#24 Query Corner: ‘PEACEKEEPER’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh Eyes For Your Query Quandaries

PEACEKEEPER is a YA dystopian SF novel.

Eli must find the courage to stop his domineering adoptive father from ruthlessly taking over the Domain, even if Eli has to kill his own dad.

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:

PEACEKEEPER sounds like a pretty solid story.

(I’m going to flip the order around due to personal preference, but some agents prefer it in your order — just remember to check before submitting.)

A couple of things to think about:

  • Dystopian is on a bit of a downswing, so depending on the tech level, it may be better to dub this either a Fantasy or a Science-Fiction novel.
  • Even if you don’t have any writer stats, you don’t have to say it’s your debut novel. If you don’t put in writer credentials, it’s assumed. Most agents want at least a tiny bio. I keep mine to 2 sentences.

Querist’s Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear Agent,

I am querying you as I feel that my novel, Peacekeeper, provides the strong relatable characters that you are searching for. The heart-wrenching nature of their trials and tribulations will have you praying for their success. [Some agents like to know exactly why you picked them to query. Others prefer a lighter touch. There are less clue-hammer ways of saying this.]

Peacekeeper is a 79,400 [round to the nearest 1,000] word Young Adult dystopian [don’t italicize and think about other categories. Dystopian’s in a bit of a downswing right now.]novel. The story revolves around the strong-willed Eli Luther. [THIS is where the query starts, don’t hide it in the stats paragraph >>] Eli has only wanted one thing for as long as can remember. The title of CommanderDominus: the most prestigious military role in the Domain. Standing in his way from achieving his life-long goal, is his jealous and ruthless adoptive father Tobias Luther. Who is prepared to do anything to keep Eli from the position and seize it for himself. No act is considered too heinous.

After an encounter with a mysterious girl and narrowly surviving an attempt on his life, Eli finds himself in league with a secret organisation. Trojan offers Eli the role of CommanderDominus, so long as he aids them in their fight for independence, and he assassinates Tobias. Now fuelled by a sense of responsibility and revenge, Eli joins Trojan.

As the covert war wages on, a plot is discovered to subject the entire Domain to a ruthless iron-fist dictatorship under Tobias’ rule. With the freedom of the Domain hanging in the balance, Eli prepares to go to war to defend his new home.

Peacekeeper is my debut novel [This should be obvious because you’re not listing your other works, but don’t emphasize your inexperience.] I believe it has strong potential to be expanded into a larger series but reads just as well as a standalone book. [There’s a smoother phrase that’s standardly accepted for this.]

Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope to hear from you. [The QueryShark finds the ‘hope to hear from you’ a bit like nails on a chalkboard. It might not offend the agent you’re querying, but I opt to leave it off, rather than potentially annoy an agent.]

Yours sincerely,

Q24


My Revision:

Dear Agent,

To escape his repressive adoptive household, 17-year-old Eli Luther decides to seek training to become the Commander Dominus–leader of the Domain’s military. Then his adoptive father, Tobias, takes the role for himself and blocks all of Eli’s attempts to any position. [This implies the jealousy and ambition without spelling it out.]

After narrowly surviving an attempt on his life, Eli is rescued by Trojan. [I dropped the girl because she was never mentioned again. Name as few characters as possible during a query.] As the leader of an underground organization seeking to oust Tobias due to his war-atrocities, Trojan offers Eli the role of Commander Dominus. To earn the title, Eli must aid their fight for independence and succeed where so many others have failed–by assassinating Tobias. Fueled by a sense of responsibility and the need for revenge, Eli agrees.

When Tobias’s plot to become the Domain’s own dictator is uncovered, Eli knows the domain doesn’t have much time left. Eli must face his fears of becoming a monster like Tobias by killing his own adoptive father or allow the entire Domain to fall under Tobias’s ruthless control.

PEACEKEEPER is a YA science-fiction novel, complete at 79,000 words with series potential. A strong-willed character, Eli should appeal to readers who’ve dealt with oppressive authorities and wished they could do something about it. [This adds the ‘strong and relatable’ note, hopefully without you feeling like it’s awkward pandering]. I write from [A PLACE] and [have a degree]. I enjoy [hobbying] in my rare free time.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

Q23

***

I think we’ve ended up somewhere a little easier to read while avoiding spelling things out for the agent.

