#20 Query Corner: ‘MARTIANS, EXES, AND REBELS’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

[MARTIANS, EXES, AND REBELS] is an SF romance.

Working with his ex is the only way for Jack to stop the Martian rebels from destroying the colony. Now, if only he could find her.

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:

This sounds like a fun, adventure romp! I love the politics and exes.
– You’re falling into the standard habit of summarizing all the action high-points
– Remember to give us the main character’s wants, goals, and obstacles

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear [Agent Lastname],

Jack’s former lover Ellen walks back into his life seeking his help, not his heart. After they prevent delivery of an unregistered nuclear weapon to the Martian rebellion, Ellen disappears. To find her Jack must confront rebel assassins, Ellen’s new love interest, inexorable orbital mechanics and an AI programmed to stop him, hoping to rekindle their relationship and save the Martian settlement. [This reads like a blurb — a teaser. We need to give the main character a voice and motivations.]

[Summary]

[Bio]

 

Sincerely,

Q20


My Revision:

 Dear Ms/Mr Agent,

When Jack’s former lover Ellen shows up, he’s more than happy to help her prevent the delivery of an unregistered nuclear weapon to the Martian rebellion. But, then she disappears again.

As he searches for her, Jack confronts rebel assassins, Ellen’s new lover, and an AI programmed to stop him. If Jack can’t find her in time, not only will he be unable to rekindle their romance, but the rebels might destroy the Martian settlement, once and for all. [Here’s what’s at stake!]

TITLE is an X,000-word science-fiction romance that should appeal to fans of [Something] or [Other].

I write from [a place]. When not writing, you can find me [doing the thing] or [the other thing].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q20


Now we’ve got the inciting incident, the main character’s drive, and all the things that stand in his way. Let’s see if agents like the sound of it!

Best of luck to Q20!


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

 

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Tips For Sustaining Tension In Your Writing

Last week, I talked about giving characters agency, but that’s not all editors and agents request. Another thing they ask for is ‘tension’. If the reader doesn’t have a reason to care what happens next, you’ve lost your tension.

Wait. Before we get any further, I need to clarify:

Why ‘Conflict’ Doesn’t Always Mean ‘Tension’

You hear a lot about how stories need to start off with ‘conflict’, but that’s not quite true. What your story needs is tension.

A fight or chase scene can provide conflict, but it’s really just an unsubtle way of giving your readers tension they can understand. And you have to be sure it’s actively forwarding the plot!

If you’ve ever seen Matrix 2, think about the opening fight scene–that went on and on and on.

I’m an easy audience– I don’t typically critique while watching, I want to buy into the world and the story, and I’m very invested in even the cheesiest of movies. Plus? I have a well-honed startle reflex.

Before the 10-minute mark, I couldn’t sit on the edge of my seat any longer. I sat back, took a sip of my soda, and waiting for the fighting to finish so we could start the plot.

So, with that caveat, let’s talk about the:

Goats with locked horns.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Types of Tension

  1. Fights
  2. Arguments
  3. Deadlines
  4. Curiosity (but not true confusion or you’ve lost your reader)
  5. “Disquiet-itude”* – where something is a little off
  6. Unanswered questions
    • Romantic questions! Will they or won’t they?
    • Mystery questions! Who was the real killer?
  7. The list goes on and on…
Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

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Ways To Add Tension

Most of these should be familiar, but I’d be remiss if I left them out.

  1. Get into the scene as late as possible, and get out as soon as the scene’s main character has made a decision about the next action.
    • In Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, there’s a scene that showed Daenerys after the council decided against her, raging against them. And the scene ends when Daenerys decides what to do next — before letting the reader/viewer in on the plan.
  2. Fight scenes aren’t tense by themselves – the stakes they’re fighting for are what adds the tension.
  3. Hinting is better than showing – think about horror movies.
  4. The Main Character Wants something
  5. The Main Character is invested in something
    • Emotionally, physically, financially -> it doesn’t matter what combination of these three, but you know it’s the character’s weak point
  6. The Scenery – use word choice to set up the tension
    • Have your metaphors say more than just the comparison
    • Look at your verb choice. Is there something more precise that sets the mood?
  7. The five senses
    • Building on the scenery, have the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches enhance the tension and mood
  8.  Contrast
    • Is everyone else tense, except for one character? What do the rest of the characters know that your one character doesn’t know?
    • Is your character tense when everyone else is relaxed? What does your character know that the rest don’t know?
  9. Have something be obvious to the reader, that the main character doesn’t react to as expected.
  10. Proximity – both time and distance affect tension
  11. Pacing – Shorter chapters. Shorter sentences. More action.
A hammock overlooks the water.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ways To Lower Tension

Well, other than playing with the things above, (in a reverse way), there are things that writers do that lower tension, either intentionally or not.

