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Query Workshop … critiques by Karma Brown

Sunday, 3 November 2013  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Woman laptop grass

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 we have Karma Brown 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 Karma…


Karma Brown

Karma is an award-winning writer published in a variety of places, including Canadian Family, Best Health, Canadian Living and Chatelaine. She also writes fiction, and is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists. You can find out more about Karma on her website.


And here is her first critique …

Dear ,

Killing a god wasn’t one of the things he learned on the streets of Brooklyn, but 16-year-old Gabriel figures there’s always a first time for everything. (Like how you’ve set this up for us, we know it’s YA/fantasy, where it takes place – or at least starts – and a little about the protagonist. Yet … it doesn’t exactly line up with what comes after, and we’re left hanging…)

Homeless, hungry, and alone, sixteen-year old Gabriel jumps at the opportunity when a universe-hopping blonde named Steph offers him a way out of his dead-end life (Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she giving him this opportunity? Do universe-hopping blondes often show up on the streets of Brooklyn? We need some context here). Her pitch: explore the myriad universes, learn about new cultures and eat plenty of food along the way. (This makes it sound like a vacation, but then next up you tell us he has to prove he can survive first, which sounds NOTHING like vacation) But Gabriel first has to prove himself by showing he has what it takes to survive. (Survive what? And why is she offering him this “trip of a lifetime”? What’s in it for her?) If he fails, he’s dead (well, we already know death is likely based on previous sentence…), or worse: sent back to Brooklyn (is this really worse than death?).

In a universe where castles fly high (I’m intrigued…but we need to understand more about this universe) above the clouds, Gabriel fights against sky pirates to defend a king (how did he go from hungry & homeless on the Brooklyn streets to a sky pirate fighter? Imagine this takes some skills, no?). In a land where necromancy is a misdemeanor, Gabriel must protect his newfound love (wait…is this Steph? Is she dead?) before they both join the ranks of the undead. And in a dead city (sorry?) haunted by a singing little girl, a hidden refugee holds the secret to killing a god. (Whoa, a lot of characters were just plopped into this sentence … the singing girl, the hidden refugee, and this god, whom I’m assuming is the god from the hook? It’s hard to know who, and what, to pay attention to here.)

At every turn, Gabriel crosses paths with the mad god Michael (okay, so THIS is the god he needs to kill? We need to know this earlier) who casually slaughters everyone in his path (if he slaughters “everyone” in his path, and Gabriel keeps crossing paths with him … how is Gabriel still alive?). Michael sets his sights on Gabriel, believing him to be his missing brother. (why would he think this?) With Steph’s help, they elude the god, and continue their traveling (but again, why are they traveling? What’s the purpose now that they’ve eluded the god?). But Gabriel knows Michael is still out there, still killing (and this is Gabriel’s problem because …?). He knows that as a traveler, he’s the only one who can chase after the deranged deity (is he the ONLY one who can do this? If so, why?), and when a god is out to get you, you better fight back. (or, what?)

TRAVELERS: THE LIGHTNING GOD, is a YA fantasy adventure of 75,000 words. (Do you have a couple of comparative titles? A bio, like this is your first novel, and any notable writing you’d like to mention? This is a great place to show your chops, if you have them, or to give the agent a sense of your dedication to writing … )

Thank you for your time and consideration of my work.

(And thank you for putting your query out there! Think if you can focus in on the world building, the motivations and the stakes, your story will shine through more easily. Best of luck!)


And here is her second critique…

Dear Awesome Agent,

I would like to offer GERALD AND THE AMULET OF ZONRACH for your consideration.  [personalized sentence.  In response to #PitMad, #MSWL, met at conference etc.] Now you may want to check on whether the agents you’re querying like the hook up front, or the genre/word count into first. But my vote is that unless you have a really compelling reason to give an intro here (like a referral from a client), jump right in with the hook.

In the realm of Wyverndawn, a wizard’s height is the mark of his power, so shrinking even one entire inch is disastrous for twelve-year-old wizard Gerald. Right away I know it’s MG fantasy, so that’s good, and I’m curious about why he’s shrinking and what’s going to happen, which is also good because it means I’ll keep reading!

Looking for promotion of an inch or two (how does one get “promoted” in height in Wyverndawn?) Gerald decides his superior wizarding skills are just what his village needs to improve the view (So, what’s up with the village? We need more here in terms of world building). But the spell he bought – from a guy who knows a guy – is a tad more powerful than he anticipates. Okay, we need to know more again. How/why does one “buy” a spell? If he has “superior wizarding skills”, why can’t he just make a spell? The resulting earthquake breaks off a chunk of Wyverndawn from the rest of the realm allowing Vabalaz, a highly dangerous wizard, to escape from prison.

