Peer Review of a Query

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gilesth
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Peer Review of a Query

Post by gilesth » December 7th, 2009, 3:08 pm

So, I've queried about ten agents for my first novel (including Nathan), and so far it's been rejections. I'm not discouraged, I'm not even trying to be negative. I simply read a blog post by Kiersten White that recommended looking over my query after ten (or so) rejections to see if there's anything that can be done to improve it. *whew*

So, in short, I'm looking for feedback on ways to improve my (already edited and previously reviewed) query letter. Keep in mind that I do a LOT of research and make sure that the letter is personalized to each agent, but the gist is pretty much the same.

Dear [agent],

[specific paragraph about why I'm seeking agent's representation]

My first novel, Defender of the Crown, tells the story of Nicholas Benson, a teenage boy with magical talents so strong that he can’t restrain them. In fact, at the young age of thirteen, his powers got so out of control that he accidentally killed a boy in his home town of New Dells. Desperate to ensure the safety of his family, Nicholas moves to Lottown, the capitol city of Andere, to seek an education at the Magi Academy. However, on the day that Nicholas and his parents arrive in the capitol, he stumbles on a plot to murder, not only the Queen, but both of the candidates who hope to be Andere’s first Prime Minister. In a nation on the verge of an industrial and political revolution, Nicholas must find his place among the legendary magi and mystical creatures of the city if he is to overcome his personal battle with magic and convince his teachers and friends to trust him before the Queen is killed and the nation plunges into civil war.

This Young Adult Fantasy novel is about 80,600 words long, it is intended for fans of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling, and the completed manuscript is available upon your request. I have also begun work on the sequel, tentatively titled The Goblin Incursion.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,
Giles Hash

That's about it. What kind of feedback do you have for me to help improve my chances of getting to that partial or full manuscript request?

Thanks,
Giles

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tianalei
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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by tianalei » December 7th, 2009, 4:37 pm

While I'm definitely no expert on queries, I would recommend that you take out the part about C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. From what I've researched, agents always receive queries hoping to be the next "it" thing, and contrary to helping you, this can hinder your chances. You might want to look through http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ because I think you are making some of the mistakes that the shark talks about. Maybe start directly with the action instead of a paragraph about why you are seeking representation. Like I said, these are just suggestions, so feel free to take them or leave them!
My writing blog is at http://www.tianasmith.com and my custom & premade blog design shop is at http://www.theblogdecorator.com. You look nice today!

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Mira
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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by Mira » December 7th, 2009, 4:48 pm

Not an expert either, but I'll give some feedback. Please ignore if it doesn't fit.

I like the story alot. This is totally my genre, and I would read this book! How fun - a budding mage at an academy for mages. I can definitely see that this would appeal to Rowling fans.

I have two main suggestions. I might punch it up abit. Make it grab the reader alittle more. For example:

"My first novel, Defender of the Crown, tells the story of Nicholas Benson, a teenage boy with magical talents so strong that he can’t restrain them."

could be

"NIcholas Benson can't control his magical powers. They are so strong, he accidentally killed a boy when he was only 13." Or something like that. I think my suggestion is to tell the story, not to describe the story.

The other suggestion is this: the storyline feels abit vague. Is it about Nicholas and his quest to accept his magic? Or about saving the Queen? Both, probably, but which is more important? Is Nicholas truly the protagonist, or just an instrument to help save the Queen? Does that make sense? My guess is the real story is how Nicolas learns to accept his strength when he discovers he can use it to do great things...is that the story?

Hope this was helpful, again, ignore it if it doesn't fit.

Best of luck to you! I love this type of writing, let me know when it's published. :)

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by Nathan Bransford » December 7th, 2009, 4:56 pm

I agree with what the others have said so far. I think you have some good elements, but the query could use some tightening.

Some additional thoughts:

- What magical powers? Why be vague about what the powers are? In queries: specificity wins. Because the reader doesn't actually know what his powers are, it's difficult to imagine him grappling with them, which seems to be an important part of the novel
- This sentence: "However, on the day that Nicholas and his parents arrive in the capitol, he stumbles on a plot to murder, not only the Queen, but both of the candidates who hope to be Andere’s first Prime Minister." read just a tad awkwardly.
- The world of the novel feels just a tad familiar. Anything you could do to make it sound fresh and unique would go a long way.

Good luck!!

