if it’s too difficult for grown-ups, write for children

Ask Daphne: About My Query 7

AboutMyQuery 16-year-old Eden has always dreamed of traveling the universe, and when she’s chosen to compete in the Starlight Princess pageant, her wish has come true. But her fight for the title won’t just determine who wins a crown – it will decide the fate of a galaxy on the brink of war.

For Eden, the competition is a chance to explore planets forbidden to Earth for centuries. For her new friends across the galaxy, it’s their only hope of escape from a tyrannical theocracy, an apartheid state, or a dying home world. With a promise to unite their fractured solar system, the girls enter the pageant’s labyrinthine compound on the Moon, where one of them will take home a crown and a position as an ambassador for peace. Or so they believe.

Behind the glitz and glamour, this pageant hides a dark secret. By day, hopefuls learn decorum and diplomacy; by night, they train in elemental arts both dazzling and dangerous. When disqualified contestants start disappearing, Eden and her friends suspect there’s a more sinister purpose to this contest than choosing a beauty queen.

Aided by an ally with an agenda of his own, the girls learn that hidden within the labyrinth is the real reason they were brought here: a weapon with the power to destroy planets. One which can only be used by a daughter of the lost world that created it.

She’s the one many have died to protect. The one many more would kill to find. The one who will become the Starlight Princess – and she’ll hold the fate of the galaxy in her hands.

Complete at 70,000 words, THE STARLIGHT CROWN is a YA sci-fi that combines the fantastical future of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder with the magical mayhem of Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, and is the first in a planned series. Thank you for your time and consideration.

For starters: If this came through my slush pile, I would read your opening pages based off those fantastic comps alone. Though I don’t personally connect with the beauty pagent hook, I like almost everything else about the story you describe. That’s one of the hard things about querying–you come up against agents’ personal tastes. You can do all your homework: check their #MSWL, their Twitter feed, read all their interviews, and still might miss on something like that–and that is okay. I recognize that it sucks to get a form rejection, but please know, sometimes behind that is the thought, “that is great, but it is not right for me.”

I like the stakes you have outlined. This feels like part Miss Congeniality, part Ender’s Game, and part Jupiter Ascending. You could even use those in your query letter. “THE STARLIGHT CROWN is Miss Congeniality meets Jupiter Ascending. Complete at 70,000 words, it will appeal to readers who enjoyed the fantastical future of Melissa Meyer’s….”

Your first two paragraphs do a lot to set up the political landscape of your world. I would recommend scaling back on much of that in order to give you some room in the plot descriptions of paragraphs three and four. “Brink of war” and “fractured solar system” go further than you think in setting up the political unrest. Lean on those phrases. “Tyrannical theocracy” and “dying homeworld” matter very little, especially since we don’t yet have any emotional connection to the characters from these places.

However, “elemental arts”, disappearing contestants, and an “ally with an agenda of his own” are all incredibly intriguing and I would ask for a little more about these plot points –told through the emotional lens of your main character.  If you could frame some of the plot description through her point of view, I think it would go a long way to connect her to the reader. For example, I assume the elemental arts training will be a big part of Eden’s journey. Is she learning magic? Science? Witchcraft? Do all the contestants exhibit this power? Does it have anything to do with their place in the contest to begin with?

Is the mysterious ally the romantic lead? Assuming he is, I would like to see a little bit more about that. A brief acknowledgement of the romantic tension would do well here, possibly including his name.

As for the structure of the query itself, there are a lot of paragraphs. I would recommend combining several of the shorter ones into a longer paragraph. I like to see no more than five paragraphs in a query, with the synopsis of the book no longer than three paragraphs.

Thank you for letting me take a stab at this! Though I think there are things you can do to improve this query, I would have absolutely dipped into your sample pages. You have a good concept, an appealing quest for your main character, and good sense of where this fits in the YA market.

I hope this helps!