#37 Query Corner – “The Light’s Guardians”

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

Veteran Graham Sharris thought he knew the risks of guarding the monsters in the labs. His partner, recruit Soko, (don’t ask her her birth name) has already managed to earn Sharris’s guarded respect. But when one of the monsters escapes, the pair are dragged into an ancient war for the very soul of the multiverse.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

The querier had a fun story, but, as is common, gave some blurb-text, and fell into the trap of talking about the novel, rather than talking about the story story and the stakes.

  • Queries are usually told in the first person, present tense, even if the story is not, focused on the stakes, not the plot. So, I’m just gonna zoom in a bit.
  • If you have 2 POV characters, I’ve found the best thing to do is give them each their own short paragraph and bring it all together in a final paragraph. That demonstrates the equal-nature of their stories without having to spell it out.
  • Trilogies are a hard-sell, they often don’t want to gamble on 3 books when they don’t know how well your first book will do. The standard advice is to tease series-potential… but only if the book can actually stand alone.

As we worked the edits, we ended up having a long discussion about comps — comparison novels.

The ideal comp: STORY_A meets STORY_B, should be under 3 years old, sold well, but wasn’t a run-away success like Harry Potter, and fits the genre and voice of your story, without being even remotely the same story.

This is basically impossible. I try for one recent novel, and let my other comp be: older, “too” popular, a tv-show or movie, or some other reference.

Another way to do comps is calling out an aspect, just try not to oversell. Such as “With a setting reminiscent of STORY_A, and the world-building of STORY_B” or “The fast-witted dialogue of STORY_C”… you see how that works. You can reference more popular works, but this helps the agent understand what you were going for, and hopefully get a feel for your novel.

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Agent,

With fire and ice I stand before the wave of corruption, the last line of defense. We are The Light’s Guardians! Till next they ride!


Graham Sharris and Soko (don’t ask her her birth name) are both junior officers in a corporate owned army. Sharris is a veteran of the corporate armies (called Corpsies) with the physical and mental scars to prove it. Soko is a newer Corpsie though she is badass and had
rapidly proved her competence before the story begins. They have a very good working relationship where they relentlessly tease each other but also support each other and get themselves through the horrors they experience. They both have equal in agency in the story. [You’re telling about the characters, not talking about stakes! If this is 2 points of view, show it]

Every day is struggle to survive the experimental monsters of the mad scientists in the lab they are assigned to. Everything changes when something they did not know about breaks out and drags them into an ancient war for the very soul of multiverse. [Vague!] However, it is not a war fought with vast armadas or massive armies, but with two individuals from every planet. These people are enhanced and trained to fight to heal their own world and people from a corruption
seeking to subjugate all people. If Soko and Sharris can survive the training they might just be able to get back to their world and start making a difference to save it from the unchecked festering evil.

The Light’s Guardians is a 90,000 word adult science fiction/fantasy novel and is the first in a trilogy.
[Sell one book at a time.]

I am an officer in the Army National Guard which I used for creating several of my characters. I live in the Washington D.C. area and typically write from home.


Thank you for your time and consideration
.

Sincerely,
Q37


The querier clearly had a vivid world with tons of world building and great characterization. But, the non-specificity made the plot feel like it could describe dozens of stories.

Keep it specific.

Some comps, even stylistic ones could strengthen the query. (Hence the discussion I gave the run-down on, above).

My Revision:

Dear Agent,

With fire and ice, I stand before the wave of corruption, the last line of defense. We are The Light’s Guardians! Till next they ride!

Graham Sharris thought he knew the risks of guarding the monsters in the labs, as a veteran of the Corpsies — the corporate armies — with the physical and mental scars to prove it. But when something from deep in the labs escapes, he and his partner are dragged into an ancient war for the very soul of the multiverse.

Soko, (don’t ask her her birth name) is a newer Corpsie who’s already managed to earn Sharris’s guarded respect. When she and Sharris are chosen to defend their world, she welcomes the challenge as a chance to prove to herself, once and for all, that she’s better than where she came from. [or is she righting a wrong, having let the thing escape?]

To stop the corruption that seeks to subjugate all people across the multiverse, Soko and Sharris must use every skill they’ve learned from a past they’d both rather forget if they’re going to survive the training. Until then, there’s no one back home to keep the festering evil in check.