Best of luck to Q24!


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

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Writer’s Block – Intimidated By The Blank Page

I never thought it would happen to me.

I was arrogant and short-sighted.

I thought writer’s block was censoring out bad writing (you know, like rough drafts), an inability to apply butt-to-seat, or thinking you’re going in the wrong direction but not knowing the right one.

I didn’t think the blank page could scare me until I decided it was time for me to try something new.

Now? I understand.

Searching for a story

For the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize it’s time for me to start something new.

But what? A new story in my old world? A new world? A story in the real world?

And whose story should I tell?

I’ve been rolling settings and motivations around in the back of my brain. Letting ideas flow through my head without conscious attention, enjoying the feel of the endless possibilities.

And tiptoeing around my fears.

The thoughts that intimidate me?

Hand holding a magnifying glass

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Basically all the good reporter questions:

  • Who are my characters?
  • What do they want? What’s their goal? What stands in their way?
  • When and where is this set? [Either in the real world or on a technological advancement scale.]
  • Why? Why is this my story? Why do the characters want their goal?

Behind these questions, though, is where my real fears lurk.

Maybe what I’ve already written is better than any new world. Maybe the manuscript I’m querying was just a fluke. I know that story better than this vague inkling of an idea, how could I possibly do this new story justice?

Except, of course:

Signpost

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Only Way Out Is Through

I’d contemplated and thought about my first world for years before I wrote it.

This new story? These new characters? This new world? They’re all so durn new to me, they’re basically transparent. I don’t know them yet, how can I even imagine I could tell their tale?

But then I remember, it took me three attempts to figure out my first world, to actually get past that 20,000-word mark and get the full story out of me. Three tries before I committed and followed the story till it was long enough.

You know what happened AFTER I finished writing 131,000 words in my then-brand-new manuscript?

After I finished and looked around is when I began to realize the theme of my story–what it had been working toward the whole time. And every draft, it becomes clearer and stronger and better plotted.

The only way for me to know for sure what story is trying to come out of me is for me to write it.

So now what?

A path through a garden

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

My (Writing) Path Forward

They say every writer works differently, and that sometimes a writer’s method will even change from story-to-story.

My plan right now is to try what worked for me the last couple times.

Writing Plan

  1. Pick a setting
  2. Pick a character
  3. Do a stupidly high-level outline. Something like:
    • ch 1 – inciting incident
    • ch 2 – complain to a friend
    • … ch 19- final battle!
    • ch 20 – denoument
  4. Start at a beginning (likely 2 chapters early while I explore the world and main character) and write until I get stuck
  5. Look at the outline. Either:
    • it helps
    • or
    • I need to rewrite the outline cause I’m going a different direction

When you’re starting a new project, what’s your process?

Do you just wait for a new idea to intrigue you and start writing while it’s fresh?

Or do you decide when you want to write something new and seek out that new idea?

As always, thanks for watching and feel free to subscribe (<<<<) I’ll be back again next Thursday with more writing tips and writerly musings. If there’s something you’d like me to talk about, feel free to email me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com. See you next week.

5 Writing Tips for Making Fantasy Feel ‘Real’

If you ask a group of writers how they approach a part of their writing process, you’re going to get as many answers as there are writers–and sometimes more.

Today I’m reviewing a discussion by a group of writers on how to make fantasy feel real.

No matter if you prefer:

  • to write a story based on reality — with just enough fantastic elements to make your story work
  • to create your world from the ground up
  • to mix it up a bit

and no matter if:

  • you’re a pantser with no magic system
  • a world builder who adds the characters later
  • a white rabbit chaser til the end of the plot, when you look back and realize everything happens in ‘white rooms’ (before you edit…)
  • or your approach changes from world to world

these tips for writing fantasy worlds should work to help you draw your readers in, without invoking their sense of disbelief!


