Wednesday, July 29, 2009

56 Query Contest

Greetings, Ms. Meadows:

My name is ---- . I would sincerely appreciate it if you would give the following query a moment of your time:

She was the best of the best: Captain of Temple City’s Guard, lover to an influential political figure, hand-picked envoy to a foreign nation.

Jennavaise had it all.

And then it was taken from her.

Broken, bound, and near death. That was how she was found at low tide, a continent away from everything she had known. Bereft of belongings, her past, even her name, she woke lacking anything to explain what had befallen her.

She was not alone.

Love took root in her shattered heart through the hands of her saviour, the beautiful healer, Arissa.

Friendship blossomed at the ready smile of Arissa’s apprentice, Sugan.

Intrigue spun its web in the graceful machinations of Bautain, the lovely and deadly Committee member who sought to win her from Arissa.

With their help, she pieced together her missing past, discovered how she had cheated the Hag of an early death. Memories returned like small tokens, precious in their scarcity.

But they were dark, hinting at blood and pain, at terrible loss. She had been a pawn in the hands of those she’d trusted. Having expected to be received as an envoy of peace to the foreign ruler known as the Konig, she had instead been delivered as a war-bride: the opening move of a treasonous plot by one of her own. Abandoned to the hands of this tyrannical ruler, her troops were murdered and Jenna herself was tortured and enslaved.

Five long years had passed at the hands of the Konig. Frustrated by the many pieces still missing to the mystery, Jenna turned her back on the past, believing that part of her life to be over. She was wrong. Little could she have guessed at the monstrous chain of events she put into motion by wedding the fate of her new friends to her own.

On the horizon, beyond the ocean known as the Sorrows, the avaricious reach of an old enemy threatens this new life. With the help of his Red Priest, the Konig had put his mark on her once already, leaving scars that run more than skin deep. Now his greed for conquest imperils the entire nation of her People.

By the vow on her sword, Jenna had once pledged herself to be a protector of the Faith. Now the Mother calls on her to finish what her near death left undone.

She must decide which she values more: the love she discovered on the Blessed Coat, half a world away from all she had once known, or the need to answer Her call.

But will the Goddess allow Jenna to make that choice, or will She make it for her?

JENNA’S SONG is a completed epic fantasy novel. It is the first in a planned trilogy, but can stand on its own.

Previous to this, I completed two short stories as well as a science fiction novel.

Inspiration and research for JENNA'S SONG has been part hobby, part invention. I am a member of a group that recreates realistic, full-contact medieval combat. Sword fighting is well-known to me; I use that knowledge to make combat scenes as realistic as possible. Three years of Reserve Officer Training in college also assists in understanding the relationship between a military commander and her troops.

I would be happy to send you partial or full manuscript of JENNA’S SONG at your request.

Your time and consideration are sincerely appreciated.

You can reach me at:

Thank you,


It was the death of summer, a season which the People called the Mother’s Dance. Languorous warmth gave way to chill, blustery days and the occasional coastal storm, both heralds of winter, the Dance of the Crone.

One roaring example of just such a storm had swept through the prosperous port town of Sisafer the night before Festival, leaving in its wake a tangle of smashed fishing boats and debris. Nets were found strewn across neighbors’ rooftops, missing sheep and goats had to be searched out among the scrubby inland cliffs. What should have been a time of preparation for the coming festivities was spent instead in repairs, cleaning, and the whispered suggestions of omens.

Out on the storm-littered beach, a strange bit of flotsam bobbed gently against the outgoing tide. Cold currents swirled and nudged, tucking the limp body into the boulders as neatly as a doting parent before retreating for deeper ocean. A scavenger crab, questing for tidbits, investigated closer. There was no resistance from the still form, yet something made the tiny creature scuttle away as if stung. In its wake came two strolling humans, incongruous against the lowering brood of sunrise.

‘Foul time for this,’ Sugan complained aloud. The gusting breezes muffled his normally jolly baritone. ‘Wouldn’t you rather be inside with a cup of something hot?’

There was no immediate response from the slender figure ahead. Seemingly oblivious, Arissa continued to walk, stooping every so often to dig in the sand before tossing a wet, wriggling prize into a bag at her waist.


  1. This didn't get to the point fast enough for me and I had a hard time following it. The opening tells us a bunch of information about Arissa, but then the story is about Jenna? I ended up confused and just skimmed the second half.

    So it didn't do enough to hook me and make me want to read the first page. Sorry!

  2. Too much information to wade through in order to find what the story might be about. Sorry, didn't hook me.

  3. the query was confusing and had way too much information.

    love took root, friendship blossomed, intrigue spun its web, all of those things are more passive. i want to know what the action is! where are the stakes? why should i care that she has been abandoned and what does she do about it? query's job is to hook us with the smallest amount of information possible.

