Sunday, April 10, 2011

#200-revised 2x

Dear Query Shark,

Looking back, 16-year-old Marine Desmona can clearly count every one of her stupid mistakes.

story starts here ------>The first mistake was dancing with Duke Sinclair and letting his cold hands touch her while his eyes absorbed light in that uncanny, lifeless way. The second was going to the stable alone where he could ambush her and rape her mind. The third was not fleeing Adara and heading for Atlantis the moment she had the chance. But of course, she would never have left her father behind. Not then.

Don't be afraid to say less. Building tension in a query (and a novel) is often taking stuff OUT rather than putting stuff in.
Now, locked in a magic closet and chained to a conjured bed, she can only dream of rescue from the madman who torments her with scandalous caresses and cruel promises. The sorcerer who means to make her his bride and condemn her father to a future as a soulless slave. All because she has magic, a throwback heritage from the days when Adaran kings hunted witches.


If anyone other than the duke should discover her powers, they’d burn her alive in front of cheering spectators. The duke, however, doesn’t plan to give her up. No, he wants to use her. More to the point, he wants – needs – a womb that can pass on magic to another generation. And her womb is uniquely suited to the task. Their shared heritage can grant Duke Sinclair immortality, for he plans to leech into the bodies of their offspring and be reborn again and again, always inhabiting nubile child-flesh.

Grabbing her one opportunity for escape, Marine rushes out of Adara and toward Atlantis, the pagan City of Magic. There she intends to become more powerful than Duke Sinclair so she can kill the sorcerer, thus ending his reign of secret blood-magic and freeing witch-blooded Adarans from his control. But mostly, so she can save her father.

 Do you see the difference here? This is what I'm endlessly yammering about when I say "pare away everything you don't need."  You don't need any of the stuff I struck out; your query is tighter and the level of tension ratchets up.  

One of the biggest problems in novels I see is over-explaining.  You don't need to explain everything. In fact, it's better if you don't.  Let the reader gradually discover the background of the main characters.

And here in a query, less is often more because your goal here is to entice me to read on. STOP when you have enough to do that. 

Cutting all the extra verbiage has an added benefit: it drops the word count from 332 to 169.  There's a reason good queries should be 250 words or fewer: it forces you to focus on what's important, remove all the extra words, and stop when you've said enough.

If your query is longer than 250 words you have NOT accomplished those things.

THE DESMONA CHILD is a standalone 70,000-word YA fantasy. The sequel, THE DESMONA BRIDE, chronicles the fall of Atlantis and the crucial role Marine plays in its destruction.

This is a pretty good query at this point, but now you need to make sure your novel shows the same polish. Are you over explaining there? Did you front-load the novel with a bunch of backstory and set up?  One way to find out is to look at where the novel starts.  Does it start with Marine dancing with the Duke? If it does not, you might want to think about changing that.

Also, "Marine" as the name of a character in a book about Atlantis is a bit precious.  

Dear Query Shark,

Marine Desmona is shocked when an heir to the Adaran throne asks for her hand in marriage. Intent on understanding why the powerful Duke Sinclair is interested in unimportant her, Marine snoops out answers and uncovers a dangerous Desmona family secret. When she develops strange new abilities, a more immediate problem arises: in Adara, the use of magic is outlawed and she could be burned alive if her new powers are discovered.

The Desmona family’s heritage isn’t a secret to the Duke; he knows Marine’s witch-blood is manifesting. After generations of non-magic offspring, she is the legacy of two powerful bloodlines. Duke Sinclair plies Marine with seductive promises of unimaginable power, but she refuses him. Sinclair murders Marine’s mother with his own well-honed magic and threatens to kill her father if she doesn’t submit to his demands.

Marine flees her home hoping to learn how to master her gifts and free her father. The distant island of Atlantis, where magic-users are honored and revered, is the only place she can hide while Duke Sinclair is on his quest for everlasting life. Marine is hard-pressed to conceal her magic and evade the interest of everyone she encounters on the way to Atlantis, her fate depending on whether she can outrun the duke… and her own unpredictable magic.

THE DESMONA CHILD is my 104,000 word stand-alone fantasy novel. A sequel, THE DESMONA BRIDE, is currently in the works.

You're getting all caught up in details here. We don't need details. We need broad brush strokes of the plot, and MORE than that we need a reason to care about what happens. Right now Marine is pretty one dimensional. 

This is much better than the initial version.

Start over and use the chopping I did here to guide you on what to leave OUT of the revisions.

