#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.

Author Spotlight: Brent A Harris

  • a two-time Sidewise Award finalist for alternate history, author of A Time of Need (Insomnia Publishing), an MFA NUScholar, and Dad. And fan of dinosaurs.

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Brent A Harris!

A pale, clean-faced man with short light-brown hair, wearing a blue-ish polo shirt and holding an open book in front of a wood panel background looks at the camera.

Brent scours the universe searching for stories but usually finds them wedged under his couch cushions. Mmm, French fry.

He currently lives in Italy, which is great because he loves to travel—er, sit on his couch, eating. He has currently gained 5 Lockdown Pounds, which don’t count like regular pounds, he’s sure.

Brent, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

A pet dinosaur. Probably something small and manageable. I can’t imagine cleaning the litterbox for a Triceratops. Maybe a cute little compy. We could go on walks and it would chirp and skitter around all adorable-like.

In real life, I once had an albino cockatiel, which is like having a small dinosaur.

I love it! My favorite dinosaur is the Charonosaurus, (the best of the duck-billed dinos), but Triceratops are definately cute and stompy.

What do you write?

I write speculative fiction. I imagine ‘what if’ and then come up with what might have happened. The go-to example is something like, what if artificial intelligence gained sentience? And then you write a story about that, usually how it’s going to kill everyone.

However, I also do that to the past too. For example, what if the Roman Empire never collapsed? Or, what if George Washington wasn’t a Founding Father? And then you write a story, answering your own question. Writing speculative fiction is a bit like talking to yourself. Shut up, no it’s not. Yes, it is!

I love exploring the what-ifs, both for the future and the past. It’s a great way to explore what might-have-been.

What do you like to read?

I read a little about everything. Writing involves a metric crapton of research. My TBR piles are all related to the topic at hand, and they tend to by drier, first-hand primary sources or technical papers. I have a ton of history books on my bookshelf. My current reading is on the Victorian era, but for my last project, I dozed off read technical papers about computer programming. I read these so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

I’m actually a software engineer in my dayjob, so I read plenty of design documents and government regulations. I recommend bribing yourself with 1 chip or piece of chocolate for every so many pages you make it through.

It is impressive how much research making stuff up can need!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Write what you know.

It’s not that it doesn’t work for me, but that it’s commonly misunderstood. Robert Louis Stevenson was never a pirate before writing Treasure Island. George RR Martin has (probably) never seen a dragon.

You absolutely should write what you don’t know, but you *should* know something about the emotions behind the journey your character is making. That’s the misunderstood part that gets lost in interpretation.

How well you know the experiences of your character makes it real and authentic to the reader. Dammit, Martin, we’re all a bit of Tyrion, aren’t we??

That’s the exact point I try to make when people come out either strictly for-or-against this advice. If I’m following in your footsteps, I must be on the right path. *winks*

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

There are no hard or fast rules.

Only Sith deal in absolutes.

(which, in itself, is an absolute and proves the absurdity of the Jedi—, you know what, nevermind).

Honestly, I don’t have a hard and fast rule I adhere to. What works for one project might not work for another. So, I guess it’s to be flexible, but if that’s your hard and fast rule, then you fall into Obi-Wan’s logic trap from above. Dammit!

Writing is hard.

So true! I have to admit that I kept waiting for the ‘balance to the force’ be by someone who balances passion and logic. Grey force users that have conquered the Jedi AND the Sith paths… and I digress.

I’ve heard so many writers share that what worked for the last novel, was completely the wrong way to go about things for the next novel. Being flexible and remembering that the process exists to help you get your work done, not the other way around, seems key on any project — writing or not.


Shameless Self-Promotion time!

A Twist In Time

Dickens Meets Steampunk.

2 feminine characters, one with short hair and goggles, one with long hair and goggles on her had, and a male character in front with a yellow vest. And maybe glasses, not goggles on his head.

Title: A Twist In Time

Foundlings are disappearing from the workhouse where Oliver Twist once begged for a second bowl of gruel. He sets out to save them, with help from tinkerer, Nell Trent, and a slew of fantastical contraptions – including a mysterious pocket watch that allows its bearer to bend the rules of time.

With Oliver’s childhood nemesis, the Artful Dodger, and her lethal bag of tricks dogging their steps, he discovers that there is more at stake than his own life and the missing orphans.

Can he save London from the flames?

A Twist in Time is available on Kindle Unlimited, paperback, and Audible!


Check Brent A Harris out across the web!

Website| Amazon | Facebook | Twitter |

Tips and Tricks To Fix Word Count Issues

Each type of book has its own expected word count. From chick-lit to epic fantasy, from picture books, to middle-grade to adult, it’s often easier to find traction with agents, publishers, and even readers when your story length meets expectations.

All too often, writers end up with novels that are wildly outside the genre standard and are forced to drastically cut — or add to their novels.

But, before we can get into tips to fix word count issues, we need to talk about what these genre targets are. Let’s break it down. (Thanks, Writer’s Digest)

Word Counts By Category and Genre

The Default Novel Length

According to Writer’s Digest, these days, the average novel is 80,000-89,999 words, with some getting away with being as short as 70,000, and some being as long as 110,000. We all know the exceptions, but there’s a reason they’re not industry standard.

