Tuesday, July 10, 2018

#317-rev 1x

First revision

Dear QueryShark:

Things 16-year-old Joshua Taylor didn’t see coming:
A mom who doesn’t know him.
A clone in the kitchen that looks exactly like him.
A dead father who’s very much alive.

I like this because it's instantly interesting: I'm eager to find out the WHY of all these things.

He’s knocked unconscious by bullies and wakes up in a world where supernatural creatures live among humans, technology has advanced by a couple decades, and even his family is different. Could it be a time paradox, parallel universe, or maybe like The Matrix or Total Recall?


But now I'm confused. Did this happen before or after the events of Paragraph One?
Simply adding "when" will help:
When Josh is knocked ... he wakes up in a world.

This gives your reader context and avoids confusion.



Then an angel, named Zed, claims tells Josh he is a champion with the power to manipulate matter and energy. And he thinks that’s ridiculous — until he sends kids flying with a wave of his hand and strikes a tree with lightning. An ancient prophecy declares he’s destined to liberate a powerful sword and he frees it. But it’s engraved with a warning: “In the wrong hands this is a weapon of mass destruction. Protect it at all costs.”


If you use tells instead of claims, it keeps the focus on what Josh is doing: learning about this new world he's in. Each word counts. Revising is often a matter of changing one word at a time.

And you've left out the consequences of his uncontrolled superpowers. He sends kids flying...where?Into a brick wall? Off a building? Into the girls bathroom?

And simplify as much as possible. You don't need all the information in a query. Just enough to get us where we're going.  It's the difference between a bridge and stepping stones. You only need stepping stones in a query.

Consider:  An ancient prophecy declares he’s destined to liberates a powerful sword t. But it’s engraved with a warning: “In the wrong hands this is a weapon of mass destruction. Protect it at all costs.”

Just paring down to what he does really helps here.

Now Zed’s forces are fighting over Josh, trying to recruit him, and pushing him into dangerous situations to test his powers. And they want the weapon and threaten to kill anyone who gets in the way. Josh must learn to use his superpowers quickly, because if he fails, everyone and everything he loves could be lost.

I don't understand what or who Zed's forces are. And fighting over Josh? Among themselves? Can they make him do things against his will? If he has control, why is he doing what they tell him?


But what if he succeeds? Stakes are about what cost Josh must pay to win. He learns to use his superpowers quickly and what will he have to give up or lose?



OTHERWORLDLY is a 93,000-word YA fantasy adventure. It’s the Hero’s Journey with a twist — boy wakes up and the world has changed but he doesn’t know why or how and has to figure it out along the way. Prior to this first novel, I worked as a PR fixer — like Olivia Pope minus the blackmail, torture and murder — and I have a bachelor’s in journalism/communications. Thank you for your time and consideration.


I know it will surprise you to learn that we'll recognize a Hero's Journey novel when we see one. In other words, you don't have to point out the obvious even to dunderheads agents.  (Some of us even wrote a senior thesis on why Rambo is the new Beowulf.)

Question: I’m struggling with current comps. Cassandra Clare’s books have diverse creatures but not the alternate reality aspect. And my book’s tone/style is somewhat similar to Percy Jackson. Because I couldn’t find a current comp, I came up with Dark Matter (the novel) meets Lady Midnight with a dash of Percy Jackson, because it ties in the elements, but I know the Shark hates these. Am I making this more difficult than necessary? Do comps need all prominent elements together in one book?

Essentially comps are for people (and I mean agents and editors so perhaps I should have said scallywags) to assess who the audience is for your book. People who liked Harry Potter will like this book because it's adventures in an alternate world with magic kind of thing.

Every element of the comp book doesn't need to match. Tone and style are more helpful than anything.  I love to read Jack Reacher. Therefore, comps are books set contemporary times, with heroic main characters doing good cause it's the Way He Is, solving problems for people.  He's not trying to overthrow the government and he's not fighting some abstract madman trying to take over the world.  For that you need James Bond. 

I don't think you need comps for this book cause I think it's pretty clear what it is, but some agents and editors insist.

Comp for style and tone first.


I'm not sure if you realize that what distinguishes this book, or any book, is not that it is a hero's journey with a twist because all books are that when you get down to basics.

What will make this book stand out is the elements you bring to it that are fresh and new.
Pulling a sword from a stone with a warning is neither of those.

