiders attack Merys' village, she is mortally injured. Bek must now attempt to convince the ruler of the gods to save Merys,

If Bek is a Great One, why does he not have the power to heal her? What can he do as a god? At this point, I'm wondering why Bek has to be a god and not just someone from another tribe or household (like Romeo and Juliet).

even if it means he must give her up for all time.

What do the Egyptians imagine death to be? If Merys lives, Bek doesn't get her and she goes back to her slavish life. If Merys dies, then does she have a happier after-life? Does Bek never get to see her? I'm not clear what's in it for Bek if he saves Merys' life.

Or is there still some way to persuade the gods to allow Bek and Merys to live together in the home of the Great Gods for all time?

So does the climax come down to a heartfelt speech by Bek? Is there some sort of sacrifice he needs to make for the gods to break an unbreakable rule?

Why is THIS love story different? Give us that bit of a hint here at the end.

I also happen to know this author has two novels out through small presses in the same genre this short story is in (yay!), so mentioning that in the query is appropriate, I think.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Life Isn't All About the Waiting

My first career was as a Registered Veterinary Technician. A good chunk of my time was spent removing bits and pieces from animals. I neutered and declawed cats, cropped ears, and extracted teeth -- all the minor surgery stuff the law allows a tech to do. The biggest chunk of time was spent in the lab, running blood work and looking at bits and pieces of animals under a microscope. A smaller chunk of time was spent killing animals. Ever leave an animal at the vet to be euthanized? Sometimes it's not the vet who does it.

I left that profession after 7 years.


In one form or another I've made a living off the written word since 1987:
  • I worked a short time at a Hollywood talent agency reading scripts and setting up contracts.
  • I wrote catalog copy for a distributor of grades K-12 educational products.
  • I wrote advertising copy for Radio Shack computer products.
  • I wrote advertising and marketing copy for Color Tile flooring products.
  • I wrote and edited training manuals and guidebooks for banking personnel.
  • I wrote marketing copy for banking products.
  • I freelanced writing marketing copy for Fortune 500 IT companies.
  • I wrote and edited marketing and proposal copy for EDS and HP.
I've made decent money writing and editing. Not a phenomenal amount, but enough to get by -- and then some. I scrimped and saved and made sure I had no kids to raise. All with an eye on getting out of the corporate game by the time I was 55.

Last year at this time I was 50 and on track and 6 months into a 5-year plan toward retirement. Last May, my dad, a widower, passed away, leaving a small inheritence for me and my brother. My part was just enough to accelerate my plan by 3.5 years. I double-checked my figures with my financial advisor and took the plunge.

I paid off the mortgage on my little farm in September. My vehicles are paid off. I am debt-free.

This past week I gave notice at work. What with vacation and holiday time, yesterday was my last true working day. Officially, I'm not out till Jan 5. That day I'll drive into the office for the first time in 9 months (I generally work from home), turn in my laptop and security badges, and have lunch with my team. After that, I'm work-free.

Well, corporate-work-free.* I have a to-do list of chores I've been putting off that's as long as Santa's naughty list. And I have an anthology to get out. But going forward, if I'm not happy with my life it'll be because of my own doing or not doing.

I've been waiting a long time to get here. Now that the waiting is over, it's time for me to make it worth the wait. Am I up for the challenge of being retired? Well, duh! :o)

  
*I'm not excluding the possibility of consulting work or the paid writing gig in the future; I'm just not on the hunt right now. And, of course, I'll continue writing fiction; maybe one day I'll earn more than just the couple of thousand dollars I've gotten off those efforts so far. When it comes to money -- having more? Always the better choice. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Query Revision 48

Face-Lift 849: Double-Faced
(retitled from Flute Music)

Sixteen-year-old Mala has her hands full. Arguing with her mother - like breathing, there's no way around it - and dealing with her new school and some real nasty mean girls.

Her problems seem puny when she meets Aiyana, a Native American environmentalist, and learns of her fight against the Calvert mines. Pretty impressive, considering the mines employ practically everyone in town, including Mala's mother, and Mr. Calvert is the next to God to all of them.

Then Aiyana dies. Mala suspects Mr. Calvert. But suspicions are not enough when everyone swears by your suspect's squeaky clean reputation, especially the police chief, who's also his best buddy.