The Light’s Guardians is a 90,000-word adult science fiction/fantasy novel with series potential. [And comps? Like Punisher meets Lord of the rings. Or With the world-building of Star Wars and the banter of a Jim Butcher novel, The Light’s Guardians is… Only, without such well-known names]

I am an officer in the Army National Guard which I used for creating several of my characters. I write from my home in the Washington D.C. area.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q37


Q37 was excited to get the feedback and happy to send me an updated draft, here:

Dear Agent,

With fire and ice, I stand before the wave of corruption, the last line of defense. We are The Light’s Guardians! Till next they ride!

Graham Sharris thought he finally had a program to manage the risks of guarding the monsters in the labs. As a veteran of the Corpsies — the corporate armies — with the physical and mental scars to prove it, he was just starting to hope again that he could get his people through this assignment. But when something from deep in the labs escapes, he and his partner are dragged into an ancient war for the very soul of the multiverse.

Soko, (don’t ask her her birth name) is a newer Corpsie who’s already managed to earn Sharris’s respect. When she and Sharris are chosen to defend their world, she welcomes the challenge as a chance to prove to herself, once and for all, that she’s better than where she came from. Soko won’t hesitate to call out stupidity any power that stands before her, along the way.

To stop the corruption that seeks to subjugate all people across the multiverse, Soko and Sharris must use every skill they’ve learned from a past they’d both rather forget if they’re going to survive the training. Until then, there’s no one back home to keep the festering evil in check.

The Light’s Guardians is a 90,000-word adult science fiction/fantasy novel with series potential. It has the world building and in world mythology of Children of Blood and Bone, the banter of Jim Butcher with the aliens, monsters, and gods of Monstress.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q37

Let’s all wish the best of luck to Q37!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

Hello, Executive Dysfunction

While some of it is corona-related and some of it is saying ‘yes’ to running social media for Balticon, (less than two months out from the actual event, before they had a virtual plan), the rest is just me.

Hi, my name is Morgan and I have executive dysfunction.

As a kid?

It meant I read five books for fun, instead of the one book I needed to write a book-report on.

It meant doing homework during lunch, for the class right after lunch.

It meant waking up in the night, to make sure I’d done my math homework this time, because my teacher was gonna call my mom if I missed turning it in. Again. (Mom, if you’re reading. I only hit that point once. I promise.)

As an adult?

I’ve learned coping mechanisms.

I find planning and obsessing over the details for big, or even life-changing events keeps me busy and keeps me from panicking until it’s done, and there’s nothing left to be done.

I use online project management tools and artificial deadlines.

I use my joy of momentum of having not broken a streak to pressure myself into doing things – like this blog. And my vlog. And… well. You get the point.

But, right now?

I’m picking off the low-hanging fruit. The tasks I can knock out in an hour or less, where I know what I’m doing and I don’t need to ask for help.

I’m staying up late when I hit the immovable deadlines and making sure I do enough. If only just.

I’ve been sending out author spotlight interviews, when I should be posting them.

I’ve been scheduling tweets 2 weeks away for that convention, instead of chores or things due tomorrow.

I’ve been missing meetings, losing notes, and I’m struggling to stay focused on larger tasks unless I’m actively participating in a collaborative working meeting. Or running the meeting.

And my dayjob is suffering, too. I’m in the meetings. I’m doing the small, easy tasks. And letting those fill my time, instead of the larger projects.

I keep reminding myself that if I break the big stuff into smaller projects, they turn into the easy stuff.

Tips To Help

I’ve struggled before. I’ve been trying to remind myself of my coping tricks.

I keep reminding myself of my “just-5-minutes” approach, where if I make myself focus for that long, I’ll usually keep going until it’s done.

Wait.

When I added the link, it said 15 minutes. Maybe THAT’S my problem. I’m expecting to hit my groove too soon.

Sometimes, I trick myself into being productive by doing it after my bedtime — i.e. I can stay up, but only if I get that task done. I know I’m the one setting my bedtime, but somehow it still works. A little.

It’s helping.


Maybe I have taken on too much.

Maybe I just need to force myself to focus.

But I’m struggling right now.


Do you have executive dysfunction?

I know stress makes things worse, but what other coping mechanisms do you have?


Thank you for reading. Please, share if you can relate, if you found this post helpful.

