#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!

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

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

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

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

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

Overall Impression:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Editor,

Some people say Renee is brave. 

Others say Renee is bold. 

Her roommate says she’s a bitch. 

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q36


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

Some comps, even stylistic ones could strengthen the query.

My Revision:

Dear Editor,

Some people say Renee is brave. 

Others say Renee is bold. 

Her roommate says she’s a bitch. 

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Q36


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


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

#35 Query Corner – Alisha in the Sundarbans

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

In this Alice in Wonderland meets The Jungle Book, Alisha follows a talking tiger to a world run by a gigantic phoenix dragon — who wants to keep her as a pet.

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:

What a great mash-up, it definitely sums up the story and gives us a good feel for the voice — and the environment. Plus, with ownvoices being actively sought, your voice is a wondrous thing.

  1. It’s so hard not to give all the context when querying, but you need to keep a little more to the stakes. You just need a little streamlining.
  2. I’m not sure that you need the paragraph explaining the story’s context. It’s up to you if you leave it in, or if you think the story is strong enough on its own.
  3. Don’t forget the word count!
  4. NOTE: I’m not huge on loglines and descriptive text at the beginning of a query, but in this case, the queryiest was replying to a twitter pitch contest, so included the tweet’s text made sense.

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Ms./Mr.

A lost Indian girl.
A blue speaking tiger
A myriad of strange creatures
A mystical kingdom of caves
A fantasy tale of adventure, magic, and hope
Indian ALICE IN WONDERLAND + JUNGLE BOOK. #DVPit #Ownvoices #F #MG #POC

Alisha in the Sundarbans is a middle grade fantasy retelling inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book, with potential for a series.

Alisha is a ten-year-old girl who lives a simple life in an Indian village by a mangrove forest, until she meets a blue speaking tiger. The daughter of a fisherman, her dreams go beyond living in the village. Alisha has read all the books in the school library and writes wildly imaginative stories to escape her mundane daily life.

She follows the tiger into a cave that leads to a strange new place, the kingdom of Roshanban. The tiger tells her she has an invitation to meet the Maharajah. Along the way she learns that she needs to complete challenges made specifically for her. The challenges require Alisha to overcome cultural barriers and become who she truly is. Upon completing each challenge she is rewarded with a gold and blue fragment, curved on one side. Before she can face the other challenges, she is captured and taken to the intimidating red queen, a gigantic phoenix dragon who cages her along with other ‘exotic’ pets. Will she able to escape? Will she be able to complete all the challenges and meet the Maharajah? Will she ever make her way back home?

This story is about a young girl facing cultural obligations and overcoming the stigma to be true to herself. The challenges encourage Alisha to question cultural norms, and the magical
environment and blue guides make it more possible for her to dream big.

I am of South Asian descent and grew up on folktales from India. I am a writer, artist, and academic with a Bachelor’s from [SCHOOL], a Master’s from [SCHOOL B], and a PhD from [SCHOOL C]. I am the founder and editor of an online, peer reviewed art-science publication called [JOURNAL NAME].

Thank you for your time and for considering this manuscript.

Kind regards,

Q35


You can see how the comps are great for this story! Sometimes, it can be a stretch, but the plot and setting elements are clear when you see the query. This just needed a few tweaks to make it shine.

My Revision:

Dear Ms./Mr.

A lost Indian girl.
A blue speaking tiger
A myriad of strange creatures
A mystical kingdom of caves
A fantasy tale of adventure, magic, and hope
Indian ALICE IN WONDERLAND + JUNGLE BOOK. #DVPit #Ownvoices #F #MG #POC

Alisha in the Sundarbans is a 60,000 word middle grade fantasy retelling inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book, with potential for a series.

Ten-year-old Alisha’s simple life in the village on the edge of the mangrove forest comes to an end when a blue tiger says hello. Alisha might have read all the books in her small Indian village’s school library and written dozens of her own imaginary tales, but none of them come close to the reality.

