Sunday, September 23, 2018

#323-revised 1x

Revision # 1

Dear Query Shark,

Prophecies, Princess Willow Starmill has decided, are the worst. Especially the one that says she must marry a prince. The seer’s words prevent Willow from kissing her best friend, Finn Fields, the only mortal on Atlantis, but they don’t stop her from wondering what it would be like.

Let’s talk rhythm here. What you have is a long ass sentence of 29 words:

The seer’s words prevent Willow from kissing her best friend, Finn Fields, the only mortal on Atlantis, but they don’t stop her from wondering what it would be like.

Consider this revision:

The seer’s words prevent Willow from kissing her best friend, Finn Fields, the only mortal on Atlantis. but They don’t stop her from wondering what it would be like.

The shorter sentences are punchier, more rhythmic.

This is the work of revising. Everyone writes long ass sentences on that first draft.

It’s when you dig in, looking at each sentence and thinking “what can I do to make this more hard hitting.”

Timing is everything, and not just in comedy.

That cursed prophecy is all anyone can talk about when a prince unexpectedly visits from another realm. Prince George offers political strength, a marriage proposal, and eternal boredom. Willow can’t give him an answer until she sorts out her confusing feelings for Finn, but the more time she takes, the more dangerous her beloved island becomes.

And again, look at that last sentence. 28 words. Flab flab flab.

Unpredictable weather causes devastating damage. A fast-spreading illness affects half the population. Rampaging beasts, dormant for centuries, injure people beyond magical repair. Willow and Finn barely escape from a winged menace near the forest. Giant claws shred four young men in the mountains. The waters teem with deadly tentacles. Willow’s kingdom used to be a paradise full of bird-speak and flower-song. The only melodies floating on the salty air since Prince George arrived are dirges.

Let’s do a better job of connecting those two paragraphs. Often it’s as simple as repeating a word:

the more dangerous her beloved island becomes.
Unpredictable dangerous weather causes devastating damage.

Then  you just swan off into detail that doesn’t move the plot forward:

You can cut all of this:
Willow and Finn barely escape from a winged menace near the forest. Giant claws shred four young men in the mountains. The waters teem with deadly tentacles. Willow’s kingdom used to be a paradise full of bird-speak and flower-song. The only melodies floating on the salty air since Prince George arrived are dirges.

Without losing any plot.

People whisper about bad luck and ignored prophecies. Marry the prince and end this, they say. What no one understands is if Willow marries George, a piece of her, the Finn-sized piece, will die.

It’s not ignored prophecies, plural. It’s ignored prophecy singular. That’s a HUGELY important detail because one ignored prophecy that falls on Willow means she’s the only person who can change things.

Details like this catch my eye in the query. I really respond to meticulous writing.

Also for what’s at stake “the Finn-sized piece of her may die” is pretty low-rent. If I lived in Atlantis, I’d say “hey Willow, suck it up, people are dying here.”

And in fact, if she’s the noble hero, she’s not even thinking twice, she’s RUNNING down the aisle in order to save her people.

While Willow searches for proof that her prophecy is unrelated to the recent disastrous events, she discovers the truth about Finn’s past. A truth that could set everything right, or send Atlantis crashing into the sea.

So, Willow is trying to avoid her destiny, I get that. But the plans to get her hitched to Georgie better be proceeding full steam ahead, or there’s no tension.

In other words, she IS going to marry George unless she can figure out a way to save Atlantis.

THE LAST REALM is a completed 80,000-word YA fantasy novel that retells the story of Atlantis in the vein of ABC’s Once Upon a Time.

I had to look up this comparison, and it seems pretty apt, but it's also a TV show, and generally you want to use books, not other media forms as comparisons.

I earned my B.A. in English and my master’s in English education, both from Rutgers University. I taught 8th grade and 10th grade English classes. Currently, I am raising four readers who borrow a back-breaking number of books from the library, which makes me proud and my chiropractor happy.

YES YES YES!!! This is a lovely bio, with a delightful zing of humor!!! I knew you weren’t boring.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

So, we may have a problem with the book, in that Willow really needs to demonstrate her heroism by agreeing to marry Boring George to save her people. She can be searching for a way out, but what she can’t do is try to avoid her duty.

