Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXI

November 20th, 2009 • Kate

chanellightbulb1These shoes have nothing whatsoever to do with the theme of this query, but since a follower shared them on Twitter, I’ve known I had to post them. Check it: lightbulb shoes! Follow the link to see how they work. Moving on to our reason for being here, Mary D. writes “I have been sending query letters for my YA paranormal novel since April. Out of…er…200-something queries, I’ve mostly received rejections. Can you tell me what is wrong? On a side note, I wrote this novel before the big boom in YA paranormal angel books…I think that this is working against me.” Let’s take a look, shall we?

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

I have completed a 100,000 word young adult novel titled Fallen Serenade. It is a mixture of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, all targeted towards the young adult market.

In my novel, Ariella “Ari” Greene is a so-called average seventeen year old living in Jacksonville, Florida. However, she’s not entirely normal. Besides being biracial, Spanish and British-American, she has large sapphire-colored eyes. She only knows three facts about her alien-like eyes: 1. They transformed when she was in ninth grade. 2. When one stares into her eyes too long they feel lost and frightened. 3. Lastly, only one person can hold her stare without flinching and that is Noah Winslow.

Ari is not drawn to Noah at first but slowly the two develop a relationship that is forbidden all for one reason…Noah is Ari’s Guardian Angel and the couple can not even express their love at all. Not only does this romance weigh heavily on Ari’s mind, she also has to deal with an ex-boyfriend from the past, Leo Aguero, who returns as a Fallen Angel. Along with this burden from Leo, Ari and Noah need to piece Ari’s past together to discover who exactly targeted her when she was young and when they do, it is the most horrifying news of all. A Dark Angel desires Ari’s soul and emotions. If he gains them, he would turn her into a Soulless and Noah would be vanished from her life forever.

Although I am an unpublished author, I have deep faith in my work. As such, this is a multiple submission. When it comes to any personal experience that would target an audience, the writing, first person narrative, is aimed towards teenagers. It is how an average girl speaks, thinks, and writes. Overall, young adults would be able to understand the main character because she is quite like them.

Thank you so much for this opportunity and I hope to hear from you soon.

Regards,
Mary D.

First of all, I’ll admit I’m getting a ton of fallen angel/guardian angel queries right now, as I’m sure are a lot of other agents. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room on some agent’s list somewhere for another, but yes, you are swimming in a very large pool. As such, your query needs to really stand out, and at the moment, it doesn’t. Can it be fixed? Aboslutely!

From the top, I think you start with too much repetition. Try simplifying your opening:

I have completed a 100,000 word young adult novel titled Fallen Serenade. It is a mixture of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, all targeted towards the young adult market. In my novel100,000 word young adult novel Fallen Serenade, Ariella “Ari” Greene is a so-called average not-entirely-normal seventeen-year-old living in Jacksonville, Florida. However, she’s not entirely normal.

That’s just an idea, of course, but you see how it simplifies your opening — and gives you more space in the rest of your letter to spend on the story. Moving on, I think you can give the reader a better sense of your setting by explaining how Ari feels out of place in Jacksonville. I can’t imagine it’s just because she’s biracial — especially not in Florida, where I imagine having Latina heritage is quite common. Does she have a British accent? Is this even necessary? Maybe you can find a way to mention it more briefly, and then get right to her eyes:

Ari is used to the strange stares her pale British skin and dark Spanish features earn her in school, but the bulk of teasing comments come about her Besides being biracial, Spanish and British-American, she has large alien-like sapphire-colored eyes.

I like how you list the three things Ari knows about her ideas, but the language is awkward. You may want to set the list off from the body of the query (without doing too much formatting, which can get messed up in emails). In doing so, you might also want to consider making the list items shorter and pitchier:

She only knows three facts about her alien-like eyes:
1. They transformed when she was in ninth grade.
2. When one stares into her eyes too long They make other people feel lost and frightened.
3. Lastly, Only one person can hold her stare without flinching and that is :Noah Winslow.

I feel like the next paragraph is very rough. It really doesn’t flow at all. I’m going to ask my readers for their thoughts on revising it, and jump down to the closing ‘graph. Again, I think you’re overstating things. Simply state that you are as yet unpublished, and that this is a multiple submission. The rest is entirely unnecessary.

