Ask Daphne! About My Query XVI

August 13th, 2009 • Kate

gladiator-sandalsGrecian/gladiator sandals for Christine, who’s sent us today’s About My Query. You know how this goes, right? Then let’s have at it!

Dear Ms. Daphne Unfeasible,

THE UNICORN TAMER is Greek mythology meets Pokémon, a middle-grade fantasy that will appeal to fans of Carl Hiaasen’s HOOT and Brandon Mull’s FABLEHAVEN.

13-year-old Emma Brown knows that sphinxes like to eat people.

She knows that leprechauns live in a city made of gold, that a selkie is a girl in seal’s clothing, and that you can fall in love with a pixie even if he just looks at you. Emma knows all this because her mom read to her when she was a little girl.

What Emma didn’t know is that the stories her mom told her weren’t make-believe.

When her parents mysteriously disappear, Emma is catapulted back to her birthplace – an older, steampunk version of our dimension. In the wonderland called Drualtys, teenagers study to become Tamers – people who form unique bonds with legendary creatures to protect them from extinction. Through this bond, Tamers absorb the creatures’ majick, special powers ranging from the ability to control lightening, run on water, or see through skin.

Emma embraces her taming lessons to rescue her parents from the Hunters, a ruthless clan of humans determined to prove that man is the most powerful beast of all. Their mission: murder the creatures of Drualtys and steal their majickal abilities. The prize: a unicorn’s cloak of invisibility. Together with her newfound friends, including a half-pixie who’s too pretty for his own good and a whimsical boy who can talk to animals, Emma must stay one step ahead of the Hunters, save her parents, and the unicorns – before she is hunted herself.

THE UNICORN TAMER is complete at approximately 96,000 words and is the first in a trilogy. Upon your request, I’d be more than happy to send you the manuscript.

I graduated from [X] University with a Major in Communications and a Minor in Creative Writing. I worked on my university’s literary magazine as well as a Children’s Storyteller at Barnes and Noble. I also used to contribute to the Google Video Blog.

Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work.


Honestly, once I get into this, it sounds intriguing, but I’m put off at the beginning by having SO MUCH thrown at me at once. Your first paragraph has not one but TWO types of x-meets-y comparisons, followed by three relatively short pitchy lines that feel very staccato.

Once we get past those, the query suddenly becomes overly full of information and new words — Hunters, Tamers, Drualtys, “majick” — yet through it all, I have no sense of Emma, of who she is.

I think you need to pitch the story once in the opening, and save the comparison for the closer. Tell me more about Emma, about how she copes when she realizes she’s from another world. Tell me how this book about the “one girl from another world who can save everyone she’s just met” is different from all the other books that might fall into that vague description.

Once you’ve done that, I would excise the bit about it being the first in a trilogy — as I’ve said before, your first book needs to stand along to catch an agent’s attention. Too many authors depend on the safety net of a trilogy to not tie up the loose ends in their first manuscript, and that’s just lazy. Tell the whole story, and if someone likes it, and wants more, than feel free to reveal the possibility of a sequel or a series.

And finally, I think you could find a way to restate your experience. I keep looking at the sentence “I worked on my university’s literary magazine as well as a Children’s Storyteller at Barnes and Noble” looking for another word that’s missing. What about “I wrote for (or edited) my university’s literary magazine and performed as a Children’s Storyteller at a local B&N”?

What do you guys think? Would you read more? How would you improve this query?

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

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8 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XVI”

  1. Sarah Laurenson Says:

    I like the concept. I'm not so sure about the execution. There's a lot of telling and not so much of drawing me into the character. It's difficult to condense your baby down into a query letter. I know!

    Feels like 'steampunk' is thrown in there to make it seem more in line with the current trend rather than as a true descriptor. But maybe that's me. Lightning – not lightening.

    And why doesn't she fall in love with that pixie she's running around with?

    The credits sentence seems to be missing the second 'as' – as well as as. Awkward. Plus the way you are wording these credits seems a bit blah.

    You've got an interesting hook. I'd like to know your MC is just as interesting.

  2. Rebecca Says:

    I actually am really intrigued by this. I read a lot of YA and MG fantasy, and this sounds right up my alley as a reader. But while I like the writing and pacing of the first section about the myths Emma knows, it all feels pretty standard as a "fairy-tales/myths/magic/etc are REAL!" plot. Nothing in that section makes it stand out for me. What caught my attention and made it stand out from things like Fablehaven and the Sisters Grimm and others of that genre was the "steampunk wonderland" and the bonding between people and mythological creatures.

    I think maybe trimming the beginning and using the space to focus more on what makes it stand out from other stories in the genre and give a clearer idea of Emma's character would be good. But like I said, I'm intrigued as it is; from this description I would want to read the first few pages, at least.

  3. Lindsay F Says:

    This sounds a lot like Julia Golding's Companion Series – in those books, people bond with different mythological creatures that really exist. Their mission? Keep them from extinction and also from the general populace from finding out about them. Because I loved those books, I would probably give this book a read.

  4. Lindsay F Says:

    Oh dear, please ignore my mistakes above – I am super embarrassed!

  5. Natalia Maldonado Says:

    I think that the first few sentences telling us what Emma Brown knows come off as a list and don't really tell much about the story. Maybe start off with a rewritten version of "What Emma didn’t know is that the stories her mom told her weren’t make-believe," but rewritten in a way that establishes that world right away.

    What about something like: "When 13-year-old Emma Brown is catapulted back to her birthplace, she realizes that her mother's old stories of golden cities, leprechauns and pixies weren't make believe." Or something like that…

  6. dust Says:

    Honestly? Even with the problems you're pointing out, I'd have to say, "Sounds interesting. Send me pages."

  7. Christine Says:

    Wow, those are some seriously sexy gladiator sandals!

    I'd like to thank everyone for taking the time to provide me with feedback. I've already started editing my query based on your notes and they're helping me with my story, too. Special thanks to Ms. Daphne Unfeasible for this exercise!


  8. Natalie Says:

    where are those gladiators from?