Saturday, January 2, 2010

#140-revised twice

Dear Query Shark,

I am currently seeking representation for BECOMING, a 71,000 word young adult urban fantasy.

Claire Silver will never be the same after a high school prank goes terribly wrong and leads to her being mugged and left for dead. It’s not so much the trauma of the incident - especially since she has no memory of the attack - but the inexplicable, life-altering changes that follow in its wake.

A high school prank goes terribly wrong. Clair Silver is mugged and left for dead.
You can see there is a missing link here. Unless the prank is the mugging, the two don't seem to connect. You're better off leaving out the high school prank part out.

In a matter of days, Claire’s once dark indigo eyes transform into to an almost unnatural shade of teal. and sShe starts seeing extra layers of colored refractions surrounding everyday objects.Then s She develops weird food cravings – if one considers the flowers in her Nana’s garden to be food.

Claire has no idea what to make of these new developments until she makes friends with Skye Thompson, Skye is a new transfer student who recognizes a kindred spirit in Claire . She tells Claire that they are both Spirit Guardians; people who upon dying are brought back to life by ancient animal spirits joining with their own soul, giving the chosen vessel unique physical and spiritual powers. Claire has some serious doubts about her new friend’s sanity - until Skye uses her physical ability to jump fifteen feet in the air and her spiritual ability to temporarily make Claire as fearless as she herself is.

Just when Claire thinks that things can’t get any stranger, Jackson Chatfield, the guy responsible for finding who found Claire and taking took her to the hospital after her attack, starts to shows a sudden romantic interest in her. She almost can’t believe a guy so goldenly beautiful actually wants to date her.

As if beginning a whirlwind romance, struggling to deal with new abilities and coming to grips with the idea that her soul now has a roommate weren’t already enough to complicate Claire’s once quiet life, seemingly random acts of theft and destruction start plaguing her family. As the situation goes from bad to worse, Claire begins to see Jackson’s true colors - and they are far from golden or beautiful.

Jackson knows more about Claire and her new status than he’s been letting on. He’s been keeping secrets – secrets that may get Claire killed.

I have included some sample pages the first three pages and would be pleased to send the full manuscript upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Best Wishes,



This is getting better. Really really work on the rhythm of your sentences. And remember, it's not going to do you any good to polish up this query if you don't take what you're learning and doing here and apply it to the manuscript. (hint: that-ectomy is a GOOD idea; take out every single word you don't need.)





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Dear Query Shark,

I am currently seeking representation for BECOMING, a 71,000 word young adult fantasy.

Claire Silver is an over-thinking, second-guessing, chronically-shy mess living anything but a fairytale life. Mugged and almost killed when a high school prank goes terribly wrong, Claire is saved by Jackson Chatfield, a guy so goldenly beautiful that he actually resembles the guardian angel that Claire romanticizes him to be. And, wonders of all wonders, Jackson actually appears to take a sudden romantic interest in little ol’ Claire.

We don't need to know all that about Claire. The only thing we need to know is what happens to her.

I'm not sure goldenly is a real word, but I think it actually works here.

This unexpected charming attention isn’t the only unusual thing that happens to Claire; the once familiar face in the mirror starts to look like a stranger. The eyes staring back at her go through a startling transformation from a dark indigo to a striking shade of teal. She also starts seeing extra layers of colored refractions surrounding everyday objects.

This is stuff we actually do need to know about Claire. The reason we need to know it is because it's what's changing. It's where the action starts.

Claire has no idea what to make of these new changes until she makes friends with Skye Thompson, a new transfer student. Skye recognizes a kindred spirit in Claire. She tells Claire that they are both Spirit Guardians; people who upon dying are brought back to life by ancient animal spirits joining with their own soul, giving the chosen vessel physical and spiritual powers. Claire has trouble believing any of this is real until Skye demonstrates her own powers before Claire’s awed eyes.

What does Skye do? Be specific. (I really hope it's not something like turning Scotch into water)

As if becoming guardian to an animal spirit wasn’t enough to complicate Claire’s quiet life, seemingly random acts of vandalism start plaguing her family and she learns that Jackson is harboring some pretty serious secrets of his own. What Claire doesn’t realize is that all these things are connected and that she and Skye aren’t the only Spirit Guardians in town.

