Query Critique 5: Glory or Death

4 Feb

Welcome to Query Week! Every day, this week and next, we’ll be publicly critiquing the queries you guys were awesome enough to send us last week. If we don’t publicly post yours, don’t worry, we’ll still email you our thoughts 🙂

See the bottom of our posts for great resources about queries, and use the tag ‘query week’ to see Query Weeks of the past.

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Dear Agent,

The gods who created Ayla to compete in the Fourteenth Akkadian War request her presence when she turns sixteen. What a way to celebrate a birthday.

The month-long War serves to nourish the four-thousand-year-old hatred between mageians and therians. Bad blood forces the two species to live in separate underground cities—except for a handful of people like Ayla. She grew up with therians, including her best friend and childhood crush, Loran. But the war requires her to travel half-way around the world to train with other mageians, away from Loran.

Ayla would much rather train with him than the sweaty, blood-thirsty mageian boy she expects to be her training partner. She doesn’t get what she imagined; she gets Zalyn. He wants her as much as he wants to win and she likes flirting with him almost as much as she likes training with him. Ayla enjoys their friendly rivalry, forgetting the competition is a war—a death match.

The mageian and therian competitors meet for the first time on separate sides of the arena. Loran stands on the therian side. Ayla always knew he’d been created to compete just like everyone else, but seeing him on the other side is a lot harder than she thought. She doesn’t want to play the game if she has to lose everyone she loves to win.

GLORY OR DEATH is a 90,000-word young adult fantasy novel with series potential. This is my first novel.

Thanks for your time and consideration,

-Jessica Lei

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Today we have a special “guest critique” from literary agent Natalie Fischer!  Here’s Natalie’s critique:

The idea of a gladiator-fantasy YA intrigues me a lot; unfortunately, the concept is buried beneath a rather confusing query.

My first thought when I dove into the first sentence was…huh? It assumes knowledge A) that the gods create beings for some purpose which might apparently be B) the Akkadian War, but I don’t know what Akkadia is or why there are fourteen wars (though that is definitely interesting!). It sounds incredibly fantasy-ish, but I was thrown off by the tone in the second sentence – it seems almost out of place for the fantasy I was set up for, more like a contemporary snarky teen voice.

The next paragraph explains what the wars are about, but I just end up wondering why in the world these species (so they aren’t human?) want to nourish hatred, and why people like Ayla get to live above-ground. Didn’t the previous sentence just say that the two species – which includes the therians – have to live underground? Then how does it make sense that Ayla grew UP with the therians, and yet she lives above-ground? And why is she training with mageians if she grew up with therians, the hated other species?

Ok. Let’s back up. Clearly, there is too much assumed knowledge and plot confusion in this query. I think it’s a matter of not keeping it simple enough. I would try something like: “Sixteen-year-old Ayla was created solely for the purpose of competing in the Wars – a death match between a chosen therian gladiator and a mageian one. For centuries these two species have used humans as their play-things to compete; but Ayla isn’t interested in playing games. Not when she’ll be competing against the only family she’s ever had – and the only boy she’s ever loved.”

Obviously, that may not work – I don’t know if the two “species” aren’t human, etc., but hopefully it illustrates that I’d just like to see this as grounded in OUR reality as possible – in any fantasy query, use terms and situations I’m familiar with, or explain ones I’m not, to avoid confusion.

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As always, notes in blue!

–Kat Zhang

Dear Agent,

The gods who created Ayla to compete in the Fourteenth Akkadian War request her presence when she turns sixteen. What a way to celebrate a birthday. Love a snappy beginning, though the first sentence is a tad weak syntax-wise. Try making Ayla the subject. Also, you might want to be a little more clear about the “created by the gods” part. I’m not too clear on that. Is that normal in this world or no?

The month-long War serves to nourish the four-thousand-year-old hatred between mageians and therians What’s the difference between the two? Are they human? Humanoid? When you say “two species,” my mind starts jumping to wild possibilities, lol. Bad blood forces the two species to live in separate underground cities—except for a handful of people like Ayla. She grew up with therians, including her best friend and childhood crush, Loran. But the war requires her to travel half-way around the world to train with other mageians, away from Loran Could be slightly more clear about the reason. Is she supposed to be learning their secrets or something? Do they know she’s a therian? IS she a therian?.

Ayla would much rather train with him than the sweaty, blood-thirsty mageian boy she expects to be her training partner. She doesn’t get what she imagined; she gets Zalyn. He wants her as much as he wants to win and she likes flirting with him almost as much as she likes training with him. Cute 😛 Ayla enjoys their friendly rivalry, forgetting the competition is a war—a death match.

The mageian and therian competitors meet for the first time on separate sides of the arena. Loran stands on the therian side. Ayla always knew he’d been created to compete just like everyone else, but seeing him on the other side is a lot harder than she thought. She doesn’t want to play the game if she has to lose everyone she loves to win. Nice paragraph

GLORY OR DEATH is a 90,000-word young adult fantasy novel with series potential. This is my first novel.

No need to say it’s your first novel. I’d like a tiny bit more backstory on the war–like one sentence. Also, the difference between the two species (and whether they look human!). Also, what does the war entail? At first I figured like a normal war. But then you call it a competition and a game. So is this war not what we’d normall consider a war? If so, what is it like?

Oh, and you never mention those gods again. What part do they play in this war? Is it really their war and the “people” are just pawns?

Otherwise, good job overall with the query!

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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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3 Responses to “Query Critique 5: Glory or Death”

  1. Julie Eshbaugh February 4, 2011 at 3:01 PM #

    Great critiques, Natalie and Kat! This story seems to have tons of potential. I think your advice will really help Jessica make this into a first class query!

    • Kat Zhang February 4, 2011 at 5:36 PM #

      Thanks, Julie 🙂 I hope so!

  2. Jessica Lei February 4, 2011 at 8:32 PM #

    Thanks to both of you! Awesome feedback 😀

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