Choices To Make With Beta-Readers

After you’ve written your manuscript and gone over it at least once, it’s usually time to ship it out to some beta-readers, to get an outside perspective. If nothing else, they can spot the things that you know about your story that you didn’t actually put down on paper.

There are tons of different techniques, and I’ve got to say, this time around, I’m kinda winging it.

How Many Beta-Readers To Ask?

It has been quite some time since I sent a new, fresh book off to beta-readers.

My first time, I just asked my friends on facebook — before I’d jumped into the writing world. I had RPG game masters, english teachers, family, and readers reading it. I tried my best to mix backgrounds, gender, and age. I sent it out to seven readers and heard back from five. I had in-depth feedback from four and high-level feedback from three (there was some overlap).

Since then, I’ve had plenty of critique partners — writers, looking at my manuscript with a similar lens to mine, that I let loose in ones-and-twos on more polished drafts.

For this beta? I asked a middle-grade writer friend, a YA writer friend, and was pleasantly surprised when a friend working on base during quarantine asked for something to do while waiting out his shift, helping make sure I didn’t *just* have writer perspectives.

Three beta-readers. Not a lot, but a nice balance if they all come through — which mine have. Just in time for me to have a block of time between chapters on that never-ending YA revision of mine.

What To Ask For

The best way to get beta-feedback you can really use is — shock-of-shocks — to ask for it. You know I’ve got my 10 Questions I Ask My Beta-Readers, such as: what works, what doesn’t, and what parts they enjoyed.

No matter what you’re worried about: characters, dialogue, world-building, pacing — now is the time to ask. Have them focus on the parts of the story that you care about.

You can even tell them to skip the line edits, if you want! Make this a developmental round of edits, not a copy edit.

They might not address all your questions directly, but by asking, you plant the ideas in their head before they begin, and it can really help direct their feedback.

Should Your Betas See What The Others Are Saying?

There are mixed feelings on this, and clearly, the answer is to do what works for you.

If you’re still world-building or playing with techiques and things, where you want to almost brainstorm what the story could look like with your betas, a shared document with open feedback might be just the ticket.

For me? I make sure they all have their own private copy, so they don’t know what anyone else is thinking. This way, I know they’re all facing it fresh, with no one else’s pre-conceived notions influencing them.

The choice is yours.

How To Compile Beta Feedback

Some people read feedback from beta-readers as it comes in, addressing stuff immediately with the excitement and energy they get from the fresh critique.

I like to sit on it.

Well, I read the draft letter they usually send with the big picture stuff and let it percolate in my brain. But the read-through and all the inline stuff? That waits.

I like to wait until I have feedback from ALL of my beta-readers. And then, I–

Wait. Let’s be honest here. This is only my second completed manuscript. I need to stop talking about this like I have a process. I sorta did this with my 2 or 3 shorts I sent out, but noo really. I just have “what I did last time” and “my vague plan that I’m stalling on by writing this blogpost.”

So, my plan and what I vaguely remember from my first round of betas, longer ago than I would like, is that I’m going to go through the feedback, chapter-by-chapter.

I’m going to have all three beta drafts and my own fresh-copy open at once. Maybe on separate quadrants of the screen? As I see line edits, I’ll see what the other betas thought, and decide if I want to incorporate them.

On a notepad, or gmail draft, I’ll be jotting down the larger stuff (although, most of that, I’d imagine, is not in-line, but instead in the draft letters they all sent me, that I already read).

I know, all the advice says to skip the line edits until you know if you’re even keeping that chapter, but I find getting the line edits out of the way makes the big choices easier, because I’m not overwhelmed with all the ‘clutter’ of the small stuff.

Last time, I printed the whole thing out, going chapter by chapter, making notes, writing new scenes on the back of the pages of the last draft. I’m debating now, and if I should do that before or after I do the quick line-edits. I almost called them ‘easy’ line edits, but they can be quite challenging. They’re just often smaller changes in scope, not difficulty.

To me? I consider changing wording and adding descriptions, etc, as ‘editing’. While changing pacing, characterization, and other big picture stuff are ‘revising’.

So, after I use their feedback to edit my manuscript, it’ll be time to look at the big picture and decide where to go from there.


How do you like to work with your beta-readers?

Are there any things you’d suggest I do differently? Does something else work for you?

