Sunday, January 31, 2016

#274-revised 1x


Dear QueryShark,
If the Ancients knew what Blackwater had been through, they would have asked someone else to save the world. The Ancients, a race of Phoenixian beings born of fire, and until their fall, thought to be immortal, had prophesied that a man born of water would come to save the world from Chaos and its minions. 
I like this. It sets up some expectations for Blackwater.  You don't need to explain the Ancients in the query. Keep the focus on Blackwater.

Blackwater knew the words of the prophecy all to well. He had been forced to memorize them as a child.
Blackwater is was a Key Master, the last Key Master, able to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye. All the other Key Masters have been where (you mean were here, not where) hunted down and killed, their power thought to (too) great to be allowed to exist. Blackwater was is walking death; his powers, coupled with the training he received from his father, made him one of the deadliest men in the world. 

Present tense provides an energy to your query that can really help.
So Blackwater IS, not Blackwater was, made him/make him
Now tucked away from the rest of the world in a forest where time moves much slower, Blackwater wonders what good power is if you cannot save the ones that mattered most. So many had died trying to save him. Blackwater’s father taught him that all life was precious, that he should preserve life and that he should not kill, unless absolutely necessary and in the defense of his own life.

And here you just fall off the story line in a big ol splat. "ones who matter most" "so many died" are all so non-specific as to be uninteresting. Uninteresting is death in a query.
And in fact, none of this really matters; you get to the gist of the book below.

Yet all he wanted to do was kill, kill those who had taken the lives of so many of the people he cared about. Doing so would disgrace his father's memory, and that was something he was not willing to do. So here he stood, still unable to preserve the life of anyone but himself. 
In a twist of fate Blackwater finds himself in the company of the Ancient forest god Arbor. Arbor reveals to Blackwater that the world is dying. Blackwater learns that the only way to save the world lies beneath it, in the underground city of Taenaria. The city is thousands of leagues from the forest where he now resides. In order to save the world of Tuarian, Blackwater must make a Keyway and travel to the Eastern Reaches, down into the depths of Taenaria.

I really can't tell you how much I hate the idea of a forest god named Arbor. It's like naming a dog Dog. It's funny if you're trying to be ironic. It's not really very funny here.  
In Taenaria, Blackwater’s choices go from bad to worse, when he must weigh his life against his newly found companions. If Blackwater saves his companions at the cost of his life, the prophecy might never be fulfilled and Chaos will reign, if he lets them die, the world will lose the only chance it has against the Chaos that is coming.

Because we know nothing about the companions I'm all for letting them die die die. In other words, I need something here to make me care about them. Are they sharks? Unicorn sharks? Let them live.
Fair maidens? Yea, not so much. Fair maidens are the source of much of the world's troubles.

The Key Masters Chronicles: Book I, The Last Key Master, complete at 100,843 words, is Science Fiction Fantasy. 
Thank you for your Cconsideration.

I'm still seeing a LOT of typos here.

Typos like this are just death in a query because you're not doing this for stylistic reasons, you're just making mistakes. When I see things like too/to, and where/were I know I'll find them in the manuscript. 

You simply must figure out how to handle this problem before you query further. No matter how enticing your novel sounds, this kind of mistake will mean form rejections.
 This is a vast improvement from the initial query, but you've got some problems to fix here.

Dear Query Shark,

(1) I don’t know if I can save her. I’m not sure I can save myself. I have failed so many times.My friends, my family, they all had a chance to live but I was never fast enough, never strong enough.

Because you've started with "I", my impression is you are talking about yourself.  This sounds like a memoir.

(2) Now they're gone, taken from me, their lives no longer bound to this dying land. Yet I remain, why, for what? To fulfill some Prophecy spoken four-thousand seasons ago.

Now it sounds like a memoir with religious overtones. This is where I stop reading. Two paragraphs and eight sentences. You're done.

This is a textbook illustration of why you do not write a query in the voice of your character. It's confusing. And when I am confused, I stop reading. I don't stop to try to figure it out. I don't skim past this to see what comes next. I stop reading, and go on to the next query. You'd get a form rejection from me; you'll get a vast silence from agents who practice No Response Means No.

(3) The Ancients couldn't possibly know me, or what I’ve been through, if they did they would’ve asked someone else to save the world.

