Query Critique 6: Seventh Daughter

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 6: Seventh Daughter

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Dear Awesome Agent,

If the people of New Lithisle had been worth saving, sixteen-year-old Amy supposed she would have been sent to spy on them.  But she’s been told her whole life they’ve made themselves less than human through genetic engineering; hair as yellow as the feathers of a gold finch, eyes as purple as the fins of a royal dottyback.  So instead her father has sent her to evaluate the aegis dome that covers New Lithisle to determine if its impending collapse will harm their own civilization, a thousand miles away.

As Amy collects the data she realizes she may be able to alter its base computer code and avert disaster.  Her father, after all, engineered the shield of fire before he was banished.  But when her father concludes the collapse poses no threat to them, Amy is ordered home.

Amy’s perspective changes when she shares her first kiss with Daniel, a New Lithisle boy, and decides he has as much of a soul as she does.  She’d like to do something to save the tens of millions of people who live under the dome, but the coding is complex, and if she gets even one line wrong she’ll end up bringing it down on herself as well as all of New Lithisle.

SEVENTH DAUGHTER is a YA dystopian novel complete at 65,000 words.

I am a mother of four, ages 10-15, a small business owner, and a member of SCBWI.  I don’t mind public humiliation so you can use my name in association with my query if you choose.

Sincerely,

Rondi Olson

[Contact Information Redacted]

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Critiques

Sarah J. Maas:

The first line made me go: “Huh?” And unfortunately, the next few lines did, too. I can see the attempts at adding world-building and voice, but the mention of royal dottybacks and the aegis dome just threw me. There is just SO much random information crammed into this query that it’s difficult to see the plot and characters beneath it. Daniel comes out of nowhere—how does he factor into the work she’s been doing? I would cut down on the info about the shield (keeping it as bare-bones and tension-packed as you can) and take some time to introduce Daniel, and how the computer coding works on the shield (which feels really random, too). I think this has a lot of potential to be an eye-catching query, but it really just needs some clarification and editing at this point.

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Jenn Fitzgerald:

The concept sounds really interesting, but I think you’ve tried to pack too much in here and I got a bit confused. Did Amy’s father get banished from New Lithisle? Why is she a spy? How did she get inside a giant crumbling fire dome to kiss some guy? Maybe focus more on Amy; mention the reason for her mission and then focus on the conflict, to follow orders or her heart. Show us why Daniel is important to her.

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Kat Zhang:

I enjoyed the first paragraph–it caught my interest and I liked the strong colors you invoked. However, I agree that things are  little unclear. I think we need to know what an aegis dome is, or maybe you can leave the term out completely. A good suggestion I got from someone once on my own query was to leave out all the “special” words and explain everything in layman’s terms. After all, you simply don’t have room to be giving out lots of new vocabulary.

The middle paragraph seems weak because there’s no conflict there. Is that information really essential? Or could it be simplified and combined with another paragraph? I’m thinking the third paragraph could, with a little tweaking, become the second since it introduces the main conflict.

When I wrote my query, I tried to answer the following three questions as concisely as I could: Characters? Conflict? Consequences? In other words, who is/are the main character(s), what sort of conflict are they facing, and what will be the consequences if they fail?

I think you have this information here, but it’s a little muddled. Bring it to the forefront, and I believe this query will be even stronger 🙂

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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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15 Responses to “Query Critique 6: Seventh Daughter”

  1. Meagan Spooner June 22, 2010 at 1:05 AM #

    One of the things I’ve noticed about query critiques on other blogs is that agents advise removing things like “I’m a mother” and “small business owner,” unless those things have a direct application to the work. Usually that info ends up being more applicable in non-fiction queries. You don’t have to find things with which to pad out that last paragraph at all, which is I think the top reason people end up including superfluous contests and titles and information there. But this is just my own observation–people can feel free to argue/disagree!

    • Becca June 22, 2010 at 8:08 PM #

      Then if we have no writing credentials to brag about and a profession unrelated to writing, should we simply leave our bio as nothing more than contact information? That is what I’m tempted to do.

      • Kat Zhang June 22, 2010 at 8:15 PM #

        I’ve been told to do that if that’s the case. However, others recommend putting at least a line or two of something…so it’s not a black and white thing. Not the answer you wanted, I’m sure, haha

  2. Gabriela da Silva June 22, 2010 at 1:06 AM #

    I have to say – the first sentence confuses me. Your two main verbs, “saving” and “spying” are rather opposite to each other, wouldn’t you say? When I read “If the people of New Lithisle had been worth saving” I was expecting something related to that: rescuing, helping, making them see reason, etc.

    If they were worth saving, why would she spy on them? To get data? Maybe you could clarify it a bit?

    Also, is the aegis dome the same thing as the shield of fire? It wasn’t very clear to me.

    Finally, what does the title have to do with the plot? Is Amy the seventh daughter? Or would it be a spoiler to tell us? ;D

    Other than that, I really like how it sounds. I haven’t read many dystopian YA, but your plot sounds interesting!