Vandalism sounds like a petty annoyance. Is someone toiletpapering her house? Soaping her car windows? Probably not if (as we learn in the next paragraph, these things may cost Claire her life)

These oversights may cost Claire her very life.

Intermeshed in this supernatural fantasy is the tale of a vulnerable teen learning to be comfortable with who she is and discovering the importance of self-reliance when all else fails.

Focus on what moves the story forward. We don't need to know what the lessons are that will be learned. We just need to be enticed to read the book. I'm pretty sure intermeshed isn't a word.

Included with this query you will find a synopsis and sample pages for BECOMING. I would be pleased to send the full manuscript upon request.

This is better, but there's nothing compelling here. A kid discovers she has magical powers of some kind and it makes her a better person. This is as close to run of the mill YA fantasy as you can get.

Time to get out the imaginarium and get some layers in here. Turn some tropes on their ear. Confound me with fabulous ideas.

This is still a form rejection, but it's a whole lot better than the first version.

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Dear Query Shark,


I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in young adult fantasy.

This is just about the worst way to start a query I can think of. I know you've been told (not here but elsewhere) to personalize a query with "why I picked you" but to be effective it has to be specific. This is so unspecific as to be icky. If you absolutely cannot resist putting in something about why you elected to query this specific agent, mention specific books, or an interview on a website, or their blog, or something individual to the agent.


My novel BECOMING is a young adult fantasy complete at approximately 71,000 words. It is my first novel and the first in a planned trilogy.

BECOMING is a 71,000 word young adult fantasy.


Claire Silver is an over-thinking, second-guessing, chronically-shy mess living anything but a fairytale life. But when A near death experience during her senior year of high school leaves her open to becoming the guardian to an ancient animal spirit, Claire must learn to accept the newly developing magic inside of herself and find the hidden strength she never knew she had.

I'm not sure what "leaves her open to becoming the guardian to an ancient animal spirit" means. Does it mean she's considering it or vulnerable to it?

Claire better learn her lessons quickly, because she’s not the only one with something to hide.

Well of course, we don't know that Claire herself has something to hide do we?

While trying to uncover who is behind the seemingly random acts of vandalism that are plaguing her family, Claire fails to take into account that she is part of a whole new world were nothing may be as it seems. If only she had realized that those around her were harboring hidden personalities and hidden abilities right under her nose.

This paragraph doesn't have any connective tissue to what came before. I'm assuming not everyone in Claire's family has had near death experiences (if they have, I'd like to be their life insurance agent) Are they all guardians of some sort of spirit?

Be specific.

It’s a mistake that may cost Claire her very life.

Come along for Claire’s journey and meet some of her fellow Spirit Guardians: Drake, the ill-tempered, darkly handsome loner deeply concerned about the safety of those he doesn’t even know - Jackson, the consummate gentleman with the face of an angel and a heart made of unfeeling ice - Kyra, the stunningly beautiful and attractive woman suffering from crippling insecurities that eventually drive her insane, and Skye, the fun-loving, laughing good-time girl, who has been terribly alone for the majority of her years.

This is a list of characters and without context, or any sense of how they relate to Claire, it's useless info. It's also cliche ridden, and that's the kiss of death in a query.

Enclosed you will find a synopsis and sample pages for BECOMING. I would be pleased to send the full manuscript upon request.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

This isn't specific and it isn't compelling. Form rejection.

14 comments:

Lehcarjt said...

I really like the idea of Claire being responsible for an ancient animal spirit. That strikes me as interesting and different.

However, I agree that the paragraph describing the other characters kill it for me because as QS said they are all 100% cliches. While cutting this paragraph will help the query, I think you need to have a hard look at the story itself to make sure this isn't a deeper problem.

Josin L. McQuein said...

It seems to me that if those other characters were important enough to add to the query, they'd have a place in the action of the summary and not just tacked into a laundry list.

I do like the description of the MC, though. "chronically-shy mess living anything but a fairytale life" is pretty good.

Lydia Sharp said...

"...find the hidden strength she never knew she had."

This is where I initially stopped. I only kept reading to see if there was any redemption and/or something else to nitpick.

I found neither.

Good luck with your revisions. Janet's advice is spot on, as usual.

lora96 said...

I thought "hidden strength she never knew she had" was either redundant or revealed a gross misapprehension of the meaning of "hidden".

I like the animal spirit idea. More about that please, as in, what does it do? How can/should Claire use the spirit?

