Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

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Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby Nathan Bransford » 24 Sep 2010, 11:14

Okay! You all remember how this works. Below is the query up for critique. Feel free to chime in with comments, create your own redline (please note the "font colour" button above the posting box), and otherwise offer feedback. When offering your feedback, please please remember the sandwich rule (Positive, very polite constructive feedback, positive). In order to leave a comment you will need to register an account in the Forums, which should be self-explanatory.

I'll be back later with my own comment, and I'll update this original post with a link to my comment in case anyone wants to click to it directly. There will not be a separate thread, just this one.

And if you'd like to enter a page for a future Query or Page Critique, please do so in this Forum.

As of this posting there were 141 queries up for critique. The random number generator at random.org says.....

26!!

Congrats to Adam Heine, whose query is below.

UPDATE: my critique posted here

Dear Mr. Bransford:

For Hagai's twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives visions of the future. But he doesn't know why she sent it, or how, since she was killed eighteen years ago. Hagai's not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he's ever done is put peppers in his stew -- yet when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her.

Air pirates and sky sailors are also after the stone, and Hagai soon loses it to a wanted sky’ler named Sam. Sam wants the stone to help him avenge his father, but it only shows him his own death. Hagai, he learns, receives many visions. So when Hagai tracks Sam down and demands he give the stone back -- politely, of course, because Sam's got a knife -- Sam offers him a job instead.

Now Hagai, who grew up wanting nothing to do with sky’lers, is crew to one and fugitive from both pirates and police. He’s not sure he can trust Sam, and the stone haunts Hagai with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he’s determined to change the future and find his mother, if it’s not already too late.

AZRAEL'S CURSE is a 90,000-word science fantasy novel, available on request. It's written to stand alone but has series potential. My short story “Pawn's Gambit,” set in the same world as AZRAEL'S CURSE, appeared recently in BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Adam Heine
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby Bartle001 » 24 Sep 2010, 12:11

For Hagai's twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives visions of the future. But he doesn't know why she sent it, or how, since she was killed eighteen years ago. Hagai's not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he's ever done is put peppers in his stew -- yet when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her.

I like the opening paragraph very much. I can't think of a way to make it better.

Air pirates and sky sailors are also after the stone, and Hagai soon loses it to a wanted sky’ler named Sam. Sam wants the stone to help him avenge his father, but it only shows him his own death. Hagai, he learns, receives many visions. So when Hagai tracks Sam down and demands he give the stone back -- politely, of course, because Sam's got a knife -- Sam offers him a job instead.

Okay, but I'm starting to loose it here. What's a sky'ler? Is Sam the Captain of a ship? I'm confused as to just who Sam is here, and what kind of job Hagai is getting.

Now Hagai, who grew up wanting nothing to do with sky’lers, is crew to one and fugitive from both pirates and police. He’s not sure he can trust Sam, and the stone haunts Hagai with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he’s determined to change the future and find his mother, if it’s not already too late.

Sorry, I'm not comfortable at this point. I think we need some teaser as to where his mother is, the nature of her peril, just some hint of how it all ties together and the direction in which the book will move in it's approach to resolution.

AZRAEL'S CURSE is a 90,000-word science fantasy novel, available on request. It's written to stand alone but has series potential. My short story “Pawn's Gambit,” set in the same world as AZRAEL'S CURSE, appeared recently in BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Adam Heine

Ah, okay.
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby TheEndingUnplanned » 24 Sep 2010, 12:13

I loved the sense of comedic voice in the query. My favorite-- politely, of course, because Sam's got a knife. I laughed.

I am new to helping with query critiques so I am honestly not sure how much help I'll be. But I can say, from a novice POV, that I kept getting Sam and Hagai confused in the second and third paragraphs--and had to reread it a few times. Also I kept wondering what a sky'ler was, but maybe this is common knowledge elsewhere.

Overall, though, the premise sounds unique. Also, it was wonderful to be able to end on the fact that a short story set in the same world was recently included in an on-line magazine. I quickly looked up your entry there and saw you had recieved many favorable comments on it.
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby ReenaJacobs » 24 Sep 2010, 12:21

I like the premises for your query. I think your story has a lot of potential. One suggestion I do have is consider reordering sentences and working with the sentence structure in your paragraphs. The way things are worded really takes the oomph out of such an exciting story.