  1. Writers often start with setting the scene chapters before the true story starts
  2. Writers fulfill the reader’s expectations, with no twists
  3. Humor – there’s a reason gallows humor exists. If you guessed “breaking the tension” in real life, you’d be right.

Conclusion

Remember, you want to keep the tension in your story to compel the reader onwards, but as with any genre, sustaining high tension is exhausting. You need to give the readers (and characters) time to process the plot.

By playing with the levels and types of tension in your story, you can make a story that your reader just can’t walk away from.


These notes come from the Balticon 52 panel, “Sustaining Tension in Your Writing”, featuring writers/panelists David Walton, Gail Martin, Scott Andrews, and moderated by Mark VanName.

 

* Scott Andrews’s word

#19 Query Corner: ‘THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION is a YA historical fiction.

When Chiara’s father, the general who led the Knights to victory in the Crusade, is murdered, it seems a Grim Reaper is to blame. If she can’t find the Reaper in time, all of Christendom is at stake.

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:

I’ve seen reapers and crusade stories, but not together. Great innovation and solid base to your query. There are a few things I’d tweak:
– There’s a lot of backstory
– The format is a little too casual
– Unless your self-published work has excellent sales, it’s typically best not to mention it

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear xxxx,

How are you today? [Not needed.]

Deus Vult! In the year 1099, the Knights return victoriously from the 1ST crusade, but their anxiety is on the rise as their General’s soul has been abducted by the Grim Reaper himself. [Backstory] No Knight is brave enough to look into the murder of their general but his daughter, 16-year-old strong and independent Chiara, take up the responsibility.

Eventually, with the help of the 14-year-old chemist named Marlon Shellbeth and his shady allies, she discovers that the Reaper was none other than Silas Fatimid, the deposed King of Jerusalem who killed the general as an act of revenge on the Christian faith. He plans to end his revenge by killing the Pope but his attack is intercepted by the heroes at the last moment. [Nice!]

‘THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION’ is a ??,000-word YA historical fiction in an era of religious blindness where science was condemned as witchcraft. Inspired by the medieval European lore the book revolves around real-life characters and events of the first Crusade. It is a tale of betrayal, family and adventure, which I believe would be enjoyed by those loved Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson Series’, Jeri Westerson’s ‘Crispin Guest Series’ and BBC’s family drama ‘Merlin’.

I, [Q19], am a writer at [X, Y, and Z]. I self-published my crime thriller titled ‘[TITLE]’ at the age of 15 in the year 2017. I’d be honoured you would represent my book.

The sample pages continue below, Upon your command, I’m prepared to send you the full manuscript.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work for representation. Eagerly awaiting your response, {Name}

Good Fortune, 

Q19


My Revision:

Dear Ms/r Agent Name, 

When her father, the General, is murdered after returning from the first crusade, 16-year-old Chiara knows a Grim Reaper was responsible. With no Knight willing to investigate, Chiara coerces Marlon Shellbeth, an apprentice chemist into helping her.

Signs point to Silas Fatimid, the deposed King of Jerusalem, but that’s not all Chiara uncovers. If Chiara can’t stop Salas’s plot to murder the pope, all of Christendom may be sent into chaos.

‘THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION’ is a ??,000-word YA historical fiction in an era of religious blindness where science was condemned as witchcraft. Inspired by the medieval European lore the book revolves around real-life characters and events of the first Crusade. It is a tale of betrayal, family, and adventure, which I believe would be enjoyed by those loved Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson Series’, Jeri Westerson’s ‘Crispin Guest Series’ and BBC’s family drama ‘Merlin’.

I am a writer at [X, Y, and Z]. I self-published my crime thriller titled ‘A Teaspoon of Death’ [Cut this unless the sales did really well.]. I’d be honoured you would represent my book.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work for representation.

Good Fortune,

Q19

 


Another person took a go at Q19’s query — with more familiarity with the actual novel. Here’s their take.

Dear [Mr/Ms Agent],

When her father, General Troddenham, is murdered on the way home from the first crusade, 16-year-old Chiara knows a Grim Reaper is responsible. With no Knight willing to investigate the murder, Chiara takes it upon herself to discover the Reaper’s identity and bring her father back from the dead.

With the help of Marlon Shellbeth, a shady apprentice chemist, Chiara learns the Reaper was Silas Fatimid, the deposed King of Jerusalem. But that’s not all she uncovers. The Reaper’s quest for revenge is far from over, and if Chiara can’t stop him, not only will her father be lost forever, but Silas Fatimid will take his bloodthirsty vengeance all the way to the Pope.