In a real freaky turn of events, Mala's mom begins dating Mr. Calvert. Revolted, she digs for some dirt on him and unearths a missing wife. A rich missing wife, whose money got Mr. Calvert his mines. Her snooping lands her in some serious trouble and she barely escapes getting caught.

Then a new boy, Brad, transfers to her school, and a massive swooning epidemic sweeps through the hallways. Mala falls victim to it, not that it matters, as the top mean girl establishes herself as his girlfriend. But for some weird reason - couldn't be her dark, ugly looks - he seeks Mala out. This sets up for some rather unpleasant situations at school.

As her mom slips further into Mr. Calvert's web of deception, Mala accepts Brad's help, though she suspects he's hiding something from her. But to get justice for Aiyana and save her mother, she's willing to face the double-faced devil himself.

My young adult novel, complete at 54,000 words, is available for review. Thank you for your time.

Comments

First, I want to commend the author for taking the feedback from Evil Editor's site and doing a true re-visioning of this query. That's a monumental step and I don't want that effort to go unnoticed.

Turning the focus onto Mala is definitely the way to go. Now comes the refining of that focus.

Sixteen-year-old Mala has her hands full. Arguing with her mother - like breathing, there's no way around it - and dealing with her new school and some real nasty mean girls.

The second sentence is actually a frag, and while I am a huge advocate of stylistic frags, this one unfortunately doesn't fall into the stylistic category.

Her problems seem puny when she meets Aiyana, a Native American environmentalist, and learns of her fight against the Calvert mines.

I think we need a little more of a hint here about what the mines are and why Aiyana is targeting them. Is Aiyana against all mining activity or something specific about Calvert's mines?

Pretty impressive, considering the mines employ practically everyone in town, including Mala's mother, and Mr. Calvert is the next to God to all of them.

Then Aiyana dies. Mala suspects Mr. Calvert.

Here we need something more about the death before Mala suspects Calvert. From this query, we know little about Aiyana -- we don't know how old she is, for instance. Maybe she's in her 70s and had a heart attack. What prompts Mala's suspicions?

But suspicions are not enough when everyone swears by your suspect's squeaky clean reputation, especially the police chief, who's also his best buddy.

This is a run-on-ish sentence. To be honest, the grammar issues throughout would likely be enough on their own to elicit rejections.

In a real freaky turn of events, Mala's mom begins dating Mr. Calvert.

This is a very subjective comment based on the voice I'm experiencing in this query: It feels like you're trying a little too hard for a teen voice ("in a real freaky turn" is just the latest example) and are missing out on the layer of sophistication teens by the age of 16 are introducing into their speech. You're seeming to go with the simple and easy rather than reaching for a more fully realized voice.

Revolted, she digs for some dirt on him and unearths a missing wife.

Sorry, but I immediately got a mental image here of her actually digging up a body.

A rich missing wife, whose money got Mr. Calvert his mines. Her Mala's snooping lands her in some serious trouble and she barely escapes getting caught.

That last sentence is vague. Serious trouble with whom? The police? Calvert? And what does she escape from? Getting caught snooping? But no, she has to have been caught doing something to land in trouble, so I'm confused.

It's obvious you're trying to imply Calvert killed his previous wife, but if she had money then I'm sure her going missing wasn't going to be hidden. Especially because she had to come from somewhere else if it was her money that built the industry and the town to begin with. So I'm even more unclear what Mala has gotten caught doing?

Then a new boy, Brad, transfers to her school, and a massive swooning epidemic sweeps through the hallways. Mala falls victim to it, not that it matters, as the top mean girl establishes herself as his girlfriend. But for some weird reason - couldn't be her dark, ugly looks - he seeks Mala out. This sets up for some rather unpleasant situations at school.

The query seems to be taking a step back here. The focus is now off the investigation and we're back in school and there are some unexplained situations happening there. Brad obviously is critical to how the mystery plays out, but the reader really doesn't get a clear idea of how that might happen from this introduction.

The "Mala falls victim" sentence is a run-on.

As her mom slips further into Mr. Calvert's web of deception,

I'm not clear how Mom is slipping further in the web. She might be getting closer relationship-wise to Calvert and he isn't being honest with her, but is he using Mom in some way we don't know about to further his evil ways?

Mala accepts Brad's help,

To do what?

though she suspects he's hiding something from her. But to get justice for Aiyana and save her mother, she's willing to face the double-faced devil himself.

I'm not sure "But" here carries the correct connecting thought.

My young adult novel, complete at 54,000 words, is available for review.

