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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Query Critique - Sunrise

Original format:
As you are looking to add to your inventory for Castle Gate Press, I believe I have a novel that may interest you, especially in light of your strong interest in YA. Set in the small Texas town of Briar Ridge, Sunrise combines family drama with paranormal romance and supernatural suspense similar to Becca Fitzpatrick and Erin Healy, and is complete at approximately 83,000 words. It is the first book of a planned trilogy.

When your world goes dark, can you wait until sunrise or will you give in to the darkness?

For eighteen-year old Parker, a protective big brother who dreams of glory on the high school football field, his entire world went dark the night of the shooting. In a chilling span of sixty seconds, his life and that of his family are changed forever.

Although hailed a hero in the immediate aftermath, Parker makes a shocking discovery that his actions from the past provided a motive for the killings. Overcome with guilt, he begins to spiral downward, drifting further and further from the life he once knew. But when revenge is sought and Parker's life and soul are in danger, help comes from an unexpected source … an angel named Marie.

A spunky, impulsive guardian, Marie has dedicated herself to saving Parker at all costs. When confronted by a sinister nemesis, she finds herself caught in a desperate struggle over Parker’s fate while facing her growing, but secret affections for him that she can no longer ignore. But when she takes matters into her own hands, will it cause more harm than good? Can she help Parker find redemption and forgiveness or will she lose him to the darkness forever?

Receiving third place in the YA/Speculative category of the 2013 Writers of the Storm Category 5 writing contest, Sunrise is my debut YA novel.

By way of background, I was raised a PK (preacher’s kid) and played high school football in a small town in Texas. I’m a former high school football coach, law school graduate, and current State government employee. I’m also a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. I currently reside in the suburbs of Austin, Texas with my wife and two young, precocious daughters - who enthusiastically assist my search for the perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter.

Per your submission guidelines, a brief synopsis and the first ten pages are included below.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kindest regards,

My Critique:

As you are looking to add to your inventory for Castle Gate Press, I believe I have a novel that may interest you, especially in light of your strong interest in YA. 
As a first sentence, a 32-wordcount is way long.
Suggestion: In light of your interest in YA, I believe my novel will add to your list at Castle Gate Press. (20 words)

Set in the small Texas town of BriarRidge, Sunrise combines family drama with paranormal romance and supernatural suspense similar to Becca Fitzpatrick and Erin Healy, and is complete at approximately 83,000 words.
Ditto my earlier comment. 33 word count = too long

It is the first book of a planned trilogy.
Some agents/editors want this info. Some don’t. If research shows the agent is interested in this tidbit, put it in. Otherwise, don’t add to the query.

When your world goes dark, can you wait until sunrise or will you give in to the darkness?
A little bit vague. I get no picture in my mind about this sentence. Also, careful with the questions. I don’t have a problem with it, but some agents roll their eyes and hit delete if they see a question.

For eighteen-year old Parker, a protective big brother ‘big brother’ is all I need to know who with dreams of glory on the high school football field, his entire world went dark the night of the shooting.
Suggestion: Eighteen-year-old Parker, big brother and [another attribute here] dreams of glory on the high school football field. But on the night of the shooting, his world turns dark.

In a chilling span of sixty seconds, his life and that of his family are changed forever.
Spell out what you mean in the last sentence. Don’t make the reader guess. Suggestion: In the span of sixty seconds, death changes his life and his family’s into a wasteland of emotions [or another attribute].

Although hailed a hero an alliteration. Try: “...called a hero...” in the immediate why immediate? Does his status change later on? aftermath, Parker makes a shocking discovery that his actions from the past provided a motive for the killings.
To avoid the guessing game and cut clichés, my suggestion: “...After friends and family calls him a hero, Parker is horror struck when he discovers his actions played a part in the killings...”

Overcome with guilt, he begins to spiral downward, drifting further and further from the life he once knew.
This needs specificity.  Try not to fall into clichés. Suggestion: Grief causes him to turn away from friends and family. When they intervene, he pushes them away and contemplates suicide. [I am only guessing here. Be sure to provide your own consequence]

But when revenge is sought and Parker's life and soul are in danger, help comes from an unexpected source … an angel named Marie.
Now, here is excellent information, the meat of the story. Love it. My advice, try for a different sentence structure here: “...But when revenge is sought and Parker’s life and soul are in danger...”

