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Query - Hands of Ash
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 7:18 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


Okay, so here is my first shot at writing a true query. I've handwritten some versions, but this is the first I've actually worked on. I've read through hundreds of successful examples, but know mine is probably pretty awful. I could use the help. here it is:


  

Dear [name],

 

Thirteen years ago, Melody Moonari watched her village destroyed and her mother killed by monsters made of ash. Found by a soldier, and adopted by a king, Melody was raised to be ignorant of her heritage, a pliable queen and wife. She is anything but. Bitter at what people expect from her, she spends her nights as a vigilante to work out her frustrations. Now eighteen, she is expected to pick a suitor, or follow through on a promise she made to the abusive steward's son, Thomas Vaughn. Her only hope to obtain a life she can tolerate is Prince Adamar Vegana, a young man trained in combat since he was a child.

 

During Adamar's visit, his kingdom's capital, Erudian, is destroyed by the same monsters that killed her mother. Against everyone's wishes, she follows Adamar to Erudian to investigate where the monsters came from, and who is behind them. When it becomes clear that the monsters, controlled by a woman named Macilia, will not stop with Erudian, Melody sets out to warn all of the kingdoms of Adlar.

 

Along the way, Melody and Adamar discover they are descended from a group of people who locked away an ancient demi-god who once enslaved all of Adlar. And someone is trying to let him out. With the help of a chain-smoking exorcist and a self-exiled swordsman, it is now up to Melody and Adamar to stop them.

 

HAND OF ASH is 190,000 word epic fantasy with light steampunk elements, and series potential. I am currently working on the sequel. This is my first novel.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

 

 

I would appreciate any feedback.


Jay Greenstein
Posted: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 5:03 PM

This reads too much like a mini-synopsis. And because you're trying to inform the reader on the plot, the compression leaves out context.

 

For example, you say monsters made of ash. But that could mean wooden. And since ash of the combustion result type is a powder, the reader has no context to mentally construct a mental picture of what holds them together.

 

When you say she was raised to be a "pliable wife and queen" you're leaving out a whole lot. If that's what she learned, where did she get the skills to be a successful vigilante? And what's the evil she's working to fix that she can't, as the king's favored daughter, fix by edict?

 

Without a hint of the situation and background, such detail can only have meaning to you, because the words act as pointers to images, concept, and intent, in your head, as you read. But for your reader, the words act as pointers to images, concept, and intent, in your head.

 

In general, think in terms of the big picture and emotional items. Visualize the voice-over that might accompany the theatrical trailer they would make for the film version. You might go to a site that shows the latest DVD releases and watch a few that are in your genre, to see how they do it. Give story detail, but only enough to show triggers, and what kicks off the action.

 

The thing to remember is that a query blurb has only one goal: to make the reader turn to the first page and see what the writing is like. They're not too worried about story details, because if you're a great writer your story can stink and people will enjoy the reading—though the reverse doesn't apply. So think in terms of hooks not explanation, emotions not facts.

 

There are lots of examples of successful queries available. Do a search on successful query letters and you'll find pages of helpful examples and advice. And given that the queries they're using as examples worked, you're not getting heartfelt advice, you're getting pointers from people who know.


Mimi Speike
Posted: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 10:46 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014


I read Ash quite a while ago and I'm sure it is greatly changed. I don't remember a lot about it. My reaction to this query is, it has no personality. I don't get a sense of why I should care about this girl. And you don't show us what's special about your prose style, this is very cut and dried, probably fairly interchangeable with a hundred other queries for dragons/demi-gods/magic powers fantasy.

.

I'll read Ash again, looking for the excitement that you should be conveying here. I want to hear from you, what is terrific about your story? Why am I going to adore it? If you can't tell me that, you're in trouble.

.

Bear in mind that this is what would interest me as a reader, and I am assuming that the same goes double or triple for an agent, who is thinking about marketability.

 

--edited by Mimi Speike on 1/7/2015, 1:18 AM--


LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 2:55 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


That's just it, I know it has no personality. I'm having difficulty with that for some reason, when I can do it when anyone else's book. Is there something wrong with me? I've read hundreds of successful queries, gone through Query Shark, and yet I can't translate what I saw. I guess I'll have another query reading binge in front of me. I know that the book's characters are the strong point. I just have to figure out how to portray that in my query.

  

If you read HANDS, please try to go all the way through. The reviews I get always only cover the first few chapters. I have enough of those to sink boats, but not on the overall, which is problematic. I added on an entire novel length to round out the story, and the two people that have looked at it really thought it did the trick. But I would like more opinions on it.

