QueryDice #22

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

16-year-old Emory Stone (love the name) has always felt like an outsider. Being part alien, it kind of comes with the territory. (This is a nit-pick, but something about this sentence bothers me. I think it is because the word “being” is actually modifying the word “it.” Because “it” is a pronoun used in place for “the outsider feeling,” this sentence would technically mean that the outsider feeling is an alien. This is overly technical, and I really can’t say with any confidence that other agents would have cared. But my immediate thought was that the writing might not be up to par.) And her weird, extraterrestrial powers— like the sometimes-useful, always-disturbing ability to learn everything about an object just by touching it—don’t make fitting in any easier. (I’m not confident that Emory’s ability to know things would make it difficult for her to fit in. I can stretch my mind to imagine how this might be possible, but the point is you shouldn’t depend on an agent to do this.) If she could understand and control those powers, that would be one thing, but Emory has no idea about her alien ancestry. (Then how does she know she’s an alien? My agent-brain is wondering if this is a plot hole, or if you’re just being concise.) And even if she did, it’s not like they teach “Harnessing Your Alien Powers For Beginners” at Eden Falls High. <–I really love sentences like this one. It’s funny and shows the author’s voice, but it also helps us feel Emory’s problem. Nice job on that.

Unfortunately for Emory, though, there are others in the universe who know all about her ancient, powerful bloodline. They know she is a descendant of the all-knowing Sentient, a godlike creature responsible for the creation of the once utopian planet of Aporia. Since the Sen (what is (or are) the Sen? This is probably short for Sentient, but since this paragraph already feels like you’ve just gone from 0 to 60 in 12 seconds, it’s best not to introduce anything unfamiliar that you don’t have to.) abandoned the Aporians and fled to Earth hundreds of years ago, the planet has been steadily falling into ruin. Now, a group of warriors have shown up on Earth, intent on using Emory to get their paradise back. By the way, I knew after this sentence, that I’d be requesting this. Hello, Flash Moment, long time no see.

Among them is Cael, (again, love the name) who has spent his entire life living in the shadow of his father, the most feared, most respected general in the Alpha Centauri Star System (what is the Alpha Centauri Star System?). Hunting down Emory Stone is his chance to prove himself, to be known as someone other than “the general’s son”. But when the mission takes a deadly twist, Cael ends up owing his life to Emory instead. As the threat to Earth—and Emory—escalates, Cael will have to make a decision: keep fighting for a cause he isn’t sure he believes in anymore, or betray his father and try and keep Emory safe. But even he might not be able to save her from her past, and from the dark family secrets that will threaten the very future of Earth.

Equal turns action, romance, and sci-fi nerdiness, [redacted] is a YA novel of 90,000 words (this is technically just a tad too long for YA, but it made me happy here because this introduces a new world and I expect that since this is so long, the author has spent those words on exposition of that world.), which alternates between Cael and Emory’s POV. It is the first in a planned trilogy, which will chronicle the war for the planets and unravel the mystery of the Sen.

Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

GIMME, GIMME GIMME!

LR

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Posted on February 10, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Ms. Ruth’s comments as to why she wrote “Gimme” really opened my eyes to what agents are looking for in a query. I feel like the right teacher finally came along and the very complicated “query” math equation became so clear. What I liked about the query were the stakes. There is so much at risk and I want to know what happens. Well done!

  2. A query and a storyline are two different things. While authors might not write a good query, it’s obvious that there is an interesting storyline here. So when Lauren’s analyzes each sentence, she might have some negative comments.. but looking at the overall storyline, it’s very interesting. I liked the passage about Cael .. “Hunting down Emory Stone is his cance ….the very future of Earth.” We have two MC to care about, Emory and Cael, with their struggles and confllicts .. and they are also in love. The author plans to have a trilogy, so maybe it’s wise to cut this novel to 75K words, and move the rest to the second novel.

