Let my mistakes be your guide. QL evolution

Share your blood sweat tears query for feedback and lend your hard-won expertise to others
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Dakota388
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Let my mistakes be your guide. QL evolution

Post by Dakota388 » December 10th, 2009, 4:11 pm

I hope with this exercise I can help new query writers see an evolution of sorts. I'm by no means saying that my latest query is anything special but I think it shows that I understand the goal a little better. Notice my first attempt, though making perfect sense to me, is full of information that doesn't make sense to anyone who hasn't read my book and about zero character development. Notice how clumsily it is written (and that's after a ton of hours working on it).

My second query is the latest one I've sent. Clearer, descriptive, sure. But in hindsight not the greatest and probably too long.

Following third is my current WIP. Now mind you, each of these wrecks are the result of countless others that didn't make the grade (I know, pathetic).

So read on but only if you promise not to laugh.

First confusing mess (should look familiar, Nathan).

King Elijah of Epertase would kill his own daughter to stay in power. Rasi, a brilliant warrior, would kill an entire army to save her. After Rasi was banished for a murder the king committed, he swore nothing could bring him back to Epertase. But that was before a chance encounter with Elijah’s daughter, Princess Ripley, during a hunting expedition. He never expected to fall in love.

Now a technologically-superior army is poised to invade from the western sea. Elijah prepares for war. When the invaders annihilate Epertase’s closest neighbor in less than a day, it becomes obvious Elijah’s plans are doomed. A powerful light inside of Ripley’s soul determines that the kingdom’s only hope is for her to take over the throne. Elijah refuses to accept the inevitable and has her kidnapped.

He frames Rasi for the crime. Rasi vows to return from exile to find his true love and lead her people to victory. If he fails, she will die, he will hang, and Epertase will fall.

I am seeking representation for my completed 92,000-word fantasy novel, “The Light of Epertase.”

Thank you for your consideration.

Second and one I don't absolutely hate though I think is too long.


Dear:

Rasi, Epertase’s most revered soldier, has everything a man could want. But when he defies his corrupt king, his family is killed, his tongue removed, and he is tossed into a pit to be slaughtered by a legendary beast. He fights back. His reward? A life of exile with the dead creature’s uncontrollable, self-aware tentacles permanently melded to his back.

In his mountain solitude, Rasi struggles with loneliness and blood-thirsty urges from his new appendages to slowly become more animal than man. Then by chance, or perhaps fate, while scavenging in the foot hills, he encounters the king’s daughter, Princess Alina. Although he thinks himself an inhuman freak, she shows no fear and extends to him a compassion he feels he no longer deserves.

When an unstoppable army advances from the west, signs of an ancient prophecy begin to emerge. If fulfilled, Alina’s mere existence will cause the violent end to her father’s rule while making way for Rasi’s return. But the king will stop at nothing to retain his throne. With plans of sacrificing his daughter, he enlists a group of deranged killers to kidnap her. When Alina disappears, Rasi goes on the hunt.

Now that the kingdom of Epertase’s destruction appears all but assured, Rasi must return from exile and control his savage tentacles to have any hope of finding Alina and ultimately redemption. But if he fails, he will hang, Alina will die, and Epertase will surely fall.

I am seeking representation for my finished 95,000-word fantasy novel filled with vivid battle scenes, fantastical creatures, treachery and love. Designed as the first of a trilogy, THE LIGHT OF EPERTASE can stand on its own and is available upon your request.

And finally where I am at today.

Dear:

An unstoppable army prepares to attack the kingdom of Epertase, yet Rasi, once the kingdom’s greatest warrior, has been long since banished to a mountain exile. His years of loneliness and anger have driven him near the feral edge of madness with little hope of return.

Then the kingdom’s almost certain fall triggers the start of a magical event. Once completed, the corrupt king’s rule will violently end and his daughter, Princess Alina’s, will begin. In the coming change, Rasi sees hope for the life he had before the king ripped out his tongue, killed his family, and left him for slaughter at the teeth of a tentacled beast. With the dead creature’s violent, self-aware tentacles permanently melded to his own back, Rasi vows to control the savage appendages and defend Alina’s kingdom, thereby proving his honor and securing his triumphant return to the land he loves. His hopes of a new beginning quickly fade with revelations of a secret legend. From those legends, the power-hungry king learns that Alina’s timely sacrifice will save his throne and he has her kidnapped. Now Rasi must save Alina to have any chance at redeeming himself. If he fails, he will hang, Alina will die, and Epertase will surely fall.