When you revise this, you should consider starting at (3). Use the character's name instead of "me" and "I".  I like the phrase "if they did, they would have asked someone else to save the world."  That sentence snags my attention. I'm interested to see why someone else should have been asked to save the world.  (Too bad I wouldn't see it with this version of course)

Blackwater was a Key Master. Being blessed with the power to fashion magical keys, Blackwater could conjure Keyways, to travel from place to place in the blink of an eye. All the Key Masters that traversed the vast land of Taurian, have been hunted down and killed, their craft falling into myth and legend, yet Blackwater, the last Key Master, still lives.

You've got a lot of words here to say some pretty simple things: Blackwater can travel from place to place in the blink of an eye because he's a Key Master. The last Key Master; all the others have been hunted down and killed.

See the difference? You don't need all this information in the query. I'm going to assume that most of the backstory, and world building, will happen in the novel. Right now I'm keen to see whether you've got a plot, and whether the writing is taut.

Also, most queries are written in present tense even if the novel is not. Present tense gives you a boost of energy and verve here:  Blackwater IS a Key Master.

Aida cannot remember her name, nor where she comes from, or how she came to be with child. Confused and afraid, she stumbles into Blackwater’s forest. Aida is taken by the Taenarians who wish to steal the magic her child carries. Blackwater must now choose whether to use his Key Magic to rescue her, or watch another innocent lose their life because he did nothing to prevent it. Traveling into the depths of Taenaria, Blackwater seeks to rescue Aida, whose womb carries the essence of rebirth and the key to saving this dying world.

oh yuck yuck yuck. Here is where I lose interest very quickly. We've gone from something that looked appealing "wrong choice to saving the world" to saving some sort of fecund damsel in distress. (I'm really over the whole damsel in distress thing, but that's probably just me)

You've set up Blackwater's choice but there's nothing at stake. He saves her and what bad thing happens to him? He doesn't save her, and what worse thing will happen? Unless Blackwater has skin in the game, it's just a series of events with no tension.

Even without the problems in (1) and (2) I'd say no to this query because there's no sense of what's at stake. 

Also notice you dropped those evil Taenarians in without any explanation, and those poor doddering Ancients from (3) have disappeared.

If you think of a query as a piece of flash fiction it might help.  It has to hold together as a complete entity. You don't have to spell everything out (your reader will intuit things) but the query needs to be seamless. Mentioning a character only once leaves a gap. Seamless = no gaps.

The Key Masters Chronicles: Book I, The Last Key Master, complete at 111,843 words, is commercial fiction.

It's not commercial fiction; it's SFF.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The first thing to do is make sure your novel has something at stake. Even if you fix the query letter, it won't do you any good to send me a novel with nothing at stake. What's at stake for Blackwater needs to be clear in the first 20 pages or so. Generally I'll give a requested full about 50 pages to hook me, but you really want that to happen as soon as possible.

Once you've got the novel in shape, revise the query to remove the character's POV, and tighten up the paragraphs. Use present tense.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


 When writing the query I had realized there was no possible way to write a succinct summary for so many timelines and character lines for (what I thought) was a finished 190,000 word novel. then, BAM, I realized, holy crap!

 Easily understood afterwards, of course, but, once I separated the timelines and characters, splitting and parsing it between seven (future) books to force it under the 100,000 limit- It all made sense.

 Hindsight is a dork we all know. But it took the Query Shark and many edits to realize what I had to do. Thank you for that. 
Dear Query Shark:

A seasoned captain. A passionate coman. Their duties performed from necessity, their choices from personality.

This doesn't tell me anything. It's the portentous voiceover in a movie trailer or the tag line on a book cover.

It doesn't serve any purpose in a query and worse, with coman, it's confusing. I don't have a clue what coman means. It sounds like a furry creature in a forest, maybe kin to a koala.

What appears to them in the languishing days of mineral extraction will test a captain's resolve for stability. It will test a coman's choices of personal humility.
And this is more of the same. Except now I'm thinking the coman is perhaps a robot of some kind?

 Prematurely set back towards Earth, Captain Quanta Strohm Lathif, a dutiful and proud veteran of Our World's Pride Fleet, and Coman Whittman Stahl, the captain's energetic subordinate, the crew of ship Yarppah bring with them an unfilled minera hull; three less baybots; Myryan, a first contact species, who has succumbed to his wounds in their botbay, and his trailing Avayrian ship bouncing off their tail.
There are 65words in this sentence. If you can speak them aloud without drawing breath, I'd think you're part fish. A sentence in a query should be fewer than 20 words as a general guideline--you should be able to say the whole sentence in one breath. Short form work like query letters benefit from succinct sentences.

