#21 Query Corner: ‘THE WINGS OF OBORIO’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

THE WINGS OF OBORIO is a fantasy.

After his father destroys a witch’s forest, Prince Braun and his new bride, Princess Martiel must learn to trust each other if they want to end the witch’s curse to save their future children and their kingdoms, and forge a lasting partnership.

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:

It sounds like a good story and a solid fairy tale. One of my favorite genres!

Things to think about

  1. Make sure female main/secondary characters have agency. If she’s a POV character, we’re gonna have to switch one of the paragraphs to focus on her side of the story.
  2. What does the Prince WANT? (What stands in his way– I think you’ve got that half)
  3. Specificity should replace standard lines. You need to show how your novel is DIFFERENT, not how it follows the formula.
  4. Remember to sell one book at a time. You can say it has ‘series potential’, but make sure it can stand on its own.

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear Agent,

While Prince Braun hunts in the enchanted Dunslach wood [is he supposed to be here?], he stumbles across the mysterious Princess [cliche. Does she have any agency?] Martiel. The beautiful girl stops him in his tracks, and both of their worlds are turned upside down [give specifics!].

When Braun returns home, his father, the king, orders him to marry a stranger—and to his surprise and delight, it’s Martiel. [Is this unexpected? Maybe something more like ‘announces his betrothal. To Princess Martiel. Braun can’t believe his luck.] when [too many whens…] a witch attacks Braun on his way to the betrothal ceremony. She vows revenge for the destruction of her forest by cursing the couple’s offspring [WHAT?! We were just hunting there]. Braun’s father is responsible for the carnage, [wait. Why? And when did this happen?] but Braun and Martiel will pay for it.

Braun and Martiel are wed, and they struggle with their new marriage, the curse, and a race against time herself, a goddess called Etunima, to save Martiel’s homeland Oborio. [And… here’s a quick synopsis.] But their friends help them understand what it means to love each other, for better or worse.


THE WINGS OF OBORIO is an 81,000-word fantasy novel and the first in a planned trilogy [The book HAS to be able to stand alone. You can mention it has series potential, though].

I am a wife to X, mom to Y(two years old), and dog-mom of two crazy Labradors (A and B) [normally, I’d suggest cutting this. Who are you to yourself, not your family, but…] from the small, town of TOWN, STATE. I graduated from COLLEGE with a Bachelor’s in Literature with a minor in Religious Studies [relevant major, gets to stay].  The real inspiration for this series came after passing of my first child, Z, who would be three now. [BAM. Why your family and Son’s age are relevant.]

Sincerely,

Q21


My Revision:

Dear Agent,

Avoiding his father’s political games, Prince Braun braves the enchanted Dunslach wood to hunt its magical game, but the lonely romantic finds something far better. A beautiful girl [doing something interesting-climbing trees, playing with animals, swimming, gathering herbs] who claims to be the Princess Martiel. Entranced, Braun spends the [day/week] walking and talking with her.

When Braun returns home, his father, the king, announces his betrothal to the Princess of Oborio–Martiel. Braun can’t believe his luck. To prepare for the wedding, his father [orders his men to destroy Dunslach, to remove the border between the two kingdoms]. As Braun rides to Oborio for the betrothal, a now-homeless witch of Dunslach bars his way and curses his offspring [to die? to be bears? what sort of curse?].

 Braun and Martiel are wed, but romance and marriage are two different beasts. The lovers must learn to trust each other if they want to save their future children, keep [X] from destroying Oborio, and forge a lasting partnership.

THE WINGS OF OBORIO is an 81,000-word fantasy novel and has series potential.

I live in the small town of TOWN, STATE with my husband, X, two-year-old son, Y, and two crazy Labradors. I graduated from COLLEGE with a Bachelor’s in Literature with a minor in Religious Studies.  The real inspiration for this series came after passing of my first child, Z, who would be three now.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q21


 

Now that the reader knows that Muriel’s got her agency and what the stakes are, with a few tweaks to add more specificity–making sure the story’s unique features are accentuated, I think this query will be ready for action!

Best of luck to Q21!


