1. Fiender_

    Fiender_ Active Member

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    Query Letter Query Letter for Urban Fantasy

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Fiender_, Feb 24, 2018.

    Hello! It's been a while since I've taken a look at my query. It received good responses from the other writing forum I visit, but when I queried last year, I sent out 2 dozen emails without so much as a partial request or anything that even looked like it wasn't a form rejection. So, while I'm revising the book and hunting for beta readers, I figured I could also get some fresh eyes on the letter.

    EDIT: New version in post#16, for those interested.
    ________
    At seventeen, Linda is finally an orphan. She'll shed no tears for the man who treated her like a mistake. But with him dead, Linda has inherited his enchanted blade and the family duty: keep Users and their vile magic out of the city.

    Users feed on human suffering to fuel their sorcery, fracturing their victims’ minds, driving most to suicide. Linda's friends are no strangers to depression and abuse, which makes them appetizing targets. Linda might be a rookie, but if it means safeguarding the ones she loves, she won't hesitate to hunt the enemy down.

    Linda tracks the Users’ trail of victims to a rich high-rise and storms in blade first, only to find her closest friend among their ranks. Turns out Users don’t just harvest suffering from the slums. It’s also where they recruit. Even if Linda musters the strength to take her friend’s life, she can’t kill Users faster than they’re replaced. Not by herself.

    Damn good thing her father had more than one blade. And more than one daughter.

    SISTER BLADES is an urban fantasy novel, complete at 90k words.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2018
  2. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    Alright, so, this is going to be a long post.

    I was curious, so I went to check the "other forum" where you posted this query letter. Ding ding ding, it's exactly what I expected... you posted it in Query Letter Hell on Absolute Write. And one thing immediately struck me:
    • Based on the original query you posted there, I would read your book.
    • Based on THIS query, I wouldn’t.
    You've edited this query so much it's become bland. It's like you had a fine gourmet meal, but some people didn't like it, so you tweaked the recipe. Now everyone likes your query, but nobody loves it. Which is a problem.

    A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) had the exact same experience as you. She went to Query Letter Hell, worked her ass off, and eventually ended up with a "community approved" query. So she sent it out to agents. Crickets.

    Writing workshops can help you a lot, but they have certain pitfalls. The problem is, if you edit a query to appeal to everyone -- if you take literally every piece of advice you receive -- you end up with something edible but tasteless. I saw a poster on AW say this once, and I really agree: "Query Letter Hell focuses on sussing out potential problems that might cause an agent to reject the query-- rather than what makes them accept a query." And that's your problem here. You've eliminated every potential problem. You've also eliminated literally everything that made me want to read the book.

    In the original query letter, it sounded like this book was about two sisters (who have a troubled relationship with their father) taking up his legacy to save the world. That sounds pretty badass. But then someone told you that you "needed to focus on only one character," so you took all that out. This is exactly what I'm talking about.

    Critique is helpful. It's amazing. It's a great experience, and it's an important part of being a writer. But you've let yourself over-edit.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2018
  3. Fiender_

    Fiender_ Active Member

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    I'm not sure what to do, then. I understand that, even if I read and consider every criticism, that I don't need to agree with and implement it all. But when revising my query letter, I made the changes that I agreed with.
     
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2018
  4. Fiender_

    Fiender_ Active Member

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    I suppose what I should clarify/ask for is, how do I know what changes to make/not to make based on the feedback I get?
     
  5. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    That's a good question.

    I dunno! I don't think there is a good way to tell what's good advice and what's bad advice.

    For me, the solution was a bit different. I worked on my query skills for a solid year or two. And then... once I was good at it... I stopped using critique at all. I don't think I have anything useful to tell you.