Dear Query Shark,

I am looking for an agent that likes fantasy/mythology with a twist. My debut novel, THE DESMONA CHILD, is a 106,000 word work of YA/Fantasy that leads up to the fall of Atlantis.

Don't start a query with what kind of agent you're looking for. It's absolutely understood, and therefore does not need to be said, you're looking for an agent who likes your work. Don't waste time telling me what I already know.

The ladies room is hardly where Marine Desmona expected a proposal. She had danced, giggled and enjoyed the night right up until a mysterious Duke cornered her and vowed everlasting love.

You don't complete the thought here. The Duke is the one who proposed in the ladies loo? (charming)
And you'll need to explain why he's in the loo to propose.

In the tumultuous weeks following that event Marine is conflicted, but never more so than when she learns that she is the key to bringing magic back to the kingdom of Adara - and that having witch-blood makes her appealing to the Duke because he wants to create a progeny of untold magical power. Such a child could have god-like dominion over life and death.

"create a progeny" is a very stilted way of saying what you mean here. And why is Marine (egad, what a name) conflicted? What's inherently wrong with what the Duke wants? Who wouldn't want what he wants?

A long journey to escape the Duke leads Marine to the literal doorstep of a fabled haven, the legendary Atlantis, where she hopes to disappear…

Ok, well, I don't get this at all. Atlantis is legendary because it's in legends, not because it was famous when it existed. I think you're confusing the two meanings of legendary. Also, why does Marine think she'll disappear in Atlantis? That's akin to saying you're on the Titanic cause you want to hang out in the North Atlantic in a lifeboat; how would you know?

Also if this thing with Atlantis is at the END of the book, it really has no place in the query. A query should entice me to read on with the events that happen at the START of the book.  

You'll be better off starting over with the the name of the main character, what choice she has to make, and what the dire consequences are for each.

I am querying widely, but will grant exclusivity if you are interested in seeing more of my work.


Do not ever OFFER exclusivity.
It's bad enough some agents ask for it, but do not ever OFFER first in a query letter.
Exclusivity is almost never in your best interest. Don't give up any advantage you get by querying widely.

This query doesn't fail cause of form, although that needs work.

It fails because there's not enough about the main characters to have me connect with them and be enticed to read more. There are 122 words in the paragraphs about the book. You've got room for 100 more easily.

There's a lot to be said for short and sweet, but this is too short to do the job.

Form rejection.


TheLabRat said...

legendary Atlantis - I rather got the impression that Atlantis is real in this story so the famous thing might be more applicable.

Theresa Milstein said...

There's info about the first pages and visiting Altlantis, but little else. I believe there may be an interesting story buried here. 100 extra words would would go a long way to explain exactly what the protagonist faces.

Marine is an odd name and maybe too obvious. I would also leave the word giggle out because it sounds like what teens do.

Is the Duke powerful? Does he have a hold on the protagonist? Why is the protagonist trying to hide in Altantis? What does she want?

Can't wait to see what you come up with in your query revision.

Anonymous said...

Watch out for blockbuster language. It gets in the way of telling the story. Phrases like "god-like dominion", "untold magical power", and "fabled haven" sound impressive but can act as a substitute for really telling us what's going on.

They also tend to diminish your chararacter's role; she's overshadowed by these untold fabled god-like things and hence less of an actor (i.e. she has less agency).

Try telling us what Marine does, in your own words, as you would if you were talking to a friend.

Sasha Barin said...

If the goal's "short and sweet" type query, could go with unwinding the longish sentence in the middle, along with QS's suggestions - at least IMO. Had to re-read it a few times to understand it fully, but maybe that's just my Sunday morning brain.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Be wary of tense changes. Check the "The ladies room" paragraph. It flips from present to past.

Starting with a proposal also doesn't say "YA", in fact, nothing about this query does. Marine reads older, which makes it seem like you slapped "YA" on this because it's a bigger market at the moment.

The "fabled haven" paragraph makes this sound like one of those tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top portrayals of a bad salesman.

The story of Atlantis is that the civilization did itself in with its own ambition. There's nothing in it about magical "witch-blood" children, so I also question why you're using Atlantis, specifically.

If she knows Atlantis exists, then you might want to say so.

Your MC is reactive, rather than active. The only active thing she does is act like a vapid party girl who was giggling before some guy cornered her in the bathroom. After that, her moves are directed by the actions of others - if that's not how your book reads, then it shouldn't be how your query reads.