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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by katiemac » December 7th, 2009, 4:56 pm

Hi Giles. I peer edit query letters often over at AbsoluteWrite.com/forums, and generally writers over there like my advice. But that's all it is--advice, so take it or leave it. I'm using the BOLD function here to indicate words you can cut, since there seems to be no strikethrough option on these forums.
Dear [agent],

[specific paragraph about why I'm seeking agent's representation]

My first novel, Defender of the Crown, tells the story of Don't talk about your story like it's a story. Just dive right in. "When thirteen-year-old Nicholas explodes a factory..." Paint us a picture. Show vs. tell is necessary in query writing, too. Nicholas Benson, a teenage boy with magical talents so strong that he can’t restrain them. In fact, at the young age of thirteen, his powers got so out of control that he accidentally killed a boy in his home town of New Dells This description here is what I'm referring to above--it's way more interesting than a kid who can't control his powers. This is specific, and attempts to present Nicholas's problem in a way that is only your book--not any other book about kids with out of control magic.. Desperate to ensure the safety of his family, Nicholas moves to Lottown, the capitol city of Andere, to The proper nouns aren't necessary for the query--we just need to know what Nicholas does seeks an education at the Magi Academy. However, on the day that Nicholas and his parents arrive in the capitol, he stumbles on a plot to murder, not only the Queen, but both of the candidates who hope to be Andere’s first Prime Minister. In a nation on the verge of an industrial and political revolution, Nicholas must find his place among the legendary magi and mystical creatures of the city if he is to overcome his personal battle with magic and convince his teachers and friends to trust him before the Queen is killed and the nation plunges into civil war. What's missing here is a better account of Nicholas's motivation. Why does he have to save the Queen? Why can't he just turn his back and say, "Meh, someone else's problem"? Since you mention Rowling, I'm going to point to Harry Potter. Harry can't turn his back on Voldemort because a) Voldemort is trying to kill him and b) way more importantly, Voldemort killed Harry's parents. Harry doesn't want anyone else to take Voldemort down. That's his motivation for getting through seven books. What's Nicholas's motivation? Also important: If Nicholas cannot save the Queen, why is that a problem--specifically a problem for Nicholas, and not his country?

This Young Adult Fantasy novel is about 80,600 80,000 words long, it is intended for fans of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling, and the completed manuscript is available upon your request. I have also begun work on the sequel, tentatively titled The Goblin Incursion.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,
Giles Hash
Over at AbsoluteWrite, I give writers three questions for them to answer in their queries that help them narrow down their main conflicts: 1. What does your protagonist want? 2. What does he have to do to get what he wants? and 3. What happens if he fails to get what he wants (the stakes)? Try to keep the stakes as personally linked to your character as possible.

I understand that what Nicholas wants is to control his powers. But I'm not sure how and why saving the Queen will help him do that, nor why he is necessarily the only one who can save her.

Now, also keep in mind show vs. tell. Don't just tell us that he has to overcome his obstacles--illustrate why this is a very difficult obstacle to overcome at all. Remember that specific word choice and details will also help punch up your voice, and voice is a very big part of letter writing.

It probably sounds like I've given you too much information to convey in 250 words, but I've seen it done, and I've seen it done well. Just remember to be specific about those three questions I posed above.

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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by samdowning » December 7th, 2009, 5:00 pm

Perhaps try to explain in the query WHY it's so important that Nicholas must be the one who saves the Queen. Obviously it has something to do with his magical powers - but how is he drawn into the assassination plot? Why is it personal to him? In its current incarnation it's a little vague.

I also agree with Mira that it could be a bit punchier - perhaps with some more action verbs.

Good luck!

gilesth
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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by gilesth » December 7th, 2009, 6:45 pm

Very VERY helpful! So, here's my next question before I go out and revise the thing...actually to preface that, I must admit that Nicholas's "out-of-control" powers aren't really the focus of the story, they're simply a legitimate reason for him to uproot himself and move to the city, away from his family. In fact, the death incident is only mentioned briefly in the book, and since Nicholas knows it was an accident, he tries not to dwell on it too much.

Other important info (I guess): the reason Nicholas is the only one who can save the Queen is because he's the only person who actually witnessed the conversations discussing how to kill her, and his unique abilities (yes, I am going to try to describe how his magic is different from everyone else's) are how he witnessed the conversations. Nobody believes him when he tries to warn them.

The other reason he is anxious to save the Queen is because his best friend happens to be the Queen's daughter (she's also his classmate), and that puts her in danger, even though her magical abilities make it illegal for her to be the next Queen (too much power corrupts).

