Sunday, August 10, 2008



Dear Query Shark,

5 things Angela James never thought she'd do:
Melt through the floor of the science room.
Break into a police officer's apartment.
Attack her brother's girlfriend.
Throw a birthday party for a supernatural creature.
Burn a house down.

Angela had a lot of plans for her eighth grade year that aren't panning out. But the one thing she really hadn't seen coming?

A blue, winged boy dropping from the sky to completely destroy her perfectly normal life.

Angela has become a carrier of magic – a gift that she's supposed to use to better the world – but unfortunately, this new power is as uncontrolled as her 13-year-old emotions. All it seems to be good for is manifesting in embarrassingly public ways. And she's not alone. Her classmate Zeke and his sister Izzy have also been given new abilities, and they see it as an opportunity to finally get a leg up on the kids that have long bullied them.

And what about the winged boy? The one who ruined everything? He's their only ally, an emissary sent to guide them and keep them alive as long as possible, but he's got emotional baggage, a nasty temper and secrets of his own.

The magic – and the secrets that go with it – throw Angela's whole life out of whack. She worries her parents, racks up detentions at school, breaks the law … and those are the easy parts. There are creatures in the dark hunting them, creatures that crave magic and will suck it from the children's bodies if given half a chance. They can look like anyone and can be so exquisitely beautiful that it's easy to forget you're in danger until you're dead.

Complete at approximately 90,000 words, Keeping Back the Dark is a young adult urban fantasy balancing danger and wit as it follow Angela's struggle for a normal life.

I majored in creative writing at Kansas State University, and I'm currently taking classes toward my secondary education degree. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your consideration.

well, heck yea I want to read that! Nice work!


Dear Query Shark,

The 5 weirdest things that Angela James has ever done:

1. Melted through the floor of the science room (uncomfortable, especially when you land in a mop closet.

2. Broken into someone's house (but if they're not really people, is it still a crime?)

3. Attacked my brother's girlfriend (she was asking for it)

you've switched from third POV to first POV (Angela James has ever done/my brother)

4. Thrown a birthday party for an Icarus (what do you get the guy who's lived for centuries?)

5. Unintentionally used magic (unfortunately now the story of my life)

Angela had a lot of ideas about what her eighth grade year would be like, and absolutely none of them are panning out. Moving hadn't been in her plan, and neither had dropping from "somewhat liked" to "nonexistent" on the social radar. But the one thing that really hadn't been on her agenda?

A blue, winged boy dropping from the sky to completely overthrow her perfectly normal life.

Now she has magic underneath her skin, threatening to burst out wildly with every swing of her 13-year-old emotions, and only the slightly odd Marr siblings understand because they're going through the same thing. And the winged boy? The one that ruined everything? He happens to be their sole ally – an emissary sent to guide them – but he's got emotional baggage, a nasty temper and secrets of his own.

I don't understand anything in that paragraph. And "Marr siblings" is just a little too close to Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely); trust me that's the first person everyone thinks of with that name.

Angela finds herself saddled with a secret life that has her worrying her family, racking up detentions at school, and even breaking the law … and those are the easy parts. There are creatures in the dark hunting her and the Marrs – creatures that can look like anyone and who are so exquisitely beautiful that it's easy to forget you're in danger until they start killing you.

It would really help to be specific here. Why are they hunting her? Autograph seekers? Unpublished writers who heard she's an agent? Why?

Complete at approximately 90,000 words, Keeping Back the Dark is a fantasy fit into the real world, full of conflicts both supernatural and ordinary. This book — the first in a planned five-part series — blends danger, friendship, family and wit in a combination aimed at readers aged 10 and older.

I started writing at the age of seven, covering the gambit from never-to-see-the-light-of-day amateur novels to Harry Potter and Buffy fanfiction. I majored in creative writing at Kansas State University, and I currently work as a copy editor while I take classes toward my secondary education degree.

Never ever ever mention you started writing at age seven. It screams amateur hour. It's one of the things that sets my teeth on edge cause it's like "I was born to be a writer." The only people born to their day jobs are royalty. Unless you are a princess, don't mention your childhood employment training in a query letter. One of the very best writers I know took up the craft cause she needed a job where she could sit down all day. It's what you're doing now (like jumping in the shark tank-for which I have great respect) that counts.

Thank you for your consideration,

The list is funny and charming. I was all set to love what I read, but the rest is a belly flop in the shark pool.

Start again. Be specific. Revise.



Julia said...

"Marr" makes me think of Johnny Marr, fabulous guitarist for the Smiths and others.

