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.
Dear Ms. Ruth,
Amniese prefers books over her peers. Who wouldn’t with the way the other girls belittle her? Besides, Amniese has friends. Two to be exact. One is a Dryad entrapped [something about this word is problematic for me. What's wrong with "trapped"?] in a tree. The other is Llyr, a mysterious unicorn she meets through dreams.
You never mention the Dryad again, and it remains nameless. Why waste your words?
She enjoys spending her days at the Academy alone. Having her own room gives Amniese the freedom to practice magic undiscovered. Her dream is to grow powerful enough to unseal the Ancient Magics and free her friends. However, a new roommate interferes.
How does this new roommate interfere?
You’ve used too many words to get the following things across to us:
1. Amniese has special magical powers that are unknown to everyone.
2. She’s a student at some Academy.
3. She is a social pariah and her only friends are magical beings.
I’ll bet–and I’d love everyone’s opinion on this–that you could accomplish that in a single sentence and then get right along to the conflict. Attempts at this are welcome. Let’s see what you guys can come up with. You have one sentence. And I’m a huge fan of the semicolon, the colon and parentheses. I’ll choose a winner and announce via Twitter. (Don’t forget to include your handle)
As if having an intrude (“intrude” is not a noun) isn’t enough, Llyr is unreachable. Desperate to contact Llyr and equally concerned about keeping her powers hidden, Amniese secretly attempts dangerous spells. Despite the fear of her abilities being discovered, she must grow stronger.
Amniese learns that freeing the Ancient Magics will unleash Shilon’s (Shilon?) greatest threat, the Sorcerer of Darkness. What Amniese doesn’t know is her destiny is already intertwined with the Sorcerer. She will have to choose: let the Ancient Magics remain sealed or risk Shilon’s future for the ones she loves.
The paragraph above is the most interesting part of this. Everything else is just details. The meat of your query should not be a three sentence mention at the end. You might feel like you’re leaving the reader with an impression and enticing them to want to read more by ending your query this way, but how can an agent feel impressed or enticed if they never got to the end?
Sometimes authors need to write to get around to writing what matters. This query is a draft of the one that’ll work for you, and it’s not bad as such. Focus on the conflict: what does Amniese want more than anything? What is keeping her from getting it? What is at stake? Why should I care?
Because this is fantasy, you’ll also need to do some world-building even in your query, and you’ve done a pretty good job of that, and you’ve intertwined it with an introduction to the YA themes present in your book: fitting in, friendship, etc. I suggest you do that in fewer words, though.
Lastly, there is no voice in the query, and perhaps especially for YA, I need to hear at least an echo of what kind of voice I can expect in the manuscript.
[redacted] is an 82,000 word YA fantasy.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Posted on July 12, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged conflict development, dos and donts, fantasy, how to write a query letter, Lauren Ruth, making your query interesting, making your query stand out, plot-description, queries, query, query example, query problems, querydice, rejection, slush pile, standard query format, voice, voice in a query, world building, writing, ya, young adult. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.