***

Top 5 Writing Tips For Making Fantasy Feel Real

  1. Keep it internally consistent
    • The effort used to invoke the magic and the scope of the magic should match from spell to spell, no matter the scale.
  2. Look at economics
    • If magic gives someone an ability, someone else will come up with a way to:
      • counter it
      • sell it
      • steal it
  3. Make sure your character’s motivations make sense
    • Both for them,
    • AND for the world they live in
      • Different norms and cultural expectations exist in different times, places, social classes, and worlds
  4. Avoid Anachronisms
    • You don’t want to mentally throw people out of your story
      • Check the weaponry in that time AND place
      • Stew takes four hours to cook
      • EVEN if you’re right, if most people don’t think that happened in your technological period or location, they’ll be pulled out of the story
      • NOTE: Ignore this tip for diversity. People in the dominant culture tend to paint everything in their history with a brush to match themselves. The real world isn’t usually that segmented.
  5. If you can’t be true to a period, write around the edges
    • There are always the fringes of society, where the ‘norms’ break down
    • If your character doesn’t fit in, there’s usually SOMEWHERE they can go
      • If they’re willing to pay the price

***

How much are you willing to give to enthrall your readers with your world?

 

These notes are from the Balticon 52 panel, “Making Fantasy Feel Realistic”. The panelists were Leah Cypress, Lisa Hawkridge, Brenda Clough, and Jean Marie Ward.

Do you have any favorite tips for making fantasy seem real that I missed? Feel free to comment!

Thanks for watching. Please subscribe [<<<<] and tune in next Thursday for more writing tips and writerly musings.

#23 Query Corner: ‘NAVIGATING NESSA’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh Eyes For Your Query Quandaries

NAVIGATING NESSA is a YA contemporary.

After her father’s death, Nessa struggled to gain control over her anxiety. When she falls for the new boy, her control slips and she sinks into the hardcore party scene. Now, Nessa must find the strength to reach out for help, before she destroys her future and the respect of those that matter most to 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.]

This querist sent me their old version and their new version, with worries that they were getting worse, not better. So, with a quick overview, I was happy I was able to soothe those fears.

Overall Impression:

The querist was told to add specificity and, as is natural, started to make the query a little too synopsis-like.

We all do it. *Morgan shoves her own query letter drafts version 4-7 behind her*

Things to think about

  1. Specificity doesn’t need all the backstory.
  2. Specificity doesn’t need to be long, keep it under 250 if possible, under 300 words always.

Querist’s Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear Agent,

Nessa Walker is finally getting to a healthy place six months after her dad’s unexpected death. Yoga, romance books, time spent lying in the tub — she’s got coping covered. She even drums up enough courage to try out for the dance team, believing that if she makes the cut, it will be enough of a distraction to pull herself out from under that blanket of sadness once and for all. Then she meets Tanner.

Tanner’s everything Nessa isn’t — artistic, laid-back, and his prowess on the football field makes him instantly popular in a town that shuts down every time their high school has a home game. He’s also made it clear that his next goal is finding a way to know Nessa.

But Nessa isn’t an easy girl to know. There’s a reason most guys steer clear of her, an anxiety about her that she struggled with even before her dad’s death. Tanner could be the swoon-worthy epic romance she’s been waiting for, or the complication that finally forces her over the edge.

NAVIGATING NESSA is a Young Adult Contemporary novel with romantic elements complete at 65,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Q23


Querist’s Revision:

Dear Agent,

Sixteen-year old Nessa Walker is well-acquainted with panic. It’s followed her around since elementary school, and she’s learned the best way to keep it at bay is to not think about the things that scare her. Like her dad’s recent death, for example. She has many distractions in place, including trying out for the dance team with her best friend and spending time under her favorite old oak tree that she visits every chance she gets. All she wants is a normal junior year.

Then Tanner moves to town. [THIS is where the story starts] He’s everything Nessa isn’t – artistic, laid-back, and his prowess on the football field makes him instantly popular in a town that shuts down every time the high school has a home game. He’s also made it clear that his next goal is to get to know Nessa. As their attraction to each other grows, Nessa’s anxiety gets worse. It becomes increasingly difficult for her to hide her problem from Tanner, and her best friend is suddenly MIA, having found her own boyfriend to swoon over.

