To review, a query should include these four things: who the story is about, the circumstance, the conflict, and the twist.
Dear Ms or Mr. Agent:
When twelve-year-old Roze agrees to retrieve an ancient magic stolen from Lithuania’s Merfolk, she’s desperate to free her mother, kidnapped by the Mermaid Queen.Right away we know who it's about and a little bit about the circumstance. But after battling sprites, tricksters, Gypsies, and a mind-cleansing forest clan, Roze is having second thoughts about giving up her newfound powers. Pay the Queen ransom? Bah! She’d rather rule the Baltic Sea. The circumstance. We know right away that she has a new power and it's controlling her rather than the other way around. Very good.
Undeterred by warnings from friends and family, Roze falls sway to the thrill of sorcery as she prepares to claim the throne. Now she’s turning foes into monsters and placating outraged villagers with rocks magicked into gold. As the hour for her mother’s release draws near, Roze must find the strength to give up the magic that enthralls her or challenge the Queen to a supernatural war. This paragraph just elaborates more on the circumstance. We already know she's got a problem with power. We are missing a definite conflict. The last sentence is the twist, but in this state, it is missing its punch. Right now I'm confused as to what giving up the magic has to do with challenging the Queen to a supernatural war.
WORSE THAN WICKED, a middle-grade fantasy adventure, features elements of Slavic mythology and is complete at 47,000 words. It’s geared for readers ten years and older, I'm a fan of putting this information up front. An agent wants to know right away, what kind of book the query is about and who the intended audience is.
[NOTE WHY I'M CONTACTING THIS PARTICULAR AGENT]Can't hurt.
My articles and reviews have appeared in publications such as Odyssey and the San Francisco Examiner. I belong to SCBWI and started a local branch. Great bio tidbit.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
What do you think? Do you have any advice for Kathryn?
Kathryn, I'd be happy to look at a revision if any of this resonates with you. Also, if there is anyone else who'd like a critique, just send it to me in the comments. (Or if you know of anyone, just direct them to this blog.)
Update: Kathryn, re-wrote her query based on the feedback up above and in the comments.
I would like you to consider my 47,000-word middle grade fantasy, WORSE THAN WICKED, the story of a girl who becomes addicted to the magic meant to free her mother. Perfect. Right away, we know what kind of book it is and who it's for. Think The Wizard of Oz meets Bilbo Baggins at Mount Doom. [NOTE: This last part is something my SCBWI group came up with yesterday. We were trying to brainstorm kidlit characters who fall sway to magic and that’s as far as we got. I swear, these triple-digit temperatures fry our brains!] I like the comparison. It's not always necessary in a query, but if you have one that nails it, like this one does, you should use it.
When twelve-year-old Roze sets off to retrieve an ancient magic stolen from Lithuania’s Merfolk, she’s desperate to free her mother, kidnapped by the Mermaid Queen. Who it's about and a bit a circumstance. And with the above para, I can clearly see her. But after bruising battles with sprites, tricksters, Gypsies, and a mind-cleansing forest clan, Roze is having second thoughts about handing over her hard-won powers. Pay ransom? Bah! She’d rather overthrow the Queen. More great Circumstance.
While preparing to claim the throne, Roze succumbs to the dark power of magic, though each spell leaves her with blinding headaches. As the hour for her mother’s release draws near, Roze must heed warnings from family and friends and give up the sorcery that enthralls her or risk igniting a supernatural war. The Conflict. So much better. We really can sense her inner conflict and how great the stakes are getting.
But how do you reason with a girl who thinks she has the power to control everything? The twist. I would read on to find out what will become of this girl. The only suggestion I'd have here is to take it out of second person. I'm not going to reason with her. I suggest re-wording it slightly. Even saying --how does one-- it probably fits how the people talk or could talk in this world.
What do you think? Better?
I wouldn't hesitate to send this out now, Kathryn. Just make sure your opening pages are just as strong.