Sunday, December 29, 2013

#253--revised twice

Second revision


Dear Query Shark,
Ariana has a PhD in medieval military history and works at a Manhattan dating agency. Her boss claims magic helps clients find their happily-ever-afters. Riiiight. But, hey, if it means a job that pays the rent and student loans she can work with the fairy godmother until she lands that tenure track position.

Then she stumbles into a medieval kingdom. In the middle of a succession crisis. Time to re-evaluate that position on magic. 

You need one more sentence to make three parts to the whole: stumbles, middle of the crisis, one more. Then the punch line: reevaluate.  It has to be just the exact RIGHT phrase but you need one more to make the rhythm work.

Ariana only wants to get home, but that means finding the Gatekeeper who can open the portal to NY. NYC.** And can she find someone to help her? No. She finds the rebel claimant to the throne and his supporters. He thinks she could be the key to the crown. Thanks, but no. There are faster and less painful ways to die than trying to make someone king. Trust her. She's a medieval historian. 

Logic says abandon the rebels. They'll end up with their heads on pikes. Except Ariana likes the rebels, maybe even loves one of them. If she stays, her knowledge of medieval warfare might keep them all alive. And her family said her degree had no practical value.

Here's where you adjust the volume: more on the bass notes of serious plot, less on the treble clef of whimsical asides.
 
Of course, if Ariana stays, her presence could spark a war that would engulf the kingdom and destroy it. For beyond the frontiers rival kings prepare for the coming chaos. And conquest.

BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER is a fantasy novel (115,000 words) with romantic elements and touches of fairy tale. It was a finalist for the (this) Writers Association (that) Award in the Science Fiction & Fantasy category, and I taught a workshop about medieval arms and armor at the 2013 (the other) writing conference. I am finishing my PhD in medieval military history, although I work as an assistant editor for an academic journal not at a magic dating agency. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 This is better, much much better. (And thank god you fixed the title!) I can still tinker with words and phrases and rhythm though so you might want to let it sit through a couple iterations to see what you think sounds best.  

And now that you've got an effective query, have you gone back through your novel to make sure you've implemented all the things you've learned here?  Nothing is more disappointing than a great query followed by an unpolished novel.

Polishing will take some time. It's the place where you'll be most tempted to quit and just send it out.  Resist!  Polishing is what gets you beyond the 99%.  You can't be ok or good enough. You have to be better than everyone else I see this year.  

Think of it this way: the difference between first and 14th place in the 1500 meter Olympic speed skating competition was five seconds (a sub-two minute skate) You want your writing to be first, not fifteenth.



 **NY is the state.  NYC is the city.


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First revision

Dear Query Shark,

Ariana has a PhD in medieval military history and works at a Manhattan dating agency in New York. Her boss claims to use magic to helps clients find their happily-ever-afters. Riiiiight. But, hey, she'll believe whatever the boss wants if it means a job that pays the rent and student loans.  Sshe can work with Snow White until she lands that tenure track position.

see the difference? This is rhythm and pacing. You've got to have it in the novel. Do you?

Then she stumbles into a medieval kingdom.  In the middle of a succession crisis. Time to re-evaluate that position on magic.

Ariana only wants to go get home, but that means finding the Gatekeeper who can open the portal to NY. And can she find someone to help her? No. She finds the rebel claimant to the throne and his supporters. He thinks she could be the key to the crown. Thanks, but no. There are faster and less painful ways to die than trying to make someone king. Trust her, she's a medieval historian.

Logic says abandon the rebels. They'll end up with their heads on pikes, but such is the cost of rebellion. Except Ariana likes the rebels, maybe even loves one of them. If she stays, her knowledge of medieval warfare might keep them all alive. And her family said her degree had no practical use.

Of course, if she stays, her presence could spark a war that would engulf the kingdom and wake the gods. (gods waking is a bad thing?)

THE CROSS OF THE HARPY (AIEEEEEE) AND STAR is a fantasy novel (115,000 words) with romantic elements and touches of fairy tale. It was a finalist for the (Writing conference) 2013 X Award in the Science Fiction & Fantasy category, and I taught a workshop about medieval arms and armor at the 2013 (other) writing conference. I am finishing my PhD in medieval military history, although I work as an assistant editor for an academic journal not at a magic dating agency.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I hate the title with the passion of a thousand rebellions.  Why did you change it?

And this is much better, but when I can see the fine-tuning needed in the query here (as illustrated above) I know I'll see it in the novel.

This fine-tuning is what comes with letting something sit for awhile, then going back and reading it aloud, and with fresh eyes.  Feel the rhythm and pacing of the query.  Then you do the same with the book.

This is akin to hemming your dress when you've finished sewing, and making sure the sleeves are the same length.  You can only do that when you're "finished" but not done.

Polish.

RETITLE.