Nessa begins to look for distraction in more destructive places, turning to a new friend group bent on dangerous stunts and wild parties. It’s enough to keep her panic at bay, but Nessa’s behavior starts to alienate everyone around her, isolating her from her friends and family, not to mention Tanner.

If Nessa can come up for air long enough to get the help she needs and take advantage of her support system, she might just get the year she’s hoping for, and even the guy. If she continues on her dangerous path, she might just lose herself.

NAVIGATING NESSA is a Contemporary YA novel complete at 65,000 words. It’s told in a tone comparable to AWKWARD meets THE DUFF.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Q23


***

My Revision:

Dear Agent,

Nessa Walker is finally getting to a healthy place six months after her dad’s unexpected death. Yoga, romance books, time spent lying in the tub — she’s got coping covered. She even drums up enough courage to try out for the dance team, convinced that if she makes the cut, it will be enough of a distraction to pull herself out from under that blanket of sadness once and for all. Then she meets Tanner.

Tanner’s everything Nessa isn’t — artistic, laid-back, and his prowess on the football field makes him instantly popular in a town that shuts down every time their high school has a home game. He’s also made it clear that his next goal is finding a way to know Nessa.

As their attraction grows, Nessa’s anxiety spins back out of control and the party-crowd seems like the place to forget her anxiety. Soon, her partying grows out of control and her new friends egg her on to join their dangerous drunken stunts. If Nessa can’t find a way to face her anxiety head on, she’s going to alienate her real friends, flunk out, and lose the respect of the one guy she can’t stop thinking about.

NAVIGATING NESSA is a Young Adult Contemporary novel with romantic elements complete at 65,000 words. I write from [City, State]. When not writing, you can find me [having a hobby].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q23

Still long, but the details are there– the inciting incident, the ‘bad guy’ (her own darker impulses and anxiety), and the goal (win the boy, and regain a healthy mental balance).

Best of luck to Q23! (And Nessa)


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

Agents and Editors Share–Pitches We’re Sick Of!

What do agents want? What are publishers sick of? At Balticon52, I got the opportunity to hear a few of the industry leaders voice their opinions.

The panel was entitled “Pitches We’re Sick Of (And One’s We’d Like To See More Of), but since that’s not enough to fill an hour, it turned into a Question and Answer session.

***

Whose Opinions Were Shared And Why Should You Care?

Joshua Bilmes is the President of JABberwocky Literary Agency, which he founded in 1994. His clients include NY Times bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson, Charlaine Harris, Peter V. Brett, Jack Campbell, Elizabeth Moon and Simon R. Green.

Neil Clarke is best known as the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld. He is a six-time and current finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Editor Short Form.

The panel was moderated by Sarah Avery. Sarah’s first book, Tales from Rugosa Coven, won the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Fantasy Scroll, Great Jones Street, and Jim Baen’s Universe, as well as Black Gate, where she was a regular contributor on series fantasy and teaching fantasy literature. With David Sklar, she coedited the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic anthology.

***

Skull and bones, half buried in a forest.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Pitches They’re Sick Of*

  • The Paranormal Boom is DEAD.
  • Superhero piles are getting supersaturated.
  • Zombies are rotting.
  • Some urban fantasy subgenres are being overplayed.
  • Oz.

Note: Even if stories are still being published in a genre, that’s often because publishing contracts and schedules are arranged years in advance. Even when a genre is dead, it can take 2-3 years for a publishing agency to get rid of their backlog.

***

Pitches They’d Like To See More Of*

  • ‘HopePunk’ (even if the term stinks)
    • I *think* it’s a dystopian future, where we actually solve current crisis. Like climate change or evolve into a more accepting species.
  • Diversified stories
    • It’s what the publishers are looking for
    • As the book reviewers themselves become more diverse, a wider variety of stories resonates with the reviewers.
  • Vampires seem to be coming back
  • Steampunk can’t be counted out for the next 3-5 years, but it’s on a downswing.
  • Short Sci-Fi sells better than short Fantasy.
  • But really? Whatever you’re passionate about! Agents can tell if you’re just chasing trends, and earnestness shows through. THAT’S the spark they want.

