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Shield & Crocus Query v2.0
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 4:15 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

Michael R Underwood
Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011 3:34 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

(New thread for next version of the query)

I’m seeking representation for my 90,000 word fantasy novel Shield & Crocus, which pits an aging superhero and his team against five infighting tyrants for the soul of a city built among the bones of a titan.

First Sentinel has been fighting tyrants for fifty years, and he is losing hope. The benevolent goddess which protected Audec-Hal has been co-opted by the tyrants and now uses her power to keep the citizens docile and afraid. He’s buried countless friends over the course of his crusade, including the love of his life. As she died in his arms, he promised her he would protect her only son, whom he has raised as his own and now serves as one of the Shields.

On the eve of talks that would solidify the uneasy alliance between the tyrants, one of their number, the gangster Nevri, offers the Shields a dangerous bargain that gives them the chance to drive a wedge between the tyrants and spoil their alliance. First Sentinel expects the trap, but cannot ignore the opportunity.

The Shields take the bargain and begin a series of increasingly dangerous missions to undermine the tyrants’ rule. But can they succeed now where they’ve failed for fifty years, or will their desperation spell the end of their rebellion and the failure of First Sentinel’s promise?

Shield & Crocus combines superhero action with a setting in the tradition of the New Weird cities such as Mieville’s New Crobuzon and VanderMeer’s Ambergris.

My work has appeared in Escape Pod and Crossed Genres. I am a graduate of the 2007 Clarion West Writers Workshop.
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 11:34 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

Michael, I wish I could be of more help on your query, but I’m not too familiar with this genre at all. Here are my impressions:

There’s way too much going on in this query for me to comprehend. Way too many characters referenced. Who is central to your plot? Pick three characters and STOP. Dump the pretty words (e.g., built on the bones of a titan) and stick with the “KISS” basics: who, what, where, when and why.

It’s unclear who the Shields are – are they the good guys that your hero leads?

Why do the tyrants want to keep people docile and fearful? There has to be a good reason, ‘cause they ain’t going to all of that trouble for sh*ts and giggles! ☺

To wit, give me the core of your conflict. First Sentinel and his contingent are fighting back against the tyrants to free the oppressed masses. Sounds like their offered a bargain of the Faustian kind – amirite? Is the fact that the hero accepts this Faustian bargain the crux of the tale?

How does hero’s lover’s son figure into this plot? Is he central to it?

You have a story here, but the query is very convoluted at this juncture. I’m feeling that “Whoa, way too much information, slow down!” thing coming on. I want to be able to help more, but like I said, this isn’t my genre of expertise. I can offer one suggestion. Write everything out very simply, as though you’re explaining your story to a child. Whenever you find yourself interjecting new information and wanting to add new background … STOP!

Elizabeth Sogard
Posted: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 7:15 PM
Joined: 5/3/2011
Posts: 15

I am not any further in the process then you are, but I have a suggestion for you. I don't recall where I heard it, but if you have fifteen seconds to pitch your book, what would you say that would grab your reader, your agent or your publisher.

Make that one sentence be the first line of your pitch. Make it your hook and that will make us want to read more.

Michael R Underwood
Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 12:48 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

After getting a query critique, I've made some changes to try to flesh out the query. It's a tad long, so I'd love any comments on places where folks think I can streamline.

Complete at 88,000 words, my fantasy novel Shield & Crocus tells the story of an aging superhero First Sentinel, who leads a team against five feuding oligarchs for the soul of a city built in the bones of a titan. Vast markets unfold below the titan’s ribs, padding the pockets of rich collaborators in their mansions built into the titan’s skull. All the while, the poor are left to greystone ghettos packed around the limbs, taxed, ignored or experimented on at the oligarch’s whims.

In his decades-long crusade, First Sentinel has lost friends, innocents, and Aria--the love of his life. As she died in his arms, he swore to protect her son, Selweh, and raised the boy as his own. Chosen by the magical shield which is the symbol of their rebellion, Selweh has now joined the fight. First Sentinel is torn between his crusade for justice and his desire to protect his son.

Recently, the magical storms which plague the city have hit worse than ever. They transform entire neighborhoods, replacing streets with swamps or forests and warping the citizens into unrecognizable horrors. First Sentinel strikes a dangerous bargain with one of the oligarchs, leading the team on a mission to end the storms and drive a wedge between the tyrants.

If First Sentinel fails, the rebellion fails and all the friends he's buried will have died in vain. But what will he sacrifice to see the city freed and his promise fulfilled?

My work has appeared in Escape Pod and Crossed Genres. I am a graduate of the 2007 Clarion West Writers Workshop and work as an independent publisher’s representative for presses such as Night Shade Books, Prime Books, and Dark Horse Comics.

Thank you for your consideration.
Mike Underwood
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2011 7:55 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

Let's try with something shorter and (hopefully) much simpler.

First Sentinel has been fighting for fifty years. He has failed his loved ones, buried his friends, and watched his city turned into a playground for five cruel oligarchs. The city, built among the bones of a fifty-mile tall titan, is wracked by magical storms that warp its streets, towers and inhabitants.

After fifty years of failure, First Sentinel and his team finally have a chance to overthrow the oligarchs…but it means making a bargain with his oldest enemy, a gangster who has bought, schemed, and betrayed her way to the top. If they survive the bargain, his team will have the momentum and resources they need for a full-scale revolution. But can First Sentinel tip the balance of power before the oligarchs hunt him down and crush his rebellion for good?

SHIELD & CROCUS is an 88,000 word fantasy novel inspired by Perdido Street Station and Watchmen. My short fiction has appeared in Escape Pod and Crossed Genres. I am a graduate of the 2007 Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the Codex writers group. I work as a sales representative for independent publishers, including Night Shade Books, Prime Books, Dark Horse Comics.

Stevie McCoy
Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 4:14 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 38

The last pharagraph (of your newest shortest revision) should be the first paragraph because the title and word count and genre should be first. And add in who you are querying and whether or not they represent a book that is similar to yours and if so make mention of that being one the reasons why you chose to query them or if you saw an interview blog of them or that you met them at a conference or something personal towards the agent other wise even a good query can be sent to a slush pile if you dont tell them why you are chosing them for representation.
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 4:32 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74


This is the default version of the query, so any personalization would be inserted at the beginning as you recommend. I've seen strong opinions from agents and writers saying that the material I have in the 3rd paragraph *must* come first, or that it's foolish to put first because it isn't as engaging as going directly into your pitch. I don't know if there is one universal right way to structure the query.

For this version, I'm more comfortable going into a pitch and putting the genre/wordcount/comps later.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 11:59 AM
You're trying to tell the story,itself, but a pitch is about the story. It's emotional, not factual, and concept oriented. Tell me someone is an aging superhero and that magical storms are raging, and I can relate. Tell me about miles long bones and I need an entire world picture to get past the physics of impossibility. Talk about greystone ghettos and I have no idea of what you mean because only someone who knows the story's world-picture and magical physics could understand.

Wow the reader with concepts not facts. Focus on voice not detail.
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 12:57 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

@Jay -- Would you say that there's no room for cool ideas and sensawunda hits in a query pitch? Because the city setting is a big part of the novel, a character of its own ala New Crobuzon or Ambergris, and I feel that it's important to hint at that during the query as I'm laying out the emotional arc of the main character.

The version in post #5 is what I'm using currently, and if even that is too bogged down in ungrounded detail for people, then I'm in trouble.

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