Wednesday, July 29, 2009

53 Query Contest


I contacted you after your interview with mediabistro, and I assume you are enjoying the role of agent vs. XXXXXX--given how often your name ticks up on At that time, you kindly suggested I send you a query when I completed my young adult manuscript. I’m hopeful that Roman Magic, a DaVinci Code style mystery/suspense with magic will perk your interest and passion. The characters can easily adapt into a series format—all involving magical mysteries with clues, history, exotic locations, and mystery style twists. I am submitting with multiple agents.

XXX XXXXXXXX, author/teacher /editor at Balzer and Bray graciously offered that I mention her name. I wrote this manuscript from start to finish in her class and then worked with an editor who is a graduate of IA Writer’s Program.

Fifteen-year-old Eve and her eleven-year-old brother Kai arrive in Rome to find that their parents are missing. Meanwhile, people are dying in ritual sacrifices within the famous sites of Rome. Randon, a seventeen-year-old boy whose father has also disappeared, joins Eve and Kai as they follow clues left by their parents in an attempt to unravel the mysterious killings and reunite their families.

Eve also discovers that her parents, rather than being anthropologists, as she has always believed, are secretly paranormal investigators with magical powers. Their most recent case involved the ghoul Erichtho, who has captured them in order to exploit their powers for her murderous rituals. As Erichtho’s rituals become more powerful and the sacrifices more horrific, the clock pushes the intense action to the final confrontation.

Eve’s must use her wit and tenacity to solve the clues left by her parents and find new ones at Rome’s famous sites. She will need her new magical powers too, once she learns how to use them. Her efforts culminate in a final battle at the Pantheon, where she is joined by Randon and Kai, two spirit guides—Randon’s mystical wolf and her own dove, the goddesses Isis and Minerva, and the angel St. Michael from Castl Sant d’Angelo. Michelangelo’s Pieta comes to life, ghostly Christian martyrs rise from their graves, and an army of gladiators and lions from the Coliseum all come to Eve’s aid in the climactic Narnia type battle scene. In the end, however it comes down to Eve’s ability to fit the pieces together and make the difficult choice.

Total manuscript is 54,133 words in length and pages can reach you with a click. Isn't technology amazing?

Recent biography:

XXX XXXXXX, author, young adult class Jan-April.09

AZ State's Desert Nights, Rising Stars writers workshop, Michael A Stackpole, author, small group instructor Feb.09

Univ of IA's Summer Writing Workshops, weekend event with Brett Anthony Johnston, author and currently with Harvard and a National Book Award winner July.09

Mediabistro class with Nicole Bokat, author, nominated for a Hemingway/PEN award and Janet Heidinger Kofka Prize for Fiction award. 2008

Roman Magic

Forward Flash – Chapter 20

Dec. 20th - Santa Maria of the Angels and God’s Martyrs

Rome, Italy

“Kai, stay here.” Eve’s brother wore his obstinate face that said, “Don’t mess with me.”

“Mom and Dad are in there being used in some kind of ritual that kills people. I’m not waiting out here.”

Randon, two years older with one year of magic under his belt said, “He’ll just follow us in.”

Eve bit her lip and nodded. They crept into the dark church. Luminous blue light arched over a ritual circle, increasing in size and intensity as it fed on those within.

Fodder for the feeding, and bound with vines, Eve’s parents and Randon’s father slumped at equidistant points inside the circle. Wicked, sharp thorns sprouted from the vines, piercing their parents’ bodies. They convulsed with agony. The nightmare scene froze Eve in place.

Inside the circle stood a tall, pallid, grotesque ghoul, supporting in her powerful arms an older man. As Eve watched, his baldhead fell back. He blinked and stared at her. Blood dripped from a fresh cut across his neck, staining his suit, trailing down and mixing with the blood her parents shed.

Eve’s stomach heaved at the disgusting scene and the enormity of her task. She forced it to stay down—Eve didn’t have time to get sick. She’d just found out about magic, and she’d just found out that her parents were wizard investigators of the paranormal.


  1. I was hooked, and then the hook slipped out a bit.

    I liked your initial take on your work, calling it "a DaVinci Code style mystery/suspense with magic." Though, I think comparing your novel directly to another novel can go either way, depending on the agent.

    But you lost me a tad on the description, though I was interested enough to read on. Spotted a typo, but no biggie (Eve's).

    Is 53,000 words a little short for a mystery?

    Overall pretty good.