I am seeking representation for my finished 95,000-word fantasy novel filled with vivid battle scenes, fantastical creatures, treachery and love. THE LIGHT OF EPERTASE is a stand-alone novel with series potential and is available upon your request.

Hopefully I didn't bore you too much and was able show someone where they might be going wrong. Or maybe this post is just a waste of space.
"The Light of Epertase"-A fantasy novel coming August 1st from Rhemalda Publishing

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SmurfHead
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Re: Let my mistakes be your guide. QL evolution

Post by SmurfHead » December 10th, 2009, 5:21 pm

Awesome post! I really admire how candid you're being. I think it's really helpful to see how a letter has evolved throughout several drafts. I know it certainly would have made me feel better while stumbling around with the first few drafts of my query. I'm still drafting, but I thought I'd share the first version of my letter here, too in case it might be useful to anyone. For the sake of brevity, I'm leaving out everything but the meat of the queries.

Well, I feel a little self-conscious, but here goes...


First-ish Draft:
For sixteen-year-old Annie, being the new girl got old a long time ago. After traveling the country with her free-spirited aunt, Annie knows all about packing up and moving on, but fitting in? Not so much. When she lands in yet another school, Annie surprises herself by quickly befriending Henry, a classmate and fellow outsider. But when Henry helps Annie survive a dangerous encounter, her miraculous recovery from a gunshot wound comes with a catch. Suddenly, Annie has some disturbing new habits, not the least of which is a craving for raw steaks. She seeks answers from her supposed rescuer and discovers that she (along with him and his family) is a werewolf or “shifter.”

While most shifters grow up in close-knit packs, keeping normal humans at arm’s length, Annie’s upbringing places her at an odd middle ground between the ordinary world and the secretive shifters. Meanwhile, her seemingly erratic behavior generates tension in her once-relaxed home life, thwarting the normality she hoped to preserve. When Annie has difficulty controlling her transformations, the complications of being a shifter threaten to overshadow the obligations of her human life. She must choose which half of herself to embrace, or else risk alienating herself completely.


Man alive, will someone hit the snooze bar?

In the interest of keeping the letter short, you can see that I managed to leave out most of the really interesting details. Those details that I did include feel a little hollow since they lack context. Also, what's with the whole "craving for steaks" thing? Sorry, self, but that's a crappy way to introduce the werewolf stuff when you've got something as juicy as an unexpected transformation in there.

I'm happy to say that the fine folks at Evil Editor helped me see the error of my ways. A few days ago, I posted my re-write of this letter (it's in this forum if you'd like to see it.) I got lots of awesome feedback--seriously, this forum effing rocks. So supportive! I re-wrote the re-write... sort of. It's less of a re-write than a refinement, taking into account all of the fine advice I received.

Here it is...

For Annie, being the new girl got old a long time ago. After traveling the country with her free-spirited aunt, the sixteen-year-old loner knows all about packing up and moving on, but fitting in? Not so much. When she lands in yet another school, Annie surprises herself when she connects with Henry, a classmate and fellow outsider.

But when Henry helps Annie survive a dangerous encounter, her miraculous recovery from a gunshot wound comes with a catch. The next night, Annie’s body shifts into an impossible shape, one with four legs, fur, and sharp teeth. In the morning, she finds herself outside and alone in a strange part of town. She seeks answers from Henry, her supposed rescuer, and Annie discovers that she (along with Henry and his family) is a werewolf or “shifter.”

Like most shifter packs, Henry’s family is used to keeping normal humans at arm’s length, but Annie feels stuck in an odd middle ground between the ordinary world and the secretive shifters. She grows closer to Henry, but their relationship is strained by Annie’s resistance to pack life. Meanwhile, Annie’s unexpected disappearances generate tension at home.

When Annie’s transformations become more difficult to control, she faces pressure from her fellow shifters to adopt a more discreet lifestyle with fewer connections outside the pack, while her aunt demands an explanation for Annie’s erratic behavior. As the complications of being a shifter overshadow the obligations of her human life, Annie must choose which half of herself to embrace or risk alienating herself completely.


It's a lot longer, but we've got more specifics and thus, a better idea of what the heck the story is about. To paraphrase Query Shark, I hope this draft gives a good idea of who the protag is, what situation she faces, what decision she needs to make, and what the potential consequences are.

Reading the first version of the query, I can see what I was going for, but it was only after a lot of teeth grinding, drafting, and honest advice that I have managed to get this query to the place it's at now. I do plan on tinkering with the letter more since I don't intend to query until mid-January. It's always a draft to me--I think I'll be messing with the words until I hit SEND, though I'm fairly certain I'll find something I want to change five minutes later.
"Mind-bottling, isn't it? ...You know, when things are so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped, like in a bottle?"