The tiger gives her an invitation to meet the Maharaha of the kingdom of Roshanban. Following the tiger through a cave into a strange new world, Alisha is told she must now prove herself worthy. As she struggles with the challenges, a gigantic phoenix dragon captures her, presenting her as a caged pet for the intimidating red queen. Torn between traditional and modern wisdom, Alisha must learn when to let each guide her if she’s to escape the queen, complete the challenges, and meet the Maharajah. If she doesn’t master her true self, Alisha might never make it home.

This story is about a young girl facing cultural obligations and overcoming the stigma to be true to herself. The challenges encourage Alisha to question cultural norms, and the magical
environment and blue guides make it more possible for her to dream big.

I am a writer, artist, and academic with a Bachelor’s from [SCHOOL], a Master’s from [SCHOOL B], and a PhD from [SCHOOL C]. I am the founder and editor of an online, peer reviewed art-science publication called [JOURNAL NAME].

Thank you for your time and for considering this manuscript.

Kind regards,

Q35


What a great story and an amazing pitch. It got a lot of agent interest. Now? Here’s to hoping one of them says ‘yes’.

Best of luck to Q35!


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

Fighting Impostor Syndrome

We’ve all had our moments.

Sometimes? You’re learning a new skill, practicing and playing with it. But something is holding you back from taking the next step — be it submitting your work, trying out for that team, or selling your creations.

Sometimes, you’re placed in a position where you supposedly know what you’re doing — either because of your bluster or someone else’s assumptions. It could be on the job, online, or when they send you home with your first newborn kid (or so I’ve been told). And every moment, you’re just sitting there, hoping to keep everyone fooled so they don’t know how big of a fake you are.

Impostor syndrome. Most of us have experienced it. Some of us live with it.

For those that don’t know? Impostor syndrome is defined as “a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

In my most recent Author Spotlight, Katherine talked about submitting hundreds of poems while in college and it made me think. I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me until I’d been out of college for a long time before I started taking my writing seriously. Before I even started contemplating sending my work to other people.

With my first manuscript? It’s on its EIGHTH round of revisions, because every handful of rejections, I stop submitting and start looking into how I can make it better. I tell myself it’s making me a better writer. I tell myself I’m building skills and improving. But, there’s definitely a part of me that is LOOKING for things to fix. Because if my best effort was rejected, that means I’m not good enough. I should just go home.

Dwelling on that might be good for a night or a week after a rejection, but it’s not going to get me anywhere.

5 Ways To Confront Your Impostor Syndrome

  1. Take a class

    Maybe you do stink. Maybe your skills aren’t where you want them to be. And honestly? All of us could improve, no matter how good — or bad — we are.

    In that case? It could be time to take a class, brush up on the skills we’re good at, learn techniques to deal with our weaknesses, and discover new things that can make us shine.

  2. See How Far You’ve Come

    If you look at your old stuff, compared to your new stuff, you might notice a change. An improvement.

    Or? If you like your old stuff better? Revisiting it might be the way to get that voice back — so you can run with it!

  3. Re-visit What You’re Proud Of

    Whether it’s a single sentence, a poem, or a novel, reread that thing you made that made you proud. See what you’ve done, what you’ve created. Remind yourself that this is a thing you can do!

  4. Save The Good Notes

    When a beta-reader or critique partner or reviewer says something about my work or forgets they’re critiquing, I file that away. In one (very stalling moment last October), I copied one encouraging note onto a piece of paper and taped it to my wall.

    Then? When my writing is going rough, I reread their kind words, where they tell me how much they enjoyed my writing, or compared it favorably to an award-winning series I adore, I stick my chin up, and I get back to it.

  5. Say “BLEEP It”

    Sometimes? All you can do is tell yourself: “So what if my writing stinks, and everyone else’s writing is amazing and so much more deserving. I finished this and I’m putting it out there anyway. They can take it or leave it, but it’s mine.”

    Otherwise known as ‘fake it til ya make it’.

It can be hard. Writing is years of work with no guarantee of success. It’s a labor of love and requires near-infinite patience with the publishing industry.

If you need to step away and take a break; if you need to do something else because it’s killing you? Do it! Do what you need to take care of yourself.

Plus? You can always change your mind. Your writing will always there for you. Waiting. However comforting or creepy that sounds.

Besides, you can’t be the impostor, I’m the real impostor!