  3. Becca June 22, 2010 at 1:07 PM #

    Okay, very awesome critiques! I have already gone back to my own query and made tons of changes based on your suggestions!

    However, I’ve come across some advice you ladies are giving that seems to contradict with other query advice. Many state your query should read like the back of a book, but I find that the summary on the back of the book has a lot of “secretive information” as to intice the reader to want to read the book. Most of your advice is telling the author to give more information, explain more about this, why is the character doing this? etc. So I feel that in a sense a query is really not like a summary on the back of the book since you are giving the agent much more information than you would a potential reader.

    Am I correct in assuming this or am I just really that bad at writing queries? :-/

    Thank you so very much for taking the time to do this for us, you are appreciated! 😀

    • Kat Zhang June 22, 2010 at 2:11 PM #

      I’ve heard a lot of people say to read the back of books for good query examples, but I don’t completely agree with this. I do read them to see how to catch a reader’s attention, but they do tend to be very vague. I don’t think you can really use them as prime examples for query letters. For instance, I’ve heard lots of agents say “No rhetorical questions, please!” but those back of book summaries use them all the time! Plus, they say all sorts of cliche things like “so-and-so’s dark past finally catches up with them” or so on that in my opinion can sound kind of trite in a query.

      Of course, some are very good summaries, so it’s hard to say.

      It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what works and what doesn’t, but I hope I’ve kinda sorta answered your question!

      • Becca June 22, 2010 at 2:36 PM #

        You have very much, thank you! Um…one more question? I assume in the query you do not have to resolve the conflict, that is saved for the synopsis they usually ask for if they liked your query, correct? What I’ve gathered, is that you need to do a good job of setting up the clear concise conflict(s).

        Thanks again!

        • svonnah June 22, 2010 at 2:38 PM #

          That’s true, you do not resolve the conflict in a query. That is saved for the synopsis. That’s the part of a query that is similar to the back of a book: it’s supposed to describe most of the action to hype of the agent, without leaving a resolution.

        • Becca June 22, 2010 at 2:40 PM #

          Oh dear, one last question and they I will stop the pestering.

          What are your thoughts about omitting the word count from your query? I know any novel over 100K demonsrates to an agent you have not taken the time to edit, and you must always consider yourself to be the rule and not exception, but…just curious if you were an agent if you would toss the query based on the fact the author purposely did not include word count.

          • svonnah June 22, 2010 at 2:48 PM #

            I think that it’s better to include the word count, no matter what it is, because agents are always going to be checking for a word count. If you don’t have it in there it indicates that a) you don’t know how to write a good query letter or b) you are purposefully omitting because you know there’s a problem.

            Also, novels over 100k aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but it depends on the genre. Novels that are 200k are pretty much always a bad thing, but for 100k you have some sliding room 🙂 Also I think I heard recently that someone was saying the new trend in YA is for books to be longer, so make of that what you will.

            However, if you know that your book has a problem with length I would consider taking a serious look at your novel and cutting something down before you query. If you think there’s a problem, then there probably is, you know?

            Feel free to keep asking questions!

            • Becca June 22, 2010 at 3:25 PM #

              Thanks again,
              I’ve cut 40K words getting my novel down to 125,000. I really want to cut more and plan on buckling down. I’ve researched that it’s a huge no-no to query over 100K that is why I ask, but maybe like you said agents are a little more lenient nowadays?

              • svonnah June 22, 2010 at 3:55 PM #

                In YA over 100k is seen as ‘bad’, but in other genres 85k to 100k is preferred. I think you could probably come down from 125k but if you hit 103k and just can’t cut anymore that’s probably going to be fine.

              • Sarah J. Maas June 22, 2010 at 5:35 PM #

                Jumping in here, because word count was an issue I faced…

                When I queried QUEEN OF GLASS, it was 145k words long. I deliberately left out all mention of the word count (knowing how 145k would be seen), and it didn’t stop me from getting requests…or getting an agent.

                My agent and I managed then to get the book down to 140k words, and we sold it with relative ease. So having a YA book over 100k words actually isn’t seen as “bad,” but it’s usually preferred for them to be on the shorter side. But I would definitely agree with Savannah in that you should make sure your book is as concise as it can possibly be.

  4. Rowenna June 22, 2010 at 1:53 PM #

    Sounds like a really interesting premise–I imagine it’s tough to get it pared down into a query 🙂 I was unclear–her father worries that the collapsing dome will harm their community, which is very far away. She wants to fix the dome–when you say she could “bring it down on herself” does that mean she is there and physically in danger, or that she’s risking her community’s safety if she tries to help? That makes a huge difference on how high the stakes are!

    Thanks so much for sharing your query with us!

  5. Rondi Olson June 22, 2010 at 7:43 PM #

    Thanks guys, you’re awesome! Great tips, now back to the query grind stone.

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