Resend.
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Original query

Dear Query Shark,

Ariana is a medieval military historian and works at a magic dating agency. Too bad she doesn't believe in magic or true love. But, hey, rent and student loans must be paid, so Ariana figures she can work with Snow White and dish gnomes until she lands that tenure track position.

Then she and Titania, a new client, stumble into another world. Time to re-evaluate that position on magic.

Ariana only wants to go home, but that means finding people.

Right here is where you lose me. What does "finding people" mean? Finding the person with the key to the locked door? Finding the Wizard of Oz? Finding the limo driver? (and what is a dish gnome?)

And you know all of us here in AgentLand are going to take one look at the name Titania and think "oh, Midsummer Night allegory, got it"  Is that what you're aiming for? 

And can she find someone who can help her? No. She finds rebels who think Ariana could be a kingmaker. On top of that absurdity, Titania thinks she found love at first sight with a rebel scout and wants to stay.

And this descends into mush because we have no idea what "be a kingmaker" means. And why is it absurd?

And look carefully at your pronouns and proper noun placement here in this paragraph. The first "she" is clearly Ariana. As is the second. Then you call her by name. Then you bring in Titania and the third "she" is Titania.  

Consider: She finds rebels who think she could be a kingmaker. On top of that absurdity, Titania thinks she's found love (etc)

Remember, agents are not reading slowly here, parsing out every nuance of a sentence. We're skimming along trying to pick up the sense of the plot and the quality of the writing. The only reason you want us to stop and say "whoa" is cause you're (egad!) your sentences are beautiful, not cause we're unsure who the subject is.


Could it get any worse? Of course. Ariana learns her degree can be put to practical use. Armies, archers, and assassins. Awesome.

This is actually good, except we have no idea where Ariana IS in terms of time/space/the universe. And most important, we have no idea of the stakes. She wants to go home (of course she does) but what bad thing happens here in Rebelville if she does? What worse thing happens if she doesn't?

THE LIGHT BEARER'S DAUGHTER is a fantasy novel (115,000 words) with romantic elements and touches of fairy tale. It was a finalist for the (redacted) Writers Association 2013 (name) Award in the Science Fiction & Fantasy category. I am finishing my PhD in medieval military history, although I work as an assistant editor for an academic journal not at a magic dating agency.(I love that line!) I have published an article on English royal authority in fourteenth-century Gascony (2013), have a forthcoming article in the Journal of Medieval Military History, and taught a workshop about medieval arms and armor at the 2013 (this other) writing conference.

Thank you for your time and consideration.





Question: In the final paragraph, how much of my academic background should I include? I do have publications in my field, and my work is relevant to the project. Will this help me or frighten away agents? I'm worried that the history PhD automatically conjures up Professor Binns, the ghost who teaches history at Hogwarts and puts every student but Hermione to sleep. Should I omit it entirely and save myself the worry?


Answer: The purpose of the paragraph on writing credits is two-fold: show that you've been published by a curated or edited general interest periodical, or that there are readers who already know who you are. Your academic background doesn't accomplish either of these. I don't think having a Ph.D automatically conjures up anything for agents. Certainly it doesn't for me. (And remember, Harry Potter was first pubbed in 1997--it's not the instant touchstone that you think it is.)

Academic articles are generally not considered writing credits. They're selected and edited much differently than general trade periodicals, and have an entirely different purpose.


The problem with the query isn't the last paragraph. It's what you have before that paragraph.  You've got the lighthearted tone but you've missed the substance of what's at stake.

14 comments:

Aoife.Troxel said...

Damn that autocorrect... "The only reason you want us to stop and say "whoa" is cause you're sentences are beautiful, not cause we're unsure who the subject is."

Colin Smith said...

"Remember, agents are not reading slowly here, parsing out every nuance of a sentence. We're skimming along trying to pick up the sense of the plot and the quality of the writing."

I've found this useful to remember when I'm writing queries. It helps to have someone who doesn't know you or your work read your query (e.g., at a query workshop, or even have a friend or relative look at it). Someone who doesn't know your story will be able to tell you if they *still* don't know your story after reading your query. :)

K.L. Bergen said...

Interesting query, but the title really stuck out to me. "The Light-Bearer's Daughter" is the name of a book by O.R. Melling, the third in the Chronicles of Faerie series. That's immediately what my mind jumped to when I read the name, and I found it a bit hard to separate the two. Other readers might have the same reaction, for better or worse, so you may want to consider changing that title.

Link to O.R. Melling's book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Chronicles-Faerie-Light-Bearers-Daughter/dp/081090781X

Theresa Milstein said...

I thought there were good parts to this query, but QS has a point that a few parts aren't clear. I think it wouldn't make much to make this query tight.

Even without the title problem above, I think there's a better title out there for this premise.

Good luck!

Kevin Nelson said...

The first line might work better if it were something like "Ariana was trained as a medieval military historian..." Otherwise it sounds like she's actually working as a medieval historian at the dating service.

Lehcarjt said...