  

  

   

  

*UPDATE!*

  

Okay, so I wrote a new one that I think is moving in a better direction, even though it's still kind of weak. Here it is:

  

 

Dear [name],

 

At the age of five, Melody Moonari saw her village destroyed and her mother killed by monsters made of ash. Found by a soldier, and adopted by a king, she has spent the last thirteen years in luxury and isolated from the world. Melody knows she should appreciate her fortunes, but she hates it, haunted by her mother's death and the suspicion that there is more to her life than anyone will tell her.

 

Now eighteen, she must decide on a suitor for marriage before another decision about her life is made for her. Enter Prince Adamar Vegana, the only suitor left who will talk to her because he has never met her. Melody sees a glimmer of hope in this amicable, pragmatic young man until his capital, Erudian, is attacked by the same monsters she saw thirteen years ago. Melody springs on the opportunity, and follows Adamar to Erudian against everyone's wishes, and common sense.

 

There they discover a woman named Macilia is searching for seven artifacts needed to release her demi-god master from the pocket dimension he is trapped in, and she is willing to destroy whole cities with her army of monsters created from the remains of humans burned alive to find them. And she also wants revenge, because who wouldn't when thousands of years ago six people destroyed the oppressive society you helped nurture into being because they didn't like it?

 

Melody, with the help of Adamar, chain-smoking Exorcist called Tao, and a self-exiled swordsman, decides it is up to her to stop Macilia and save the continent of Adlar from enslavement, again.

 

HANDS OF ASH is a 190,000 word character driven fantasy adventure with light steampunk elements. It is my first book, and I'm working on the sequel now.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

 

--edited by LeeAnna Holt on 1/7/2015, 5:16 AM--


Jean Marie
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 12:08 PM
Joined: 10/22/2014
Posts: 28


Hi LeeAnna,

 

QL's are a total pain to write, believe me.  I've spent an enormous amount of time and energy in writing mine, but it's paid off in that I've received the nicest letters back from agents along w/ partials.  At least I've gotten that far!  I'm also waiting on a few things at the moment.  That being said, I did work w/ an agent and an editor to get it where it is.  The key thing I was told is to think back of the book blurb, b/c that's where the reader, either in the bookstore, or online looks and decides whether he/she wants to buy.  That's where your hook, or log line comes in and that's your first sentence.  Or, think of standing in front of an agent at a conference, or being in an online pitch contest. Order of the day is, short is what you're looking for.  Hook is what you want.  Synopsis is a different animal.  That's the story board that the editors, etc. need and follow later on.  It's what your novel's about, in a 1-2 page format. You've got the beginnings of that here.

 

In your ql, you need a tiny bio, just a tiny one.  Who are you? A one or two sentence thingie about yourself and your creds, or if you have none, that's fine, too. But, something. This is your debut novel. Period. Sounds better.  It's the first in a series, not has series potential. The first exudes confidence, the latter doesn't.

 

Good luck


Lucy Silag - Book Country Community Manager
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 12:18 PM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1359


Oooh, Jean Marie--great point about confidence in the bio!

 

Lee Anna--190K words!!!!!!!!!! Any way some of those words can be cut? Even the number throws me, even though I know fantasies are usually long  . . .

 

Hang in there--you are doing great, and you will get there.


Jean Marie
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 12:30 PM
Joined: 10/22/2014
Posts: 28


Thanks Lucy!  Agents like to see that, even if we are shaking in our chairs

 

I'll say one thing, being on Twitter has helped me immensely, agents aren't scary.  They want us to succeed, otherwise, they don't.  I've received an amazing amount of help from a number of them via Twitter, and have been sure to thank them.  They tell you what they want.  They're not elusive about it at all.

 

That reminds me, I agree, the word count does seem high.  Also, the title ought to be in italics.

 

LeeAnna, sign up for a Twitter account and watch the feed line for agents, and you'll see what I mean.  No, don't stalk them!  Just read what they post, and they're very specific about word count in various genres.  They also do call-outs for what they're looking for.  I check it a few times each day both on my laptop and phone.  It's a great connection to have.


Mimi Speike
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 3:12 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014


Lee Anna, I will read Ash again. When I am impressed with a piece, I do try to read the entirety. That so many have not gone beyond a few chapters is not a good sign, but I'll read with hope in my heart.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 3:37 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


@Mimi: Most haven't read that far due to length and time. That is usually the case.

