Query Doctor: FIRE AND ICE by Perna

| Friday, October 7, 2011
It's Perna's turn under the knife of the Query Doctor today. Be sure to tell her thanks for subjecting her query to the Doc!

If you would like to submit your query to be Doctored, please see this post.

Here's the drill: first, I'll post the query in its original, unaltered form. Then I'll give my diagnosis. Then I'll do line-by-line comments. Then I'll open it up to the commenters!

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Perna sent in a rewrite! This is version 2.0. To see the original query and commentary, scroll down.


Shelly’s biggest problem used to be fighting with her mom about her future, until she starts to spontaneously combust. Now all she wants is to be normal again (space) - no fire, no secrets, no fear.
 
Kale isn’t faring any better. He just found out he’s a member of the super hero club, AKA Circle of Elements, but there’s just one glitch (space) - his partner is MIA, and also happens to be the girl he ran into on the sidewalk, (Different punctuation here, like a semi-colon or dash. Might need to rework.) the girl he can’t get out of his head.
 
When Kale and Shelly finally join forces, it’s clear they make a kick-butt team, but this partnership can only take so much of the secrets and attraction growing between them. Kale is more than happy to get closer to Shelly, (I'd do two sentences here instead of a comma) if only she were up for the challenge. Fighting monsters out of this world (Don't know how I feel about this wording. "Otherworldly monsters," maybe?) is easier than confronting your own issues (comma goes here!) after all. Carrying a secret with the potential to destroy her new calling (can't really destroy her calling... destroy her position?) in the Circle, all Shelly seems to do is push Kale further away, testing his limits. One thing is clear, (colon instead of comma) either Shelly can finally start trusting Kale, or she can watch the Circle burn down in the flames caused by her ("she caused." I keep changing that bit because it's passive the way it's written, and you want it to be more active). Fire and Ice is a 118,000 word YA Urban Fantasy, with potential for a sequel. (This last bit is fine, but should be its own paragraph with your writing credits/background included. Don't forget to write the title in all caps!)

I like this query a bit better. It explains more of the plot so I don't feel quite so lost. You clarified the bits about the super hero and the Circle, which is excellent. You brought Kale more front and center, which made me feel like this is a shared story rather than all about Shelly. You kept your brevity and narrowed in on the central plot, although the bit about "Kale's partner" was still a little unclear to me. I gathered that you're talking about Shelly, but you don't come out and make that connection, so it's ambiguous. I'd solidify that thread a little more.

You did end up losing a little of your voice. I like that you kept the "no fire, no secrets, no lies" line. I think you can comb through this again and flavor up some of the blander elements with your voice. The info about the Circle and the monsters was intriguing, but a little by-the-book. Play with your wording a little. Have fun with it!

You're definitely moving in the right direction. Stick with it!
 
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Someone should have dropped a grenade in Kale’s cereal bowl. He would have been less disrupted than finding out he’s a member of a magical society with superhuman powers. Being a superhero could be awesome, if Kale’s life wasn’t irrevocably tied to someone whose been missing for seventeen years.

Shelly’s biggest problem used to be fighting with the her mom about her future, that is until she starts to spontaneously combust. Now all she wants is to be normal again - no fire, no secrets, no fear.

When these two join forces, it’s not only clear they make a kick-butt team, but that the spark of attraction between them is growing stronger.

To top it all off, Shelly is receiving mysterious e-mails that threaten her life, and could destroy the new magical world she has entered. Even though Kale is there pulling her towards him, the shadows that shroud the Circle are only getting darker. And even though they can give Shelly the answers she wants, she’s not sure if it’s the worth the price.

One thing is clear, either Shelly can finally begin to trust in Kale, or she can watch the Circle burn down in the flames caused by her. Fire and Ice is a 118,000 YA urban fantasy romance, and the first book in a planned trilogy.

Author's Note: I know the word count is long, but I'm working on cutting it down some more. I'm hoping to get some feedback soon from someone taking a look at it right now, and I'm looking for more beta readers to help out.

***


Healthy Bits: You have some great flashes of voice in here. You should bring out some more of that! The writing is generally solid except for a few grammatical errors that I'll point out in line-by-line. There's an intriguing set-up and good framework. The brevity is there, and as we all know, brevity in a query is key.