  2. I'm so-so on this one. I like the idea of learning that the parents are paranormal investigators with magical powers, but this kind of felt more like a middle grade book to me than young adult. Still, I was interested enough to read the first page. BUT I wasn't positive this was the first page. You took a portion from chapter twenty and opened with it? It felt like that when I was reading it, meaning I felt like I was missing all the backstory. That page didn't make me want to read more, but then, this isn't my genre.

  3. You started with Chap 20?!?! It took me a few readings and rereadings to figure out what was going on here.

    (In case you didn't know...the sample pages should always be from the very beginning, "a very good place to start...")

    The query didn't hook me, there was too much going on to follow it. Focus Eve and Kai's search for their parents. It sounds like this is their story, what are their stakes, goals, fears, etc.?

  4. I was deeply concerned that you called the novel the DaVinci Code.

    Small error, but serious. It's a blockbuster novel *and* you're comparing your own work to it - always double-check to make sure you're being accurate!

  5. The concept intrigued me, I was hooked by the first part of your query, but the last paragraph confused me! Isn't Kai Eve's brother? Isn't Randon a 17 year old boy? Or are they spirit guides? I'm also confused about where the magic comes in. I read the excerpt because I was interested enough, but wouldn't ask for more. From your query, I feel like there may be too much going on with the whole story and it could get very confusing.

  6. I can't say this hooked me, though I can't figure out why. Maybe it's just not my thing.

  7. In the UK there's a hugely successful children's series called the Roman mysteries. So at first I thought it'd clash with that.

    I thought the 'I assume you're enjoying your role as an agent' was a bit too smarmy. I was also confused about why you'd picked chapter 20 and about the dual role of Kai and Randon. And I don't like Randon as a name - too like Random.

    But...liked the basic idea of being in a foreign place and having a mystery to solve. And liked the idea of a series. Wouldlike to know more about how it's like the Da Vinci Code.

  8. Had a hard time getting past the initial paragraph. I was a little put off by its tone "I assume you are enjoying the role" might be taken the wrong way and some of the other connections you described are a little heavy handed. I might move the one about your teacher to the final paragraph.

  9. Whoa! This query seemed a bit all over the place. After I waded through the first two paragraphs of name-dropping, I finally got to what the story was about. It sounds like it has promise, but it needs to be tightened up. Also, all the biogrpahy stuff can be summed up in one sentence -- "I have completed numerous workshops at, Arizona State, and University of Iowa."

    I stopped reading the first page when I saw Chapter 20.

  10. The two huge paragraphs at the beginning really kill momentum in my opinion. Too much, too wordy. And the bit about the characters adapting seems unnecessary. I'm of the Query Shark mindset - get to the plot.

    The query itself is rife with errors and is too long I think. The first paragraph gets to the conflict: kids trying to save parents. But then it derails. All the stuff at the end about doves and goddesses becomes very thick with brand new names. Boil it down to the basics and the emotions.

    And the laundry list at the end about the author I skipped completely.

    I didn't go on to the chapter I'm afraid.

  11. No, I'm sorry... not hooked.

    It kinda seems all over the place.

  12. Sorry, not hooked. In my opinion the first sentence is in very poor taste. In the next paragraph, although it's fine to mention the referral, I didn't care where the manuscript was written. That and the irrelevant material in the bio put me off so much with all its name-dropping that I didn't read the partial.

  13. The query didn't hook me, although I couldn't figure out why - the premise sounded intriguing, but something put me off. Considering this, I went on to the sample page, and then spent way too much time trying to figure out if this was a page from the middle of the book or the beginning... Randon, two years older with one year of magic under his belt said, “He’ll just follow us in.”... sounds like an explanation you'd add when we first meet randon, so sounds like this is near the beginning of the book, so what's up with 'Chaper 20'?

  14. Never compare your work to another! It's your work they care about not the one out of billion author's who is now a household name.

  15. some agents, who are very busy, and make a partial form letter and then personalize it. I’m in this contest because I have difficulties writing queries, so my simple critique has to be taken with a grain of salt. I’m not going to address grammar or style, because, usually the agents don’t and you know who you are. I know what I like and am not sure of, so . . . I'm hooked and read on. I'm going to check out mediabistro. Beware, technically agents won't read a query that goes on to a second page, which would be ashame if that was the reason for a rejection. I read your 250 and would continue on, because of your premise. I feel your dialogue could be a little snapier, but if I agented, I'd work with you.

  16. Someone above mentioned that the first paragraphs were smarmy--I think that's a really good way to describe them. If you must include the name dropping, save it for the end. Let me know the story before I know you. (Personally, I thought the "isn't technology amazing" bit was a bit smarmy, too.)

    Is this Chapter 1? The label of Chapter 20 is confusing.