    I mean, it's kind of ironic. I want to sit here and tell you that your first query was better. That you need to focus on voice, originality, and character. That you shouldn't listen to other people's advice in workshops, because it can hurt the work. But... then I'd be giving you criticism! While telling you to ignore all the criticism you already received! And why should you listen to me over them, y'know?

    anyway, good luck. I thought your question was good, so I made it into a thread. https://www.writingforums.org/threads/how-to-know-what-critique-to-take.156872/
     
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  6. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

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    You can't put every single line of your book out for critique, right? At some point you'll need to be able to make a judgement yourself, what's good, what's bad, what's staying, what's going. There's no avoiding it.
    Just to add to the confusion, here's another personal opinion on that query:
    I took a dislike to it from the first sentence: you're starting with a character who is happy to be an orphan. But being an orphan is not generally considered to be a good thing. We're usually think it's a tragedy, nothing to be happy about. Your first sentence tells me there's something wrong with the moral compass in the whole story. And there's another one towards the end that repeats the situation and reaffirms that same impression. Those alone may be grounds for rejection.
    I know what you want to say. Maybe her dad was an unpleasant dude and it's good riddance that he's gone. But that's not a socially acceptable attitude. A socially acceptable thing would be to feel forgiveness. A character who's happy that their parent is dead, cannot be a role-model for young people. Readers are supposed to identify with your main character, they may want to be like them. And this character is telling them that its great to be an orphan.
    Now check this out: "17-y.o. L. is an orphan but she has no tears for the man who treated her like a mistake." There's no it's-great-to-be-an-orphan attitude there. There's just a fact she's an orphan. Then we have "but" to tell us to expect something contrary to the general idea of an orphan (i.e. a kid who's sad they've lost their parents): "but she has no tears" is also a fact. Your version "she'll she'd no tears" contains intent (she will), she intents to fight any sadness that might be there. In my version (she has no tears) there is no intent, things are just that way, it comes naturally that she has no tears (followed by an explanation that dad was rotten). Now that sort of character doesn't look antisocial. They look like they've been wronged (by the man wh's treated them like a mistake). And their lack of tears becomes perfectly understandable. And what's more, the reader wants to hear why and how this happened.
    The above is not a suggestion how to change your query, just an explanation of why your version feels wrong.
    If she's "inherited" then he's definitely dead. You're being repetitive.
    The first paragraph also focuses too extensively on the father (he treated her like a mistake, it was his sword that she's going to use, he's dead, she's now inheriting his stuff) but no mention why his presence is so important (I've read the original query, I know there's backstory but whoever reads this version of the query won't know that).
    So if you don't have an explanation about these past issues, it's better to focus just on the facts concerning MC's current affairs: she's inherited a sword ("a" sword and the family duty, not "his" sword"), she's not 100% profficient or maybe she's trained really hard but never believed she'll have to use it, or whatever she's thinking at that moment.
    Something else: your first paragraph sounds like the cliche, overdone "peasant finds magic weapon" beginning. They just do. And just like that they go and defeat all the baddies. Not much intrigue there. Hence the suggestion to mention someting about MC not being fully ready (I'm not sure if I remember your story well). That would bring at least a bit of suspense (although another cliche). I think your original story had a really unique approach (sisters having hard time training and I can't remember what else but there was something catchy, maybe they hated him for terrorising them but now they realise it was all worth it because the trouble is real).
    The name "users" sounds bland. It doesn't tell us anything about the nature of those things. Are they human, or monsters? If they are not human you can call them creatures ("Users are creatures who feed on human suffering" will tell us they are not human). Or maybe they are human. Then an intriguing detail would be something explaining what they want, what they want to achieve with all that sorcery. Without a purpose, the villain becomes another cliche. They are bad for the sake of it. So far we only have a video-game set-up where one good character is going to chase down a bad character, for no particular reason. This is not a particularly attractive plot.