Lists of characters=bad. If I tried to describe my characters in six words or fewer they'd sound just as silly, so let's avoid that.

Glad to see the shark is swimming again and out for blood!

blanche992 said...

Author, I think if you re-read the structure of the sentences in the query, make them more pointed instead of trying to elude to something more, you might be on a better track. e.g. instead of:
A near death experience during her senior year of high school leaves her open to becoming the guardian to an ancient animal spirit, Claire must learn to accept the newly developing magic inside of herself and find the hidden strength she never knew she had.
Use: Little does she know her near death experience forms an irreversible connection with her as the guardian spirit of the ancient chupacabra. Once Claire discovers the magic burning deep within, she's forced to accept her place in a world she thought only existed in fairytales. Finding inner strength to enhance her new magical abilities, she must fight to protect her family or suffer the brute retaliatory force of the evil Northern Yeti.
...or something like that.
Also, the characters you mention have very contradictory characteristics. I find it hard to believe someone to be a fun-loving, good-time girl who's been terribly alone the majority of her years. Would it be better to describe her as someone "desperately trying to mask their overwhelming sense of loneliness through a put-on gregarious outward persona"?

theresamilstein said...

"I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in young adult fantasy."

I was under the impression that it was better to say something like, "Because of your interest in YA fantasy with a strong female character, this manuscript would be perfect for your agency." Better yet would be to name someone they represent who writes similar (but not too similar) types of books because it shows that the writer has done his/her homework and that there's compatibility between agent and author.

JS said...

I think this querier fell into the trap of "trying to make everything sound smooth like advertising copy or one of those movie trailers where the guy bellows 'IN A WORLD WHERE FANTASIES BECOME REALITY...'" and neglected to actually tell you anything that happened in the book.

Saying what happens in the book is much more important than using marketing buzzwords, yes?

Lucy said...

Yes.

Southern Writer said...

While trying to uncover who is behind the seemingly random acts of vandalism that are plaguing her family...

The ancient animal spirit did it.

Also, watch those typos. It's "WHERE nothing may be as it seems," except leave out the "may": She is part of a whole new world were nothing is as it seems.

At least this story doesn't sound like a cookie cutter. Good luck with your edits.

rachelcapps said...

I'd really like to see the conflict between the characters. Take the other characters out of their cliches and show/tell their conflict with Claire.

Intriguing concept. I'd like to see how your revisions go.

à la vanille said...

Yeah, character list: bad. Not only do I not see the relevance of the characters in the story, but it just takes up more space.

I second Souther Writer's "where" comment, it threw me off track to see if I was reading correctly.

But I like the premise. I'd definitely check it out.

Lehcarjt said...

Revision number one is a huge improvement. It reads smoothly and I can see the story. However I also don't find it very compelling. Tell me why I should love Claire? What is it about her, her journey, her obstacles that will grab me? She comes off as kind of bland - a follower of other people rather than someone forging her own story.

Still, good job on the changes. You are definitely going in the right direction.

Kate said...

I would also encourage the writer to do some research on trauma, as the notion that a lack of memory indicates an absence of trauma is completely false. Even if she had no memory of the event, she would still be traumatized by the attack. The lack of memory is in fact a product of the severe trauma. Even if she was knocked unconscious before the beating, attack, kerfuffle, whatev., ensued, she would still be traumatized. It's called muscle memory, cellular memory, etc.

See: Waking the Tiger, Peter Levine. Also Wilhelm Reich, if you can bear to wander through his antiquated language.

Kath Auto said...

Great suggestions, brief and to the point. Even if arguable — you're the expert after all. That's why the errors of fact and style are particularly bothersome.

First, the link you've provided to an explanation of ellipses gives the absolutely wrong advice. US English punctuation rules DO NOT put spaces between ellipses, though British Eng. might.

Chicago style (not MLA) is the preferred standard in book publishing, with the proscription that an ellipsis […] may (or may not) be preceded or followed by a space, but the dots DO NOT have spaces between them.

Your computer will make them for you: in any Windows program with or in Word with FWIW.

Second, "myth" does not mean untruth. It may be too often used that way (a meaning-reversing Judeo-Christian connotation), but the author who used it in his query has used it correctly.

The first definition is a legendary narrative [legends can be true or untrue], often featuring demons and deities.

As a professional editor, these things are _my_ expertise.

Thanks for letting me correct the shark!