  

@Jean Marie: Thank you for saying I need more confidence. I'll change that sentence right away, and add in a bit about myself. I do have BLA in English Literature. If I earned it, why not tout it to the world?

   

I do have a twitter as well, and have followed many agents. I've actually done a ton to prepare myself for writing the query, I just need to write it. I guess you could say I was doing all this reading to put off actually having to write my query. Funny how that works?

  

As for word count, all the research I've done on acceptable fantasy word counts has actually been around 200k. I know, I was really worried about it because one of the earliest criticisms was that the story didn't feel complete enough when it was only at 90k. That has been solved by adding 15 more chapters and building up some of the descriptions. I actually added the entirety of the intended second novel only after I looked up what was acceptable. I'm much happier with the end product. It is a much better book after I learned I need not fear the word count.


Amber Wolfe
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 4:28 PM
Joined: 7/24/2014
Posts: 539


LeeAnna, I read some of your book, and I left my review. But I'll give another go and try to read the rest of it (which will take a while, considering that length)

 

Might I suggest cutting down on the felt/saw/heard? I mentioned that in my first review, and it would be a great way to cut down on word count (Or maybe not, if you end up having to add more to the sentence). But considering that every 'How to Write' book I've read suggests omitting felt/saw/heard where possible, that will make you seem much more professional and skilled when an Agent or Editor takes a look at your book. Having felt/saw/heard is usually unnecessary, since the reader knows that your character is the one feeling/seeing/hearing--unless implied otherwise.

 

I gave examples of what I meant in the review, and won't go into more detail here.

 

Sorry. I know that's not the question you asked--I've no experience with query letters, and agree with Jay, Mimi, and Jean. But I thought I'd mention this, since that seemed to be the most prominent problem I spotted when reading the first few chapters of Hands of Ash.

 

Also, when I was doing research on acceptable lengths for fantasy novels for my book Destiny's Bond, I found that anywhere between 100,000 words to 200,000 was acceptable. Sometimes even 500,000 words was acceptable, though that seemed to be for experienced authors only. When it came to Debut Fantasy Novels, 100,000 words seemed to be the desired length Agents and Editors looked for. Frankly, I understood that, since when a new writer's approaching them with a manuscript, and it has a word count of 200,000 words, they have to wonder whether the writer didn't take the time to 'cut' unnecessary words, such as felt/saw/heard, or unnecessary descriptions/backstory.

 

Well, I've probably bored you or got you annoyed with me, so I'll stop with my two cents worth now embarrassed


Mimi Speike
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 4:45 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014


Amber, fair enough. Lee Anna, I promise to read two chapters a day. I'll check back when I'm through. The good thing about a paced read is that I have plenty of time to think it over. I don't often have an on-the-spot reaction with solid arguments. 

 


Carl E. Reed
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 5:37 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


Hi, LeeAnna! 

 

You asked me to take a look at this and comment if I had the time. Bearing in mind what Jay Greenstein said about the purpose and structure of an effective query, here's my stab at helping out.

 

Remember: DRAMA! IMPACT! TEASE! 

 

GRAB THOSE EYEBALLS & RAM THEM INTO THE PAGE!

 

(Yep, the effective fantasy query--or so my agent tells me--often reads like breathless comic book prose. More is more when you're trying to convey the energy, passion and weird wonder of your world, against thousands of other incoming manuscripts . . .)

 

....................................................................................

 

Melody Moonari is a woman on a mission. Haunted by the death of her mother at the hands of monsters who destroyed her village, she's grown to adulthood as the adopted daughter of the king of _____, raised to be ____________.


But now the monsters are back. They've blasted the capital city of Erudian from the face of the planet, driving Prince Adamar Vegana into the kingdom and her bed. Joining forces, Melody and Prince Adamar set out to find seven sacred artifacts that will release a demi-god master from the pocket dimension that entraps him, and raise an army of the incinerated dead to battle against the dark forces ravaging the continent of Adlar.


Kingdoms will fall and new ones rise, as Melody and Prince Adamar, together with a chain-smoking exorcist named Tao and an exiled swordsman called _____ the "_______", fight to hold the line against the demonic hordes besieging their world. And time is running out . . .       


HANDS OF ASH is a 190,000 word character driven fantasy adventure with light steampunk elements. 


It is my first book. I have completed ______ words of the sequel, which will be finished by __________.


Thank you for your consideration. 

.........................................................


Of course this needs to be tweaked and rewritten to your specifications. I'm just trying to give you the gist of the thing; to convey something of the style and energy required to stand out from the crowd. After all, this isn't a work of literary fiction you've written here (where a more restrained query style might pay off). This is genre, and genre must sizzle to sell. Good luck!