In addition you have FIVE named characters in ONE sentence. The CAPS here are to emphasize this is too many. (The five are: Captain QSL, Coman WS; the ship; the first contact alien, his ship)

You've already told us Captain QSL is a "seasoned veteran". You don't need to repeat it. Do we need to know the name of the fleet? Do we need to know the name of the ship? (Hint: no)

You've got words I don't recognize: minara; baybot, botbay. Obviously in science fiction you'll have new words but it's really helpful if you keep those to a minimum in the query letter cause you don't have room to provide much context. And baybot/botbay is just begging for confusion in the novel, let alone the query.

In SF (and historical fiction) novels (let alone queries) you want to make double dog sure your prose is as lean as possible. Include only that which is absolutely necessary because you've got to save room for all the world-building, and providing context so your reader can intuit what botbay, baybot and minara means.

I sort of get the idea here: there's ship coming home with aliens on board.  The only thing I'm wondering about is why they're coming home early (a question you don't address at all.)

 On Earth, Jerrison Glanders, an appointed OWP Watcher under the Minders, languishes day to day in his office. As sudden as his coffee turns over on his desk and spills to the floor, his demeaning minute by minute transtanking of OWP's captains peaks and emulsifies from his life's journey into becoming a Watcher and the personal change he must now follow.
I literally do not understand what "his demeaning minute by minute transtanking of OWP's captains peaks and emulsifies from his life's journey into becoming a Watcher and the personal change he must now follow." means. This is death in a query. If I'm skimming along and I don't understand a sentence, I assume I was reading too quickly. I go back to the start of the paragraph and read again slowly. If I don't get it the second time, I'll look for things like a missing word, a misspelling, some sort of error that will allow me to figure out the sentence. If I come up empty on the third time  I stop reading.

In addition we now have two more names (Glanders, Minders) to remember. This makes seven. That's four if not five too many.

 Looking for change and leniency of both himself and those captains, Mr. Glanders sets out for a deal of reciprocity beginning an off Earth search for the scheming clandestine habitual needs of Senior Watcher R. M. Fahreel, who's multi-world rock collection is as pertinent and bonded to his personality as a rattle and blanket is to a child.

And there's eight. 
And bonded to his personality doesn't make sense. A good metaphor illuminates something, it doesn't make me try to figure out how you can bond something to an abstract concept.

 It is still a pang upon my gritted teeth to dispel and distill within this query letter from moving beyond a single page and flagrantly slipping into the entirety of a second novel.

This sentence is gibberish.  I hope you can see that when you look at it again. 

 My science fiction novel, CASIMIR LURE, lies in a future where there is no dystopia, only the political and scientific push that we as a species look to attain. The novel is completed (foil your prime limits) at 95,000 words. the first book of a six novel series, THE CASIMIR EFFECT, is in the works for continued enticement with an additional 130,000 words of story and additional character development within.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

I've read some long SF novels in my day. I've even requested fulls for novels that clocked in at 190K. I'm not intimidated by length and (given the length of City on Fire by Garth Risk Halberg, a BEA Book buzz novel in 2015) I'm confident long novels are making a comeback.

The problem here is not the length. The problem is I don't understand what you're talking about. I don't have any idea of what problem the captain faces. I don't understand who the main character is, or, if there are multiple focal characters,  what the precipitating incident is. 
Charles Dickens is the master of long-ass novels with multiple focal characters. If you consider Bleak House as an example, Dickens sets the reader down in London, and then describes the lawsuit that is the precipitating incident for the novel:

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.

So, yes, it's entirely possible to have a long-ass book described in 221 well-chosen, elegant words.  And if you say scoff and say "yea, well that's Dickens!" all I say to you is: that's exactly what you want to aim for.

And if you're thinking it can't be done in this day and age, and in your specific category, well, here's Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

The precipitating incident: trouble is brewing, the cold is returning. There's not a lot of specifics here but you get the sense of the novel: it's a grand adventure.   And notice: only ONE made up word: wildling, but the reader can easily intuit they are wild beasts/men/creatures of some sort.

As your query stands right now it would be rejected after the second paragraph but even if you polish this up, I worry about the novel. Remember, the purpose of a query is to entice me to read the novel.  A perfect query, with pages that go splat isn't any more useful to you than a bad query.

Time to get some outside eyeballs on the manuscript. A good crit group or beta reader is probably the best next step rather than simply revising and resending the query.