Query Critique 78

Dear __________:

What if everything you wanted was at your fingertips but at the cost of your soul? I’m pretty much never in favor of beginning with a rhetorical question. This is Pita’s secret. He can get anything he wants simply by wishing it. But is the magical stone he’s found a blessing or a curse? Try reworking this into something along the lines of “Pita’s magical stone can grant him any wish, but it may end up being a curse.” The more specific and tight, the better.

According to Fijian legend, a great chief was given a sacred box by the gods, containing four stones of power – one for each element. But when Pita finds the water stone, he quickly learns of the ancient curse he’s resurrected. Can you be more specific about what the curse is? Now, he has the impossible task to find the lost stones and return them to the box and the sea — like seeking four needles in a planet-sized hay stack! The voice here seems a little off. I think it may be the exclamation point.

Then there is the terrifying matter of his obsessed ancestor who first set the curse in motion. Still alive in spirit through pure lust for the stones, he will do anything to possess them; including destroying Pita and everyone he loves.

Time is running out. The world around him is quickly deteriorating and, with his ruthless forefather hot on his heels, Pita is struggling to do the right thing. But will keeping the stone for himself really fix his mistake or will he lose himself to its power and suffer the same demise as his ill-fated ancestor? Again, I think you need to be more specific about the curse. That will give the ending stronger stakes and the rest better conflict.

MANA WAI-WATER is a fictional upper-middle grade fantasy of 56,000 words. Set in the Fiji Islands – a country rife today with enduring stories of dangerous gods and earthly enchantments – MANA WAI-WATER is weaved with magical realism, mythology and mayhem for a fast-paced Harry Potter-esque adventure. This sounds more like straight fantasy than magical realism. Also, avoid comping Harry Potter or other blockbuster books.

Having grown-up in Fiji during my ‘formidable years’, I am residing here once again after a 20-year ‘stint’ in the US. I am currently employed as a technical editor with an international non-profit organization and am a member of the SCBWI. This is my first novel.

I would be happy to provide a synopsis or full manuscript should you be interested. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Query Critique 46

There is very little actual critique on this query, as it’s already very polished. I think it’s important for writers to be able to see really good queries as well, to have a model to work off of.

Dear Kyra Nelson,

Thirteen-year-old Stevie Blake shoots lightning at 1.21 gigawatts a bolt. I like this opening! Very specific about what makes the character unique. He supercharges iPhones into iDuds just by touching them. He even flies. (Landing is a whole different story.) Good voice.

But in less than thirty days, he won’t exist. I know this is set apart for emphasis, but I’d almost like to see it at the end of the first paragraph, because I think it would really tie the paragraph together. That’s pretty nitpicky, though.

His dad’s former sidekick, Artimus Smiles, has stolen a time machine and is using it to alter history. Suddenly, the good people of Summer Springs can’t remember a time when Smiles wasn’t the richest and most powerful Remarkable around, and they barely remember Stevie.

In the name of the greater good, Stevie breaks a few of the Superhero Handbook ™ rules to find out what’s going on. Unfortunately, breaking-and-entering isn’t legal, not even when spying on a super villain wanna-be. Neither is stealing a Memory Serum so that Stevie’s cousins remember him. Destroying the robot protecting the serum practically guarantees Stevie a life sentence, but he soon uncovers a connection between his dad’s past and Smiles’ present. A sinister connection, straight from a comic book, that could zap Stevie’s shot at a future.

But time is against Stevie, literally. His powers are weakening, he’s fading from pictures, and he could disappear any day. He has to travel in time, Marty McFly style, and stop Smiles from erasing him from existence, even if it means altering history himself. Over all, I think this query is very strong. I would maybe like it to be a little more clear on what exactly Smiles (I love that the bad guy is named Smiles of all things) is doing that’s causing Stevie to disappear. Overall, though, great voice, conflict, and stakes. All the important elements of the query are there.

