Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXIII

September 17th, 2010 • Kate

Patrick_Cox_Shoes_featheredSomething about masquerade balls always screams feathers to me, and these Patrick Cox heels fit right in with that. Not that I’d want to fall off a cliff in them. To see what I’m talking about, read on for P.S.’s query:

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

A statue chased Angela-Courtney off a cliff at a Midsummer masquerade ball. As another Midsummer draws near, a wolf claiming to be Angela’s grandmother tells her three important rules:

1) Wolves can convert human memories into supernatural energy, but only with the humans’ consent.
2) Humans who stumble upon and use this ability tend to steal memories for more power. Because of this, the wolves kill any such humans or humanoid beings.
3) Angela can convert magic back into memories, thus possessing an anti-magic.

Angela has to worry about rule #2 because the hosts of the masquerade ball have imprisoned the wolves and two thousand girls in a “nowhere land”, created a perfect life with the memories they have stolen, and discovered Angela’s anti-magic. And they don’t want her interfering.

Sometimes Beautiful, a middle grade Gothic fantasy, is complete at 41,000 words. You’ve mentioned on your website that you like Neil Gaiman and Holly Black; I hope my stories are just as fascinating and terrifying.

My mailing address is [address], my preferred email [email]. My phone number is [phone].

Thank you for your consideration. I hope you have enjoyed reading this query as well as the pages enclosed below.

Sincerely,
P.S.

Great opening, but I’d start with “Last year, a statue… etc.” Also, is it necessary to call her Angela-Courtney, if you otherwise only refer to her as Angela?

The rules are nice, but what are they rules FOR? Or rules OF? And really, are they rules at all, or facts (at least in this world)? The “rules” also don’t give us any answers about how a wolf could be Angela’s grandmother, and going on, I have even more questions — who are the hosts of the masquerade ball? How do they know Angela, or why do they keep inviting her to the ball? What’s up with the statue? What kind of humanoids are we talking about — if you bring them up, I want to know more about them. How did the hosts discover Angela’s anti-magic? Did Angela discover it herself, or only knows about it because the wolf told her she had it?

Moving on, I saw actually a little thrown to read that you see this as middle grade novel. You don’t set the MC’s age in the query, so I guessed, but in doing so, I assumed this was YA rather than MG. I’ll also admit that I think of Holly Black, one of your comparison authors, more as a YA author than MG, though she does both, as does Neil Gaiman. The wording, however, of the sentence “I hope my stories are just as fascinating and terrifying” does give me pause — is this a short story collection (notoriously hard to sell) or a novel?

I wouldn’t waste time in the query letter (especially one as short as this) with a separate paragraph with your contact details. Put them below your name after the closing, and you’re all set.

In general, I think I have too many questions about this to get a good sense of the world it’s set in or the characters. In fact, I barely know anything about Angela at all — not even how she reacts to a wolf talking, let along telling her its her grandmother. Without that connection, it’s hard to want to know more.

Readers, what do you think?

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6 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXIII”

  1. Jess Says:

    A statue chased Angela-Courtney (Why is her name hyphenated then not mentioned again?) off a cliff at a Midsummer masquerade ball. As another Midsummer draws near, (what did the statue have to do with anything? why mention it if nothing happens for a year?) a wolf claiming to be Angela’s grandmother tells her three important rules:

    1) Wolves can convert human memories into supernatural energy, but only with the humans’ (check your grammar, human's) consent.

    2) Humans who stumble upon and use this ability (what ability? it's the wolves doing the conversion) tend to steal memories for more power. (do you mean humans steal the extra energy the wolves make?) Because of this, the wolves kill any such humans or humanoid beings. (what humanoid beings?)

    3) Angela can convert magic back into memories, thus possessing an anti-magic.

    (the second two aren't rules. Wolves can only steal memories with humans' consent, that's a rule. as Daphne said, these are facts. and they're pretty much all set-up/world-building. what's your STORY?)

    Angela has to worry about rule #2 because the hosts of the masquerade ball have imprisoned the wolves and two thousand girls in a “nowhere land”,(how does she figure that out? who are the hosts? why is number two the important one? the hosts of the masquerade ball plan to force the wolves to steal the girls' memories and then they'll use the power? is that the plan?) created (your grammar's funky – do you mean the owners have created? the auxiliary verb wouldn't carry over) a perfect life with the memories they have stolen, and discovered Angela’s anti-magic.(how?) And they don’t want her interfering.

