The people voted yesterday and the people have spoken: since only 1% you voted for option C, I can only conclude that a full 99% of you want to be in Brody Jenner’s cell phone. Wow. (Although judging from the extensive contacts in his cell, 97% of you are probably already in it.)
Also, people are split pretty evenly between those saying they’ll die with paper books (hopefully not DUE to paper books) and those who are either somewhat or totally ready for e-books, assuming there are some technological breakthroughs. Very interesting.
Query critique time! As a reminder, if you receive a rejection from me, you may volunteer to have your query critiqued politely, anonymously, and haphazardly on my blog. I’m afraid I can’t guarantee that I’ll use your query on the blog, but if it sparks an idea or if I feel it would be useful I may take you up on it.
And as always, please be as polite and nice to the anonymous author as possible. Mean and/or unconstructive comments will be dealt with swiftly and harshly, particularly the anonymous sarcastic ones.
Mean anonymous comments, you are officially on notice. All military options are on the table.
Now then. First I’ll show the query in full so you get a sense of the flow, then I’ll provide my comments.
I read your blog daily because I enjoy both your sense of humor and the enthusiasm you show for your work there, and also because I greatly appreciate the advice you give aspiring writers. Thank you for donating your time in this manner, and Godspeed in your battle against query letters beginning with rhetorical questions. Please consider DARK HEIR, my 94,000 word fantasy novel, for representation.
Katirin is a princess of such embarrassing parentage her family forced her into a convent to get her out of the royal succession. When she discovers the convent’s bland and blissful priestesses–women who share a communal mind and do little except sing–aren’t really the god’s mouthpieces at all, but empty husks puppeteered by a demon, Katirin realizes she must find a way out of the convent or the demon will devour her soul.
For Katirin, however, escaping telepathic priestesses and irate nobility isn’t enough–not when she can see the demon’s hunger will one day destroy the nation she should have ruled. Katirin vows to stop the creature, but she needs to answer one question first–how do you kill a demon that lives in a thousand bodies?
I am a physicist, visual artist and rock climber. DARK HEIR is my first novel and is complete and available upon request. I have pasted the first five pages of the novel below. Thank you for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.
This is a solid query. Good personalization (not just saying she reads my blog but making an in-joke — always appreciated), and well-written. I was just a tad confused about the setting (the entire novel takes place in a convent? would priestesses who do little but sing be interesting?), but I liked the idea of having to battle a demon inhabiting multiple bodies. I feel that way every time I have to call my cable company. (rimshot!)
So this query critique isn’t really about the query. It’s about the sample pages the author provided. Here is the opening:
Shadows clung to the corners of the dormitory as predawn painted the sleeping initiates gray. The room whispered a chorus of soft breathing.
Katirin’s trunk yawned open on her bed, pale robes forming the tongue of its mouth. Katirin tossed a pair of stockings in, then turned to face Esfirre again. “Help you. I can’t even help myself. What am I supposed to do, hide you under my wimple?”
No, in your coach. The luggage compartment. Esfirre curled her signing hand to preserve its heat, then shifted her weight to dab one foot atop the other’s toes.
Katirin made her tone cut. “And what would that accomplish? My guards would find you.”
Anger creased Esfirre’s face and her fingers flashed through more sign language. Not right away, and it might be enough. Haven’t you a spine?
Katirin’s outrage warred with her urge to laugh. “That, I still retain.”
I don’t have any way off this island.
“And contrary to appearances, neither do I.”
If you don’t help me escape the Taish, I’ll kill myself instead!
Katirin snorted a laugh. “Oh. Well, that I could help you with. How do you intend to do it? A noose of torn sheet? A knife slipped from the kitchens?”
Frustration etched lines in Esfirre’s young face. Don’t mock me. I’m serious.
Katirin felt the smile slide off her face. “I know it. So am I. Come, and I’ll prove it.” She turned and walked to the narrow slot window at the end of the dormitory. Katirin swung the glass wide and stepped up onto the stone sill, then looked back.
Amid the shadows, Esfirre frowned her irritation.
Katirin flared her eyes at the younger woman, then slid sideways through the window. The sky fanned icy pink and blue around her and open air gulped at her feet. A thick vine, scabby and studded by puckered leaves, clung to the convent’s outer wall. Katirin found her usual handholds and began to climb. The vine hissed and showered brown flakes down her sleeves.
Nathan again. I start reading hundreds and hundreds of novels every year. Several a day. And it’s not an easy thing to do — one thing I never realized until I became an agent and began reading so many books is that it takes a great deal of mental work just to start a novel, because it takes a lot of brain energy to get your bearings. Every detail you read in the beginning establishes where you are, who the characters are, what they’re like, etc. and your mind has to piece things together, which isn’t always easy.
So it’s extremely, extremely important to get the reader on very sound footing as soon as possible and to ease them into a new world. Even if you’re throwing the reader into a very unique setting and a chaotic situation (a gun battle on a foreign planet, for instance, or a apocalyptic future featuring unique slang, a la CLOCKWORK ORANGE), it’s so important to put things in context for the reader and to begin teaching them the “rules” of the world. Basically showing the reader what aspects of the world are like ours, and which aren’t.
As much as I like the premise of this query, I’m afraid I didn’t feel that there was solid grounding here. Starting off with a conversation is tricky, and rather than learning as I went along I found myself more and more confused about what was happening and where and when it was happening.
I also had some concerns about the writing. There were times when the dialogue was stilted (“That, I still retain,”) but perhaps more importantly, I honestly felt that although the author really tried to create some unique imagery, I felt like the description tried too hard. As a very rudimentary rule of thumb, description should be as clear as possible, except when something is indescribable in simple language, in which case it can be more expansive.
Lastly, I’ve been noticing that many writers these days are relying on descriptions of facial expressions in order to convey emotion. For example, just in the last part of this passage, Esfirre’s face was lined with frustration, Katirin felt her smile fall off her face, Esfirre frowned her irritation, and Katirin flared her eyes. I’m not going to name names, but some very, very successful published authors employ this technique, but I’d be very careful and very judicious in how you use it — descriptions of facial expressions really only thinly veiled ways of telling the reader what emotion the character is feeling. Unique gestures, dialogue and actions tend to be much more interesting ways of describing the way someone is feeling and go further toward creating interesting characters. Emotions and facial expressions are universal — how people deal with emotions and express those emotions are unique.
Thanks again to the author for participating!