For Hagai's twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives visions of the future. But he doesn't know why she sent it, or how, since One problem, she was killed eighteen years ago. Hagai's not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he's ever done is put peppers in his stew -- yet wWhen the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her.**I feel like there should be more to this paragraph. I don't know your story, so I can't say what. But it seems like there should be something blocking his goal. I know you mentioned he's not brave. However, most people are willing to go out on the limb when their mom is in trouble, even if they're not a hero.**

Air pirates and sky sailors are also after the stone, and Hagai soon loses it to a wanted sky’ler named Sam.**Saying others are also after the stone doesn't exactly make sense. Hagai's not after the stone because he already possesses it.** Sam wants the stone to help him avenge his father, but it only shows him his own death. Hagai, he **Who is he? Hagai? Sam? This he refers to Hagai. So what you're saying is "Hagai, Hagai learns, receives many visions."** learns, receives many visions. So when Hagai tracks Sam down and demands he give the stone back -- politely, of course, because Sam's got a knife -- Sam offers him a job instead.**This paragraph can use a bit of streamlining. There are quite a few unnecessary details here. Hagai's goal first appeared to be finding his mother. This goes off on a bit of a tangent. If Sam is important in the story, maybe show how he disrupts Hagai's goal. The nitty bitty details aren't important in a query unless it relates directly to the protagonist. The significance of the stone is also unclear. The stone seems to be important, but other than visions of the future, I'm not sure why. How does not having the stone prevent Hagai from finding his mother? Why doesn't he just ditch the stone and keep searching?**

Now Hagai, who grew up wanting nothing to do with sky’lers, is crew to one and fugitive from both pirates and police. He’s not sure he can trust Sam, and the stone haunts Hagai with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he’s determined to change the future and find his mother, if it’s not already too late.**This has me worried about plotting issues. The goal is to find Hagai's mother. How does becoming a sky'ler and fugitive fit into the ultimate goal? This doesn't mean he can't be a sky'ler. But I think a query needs to be highly focused. Everything mentioned in the teaser should have relevant purpose.**

AZRAEL'S CURSE is a 90,000-word science fantasy novel, available on request**That it's available is a given. After all, that is why you're querying, right?**. It's written to stand alone but has series potential.**Every author wants to think this about his/her work. Let the query and pages stand for themselves. The agent/editor will decide if it's right for him/her.**My short story “Pawn's Gambit,” set in the same world as AZRAEL'S CURSE, appeared recently in BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES.**I absolutely love this bit. It shows that a publisher is already interested in your work.** Thank you for your time and consideration.

Thanks for sharing your query with us.
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby ted » 24 Sep 2010, 12:26

I like the style and voice of the query, which is concise and readable. And the setup seems promising... the protagonist entering adulthood as he's dragooned onto a sky'ler ship, then challenged to use his skills and stone to steer toward two different goals (his and Sam's) while keeping a wary eye in the rear-view mirror for pirates and police.

***
For Hagai's twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives visions of the future. But he doesn't know why she sent it, or how, since she was killed eighteen years ago. Hagai's not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he's ever done is put peppers in his stew -- you're injecting a sense of humor here, which I like, but which tells me to expect more humor in the book yet when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her.

Air pirates and sky sailors are also after the stone, and Hagai soon loses it to a wanted sky’ler named Sam. I'm assuming sky'ler is slang for sky sailor. Is Sam a rogue, or are all sky'lers sketchy types? Scofflaws, bounty hunters? An adjective in this sentence ('mercenary", "outcast", etc.) would help. Sam wants the stone to help him avenge his father, but it only shows him his own death. How can the stone help him avenge his father, if it shows visions of the future and his father is already dead? Will it show Sam the whereabouts of his father's killer? Hagai, he learns, receives many visions. So when Hagai tracks Sam down and demands he give the stone back -- politely, of course, because Sam's got a knife humor element confirmed-- Sam offers him a job instead.

Now Hagai, who grew up wanting nothing to do with sky’lers, is crew to one and fugitive from both pirates and police. He’s not sure he can trust Sam, and the stone haunts Hagai with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he’s determined to change the future and find his mother Why couldn't she have sent him a message along with the stone ("come get me in sector 6!"), if it’s not already too late.

