Query Doctor: ELENA'S PEN by Nicole

| Friday, November 11, 2011
Today is the LAST DAY to enter my great big signed book contest, so be sure to do so if you haven't yet! Up for grabs: SIGNED books by Scott Westerfeld, Maureen Johnson, Stephanie Perkins, and Laini Taylor! And if you want another shot at some great books, Jessica Love, who ALSO just signed with an agent, is having an agent contest of her very own! YAY :D

And now on to Query Doctoring. It's Nicole'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!

***

Dear Agent,

One day, thirteen-year-old Elena decides not to write stories during class like she normally does and instead writes that the class bully gets detention. He does a minute later. It's got to be her new pen - everything she writes with it comes true.

But then the pen writes of its own accord about a mystical fantasy land being overrun by demons. After a demon kidnaps her family and hides them in the land, Elena will do whatever she can to save them. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as writing a happy ending - whenever Elena uses the pen, someone turns into a demon, and she could be next.

ELENA’S PEN is a 66,000-word fantasy upper MG standalone novel with series potential. I believe readers of The Neverending Story and Graceling will enjoy my book.

I am the author of a fantasy romance trilogy, Kingdom of Arnhem - Woman of Honor (2009), Knight of Glory (2010), and Champion of Valor (2011) published with Desert Breeze Publishing. I have also published nine short stories for anthologies, including Mertales by Wyvern Publications, and many collections by Pill Hill Press, with four more being published before the end of the year.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Nicole Zoltack
(email address)
(phone number)

***

Healthy Bits: This query is tightly written and displays all the necessary elements - main character, her problem, her stakes, and what will happen if she fails. This is all excellent! Brevity can be really hard to come by, especially in fantasy queries, so great job there. The way you stick to a single moving plot thread without getting bogged down in subplots or extra details is very good. Your book information and bio are right on.

Under The Weather: This query isn't sick at all... it's just a little green around the gills. Nothing some fresh air can't fix. As you'll be able to see in my line-by-line, I needed more clarification in certain spots. While this query does a wonderful job of conveying the story, it did feel a little blow-by-blow to me. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. A few of the sentences felt lackluster and like they needed a little more polish -- I give examples below. Overall, I felt like it could use a bit more voice, a bit more personality. Something to really catch my attention and make me go, "Oooh! I like it! I want to read more in this voice!" It's a solid query already and the story sounds like it could be a lot of fun. I just want that one injection of oomph that's going to give it an edge.

***

Line-By-Line

One day, thirteen-year-old Elena decides not to write stories during class like she normally does and instead writes that the class bully gets detention.

This sentence is okay, but I think it could be structured differently to make it tighter and start with a stronger hook. This will depend entirely on your style, but you could try something like: "Thirteen-year-old Elena loves to write stories. It's too bad they never come true... until the day she writes about the class bully getting detention, that is." Try to avoid making the sentence too wordy. Keep it punchy and try to hook 'em in quick.

He does a minute later. A minute later, the teacher slaps a pink slip on his desk.

This is just a suggestion to make the line a bit more powerful and inject some more personality. You can (and should) of course rewrite it in your own words/voice.

It's got to be her new pen - everything she writes with it comes true.

This part doesn't quite follow logically for me. At this point, it could be complete coincidence. A bully getting detention isn't really a WOAH THAT'S TOO WEIRD TO HAPPEN BY ITSELF moment. I'd give a more extreme example ("She writes about her teacher's hair turning green!" or something) where it would be VERY obvious that yes, she is the cause of this. Make sure there's a crystal-clear reason why she knows she (or rather, her pen) is causing things to happen. Or give a second example beyond the bully.

But then the pen writes of its own accord about a mystical fantasy land being overrun by demons all by itself.

Hmm maybe rework this or break it up. It feels a little static/passive as written. Example: "But then the pen writes all by itself, and the story it tells isn't pretty. The words form a tale about a mystical land overrun by demons." Again, this is a place where you can insert yourself and your writing personality a little more. Play with it.

After a demon kidnaps her family and hides them in the land, Elena will do whatever she can to save them. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as writing a happy ending - whenever Elena uses the pen, someone turns into a demon, and she could be next.

Strong ending! I really like this! This was the first place where I felt like you got a little bit of personality in there (with the "not as simple as writing a happy ending" bit). My only suggestion here is to maybe give us a tiny clarification that the mystical land is obviously real, since her family gets kidnapped there. Right now, it's kind of like, "The pen starts writing about a fantasy land! And then demons kidnap her family!" Which is slightly disorienting. Just give the reader a teensy bit more grounding.

ELENA’S PEN is a 66,000-word fantasy upper MG fantasy standalone novel with series potential. I believe readers of THE NEVERENDING STORY and GRACELING will enjoy my book.

Be more authoritative. Cut the "I believe." Trust yourself and your story! You don't have to refer to it as a standalone. Just be careful not to accidentally imply that it NEEDS to have sequels to be a complete story. "Series potential" is fine. Capitalize your comparable titles. I'm a little wary of THE NEVERENDING STORY. It's a classic and not super relevant to today's market, but I think it's okay to use if it really fits. Also be careful comparing to GRACELING, which is YA and not MG. Just think about it and make sure it's what you want to say.

I am the author of a fantasy romance trilogy, Kingdom of Arnhem - Woman of Honor (2009), Knight of Glory (2010), and Champion of Valor (2011) published with Desert Breeze Publishing. I have also published nine short stories for anthologies, including Mertales by Wyvern Publications, and many collections by Pill Hill Press, with four more being published before the end of the year.

Good use of publishing credits, although it might not be relevant to children's literature, so keep that in mind. Agents might ask for sales numbers for these, so be prepared to give them out just in case. You don't have to include them in the query. Also, I don't know anything about these publishers, but I assume you've ensured that they're legitimate independent publishers that agents will be able to check up on.

***

Aaaaand you're out of surgery! Once again, thank you so much to Nicole for letting her query be dissected for the other students. You've got a good thing going here. Keep pushing, and good luck!

(Oh man, that sounded kind of like a childbirth analogy. NOT WHAT I MEANT.)

Turning it over to the commenters. Share your thoughts if you have 'em!


4 comments:

{ Brinna Blaine } at: November 11, 2011 at 9:51 AM said...

Hey, I'm Brinna. I write a blog about writing, freelancing, books and reviews. I'd love to have you write a guest post for my blog. If you're interested, please let me know.

Brinna

http://brinnablaine.blogspot.com

{ Brooke R. Busse } at: November 11, 2011 at 10:04 AM said...

After a demon kidnaps her family and hides them in the land This itches at me. 'in the land' sounds awkward and repetitive with the sentence right before it. Does the fantasy world have a name you could use?

Steph, I love your critiques.

{ Nicole Zoltack } at: November 12, 2011 at 1:30 PM said...

Thanks so much for your awesome advice! You make some excellent points, and I'll definitely work on incorporating more voice. This is hugely beneficial to me!

{ Theresa Milstein } at: November 14, 2011 at 2:34 AM said...

Good query makeover. I agree the first line could use some polish. I think the premise is excellent.

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