Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It Takes a Village to Write a Query: Breakdown #2

Okay, guys! CherylAnne has offered her query up for the "village" to see. Similar to before, the query is in black, my comments in color. Let's take a look!

Dear Fantastic Agent:

For your consideration, my young adult fantasy, SHADOWS AND LIGHT, is complete at 85,000 words. Set in a world where darkness reigns and survival is an everyday struggle, seventeen-year-old Jazzlyn is desperate to save the boy she loves from the rebels holding him hostage, but doing so requires betraying the only person who can restore light to Creperi. So far I’m intrigued. The first is a bit vague, but immediately I sense the conflict, what Jazzlyn will be fighting for, and even though I don’t know who the gatekeeper (so to speak) is, I know there will be one. Great.

I think to address the broadness of your first statement you need to stay clear of general declarations like darkness reigns and survival is an everyday struggle. Is there something more specific, more unique and distinctive that makes your setting a place where an agent would want to spend his/her time?

When the Creperian council chooses Jazzlyn to apprentice as liaison between her homeland and Lumen, the city of light, she's both elated and terrified.  Protecting the people is the council's responsibility, but it's also their job to punish and leniency is not a practice they employ. This still feels like the set-up to me. There’s a small amount of conflict here with Jazzlyn being terrified—for the punishing she will have to do, I’m assuming—but it might be more powerful if the conflict was intensified here.

Also, this last sentence contains a lot of ‘is’s. Remember what I said in the first query breakdown? That all verb forms of am/be/was should be eliminated or replaced with a verb that conveys stakes? I would do that here. The council protects the people, but they also punish and their practice lacks leniency. Not great, but you get the idea.

Ignoring her fear, she swears to uphold the laws of Creperi and seek aid from Lumen's ruler, Alphonsine, to restore the light to their impoverished land. This first sentence should be included in the paragraph above. But hours before her first trip to Lumen, a group of rebels kidnaps her betrothed. They want the light stone in exchange for his life, but stealing it from Alphonsine means breaking her promise to the council. If caught, she'll suffer their retribution, and if Alphonsine discovers her crime, all of Creperi will pay for her betrayal. Here the stakes are high, there’s a twist. This is good. Out with a bang!


CherylAnne Ham
Address line 1
Address line 2

Nicely written, CherylAnne, though I'll be honest: My first read-through of this query left me feeling like something was missing. In general, your query should contain the Who, the Set-up or Circumstance, the Conflict and the Twist which in reading a few more times I realize you have all of. I think the issue might be their placements. It may take a few attempts to get right, but try keeping the Who and the Set-up in the first paragraph, and the Conflict in the second, ending with the Twist.

Thank you so much for sharing with us. I hope having another set of eyes helps you achieve the dynamic query you're sure to write! And like the first query breakdown, I'm sure our star-queriers would appreciate some feedback from all of you.


  1. Thanks, Nicole, for your terrific suggestions. New ideas are now whirling in my brain.

    I'm very grateful for the feedback & welcome any comments from the villagers. :).

  2. Hi,

    I just stopped by. I am looking into querying because I hope to start querying my first YA novel soonish.

    I like the letter, the one thing that strikes me as odd is the name of the world "Creperi" sounds a bit close to the word "creperie" anyone with some French might get confused reading the first sentence. I did. I had images of French pancakes, but I am not sure that was your intention.

    Good luck querying.

  3. Hey I got this blog from CherylAnne's. Welcome to blogging. /hugs

  4. CherylAnne, one of the things I like best about your query is your MC has more than one challenge to overcome.

    Nicole, your feedback was very insightful while always remaining positive. I'm glad to be a new follower.

  5. Sounds fascinating! I agree-- make the beginning less vague. Give us specifics to really whet our appetite, and we'll be begging for more!

  6. Hey Peggy. :D Thanks so much for reading my query. I'm definitely going to make the opening more specific. The extra eyes on my query is so helpful. It's crazy awesome how generous writers are. Thanks for the feedback.

  7. I love this line: That all verb forms of am/be/was should be eliminated or replaced with a verb that conveys stakes?

    *rushes off to do that to own query*

  8. Hi Stina. I agree. That is some wonderful advice, and I'm going to put into practice myself.

    Thanks for checking out my query. :D

  9. How fun to read the query for this and find out what the story's about! Thanks, Nicole, for a great critique. I agree with your points, esp about shuffling the order of things around and not being quite as vague at the onset. Best of luck with this, CherylAnne!

  10. Thanks Carol. Yes, now you know what the story's about, LOL. Might come in handy when you're reading my first page. :D hee hee.