Readers: other thoughts?

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11 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXI”

  1. Delilah S. Dawson Says:

    When Ari and Noah fall into a reluctant relationship, Ari learns that their love is forbidden by Noah's status as her Guardian Angel. Ari's inner turmoil grows when an ex-boyfriend, Leo Aguero, reenters her life as a Fallen Angel. In a world suddenly crowded with mysterious beings, Ari and Noah must piece together Ari's dark past to discover why she was targeted and changed. The answer is horrifying: a Dark Angel desires her soul and emotions. If his plan succeeds, Ari will become Soulless, and Noah will leave her life forever.

    Just a rewrite, but I think it flows better. I would have enjoyed this as a teen!

  2. Karen Says:

    I think what Kate did really helps the first two chapters, but this paragraph is a bit difficult to work out. The plot is so buried that I’m not sure that it can be turned around based on the information we have here. But this is what I tried:

    Slowly, Ari and Noah develop a relationship. He’s her Guardian Angel and any romance between them is strictly forbidden. Making matters worse, Ari’s ex-boyfriend, Leo, returns as a Fallen Angel. When a Dark Angel desires Ari’s soul, she and Noah must fight to keep him from turning her into a Souless…

    I stopped there because I have some questions. Does Leo returning as a Fallen Angel have much to do with the plot because here it’s just mentioned as another obstacle? It feels like it’s thrown in as an afterthought and I think if it’s not a major plot point, then I would remove it all together. The main part of this query seems to be this Dark Angel coming for Ari’s soul, so that’s where the focus should be. If the story is more about their love, then make it clear in that second paragraph and then tell us about this Dark Angel coming for Ari.

    It seems clear why there have been a lot of rejections and I’m not saying that to be harsh, but more so as a person who has been rejected by plenty of agents. I know a good letter is going to be the key to get you in the door and even that may not be enough. When you are competing in a dense market, like you said Angel stories are now, you have to stand out and starting off by saying your main character “is a so-called average seventeen year old” you’re setting yourself up for agents to hit the reject button. Also, 100k is a bit on the chunky side for a YA. I’m not saying you have to find places to trim the fat, but most agents will see that word count and the letter without any real structure and fear that the ms will be the same. I think I get what the story is about, but you need to tell us what’s special about it and keep it sharp and to the point.

    I hope that helps.

  3. Mary D. Says:

    Hello. This is a bit weird seeing my query on here…but I just wanted to note I sent this before I revised it…since the revision though, 3 agents are reading the manuscript!

    (Also, Karen, I trimmed this novel down from 115k…if it goes any further, then it will become a transcript)

  4. Katie Says:

    I think that your query raises too many questions that it is unable to answer. You don't want to give away the twist of your novel because this is what will make people pick it up, but you do need to simplify your plot line.

    My first question is what/who is Ari? Is she part of the wider angel family? Is she a human who had a bad run in with an angel and that is what caused her physically change?

    The next thing I think you should address is the eye-changing situation… I'm assuming that the eyes are connected to the dark angel who is hunting her but that is not immediately clear in your query, so, if my assumption is correct you need to make sure that you state that connection specifically.

    Who is Leo? Was he her previous guardian angel and he has now fallen? has he ever been an angel? Did he vanish from Ari's life? Has he come back into her life as a threat or a lover? Does he mean her ill or is he trying to win her back? His role in Ari's story is not terribly obvious from your query.

    Finally, I am curious, does Ari find out that Noah is her guardian angel and that she can't be with him even though she wants to or does she learn this in the book? Is this a pivotal plot point or a pre-established fact? Again, the answer is not abundantly clear from your query and I think you most definitely want it to be.

    Your 100,000 word count may or may not be problematic. I co-authored a YA manuscript that is currently 90,000 words and we have had 2 requests for partials. That said, we are currently redrafting bits and our intention is to get the ms cut down to about 80,000 words. The answer isn't easy but I think the general rule of thumb is that you have to be JK Rowling if your novel is going to be 100,000 + and her first novel was well below that mark.

    Wishing you lots of luck. The idea definitely has appeal. Try not to get bogged down in the query. You want to provide them with the essentials.