The essence of being the hero is that you Do The Right Thing even when it costs you. The hero runs IN to the fire, not away from it; toward the gunfire, not away from it. Make sure Willow does this.

Then revise the query and resend.

Original query

  • 1) After reading 318 shark attacks, I have written about 318 drafts of this letter. I feel like this draft meets your criteria and has the most voice. My beta readers are split. My objectivity died a horrible death about 53 drafts ago. Is the writing coherent and the voice clear?
  • 2) I am a SAHM and debut author. If a bio is required, should I just keep it to 2 sentences about my former education and teaching experience and stick it right before the closing? Does a boring bio turn agents off?

Let me stop you right there. I never EVER want to hear you refer to yourself as boring because you are a stay-at-home mom. You may not be curing cancer but you are raising readers, and by god if you don't recognize how important that is, I do, and I'm coming to your house to smack you around with the spiderpus.

Dear Query Shark:

Eighteen-year-old Willow Starmill hates shoes, heavy dresses, and the crown that her mother swears impresses other royals of the Seven Hidden Realms. Willow much prefers to roam the island barefoot, dancing or drawing swords with Finn Fields. When his mother dies, Finn is the only mortal left in the kingdom. Willow would give up her plant-magic, or worse, she would grow dandelions for the rest of eternity, rather than watch Finn wither over time. What good is being an immortal princess on an enchanted island if she can’t even save her best friend?

This isn't bad, or even not-good.
It's well-written.
It doesn't clunk.
But it's also not compelling. It doesn't grab me. It doesn't make me eager to read on.

When Willow learns that Finn will become immortal if she marries him, binding souls on their wedding night, she almost starts planning his funeral. She can’t turn her back on the prophecy given to her on the day she was born, the one that says she must marry a prince. Everyone knows the first day prophecies are never wrong.

This is all set up and backstory. It's not bad, but it's also not that interesting.

Willow’s parents remind her of that fact when Prince George arrives from another realm, offering political strength and a marriage proposal. The longer Willow delays answering the prince, the more dangerous her beloved island becomes. Unpredictable weather causes devastating damage, a fast-spreading illness affects half the population, and rampaging beasts injure people beyond magical repair.

Rampaging beasts? That's kinda fun...but you just toss it in there like a carnivorous rhino with wings is a small detail. (Ok, I made up the carnivorous rhino with wings part but still..)

Are these things happening because Willow is ignoring the prophecy that she has believed her whole life, or is there something darker at work in Atlantis?

Right here is where you finally get to the good stuff, and I had to wade through a lot of set up to get here.

Time is running out for Willow to choose between the alliance or the friendship, her kingdom or her heart.

There's nothing unexpected here, there's no twist. There's nothing that makes me gasp with delight.

I’m seeking representation for THE LAST REALM, a completed 80,000-word YA fantasy novel about first loss and first love. It will appeal to fans of Matched by Ally Condie, The Selection by Kiera Cass, and to barefoot, sword-wielding princesses from any realm.

Matched was pubbed in 2011. The Selection in 2013. Thus both books are too old to be good comps for you. You want books published recently (within 2-3 years)

I chose to submit this to you because, being the only actual fish in the literary sea, you are uniquely equipped to answer my question: On a scale of dwarf lanternshark to megalodon, how necessary are sharks to the success of a novel? Asking for a friend.

For you and your friend.
Opinions may vary, but I'm right, and everyone else is wrong.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Contact Info

As to your question: You can included anything you want in your bio other that the word boring.  You can talk about your eduction. You can tell me you're a stay-at-home mom.  You can mention you're a debut author. Yes, a boring bio turns anyone off, but you're a writer. Make it sound interesting.

As to  whether the writing is coherent and the voice clear? Yes it is, but that's not your problem.

The problem with this query isn't that it's bad. It's not. It's good writing. But it doesn't do the job because it doesn't entice me to read the pages.

The problem is NOT the query; it's the book you're describing. It needs something (a twist of some sort) to elevate it above the pack.

