QueryDice #36

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.

Sincerely, [redacted]


Posted on July 12, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. “Everyone at Stodgy Academy assumes quiet Amniese has no friends aside from her books–but that’s only because they don’t know about Amniese’s magical abilities or her secret companions, dryad Flora and unicorn Llyr.”

    A couple notes: I’m assuming we don’t need to know that the dryad is trapped in a tree or that the unicorn comes to her in dreams right off the bat. It’s important to know they’re trapped–is how important? Does the unicorn coming in dreams have to do with being trapped, or just how they communicate? I was confused about the “freeing her friends” bit because I didn’t realize the unicorn was trapped, too.

    Also, the opening sentence would be a great moment to introduce something about Amniese’s character–is she quiet? Shy? Abrasive? So socially awkward that no one knows how to talk to her? This could help us connect with her a little, IMO–as it stands, I don’t know much about her except she has magic powers, no human friends, and a problem with her roommate.

  2. When an unexpected roommate arrives, Amniese struggles to conceal her magical powers as she embarks on a mission to free her friends, but it is not this heroic journey that frightens her, it is the choice she eventually will have to make: allow the Ancient Magics to remain sealed or risk her life for the friends she loves.

  3. Dear Ms. Ruth,
    At Willow’s Academy of Shiloh, Amniese dreams of develping her secret magic to its greatest potential, shunned by her peers, she relies on two magical friends for help.

  4. Some great suggestions! I will leave the sentence re-imagining to the other commenters, but I did want to comment that showing a little voice in the query will liven it up.

  5. In the solitude of her room at the Academy, sixteen-year-old Amniese favors secret practice sessions over peer friendships, intent on honing her powers until she can free her only true friends (a Dryad and unicorn) from the Ancient Magics; in fact, there’s only one force capable of ruining her personal mission: her new roommate. @JennBrisendine

    I just guessed at an age for her — I like to know how old the mc is up front.

  6. When her only two friends are cursed to imprisonment, Amniese must risk exposing her magical abilities and unleash a dangerous, ancient magic in order to free them.

  7. When a literate and lonely schoolgirl gets a nosy roommate, she fears that her penchant for magic and magical friends will become the Academy’s cafeteria gossip. @jayalaw

    I would read this story. I’m hooked!

  8. No one at Luz Academy knows–or cares–that Amniese practices magic alone in her room at night, desperately trying to free her magical friends . . . but they should.


  9. Okay, weird, I was thinking just that about the name “Amniese”, but I am a different Ella!

    I also wasn’t sure how to pronounce the name.

  10. Anyone else think that Amniese is a kind of an “off” name? It makes me think of amnesia, which may be the author’s intent, but it throws me.

    • I was going to say the same thing! I don’t like to criticize names because I know I get attached to mine…but in this case, unless the author means to invoke “amnesia” in a kinda obvious way, a little adjustment might be in order…Amina? Amiesna?

  11. Amniese spends her days at the Academy alone in her room, practicing to become a powerful enough magician to unseal Ancient Magics and free her friends, but a new roommate puts a serious crimp in her plan. @rachelsbates

  12. If you were a loner book-worm whose only friends were mystical beings, you’d be annoyed too by a new roommate whose arrival mucked up your top-secret alone time spent dedicated to practicing magic. @allthingsbing

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