Let me say again - this does not, not, not, not, not read YA at all. At the youngest, I'd think she was a college kid, but honestly, she reads more like she's in her 30's

wizardonskis22 said...

As a big fan of fantasy, the premise sounds great, but the whole thing was very confusing for me. I also thought the giggle suggested a teenager and was confused about why a teenager would have someone proposing to her.

You described it as YA/fantasy. Most YA novels have a YA-aged protag. That probably won't be much of a problem, just putting it out there. It's definitely fantasy, though.

Some of it is just hard to understand. I guess that Marine does not want to marry the Duke because he only loves her magic so she runs away to hide in Atlantis? Okay, she's on her way to Atlantis. And? Is the story about the journey to Atlantis? Is it about when she's in Atlantis? Is the choice whether or not to go to Atlantis, or does something really big happen? The query doesn't really show readers what the story is about, it just gives a bit of information.

Good luck on your revision!

Adele said...

What happens in your novel? Does Marine grow up? Die? Save the world?

All I understand from your query is: giggly teen, dumb enough to think a rich and powerful man has suddenly fallen madly in love with her, accepts his marriage proposal, even though it is made in a scene where he shows himself to be completely inconsiderate and possibly creepy. Surprised to discover that it isn't true love and he has ulterior motives, she runs away, hoping to hide herself in the big city - which happens to be Atlantis.

I don't think that's the story you spent 106,000 words telling. There is no character arc - no answer to questions like "Does Marine grow up and get a life?" or even "What happens?"

This reads like teaser copy - what's written on the book cover to entice readers to take a peek inside - but it's not what you want in a query letter.

Katrina S. Forest said...

Hmm... I sense that the Shark is subtly hinting at a mild distaste for offering exclusivity.

I know, I'm perceptive. ^_^

Seriously, though, think about it. You grant exclusivity one day and the next day two more requests come in. You really want to tell those other agents, "Sure, I'll get it to you in three months"?

Just be forthright with agents when they're not the only ones holding your full. That's all.

jesse said...

I can see an interesting query revolving around the proposal in the loo. If you really flush the event out (not a pun), add a hint of character detail, add a hint of conflict/stakes - I think you'll have something.
Just watch out for run-ons.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I think the shark may be misunderstanding "Atlantis, where she hopes to disappear." I might hope to "disappear" in New York City or a Himalayan monastery or Disney World or any place where I can hide from everyone who has an unsavory interest in me, with no idea that the place's doom is about to be written.

mekiho morgan said...

I agree with Jesse - the incident in the loo might be an good hook. Also you should color Marine (sounds like a soldier) a little bit: why should we care about her? What makes her an interesting person?

Christina Auret said...

I have some problems understanding the time line and setting here.

The party you describe sounds very regency England (A ladies loo, dancing and a Duke) while Atlantis sank into the sea at about 9600 BC.

Does the story take place in a steam punk alternate universe where Atlantis only sunk in the 1800s? If it does, you are going to have to tell us.

Unknown said...

Since this is a YA novel (word count seems high to me, even for YA fantasy) I think we can assume the MC is a teenager and therefore, it's probably okay if she giggles. :) I dont know why people think she sounds older--throughout history, plenty of people received proposals as teenagers. She sounds young to me.

I can't really tell what the story is about though. I think you've hit the highlights but left out the details to connect them in a meaningful way. I need more info on Marine (maybe Marina is better? or something even more different).
Why is she running from the duke? is he dangerous or just obnoxious? what makes her hate him or get scared enough to want to run away and disappear? And does this whole thing have to do with Atlantis disappearing, or is that just the setting?

I could tell more about the duke from the bathroom proposal than about Marine from the rest of query conbined. I think that serves as plenty of character description for the duke. If she's the MC, beef up her role. We know what the antagonist wants (Marine, babies, world domination) but not what your protag wants.

I look forward to seeing revisions. Sounds like the type of book I'd like, but I can't tell enough about the story to know for sure.

Theresa Milstein said...

Like Wizardonskis, I was confused about the age too. I saw YA, but a proposal sounds older than high school while the giggling reminds me of middle school age. Even if teens giggle, they wouldn't usually use the word.

St0n3henge said...

"A long journey to escape the Duke leads Marine to the literal doorstep of a fabled haven, the legendary Atlantis, where she hopes to disappear…"

...and then the city sinks. The end.

You see? Story too short.