Let me know in the comments below and I’ll be back again, next week, with more writing tips and writerly musings.

#36 Query Corner – “The Holy Shuriken” (And a discussion about Content Warnings)

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

When 16yo Renee Ballard is rescued from demonic armadillos by ninja Jesuit priests, her first night studying abroad, she believes God is calling her to stop human trafficking. [Language and mature themes]

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

The querier had a great blurb — but not quite a query. It’s a decent length, but I streamlined it a bit anyway, cause I can’t help myself.  Feel free to take or ignore these suggestions as you see fit.

  1. It’s got almost too much flavor-text for a query – make sure you focus on the main character’s stakes.
  2. Having the protagonist and the target have 2 syllable names starting with R is a little confusing.
  3.  You never need to mention how little experience you have.

The author, Phil Gross, and I had another discussion about adding an actual content warning to the query letter itself. As a condition for sharing his query with you, he asked that I include both his name and his website: PhilGrossAuthor. He clearly doesn’t shy away from accountability.

His proposed note: “CW: the existence of sexual assault as it pertains to human trafficking is mentioned, but neither described, detailed, nor portrayed. There are also brief instances of graphic violence.

My reply was to add it to the stats paragraph and to lead with that so that agents and publishers could self-select if the story was for them.

I haven’t seen it done explicitly as such. I have seen themes and such added to the stat paragraph. As such, I’d probably not call it a content warning, but list it. If you can find something that is evocative on the graphic violence as a comp, that might be helpful

THE HOLY SHURIKEN is a 59,000-word urban fantasy for YA audiences. It combines the absurdist humor of [Something], with the graphic action of [Soemthing else]. OR This irreverent romp should appeal to fans of X and Y. THE HOLY SHURIKEN contains references to the existence of sexual assault as it pertains to human trafficking is mentioned, but neither described, detailed, nor portrayed.

I’ve been in panels that discussed YA After Dark and agreed with the panelists. YA doesn’t need to be sugar-coated. Dark themes can help people of all ages who are dealing with abuse/etc know that they’re not alone, and model ways to (or not to) cope. Dark themes can help people who haven’t suffering learn empathy.

If you are comfortable with the aforementioned subject matter, read on.

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Editor,

Some people say Renee is brave. 

Others say Renee is bold. 

Her roommate says she’s a bitch. 

When sixteen-year-old Renee Ballard is rescued from demonic armadillos by ninja Jesuit priests on her first night studying abroad in Cancún, she believes God is calling her to become His holy warrior. [Wow. That’s a set-up.]

In order to prove herself a worthy ninja and end the demonic intrusion, Renee begins an eager hunt for the demons’ source. Brother Owen, her mysterious adviser, claims that ‘demons are attracted to great sin.’ Renee tracks down a terrible sinner, charismatic teenager Reuben García, a human trafficker who needs help exorcising a demon. [I’m getting either con, delusions, or a Buffy vibe here. And I’m not sure which!]

Repulsed by Reuben’s line of business, Renee plots to murder him. Her grand scheme: make it look like an accident while they play Ultimate Frisbee. With her life and soul on the line, Renee must come back from the edge and remember mercy (even for Reuben!)—or become the radicalized, violent ‘hero’ she’s come to idolize.

THE HOLY SHURIKEN is a 59,000-word urban fantasy for YA audiences. THE HOLY SHURIKEN contains references to the existence of sexual assault as it pertains to human trafficking, but such content is neither described, detailed, nor portrayed. The novel also includes brief instances of graphic violence. [Well worded. Tricky note]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q36


You can see how his voice comes through strongly and can get a feel for the story and the tone, but could stick closer to the stakes, instead of fleshing out the whole world.

Some comps, even stylistic ones could strengthen the query.

My Revision:

Dear Editor,

Some people say Renee is brave. 

Others say Renee is bold. 

Her roommate says she’s a bitch. 

When sixteen-year-old Renee Ballard is rescued from demonic armadillos by ninja Jesuit priests on her first night of study abroad in Cancún, she knows what she wants to do with her life.

In order to prove herself a worthy ninja and end the demonic intrusion, Renee begins an eager hunt for the demons’ source. Brother Owen, her mysterious adviser, claims that ‘demons are attracted to great sin’. Renee tracks down a terrible sinner, charismatic teenager Reuben García, a human trafficker who needs help exorcising a demon. 