  4. Too long... stopped reading halfway through. Also the structure was confusing and jumped around a lot. Try to focus on what's important for Jenna.

  5. I actually thought I was reading a synopsis and not a query. I'm not hooked because it was too long with too much detail. I think you could tighten everything up into a couple of paragraphs and get us to the conflict/action quickly.

  6. Like everyone else said...too long! A query should only be 250-300 words, and that includes your personal info.

  7. I'm gonna have to agree with the others here. The query seemed more like a synopsis for the first three-quarters than an actual query. The stakes need to be first and foremost.

    As for the sample, the first three paragraphs were setting the scene and the tone, which is fine, but it wasn't until Sugan shows up that the story moved forward. Not sure if it's matter of rearranging the scene or not, as I haven't read the rest of the chapter.

    Hope this helps.

  8. Not hooked. How many words is your query? I'm guessing its twice as long as it should be.

  9. Okay, as others have said, this is waaaay too long. And to be honest, I skimmed to the end looking for your word count, which I suspect is on the high side. (You'll want to include that, by the way.)

    Here are some suggestions:

    * Get rid of the "my name is" paragraph completely. It's unnecessary.

    * Focus only on the bare plot, removing extraneous details like her friendship to Arissa's apprentice.

    So, if I'm reading right, it's something like this:

    Jennavaise had the perfect life--maybe. But when she wakes up a stranger to herself in a stranger's house, she finds love and a new life with her savior, Arissa.

    The more Jenna remembers of her past, the more she realizes that things may not have been as perfect as she once thought. And when her past comes back to haunt her, she's forced to choose between the vows she's made that will most likely take her life, or the peaceful love she found in Arissa.

    ... I may have some details wrong, but if I can distill your plot to two paragraphs, so can you.

    * Remove mentions to any other completed projects that have not been published.

    * None of your bio information is relevant. Your bio should only include writing credits, awards, and if you're a member of writer's associations like SCBWI or RWA or whatever. How you did your research isn't important.

    * Cut the "I would be happy" part. You would obviously send a partial or full, that's why you're querying.

    * Cut the "you can reach me* part, and include your address, phone number, and email below your name at the end.

    Okay... now the actual text:

    I thought it was well done actually. My greatest fear was that your prose was going to be overly-verbose, but instead I found your descriptions to be very streamlined and to the point.

    But I'm not sure why you need this to be a preface. Why isn't this just chapter 1? (Most prologues are unnecessary and just clutter things up.) Also, if the book starts with Jenna being found, and not Jenna living her previous life... then start your query letter with Jenna waking up with amnesia and slowly remembering a life of power and politics that was mixed with betrayal and whatever else.

  10. I agree with the others. The first paragraph is unnecessary and sounds insecure. The next few paragraphs are good because they are short and quick to read, but the synopsis goes on too long. Tighten it up.

  11. I'm in agreement with others. You don't need to introduce yourself in the first paragraph - it's taking up valuable query room.

    The query itself is LONG, and I actually stopped reading after "Love took root in her shattered heart through the hands of her saviour, the beautiful healer, Arissa."

    I stopped skimming after "Friendship blossomed at the ready smile of Arissa’s apprentice, Sugan."

  12. I'm going to echo the others - it's a query, not a synopsis. Tighten it up. An agent once told me that a query should be "a hook, the book, and the cook." Capture our attention with the first paragraph, giving info on the main chracter and the conflict. Give details about the book (genre, word count, comparable titles, possible fit in the market, etc) in the second. Wrap up the query with pertinent information about you as a writer (publishing credits, professional organizations, etc) in the thrid paragraph.

    For what it's worth, I did sneak a peak at the first page (even I shouldn't have), and you have some good world-building in place.

  13. Your query letter is very, very long. Is there any way to condense and simplify? It seemed overwritten to me, too. And I'd definitely cut out that first sentence; you don't need it. Also, I didn't notice a word count, which I think is pretty important to include.

    I hope this helps! Good luck. :)

  14. Oh, and one more thing. I don't think you want to include that you've completed two short stories and a science fiction novel. That's only relevant if you've actually had them published.

  15. Query: This needs to be condensed. I started skimming a bit.

  16. I think I agree with just about everyone else. I was not hooked at all, but I love to read to I read through to the end. And the first lines are much better. Like everyone else said you need to shorten the length. You're world building in the query, and on top of that there's a lot of telling going on. I scratched my head several times, going well what happened. Don't be afraid to tease a little with some pertinent information. You need to give the reader (the agent I assume) a little something. They need to know the conflict, which isn't mentioned till half way through your letter. But like I said I did read the pages and thought much better, more intriguing.