Westerns and Chick-lit tend toward the shorter side. Meanwhile, many memoirs tend toward the long end — although, it’s been said, that is often a sign that the author doesn’t know where to focus their novel and edit.

Before we go any further, just for your own mental calibration, 50,000 words is a 200 page story.

Science-fiction and Fantasy

Fantasy and science-fiction, because of the necessary world building sits a little longer, at 90,000 to 125,000, with 100,000-115,000 being the sweet spot.

Picture Books

Picture books, with their pictures and all, tend to be printed as 32 pages, with 8-pages on a single sheet, that is folded and cut to size. Because of this, there is not much wiggle room for length. 500-600 words is standard, with 1,000 words pushing the limits.

Early-readers

These intro-to-chapter-books tend to max out around 1,500 words, and usually still have pictures on many pages.

Be warned. The market for these is pretty heavily dominated by the publishing companies, with well established series and media-tie-in characters featuring prominently.

Chapter-Books

These are the next step after easy-readers. At 5,000-15,000 words, these are usually read by the 6-9 year-old crowd.

The market for these books suffer the same problems as Easy Readers, though. So, best of luck if you want to break into this market.

Middle-grade novels

Middle-grade novels are aimed at those kids who have moved past chapter books, typically 8 to 12 year olds. They’re split into two groups, Upper Middle-Grade and Lower Middle-Grade.

Lower Middle-Grade is in the 20,000-35,000 words range, while Upper Middle-Grade hovers around 40,000-55,000 words.

YA novels

A lot of stories, particularly many coming-of-age novels are written with young adults in mind, even if plenty of adults are devouring them.

55,000-80,000 is the standard. Some say you can get a little longer, especially in science-fiction and fantasy. But be wary.


Now that we’ve talking about expected word count, we need to address the elephant in the room. Knowing where your novel should be word-count-wise, is one thing, actually doing it is another.

I find that most writers fall into one of two camps — they either under-write and have to fill in the world, or they over-write and have to trim and tighten up their story. And of course, there are those that do both at the same time — too much description, too little character emotions. Too much emotional arch, too little action. Very few writers get it just right on the first try.

But, what do you do when your novel is significantly outside of the expected word count window?

When Your Novel Is Too Short

There are plenty of small things you can do — fleshing out scenes and descriptions, expanding on things you briefly touched on. But when you need a lot of words, you’ve got to do something more drastic.

  1. Add a new point-of-view character
    A new point-of-view character should add a good third to your novel! Just make sure to avoid showing every scene from two points of view.

    I know I like multiple-points-of-view novels best when they’re showing what the characters are up to when they’re not together.
  2. Add a new sub-plot
    Give your main character something else to juggle — be it a deadline, a kid, family issues, or money woes. An additional struggle means additional words.

    Or maybe the sub-plot is for a secondary character. You know, they have wants and needs beyond supporting the main character, and a good friend would give back when they could.

When Your Novel Is Too Long

On the flip-side, there are those stories that have grown out of control. You can always trim the story down, paragraph-by-paragraph. You can remove a tertiary character or ten. But when you’ve got more than a couple of thousand words to cut, you usually need to take more drastic measures.

Let’s start with reversing what I just suggested those under-writers do.

  1. Remove a point-of-view
    Every point-of-view character typically adds another third to the novel — cut their point-of-view, cut the novel length.
  2. Remove a sub-plot
    What you can do to lengthen a novel can be done in reverse to shorten it. Maybe we don’t need our main character to juggle that job, or have to deal with her brother’s issues on top of her own.
  3. Delete secondary or tertiary characters
    Extra characters means extra description and actions and motivations. Removing a character can cut down on that a lot.

    If you can’t simply remove them, see if you can combine them with another character. Movie adaptations do this a lot, because most novels have more than a 2-and-a-half hour movie can show.
  4. Delete scenes
    Maybe you don’t want to do the surgery required for the other options, maybe you’ve tried them all and you still need to trim. In that case, it’s time to remove some scenes from your novel.

Drastically cutting your novel is not for the faint of heart. But, never fear, you’re on the blog of a chronic over-writer. You wrote all of your scenes when you were feeling creative and artistic. They grew from the fertile soil of your imagination. Clearly, they’re all there for a reason and it’s a struggle to pick which of your scenes — which of your children — to cull.

That’s why I try to apply a little logic, to justify the loss of a scene to myself, if for no other reason. (And of course, I save old drafts, just in case I find a new purpose for that scene, later)

3 Steps To Cut Your Novel Down To Size

  1. List out all of your scenes, with a 1-2 sentence description. Scenes. Not chapters.
  2. Rate each scene, with 1 point for world-building, 1 point for progressing the character’s emotional arc, and 1 point for advancing the plot.
  3. Examine the scenes that got 0-1 points and decide if:
    • The story can stand without the scene
    • The scene could be added to, to make it do double duty
    • The scene could be combined with another (underperforming) scene to bring them both up to snuff.