    Somewhere in there, a little detail (the mention of "family duty") tells me that there is a bigger picture. But that's not visible in the query. A character who is pressured into doing the family duty and has to overcome difficulties (maybe they don't want that duty, maybe they don't feel confident enough, or not ready) is more interesting than one who just finds a sword and goes around slashing monsters. Can you spot the difference?
    That's an interesting phrase. But it doesn't mean much to me and I'm tempted to say that's not the right word because minds are usually said to be "broken" not fractured. Maybe the word would mean something specific in the book, but in this query it confuses me and makes me ask questions, and it's best to avoid such issues.
    1) The cliche alert rang. Teens, depression and abuse, yeah, yeah, yeah. They seem to be everywhere, even where they don't seem to belong. The depression and abuse seem to be shoehorned in here.
    2) Especially with the casual mention that those friends are "no strangers to ....". That's a rather roundabout way of saying it. It doesn't contain the right attitude.
    3) You say "Users feel on human suffering", then you mention "depression and abuse" as an instance of such suffering. But it doesn't add up. We generally use "human suffering" for major stuff. "Depression" is definitely not included there. This doesn't mean "depression" is not a serious ailment, but "human suffering" is usually something a bit more brutal, as far as general understanding goes. So this paragraph ends up a bit deflated. It would have hit home stronger if this focused just on the abuse issues and, for best results, something specific is mentioned.
    4)and this: MC's family duty is to keep the whole city safe. But then she's only going to protect her friends. So, this character is not a hero who would go for a grand cause. Just a small person type of character, who would do little things. Meh. They start to look like a somebody who doesn't excel at anything. This can be fixed if you give them a particular cause, maybe one specific friend is in danger and MC is going to save them from the baddies. That would be a commendable cause worth following.
    In the query you mention how MC is going to protect her "friends" but that's just the same as saying she'll protect the whole city, only the scale is now much smaller, and thus much less exciting. She's going to protect an unspecified group of people. We can imagine her fighting random monsters in the streets. And that's the videopgame set-up again, nothing specific to root for. A specific thing to root for would be a plot where MC saves the life of this one character.
    1) This just reinforces the issues above. We know she's a rookie, she just inherited a sword and a duty. But how is that affecting her? Is she excited? Scared? Ready? Not ready? That aspect is missing from the query. The MC has no context. They are still a regular cliche with no specifics.
    2) of course she won't hesitate to hunt the enemy. She's inherited the family duty. As mentioned above, this paragraph just shrinks the scale of the whole conflict, from city down to a small group of friends. What's missing is the explanation of her actual situation - is she proficient with that sword? What does she think of the whole thing? Where's the internal conflict?
    The way you've build the query, it sounds like a straightforward adventure story - girl fights monsters. But for an adventure story, the plot is not rich enough. She's just going to hunt them down and chop them to pieces. There's no specific danger to anybody, no specific obstacles to bring tension.
    For a teen story, there's no internal struggle, no lessons learned, nothing gained. The mention of a depressed/abused friends is not enough to add social context because MC does not solve those issues.
    The last paragraph is the most exciting part of the query. That can probably make a full query on it's own. It contains a great conflict, personal involvement for MC and high stakes (she may have to take her friend's life). But...
    So now they are limited to "the slums"? Remember when I mentioned shrinking and scale?
    Wow, wow, wow. Stop right there.
    1) That's another socially unacceptable thing that we can't encourage young readers to take as an example of how to solve conflicts.
    2) You introduce a great conflict possibility (her friend is now her enemy), then kill it with one clean sweep. Plot deflated, right there. We're back into video-game mode, first-person shooter style. Where's the stuff to root for? This is not a superhero movie where the MC has to save the city. It could have been, but doesn't look like one. And it's not a personal story where MC has to save a dear friend. See where this is going? There's nothing to root for. There's no story.
    I like the ending and the unexpected introduction of the other sister. But I have no idea how to make that work with the current query. The first two paragraphs don't match the last one+ending. To make it work you'll need more plot and more personal stuff. Give the MC some cause to fight for. Give her some sort of arc, some conflict, some obstacle to overcome.
    I'm guessing that fabulous ending didn't work because it looks like some sort of side plot where MC is in the middle of fighting monsters (as per the query so far) but suddenly finds out that there's another sister and another blade. And that gives an impression that the query left out interesting stuff but included two irrelevant, waffling paragraphs.
     