Recently, I’ve been making a lot of progress on my short term goals — the ones I can control. So, what triggered my recent bout of self-doubt?

On the advice of a friend, I started applying to be a panelist at science-fiction and fantasy conventions a couple years ago. You know, the ones I like to attend 30 panels in 4 days at?

And this year? I’ve had 3 conventions accept!

Meep! I’m still an unpublished writer. All I’ve got is this blog/vlog where most of the time it feels like I’m shouting into the void. Basically, a free vanity press where all it costs is my time and my dignity. I’ve been going to these cons and taking notes from the greats! What makes me think I can sit up there and talk, that my advice and perspective is something worth listening to?

Well, as my calendar reminded me, I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years and haven’t missed a week since before this time last leap year! I’m consistent, mostly coherent, and still giving fresh takes. I’ve got experience querying in the current market, and people I beta-read for keep coming back for more, so I can’t be too useless — or mean!

Step one for this bout of impostor syndrome was to update my business cards and add “Blogger | Vlogger” to it. Because that’s a big part of why I’m going to be up there.

Enough teaser, Morgan. Tell us where you’re going to be so we can properly stalk you. (Note: please don’t stalk. Just say hi, and keep it casual.)

I’m going to be at RavenCon 15 in Williamsburg, VA April 24-26 and once I got my tentative schedule, my impostor syndrome backed off a little. (Plus, I have my own panelist bio page that is basically the best. I’m pretty happy with what I finally decided on for my new profile pic). But, anyway, my panels.

  1. NaNoWriMo
  2. The Writer and the Beta Reader
  3. Social Media Best Practices for Writers
  4. Social Media, or, Why I Haven’t Finished My Novel

This schedule is still tentative and subject to change. But these are all things I can talk about for ages — at least the basics — without feeling like I need to step back and let the experts talk! Now to find out if I actually enjoy being on panels, and get my stuff out there to be published!

For the others conventions, I have no schedule yet, but I’m going to be on panels at Balticon in Baltimore, MD May 22-25, and in New ZEALAND at CoNZealand for WorldCon from July 29-August 2nd! With any luck, those panels will be along the same vein and I’ll really find my footing on panels.

And maybe get something published.


Have you ever faced impostor syndrome? What did you do to work past it? Or did you just run?

Have you ever paneled at a convention? Any tips for a neophyte? 

impostorSyndrome_p

When Writing? Small Changes Can Fix Big Issues

Have you ever gotten feedback from someone who you respect, saying they hated your work? They liked the idea, but think you should have done it a completely different way?

No? Just me?

Recently, I submitted a couple of short stories to different markets, but after a pair of quick rejections, I sent them to friends for another look. Most of the feedback was along the same lines, so I looked at what I could fix and what I couldn’t.

But for the reader who hated the story? We sat down and talked about what they did and didn’t like about the story.

The real issue was the set-up — it was a horror/suspense sort of story and I was giving away too much too soon.

That was entirely in line with other feedback I’d had, although more precise in what parts worked, versus what parts should be changed.

So? I sat on that for a week. I pouted. I thought. I considered if these were even changes I wanted to make.

But my knee-jerk reaction (for once) wasn’t “they don’t get my story”, it was more of a, “I don’t wanna!” mixed with “How do I do that? While making sure the ending is still properly supported” (i.e. doesn’t seem to come out of nowhere).

Last night? I sat down to start on the changes, taking out the heavy foreshadowing (easily found in italics, on their own lines). And replaced those instances with more subtle hints at what lay ahead.

Fifteen minutes later? I was done.

I still need to do a re-read, to make sure the updates are smooth. I still need a second set of eyes (maybe fresh ones to make sure the ending wasn’t too abrupt), but this huge change? That seemed like massive structural issue?

With a few short line changes, I fixed it.

Takeaways?

Remember when setting something up in your writing, be it foreshadowing, backstory, world-building, or more — oftentimes, less is more. You only need enough to spark the imagination and flesh out the world. Not enough to slow the story.


Have you ever been intimidated by a suggested change you agreed probably needed to happen in your work?

Were you ever surprised at how little you needed to change your story to make a completely different impression on the reader?

Tell me about it in the comments below!