We need more of what happens after Marine's arrival and before Atlantis's legendary swan dive. I know, the sinking part might not be part of the story, but everybody's going to think it will be.

Also, more emotions. Does Marine think she's maybe fallen in love with the Duke of Earl? Does the Duke love her at least a little, or is he totally just using her? Does Marine think he loves her a little, but he's really only using her? Does Marine think he's only using her when he really loves her at least a little?

We need a reason to care. If the main characters don't seem to be emotionally invested in what's happening, the readers won't be.

Rivka said...

I offered exclusivity to an agent whom I met at a conference. I wanted her to know that I REALLY wanted her to be my agent, and would be willing to wait at least a few weeks for her to read the full before I started to send it out to other agents.

Does offering exclusivity make a difference if you've met the agent personally? I hope so!

Joseph said...

I think a lot of the problems in the query is that you're being vague where you should be clear, or slightly inane. How does the Duke (insert evil cackle and moustache twirl here) know that his coupling with Marine (I share Shark's ugh at that name) would create the god-like child? Is this some sort of Terminator scenario? Does Marine know she's a witch? Why does it matter if the story is actually about the child she doesn't want to have?

So she's running away because she doesn't want to get impregnated? The story would be more interesting if she did get pregnant and then the bad guy revealed his awful intentions, forcing her to run away.

Also, it's kind of a fantasy on top of a fantasy. There's an evil duke, she's a witch, then she runs away to Atlantis where I'm guessing the true adventure begins?

I have no problem with any of these elements, but the query explains what brings her to Atlantis. What happens at Atlantis? Isn't that the real story? The Duke must give chase, revealing the great civilization of Atlantis (ala a certain classic anime that was later ripped off by Disney to create Atlantis: The Lost Empire).

I still think having her actually GET pregnant rather than theoretically pregnant would be a better hook.

Katrina S. Forest said...

Rivka -- I think what you did was better than including the offer in every query letter. You weren't going to get more requests for the full because you didn't have any other queries out at the time. Whether making the offer was worth it is something only you can decide, but at least it didn't put you in an awkward situation.

Laurel said...

Two thoughts: I thought the bathroom proposal was hilarious, in a good way. If that was the intent, and it is your inciting incident, build momentum from that. Is this light fantasy? I would read a tongue-in-cheek YA fantasy in a heartbeat. Nice change of pace from the current crop of angst, angst, angst.

The second is that if everybody objects to the name "Marine" you might change it to "Marina" which is a very common Spanish name and occasionally crops up in English.

Unknown said...

Ok, you're hiding your story behind a lot of unecessary twaddle. Pare it back. Think of what the story is, not what happens in it. Is it, as it seems to be 'young girl discovers older men who offer marriage straight away may have an ulterior motive'?

Tell us what the story is first. Who are our main characters, what do they want, what is the conflict, what are the stakes. Once you have that- just that- you cna think of how to dress it up a little.

Beth said...

I can't quite get past the idea that dukes and loos existed 10,000 years ago, or whenever it was that Atlantis was still supposed to be thriving. Is this set in an alternate universe?

Beans said...

@Christina Lauret- Atlantis doesn't exist, nor has there ever been proof that it exists. Wikipedia's date for the year Atlantis supposedly "sank into the sea" has no merit. Plato is literally the only author who mentions it, and no one can know when it sank or even if it exists. So, since it's considered by most to be a legend, the author can create whatever she wants in that city since we don't know what it was like.

However, you have a point, as does everyone else who has mentioned that the times don't really add up. The query itself almost seems a little lost, like even the author doesn't know where exactly it begins.

Jo-Ann said...

A fellow walks into the ladies room and asks a stranger to marry him....hmmm. I could see it working as a hook if you were to describe your work as a "mad caper" - unless of course, it is considered the height of ill-breeding on Adara to propose anywhere other than a toilet.

I enjoy fantasy, but the query left me feeling that you may have inadvertantly deleted a para or two before sending your query off.

BTW - congratulations on 200 queries, Shark!

Freawaru said...

I don't care for the name "Marine" either, but I also don't have a problem with it's use; I've actually known two different women with the name Marine. Not Marina, but Marine. One was French, the other from Vermont. So while it wouldn't have been my first choice, I think it's a valid name.

On the whole Atlantis time continuity issue thing, I actually was assuming that the protagonist was going to the *sunken* city of Atlantis, not that it was still vibrant and alive and normal. There have been plenty of fantasy stories set in an Atlantis that sunk, but then went on through magical or other oddball means to continue to be viable cities - just underwater. Given that the girl is supposed to be a "witch", I assumed she was going to use some as-of-yet undefined power to travel to the sunken underwater metropolis. Maybe I'm just reading too much into it, though.