Couple of thoughts...

The phrase "Too bad she..." is very, very tired for me. I've seen it so much that the moment it pops up I roll my eyes because it kills the voice for the whole piece.

I stumbled over 'dish gnomes.' I got what you meant eventually, but my first thought was "work with Snow White and dish out food to gnomes" (so that the work and dish are verbs in parallel construction.)

I'm also unclear on why Tatiana is so important. At first this read as LGBT romance (which made her importance clear), but then Tat found someone else and I'm left with a 'huh? Why does her situation matter?'

Still, you background (and the heroine's) makes this interesting. I like her kingmaker predicament, just needs to be streamlined and clarified. Good luck!

nightsmusic said...

I'm coming in late to this, but honestly, your first two sentences threw me and didn't provoke any further trust in the story and this is why: She works in a magic dating agency even though she doesn't believe in magic. So which is it? If she knows it's a magic dating agency and doesn't believe in magic, she either thinks everyone there is nuts which doesn't say much for her working there, or she has no idea it's magic until she's thrust back in time. The problem with the rest of the first paragraph though is that she knows the place is magic.

I'm just a reader, not an agent, and if I saw that opening on a back blurb, I'd put it right back on the shelf because it's confusing enough that I don't want to spend an entire book reading confusion.

Who = your protagonist Ariana

What = her initial predicament which would be working clueless in a job full of magic until she's shoved back in time

When/Where = I have no idea when or where this is. If you're hoping the medieval historian comment will help, a tad more clarity would be better

How = this is what's going to be the most significant. How is she in trouble and how is she going to get out of it.

Mix them up how you must to get a query that grabs the attention but don't confuse the reader. It will never get out of the slush pile.

Gallatin said...

Thanks for all the comments and suggestions.

QS: What is the proper procedure for submitting revisions? I.e., do I use a specific subject heading? Include the original below the revisions? I only received the form acknowledgement that the query was received.

Bill Scott said...

Just got it. I think. Dish is a verb and not a noun? Dish gnomes. Now, I'm wondering should it be dwarves.

Laura W. said...

How does one dish a gnome? I'm getting all sorts of hilarious mental images.

I, too, thought that Titania might be a love interest. But then they were separated? Or she found someone else and went off with him? What is the point of having Titania along? But mainly, what's it to Ariana if Titania stays -- I mean, isn't Titania happy where she is? If she wants to stay, fine. If I got into Narnia or somewhere, I sure wouldn't want to come back. Why does Ariana care about bringing her back, unless Titania is somehow important to getting back?

Theresa Milstein said...

I like the new version a lot better. Wow, QS shows how a few tweaks can make all the difference.

The premise is interesting, but the new title isn't. There must be a title out there that matches the story and the voice in this query.

Good luck!

Laura W. said...

OOPS. I think I misread something. Some of the comments interpret it to sound like she may have been sent back in time? Reading both queries, I didn't get that impression...

In this version, I read "medieval kingdom" as more of your medieval fantasy world that could be anything/anywhere. Also, the first query just says they stumble upon "another world," which could really be anything. Now I'm confused. Maybe it's just me, because as a fantasy reader the world is such an important part of the story for me -- but to quote the Shark:

"This is actually good, except we have no idea where Ariana IS in terms of time/space/the universe."

For me this is the question I would like to see answered in the next version of this query, because it would help me understand what's going on. Does she go back in time, travel to an alternate-history Earth, or travel to a medieval fantasy/fairy tale world? Am I weird for asking or is anyone else a little confused?

LynnRodz said...

A way to get the rhythm and pacing as the QS said, is to read what you've written out loud. (This cannot be repeated enough!) Read that first paragraph the way you wrote it and then the way it was pared down. You can hear the difference.

I think you have an interesting story here, but the query is sort of bland. There doesn't seem to be very high stakes here, not the way you've written it. "Ariana only wants to go home...." as opposed to saying "Ariana has to get home...." or "...needs to get home."

"Logic says abandon the rebels." If you're going with logic then there aren't any emotions. It's like saying, "Oh well, should I abandon them or should I stay? Hmm, let me see."

Again you write, "Except Ariana likes the rebels, maybe even loves one of them." Now if that isn't lukewarm, I don't know what is! It might be better to say, "Except Ariana likes the rebels and (yikes!) has fallen in love with one of them."

I think your first title was a lot better. I know there have been several comments about the title already in use, but it doesn't mean you can't use it. Good luck! I look forward to your revisions.

Julia said...

Re: Word count in sentences - do you object to sentences built on the "One day 'x'; the next day, 'y'," scaffold? These don't break prettily into two sentences, but they do make for long ones. Just for sake of random, non-personally-related example: "All he knows is that one day, he was hoping to be adopted by his foster parents; the next, he was on his way to some hidden castle in Wales with someone claiming to be a six-hundred-year-old half-Angel." 38 Bloody words. Thanks!