THE REMARKABLE STEVIE BLAKE AND THE TIME TRAVELER is a 68,000 word upper middle grade novel with series potential. It will appeal to fans of Matthew Cody’s Powerless and John David Anderson’s Sidekicked. Italicize the comparative titles. I hold a BFA in Creative Writing, but unfortunately I possess no superpowers. Thank you for your time and consideration.

R.E. Markable

Query Critique 43

Dear [Agent],

I’m writing to you because I read you are seeking middle grade fantasy novels with strong female characters [or other appropriate specifics].

Twelve-year-old Cat Brökkenwier wishes her world was just a bit more like her favorite books. But real life as a homeschooler has depressingly few faeries or castles. And her mom has made it abundantly clear: if Cat gets caught daydreaming one more time there will be Consequences. I don’t feel like consequences should be capitalized.

But Cat has a secret. She sees elves and goblins among people the way her friends see elephants and pirate ships among the clouds. I would start with this idea. It’s best to tell the reader upfront what exactly it is that makes the main character unique. Mrs. Dalyrimple, the strange old lady at the craft fair, says that’s because the fae were real, and Cat can see their descendants because she’s one of them. Is this Mrs. Dalyrimple important to the story, because she seems to get a lot of detail in the query if she’s just a passing character. Oh yeah, and since Cat has this fae-dar she could become the last Princess of the Fae. Again, the random capitalization on princess is a little strange to me. All she has to do is learn everything there is to know about the fae-born hiding among us and win their hearts before another, more sinister candidate beats her to it. Or worse, before her mother finds out. The query letter is a little on the short side. This means that you can (and should) elaborate more on the conflict and stakes. Who is this sinister candidate? What are they going to do if they win? How will that affect the fae-born and Cat specifically?

The Last Princess put your title in all caps is a funny, adventurous quest story full of lively multi-cultural characters and tough choices. Don’t tell me the story is funny, show me. Also, be more specific about the genre. THis is obviously middle grade, and also a fantasy. Is it urban fantasy? Historical fantasy? Be specific. Complete at 66,000 words, The Last Princess is the beginning of a five-book series or a stand-alone book, and will appeal to fans of Emily Windsnap or The Sisters Grimm. Italicize The Sisters Grimm.

Thank you for your consideration.

Fairy-ly Awesome

Query Critique 31

Dear Ms. Nelson:

Eleven-year-old Olivia Boogieman’s family makes her classmates thinks she eats PB&J (pancreas, brain, and jugular) sandwiches for lunch.  Why shouldn’t they, at first I thought this they was talking about the family considering her mother is a curse-flinging mummy and her father a hairy, scary, howl-at-the-moon werewolf.

Even worse is living in the shadow of her trouble-making, shape-shifter brother, and having a skeletal little sister that Olivia’s dog sees only as a chew treat. Olivia wishes for nothing more than a normal life, however, ordinary families don’t have pet dragons in their back yards.    This may just be me, but I get a little bored with characters who just want to be normal. Especially since there is other conflict, I would focus on that.

A meddling social worker places Olivia in a foster home, and for once, Olivia knows life with a family just like her– normal.  When horrible, vengeful things happen to girls that pick on her, Olivia discovers she is not as normal as she thinks.  She’s a witch.  This seems like the inciting incident, and if it is, we should get to it faster.

Olivia sneaks out of her foster home to prove her parents snatched her away from her birth mother.  What reason does she have to suspect that they did this? She fights off sentry garden gnomes who protect the entrance to the land of her birth, filled with ogres, trolls, and one mean, nasty little fairy. I say choose either mean or nasty (though nasty is a little stronger). The two are close enough in meaning and having both makes it feel a little clunky.

When Olivia finds her birth mother, she understands her parents stole her for a good reason– her safety.  Olivia’s birth mother wants to destroy any reminder of the child she never wanted.  Using her new powers, Olivia must defeat the evil witch if she ever wants to reunite with the family that loves her.

OLIVIA BOOGIEMAN is a middle grade magical realism novel complete at 40,000 words.  To me, this doesn’t sound like magical realism so much as straight up urban fantasy.