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

 

Top 4 Questions From An Editors & Publishers AMA (Ask Me Anything)

Sunflowers in full bloom against a bright, clear blue sky.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 (Happy Summer Solstice!)

At Balticon52, I had the opportunity to attend an Ask Me Anything panel of Editors and Publishers. Usually in my panel notes, I skim over the panelists to get to the meat, but in this case, I feel their expertise was part of the draw.

The publishers and editors in question were:

  • Walt Boyes – an award-winning journalist, writer, and editor of the Industrial Automation INSIDER, the Grantville Gazette, (the magazine of the 1632 Universe), co-editor of Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, and a member of the 1632 Editorial Board.
  • Scott H. Andrews – a writer, musician, and the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. He’s a six-time Hugo Award finalist and with his podcast, a five-time Parsec Award finalist. [Fun fact: he always gives personalized rejections!]
    • For non-querying writers, I know that sounds kinda… pathetic. But if you’re in the querying trenches, you know what that’s worth.
  • Neil Clarke – the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld.
  • Ian Randal Strock– a writer, plus the owner and editor-in-chief of Gray Rabbit Publications/Fantastic Books (www.FantasticBooks.biz). Previously, he edited and published Artemis Magazine and SFScope. He also worked on the editorial staffs of Analog, Asimov’s, Science Fiction Chronicle, and many others.
  • (moderated by) Jeff Young – an award-winning author, bookseller, and editor of several anthologies.

So let’s get this rolling. Here are the questions.

1. What is Your Biggest Pet Peeve?

The top three answers were:

  1. Zombie Stories — they’ve been done to past death
  2. Writers who don’t READ THE GUIDELINES
  3. Writers who argue with critiques
    Even if you disagree with the critique or the suggestion, don’t argue with someone who spent their time and energy to give you feedback.
         Give that section of your prose a closer look

    • Is it moving the story along?
    • What is it adding?
    • Could you do it better–not necessarily the way they suggested.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

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2. Should A Writer Use Different Names For Different Genres?

As with all writing advice, it depends on the situation:

  • If you’re doing your own marketing, starting over with a new name doubles the amount of work you have to do to get traction.
  • If you’re with a large publisher, it can be helpful for the marketing.

That said, there are of course caveats:

  • You can end up getting shelved in the library/bookstores alongside whatever genre you first published in.
  • If you’re doing both Children’s books and explicit erotica — it can be helpful to make sure kids don’t end up with a book they probably didn’t mean to get.

Regarding publishing names in general:

When choosing which name to be published under (birth name or pen name), searchability reigns supreme.

You want to be high in the search result, but also easy to spell.

Simplified spelling, middle initials, mining family names, or deciding who you want to be shelved next to are good places to start.


Shelves full of books, in a decently lit library.

3. How Has The Market Changed In The Last Ten Years?

The top 3 ways the market’s changed:

  1. More exploring of the human condition in fantasy, a lot of the exploration is reactionary — which has a shorter shelf life.  Morgan’s side note: It might be more overt, but I’d argue that fantasy has ALWAYS explored the human condition.
  2. The rise in the respectability of online magazines.
  3. Massive growth in international markets.

Wood signpost, with worn red arrow pointing right. Greyed out mountains faintly behind it.

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4. Where Do Querying Writers Lose You?

There was a lot of discussion on this question, so I’ll break it into high-level and specifics.

The top three high-level answers were:

  1. When I quit caring.
  2. If you make it work to follow the narrative.
  3. If they don’t remember it the next day.
    • Note: This editor also said that the bad stories blur together, they don’t typically remember them.

Top 4 things that break their buy-in:

  1. ‘Red line of death’ – Boredom, implausibility, names that don’t fit the setting
  2. Implausibility – where all emotions are explicit rather than undercurrents. Most people don’t spell everything out for each other in real life.
  3. External commentary (even by the narrator) – “If I’d only known then…”
  4. A character doing something stupid or out-of-character (OOC)

A thought bubble drawn in chalk, with a lightbulb resting in the bubble

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I always find getting an insider perspective on the industry enlightening. Hopefully, these answers help you as much as they helped me.

 

#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!

 

#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.

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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'

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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.

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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!