A red-faced Gerald (shouldn’t he be more than simply embarrassed? I mean, the evil wizard has been released … this must be very, very bad for Wyverndawn) is banished from his village (to…?) and, to complete his shame, is demoted another inch; two more and he’s likely to become a Royal Equine Poop Disposal Coordinator (ha ha — it sounds like it probably is, but is this the lowest a former wizard can go?). Gerald’s questionable acquisition of a certain golden amulet could be the answer to his problems. Whoa, wait … now he’s got an amulet that could answer all his problems? Where did he get it? What makes it so special and wanted? But when Vabalaz discovers it may also be the key to creating his elite wizard realm, Gerald is elevated to evil wizard’s enemy number one. (good conflict!)

Gerald’s hopes of returning home hinge on repairing the damage to Wyverndawn, and thwarting Vabalaz’s plans. (no mention of the height thing? That seemed pretty important at the beginning. If he’s even shorter now, is he relying on the amulet to give him the power he needs?) Failure could mean But if he fails, Gerald’s next spell could very well be his last.

GERALD AND THE AMULET OF ZONRACH is a humorous, Upper MG, Fantasy. (don’t need to tell us it’s Fantasy – that’s clear by the query, and the humor piece should also be evident in the query … so perhaps add a few more “funny” touches, like the ‘Royal Equine Poop Disposal Coordinator’) .  It is complete at 77,000 words. Similar in tone to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, younger readers would enjoy this novel of the trials of an inexperienced wizard who manages to turn everything he touches into chaos.

GERALD AND THE AMULET OF ZONRACH is a middle grade novel complete at 77,000 words. Based on your recent #MSWL / #PitMad requests, I believe it’s a good fit for your wish list (because …). Similar in tone to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, young readers will enjoy the trials of an inexperienced wizard who manages to turn everything he touches into chaos.

(Your bio? Is this your first novel? What other writing, if any, have you done? Have you won any awards? If so, this is the place to boast a bit.)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

(And thank you, for putting your query out there! Hope this helps – think you have a great concept. Best of luck!)

Best regards


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


Filed: Misc, Workshops

  • Petre Pan says:

    Hey, first person with Michael vs. Gabriel, don’t change your query too dang much. I felt like I understood your query, and I didn’t really need an explanation for why being homeless in Brooklyn might be worse than death or for a bunch of the world-building stuff. I also didn’t need context for Steph showing up. I mean, that’s kind of what universe-hopping people do–they just show up.

    But I did need to know what you meant by his newfound love, and I do think the phrase “necromancery is a misdemeaner” is misleading. Made me think Gabe was necromancering. That particular paragraph, honestly, was kind of confusing and maybe should go, although I really loved the parallel structure. I liked the hint-ness about it, and I loved the imagery throughout it. It’s a darling, but maybe it’s a darling you have to kill. Maybe if you just fix that necromancery sentence–maybe say it’s “only” a misdemeaner, or something–it will be better? Also forget the romance stuff. That’s just too much to put in one query. Take romance out and just say him and Steph don’t wanna end up dragging their legs and dropping their jaws like fresh-baked zombies.

    Also, “casually slaughters everyone in his path” makes tons of sense to me. I get that it’s an expression, not literal. But I do think “casually slaughters” could be a more interesting phrase. It’s kind of a whatever adverbial phrase, and you could do better. I think you could lower your wordcount and increase comprehension for people not familiar with this kind of story by exchanging this phrase with the simple descriptor “bloodthirsty” or “death-worshipping” or another one-word phrase like “murderous.” Just call him a genocidal person, or maybe replace that phrase with “who thinks killing mortals is a game” or “who thinks killing mortals is fun”.

    Also, it’s pretty obvious to me why Michael thinks Gabe is his missing brother. Gabriel and Michael, archangels? Yeah, I get it. Not sure I like it, since I’m pretty sure you’re making a slam against something I love and believe in, but I get it. I know what god he’s killing here. What I don’t know, as the blue-words lady said, is how he’s going to kill that god or why he’s the only one who can do it. While maybe how isn’t important, I think it’s important to know why he’s so important, and I definitely need to understand what’s wrong with this god in more detail. And what makes him a god?

    So yeah, I liked your query. Guess I wanted to offer a second opinion.

  • Carl Hackman says:

    Thanks for the awesome comments Karma, I really appreciate them. I’m hoping the query will catch someone’s eye 🙂

    Working on a MG Medieval Fantasy at the moment while querying Gerald.

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