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Mira
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Re: Let my mistakes be your guide. QL evolution

Post by Mira » December 11th, 2009, 12:29 am

Wow, you guys are brave. Thanks for this. :)

For the record, I don't think either of your first queries were THAT bad. Definitely promise.

I don't think I'm brave enough to post one of mine.....actually I never re-wrote them, so ha, I can't. Off the hook. :)

Thanks for sharing yours!

jhoward
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Re: Let my mistakes be your guide. QL evolution

Post by jhoward » December 11th, 2009, 1:46 am

I was just thinking how helpful a post like this would be. I would like to throw my work in progress out there in the hopes that it helps someone. By the way I am open to helpful suggestions on the last one since that is the version I am currently working on.

#1
Pulled off a cliff by a strange young man, sixteen year old Sydney Hart plummets into an extraordinary dimension, lands in the middle of a tug-o-war love triangle and catapults on a trajectory to danger as she battles dragons, unearths concealed clues and fights to restore the peaceful balance to the place she was born, Barathio.

Ten years after her mother and autistic brother are killed in a car accident Sydney’s father mysteriously disappears. On a cool summer day, contrary to her usual headstrong nature, she finds herself a docile captive to a strange yet chivalrous young man who pulls her into another dimension only to discover he is Bren, her ‘not so dead’ brother. Sydney learns Bren can navigate through dimensions and has done so in search of her for the past decade. His unique ability to see multiple dimensions at once was nearly impossible to control on earth, resulting in his bizarre behavior being mistaken for autism. They soon realize their reunion has unwittingly activated a series of events that puts them directly in the path of a hunter who covets Bren’s ability to traverse dimensions and compromises the sacrifice their parents provided to protect Barathio from the evil rule of Ze’el and his dragon army. As they embark together on a perilous mission to defeat Ze’el and confound the hunter, they discover letters and clues left behind by their parents and encounter exquisite and horrific creatures, both friend and foe, including Aran and Justin who join the quest and continually vie for Sydney’s divided affections.


#2
When their reunion in the dimension of Barathio compromises a protective charm and threatens the only society who has eluded the tyrannical Ze’el, Bren and Sydney Hart must decide if they again separate their sibling ties or remain together and face Ze’el and his formidable army of dragons.

The sudden appearance of an eccentric stranger pulls Sydney Hart from her habitual daydreams of her presumably dead parents and autistic brother. She immediately feels a connection with him and contrary to her usual headstrong nature, she finds herself a willing captive to this odd yet chivalrous young man who pulls her into Barathio. She discovers he is Bren, her ‘not so dead’ brother whose abilities to see and navigate multiple dimensions are difficult to control on earth, resulting in his bizarre behavior being mistaken for autism. They soon learn that years ago their parents provided a sacrifice, their family’s departure from Barathio, as payment for a protective charm that would shield their people from the evil rule of Ze’el. Their reunion not only compromises the sacrifice but puts them directly in the path of a hunter who covets Bren’s abilities.

As Bren and Sydney embark together on a perilous mission to defeat Ze’el and confound the hunter, they are joined by Aran and Justin who continually vie for Sydney’s divided affections. She finds herself drawn to both the witty, charismatic nature of Aran and the honorable personality exuded by Justin. As they try, at times in vain, to focus beyond their romantic interests and on the quest at hand they discover letters and clues left behind by their parents and encounter exquisite and horrific creatures, both friends and foes. Their journey ultimately leads them to Ze’el and his army of dragons where they fight to restore the peaceful balance to Barathio.

#3
Sydney refuses to lose her brother again. Even if it means facing an army of dragons.

Sydney Hart has survived foster care on the memories of her late parents and autistic brother. The sudden appearance of a stranger enthralls her. Despite her usual headstrong nature, she becomes a willing captive as he takes her into another dimension: Barathio.

Sydney discovers the stranger is Bren, her ‘not so dead’ brother. His unique ability to see and navigate multiple dimensions takes great focus. That focus comes at a cost. On earth his bizarre behavior had been mistaken for autism.

Bren and Sydney learn that years ago their parents provided a sacrifice as payment. A protective charm was purchased with their family’s departure from Barathio. Neither Ze’el’s tyrannical rule nor his dragon army could penetrate the charm. Until there was Hart family in Barathio again.