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  7. Sphynx

    Sphynx Member

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    First, I would like to say I am terrible with query letters, so take my advice with a grain of salt. I think your query is so, so close. It’s an interesting concept. I agree that the first line is a bit odd. The very end throws me off a little. In between, there’s some very minor things that stand out.

    It sounds like you are having trouble because everyone has a different opinion on what the query should be. Believe me, I get that frustration. Recently I found a writer on this forum that will edit your first ten pages for free. I wrote her about my query letter, and she also works with those. (I am going to pay a whopping $30 for my first ten pages and query letter to be looked at, and I’m pretty happy with that price).

    Perhaps it’s worth a try to pay a minimal amount for help. That’s what I decided to do. I’m not sure what the end result will be as of yet, but sometimes it’s best to get creative when getting out of a rut.

    Your book sounds amazing. I wish you the best of luck.
     
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  8. Kate Em

    Kate Em New Member

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    Wow, that's a good question. Wish we all knew. I think it might come down to- what are the parts of the story that you think A) set it apart and B) get YOU excited? Those are the pieces you should make sure are still in the final query, community edits be darned. That being said, a well edited query is a great place to start- but there's nothing wrong with putting some of the 'zhuzh' back in.

    Also, maybe a side note- does the query actually sound like the book you wrote? I know that in a novel of many moving parts, there are things that inevitably get boiled out in a summary or synopsis, but if you read it over, is it a pretty good representation of your work?
     
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  9. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I saw a poster there refer to it as, "The blind leading the blind," and I have to say that's pretty accurate. :D
     
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  10. Fiender_

    Fiender_ Active Member

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    Because everyone here is an expert that will give me flawless advice? :S
    Hey, if you don't like AW, you do you, but this comment seems very mean-spirited.
     
  11. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    I can’t speak for Tenderiser, but...

    Maybe it’d be better to say “the unpublished leading the unpublished”?

    It’s not about AW specifically. And it absolutely isn't about "us versus them." I think most workshops have the same basic problem. Imagine trying to cook a souffle, but instead of one teacher, you have fifty, and they all want a different souffle.

    You've probably already read it, but I think Puttputt's "Thoughts from an Intern" thread is probably the best thread on there. https://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?293684-Thoughts-from-an-intern-Moar-querying-tips-in-168

    Writing is hard. You take the feedback that's helpful to you and you move on. If my original post wasn't helpful to you, that's fine. Toss it out the window. Ignore it. It isn't going to hurt my feelings.
     
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  12. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Dude, that's something they say on AW itself!

    The advice from any of these sites is just authors giving their opinions to other authors. Not a damn one of us knows what's going to appeal or repel the agents you query; all we can give is our impressions if we were the agent receiving it, and parrot the things we've seen agents say elsewhere. The difference is some of us admit that, and some of us act like we're some kind of query experts. The latter is dangerous.

    Yes. :) Thank you for taking my comment in the spirit it was intended.
     
  13. idanelly

    idanelly New Member

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  14. idanelly

    idanelly New Member

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    Why does she have to do the family duty , especially since she apparently hated her father? What else might she consider doing with her life? I would change the word ones to people or something similar. I like "blade first." The ending is good though I would omit the word Damn. This would probably turn off some potential agents and editors.
     
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  15. Fiender_

    Fiender_ Active Member

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    So, it's been quite a few months and I've been working on this on/off between revising the actual book. I would like to thank everyone who read and commented!
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2018
  16. Fiender_

    Fiender_ Active Member

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    Here's a version that goes in a pretty different direction:
    __________
    High-school senior Linda won’t cry over her father’s grave, not after her brutal upbringing. He claimed it was preparation her for the family’s ‘sacred duty’, the very thing that killed him: hunting dark magic Users. They crave others’ suffering like a drug and troubled kids like Linda’s friends are veins waiting to be tapped. To protect the innocent and everyone she cares for, Linda raises her family’s enchanted blades and begins her hunt.

    But her sister Erna would rather stick to school and leave fantasy to the books. Graduation isn’t far off, after all. But she can’t let Linda risk her life alone and Erna doesn’t mind giving back to the community. Even if the means are so… violent.

    They hunt Users, even kill several, before discovering a massive hideout. Outnumbered twenty-to-one, Linda and Erna endure their worst fight yet, until a master User kicks them to the ground.

    After barely escaping alive, Linda doubles down on their training. Dad called them worthless all their lives, and Linda refuses to prove him right. But Erna wants a normal life. Users are evil but that’s not her fault, not her responsibility.

    Linda can’t handle the big User alone, so unless she changes Erna’s tune, the enemy will have their way and this miserable city is about to get worse.
     

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