Query Critique 10: Mark of Thorn

11 Feb

Dear Agent,

What if the daughter of prominent officials was a changeling? In my  young adult fantasy novel, MARK OF THORN, Willow Coulter fears her special ability—one she’s been keeping secret—will be discovered. The strange mark on her arm tells her nothing of her true origin. Her parents are Hunters, those who murder suspected sorcerers for a living. She escapes the world of the wealthy and petty to face the identity she’s been suppressing for the sixteen years of her life.

Crippled by her ability to see the past and the future, Willow encounters a gang of runaway sorcerers, teenagers with abilities like her, who aim to start a rebellion. One of the members doesn’t trust her, a boy who her feelings are growing for. As the revolution unravels, Willow must rescue her birth mother from Thanatos, the lands of imprisonment, before all of her memories are wiped. Torn between her upbringing and the insurgent sorcerers, she embarks on a journey that opens her eyes to the role she plays in the Queen’s scheme for supremacy. Three rivaling countries compete in a battle for domination, one she must stop.

MARK OF THORN is a 59,000-word gripping novel that alludes to the tale of Hades and Persephone, apocalyptic myths, and Western European folklore. My completed manuscript is available at your request.

[Credentials]

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Summer Wayland

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Today we have a special guest post by CA Marshall!

Dear Agent,

What if the daughter of prominent officials was a changeling? [Nix hypothetical questions.] In my young adult fantasy novel, MARK OF THORN, Willow Coulter fears her special ability—one she’s been keeping secret—will be discovered. [Why not tell us here that she can see the future? Why wait until the next paragraph? Waiting makes this sentence vague] The strange mark on her arm tells her nothing of her true origin.[What does this sentence have to do with anything? It feels out of place] Her parents are Hunters, those who murder suspected sorcerers for a living. [So? Does being able to see the future make her a sorcerer, then? Do her parents know about her ability? If not, how has she hidden it for so long? Make this clearer.] She escapes [Is she being held against her will?] the world of the wealthy and petty [Nix the “and petty”] to face the identity she’s been suppressing for the sixteen years of her life. [Does she know she’s different? If she doesn’t know her “true origin” how could she have suppressed it? Also, the last half of the sentence reads awkward. Try moving the age to a different place, like the beginning.]

Crippled [why is it crippling?]by her ability to see the past and the future, Willow encounters [Does she run away? Do the sorcerer’s find her?] a gang of runaway sorcerers, teenagers with abilities like her, who aim to start a rebellion.[Awkward phrasing] One of the members doesn’t trust her, a boy who her feelings are growing for.[Cliche. If there’s a romance here, play it up. Smexyiness sells]

[Insert paragraph break]As the revolution unravels[Does it fall apart? What causes its downfall?], Willow must rescue her birth mother from Thanatos, the lands of imprisonment, before all of her [Willow’s or her mom’s?]memories are wiped. Torn [Why is she torn? The phrase is cliche, too]between her upbringing [What does he upbringing matter?]and the insurgent sorcerers, she embarks on a journey[To where?] that opens her eyes [cliche]to the role she plays[What role?] in the Queen’s [Who is the queen?]scheme for supremacy. Three rivaling countries [Which countries?]compete in a battle for domination, one she must stop. [Why must she be the one to stop it? What happens if she doesn’t? What are the stakes?]

MARK OF THORN is a 59,000-word gripping[Nix “gripping”] novel that alludes to the tale of Hades and Persephone, apocalyptic myths, and Western European folklore. My completed manuscript is available at your request.

[Credentials]

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Summer Wayland

General notes: Watch for vague and/or cliche phrases. Agents want to know what they’re getting into, don’t hide info. Make sure your plot is clear and to the point. If you allude to something, the agent/intern reading quickly may miss it and your query will seem confusing, which could count against you. Where’s the voice in this? I don’t get a sense of who Willow is, what kind of a person she is, or what she thinks about all of this happening to her. You have to do just as much world building in your query as you do in your book, so be sure to explain things clearly. You may know the details of your world, but we don’t.
All the best,