Repulsed by Reuben’s line of business, Renee plots to murder him. Her grand scheme: make it look like an accident while they play Ultimate Frisbee. She risks her and her friends’ lives because she believes God has called her to be Reuben’s executioner. With her life and soul on the line, Renee must remember mercy (even for Reuben!) — or become the radicalized, violent ‘hero’ she’s come to idolize.

THE HOLY SHURIKEN is a 59,000-word urban fantasy for YA audiences. It combines the absurdist humor of [Something], with the action-packed adventure of [Something else]. OR This irreverent romp should appeal to fans of X and Y.

I write from my home [in/near place].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Q36


Let’s all wish the best of luck to Phil! For those people out there who need this story.


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

The 10 Types of Queriers

If you’ve ever considered traditional publishing, you probably know about querying. In fact, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might have seen me mention it a time or four.

Self-published authors get to skip the query trenches, but know that theirs is a hard road — full of marketing, and advertising, and building their brands — while working on the next novel. Without even the little help that small press or traditional publishing can offer.

But, for the rest of us, we all take different approaches to querying agents.

What type of querier are you?

Goldilocks

This querier follows ALL the query tips. They do enough research to personalize if applicable, then tweaks the query and first pages until the request rate is reasonable.

Then, they send out queries in batches of 7-10, and send out a new query every time they get a rejection or hit a time-out window. After 100 queries, this querier is either agented, planning to self-publish, or shelves the manuscript and has a new manuscript ready to query.

I-Know-A-Guy

This querier knows there’s nothing like that personal touch. She goes to conventions and signs up for all the one-on-ones with the agents in her genre, the ones who represent the novels that make the perfect comps for her manuscript.

This querier only queries agents she’s personally met, because she knows that’ll give her that extra level of attention from the agent. Anything to get ahead of the nameless crowds of the slush pile.

The Perfectionist

This (wanna-be) querier is almost ready. The novel just needs one more round of revisions, but he’s going to query as soon as this draft is done. — Or at least, that’s what he’s been saying… for the last 10 years.

Are The Signs Right?

This querier is superstitious. She only queries on Wednesday mornings, when it’s raining, and the dog let her sleep until the alarm. Each query has exactly 246 words in it, and she hits send while listening to the second verse of Hamilton’s I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot.

The Eager #NaNoWriMite

This querier wrote his first book in November, polished it in January, and is gonna query 3 agents a week until he gets that huge book deal! Who needs a beta reader? Inspiration was with him and this book is so timely!

Oooh, Squirrel!

This querier starts out well — ze sends out a batch. But then? Ze gets caught up in a new project or a writing contest and forgets to query that second batch. But, don’t worry, ze’ll get to it, as soon as this new project gets to a — Oh! Ze just got a new story idea!

The Doubter

This querier knows she needs to get her manuscript out there. She agonizes over her query letter, with about 4 bazillion re-writes, finally hits ‘send’ on the query. Then? She rereads it and sees INSTANTLY where those typos were and how she could have made it better. So, she eats a box of cookies, beats herself up for two weeks, and fixes the letter before she sends the next query.

After the first rejection comes in, she stares at her story. Her manuscript is probably getting drowned in a pile of similar tropes by her mediocre writing. Perhaps another tweak on the first pages? The query OBVIOUSLY could be improved. And maybe the market is wrong right now and she should wait and query later? Maybe another look at the synopsis? Hers stinks…

Sweet summer child

This querier has finally polished his novel and knows that he’s ready! So, it’s time to let the agents know!

He looks online and queries every agent in his genre on Query Tracker in under a week, and reaches out for suggestions on other agents to query — before he’s even heard back from the first agent.

Token Attempt

This querier knows their novel is too niche for the market. They’re gonna have to self-publish anyway. But? They might as well pop a few queries off to their dream agent. It’s okay, they’ve already prepped the manuscript and will hit the ‘publish’ button the day that last rejection comes in.

The Morgan

This querier does tons of research using all the social media — staying just this side of stalking. Rearranges and tweaks the query to the exact specifications of this agent and their tastes.

Then, revises her whole novel every 10 rejections, cause clearly there’s something she should fix.


I think it’s pretty clear which querier I am, which one are you? (Or do you think you would be if you were going to query a novel?)

Let me know if there are any I missed!