Some agents seem to get a bit peeved about using "review" for what they do. "Consider(ation)" is their preferred term. Still, the query is more a sales-type business letter and merely stating your ms is available is a bit tepid, IMO.

Also, oops. I only know you chose a new title for the book because you told me in your email. The query itself doesn't mention a title.

Thank you for your time.

My Revision

This still feels a little long to me and it may go too far in toning down some of the unauthentic voice I was feeling, but maybe it's a good template to start the next revision from?

Sixteen-year-old Mala thinks she has her hands full, what with the constant arguing with her mother and her new school and a group of mean girls out for blood -- hers. But when she meets Aiyana, a Native American environmentalist barely older than she is, her problems seem puny in comparison. Single-handedly, Aiyana is fighting what's so far been a losing battle against the town's only industry -- the Calvert Mining Company -- trying to get the mines shut down for failing to use proper safeguards to prevent pollution. A pretty impressive effort considering the mines employ practically everyone in town, including Mala's mother. And in the town's view Mr. Calvert is right up there on the podium with God.

When Aiyana dies under fishy circumstances, Mala doesn't buy the official explanation and suspects Calvert is behind the death. But suspicions aren't enough when everyone -- even the police chief, who's also Calvert's best buddy -- swears by the suspect's squeaky clean reputation. Then in a freaky turn of events, Mala's mom begins dating Calvert. Angry and revolted, Mala digs for dirt on him and comes up with a rich missing wife whose money got Calvert his mines. Still, Mala can't find the thing she needs most: proof that Calvert's hands are bloody.

Then a new boy, Brad, transfers to her school. While a massive swooning epidemic sweeps through the hallways, for some weird reason the new stud-muffin seeks Mala out. She can't help but feel he's hiding something, but that doesn't stop her from jumping on his a-little-too-quick offer to help her go after Calvert. Because to get justice for Aiyana and save her mother, she's going to need all the help she can get to face the double-faced devil himself.

DOUBLE-FACED is a 54,000-word YA novel. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Query 44: Redux

Timesurfers

Fifteen-year-old Cate is fuming at the sucky ‘we r ovah’ text from her loser ex, when everyone around her is suddenly frozen. Breathing, but still like statues. Three teenagers appear out of nowhere. One hoists the bus Cate’s waiting to board over his head while the others disarm a bomb planted under it. Cate freaks out when they decapitate a boy who can also see them before vanishing. With everyone else oblivious to their near death experience she’ll sound insane if she says anything.

When the teens show up at her school, heads turn and jaws drop. No one is frozen this time, but everyone acts like they know them. It’s like they’ve always been there, when they’re totally new. What the hell?

After she accidently brings a dead cheerleader back to life, Cate discovers all the weirdness is because she’s going to be a Timesurfer. A time travelling warrior who should protect history. She’s like the chosen one for Team Evil. She’ll be an awesome, evil Timesurfer who raises the dead and commands an army of Zombies. Which sounds kind of cool.

She can go with good. But she’ll be stripped of her magical powers and sent back to her vanilla life. Totally alone, except for Austin. He’s with Team Good. One killer smile from him and she was hooked. Just like that. Doing the right thing and getting the super hot guy should make her decision easy.

Cate has been brushing shoulders with the Team Evil leader every day. It’s one of the people she trusts most in the world. Throw in the ultimate bad-boy Jonah and the fact she suspects Austin kidnapped her brother, and Team Evil is suddenly more tempting than Cate could ever have imagined.

TIMESURFERS is a 72,000 word YA urban fantasy. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

I think this version is close. The end just needs to be tightened and re-ordered a bit. Jonah and the kidnapping are just, as the query says, "thrown" in and they feel rushed, and with adding the Team Evil leader, it makes the whole last part of the query feel over-busy. I've tried to streamline the end just a bit in my rewrite.

My Version

Fifteen-year-old Cate is fuming at the sucky ‘we r ovah’ text from her loser ex when everyone around her suddenly freezes, like in a game of Statues. Freakier still are the three teens who appear out of nowhere. One hoists the bus Cate’s waiting to board over his head while the others disarm a bomb planted under it. Saving her? All good. But when they decapitate a boy who can also see them right before they vanish, Cate about loses it. But with everyone else oblivious, who can she tell without sounding insane?

When the teens show up at her school, acting all normal, heads turn and jaws drop. Yet everyone acts like they know them -- like they’ve always been there, when they’re totally new. What the hell?