‘THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION’ is a ??,000-word YA historical fiction set in an era of religious blindness where science was condemned as witchcraft. Inspired by medieval European lore, the book involves real-life characters and events of the first Crusade. It is a tale of betrayal, family and adventure, a YA parallel to Jeri Westerson’s ‘Crispin Guest Series’. It would appeal to fans of the BBC’s family drama ‘Merlin’.

I am a writer at [X, Y, and Z].

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work for representation.

Good Fortune,

Q19

Whose take did you like best? Any changes you’d make?

Best of luck to Q19!


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

How To Find An Agent For Your Novel

I talk a lot about my querying process, but one thing I haven’t talked as much about is HOW to find the agent in the first place.

It takes a bit of research, but most of us writers are pretty comfortable with research, especially if it means we’re putting our manuscript in front of the ‘right’ person. It’s a little time consuming, but ultimately not usually challenging.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Step One: Pick a list of literary agents

Where can you find a list of literary agents? All over the place.

The main places I look for agents are:

  • Guide to Literary Agents [YEAR]  – found on Amazon, in bookstores, or at your local library, this is a print(or Kindle) edition of vetted agencies. It’s fine if it’s a couple years old.
  • The Manuscript Wish List – A website associated with the twitter hashtag #mswl. This list is lightly vetted and tends to be where you’ll find the more social media adept agents.
  • Query Tracker – A website to track your queries, response rates, and more. You can also FIND agents to query here, with a pretty handy search feature.
  • Your genre magazine! Yes, they print a magazine for most genres listing the books that recently sold, what agent sold them, and interviews with the writers, agents, and editors. I write fantasy, so I look at Locus Magazine (for SF/F)
  • Publisher’s Weekly – check out the book deals and look for agents selling books that sound like yours.
  • Your bookshelf! – Open a book you love with a comparable genre to your manuscript (preferably one published in the last 3-5 years) and see who they thank in the opening. Who the listed agent is!
  • Google! Just look for literary agents.

Step Two – Make Sure They Represent Your Genre

When you’re looking at this list of agents, make certain that your genre is listed as something they represent! Otherwise, you’re asking for a short trip to the rejection form letter queue.

Feel free to add all the agents you want to your query list, though! I suggest creating a large list and ranking them 1-3.

It can take up to 100 no’s before you get that ‘yes’.

For me, 1’s are the agents whose bios spoke to me, who listed some of my comps (comparison novels) as favorites, or request a theme I feel is strong in my book.

2’s are the agents who sounded up my alley but didn’t have any specific requests that my novel fulfilled.

3’s are the agents who represent my genre, didn’t give enough detail for me to know if we’d be a good fit but didn’t list any specific dislikes that fit my novel. They could be AMAZING and just didn’t use their bios to their full potential.

Because a lot of these lists are just that- lists of agents’ names and represented genres.

And worse? Sometimes these lists are out of date.

Scrabble pieces spelling out 'SEARCH'

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Step Three – Visit Their Agency’s Website

No matter where you get the name from:

  1. Go to their agency website
  2. Visit their profile
  3. READ it.

Often, this is where you’ll get a list of their preferences, their tastes, their favorite books. This is where you get a taste of their personality so you can evaluate if you think they’d be a good match for you. Use this information when ranking these agents for querying.

Plus, you can find out their experience. Are they young and hungry? Where did they work before? Do they talk about their editorial feedback or are they just going to start selling your book right away? Are they experienced and only take on the rarest of new writers? Do they want to sell a book, or start a partnership that will last throughout your writing career?

And most importantly, are they currently open to queries!?

Step Four – Vet Them

Once you’ve decided an agent sounds right for you, don’t stop there. Check out both the agency and the agent!

  • Writers Beware – A SF/F run site, but can have lots of information on vanity presses, scams, and more.
  • Query Tracker – Do they have a success rate (many agents don’t track here, but can be a clue. Check out what other writers have to say about working with them, their response times, etc)
  • Absolute Write* – Forums and posts about agencies, agents, and issues with any of them.
  • Plain out google them. Check out their twitter or blog.

Some agencies are glamorized vanity presses. Remember, you should NEVER pay to be published traditionally.

Some agencies basically just help you self-publish. If you’re self-publishing or indie-publishing, you might end up paying out of pocket for your own editor, cover art, and print/e-formatting. Is it worth it to you to go through them?

Remember that a lack-luster sale on a self-published work or through a small publisher can be strikes against you in the future if you do try traditional publishing.

If you’re a blow-away success, you can find a publisher or agent easily. But the number of people who’ve gotten a book deal that way can be counted about on one hand.

A hand holding a deck of cards, fanned out, facing away from the camera.

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Step Five – Deciding Who To Query First

It’s recommended to send out queries in batches of 5-10. I usually do batches of 3-5, but I’m cautious and nervous.