Melissa Marr, not so much. But yeah, I wouldn't write a YA about characters with the somewhat unusual surname of a bestselling YA author.

Susan said...

Most of this commentary is good, but I think ditching a relatively common last name--it's not exactly "Smith" but a lot more common than, say, "Rowling" or "Tolkien" in the US--just because it's the last name of some other author seems a little bit of a stretch, especially since it doesn't seem like she's writing for Melissa Marr's audience.

Which brings me to my question, though... have things changed enough that 90k is acceptable for a book that claims it's for 10+? I've always heard that things need to run much shorter for that age bracket.

Lehcarjt said...

Melissa Marr was my first thought too. Especially as she writes Urban Fantasy too.

Keeping Back the Dark is a fantasy fit into the real world, full of conflicts both supernatural and ordinary.

You mean it is urban fantasy, right? I would just say that rather than give a more elaborate 'description'. Also, you've already made it clear that the story is full of natural/supernatural conflicts. Telling us so as well is repetitive.

Maybe this is nit-picky, but I lost interest with the POV/punctuation issues in the 'list'. These are such basic things that it makes me question the abilities of the writer.

Adam Heine said...

I agree with the POV/punctuation issues in the list. Mentioning that you're a copyeditor in real life makes these sins even worse. If you're going to mention you're a copyeditor, then this letter has to be PERFECT. Even more so than normal, I'd think.

I'm confused about the Marr siblings. Are they human siblings going through the same thing as Angela, or are they beautiful assassin creatures?

Oooooh. I read it for like the sixth time and finally caught what it said: the assassin creatures are hunting her AND the Marrs. Well, if I misread that, chances are someone else might too, but I wouldn't take offense if you left it since nobody else has had a problem with it so far.

Btw, I do like the idea of the assassin creatures and I like the way you described them. Though you could just say "kill you" instead of "start killing you". "until you're dead" would also work.

Tez Miller said...

I was reading via my GoogleReader, and this post was directly beneath a post by Angela James (editor at Samhain Publishing) ;-)

Have a lovely day! :-)

Margaret Yang said...

Why not just call it what it is? YA Urban Fantasy. With the UF sub-genre being very popular right now, and YA becoming more popular, it seems that you have a winner by calling it YA UF.

How about revising and trying again? I haven't seen too many revisions in the Shark Tank lately. This one has potential.

(Oh, and FWIW, the part where the Shark says "I don't understand any of this"--well, I did understand it and like it. I think our dear Shark just doesn't read urban fantasy.)

beth said...

I think 90k is a bit long, too, especially for the MG bracket. Although, to be honest, I don't really think from the synop that this is a 10+ book--I think it's more a YA Urban Fantasy.

And while my first thought WAS Melissa Marr, it certainly didn't bother me much because it is a last name and I didn't get any Wicked, Lovely vibes from the synop.

I didn't have much trouble understanding, but I did think it went on and on a bit. And there were a lot of characters/actions mentioned right after each other, and that got a bit confusing.

Just_Me said...

Marr? I must be out of some loop - it means nothing to me.

Fix your tenses.

Be concise.

Be specific.

Good luck!

Oh- and isn't 90,000 words a bit long for YA?

mrb said...

If it is YA, 8th grade seems a bit young for the protagonist.

Also, in the description of the assassins, you say that they "can look like anyone and are exquisitely beautiful..." (or something like that). I don't quite understand this. The first part makes it sound like they shapeshift, assuming different people's identities, and the second part makes it sound like they have fixed, superhumanly attractive appearances, like Edward in Twilight etc.

ChrisEldin said...

Not much to add--but I liked the list as well and hope you're able to tighten the query.

90K is on the long side for YA, particularly as this sounds like young YA or even upper MG. Do you have two books here?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good premise with lots of action and angst to keep your audience happy. :)

Beth said...

The concept is interesting and it sounds like it might be a fun book. But the POV glitches and the grammatical problems (the tense kept wobbling between past perfect, past, and present, and elsewhere you used "that" instead of "who") send up a red flag, particularly from someone who is a copy editor. And I kept hungering for more specific information in the closing paragraphs. For instance, instead of "creatures in the dark" hunting her, name what's hunting her, and why they're hunting her.

In short, promising, but needs work.

benwah said...

The POV shifting in the listicle at the beginning is off-putting and, coupled with the information that the author is a copyeditor, is rather damning.

But the fact that the Shark had to break out not one, not two, but THREE colors of ink to decry the author's inclusion of juvenille aspirations had me laughing. On my first read I thought the author was saying THIS manuscript was begun at the age of seven. Because really, otherwise, why would such information be relevant?

