Wednesday, July 29, 2009

57 Query Contest

Dear [agent],

I am seeking representation for my 70,000-word urban fantasy, THE INFERNAL FAMILY.

Like all half-demon infernals, Johann Stark is barred from churches, the name of God burns his tongue and his killing instincts kick in at the least provocation. Unlike his murderous kin, Johann is determined to stay human: his rag-tag family of infernal fosterlings depend on his protection. As long as his family are happy and safe, Johann can believe he’s risen above his infernal heritage to become a good person.

Then a pissed-off angel crashes his territory on a mission to annihilate all infernals. He sets Johann an ultimatum. Hand over his eleven-year-old foster daughter, whose powers the angel can use to ID and toast infernals, or the angel will butcher his way through Johann’s family and take her anyway.

When Johann hands over his daughter he makes himself a promise. He’s coming back to save her. Whatever the cost. He’ll kill angels, deal with his hated demonic father and sacrifice what’s left of his humanity to put his family back together.

But if he ever saves his daughter, he may no longer be human enough to be the father his family needs.

Thank you for your consideration.




It was just sunlight, Johann told himself. He didn’t jump at flashes any more.

He tossed the cards on the kitchen counter in an arc of white. “You’re cheating. The kids are young and impressionable, you could lure them into a life of crime.”

Kate bit the corner of one card, her smile a half-glimpsed curve like the sun. Johann suspected she nibbled cards to track them as she dealt, unless aces were disproportionately delicious. “My Alix is an angel. I blame your miscreant son for any crime.”

The open window framed a cluttered city skyline burning in the summer sun. Johann liked Bristol -- the steep streets and green places, even the deluges making roads rivers and windows waterfalls. Rain on the roof was the sound of home.

Best of all, nobody had tried to snatch Kate’s daughter Alix. It’d been months since the hunters last struck.

Flash. The mirror was reflecting a glitter from across the street. Like gunmetal.

Johann angled his chair to watch the mirror. Kate was close enough to touch, television babbling in the background. He wasn’t going to scare her over nothing.

It was just -- last time’d been quick. He’d been watching the lights of Portland harbour at dusk, tiny Alix leaning into him for warmth. They’d hit from the road: three men to snatch her, a van to bail out. If Johann’d been tired or drinking or distracted, if he’d left her to walk along the beach, if they’d had five clear seconds --



  1. I thought the idea here was interesting, but I had to dig for it. I think you can do better on the query. It seems like this story is about Johann getting back his daughter and losing his chance to remain human in the process? Maybe start with something like "When a pissed-off angel abducts Johann's eleven-year-old daughter, the-half demon is determined to get her back, even if it costs him his chance to remain human." But more eloquently, of course.

    Anyway, I like this genre, so I read the first page too. The writing didn't quite hook me, though.

  2. I liked the query, it included enough of the story and stakes to make me want to read more.

    The first page was iffy. The bit about nibbling the cards threw me off and I didn't get if it was raining or if he just liked rain. When I got to the, what happened last time paragraph my interest petered out. I was more intersted in what was happening now.

  3. i like the stakes. i think the question of whether or not he can retain his humanity is an interesting one. enough so that i started to read your chapter.

    but, the chapter lost me around "Flash. The mirror was reflecting a glitter from across the street. Like gunmetal." it just didn't catch me like i hoped it would. i think i was expecting more direct, vibrant, articulate prose, like in the query.

    and before that i was having trouble drawing a correlation between her cheating and them going into lives of crime. it seems exaggerated. to me at least. anyway, good luck with this. your query is really good.

  4. I found this very interesting and was hooked on the query and 250.

    The only nitpicky portion I have is that you use "handed over" twice. Consider changing the second instance.

  5. I like the idea of the story, but there are some writing problems with bothe the query and the first page. The query isn't very hook-y (I would go with Brimfire's suggestion and open wiht the girl being taken).

    I would also work on tightening up the MS. I had no clue who ALix was, and I had to reread your opening page several times before i figured out what was going on.