Refusing to abandon each other or Barathio, Bren and Syd choose to fight. As they embark on their mission, they are joined by Aran and Justin who continually vie for Sydney’s divided affections. They discover letters and clues left behind by their parents, encounter exquisite and horrific creatures, and battle a hunter who covets Bren’s abilities.

Their journey ultimately leads them to Ze’el and his army of dragons where they fight to restore the peaceful balance to Barathio.


So there you go. Hope someone, somewhere finds it helpful. Mosty, due to selfish human nature, I hope I am on the right track.

Good luck everyone.

Cate Hart
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Re: Let my mistakes be your guide. QL evolution

Post by Cate Hart » December 21st, 2009, 8:45 pm

Oh why not I'll play...
This was the first query letter I drafted
(hahahahaha it was terrible)

Dear Ms. agent,

Broken is a 150,000-word completed Young Adult novel that is a forbidden love story having the same intensity as Stephenie Meyer’s series with an urban edge similar to Holly Black’s or Alyson Noёl’s books.

Forbidden love mixed with supernatural creatures has become a pop phenomenon and a highly marketable genre as a result of the Twilight series and subsequent film. Broken follows in this same tradition, but like all good fiction makes it own path.
Sarah Armstrong is a bright, witty and attractive transfer student to the small university in Wenham, Massachusetts. Leaving behind troubled parents amidst their brewing divorce, Sarah hopes to find anonymity on the small college campus. That is until she bumps into the extremely handsome, yet cold and distant, Caleb Smith.

What Sarah has yet to discover is that Caleb is hiding a secret, one that his very existence depends on. Before Fall Break even arrives, Sarah is fighting for her life and that of the one person she has fallen hopelessly in love with. The more intense their relationship becomes, the closer to danger they fall. All Hell is about to break loose, literally, and Heaven may just descend as well.

Filled with rock star angels, blind demons, meddling sorority sisters, an historical witch trial and a maniacal recluse, Sarah Armstrong’s life will be anything but ordinary.

Broken should fit in well with your other titles, such as {so-and-so's book YadaYada}, though it is its own unique story. The {agency website} website mentioned Young Adult fiction leaning towards mainstream as a current interest.

My poetry has been published in an anthology and I have had several articles printed in the University of Tennessee student newspaper. This is my first novel, and it is the first in a series that I am currently developing. In a flush of excitement I interrupted my other projects in historical and paranormal adult romances, to finish this novel.

As stated in your guidelines I have included the first five pages. Thank you for considering Broken.


Okay and here's draft 2 and the one I entered in Miss Snark's Query contest -

Dear Ms. agent's assistant,

I am sending a query letter to the response that you are currently accepting Young Adult novel proposals at this time.

Sarah Armstrong doesn’t know she’s going to die in two months, or that she's got an angel trying his damnedest to stop that from happening. She's too busy worrying about losing her scholarship to deal with the sudden interest from Wenham University's sullen, bad boy rocker, Caleb Smith.

Heaven’s law forbids renegade angel Caleb from interfering with humans, especially falling for one. But he can't help watching over Sarah or becoming her reluctant guardian. Never one to play by the rules, Caleb’s saving her life at every turn and leaving a calling card for Hell's demons and Heaven's Archangels to find him. After centuries of running from the fight, he's finally found something worth fighting for.

When a demon attacks them, Caleb is forced reveal his true self to protect Sarah. Now more than ever, Sarah must not only trust her heart to him, but her soul as well. But as their worlds’ collide with fiery passion, all Hell intends to break loose to capture the AWOL angel. The agents of both sides are hot on the trail, hunting not just Caleb but Sarah, too.

Filled with guitar hero angels, straight off the runway demons, bitchy co-eds, and a psychotic recluse, Broken is a completed 90,000 word young adult paranormal novel about forbidden love and second chances.

I have several poems published in anthologies, and during college I wrote for the University of Tennessee’s newspaper. I am a member of RWA and the online writing forum Romance Divas.

I would be happy to send you a synopsis and the beginning chapters for your consideration. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Unpublished Author


And this is my latest version - it did garner a request for the full MS.....and it's been slightly tweeked to make changes for the age of the characters....

Dear Ms. Agent,

Sometimes breaking Heaven’s law is worth it, even if it means Hell’s waiting for you.

When her father’s misdeeds and her mother’s mental collapse force her to transfer at the start of senior year, Sarah Armstrong thinks Wenham Regional High School just might be the perfect spot to forget her past and start new. Too bad the small Massachusetts town happens to be the ancient stomping ground for Hell’s demons and Heaven’s angels. And at the center of it all is the enigmatic Caleb Smith. When Sarah becomes a demon’s pawn to lure an angel out of hiding, she finds an unlikely hero in the sullen, bad-boy rocker. Every time he saves her life, she chips away at his façade and finds more than a man, but an angel she’s willing to lose not only her heart over, but also her soul.