  17. The query dragged on and eventually lost me. After "She was not alone" I skipped over the rest to take a peek at the partial -- something an agent probably wouldn't have done. Starting that with an account of the weather turned me off and I quit reading at the third sentence, which is too bad because on the whole the writing is good and the story has potential. It just needs a good overhaul, as does the query.

  18. The query was way too long. Agents like it short and straight to the plot.

    Keep editing!

  19. Not hooked, couldn't even make it to the end. You have a certain lyrical style which certainly comes across in your query, but it's not quite my thing

  20. I agree: it's too long, and your lyrical tone borders on over-the-top. Sorry, just not hooked.

  21. I stopped reading about halfway through the query, and then I had to flick that little wheel on my mouse about ten times too many to get to the end of it. You don't need to summarize the whole plot - just give us the hook, like what we might read on a jacket flap.

    I did glance at your biographical information, and I don't think you need to mention any of your other work since it's not published. It's a good idea to let agents know that this isn't the first piece of writing you've attempted, but you don't need to go into details. Also, this may just be me, but I found myself chuckling (and not in a good way) at the thought of "realistic, full-contact medieval combat."

    One last thought: Your e-mail address may not sound professional enough to use as a contact point for querying.

  22. It started strong for me, but then got too vague and was too long and I found my eyes glazing over a bit. I'd tighten up the second half a lot, but I love the beginning.

  23. Query is too long. I started reading it to see in case it's justified by complex plot or background. I concluded that, no, you just want to show off writing, the query is not the place for it, so I quit at 'what had befallen her'

  24. I am coming into the feedback party late! I agree pretty much with everything. A few people mentioned the lyrical tone. I think that may be what turned me off the from the query letter. It's good to have your personality and voice come through in a query, but I don't think the letter should read as if it were your preface in the book. I think that's one key issue, aside from what was already mentioned.

    To recap imp't points-

    --definitely get the word count in there.

    --take out the unpublished stuff. As writers and lovers of words, we all care... but at the same time... in a query letter, well, we don't care. :)

    --take out the "I would be happy to..." and just say, "A manuscript is available at your request

    --definitely take out your intro of "My name is." I would strike that from any business correspondence you do, in fact. That's why we sign letters at the end.

    -Agreed in the e-mail address. Get in the habit now of having an address and/or domain name that is your own name.

    --I almost feel it's too wordy when you say you'd sincerely appreciate if you would give the following query a moment of your time. It sounds like you are trying too hard. The agent knows its a query from your subject line and they already know you'd appreciate the time. Get right into it. You don't need the fluff.

    --I'm torn on including your role-playing experience. For non-fiction, great to mention things like that because it's a platform and makes you appear an expert in that area. For this, not so sure. I don't think with fiction agents would really care what inspired you to write this. Later in an interview or press materials sure, but not a query. I did just commented on #58 that his experience with dogs was good for his novel, but his was more professional and not a hobby. Any one else have thoughts on that point?

  25. Yeah, nothing new about the letter. Didn't work at all. Sorry.

    I gave up about a third of the way through and skipped to the sample. The first thing I thought about that was, "Isn't the phrase 'dead of summer'?" Then I realized we were talking about the end of summer, so the phrasing was right, just confusing.

    Personally, I would cut the first two paragraphs completely and start with the flotsam. That was the point were I went, "Oh? What's this then?" I want to know what's up there. Don't care so much about lost goats.

    I do like the writing style and the phrasing used, but I'm thinking there are probably a lot of details in this book that I would want to remove. It's really hard to find the line between too much and not enough when you're trying to tell people about somewhere they've never been and the tiny sample makes me worried the novel is going to be on the wrong side of it.

  26. I read the first sentence and was bored. Sorry.

  27. The query was too long and seemed to be more concerned with pretty sentences than actually telling us what is going on. I ended up skimming it. The sample is better but I don't know if an agent would get that far.

  28. Another long query. This is getting intimidating...

    Be careful of the one-sentence paragraphs. Use them sparingly, otherwise they lose their punch. You have nine.

    This whole query needs to be tightened and focused. I didn't get a clear picture of what the story is about. I've said this in other comments, but I'll say it again: focus on these things: Who is the main character, what is her problem, what is she going to do about it, what complicates her solution, and what are the stakes? What happens if she fails? Give the reader a reason to care. Everything else is extraneous.

    Don't forget to mention the wordcount.

  29. Thanks to everyone who critiqued, love and kisses to Authoress for giving us all this chance, and an especially big thank you to Jodi for reading SO MANY submissions!!

    I learned a lot--mainly that I am going to have to rework this one yet again. And that's ok. At least I know NOW, before submitting for real.

    Now...back to the drawing board.