And that’s it. That’s how I cut my first manuscript from 131,000 words down to a slim 79,000. (Well, it’s back up to 90,000… but that’s a different issue.)

It’s agonizing.

Drastically changing the size of your story is hard, but no one ever promised you that writing was going to be easy.


Have you ever drastically changed the size of a story?

Did you use these techniques? If not, please share what your decision process was.

Thanks for reading, and check back next week for more writing tips and writerly musings.

Author Spotlight: Jacalyn Boggs

  • a free-spirited woman always looking for new adventures. And a writer who just can’t keep the fantasy out of her romances, or is it that she can’t keep the romance out of her fantasy novels?

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Jacalyn Boggs!


Jacalyn has too many hobbies, not enough time, and a dog that doesn’t understand her need to constantly be on the move.

She has traveled the world, hopes to travel more, and believes laughter is the best medicine.

Jacalyn, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

If I could have any pet in the world, it would probably be either an alicorn or a dragon.  They both flight and they both have ways of dealing with people who bother you. In real life, I have a lovable chihuahua who is absolutely convinced the world revolves around him and his cuteness.  I’m not really a dog person, but I love him like he’s my third son. 

Ooh! Fierce flying creatures are an excellent choice. And the world does revolve around dogs, so… your chihuahua isn’t wrong.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I like to tell people that I’m a science-fiction and fantasy author, but I have come to accept that I am really a romance author and that’s OK.  Honestly, I don’t know how because the latter is definitely more my forte, but these naughty characters say that they just want true love. So I primarily blend the two together, after all every story has some romance in it!

The first thing I ever really wrote was fan fiction (though there was no such name at the time that I knew about) of “The Happy Hollisters”.  I felt like the Hollister kids needed more science-fiction in their life so I wrote a short story called “The Happy Hollisters Meet Bad Luck Alien.”  I think I was in third or fourth grade. I honestly haven’t stopped writing since, though most of that early stuff is utter rubbish and/or been lost to the annals of time. 

Fanfic is a popular way to get started, despite the occasionally spotted stigma. And I do enjoy some fantasy (or at least urban fantasy) in my romance, so I’m your target audience. As the market for your subgenre is huge, ignore the naysayers and embrace it!

What do you like to read?

Yes. 

It’s probably safer to say what I don’t read.

I don’t read erotica.  I don’t have a problem with people who do, and some of the people closest to me write erotica. I just don’t personally consider sex a spectator sport.  Some things are meant to be enjoyed, not read about, and sex is one of those things. Hope that’s not too racy for your blog.

I’m also a fan of fade-to-black, myself. But, that’s a small category to exclude, leaving multitudes of books and genres to enjoy. They say being widely-read is always a good thing for writers, so keep at it!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Outline.

I despise outlines.  Somewhere in Hell they make you outline for eternity.  I’m pretty sure the crime must be really bad because outline is awful.  I’m a pants-er all the way.  When I have outlined, it’s never ended well.  I studied journalism and I’ll full on admit now that I’m no longer in classes that I’d write my articles and papers and then build the outline and claim I did the outline first.  Not even kidding. 

Wow. I’m sorry that outlines don’t work for you. For me? I’m a plantser for life. I write very high-level, not-detailed outlines that I proceed to ignore unless I get stuck. Luckily, this is writing, where, as long as we write well enough, we can ignore any advice that doesn’t work for us.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

People watch.

Hmm, that’s a good question.  I’m going to say it’s “people watch”.

I have most definitely put people I’ve met in to my writing. It may only be a chance meeting as I watched an interaction from across a food court to something someone once told me that I tweak to make my own. 

Just know, nothing is off the record and so if I witness it and it is interesting, it’s probably going on in a book. 

You cannot stop me. 

Truth is most definitely stranger than fiction.

I’ve seen some lovely prose come out of people watching. The only problem is… novels have to be believable while sometimes reality stretches the bounds of understanding.


Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Jacalyn’s debut novel: Juan of the Dead: The Reanimated World Tour Book 1 was released May 1.

Juan of the Dead (The Reanimated World Tour Book 1) by [Jacalyn Boggs]

Go on a cruise, they said. Learn about other cultures, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

Yeah, I thought my birthday cruise would be all sexy pool boys with fruity drinks and me working on my epic summer tan. Instead, I sacrificed my favorite Jimmy Choos and my gorgeous Coach handbag to some awful earthquake while shopping in a crappy Mexican port. That place is getting zero stars.

Oh yeah, and I sacrificed my life. Lucky for me this totally hunky (but nerdy) anthropologist, Jon, hauled my hot corpse in to the nearby ancient Mayan or whatever temple and performed some sort of creepy voodoo ritual on me.

Forget all the garbage from Hollywood about shuffling, brain-obsessed, homicidal corpses. Maybe that’s how it was in the 70’s but those misguided souls also thought polyester was a good fashion statement. What the movies got right is that someone always wants to kill off the undead, and I’m no different. I’m too young and too hot to leave the party this soon. I’ve got a second chance, but Jon and I need to know what’s going on with my post-life situation before someone finishes me off for good.


Check Jacalyn Boggs out across the web!

Website| Amazon | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest | Youtube | Twitch