  6. I agree with the suggestions above. The kidnapping of his daughter is the important part. Start with this. Though I wouldn't request this book because I'm not interested in the genre, the story has potential. Also... you used the word infernal a few too many times for my tastes. : )

  7. I would recast the first sentence to include your hook.

    Beyond that, though, the query reads a little choppy. I think combining some of the sentences and leaving off unimportant details could really smooth things out.

    For instance, I'm not sure I need to know what it means to be an infernal... with the barred from churches, etc. Maybe just saying that he's a half-demon Infernal who is determined to live his human half as a loving father to a rag-tag family of fosterlings... you get the point.

    Your hook is really the last sentence. I think if you put that up front it'll up the intrigue of the whole thing.

    Good luck! I think you're really close with this. Fantastic concept!

  8. Hooked, and I rarely read this genre. Good job.

  9. I wasn't hooked, but this genre doesn't appeal to me generally. I too found the query a bit choppy.

  10. I was hooked by the story concept until I reached the paragraph where "Johann hands over his daughter". This infernal with a killing instinct who would even kill angels to repair his family, simply hands her over. He seems too docile here. I was curious enough to keep reading but found the opening dialogue confusing. Then when the skyline burned in the summer sun and there was rain on the roof I quit. There's a lot of potential here but it needs more polishing.

  11. The query itself is pretty good. You have an interesting premise and good hook. My only concern is that 70K is a little on the short side for UF.

    As for the first page, I'm a little confused. I had a hard time following the action. However, you do begin to weave in some of the conflict of having to keep Alix (whom I'm assuming is his "daughter" from the query) safe from the people hunting her.

    All and all, I would want to read more from the query, but the first page could benfit from some clarity.

  12. I also agree that if he was so devoted to his daughter he wouldn't simply "hand her over."

  13. This sounds interesting and I thought the writing on the first page was good.

    I probably wouldn't choose to read this sort of thing, but I'm sure a lot of people would. There's subjectivity for you. :)

    Good job and best of luck!

  14. You know... I'm glancing upward while sorting out my thoughts here, and I agree with Amy.

    I wouldn't choose to read this myself, but it IS a good premise and it's different. The writing looked good too.

  15. I was drawn by the query, but I agree there are some unessentials. I think starting with the daughter being wanted by the evil angel is the hook. I wasn't impressed with the opening lines. It felt jumpy, and I had to re-read for clarity. I like the premise and you have some wonderful descriptions in the query.

  16. I agree with Brimfire about rethinking your starting point for the query. As it's written, it didn't hook me, although the idea is interesting. There seems to be too much prelude before getting to the real issue.

  17. I found the querry good, but would omit "Like all half-demon infernals." It assumes that the reader knows about half-demon infernals, which the person reading it may not.

    I would start with the next sentence and work the half-demon infernal somewhere else.

    Good job

  18. I loved the query, it hooked me on every line. Unfortunately the writing was too confusing for me to warble through, and I didn't get to the end.

  19. I liked this! And I don't usually read urban fantasy. I liked the query and the first page.

    One small comment- Kate is the one saying "My Alix is an angel..." right? The sentence right before it- where we heard Johann's thought, threw me a little. You need a Kate said Maybe, "My Alix," kate purred (she is being seductive isn't she?), "is an angel." BTW, I really liked the way you through in that reference as foreshadowing.

  20. Query hooked me--it seemed fresh and new to me (although I rarely read the genre).

    Sample: I didn't understand Kate's first line of dialog--couldn't see where Alix fit in.

    The "flashes" did an *excellent* job of making this fast paced. I'd read on. Really wlel done.

  21. Query - hooked.

    Excerpt -- mostly hooked -- I didn't like the "Flash" part and would prefer to see it as part of a longer sentence.

    High stakes, potential internal conflict, and decent writing. Good job!

  22. Not hooked, but just because I don't read books with demons as central characters, with the exception of Screwtape Letters.

  23. I liked the query. Good conflict. Interesting premise (will depend on execution, hopefully not too much Hellraiser-style).

    The writing I was mixed on. The first dialog line was very stilted, IMO. Descriptions were good. The "Kate's daughter Alix" is infodumpy and artless. I would ask for a partial--probably.

