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.


Michelle said...

Hi! *waves* de-lurking here to comment, because I read (and write) YA fantasy.

1) This reminds me of this summer's miniseries on the CW The Outpost. Hopefully without recycled Goa'uld, though.

2) I think adding specificity might help. Who is this guy and why is he back? Why exactly is Adira targeted? Why kill her father? What prompts her to seek revenge instead of keep running? Proper names and places too. Is there a friend who's important to the plot? It might nix some of the genericness from this query. I've noticed while critiquing actual manuscripts that more specificity is a comment I make a lot on early drafts.

3) Abercrombie has only 1 YA series, and it was not marketed as YA in his home country the UK. There's quite a bit of gritty/dark YA fantasy, so I would also suggest finding comps in the proper age category.

nightsmusic said...

First, I have a confession to make in that I've only watched the original three Star Wars. You know, the ones that were released before the dinosaurs? I've not bothered to watch the rest because I have no desire to. I think the original three covered everything and those stories since have been...fluff. So please understand that in this query, I agree 100% with The Shark in that this reads exactly like a generic copy of the original three Star Wars. And I thought that before The Shark mentioned that she too got that vibe.

You have nothing new in this query. It needs some plot twist, some character, some thing that makes whoever is reading this query go WOW! So if Adira's adoptive father has some deadly dark secret in his past as you allude to, Tell The Agent This! They're not your reading audience, they're going to sell this to your reading audience and without knowing what the twist is, they can't tell if this is worth selling or not.

Also, you've started this query in the wrong place. Start with her at the outpost. And give up the secrets. If you don't, we're all reading a movie we've seen a thousand times.

Frankie said...

I read tons of YA fantasy novel, so I am your typical target-reader.
The story itself isn’t new, but this isn’t a peoblem. There are a lot of books with similar plots, what makes them stand out and differentiate from the others are the details.
Of corse reading your favorite book in this genre is a huge help to see how to deliver a story already told in a new way, or anyway in a different and unique way.
I would suggest to focus on those traits that make your story different. Think about your characters, what are their special traits, their personalities, and how they combine together.

Sam Mills said...

I'll agree with the rest of the comments that a bit of specificity will go a long way. Adira never imagined herself a what did she imagine? Was she studying to be a librarian and found out about the dark entity in a book? Did she imagine herself an archaeologist and dig him up? Is dad really the dark entity? Is *she* really the dark entity??

The last paragraph sounds like final stakes, so I'd probably leave that out and end on ominous dad twist, if it's strong enough to dazzle.

Lenora Rose said...

I read your query three times now, and I have no idea what anything in it is.
This sounds a bit mean, but it's close to literal truth.

Adira is 18 years old, uses female pronouns, and is presumably human.

She lives in a country. Pastoral? Farmland? Forest? Seafaring? Wintery or tropical?Past, present day, future? Are the people black? Asian? Green dwarves? Orange Elves? Not even close to human after all?

That country is under a threat. The threat is literally or metaphorically dark (I really hope metaphorically, but even the metaphoric version is a bit tired), and has historic roots that people thought were eradicated. An entity suggests a single being, but it could as easily be a conglomerate. A corporation. A hive mind. You could almost use your description to describe the re-emergence of explicit KKK-level racism or Confederate pride across the US right now. Some (whom I repudiate, but they exist) would use it to describe the wave of worldwide refugees seeking asylum in various places. The point is, we can't *tell*.

Faraway outpost. Where? Near a sea? A wall? What does the outpost guard against? Why are these soldiers presumably that much better trained than the ones she used to know?

Conspiracy. Revelations. These words are so wide open I don't know if this is an "It turns out you're secretly the princess" (again) or "The Y-rays have taken over the minds of the capital. The butler opened the necronomicon. It's all connected!" level frothing madness.

I want to see some of this laid out solid. I want to know if the outpost is a starport near a moon or based around an old creaky lighthouse on the shores of a Mediterranean-style sea. I want to know what it is that Adira knows that she doesn't tell anyone until the Seer shows up, and why she decided to trust the Seer.

Unknown said...

Aside from the basic specificity issues pointed out by others, I think part of the reason this query is coming across as flat is because you are only providing us with the "who," "what," "when," and "how," but nothing solid about the "why." Why is Adira the only one who has this secret knowledge about the dark entity? If you came up with a very clever reason for this, then you should lay that out and it might intrigue the reader. However, if there is no particular clever reason for why she is the only one in her locality with this knowledge, then it may seem more like a contrived situation and the agent might assume that there are other bigger contrived aspects of the manuscript.

This is more of a problem here since the vagueness of your query sets up the same question multiple times.

For example, why is it that the dark entity is so concerned about this single girl knowing of its return?? Just because the plot requires that? In many stories, an evil force doesn't really care if some pesky little kid or teen knows about its return since no one will believe them. This could be different if the teen is known to be a prophet or celebrity of some type whose statements carry a lot of weight, but you haven't set that up here.

Another possible scenario where the dark entity might care is if it is hiding in plain sight, like for example, since we are already talking Star Wars, Palpatine. If some random kid took a photo that showed Palpatine shooting lightning out of his fingers and with glowing red eyes before he revealed himself as the dark lord of the sith (back when he was still pretending to be a kindly old government official), then yea he would probably send people to kill said kid.

I think "chosen one" tropes are pretty unpopular right now with agents, but the stories are clearly still popular enough with audiences since we keep getting the books and movies. However, I think if you are going to do a chosen one type story (particularly if you are going to introduce an actual Seer or prophet who annoints your MC) it is going to have to have plenty of compelling and exciting answers to the "why" question.

Paul Stanton said...

Chiming in to agree and expand on Michelle's excellent third point above.

Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy is part of that now popular subgenre of grimdark "not your daddy's fantasy" books that glory in gore and amoral characters treading the line between villain and hero. This doesn't seem to match up with your more traditional fantasy plot of overcoming an evil dark lord.

Brigette Russell said...

The biggest lesson I've learned from this blog (I've read about half the post so far) is to be specific not vague. I'm on revision 11 of my own query letter, and will probably be on 17 or 25 or who knows what number by the time I finish the archives and submit it as shark bait.

I see why you tell people to read ALL the archives. It took a while (and a lot of terrible queries) for me to be able to see the too-vague flaw right off, and understand WHY a query wasn't working. I'm enjoying your commentary. It's entertaining as well as informative.

Post #11 is my favorite so far. The original query was uninspiring, but the rewrite was fantastic. If that guy's book has been published, I'd love to read it.