***

I think a few clarifying words would help answer some of the questions the query raises for me. But again, I like the voice, and the plot sounds promising. With a free-for-all race through space to avenge Sam's father and save Hagai's mother, I see lots of potential for adventure and conflict, a la help me Obi-wan, you're my only hope.
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby Holly » 24 Sep 2010, 13:54

I enjoyed the humor and think the query is well written. My one quibble is the mother and father theme. One character is searching for his missing mother and the other wants to avenge his father. It would grab me more if the missing character were a girlfriend or even a sister, which is probably just me. The real story, though, may portray the mother in an intriguing way. Best of luck to you.
Last edited by Holly on 24 Sep 2010, 18:33, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby Nathan Bransford » 24 Sep 2010, 16:21

This is a strong query, and there are some evocative phrases that make this world come alive. I especially like the clever line "the bravest thing he's ever done is put peppers in his stew," I like the idea of "air pirates and sky sailors," and the mystery of whether his mother is really alive is compelling.

That said, I had a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around everything, and found myself grasping at some of the characters' motivations. Whenever approaching a query for a novel with a somewhat complicated plot, it's so so essential to be as specific as possible about key details and to make sure the reader has time to absorb everything. In this case, I found myself tripped up on a few lines and concepts, I found the shift in perspective from Hagai to Sam a tad awkward, and I wish things moved just a bit more smoothly from one thing to the next.

But still, I'm intrigued by this world and by Hagai's quest, and there were enough clever phrases that I'd definitely be peeking at the sample pages to see if I connect with the story.

My redline:

Dear Mr. Bransford:

For Hagai's twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives him? visions of the future There's something just a little off about this sentence. The way this is built around the mother sending the stone (the mother being the actor in the sentence), she seems at first blush to be the protagonist rather than Hagai. I wonder if the emphasis should be on Hagai receiving the stone from his mother, especially since where she is and when she sent it seems to be a mystery. Since she "sends" it, present tense, it implies that she's sending it that day.. But he doesn't know why she sent it, or how, since she was killed eighteen years ago. Hagai's not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he's ever done is put peppers in his stew Like this -- yet when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her.

Air pirates and sky sailors are also after the stone, and Hagai soon loses it to a wanted sky’ler named Sam how does that happen? Wonder if it could be a bit more specific. Sam wants the stone to help him avenge his father, but it only shows him his own death. Hagai, he learns, receives many visions I'm afraid I found the "he learns" interjection a little awkward (at first I thought we were back to Hagai's perspective as in, Hagai was learning that he receives many visions). It took me a while to figure out that what's key here is that Sam only receives the one vision whereas Hagai has more. But how does Sam learn that? I wonder if it might be smoother if it sticks with Hagai's perspective. So when Hagai tracks Sam down and demands he give the stone back -- politely, of course, because Sam's got a knife Can you "demand" something back politely? If Hagai wants it badly why does he just ask politely -- Sam offers him a job instead.

Now Hagai, who grew up wanting nothing to do with sky’lers, is crew to one and fugitive from both pirates and police why does he go along with it?. He’s not sure he can trust Sam, and the stone haunts Hagai with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he’s determined to change the future and find his mother, if it’s not already too late.

AZRAEL'S CURSE is a 90,000-word science fantasy novel, available on request goes without saying. It's written to stand alone but has series potential. My short story “Pawn's Gambit,” set in the same world as AZRAEL'S CURSE, appeared recently in BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES good use of pub credit. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Adam Heine
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby Adam Heine » 24 Sep 2010, 18:03

Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I really shouldn't be surprised at any of them; the parts I like are the parts you all like, and the parts I'm sketchy on are the parts you all mentioned. This novel has almost run through its query cycle, but I'm working on some major revisions and hope to run it through again soon. So this critique has been extremely helpful to me (and hopefully also to others reading this). I'm really impressed with the quality of comments too.

And thank you, Nathan, for your comments and just for doing this each week. Thank you, thank you.
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby wilderness » 25 Sep 2010, 10:49

I'm coming at this a day late but here's my $0.02. Overall, I like the concept a lot, especially the sky sailor part. But I thought some of the sentences were awkardly constructed.

Nathan Bransford wrote:
Dear Mr. Bransford:

For Hagai's twenty-first birthday, his mother sends him a stone that gives visions of the future. Agree with Nathan that it's better to have "Hagai receives" so that the MC is the subject of the first sentence. But he doesn't know why she sent it, or how, since she was killed eighteen years ago. I feel like you can drop the why part of the sentence because the how and the fact that his mother is dead is far more intriguing. Consider "But he doesn't know how his mother could have possibly sent it too him, considering she had been killed eighteen years ago." Hagai's not exactly a hero -- the bravest thing he's ever done is put peppers in his stew -- yet when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her.