Under the Weather: We're suffering from some Scatterbrain here. The query is tightly written, which is awesome, but you're trying to introduce too many things without getting a fix on the core plotline, antagonist, or stakes. That doesn't seem possible, does it? But you'd be surprised O_O

Who's the MC? I'll go into more detail below, but I'm not sure at this point whether Shelly is the protagonist or whether this is a dual-narrator story. Kale got kind of pushed into the background, which is fine if he's not a narrator, but isn't great if he is. The storyline itself threw me for a loop because I thought we were being set up for an undercover superhero story but then we ended up in another world. I got bogged down in the little details you threw in at the last minute, which I talk more about in line-by-line.

I didn't have a real sense of Shelly or Kale's ultimate goal, or who they were up against. Yes, there's the bit about the world burning, but I'm not sure why Shelly cares, if that makes sense. This is a new magical world, not hers. She just wants to be normal again. Why does it matter to her that this world might burn? Who is the antagonist? What do Shelly and Kale want? If you can suss out those elements, I think this query will feel more structured. Here's a good rule of thumb: if you don't have room to explain an element, don't include it. Make sure each element you include ties in to the last.

This is a great start! Keep building on it!

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Line-By-Line Comments

Someone should have dropped a grenade in Kale’s cereal bowl. He would have been less disrupted than finding out he’s a member of a magical society with superhuman powers.

I'd rework these two sentences. I really like the image of the grenade in the cereal bowl -- it has personality! -- but these sentences don't quite read smoothly. You might even combine them into one tighter sentence, like, "A grenade dropped in his cereal bowl would have been less of a disruption for *age here* Kale than finding out he's secretly a superhero." Or something. You get the idea. Also, don't forget to include your character's age for YA. Most agents/editors want to know how old the protagonist is.

Being a superhero could be awesome, if Kale’s life wasn’t irrevocably tied to someone whose who's been missing for seventeen years.

You lost me a little here. Who's the person who has been missing? Why does being "irrevocably" tied to someone mean that being a superhero isn't awesome? I'm left scratching my head because I don't see how this connects to him finding out he has super powers. Also, watch out for your grammar. Whose indicates possession ("Whose coat is this?") and who's is a contraction (for "who is" or "who has").

Shelly’s biggest problem used to be fighting with the her mom about her future, that is until she starts to spontaneously combust. Now all she wants is to be normal again - no fire, no secrets, no fear.

Right off the bat, I'm getting the distinct impression that you have two narrators. If that's not the case, you should follow your protagonist only. If it IS the case, then I think you made this transition fairly well. A brief intro of Narrator 1, then a brief intro of Narrator 2. I like the little flash of voice here with the "no fire, no secrets, no fear" line.

When these two join forces, it’s not only clear they not only make a kick-butt team, but that the spark of attraction between them is growing stronger.

The "spark of attraction" line is cute, but a little cliche, especially for a character who's directly linked to fire. You could probably play with it to make it a little more original.

To top it all off, Shelly is receiving mysterious e-mails that threaten her life, and could destroy the new magical world she has entered.

I'm not feeling the "To top it all off" phrasing, because you haven't given us much to go with yet besides the onset of Kale/Shelly's powers and their growing attraction. That's not a long list of stakes. What follows that line are the increasing stakes. You lose me a little bit again with the magical world part. What magical world? Also, the E-MAILS aren't threatening Shelly's life. Whoever's WRITING them is.

Even though Kale is there pulling her towards him, the shadows that shroud the Circle are only getting darker. And even though they can give Shelly the answers she wants, she’s not sure if it’s the worth the price.

One thing is clear: either Shelly can finally begin to trust in Kale, or she can watch the Circle burn down in the flames she caused caused by her.


And here's where I get totally lost. First I wonder if Shelly's the true MC since this phrasing indicates the story's centered around her. If she is, this query needs to be focused completely on her. If she's not, Kale's stakes and goals also need to be worked in somewhere. Then you mention the Circle, and I go "huh?" I have no clue what that is. Is it the magical world? A group of people? If you introduce new elements, you must clarify. Remember, the person reading this has no clue about your story or the world you've built. Also, are Shelly and Kale from different worlds? I was under the impression that they were both from the same one.