    The premise sounds good, but it's hidden in the query.

  17. You guys are terrific and thank you for taking the time to crit.

    I'm so unsure about my intro. People either love the forward flash or they hate it. It's the G to A - Z format--think American Beauty plot sequence. You received the entire flash in the 250 and then it goes to Chapter 1. I want to set the level of violence right up front and what the story is about. The true beginning places normal Eve in school in NYC before the flight to Rome.

    Am I far too concerned with the reader's contract with this age of reader?

    (Yeah, I agree after re-reading the query, but the agent did ask for my e-manuscript and hard copy to be mailed. You never know. I think she was being overly gracious!)

  18. Unless you actually know the agent, the first paragraph would likely be a turnoff and feel manipulative.

    The comparison to the DaVinci Code raises a comparison you can't win. Who wants to publish something like, but not quite as good, as a famous novel? Let the book speak for itself. By the time I got to the description, I was very prejudiced.

    From the query parts that deal with the story (the only ones that matter) I liked the final battle, but the rest didn't feel interesting. Why do her parents leave clues?

    The snippet has big POV issues and ends in a very telly way. I would pass.

  19. I promised myself I'd going to bed after #54, but here I am. Just a few quick things. I admit, I was turned off by a few things and didn't continue reading. I'll come back in the morning and comment on the content itself because I will give it a fair shake.

    But, I agree. Your lead-in is very, oh, someone said it, smarmy. No need to mention you see her name pop-up on Publisher's Marketplace. Not that it sounds stalkerish- that's why we all read that site, but it just reminds me of something trying to hard at a cocktail party to make a friend. Now, if you met the agent or corresponded and she requested something, by all means it's important to mention that, but this was not the way to do it. First off, I am sure the agent is enjoying her job. No need to say that. No need to say you hope it perks her interest.. that's obvious, too. Maybe just something friendly like, "We chatted after your interviews and at the time, you requested..." I am also not sure why you have to say that it was okay to mention your teacher's name. Wouldn't mentioning who you studied with be enough? That's what I did in my query. I would also move that to the end with your credentials.

    I also did think you needed to say, "Total manuscript is 54,133 words in length" and then "and can reach you in a click.." Word count is xxx would be enough. Or, manuscript is xxx words. I felt , "and it can reach you in a click. Isn't technology amazing?" I felt that seemed like an infomercial. If this were 5-10 years ago and you wanted to show you were tech-savvy, it may be okay. But in this day, most agents was e-queries. So no need to get clever with that. Believe me- I am cheesy and corny and it's hard for me to let go of some wit in queries.

    Finally, queries are letters. No need for a bulleted list of your credits. It appears as if you pasted your resume here. Just write that in sentence form. You have some good credentials worth mentioning, so just make sure it's formatted for a query.

    Oh. And I didn't like at all that you started with Chap 20. I feel what you are going through because I , too, sometimes want to just send a juicy snippet that maybe I'd select for an open mic night. But this contest called for the first 250 words. The number rule it seems is that if a rule is broken- the query doesn't make it. I don't think any agent would appreciate you trying to bend the rules-- what would make you special? Do you know what I mean? I am all about flashbacks and starting a story with action and then going back. You can certainly jump around in time in a novel or memoir. What I am learning is that prologues aren't really "the in thing." So I wouldn't label it that way. Now, you replied above to someone about your reasoning. If you really feel your story starts here, then don't label it Chap 20. Start it there.

    Just there mere vision of seeing Chap. 20 when I request the first 10 pages would irk me. Some posters above said the same. So, just something to consider- maybe the story is starting in the wrong spot.

    Okay- that's just my feedback based on a skim. I will try to read over the rest tomorrow.

    Good luck.

  20. **I also did think you needed to say, "Total manuscript is 54,133 words in length" **

    --That should have said "didn't" -- I wish you could edit comments in Blogger. haha.


  21. Cut the first two paragraphs entirely. Obviously this was personalized to a certain agent, but it's kind of over the top.

    Also, the fact that your characters can adapt to a series isn't important, neither is the fact that this isn't exclusive. Unless someone requests that (and 99% of agents don't unless it's for a full manuscript), you don't need to inform the agent.

    The second paragraph should go down with your bio.

    Okay, now to the blurb.

    1. This feels like three attempts at a query blurb listed one after the other. They all are paragraphs that could stand alone to describe the story, but none of them does a particularly adequate job. And together they are redundant.

    2. The writing doesn't flow well within the paragraphs. It's kind of a list of facts rather than a chain of events that each build off the previous to a set conclusion.

