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
. butThey 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
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.
- 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 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.
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.
I managed to send prematurely. There are kme gems lost amid the explaining you may want to focus on - what use is an immortal princess, prophecies are never wrong. Cut EVERYTHING aside from those and the bit the shark points out then see what you need to add back in.
It sounds like your book about a girl who is torn between saving the world or letting her friend die. That's a no-brainier. If she marries her friend to save him, they all die anyway. There needs to be a twist, something that can save her, her kingdom, and the boy. Finding that piece of the puzzle is where the true story lays. (Or is it, lies? I always get those two confused.)
At the beginning this query reminded me a bit of Brave (the Disney/Pixar movie).
You need to present your book in a way that lets the agent eager to read the entire manuscript ASAP (I know it’s not as easy as it sounds, I’m struggling with it myself).
Plus, your story seems too simple. You suggest there might be a darker force at work, but apart from that, your MC has only one decisions to make.
You need more obstacles, more challenges.
Just wanted to pop in to say that raising kids is quite literally the greatest thing anyone can do in a lifetime. Carry on!
I will also chime in that there needs to be some twist, as the carefree fantasy princess who doesn't want to get married has been done a lot. If, for example, at the end of Act 1 she *does* marry the prince, and the mayhem keeps going--something like that would make me sit up. Or, another example, if she secretly marries her friend to save his life, *then* finds out about a prophecy, and is now on a quest to kill her friend to save her kingdom...that's some tension.
Otherwise my first thought about the friend is: he's got a good 70+ years left in him, plenty of time to find him an immortal wife.
I don't think the problem is entirely the book. I really think it's the query. The book sounds like it has the makings of more conflict, but the query starts too soon and covers too much backstory. You can (and should) cull the query down to the bare essentials.
These are the bare bones as I read from what you've already got.
"Willow is an immortal princess who doesn't really like the whole "princess" thing. She'd rather be sword fighting with her best friend Finn, a mortal. She'd also be willing to marry him to save him from his own mortality. The problem is, she's already betrothed to a prince thanks to a prophecy made the day she was born.
Then a prince shows up. And bad things start to happen on her peaceful island. *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?*"
These are the query essentials. Who, what, why. And stakes.
Add a paragraph to play up the "something darker." It sounds like you have a deeper plot twist in your book that didn't make it into the query. Put it in. Or at least more hints. That's what will take your query up a notch and entice agents.
Best of luck.
I think KariV said about what I was thinking: The individual sentences in the query are well enough written, but the first paragraph still feels like it's 75% filler. There's some nice turns of phrase involved, which is promising for the book, but it also feels like a lot of them are weighing you down in this short a format. I would use more of your own phrasing than she did, but trim it down to the plot.
One example, for the first paragraph: "Eighteen-year-old Willow Starmill will live forever. Her best friend, Finn, is the only mortal left of their island realm. 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."
I also have a problem with this exact line: "The longer Willow delays answering the prince, the more dangerous her beloved island becomes."
This makes it sounds like this is *definitely* because she's not marrying, (and makes me as a reader think pretty badly of her, if wringing her hands over one man were taking priority over curing a plague hurting thousands).
But later, you make it sound like this is in doubt, possibly the central question of the plot. (And if she has reason to think it's not her fault, but everybody else thinks she's dithering over Will, that's a very important point of conflict.)
Maybe something to the effect of: "As Willow delays her wedding, her beloved island becomes more troubled." This doesn't imply the one is the cause of the other.
In general, give a bit less description of what the princess does for hobbies before getting to her first conflict (Will vs. Prophecy), and more detail of the bigger conflict later in the plot (Is it the prophecy making the island fall apart, or some dastard's dastardly plot?)
I'm not anymore, but I was a stay at home mom for over 4 years. It has its boring aspects, but so does working in a lab -- or writing books. But it's important and valuable work, and nothing to be ashamed of. Someone who thinks it is is probably not a good agent match anyhow.
I agree with the comment that the set up kind of reminds me of Brave. And Brave was very poorly received among Disney's princess movies. I suppose it is different in that Merida didn't have a male friend she was willing to marry to protect him, but the story of a princess being forced to marry a prince she doesn't love was one of the key aspects of that movie and has been in many others as well (Aladdin, though that one was very good!)
I guess if you take those two examples above and think about what was the thing that sets them most apart, aside from less compelling differences in story, I'd say it was the genie. (Sure Jasmine was not as prominent a character as Merida since it was Aladdin's story, but Jasmine's predicament still drove every aspect of the story.)
I think if you take the genie character out of Aladdin, it is probably about equal to Brave. So maybe you just need to figure out what your "genie" is?
To delve deeper into your story and create some twists and turns, check out Donald Maass' 'Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.' It's a fair bit of work, but if you actually do the exercises, your story will become so much richer and more intriguing. Good luck. I like your style.
It seems like it's all setup. Willow is confronted with a dilemma: marry her friend or the prince. That tells us nothing about what happens. The story must be about conflict. Concentrate on the conflict.
If Willow decides to go with one of the boys, we need to know which and what the consequences are. Be specific. Specificity is your friend.
After reading the revision, I (of course) have to agree with the Shark. The book may be fine, but the query doesn't make it look like it is.
I think all Willow's choices have to have major drawbacks, and not just for herself. Marry the prince, or the country is destroyed is compelling. But what happens if she doesn't marry her friend? She's sad? That doesn't seem like a really big sacrifice, especially in light of the consequences of not marrying the prince.
From the query, it seems pretty obvious her friend is probably a secret prince of some sort, which would be really cliche if that's the actual case. It also seems like the prince she's supposed to marry could be somehow responsible for all the disasters--and again, if true, that's too likely a "twist" as well.
If your story is actually much more twisty than I intuited, the query obviously needs work. If my guesses are anywhere close to how the story plays out, well, yeah. The problem is in the book.
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