It's only after she accidently brings a dead cheerleader back to life that Cate discovers all the weirdness is because she’s supposed to be a Timesurfer. In fact, she’s like the chosen one for Team Evil. She’s destined to be awesome, raising the dead and commanding an army of zombies. Which does sound kind of cool.

It also means fighting Team Good, the time travelling warriors who protect history. Like Austin. One killer smile from him has her hooked. But if she refuses to become a Timesurfer, she'll be stripped of her magical powers and sent back to her vanilla life. Still, doing the right thing and getting the super hot guy should make her decision easy.

Ultimate-bad-boy Jonah, though, playing for Evil, starts pushing all her right buttons. And when Cate's brother goes missing, the clues point to a kidnapping -- with hottie Austin the prime suspect. Suddenly Team Evil is more tempting than Cate could ever imagine.

TIMESURFERS is a 72,000 word YA urban fantasy. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Query 47

LINCOLN TAYLOR AND THE GUARDIAN ADVENTURES: THE ACADEMY DEFENDERS

Attn. Agent:

FBI agents aren’t supposed to have magical swords, glowing grey eyes, and superhuman speed. Then again, young Lincoln Taylor shouldn’t be able to slow time, stop bullets mid-flight, or turn those agents into human popsicles.

LINCOLN TAYLOR AND THE GUARDIAN ADVENTURES: THE ACADEMY DEFENDERS, a 71,000 word fantasy adventure for early teens, follows Lincoln as he transforms from average high school freshman, suffering through algebra and Shakespeare, to gifted guardian-in-training at the legendary Atlas Academy. As supernatural undercover agents, the guardians use their power over the forces of nature to protect world leaders from dangerous assassins and evil conspiracies.

Betrayed by one of their own, the guardians never saw it coming. For the past eight years the Black Baron has been secretly abducting young guardians before they gained their powers, carefully building a legion of manipulated followers. And now they have invaded the academy, and imprisoned the entire staff as well as the Guardian Council. After narrowly escaping, Lincoln and his friends embark on a daring mission to free the prisoners and defend their beloved academy. Only two questions remain: how can seven inexperienced recruits possibly defeat an army of hundreds? And who let them in?

Though not a guardian, I have been involved in multiple conspiracies, most of which revolve around my three children and the mysterious villain who frames them for his crimes.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Comments

This is a pretty good. Just a couple of tweaks, I think, are all that's needed to put it over the top.

FBI agents aren’t supposed to have magical swords, glowing grey eyes, and superhuman speed. Then again, young Lincoln Taylor shouldn’t be able to slow time, stop bullets mid-flight, or turn those agents into human popsicles.

I'm not sure how I as the reader am supposed to interpret the "FBI agent" part. It sounds a bit like Lincoln is the bad guy here if he's turning FBI agents into popsicles. But then I read the next paragraph and think he's an agent himself, so what gives?

LINCOLN TAYLOR AND THE GUARDIAN ADVENTURES: THE ACADEMY DEFENDERS, a 71,000 word fantasy adventure for early teens, follows Lincoln as he transforms from average high school freshman, suffering through algebra and Shakespeare, to gifted guardian-in-training at the legendary Atlas Academy. As supernatural undercover agents, the guardians use their power over the forces of nature to protect world leaders from dangerous assassins and evil conspiracies.

I would focus the title in P2 to just THE ACADEMY DEFENDERS, then in the close say something like: THE ACADEMY DEFENDERS is a standalone novel with LINCOLN TAYLOR AND THE GUARDIAN ADENTURES series potential.

"early teens" - maybe "tweens"?

Betrayed by one of their own, the guardians never saw it coming.

I'm not sure what "it" refers to. "the conspiracy aimed at them", perhaps?

For the past eight years the Black Baron has been secretly abducting young guardians before they gained their powers, carefully building a legion of manipulated followers. And now they have invaded the academy, and imprisoned the entire staff as well as the Guardian Council.

Delete the comma before "and."

The reader doesn't know who the Guardian Council is or why they're different from the staff. Perhaps elaborate or delete.

After narrowly escaping, Lincoln and his friends embark on a daring mission to free the prisoners and defend their beloved academy. Only two questions remain: how can seven inexperienced recruits possibly defeat an army of hundreds? And who let them in?

I'm not sure I would end on these as questions. I would turn the first into a statement along the lines of "It's seven inexperienced recruits up against an army of hundreds..."