  3. There is some confusion here as to why I GIMMEd. I don’t usually comment here, but I would like to further explain why I wanted to see more. Reading this over again, I agree with all of you that I was a bit unclear. Here are the specific reasons I wanted to see more:

    This author transitions very well when presenting the different aspects of her story. For example, “Among them is Cael…”

    Emory has something no one else has, but which more than one party needs and which she would rather not have. This is common in YA because it works. Harry Potter is an example.

    This specific trait causes her extreme trouble, attracts her love interest, and ties into his world providing opportunity and also a big life-changing decision.

    This has both internal struggle (Emory just wants to be normal, Cael wants to make his father proud) and external struggle (the entire world is in danger) and I think both YA and MG need this interplay. There are stakes here, real stakes, that I care about already just having read the query. I sympathize with both Emory and Cael. That happens so rarely in a query. I’m usually just sitting there with no expression on my face, but in this, both my eyebrows were raised in surprise and I was smiling. I am impressed that this author took something she made up in her mind and about which she was passionate and used language to put into my head…with HER passion intact. That’s not easy.

    The author’s voice (funny and cool) initially hooked me, as did her ability to convey what happens in her manuscript adeptly without losing my interest and leaving me wanting to know more.

    Lastly, The Flash Moment is not a feeling tied to any logic. I think it is best described as an expression of intuition. I can never tell when it’s going to happen (and when it happens to you, as I know it does, I’ll bet you were not expecting it).

    I hope this is helpful, and if anyone has any more questions about this query, please feel free to comment here.

  4. I’m really pleased for the author that Lauren’s requested their MS: hope it lives up to its promise.

    Like some other views on here, I was a bit confused too. To me the query wasn’t especially stand out, especially as it was quite long. I tried reading it straight, passing over Lauren’s comments. But even then I wasn’t quite sure what was going on e.g. planet abandoned yet warriors come from there. The Flash Moment didn’t jump out on my reading.

    What I do think this illustrates is the lines we’ve all read in our rejection letters from agents: ‘It didn’t work for me, this is a subjective business etc’. It clearly made Lauren go ‘ding!’, while others of us are going ‘eh?’ Just like any group discussing likes/dislikes in any creative media, be that novels, movie, tv shows or any other.

    Interesting stuff, thanks.

  5. Hey! So, newish blog follower. I also found myself a bit confused about your sudden change of mind midway through. Could you clarify what it was about that sentence, or the middle para, that hooked you so?

    Query opinions for the author:

    I agree mostly with everything Lauren said, and liked the query overall. I felt like the query switched gears in the second paragraph, though. At first I thought your novel was going to be one of those “teenager deals with sudden powers/paranormal activity in high school” types. But the second para clearly takes the scope beyond high school. And it threw me off a bit, because I wasn’t expecting that. Then I found myself wondering, if the novel wasn’t really about getting through highschool with alien abilities, then what DOES matter to Emory? Saving Earth? Saving herself? Learning the truth about her alien heritage? I had a really great sense of Cael’s stakes and goals, but not Emory’s.

    So my thoughts are two-fold: is there some way the first para could better reflect the scope of the novel?
    And second: Could clarify a little what Emory is fighting for in all this?

    Obviously you have some interest already. So, best of luck :)

    -Mandy

  6. Lauren, I’m confused. You spend the entire critique pointing out the multiple flaws of this query; yet, due to one sentence about warriors coming to Earth, you decide that none of that matters and decide to shout “GIMME GIMME GIMME!”

    I’ve come to believe that agents themselves do not know what they want.

  7. There are definitely interesting ideas here, and the promise of a compelling story. I think you point out the main problems with the query, Lauren, so I’m not sure I have much more to add.

    I’m sure by age 16, Emory would have found a way to make her special ability pass on Earth (she could claim it’s a “psychic gift,” for example). That doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel out-of-place, but there are better ways to show that. I think the story really kicks into gear with the revelation of her bloodline, the introduction of the conflicted antagonist, and an intergalactic conflict played out on Earth.

    Hopefully, your “Flash Moment” proves true and this is an example of a problematic query concealing a really enjoyable ms.

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