Sunday, January 7, 2018


It has taken me countless edits of this query to get it where it is now, but it still garners no positive responses. I am wondering if I'm doing anything jarringly wrong and have yet to realize it. I also have a specific concern about mentioning so many characters and plot points in the query that may or may not make it confusing.

Dear Query Shark,

America in 2050 has never been in a better state, but military prodigy Alyssa Scarlet is at her very worst.

Let's start with military prodigy. Prodigy is generally defined as someone who demonstrate an exceptional talen at an early age. Mozart is the go-to example. Shirley Temple was another.

Your use of it here doesn’t tell me anything. Is Alyssa a six-year-old sniper? A twelve-year old general? (ok, that's a bad example, cause ALL twelve-year-olds think they're the family general.)

And it's quibbling, I know, but describing a country as being "in a better state" sounds off to me, given that states are geographical components of a country. At first glance when you hear America and state in the same sentence it's confusing. This is the kind of writing that tells me you're not stepping back to look at this with an objective eye. You know what you mean here and you're assuming/believing/hoping everyone else will too.

Revision is where you step back and think: how can someone misunderstand this, and then fixing/clarifying/changing words. (I should mention it took me YEARS to learn this, and only after daily blog posts with comments from readers that showed they didn't get what I was bumbling around trying to say.)

The pressures of being a politician’s goddaughter are becoming unbearable, especially with her obsessive compulsivity tearing away at her heart.


This sentences has NO connection to the preceding sentence. Unless being a politician also means you're in the military.

And "obsessive compulsivity" makes me reach for my grammar school instructions for sentence diagramming. In other words you've stopped communicating and started confusing. This is NOT what you want to do in a query.

Sentences and paragraphs should flow one from another UNLESS you're deliberately veering to a new place for effect.

At this point, Alyssa’s not sure if she has one left, which is what makes her the perfect goddaughter to a crime lord.

One what?

And here's where I stop reading.

You've got a lot of description but nothing is clear.

But to be the perfect goddaughter, Alyssa must commit a number of crimes.

I'm pretty sure I've never asked any goddaughter of mine to commit a crime. On the surface this sentence is ridiculous. If there's a reason GodPops wants Alyssa out on a crime spree, you need to tell us. It's not something your reader will intuit.

She reluctantly accepts a job with her older sister, Avarice, a girl perpetually stuck in a place between mania and depression. Their latest target: murder Jason Drake and steal Excalibur, the sword of lightning. Unfortunately for them, criminal prodigy Jason Drake is at the best he’s ever been. At least, that’s what he tells himself.

None of this makes sense. You've got too much information without answering the basic questions of plot: What does Alyssa want and what's keeping her from getting it?

Also, two main characters with sound-alike names is something I'd always ask you to change before a ms went on submission (Alyssa/Avarice.) And using Avarice as a name sounds like a Puritan morality tale where Prudence and Chastity the blacksmith's daughters are subjected to the advance of Lewd and Lust the sons of the town's evil overlord. In other words, consider a name change.

Jason has his personal demons, but he doesn’t let them stop him from doing what he does best.

Personal demons is such a cliché that one of my colleagues started saying she'd only consider manuscripts with professional caliber demons. No more amateurs.

Thievery is practically his middle name, and his next target is Excalibur. But getting past security is the least of his problems. Jason has to think of a way to get away from his controlling older brother, Connor, and the very pretty girl who is after his sword and his heart— quite literally. And those are the things he knows about. Neither Jason nor Alyssa know about the sequestered elves with a vendetta. The island of Avalon has a war to win, and they’re willing to sacrifice the human side of their captives in order to forge the perfect weapons. Alyssa and Jason must find a way off the island, or depend on their families to rescue them, which may end in disaster.

Since I've stopped reading, I won't see this but again you've got so much information here that my head is spinning. Focus!

Excalibur and Avalon are specific names we associate with an established story. Unless you're retelling that story, with a new twist, it's better to have your own names for things.

To help her find the pair, Avarice enlists the help of Jade, a schizophrenic girl who calls the basement her Wonderland, and Connor, the boy who is practically married to his money. Their goals are clear in the beginning, but the underhanded politics of their nation beg the question of where their loyalties really lie, ensuing America’s second civil war. Even if Alyssa and Jason escape Avalon, will they ever escape war?

I need a sword of lightning here to cut through the underbrush. You've got five named characters (three is the most you should have) not counting the swords and the locations.