The "who let them in" came as a bit of a surprise since when I read "invaded the academy" I didn't think of someone letting them in. But maybe my original assumption is wrong. I took "one of their own" to mean the Black Baron. But does that really refer to the one who let them in? If so, I missed that connection. Just a little more clarity is needed to help the reader connect the dots.

Though not a guardian, I have been involved in multiple conspiracies, most of which revolve around my three children and the mysterious villain who frames them for his crimes.

This is cute but doesn't really add much about you or the ms. I didn't particularly connect with it -- and my rec, based only on my own personal taste, would be to delete it -- but that doesn't mean others won't like it here. So, others? Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Query 43: Redux

Super G

What’s playing on your iPod? For slacker Grayson Grainger, it’s his father’s voice from beyond the grave, guiding his son to avenge his death.

When Grayson finds his dad’s iPod, months after his death, his purpose is renewed. Acting on the song lyrics brought forth by shuffle mode, he transforms into Super G and stops a petty crime, outsmarts a pushy jock and wins the affection of altar girl Evelyn. His mom also takes comfort in the clergy, in the arms of Father Billings, a priest with a thirst for whiskey and a penchant for exploiting grieving widows.

When the promiscuous pastor violates Super G’s mom, he vows to take him down. With the help of a loyal sidekick and a saucy senior citizen, he discovers that bringing Father Billings to justice and avenging his father’s death could be one and the same. In the end, an unexpected hero steps forth and points the way to new beginnings.

Complete at 50,000 words, SUPER G is a young adult novel challenging contemporary definitions of heroes and villains. I hold a degree in Creative Writing from MCLA. Thank you for considering my submission.

Comments

Give me a soapbox for just a sec: Agents request all the time off of imperfect queries. Sometimes it's like buying a house. The saying in real estate is that most buyers make up their minds about whether to short-list a house in the first 30 seconds. A little makeover can turn a good presentation that gets nods into a great one that makes the heart pound. And that's what I'm after when I do a critique: the pounding heart.

That said, I think the first paragraph in this query is killer enough that the author will get requests from this.

But I also think this could be a better query by being a bit more specific. The author is at Stage 2 -- maybe 3 -- of my patented 5 Stages of Query Writing. This version is basically the same query tweaked to answer the initial issues. Only it's introduced a few more issues. It's still a bit repetitive and it's still vague at the end with the hero stepping forth and pointing the way to new beginnings, which is a "huh?" moment for me. Strengthening it can only help sway a decision for a request.

My Revision

What’s playing on your iPod? For slacker Grayson Grainger, it’s his father’s voice from beyond the grave, guiding his son to avenge his death.

Shuffling through his dad's old songs convinces Grayson his father is speaking to him directly through the lyrics. Acting on the "advice," he transforms into Super G, an uber-cool hipster who stops a petty crime, outsmarts a pushy jock and wins the affection of altar girl Evelyn.

There's more going on at church than just a bit of flirting, though, when his mom takes comfort in the arms of Father Billings, a priest with a thirst for whiskey and a penchant for exploiting grieving widows. The promiscuous pastor soon has Mom singing hallellujah -- and Super G vowing to take him down.

With the help of a loyal sidekick and a saucy senior citizen, Super G discovers that bringing Father Billings to justice and avenging his father’s death could be one and the same.

[I think your wrap-up sentence here needs to at least hint at conflict (which I'm guessing is more internal) and consequences, and to somehow tie to your claim in the next paragraph about "definitions of heroes and villains" or the previous version's "characters marginalized by society." The conclusion I jump to is that Mom is perfectly happy with the good Father, Dad suicided so there's nothing to avenge, and Grayson just has to let it all go so Mom can be happy. None of which may be right. My sentence is vague, but you'll be able to supply the detail.]

But first, Grayson will need to own up to some hard truths about his parents, his feelings, and what it means to be an adult.

Complete at 50,000 words, SUPER G is a young adult novel challenging contemporary definitions of heroes and villains. I hold a degree in Creative Writing from MCLA. Thank you for considering my submission.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Query 46

One Fang

Dear [agent’s name]

Hannah is a young lady destined for the Tudor Court until she wakes in the family vault with a hunger for blood. She doesn’t believe life could get worse. But when a monstrous assailant rips out one of her fangs and catapults her back into the Dark Ages, she must roll up her sleeves and fight like a fishwife to survive.