***

When To Approach Agents or Editors

  • NOT when they’re going into the bathroom – that’s their safe place
  • If they’re attending a convention and are on panels, they typically want to be found.
  • If they’re in a restaurant?
    • Is it next to the convention?
    • Are they at the bar, chatting away? Or off at a table in the back with one of their writers? Pay attention to context clues.

***

Rejections!

As any querying writer can tell you, a personalized rejection is worth its weight in gold!

What does it mean when an agent/publisher says, “It’s too similar to something I just bought/sold”?

It depends.

  • For some, it’s a polite brush-off.
  • For others, they only say it when it’s true.
  • For anthologies? Very likely true.
  • For magazine publishers? They can stagger release dates if needed…

*** Now, we pause for a brief interlude and the story of…***

Rejectomancy!

Once upon a time, Joshua submitted a story he was excited about from one of his writers to an editor. And this is what he heard back.

“I had to get a second read…”

“… because I couldn’t believe you’d sent me something so bad.”

Even agents get rejected.

***

Player 20 winding up to throw a pitch.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Pitching Your Story

The Dos and Don’ts of Preparing Your Pitch

  • Don’t use an adjective to describe your book itself
  • Don’t go over a page!
  • Don’t be cute or suck up
    • Your query letter is somewhere between a job interview and a cover letter for a resume.
  • Don’t write it from the main character’s point of view
  • Don’t summarize your story, especially when querying a short story
  • Don’t have a query longer than the story itself
  • Do include wordcount
  • Do follow the guidelines
  • Do pick a genre
    • Decide where your book goes on the library shelves and pick one.

Is it ever appropriate to respond to a rejection letter?

  • If they personalized the rejection, you can send a very brief ‘Thank You’ note.
  • NEVER respond negatively. If you can’t say anything nice, this is when you really shouldn’t say anything at all.

Is ManuscriptWishList.Com useful?

Joshua doesn’t use it, but at least one of his other agents does. Lack of inclusion doesn’t mean the agent isn’t skilled, inclusion doesn’t mean they are skilled. You still need to do your research.

Comp Titles

Comp titles (comparison titles) are often included in a query letter. Typically either two authors with similar writing styles and markets, or mash-ups where you can specify what aspect of that story you’re using. They have to be under 5 years, (preferably under 3), in your genre, and not run-away successes.

As I’ve said before, what sold 50 years ago isn’t what appeals to most modern audiences. Pacing, themes, POV preferences change.

So, what did our panelists have to say?

By using current novels, you’re showing that the trend you’re writing for isn’t dead.

Verdict? Useful for novels, but only if it’s a good match. If you’re trying too hard, it’s obvious and you should skip it.

Joshua noted here that no one can use Game of Thrones as a comp, (even if it wasn’t too popular) because there hasn’t been a new one published in over 5 years.

Not useful for magazines, but can be useful for anthologies.

***

Writing Contests Tips

  • NEVER pay to enter a contest or pay a “reader’s fee”
    • EXCEPT – Tenure-track professors often pay the entrance fee for college magazines…
    • EXCEPT – Some contests offer critiques/other services as a matter of course for having entered (RWA)
      • Fees currently should be <$50, preferably under $30
      • Verify their validity first, though.
  • Look at the contest’s readers
    • Who are you writing for?
      • Is that the path you want to go down?
  • Look at the past winners’ work
    • Did they write just for the contest, or are they writing like they want to be published?
      • Often, these will read very differently
  • Pay attention to how much time it takes away from your writing
    • Do you have to campaign for votes?
    • What other obligations does it create for you?

***

And finally:

When Is My Story Ready To Query?

As long as you feel that each round of edits is significantly improving your story, keep at it!

Storytime!

Brandon (Sanderson) submitted several manuscripts to Joshua. And Brandon kept getting rejected despite his wonderful (and steadily improving writing) because he couldn’t plot. Finally, when he submitted Elantris, Joshua looked at it and saw that the plotting could be fixed. That’s when he made the offer.

Submitting different stories to the same agent can pay off. But only if you keep working at your craft.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

***

Make sure to reread these dos, don’ts, and preferences! And best of luck as you work towards perfecting your craft.

* Yep. I ended those with prepositions. Whatcha gonna do? Throw red ink at me? Besides, it was the title of the panel!