    Katie

  5. Susan Says:

    It seems that every time we discuss a query, the author comes along with the reaction "Oh, that old thing? I've totally revised it! I don't even care about that old version, but thanks anyway!"–as if any changes we suggest are pointless, because the new version is completely different and absolute perfection. I'm not trying to pick on YOU, Mary–I've just noticed this happens quite a bit. Maybe you could send Kate the new version when she's open to "About My Query" emails again.

    I know query letters and fiction are two very different kinds of writing, but to me, a skillful writer is polished in either form. If I were an agent and saw a somewhat clunky query, I'd figure the writer is probably also the author of somewhat clunky fiction. Fair? Maybe not. Accurate? Probably most of the time.

    In this query, I notice right away that there's a lot that needs trimming and clarifying. The 100,000 word count suggests that the book will be similarly in need of a trim. For example, the second sentence: "It is a mixture of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, all targeted towards the young adult market." Kate's already suggested how to condense brilliantly, but I'm going to pick on one word: all. Here it is again (twice!) in this sentence: "Ari is not drawn to Noah at first but slowly the two develop a relationship that is forbidden all for one reason…Noah is Ari’s Guardian Angel and the couple can not even express their love at all."

    "All" does not need to be there. Take it out and you'll strengthen the writing. So what's the big deal? It's just one little word, right? Right. But it's one of many words and phrases here that bog down the writing and make it drag. I know you say you've cut your novel from 115,000 to 100,000 and it can't possibly go any less. I'm willing to bet it can. I'm betting we could get it down by another 15K or more and you'd have a much stronger book.

    Are you willing to get out the pruning shears and are you capable of using them? I think your potential agent targets are assuming you're not– or afraid you're not. Prove them wrong. Send a tight query and show them your craft. If your skills aren't quite there yet, keep at it!

  6. Mary D. Says:

    I really did update my query, and this was just one of five or so I used around, finally settling on one. On a side note, when I sent this in, I was very focused on this work. However, as of recent, not so much. From what some agents have said, the trend is the one thing working against my novel (there is one out there already called 'Fallen').

    So…I just decided to rewrite the entire thing and focus on something else. I mean, this is important and I do have agents reading it, and I will consider pursuing it if it goes a step further, but for now, my idea is just there. =)

  7. Katie Says:

    Mary D. would you mind posting the newest version of the query so that we can have a look. Hope the next MS goes well.

  8. Karen Says:

    –Mary D.

    Good luck with the three agents! And I wasn't saying trim the ms but the general rule is, 100k is on the high side for YA. There are exceptions to the rule of course and while I hardly think shaving 10k or even 20k off of that 100k will make it a *transcript*, only you (and your betas/crit group) know if every last one of those 100k words is needed in your ms.

    –Susan, I'm with you. I know it makes me feel a bit like I've wasted my time reading, commenting and editing someone's query for them to come on and give the old, "that old thing" comment. Like Susan, I'm not picking on you Mary D, and I'll still comment on the query posts because I love this feature. I find it helpful for myself so even if the comments aren't really helpful to the author anymore, maybe they'll help someone else.

  9. Kate Says:

    Thanks for all the comments, guys. I've asked before that all authors who submit their queries to me for the About My Query posts email me an updated one if they've changed it. Yes, I could follow up with every author before posting, but I think if you've sent your query in for review, the onus is on the author to keep us up-to-date on revisions.

    I don't love wasting my time, and I don't want my readers to feel like they're wasting their time in offering critiques.

  10. Stina Says:

    I guess there's nothing more to add now that we known this is an old query (And just in case the above comments were partly directed to my query from last week–honestly, the revisions came only AFTER everyone's brilliant comments. :D).

    From what I could piece together, it does sound interesting, though. Good luck with it, Mary! And remember, even Stephenie Meyer trimmed off about 15,000 words from her original version of Twilight before it was sent out on submission.

  11. Kate Says:

    Thanks to everyone for your comments. I'm going to close further comments on this post, and hope you'll all come keep reading for these weekly query posts — and my regular posts the rest of the week as well!

    A note again to those who've submitted queries for these critiques. If you revise your query or change your mind, please let me know. I'm going to email those whose queries I've received to let them know when they'll go up.