Trying to master superpowers isn't either.

What makes your story different?

So far, I haven't seen that.

And in a crowded field like YA fantasy adventure it is essential that you have something fresh and new.

The one thing that keeps me reading, even if the plot is something I've seen before, is zesty and vibrant language. Tell the old story with verve, and you'll hold our attention.
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 Initial query
Dear Query Shark:

Question: My plan was to give potential agents the ability to read up to 1/3 of the book instantly. Eight years ago, you said not to include active links, but it’s very common now. Is this acceptable? Active is much easier because email software will turn parts of a URL into what looks like active links, but they don’t work, which could be confusing. This is what a non-active link could look like:

To read up to 88 pages of the book on Zoho TeamDrive, go to tdrive.li/JmuUf_JanetReid (add https:// at beginning and paste into browser) and enter the password (redacted)

Is this a good idea or a bad one? I’ve made this a real link/password for the Shark in case she wants to see how it works.

Thank you for making query writing educational and entertaining. You can chomp my arm off now (left please since I write with my right).

You're solving a problem that doesn't exist.

If I want to read your manuscript all I have to do is hit Reply to your email, and ask you to come to my house and read it. And about 50% of all y'all would be there within an hour.

Alternatively, I can just email you to send the manuscript as a word doc. In other words, the system works fine, don't screw around with it unless asked to do so.

The only reason I can think of that made you want to do this is being afraid you'll miss the email requesting the full. Unless you are headed for a long prison term, on a voyage to Mars, or stalking the wild asparagus in Borneo, you'll be available enough to send something.  I don't need the manuscript the instant I read your query. I generally read queries in batches, and requested fulls when I've set aside a block of time.

So, there's no real reason you need this PLUS it's a TERRIBLE idea and you should never do it because it marks you as a crackpot who thinks "follow the damn directions" doesn't apply to you. I'm sure that's not the real you, so don't do stuff that makes people think so.

Also, I like to have the manuscript here on my hard drive so I can adjust the font, clear out all the crazy margins you set, insert double spacing, AND be able to send it back to you with some notes marked in track changes. In other words, what I ask for is what I want, and what I want is not arbitrary or whimsical.


Dear Mr./Ms. Agent Name:

Things 15-year-old Josh Taylor didn’t see coming:

A mom who doesn’t know him.
A clone in the kitchen that looks exactly like him.
A dead father who’s very much alive.

It’s like he wandered into the Twilight Zone . . . or a seriously messed up after-school special. He’s knocked unconscious and wakes up in a world where supernatural creatures live among humans, technology has advanced by a couple decades, and even his family is different.

This is actually pretty good, and enticing.

An angel, named Zed, claims he’s a champion with the power to manipulate matter and energy. And he thinks that’s ridiculous — until he sends kids flying with a wave of his hand and strikes a tree with lightning. An ancient prophecy declares he’s destined to liberate a powerful sword, and he easily frees it. But it’s engraved with a freaky warning: “In the wrong hands this is a weapon of mass destruction. Protect it at all costs.”


Now he’s got a list of things he never thought he’d do:

Make it rain in the school gym.
Heal his friend’s cat-dog hybrid.
Steal a priceless artifact from a museum.
Battle a 5322-year-old changeling at the zoo.

And those were the easy parts. Something invisible is stalking Josh. Angels fight over him, try to recruit him, and force him into dangerous situations to test his powers. Even his home isn’t safe — with a spiteful AI in charge. And vampires and aliens want to steal the weapon, and they threaten to kill him and his family and friends to get it. Josh must learn to use his superpowers quickly, because if he fails, everyone and everything he loves could be lost.

TITLE — a 93,000-word YA alternate-universe adventure — is my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Angels, vampires and aliens. And Artificial Intelligence. You've got a LOT of weird here. Often the best plots are pretty simple. You don't need fusion cooking for a tasty treat (Brussels sprouts, raisins, walnuts with ice cream!); you need really simple but delicious ingredients. Corn on the cob. Butter. A napkin.

Over stuffing the plot is something I see in writers early in their career. It takes confidence to pare down, and confidence takes a while to build.

It's not your lunatic page link that will earn you a pass here; it's the overly elaborate plot.

Revise. Resend. And ditch the link idea forever.

12 comments:

Cody Fox said...