I didn't put all of this information in that paragraph because my research has revealed that most agents want query letters to be one page long. I included the information that I had in the previous letter because it (in my opinion) made the story unique from everything else I've seen out there (though in retrospect, it wasn't THAT different).

One more thing, and then my big question. Nicholas always reminds every person he meets of a crisp, snowy mountaintop. Even though he's slender, his skin is pure white, though with a hint of a blue sky reflected in the snow. His hair reminds his parents of frozen, crystallized grass, and his eyes reflect his emotions, much like the shifting colors of clear glaciers.

SO, without further ado, what should I include and leave out to keep the query letter succinct and still make it catchy?

Thanks again,
Giles

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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by wlmyers » December 7th, 2009, 7:00 pm

Unfortunately, your query makes the book sound dull. I'm sure that the world in your book is interesting and colorful, but your description sounds gray. Talk to a few friends and describe the book to them. Ask them to tell you if it sounds interesting enough to read. Make sure they're not just being nice as that won't help. You're not done until you've made the query sound as fascinating as the content of the book should be.

Now that you've elaborated that half of your query has little to do with the book, you really need to start over. Tell us the gist of what's going on. What does he know? How does he know it? How will he proceed? This still sucks, but it's more to the point.
-----
Nicholas Benson has tragically killed a boy with his powers of magic. To harness his power, he leaves his family to enroll in the Magi Academy. On the day of his arrival, he overhears a plot to kill the Queen and his quest to save her send him on a journey that will test his blah blah blah. Etc.
----------
Good Luck.

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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by katiemac » December 7th, 2009, 9:42 pm

The other reason he is anxious to save the Queen is because his best friend happens to be the Queen's daughter (she's also his classmate), and that puts her in danger, even though her magical abilities make it illegal for her to be the next Queen (too much power corrupts).
This! This is a huge motivating factor for Nicholas. Not necessarily the 'she can't be Queen part'--but the fact the Queen's daughter is his best friend. So if you include this, plus explain why he is the only one who can save the Queen, you've got a better picture.

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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by jhoward » December 7th, 2009, 9:57 pm

My opinion, echoing many of those before me, is not professional, so take it or leave it. But these are the parts of the story that I say include in the query to make the novel sound interesting and the story line flow smooth.
Definitely include in your query how Nicholas is the only one who can save the Queen is because he's the only person who actually witnessed the conversations discussing how to kill her and describe how his magic is different from everyone else's. You say that he wants to ensure the safety of his family but his parents come with him. Maybe they are just dropping him off and I am sure the book explains it but it confuses me and I wonder if you can simply exclude mentioning their arrival in the city. I also wonder if you need to mention the Prime Minister candidates. For the purposes of the query can it be enough to know that there is an assassination plot designed for the Queen that only Nicholas can thwart and thus save the day?
Good luck. The story sounds exciting and a fun read.

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ElisabethMoore
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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by ElisabethMoore » December 7th, 2009, 10:02 pm

gilesth wrote:Very VERY helpful! So, here's my next question before I go out and revise the thing...actually to preface that, I must admit that Nicholas's "out-of-control" powers aren't really the focus of the story, they're simply a legitimate reason for him to uproot himself and move to the city, away from his family. In fact, the death incident is only mentioned briefly in the book, and since Nicholas knows it was an accident, he tries not to dwell on it too much.
This is back story then and does not need to go into the query.

Other important info (I guess): the reason Nicholas is the only one who can save the Queen is because he's the only person who actually witnessed the conversations discussing how to kill her, and his unique abilities (yes, I am going to try to describe how his magic is different from everyone else's) are how he witnessed the conversations. Nobody believes him when he tries to warn them.
This, then, is an important part of the motivation, though it still doesn't tell us why he cares.

The other reason he is anxious to save the Queen is because his best friend happens to be the Queen's daughter (she's also his classmate), and that puts her in danger, even though her magical abilities make it illegal for her to be the next Queen (too much power corrupts).
Here is more motivation for him to save the queen, but we still need to know what really BAD THING will happen if he doesn't.

I didn't put all of this information in that paragraph because my research has revealed that most agents want query letters to be one page long. I included the information that I had in the previous letter because it (in my opinion) made the story unique from everything else I've seen out there (though in retrospect, it wasn't THAT different).
The back story is the stuff to cut, not the WHO needs to do WHAT or BAD THING will happen. Some detail of his magic powers could help wit the uniqueness if you can do it as part of snappy sentence.