My problem is mostly that except for these little disparte elements, I don't really get a sense of the story, no real investment in the characters, and no idea how it all ties together. It seems like there are too many gimmicky elements thrown together, and yet remarkably little story; but I suspect that a careful rewrite of the query really would solve a lot of those problems, assuming that the story does exist in the novel itself.

For what it's worth, I *did* think that Marine sounded young - YA level young. And very naive, which isn't a bad trait in a main character - gives her a lot of room to grow!

Anonymous said...

Marine is the name of the current leader of the Front National here in France.

So I don't recommend trying to publish it over here.

Unless, of course you don't mind your character being associated with a racist, antisemitic political party with fascist tendencies.

The bigger issue would be the whole "Marine" -- "Atlantis" heavyhandedness. But since this is a YA novel, I suppose that's all right.

Not sure what Desdemona has to do with anything -- which is why this query is so frustrating. I don't get a clear sense of a story. For the moment, it reads like the plot to a Disney movie. Doesn't matter which one. They're all the same.

PLJ said...

I'm surprised no one else said this...


Thank you for do this 200 times already and I'm looking forward to learning more from the next 200!!!!


JS said...

What Christina Auret said, times a million.

Is this book set in 10,000 BCE, when the legendary Atlantis is legendarily supposed to have legendarily sunk in the legendary sea? Or in 1802, as it sounds? (And here's a note--a ladies' retiring room in any age of Dukes and grand balls is NOT romantic. Chamber pots do not add atmosphere in a good way.)

If your Atlantis is different from the legendary Atlantis, you need to communicate that. If you're using the same Atlantis the rest of us are, and your society of 10,000 BCE is exactly like English society of 1802 (or, rather, 1930's version of same--but that's a rant for another time), you need to sell that hard. Taking for granted that someone reading your query will just suspend their disbelief is a HUGE mistake.

Maybe you can make it work. People make unlikely twists on history and legend work all the time--I scoffed at Naomi Novik's "Napoleonic Wars with dragons" thing, but by gum those books hold together--but you need to really communicate that you're up to the challenge in your query letter. I'm not seeing that in this version.

Also, adding to the chorus of "'Marine' has to go." "Marine" is a shaven-headed tough guy in uniform, not a lovely and aristocratic debutante, especially for a YA reader. Yes, yes, people in real life are named "Marine", but truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has a responsibility to make sense.

Anonymous said...

I once met a five-year-old boy named Admiral.

Marina J. Lostetter said...

I don't have a problem with the name, because it makes me think of the ocean and shiny light-blue birthstones.

But it's also very close to my name, so I could be biased.

On a similar note as the comment above:Just a few days ago I was introduced to a girl named Navy.

I too feel like there's a good story hidden in here. I actually get the impression that the story's setting is contemporary, and that Atlantis has perhaps been modernized, but I don't have any direct evidence to point to that makes me feel this way.

The toilet hook is great, but it definitely needs further explanation. I also feel Marine comes off as too shallow: we need more personal motivation. Get inside her head so we can empathize with her position.

BlancheBaxter said...

This query has potential, but it also has a disjointed feel. I think the problem lies in it's lay out....too much unnecessary information and not enough of the details that explain your story's arc. I have a feeling you have an intriguing, original slant on the fantasy/Atlantis concept. So wow us, create a flow!
Let your query tell us, who Marine is and what makes her interesting/special? Touch upon her setting (this will clear up the confusion as to the time period and location of your story). Explain the conflict? Describe Marine's quest, her choices and the possible outcomes.
Tell it in your words. Read the query out loud (and have others read it out loud to you). This will help you catch any inconsistencies and clean up sentence structure.
What is the voice in your manuscript? Make sure your query uses that same voice, style and language. If the agent likes your query's voice, they will be more likely to request a full.
Btw, I didn't have a problem with the whole Atlantis thing. In fantasy you can create any world you want, just make sure it's clear to the reader, and in this case the agent/publisher. You have a good start here, keep at it! :)
Congratulations QueryShark on reaching 200!

R.T. said...

This revised query is focused and powerful, especially the first paragraph.

I get a connection with Marine. Feel compelled to read on.

The stuff chopped by query shark is interesting (description of the duke: nice), but distracting.