Cassandra
camarshall.com

~~~

I like this concept, but I also feel somewhat lost. It wasn’t until I got to the end of the query that I figured out that Willow is probably a sorcerer, though in the middle you played her up to be a psychic. In the beginning you said she had abilities but didn’t mention specifically what they were at all.

Rivaling countries and political battles need to come up earlier, I feel, for this query to have more of an impact. It’s a really great idea: An adopted sorcerer growing up in a family that kills sorcerers, hiding her abilities from everyone, at times even herself. Love it. You just need to let it shine though.

I’ve heard that lots of agents are sick of queries opening with ‘what if?’ You might consider changing your opening.

I’m also verrrrryy interested in Thonatos, and would like to hear more about that.

Best of luck!

-Savannah J. Foley

 

My comments are below in blue!

Dear Agent,

What if the daughter of prominent officials was a changeling? There’s a lot of advice against starting with rhetorical questions. It seems to be a turn off for some agents, so I’m not sure about opening like this. In my young adult fantasy novel, MARK OF THORN, Willow Coulter fears her special ability What special ability? I’m in agreement with Sav that your query, while composed of interesting elements, left me feeling confused. I think you need to be up front about this ability, otherwise the query loses the added tension it could receive. If we don’t know what it is, here (although you explain it later), you can’t explain to us why she fears it being discovered,—one she’s been keeping secret—will be discovered. The strange mark on her arm tells her nothing of her true origin. Her parents are Hunters, those who murder suspected sorcerers for a living.   She escapes the world of the wealthy and petty to face the identity she’s been suppressing for the sixteen years of her life.

Crippled by her ability to see the past and the future, Willow encounters a gang of runaway sorcerers, teenagers with abilities like her, who aim to start a rebellion I don’t understand why they’re rebelling, or what they’re rebelling against. When this query first started, I was leaning towards a more urban kind of fantasy. I think you need to work in some world building from the start (not much, just a sentence or two and then head into the plot. Perhaps give Willow’s motivations – ie the problems with the government, the three rival nations – for getting away from her parents, and then tellus what happens after that). One of the members doesn’t trust her, a boy who her feelings are growing for Make it more personal! This is all really interesting, but it feels kind of bland. I want to know this guy’s name, at the very least, and what sparks her feelings for him would be good, too. Basically, I’d like to get a sense of his character.. As the revolution unravels You haven’t set up the revolution actually happening, yet, so this threw me for a second, Willow must rescue her birth mother from Thanatos, the lands of imprisonment this plot thread comes from out of nowhere and it feels like it might be the main conflict. Could you maybe hint at her mother being imprisoned earlier? Lands of imprisonment sounds great, though. Is that where the Hades and Persephone bit comes in? Is this like the Underworld? Sounds fantastic!., before all of her memories are wiped. Torn between her upbringing and the insurgent sorcerers, she embarks on a journey that opens her eyes to the role she plays in the Queen’s scheme for supremacy We also haven’t heard anything about a Queen. This all sounds super interesting, but perhaps  give us more, and earlier so that we really understand the context and significance of it. Three rivaling countries which countries. I feel like these conflicts need to be established better compete in a battle for domination, one she must stop. Or else what….The stakes could be a little bit more tense if you added that detail.

MARK OF THORN is a 59,000-word gripping don’t call your own novel gripping, it can sometimes appear as bragging. Instead, make the query so gripping that everyone just assumes your novel is equally so 🙂 novel that alludes to the tale of Hades and Persephone, apocalyptic myths, and Western European folklore All these things are awesome and I think it’s wonderful that you incorporated them in your story. My completed manuscript is available at your request.

Overall, I just wasn’t getting a clear sense of what the central conflict was, here. Was it the rebellion, or the quest to get her mother, or the three nations battling for domination. Which of these is the focus for your novel, and which are the backdrop elements? You just need to establish that, and clarify all areas of your query.

In addition, I’d really like to see more of what your protagonist actually does, the way that she operates within and effects the plot.For instance, you tell us that she escapes from her wealthy life, but how does she escape? What does she do to rescue her mother? How, exactly, does she have to oppose the principles instilled in her during her childhood? (I like your internal conflict, by the way. It seems really great).

This is a great concept! Best of luck 🙂

-Vahini Naidoo

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