BROKEN is a 90,000 word YA paranormal filled with Guitar Hero angels, Mafiosa demons, and a forbidden love that tests Heaven’s boundaries.

I am sending a query letter and the first ten pages in response to your blog posting that you are currently accepting open queries in the genre of YA paranormal.

I have had several poems published in anthologies, and during college, I wrote for the University of Tennessee’s newspaper. I am a member of RWA and the online writing forum Romance Divas.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
ME

lexcade
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Re: Let my mistakes be your guide. QL evolution

Post by lexcade » January 6th, 2010, 3:25 am

wow, cate. that is reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally good. i love the tweaked third version. there's more of a sense of immediacy and danger than in the previous incarnations.

thanks for being so willing to post your QLs. you give the rest of us hope.F]
"Art imitates nature as well as it can, as a pupil follows his master; thus it is sort of a grandchild of God." ~~Dante

Yoshima
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Re: Let my mistakes be your guide. QL evolution

Post by Yoshima » January 6th, 2010, 12:58 pm

Thanks so much to all who posted--what a great idea for a topic, Dakota388! I too didn't think your original queries were all that bad, though the later versions are improved (that goes for everyone, they're lookin' good!). :) I'm almost starting to feel brave enough to post my on query on here (uh-oh, lol).

And for your third version, jhoward, here's feedback. :)
jhoward wrote:#3
Sydney refuses to lose her brother again. Even if it means facing an army of dragons. (This sentence is great.)

Sydney Hart has survived foster care on (with?) the memories of her late parents and autistic brother. The sudden appearance of a stranger enthralls her. Despite her usual headstrong nature, she becomes a willing captive as he takes her into another dimension: Barathio. (Gut reaction: since your first one-liner says there's dragons, I was expecting to see dragons in this paragraph. When there wasn't, I was a little confused. Not so confused that I didn't want to keep reading or anything, but I think it would help if you described Barathio a bit, like "Barathio, a world ruled by the tyrant Ze'el and his dragon army" or something, just so that your reader understands why you told us about the dragons first (besides dragons being totally cool!).)

Sydney discovers the stranger is Bren, her ‘not so dead’ brother. His unique ability to see and navigate multiple dimensions takes great focus. (Focus? You mean like he's more powerful than ever or what?) That focus comes at a cost. (...is the autism the cost? If it is, I would connect this sentence with the next to better show the connection.) On earth his bizarre behavior had been mistaken for autism.

Bren and Sydney learn that years ago their parents provided a sacrifice as payment. (This makes it sound like they gave up their first-born and threw him into a volcano. More specificity would help.) A protective charm was purchased with their family’s departure from Barathio. (Why was their familiy leaving? Why are Ze'el and the dragons after them? If it's for Bren's power, say so.) Neither Ze’el’s tyrannical rule nor his dragon army could penetrate the charm. (Connect these? It's choppy the way it is now.) Until there was Hart family in Barathio again.

Refusing to abandon each other or Barathio (I'm not sure why Syd is so attached to Barathio...didn't she grow up in our world?), Bren and Syd choose to fight. As they embark on their mission, they are joined by Aran and Justin (Who are these people? Why do they join the fight?) who continually vie for Sydney’s divided affections. They discover letters and clues left behind by their parents, encounter exquisite and horrific creatures, and battle a hunter who covets Bren’s abilities.

Their journey ultimately leads them to Ze’el and his army of dragons where they fight to restore the peaceful balance to Barathio.


Well, from this last sentence I feel like I already know the ending of your book and that's not what you want in a query. Show me the stakes. What do they have to sacrifice to win? Are dragons tough shit and there's no possible way they can win? Leave me wondering how the heck your heroine is going to get out alive, you know? Now, by all means don't tell everything or take answer all the questions I had above, because then the query will be too long, but I think answering the ones that are most important to your plot (like Bren's power) would help a lot. Hope this is useful for you. :)


So there you go. Hope someone, somewhere finds it helpful. Mosty, due to selfish human nature, I hope I am on the right track.

Good luck everyone.

c.ska
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Re: Let my mistakes be your guide. QL evolution

Post by c.ska » January 7th, 2010, 5:52 pm

interesting exercise! thanks for posting! it made me go back to my VERY FIRST query (for a book I wrote years ago)...and it gave me a good laugh! A real good one...c.ska

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