    3. Avoid this trap: the clock pushes the intense action to the final confrontation. Here you're telling about the book, not the STORY of the book. Also, it kind of reads like a review, and that's not your role in a query.

    4. You give away far too much of the book. The idea is to set the stage, leaving the blurb at a cliffhanger so the agent is desperate to read more.

    5. Most of the third paragraph can be cut entirely... it's too much, and reads like a random list of mythology. Also, you tell us she has to make a choice, but you don't tell us what the choice is? And that means I don't care about it.

    6. You need to tell us if this is YA or MG... because the age ranges can make it go either way. And the premise feels young to me.

    7. You have a typo at the beginning of the third paragraph. It should read "Eve" and not "Eve's"

    Hope some of that helps!

  22. Oh, and round your word count. Saying it's 54,000 words is fine.

  23. Hi Meg,

    Re: Your first page. I know Twilight and Evernight both started with a snippet from the end section of the books. It bothered me when I read them. I still read on, of course, but I felt like it was a cheat to hook the reader's interest. But I guess if it works, it works. Maybe it has helped those books sell.

    That said, your 250 didn't work. Even if you had put "Preface" - which is what I think you should have done - that section didn't grip me enough.

    On a side note, I wonder if Stephanie Meyer submitted Twilight with that preface at the beginning, or if this was a decision the publisher made. I'd almost bet it's the latter. Anyone know?

  24. First off, the synopsis seems choppy; it sounds like the chronology is bouncing all over the place. The final phrase of the third paragraph sounds like the final phrase of jacket flap copy, but then the synopsis continues for another two paragraphs. I would mention the details you add in the succeeding paragraphs before this sum-up phrase.

    A few other points: Round to the nearest thousand on your word count; giving the exact word count makes you look like a rookie (I know, because I made the same mistake with the first manuscript I queried). Also, it seems like the biographical information you include at the end would work better at the beginning with your other biographical points - and they'd work even better as complete sentences. Finally, is the sample chapter you include here really chapter 20 of your manuscript? If it is, you need to throw it out and include whatever comes FIRST in the story. Agents aren't interested in a random chapter somewhere throughout the book; they want to see how it starts.

  25. Quick question... If you have a person invitation to submit to this agent, why not wait to see what he/she says before querying others?

    Other than that... I should be interested in this, but sadly am not. I think there's too much summary going on though. I tuned out quickly and jumped down the page to land on the 'recent biography' stuff. I shook my head and ignored it jump to the sample, then went, "Chapter Twenty? WTF?"

    Was that a teaser opening? Because there's a lot of explaining for it really be a highlight yanked out of the depths of the novel, but it wasn't clear that we were being teased if it was an opening.

    The idea seems appealing though. =)

  26. Hi Meg,

    The novel sounds really interesting, but I'd change a few things about the query. I wouldn't mention the Da Vinci Code. From what I've read, most agents hate comparisons to blockbusters. You'll always come in second place and appears as though you're big-noting your work. I also don't think you need to mention that you're submitting to multiple agents. Again, most agents seem to expect that you will be. I'd leave out the list of classes you've attended. I think publishing credits will have much more of an impact. Anyone can attend a class, but not everyone can get published. If these classes are very competitive and require a manuscript evaluation to get into, then I guess that's like a publishing credit and perhaps they should stay. Otherwise, cut them.

    With the intro, it's really confusing that it says Chapter 20. I know some books do start with a piece from the climax, but if you're going to do this, label it as a prologue, otherwise agents might think you're not following their guidelines and submitting Chapter 20 instead of the start.

    Good luck with it. I think with some polishing of the query it will get a good reception.

  27. Query needs tightening, and I think comparing it to the DaVinci Code is a mistake. I've read things by agents saying they're up to here with derivative novels.
    Of course, it is young adult, so that might work.

    I did read the first page, but there are no setting details so I couldn't figure out where they were and what was going on.

    You can fix these things though and have a great novel.

  28. Long query.

    I'm confused by the first part. Jenny might have done an interview at Mediabistro, but I certainly didn't, and neither of us suggested you send us a query...aside from the fact that we're open to them and this is a contest, which was also open to anyone.

    If I saw that paragraph in a regular query, I'd just reject it, assuming it was meant for someone else. (And most agents enjoy being an agent. They have to, because it doesn't always make enough to keep the cats in fancy food.)

    The story description was strong until the paragraph that starts "Eve must use her wit..." You lost me with all the names and new characters appearing.

    Why does the sample page start in chapter 20?

    I'm sorry. There are too many things in this query/sample that make me boggle. Not hooked.

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