The last half, for the love of Pete, KEEP. Excellent.

A spunky, impulsive guardian, Marie has dedicated herself to saving Parker at all costs. When confronted by a sinister nemesis, she finds herself caught in a desperate struggle over Parker’s fate while facing her growing, but secret affections for him that she can no longer ignore.
Dang but you do love these long sentences. Cut. Specify.

But when she takes matters into her own hands, will it cause more harm than good? Can she help Parker find redemption and forgiveness or will she lose him to the darkness forever?
A little vague. And again, careful with the questions. Remember, for every person who might be intrigued, there is another who answers the question flippantly.

Receiving third place in the YA/Speculative category of the 2013 Writers of the Storm Category 5 writing contest, Sunrise is my debut YA novel.

Super info but regarding "...my debut YA novel...", unless you have another book out that isn't a YA and you want the agent to know this is a different genre, do not, DO NOT say this is your debut novel. EvEr.

By way of background, I was raised a PK (preacher’s kid) and played high school football in a small town in Texas. I’m a former high school football coach, law school graduate, and current State government employee. I’m also a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. I currently reside in the suburbs of Austin, Texas with my wife and two young, precocious daughters - who enthusiastically assist my search for the perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter.
If research shows an agent/editor likes a bio such as this, include it. Just do the research first. Some might skip this as unnecessary to the novel, especially when it is fiction. Non-fiction is a totally different kinda pie. It needs a platform. 

Love the chocolate/ peanut butter reference, btw.

Per your submission guidelines, a brief synopsis and the first ten pages are included below.
Good, good. Always let the agent/editor know that you read the submission guidelines. And what you have included in the query.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

A good 'Thank you'.

Kindest regards,

Summary: Careful with tense. The meat of a query should be present.

Ditch as many adjectives/adverbs as possible, if not all.

Use care when invoking questions. Some use that occasion to give smart alec answers.

A little long for a query. The meat of the query is 209 words, not too bad. But if the rest is included, the wordcount is 415.

Use short sentences interspersed with long ones. It is like the structure in a poem or a limerick. It gives symmetry. Don't worry about incomplete sentences, btw. "It just doesn't matter." - Bill Murray, Meatballs.


Conclusion: I would read on. Especially if given more information. Love the angel. 

5 comments:

Charity Bradford said...

Carol hit everything I would have said. There is a lot of potential here, but you are so vague that too many questions come up. You must be clear about the character, conflict and stakes in the query. I know how hard it is to do because we all want the reader to be surprised when they get into the pages, but the agent needs to know the concept of the story before they'll even start reading.

I suggest:
1. Make the inciting incident very clear--more about the shooting and why Parker thinks he's responsible
2. Clarify what Parker's struggle is. What do you mean by "downward spiral"? Who is seeking revenge?
3. What is the consequence if Parker loses his struggle? I know what Marie is afraid to lose, but what is Parker afraid to lose?

Otherwise, just like Carol, I'd probably read a few pages to see what's going on.

mshatch said...

ditto the above. I'll just add that I read that agents like queries to focus on character, conflict and choice. And according to agent Janet Reid, these questions need to be answered in the query letter:


1. What does mc want (don’t tell what she doesn't want)

2. Who/What is the antagoinist?

3. What's keeping mc from getting what she wants?


Hope this helps :)

Misha Gericke said...

Just a note on structure:

Housekeeping (word count, title, target market) should go right at the bottom. Reason for this is that an agent/assistant reads tons of queries every day. If you start with the boring bit, they'll just skip your query altogether.

As for the bio, stick to publishing experience as far as possible. If you have none, rather skip it, unless the agency/publisher specifically asks you to say more about yourself.

Misha Gericke said...

ONE MORE THING!

Stop at "Thank you for your time." Most agents won't even get back to you, and apparently they read "Looking forward to hearing from you soon." as highly presumptuous.

Scott Abel said...

Awesome feedback! Thanks, everyone! This blog rocks!!!

Scott