Although the first part with the amnesiac mom, the clone and the zombie dad was intriguing, that was already potentially enough ideas for three books. Then you added the angels trying to recruit him for who knows what, a sword in the stone prophesy, healing hybrid animals, a heist plot, ancient changelings, an invisible man stalker, some kind of home AI antagonist, and vampires and aliens. Again, each of those things sounds like it could be it's own book. Alien vampires might actually be kind of cool.

But yea, this seemed like too much being thrown at the wall. If all this stuff somehow perfectly fits together in the book, it still shouldn't all be in the query letter. There should be a central plot that the rest of these ideas are accessorizing. It seems like that is what you should focus on. If the manuscript manages to perfectly weave all these other things into that plot the agent would get that if they read the manuscript. If not, then you probably need to cut a lot of that other stuff out.

One other thing. I would be concerned about the plot where every other character is desiring your main character (who is super awesome but he doesn't know it yet) or something he possesses. This causes the entire universe to revolve around your MC and is risky because that type of plot is in a million fan fictions. Yea, this type of thing can work in some instances but a lot of people might think it is very self indulgent and question whether the MC might be a dreaded Gary Stu. You definitely don't want that to come across in the query I would think.

Dave Clark said...

When instructions are clear, one must follow them. They are based on what works best for the agent or editor. Trust them to know the smoothest path to acceptance and publication and what is most likely to work in the marketplace. In other words, if a shark says you need to get smashed in the face with a Louisville Slugger to get the job done, be ready to say, "Thank you shark. May I have another?" Then again, maybe it's not so easy to slog through blog posts and web pages to get all the requirements without missing any vital ones. That takes time and work and discipline and attention to detail and... whaddya know? All the skills you need to get published.

Francesca Strada said...

Following the instructions is the best thing you can do.
As for your query, the first paragraph was really intriguing but adding also the supernatural creatures all at once put me a bit off. I get you are trying to make something interesting but in reality I think you are making things more complicated for you and for your readers.
You’re on the right track though.

Dellcartoons said...

I was OK until the AI. Multiple fantasy creatures together, fine. But mixing fantasy and SF? Very tricky

>a champion with the power
Not fond of "chosen one" stories myself. They take away character agency and have problematic implications for the real world

>weapon of mass destruction
A very modern term. Unless you're doing that deliberately, a la Discworld

Otherwise, this looks like a book I'd want to read

One last question. Did Her Royal Sharkness redact the book's title? Do you just not have a title? Because "TITLE" is an odd title, especially for a book like this. It denotes a certain irony that does not suit your concept

>a crackpot who thinks "follow the damn directions" doesn't apply to you
That is me, but I can fake it

Ellipsis Flood said...

There is a lot to unpack here. I personally am a fan of everything and the kitchen sink settings, but they need to be done well.

1. I feel like you need to fix your priorities, either in the query or the ms. You're mentioning a lot of things going on, and I'm not sure all of them need to be in the query. - The spiteful AI thing sounds like it'd be a B plot, more like a harmless feud between a boy and his smart home than anything else.
- Then there's the angels having some petty infighting over the chosen boy. This could be interesting, but I doubt it's the main plot.
- You've got two factions wanting the McGuffin for themselves. Them being aliens and vampires doesn't even matter at this point, because we don't know anything about them as factions. Having two antagonistic factions going after the same thing is bound to fall apart quickly as soon as they realize they have competition.
- You can probably cut the side plot list. It does nothing, and we definitely don't need to know why Josh was banned from the zoo forever at the query stage.

2. I have no sense of the tone here. You're trying to be wacky with your lists of weird things Josh can do now, but then you get out the big guns and world-ending stakes and try to make it sound almost dystopian. I don't know how serious all those threats are to Josh. If all of them are potentially deadly, the boy doesn't have a single moment to wind down, which makes for a stressful and unsettling experience.

3. What's your plot? If I strip away all the window dressing, I have no idea about the plot beyond "yer a super hero, Josh." I have no sense of what he's going to do to stop everyone going after the sword. Is he going to throw it into the nearest volcano? Put it back in the stone? Flip the double bird at the Zed and throw it into the mariana trench? Is he going all out to assemble a mix'n'match army to take on both the aliens and the vampires and become a probably pretty traumatized war hero?

TL;DR: Quality over quantity, forgo mentioning every single weird thing in favor of setting the tone and bringing the plot on the page.

