Welcome to the first day of our 3-day-long Query Critique Week (say that five times fast)! We received 11 queries in all and chose 9 of them to critique. Let’s get started!
Query 7: Towards Sunlight
Dear -insert agent here-,
When seventeen year old farmboy Jack accidentally grows a beanstalk in his back garden, curiosity compels him to climb it. At the top of the beanstalk he discovers the Azure, a realm hidden in the clouds, where the ground is fluffy and white, the paving stones chime melodically with every step, and the elusive Faeries are thought of as saints. Here Jack befriends the cunning and secretive Feyrenne, a reluctant princess who desperately dreams of becoming a Faerie. She shares with him the history of the world, but he is most fascinated by her account of the Azurian royal family- the recently deceased Queen, her power-hungry brother, and the frustrated King who is struggling to cope with his twelve rebellious daughters, Feyrenne the sixth among them.
Every night, she and her eleven sisters sneak out of the palace and wear their slippers into a state of disrepair. Under questioning, they all refuse to divulge where they go or what they do, but it is clear that dark forces are at play. At his wit’s end, the King offers a great reward for anyone who can solve the mystery of the twelve dancing princesses- any one of their hands in marriage. In an act of chivalry, Jack accepts the challenge, convinced that this is his chance to prove himself as something more than a useless farmboy. Eager both to help Feyrenne, for whom he is beginning to feel more than just friendship, and to finally earn some respect, he vows to free the princesses from the mysterious curse that enslaves them, while unravelling the legends of Faerie lore.
My manuscript, Towards Sunlight, is a combined retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and the Twelve Dancing Princesses, complete at 75,000 words.
Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.
Just to be really nitpicky off the bat, I think you need a mention of a “giant” beanstalk in the first line, because right now (even if we know the legend), there’s no mention of it being anything other than an average beanstalk. I like the world-building, but I feel like two things should be done: we need more of a voice, and we need less information. We have a ton of information being thrown at us in this opening paragraph—everything from the plot to the world to the characters—and we need some focus.
The jump between the first and second paragraphs (both of which need to be split in half and shortened) is a little abrupt, too: we go from Jack to three long sentences of history. I’m then confused by Jack accepting the challenge as an act of chivalry, when he’s really just doing it for himself. I’m also confused by the details of their curse—you describe them as rebellious, and yet they’re under a curse to go out every night? I love fairy-tale mashups, but this just seems a little confusing to me. I’d go through the query and cut out all the extra info you don’t need, then really try to hone it as much as you can. You also need to italicize your title, and give us one or two lines of bio about yourself.
For whatever reason, I am really obsessed with the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses right now and really want to read a good retelling/mash-up of it. I’ve heard of some, but there’re more on the MG/YA line and I’m looking for something late YA…okay, I’ll stop blathering on. My point is, I’m really interested in your story!
That being said, I do think some things need to be cleared up. A query needs to intrigue and allure. It doesn’t need to cover everything. Some of the first paragraph, especially the latter few sentences, could be cut or condensed. It’s not essential and it builds no conflict. Conflict is very important! (but you knew that :D)
I like the second paragraph, though I agree with Sarah about the confusion over the “act of chivalry” part. Is he just pretending to be chivalrous? Also, I’d like your characters’ personalities to come through a little more. You might not even have to add anything more–cutting some of the extra stuff will bring the description you do have of Jack and Feyrenne to the forefront.
Hope that helped some!
I’d like to hear a little more about Azure… so it’s basically cloud-land? Are there farms at all? What are the civilians like? How could a princess become a Faerie?
I don’t think that Jack accepting the challenge is the height of your plot… I agree with Sarah and Kat that you could cut out a lot of information, and here’s where you should add more in: What happens after he agrees to solve the mystery? Does he follow the princesses, and if so, what does he find? Right now I think you have a great concept, and the beginnings of a great story, but there’s not much plot displayed in the query. What’s the big action, the overall conflict? Identify that and I think you’ll be golden.
Best of luck!
I’m in complete agreement with the other ladies. I’m a sucker for a well done fairytale retelling, and your manuscript sounds really promising. One mistake people tend to make when querying, however, is having their letter sound more like a synopsis than a query. Because you’ve given us so much information about the world and the plot, we don’t really know much about the characters. I loved the details you used when painting a picture of Azure for us, but unfortunately I think details like those are better reserved for the actual story. The other ladies talked about condensing the information you’ve given, and as much as I hate to say it, I think the details about paving stones that chime need to be taken out. Queries are supposed to be concise and to the point, so all those extra details take up space you could be using to explain the story’s conflict, which is your main selling point. You can’t have a story without conflict, and while I’m sure your story has one, it doesn’t come across in your query. So make sure you find it and center your second paragraph around that, and I think you’ll be in great shape! Good luck!
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!
Helpful LinksQueries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blogQuery Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blogHow to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blogQuery Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back togetherAgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letterA Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America