Query Critique 4: Sins of Our Fathers

22 Jun

Welcome to the second day of our 3-day-long Query Critique Week (say that five times fast)! We received a ton of queries, and even though we wish we could have chosen more, we were only able to pick 9 of them to critique. Let’s get started!

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Query 4: Sins of Our Fathers

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Dear Agent:

Fifth century Makesh is the perfect place for a young man to mature.  Society is progressing, the economy is booming, and technology is developing more quickly than anyone could imagine.  Most people think that the world has gone about as far as it can go, but Camden Wright knows better.  The heir of a family with a five hundred year old secret, he becomes the head of that family just as that secret must be revealed.

SINS OF OUR FATHERS is a 100,000 word young adult fantasy novel which takes the reader from Makesh, a planet eerily like our own, to Mareen, a world fraught with magic.  As Camden seeks the answers as to why Makesh divided from Mareen, he stumbles upon an ancient enemy ready to destroy anyone without magic.

He could use his new friendship with powerful mage Shaun Smithson to close the portal between worlds, forever locking Makesh from its heritage but saving it from possible destruction.  But he could also fight for Makesh’s right to reunite with its past despite the consequences which seem inevitable.

This is my first novel.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Taryn Albright

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Critiques

Sarah J. Maas:

My first thought was: “Is Makesh in our world? Is this historical fiction?” Obviously, it’s not—but I would perhaps move the mention of your title/genre to the first line: “In my young adult fantasy novel, SINS OF OUR FATHERS, Makesh is the perfect place for a young man to mature.” That way, we know straight off the bat that this is fantasy.

I thought the first paragraph was pretty solid until the last sentence, which got a bit confusing/wordy: “The heir of a family with a five hundred year old secret, he becomes the head of that family just as that secret must be revealed.” Maybe instead of repeating “family,” you could say: “His father dies just as that deadly secret must be revealed.” Or something that both clears it up and amps up the tension.

The final sentence of the second paragraph is a bit confusing, too—I get that this is an important point in the plot, but it just confuses me: where does the enemy come from, what world does he threaten? The third paragraph should introduce that conflict, but it instead introduces another character, and rather blandly explains his two options. This would be the perfect place to hook us—to give us a huge dilemma and why Camden is so important, but it instead just gets bogged down in murky sentences.

We also need a bit of info about YOU—a final paragraph that includes the word count (if you take it out of the 2nd paragraph) and then a bit of bio would be great. I think this query has a lot of potential, but it just needs to be cleaned up first.

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Vanessa Di Gregorio:

Like Sarah, I was also a bit confused as to whether it was historical or fantasy (I thought Makesh was a city in our world when I read the first paragraph). I would agree that adding “young adult fantasy” to the beginning would clear out any confusion.

The third paragraph is a bit awkward; you only use pronouns. The first sentence there should start with Camden, instead of “he”. Your second and third paragraphs could be combined, leaving you room to add a third paragraph describing yourself a bit more.

And I agree with Sarah that the third paragraph is lacking a bit in luster. You need to state the choice Camden has, and the high stakes involved; what is at risk? Why would it matter if the portal between worlds were closed forever? Why is this significant? I’m a bit unsure as to what is at stake here, and what is driving Camden to choose between one or the other. Adding that would make the query much stronger, and will give it more of a hook. But overall, this query definitely caught my attention. Best of luck!

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Sammy Bina:

To some extent, I agree with both Sarah and Vanessa’s point about clarifying whether the story is historical or fantasy right off the bat. Information about word count and genre generally come at either the beginning or end of a query. Because yours comes in the middle, and is then followed by more information about the plot, it really throws the reader off. If you combined the information in paragraphs one and three, and moved paragraph two to the end of your query (while combining it with your bio), I think your letter would flow much better.

As Vanessa said, you also need to explain the conflict better. I don’t really understand Camden’s motivations, or why this secret is so important to the plot itself. A little information about that could really increase the tension, and maybe pique an agent’s interest. I’m sure your manuscript delves into this conflict a great deal, but you need to put some of that information in your query to entice an agent to request more.

Also helpful would be a sentence or two about why you chose to query this particular agent. It shows that you’ve done your research, and aren’t just sending your query to every agent on the planet. If they represent something similar to your novel, it never hurts to mention that, either. If you make some changes, I think you’ll have a really strong query on your hands. Good luck!

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Savannah J. Foley:

Why is Makesh ‘eerily’ like our own world? Unless your story eventually ties in with Earth, it’s probably not a good idea to link them in an agent’s mind.

I get that this is an action story, and you do a great job with hyping up the drama, but I’d like to see more plot in here. What’s this secret that threatens to tear the worlds apart? I would also describe the enemy; anything in particular that makes them a good nemesis? If the consequences are inevitable, then what’s the benefit of rejoining the worlds?

I would also shy away from saying this is your first novel. It just doesn’t matter, and might actually signal to an agent that it may not be a very good novel, given that it’s your first.

Overall however, it sounds like an amazing story! Best of luck!

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Tell us what you think! Never written a query before? Only heard of them last week? You don’t have to be an expert to make comments; you know what sounds good and what doesn’t. Did we miss something? Let us know your thoughts!

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Helpful Links

Queries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blog

Query Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog

How to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blog

Query Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back together

AgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letter

A Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America

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6 Responses to “Query Critique 4: Sins of Our Fathers”

  1. Gabriela da Silva June 22, 2010 at 12:56 AM #

    Ahahah, I was totally about to ask where Makesh was, thinking “It’s probably near Morocco” 😛

    I think that maybe the date (5th century) is not so important here, since it’s sci-fi/fantasy? 5th Century makes me think of Rome and Constantinople, and if the agent’s mind works anything like my own, they’ll probably be confused by that as well.

  2. Aly June 22, 2010 at 1:23 PM #

    I have a question regarding something that Sarah said as part of her critique. She mentioned adding a bit of a bio, and I was wondering what exactly that entails. For instance, in my case, I would have no idea what to put in a bio, as I am just someone who writes for fun. (Obviously, I’m not ready to query anthing yet. This is just for future reference.)

    Thanks,

    Aly

    • Sarah J. Maas June 22, 2010 at 5:45 PM #

      With bio stuff, I would keep it as relevant and professional as possible (like, don’t mention winning random online contests, blog awards, etc.). If you’ve got a relevant college or graduate degree, include it, or if you’ve had any prior publication (again, legit stuff…like literary magazines). Bios are a tricky thing if you don’t have any relevant qualifications…Maybe someone else can chime in with some advice.

  3. Jennifer June 22, 2010 at 2:58 PM #

    Just a tiny critique, Taryn: It being 5th century Makesh and Camden’s family having a 500 year old secret doesn’t add up – 5th century is in the 400s, so this secret would have to predate the separation of the worlds. Is that what you intended?

    • svonnah June 22, 2010 at 11:06 PM #

      Ooh, good catch.

  4. Taryn June 24, 2010 at 12:21 AM #

    Wow, thanks! I must have been blind not to notice this right after it went up, but I finally stumbled across it. To everyone who mentioned the historical issue, thanks! I meant to liken 5th century Makesh to very early 20th century America but I suppose that will read better within the manuscript than the query. And the muddled conflict will need to be mended.
    As Aly said, I have no publishing credits, so I still wonder about how-to-bio. And Jennifer: great catch!

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