Matt Rogers said...

Hey there, this might help (or not). I gave your query a quick edit based on some of the previous comments and my take on it. I just wanted to see what it looked like when you stripped it down a bit.

Also, it's not clear who the primary antagonist is (something invisible stalking him or vampires and angels) so I picked the latter.


"Things 15-year-old Josh Taylor didn’t see coming:

A mom who doesn’t know him.
A clone in the kitchen that looks exactly like him.
A dead father who’s very much alive.

He was knocked unconscious and wakes up in a world where supernatural creatures live among humans, technology has advanced by a couple decades, and even his family is different. It’s like he wandered into the Twilight Zone . . . or a seriously messed up after-school special.

An angel named Zed claims Josh is a champion with the power to manipulate matter and energy. He thinks that’s ridiculous until he sends kids flying with a wave of his hand and strikes a tree with lightning. An ancient prophecy also declares he’s destined to liberate a powerful sword, and he easily frees it.

But vampires and aliens want to steal the weapon, and they threaten to kill him and his family and friends to get it. Josh must learn to use his superpowers quickly, because if he fails, everyone and everything he loves could be lost."

Harley Bishop said...

There is nothing wrong or tricky with mixing scifi and fantasy.

Good luck with the query op. Pick an angle to present and run with that. Leave complications for the ms.

Sam Mills said...

I definitely thought this was a wacky MG adventure and did a double-take at 93K YA.

WriteBrain said...

Thank you for the words of encouragement and revision suggestions. The missing title is my fault. I was waiting for feedback from readers to choose between two. I’ll include one with the revision. The world is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements. As for the query, I was trying to convey that there’s lots of action/conflict, but I now see it’s too much detail out of context. The Shark’s reaction was very helpful. The AI isn’t part of the plot, just world-building and additional complication/tension. Harley is right; I'll leave that to the manuscript. And the factions all tie together in the end, hopefully in a surprising way. I revised it yesterday and will let it sit another day before sending. I have 5 different versions, but I think I’ll send a very simplified one with the Shark's suggestions to see if that resonates and fixes the confusion. Thanks again, Liz

Mister Furkles said...

For me, having a magic sword, angles, and vampires spoils a really sound story line. Josh starts off with three really difficult problems and how he manages to get through that and back to normal or not is enticing. So, as Janet says, too much is too much to cover in 93,000 words. And it distracts from what would otherwise hold the reader's interest.

Unless, you're Russian and it's 493,000 words...

Tyrfing Broadaxe said...

Agree with the "follow the instructions" advice...though, who knows, another agent might be interested to see how you weave it all together. I would be.

It's not unprecedented, when you think about it. Harry Potter. A single character whose fictional universe seems to revolve around. There are so many different types/breeds of characters, so many people/things wanting something out of Harry, and so many of them wishing him harm. As far as clever devices in story, I suspect the lot is so full of deus ex machinas, that the gods' machines are lining up for overflow parking.

Still...Harry Potter had some amount of success. I wonder if that series was your inspiration...a kid who doesn't know he possesses an incredible, supernatural power and is expected to learn how to harness it to save both the wizarding and real worlds.

There's also Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden (another wizard) series that has much the same (though Harry D. is quite aware of his powers).

The two series are similar in that, though they have many types of characters, and though each type/species have varying supernatural abilities or capabilities that show up when needed, the plots tend to run down a single main street (yeah there're some side streets too...but they're tight and they contribute to the story).

I'd be excited to receive the kind of response you received from the QueryShark herself, and then I'd get to work. I had on editor who suggested I begin the story in Chapter 3, and work Chapters 1 and 2 details into the remainder. Took a while, but I never questioned that I'd do it, nor did I hesitate getting started it. I don't debate professionals. Second opinions are fine...

Best of fortune on your manuscript.

Chelsea P. said...

I loved it. I think the last paragraph can be completely rewritten (except the final line), to refocus on at least some of the following:

1. What Josh is the champion of
2. Who's the bad guy
3. What's the bad guy trying to do
4. What happens with the parents (you mention them early on and then the thread kind of gets dropped.)

I'd also lose the line about this being your first novel and add Josh's name so this line reads: An angel named Zed claims Josh is a champion with the power to manipulate matter and energy (that way, we know the "he" is Josh and not Zed.)

But again, overall, I loved it.