  24. I agree with brimfire. I would also say something about yourself, a little bio. I probably wouldn't start off with "I am seeking representation..." It'd be obvious you were seeking representation if you were querying. May just sound a tad more professional without that line.

    I don't have much to add based on what was already said. Although, "infernals" was starting to get to me. Redundant, but that's one of those words I don't know how much you can interchange with something else.

    P.S. I read someone's comment on #58 about people commenting that they wouldn't accept it because they don't read the genre. I *really* echo that poster. This contest selected these genres because that's what the agent-judge is interested in, so I think we have to put our tastes aside and just critique based on the content. : ) It's hard to do sometimes, I know! That way, everyone who enters just gets constructive feedback, as all 58 already fit the "what we accept" list for this judge.

    Now- the advantage to having someone outside your genre is having them find things that don't work if you are trying to appeal to a broader audience like someone above mentioned, "Like all half-demon infernals" implies we all know what infernals are like, when we may not. That's a good catch and makes us all aware to maybe not assume so much? Just a thought.

    Nice job. Potential here for sure.

  25. I think if I were an agent, I'd be on the fence about this. I'd likely ask to see more, but the extra materials would really have to sell it.

    I agree with the folks who were thrown by the "hands over his daughter" bit. You've told us why he felt he needed to do that, but I'm thinking the query isn't the place to try to sell it. Just stating that the bad guy's got her and she needs rescuing would probably be better.

    I'm not sure about the flashes. Maybe instead of the first one just being the word 'flash' you could describe it? "There was a bright flash of light in the corner of his vision, but Johann told himself it was just sunlight..." kind of thing?

    Overall, as a reader, I'm wanting to read more. =)

  26. Boring...and I have no idea what in sam check this person is talking about.

  27. Query hooked me.
    You managed to convey the essence of a misunderstood father trying to do the right thing, and a good old fashioned demon at the same time. The mix and the way you did it sounds unique to me.

    The first page was hard for me to grab onto. The rhythm was staccato and jarring for me, due to how the sentences and paragraphs were broken up so frequently. I know the clipped nature is done for style, but I'm finding it hard to get into the rhythm, let alone figure out what's going on. But I'd still read on just for the premise and hope the writing smooths out. I really want to like this one.

  28. Query:

    It really caught my attention and I definitely would read more. I think you use "infernal" a few too many times; I know it's what his race is called, but you can still write without having to use the word 5 times in a short query. Also, an angel? That seems kind of trite to me, so I would be a little wary of reading on. I have read many stories or story ideas about pissed-off angels, guardian angels, and all kinds of angels. If you're going to make up a new race (infernals) then why use an existing, overly-written-about one too? Otherwise, I did like the query, especially the last two lines.


    If I just had this to go on, I would stop reading immediately. Knowing the concept from the query, I would continue to read to see if it makes more sense, but so far it just doesn't hook me.

    You mention snatching Alix several times, as if Alix has already been taken, but she's Kate's daughter, not Johann's. So, this makes me wonder if Alix has already been snatched... yet, you say plain as day that nobody had tried to snatch her. It confuses me even after two readings. That confusion might be enough to make me read on to try and figure it out, but right now I'm a little frustrated and probably wouldn't continue.

    All in all, it sounds interesting, and I think if you tweaked the first page so it is more catchy, you would hook a lot of readers.

  29. I thought the structure of your query was good, but it seemed a bit strange that the novel was about him fighting to get his daughter back when he was the one who'd handed her over in the first place. I see from other commenters that I'm not the only one. The sample would have to be really good to overcome this, and unfortunately it didn't grab me enough.

  30. I think you'd hook me more if you dropped the first paragraph and started with the second.

    It did pull me into reading your novel, though.

    the cards are all white? no symbols on them? Couldn't get past that. Maybe fix?

  31. This story looks like it's got a lot going for it, but it's near impossible to sell me on good demons and bully angels. It's a personal thing. I did like the stakes and conflicts presented, though.

    The writing looks okay, but I'm not sure what the flashing is all about. I assume we'd find out in the next few paragraphs. (Hunters coming to take Alix? If that's the case, seems like he should get to protecting, rather than pretend nothing's happening. Better safe than sorry.)

    Sorry, not hooked. Not for me.