Why doesn't she trust Kale? There was no indication before that she didn't, especially given the romantic hints. What answers is she seeking? There's a little too much going on. The focus needs to be narrowed down a little. But this is an intriguing set-up, nonetheless! If you can work on this to make it mysterious rather than confusing, you'll be on the right path.

Fire and Ice is a 118,000 word YA urban fantasy romance, and the first book in a planned trilogy.

Okay, you mentioned that you know the word count is long in your email, so I don't have to go into it :) Make sure the title of your novel is in all caps (FIRE AND ICE). "Urban fantasy romance" isn't a genre, so you need to pick either UF or paranormal romance. You could theoretically say "urban fantasy with romantic elements," but that can get wordy and awkward. I think you'd be just fine with UF, personally, as they typically include a romantic element anyway.

I'm wary about you saying this is a "planned trilogy." It implies that this one may not be a complete story on its own, which may raise some eyebrows. That doesn't mean you can't write a book with sequels in mind, just that you shouldn't expect it to get picked up as a trilogy up front. First: make absolutely sure your first book can stand on its own. Next: say that it has "sequel potential" rather than calling it a planned trilogy. If you get a call, THEN you can talk to a perspective agent about a trilogy.

***

Whew! Perna, thank you so much for letting your query go under the knife. Despite all my commentary, this is a very good starter query. With some work and polish, it'll be completely awesome. Good luck!

What say you, commenters?

8 comments:

{ kirstenlopresti } at: October 7, 2011 at 6:30 AM said...

Nice analysis. I wonder if she should mention the word count at all if it's that long. Why point out a negative. If it is a negative that is. I've seen some pretty long YA fantasy books. What do you think, Steph?

{ Matthew MacNish } at: October 7, 2011 at 7:19 AM said...

The only problem with these posts, Steph, is that by the time you're done with your analysis, there's nothing left to add!

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: October 7, 2011 at 7:24 AM said...

Hahaha, sorry Matt, my bad :)

Kirsten - Unfortunately, you really can't leave out word count. It's one of those vital elements that really needs to be included because agents/editors often want to see what they're in for or if the word count matches up with the genre. If you leave it out, they don't know if they're getting a 40K book or a 250K book, both of which could be a problem.

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: October 7, 2011 at 7:26 AM said...

And really, the word count argument is based pretty firmly on the fact that certain genres are expected to be within a certain range, and going significantly over that range shows that you may not be quite familiar enough with the genre yet. But it doesn't mean that you CAN'T. Obviously, Twilight came in at 118K as a debut novel. It happens. It's just rare, and the agent/publisher have to feel like all those words need to be there.

{ prerna pickett } at: October 7, 2011 at 7:57 AM said...

thanks Steph! I'm going to go tweak the query Now! I'll send the revamped version after I'm done. And yes, there are two narrators, and I also noticed that Kale was pushed into the background towards the end, gotta fix that.

{ Old Kitty } at: October 7, 2011 at 3:06 PM said...

Gosh.

Well I'm in awe at both query and the fabulous Steph dissection! Wow. Brave, brave Perna! Well done you!! Excellent stuff! Take care
x

{ Kurt Hartwig } at: October 7, 2011 at 7:52 PM said...

Thanks for the detailed analysis. Good to have all the experience - even second-hand - possible.

{ sara } at: October 13, 2011 at 7:31 PM said...

I know I'm late with this, but I thought I'd add my two cents. Do take my suggestions with a grain of salt, as I'm a newbie to this.

It took me a few reads of the first few lines to lines to figure out his partner is Shelly. Why not include her name right away and show the connection between the two characters from the start?

The 'not faring any better' part doesn't work for me, since it's comparing his partner being MIA to her desire to be normal, which to me aren't really on the same level. I think it's a case of trying to force 'voice' into the query. I also think there's a tendency in YA paranormals to show just how hard life is and how emo the characters are, but to me it detracts from what the conflict is. I would rather read a book where the main plot is about kids fighting monsters than about kids complaining.

I'd suggest that you just jump right in by framing the first line of para 2 as something like "Shelly's decision to run away from the Superhero's club doesn't just affect her fate, but her partner's as well."

The only other suggestion I have is to be less cagey about what her calling and powers are, and why they are joining forces. Right now I feel like I know the premise, but I don't actually know anything about the story. Maybe putting in some detail about what the monsters are would help.

Okay, all that being said, I really did like your voice.

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