Go back to the fantasy you love to read. What surprised and delighted you about the book/s? Now, do better.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


1. My suspense novel is roughly 140k. Is that instant death? Should I not include the word count in the query unless required? There is a second protagonist that plays a significant role and is responsible for about 1/3 of the word count. I left him out of the query because I felt it made the query too cumbersome. This leads to my second question.

2. Is it misleading to not personally include this second POV in the query? He is from Kadyn’s past and is trying to find her. So technically he is represented by what's there already

Dear QueryShark,

The rules of Witness Protection are not only absolutely clear but incredibly simple: Keep a low profile and under no circumstances make contact with anyone from your past.

You’d think it’d be easy, but it’s not. Not for twelve-year-old Kadyn Hopplar. The past is so much more than just a reference point. It’s best friends and great memories. Most of all, it’s a time when she was happy. A time before her father was killed by the bad men.

She’s got the typical challenges of any normal pre-teen starting a new school in a new town, but while she struggles to move forward she also struggles to let go of her past. Only, her past isn’t ready to do the same.

The bad men are still out there, and they’re waiting for the smallest hint of her presence like hungry spiders on a web. When Kadyn learns that something has happened to her ‘old’ best friend and is desperate to find out more, they may just get their chance to pounce.

Walk a Web of Spiders is a 140,000 word suspense story and my first novel. I also write short stories, two of which have been published.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I'm very VERY leery of a suspense novel that clocks in at 140K, because suspense should be taut, not languid. 

The idea that you just not mention the word count in a query is Textbook Example of Foot Shooting. If I'm intrigued by the query, and request the full, the first thing I do when you send it, is download the manuscript. My word processing program tells me the number of pages and word count automatically.

If you think I won't notice 600+ pages, and 140K word count, you're wrong.
If you think I'll just read it anyway, you're also wrong.
If I think you're trying to pull the wool over my eyes, well, we've gotten off on the wrong foot, and that's Not Good.

But the thing that really bothers me is you've got a 12 year old protagonist, and the plot seems like that of a middle grade novel. 140K is very much too long for a middle grade novel.
Including the second POV seems like a good idea if only to rescue this from sounding like a middle grade novel. In fact, if you start with him, and then talk about Kadyn, it might do the trick even more neatly.

There isn't a lot of plot on the page here. My assumption when reading this is that Kadyn is in WitSec because of something her parents did. But if people are hunting for her, well, the reason for that will help elevate this to a more adult sounding suspense novel.

First figure out how to cut 40K words from the ms. Every person I've ever met at a writing conference who says "this can't be cut" watched me trim 1000 words out of the first 30 pages without fanning a fin. 
Then, start over on the query.  Make sure your reader (me) knows this is an adult novel.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


I have yet to receive anything other than a form rejection from an agent with this query. To me it feels 'ok' but on life support, meaning it's alive, but barely. I feel that I just need an extra oomph to get it up and running in a manner that would garner attention. This is why I'm fully tossing the chum in the water in hopes of getting a bite.

Dear Query Shark:
The Warrior's Crown:

Eighteen-year-old Adira never imagined herself a hero, much less a savior of the kingdom, but she found herself in the middle of a dark war nonetheless. After learning that a dark entity, thought to have been banished generations ago, has resurfaced, she finds herself targeted for death, just for knowing of its return.

I'd stop reading here. There is absolutely nothing new or compelling about what you've described. You absolutely must make a story your own, and you haven't. "Dark entity" is too generic to be interesting. Darth Vader is a dark entity but what made him scary as all hell was the face mask, the breathing, and his menacing intentions. Even his name sounded evil.

Telling me something is a dark entity is boring. Showing me that he can strangle someone just by raising his hand and using The Force for evil...well, that's much more compelling.
Forced to flee her home after her adoptive father is killed by men who pledged their allegiance to the entity, Adira vows revenge.

Of course she does. Again, this is too generic to be interesting.

Seeking refuge at a faraway outpost, Adira hones her fighting skills alongside well-trained soldiers. When an ageless and powerful Seer arrives, Adira finally decides to reveal what she knows. This knowledge, coupled with a shocking revelation about her adoptive father, convinces the Seer that Adira may be the key to stopping the evil from spreading across the land.