For an untested query, I like to do a mix of 1’s and 2’s. I feel the 1’s are a better match, but I don’t want to use a query that performs poorly on all of them, because once they say no, you should NOT re-query, unless you’ve substantially revised your manuscript.

NOTE: If you’re getting a lot of form rejection letters, you should look at your query and opening pages and see if you can make improve them.

Requerying will typically just get you rejected faster, and possibly added to that agent’s blacklist.

A laptop, a map, a notebook, and a pen held over a spot on the map.

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Step Six – Follow Their Submission Guidelines

I’m assuming you’ve already written your novel, edited it, revised it, and gotten feedback at LEAST twice before you even THOUGHT about submitting.

If it takes you even more rounds of beta readers and revisions, that’s fine! Especially for a first-time novelist. You only get one debut novel.

You should have written your query letter — keeping it under at least 300 words, and preferably under 250 words — concentrating on the emotional arch of the main character(s). CHARACTER wants SOMETHING, but SOMETHING ELSE stands in their way.

You should have created your synopsis.

However, no two agents or agencies have the same guidelines. So what do you do?

  1. Go to the agency website
  2. Click the ‘Submissions’ tab
  3. Read the directions
  4. Follow them

Really. It’s that easy.

Plus? Their guidelines are kinda a test. If you ignore their directions, they’re going to assume you’re a pain in the butt to work with. They get dozens of queries a day and you just made it really easy for them to say no.

Some are going to have you fill out a web form. Some only accept snail-mail submissions. Some want you to email a specific address.

99% of email submissions do NOT accept attachments. Adding one anyway will get your query deleted without being read. Often, you’re going to copy and paste pages or even chapters AFTER your query letter, directly into the email.

And make sure you spell the agent’s name right. Don’t ask me how I know this one.


sky ditch eye hole

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Now you know how to pick agents to query! Best of luck in the query trenches.

Thanks for tuning in! Feel free to subscribe and I’ll be back next Thursday for more Writing Tips and Writerly Musings.

 

*Edited to add Absolute Write. I knew I was missing one!

#18 Query Corner: ‘ART GIRL’

Welcome to:

logo5

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

ART GIRL is a YA contemporary novel.

Locally-acclaimed teen artist Lillie Kang must overcome her anxiety to create the painting that could win the scholarship to her dream university.

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:

Pretty solid query, and a good story. There are a few things I’d tweak:
– It’s a smidge long, but not much
– There’s a lot of backstory
– The timetable is a bit confused/rushed in the query.
– The actual story may be a little short for the genre. Look at the story and see if there’s anything you can add.

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear_____,

Seventeen-year-old Korean-American artist Lillie Kang has one more painting to do for the high school’s art contest. The winner gets a cash prize, and their work displayed in an art gallery. Everyone in school expects the ‘Art Girl’ to be the winner, and at home, her parents have even higher expectations. But there’s one problem: all the pressure has made her so anxious she’s lost all inspiration to paint anything good. [this entire paragraph is backstory]

Until she meets Zevi, the boy who saved his cousin in a fire, leaving him with vivid scars to prove it. Despite her crippling social anxiety, she opens herself up to Zevi as he tries to coax her out from her comfort zone. In a desperate attempt, she tries to paint him but fails because she doesn’t know what she wants to convey.

With an unemployed stepdad and a pregnant mom, Lillie is determined to win the cash prize but her overactive mind pushes away her friends. Then, she finds out that the gallery opened a scholarship opportunity for one of the participants to her dream university in the city. To achieve her goals, Lillie must learn to paint the scarred boy, and in the process discover who she is beyond her label as ‘Art Girl.’ With two days left to the deadline, Lillie must finish a painting, or she loses all chance for her future. [You have 2 different ‘must’ sentences’ in a row]

Art Girl is a young adult contemporary novel at 50,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Starfish and Since you asked. [BIO here].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q18


My Revision:

Dear [Agent],

With an unemployed stepdad and a pregnant mom, seventeen-year-old Korean-American artist, Lillie Kang, is determined to win the high school’s art contest, with its prize gallery showing–and its cash. Everyone at school thinks she’ll win. There‘s only one problem: all the pressure has made her so anxious she’s lost her inspiration.

When she meets Zevi, the boy who saved his cousin in a fire, leaving him with vivid scars to prove it, he tries to coax her out of her shell. Despite her crippling social anxiety, she lets down her walls and allows Zevi to talk her into painting him. The painting is a disaster. 

Frustrated, Lillie pushes away her friends. But, two days before the deadline, she finds out that the gallery opened a scholarship opportunity for one of the participants to her dream university in the city. Lillie must paint the scarred boy, or allow her anxieties to take her art from her. 

Art Girl is a young adult contemporary novel at 50,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Starfish and Since You Asked. [Bio] 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely, 

Q18

 

I think we’re going in the right direction. Best of luck to querest #18!


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