Air pirates and sky sailors are also after the stone, and Hagai soon loses it to a wanted sky’ler named Sam. Love the image of air pirates and sky sailors. I wouldn't mind learning a little more about them. Sam wants the stone to help him avenge his father, but it only shows him his own death. Hagai, he learns, receives many visions. I found the shift in POV to Sam confusing. And how does he learn that Hagai receives many visions? So when Hagai tracks Sam down and demands he give the stone back -- politely, of course, because Sam's got a knife -- Sam offers him a job instead. I'll respectfully disagree with Nathan right here. I actually found the "politely of course" interjection to be quite funny, adding good voice to the query.

Now Hagai, who grew up wanting nothing to do with sky’lers, is crew to one and fugitive from both pirates and police. I thought the "and fugitive..." clause to be awkwardly tacked on. I would either break it into two sentences or drop the second clause altogether since you don't really tell us anything about why he's a fugitive. He’s not sure he can trust Sam, and the stone haunts Hagai with visions of his own death. Again, two unrelated clauses tacked together. Nonetheless, he’s determined to change the future and find his mother, if it’s not already too late. Finding his mysteriously alive mother is great conflict, especially in this world. I'd like to know what kind of obstacles he comes across while sailing the open skies though. Mainly because I find the whole sky'ler idea fun.

AZRAEL'S CURSE is a 90,000-word science fantasy novel, available on request. It's written to stand alone but has series potential. My short story “Pawn's Gambit,” set in the same world as AZRAEL'S CURSE, appeared recently in BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES. Congrats! That's awesome. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Adam Heine
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby J. T. SHEA » 25 Sep 2010, 18:31

The air pirates presumably ARE sky sailors, but I love the phrase, Adam. I had no problem following the query, but it is perhaps a bit terse at times. You could give more plot. Though within the limits of a query it is hard to answer one question without raising three more. And terseness works well in your published story.
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby Mira » 26 Sep 2010, 14:44

Cool to have a query critique, just for variety.

Adam, I wish I has something to add - but Nathan's critique captured it for me. I thouht the voice was very good and some of the lines were very clever. But I got alittle confused in the latter paragraphs.

I applaud you though for a query with wit. They say we should somehow manage to make a query funny - if the WIP is funny - and you managed to capture a 'voice' while still maintaining a business demeanor. Nicely done. I think you did it mainly by including the wit in the description of the story, which is good modeling for me.

I totally wish you luck! :) And thanks, Nathan, for a helpful critique - I always learn alot by seeing how you look at things.
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby priya g. » 26 Sep 2010, 16:11

There is one thing that i have to ask- which got me wondering, obviously- what is the plot? is it around saving Hagai's mother or protecting the stone from the air pirates and the likes? The first paragraph makes it pretty clear that its about saving a dead parent, but in the second para, i got a bit lost.
Bringing in Sam's view made the plot confusing. Also, instead of stating that Hagai, he learns, receives many visions blatantly, this aspect can be brought in the first paragraph- to hint at Hagai's special powers.
Since both Hagai and Sam see their death from the stone, what are their reactions to it? granted, they would both want to change the future, but if the characters have clashing personalities, how would they would they want to use their visions for their 'good'?
Hope this helps!
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby zen » 28 Sep 2010, 11:49

Nathan's critique said it well. I just wanted to add another voice saying that in spite of the problems with your query, the end result was that I was intrigued by your story. Something about it felt fresher than the usual fantasy of this kind, and you hinted that your voice might be special, a funny, self-deprecating hero.

So, are you sending pages to Nathan? I read that he gave you the invitation. Good luck!
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby Adam Heine » 28 Sep 2010, 17:57

Thanks, zen. By "pages," I think Nathan meant he would check out the sample pages he normally gets with a query (as opposed to requesting the first 30-50 pages). I officially queried him with this one a while ago and he said no :-) I might try him again after my revisions, but only if I make big enough changes that I think he'd notice the difference.
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Re: Query Critique Friday 9/24/10

Postby Nathan Bransford » 28 Sep 2010, 18:12

Adam Heine wrote:Thanks, zen. By "pages," I think Nathan meant he would check out the sample pages he normally gets with a query (as opposed to requesting the first 30-50 pages). I officially queried him with this one a while ago and he said no :-) I might try him again after my revisions, but only if I make big enough changes that I think he'd notice the difference.


Please do!
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