One more thing, and then my big question. Nicholas always reminds every person he meets of a crisp, snowy mountaintop. Even though he's slender, his skin is pure white, though with a hint of a blue sky reflected in the snow. His hair reminds his parents of frozen, crystallized grass, and his eyes reflect his emotions, much like the shifting colors of clear glaciers.
I think this is too much description for a query, but perhaps you can get part of into a sentence. Even in books, I prefer description to be integrated into the action, and I think this goes doubly for queries.

SO, without further ado, what should I include and leave out to keep the query letter succinct and still make it catchy?

Thanks again,
Giles

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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by bunderful » December 8th, 2009, 3:58 am

My first novel (I wouldn't say this is your first novel), Defender of the Crown, tells the story of (this is already passive. Start with "No) Nicholas Benson, a teenage boy with magical talents so strong that he can’t restrain them. In fact, at the young age (obviously 13 is young) of thirteen, his powers got so out of control that he accidentally killed a boy in his home town of New Dells. Desperate to ensure the safety of his family, Nicholas moves (by himself? but he's 13??) to Lottown, the capitol city of Andere, to seek an education at the Magi Academy. However, on the day that Nicholas and his parents arrive in the capitol, he stumbles on a plot to murder, not only the Queen, but both of the candidates who hope to be Andere’s first Prime Minister. In a nation on the verge of an industrial and political revolution, Nicholas must find his place among the legendary magi and mystical creatures of the city if he is to overcome his personal battle with magic and convince his teachers and friends to trust him before the Queen is killed and the nation plunges into civil war. (how is it that a 13 year old has so much power? don't the teachers have more power and know more? confused as to how and why everything hinges on him)

This Young Adult Fantasy novel is about 80,600 words long, it is intended for fans of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling, (not necessary - let the agent decide who it's suitable for) and the completed manuscript is available upon your request. (Obviously the completed manuscript is available or you wouldn't be querying) I have also begun work on the sequel, tentatively titled The Goblin Incursion.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing back from you.

But all this is just my 2 cents. I'm not an agent or editor. Just a writer going through the same process myself.
- Rena

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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by casnow » December 8th, 2009, 6:31 am

I agree with katiemac in that you need to make it more proactive - jump right into the story and try to catch the agent's attention.

Maybe in the last paragraph is where you could mention that it is your debut novel - i.e., Defender of the Crown is a young adult fantasy novel that is 81,000 words long.

I would leave out the JK Rowling part as well, b/c I have never read a Harry Potter book but this sounds right up the same alley... so any agent not living under a rock that is buried under a pile of rocks will know what spirit it is in.

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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by gilesth » December 8th, 2009, 8:37 am

Okay, based on your advise, this is what I have so far on my rewrite:

Dear agent,

On his first day at the Magi Academy, Nicholas Benson was shocked to discover that he shared a classroom with Joselyn Jameson, the daughter of the Queen. As their rigorous training commenced, Nicholas and Joselyn became fast friends. One evening, while the pair practiced their magic together, Nicholas’s ability allowed him to listen in on a conversation between two men who intended to kill the Queen and prevent the first national election from being held.

Since one of the conspirators is none other than the Queen’s own brother-in-law, Joselyn refuses to believe what Nicholas said he heard, and even his instructor at the Academy has trouble trusting the boy. Rather than wasting time trying to convince his friend that her mother is in danger, Nicholas decides to take matters into his own hands and sneak into the palace to save the life of the Queen - and maybe even prevent a civil war.

Defender of the Crown is a Young Adult Fantasy novel approximately 81,000 words in length. It is my first novel, but I have also begun work on the sequel, tentatively titled The Goblin Incursion.

I haven't decided yet if I'll put the personal pitch to the agent before or after the the book paragraphs. Any suggestions on how to spice this up? Does it need to be shorter? Longer? Do I need more motivation for Nicholas? Something that makes him stand out more as a protagonist? Thanks again!

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Re: Peer Review of a Query

Post by ElisabethMoore » December 8th, 2009, 11:21 am

I think you have the right elements in your re-write, but you need to put more of a hook in the the front and reword the whole thing for more impact. The writing feels a little flat to me. I'd suggest you keep working with those elements, but revise and polish to bring it to life. A few well chosen details might help with that I think. This is at the stage where it's hard for me to describe what it needs, but it doesn't seem to be quite there yet.

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