Query Workshop … critiques by Leigh Caroline

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Welcome to the query workshop. From November 1 through November 19 several talented friends of mine will critique queries submitted to the workshop by some brave authors. Today Leigh Caroline is pulling out her ink pen and giving suggestions to her writers on how to tighten, sharpen, and shine their queries.

Here’s some more information about Leigh Caroline…

LeighLeigh Caroline

@Leigh_Caroline

Leigh Caroline is a phone monkey for a non-profit by day, sneaking words between calls. Though some claim she also sneaks extra hours into her day, she just really hates being bored. She interns under her real name for a romance epublisher, and daydreams about sitting on both sides of the desk at once. In the meantime, she keeps sharp writing monthly free fiction on www.ourwritemind.com with her amazing critique partners KT Hanna and Rebecca Weston.

And here is her first critique …

Dear Amazing Agent,

I saw on your website that you’re interested in young adult novels and am excited to tell you about my story, Starlight & Fire. I would leave this paragraph out. It just takes more time to get to the meat of the story, and doesn’t really add anything to intrigue them.

Stars? They were a myth, a fairy-tale told to children at bedtime. Story goes, the stars once walked among them as friends and mentors, bestowing wisdom and love on mankind. Yet one look at the dark, blank sky made anyone believe that the stars weren’t real and never had been.  This paragraph seems very fragmented. See if you can combine some of the sentences: IE The pitch-black dome of the night sky has been dark since before anyone alive remembers, but the myths tell of a time when stars walked among them as friends and mentors. They’re stories for children, full of morals and lessons. Nothing more.

<s>But Masen knew better. His true parentage hidden, his life happily quiet and normal, he thought he was safe. But he had no idea how wrong he was. .</s>This breaks the flow of the query, and is very passive. Set up the characters and give us a reason to care before warning how doomed they are. Except Masen knows the stories are true.

<s>Discovering a girl in the woods, beaten and left for dead, he feels inexplicably drawn to her, especially as he finds out about the darkness in her past. </s>When he discovers Renn in his woods, beaten and half-dead, he feels drawn to her, despite her standoffish reserve and secretive past.Yet just as she starts to open up to him, the stars awaken and reveal his true identity; he is the son of Star-Prince Rigel, and heir to the abandoned Starry Throne.

Yet<s>,</s> just as she starts to open up to him, the stars awaken and reveal his true identity; he is the son of Star-Prince Rigel, and heir to the abandoned Starry Throne. Ilike this line.

<s> Forced to run with him, Renn discovers that their futures are intertwined in a way she never imagined. For she is hiding a secret of her own as well. And put together, they threaten to change the course of the kingdom, never mind their hearts. </s> This paragraph doesn’t add enough to be worth the redundancy it causes with the next paragraph, and it makes Renn seem very passive.

Seeking to discover and strengthen the power Masen holds, they quickly realize that not all the stars are their friends. <s>;and one in particular, </s>His uncle, Star-Prince Canis, has a hatred of Masen so intense it threatens to destroy their kingdoms and their lives. <s>As enemies start to pile up around them and tension grows, they find help in an unlikely source and move towards a final showdown.</s> haunt their every step as they rush to find their own allies, but the secrets the pair keep may destroy them before any enemies have a chance, and even a fate written in the stars may not save them or their kingdom.

<s>There Masen and Renn are forced to choose between the lives they want or the lives they were destined for.</s>

Starlight & Fire is a young adult fantasy romance, complete at approximately 80,000 words. <s>It takes place in a fantasy setting and deals with a few darker issues such as rape and abandonment. It is a story about facing your demons, realizing your true potential and doing what you know is right.</s> No. No moralizing, unless you’re specifically targeting the religious market. That limits the marketability significantly.

<s> I am hard at work to gain a career writing stories for children and young adults.</s> That sounds like a bad spam resume line. Clearly, if you’ve written a YA novel, you’d like a career writing those kind of stories. I live in the lovely rural setting of Northern Minnesota with my husband and girls where I have never seen the stars shine brighter. (Novel inspiration at its finest!)

I would love to send you the full manuscript, should you be interested. Of course you would. This goes without saying. Better to put something like “Thank you for your time and consideration” that sounds more professional.

Warm regards,

Here’s the full suggested revised query, it might be easier to get the flow of it this way:

The pitch-black dome of the night sky has been dark since before anyone alive remembers, but the myths tell of a time when stars walked among them as friends and mentors. They’re stories for children, full of morals and lessons. Nothing more.

Except Masen knows the stories are true.