Not Nasty Fairy

I think this query has some good elements. However, I think it needs to find the core conflict and focus on that more. So get to the inciting incident and main conflict sooner and then stay focused on that.


Query Critique 24

The author of this query mentioned that she would love any additional comments readers have, so feel free to leave some in the comments!

Dear Ms. (Agent name):

In RATMAN’S REVENGE, my middle grade urban fantasy with a paranormal twist, Maybe it’s just me, but I think all fantasy has a paranormal twist. eleven-year-old Cody searches for the missing people in an underground city and finds a giant rat with paranormal powers. What sort of paranormal powers? Now Cody’s got some exterminating to do.

Cody is fed up with feeling left-out by his too-busy-to-care divorced parents. Just a heads up, I see a lot of too-busy divorced parents. When he ventures into the woods for the first time, he discovers a tunnel leading to a city hidden underground with crystal caves, slugs-and-bugs soup, and new friends with awesome abilities like reading minds and seeing visions.

Best. Home. EVER. This line has good voice.

But Cody’s adventures take a pants-wetting turn when the Detectors, the people who protect the city, start disappearing. Without their warnings, the city could get I’d say be instead of get blind-sided by earthquakes, floods, or invasions by deadly beasts. The city’s leaders use their psychic abilities and discover someone is controlling the minds of the Detectors, but the leaders have no idea who or why.

Cody isn’t about to let his new home come crashing down around him, but every time he tries to help, a mutant, man-sized rat attacks him. Ratman roasts Cody with a hot crystal, pushes him down the Devil’s Mouth hole, and tries to drown him in the river. This last bit is a little confusing, since it references things I don’t really know about.

But Cody can’t stop. His clues point to Ratman as the one controlling the Detectors. And since Cody is the only one who sees the giant rat, no one else believes the freaky fur-face even exists. I’d maybe mention sooner that only cody can see him. It’s up to Cody to save the Detectors and the city from whatever this whiskered weirdo is plotting before Ratman’s next attack actually kills him.

RATMAN’S REVENGE is complete at 76,000 words and may appeal to readers of Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven and Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember. Good comparison titles. I am enclosing the first fifty pages as an attachment per your guidelines.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Underground Author

Query Critique 23

Dear Mr./Mrs….

Most people believe that Luna Nimue is a normal girl just like any other ten-year-old Irish girl in the twenty-first century. However, she knows better: She is a witch. Don’t tell me she’s normal. Jump straight to her being a witch. Read why in this post.

After Luna’s parents were abducted, together with all other wizards and witches of Ireland, she was placed in Clare Abbey to grow up to become a nun. She must hide from the person who kidnapped her parents and at the same time discover her powers. So she doesn’t know she has powers. Does she know she is supposed to be hiding from somebody? If she’s living in complete ignorance of what’s going on around her, she needs an inciting incident to transport her into the world of magic. Since Luna is the only witch in the monastery apart from one of the older nuns, she has to use her own means including time travel and the transformation into an animal to aid the monastery by saving the holy water and reviving the old school building. Luna’s greatest wish is to converse with the moon and to find out where her parents might be. But most importantly, she needs to pretend to be an ordinary child. This part could be smoothed out with some cleaner transitions. The jump from time travel to talking to the moon was a little jarring to me.

THE MOON WHISPER – AND THE CELESTIAL FRIEND is a Children’s novel/Fantasy I would say a fantasy middle grade. Middle grade is more specific than “children’s.” completed at 51,000 words and the first book in a small series. This is my first fictional book, and it is my first time seeking a fiction literary agent. No need to state that it’s your first time searching for an agent.

Thanks for your time and consideration.


Bella Luna

Awhile back I did a post about how pitching fantasy is hard. I mentioned that when pitching fantasy, it’s important to focus on the thing that is most unique about your fantasy. I’d reiterate that here.  It is very important, and very difficult, to set yourself apart from other fantasy writers.