 

--edited by Carl E. Reed on 1/8/2015, 7:36 AM--


Amber Wolfe
Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2015 5:34 AM
Joined: 7/24/2014
Posts: 539


LeeAnna, I attempted to review more of Hands of Ash, and for some reason, the system wouldn't let me. Maybe because I've already reviewed that version?

 

Sorry. If you upload a new version, I'll review.


LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2015 7:34 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


Amber, I'm going through the text for the small words. I shall hunt them like the scum they are! Especially after I realized I misrepresented my word count. It's at 199k. Talk about a typo. You can also read it, and just send me a PM with some general notes, nothing fancy. Since you know I'll post a new version after the little words go down. You can get fancy then.

  

It's funny too that I have such a big word count because I am really economical aside from those little words. I have this thing about the overabundance of useless prose. It must be taken out back and shot. I think that's why I'm not the biggest fan of Tolkien, and why I prefer watching Game of Thrones to reading it.

   

Carl! You're query sounds so entertaining. I wish it was my book. Sadly, most of that stuff never happens. Including Melody hooking up with Adamar. She falls for the self-exiled swordsman with the personality of a grumpy academic. I mean, he believes contractions are lazy. That probably gives you the most accurate description of his personality, like, evah.


Carl E. Reed
Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2015 8:27 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


@LeeAnna: Heh! I knew from reading and reviewing Hands of Ash (and your plot synopsis of the book under its description here on BC) that what I penned wasn't strictly apropos; I was trying to give you a sense of query "bang-zoom!" that you can then tailor to your own needs and make pertinent to the book's plot. Also: I dashed that sample off the cuff yesterday; I would rewrite it every day for a week if it were my book so as to get closer and closer to something ruthlessly shorn of all grammatical and syntactical infelicities while containing the strongest possible action verbs and picaresque,  image-concretizing nouns. End goal: a pungent 3-6 paragraph punch-up of marketing tease that so intrigues the person opening your envelope or e-mail that they can't wait to start reading that all-important first page.

 

Easier said than done, I know! And I want to emphasize again: What I did there was to try and get you thinking about the tenor of your query: the tease and general tone, if you will, of this maddening part of the writing business. 

 

PS. From recent personal experience, I can tell you this: If you can get an editor to even look at your manuscript, you've won. I'm reading responses to agented queries from publisher after publisher that sound depressingly similar and dismissive in tone regarding my own work: "Not for us. Not reading now. We solicit our writers directly. (That one: especially enraging.) Not for our readers. Closed to submissions. Doesn't sound quite right for our market. Not sure where to place this. Reading again next year. Not interested. Go away. F--k off and die." (All right, those last two I made up but they capture the frustrating, numbing subtext this relentless drumbeat of rejection and disinterest communicates to the writer assaulting the gates of Publishingdom--agent in tow or no.)

 

As I said: Good luck. You're very smart to solicit feedback on your sample query; you've got to hone those paragraphs into something pertinent, arresting and energizing. If you can, let us know what final form your query took and what kind of responses you're getting from editors. (You could always keep responding editors and publishing houses anonymous, as I've done here. Don't burn any bridges, and all of that . . .) 

--edited by Carl E. Reed on 1/9/2015, 12:37 AM--


Amber Wolfe
Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2015 1:46 PM
Joined: 7/24/2014
Posts: 539


That sounds doable, LeeAnna--Though it'll still take me a while, considering that length. I'll write down my general thoughts on the story as a whole, and message you with them

 

Unless you upload the new version before I finish, in which case I'll go back, skim what I've already read, and add any typos or such I spot (I won't go on about felt/saw/heard in the message review if I finish it first, since it sounds like you're going through and stomping them to smithereens happy)

 

Your story did entertain me, LeeAnna, and it was because of length and time that I stopped instead of finishing the entire manuscript. Which, in a way, is sort of evil of me, since my own manuscript is 112,000 words and I'd like to have reviewers who read through to the end.

 

So now, I'm making a pledge to finish manuscripts I commit to reviewing all the way through, no matter the length--unless the manuscript is in serious need of revising/grammar structure that I can base the review on as a whole.

 

Good luck, LeeAnna. You're on your way, and hopefully someday I'll be in the same spot as you, in the submission process


LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015 9:54 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I know what you were doing, Carl. I was just pulling your leg. All I want to do is write a query that has the same entertaining tone my book has. I want to share my story that people have enjoyed reading with the world, and trying to accomplish that is making me pull my hair out. I'll be honest, I think this is breaking me. I've never been good at selling myself, so this is a true challenge.