Of course she is. So far you don't have anything different that the fifty other YA queries like this that I see every week.

As Adira begins seeking her own personal revenge and fighting alongside new friends to defend the kingdom, a conspiracy begins to unravel and could lead to death for everyone. The entity’s true motives come to light and Adira learns that the only chance for victory may be sacrificing her own life.

Of course it is.

THE WARRIOR’S CROWN is a Young Adult fantasy novel with series potential, complete at 90,000 words. It may appeal to readers of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series.

You may contact me at (email address) or @(you) on twitter.
 I have your email address already since my email inbox shows the return address, and the place for your twitter handle below your name.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

There's nothing here that's fresh and new.
You haven't put your spin on any of this.
Everything is too generic to be interesting (dark entity, faraway outpost, ageless seer). This could be Star Wars...but would you know?

One of the things that made Guardians of the Galaxy so fun was how the movie played with standard character tropes.

I don't know if the query doesn't do justice to the book, or you haven't written a book I want to read.

Go back to your favorite books in this category and read them again. This time watch for how the author surprises you, or twists a plot.  That's what makes a story individual.  Watch for how the characters are described that lifts them from generic to interesting.

It takes a long time to write something all your own. It's not a character flaw or failure that this doesn't work.  It's a step on the writing path. Every single writer learns how to do this exactly the way you are: by doing.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

#320 - FTW


1.) Money is tight for me, so I can't buy new books and my library can be slow to get requests in. A CP suggested reading a summary of books so I can find comps, but that feels dishonest to me...if I don't read a book, how can I truly know it's a good comp? I thought about leaving comps out altogether, but I want to highlight my MC is an anti-hero. What's your opinion on this?

2.) I struggle heavily with depression, so I've had to take steps to protect myself from querying. I have a separate email for queries only and check it once a week, and only if I'm mentally prepared. Should I make a note in my query that my response (should I be so lucky!) may be delayed?
Dear Query Shark

Sixteen-year-old Katrell doesn’t mind talking to the dead; she just wishes it made her more money. Fifty bucks here and there isn’t enough to support her unemployed mother and her mother’s deadbeat boyfriend-of-the-week. But when she accidentally brings her dead dog back to life instead of summoning his ghost, Katrell gets dollar signs in her eyes. Talking to the dead is one thing, but people will pay top dollar to see their loved ones again.

I really like this.

Her plan runs smoothly at first. Though the resurrected people, called Revenants, don’t eat, sleep, or breathe, they’re warm and look enough like their old selves to convince her clients to part with thousands of dollars. Good enough for Katrell.

I really like this. And the best thing: I can see how the precipitating incident will lead to trouble down the road. That's a good thing when you're able to get your reader anticipating things.

But things fall apart when the Revenants aren’t docile puppets like Katrell thought. Her clients forget their loved ones ever existed and dump them on Katrell’s doorstep. Revenants rob citizens of her town and present stolen money and jewelry to Katrell. When her first Revenant graduates from theft to murder, Katrell has a decision to make. If she stops resurrecting people, she’ll be back under the poverty line. But if she continues, the body count will keep inching higher, and the people Katrell love may end up in the crossfire.

I really like this!

WILDFIRE is a 65,000 word young adult contemporary fantasy with elements of horror. It features an all black cast and is #ownvoices for the African-American lead and struggles with poverty.

If it were possible to like this more than I did before, I do.

I’m an author from Alabama, and so far, no Revenants are stalking me. I have a BA in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. I was an editorial intern with (company name) Publishing for a year.

So far anyway (let's keep it that way!)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I love this a lot. If your pages hold up, I think you'll get requests.

As to your questions: 

(1) I don't think you need comps here. However, if you want to include them, it's ok to have read summaries not the entire book.  It's not dishonest. 

(2) Whether you include this information is up to you.  Choosing when and how to reveal that you struggle with depression has no right or wrong answer. Anyone who says otherwise should be ignored.

I don't expect an instant response to a request for the full manuscript, but I'm always much happier to get the requested full sooner rather than later. In your case, I'd want it sooner cause I'd want to start reading.

I wrote a blog post about when/how to reveal personal details that may shed some light too.