THE LIGHTNING INHERENT is a YA Science-Fiction novel that includes LGBT themes, racial diversity, characters with mental illness, and social justice themes that give the book a dark contemporary twist.

Social justice is dark? Really? I'm pretty sure that's not what you meant to convey.

THE LIGHTNING INHERENT is complete at 95,000 words and is available upon request.

Of course it's available on request. You don't need to state the obvious.

Thank you in advance for your consideration,

This is over written.

It reads like a first draft, and yes, I know you have worked on it but you haven't honed it down to the essentials. Revise OUT everything that isn't about Alyssa and Jason. Focus on the main story.

And yes, you have entirely too many characters and plot points.

Revise, resend.


Melissa said...

I think this query might indicate larger problems with the book itself. The last paragraph is telling "LGBT themes, racial diversity, characters with mental illness, and social justice themes." Any one of these is a book in and of itself and then you add in the fantasy, thievery, family issues, etc.

Hone in what the story is. A lot of these things can be present but they can't all be central.

Rachael said...

All I want to add is that I don't see any indication that this is science-fiction other than being set in 2050. Everything after that sentence sounds like fantasy to me.

Colin Smith said...

I had the same initial thought as Janet: overwritten. It sounds like you're trying too hard to be clever. One reason you're not getting requests could be that agents see over-writing here and assume the novel is the same. Keep it simple. Convey the plot, the conflict, the stakes in the most direct and compelling way you can.

Also, I hope you aren't surprised you're getting no takers because of the laundry list of hot themes you mention in the concluding paragraph. Yes, agents are looking for books with diverse characters, characters with mental illness, etc. But they have to love the story first. A badly-written social justice story is, first and foremost, a badly-written story. And agents don't tend to take on badly-written stories. Show how well you write in the query, and everything else will look far more attractive.

Unknown said...

I think, perhaps, it's not that it's too much of all the things in one book -- having a fully developed and diverse cast is fantastic! But to try to use them all as selling points seems contrived. Also, pointing out in the query that EVERY character has a mental illness is a bit much. The protag is OCD, her sister is Bi-Polar, someone else is schizo, etc etc. If you can convey in the story these things without stamping it on their foreheads -- AWESOME! But pointing it out like this just seems like a ploy to me

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I would leave out the inciting event entirely. Alyssa wants to steal someone's heart (literally)--that's awesome. Lead with that.

Also, why did you categorize this as science fiction? It reads as fantasy all the way through the query. I know the line is blurry, but typically: mystical island of elves + magical sword = fantasy. If your basis for calling this science fiction is your attention to detail concerning the mental health of your characters, it should still probably be fantasy.

Side note: I really really love the title.

MackAttack said...

Yeah, that title feels polished. I think the most jarring part of the query is that it has a clear break between the Urban part of your setting (military girl, politician crime boss, United States) and the fantasy part of your setting (Excalibur, elves, Avalon) without giving us any indication that's where we're going. The first half had me thinking it would be a Crime/Romance complete with the Godfather set-up. Then suddenly with no warning, I hit the word Excalibur and think, huh? What genre is this?

From the moment you mention Excalibur, it's almost like you're describing two totally different stories with no connection between them. How do they get to Avalon? Does everyone know about Avalon? How do they know about the sword and why is it important to have? What will Alyssa's family do with the sword? What will Jason's? What's at stake if they don't get the sword? How does Alyssa's military background or OCD tie in? I was also totally scratching my head about what pressures could possibly come with being the goddaughter of a politician, which made me think Alyssa was just being whiny, and I was pretty stuck on puzzling that out until we found out he's also a crime boss. That feels like burying the lede. Crime boss gives us much more of a sense of the power this man has, whereas politician could mean he's the mayor of Tulsa (I mean, you could also specify his office as senator or congressman or whatever instead, but I still think the crime boss part is what's most relevant to the plot).

Farhad said...

"And using Avarice as a name sounds like a Puritan morality tale where Prudence and Chastity the blacksmith's daughters are subjected to the advance of Lewd and Lust the sons of the town's evil overlord." - someone add this to the best of Queryshark!

I'll be honest, I've probably read too many queries today, but I felt this was describing two separate books! I had to scroll up to check if I was still reading the same query! Starts in America 2050 with a prodigy sniper (not sure what that means), and moves on to Avalon. How are they linked? And what's with the godfather part in the middle?

I feel like you've tried to cram too many ideas into one book, and that's reflected in your query.