    Sometimes Beautiful, a middle grade Gothic (Gothic? really? I'd cut that. and agree w/ Daphne's thoughts on MG/YA) fantasy, is complete at 41,000 words. You’ve mentioned on your website that you like Neil Gaiman and Holly Black; I hope my stories are just as fascinating and terrifying. (don't tell what you want your story to be/think it is, let the agent decide. and also, it sort of sounds like pandering. either you think the story is that good or you don't, you know?)

    My mailing address is [address], my preferred email [email]. My phone number is [phone]. (as daphne said, under the name)

    Thank you for your consideration. I hope you have enjoyed reading this query as well as the pages enclosed below. (grammar again – I hope you have enjoyed reading this query, but I hope you enjoy reading the pages since she wouldn't have gotten to them yet. make sure you really comb your book and your query for grammar issues, no matter how good your idea is, sloppy grammar can get you insta-rejected. I mean a comma splice here or there probably won't kill you but verb tense is another matter.)

    And I agree with Daphne that we overall have no idea what this story is about. Angela discovers the masquerade ball hosts are using the energy of human memories created by wolves to power a perfect life. As someone who can revert the energy back to memories, Angela is the only one who can stop them. But they know what she can do and are out to get her. I think? You're a bit muddied. What are the stakes? Why doesn't Angela just take her little antimatter self somewhere else?

  2. Jaya Lakshmi Says:

    First . . . ouch. Second, thank you for telling me what's wrong with the query.

    Sometimes Beautiful is MG because the protagonist is 12 years old, even though the book has some more serious stuff in it. But I'll put in the next query draft that Angela is determined to find out what happened that night, and specify the stakes. Once again, thank you, Daphne, for critiquing my query without walloping me.

  3. Krista V. Says:

    Like Daphne, I just wanted a better sense of the character first, the world second. It wasn't until I got to the last summary paragraph that I realized this wasn't urban fantasy, and that's something that should probably be clearer from the get-go.

    Also, I think you're relying too much on the list of rules. You might try kicking the list and trying to incorporate that information within the narrative of the summary itself. It won't feel so disjointed that way, and it'll force you to give us more world building elements.

    I really liked the ethereal, Carroll-esque feel of this. It sounds like you've already built a great world and story. You just need to present it a little more clearly than you have here.

    Good luck!

  4. Jess Says:

    Jaya, you may want to do some research into what makes a book YA or MG – the age of the protagonist isn't the biggest determining factor. It's the most easily recognizable one, but themes, scope, and voice are far more important in determining the audience.

  5. Jaya Lakshmi Says:

    Here's the current draft that I've come up with; still teetering on whether or not to label it YA or MG:

    Last year a statue chased Angela off a cliff at a Midsummer masquerade ball. As another Midsummer draws near, Angela investigates what happened and why no one else remembers. She doesn't know where the party's held or who the hosts are. But Angela has prickly stubbornness and her memories of that night- as well as another girl who remembers helping Angela climb up the cliff and a talking wolf.

    The wolf explains: wolves convert human memories to supernatural energy, and occasionally people can as well like the party hosts, whom the other girl calls the Merdemars. Angela can convert magic back into memories; she just doesn't have her ability under control. But the Merdemars don't want a 12 year-old ruining their perfect life, and they have imprisoned two thousand guests and just as many wolves in a "nowhere land" to store all potential memories. And they still own the moving statue.

    Sometimes Beautiful, a middle grade urban fantasy, is complete at 41,000 words.

    Thank you for your consideration. I hope you have enjoyed reading this query.

    Sincerely,

    PS

  6. Jennifer Says:

    I agree with what everyone else says about your first draft so I'll just comment on what you've posted above.

    I like the newly revised first paragraph until you get to the last sentence. I have no idea what you're trying to say and it isn't a complete sentence.

    Kudos for ditching the numbered list of rules. But don't start your sentences like this. This is what I used to tell the kids I tutored: butts don't go in front on people or in sentences. You may want to read aloud to yourself – it can help find grammar mistakes.

    I would revise your third sentence in paragraph two to something like: The Merdemars have imprisoned two thousand guests and just as many wolves in a "nowhere land" to store all potential memories and there's no way a 12 year old is going to ruin the perfect life they've built.

    I have to say that I am completely thrown by the 'middle grade' thing. It sounds like YA even with the 12yo protagonist.

    The story sounds interesting! Good luck to you!