I'm a bit confused as to what's actually happening in this book as I think the query's a bit too cute and not specific enough. Then again, I'm not a fantasy reader, and maybe there are some standard tropes I'm missing out on.

Editorial Anonymous said...

PS it's "gamut" not "gambit"

BuffySquirrel said...

An Icarus? As far as I know there was only one, and he drowned. Plus I don't think he was blue--unless he was blue with cold? which seems unlikely if he flew that close to the sun. Also, of course, his wings came off.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I don't think it's a good idea to take a familiar name that belongs to a specific mythological figure, then completely change who it describes. That bothers me far more than the Marr thing.

Megoblocks said...

Indeed, there is only 1 Icarus. Greek mythology has him flying too near the sun with wings made from wax. Once the feathers had melted, he plunged into the sea and died.

Lynne said...

I'm with buffysquirrel and megoblocks on this one. Icarus flew to close to the sun, wings melted and it was a *long* drop to the ocean. If he didn't die of fright, hitting the water would be the same as landing on concrete. Delete this name from the book. Myth of Icarus died centuries ago. How can someone not know this?

talpianna said...

In the Axis and Wayfarer Redemption trilogies by Australian fantasy author Sara Douglass, one of the three races of Tencendor are the Icarii, in reference to Icarus. They are often referred to as the People of the Wing, and are Winged Men. (Wikipedia)

Haven't read these books; but I think I've come across icari as a name for a winged species in other stories. But it's not really a general term to be clearly understood.

BuffySquirrel said...

allo, moley!

talpianna said...

Buff, if you're going to speak French to me, you must address me as La Belle Taupe sans Merci.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I read a fair amount of fantasy, and the Icarus thing did not bother me. The fact that many kids won't recognize the reference means that the word will stand in for any made-up word, and won't bother them. And some of those who do recognize the reference (like me) will be comfortable with an author appropriating a mythological reference for the purposes of their narrative. (It is meant to indicate a shared trait, not the sharing of ALL traits.)
Authors do it all the time. It's called having an imagination.

ICQB said...

Your revision is great! Queries are hard, revisions are hard, but you've taken the shark's advice and done a fantastic job. Good luck with it!

Beth said...

Terrific revision. The only thing I'd suggest changing is to drop or move the reference to burning down the house, because after all the other weird things Angela does in that list, that ones seems almost an anti-climax.

All in all, well done.

Heidi the Hick said...

Wow! This revision is excellent! It sounded like an interesting possibly fun book from the first query, but with a more precise query letter I really want to read it.

It's free of confusing details now, and it's all connected and coherent. Good job!

(Seriously, I'd read this!)

Margaret Yang said...

Bravo, brave author! You took the comments of Miss Shark and others and made this one outstanding query! Way to go! I haven't seen many revisions lately and I was happy to see yours.

One tiny nitpick. Would you consider changing the order of items in the list at the beginning? I'd put them in order from least weird to most, or smallest to biggest. It would give it added punch.

I'd start with attacking the brother's girlfriend. Lots of people have wanted to do that. Then let it get weirder (science room, birthday party) and then get dangerous (breaking into apartment, burning house down). It's gotta escalate, you know?

I bet if you send this out to both agents who rep YA and agents who rep UF, you will have tons of requests for manuscripts.

Southern Writer said...

Congrats on the second try. Good job.

Rebecca said...

Thank you Query Shark and company for all of your commentary and advice. I was so frustrated with trying to write an effective query letter, and I don't think I ever would have gotten there if I hadn't come across this blog.

You all are fab!

- the author -

AnneB said...

I want to read this book; I like the author's voice.

magdalune said...

Much better. Although I'd advise you to consider a different title, perhaps. It makes me think of "The Dark is Rising."

magdalune said...

And hell yeah, I'd read that.

Amanda said...

Oh, nice job on the rewrite. :)

Lynne said...

The revision was great!

BuffySquirrel said...

Much better!

Anonymous said...

The revision is great. The premise reminds me a bit of The Lightning Thief, so I would definitely love to read this.

Regarding the issue of the age of protagonist, the target audience, and the word count, it depends. The Lightning Thief is YA/Upper Middle Grade, and the main character in the story is twelve. The word count is slightly above 87,000 words.

I have seen Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in US) categorized as both YA and MG. I won't reveal the main character's age, but she's young, too. The word count is slightly above 112,000.

Having said all this, these books are EXCEPTIONS to the word count rule, but things aren't as clear when it comes to the age of the target audience or the age of the main character.