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 Rebecca Weston 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 Rebecca…
Rebecca is a copy editor at Spencer Hill Contemporary and a freelance editor as well as an aspiring author of YA fantasy, specifically contemporary fantasy and not-so-much of the urban variety since she’s not terribly urban herself, although like most writers she doesn’t really limit her ideas to one sub-genre. She holds a creative writing major from K-State University. If you don’t follow Rebecca on Twitter you totally should, plus she has amazing posts on her blog.
And here is her first critique …
Dear Mr./Ms. Agent,
Since you are seeking
YA in a variety of genres(something personalized here), I thought my manuscript would interest you. THE SHADOW OF LIGHT is YA fantasy in the vein of A WRINKLE IN TIME.
When light from a falling star pummels (unless the light really beats her up, I wouldn’t recommend pummels) Kira Sinclair, she learns her absent father didn’t just leave; he was trapped in a world inside a black hole, a world she now visits whenever she falls asleep. Linked by a portal of fading starlight, she must find her father and escape before the last beams die, or she too will be imprisoned. (This last sentence feels like a wrap-up sentence, like something you’d use toward the end of the query rather than the middle.)
With the help of an attractive stranger, a homesick boy stuck within the realm of the black hole, (I assume the attractive stranger and homesick boy are the same person? In which case, I’d cut out “an attractive stranger”) Kira pieces together clues connecting their worlds to her father’s disappearance. In their search for answers, they uncover the protective purpose of the artificial world and an ancient power hidden within its core. As her link to the black hole weakens, the trail to her father goes cold. With time running out, Kira must decide if she can return home, empty-handed, or use the ancient power in an attempt to save them all. (This paragraph just strikes me as kind of vague. I’m not sure what they’re being protected from or who needs to be saved or what kind of “ancient power” we’re talking about.
I think the biggest issue I’m seeing here is clarity. I would take that initial paragraph after your intro to set up the world: Kira gets hit by starlight and starts visiting a world while she sleeps. The worlds are linked by a portal that’s fading. Then bring in the issue with the father being stuck there and how she needs to save him before the bridge collapses. Then bring in the boy and how they go looking for answers. Without knowing any more details about the story, I’d almost say cut out all the stuff about an ancient power because it’s muddying the waters and the stakes of saving the boy and her father are already pretty high.)
As an MBA, my work revolves around the altogether un-literary pursuits of writing legal contracts, social marketing and website content, and business plans. Writing, however, is my true passion.
THE SHADOW OF LIGHT is complete at 50,000 words and could serve as the first in a series.
As an MBA, my work revolves around the altogether un-literary pursuits of writing legal contracts, social marketing and website content, and business plans. Writing, however, is my true passion. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
And here is her second critique…
I read in a recent interview that you’re looking for an alternative history with a fantastical twist, and I think my young adult novel ENCIRCLED would be a great fit. (A personal hook like this is probably best to put at the very beginning of the letter so you have it up front to catch an agent’s attention.)
After watching her mother die, sixteen-year-old Elisabeth Bell Pierce can’t find the light at the end of her tunnel of grief. She’s stuck in a gloomy English castle
that was her mother’s home, (I think you can cut this out and keep it simpler and cleaner.) where her historian father , historian Dr. Harrison Pierce, continues his quest to solve the ancient mystery of the Lost Princes — a quest her mother deplored, and that he’s now asked Elisabeth to join. (I’d almost vote to cut this information after the em dash and replace it with some quick info about the mystery of the Lost Princes just to clarify for any agent who – like me – hasn’t heard of this before.)
When Elisabeth learns the castle’s grim history, she wants nothing to do with her father’s research. But then, one sleepless night, Elisabeth discovers a secret stairway that leads
to a hidden tunnel deep beneath the castle. There, she finds Richard of York, Lost Prince of England, bewitched to live in endless night as he faithfully awaits a rescue that’s never come.
In the enchanted shadows, Elisabeth has finally found her light.
A love-is-blind romance ignites, But as her father draws closer to comes within inches of discovering her secret, Elisabeth must choose between her father’s cause and Richard’s convictions — because not everything that’s lost wants to be found. (I like this ending.)
In Complete at 97,000 words, ENCIRCLED , my YA novel of 97,000 words, a combines dash of magical realism and a love deeper than darkness (This phrase, in my opinion, makes the sentence a bit too wordy and over-the-top, so I’d suggest replacing “a love deeper than darkness” with simply “romance.” It keeps the focus on the book’s particular marketing genre.) to put a new twist on the historical mystery of the disappearance of two English princes.
I graduated summa cum laude from the University of Utah with degrees in English Literature and Theatre. My love affair with British history began in the seventh grade, when I stole my social studies textbook for some light summer reading, and got hooked on kings, castles, and betrayal. Now, I don’t steal books, I write them. I’m already plotting the next part of Elisabeth’s journey.
I read in a recent interview that you’re looking for an alternative history with a fantastical twist, and I think ENCIRCLED would be a great fit.
I graduated summa cum laude from the University of Utah with degrees in English Literature and Theatre. My love affair with British history began in the seventh grade, when I stole my social studies textbook for some light summer reading and got hooked on kings, castles, and betrayal. Per your submission guidelines, I have included XXXXX below.
Now, I don’t steal books, I write them. I’m already plotting the next part of Elisabeth’s journey.
Thank you for your consideration. I
happily look forward to hearing from you!
Thank you Rebecca 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.