When he discovers Renn in his woods, beaten and half-dead, he feels drawn to her, despite her standoffish reserve and secretive past.Yet just as she starts to open up to him, the stars awaken and reveal his true identity; he is the son of Star-Prince Rigel, and heir to the abandoned Starry Throne.

Seeking to discover and strengthen the power Masen holds, they quickly realize that not all the stars are their friends. His uncle, Star-Prince Canis, has a hatred of Masen so intense it threatens to destroy their kingdoms and their lives. Enemies haunt their every step as they rush to find their own allies, but the secrets the pair keep may destroy them before any enemies have a chance, and even a fate written in the stars may not save them or their kingdom.

I went and checked your blog to see if I could get a better feel for this story, and saw the blurb you have on there for this. Honestly, that’s MUCH better and less stilted than this version. I’d still change the Masen paragraph, but other than that, I like that blurb for your query.

 

And here is her second critique…

Dear Agent

Sia’s <s>is</s>has spent all her life training to be the next Protector, <s>the one</s>tasked with harnessing <s>the</s> pure magic to keep all five scattered tribes safe and invisible from humans.  Now seventeen, lonely but independent, Sia will soon ascend to the position, but not without reservations from her tribe. Ascending to the position of Protector is her only chance to prove herself, and to gain the respect she’s always seen her people have for Kita, the current Protector and hermentor.

<s>When a string of killings hit her tribe. </s>When <s>On the day of the first kill <s>Sia sees a hard-to-make-out figure escape into the village outside their tribe, leaving (Specific TribePerson) dead, <s> so</s> she suspects <s>the </s>it’s ahuman<s>s</s> are behind the death<s>s of her kind</>. After all, they were responsible for the <s>W</s>war that led to the near extinction of her kind,  <s>the reason they use magic to stay Unseen, why they hide away  in wildernesses broken up into smaller tribes and the reason they can’t be a powerful united people like they once were.</s> and why their once powerful people are shattered into small, magically hidden tribes.  But when Kita is the next victim, Sia is thrust unprepared into her role as Protector.

With the help of the secretive and suspicious Killian, and her to-be-betrothed Who?, Sia searches for the killer despite her parents’ warning to stay away and be <s>d</s>safe. During their hunt, Sia meets Galen, a human Seer who can penetrate their magic, <s>who can see the Unseen, </s>something that should be impossible. Sia’s convinced she’s found the killer <s>in him</s>, but given the chance, Galen doesn’t kill her or hurt her,  not like the manBe specific- WHO is this, Kilian or her betrothed? that hurts her during her nightly patrols, brutal and vicious attacks that drive her closer to insanity. I’d split this line, as there’s too much going on. During their hunt, Sia meets Galen, a human Seer who can penetrate their magic, but given the chance, Galen doesn’t kill her, or even hurt her. As the killings continue, Sia has nightmares that leave her battered and teetering on the edge of insanity,  nightmares Galen can’t be responsible for. But when Galen begins receiving sinister messages from an unknown sender Sia realizes that she, Galen, and Killian are connected in ways <s>Sia</s>she would have never imagined.

As the brutal murders and <s>Sia’s</s>her nightly assaults continue, Sia must battle her growing paranoia and regain control of her fraying, weakening magic. Each death is one closer to her own, which would <s>mean exposure to humans and extinction of her people.</s>leave her people easy prey.

UNSEEN is a young adult fantasy  complete at 92,000 words that is a mix between Victoria Schwab’s THE NEAR WITCH and Leigh Bardugo’s SHADOW & BONE with ideas to expand it with multimedia including video, photography and social media along the lines of NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl.

UNSEEN is inspired by the old world heritage, beautiful landscape and Slavic culture of my birthplace, Bulgaria. I have a BFA in Photography and am a professional photographer and filmmaker. I have worked with Simon & Schuster, Harper Teen, Bloomsbury and Little Brown to create book trailers, extra content and various social media campaigns for house books. I have worked very closely with some of the top young adult authors developing book trailers, photographing book tours, and creating innovative social media strategies to help build buzz for their books via all social media platforms.

I am querying you because you and your agency represents some of my favorite authors and friends, many of which have spoken very highly of you.  UNSEEN is available upon request as well as sample photography. You can see more of what I do by visiting my website, vlcphoto.net.

Thank you for your time, 

I love the concept, a bit of tightening and I can see agents drooling! Because you have so many names, it can feel a bit repetitive. Make sure each mention of a person is REALLY needed to convey the story.

Thank you Leigh Caroline for taking the time to participate in the query workshop! Everyone join us tomorrow for our next  and last set of query critiques. Please feel free to drop questions in the comments.

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