   

Amber, it's cool. My word count is daunting, but I do try to make my words count. My later chapters are much better than my first ones. I know I'm a weak starter, even editing. It's something I've been trying to fix for years. I think it's the types of stories I write. It may end up being my downfall, but we'll see what happens if I ever get my query in shape.


Lucy Silag - Book Country Community Manager
Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015 10:08 AM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1359


Hey Lee Anna--don't let it break you!

 

Once I was in a writing class where the teacher wanted us to work on writing with more authority. We were reading Jane Austen at the time (I mean, when am I not?) and the teacher pointed out how Austen wrote every sentence with the utmost assuredness. The exercise she had us to do practice was to pick 500 words of our current WIP and rewrite them as authoritatively as we could. I loved the exercise--it's one I come back to over and over.

 

I loved Carl's example and I think it's spot on. But how do you get from here to there? Why not rewrite your query, but just go through every sentence to see if you can make it sound like an absolute expert is raving about your book. It might embarrass you in the beginning (because it will feel so odd to write about your work in such a way), but it's a good way to stretch.


Lucy Silag - Book Country Community Manager
Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015 10:25 AM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1359


One thing most back cover copy has in common is that it has a starting moment--like a mini inciting incident.

 

If adopted princess Melody Moonari doesn't find a prince to marry, or she'll be forced into a life of servitude and abuse with the son of her father's steward. Just as she's about to give up hope, Prince Adamar Vegana arrives for a visit . . .


Carl E. Reed
Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015 11:24 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


@LeeAnna: Nah, don't let it break you! For one thing: all of us here are cheering you on! We've got your back. (It's tough breaking in but then all of us knew that, eh?)

 

I think I know how you feel: that tearing-out-your-hair, eyes-crossed "I-can't-look-at-this-one-more-time" feeling. (Confession: my agent had me rewrite the introduction to Night Terror & Other Weird Tales over sixty times until I finally delivered a version he was happy with. But having done that, I'm mighty proud and satisfied with the introduction to a book that hasn't sold, heh!)

 

Another thing I remind myself when I get all tangled up in trying to be too damn po-faced professional: find the fun. Or rather, re-find the fun. As Kurt Vonnegut said: You can't open your window and make love to the world, so write to please yourself.  

 

Can't wait to see the next version of your query!

 

--edited by Carl E. Reed on 1/9/2015, 11:25 AM--


Mimi Speike
Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015 1:10 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014


@Carl, I would love to see the first version of your intro, and the sixtieth, to see what has changed. Is that possible? Also, you have such a thing-unto-itself prose style (which I love), I'd love to see a query you have prepared for one of your pieces. Am I right or wrong in thinking that, aside from a punchy pitch, a query should reflect the flavor of the writing style? Or had we better let sleeping dogs lie, one step at a time?
Carl E. Reed
Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015 5:01 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


@Mimi: I'd love to show you the first and last versions of my book's intro but I don't save past versions; I rewrite them--or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I write over them--and constantly move forward. There must have been at least 20-30 iterations that made it onto BC as successive drafts though, if you were glazed-eyed bored and masochistic enough to read each one in sequence, heh!    

 

As to query examples, my agent flatly refused to let me write one. (!!) Said leave it to him--he's the professional; that's what I'm paying him for (via a cut of the book's profits if and when Night Terror sells). Lucky me, right? 

 

From my understanding of the industry, the query doesn't necessarily have to reflect the authorial tone adopted by the writer in the manuscript. It does have to be written in a manner that comes across as professional, intriguing and relevant to its market. A certain brio and panache helps in the selling of genre fiction (so long as it doesn't come across as ludicrous self-parody or an example of ADS: Author Derangement Syndrome), but there's more to it than that.

 

Here's a link to 70 different query letters with responses from agents and editors to help us all out:

 

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries  

 

--edited by Carl E. Reed on 1/9/2015, 7:04 PM--


Mimi Speike
Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015 6:05 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1014


I delete/write over previous versions also, especially if I'm writing verse. If one try didn't work (and I don't give up easily), I always think it can be salvaged, until I decide that it can't. Then, it's best to dump it. I've found that to go back and refresh my memory about a failed approach does me no good. I need to clear my mind completely and I don't want to be tempted to revisit.

 

--edited by Mimi Speike on 1/9/2015, 6:43 PM--


 

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