Trapped in a medieval world, where knights slay blood-drinkers and towns are too small to hide in, she plays a desperate game of cat and mouse with an ancient vampyre who enthrals lesser kin as witless slaves. When Hannah learns of a possible cure for her affliction, the stakes change. She must track the ancient enemy to his lair, discover his secrets and destroy him.

A handsome young knight may be the only one who can help her but he’s only one step ahead of a hangman’s noose. Their only chance of survival is to find a way to work together – as long as they don’t kill each other first.

One Fang is a YA paranormal romance, complete at 85,000 words.

Comments

Well, it is an interesting take on time-traveling vampires to have Hannah start out in Tudor England and go back to the Dark Ages. Although, save for the reference to "fishwife," I'm not sure I get a feel for the Tudor Hannah.

It also feels a little heavy on the clichés. Since it's a bit short, I think you have some wiggle room here to give us a better feel for Hannah and the eras.

Hannah is a young lady destined for the Tudor Court until she wakes in the family vault with a hunger for blood.

This is a nice economical way to establish time period and her change into a vampire.

She doesn’t believe life could get worse.

This cliché, though, negates the nice setup.

But when a monstrous assailant rips out one of her fangs and catapults her back into the Dark Ages,

Huh? Is there a reason she's catapulted back? Did the ripping out of her fang trigger the time slip? Is the assailant a master of time? There seems to be no reason she's suddenly flung back in time.

she must roll up her sleeves and fight like a fishwife to survive.

I like "fight like a fishwife," but the overall phrasing makes it sound like life would have been simpler if she'd stayed in her own time.

Trapped in a medieval world, where knights slay blood-drinkers and towns are too small to hide in,

This is good.

she plays a desperate game of cat and mouse with an ancient vampyre who enthrals lesser kin as witless slaves.

The "desperate game of cat and mouse" is another cliché that you could probably show us instead. Does this vampyre have a connection to the time traveling? Is he luring others from different times? What is he slaving them for?

When Hannah learns of a possible cure for her affliction, the stakes change. She must track the ancient enemy to his lair, discover his secrets and destroy him.

Again, this all feels a bit too cliché in the writing. Also, I take it she doesn't like being a vampire. She wants to become human again. But we haven't seen anything really here to show us that. Actually, being thrown back in time seems to be more distasteful to Hannah than being a vampire, but there doesn't seem to be a way back to her era – or a choice to stay or not.

A handsome young knight may be the only one who can help her but he’s only one step ahead of a hangman’s noose.

Why would he be able to help her and is he someone the reader can root for? Being handsome seems enough to make a character sympathetic these days, but if he's a serial killer who deserves the noose, the reader may think differently about him.

Their only chance of survival is to find a way to work together – as long as they don’t kill each other first.

A slayer falling in love with the thing he normally hunts is almost de rigueur now. "Work together before they kill each other" is serviceable but also cliché writing. What about this relationship takes it to the next level?

One Fang is a YA paranormal romance, complete at 85,000 words.

My Revision

The time travel bit is still a loose end in my version, but maybe it will give you some ideas for editing out some of the clichés (one or two are OK to leave in) and giving the reader a little more grounding in the world building and character motivations.

Hannah is a proper young lady destined for the Tudor Court -- until she wakes in the family vault with a hunger for blood. If the transition from a diet of roasted capon and quince pie weren't bad enough, she now has enemies far nastier than a ballroom of bored barons playing at intrigue. In fact, the monstrous assailant who corners her and rips out one of her fangs catapults her back into the Dark Ages – as bait for his powerful master.

Trapped in a medieval world where knights slay blood-drinkers and towns are too small to hide in, Hannah must fight like a fishwife to survive. The ancient vampyre who hauled her back is determined to enthrall her -- along with the rest of his lesser kin – and use his slaved army to do X. The once-pampered noble finds herself scrounging plague-infested streets trying to stay ahead of his henchmen. But when Hannah learns there may be a cure for her affliction, she has to change her tactics. The vampyre master guards the secret, and to possess it, Hannah must track him down and destroy him.

A handsome young knight [falsely accused of murder] has the X to help her, but he's only one step ahead of the hangman's noose. She can clear him of the murder, but won't until he agrees to help. Their only chance for survival is to find a way to work together – as long as they don’t kill each other first.

ONE FANG is a YA paranormal with romantic elements, complete at 85,000 words.